Scene and overheard

Saturday I had my first go as a cooking contest judge at the 2017 NC State Fair.  It was for sweet potatoes.  Being judge-y and opinionated seems to come easy for me.Some takeaways: who knew sweet potatoes make such a delicious quiche?  A sweet potato pie is not fully dressed without a crunchy pecan streusel on top.  Sweet potato puree is a genius eggnog emulsifier and sweetener. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quarter cup mayonnaise and a quarter cup barbecue sauce mixed with three-quarters of a cup of Greek yogurt makes a dressing for sweet potato salad that has the perfect mix of sweet/salty/smoky/acid, and tastes amazing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo matter how delicious it is, it’s folly to eat more than three bites of any one entry.  And with a belly full of sweet potatoes even Al’s French fries aren’t very appealing.

Afterward, Petey and I walked around the fair for a while.  And there were a few takeaways from that portion of our day, as well.rice-bread-1La Farm has a terrific setup just inside gate one, with baked goods, sweet treats, and sandwiches.  They have my favorite, Carolina Gold Sourdough bread, but they sell out quick.  Although, if you manage to score a loaf, they’ll hold it for you until you’re on the way out.Anne’s Dumplings is at the Kerr Scott building with plenty of her ambrosial One Dressing.  If you buy two bottles, they’ll give you a cookbook written by their founder, Anne.  And that’s also where you’ll find D’Vine Food with their refreshing, addictive Muscadine Cider Slushie.Image may contain: drinkAnd as usual, there are crazy things for sale.

At a booth selling some kind of space-age wallet: “Is your too-thick wallet giving you problems?”

No.  A too-thick wallet has never been a problem.  A wallet so thin and devoid of contents it almost floats away?

Yes.

Never have I ever…

Too thick?  That’s a big negatory, Bandit.

I have a peculiar congenital defect.  My hips move less like a human’s, and more like the sticky bottom drawer in a warped, aged dresser.  I can’t hula, or even hula hoop for that matter.  The fetching swing of a girl’s hip on me looks more like the lurch of a drunken zombie or Frankenstein’s monster.  As you might imagine, this severely limits my dance moves.

I could probably river dance, where hip movement is prohibited.  But twerking was completely out of the question.

Or, so I thought.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause, Gentle Reader, they have invented a twerking machine.  Oh sure, they may say it’s for exercise and call it a whole-body vibration machine.  But if you stand on that puppy, you’ll be involuntarily twerking harder than Miley Cyrus in a teddy bear one-piece. And if you don’t feel like dancing, the view you’ll have standing behind the twerker will either send you into paroxysms of hilarity, or deeply traumatize you, requiring hundreds of hours of therapy, or possibly even institutionalizing.

For me, the sight induced flat out hilarity.  I could’ve stood there and gazed at the twitching of humanity all day.  Although I now have the mechanized ability, I still don’t think that twerking is for me.At any one time, approximately 90% of fairgoers are eating.  My estimate is the combined total of calories consumed by everyone on the grounds in one hour is at least 40 thousand bajillion and twelve.

In all my observations, I noticed something miraculous.  Maybe it’s the food, or the Autumn nip in the air, but there’s an overriding mood of the crowd.  It’s the joviality and good will similar to the height of the Christmas season.

I guess that makes Steve Troxler Santa Claus.

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Steve Troxler (center), unidentified woman (right), and the best beard of the State Fair (left).

Thanks for your time.

 

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Roast that Beast

Black and blue.It’s not just for bruises, it’s also the term for ultra-rare steak—quickly seared on the outside, and practically raw on the inside.

And this is how my caveman Kid orders it.

Children can have unreasonable fears installed by the words and actions of adults.  Myself, it’s pressure cookers.  When my mother used one, she acted like she had a thermonuclear device in a pot on the stove.  There’d be lots of, “Get back!”, “Don’t touch it!”, “It’s gonna blow!”.

Breakfast is canceled at Tiffany’s.

To this day, even though I’m pretty sure that pressure cookers can probably be safe, I’ve never owned one, and am uncomfortable around them.  It’s the potentially lethal combo of heat and pressure, with the added hazard of food shrapnel.

My mom is the same way about undercooked meat.

Pork?  OMG.  She’s convinced that if there is any juice left at all in the pork all diners will be dead before morning.  And beef cooked anything less than tanned hide also caused fear and revulsion in my mom.But, I developed a taste for severely rare beef, which I passed on to The Kid.

My mom’s recipe for roast beef was an eye of round roast that she would cook all day in a crockpot with an envelope of onion soup mix and a little water.  Consequently, it was taupe and tough.  I just assumed that this was the best an eye of round could hope to be.But then I saw online and on TV that this cut could make a nice roast beef.  But because it’s a pretty lean piece of beef, it could only be cooked until it reached 125-130 degrees, max.  Every extra second in the oven makes it tougher and drier.

So, I started researching recipes.  And found technique was the important factor in a nice roast beef.  And even better, it’s a relatively cheap cut.

Eye Roast Beefroast eye of round1-3 pound eye of round roast, frozen solid

4 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder (not garlic salt)

2 teaspoons dried Thyme

1 tablespoon ground dried mushrooms (optional)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Horseradish Cream

horseradish cream

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon horseradish

Salt and Pepper to taste

Three days before cooking, Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt all over the entire surface of the meat.  Place into zip-top bag and let thaw in fridge.

Cooking Day: Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the rest of the salt with pepper, garlic powder, thyme, and mushroom powder.  Dry off beef with paper towels, then coat with salt herb mixture.  Heat a heavy skillet on stove and add butter and oil until melted and foamy.  Place beef in skillet and sear on all sides.Place probe thermometer into the center of the meat set to 123 degrees.  Place skillet with beef fat side up into oven and cook until temp is reached.  Take out of skillet and place on a cooling rack over a shallow sided pan. 

Leave thermometer in while resting, so juices don’t run out of the hole.  Cover loosely with foil and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes (the internal temp will continue to rise about 5 more degrees while it rests).Slice very thinly and serve hot with horseradish cream.  Serves four.  Leftovers make killer sandwiches.  Stir remaining horseradish cream into some mayo for the perfect sandwich dressing.In addition to a beautiful, inexpensive roast beef, I leave you with this advice.  Try very hard not to infect children with your own fears and prejudices, in the kitchen or out.

The only major fear I know for sure I preinstalled into The Kid?Overcooked steak.

Thanks for your time.

Fashionably Suspect

Fall is absolutely my very favorite time of year, and not just ‘cause of the State Fair.

It cools off.  Mad props and fierce gratitude to the gods of clime.

Time for back to school, with pristine supplies and the fresh beginnings that come with new classes and new teachers.

The reruns are over and all the shows air first-run episodes.  There are also new series to fall in love with, or conversely, with some, gather to observe that long, agonizing death march to cancellation.And NYFW, LFW, PFW, and MFW.  For the uninitiated or uninterested, it’s the FW which excites—Fashion Week.  These are autumnal weeks in various cities (New York, London, Paris, and Milan) where designers show next year’s spring/summer collections.

Sundresses are parading the various catwalks, but the spectacularly fashionable attendees and industry insiders usher in fall fashion—both the highs and lows.

There a few different kinds of fashion folk attending the shows and pounding the pavement.

The chic-est woman on the planet: Jenna Lyons.

There are the truly chic.  These are the people who exude style either effortlessly through their DNA, or by hard work (which must still look effortless).  They make the rest of us feel like we’re wearing the ill-fitting knock-off of a generic potato sack.

There are slaves to fashion.  The ones with more dollars than sense.  Like the editor-at-large for Vogue Japan, Anna Dello Russo.

‘Editorial’ is an industry term.  It refers to those insane, over-the-top styles on the runway.  These aren’t really meant for actual humans with actual lives.  It’s purely for shock value, buzz, and magazine layouts.

What the hell is wrong with Vogue Japan?

But the always subtle Anna Dello Russo wears those silly, unflattering, costume-y outfits from head to toe.  In.Public.  On.Purpose.

Then there are models; gazelle-like genetic freaks that can wear literally anything, and look inhumanly stylish and amazing.  But who knows.   They might not even be human, but aliens from planet Tall-and-Gorgeous.

Every year there are some real sartorial head-scratchers.  But this year seems almost like a practical joke played on every woman on the planet and not just Ms. Dello Russo.Moody florals.  Textiles that evoke half-dead funeral flowers which are made into long, shapeless dresses.  Why are the world’s fashion designers trying to dress women like a couch on the back porch of a down-at-the-heels frat house?Pajamas as streetwear.  Yeah, I know jammies are comfy cozy.  But cut it out.  Wearing pajamas out don’t look edgy and chic.  It looks like you’ve slipped away from the laughing academy, and you’re only a few steps ahead of the guys with the butterfly nets.

Whoops! Wrong crazy mule.

And, what’s with the trend of mules (backless, closed-toe shoes), embellished with fur, embroidery, or jewels?  It’s true that fashion for the aristocracy has historically demonstrated exclusivity by disdain for functionality, but not only are these shoes ridiculous, they’re downright homely.Asymmetric, ill-fitting, ripped-looking duds that are buttoned wrong or tied together.  It looks like your house was on fire and you put on every garment you owned, keeping it together with a shower curtain wrapped around your waist/ neck/ left thigh.Maybe it’s not the aesthetics, but the unfamiliarity of the trends with which I have a problem.  I mean, for the longest time I thought selling jeans that come already ripped was an ugly racket perpetrated by clothing manufacturers, but now my favorite pair of jeans are “distressed”.

So hey, if you see me on the street wearing tied together floral pj’s and shoes decorated with peacock feathers and Hot Wheels, please promise to turn your head a little and not laugh directly into my face, okay?

It’s flu season, you know.Thanks for your time.

Life May Not Be Fair, But October Certainly Is

I am full of the milk of human kindness. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a related note, I’m also full of about 27 pounds of fair food.

Today was the 2017 North Carolina State Fair media luncheon.  Each year the Ag Department holds this event to give the press all the information we need to cover the fair.

And this is where vendors show off the edible inventions that will have their debut this year.

Everybody that visits the fair every year (and if you don’t; shame on you, and get yourself to the fair this year) has their favorites.

Today I had a couple items that may become an annual must.Lamb burgers NeomondeNeomonde Bakery and Deli has a tent every year for baked goods and demos near the chapel.  But they also serve hot food at a spot near Dorton Arena.  And that’s where you can get their lamb burger.  It has fresh mixed greens, caramelized onions, and a harissa yogurt sauce all on their freshly baked brioche bun.  It’s pretty darn tasty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year La Farm introduced a hand pie.  This particular hand pie might remind you of a particular rectangular pastry tart from your youth that comes from the grocery store.  My mom never bought them, so I never developed a taste for them, but Petey was raised on them, and still occasionally indulges.Hand Pies La FarmMy very own grown-up kid may never eat those mass market, cardboard things again.  He loved Chef Lionel’s pies filled with fresh strawberries and Nutella.  The chocolate/rye pastry was perfect.  It was flaky and delicious, drizzled with chocolate ganache and sprinkled with big sugar crystals.

The award for craziest treat that probably shouldn’t have tasted so good came from Chef’s D’lites.  They had one of those deep-fried sweets that are usually stunt foods.  But the deep fried key lime bites worked.  The crispy/creamy/bright/citrusy combination was irresistible.  It’s probably a good thing they’re only available once a year.Steve Troxler and new food winner Arepa LocaAfter downing all this crazy fair grub, we get to vote on the best new food at the fair.  The winner this year, Steve Troxler, Agriculture Commissioner informed us, won by a landslide.

It was the arepas from Arepa Loca.  Arepas are little Columbian savory cakes made of masa, split and filled with meats and veggies.  They’re a popular street food found in many Latin American cultures.  You may know them as gorditas or pupusas.

I asked the owner to fill it the way he likes it.  He stuffed it with beef, veggies and topped it with some guacamole.  They were fresh cakes with fresh, bright fillings and were the favorite of everybody at my table.  I just hope that their newfound fame doesn’t make the lines too long so I can get some more at the fair.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2017 is the 150th NC State Fair, and if you go on Thursday (10/12), you can get in for $1.50.  Food vendors will be selling $1.50 portions, and state fair staff will be handing out free rides and other prizes to attendees wearing commemorative buttons handed out to the first 15,000 folks through the gates when they open at 3:00PM that day.

If this column sounds a little like I’m drunk, I’m really not.  I am flat out giddy.  I love the fair.  It is one of the highlights of my year.  If you need to get up with me for the next couple weeks, I’ll meet you in front of the waterfall at Dorton Arena.  If I’m not there, I’ll be home sleeping it off, getting ready to do it all over again in the morning.150th cakesThanks for your time.

What a Twist!

This basically, was Carolyn.

We lived in San Diego when I was in junior high.  One of my best friends was Carolyn.  She was a tall, willowy California blond.  I loved her, but she was a little spoiled and could be kinda shallow.

One afternoon we were wandering around Sea World, where we had season tickets.Sitting on a bench was a little boy, about eight-years-old.  It looked like he’d gotten separated from his family, and he was having a meltdown.  But I’d never seen a meltdown like this; he had his arms wrapped around himself, and was rocking back and forth, and making a sound that sounded like something halfway between a moan and a wail.

I had no idea what was wrong with him, and absolutely no idea what to do.Then I noticed Carolyn.  She kneeled in front of the distraught child, and without touching him, she began speaking to him, slowly and calmly.  She looked over her shoulder at me.

“Grab an employee, tell them we found an autistic boy alone.”

Practically tripping on my jaw, which had fallen to the ground, I did as my surprising friend bid me.

By the time the kid’s frantic mother ran up, Carolyn was gently teasing a smile out of the boy, whose anxiety had almost dissipated.  I had oh, so many questions.Carolyn informed me that autism is a disorder where information isn’t collected, processed, and responded to in the same way as most people.  Change and the unexpected can cause them to shut down.  My friend was able to stop the emotional escalation, and even begin calming him.

She learned this as a volunteer working with autistic children.  I was proud of my friend, and from that day on, looked at her with respect and a touch of admiration.

Carolyn had what I’d call a secret superpower; an impressive unusual skill that you’d never expect.  And if you look enough, it’s a safe bet you’ll that find most people have at least one.  Maybe not as shocking and altruistic as Carolyn’s, but everybody’s got something.Last Saturday I learned something shocking about my own child.  Although not a make-up wearer, The Kid can draw cat eyeliner on others perfectly, and in the blink of a gorgeous, dramatic eye.  It’s a skill picked up in theater classes.

My father can braid hair.  It either comes from having three sisters, or spending time in the Coast Guard, but Dad can do it.

My mother can build you a radio.  When she was young she worked in a factory where she learned to solder transistors onto one of those electronic boards and before you know it, you’re grooving out to Kasey Kasem’s top 40s.Petey hasn’t done it in years, and even then not often, and he’d probably deny it, but the man is a really good dancer.  And as a bonus, he does a spot-on impression of Eddie Murphy’s version of Gumby, “I’m Gumby, damn it!”.

And, I have a weird talent.  I experience numbers and sounds in a kind of rhythm.  Once I hear a phone number, it’s memorized, and long after it happens, I know the number of times somebody knocked on the door.  I can almost hear it in my head.  Unfortunately, I’ve not yet figured out a way to profit from this bizarre, savant-like ability.

So Gentle Reader, drop me a line and share with me the crazy, hidden, superpowers that you and/or your loved ones may have.  If I get enough, I’ll share them with the class in a future column.Thanks for your time.

A Tale of Two Chefs

The Elizabeth City Boys’ Club, circa a million years ago.

One day, a nine-year-old Petey was hanging out at the Boys’ Club in Elizabeth City and met a kid named Chrissie.  He didn’t know it at the time, but they lived right across the street from each other.

They immediately became best friends, forever after.

One day, a nine-year-old me was playing at a new friend’s house in Puerto Rico and met the older brother, a teenager named Chrissie.

We immediately hated each other, fortunately, not forever after.

Puerto Rico, circa half million years ago.

It took 16 years, but we’re now as close as family.  He’s also a professional chef who is my walking, talking kitchen reference and culinary sensei.

One night when we were on the phone talking about food, and I was listing all the stuff I don’t like.  He listened quietly for a few minutes, then asked me a question.“Debbie, where did you try this?  Unless it’s been well-prepared, by somebody who knows what they’re doing, you can’t know if you like it or not.  So, knock it off.”

Oh, Chef Chrissie.  I can’t get away with anything with him.

But (and I hate to have to admit he’s right—about anything), he’s right.  And it’s brought home to me over and over again.  The most recent lesson was only a couple weeks ago.

Chef Trey Bell

Chef Trey at Euphoria.

The Kid and I went to Greensboro to check out the restaurant and new bar owned by Chef Trey Bell, one of the participating chefs of the South Carolina food fest, Euphoria.

Our first stop was his sophisticated watering hole downtown, Rue-Bar.  The space was art deco, and the bar manager Greg was laid back and welcoming.

Greg at Rue-Bar.

After a couple of really delicious and interesting cocktails, we headed to Chef Bell’s eatery, LaRue Elm.

The Kid and I were intensely honored to be diners at the restaurant’s very first chef’s table.  This is a table set up in the kitchen to watch the food being prepared and talk with the chefs.  It was only the four of us, Chef Trey and his Chef de Cuisine Kevin Cottrell, The Kid, and me.

We asked them to choose our menu.  The very first course was proof of Chef Chrissie’s philosophy: braised, marinated octopus tentacle.  My child was thrilled.  I was nervous. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut I liked it.  It was cooked perfectly.  And the flavor was pleasant, and not fishy in the slightest.

There were two other fish courses and two desserts that almost made me weep with joy (popcorn ice cream on a bed of brown butter powder and maple-bourbon crème brule).

My very favorite course of the meal was seemingly simple but in reality, risky.  Many chefs agree that the true test of a chef is how he handles that most basic of foods; the egg.  Chef Bell’s egg got whatever grade is better than an A+.

It was a perfectly soft-boiled egg yolk, returned to the shell, then topped with savory whipped cream flavored with malt vinegar and maple.  I could’ve eaten a carton of those eggs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd you can make the cream yourself.  Flavor it however you want, and beat it to soft tender peaks.  Serve it on fish, chicken, veggies, or if you want me to move in with you, soft-boiled eggs.  I’m serious; please give this stuff a try.

This stuff is so simple but delicious and unexpected.  My mission is to preach the gospel of savory whipped cream.  I will travel the world with cow, sea salt, and whisk.

Tentacles that I enjoyed, and life-changing, perfectly cooked eggs.

I think Chef Chrissie would definitely approve.  I sure do.

NOT Chef Chrissie, but there are similarities….

Thanks for your time.

 

Euphoric

morning afterYou know it’s been a heck of a weekend if, on Sunday night, you’re craving a salad and a shower.

Last weekend The Kid and I drove down to Greenville, SC and attended the 12th annual food, drink and music festival, Euphoria.  It was an all-you-can-eat, drink, and listen extravaganza.

So, we did.

Saturday afternoon we went to the “Feast by the Field” held in and around Fluor Field on the West End, the stadium for Greenville’s minor league baseball the Drive.  Chefs from all around the country cooked up tempting bites that represented them and their style.

20170923_134259

The duck, with those amazing collards.

The first bite was one of my favorites of the weekend.  It was an empanada filled with slow cooked short rib and served with a green tomato relish and microgreens.  Another favorite was a cornbread toast point with duck confit, the best braised collards I’ve ever eaten, and topped with crispy duck cracklings.  I asked for the collard recipe, but unfortunately, it came the chef’s grandmother and was not for sharing.

My favorite offering of the event was mini cupcakes.  I chose a salted caramel one.

I ate it in two bites.Saturday night was the inaugural Big Easy Bash.  It was held in a town near Greenville which is undergoing a kind of renaissance, Traveler’s Rest (is that a cute name for a little town, or what?).  It was a celebration of all things New Orleans.

The band, Soda City Brass Band was talented and playful.  One of my favorite moments of the night came when the trumpet player broke out his digeridoo and played some jazz.

The band came out into the crowd and a large portion of the of the crowd paraded in front and behind.  This is called “Second Line”.  My child and I joined the Lousiana and danced our hearts out.  The consumption of numerous, brightly colored cocktails may or may not have played a part in our decision.

Chef Tariq Hanna

Tariq Hanna, sugar wizard, and creator of brown butter ganache.

My favorite dish of the night was no surprise, a dessert.  The pastry chef actually works in N’awlins and his creation was totally traditional, and at the same time, completely insane.  It was a tart, about 3-inches long by ½-inch wide, filled with bread pudding.

So that is unique enough.  But he then along the top he piped a line of something I’d never heard of, but which now resides on my short list of favorite foods.

Brown.Butter.Ganache.

How is it that I never heard of this ambrosia?  Can you imagine the buckets of it that I have missed eating because I only just discovered it this late in the game?  It’s just too depressing to even contemplate.

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John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue in Charleston.  The Best Short Ribs ever, and the best bite at Euphoria.

Sunday though, was my favorite event.  The reason?  It was brunch, a delicious hybrid of breakfast foods, lunch fare, and a slice of melon.  With an emphasis on barbecue, it was called “Fired Up!”.

And here I discovered and devoured my two favorite of the weekend: pork belly tacos, and short ribs that were so amazing, I told the chef to call me if he ever needed a kidney.  Next to him was a pile of stripped bovine rib bones so massive it looked like the aftermath of a cookout at Fred Flintstone’s house.We were lucky enough to have a VIP ticket.  It conferred upon us exclusive events, early admissions, and entry to the VIP lounge.

I’ve never been a VIP before.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that after this weekend, it’s gonna be tough going back to being a mere “P”.

Chef Crenn

The Kid and I were so honored to meet Chef Dominique Crenn.  What a weekend!

Thanks for your time.

 

What crazy thing have you done?

It’s been a while since I gave you a recipe, Gentle Reader.  This week I have a doozy for you.I know from bad neighbors.

One of our neighbors is…challenging.  Three people live in the home, and they each have three to five cars which they invariably park on the street around our house.  They also own a giant RV which we refer to as Bruce Springsteen’s tour bus.  That one used to be parked right in front of our house, leaving us virtually blind to the street and the world beyond.  It was like living behind Checkpoint Charlie.

Another neighbor moved in as a newlywed.  They had three pit bulls that spent most of the time in the backyard.  They barked protectively at anything that moved or was alive.  After they’d lived there a few years, the husband was arrested.  Turns out he was the regional manager of a murderous drug cartel.  Last we saw of him, he was bound for the federal pen.Because we’ve had not-so-hot neighbors, we have no trouble figuring out who the good ones are.  And we appreciate those good ones so very much.

Fabian and Lana have lived behind us for more than ten years.  They’re flat out awesome and our favorite neighbors—ever.  They frequently act as Guinea pigs for my kitchen experiments, and kindly help me out when I’ve made way too many desserts by taking them off my hands.  One of Fabian’s favorite treats are my vanilla meringues; little cookies made from whipped egg whites and sugar.

This movie is what did it.  I’ve spoken to a ton of folks who have gone vegan because of it.  Truthfully, I’m afraid to watch it.

Fabian’s a recent convert to veganism and a professional rapper.  He currently is on a tour in Europe.  I wanted to make him some treats for the trip.  Meringues would have been prefect, but egg whites are off limit now.

I googled “vegan egg whites” expecting the entire internet to laugh at me as one.  Instead, I got a result that sounded like a joke.  The egg substitute was something that I’ve always discarded, and you, Gentle Reader have probably dumped as well.

It was the liquid from a can of chickpeas.I know, crazy right?  But it actually works.  It whips right up to stiff peaks, doesn’t taste anything like beans, and bakes up into crispy little morsels that look almost exactly like the real thing.  There’s a not unpleasant citrus-like sour component that the traditional confection lacks, but that was the only noticeable difference.

The recipe I used comes from Food Network, but I upped the salt, and added vanilla paste.

Vegan meringuesvegan meringues

One 15-ounce can chickpeas

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Kosher salt

¾ cup superfine sugar (I just put regular sugar into food processor and ground it fine)

2 teaspoons vanilla paste

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

Strain chickpeas directly into bowl of a stand mixer. Reserve chickpeas for another use. Add cream of tartar and pinch of salt to liquid, and beat on medium-high speed until very foamy. While still beating, add vanilla paste, then sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Continue to beat until mixture forms stiff and glossy peaks, about 4 minutes.

Transfer mixture to large pastry bag fitted with large star or round tip.  Pipe 2-inch mounds about 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake until meringues are set and no longer glossy, about 2 hours, rotating the trays (from top to bottom) halfway through. Turn oven off, and let meringues sit in closed oven until they’ve dried out inside, about 1 hour more.

Did Fabian like them?vegan meringuesWell, in the 2 minutes I was there to deliver them, he ate seven.

Thanks for your time.

Hokum Pocus

Every October in Junior High, our school would have an assembly.  We’d file in and find seats while the extremely creepy first part of Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” played on a loop.   Then a professional magician would perform for us.

One year, a friend of mine was chosen from the audience to assist the conjuror.

Years ago, my parents took The Kid to a county fair.  There was a show by a hypnotist and my child was picked to come on stage. After the magic show, I bugged my schoolmate to distraction for the inside scoop.  I pleaded with her to spill.  I begged for the confidential poop.

Finally, my poor friend could take it no longer and talked.

When I went to collect The Kid at my parents’ house, they told me about the fair, and turned on the tape made of Svengali’s performance.  I watched and laughed at the image of my stoic, stolid, low-key child acting like a chicken, singing like a drunk, and dancing like a bear. hypno

On the drive home I asked one question after another.  What did it feel like?  How did you feel when the spell was broken?  Was there any memory?  And could I use hypnosis to win friends and influence people?

Finally, The Kid had it with the interrogation.

At this point, Gentle Reader I must caution you.  What follows are major spoilers of magic and similar theatrical performances.  I warn you now; if you have no desire to peek behind that curtain, stop.  Do not read on.So here is the secret; it’s all a big fat scam.

My friend, the magician’s assistant didn’t give me the technical aspects of the act, but instead explained that the marvelous, magical experience was nothing but a tawdry, sweaty lie.  It was a rusty bucket full of mirrors, fishing wire, misdirection, and actual smoke.

And my child revealed that when the “mentalist’s” helper walked each audience member up to the stage, there were furious, whispered instructions to play along, and pretend to be hypnotized.  The Kid wasn’t put to sleep and mesmerized, The Kid wasn’t even relaxed.  From start to finish it was a put-on, a con, a fraud.A giant, hairy, hoax.

At age 13 I didn’t actually believe that magic was real, but I at least thought that there was a touch of show biz glamour—nope.

My only exposure to hypnosis has been old sit-coms.  You know, where one guy is supposed to be hypnotized but the other poor dude starts singing opera whenever the phone rings, or the hypnotist is somehow out of commission and they can’t make the subject stop clucking like a chicken.But as far as I know, hypnosis can be legit.  So, I assumed that The Kid and all the other participants on the tape had truly been in a trance.

No dice.

So why, oh why, would anybody waste their time and money and get dressed up and go out to get hoodwinked on purpose?  I don’t understand.  Where is the fun in having somebody trick you?

Frankly, the whole concept of stage magic makes me really angry.  If you are over the age of five, you know it’s not real, so why?  Why is it a thing? If there were somebody out there doing I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, Harry Potter (Yes, I know it’s also make-believe.  But, you know what I mean.) real magic, I’d get a second mortgage to buy a ticket to that.

But if I want somebody to lie to me, I’ll ask Petey if I look old.Thanks for your time

The Burning Question

I’ve had a genius idea that may change the world in which we live for all time.  I am sharing it free of charge, with no other motive but to assist my fellow human.

And, I’ll tell you all about it in a minute.

Clothes shopping for guys is nowhere near as fraught with guilt, anxiety, and frustration as it is for those of us of the female persuasion.

For guilt, we have fast fashion; inexpensive, trendy clothing that usually comes from overseas, and thus has possibly been manufactured under less than ethical circumstances.  That might be an adorable $15 sweater, but it also may have been produced by a child, in a tyrannical dictatorship.  And then, there’s the internal debate to determine our worthiness of the money about to be spent.  Do we really deserve this?Anxiety arrives in the dressing room with an overly critical eye.  The accompanying soundtrack is the echo of every intrusive voice that has ever commented on a woman’s body.  The chorus consists of moral judgments about the tightness of the pants, the height of the skirt, or the depth of the neckline.

The third horseman of the shopping apocalypse is frustration.  There is no standard when it comes to size.  Even within the same store or designer collection.  In a brick and mortar store it manifests in the necessity of trying on four sizes of the same garment to get a good fit.  That’s bad enough.  But it makes online clothes shopping a nightmare.

This unreliability of clothes sizing leads me right back to my brilliant brainstorm.I have very little stamina when it comes to spicy food.  My palate has an extremely low tolerance for fiery.  Sometimes a surfeit of black pepper can be too much.  And it’s not that I’m a baby, or a picky eater.  I’d love to able to chow down on the kind of food that brings a tear to one’s eye.  But it literally causes me pain.

The hottest pepper that I can usually eat is the relatively mild poblano.  Although a big fan of fried foods, jalapeno poppers have never crossed my lips, and four-alarm chili is at least 3 & ¾ alarms too many.The substance that creates the heat in peppers is a compound called capsaicin.  It’s quantified with something called the Scoville index.  This number can vary from zero in bell peppers and pimentos, to 1000-2000 for poblanos, to 2.2 million for the newly engineered Carolina Reaper.  To illustrate this amount of hellfire, eating a whole Reaper can carry with it the possible side effects of hallucinations and death.  Heck, the lowest level of weapons-grade pepper spray comes in at 2,000,000.

Based on the scale, it’s easy for anyone to figure out their heat tolerance.But when shopping or dining out, one must make do with complete subjectivity.  Bottles of salsa are labeled, ‘hot’, ‘medium’, or ‘mild’.  Restaurants are even worse.  Try asking a server about the level of heat in a dish, and you’ll get something like, “It’s not too hot”, or “It’s a little spicy”.  There needs to be a better way.

Well, now there is, and it’s my proposition; instead of leaving your well-being to vague generalities, declare the spiciness in concrete Scoville units.  Put it right on the menu or label.  You’ll know exactly what you’re getting into.

Then never again will the timid of palate take a bite of a dish marked “mild”, and feel like they’re dining on a heaping helping of volcanic lava.Thanks for your time.