Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 c sugar
1/2 c chopped walnuts
2 eggs
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 t almond or vanilla extract
1 pkg frozen sweet strawberries or 1 cup (10 oz) crushed fresh strawberries mixed with 3 T sugar
Mix together flour, baking soda, sugar and nuts in a bowl. In another bowl, beat together eggs, flavoring and oil until well blended. Add strawberries and beat at slow speed of mixer until berries are partially broken. Beat in flour mixture slowly until smooth, but pieces of berries are still visible. Pour batter into greased muffin tins, filling to half.
Bake at 350 deg F for 30 minutes, or until they test done. Or, bake in greased 9x5x3" loaf pan for at 350 deg F for 1 hour, or until done. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.


Leave the Strawberries Alone!

For The Carolina Gateway (May 16, 2007)
The crop of strawberries is so outrageously sweet and succulent this year it’s almost a travesty to cook them. Just put them in a bowl on your counter and the family will gobble them up faster than you can say “save some for me!” I put mine in the handle basket on the counter and warned my guys that there would be trouble if they ate so many that I wouldn’t have enough to make the two desserts that I needed for the newspaper. 12-year old Taylor solved the problem by implementing a “strawberry debit sheet.” He listed all our names and instructed each of us to make a hash mark for each berry we consumed. Dire warnings were posted (on my behalf by Taylor) on the bottom of the sheet. Sometime later, when older son Nate noted that Taylor has 3 hash marks, he accused him of eating 111 berries!

If you do feel compelled to do something fancy with strawberries, try to cook them as little as possible and be sure to go easy on the added sugar. The berries are so sweet this year that you can easily lose the fruity goodness by adding too much sweetener. For your ice cream and shortcake toppings, try just mashing them a little with a fork and letting them sit for a few minutes. I think you’ll find they don’t need any sugar at all.

It’s natural to want to preserve the bounty for later. The easiest and freshest way is to simply freeze the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once they are frozen through, drop them into zip-top bags and return them to the freezer for later use. They will keep this way for up to a year. Once they thaw they will be mushy, but the flavor will be just as fresh. Thawed frozen berries are perfect for muffins, cakes and syrups.

Many home cooks like to make strawberry preserves. If you aren’t up to the canning process, you can make a simple frozen jam. Mix together 2 cups of crushed strawberries (about a quart of strawberries will crush to 2 cups) and sugar to taste (up to 3/4 cup). Set aside. Place 4 cups of water, and a box of Sure Gel® in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the water mixture to the berry mixture and stir about 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into sterile freezer containers. Cover tightly and let sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then freeze. Thawed, the preserves will keep in the refrigerator up to 3 weeks.

But do yourself a favor—don’t cancel out the health benefits of strawberries (1 cup will give you 50% of your daily requirement of vitamin C and 15% of your needed fiber) by dumping a lot of sugar on them. Just clean them and eat them raw and fresh.

Gotta go. Everyone else is up over a dozen berries a piece. I’m way behind and one thing I’ve learned about goodies in this family: you snooze, you lose!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Our Lunch Adventure

Yesterday my friend Nannette took me out to lunch. We went to the Penguin Drive-In in Charlotte. Nannette has lived here all her life, heard about the Penguin all her life, and never eaten there.

We drove and drove and drove and missed our turn once. We ended up calling Mensa Boy at his office to see where we went wrong. (note to self: give Nannette a map of Charlotte for her car...just for my own peace of mind)

We finally found the place, and saw all these folks standing outside chatting, drinking various beverages...mostly sweet tea, of course.

The building is no bigger than an auto repair shop. And it's not a drive-in anymore. When we opened the door, we saw maybe 15 tables in there, a bar in front of the grill, and it was packed and noisy. We looked at each other, wondering if we should stay.

The hostess came up to us and said "Come in and shut the door." I told her we weren't sure if we were staying.

"Of course you'll stay, and it will be worth the wait," she replied.

She took my name, suggested we get a drink and hang around. "I'll come find you when I have a table for you."

"So we can wait outside and you'll find us?" I asked.

"I don't care what you do, as long as you clean up your own mess," she said.

And so we hung around. Soaking in the racket and the people and mainly watching the hostess. The girl was maybe in her late 20s? With a bright red eye shadow. I was fascinated by the eye shadow. And the way she and the obvious regulars greeted each other. Big hugs, loud exclamations. You know, those of you ladies that might have trouble with fellows looking at you with their eyes focused lower than your face? Try a stripe of scarlet-colored eye shadow above each eye. That should keep their attention focused on your face. For a while, anyway. Maybe you ought to have little designs drawn up there...

The fellow who was the waiter was also fascinating. He had this earring that looked like two claws hooked together on either side of his earlobe. Later Nannette commented that his hairstyle made him kind of look like a penguin. All swept upward into a point. I admit I hadn't noticed that.

After about 15-20 minutes, we were given a table. Big enough for 4. There were still a few folks waiting, so we told the hostess we'd be happy to share a table with another couple. We figured no one could hear our conversation anyway...we'd be lucky if we could hear each other!

I don't think people make that offer very often. The hostess seemed a bit surprised and then went to figure out who would be game to sit with two strangers. She brought us a nice couple from Ohio who were in town for Speed Street. They come every year and like to try restaurants they hear about. They'd heard about the Penguin on the Food Network.

We ended up talking to them throughout our meal, and the waiter stopped by every once in a while to be sure we were "getting along." They ordered fried pickles, which I'd never had. Apparently that is a delicacy in Ohio as well. The order they received was huge, so they shared them with us. I had one...when they were very hot. I have to say I liked it. But I didn't have any more because I was under the impression that they would not be very good once they cooled.

We talked about various places to eat. They had gone to Statesville the day before and eaten at Carolina Bar B Q of Statesville...our family ate there last year and really liked it. I asked them if they'd tried Bill Spoon's BBQ in Charlotte. They had not, so I told them about where it was. And we told them about South 21 Drive-In.

The burgers were pretty good. If I lived in the neighborhood, I imagine I'd go there when jones-ing for a good burger. It's a lot like Matt's in Minneapolis, or the 5-8 Club.

It was a fun lunch! Took 3.5 hours total, but very fun. I think we are going to try to hit some other fun places throughout the summer. And I will definitely put a map in her car. Even if I have to do it when she's not looking!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Passing on the Skill

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic.
My dad has a special way of putting away his extension cords. It looks like a chain, compacts the cord nicely, and is easily undone with just a tug.

He taught his method to Mensa Boy. Mensa Boy says he forgot how for a while, but now he's remembered and here he is passing this method on to Taylor.

On another note: Yesterday I paid Roto Rooter $109 to come flush two toilets.

Yup. Just flush them.

The toilets have been a consistent problem here...the two that are used by the younger generation. Yesterday morning Mensa Boy said that he could not satisfactorily unplug them...they still drained slowly.

So I called Roto Rooter.

The fellow came in the door, flushed them and they worked great. He tossed lots of paper in there to clog them...still worked great.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Dedicated to the Show "24"

Please release me

let me go

for I don't love you anymore

To waste our lives would be a sin

Release me and let me love again

Monday, May 21, 2007

It's the Man's Job

"Hi! Welcome home! Would you please unclog the toilets first? Two of them are stopped up and the only one available is mine. Which I just cleaned. There are 3 boys in the house right now."

Another Taylorism

Taylor: "They should have a pie store."

Me: "You mean a store that sells pie? Like Baker's Square?"

Taylor: "No. A store where everything costs $3.14."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Travelin' Travelin' Through

Today Taylor and I head home from Norfolk. We had a very fun day yesterday at Jamestown. Even though our visit there was sandwiched between terrible traffic delays (2 hours held up on the way and 1.5 hours held us up on the way back...accidents), we had a good time.

We got back to Norfolk just in time to go the Franklin Graham Festival in downtown Virginia Beach. Guest artists were Nicole C. Mullen and Third Day. There was another band I hadn't heard of before...Isaiah and somebody. They were also very wonderful! We sat down on the main floor at the press table, so we were just a few yards from stage.

Taylor pretty much never complains. Until he just hits the wall with fatigue. And even then it's pretty much just "I'm ready to go home now."

But he's not ready to go back to Indian Land. He wants to stay here and tour naval shipyards and stuff.

We'll definitely have to come back.

edit: Israel Houghton and New Breed was the name of the other band. Thanks Kristen!