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.

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.

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.

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.

Mixed up — January 30, 2019

Mixed up

A few weeks ago, I had one of my wisdom teeth extracted. It wasn’t giving me trouble, but as the dentist explained, if it continued taking up residence in my mouth, it would soon give me trouble.

I’m happy to report that the extraction was dern-near painless. I experienced pain once the numbing wore off and I’ve had some issues created by food becoming lodged in the new hole in my mouth, but that’s not the purpose of this-here post.

Although I had grandiose plans to eat chicken the evening of my extraction, once the procedure was complete, I realized I would have to settle for something that wouldn’t necessitate much chewing. Thus, I decided to make cornbread. Hot bread and butter followed by milk and bread wouldn’t require much work from me at all.

So, I stirred up some bread using the recipe my mom taught me, which comprises four ingredients – cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, and water – none of which we measure.

Not that it’s relevant to this story, but at some point during the years, my mom stopped putting flour in her cornbread. However, I still spoon some flour into the batter. Indeed, I used it the evening of my extraction. And once the aforementioned four ingredients were blended together, I poured the mixture into a cast iron skillet and put said skillet in the oven.

Approximately 20 minutes later, I checked the bread and immediately noticed that something was amiss. The crust felt hard and the inside felt sticky. Still, I cut a piece of bread, slathering it in butter. But the butter didn’t melt into the bread. Instead, it pooled atop it. Although the sticky bread didn’t look appetizing, it was there and I was hungry, so I took a bite.

It was inedible.

I hate waste, but I couldn’t finish one bite, yet alone an entire pan, so I dumped it into the trash.

Later that evening, after I had made a mashed potato run to the KFC, I implored to my mom, “What did I do wrong?” At first, she seemed as puzzled as I. However, recognizing my reputation for using aged ingredients, she suspected that my cornmeal might have been old, and I conceded that it could have been in my cupboards for a significant amount of time.

Then Mom assumed the role of a detective interrogating a suspect. She asked me to list the steps I had taken, starting at the beginning.

“Well,” said I, “I started with the flour.” Gasping, I added, “That’s it!”

As far as I know, my mom didn’t teach you to make cornbread, so you’ll be forgiven if you don’t understand how that aha moment solved the mystery of the sticky bread. Here’s the gist of it – she taught me to start by scooping one or more cups of cornmeal (depending on whether we were making a big or small pan) into a kettle, followed by a spoon or two (again, depending on the size of the pan) of flour before adding the buttermilk and water. On the evening of my extraction, I mixed up the ingredients and started by scooping in a cup (more or less) of flour and a spoon (more or less) of cornmeal before adding the buttermilk and water.

Obviously, my mistake can be attributed to the pain emanating from the new hole in my mouth. After all, I’ve successfully made hundreds of pans of cornbread in my day. Until, that is, the evening of my extraction.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A little squirrelly — November 20, 2018

A little squirrelly

As my family and I prepared the Thanksgiving menu, my mom reminisced about Thanksgivings of yore. Specifically, she recalled the holidays gone by when we gathered around the table to feast on the Thanksgiving squirrel.

While you take a moment to digest that information, I should let you know that by “we,” I mean the rest of the family, because I wasn’t born when these epicurean banquets were held.

Anyway, Mother said that back in the day, she and Daddy couldn’t afford a luxury like turkey. So, they ate chicken or squirrel at Thanksgiving. The chicken would have most likely been born, lived, and died on the property or in the vicinity. Or it could have come from a store, from where it would have been purchased whole. It would have later been cut up into various body parts because they couldn’t afford individual poultry parts, either.

The squirrel, on the other hand, would have come from the nearby hills. After its death, it would have spent some time on an oversized safety pin Daddy used to transport his game.

In addition to chicken or squirrel, Mother said the meal would have included potatoes, beans, and other vegetables and probably some sort of bread. They would have finished the meal by enjoying homemade pie for dessert.

Mother said she might have made dressing on the chicken, but she never served stuffing on a squirrel. Having never stuffed dressing inside a turkey or a squirrel, I can only speculate as to which task would have proven more problematic.

Since she seemed content with the chicken and squirrel, I asked why they switched to turkey for Thanksgiving. She attributed it to following a fad and noted, “We fell into a rut.”

“We didn’t grow up eating turkey,” she reiterated. “I never had a turkey until, golly, I don’t know when I first ate turkey.”

Reconsidering, she added, “Growing up, the only time I remember anybody eating a turkey was when my grandma made one. They killed it and hung it on the clothesline.”

I’ll let you figure out for yourself why they hung the deceased turkey on the clothesline.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s better than (some) delivery — November 13, 2018

It’s better than (some) delivery

Last week brought exciting new experiences for me – I visited Atlanta, I rode through a gated trailer park, and I bought a DiGiorno pizza.

And as I look back on the week, I keep asking myself the same question – why did it take me so long to buy a DiGiorno?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve dined on oodles of frozen pizzas in my time. Back in the day, I took Totino’s pepperoni pizzas for lunch, dividing the pizza in half to provide lunch for two days.

Through the years, I occasionally upgraded to the frozen pizzas that resemble the kind you order at restaurants. DiGiorno seemed a bit pricey, though, so I settled for lesser known brands. These pizza-eating experiences, however, always left me feeling less than sated. Although I tried several brands, none of them had much of a taste. Well, except for the aftertaste.

But last weekend I found myself in a precarious position. Yes, it was BYOF Saturday at the my mom’s. So, as I walked through the aisles at the Dollar General, looking for something to eat, my eyes spied a DiGiorno rising crust pizza in the frozen food section.

The cost – more than five bucks – seemed exorbitant, but the rumbling in my tummy overruled my thriftiness, so I bought the pizza.

When I arrived at Mom’s, I put the pizza in the oven, leaving it there until the cheese was on the dark side of golden and the crust was a medium brown. Once it cooled a bit, I cut a slice and took a small bite.

It tasted delicious.

I’m not a foodie, so don’t expect me to describe the sauce and cheese with flavor-filled adjectives. Instead, I’ll repeat – it was delicious. The company’s marketing plan boasts that their pizzas could be mistaken for delivery. That is not a ploy. It is the truth. Indeed, the DiGiorno I consumed was better than some pizza I’ve had from certain restaurants.

I shared the yummy goodness with my sister and still had enough left over for Sunday and Monday. But I ate entirely too much for lunch Monday, so I opted for a light dinner that evening. Then, I went to Atlanta. So, by the time I resumed dining at home, the pizza was six days old.

Although I frequently consume food well past expiration dates, I thought long and hard about eating six-day-old pepperoni pizza. I turned to my sister for advice, asking if the pizza would still be good. When she said no, I followed up by inquiring if the no meant “it won’t taste right” or “it will kill you.”

She refused to clarify her answer and I ultimately decided against eating that last slice of pizza. Yes, by my calculations, I threw away approximately 90 cents worth of pizza. But I didn’t want my first experience with DiGiorno to end with a case of food poisoning.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Seize the day — April 29, 2018

Seize the day

I enjoy baking. One of the desserts, pronounced as zerts by my late father, I most enjoy baking – and eating – is white cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting.

A couple years ago, however, I decided to mix it up and make chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting.

The cupcakes turned out splendidly and, in the end, so did the frosting. It’s just that it never became white chocolate frosting.

Indeed, as I mixed together the frosting, I multitasked by melting the white chocolate baking bars. But the bars didn’t actually melt. Instead, they appeared to scorch and form into puffs.

Assuming I had made a mistake, I expressed gratitude that I hadn’t mentioned the white chocolate aspect of the frosting to my family. Frankly, I feared they would accuse me of using outdated baking goods. And we all know what a ludicrous accusation that would be.

So, my pet army and I made a vow to never again speak of the incident and I scraped the brownish-looking white chocolate into the trash.

Flash forward to last December. As we gathered at my mom’s to prepare Christmas goodies, my sister tried to melt white chocolate chips. Although she frequently stirred them and added copious amounts of oil, the chips turned into scorched puffs. She noted that white chocolate is dern-near impossible to melt and lamented our lack of almond bark.

She might have felt forlorn, but I became so giddy I dern-near skipped down the road.  (I also once again questioned the origin of almond bark. Is it literally the bark of an almond tree? And how does bark come in more than one flavor?)

Anyway, my happiness stemmed from the realization that I hadn’t goofed. It wasn’t me. It was the white chocolate. Flash forward to last week. After I purchased half a flat of strawberries, I decided chocolate-dipped strawberries would improve my quality of life.

As it turned out, I had some white chocolate baking bars in the cabinet. Where did they come from? How long had they been in said cabinet?

None of that matters. All that matters is that I said to myself, “Self, you’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well melt them and see what happens.”

I guess you know what happened. The bars turned into scorched puffs. I’m sure I didn’t help matters by adding milk instead of oil, but I think they were already beyond salvaging.

Fortunately, I had some chocolate baking bars, which I melted. In case you’re wondering, chocolate-dipped strawberries did improve my quality of life.

Yet, due to my thirst for knowledge, I had to know more about melting white chocolate. Was it simply something we Goff sisters struggled to accomplish? Is there an easy remedy?

There’s not.

In fact, based on everything I read, my sister followed the standard operating procedure vis-a-vis melting white chocolate.

My research also resulted in the discovery of a new term – seized chocolate. Surprisingly, this does not refer to confiscation of a bakery’s assets. It’s the term for the scorched puffs created when one unsuccessfully melts white chocolate.

Maybe someday I’ll learn the term for what happens when one successfully melts white chocolate.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.