As the story goes — December 1, 2021

As the story goes

Don’t you hate when you find a recipe online or otherwise, only to find that the recipe sharer has also shared a seemingly never-ending backstory that’s sorta connected to said recipe?

Yeah, about that…

I tried two new recipes at Thanksgiving: cranberry sauce and vanilla pie.

Here’s the backstory on the cranberry sauce. I had tried the Thanksgiving staple twice during my lifetime. I’ll be nice and say I wasn’t a fan. But I had cranberries leftover from cranberry balsamic chicken – it was pretty good – so I thought I’d whip up some cranberry sauce for the person at the table who enjoys the dish.

When I searched for a recipe, I found a lot of backstories as well as recipes containing orange zest. I don’t do orange zest. I don’t like the taste and the process of extracting the zest makes my knuckles bleed. Thankfully, I stumbled across a paleo recipe on cookeatpaleo.com that features three ingredients – cranberries, orange juice, and honey.

Now, if you’re like me, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, what the expletive is paleo?”

According to our friends at the Wikipedia, “The Paleolithic diet, paleo diet, caveman diet, or stone-age diet is a modern fad diet consisting of foods thought by its proponents to mirror those eaten by humans during the Paleolithic era.”

Wikipedia further notes that adherents of the paleo diet avoid processed foods. This recipe (see below) calls for fresh orange juice but I’m not the type of gal who’s going to squeeze her own orange juice. Regardless, as promised, the cranberry sauce was super easy to make. It also tasted wonderful. I ate it warm, straight from the bowl.

I also ate the vanilla pudding, which filled the pie, warm and straight from the bowl. My bestie supplied that recipe. I don’t know why I hadn’t considered making a vanilla pie before this point of my lifetime. After all, I love the homemade vanilla pudding that goes in banana pudding. I love it so much that sometimes I make it without the benefit of nanners and wafers.

The vanilla pie recipe calls for a meringue, but I’m not the type of gal who makes meringue – or her own pie shells – so you’re on your own there. You should also know that I don’t think the vanilla pie qualifies for inclusion in the paleo diet.

Cranberry sauce

12 ounces fresh cranberries

¾ cup (fresh) orange juice

½ cup honey (or maple syrup)

Combine cranberries, orange juice, and honey in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, until berries pop and sauce thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Cool completely and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.

Vanilla pie filling

4 egg yolks

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch or ½ cup all purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar and cornstarch, gradually stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir two more minutes. Remove from heat. Slightly beat egg yolks. Gradually stir egg yolks into one cup of filling. Pour mixture back into hot filling. Bring to gentle boil. Cook and stir for two more minutes. Remove from heat and add in vanilla and butter. Pour into pie shell.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Hold that thought — November 3, 2021

Hold that thought

As you might expect from women of a certain age, my friends and I have been talking a lot about Capri Sun late

Although I can’t recall why, I’m the person who first introduced the subject into conversation. For some reason, I felt the need to tell my pals that I never mastered the fine art of opening pouches of Capri Sun.

Indeed, if not for my best friend, I would have died of thirst during my grade school years. You see, she stuck the straw into the pouch for me because no matter how hard I tried, I could not puncture that gosh-dern pouch. I’m not sure what I did for refreshment on days when she was absent from school. I guess I lapsed into dehydration.

Anyway, if I expected my friends to make sport of my failure, I was surprised. They never mastered the fine art of (correctly) opening a Capri Sun, either. One shared that her attempts result in the straw puncturing both sides of the pouch. Another said that when she does manage to open a Capri Sun, the juice squirts everywhere.

Feeling vindicated, I also shared with one friend that I struggle to use can openers. That’s why I am in favor of legislation requiring all cans to feature pull tabs. This friend said she could use manual openers but not the electric kind. That reminded me of a grudge I’ve nursed for decades.

I will not name names (in print), but dozens of years ago, I packed some sort of canned food for lunch. In the breakroom, my coworkers directed me to an electric contraption they called a can opener. I had never seen anything like that. It looked like something out of The Jetsons. I couldn’t figure out where to put the can or how to turn on the gosh-darn thing.  

My coworkers laughed and laughed and joked that my mommy must have always opened cans for me. Actually, it was my job to retrieve cans from the lazy Susan and open them with the can opener that doubled as the bottle opener or the can opener with two little rotating wheels. Not that I ever became proficient at using the openers, but I performed the task capably enough. I still do.

Anyway, my friend also said that she cannot open small cartons of milk. Oh, I can do that with ease. Not that I drink milk from a carton. Once, during my aforementioned grade school days, I drank milk from a carton. I did not like the taste and dozens of years later, I still refuse to entertain the notion of drinking milk from a carton.

Yes, I can even hold a grudge against cartons of milk.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Lock it up — October 20, 2021

Lock it up

Last week, I shared what, if not for my quick reflexes, could have been a smoothie-making accident. At story’s end, I promised to explain what happened when I attempted to remove the base from the blender and, later, clean the contraption.

Here goes.

I could not remove the base from the blender. That surprised me because, earlier, when I took the blender apart to see if it worked, the base removed with ease. But once my less than smooth smoothie had been prepared, the base would not budge from the rest of the blender.

No matter how much effort I expended, that gosh darn base refused to move a millimeter. Knowing I needed to apply some traction, I pressed one foot against a cabinet, held the blender in my hands, and tried to turn it.

It didn’t work.

At that point, just when I decided to give up, my tired eyes rested on the base. It featured two icons – one represented locked, the other unlocked.

You know where this is going.

I picked up the base, turned it in the direction of the unlocked icon and, voilà, the base was no longer attached to the blender at large.

My problems were not behind me. Once I emptied the less than smooth smoothie from the jar, I had to clean the jar and my nemesis, the blade. (You might remember from part one that the blade literally rose in the air and twirled around my kitchen when I took the blender apart to see if it worked, and then pressed the on button whilst it was apart. Spoiler alert: It worked.)

It might not come as a surprise that I couldn’t separate the bottom cover – where the blade lives – from the jar. I checked. There were no icons. I cleaned it the best I could and then took it to the Goff Estate.

As soon as I walked in with the jar, the snickering began. They hurled such remarks as “Isn’t that an important part of the blender?” my way.

When I explained my predicament, my sister, Pam, with smugness dripping from her every pore, reached out her hands.

She couldn’t pry it loose, either.

Ha!

She gave it to my niece who quickly solved my problem with a turn of her hands. I returned the still-borrowed jar to my home, cleaned it, and made another less than smooth smoothie.

About those less than smooth smoothies … I think they taste fine, but they are a tad thick. My niece has seen them and agrees. As we discussed this at the Estate, my siblings pipped up, admonishing me for not including milk in my smoothie recipes.

As you might recall, before I started my smoothie-making endeavor, these same siblings assumed I planned to make peanut butter smoothies. No one said a word about milk. No one offered advice. But now they’re smoothie-making experts?

I’m sure these experts would have noticed the unlocked icon, too.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Smooth operator — October 13, 2021

Smooth operator

If I hadn’t fallen to the floor and covered my major arteries, you could be reading a story with a catchy headline like “Raccoon woman injured in freak smoothie accident.”

This near-tragedy almost happened because I needed to add more fruit to my diet. After all, it is so hard to find good, reasonably-priced berries this time of year.

Someone suggested smoothies. I conferred with someone else, who patiently explained that I couldn’t simply dump berries or other fruit into a blender and call it good. I would need to include yogurt, nuts, spinach, etc., to keep from lapsing into a coma.

As I didn’t want to lapse into a coma, I added nuts and yogurt to my shopping list and asked my mom if I could borrow her blender. When I shared my plans to make smoothies with my family, both my sisters assumed I intended to get a head start on my holiday baking.

Firstly, I have never participated in the making of peanut butter smoothies. Secondly, I abhor peanut butter. Thirdly, that would be one heck of a head start.

Anyway, as I transported the blender through the Goff Estate, I noticed that a part was missing from the lid. My brother and a sister advised me to affix duct tape to said lid to prevent ingredients from splattering around the kitchen.

A few nights later, I decided the time had arrived. I dumped walnuts, fat- and flavor-free yogurt, and mixed berries into the blender. I affixed duct tape to the lid, plugged the blender in, turned it on, and pressed the smoothie button.

Although it made a noise, nothing noteworthy happened.

I turned the blender off and on a few times. Still nothing noteworthy happened.

Then, I removed the jar, aka the thing with the handle, from the base. Most of the ingredients had packed into the jar. There were but few nuts around the blade. So, I hardly thought once about turning on the blender with the blade exposed.

I was super pumped to see that the blender worked. Indeed, the blade literally started rising in the air and twirling around the kitchen.

That’s when I fell to the floor and covered my major arteries.

Seriously, if my reflexes had been a tad slower, my life could have been made into a horror movie titled “When small appliances attack!”

The blender didn’t decapitate me, though. And as there were but few nuts around the blade, I had minimal cleanup. Then I put the blender back together. This time, something noteworthy happened when I pressed smoothie.

That first night, the taste could only be described as adequate, but it improved over time. I’m not sure if one should eat leftover smoothie or eat a smoothie with a spoon, but you live your life and I’ll live mine.

Anyway, the fun continued when I tried to remove the base from the blender and, later, clean the contraption. Tune in next week for part two of as the blender blade turns.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Constant craving — October 6, 2021

Constant craving

I eat goat cheese.

Yeah, I know that might seem like contradictory behavior from someone who’s so cheap she’s been known to crawl around on public floors to pick up change. But I splurged a few months ago on some goat cheese at the Trader Joe’s – a store that’s not nearly as expensive as I was led to believe – and I’ve been hooked since.

For those of you who’ve never sampled goat cheese, don’t expect me – a writer – to be able to describe the taste. Just know that it’s good. And not cheap.

When I finished off the TJ’s goat cheese and crackers, I headed to the Food City. After I located a container of goat cheese, I made my way to the cracker aisle in search of a cracker boasting no taste.

You can only imagine my happiness when I located Crav’n Flavor brand water crackers in said cracker aisle. Firstly, if you’re looking for crackers with no taste, look no further than water crackers. Secondly, I had never heard of this Crav’n brand, but the water crackers appeared to be on sale. I dern-near knocked the Food City associate down as I grabbed two boxes.

I could not have been more pleased with the goat cheese and water crackers. I hoped the water crackers weren’t priced outrageously the next time they made their way onto my shopping list. I would have to crawl around on a lot of floors to pay for the regularly priced goat cheese and outrageously priced water crackers.

Nevertheless, I went on with my life. In fact, I decided to make a cheesecake. (I like cheese.) But I needed graham crackers for the crust. As I don’t keep the item on-hand, I asked my family members if I could bum a cracker…or sleeve of crackers. My brother offered a sleeve but added that it wasn’t a brand name.

That seemed like an odd thing to say to me, a known proponent of store brands, but I decided he must have heard about the goat cheese. Anyway, when he brought me the graham crackers, I immediately noticed they were in a Crav’n box!

That’s right!

As it turns out, Crav’n is a Food City store brand!

I’ve since learned that the water crackers weren’t on sale. They’re always inexpensive. I’ve also seen Crav’n cookies and crackers at the Super Dollar. According to Food City’s website, the Crav’n brand includes frozen appetizers and snack rolls. I have not seen those products with my own eyes, though, so we’ll have to take the website’s word.

One can only hope Crav’n offers goat cheese, too.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Hashing it out — September 29, 2021

Hashing it out

As I’m sure all of you know, Sept. 27 marked National Corned Beef Hash Day.

Then again, dear readers, you might be asking yourselves, “What the expletive is corned beef hash?”

If you’re asking yourself that question then, unlike me, you were not forced to endure The Little Rascals’ short film, All About Hash.

When I was a wee lass growing up on the Goff Estate, we watched The Little Rascals as we waited for the school bus to lumber up the holler each morning. We might also have watched The Three Stooges, but I wouldn’t swear to that in court.

I will swear in court that I never enjoyed the Stooges or the Rascals. But what could I do? I didn’t control the TV. Furthermore, we had only five channels. What else were we going to watch?

Regardless, the aforementioned hash episode has stayed with me. According to my memory, Darla was upset because her parents argued every week about…hash. It seems her mom made hash out of leftovers and her dad just could not deal.

My memory wasn’t entirely reliable. When I researched the episode for this-here post, I learned it was Mickey’s parents who argued about…hash. But when the rascals put on a radio show – I am not making that up – to teach Mickey’s parents a lesson, Darla played the mom. So, I did remember Darla being upset about…hash.

At the time, I had no idea what they were carrying on about. All these years later, I still don’t. Our friend, Wikipedia, didn’t have much information on corned beef hash, but a website called Days of the Year offered up this on the topic:

“This is a meal that became popular throughout and after the Second World War. Because of the rationing that occurred during these years, fresh meat was very limited in availability, which resulted in corned beef filling the gaps. Cooks used their creativity, experimenting with leftovers, spices, and herbs to make different dishes. Nothing was wasted during these years, with stretching meals a main priority.”

The website added that there are no rules when it comes to making corned beef hash and encouraged cooks to get into the spirit of the World War II era and use whatever is in their refrigerators and pantries.

As a fan of leftovers, I encourage that, too, but I will not be making hash anytime soon. I have also never had corned beef. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it. I thought I had, but I was thinking of dried beef, which comes in a jar that’s not much bigger than a container of Vick’s. (By the way, my adorable great-niece calls Vick’s “gray rub.”)

Anyway, I’m semi-obsessed with meat that comes in jars. But I guess that’s a different post for a different day. Wonder if there’s a Meat in Jar Day?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A strawberry jam — March 10, 2021

A strawberry jam

Last week, I found a good deal on strawberries and bought several quarts. Unfortunately, berries fall to ruin faster than even I, a known berry fiend, can eat them, so on Saturday morning, I decided to share the natural sweetness and prepare a cake for my loved ones.

I soon discovered two problems. Firstly, when I searched recipes, I realized I didn’t have all the ingredients for a made-from-scratch cake or even for an enhanced box cake. Indeed, I was taken aback to learn that uncooked gelatin comprises an ingredient in enhanced strawberry box cake recipes. Who would have thought of that? Secondly, I didn’t feel like getting dressed and going to the store to purchase said ingredients, including gelatin.

No worries, I said to self, I’ll just create my own recipe.

So, I capped and quartered berries and tossed them into a food processor that had languished in my cupboards for years. I had spied it in the cabinet, but I wasn’t sure what purpose it served, so it had never been used until December. Anyway, after processing the berries into pulp, I added them to the white cake mix, gave it a good stir, and then poured the batter into a rectangular cake pan.

I have to say that I had my worries about the cake from the beginning. The batter didn’t have that strawberry taste. What’s more, I had read that strawberries tend to turn cake mix gray, so I added color gel. But when it emerged from the oven, part of it looked pink and part of it looked…not pink or red or any natural color I have ever beheld.

Well, there was nothing I could do about the cake, so I turned my attention to creating the most amazing strawberry buttercream frosting in the history of the galaxy. As I whipped the cream cheese and butter, it wasn’t too runny or stiff. So far, so good. But then I added the powdered sugar and suddenly the frosting was so runny it almost leapt out of the bowl and smacked me in the face.

That’s not how life is supposed to work. Powdered sugar is supposed to make frosting stiffer. I researched the matter after the fact and learned I had probably beaten the cream cheese and butter too briskly before I added the sugar. And/or the temperature of my kitchen was too hot. I’ll have to keep those tidbits in mind.

Anyway, I added the strawberry pulp, which I had created with the loyal food processor, and finished the chore. When I arrived at the Goff Estate, I literally poured the frosting onto the cake.

After supper, a few brave souls sampled the cake. Here are their reviews:

“It’s okay.”

“It’s…good.”

“It’s not…bad.”

No one could find the right words to describe the cake. But I’m told the frosting, which had to be dipped out of the pan with spoons, had a good taste that, indeed, tasted like strawberries.

As the baker whose goal was to make a frosting that tasted like strawberries, I will take that as a win.

By the way, I ate a piece of cake, and you know what? It wasn’t okay, it wasn’t…good, it wasn’t not…bad.

It was expletive good.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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.