Monthly Archives: May 2013

Daddy-Daughter Drive – SDN Column 5-29-13

The Wife had a business commitment. Son had a Boy Scout commitment. I was committed to the International Biscuit Festival, but didn’t relish the idea of traveling alone. That left only Daughter to make this weekend trip with me. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not as if she isn’t an interesting travel companion. That’s not the reason for my skepticism. This was a food trip. And this was Daughter. The Wife and Son will at least try almost anything I drag before them, sometimes with enthusiasm, feigned or otherwise. Daughter is the one family member who could subsist on plain rice, plain Ramen, and spicy chicken nuggets – thus not the ideal candidate to accompany me to a food-centric event. But I wanted a travel buddy and she conceded (with eyebrows only slightly raised) to go, so off we went to Knoxville.
As I have regularly documented, the fun of a food trip – yea, any trip – does not lie simply in the destination but in the journey. This one held high expectations for both. Our first stop was a multi-purpose pause at a convenience store just past the toll booth outside Tuscaloosa. One of the realities of Daughter’s sole companionship on the trip was that she failed miserably as a relief driver, being only twelve. That meant I would have to resort to nibbling should my eyelids get heavy. I did have my go-to pseudo-caffeine, whole sunflower seeds (flavor-of-the-month: salt and vinegar), but I like variety. At the convenience store I found a share-size package of Snickers Bites that I thought would do the trick. These were even smaller than Snickers Miniatures, and following the same trend as Reese’s Minis and others, they were not wrapped. Naked chocolate, if you will. And since it was a share-size package, they did indeed keep me awake for an entire fifteen to twenty minutes.
Our next attempt at inhaling pure sugar in order to maintain alertness came shortly thereafter. In the initial moments of the trip I had promised Daughter that we would make a stop at Cracker Barrel to get a new candy she had discovered from a friend at school. The Barrel was the only place said friend knew where to get them. (She had already agreed that Cracker Barrel would only be a candy stop and I would not be required to eat there. That would come later.) What Daughter didn’t remember was that this new candy was really an old candy – vintage, even – a candy that was not only one of my favorites as a youngster, but also one I had found at a Fresh Market store last year. At my behest she had tried it then, and forgotten, apparently. No worries. I was happy to stop for ZotZ. A ZotZ appears to be a standard piece of hard candy, but surprises you with a secret fizzing center. If you allow the candy to slowly dissolve in your mouth, the fizzy-bubbly powder gently and gradually seeps out. If you bite it immediately (as I am prone to do with hard candies) and all the fizzy stuff comes out at once, you have to be careful not to look like a rabid lunatic. Fun stuff.
It was lunchtime as we approached Birmingham, so I instructed Daughter to cross-reference the two “100 Things to Eat Before You Die” lists and evaluate our options. She can’t drive, but she can read. Birmingham had multiple listings, but many of them were fine dining and we were dressed for a road trip, not for white tablecloths. We also had an appointment for dinner in Knoxville, limiting our search time for out-of-the way joints along the way. Ironically, Milo’s Hamburgers was the one place that was mentioned on both lists, almost as if it were meant to be. The Southern list suggested the crinkle-cut fries dipped in Milo’s sauce. The Alabama list recommended the burger and a glass of sweet tea. A Mega Meal would take care of everything on both lists, with a fried lemon pie to boot. (We were sharing, for all of you who are still wondering why I am not 500 pounds.)
If you are looking for a burger in which the meat is the star, then I need to let you know that this was pretty much a standard fast-food burger. But wait! There’s more! What makes a Milo’s burger memorable is the total package. It comes on a bun slightly flattened by some time on the grill, instantly upping the flavor ante. The toppings were chopped onion, pickle, and the Milo’s sauce, a secret recipe that resembled a cross between A-1 and barbecue sauce. And the sauce was indeed a worthy dip for the hot, seasoned, crinkle-cut fries. When I took a slug of the sweet tea, I didn’t say “Wow, they should sell this in jugs at the supermarket” (though they do), nor did I say “Ewww, how did this get famous?” It was just good sweet tea, and sometimes that’s enough. I asked the nice Milo’s lady what kind of fried pie I should get: apple, peach or lemon. I secretly wanted her to recommend the lemon, because you don’t see those every day. She said they sell a lot of apple, but when I pushed her on the lemon, she said it had a “burst of freshness” and that settled it. With some coaxing, Daughter even tried a bite – unfortunately, it was still a bit hot. It oozed out onto her lip and she said, “This is burning my face.” After it cooled a bit, she did try again and described it as akin to a hot lemon popsicle. Burst of freshness, indeed.
All in all, it was a good choice and our last food stop before Knoxville. We didn’t want to show up full – the Biscuit Bash was ahead.

Newest (and Most Shy) Member of Milo's Kids Club

Newest (and Most Shy) Member of Milo’s Kids Club

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I Love Reese’s Day – SDN column 5/22/13

Lots of good things were happening this past Saturday, May 18.  Locally: the third week of Starkville Community Market.  Out-of-state: the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.  And all over the world: the Official “I Love Reese’s” Day.  Though I was pretty excited about all three events, I obviously could not be in Starkville and Knoxville simultaneously, until time travel is perfected or they bring the Concorde out of mothballs.  But Reese’s are everywhere.

I do have a bone to pick with the Reese’s people, but before I go into that it’s only fair to start with the appropriate shout-out.  If I were stranded on a desert island with only cold milk to drink, then Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would be the number one candy I would choose to be dropped from the sky.  It could be argued that one could find milk chocolate that is silkier, or perhaps made from organic cocoa beans hand-picked by Juan Valdez’s chubby cousin Pedro, imported to Mississippi and slow-roasted at a small-batch chocolatier in Tunica.  Or if the peanut butter is what’s important to you, there are probably peanut butters that melt in the mouth more smoothly.  Even so, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are yet the exemplar by which all other chocolate and peanut butter combinations are measured.

I’ve been a fan of Reese’s for a long time.  I am even old enough to remember the early commercials where an unsuspecting person carrying a chocolate bar out in front of him or her would accidentally bump into another innocent victim carrying an open jar of peanut butter (who does that, by the way?); then after a brief, semi-hostile exchange – “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate – no, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” – they discover that the combination is delicious and all is well in that particular suburb of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

In my retail days, it was always a dangerous proposition to buy a bag of Reese’s miniatures at work.  Rarely did any make it home.  “Just one more” is the usual mantra once the bag is opened, then I just-one-more my way through the entire bag.  One of the more difficult things about living overseas was a serious lack of Reese’s in the local grocery store.  Any package arriving with a bag of Reese’s products was a blessing, indeed.  With rare exception, I enjoy just about anything wrapped in that bright orange Reese’s paper, especially the ones enrobed in white chocolate.  And beware the budget when the holiday versions are out.

The holiday special editions, however, are also the reason for my rant.  The Reese’s holiday season begins with the Halloween pumpkins, which (thankfully) are arriving earlier and earlier every year.  Then as soon as the Halloween costumes hit the clearance buggy to make way for the Christmas wrap, we get the Reese’s Trees.  Of course, there are also miniatures wrapped in orange and black, then red, green and gold, but that’s just the same candy with different clothes.  The holiday shapes actually introduce a variation in the chocolate to peanut butter ratio that is not to be missed.

After the Christmas close-outs, then come the Valentine’s hearts, which give me an annual opportunity to augment my love handles.  On the heels of the hearts is Easter, which actually provides a bounty of options: the standard egg, the snack-sized eggs, the foil-wrapped eggs (another ratio entirely), a giant egg, egg-shaped Reese’s Pieces, and the Reester Bunny.  I even saw a sign at a major retailer this year for white-chocolate-covered Reese’s Eggs, but they were not to be found.

My concern is that once Easter has ended, and the holiday candy section at Wal-Mart fills with summer picnic supplies, beach towels and water toys, the Reese’s holiday editions are withheld from us until Halloween.  Depending on when Easter falls, this gap of time might even be longer than the drought between the last play of the Super Bowl and the opening kickoff of the first high school football game.  And isn’t it hard enough to suffer through that time, without having to also endure Holiday Edition Reese’s withdrawal?

I think some of our holidays are getting gypped.  April showers bring May flowers – why not a Reese’s shaped like a daisy in spring?  Surely some symbol to honor our veterans could be produced in peanut butter and chocolate on Memorial Day.  A star or a rocket-shaped firework on July 4th.  Why not a big “J” to celebrate my birthday in August?  If that’s a stretch, I will settle for a PB and chocolate laptop, hammer, or mortar and pestle to represent the hard work celebrated on Labor Day.  Some careful planning and space in the freezer should then hold us till the pumpkins come back.

I did call the Hershey Company before writing this to ask about one particular aspect of the production.  They were really nice on the phone, but it still took a couple of local calls to find out what I wanted to know.  Julie White, our county extension agent helped me track down Charlie Stokes, the Monroe County extension agronomist, who in turn led me to Brian Atkins of Birdsong Peanuts in Monroe County.  Mr. Atkins confirmed what I had heard from a fellow pharmacist in Aberdeen, that some of the peanuts grown in that county are sent to Hershey.  This means that a peanut grown just two counties over might one day make it back south, transformed into the glorious center of a Reese’s peanut butter egg sold at Kroger.  Until a few months ago I didn’t even know we grew peanuts in Mississippi and now I know that they are more a part of my life than I realized.  As a Mississippian and self-proclaimed Reese’s expert, I think that qualifies me to have some say in the introduction of new holiday shapes.  Ready when you are, Mr. Reese.

 

 

 

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Random Food Thoughts…SDN 5-15-13

I think about food a lot.  I know that must come as a big shock to all.  Sometimes I get random food thoughts which morph into entire columns when such thoughts are allowed to run rampant.  Other times a thought runs its natural course and stops far short of my word limit –  still worth a mention, but not quite column-worthy.  This is a collection of some of those random thoughts, in no particular order, with absolutely no theme.  Welcome to my mind.

Heard of Bacos?  Perhaps your first thought upon seeing that word is of Betty Crocker’s Bac-O’s, bacon-flavored bits which Betty’s own website describes as “made from the goodness of soy.”  They are even Kosher.  Thus, not a lick of bacon in them.  Yet as a kid, when Bac-O’s and the like were invented, to our delight my mother cooked with them often.  I ate them by the handful.  I wasn’t prejudiced against crunchy bacon-flavored pieces made from the goodness of soy.  But those are not the Bacos I’m talking about.  It’s not even pronounced the same.  This one is pronounced like “taco”, because that’s what it is – a taco with a shell formed from pieces of crispy bacon.  They are on the concessions menu at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan, home of the minor league baseball team, the Michigan Whitecaps.  That’s a long way from here, but there’s a recipe on bacontoday.com.  Need I say more?

I’ve mentioned before that The Wife will sometimes beg off a certain restaurant, or leave her coat in the car on a cold day, just because she doesn’t want her clothes to smell like whatever is cooking there.  Barbecue joints, my favorites, are particularly suspect.  She doesn’t want to come out smelling like smoke, while I am working against her, intentionally seeking it out.  Her favorites are not safe, either – she’ll eat the fajitas every time but doesn’t want to smell like them.  That got me to thinking about a potential culinary scent collection.  Bacon is a natural thought, but somebody already did that.  You can even get a bacon air freshener to hang off your rearview mirror.  What about that smell of Grandma’s house at breakfast, infused with fresh-brewed coffee that will soon be converted to red-eye gravy?  I love this smell, and should I patent and bottle it, I think I would call it “Eau de Café” by Jean Lee.  (But I’ll keep my day job.)

Mega Stuffed Oreos.  I had to buy them myself, because my family bought a package and ate every single one of them before I ever knew they were there.  No big deal, because I always scan the Oreo department to see what new flavor combo may have appeared since my last visit.  Now the question is, are you crème or cookie?  I thought I was crème until I got the Mega Stuffed.  Way too much crème.  Just sayin’. Somehow, though, I managed to get them down.

I don’t often watch the entertainment news shows like ET and Inside Edition and the like.  But I happened to surf by one recently and they mentioned Alicia Keys’ pre-show ritual.  As the story goes, she drinks a glass of gummy bears that have been melted in hot water.  Something about the glycerin in the gummies that she thinks is helpful for her voice.  When I first heard it, I thought they said she dissolved them in hot butter.  Either way, it’s odd but intriguing.  I haven’t tried it.  Yet.

My favorite snack these days is a pretzel rod dipped heavily into a big jar of Nutella.  Have you tried Nutella?  It lives near the peanut butter in the grocery store – and if it makes you feel better, it tastes an awful lot like creamy, dippable chocolate, but is chock full of healthy hazelnuts.  I remember seeing it as a young man, but it always seemed kinda’ exotic.  Or expensive.  I don’t remember.  But then we moved to the Middle East and for reasons I cannot explain, there was Nutella everywhere.  Every grocery had it, in name brand and several  copy-cat versions.  So we started keeping it around and putting it on just about anything we’d put peanut butter on.  And more.  Four days out of five Daughter takes a Nutella sandwich to school.  (Remember, healthy hazelnuts.  Manganese.  Copper.  Good stuff like that.)  If I get a sweet craving, I can just eat a spoonful of it and be satisfied.  For a minute or two.  A second spoonful is often required.  But it’s way better on a pretzel rod.

I forgot to tell about another of my favorite finds on my recent trip to Baton Rouge.  At Jerry Lee’s (the Cajun grocery) I picked up a bag of cracklins, thinking I would bring them home and put them in cornbread or something.  But I got hungry on the way home – needed something salty to go with my boudin sandwich – so I opened them up.  And I’m telling you – these were the best thing in the cracklin/pork rind family that I have ever had in my life.  Ever.  Ever.  They looked and tasted like chunks of puffy bacon.  That may not necessarily sound good to everyone, but trust me.  Best ever.

On the same trip, near the Mississippi-Louisiana line, I got a little tired and needed something different to nibble on.  (Didn’t want to go through the whole bag of puffy bacon before I got home.) I got some Elfin crackers out of the vending machine at the welcome center – they were cheaper than anything else, crunchy, and there were lots of them in the bag, therefore meeting all of my qualifications.  As I munched, I got to wondering about the unique flavor, so I read the ingredients to see what it might be.  Natural flavor, it said.  So does that mean I now know what a Keebler Elf tastes like?

Remember…random thoughts.

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