Foodie Tuesday: Foodie High*

*Sung to the tune of ‘Bali Ha’i,’ (with my half-hearted, hypoglycemic apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers, and of course, you).

Sugar cravings. SugarcravingsSugarcravingsSugarcravingsSugarcravings!Photomontage: Going (Graham) Crackers

Specifically, the insatiable longing for a mesmerizing concoction known in the vernacular as S’mores. Maybe it’s an end-of-summer inevitability in the ol’ US of A. Something about the combination of sugar + sugar + more sugar, in the form of graham crackers, melting chocolate, and toasted marshmallows, has the enduring allure of drug addiction, with only slightly less dire consequences. Because: addiction. Sugar does that. But ohhhhh, what loveliness is in that particular combination. So even though it’s kind of a forbidden collation in the land of my personal innards, what with marshmallows, chocolate, and grain sugars being among the weapons of midriff destruction that defeat all of my long-term defenses most easily, I love at least fantasizing about the multitude of ways in which this deliciously wicked triumvirate can be combined.

The current nostalgia for the trio was triggered by an online vision of marshmallow beauty in the form of a toasted marshmallow milkshake. It poured over my brain in the lethally lovely way that such images do, the cascade instantly evoking what I imagine my own version of this summer moment would be, and that is a home-assembled frozen S’mores pie: one 48 oz carton Private Selection Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream (pause for dramatic effect—this stuff is miraculously, wildly creamy and fabulous), slightly softened and heaped into a graham cracker crust. For this part, I’d use gluten-free graham crackers and toasted sliced almonds, finely crushed together and mixed with melted brown butter and sugar to taste, and then pressed into a pie dish or tin and chilled before filling. When the crust has been filled and re-chilled and it’s time to indulge in dessert, take it out of the freezer, top it with a jar of marshmallow fluff or a small mountain of marshmallows, and use a kitchen torch to toast the topping. Try not to faint from the fabulousness.Photomontage: Chocolatey Goodness

Of course, there are an infinite number of other recombinant S’mores delicacies one really ought to attempt, if one has the taste for that tremendous triad. All that’s needed for the serious S’mores plotter is to think of the three characteristic tastes: toasted marshmallow, crispy graham or something equally nutty, and chocolate. Then, consider the myriad ways in which each, individually, can be enjoyed. Do the math—if the possible hybrids made by switching one or two of the variables each time don’t amount to enough to keep you fat and happy for the rest of your nine lives, you are no true aficionado, or at least a little bit neurasthenic in the region of your taste buds. The latter, of course, requires urgent care, and may be treated by dashing for your pantry and stuffing a graham cracker, a piece of chocolate, and a marshmallow directly into your mouth for resuscitation. If that doesn’t get you on an inspired sugar high leading to a thousand new S’mores recipes, then you had better start singing along with me immediately:

Sugar High

Most people live on a hungry island, Lost in the middle of a peckish sea.
Most people long for a food-filled island, One where they know they will eat for free.

Sugar High may call you, At dessert, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you: “A buffet…hip-hooray!”

Sugar High will whisper Like a dream of Divinity:
“Here am I, you sucrose lover! Come to me, come to me!”

Your own sweet-tooth hopes, Your own sweet-tooth dreams,
Dust o’er the hillside And shine in ice creams.

If you try, you’ll find that Shoo-fly pie needs sweet tea.
“Here am I, your candied island; Come to me, Come to me.”

Sugar High,
Sugar High,
Sugar High!

Someday you’ll see me as a floating island,
My head stickin’ out from a candy floss cloud,
You’ll hear me call you, Singin’ sweet as syrup,

Sweet and clear as can be: “Come to me, here am I, come to me.”

If you try, you’ll find that I’m a sweet honey bee.
I’m your hyperglycemic island Come to me, Come to me.”

Sugar High,
Sugar High,
Sugar High!Digital illo from a Photo: A Marshmallow Paradise

Foodie Tuesday: It Shouldn’t be Too Difficult

People can get so overwrought over the holidays. Whatever those holidays may be, they have a way of bringing out the worst in the expectations we have of ourselves, never mind what we think we have to live up to for others’ sakes. So I tend to opt for the less fussy and somewhat unconventional, and I definitely prefer what’s simple. Leave the designer food extravaganzas to those with more patience and money and fewer friends and loved ones waiting to be visited or holiday lights to be savored where they twinkle and glitter on treetops and roofs, fences and storefronts. But I digress.photoHoliday brunches (it it my firm belief, as a person who does not believe in getting up a second earlier than necessary, that holidays of all times require sleeping in too late for holiday breakfasts) are an opportunity to have some favorite simple treats that can be easily thrown together for a snack-tastic sort of meal. Steamed ‘hard boiled’ eggs, bacon candied with a mixture of brown sugar and dark maple syrup, a little cinnamon and a dash of cayenne, a homemade chocolate malt, grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches, or some plain, juicy-sweet clementines–or all of the above. In that instance, there’ll be plenty to keep you well fueled until holiday dinner. Whenever and whatever that ends up being.photoMy love of savory + sweet foods, too, is not new, not unique to me, and not limited to any particular group of foods. There’s the wonderful long-standing tradition of such delicious delights as ham with sweet glazes, rich curries with sweet chutneys, sundaes with salted nuts, and cheese boards with fruits, just to drool over thoughts of a small few. And it’s interesting that time and tradition contend to restrict our thinking of certain foods or ingredients as belonging automatically to desserts or not, to a sweet category or a savory one, and further, if sweet then to desserts; if savory, non-dessert.

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Cloudy, with a high chance of deliciousness: spiced cider.

These days, then, when I’m cooking I tend to think of what ingredients I’m hungry for among those on hand, how they might go together, and what kind of dish will result. Even when the dish is finished, I’m not always certain it would easily classify as sweet or savory, entrée or side dish, main item or dessert. After all, there are plenty of old recipes leading to such seeming incongruities as smoked salmon cheesecake or candied pork. Herbs and spices, those basically non-caloric, strongly flavored elements that color and distinguish other ingredients, are a logical tool for transformation. A simple cup or glass, hot or cold, of spice infused cider becomes so much more than simply apple juice, and cocktails can turn from frilly to fiery or from crazy to cozy, depending on their infusions.

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Squash and apples make fine companions.

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Then there’s praline happiness, which I’m not averse to eating by the forkful.

If both apples and squashes can make delicious pies or side dishes equally well, why not meld all of those characteristics and veer off onto a slightly divergent path? One day I saw the inviting fall bin of pumpkins and squashes beckoning me from right next to the apple display in the produce section of the grocery store and voila! A sweet-savory side dish was born. I chopped the peeled, cored apples and blended them with lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice, a dash of vanilla, a pinch of salt, a splash of maple syrup and a tablespoon of instant tapioca, and I spooned it all into the two seeded, salted halves of the pretty squash, topped with a big pat of butter to melt over it all. Into the oven it went at medium-high heat until the squash was tender enough to yield to a spoon, and I served the squash and the apple filling together with a praline crumble topping I’d made by baking a mix of chopped salted nuts, butter and brown sugar.

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Many things, sweet or savory, are happily enhanced with a touch of praline.

This little oddity easily occupied the same space on my menu normally reserved for the famous-or-infamous dish with which so many American holiday tables have either a sacred or scared relationship: marshmallow topped sweet potatoes. Sweet and savory, not to mention fatty and ridiculous, either dish is quite okay with me, and it wouldn’t surprise me any more than it would you to hear me described that way as a result. As a bit of an oddity, too, for that matter.

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Steamed carrot pudding. Not bad all on its own whether for any meal or afters.

And speaking of love-it-or-hate-it foods, there’s eggnog. What would you guess about another rich food with outsized calories in a small, sugary package? Yeah, obviously another semi-guilty love of mine. I often make a quickie eggnog for breakfast, blending a raw egg or two plus a pinch each of nutmeg (maybe cinnamon and cardamom, too), salt, vanilla, and raw local honey with cream, whole milk yogurt, or water. [Yes, I eat raw eggs often, and I’ve never in all my years had the remotest problem with it. But I’m generally very healthy. Others do so at their own risk.] When available, a ripe banana makes a delicious thickener/sweetener. Oh, and the same can be said of vanilla ice cream, of course!

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Broth-cooked carrot pudding with eggnog sauce.

However it’s made (or bought from a good organic supplier), eggnog also makes a fantastic sauce for another of those holiday-associated goodies, pumpkin pie. And when I say pumpkin pie, I happily include a host of similar sweet/savory and dense-textured treats like sweet potato pie, steamed puddings, loaf cakes, bread puddings and other such brazenly heavy-duty things–all of which would make equally lush and luscious dessert or breakfast, in my book–are nicely complemented by a sauce of smooth, creamy eggnog. If a little is good, a lot is great, or as Dad has wisely taught us: Anything worth doing is worth overdoing! Well worth a little recovery fasting in any event, eh!

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Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Toast it with a spiced cider, perhaps?