135. Café Du Monde: Fried Dough at its Finest

6 Dec

cafe du mondeOh, Top Chef New Orleans, you’re killing me. When you edit in a shot of a certain green and white striped awning, Café Du Monde calls to me. And I think, “Yes, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, indeed I DO know what it means to miss New Orleans.”

What do I miss most about Café Du Monde? Two words: fried dough. Also, powdered sugar. Heaps of powdered sugar. Most of which will land on your blouse, pants, skirt, dress, suit jacket, tie, whatever. Maybe even your socks. It’s impossible to eat at Café Du Monde without making a mess of yourself. But that’s part of its charm.

Heaven on a plate...

Heaven on a plate…

You may be thinking “Perhaps I would order something other than beignets, then I wouldn’t get messy.” You also wouldn’t get fed, seeing as there is exactly one food item on the menu.

You might recall this excerpt from The Pelican Brief:

She bought a Post and a Times-Picayune from a sidewalk vendor and found a table in a deserted corner of Café Du Monde…A waiter finally made it by, and she ordered coffee and a plain bagel.

John Grisham might ought to have added that she (Darby) waited there till three days after the world ended and never did get served. There are no bagels, plain or otherwise, at Café Du Monde. And if “deserted corners” exist there, I’ve never seen them. But perhaps the crowds thin out at some point in the 24 hours they’re open each day.

I remember the first time I visited the Original French Market Coffee Stand. This was during the World’s Fair in 1984, when I sported one of my worst self-inflicted hairstyles. (I’d cropped my hair closely on both sides, leaving the bangs and back long–sort of a cross between a mullet and a mohawk. A mulhawk.)

Anyhoo, I sat at a hard-to-come-by table with various members of my family and was amazed that our waitress felt no need to write down the order. Later I realized this wasn’t such a miraculous feat given the limited menu options.

After a few minutes wait, we were presented with a pile of deep-fried dough covered under a mountain of powdered sugar. “This,” I thought, “is where I want to go when I die.” Which if I had the chance to eat there every day would happen sooner rather than later.

On the way out, one of us spotted a yellow box of beignet mix. Hallelujah! No longer would I be satisfied with makeshift donuts made from canned biscuit dough. Not when I could recreate the Café Du Monde experience at home.

Sadly, eating “homemade” beignets isn’t nearly as much fun because A. No cooks or waitresses and B. People-watching opportunities are limited. Besides which, deep frying dough requires a certain patience and skill that I lack. I probably still have a long-since expired box of beignet mix hiding in one of my kitchen cabinets.

Yes, y'all, they also sell coffee.

Yes, y’all, they also sell coffee.

Folks who’ve frequented Café Du Monde might be thinking, “What about the COFFEE? Get to the chicory coffee already!!”

Ok, so. I’ve heard tell that they make a mighty fine cup of Joe. I will take y’all’s word for it. Even after a decade in Seattle, I’m still not a coffee drinker.

But maybe that’s because I haven’t tried Café Du Monde’s legendary café au lait, half coffee and half hot milk. According to their website, the chicory softens the bitter edge of the dark roasted coffee, adding an almost chocolate flavor.

Sounds sort of like hot chocolate with extra caffeine. I will order a cup next time I’m there and report back.

beignet mixCDM coffeeIn the meantime, if you can’t get to the New Orleans area in the foreseeable future, don’t despair. On second thought, go ahead and despair. But know that you can order cans of chicory coffee and boxes of beignet mix direct from Café Du Monde here. The prices are quite reasonable, until you get to the shipping charges. Consider yourself warned.

What’s your fondest Café Du Monde memory? How many beignets can you eat in one sitting? And is chicory coffee really tastier than the regular stuff?

Photo Credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Cafe Du Monde exterior by praline3001; Plate ‘o Beignets by Tammy Camp and Café au Lait by Gwen Harlow.

134. Hats AKA Hair Bows for Grownups

4 Dec

derby hatHere in Seattle, folks mostly use hats as protection from inclement weather. Usually, these “hats” come attached to the collar of one’s jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt. Yep, I’m talking hoodies. Considering how our weather changes more quickly than a teenager’s love interests, it helps to be prepared. Because we wouldn’t want to carry an umbrella. Umbrellas are for tourists.

For Southerners, hats fall into two major categories: A. Functional or B. Fashionable. Although one could argue that even the most fashionable hat serves a function i.e. rectifying a bad hair day situation.

I’m mostly talking about women’s hats because, frankly, Southern men’s hats aren’t all that interesting. For every ruggedly handsome gent in a cowboy hat, you’ll spot twelve dozen dudes sporting baseball caps or fishing hats.

fascinator hatWomen, on the other hand, have options. Watch any Southern movie, “Gone with the Wind” to “Steel Magnolias” and you’ll see what I mean. From floppy garden hats to prim pill boxes. Pastels to basic black. Traditionally feminine to futuristically flamboyant.

You’ll find hats at every occasion, from weddings and graduations to baptisms and funerals. But never will you see a more extravagant display of head coverings than at the Kentucky Derby. Which, truth be told, is less of a horse race and more of a HAT competition. Buying one of these gravity-defying, view obscuring headpieces can set you back a car or mortgage payment. As far as I know, there’s no official contest or wagering system. But I can say with speculative certainty that if you bought your hat off the rack at Belks, you lose.

derby hat 2This summer, my sister snagged an invite to a fancy garden party, which she used as an excuse to purchase a decorative hat. Having become a recent convert to Downton Abbey, she set her sights on something Mary might wear to afternoon tea. Alas, such hats are a wee bit harder to locate without 1. a props department or 2. the Grantham’s recovered wealth.

Her quest began on the Internet, the ideal place to find goods of questionable quality. Unfortunately, all the hats that met with her approval surpassed her budget. Besides which, the date of the party was quickly approaching, so she had to abandon the mail order idea and make do with what she could find nearby. Much like Scarlett with the dress made of curtains, except in Jenna’s case there was no sewing involved.

Turns out she was in luck as our friend Tammy had a gorgeous brown Downton-esque hat with teal accents that would have been perfect had Jenna’s dress contained similar hues. As I may have mentioned before, not matching is never an option for Southerners.

Y’all who know my sister will remember that she begins every story with “After our ancestors stepped off the Mayflower…” and doesn’t finish until every minute detail has been mentioned and expounded upon. I’ll fast forward a bit.

Hello, gorgeous: Tammy T and Jenna

Hello, gorgeous: Tammy T and Jenna

She finally settled for a festive, feathered black number for which she–only out of desperation–paid full retail.

After all this (by which I’m referring to a heap of stuff I edited out), she found out that Mom’s collection of hats was safely tucked away at dad’s house.

“Oh!” I said, “I wore one of mom’s hats to a party once.”

“What did it look like?”

“Sort of a 20’s cloche style with an off-white lace band and a red silk flower on the side.”

“What color?”

“Black.”

“(Expletive!)”

Even if she’d had time to run over to Dad’s, my sister’s under the mistaken notion that all sales are final, so she stuck with what she had. And looked totally adorable. Because that’s how she rolls, y’all.

One of the highlights of working at Red Lobster during college (and there are not as many as one might hope, let me tell you) was seeing the after-church crowd decked out in some of the most extravagant hats I ever did see. Plenty of bright colors: violet, magenta, electric blue, cherry red. With ribbons, lace, flowers, feathers, and occasionally all of the above. Hats that enter the room before the wearer does to announce, “I am HERE, y’all!” Plus men in suits. Suits! Know what they wear to church in Seattle? Fleece.

Mom rocking one of her many hats.

Mom rocking one of her many hats.

Most folks at my dad’s church never really bothered with hats. Perhaps covering one’s head is one of the lesser-known Baptist sins. I suppose wearing a fancy hat might tempt folks into a festive mood and before you know it, somebody will start dancing. The road to Hell is a slippery slope.

Me–carrying on the tradition.

Me–carrying on the tradition.

If this is true, someone forgot to CC my mother on the memo. For her, no outfit was so stylish that it couldn’t be made MORE attractive with the addition of a coordinating hat. One of her daughters inherited this philosophy. I’ll give y’all a hint: it’s not my sister. Not that she’s opposed to decorating her head as evidenced by the aforementioned wild hat chase. I’m just saying that if I’d been the one looking for a garden party hat, I’d have been able to locate half a dozen suitable contenders without leaving my armoire. Yes, y’all, I have an armoire. I am my mother’s daughter.

Do you wear hats? When, where, and why? Or why not? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Pink Derby Hat available from LadySalisbury at Etsy, Blue Fascinator available from RealHousewifeHats at Etsy, White Derby Hat available from theoriginaltree at Etsy. All other pictures from Holloway Family Archives.

133. Cornbread Dressing, Because Stuffing is for the Birds

26 Nov

One of Southern Living's "83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides" Click for recipes.

One of Southern Living’s “83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides” Click for recipes.

First off, I must clarify that we’re not talking about stuffing. Most Southerners can’t be bothered to actually stuff a turkey; we’re far too busy stuffing ourselves. Besides which, everybody knows the turkey cannot possibly hold enough stuffing to go around. Unless said turkey were roughly the size of one of those balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And then it wouldn’t fit in the oven.

The major difference between dressing and stuffing is the main ingredient. One features crumbled cornbread, the other cubed white bread. Also, dressing tends to be moist and delicious, whereas stuffing is less so. Plus, stuffing has been known to contain all manner of non-essential add ins: Dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, mushrooms, root vegetables, and even kale.

The list of ingredients for cornbread dressing is blessedly short: cornbread, eggs, stock, onions (and maybe celery), and salt and pepper. Some folks add in sage, but my mom hated it nearly as much as All Things Tacky, so our dressing was always sans sage.

Southerners along the Gulf Coast often add oysters in the mix. I’m not sure how my Delta-raised mother latched on to this tradition, but for years she made half and half oyster and regular. Which would have been fine if half the family liked oyster dressing. Alas, only two out of eight or so did.

gobble gobble napkinsBut then Hallelujah! My sister-in-law Kay took over the dressing one year and introduced us to duck, which upped the deliciousness factor by roughly 1000%. Nary an oyster ever darkened our dressing again.

I should warn y’all that dealing with duck can be a pain in the ass, not to mention the fingers (from trying to pull hot duck off the bone due to a failure to plan ahead). The depth of flavor and level of moistness the bird adds is worth the extra effort. Especially if you’re not actually participating in the preparation.

Since I spend most Thanksgivings in Seattle, I have resigned myself to eating stuffing. Folks here don’t understand the true nature of cornbread. If they attempted to make dressing with sugary Yankee pone, they’d end up with dessert. Which, now that I think about it, might not be such a terrible idea. Especially if they threw in the fruit and nuts.

Several years ago, I rejoiced upon learning that an expat Southern couple would be providing the dressing for a Thanksgiving gathering. Between the creamy mashed potatoes and the authentic cornbread dressing, Chad and Leah made me think for just a moment that I was home for the holidays. Alas, they’ve moved to Asheville, and I’ve been stuck with stuffing ever since.

give thanksIn case you are wondering why I don’t volunteer to bring the dressing, it’s because I made the mistake of introducing Seattle folks to green bean bundles. Now they’ve become my price of admission to all Thanksgiving gatherings. These fussy sweet and savory bundles are only slightly less challenging than dealing with duck. If I tried to make both dishes, I’d never have the energy for shopping on Black Friday.

As the holiday approaches, I’m thankful to be part of a family whose love eclipses distance and time zones, and for my “family” here who make Seattle home.

Also, I’m thankful to Kay Holloway for sharing her recipe so I can pass it along to y’all.

Kay’s Duckalicious Cornbread Dressing

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

For the cornbread:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal mix
1/2 cup flour self rising
2 eggs well beaten
Enough buttermilk to pour it in the skillet
Pinch of salt
Tablespoon of sugar
Finely choped onions (don’t tell Jenna)
Finely chopped celery

Add some butter to a baking dish and preheat in a 400-degree oven. Mix all of the above ingredients, pour into heated pan and bake till golden brown (25 minutes?).

For the dressing:
One duck, thawed
A few boiled eggs, chopped
Lots of butter
Seasonings to taste

Boil Duck, debone, and save broth. When cornbread is cool, add duck meat, chopped boiled eggs, pinch of sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble well with hands, add duck broth and stir until well mixed. Put pats of butter at intervals and bake @ 350 till browned. Add duck broth if it gets too dry and stir. (Lots of real butter and greasy duck broth.) My note: If you’re making a pre-smoked Butterball as I am wont to do, cook the bird on top of the dressing, so the juices seep into it. Also, I had no idea Kay added a pinch of sage to the dressing. Thankfully, Mom never noticed.

Kay says: I usually make 2 or 3 containers of the cornbread to have plenty for the dressing. Never had too much, of course Mike and the kids would pass through the kitchen and nibble on it. It’s actually good with the tiny celery and onions in it! Comfort food tastes way better when someone you care about “fixes” it!

What’s your favorite holiday comfort food? And what do you like in your dressing? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Cornbread dressing and 82 other recipes from Southern Living; Gobble Gobble Napkins available from WhiteTulipEmbroidery at Etsy; and Give Thanks Pumpkins from SkyeArt at Etsy.

132. Sweet Potato Casserole: Dessert in Disguise

21 Nov

sweet potato casseroleSome Southerners are partial to the pie, but I prefer my sweet potatoes in a casserole. Mainly because it allows me to fool myself into thinking that what I’m eating is a vegetable, not dessert.

I’m not sure how I got elected for the job, but I’m the official Holloway sweet potato casserole queen. (Not to be confused with an actual Sweet Potato Queen.) Every Christmas, I whip up a big dish of the delectable stuff, but not before arguing with my sister about how much to make. She pushes me to triple the recipe, but I stand firm at double, seeing as we always end up with way too many leftovers. Even a die-hard sweet potato fan gets a little queasy at the thought of eating reheated casserole more than three days in a row.

Back in the days before we switched from canned to fresh sweet potatoes, I had a whole other argument with my Mom each year. She tried to convince me that I should include the liquid from the can, when clearly draining is the only way to go. Unless you want sweet potato soup. Which I don’t.

For Southerners, sweet potato casseroles fall into two distinct camps: marshmallow topping or pecan/brown sugar crumble. The Holloways are nut people. That’s not to say I’d abstain from eating the marshmallow variety. Quite the contrary. I run across sweet potato casserole about as frequently as Baptists enter dance halls by the front door so I take what I can get. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for pecans.

BC sweet potato casseroleA while back I was browsing Grocery Outlet, where one can find an array of interesting products not seen in major chains. I’m talking Kellogg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops, Lil’ Joey Pancake Pockets, and Spam Singles. Imagine my shock and horror when I happened upon Betty Crocker’s Sweet Potato Casserole mix. Why, Betty? Why?

Sweet potato casserole isn’t hard to make. Especially when one is left alone in the kitchen. Sure, it always takes about twice as long as I think it will. And peeling sweet potatoes is a pain in the ass. But I’d never resort to serving “casserole” made with a blend of reconstituted sweet and russet (WTF?) potatoes. Prior to the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

Some of my family’s best loved dishes are related to us by marriage. I’m sure we’d have adored my sister-in-law Karen even if she’d come with an empty recipe box. Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out.

Karen Holloway’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 t vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup milk

Boil sweet potatoes over medium high heat till tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, mix potatoes with all other ingredients and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Top with the following mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is browned

Notes: I’m not sure how many sweet potatoes equal three cups. I usually peel and cut up a few and add them to a 4-cup measuring cup. I fill the cup to the top to compensate for the gaps around the pieces. I tend to err on the side of too much potato. If anybody has a better way of guestimating three cups of potatoes, please enlighten me.

When doubling the recipe, I usually just use one and a half times the topping. When tripling the recipe…oh right, I don’t.

The size of baking dish wasn’t specified. Similar recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 qt. casserole dishes. I usually opt for a 9 X 13 dish, unless I’m doubling in which case I use the biggest dish I can find.

The recipe calls for 20 minutes bake time, but I’d allow at least 40. You want the top to be good and crunchy.

What’s your pleasure: Nuts or marshmallows? Have you ever done both?

Photo credit: Sweet potato casserole by bengarland, Flickr Creative Commons.

131. Big Ass Bows, Not the Hunting Kind

19 Nov

A few of the eight million and twelve bows at the Canton Flea Market

A few of the eight million and twelve bows at the Canton Flea Market

It might surprise y’all to learn that folks here in Seattle do not know the first thing about hair bows. Or maybe they just stay hidden underneath the hoodies. I might have caught a glimpse of one once or twice on a little girl in a fancy dress. But that may have been a dream, seeing as you hardly ever spot Seattleites of any age decked out in a festive manner.

I honestly haven’t thought much about hair bows over the last couple of decades, but a trip to the Canton Flea Market brought the memories flooding back. Turns out, Southerners are still wearing them. I sort of thought they were an 80’s thing that went the way of banana clips.

me and bowI guess I should have known better, seeing as my relationship with hair bows began farther back than I can remember. Fortunately, there is photographic evidence.

For Southern girls, hair bows are perfect for any occasion, from beauty pageants to basketball games–and not just for the cheerleaders, players too! (I just Googled “basketball hair bows” to see if I was just talking out of my ass in that last sentence. Lo and behold, there are actually basketball-themed hair bows. Who knew?)

colorful hair bowHair bows come in all colors of the rainbow, as well as many that don’t actually exist in nature. You’ll find solid colors, stripes, polka dots, plaids, floral prints and countless combinations thereof. Pick up any ribbon off the shelf at Michael’s, and I’d be willing to bet somebody’s made a hair bow with it. (Note: I’m not wagering actual money.)

As I’ve mentioned before, Southerners just love slapping their initials on anything even remotely decorative, so there’s an endless variety of monogrammed hair bows. From a single initial on up to all three. Plain or cursive, embroidered or painted, whatever you like. Heck, you can even put your whole name on there if your parents were considerate enough to give you one that would fit.

monogram bowOne day, some Southern mom decided that a plain old hair bow just didn’t express the essence of Billie Sue. And so, voila! Themes! From Hello Kitty to Minnie Mouse, ponies to puppies, whatever you’re into (within reason), there’s a bow for you. Bubble gum! Lady bugs! Cupcakes! John Deere Tractors! Even skull and crossbones for the goth kids! Need I mention there’s a hair bow for every holiday candy manufacturers celebrate?

Of course, there’s always somebody who takes a good thing too far. And then the million followers who come along for the ride. So now we have a whole crop of affiliation hair bows. Sororities! Alma Maters! SEC teams! TV shows! I haven’t run across a “First Baptist Church” hair bow, but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist.

ms state bowHow does one wear a hair bow? As far as I can tell, anything goes. My mom was always partial to the top of my head, but plenty of folks wear them on the side or the back. With ponytail or without. Straight hair, naturally curly, or permed. You’ll even find bows attached to headbands for hair-challenged kids. Braids? Ringlets? Sure, why not? Some might suggest they ought not be worn with dreadlocks, but that’s likely a moot point.

john deere bowA dyed-in-the-wool bowhead might persist in embellishing her hairdo with ribbons up until such time as she eats her last chicken salad sandwich. I believe most folks retire the hair bows early in their 20s. Perhaps it’s a rite of passage when one finishes college, gets married, has a kid or all of the above. There’s no law in place, but I’d suggest that hair bows be confiscated from anyone with gray hair or grandkids, whichever comes first. Call me ageist if you like, but I, myself, fit into one of those categories.

I’m not suggesting that we Southern women of a certain age be deprived of decorating our heads altogether. The horror! Ladies, we have something far better than hair bows: Hats! (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on God’s gift for bad hair days.)

Have you ever worn hair bows? If and when did you stop? Extra credit bonus question: Why?

Photo credits: Canton Flea Market bows and Portrait of a Young Bowhead from Holloway Family Archives. All other bows available at ETSY–Colorful Bow by NothingLikeBOWS, Monogram Bow by Prettyloulou, MS State Bow by BiancasBoutiqueBows, and John Deere Bow by PolkaDotzBowtique.

130. Dixie-Style Party Food: Dip it Good!

15 Nov

Spinach artichoke dip–click for recipe.

Spinach artichoke dip–click for recipe.

As I plunged yet another tortilla chip into a cheesy dip embellished with bits of delectable shrimpiness, I said, “I wish we had an O’Charley’s in Seattle.”

Upon second thought (and perhaps taking a moment to swallow) I added, “But there’s really nothing here Geoff would eat.”

Mom said, “What about this?”

“The dip? It has shrimp in it.”

“They won’t let him eat SHRIMP?” Mom said, horrified.

“Who? The vegetarian police?”

“Well, I think he ought to be able to eat shrimp. It’s just a little bit of meat. And it’s so good.”

Like many folks here in the Pacific Northwest, Geoff doesn’t really understand the concept of dip. Sure, he’ll spread a little hummus on flatbread or add an olive tapenade to toast, but that’s about it. Unless you count chutney, which I don’t.

I, on the other hand, come from a long line of folks who’ve perfected the art of dunking carbs into fat.

The last gathering I attended in Mississippi featured no less than three dips and a variety of dip-delivery vehicles. In order of my personal preference, we had: 1. Rotel embellished with sausage and cream cheese with Fritos Scoops for dipping 2. Creamy spinach dip with Hawaiian bread (vegetable = “healthy”) and 3. A garlic and onion dip made with a spice pack my sister bought at the fair. I believe the last one was served with Chicken in a Biskit crackers to compensate for the meat-less dip.

Dip mix booth at the MS state fair.

Dip mix booth at the MS state fair.

Perhaps I should also mention the strawberry cheesecake dip mix Jenna brought along in case the huge strawberry cake and tub of ice cream failed to deliver sufficient sweetness. Thankfully, the emergency rations weren’t necessary.

Dips are the ultimate communal Southern food. Even more comforting than casseroles. Why? Because you almost always eat them while standing around chatting with folks. Whether you’re attending a party or a wake, the camaraderie that develops around a dip bowl is palpable. Until some asshole double dips. But then the rest of the group has a new topic of gossip–with a shelf-life of YEARS. Decades, even.

Communal dipping allows some mighty powerful self delusion, such as:
• Calories don’t count when you eat standing up.
• Each dipped chip is just a small bite. It’s not like you’re eating a whole entire PLATE of nachos.
• You deserve something yummy after eating all those vegetables (doused in Ranch dressing).
• Since there’s no food on your plate, folks will assume you’re still keeping track of those Weight Watcher points.
• You may never encounter such a wealth of dips again–better stock up!

There is some truth to that last one. One never really knows where the next dip is coming from. Oh, sure, you could whip up a batch of Rotel and eat it at home in front of the TV, but this completely eliminates the self-delusion factor. With every dunk of the chip, you’re just waiting for the Biggest Loser folks to sneak in and film you. Or maybe I’m the only one with this particular fear…

Now that we’ve discussed the hows and whys of dipping, let’s talk about the whats.

Like most Southern snacks, dips fall into two distinct categories: Sweet and Savory.

On the savory spectrum, you’ll find two separate but equally tasty groups (although occasionally cross-pollination occurs). Let’s call them cheesy and creamy.

Click for recipe

Click for recipe

Cheesy dips include, but are not limited to: Rotel (with or without meat), artichoke, broccoli, shrimp, crab, Buffalo chicken, Jalapeño popper, Vidalia onion, bacon and cheddar, and pimiento cheese. One might even toss bleu cheese dressing into this category. Preferably as an accompaniment to wings, not crudités.

Creamy dips tend to be a bit mayonnaise-y in nature, but can also feature sour cream as the main ingredient, seeing as some folks harbor mild to severe aversions to oil and egg emulsions. These include everything from your basic, store bought French onion dip to homemade comeback sauce. You’ll also find cheese-less versions of shrimp or bacon dip, but they are probably not as good. In fact, when I started writing this paragraph, I thought there would be a long list of creamy dips, but I’m kinda drawing a blank. Even after spending far too much time poking around on Pinterest. So let’s move on…

Click for recipe

Click for recipe

Sweet dips. I honestly don’t have much experience in this category either, seeing as I prefer my sweets to be baked up in the oven. But I’ll give y’all the recipe for my all-time favorite sweet dip, courtesy of my sister-in-law Karen.

Got a pen? Well, you don’t even need one; it’s that easy.

Mix 8-oz of softened cream cheese with one jar of marshmallow fluff. Serve with any fruit you like. It would probably be awesome on cookies, if you don’t even want to bother pretending to be healthy.

You’ll find copious recipes for sweet dips on the Internets featuring everything from chocolate chips and cream cheese to peanut butter and bananas. Salted caramel, cake batter, cookie dough, Oreos, s’mores…endless variations of stuff to plunge Nilla Wafers or Graham crackers into. Or pretzels for the sweet & salty lovers among us.

I’ve put together a handy reference on Pinterest for y’all. You’ll find links to all manner of yummy-looking dips. I have not personally made any of them (yet), but I did make sure they all link to actual recipes. Proceed with cautious optimism.

What’s your all-time favorite party dip? And do you consider solo dipping a taboo?

Photo Credits: Spinach Artichoke and Monster Cookie Dip from The Girl Who Ate Everything; Hail Mary Dip from ‘liciousfood; Dip Stand Pic courtesy of Jenna.

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

13 Nov

Dad and me after eating pecan pancakes at Cracker Barrel

Dad and me after eating pecan pancakes at Cracker Barrel

When I embarked on my tour of the South this past Spring, I was full of hopeful anticipation. I thought I’d soak up my surroundings, explore new places, and snap copious photos. I’d fall in love with the South all over again. Then I’d return to Seattle eager to tell y’all all about my adventures.

That didn’t happen. Not exactly.

I did venture to cities I’d never seen, reconnect with old friends, snap a few pictures, and eat roughly half my weight in biscuits (not in one sitting). I soaked up Southern culture in the manner of a Bounty paper towel. I did not, however, fall in love all over again. In fact, I kind of wanted to break up.

When I write about the South from my home here in Seattle, my posts are filtered through a lens of nostalgia. I write from selective memory, mainly about the aspects of Southern culture I miss the most (chicken and dumplings, this means you).

When I’m actually IN the South, it’s a whole other story. One I’ve been reluctant to tell. Still am, but here goes…

Being immersed in Southern culture makes it impossible to ignore the things I dislike about my homeland. Substandard education. Widespread poverty. Morbid obesity. And racism that cuts both ways.

I’m among the first to saddle up my high horse and ride when folks start badmouthing Southerners as a whole. As if we all don pointy white hoods, inject Wesson Oil straight into our veins, and can’t be bothered with no fancy book learnin’. Which is absolutely not true. Or at least mostly false.

I like to pretend that the South is all caramel cake, chivalry, and cute expressions. But when I spend time back home, my rose-colored glasses become clear as a jar of moonshine. I see dirty kids in tattered clothes being threatened with a “whoopin.” I hear that the once-upscale shopping area has been “taken over by the blacks.” I witness a black customer who feels slighted accuse a sales clerk of racism. I see a list of fourth grade spelling words that includes “people” and “often.”

What bothers me more than any of this is finding myself in line behind someone who’s arguing with the checker that she ought to be able to buy a jumbo jar of cheese puffs with food stamps and thinking “Get a job!” and also “Stop feeding your children garbage!” Like I am one to judge, as I charge a tub of Blue Bell Ice Cream on my Capital One card.

I cringe when I hear a Baptist preacher lump the words “Hitler,” “homosexual,” and “Osama bin Laden” in the same sentence. But I’m in line at Chick Fil A bright and early on Monday morning. (By “bright and early” I mean around 10 a.m.)

To sum up: I am conflicted.

I’ve spent more time in the South this year than I have since I moved away nearly two decades ago. I attended three conferences, visited eight cities, drove my dad’s Lincoln Town Car nearly 2000 miles, feeling like an airport limo driver the whole way.

I visited with relatives I haven’t seen in ages, saw my brother buried, and drank margaritas to ease the pain.

Celebrating the life of my brother at Hal & Mal's

Celebrating the life of my brother at Hal & Mal’s

I packed in less than an hour to catch a hastily booked flight and prayed that my father would still be alive when I landed. And I thanked God when he was. I spent hours with my dad each day, listening to his stories, walking his dog Happy, and sitting together reading silently. I extended my trip another week, and my sister mocked me when I wore my White Lily Save the Biscuit t-shirt again. And again. And again.

I made buttermilk biscuits and cheddar grits, while Jenna made sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, and sausage gravy. We sat in front of the TV with her husband and two boys enjoying breakfast for dinner, each bite better than the next.

I whipped up another batch of biscuits for my dad, stashing extras in the freezer for later. Even though I botched the amount of baking powder and failed to achieve the proper flakiness, both Jenna and my dad pronounced them the best biscuits ever. And I beamed because these are people who KNOW their biscuits.

Three of my all-time favorite people: Jenna, Jackson, and Eli

Three of my all-time favorite people: Jenna, Jackson, and Eli

I laughed approximately 18 million times. Dreamed up half a dozen new business ventures to start with my sister. And began missing my littlest nephews before even embarking on my return flight.

I hate that I can’t be there with my family. But not quite as much as I love Seattle. I just this minute admitted that to myself, even though it’s been true for a long time as evidenced by my choices.

Now that I’ve settled back into life in my adopted homeland, I’ve had time and distance enough to fill up pages with posts about everything from hats and hair bows to sweet potato casserole and Coke. I’m looking forward to telling y’all all about Stuff Southern People Like and hearing what you think.

Friends, I have missed you. And I’m glad to be back.

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