Shed light on — April 22, 2020

Shed light on

Due to the coronavirus, I’ve had to make adjustments to my life including, but not limited to, working remotely, wearing masks to the store, and staying healthy at home.

Oh, and I’ve been doing a little something called cooking.

As I’ve mentioned before in this-here space, it’s not that I’m a bad cook. It’s just that I don’t cook much, basically, because I don’t need to cook. At least I didn’t need to cook. After all, until recently, I took most of my lunches in a cafeteria that provided me with salads, various selections of meats and vegetables, and pastas. For dinner, I subsisted on cereal, frozen foodstuff, or leftovers. Take it from me, being a picky eater whose food choices mimic a child’s has its advantages.

But a couple days into working remotely, it suddenly occurred to me that my cupboards and fridge contained no vegetables. Or much food at all for that matter. I created a list and braved a trip to the store. I’m happy to report that I’ve become adept at steaming veggies. I’ve also been experimenting with marinades and expanding beyond grilling meats to baking them.

Indeed, I’ve created many yummy meals comprising such delicacies as baked chops, mashed potatoes, and steamed mixed veggies.

Yet no matter how good the meals taste, I always experience pangs of guilt when I gaze upon the stacks of dirty dishes crowding the sink and counters.

Except for the post-meal cleanups for big meals served on days like Thanksgiving or Easter, I’ve never dreaded washing the dishes. I always made a deal with my sisters and nieces. If they would clean off the counters, put the leftovers into Cool Whip bowls, and take care of the grease and drippings then I would wash the dishes. What’s more, even though my house came equipped with an electronic dishwasher, I usually washed by hand and didn’t regret this decision.

But that was before what my 6-year-old great-niece, with whom I’m only communicating via FaceTime, refers to as the corona. Since the corona, I’ve washed so many dishes in such a short period of time that my hands have started peeling. In fact, my hands have shed so much skin that I expect a couple reptiles to crawl from my arms at any moment.

The frequent dishwashing has also led me to realize that instead of toilet paper, people should be stockpiling dishwashing detergent and lotion.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Half-baked idea — March 24, 2020

Half-baked idea

Due to the coronavirus, I’ve been working from home for a week. And that means I’ve also been lunching from home for a week.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve been required to BMOL (bring my own lunch). Indeed, earlier this month, with the cafeteria closed for spring break, I was responsible for furnishing my midday meals.

For two of those days, I decided to take Red Baron French bread pizza. I discovered the product last year and quickly became a fan of the five cheese and garlic offering. As is their way, however, the stores quit carrying that product soon thereafter.

Alas, life is filled with disappointments, but what matters is how we react to said disappointments. With that in mind, I decided to take a chance on the pepperoni French bread pizza and tossed a box into my shopping cart. I figured I could toss the individual pizzas into the microwave at work and take care of two days’ worth of lunches.

Luckily for me, there was a memory bobbing on the waves of my consciousness, which directed me to check the back of the pizza box. As I read the directions, it all came back to me and I uttered an expletive.

Why? Because there are two ways to prepare the pizzas. The recommended method involves baking the pizzas in an oven for 20 to 23 minutes. The other method involves microwaving the pizzas for one to two minutes and then baking them in an oven for eight to 10 minutes.

Unless you’re so hungry that you’re on the verge of passing out or dying, why would you choose the second method? Either way, you’ll need to use a conventional or toaster oven, so why would you bring the microwave into the relationship? The way I see it, you’d be taking the unnecessary risk of making a mess in the microwave and, as everyone knows, microwaves are dern-near impossible to clean.

The second method also includes an extra step. You’d need to put the pizzas in the microwave and remove them only to then put them in the oven. I’m exhausted even thinking about it.

Clearly, the recommended method represents the only logical way to prepare the pizzas. That’s what I did during spring break. I baked the pizzas one evening and warmed them in the microwave at work for my next two consecutive midday meals.

In spite of the confusing baking directions, I’m happy to describe the pizzas as tasty and filling. In fact, you might have recently seen me standing in my grocer’s freezer so that I could retrieve the last box of said pizzas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Sucker punch — March 3, 2020

Sucker punch

Two separate conversations I’ve had with two different sets of people in two different locations over the course of the last two weeks have gone something like this:

Me: “Do y’all remember those powdery suckers?”

Fellow conversers: “No.”

Me: “Oh, you remember them. They were roundish but also kinda flat on top and powdery and they came in different pale colors and they were powdery.”

Fellow conversers: “Oh, yeah. They had those short, hollow sticks. I liked them.”

Me: “I hated them. The powder turned my stomach.”

Fellow conversers: “Hmm. Not sure why you insisted on reminding us of something you hate. But speaking of lollipops, I really miss those Life Savers suckers.”

That’s right, dear readers. Without being prompted, two sets of folks — with only me in common – shared their remembrances of lollipops past. A converser from conversation number two seemed especially attuned to the emotional memories of her taste buds. Indeed, with tears forming in her eyes, she related how she’s told her teenage daughter that she would love for her to be able to enjoy one of those Life Saver lollipops of her youth.

For those of you unfamiliar with the suckers, they were officially known as Life Savers Swirled Pops. Although they were larger than regular Life Savers, I could make one disappear in approximately three bites. They came in four flavors — blueberry and vanilla, orange and vanilla, cherry and banana, and strawberry and vanilla.

I can’t remember trying the blueberry and vanilla, I’m not a fan of orange-flavored treats, and the strawberry and vanilla turned my stomach. But the cherry and banana was so good that I can understand why my friend wishes her daughter could enjoy the fruity lollipop. For reals. It’s something that everyone should experience at least one or two hundred times.

The company quit making the lollipops at some point and, to be honest, I hadn’t thought of the product in dozens of years. What’s more, I can’t remember the last time I had a Life Saver. But when I was a child, I would frequently accompany my parents to the store. It was most likely the Piggly Wiggly or, later, the Food City. When we reached the checkout lane, my mom always let me pick a treat from the rack of candy. Sometimes I chose cinnamon Tic Tacs while other times I selected a pack of bubblegum or a tube of wild cherry Life Savers.

I’m sure I would have opted for a cherry and banana Swirled Pop if given the chance. But not a strawberry and vanilla or one of those powdery suckers. They turned my stomach.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Peer reviewed — January 21, 2020

Peer reviewed

It seems like everyone I know has an instant pot and/or air fryer. For those of you unfamiliar with these small appliances, don’t look to me for an explanation of how they work. Based on their names, however, I theorize that the air fryer uses air to fry food and the instant pot uses magic to cook food instantly – and in a pot.

For a couple years, well-meaning friends and family members have been peer pressuring me to join the instant pot and/or air fryer craze. The conversations have gone something like this:

Well-meaning friend or family member – “OMG! Fries made in an air fryer taste amazing! You should so totally get one!”

Me – “I do love me some fries, but I don’t want a bag of them constantly tempting me from the freezer, so I’ll pass. But thanks so much for thinking of me! You’re the best!”

Well-meaning friend or family member – “OMG! Rice made in the instant pot tastes amazing and it’s done in, like, an instant! You should so totally get one!”

Me – “I do love me some rice, but Uncle Ben, a saucepan, and the stove are currently meeting my rice needs. But thanks for thinking of me! You’re the best!”

Actually, it doesn’t make sense for me to obtain an instant pot and/or air fryer because I don’t cook much. Indeed, as a well-meaning friend said to me, “I guess you don’t need an air fryer to make oatmeal.”

If you’re a longtime reader of this-here space, you might be confused. You might be saying to yourself, “Self, isn’t she always going on about making some sort of mouth-watering baked good?”

Well, yeah, but that’s baking. It’s a hobby. In fact, I enjoy making mouth-watering baked goods even if said treat is something like fruitcake, carrot cake, or red velvet cake, aka stuff I don’t eat. Even if I could air fry and/or bake a cake instantly – and in a pot – I’m not sure I would enjoy doing so.

As for cooking…at my advanced age I can finally concede that it’s not something I enjoy doing. If need be, I can cook a multi-course meal. But I’m more of a one-course meal type of gal. Although that one course could be white meat I’ve thrown onto the George Foreman grill, the meal could just as easily come out of a can or a box.

And as I’m not sure making those meals in an instant pot and/or an air fryer would improve the quality of my life, I shall not be giving into the peer pressure.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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.