Tag Archives: Kim Holloway

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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Rerun–66. (Not to be confused with 666): Deviled Eggs

29 Mar

Photo by Debbie R
Flickr Creative Commons

One day when my sister and I were in an antique store, she picked up a deviled egg plate and said, “Since I’m Southern, I probably should have one of these.” Alas, neither of us purchased one. Fast forward 20 years: I spot a nice glass deviled egg plate at Goodwill for $5. But did I buy it? Oh, no, I did not. Then a couple of weeks later I run across that SAME glass deviled egg plate at an antique store and they wanted $50 for it.

Right now you are probably thinking that I spend far too much time rooting through people’s old stuff. And I haven’t even mentioned my new estate sale obsession…But I digress…

I never actually tried a deviled egg until I was well into my thirties. I grew up Southern Baptist, for whom eating Satanic snack food is a sin almost on par with dancing. Ok, I made that up. Baptists eat heaps of deviled eggs (especially around Easter). But the sinful dancing part is true, in case y’all missed “Footloose.”

Why are these eggs brown around the edges? Because they're actually cookies! Photo by distopiandreamgirl
Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve kind of always had an aversion to yolks, and the only way I would eat eggs was scrambled until… My fellow Southern expats, Chad (Tennessee) and Leah (Georgia) had a brunch one Easter and there was (of course) a tray of deviled eggs. People seemed to be enjoying them immensely, and I started to feel left out – actually, the “left out” feeling began when the conversation turned to triathlons. Anyhow, I tried one. And another. And another. “Deviled eggs!” I thought. “Where have you been all my life?” Deviled eggs: “Duh! Only every gathering you’ve ever been to in the South.”

I was an immediate convert, an evangelist even. I probably went through a whole carton of deviled eggs before the novelty wore off or the cholesterol shot up. These days, I don’t make them at home much, but am always delighted to happen upon them out in the wild.

So far, I haven’t found any that tasted as heavenly as Leah’s. But I’ve used Paula Deen’s recipe, which is a pretty good approximation.

Now if only I could find a suitable deviled egg plate on which to serve them…

Paula Deen’s Traditional Southern Deviled Eggs

Ingredients
7 large eggs, hard boiled and peeled
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ TBSP pickle relish (Paula specifies sweet; I prefer dill.)
1 tsp yellow mustard (French’s style, not fancy pants Gray Poupon)
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika, sweet gherkin, or pimentos for garnishing (optional)

Directions
Halve 7 eggs lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl.
Mash yolks with a fork and stir in mayonnaise, pickle relish, and mustard. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Fill egg whites evenly with yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika, pickles and pimentos. Store covered in refrigerator.

Do you have a favorite deviled egg recipe? Please share!

Update: Last time I was in MS, I snagged my mom’s deviled egg plate. I’ll use it for the first time this Sunday at my friend Linda’s Easter brunch. Yay. This time around, though, I’m skipping the relish and adding bacon.

Rerun: 84. Mardi Gras (“Throw Me Something, Mister!”)

12 Feb

Throw me something, mister!

Laissez le bon temps rouler, y’all. At least until midnight tonight. You’d think that in the South Fat Tuesday wouldn’t be that big a deal. I mean, what distinguishes it from Fat Wednesday, Fat Thursday, or Fat Friday? In a word: beads.

Pop quiz: Which city hosted the first Mardi Gras celebration in North America? If you answered “New Orleans,” you are A. wrong and B. obviously not from Alabama. Yes, folks, the good people of Mobile, Alabama, got the party started years before New Orleans was even founded. They gave birth to the tradition, and then New Orleans came along and turned it into a juvenile delinquent with a substance abuse problem. Not that they’re bitter.

Is there any place more fun than New Orleans on Fat Tuesday? I think not. If your idea of fun includes being jostled by an unruly mob, having beer spilled on you (repeatedly), and groveling (or worse) for some cheap-ass plastic beads. For some, this is heaven. For others, it’s hell. For me, it’s a little of both. Yes, folks, I’m willing to dodge a little vomit in hopes of catching a doubloon. If anyone wants to trade one for the giant pair of granny panties I caught one time, please let me know.

The last time I celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I was in my 20s. If I were to do it again, I’d want a hotel room with a balcony. Not necessarily to avoid being trampled (though that’s a plus), but to have access to a bathroom that’s been sanitized for my protection. I would rather pee on the street than enter the ninth circle of hell better known as the porta-potty. Picture the poophouse scene in “Slumdog Millionaire.” Or don’t. I still have nightmares.

Ok, moving on. Did I mention there’s cake? And costumes? And beads? And cake?

It’s not particularly tasty cake. But there’s green and purple frosting. And a plastic baby inside. If you get the slice with the baby, you win a fabulous prize: you have to procure a King Cake and host the next party. Woo hoo! Who doesn’t enjoy providing pastry for a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells? I’m not sure what happens if you don’t follow through. Maybe Rumpelstilskin convinces your first-born child to run off and join the circus or take up with a bunch of proselytizing vegans.

Well, I should wrap this up before Ash Wednesday rolls around.

What’s the best thing you ever caught at Mardi Gras? No STD stories, please.

All photos from Flickr Creative Commons: Bead seekers by Philippe Leroyer, Mardi Gras Beads by Mike Bitzenhofer, and King Cake by Logan Brown.

120. Cream Corn, Not Just for Folks Lacking Teeth

30 Jan

5950519991_9ae46e4c4e_mOf all the ways there are to enjoy corn–on the cob, popped, niblets, batter for frying or even sweetener for Cokes (any flavor)–I think the most under-appreciated outside the South would have to be cream corn.

Makes sense, seeing as it looks like something one would expect to find in a hospital cafeteria or airplane sick bag. I’ll be the first to admit that cream corn isn’t about to win any food porn pageant. It’s sort of what I pictured when those Little Rascals kids whined about the “mush” they had to eat. It is, after all, mushed up corn.

Knew how to make some mean mush...

Knew how to make some mean mush…

mush recipe

Imagine my surprise when I bought a book from 1903, which included recipes for mush that didn’t look half bad. This confirmed my suspicion that Spanky, Darla and the gang were a bunch of drama queens.

Now where were we? Oh, yes, cream corn.

Up until just a few years ago, I gave cream corn a wide berth. It’s not something I’d have deliberately chosen to consume and if a blob of it accidentally landed on my plate, I’d try to discretely eat around it. I can’t recall exactly when my opinion changed, but it must have been a holiday meal with my family wherein nobody went to the trouble to make my sister-in-law Karen’s amazing corn casserole. Instead, there was cream corn. Reluctantly, I sampled a bite. Then promptly went back for a second helping.

Since when was cream corn not only edible, but–dare I say–tasty?

As it turned out, this particular cream corn had never seen the inside of a tin can. Instead, it came from the freezer section in a tube reminiscent of the sort used for Pillsbury heat-up cookies. (Not the official name, but y’all know what I’m talking about.)

After returning to Seattle, I sought to recreate that creamy, corny goodness. Alas, the only frozen corn was on the cob, niblets, or popsicles (high-fructose corn syrup strikes again). One time, I got desperate and bought a can of the stuff. I cannot NOT recommend this tactic highly enough. Just say no, folks.

No, thank you...

No, thank you…

Then lo and behold, cream corn made an appearance on the menu of 5 Spot. Having been burned by Seattle’s interpretation of Southern food on seventeen too many occasions, I was dubious (but also, as I mentioned, desperate). So I ordered it. And y’all, it was awesome. Yes, I’m still talking about cream corn.

Another time I got it as a side at a BBQ joint I frequent, and it was even better. Hooray! Maybe Seattle chefs were finally beginning to embrace some classic Southern preparations without tossing in random extras like mushrooms, peppers, or kale.

Except.

The regional menu at 5 Spot changes every quarter and when I went back to the BBQ place some months later, I was informed that cream corn is seasonal. Really? Well, yes, I realize that corn is seasonal. But also, really? I mean, tomatoes are seasonal, but that doesn’t prevent Italian restaurants or pizza places from being open year-round.

Just add butter!!

Just add butter!!

When I was home for Christmas in 2011, I saw my sister making cream corn and discovered that the frozen stuff isn’t the holy grail after all. What makes it good is the stick of butter she melted into it. Oh. My. I guess I should have figured out that cream corn contains, well, cream. But who knew?

Armed with this ammo, I set out to make myself some cream corn from scratch last year. By “scratch” I mean frozen niblets since the corn season in Seattle lasts about five minutes. In a word, yum! I used this recipe as a guideline, but tinkered with the ingredients to taste, so your results may vary.

Last September in MS, I made a version of the recipe using fresh corn with the help of my 8-year-old nephew, Jackson, and he liked it so much that he saved it to eat last at dinner. (High praise amongst our clan!)

Just in case I don’t write about corn again anytime soon, I have to share my favorite corn-related anecdote:

My dad hates corn. Always has. He will not eat the stuff, even if it’s disguised as a “casserole” loaded up with cheese and saffron rice. (Although he loves corn bread, so go figure.) If I recall correctly, his rationale is that corn is what one feeds to pigs, and he can’t stomach the idea of eating pig food. He will, however, happily eat actual pigs.

One day, he was eating my sister’s homemade soup and said, “I sure do like these crunchy water chestnuts.”

Jenna said, “Uh, Dad, that’s corn.”

Delusion–the ultimate flavor enhancer.

Do you like creamed corn? What’s your favorite recipe?

Photo credits: Cream corn by Shutterbean, Flickr Creative Commons; “The Perfect Woman” book cover and oatmeal mush recipe snapped by yours truly.

119. Thwarting Trespassers and Other Ne’er-Do-Wells

16 Jan

il_570xN.407404899_olfiDriving around Seattle the other day, a wave of nostalgia washed over me when I spotted someone’s front door decorated with a black sign featuring large red letters that said: POSTED. NO TRESPASSING. Shame on me. After a decade of living in a land where the sternest warning to strangers usually runs along the lines of “No Soliciting,” I’d forgotten these existed. But it all comes rushing back.

When I was a kid, I’d see “No Trespassing” signs all over the place. Mostly on chain-link fences or nailed to trees near the entrance to a roped-off dirt road. Places I wouldn’t even be tempted to visit had I not been shunned in all caps with bold type. I believe the signs are mostly used to keep hunters and fishers from poaching on one’s land, but if they scare off evangelicals intent on passing out bible tracts, all the better.3873449800_850c9492f4_m

I understand the desire to keep one’s private property private (teen journals, anyone?), but why must the signs be so redundant? I mean, if you’re reading the sign, it’s because someone posted it. So do we really need the word “POSTED”? That would be like me starting each blog post shouting “WRITTEN!”

Then after the no trespassing bit, they’ll tack on “KEEP OUT.” Just in case one isn’t familiar with words featuring more than four or five letters. Come on, people, if you can’t trust your audience, save everybody some time and skip right to the dumbed-down version.

My favorite trespassing sign comes from a Winnie the Pooh story involving Piglet:

“Next to his house was a piece of broken board which had: “TRESPASSERS W” on it. When Christopher Robin asked the Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, and had been in the family for a long time. Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one—Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.”

I suspect Piglet may have had roots in the South.

il_570xN.365445469_djrkThe types of trespass-discouraging tactics are as varied as the array of guns that are prepared to enforce them. From hi-tech security cameras and motion-detecting sprinklers to padlocked gates and strategically placed barbed wire. Also, dogs. Big, mean dogs. Think Cujo, not Lassie.

Word of advice: if you’re driving around an unfamiliar area, pay close attention to any and all warning signs unless you want to find yourself at the business end of a shotgun. I’m not hyperbolizing, y’all. I speak from experience.no trespassing sign

One night, my sister and I made a wrong turn on the way to a Christmas party and were greeted by two shotgun-toting rednecks who wanted to know where we were headed. (It probably didn’t help matters that we’d accidentally driven through their yard, but still. It was dark and the landscaper had gone with sort of a mud motif…)

Redneck #1: “Where y’all think you’re goin?”

Us: “We’re looking for Scott’s house.”

Redneck #2: “Scott who?”

Us: Uh…(I should mention that our friend Karen had only recently taken up with Scott and we couldn’t recall his last name.)

Redneck #1: “Scott W______?”

Us: “Yes!”

Redneck #2: “You’re gonna turn around and make a left and then take a right at the house with the ‘deaf kid’ sign.”

Us: “Thank you!” (For asking questions first and determining that shooting was not necessary. And also for the directions.)

Rednecks: “STAY OFF THE YARD!”

There may have been more advice, but we didn’t stick around to hear it.

Have you ever posted a “No Trespassing” sign or disregarded one (accidentally or otherwise)? Please do tell!

Photo Credits: “Keep Out” poster by Urban Design Ink available here; “Posted” sign by Nate Weigle, Flickr Creative Commons; “Bait” by Signs from the South available here; Toddler trespassing poster available at ismoyo’s Etsy store.

118. Goodbye Hostess, Hello Little Debbie

11 Jan

One of my Southern friends once confided in me that she suspected her boyfriend had taken up with another woman. “Who?” I asked. Her reply: “Little Debbie.”

Ah, yes, it’s difficult for any red-blooded Southerner to resist the siren song of that little tart. Or more accurately, that little fudge brownie, honey bun, powdered donut, Swiss cake roll, what have you…After all, not only is Little Debbie cheap (and easy), she’s ever-so well preserved.

Sure, Betty Crocker, Sara Lee, and Aunt Jemima may age gracefully on your pantry shelf, but I’m convinced that Little Debbie could survive the Zombie Apocalypse. That’s how I know Cormac McCarthy didn’t set his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road in the South. The never-named father and son happened upon a Coke that one time, but there was nary a Little Debbie snack cake to be found. Which just isn’t natural.

Breakfast of champions!

What sets Little Debbie apart from convenience store counterparts like Twinkies (R.I.P), Zingers, and such? Aren’t all cellophane-wrapped pastries created equal? Well, sort of. But also not really.

Each Little Debbie package features an illustration of a cheerful little girl in a straw hat who looks like she’d enjoy jumping rope or swinging on the front porch and would most likely never throw a Wii remote at the TV. That’s little Debbie, the granddaughter of the company’s founder, O.D. McKee (wouldn’t that be a great band name?).

Debbie does...everything!!

Debbie does…everything!!

While you may find the occasional single-serve Star Crunch or Pecan Spinwheel, you almost always have to buy Little Debbie snacks in the family pack. I see this as a metaphor for Southern relationships in general.

But even though you have to take 5 to 11 extra treats when one would suffice, they come individually wrapped, so you can enjoy them at your leisure.

When I packed up my car and headed west nearly two decades ago, my friends treated me to a going away lunch and presented me with a big bag of goodies for the road. I remember seeing Little Debbie smiling up at me from a package of Oatmeal Creme Pies. Though I haven’t had one in years, I can still recall the taste of freedom, independence, lasting friendships, nostalgia, and, of course, high-fructose corn syrup. Yum!

What Little Debbies are made of…

After snapping this pic in my local grocery store, I decided that it might be time for some homemade Little Debbie-style treats. I Googled upon The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for oatmeal creme pies, which I quickly added to my ever-growing to bake list. Also, I noticed that her avatar looks strangely familiar. Check it out and see if you agree.

Oh! And what’s your favorite Little Debbie treat? Please do tell!

117. Matching (AKA Not Looking Tacky)

9 Jan

matchy-matchyPicture this: I’m about to walk out the door wearing turquoise mary janes, denim capris, white cotton blouse topped with turquoise and light purple striped sweater and turquoise-accented eyeglasses. I’m carrying a glittery turquoise handbag featuring purple flowers. Oh, and a purple water bottle.

Before I leave, I turn to Geoff and say, “I’m worried that I don’t quite match enough…” This renders him temporarily speechless till I add, “I’m kidding!”

Yes, I can go a little overboard with the matching (full disclosure: I was also wearing lavender eye shadow with glittery turquoise eyeliner), but I’m Southern and it’s just part of my DNA.

Don't be like this, y'all...

Don’t be like this, y’all…

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a deep and abiding fear of looking tacky. Occasionally, I’ll challenge myself by pairing a paisley shirt with an argyle sweater, but it makes my pulse race. And that’s with coordinating colors like burgundy and brown. Were I to wear the clashing patterns in, say, green and orange, I would most likely faint in the manner of a tent revival attendee.

As y’all might imagine, folks in Seattle don’t put a whole lot of effort into matching. It is, after all, the city that brought you grunge. Seattleites match neither the elements of an outfit with each other nor the entire ensemble to the occasion. Some don’t even bother to dress for the weather more than 1/2 way. How else do you explain all the guys running around wearing shorts and Birkenstocks with parkas or the girls sporting tank tops and miniskirts with Ugg boots?

lunch bagEarly this year, I went out on a limb and bought an insulated lunch bag that not only doesn’t match my water bottle, but also doesn’t match 9/10ths of the clothes I own. I think it’s adorable, but have never once carried it to my onsite gig without feeling uncomfortable, if not vaguely nauseated. (Pardon me while I go off topic, but I wanted to mention that these bags are great at keeping hot things hot, but it turns out you need some sort of cold pack to keep cold things cold. Besides which, there was never any room for it in the office refrigerator. Not my most practical purchase, but certainly not my least. That honor may go to the Cutest Shoes Ever, which featured ankle straps and 4” stiletto heels. My mom always called such footwear “sitting shoes.”)

Speaking of my mom, I should say that my propensity for matching comes from her side of the family. Which y’all would know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to see my dad sporting his patchwork Christmas Pants (though he occasionally breaks them out as early as Thanksgiving). The patches feature every conceivable design all stitched up together in no discernible pattern in the manner of a calico cat. Except that the patches are made of wool, corduroy and such, not fur. To be fair, I’ll note that all the patches feature coordinating shades of brown, which is more than I can say for the madras patchwork sport coat that Land’s End originally sold for $250 but has now marked down to $159.99.

My sister with Mom at her 50th anniversary dinner.         Not pictured: Matching nail polish.

My sister with Mom at her 50th anniversary dinner. Not pictured: Matching nail polish.

Anyhoo, my mom was a world-championship matcher. She even won a ribbon once at the state fair. Ok, I just made that up, but were prizes awarded in such categories, she would’ve easily outmatched any so-called competition. I’m not saying that some of her outfits weren’t questionable, but even so, they always matched.

Do you like to get all matchy-matchy? What’s your favorite outfit?

Photo credits: “Matchy Matchy” illustration by Natalie Dee, all other photos from Holloway family archives.