Christmas Sugar Cookies 

So I treated myself with two new cookie cutters this year – an intricate snowflake and a Moravian star. The company is Salem Candle Works and the cookie cutters are made in North Carolina in the Moravian area of the state. I wish I had tried to do more things in the state when we live there, but once again, kind of like England, I missed opportunities. That said this is always my favorite sugar cookies – because they are stupidly good. They make me happy and I have been making this recipe since 2002. A Food Network recipe that really works and, honestly, is dead simple.dd_1745

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Sift in flour, a cup at a time. Blend until just mixed. Pour  onto a surface and mix til it just comes together. Press into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 – 4 hours or up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough to about an 1/8 inch and cut with cookie cutters. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, turning the pan half way through. Let rest on baking sheet for a minute and then remove to a rack to cool completely.
Dec 2002 – best sugar cookies ever

Jan 2003 – “for cast boy” – bake on parchment not on silpat. Used granulated sugar – very pretty.

24 Dec 2003 – best cookies, took to Samantha’s for Christmas Eve – 8 minutes.

24 December 2004 -vvg as always

24 December 2006

28 January 2014

30 December 2016 – 8 minutes with awesome new cookie cutters.

Hurricane Ivan

When we lived in North Carolina and had the ice storm of 2002, we laid in the bed and listened to the pine trees bend and break – they sounded like rifle shots – and you just hoped they did not fall into the roof. That was a long night. I made the mistake of saying that I could handle a hurricane better. I have an excuse – we had no electricity and no real fire wood for the the unused fireplace and it was 17 F outside. We took everything out of the Fridge and put it on the back porch – it was colder than the Fridge with no power.

Wow – it was so great to have friends – it made a world of difference. One friend had another friend that could give us real wood for the fireplace. Another friend lent us a hotel room to take a shower. Thank you Carolina Inn. And I still went to work. We had events to do.

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Little did I know that we would get a hurricane just a bit over two years later in Pensacola. Ugh. We are in hurricane alley after all. This is why you do not say things like, “I could handle a hurricane better.” No really. Do Not Say This.

But the interesting thing is that an Ice Storm and a Hurricane smell the same – they both smell like a Christmas tree lot – it is the pine tar. So very similar.

Ivan was a major nightmare for our region, but we deal with it. It is just what we do. And the damn storm came back for us again. 2004 was a year. Indeed.

July, although hot beyond words, it my favorite month.

This is the month when I married the best man I have ever know, besides my dad. It was 14 years ago and the Boy was young, but very happy. We were so relaxed – it was almost stupid simple.

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Duke – the best GSD ever is in the background – too funny

I was an event planner for at least a decade before, although not a wedding planner – thank goodness! I planned events for a couple of universities. And to be honest, once you have been an event planner, it seems to me that planning – well it just does not matter much any more.

We were living in North Carolina together, but only after we were engaged and my dad had given his consent – so old fashioned I am. The MoTH drove to Chapel Hill and said, “Honey, I’m home.” And I knew I was done. It was the best thing ever.

Our anniversary is coming up this weekend. I am so very fortunate. We are the best of friends and can basically finish each others sentences. We do it all the time – yes, really all the time. Jinx, personal jinx, you owe me a soda. There is the Boy again. Yep.

I do wish we had at least Duke when we got married, because he would have been involved in the ceremony. As it was, the event woman at the Highland Lake Inn did not understand how I really did not care about much of anything – I’ll call the local florist and see what is left over from last weekend. See, we were married on a Tuesday. That tells you all – I just wanted him to be my husband. He makes me so happy. I am blessed beyond words.

I will post all the recipes that I made for our pre-wedding reception – it was pretty damn good – if I say so myself.

 

 

Pre – Thanksgiving – Sweet Potato Biscuits

I always seem to make too many sweet potatoes for my most requested Sunday Sweet DD_0184Potatoes  – I just never know how many potatoes makes how many cups. Or how many sweet potatoes make a pound or whatever. I suppose one day I will have to figure that out. Ugh – math. Oh, and in November / December sweet potatoes are really inexpensive. Like .49 cents per pound – hello, just buy lots. If I remember correctly, they are also a local crop for us. Cool.

Our dogs love mashed sweet potatoes. Yes, they do. The Big Dog was a huge fan. They also keep for a good while so you can surprise the pups with them through January and February. I always did almost anything to make the Big Dog happy.

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Duke – The Big Dog – Best GSD. Ever.

Another thing is to make sweet potato biscuits. Sublime things, that are stupidly simple.

I was living in Chapel Hill, NC the first time I had sweet potato biscuits and they were served just like this – with salty ham and horseradish cream. Heavenly. The caterer for my job (love you JW) was the one that introduced me to it. I cannot believe, being a kind-of* Southern girl, that I had never had them. My mom made biscuits often, although if you asked me to re-create them, I would not be able to, but she’d never made sweet potato biscuits of any kind, even though she was from NC. Not sure where the “lost in translation” bit happened. I will just be grateful I found these when I did.

 

 

Sweet Potato Biscuits

5 cups self-rising flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup cooked mashed sweet potato
2 Tbsp. salted European butter, melted – spend the little bit extra.

Preheat oven to 425°. Stir together first 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter cubes and shortening into flour mixture with pastry blender or fork just until mixture resembles coarse meal. Cover and chill 10 minutes.

Whisk together buttermilk and sweet potato in a large measuring cup. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Don’t over work this – I think it will affect the rise.

Turn dough out onto a well floured surface, and knead lightly 3 or 4 times. Pat or roll dough to 3/4-inch thickness; cut with a 2-inch round cutter, reshaping scraps once (Do not twist cutter – this is way more important than you may think, but biscuits are a bit fussy about things like this – just don’t do it. The won’t rise well if you twist.). Place rounds on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 425° for 18 to 20 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Remove from oven, and brush tops of biscuits with melted  (salted) butter – do this.. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 dozen.

Source: Foster’s Market – Foster’s is on the 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Durham, NC. It is a fanciful place that does so many things well. I miss it greatly, but I loved going there. Sara Foster is gifted in a way not many people are and it was a great joy to be able to frequent the shop/restaurant/coffee shop/whatever. The Foster’s Market Cookbook is the ONLY signed cookbook I have. Ms. Foster is charming, engaging, and lovely.

Made a half recipe this time, but they were excellent.

Had been using Emeril’s recipe for sweet potato biscuits for years – a dozen or so, but I think the Foster’s Market version rose a bit better. I do like the use of ground pecans in Emeril’s recipe. Need to figure out how to combine the two. Both recipes are now in my Thanksgiving binder, so that means something

*You have to put the “kind-of” in front of Southern if you are raised in Jacksonville. Sigh. Even if your parents are really Southern.

Food: the pulse of my southern culture and my community

I buy more cookbooks than I use which makes me feel bad that I don’t give each of them their due – Not enough time in the day – not enough days in a week – seasons go by so fast. I have great intentions, make lists (surprise!), read and consider things to make, but too often I get side-tracked by another cookbook I already have, or by some random thing that I’m obsessed with making at that moment. Friggin inter web. Or something the Boy wants – don’t mind that at all.

Being from south of the Mason-Dixon, born of two North Carolinians in Florida (which isn’t, if you are from NE Florida, part of the South really – too many transplants), raised on what could best be described as country food, Southern food, soul food, and poor people food, but wickedly good food, is an amazing heritage to have and one that is strangely unique.

There are so many things that I remember and want to share with my family. There is also so much that I have yet to learn and didn’t learn before my mom died. That is the heart of this problem.

My father’s family was from North Carolina via Georgia and my mom is also from a very small town North Carolina town – town is kind of stretch when my uncle was mayor and there is only one stop light. Her first husband was from rural North Florida which I think influenced her NC cooking because my mom spent lots of time with her lovely in-laws, who I was blessed to know, but briefly.

So my cooking influences are plain and simple and Southern. There is so much history in the south of iconic Southern recipes – some simplified, but those aren’t the ones I am really interested in. I’d like the ones that my two lovely short grandmothers worked with – you know, the ones without the inclusion of processed foods that seem some times so ubiquitous now in “southern” food.*

I think there are so many Southern recipes that have moved around the south and you see slight variations from all your family and friends (and their families). Sausage balls, creamed beef on toast, collards and cornbread, tomato gravy over rice, country fried steaks, real mac n cheese, sweet potato casserole with lots of pecans – this could just go on forever.  Not to mention boiled peanuts  – can’t wait for fall for the biggest and best green peanuts from Jay, Fl. Totally forgot about hoe cakes – damn.

Now if I could only find a recipe for pork ‘n bean salad with celery and onions.** Guess I need to start looking at church cookbooks.

This feels like an odd kind of manifesto. Maybe it is.

*Think bisquick and condensed soups, especially condensed soups – ugh.

**I do want this recipe, but somehow I have the strange feeling it won’t measure up to my memory of it. I do think memories work that way and maybe it’s best to leave things alone. Who is to say?