It wasn't looking good for my chances of getting to the Heartless Bastards show in Lexington last night, but thanks to a last-minute babysitting offer from a friend, Sylvia and I were able to make a date of it. Heading out from Morehead after dinner, we skipped the opening act in favor of making a stop at the obscenely huge Liquor Barn at Hamburg Plaza to indulge in a little frivolous consumerism. Besides such difficult-to-obtain-in-Morehead items as decent bread, cheese, and wine, I picked up a couple of promising seasonal beers—Great Lakes' "Nosferatu" red ale (which I am sampling right now: it's pretty damn good) and Abita's "Pecan Harvest" (I'd had a tiny sample earlier this week and was intrigued)—as well as a couple old standybys: DAB and Staropramen.
The ancestral lands
I am just back from an all-too-brief trip to the New Jersey shore (my people simply call it "the shore") for a multitude of birthdays: daughter's, father's, niece's and nephew's are all within a few days of each other. Besides the family time, the trip was a whirlwind tour of beloved foods that, if they exist at all outside of New Jersey/the Delaware Valley, do so only as pale shadows of their true essence: paper-thin slices of Nirvana from Mack and Manco's and a brimming tub of caramel decadence from Johnson's on the Ocean City boardwalk; a perfect turkey hoagie (no cheese, no mayo, just a dash of oil and vinegar) from Brady's Hoagie Dock; a trio of Philly soft pretzels from a stand in the airport. ...
I am in the midst of a holiday visit to my ancestral homeland, which involved a 12-hour car ride. When driving long distances, I find the choice of places to stop to be a crucial one. While any old gas station may address the basic physical needs of traveling, spots that can provide a bit of mental relief from the tedium of driving are less common. That goes double when traveling with small children. A couple trips ago, we discovered the Queen City Creamery in Cumberland, MD, an old-fashioned soda fountain cum coffee bar and deli that has become a must-stop break point for our periodic Kentucky-New Jersey pilgrimages. It's very conveniently located just off I-68 in downtown Cumberland and provides an oasis of actual atmosphere in the desert of fast food chains and travel plazas one usually finds on the Interstate Highway System.
Earlier this week, I was in Austin for a brief business trip, I took the obligatory trip downtown to 6th Street and had a lovely dinner at the Old Pecan Street Cafe. The blackened redfish in étouffe sauce was very good—flaky without being and well-spiced without being punishingly hot—but the Crêpes Pecan—basically a pecan pie wrapped up in a crepe and topped with (real) whipped cream was superlative.
Mom and apple pie
For Thanksgiving this year, I've drawn pie duty. I'm again making pumpkin-pecan pie, and to that I'm adding our familial apple pie. We buck tradition a bit by using McIntosh apples. Conventional wisdom considers McIntoshes too soft for cooking and recommends firm apples like the Granny Smith, but according to family lore, a previous patriarch could not abide hard pieces of apple in his pie, so our tradition developed accordingly. In any case, it's the apple pie I grew up with, and it tastes fine to me. Here's the recipe, as written out by my mom:...
My parents just sent me a package of regional delicacies from my Ancestral Home. There were two giant jars of sweet pepper strips for a friend, who was introduced (and quickly became addicted) to them as hoagie condiments while visiting NJ with us this summer. More importantly,there were three boxes of Ivins Famous Spiced Wafers, which are probably unknown to anyone who has never resided in the greater Delaware Valley. Spiced Wafers bear a certain resemblance to ginger snaps, but transcend them in almost every way (darker, spicier, molassesier and, well, better). They are only sold in the fall and only in the Philadelphia area (one can, however, order Ivins online), where they have a fanatical following . This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer might help explain the Spiced Wafer phenomenon to the uninitiated.
Pop pop pop
I'm not sure when people started doing it, but selling Pop-Tarts(tm) out of vending machines is just an awesome idea. 410 calories of fruity, frosty, vitamin-enriched goodness for less than a dollar! Sometimes it's all that gets me through the day (or night)....
Pumpkin Pecan Pie
I thought I would return from my unannounced but probably not unexpected holiday absence with something simple and snappy: my friend Andrew's recipe for Pumpkin-Pecan Pie, which I made for visiting family during said absence. This recipe is a piece of culinary synergy, taking the best aspects of both pecan pie (which I like a lot but which can be too much of a sugar bomb) and pumpkin pie (which I don't especially like in its usual form) and creates something that surpasses both (the pumpkin mellows the pecans and vice versa). Enjoy!...