129. Pecan Pie: Kicks Apple’s Butt Any Day

11 Jul

The next best thing to pumpkin pieHere in Seattle, pecan pie sightings of any variety are few and far between. Which is probably just as well seeing as restauranteurs here would likely substitute walnuts and toss in some rosemary or cumin for a creative twist. I have had a couple of decent renditions featuring chocolate and/or bourbon, but nothing comes close to the sticky indulgence I grew up with.

Now normally, I would think of pecan pie as a dessert served in the fall or winter months, but someone somewhere declared July 12 National Pecan Pie Day. Who am I to argue? It’s not like I would turn down a piece of pecan pie anytime, anywhere. Wait! I should amend that:

Pecan pie’s not worth the calories if it’s:
Sold in convenience stores
Found in your grocer’s freezer
Served cold
Made with Splenda (yes, I realize this means fewer calories–still not worth it.)

Also, I’d steer clear of any pecan pie that calls to mind the word “revamped.” It’s vamped enough! Don’t mess with perfection.

41LbM077IQL.01._SR300,300_Folks might argue with me, but I think the secret to perfect pecan pie is corn syrup, or Karo as we say in the South. Does another brand exist? If so, I’ve never noticed. Having not made a pecan pie in years, I’m not sure which side to take in the light vs. dark debate. Anybody care to weigh in?

When it comes to pecans, you’ll want to use the best you can find, seeing as they’re the star. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy a 10 pound bag from the roadside stand I encountered off I-95 in Georgia. But seeing as I had no room in my luggage or freezer at home, it’s just as well. Not really, but still.

World's Largest Pecan Pie MuralIf you already know how to make perfect pie crust, skip ahead to the next paragraph. Ok, now that it’s just us, I’ll admit that I’m still struggling with this fickle beast and have been known to use those Pillsbury ones next to the heat-up cookies. This will do in a pinch. Just don’t resort to the frozen kind in the tin; they are inedible. Also, while a graham cracker crust IS mighty easy, it will never work for a pecan pie. Probably.

The first time I made a pecan pie, I was amazed to discover that you can mix the nuts in with the sticky goo and they’ll rise to the top. Note: This is probably not the method Martha Stewart prefers. And for the love of all that is tasty, leave those pecans whole (or, technically, half). Save the pieces for brownies, cookies, banana bread, whatnot.

Folks in the Holloway family are devout dessert eaters, which is why my nephew Ben has been permanently barred from carrying sweets to the table. He’s 20-something now and could most likely be trusted, but no. In the beginning, there was carrot cake. “Was” being the operative word.

Due to popular demand, nearly every family occasion featured his mom’s delectable two-layer cake piled high with just-tangy-enough cream cheese frosting. Now, the distance from my parent’s den to the dining room being minimal, someone (I’m not naming names only because I don’t remember) allowed this hyper eight-year-old boy-child to carry in the cake. He might’ve made it three or four skipping steps before…plop! Shrieks of horror, cries of despair, there might have even been cursing (there was most definitely cursing). Then my mom and Kay salvaged what they could, put it back on the plate, and promptly set about serving it. I’m not ashamed to tell y’all that not a one of us gave a second thought to digging in. Not even our dinner guest, Mary Bess, who might as well be family. If Kay ever opened a bakery, the tagline could be “Floor Lickin’ Good.”

Texas Pecan pieHow does that story relate to pecan pie? Well, cut to Thanksgiving dinner at Mike and Kay’s with a bunch of no longer hungry but still-wanting-something-sweet Holloways. (That’s generally how we roll). Once again, someone allowed Ben to carry in dessert. Only this time, he decided to put the pecan pie on his head. On. His. HEAD. Well, you don’t need me to tell you what happened. And, yes, we ate that off the floor, too. BUT, we finally learned our lesson.

I’ll leave y’all with another family recipe that’s characteristically short and exceptionally sweet. Remember, handle with care.

Pecan Pie (Kay)
1 cup white Karo syrup
1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs (beaten)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt

Mix ingredients. Bake in pie crust at 325 for 50 minutes.

What’s your secret to perfect pie crust? And have you ever eaten dessert off the floor?

Photo credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Pecan pie by ldrose, World’s Largest by kb35, and Texas pecan pie by texascooking.

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Rerun 68: Funeral Food–Love in a Casserole Dish

10 Jul

mikeWhen I packed up my car and moved away from the South nearly 20 years ago, my brother said “Don’t forget your raisings!” And thanks in part to his constant reminders, I haven’t. A month ago today, Mike Holloway passed away in his sleep. I’m sharing this post in honor of him.

Most Southern ladies of a certain age keep at least one casserole in the deep freeze at all times. You never know when somebody will up and die, so it’s best to be prepared. However, if you’re momentarily casserole-less, not to worry: grieving Southerners always welcome fried chicken, even if it’s store-bought. I’d like to put in a plug for one (or more) of those chicken nugget platters from Chick-fil-A (unless somebody dies on Sunday, when all the Chick-fil-As are closed). I’m still grateful to the kind soul who delivered one of those when my mom died.

Photo by softestthing
Flickr Creative Commons

I should mention that funeral food isn’t actually served at the funeral. You bring it to the home of the deceased so the grieving family members and the people who drop by to pay their respects have something to eat. When Southerners lose a loved one, they rarely lose their appetite, but almost always lose the desire to cook.

Of course, you needn’t only bring savory sustenance. Sweets are an essential part of a Southern mourner’s diet. And for the love of all that’s holy, do not make funeral sweets with Splenda, people! Grief and dieting go together like…like…ok, they just don’t go together AT ALL.

Photo by Chris and Jenni
Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to bring over some meat-flavored vegetables, that’s great. But a salad probably isn’t your best bet. No, not even a congealed “salad.” Especially if the recently departed had been hospitalized for any length of time before their departure. Nobody wants to be reminded of institutional gelatin, even in the best of times.

In case you’re in a quandary about what to bring, consult this handy guide:

Banana pudding: YES!
Photo by Jason Meredith
Flickr Creative Commons

Great Southern Funeral Food:
Casseroles (anything made with cream of something soup is most welcome)
Deep fried anything
Chicken ‘n dumplings
BBQ
Lasagna
Potatoes (preferably mashed or au gratin)
Homemade mac ‘n cheese
Bread
Ham (spiral sliced preferred, but not required)
Chili or hearty soup (Not chicken noodle; no one’s getting better anytime soon…)
Deviled eggs
Homemade sweets of any kind (remember, no Splenda!)

Suitable Southern Funeral Food
Cold cuts and sandwich fixings
Egg/potato/chicken/pasta salad
Store-bought sweets (think Sara Lee, not Little Debbie)
Ice cream

Crudité: NO! P.S. Where's the dip??
Photo by Robyn Lee
Flickr Creative Commons

Ill-advised Southern Funeral Food
Green salad
Crudité platter
Fruit basket
Low-cal frozen entreés
Tofu of any variety
Chewing gum

If you can’t get over to the home of the deceased right away, don’t despair. In fact, I’d recommend avoiding the rush and swinging by with snacks a few days later. Trust me, the bereaved will appreciate a fresh supply of comfort food.

When my mom died, I can’t remember eating much else but cold fried chicken and some kind of cake (caramel, maybe?). But I do remember my relief at not having to think about fixing something to eat. While food isn’t a panacea for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain.

What’s your all-time favorite funeral food? And do you have a casserole in your freezer right now?

Rerun: 16. Catfish (The “Deep-Fried” is Implied)

25 Jun

In an effort to be timely, I’m offering this rerun in honor of National Catfish Day (which I’d never heard of till I checked my Twitter feed this morning).

Ok, a lot of these posts feature food (or drink), and I reckon you can guess why: We Southerners loves us some food. Hey, Mississippi didn’t get to be the fattest state in the US for nothing!

So while folks here in Seattle are swooning over salmon, my peeps back home are loyal to the good old-fashioned fried catfish. With hushpuppies (which one of my Seattle friends mistakenly called “puff daddies.” Of course, the name stuck).

Though I now regularly buy organic produce and “hippie eggs,” I’m still of the opinion that farm-raised catfish is the way to go. Sure, maybe wild catfish live happier lives, but they are notorious bottom feeders. For me, eating free-range catfish would be akin to munching on a fried vulture. Ick. As an aside, when I lived in LA, I was extolling the virtues of farm-raised catfish to a work friend who said, “Farm-raised? I thought it was a fish!”

There’s a reason I’m writing this blog, people.

Now if you happen to be in the South and are itching to try some catfish, I recommend Jerry’s in Florence, MS. Not necessarily because it’s the best, but because it may be the one and only place you’ll eat catfish in an igloo. Yes, I said igloo.

Jerry's Fish House, Florence, MS

It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, and I can’t really remember whether the catfish or hushpuppies are anything special. But it’s one of few places where I, an avowed fish hater, will actually eat fish.

What’s your favorite catfish joint?

Update: I’ve since learned that my local organic grocery store, PCC Natural Markets (which may stand for Politically Correct Cooking) endorses farm-raised catfish. They pass out a pocket-size Seafood Watch guide that lists the most sustainable choices for fish-loving folks. In case you’re interested, click for additional reading on why farm-raised catfish (but not salmon!) is best.

Rerun: 86. Toothless Joe, Darlene Sardine and other Nicknames.

24 Jun


In the South, nicknames are so common, you could go your whole life knowing a “Junior” or “Sissy” and have no idea what their real name is. One day, you might happen upon an obituary for “William Henry Anderson” that reads suspiciously like the life (and death) of…dear Lord, that’s “Skippy.” Who knew? Better grab a casserole out of the freezer and head on over.

Southern folks are saddled with nicknames for any number of reasons. For the sake of brevity, I’ll discuss the top six:

The correct answer to Bubba's Oodles Question.


1. Earned nicknames
Beware: any time a person does anything whatsoever, there’s a good chance they’ll be saddled with an unflattering nickname. And even if you are a hermit who withdraws from society altogether, you can still earn a nickname like “The Hermit” or “The Unabomber.” My dad has a brother whose adolescent voice change was so pronounced that he’s been called “Squeaky” ever since. One of my best friend’s nicknames was inspired by her bowling technique: “Gutterball Gertie,” which we’ve shortened to “Gert.” Also, when we were playing the game Oodles, her brother Bubba (who now goes by “Tommy”) shouted a spectacularly wrong answer that earned him the nickname “GANT!”

2. Appearance-based nicknames

If you know someone by their nickname before you meet them face to face, you might be in for a surprise. Most likely someone known as “Red” will have hair of that hue, but if someone’s called “Tiny” they’ll likely be a future contestant on “The Biggest Loser.” Back in my headbanging/tie-dye wearing years, my aforementioned friends’ father dubbed me “Hippie Kim,” which I’ve always secretly (till now) liked. My favorite nickname which wasn’t meant to be ironic but became so is my friend’s step-cat “Boney.” Boney’s a Seattle native, but I suspect he has a Southern heritage.

My friend's step-cat "Boney."

3. Rhyming nicknames

Future parents of the world, please do your kid a favor and give him/her a name that’s less likely to lead to playground altercations. I realize this is an almost impossible task, considering how creative kids are, but at least don’t make it easy for them. Try avoiding anything that rhymes with an unpleasant word, i.e. “Darlene Sardine,” “Grody Jody,” or “Phlegmy Jimmy.” Also, you might want to steer clear of choices like “Chuck,” “Mitch,” or “Bart,” just in case the “Name Game” rears its ugly head again.

4. Code names

Considering how females like to go on ad nauseam about the men in our lives (past, present, and future), we use code names so our friends can keep them straight. Which is particularly helpful when one has a run of suitors who happen to share the same first initial, “J” for example. Hypothetically. This isn’t so much a Southern thing as it is a female thing, but it was a category I didn’t want to overlook.

Guess who "forgot" his wallet?

Here are a few I’ve heard and/or coined both above and below the Mason-Dixon. “Hurt Foot,” “The Fireman,” “The Eddie-ot,” “My Stalker,” “Toothless Joe,” “Stupid Boy,” “Dutch Treat Bob,” and my favorite “Bill (I can’t pay the bill) Bill.”

I don’t remember which one of us started calling my sister’s college boyfriend “George” based on his resemblance to a certain Seinfeld character. It used to drive Jenna nuts, but after they FINALLY broke up, she, too, started referring to him as “George.”

5. Random Nicknames

We call my friend Karen “Nooker,” but I’m not sure why. Supposedly it’s the shortened version of “Nanook of the North,” which does little to enlighten me. There was a guy in high school that Sandy called “Dirt Dauber,” apropos of I know not what. I’ve personally known a “Dirty D,” “Mutt,” “Gopher,” and, wait for it…”Squid.” Check out my blogging buddy Renee’s Mardi Gras adventure in which you’ll discover how her friend’s baby came to be known as “Snake.”

If you're over 60, you may call me this.
However, I prefer "Darlin'."

6. Generic Nicknames

“Honey,” “Dear,” “Love,” and “Sweetheart,” (HDLS) are not necessarily used in a romantic or familial context, which you’ll quickly learn should you venture into a restaurant, clothing boutique, or beauty parlor. Here’s a brief etiquette primer:

1. Never call anyone who’s clearly your elder “HDLS.”
2. Never call the person who’s serving you (waitress, hair dresser, etc) “HDLS.”
3. Men under 60: Never call anyone you aren’t romantically involved with and/or related to “HLDS.”
4. Do not get uppity when an elderly person calls you “HDLS.”

Which brings us to my biggest nickname pet peeve: “Mama” and “Daddy.”
I have no problem with children using these names however they see fit. Also, I think it’s perfectly acceptable when talking to one’s children to refer to one’s spouse as “Mama” or “Daddy.” Example: “Go ask Daddy to wash the dog; she’s been rolling in dead stuff again.” But for the love of all that is holy, please DO NOT call your spouse or anyone you’re romantically linked to “Mama” or “Daddy.” It’s just plain creepy.

What are some of the best nicknames you’ve heard?

How did you come by your nickname (surely you have at least one)? Please keep it PG, people.

Thanks for reading, y’all.

Love, “Kimi-san,” “Hippie Kim,” “Kimbo,” “Lil Kim,” “Hollywood,” and “Pierre.”

Flickr Creative Commons photo credits: “To Bubba from Stinky” by Fushia Foot, “Honey Bears” by wabisabi2015, “Hello My Name Is” by Kris Beltran.

Rerun: 2. Deep Freezers–Like Closets, But Colder

7 Jun

freezer ad

While I’m on the subject of appliances Southerners can’t live without…

Everybody I know in the South has a deep freeze. Everybody. Care to guess how many deep freezers I’ve seen between here and L.A.? Yep, that would be none.

So why do Southern folks love deep freezers? Frankly, I don’t really know. I could speculate that they need the extra room to store a hunting season’s worth of venison, but more often, they’re packed with Kid’s Cuisines and Costco bags of chicken breasts. Oh, and ice. You can always use an extra bag or two of ice. Never know when the gas station up the road will run out. And then how will you make margaritas?

My sister asked me a few years back why I didn’t have a deep freezer. I believe I was living in a basement apartment at the time, so I figured the answer was obvious. Anyhow, like the Albert Brooks character in “Mother,” I am of the belief that not everything belongs in the freezer, which is why they make it smaller.

Fast forward a few years to the day I noticed our freezer was on the blink. First hint? Soft-serve ice cream. Geoff and I took a field trip to Lowes and Home Depot in search of a replacement. After great debate (well, not exactly Lincoln and Douglas, but still) we settled on a top-freezer Frigidaire with an Energy Star rating. Imagine my surprise when we got it home and I noticed that the freezer compartment was considerably smaller than our previous model. I must admit, I have begun to reconsider my position on deep freezers.

The other day, as I was attempting to wedge a Costco bag of pecans into the freezer door shelf, I made the executive decision to banish Geoff’s square egg maker (don’t ask) and stainless steel pitcher to the countertop. Upon noticing his exiled stuff, Geoff picked up the pitcher and said, “This is the foamer for my espresso machine.”

WHAT?

“You mean,” I say, “The espresso machine that’s been in the basement since we moved in? I’ve been working around this thing for FIVE YEARS?”

Indeed. And he’d been working around it in his old freezer for countless years before that.

So then I proceed to look for more dead weight in the freezer. I hold up one of those cold pack thingies and say, “What about this? Do you use this?”

“That came with the refrigerator,” he says.

I reckon once I finish tossing the useless crap, I won’t need a deep freeze after all.

What all do you keep in your deep freeze? Could you live without it or even want to?

Update: For the better part of the last year, I’ve been lobbying for a deep freeze. I really need more real estate for storing cookie dough, French macarons, and buttercream frosting. Not to mention the ginormous freezer bowl for the KitchenAid ice cream maker. Oh and all the ice cream and sorbet made in it. Besides which, I’ve been meaning to get around to trying my hand at freezer jam with the overabundance of plums from our backyard tree…Geoff is of the opinion that I need not stockpile frozen treats. I agree; I don’t need to. But I WANT to! Show of hands, who thinks I should get one?

Photo credits: GE Freezer by Deluxx, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rerun: 17. Air Conditioning–Don’t Stay Home in June Without It!

5 Jun

"Air conditioned" -- a key selling point in Texas! Dixie Motel's vintage neon sign. In Brenham, Texas.Well, folks, I’m back in Seattle, but thought I’d share a few more old posts regarding some of my favorite Southern things. Depending on the time of year, air conditioning ranks in the top 10.

Friends and family back home are shocked to hear that I (along with most folks and businesses in Seattle) do not have air conditioning. The horror! The horror!

The thing is, Seattle gets unbearably hot for about two or three days a year, but in many parts of the South, the heat starts up in April and sticks around till October. (One of the reasons I love the state fair so much is that it almost always marks the transition into cooler temperatures. Hence the term “fair weather.”)

I am truly a child of the late 20th century and cannot even fathom how folks in the South could tolerate summers without air conditioning. Wearing hoop skirts and petticoats! Heck, I can’t even fathom how folks today go outside in business suits and/or pantyhose anytime after May. (A good argument for self-employment if I’ve ever heard one.)

Southern folks are not known for moving at a particularly rapid pace, but perhaps you’ve never seen them in the summer. It’s always a mad dash from the comfort of an air-conditioned car to the safety of an air-conditioned house. And by “safety” I mean safety. People die out there in the heat. Or wish they would.

One summer I was at my parents’ house when the air conditioner went on the blink. Within minutes, my mom and I were packed and headed to the family’s cabin on the Pearl River. Normally, I wouldn’t be all that enthused about spending time in the cabin, but that day we couldn’t get there quickly enough.

For the first few hours there, my mom and I lay on the bed underneath the air conditioner reveling in the glory of an icy cool breeze. I only wish I’d known at the time how precious that moment was. I’d be willing to endure any number of summers in the South if my mom were there with me. I’d love to hear her just one more time say, “It’s hotter than HELL!” (pronounced “Hey-You’ll.”)

Update: During my tour of the South, some places had beautiful weather (Savannah, Knoxville), some were cool and drizzly (Oxford, MS; Charleston, SC), and one featured what could only have been a tropical storm (Jekyll Island). During the last week of my visit, MS was exactly the way I remembered: HOT! Also, HUMID. While I was complaining about temperatures reaching upwards of 90 degrees, folks back home reminded me “It’s not even HOT yet!” Oh. My. I truly have acclimated to the milder climate here in the Pacific Northwest. For me, visiting MS in August would be like strolling across the surface of the sun, while wearing a parka. I’m a wimp, y’all.

How do you cope with the heat? I, myself, will admit to eating far too many shaved ice treats (complete with sweetened condensed milk) from the Snow Biz stand in Brandon. We don’t have anything like that here in Seattle (that I know of) which is probably a good thing…

Rerun–43. Cracker Barrel: Putting the Kitsch in Kitchen

10 May

2658965445_b485f917caSo, the evening after I revisited Stuckey’s, Cracker Barrel lured me in with their ever-present billboards. I think it was the one about “homemade dumplings” that won me over. Wish I’d reread this post before eating there:

You’d think the novelty of nostalgia would have worn off by now, but judging from the ever-crowded parking lot, I reckon not. But then Cracker Barrel combines two of Southern women’s greatest loves: eating and shopping. Also, you can get in quite a bit of gossiping, too, depending on who you run into and how long you have to wait for a table.

I’m not going to extol the virtues of Cracker Barrel’s food, because I fail to see any. Ok, I’ll admit, they do have some good pecan pancakes that come with wee bottles of maple syrup. I know this because whenever I’d come home to visit, Mom would wake me up WAAAAY early the next day (like around 9:00) to go get some pancakes.

What Cracker Barrel lacks in culinary skills, they make up for in kitsch. Where else are you going to find cornbread pans, patriotic clocks, wooden toys, and old-timey candy all in one place? Ok, maybe your grandmother’s house. But the candy will likely be not so much old-timey as just plain old.IMG_0241

There’s plenty to look at while you wait, and the fun doesn’t stop after you’re seated. Who’s up for a challenging round of the peg game? You know the one with a triangle-shaped piece of wood featuring pegs filled with golf tees? The object is to “jump” and remove the other tees, leaving only one tee standing. It sounds more exciting than it is. But then, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve yet to win.

I’ve only ever been to Cracker Barrel for breakfast because from what I hear, that’s the only meal worth eating. However, I can’t imagine the food would be any worse than the short-lived “Po Folks” that we used to patronize frequently in college. Because, hey, we WERE po folks, and most anything beats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Though I do enjoy poking around in the general store, I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in the last three years. My mom loved those pancakes enough to endure breakfast with a grumpy, jetlagged daughter, and it wouldn’t feel right eating them without her.

What’s your favorite part of the Cracker Barrel experience?

pancakesUpdate: Last year, I went with my sister and dad to have the pecan pancakes again and they did not disappoint. Wish I could say the same about my meal last week. I had the frequently touted chicken and dumplings and they were just sad, y’all. Not as sad as the straight-from-the-can, lukewarm niblets, but almost. Of the fried okra, I will not even speak. In their defense, the biscuit was edible.

What puzzles me is that in my infinite quest to find a go-to chicken and dumplings recipe, I keep running across ones that claim to taste “Just Like Cracker Barrel,” as if it were a good thing. Huh?

So after a spectacularly underwhelming supper, I decided to go back for breakfast. Thought maybe I could drown the bad memories with a little bottle of maple-esque syrup. Low and behold, it worked. Note: Notions like this hardly ever work, but never underestimate the power of pecan pancakes.

Photo credits: Cracker Barrel exterior by Keith Lam, Flickr Creative Commons; pics with bad lighting by yours truly.

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