I Suck at Scrabble

And by suck I mean that’s one of the cleverest words I can come up with when I play the game.  It doesn’t really matter though because I’m taking on players worse than me.  There’s a 7 year old (at least my spelling and vocabulary is better than his), a 9 year old (who might actually beat me some day), and a 15 year old txtr (vowels are so last year)

This is the way it went down Christmas Eve.  I read the instructions to all involved and then we agreed on which rules we would not follow.  Two and three letter words are the forte with our group. I discovered early on to be careful the order I placed the tiles.  My objective might be “poop” but by the time the 2nd “o” is placed the other players are so convulsed with laughter that the game has to be halted for 5 minutes.  The simple word “but” can bring on a discussion of how funny it would be if a second “t” were added….again more gales of laughter.

But what does Scrabble have to do with food anyway?  After all this blog is supposed to be about my thoughts on food.   Let me tell you where food and Scrabble mix.  I discovered that it was possible at opportune times to jump up, scream “The cookies are burning in the oven” and accidentally knock the table so the tiles jumped into new spots.  See; there is a food connection.  I just need to bake cookies every time we play. The drink of choice for this game, at least for me, is Two Buck Chucks’ cabernet.  It looks erudite, so at least I appear to know what I’m doing.  Hah!

Do other games have preferred food and drink connections?  Here are a few that come to mind.

Poker –scotch and sandwiches. I‘m basing this assumption on my late night television viewing habits.  I don’t play poker or drink scotch.

Monopoly can take hours and founded on memories of childhood Monopoly marathons the game requires cousins, lots of time, and numerous glasses of Coke.  No need to bring food to the table – there’s plenty of time to stop the play, chow down in the kitchen and go back to the game.  Today I’d probably add some bourbon to that beverage glass.

Uno, classic Uno, none of the newer variations.  We play just with cards and we play for keeps.  With this game there’s no food or drink on the table.  We’re vicious.  We form alliances and pass cards under the table.  Even the youngest player is not immune.  He has about 5 seconds to decide if he’ll play the yellow card or the red before the other players start chanting “play, Play, PLAY!”  After each round everyone but the dealer gets a quick break to rehydrate while the cards are being shuffled and dealt then it’s back to the mayhem.

Beer/hot dogs/peanuts and almost any game played in a stadium or arena.

It seems food is almost as vital to a game as actually playing.  What’s your favorite food and game combo?


I Say Sumac. You say – Poison

Let’s try that again.  I say Sumac you say—Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac.

One more time – I say Sumac and you say—spice!

Yes, a spice used in many Middle Eastern foods. Who knew?  It’s not a spice I have ever used and when I first tasted it in a meat pie this weekend I wasn’t sure about the flavor.  Was it cinnamon? No.   It also wasn’t anything from the Italian palate of spices either; I was sure of that.  It’s a flavor that hung around in my mouth after the food was finished.  Intriguing.  I had to ask. When Sumac was the answer I did have a momentary thought “Poison! – I’ve been poisoned” but since everyone around me was alive and kicking it seemed foolish to grab my throat and dramatically drop to the ground.  Good manners demanded that I just keep on eating.

If, like me, you’re not familiar with Middle Eastern food and wonder if Sumac is part of the dish you’re dining on– check the color.  Sumac does not just blend into the background like salt; it doesn’t hide out with the green herbs, it stands alone and colors the food an interesting shade of red, almost like someone dropped a bottle of red food color into the meat.

Turns out lots of people enjoy sumac.  It’s an essential in the Middle East but even though I live in the East (make that Eastern United States) I’ve never had sumac flavored grits.  The only red spice we use is paprika and then just a sprinkling on deviled eggs.  We’re not what you would call adventurous when it comes to food tastes, but I might try sumac.  I’m guessing my local Kroger doesn’t stock it.  I’ll look though just to be sure. Once, when I eventually I find it, I’ll get back to you how it works in fried chicken or better yet pimento cheese.

All this led thinking about poisons let to a search for other poisonous foods, real or perceived.

I have to start with Agatha Christie’s poison of choice – Cyanide.  It turns out cyanide is everywhere in our diet; not just peach pits, there’s even some cyanide in apple seeds.  Don’t give up those Gaia’s just yet.  The outside of the seeds are too hard and don’t dissolve, even in stomach acid, so you would have to work really really hard to ingest enough cyanide from apples to kill yourself.

Then there’s the grandmotherly socially acceptable drink – Elderberry wine.  Made from the flowers its ok; just don’t decide to serve up a plateful of Elderberry roots or stems.

As I kept looking I found more and more plants that we eat part of yet the remaining parts are poisonous.  Who discovered this; did they test new foods out on annoying Uncle Herb?  As many a comedian has said; who looked at an oyster and said – let’s break this open and eat it.

Food – I might not be quite ready to suck on a fish eye but I was ok with the thyme pie (think pizza dough, olive oil and a coating of crushed thyme).   Looks like I’m on the way for 2012  being my year for food experimentation.

Hi Ho Hi Ho. Its Stealing Recipes We Go!

Yes, it’s that season, the best time of year to steal a few recipes.

Cookie Exchanges, holiday parties, treats for teachers, gifts for neighbors and of course family holiday meals.  It’s a lot of food and a lot of recipes.  Did you ever wonder where all those recipes came from?  I know they didn’t suddenly spring out of my brain and most of the favorites I couldn’t tell you who gave them to me.  Since I don’t believe in ESP I must have stolen them…like the many pens and pencils that seem to accumulate on my desk; pens and pencils I never bought.

You are probably thinking – “me, who me, no I know where my recipes came from and I always tell people it’s Aunt Judy’s recipe;” but is it Aunt Judys. Really, is it Aunt Judys?  Casually leafing through an old book that gives hundreds of recipes from the backs of boxes, bottles, cans and jars I found that Amy’s – and almost every other holiday cook’s,  Bourbon Balls started out on the label of Karo Corn Syrup.  Turns out one of my mother’s spectacular sure to please desserts – Brandy Alexander Pie was created by the folks at Knox Gelatin.

I do know where my favorite eggplant parmesan recipe came from – Susan Balch Clapham….now where she got the recipe I don’t know.

Stealing, borrowing, recipe cards attached to the plate of cookies – it all comes down to the same thing:  we really don’t know who came up with most of our favorites, we just enjoy and pass on.

In a brief effort to reform my ways here’s a holiday favorite my family insists on every year.  It actually came from Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network website.  Here’s the recipe (with my comments):

Cayenne-Candied Bacon

2 tsp vegetable oil

1 cup packed light brown sugar

¾ tsp cayenne pepper

1 pound thinly sliced bacon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a broiler pan with aluminum foil.  Place the broiler rack on the pan and lightly coat the rack with the vegetable oil.  (You don’t want to skip this step – the brown sugar as it bubbles and melts when cooking really does make a sticky mess)

Combine the brown sugar and cayenne in a shallow dish, stirring to mix well.  Press 1 side of each slice of bacon firmly into the sugar to coat well.  (I’ve always coated both sides – just because I have such a sweet tooth)  Arrange the bacon on top of the broiler rack in a single layer, sugared side up (in my case I don’t have to worry about which side is up, a side benefit of my sugar fetish).  If there is any sugar left it can be sprinkled on the bacon.  Bake until the bacon is crisp and the sugar is bubbly – 15-20 minutes.  (I once tried with thick cut bacon but never felt the bacon got fully cooked by the time the sugar was bubbling – thin is best for this recipe).

Ethically is it really stealing when you alter the recipe?  Later this week I’m going to try a recipe from Cooking Light but plan on making a few changes.

Key Lime Balls

2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs

6 Tbl fat-free sweetened condensed milk (OMG – I didn’t know such a thing existed!  I’ll be using the original stuff – the one with multi-thousand calories.  Talk about sucking the holiday out of Christmas – fat-free – Really?)

1 tsp grated Key Lime Rind (since Key Lime’s are almost impossible to get around these parts I’ll be ignoring that ingredient – hope it’s not key)

1 ½ Tbl fresh Key Lime Juice (the bottled stuff is going to have to suffice) (anyway why do food writers think everyone has access to non-standard food staples,  Some of us don’t have interns to run from store to store to find the perfect key lime.  Sorry for the brief rant; now back to the recipe)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut  (I believe the package in my freezer at this very moment says “sweetened” – it will have to do)

1 1/4 Cups powdered sugar.

Combine crumbs, milk, rind, juice and vanilla in a medium bowl.  Add 2/3 Cup coconut and beat with a mixer at medium speed for 1 minute or until no longer grainy.  Add sugar, ¼ cup at a time, beating until well combined.  Cover and chill 20 minutes.  (ok who thinks that I will wait 20 minutes?  Anyone?  No one?)

Shape crumb mixture into 24 balls, about 1 teaspoon each. Place remaining 1/3 cup coconut in a shallow bowl; roll balls in coconut.

Refrigerate balls in an airtight container for up to one day.


Parade Food

You gotta love a small town.  It’s the Christmas season and we celebrate starting with the annual Christmas Parade.  At least 50% of the town comes out to see the parade, another 50% are involved in the parade and then there’s the 5% Grinch factor.  Those are the folks who immediately write the editor of the local paper complaining that their important trip to the grocery store for milk was delayed by the parade that no one told them about in advance; even though it’s been an annual tradition for over 50 years.  If that doesn’t work they’ll be at the next council meeting to complain that the parade is illegal and deprives them of some perceived rights.  Boo! Hiss! on that 5% – the rest of us have some rights too and apparently those rights include screaming Merry Christmas at the top of our lungs and waving madly at people we know and many we don’t know.

When I was a child I didn’t realize there was Parade Food.  I also thought only beauty queens rode on floats.  I have since learned differently; even I can ride on a float.  All I have to do to be part of the melee is to smile and wave while keeping 20 youngsters from jumping or falling off the moving vehicle.

Parade Food is not just one food, it’s a succession of treats.  The early birds bring the first food, tall cups of coffee or a thermos filled with coffee.  They also have folding chairs; they’re going to get their usual spot along the route.  An hour or so after the first group is settled in, the next shift show up with bags, some of the bags left over from Halloween because that’s what parade food really is – Halloween in reverse.  With Parade Food the people in costume pass out candy and other treats.  All a person has to do is smile, hold out a bag and some elf, snowman or caroler will drop candy in it.  Granted there’s not much chocolate, an occasional wrapped Santa, but free candy is good candy as far as I’m concerned.

Later – as the floats shed their festive wrappings and the bands store their instruments it’s time to head out for a late lunch.  Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church youth groups, insurance agents, the Shriners, Lions Club members, National Guard and all the beauty queens converge on the local restaurants.  From LongHorn Steaks and Applebees to McDonalds and Taco Bell it’s a happy crowd.

That should be the end of the Parade Food story but we’re not done though. Here in smalltown Georgia  after all have recovered from the parade and night falls it’s time to held out once again.  A local park is so draped in lights there are fairy’s abandoning their lands to move here.  Carolers, free hot dogs, cider, hot chocolate, popcorn and even a roaring fire with all the makings for s’mores provided.

My day of Parade Food 2011 may be over but it can mean only one thing–Christmas is here in the South.