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.

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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

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

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

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

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.

Stay in your lane

Usually, I avoid discussing controversial topics in this blog. Indeed, I like to think of this as a safe place where my readers can retreat for a laugh or two. Usually at my expense.

mcdonald'sBut with a controversy of epic proportions threatening to divide the country, I can no longer remain silent. I’m speaking, obviously, of McDonald’s double drive-thru.

When the first double drive-thru came to town, I went on record proclaiming my appreciation for it. My opinion has not changed. Vociferous double drive-thru critics, however, argue that it doesn’t speed up the fast food delivery process. They may be right, but I’m not addressing that issue. I’m concentrating on the question of which lane to choose.

For those of you unfamiliar with a double drive-thru, it’s exactly as it sounds. There are two lanes, each with its own intercom. After placing their orders, customers merge from the two lanes into one that takes them to the pay-here and pick-up-your-order windows. In spite of some confusion over who merges first into the single lane and the violence that has broken out at locations throughout the country, it’s actually a simple process.

Or so I thought. But I’ve recently learned that, for some people, the problem begins at the beginning. In fact, there are those among us who believe that all customers should stay in the lane closest to the restaurant until they’ve pretty much reached the intercoms. Only then, they maintain, should a car move into the second lane.

One of my friends accuses people who bypass the first lane and zip into the second lane as lane skippers. A friend of a friend takes photos of these alleged lane skippers. Another friend flips off alleged lane skippers.

I guess there’s a chance she’s flipped me off because I always choose the shortest lane. Actually, I don’t know why anybody would waste time lingering in the longer lane when another, I repeat, shorter lane beckons them.

What’s more, there’s literally a sign at the drive-thru that gives us permission to do so. That’s right. I take the “any lane, any time” declaration as an invitation to choose any lane I want, any time I want. If I was supposed to wait impatiently in the long line, the sign would advise me to “remain in this long line until you either starve to death or reach the intercoms.”

But it doesn’t say that. So, as long as the “any lane, any time” sign remains, I’ll keep following directions – and risk getting flipped off.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.