Went for the burn — October 23, 2019

Went for the burn

One night last week, I ate freezer burned, generic frozen pancakes for supper. And I did so willingly.

The meal’s origin story begins, as do many of my stories, with a trip to Super Dollar. Or, as the store is known around my mom’s house, FD.

As I strolled through FD on that early spring day, I had a smidgen of a hankering for pancakes. As I eat pancakes only once every three or four years, I didn’t think it made sense to buy pancake mix that would eventually turn to dust in my pantry. So, I tossed a box of generic frozen pancakes into my shopping cart.

Upon my return home, I tossed the box into my freezer, where it remained unopened. Then, one night in early summer, I had a full-blown hankering for pancakes. So, I tossed three into the microwave and, later, onto my plate where I applied spray fake butter to them and moistened them with generic syrup.

Although they weren’t as fluffy or as tasty as pancakes produced by a mix or purchased at a restaurant, they were good enough. In fact, they fulfilled the hankering. Indeed, I didn’t consider eating pancakes again until nearly four months later.

That brings us to last week. When I couldn’t decide what to eat for supper, I recalled a coworker saying she had made pancakes the previous evening. That sounded good enough, so I headed to the freezer.

After I heated the pancakes accordingly, applied spray fake butter to them, and moistened them with generic syrup, I used a fork and knife to cut them into dainty bites.

And when I took the first bite, I flashed back to an episode of “The Facts of Life” and paraphrased the character, Jo, by asking, “Is this what freezer burn tastes like?”

At that point, I could have tossed the pancakes into the trash and found something else for supper. After all, believe it or not, but freezer burned food doesn’t become more appetizing the longer you eat it. But I had gone to all that trouble to make the pancakes. Besides, in case I’ve never mentioned it, I don’t like to waste.

So, I ate every bite. When I finished, I said, “Well, at least it was a meal.”

Then, my voice of reason, which sounds like Tommy Lee Jones, said, “No, that wasn’t a meal. That was freezer burned, generic frozen pancakes.”

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Mutual fund — October 9, 2019

Mutual fund

One morning in the not-so-distant past, a friend shared her daughter’s fundraising packet with me. Recognizing my fondness for baked goods, said friend pointed out that the merchandise included cookie dough.

With smugness dripping from my words, I said, “I don’t buy cookie dough. I make my own.”

Fast forward seven hours. That’s when my niece shared her daughter’s, my great-niece’s, fundraising packet. With excitement radiating from my words, I said, “She’s selling cookie dough? Great! I’ll take one of each!”

To my defense, I didn’t take one of each. I ordered only chocolate chip dough. What’s more, I also placed an order for treat boxes with my friend’s daughter.

I share this with you to demonstrate that we’ll do the darndest things for the kids in our lives and to show that I’m not troubled at all when parents or students try to sell me something.

For some reason, however, when parents make their sales pitches, they also add the disclaimer that I shouldn’t feel I have to make a purchase. No worries there. My great-niece also sold mums this year, but she didn’t sell one to Antie Cookie. I don’t like mums and, as far as I know, she neither attends high school nor plays football.

Anyway, just last week, a coworker brought a fundraising packet to the office. At first, thinking the merchandise comprised only popcorn, I was prepared to decline the request. But when I saw that it also included those little peanut butter bears my nieces enjoy, I said, “Great! I’ll buy a box!” (It seems we will also do the darndest things for the adult kids in our lives.)

I also ordered Crazy Bread from yet another friend who, I should add, tried her best to talk me out of making the purchase. But as I explained to her, how could I pass up the opportunity to make authentic Crazy Bread in my kitchen. It’s similar to why I ordered the cookie dough, which I can keep refrigerated for months whilst making a few cookies here and there. It’s a win-win-win for the school, the student, and me.

Of course, I don’t want you to think I’m easy. For example, unless I’m buying one to bestow as a gift, I’m probably not going to purchase a candle. Or cutlery. Or bowls. Or wrapping paper. Or makeup. Or jewelry. Or knickknacks. Or, well, you get the picture.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Bowled over — August 7, 2019

Bowled over

The one thing you need to keep in mind as you read this is that I am not a hoarder.

With that out of the way, you should also know that my cupboard is stocked with more than a dozen take-out salad bowls from such restaurants as Wendy’s and Panera and at least a half dozen plastic cups from the Double Kwik.

You might be saying to yourself, “Self, I reckoned she’d be too cheap to eat and/or drink from such fancy establishments. I’m kinda disappointed in her.”

I know how you feel. I’m disappointed in myself every time I order a tasty salad or pour myself a refreshing fountain drink. But I have to do something with all that change I pick up from various floors and parking lots. What’s more, keeping the bowls and cups allows me to re-use them.

For example, on the occasion of my recent Fourth of July Jubilee, I served my grateful guests drinks in the Double Kwik cups. Afterward, I washed the cups and returned them to the cupboard.

Of course, if my guests are reading this, they might be saying to themselves, “Selves, why didn’t she mention those plastic salad bowls when we were rummaging through her cupboards for Cool Whip bowls? We had to wrap up leftovers in paper towels.”

Well, I forgot about the existence of said bowls until I decided to make salads for my lunch. I don’t eat Cool Whip and, thus, do not have a cupboard filled with the hillbilly Tupperware, so I couldn’t figure out how I would transport the salads to work. Thankfully, whilst cleaning my kitchen, I spied the dozen or so salad bowls resting on the top shelf of my cupboard. Smiling, I retrieved four bowls and made enough salads for dern-near an entire week’s worth of lunch.

In case you’re wondering, the salads were my version of Panera’s strawberry poppy seed salad. However, after comparing the price of fresh berries with the price of frozen fruit, I settled for the frozen variety. Sure, this had a less tasty impact on the salads and rendered them a tad runny, but there’s only so much change lying on the ground.

Anyway, after eating the salads, I washed the bowls and put them back in the cupboard. There they will remain until I once again recall their existence or until my future Fourth of July Jubilee guests use them to transport leftovers.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Nothing is free — July 30, 2019

Nothing is free

This summer, Mountain Dew has been, according to the company’s website, “celebrating how fans in every single state get out and do,” by issuing bottles “inspired” by each of the 50 states. In addition to learning “what makes each state bold,” finding all 50 bottles will score you a $100 prepaid gift card.

Although this promotion started June 3 – and ends Aug. 10 – I didn’t learn of its existence until the other day. Considering that I’ve been subjected to just one sip of Mountain Dew during my existence, which happened when I accidentally sipped from a friend’s cup, my ignorance of their marketing campaign is not surprising.

What is surprising – at least to me – is that the company is awarding successful bottle hunters with only a $100 gift card.

I know that characterizing it as only $100 might sound a tad ironic coming from someone who keeps her eyes on the ground to spot dropped change. But the change I pocket is free money. Winners of this Mountain Dew contest will have to expend time, money, and effort to bag those gift cards.

Firstly, they’ll have to spend money to buy said bottles. They can get a six-pack of Mountain Dew at the Supercenter for approximately $2.88, plus tax. Assuming every six pack contains a different bottle, they’d still have to buy nine packs, at a cost of $25.92 plus tax, to accumulate all 50 bottles.

Sure, their return on investment would be more than $70, but that’s a best case scenario. Do we really think that someone will be able to find 50 different bottles in the first 50 they buy? Besides, if they’re buying single bottles, they can expect to spend more than $25.92, plus tax.

Secondly, and I think this is the most important point, they’re going to have to drink at least 50 bottles of Mountain Dew to bag those gift cards.

I might drink one bottle of Mountain Dew if you offered me a crisp $100 bill to do so. But at least 50 bottles that I had to purchase with my own money? I don’t think so.

Of course, I’m viewing this from the taste buds of someone who doesn’t do the Dew. If my favorite generic brand of oatmeal or dern-near any brand of plain potato chips had a similar promotion, I’d be skipping down the halls as I contemplated how to spend that gift card. So, if Mountain Dew fans were going to buy the product anyway, then I guess it is like free money for them.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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.

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.