Foodie Tuesday: A Frosty Reception can Warm the Heart

Hot weather makes us crave chilled drinks. We need to re-hydrate, but biological science says that hot drinks are the sensible approach, inviting the body to cool down in compensation for the introduction of additional heat. But that’s not nearly as satisfying, in reality. So we look for our respite in iced drinks.Photo: Mr. Frosty's Root Beer

I’m pretty much an All-American girl when it comes to my tastes in that regard: briskly icy soft drinks in a frosty mug are particularly welcome. I grew up with the benison of special-occasion A&W root beer in said frosty mug, and I’ve never outgrown that treat. Coming to north Texas, I was happy to find a comparable comfort waiting for me when the ugly reality of Texas summer heat became just a little too much for my tender Northerner sensibilities: the vintage joint Mr. Frosty.

Their in-house root beer is sweet and vanilla-kissed like the aforementioned A&W’s, and is served in freezer-chilled mugs. That it happens in a place that hasn’t changed substantially  in its long life and offers a swell menu of classic diner foods with the appropriate tinge of Texan and southern character is, well, icing on that icy deliciousness. So the frosty mugful of root beer can be accompanied by a burger or hotdog and fries, or that fine and mythic dish, Frito Pie. Chili served over corn chips of the named variety, and occasionally, topped with the usual chili toppings of onions, shredded cheese, and/or sour cream.Photo: Mr. Frosty's Frito Pie

The beauty of this combination is that the temperature and spice of the chili (preferably, without beans, if you’re a traditionalist in Texas) can perform the body-signaling duty of changing one’s internal temperature a little to better suit the weather around it, and the root beer can do its part by providing the psychological cooling that brings it all home. Meanwhile, there’s the pleasure of people-watching, seeing the widely varied crowd that can be pleased by a visit to this kind of old-school eatery. And, like some of the place’s vintage fellows, this diner is host to regular gatherings of vintage-car enthusiasts as well, so whether it’s one of those times or simply a hot afternoon when the need for an icy root beer is high, there can often be a sighting of a classic car or truck to enhance the entertainment. It all goes down so well with an order of Frito Pie and root beer, as any experienced soul can tell you.

Foodie Tuesday: I’m a Fool for April Fool’s Fools & Other Foolishness

The first day of April, while some may reserve it for pranks and tricks, is to me the perfect day for celebrating the arrival (best if it’s truly imminent) of springtime, and so rather than be a traditionalist about April Fool’s Day and pull stunts on anybody, I prefer to simply enjoy the Tuesday-ness of it this year and think happy food thoughts. My fetish for custards, mousses and creams of all sorts leads me to think that the ideal food for this occasion, since it is the first of April, would naturally be a Fool. You know, sweet fruity stuff folded into whipped cream. Actually, this is pretty much my idea of the ideal food for practically any occasion, and that’s no joke.

Given my predilection for eating too much of too many things, sweets perhaps foremost among them, this comes as no surprise to anyone living.

I know I am not alone in my obsession with dessert-like objects, either. Even my esteemed spouse is not immune to the charms of a classic like a frosty mug of root beer, with or without ice cream floating dreamily in it. One might, for example, find him taking me out to Mr. Frosty for such a treat on the first sunny day when we get a free half-hour, and our sipping in blissed-out ecstasy under the diner’s front canopy while birds flit overhead.photo

But no amount of root beer is quite enough to negate my need for a good Fool, so for this April Fool’s Day I bethought myself of just such a dish, and off to work I went.

Then, of course, the reality of the day intervened. While I thought I was heading to the kitchen to froth up some sweet heavy cream with vanilla and cardamom to layer with black raspberry jam and pieces of canned pears—a marvelous thought indeed—I opened the refrigerator and saw a container of odd ends of Gouda and Brie cheeses that I knew had been patiently waiting for my attention a little bit longer than they ought to have done, and off I went on a highly tangential path. That, of course, is life’s continuous April Fool’s prank on me: every time I think I am headed in one direction, I get sent off in quite another.

Who am I to resist the guidance of the random refrigerator finding?

I put into my trusty cheapo food processor a heap of dried potato flakes, “instant mashed potatoes” that, while I think them quite specious as a substitute for the substantive real thing of a good coarse potato mash, do make great toasty buttered crumbs for toppings, a very fine thickener for sauces and soups and gravies, and as here, good flour for cheesy flat- or short-bread. Along with the potato flakes and cheeses, I put a little butter, a good dose of whole yogurt labne, a little salt, and seasonings: smoked paprika, powdered mustard seed, white pepper and just a dash of mace. I processed it all into a shortbread-like dough, pressed it into a large flat ovenproof skillet, and baked it at about 300ºF/150ºC until it was very light golden brown (about 25 minutes), let it cool in place as the oven itself cooled, and finally turned out the ‘pancake’ to cut into manageable wedges. They’re simple and plain on their own, slightly chewy and very cheesy, but spread with a little additional labne and topped with a couple of cucumber slices and a sprinkle of za’atar, or perhaps just dipped into some good guacamole and/or salsa, they’ll be quite delightful.photo

For now, I’m just munching them plain and marveling at the vicissitudes of that perennial prankster, Life. Happy 1st of April, everyone!