I’m not much for sweets, but it’s hard to beat a fresh fruit cobbler when the peaches and blueberries start coming in. I’ve tried several cobbler recipes over the years and they’ve all come up short – producing either a goopy, doughy mess at the bottom, or a tough, chewy top crust. But I’ve finally found the cobbler recipe I’ve been looking for for twenty years.
First, cream together a softened stick of butter and 1/2 cup of sugar. In another bowl, combine one cup of self-rising flour, 1/2 cup milk and your preferred amount of vanilla extract. Combine this with the butter-sugar mixture, mixing well. You’ll have something that’s too thick to be called a batter but too pourable to be called a dough. In a lightly sprayed or buttered baking dish, put 2 to 3 cups of firm, unsweetened fruit – whole blueberries or blackberries, sliced peaches, whatever you like – and spread the thick batter over it. Now the surprising part: cook together 1 1/2 cups of water and a cup of sugar, just long enough to come to a boil and dissolve the sugar. Carefully pour the sugar syrup over the top of the cobbler, and bake it at 350 degrees until the top gets a nice golden color – at least an hour, as much as 90 minutes.
Some of the sugar-water mixes with the fruit down below and makes a nice fruity syrup, and some of it soaks into the dough as it bakes and keeps it moist, resulting in a delicious, sweet, fluffy southern-style biscuit texture over the fresh fruit: the essence of cobbler-ness. Don’t forget the ice cream.
Local vegetable gardens are high-maintenance right now. In the cool of the morning, it’s picking time: today might be the butterbeans and the corn, tomorrow the rattlesnake beans and the purple hull peas, then back to the beginning with the corn and butterbeans. In the meantime, the yellow squash, zucchini, okra, melons, cucumbers, bell peppers, hot and mild chilies and (especially) the tomatoes need daily attention. Afternoons are for putting up the morning’s pickings, which, if you’re growing enough to keep you through the winter, will definitely take the rest of the day, whether it’s two five-gallon buckets of beans to snap or ten dozen ears of corn to shuck and silk.
The payoff is in dinners like tonight’s: the corn, squash and cucumbers were photosynthesizing their little hearts out this morning, and the purple hull peas were the last of last year’s crop (with pepper sauce from last year’s hot chilies). With a big wedge of cornbread and a glass of milk, it was heaven. And even a confirmed carnivore like me knows that meat or fish would have been foolish and gluttonous.
Have the national sports media really only now gotten around to the concept of Cow-Patty Bingo?
“Gee whiz Martha, what will they think of next? Donkey basketball?”
That hairy seed-pod we all know and love
I was in Memphis last week for the Tortoise concert (they kicked ass, thanks for asking) and George* and I started off with dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Saigon. Before our food came out I saw one of the staff bring out an enormous steaming platter of okra for a few staffers and oldtimers to snack on. I’d never seen okra prepared this way — it had to have been barely cooked, because it was bright green and not gray and saggy, the way okra will be when it’s overcooked.
I may have to try it lightly steamed some time, because I have to admit I likes my okra. There was a diner near Oxford (MS) that did great business because of the cook’s masterful way with fried okra; when she left Ruth & Jimmie’s and went to cook at Ray’s Truck Stop, Ray’s business boomed and Ruth & Jimmie’s went out of business within a year. My other fave is pickled okra, seasoned with dill, garlic and hot chilies — fantastic.
One method I used to see in old Southern grandmothers’ kitchens was okra boiled whole in a pot of blackeyed peas — a good way to use up a few pods if you didn’t have enough for a mess of fried. Simmering them for a long time with the peas produces the slimy texture that a lot of okra-haters associate with the vegetable. One sure way to get kids to hate okra is to feed ’em that slimy mess — and to tell ’em just to put it in their mouth and swallow, like an oyster. Once it starts sliding, you don’t even have to chew. No surprise that you don’t see it prepared this way much anymore — and it’s why I didn’t really enjoy okra until I rediscovered it as an adult.
*Yes, this would be George Takaeda of L’Affaire Morimoto.
There’s no doubt that Scrabble’s the better game ‘ having the same hundred tiles in the bag at the beginning of the game instills and enforces a bit of discipline. Literati, a Scrabble knockoff at Yahoo Games, has a letter randomizer that might throw three Q’s or Z’s ‘ or even crazier, eight or nine S’s ‘ into a single game. The changes in letter values (from one point to five) and placement of premium squares is not a problem, but the possibility that you might spend most of the game with a rack full of CCIUUXY is infuriating.
Still, the Internet Scrabble Club has a wretched user interface (which might be easier for Windows users, but I wouldn’t know), so I mostly play Literati, marking my 2nd anniversary and 1287th game this week. The first thousand games were a process of absorbing words into my vocabulary, but the last few months I’ve been able to develop defenses and strategies. Some of them even work. When I go to my office to play a few games, I tell my wife “I’m off to crush my enemies.”
Amory (Mississippi) Railroad Festival, April 15th-18th
1. Barbecue sandwich, Working for my Lord Ministries: well-smoked meat pre-mixed with too much store-bought sauce. Not enough slaw.
2. Chicken fillet plate, First United Methodist: Terrible chicken (overcooked, then dried out under a heat lamp), but great fries.
3. Chicken on a Stick (St. Helen’s Catholic) with Abner’s sauce (1st Methodist): Where I come from, CoaS is a skewer of boneless chicken chunks dipped in a spicy batter and deep fried. This was grilled, no seasoning, overcooked, skimpy. Thank God, or at least the Methodists, for buying several gallons of the secret-recipe sauce at Abner’s in Oxford every year and selling it for 20 cents per generous squirt.
4. Barbecue pork plate, Greater Love Outreach Church: The best ‘cue of the festival. Coarsely chopped, plenty of crispy edges included, better than average sauce. Nondescript fries and slaw, but excellent slow-cooked baked beans.
5. Barbecue pork plate, Meadowood Chapel: Decently smoked ‘cue, but very few tasty exterior pieces, and all of it minced far too finely. Very good homemade vinegar-based sauce, a rarity in these parts. Decent slaw, fresh hot fries.
6. Taco Salad, Trace Road Baptist: Good proportions to ingredients, no skimping on the beef, but too salty.
7. Ribeye steak sandwich and onion rings, Meadowood Baptist: absolute crap. Slices of steak almost indetectable in the sandwich; stone cold onion rings.
8. Catfish plate, 1st Methodist: Excellent even by pro standards: hot fresh fish fillets, ditto fries, exceptionally good hushpuppies with plenty of onion.
9. Apple puffs, 1st Methodist: Constructed like apple wontons in puff pastry, deep fried and served with ice cream. Winner.
10. Apple fritters, Bethel Apostolic: Golf-ball-sized frybread with chunks of apple. Rolling them in confectioners sugar straight out of the fryer produces a tasty messy glaze.
11. Catfish sandwich, Bethel Apostolic: Hot fresh fish, well-seasoned cornmeal crust, cooked through but barely. (The tendency toward overcooking was everywhere this year.) Hot flaky catfish contrasting with cool crunchy coleslaw inside the bun ‘ beautiful.
12. Barbecue sandwich, St. Andrews United Methodist: Awful. Dry pork, no smoke flavor, all flavorful exterior bits trimmed away, no slaw, bottled sauce. Prison food.
13. “Funnel Cake,” Nettleton Pentecostal. If you’ve never had one, I can’t explain it. The best use of prepackaged pancake mix ever devised by man. Looks like a fried pastry Celtic knot drawn by a blind drunk with the DTs. But tasty.
Noted but not tested, the best/worst marketing ploy of the festival: Nettleton Pentecostal was selling bags of freshly cooked pork rinds under a sign that said “LOW-CARB MEAT SKINS, $3.00”
Research assistants: Judy Crump, Sarah Crump.
Though it’s only one week into a six-month season, watching the Mets-Braves game last night made me feel a little better about the Braves losing two big run-producers during the off-season. I can’t imagine Javy Lopez will ever have another season like 2003, and Gary Sheffield and his busted thumb aren’t getting any younger. Still, it was a bit of a shock for a longtime Braves fan (dating back to the Dale Murphy years when they were the worst team in baseball) to see Lopez, Sheffield and Greg Maddux go. I was seriously considering ditching the Braves and just following the NL Central fight this year between the Astros’ and Cubs’ pitching staffs. But last night’s game was reassuring, and made me think that once again General Manager John Schuerholz has pulled the rabbit out of the hat. The important numbers: thirty runs in three games, with only two homers. True, the Mets played the field like a bunch of chimps on crank, but if the Braves can nickel-and-dime opposing pitchers like that all year long, they’ll do fine, probably finishing five or six games ahead of the Marlins.
And then they’ll lose in the first round of the playoffs. Again.
June 8th. JUNE 8TH!!
That’s the release date for the first home-video release in any format of SCTV, the classic Canadian comedy series that originally ran from 1976 to 1984. The show never got a VHS release because the producers, not anticipating the home video market, didn’t have music clearances. But somebody has finally thrown some more money at the situation, and Shout! Entertainment is the distributor (though Time-Life was briefly rumored to have it). During its heyday the cast included John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara and Dave Thomas, and Harold Ramis was one of the main people in the first 2+ seasons. Martin Short joined during the 4th season and did a little good work, though I’d be happy enough never to see his Ed Grimley character again. The DVD reissues are going to start with season 4, when NBC picked the series up in the U.S. and they switched from 30 minute shows to 90 minutes. It was a studio creation, not live like SNL — imagine your favorite band that constructs really intricate studio albums but don’t really come across in concert.
What I really loved about SCTV was the overall concept of the series, which was that there was a small TV station called SCTV somewhere in the faceless heartland of North America, in a town called Melonville — over the years the series develops the characters of the people running the station and a few folks in Melonville and the Quad-Cities area. But it’s a TV station, so a bunch of material could be presented as the shows that SCTV is broadcasting — movie parodies like “The Grapes of Mud,” “Polynesiantown,” etc., commercial parodies out the yinyang, you name it. PLUS, if you’re familiar with small-town America’s tv stations, you know that the on-air talent does, or at least used to do in the good old days, double and triple duty. So at SCTV, newscaster Floyd Robertson, who considers himself a serious journalist, has to demean himself on Saturday nights as Count Floyd, host of “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre,” presenting crap like “Doctor Tongue’s 3-D House of Stewardesses.” Metafictional layers upon layers, and all of it funny as hell. I am here to tell you, it’s worth buying a multi-region DVD player. The first collection will be nine 90-minute episodes (the 4th season was a supermarathon of 27 episodes in three cycles of nine each) plus three hours of supplemental featurettes, on five discs. List price is US$100, but *m*z*n has it available for preorder at $69. (These numbers are up from $90/$63.) GET IT!
New every Tuesday and this week’s is esp. hilarious. Don’t read the archived strips at work or the boss will ask you what all the howling’s about.
Here’s my vote for Lost in Translation as the A Hard Day’s Night for a younger generation. (Whether Bill Murray’s generation or Scarlett Johanssen’s generation is still up in the air.) Impressionistic, nearly plotless, both trading on themes of loneliness and trying to find a place to fit in (think “sad ballad Ringo”) as well as dealing with fame. And every now and then, the stars get up and sing a song or two.