Is There A Ball Pit In Heaven?

The Kid and I just returned home from GalaxyCon, a pop culture fan convention in Raleigh.

This convention reminded both The Kid and me of another fan convention that took place five years ago in Illinois, called DashCon.

My child flew up to participate in the inaugural event.

The first night there was an opening night soirée they called a prom.  And, early in the evening a faint whiff of trouble began to circulate.

Suddenly, the music stopped and Megg, one of the organizers, took to the stage and addressed the crowd.  She told them the hotel had suddenly changed the terms of the contract.  Unless $17,000 in cash was given to the hotel within an hour, the convention, Megg informed them, would be canceled.

In addition to requesting everyone present to go online and request their friends and family donate everything they could to a PayPal account, a literal hat was passed around with exhortations to, “please give, anything you can, even a dollar”.

Somehow, the money was gathered, and the convention went on.

It’s important to note, that to this day, the hotel insists that they did not make an eleventh hour change to the contract. 

The next morning, The Kid and friends were headed out to a pancake breakfast, and they ran into organizer Megg, crying hysterically.  Vendors and guests were fleeing the event, there wasn’t enough money, they needed many more staff than they had, and everything was ruined. 

One of my child’s friends, Christine, volunteered The Kid and company to help out.  Breakfast was postponed, and everybody pitched in.

My child ended up working with Megg and assisting the senior staff.  The first item on the agenda was to convince the weekend’s biggest draw to stay.

Welcome to Night Vale was a hugely popular scripted podcast.  One of the first big hits of the genre.  They were at DashCon, and were planning on doing a live episode in front of a large crowd that had purchased tickets.

The arrangement was for the troupe to be paid in full before the performance.

Except, there were no funds available. 

With The Kid in tow, Megg attempted to get them to perform now and get paid later.  Sensing a fiscally troubled theme, the podcast creators declined, and departed.  An hour after the podcast was to begin, a packed room was informed that the podcast was canceled because the cast tried to hold up the convention for more money.

This is the actual ball pit at Dashcon.

At a crisis meeting, one of the staff had a brainstorm.  One of the attractions was a ball pit.  Because of either a mistake, or cost-cutting measure the size of the pit was similar to a backyard blow-up pool.  To appease the hundreds of ticket holders for the canceled Night Vale performance, they were offered an extra hour in the ball pit.

The decision has since become infamous and a symbol for the fiasco that was Dashcon.  If you google, “ball pit dashcon”, it will return 104,000 results.

The infamous Q&A

As day turned into evening, it became clear that the event was a huge flop, and at a hastily convened Q&A which descended into bitter recriminations and tearful excuses it was revealed that there already lawsuits being organized.  The Kid was still assisting, and still had not had pancakes, or anything else to eat.

Freshly arrived home from her disastrous trip to Illinois, my child recounted the weekend’s adventures.  Multiple times during the telling of it, I laughed so hard that I almost fell off my chair at Elmo’s, a diner in Durham, where The Kid was partially hidden behind, finally, a huge stack of pancakes.

Not The Kid.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Use your bean

I get excited about all kinds of things…English muffins just happen to be one of them.

So I was making an English muffin for this morning.  I was really looking forward to it (even more than I usually look forward to any and all food).

The reason I was so eager to get at an ordinary piece of toasted carb is because of which spread I was planning to use.

I’ll admit it right here—I have a problem.

It’s an irresistible need to possess copious varieties of jams, jellies and preserves.  If it’s shiny, sweet, and in a jar, I’m in.  I pick them up wherever I go, be it grocery store, garden center, or even somewhere unexpected like TJ Maxx.

There are 18 different jars in my fridge right now.  And that’s not counting the various honies, golden syrup, and Goober Grape residing in cabinets.

jam shelves

This is most of them, but I have more jars than I have shelves.

About a month ago I was in Home Goods, at Brier Creek.  I love them for their uncommon pasta shapes and jellies.  That day I picked up short multi-colored ridged lasagna.  And, I bought a jar of pineapple jam.

I’ve never thought of preserving the fruit.  I love it fresh, and not much beats a piña colada made with pineapple juice, Coco Lopez, rum, and vanilla ice cream.  Happily, it turned out to taste just like the fruit, and really good on the whole-grain toast and English muffins that I prefer.

As good as it is, that didn’t stop me from what I did to it a few days ago.  I mixed in a heaping tablespoon of vanilla paste.  I closed it up and put it back in the chill chest for a bit so the flavors could mingle.

So that’s why I was so looking forward to breakfast today.

4 forms

While my bread was in the toaster I got to thinking about the four fantastic forms of vanilla: beans, extract, paste and powder.  I always try to have some of each in my kitchen, and they are awesome for jacking up the flavor of all kinds of things.

Vanilla beans: Scrape out the beans with a paring knife and use like you would extract (one bean=one teaspoon).  But when used in light colored foods the flecks of beans enhance the visual which in turn enhances the whole experience.  I love putting them in flavored butter, pudding, and homemade marshmallows.

Don’t toss those empty pods, either, throw them in your sugar canister for vanilla sugar, or add 4 pods to a pint of rum or vodka for homemade extract.

Extract: The old baking standby is also terrific added to unexpected dishes.  Try it in barbecue sauce, salad dressing and marinades.  Use it to make vanilla coke and to give French toast and pancake batter extra zip.

But please, for the love of all that’s holy and healthy, only use pure vanilla.  Although it’s no longer produced by milking the anal glands of beavers (yipes), it’s still made with eucalyptus oil, to which many people are allergic, pine tar, and the wood pulp left after making paper.  Mmmm…pulpy goodness.

Paste: Terrific for adding to prepared foods, like honey and syrups.  Paste also makes lemonade and iced tea into something really special.  Whisk a teaspoon of it and a tablespoon of brown sugar into 1 cup of sour cream for fruit salad dressing or cheesecake topping.  Paste works really well as a mix-in for instant hot cereals.

Powder: When baking, I always shake some into my dry ingredients.  It supports and enhances the extract or beans that I add to the wet ingredients.  For the best cinnamon toast you’ve ever had mix ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon vanilla powder, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.  Try adding vanilla powder to coffee or sprinkling it on halved stone fruit before grilling.

I’ve also cooked down apple jelly with vanilla beans.  The apple flavor fades, and I’m left with an intense vanilla jam to add to my vast spread collection.

And I know that they say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, but I have absolutely no plans to address my affliction (although I have overheard whispered conversations between Petey and The Kid using phrases such as jelly intervention, and jam rehab).

Yeah, yeah, pass me the biscuits; I just got some sassafras jelly.


Here is my newest baby.  It tastes kind of like root beer jam.

Thanks for your time.