Sunday, April 29, 2012

The National Cornbread Festival

I never realized until after I moved to the south just how much of my impressions of it had been formed by repeated viewings of "The Golden Girls". Even though we lived in Tennessee and Kentucky when I was little, I still somehow had the picture in my head that the south was an endless stretch of verandas and cornbread and charming old men named Big Daddy and ladies with lace handkerchiefs delicately fanning themselves in the heat. Blanche Devereaux, nee Hollingsworth, colored my entire perception of the region south of the Mason-Dixon Line despite the fact that I had actual life experience that should have disproved it.

Now that I live down here, I have to report that I have, sadly, not met anyone named Big Daddy. I have also, to my knowledge, not spent any time on a sweeping veranda, although that may be because I still can't tell a veranda from a porch. (I'm also somewhat unclear of the difference between a veranda, a porch, and a lanai. Blanche had an impressive vocabulary, but wasn't much of an educator.) I rarely see people delicately fanning themselves, since most of us just head for wherever the air conditioning is, but there is, very often, cornbread.

Yesterday, in fact, there was an entire National Cornbread Festival, and Kristin and I drove to it so that we could meet my friend Sandy there and eat delicious cornbread.

The National Cornbread Festival is held in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. I had never been there, but from what I saw around the festival tents they have kind of a charming, slightly nostalgic downtown:


coca cola mural


Yesterday it also included an old-timey antique police car, but I feel like that was just on display for the festival:

police car

Either that, or they have very little crime in South Pittsburg.

Anyway, we were greeted at the gates of the festival by the Mayfield Dairy's giant cow statue:

mayfield welcomes you

I love that cow statue, as I always love giant, absurd, tacky things. They used to set it up in the Kroger parking lot every year when school started again, and I used to stop on my way to work to take pictures of it:



but they stopped doing that, and it's been a while since I've seen the giant cow statue. Kristin and I decided to have our picture made with it:

with cow

and then we headed into the festival, where we saw so many things. In addition to the antique cop car and a lot of vendors, there were people dressed as chickens:

chicken man

the creepiest clown show I've ever seen:

scary clown show

creepy dirty doll

and that includes watching IT when I was younger. Seriously, what the hell was up with the creepy dirty dolls around him? They didn't dance or move or play instruments like an animatronic nightmare. They just sat there being creepy.

Blocking that out for a moment (the way I'm going to block it out for the rest of my life if I ever want to sleep again), we also noticed some odd signs in the arts and crafts area:

ain't made in china

I didn't think anything of it when I saw that first one, other than, "That's kind of an odd way to emphasize that they are homemade, or made in America, or whatever,", but then there were more. Multiple vendors had signs that could probably be described as anti-China, except for this one that was probably intended to be anti-China but instead appears to be a double negative:

not not made in china

By saying that they're Not No Made in China, aren't they actually saying that everything in their booth was made in China?

More importantly, did we go to war with China while I wasn't looking?

We were too busy playing games and sampling cornbread yesterday to dwell on it. We waited for a while to take a free spin on the Martha White prize wheel:

Martha White booth

where Kristin won a spatula:

martha white prize wheel

I won a measuring cup, Sandy won a timer shaped like a muffin, and then we sampled their free cornbread:

free cornbread

Later we ate carnival food for lunch, sampling a wide selection of bad things and marveling that we could, apparently, have eaten anything deep fried:

fried everything

and then we played a giant Operation game for charity:

giant operation game

Kristin and Sandy did pretty well, but with my shaky hands I was a guaranteed loss.

Eventually, Sandy and I got in line for Cornbread Alley, where we could sample nine kinds of cornbread for four dollars:

cornbread alley entrance

cornbread alley

but Kristin decided that the line was too long and she didn't want any more cornbread, and went to go play games on the midway instead:

astro wheel


festival midway

while Sandy and I took our plates of samples to the tents to eat and judge:

seven kinds of cornbread

You'll notice there are only seven kinds on my plate. I gave my Butter Pecan Muffin to Sandy (she said it was dry) because I'm allergic to pecans, and we both ditched our Pineapple Cream Cheese Cornbread Cake immediately upon exiting the alley because the guy handing it out was coughing, sneezing, and wiping his nose on his arm (not his sleeve; his bare arm) right before he handed it to us. I'll stick to cornbread that won't leave me in quarrantine, thank you.

In the picture, the Toasty Hushpuppy is in the center (loaded with chopped jalapeno peppers; it was good, but really spicy since all I had to drink was water), and then, clockwise from the far left: Sour Cream and Onion Cornbread (my favorite, but I didn't vote for it because the Boy Scouts made it), Razzle Dazzle Cornbread (a sweet cornbread with raspberries, which was really good but a little sticky), the Rodeo Pup (made with Ro-Tel and canned corn mixed in; it tasted pretty good), the Deep Fried Sweet Potato Tot (which was good and full of nutmeg and cinnamon, but Sandy said hers was way too greasy with fry oil), the Cornfetti (also good, but the grated carrots were a weird texture in the rest of the bread), and the Cornbread Pizza (which was kind of gross; I couldn't taste the cornbread at all through the thick layer of tomato sauce).

I picked up the recipes for all nine types, and after we finished we walked around a little more and then headed home.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chess Pie, Or Sandy is Living the Dream and We Are All Consumed with Jealousy

A few weeks ago, my friend Sandy retired from work. Since then, she has kept the rest of us drooling with jealousy with a steady stream of, "Oh, it's ten in the morning, but I'm still wearing my pajamas and watching 'Today'," or "I made myself pancakes with berries for breakfast, and later I might have a bagel, too," or "I went to the farmer's market today, and then I went to a museum," messages.

The things that I do on a Saturday or a Sunday are the things that Sandy does every day now.

Sandy deserves these things, after a lifetime of work and wise planning, but that doesn't mean that I'm not consumed with jealousy. Sandy is living the dream, and this week, when she posted that she was trying out this chess pie recipe, I thought, "I've never made a chess pie, either. Maybe I will this weekend... on one of my two free days. I'm so jealous of Sandy."

If you've never had a chess pie (I never had until I moved south), it's kind of like a creme brulee in a pie shell. There's baked custard with a crunchy top shell, and it tastes kind of creamy and sweet. Looking at the recipe, it seemed kind of straightforward (mix everything together and dump it into a pie shell), and Sandy's came out delicious looking. Maybe mine could, too?

Following the directions, I lined my pie pan with store bought, unbaked crust:

unbaked pie crust

I probably could have dressed up the edges a little, but I'm not good at that so I don't really even try any more. I know that sounds like giving up, but I feel worse when I try to do it and it has a tiny flaw than I do when I just go, "screw it" and fold the edges however they happen to fold.

After I mixed up the rest of the ingredients, I poured them into the crust:

unbaked chess pie

and then baked for an hour. When it was done, the top was all brown, crunchy, and puffed up:

baked chess pie

but I had been told that it would shrink as it cooled.

Unfortunately, mine shrank too much:

chess pie slice

I'm not sure why the middle collapsed so far, but there's no arguing that it did. It tastes fine, exactly the way that it should.

The only thing I can think of is that I need to let it cook a few minutes longer.

And also that I need to win the lottery, so that I can retire.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Laundry on Monday Night

Monday night I walked over to the laundry room to get my clothes out of the dryer, and the dryer wasn't done yet. I knew it had to be finishing soon, since I timed the cycle so that people don't pull my clothes out and stack them on top of the machine (I hate that), so I goofed around with my camera for a couple of minutes while I waited.

empty dryer

quarters in slots

regular heavy

floor drain

add detergent

caution corner

laundry basket

The laundry room: Bland chamber of domesticity, or stark dungeon of existential horror?

the laundry room

You decide.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Forty Days in the Desert Without Candy

cadbury cream egg

Giving up things for Lent is still kind of new for me. The year that I gave up Pop Tarts two years ago was the first year that I did it in any kind of a serious sense, and then last year I didn't give up anything because I was still working on my faith. I don't mean to say that like my faith is totally worked out now, because it's not. It's evolving, and part of that evolution is thinking and testing and, sometimes, giving things up for Lent.

This year, I gave up candy for Lent, and it totally made me a better person.

I know what you're thinking. You're probably sitting back and thinking something like, "Whatever. During Lent, we should be working hard to better ourselves. Sure, you can give up chocolate and post it to facebook to receive attention to replace the candy, but does that better you?" and I want to say that yes, it did.

Giving up candy taught me the meaning of sacrifice, because nothing takes the place of candy.

mini cups

If you give up soda, you can drink juice and water. I know, because I've been doing that since January, when I gave up soda for New Year's. I've been drinking a lot of Crystal Light at home (store brand, mostly), and at work I drink cold tap water all day long. I haven't had any soda this year, at all, not even a little, but it really hasn't been that bad because you can drink other things. When I go out, I have a lemonade or a milkshake or a juice, and I'm fine. Sure, for the first couple of weeks of January I had blinding headaches from caffeine withdrawal and I went to bed ridiculously early, but giving up soda hasn't taught me anything because I can drink something else.

The same thing happened the year I gave up Pop Tarts. I was eating Pop Tarts for breakfast every morning, but I didn't suddenly stop eating breakfast because I gave them up. Instead I had an apple or a yogurt, mostly yogurt. Giving up Pop Tarts was a minor inconvenience, at best, and mostly just left me with a feeling of semi-shallow "I gave something up for Lent this year!" accomplishment.

To be blunt: When I gave up Pop Tarts for Lent, I didn't learn a damn thing.

But, like I said, you can't replace candy with anything.

bitten cup

When you're sad, candy is a pick-me-up. When you're hungry, a bite of candy from the dish in your office can tide you over until lunch. When your coworkers want to cheer you up or distract you from the fact that they're bringing you something a week late and still only half complete, they show up at your office with peanut butter cups. When you forgot to eat breakfast, a handful of Starburst is practically a fruit salad. Sure, you can feed yourself that line that you can have fruit, and that raisins are nature's candy, but we all know that's a crock.

Daria said it best in "Pinch Sitter": "Then why do they have to cover them in chocolate to sell them at the movies?"

Not only is candy irreplaceable, but it is also ubiquitous. Every store I go to in my regular routine has candy by the register except for the comic store and the used bookstore. (For the same reason: You don't put food near things that are damaged by food. I'm not sure why Barnes and Noble doesn't get this, but their candy selection rivals a hospital gift shop.) A number of my colleagues in other offices have candy dishes on their desks or front counters. I can't even pay for gas without seeing candy, and gas and candy have nothing to do with each other. They shouldn't even be near each other, but somehow, they are, and every time I stopped to fill my tank I had to stare into the station and look at the candy and not have any.

So, what did I learn?

I learned to appreciate the things that I have. I lead a very fortunate life if the worst problem I run into over the course of a month is, "I really want a peanut butter cup." I have the freedom to give something up, rather than the forced neccessity of going without.

I learned that temptation really is everywhere, and when you're trying to avoid something it ends up being the only thing you see. Everywhere you go, you see candy. I couldn't tell you a single headline on any of the magazines I saw at Kroger last night (Something about Kim Kardashian? More reminders that Jennifer Aniston is going to die alone while Brad Pitt raises an entire baseball team of children?) but I can tell you that Cadbury Cream Eggs are three for a dollar.

And, finally, I learned that when you spend a really long time coveting something, and building it up in your head, and convincing yourself that it's going to be the best thing ever, it often turns out to be a disappointment.

sliced cadbury cream egg

I've only eaten seven pieces of candy this morning.