Melt with you — July 10, 2019

Melt with you

This year for my annual Fourth of July Jubilee, I decided to surprise my guests with red, white, and blue strawberries. No, I’m not genetically engineering blue and white strawberries in my basement laboratory. But I am capable of melting almond bark.

At least I thought I was.

I spent the day before my jubilee readying for the event and debating with myself vis-a-vis whether I should dip the strawberries ahead of time or wait until my guests were knocking on the door. In the negative column for dipping them a day I early I noted that dipped strawberries tend to gather moisture overnight. But in the positive column I listed all the tasks I would need to complete before my guests knocked on the door. So, I took a chance, melted the almond bark, and commenced to dipping the berries.

At first, everything went swimmingly. Sure, I had to reheat the almond bark after lumps materialized, but it was worth the effort. Indeed, the contrast of the white almond bark on the red berries nearly blinded me, and I couldn’t wait to behold the strawberries in their full patriotic glory.

I would have to wait, however, until the white-dipped strawberries dried. In the meantime, I frosted cupcakes. Then, upon returning my attention to the strawberries, I melted more vanilla bark, which I tinted with blue gel coloring.

You might recall that I previously shared the saga of my disastrous attempt to melt white chocolate. As I would learn all those months ago, white chocolate does not easily melt. Instead, it seizes. As I would learn last week, almond bark does not easily accept coloring. Instead, it seizes. And by seizes, I mean it forms into clumps that, I imagine, would resemble mashed potatoes if the cook had forgotten to add butter and milk.

Looking back, I should have been suspicious when the recipes I reviewed suggested using tinted baking melts instead of almond bark. Yet, I said to myself, “Self, you don’t need baking melts. Just use the almond bark and blue gel coloring in your pantry and call it good.”

No one could describe that blue-colored blob in my mixing bowl as good looking.

It was late and I was tired. So, I put the white-dipped strawberries in a secure location. The next morning, I made an emergency trip to the metropolis and purchased a bag of navy blue baking melts.

The resulting red, white, and blue strawberries filled me with a patriotism I hadn’t felt since the American men’s swimming team chased down the French to win the 4X100 freestyle relay at the Beijing Olympics. Sure, the strawberries had retained some moisture overnight, but that didn’t affect the taste. Just ask my guests, who gobbled up so many so fast that I considered making an emergency trip to the metropolis to buy more berries.

By the way, my subsequent research indicates that liquids cause almond bark to seize. It is recommended that you use paste or powder to tint it. Considering my history, I’ll stick with baking melts.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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Good gravy — July 3, 2019

Good gravy

For the past two weeks, I have won the “most holler” superlative from my co-workers. As this is a new award, I’m also the first recipient. I won the title the first week because, among my colleagues, I was the only one who had eaten squirrel and squirrel gravy. I won it in week two because I was the only one who had eaten red-eye gravy.

At this point, you must be simultaneously wondering: 1) how this came up in conversation; 2) how a picky eater such as myself could ever knowingly consume squirrel; 3) how I found myself – in Eastern Kentucky, no less – surrounded by people who have never eaten squirrel and/or red-eye; and 4) how I intend to defend my title.

  1. Although I took part in the conversations, I can’t recall how we meandered to gravy-related topics. I can recall that these dishes were discussed over meals, so it’s not like we were pontificating on the nutritional value of flying rats and coffee-flavored grease whilst we were supposed to be working.
  2. My mom and siblings can confirm that I’ve always been a picky eater. No matter how many times I was informed that I would have to remain at the table until I cleaned my plate, the likes of tater-do, kraut, and beets remained on said plate whilst I scampered away to play with my paper dolls or Barbie Dreamhouse. (Spoiler alert: I am not currently sitting at that table, so take it from me, they’ll eventually let you up.) Anyway, I can’t remember how squirrel tasted. But I can remember that, as I got older, I lost interest in the stringy meat and I found myself needing to douse it with more and more gravy in order to make it palatable.
  3. The fact that my colleagues hadn’t eaten squirrel and/or red-eye didn’t surprise me, but I was surprised that a few of them had never even heard of red-eye. They listened with wonder as it was explained that red-eye is culled from the drippings of breakfast ham and mixed with coffee. I, in turn, wondered how these people I thought I knew could have gotten this far in life without so much as an accidental introduction to red-eye.
  4. I haven’t decided, but it might involve wading mud holes and counting bug bites.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Pick a number — June 26, 2019

Pick a number

From time-to-time, a picky eater test shows up on my Facebook feed. As the name suggests, the test attempts to determine if you’re a picky eater by listing 66 assorted foods and condiments and then assigning you one point for everything on the list that you will not eat.

The test didn’t require me to do anything but read and count, so I thought it would be fun to take part. So, after perusing the list and consulting my abacus, I arrived at a score of 33. As I’m known for being something of a picky eater, I congratulated myself on not scoring in the high 50s. Indeed, a score of 33 meant that I’ll eat half the assorted foods and condiments on the list, so I felt pretty good.

But then I had to go and read the comments. (Word of advice: It’s never a good idea to read the comments.) Thus, I subjected myself to the boasts of smarty-pants posters who scored only five or six.

As if eating vinegar is anything to brag about.

Speaking of vinegar…I question its inclusion on the list. After all, does anybody actually sit down with a spoon and eat a bowl of vinegar? I do not, so I gave myself a point for having the good sense not to eat something I use to clean my floors. But I’m sure I’ve knowingly and unknowingly eaten foods that contain vinegar and will probably do so again. So, should I have given myself only half a point?

And what about peas, grapes, and raisins? I won’t eat any of these as stand-alone items, but they each add an edible flavor to certain soups, salads, and oatmeal. So, should they count or, in this case, not count?

And what about coconut? I’ve never had the occasion to turn up my nose at actual coconut, but I do enjoy coconut-enhanced treats including Girl Scout cookies, Mallo Cups, and piña coladas.

And what about sourdough bread? I counted it among the foods I will not eat, but that’s because my only interaction with the bread didn’t go well. What if I got hold of some bad bread? What if it’s not normal to need to take 14 sips of water for every teensy bite of sourdough bread so that you can avoid choking to death?

And what about tomatoes? I won’t eat them, but I will eat tomato basil soup and tomato-based sauces.

The more I think about this test, the more I think I’ve sold myself short by counting too high. If I deduct the aforementioned foods, I could easily be in the 20s. As long as I avoid reading the comments, that won’t make me seem too picky at all.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

No Whammies — June 11, 2019

No Whammies

The game show “Press Your Luck” is set to return to TV tomorrow night on ABC. In case you don’t remember “Press Your Luck,” which originally aired in the 1980s, it’s the show with the Whammies. When contestants landed on a Whammy, they lost all their money and prizes. If that wasn’t humiliating enough for them, the Whammy would then prance across the screen, taunting them in the process.

I will not be watching the new incarnation of “Press Your Luck” for two reasons. Firstly, the show always made me nervous. Secondly, I cannot stand that smart-alecky Whammy.

When I shared this truth with my bestie, I also told her about a few other cartoon characters I abhor due to their smarty-pants natures – Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, Tweety Bird, and Jerry from “Tom and Jerry” fame.

Before I continue, I should make one thing clear. With a couple exceptions – most notably, the Peanuts – I’ve never been a fan of cartoons. This was true even when I was a child. Indeed, I can remember sitting in the floor watching Wile E. Coyote plot against that beeping Road Runner. When the Coyote’s plan failed – once again – I shrugged and announced to the room, “He’s never going to catch him.”

That was the last time I actively watched the Coyote make a fool of himself in pursuit of the Road Runner, whose beep-beeps have probably driven oodles of viewers to drink.

Tweety Bird’s voice also triggers me. To be fair, Tweety’s lisping nemesis, Sylvester, doesn’t sound much better. Nonetheless, on the rare occasion I was subjected to them, I always rooted for Sylvester.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that I would cheer on the cat. That’s one of the reasons I also wanted Tom to catch the elusive Jerry and wipe that smug expression off that meddlesome mouse’s face.

But no other cartoon character defined smugness like Bugs Bunny. Everything about him – from the way he held carrots to the way he uttered his “What’s up, Doc?” catchphrase – got on my nerves. In the real world, I like rabbits. When it came to the Looney Tunes world, however, I hoped that Elmer Fudd would indeed kill the wabbit.

Anyway, when I recently ran across a discussion about fictional villains, I was surprised to see Wile E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd included. You know, because they’re not the bad guys.

That smart-alecky Whammy definitely should be on that list, though.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Bandit on the run — June 4, 2019

Bandit on the run

Last week I watched “Smokey and the Bandit” for the first time in eons. For the three or four of you who have never seen the classic, it follows the exploits of Bandit (the late great Burt Reynolds) and Snowman (the late great Jerry Reed) as they attempt to smuggle 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta in 28 hours. At the time the movie was made, Coors wasn’t sold in the eastern part of the United States. Thus, it would have been bootlegging for Bandit and Snowman to transport it across state lines so that the outrageously-dressed gentleman who hired them could then re-sell it.

Anyway, during the bootlegging journey, Bandit picks up a runaway bride, Carrie (Sally Field), whom he quickly dubs Frog. Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice aka Smokey (Jackie Gleason) is soon in hot pursuit because Carrie – I refuse to liken Field to an amphibian – left Smokey’s son Junior at the altar.

Although “Smokey and the Bandit” was made for something like five bucks and featured what Reynolds characterized as the worst script he ever read, it became the second highest grossing movie of 1977, behind only “Star Wars.” The movie makes absolutely zero sense and contains absolutely zero dramatic tension. I never worried – not even for one nanosecond – that Bandit and Snowman would fail to deliver the beer to the thirsty boys in Atlanta.

But you know what? I love it.

Indeed, I giggle like a school girl every time Bandit emits his trademark chuckle as well as every time Snowman graces the screen with his presence. And Sally Field, who the studio initially didn’t want to cast because they didn’t consider her attractive enough, is simply adorable. By the way, what exactly did they not consider her attractive enough for? Burt Reynolds? Ha. Burt and Sally showed them.

With all that said, here a few questions I have about the movie:

  • Why did Snowman take Fred, his basset hound, on the trip? It appears that Fred left the confines of Snowman’s semi only twice, so the dog either had to hold his water or he had a bladder the size of a Trans Am. Then again, it also appears he ate nothing but a hamburger during the road trip, so maybe he didn’t need to go potty more than twice.
  • How did the Trans Am end the movie in such good shape when Smokey’s cruiser looks like it’s lost several demolition derbies?
  • Why doesn’t Carrie tell Bandit that the fiancé she jilted is the son of a Texas smokey who sounds and looks just like the Texas smokey who’s chasing them? You know, since Bandit wonders aloud several times why a Texas smokey is chasing them.
  • Why does Bandit uncharacteristically want to give up when they’re only four miles from their destination? They’ve bested seemingly every smokey in the southeast, but a helicopter gives him the jitters?

Regardless of these questions, it’s easy to understand how “Smokey and the Bandit” earned classic status. Near the movie’s end, Bandit elicits help from a convoy of semi drivers. After they avert the crisis and he and Carrie and, later, Snowman, speed by, they exchange pleasantries with the cheerful, supportive convoy drivers. It reminds me of the second best piece of advice I’ve ever received – help people when you can.

And that makes me feel good.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Sweet Swedes — May 28, 2019

Sweet Swedes

A couple weeks ago, The Washington Post published an investigative report detailing the comfort food that ambassadors stationed in Washington, D.C., eat when they’re homesick. For some reason, much was made about the ambassador from Colombia’s description of himself as a “freak” for Taco Bell. But I was more intrigued by what the Swedish ambassador shared. Specifically, his admission that it’s normal for a Swedish family of four to eat two pounds of candy every Saturday.

Let’s start with the obvious questions: Do Swedes eat candy only on Saturdays? If so, what do they eat the rest of the week? And how does this work? Does the family pick one kind of candy and share? Or are individual family members allowed to choose whatever they want for their half pound of candy? Furthermore, is the Saturday candy-eating treated like an event? I’m imagining a family gathered around a smorgasbord of candy, so I’ll be disappointed if Swedes simply snack all day because, here in America, that sounds like any day that ends in -y.

At first, I thought there was no way I could consume one-half pound of candy on any given Saturday because, to be honest, I didn’t understand how much candy comprises half a pound. So, I consulted the candy aisle of a local grocery store to get a better understanding. There, I learned that a bag of fun-size candy bars and a so-called sharable size-bag of M&M’s each weigh 10-plus ounces.

In other words, I would need to eat almost an entire bag of either type of candy to meet my half-pound quota.

As much as I love sweets, I’m not ready to commit to eating that much candy every Saturday. Of course, when I’m in a certain mood, I can inflict some serious damage on a box of Milk Duds, which weighs five ounces. But even I couldn’t eat dern-near a box and a half of Milk Duds every Saturday. Well, at least I can say I’ve never eaten dern-near a box and a half of Milk Duds during any 24-hour period.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Kick the bucket — May 14, 2019

Kick the bucket

for blog“Murder at the Dinner Bucket Diner,” the fifth book in my cozy mystery series, is now available for purchase at Amazon.

Those of you who have been following the exploits of amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan might be saying to yourself, “Self, somebody’s been killed at the Dinner Bucket? Was a pork chop the murder weapon?”

Of course, those of you who haven’t read the other books might be saying to yourself, “Self, did she set a murder mystery in a bucket?”

Don’t be ridiculous. And, not to sound like Captain Obvious, but if you’d read the books, you wouldn’t have to ask such a question. The Dinner Bucket, as it’s known to locals of Jasper, the county seat of the fictional Geneva County, is a diner that serves home cooking like potato salad and the aforementioned pork chops. The diner’s original owner named it in honor of her dad, a coal miner. The black lunch bucket he carried into the mines remains on display in the diner.

My dad also carried a black lunch bucket, which he called a dinner bucket, into the mines. So, whilst writing the first book, I had the idea, which some have described as brilliant, to bestow the name Dinner Bucket Diner on the eatery.

Due to the catchy name, I had always planned to set a mystery at the diner. The particulars evolved over time, but here’s a synopsis of the finished product:

When Gypsy Hill collapses during her shift at the Dinner Bucket Diner, customers attribute her death to a virus. But with doctors unable to point to the cause of Gypsy’s sudden illness and police unresponsive to investigating her death, reporter and amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan takes up the case. She soon learns that the temperamental young woman was engaged in various feuds. She also learns that the suspects in the case, including a chatty waitress, a thrice-widowed bookworm, and a man who looks like a goat, harbor secrets of their own. And just as Maggie inches closer to discovering the answers to Gypsy’s secrets, another resident of her small Kentucky town collapses at work.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

To a tea — May 8, 2019

To a tea

Except for when I’m sick or in a celebratory mood, I break my fast every morning with a warm bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and a cold cup of sweet lemon tea.

Depending on which study you read, oatmeal is either a heart-healthy, fiber- and protein-rich super food or a saboteur of diets. I’d hazard a guess that it’s healthier than an ice cream sandwich or a cupcake, though, so I guess I could do worse.

No matter how hard I look, however, I doubt I’ll find a study that describes sugar-laden tea as healthy. Indeed, all the sweet stuff probably cancels out whatever nutritional value the tea leaves once contained.

Still, I’ve grown accustomed – some might say addicted – to starting my days with a generous shot of caffeine and sugar. And since I scoop a little extra mix into the water, I’d say it’s more generous than not.

But in my constant effort at self-improvement, I bought a bottle of unsweetened tea. I had tried the brand’s sweetened product during a tea emergency and enjoyed the experience, so I expected tasty results.

In hindsight, the words “zero calories,” which appeared on the bottle’s label, should have alerted me to the fact that the bottle’s contents contained zero taste.

Well, that’s not entirely fair because it certainly had a taste. A really bad taste, that is. I am not here to judge, but I don’t understand how anybody can drink tea that hasn’t been heavily altered by sugar and/or flavor. In fact, after taking one sip of the unsweetened and unflavored tea, I remembered that I’m not into self-punishment and immediately returned it to the refrigerator.

I had bought a bottle, though. And if you’ve learned nothing else about me, dear readers, it’s that I don’t like to waste. Yet, in my enthusiasm, I had taken a sip from the bottle, so I could forget about unloading it on a taste-deficient tea drinker.

Luckily, I had actually paid attention one day during a college science class. I’m not sure why I chose that day to listen to the lecture, but I am sure the professor told us that adding sugar to unsweetened iced tea was futile because the sugar won’t properly dissolve. (What did this have to do with geoscience? Beats me.)

After the flashback to a younger and bigger-haired version of myself, I heated the tea. Then, I added a generous amount of sugar to the hot tea and gave it a good stir.

The result was more than satisfactory, but I suspect it contained more than zero calories.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Out of character — May 1, 2019

Out of character

For the most part, I believe we are who we are. Oh, I think we evolve a little bit here and a little bit there, but I don’t think we act that much out of character.

Except, of course, when we do.

In the past month, I’ve twice behaved in a manner that surprised me, and I’m not even talking about when I ate an entire chocolate funnel cake in less than 15 minutes.

The first incident occurred when I happened upon my mom’s and my favorite Easter candy. I hadn’t been able to find it all season so when I did, I grabbed several bags and threw them into my cart.

Here’s the surprising part – I didn’t even look at the price. Here’s the unsurprising part – I ate so much of the candy that it made my teeth hurt.

Anyway, I didn’t have to sell a non-vital organ to pay for the candy. What’s more, Easter only comes around once a year and – teeth pain notwithstanding – my mom and I enjoyed the candy. So, I guess it’s okay if I decide once every year or so that the price doesn’t matter. Well, as long as the price doesn’t result in me having an attack when the cashier rings up my purchases.

I’m not sure where the second incident occurred. Apparently, my actions startled the particulars out of my memory. All I can say for sure is that when I paid for something somewhere, I was owed two cents in change.

And I told the cashier to keep the change.

My penchant for going to great lengths to pick up change has been well documented in this-here space. So, as soon as the words, “You can keep the two cents,” escaped my mouth, I questioned my decision. After all, what has all this been for if I’m going to turn around and casually refuse change as if I can’t find room in my life for two pennies?

I immediately considered telling the cashier I was joking about keeping the change, but that seemed weird, even for me. Still, the incident haunted me and caused a great deal of introspection. I wondered if I’d fallen victim to a mind-controlling experiment or developed another personality.

The two incidents remained on my mind as I walked to my car one evening. Suddenly, a shiny object distracted me and, before I knew what was happening, I had squatted to pick up a dime.

It’s good to know I’m still me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s just the way I am — April 24, 2019

It’s just the way I am

During a recent visit at our mom’s, my sister told us about an older lady she knows who hates waste so much that she eats outdated food. She then speculated that this lady’s attitude toward waste probably stems from her age as well as the era in which she was raised.

At that point, my beloved niece nodded toward me and asked, “How do you explain this one?”

The fact that I consider best buy dates to be recommendations has long been a source of contention between my family members and me. As long as food doesn’t taste, smell or look too bad, I’ll eat it. What’s more, I’m not going to let a little mold prevent me from enjoying cheese or bread. I simply pinch off the moldy part and proceed. My niece jokes – at least I think she’s joking – that I buy moldy food so I can get it cheaper. (By the way, I don’t do that.)

I’m aware that most folks don’t share my enthusiasm for outdated food, so I make sure I don’t serve dishes or baked goods made from ancient ingredients. But if it’s just for me, almost anything goes. And since I’m not dead yet, I guess it can’t be that bad for me.

Regardless, I’ve long asked myself a version of the question my niece asked my sister. Although my parents and siblings can’t be described as wasteful, my outlook on out-of-date food usually leaves them flabbergasted. You should have seen them a few months ago when I found and claimed a bag of candy in my mom’s cupboards that had been there for years.

While I don’t know how I became the way I am, I do know that I’ve been compared to my maternal grandmother, the late great Edith May. I’m not sure if Mommaw May ate outdated food, but it would disappoint me if she didn’t.

But the best example of her non-wasteful ways doesn’t involve food. It involves dishwater. When she was well into her 70s – and maybe into her 80s – she carried dishwater to the bathroom and used it to flush the toilet.

She did this even though she paid a set amount for water usage.

We always allowed that surviving the Depression had made her sensitive to wastefulness. But I didn’t grow up during the Depression.

Of course, I don’t carry dishwater to the bathroom to flush the toilet, but only because I’m certain I would spill it whilst tripping over my cat army. But I do use my mop water to flush the toilet. After all, it’s already in the bathroom.

Anyway, I’ve exceeded my designated water usage only once in 14 years. In other words, just like with Mommaw May, getting two uses out of the mop water doesn’t save me any money.

Yet, I still do it. I’m not sure this answers my niece’s question, but I hope it helps explain “this one” to her.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.