The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 10
When Clemmons opened her eyes, only Gibbs was in the room. He frowned down at her, his old face creased in concern. “Take a deep breath,” he counseled. “Did you hit your head? I couldn’t tell.”
She tried to shake her head no, that she hadn’t and felt a fuzzy sort of pain. “What happened?” And before he could answer, she remembered the scene. She took a sideways look around the room. “Where did everyone go?”
“The rookie, Turner, took them into the hall.” Gibbs shifted on his feet. He was in a crouch beside her and his back was bad. He grimaced. “Help me up,” she said and grabbed his arm. “We have to find that bag, the one Freddy described. We have to find it in this house.” She pushed the hair out of her eyes. From the way Gibbs looked at her, she knew she looked as wild as she felt. She didn’t care. She gripped his arm.
“That bag he described,” she said. It felt like the words were chalk, in her mouth. “I know that bag.” She looked around the room, in the big house on top of the hill, and shook her head. “We were just talking about her too,” she murmured.
Gibbs frowned. “Talking about who? Whose bag?”
“My grandmother.” Clemmons tried to feel the floor beneath her feet.
Well, hello. Are you surprised to see us? Me too.
In the way that life is ridiculous and weird, Nicole and I decided to take a break from blogging at exactly the same time. Her reason for a mini-break had been cooking for a while and is quite delicious. My reason was nonexistent three months ago and is now undeniably real.
And now here we are, back far sooner than I expected. Maybe it’s not so surprising- when your daily view change so drastically, so suddenly, maybe it’s helpful to head for a terrain you know well. For Nicole, it’s baking sheets and her camera and for me, it’s baking sheets and computer keys. In a way, it makes perfect sense. Last night, after days of looking around the house in equal parts shock and overwhelmed, I turned the oven on and took a deep breath, imagined my equilibrium sliding back into place. I’m not quite there yet but getting closer. Day by day.
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The other mother yelled a lot. Wyatt watched from inside the van as his mother and the other mother squared off opposite each other. The other mother waved her arms.
Wyatt’s mom nodded a lot. She had her hands on her hips, a pose which Wyatt knew meant she “was very, very serious about this.” She continued to nod. The other mother yelled more, her face red, her hair a little wild. Wyatt shrunk down into his seat. He did not like to see this. He fiddled with the buckle on his seat and didn’t look up again until he heard the front door of the car finally open. He heard his mother grunt as she sat down in the seat. Instead of driving, she let out a deep, deep sigh.
“Why was Matt’s mommy so mad?” Wyatt finally asked.
She met his eyes in the rearview mirror. She spoke softly. “Matt’s mommy said she saw you and Matt on the slide. I guess she thought he almost got hurt.”
“Oh.” He blinked. “But why was she mad? She was yelling a lot. Matt didn’t get hurt at all. He didn’t cry or anything.”
His mom held Wyatt’s eyes for a long moment. Then, she got out of her seat and moved to the back of the van. She opened the door and climbed into the seat beside his. “When you were born,” she said carefully, “you were this big.” She held out her hands. “My little burrito.” He laughed. “And something magical happened,” she said.
His eyes widened. “What?”
“Well.” She frowned. “My heart, and everything in it, left my chest. It floated down my arms and out of my sleeves and latched on to you. And my thoughts followed- just slid right after my heart. And then everything else,” she made a sucking noise and grabbed his arm. “suddenly stuck right to you. And I looked down and my little baby had this little world around him, my whole world. And every day, you walk around and you fall down and you eat and you play, and you carry my world with you. And the same thing happened,” she said, “to Matt’s mommy. She’s got her heart and world all wrapped up around Matt just like I have mine wrapped around you. It’s a lot to get used to,” she told Wyatt. “Sometimes when adults get scared, it comes out sounding like they are angry. But if you’re a mommy or a daddy and you’re talking to another mommy or daddy, you don’t hear the yelling,” she said. “You hear ‘I LOVE MATT VERY MUCH!'” She smiled.
“Yes.” She took a deep breath, fished out a goldfish cracker out of his snack pack and popped it into her mouth. “You just have to listen for it.”
We’re going to take a break for a while, from the blog. For good reasons.
Very good reasons.
The best reasons, actually.
We’re leaving you, just for a while, with this lovely Late Summer Parfait. We saw it on Food52 and it’s just… too pretty. It’s September in a jar. It’s worth making. If it makes you sing its name in this tune, then we might be soul mates.
See you soon!
Late Summer Parfait
You will need…
1 Pound Cake (homemade or store bought)
FOR THE CREME:
2 Cups of whole milk
1/2 Vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3/4 Cup of sugar
6 Tablespoons of cornstarch
1/4 Cup of crème fraîche
2 Cups of heavy cream
FOR THE ROASTED FRUIT:
1 and 1/2 Lbs of assorted late summer fruit
2 to 3 Tablespoons of sugar or honey
1/2 Lemon, juiced
2 Strips lemon zest, peeled with a veggie peeler
Reserved vanilla bean pod from making the pastry cream
1/4 Cup of rum, bourbon, amaretto, frangelico, chambord, or grand marnier
To make the creme:
1. Bring the milk and the vanilla bean pod to a simmer in a large pot. Turn off heat and set aside for one hour, to steep. (You want the milk to cool because you’re whisking it into an egg mixture.)
2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla bean seeds together until smooth. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the cooled, steeped milk and whisk milk into egg mixture. Return the mixture back to the pot.
3. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble. It will be very thick. Once the mixture starts to boil, cook it (still whisking constantly) for one minute to ensure the starch is fully cooked.
4. Pour the cream into a clean bowl and press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface. Chill until completely cold.
5. Whip heavy cream to medium peaks. In a separate bowl, whip the chilled pastry cream until smooth, add in the crème fraîche, and fold in whipped cream.
To make the fruit:
6. Preheat oven to 375° F.
7. Slice and pit fruit into evenly sized pieces. Toss with sugar, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla bean pod. Arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast in the oven until the fruit is soft and juicy, about 15 minutes. Remove the fruit to a clean bowl and let cool completely before assembling the trifle.
8. Cut the cake into 1/2-inch cubes. Put a thin layer of vanilla cream on the bottom of the trifle dish (or dishes). Add a layer of cake cubes and brush on a bit of liqueur, followed by spoonfuls of roasted fruit and vanilla cream. Repeat the layers until all of the ingredients are used. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight before serving. Top with additional unsweetened whipped cream and a slice of fresh fruit if desired. This recipe will make one large trifle or 10 to 12 individual ones, depending on the size of the glasses.
Lordes sat down in her assigned aisle seat on the plane. Truthfully, she fell into it. As she stepped out of the aisle, her toe snagged the seat in front of her and she all but toppled in, shoulder first. Elegant, refined, she thought to herself with an outward grunt. She twisted until her butt was firmly in the seat and let out a sigh of relief.
There was, then, a timid tap on her left shoulder. Lordes glanced to her left and came face to face with the round, chubby face of a drooling baby, gender undetermined. The baby’s anxious-looking mother, held the baby by the waist and let the little feet tap tap tap on her thighs. “I’m just going to apologize ahead of time,” the woman said, her face twisted in anguish. She had a thick accent, reminiscent of Georgia where Lordes had spent the last four days in the ballroom of a Garden Inn Suites. “For my baby. My husband was supposed to fly with me but he got offered first class and it’s his birthday so I thought it would be nice for him. But now I’m sitting here by myself, with my baby, and I don’t know how loud she’s going to be.” She, then. The bald baby grinned at her. “And my friend told me I should make these packets, like with ear plugs and granola bars and stuff and hand them out and apologize to people but I didn’t have time to do that! Because she was fussing really late last night and I was going to get up early to do it but I was too tired-“
Lordes held up a hand to stop her. She slid the sunglasses off her face and looked the terrified woman in the eye. “Listen, lady. I just worked sixteen straight days without a day off. Three conferences in Jacksonville, Charlotte and Atlanta. I’m taking this flight to Houston and from there, I am going somewhere where they serve drinks in those coconuts with umbrellas. I am not planning on speaking to anyone for eight glorious days. It’s the first vacation I’ve taken in three and a half years. I do not care if your baby screams starting now to when we land. I don’t care if it takes a dump or smacks me upside the face. Your baby,” she said deliberately, “is not a half-in-the-bag asshole sales rep who’s itching to pat me on the butt and tell me to fetch him a scotch and soda, so your baby can basically do whatever it wants to do. And when that lovely stewardess-“
“Right. When she comes by with that cart, I am pouring myself the biggest glass of wine in the galaxy and I am getting one for you too. And we are going to toast and then I’m taking this pill,” Lordes held it up, “And I will see y’all next Tuesday.”
Hola from Mexico! (I hope. I’m supposed to leave 2 days from now and this tropical storm/multiple lightning symbols on the Weather Channel app is giving me minor heart palpitations. But hopefully! When you are reading this! Mexico!) I love food and I love blogging and I love you but I did not take my laptop with me on this trip. My phone is operating as a very fancy camera only. The only time I will be checking email is to tell my parents I arrived safely (hopefully!) and if I happen to fall in love/marry the Benecio del Toro of Mexico. You feel me, right? You get what I’m laying down? I know you do.
Nicole sent me the recipe for this Summer Caprese Salad with a note that said “winging it.” I mean, listen- it’s salty pancetta, sweet melon and cheese. The drizzle is something fun but we can’t fail here. I made something very similar before I left and it’s perfect for this time of year, just what you want.
Summer Caprese Salad
Serves: 6 | Summer Caprese Salad
1 small cantaloupe, cut into bite size pieces
3/4 pound bite-sized mozzarella balls
1/4 pound pancetta, sliced thin
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1/2 Tbsp butter
Coarse salt and ground pepper
- Crisp the pancetta: Preheat oven to 400°. Place pancetta slices on baking pan and bake for about 5 minutes until pancetta slices are curled and crispy. Keep an eye on them as they may be done cooking before 5 minutes.
- Make the balsamic reduction: Place balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 2 tablespoons (about 5 minutes).
- Toast the pine nuts: Melt butter in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add pine nuts and cook stirring often until pine nuts are lightly toasted.
- Assemble salad: In a large bowl, combine cantaloupe and mozzarella. Crumble pancetta into salad and top with toasted pine nuts and balsamic reduction. Finish with a sprinkle of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 9
“Let me review the chain of events,” Clemmons announced in a loud, clear voice. Even the other officers in the room turned and stopped their conversations. “According to you all… Sylvia Mathers awoke first in the house, went downstairs, put on a pot of coffee in the kitchen. She then heard a commotion and discovered her nieces, these two gingers-“
“In the hall, arguing. She ushered them both into the office off the kitchen and they proceeded to argue, loudly enough to draw Aggie, the maid, downstairs where she entered the fray. Then, the front door opened and the whole lot of you trooped into the hallway, encountered the Newells and all started arguing. Young Freddie escaped to the terrace and on then heard a noise, what could’ve been the sound of our victim getting knocked in the head. And here’s where our story falls apart completely.” She glared at all of them. “Because according to all of you, you each stumbled upon the body in the parlor first, screamed and drew the others.” They all started talking and she held up a hand, silencing them. “I’m inclined to believe Freddie, however, when he happens to mention to me that he heard a specific thud, went through the kitchen and came upon the body himself. And it makes sense to me,” she added slowly, “that a room full of adults who have seemingly nothing to do with each other, have one thing in common, actually. Every person in this room is related by blood to Freddie Newell.” She pointed to Sylvia. “Great aunt.” To Aggie. “Grandmother.” To Petula and Rose. “Mother and aunt.” To Lily. “Grandmother.” And finally, to Mike. “Father. Which means, if there was one person all of you would be trying to protect, it would be this child. But!” she said suddenly as Lily started to moan. “I do not believe Freddie did it. I believe he found the body, yes, but I don’t think he did it. So you can all relax. But not too much,” she said smoothly. From behind her, she pulled out a box. “Because I think the murderer is very much in this room. And this is going to help me suss it out.”
“How?” Mike Newell blurted out. He looked pale with shock. Clemmons eyed him.
“Freddie tripped on a purse on his way to the parlor door. I want to know which one.” She set them all out one by one on the table and Freddie stared. “The purse wasn’t there earlier because it’s in the path of the office to the hallway and if you all trooped out, surely one of you would’ve seen it. So someone, I believe, snuck away, went to the kitchen, grabbed an item from their purse and used it to kill Frank Mathers Jr. Freddie,” she said, calmly. “Did you trip over one of these purses?”
Freddie looked over all of them. “No,” he said and he looked just as surprised as Clemmons felt. “No,” he insisted before she could say a word. “The one I tripped over had a long strap.”
“Well, there goes that theory,” Sylvia snorted. Aggie elbowed her in the ribs.
“Hmmm.” Clemmons frowned. She looked at Lily’s bag, soft and black and old, the strap short. At Rose’s satchel and Sylvia’s clutch. “Are you sure-“
“Yes.” Freddie spoke clearly, his eyes bright. “The bag had a long strap. And there was a sharp spike on the end. A sharp, silver spike.” Clemmons stared at him. “I know because it jabbed me in the leg when I tripped.”
Clemmons’ mouth had gone dry. It was remarkable that she could even get the words out. “What color was the bag?” From across the room, Gibbs looked at her, concerned at the way she said the words, almost like a plea.
“It was blue,” he said definitively. “It was bright blue.”
And Clemmons fainted dead away.
SEPTEMBER. One of the most beautiful and treasured months of the year. The smell of pencil shavings and chug of school buses and cool, late summer breezes and gently turning leaves. It’s also a tough month if you suffer from depression (due to the light change) so tread with a little more kindness this month, would you? To yourself and the people around you- give the benefit of the doubt more, smile more, give more compliments, be a little quieter, ask for help from the right people more. If you’re more blue than usual in September, you’re not alone. If you’re generally okay, then take care of yourself a little more this month- so you can be stronger for those who are struggling.
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A Poem for Mothers-to-Be By a New Mother*
Oh gentle babe
Your hair so fair and thick and lustrous and combed
Your eyes so bright and wide
Hands placed round belly, that round belly, belly so round
Is it Tuesday?
It’s WEDNESDAY? Tell me it is not so, gentle babe.
Wait, seriously. Are you sure it’s Wednesday?
But it’s noon, right? Isn’t it noon? It’s not noon? It’s midnight? It’s midnight.
*Not your SKS author, who is not a new mother unless you count “burritos” as “children” in which case, is the mother of many.
** But your SKS photographer is a mother-to-be… did you catch that, you smart cookie?
Poem inspired by my friend Moya who just had a baby. I made her this cake. If I was a nicer friend, I would make her this cake every week and assure her that her hair looks fine, it’s very nice and it’s fine, and yes, okay, she looks a little sleepy and confused but so happy too! Every week. Because that’s what we do, right? We are women. We are bound by law to hand over chocolate and wine (sometimes at the same time) and reassure and make sure she laughs a little and ask for baby pictures (such a trial, cooing over delicious baby pictures. I request a statue for my martyrdom…) and eat yet more chocolate and red wine soaked cake.
Chocolate Red Wine Cake
FOR THE CAKE:
6 Tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 Cup (145 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 Cup (50 grams) white granulated sugar
1 Large egg + 1 Large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 Cup (177 ml) red wine, any kind you like
1 Teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 Cup + 1 Tablespoon (133 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup (41 grams) Dutch cocoa powder
1/8 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon table salt
1/4 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
FOR THE TOPPING:
1/2 Cup of mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 Cup (118 grams) of heavy or whipping cream
2 Tablespoons (25 grams) of granulated sugar
1/4 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pan, or spray the interior with a nonstick spray.
- In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven.
- Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until 3/4 combined, then fold the rest together with a rubber spatula.
- Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. This cake keeps well at room temperature or in the fridge. It looks pretty dusted with powdered sugar.
- Make the topping: Whip mascarpone, cream, sugar and vanilla together until soft peaks form but do not overwhip! Dollop generously on each slice of cake. It can also be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours.
She found the first letter on the first day, the day they handed her the keys. She wandered around the big empty rooms and found the little envelope taped to the outside of a kitchen cabinet, the one closest to the sink. She pulled it down and slid the paper out of the envelope. The paper was a little too big for its holder and she had to all but wrench it out. She thought it would be instructions or a note about the kitchen. But the paper read just one line. I didn’t want to leave.
It haunted her, that first letter. She figured it was from the seller, a man she didn’t know and had never met. The movers called then and beckoned her outside to receive them. She tried to put the letter out of her mind.
She found the second letter tucked behind a door on the second floor. Same envelope. She opened it with some trepidation. The paper read just one line. I left. Disturbed, she crumpled the paper into her fist and, with no trash cans yet unpacked, stuffed it into her pocket to get rid of it later.
The third letter, attached to the basement railing. I can’t go on, it read. She wondered about him. She said a silent prayer.
The fourth and final letter was on a window in the bedroom that would be hers. Her hand was trembling by now. She pulled the paper from its temporary home and read the words aloud, on a single, relieved breath. I’ll go on.
I am 33 years old and in two months, I’ll be 34. I’m not a superstitious person but, maybe I am at heart, because I do believe 3 is something of a magical number. It’s present in all of my favorite (humor- the rule of threes) and least favorite things (tragedy- the rule of threes). Regardless of the number’s power, this has been a year for me. I’ve changed more in this year than I have in many, many years previously. A swirling, tight ball of change- that’s me, this year. This morning, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and just stared.
I’ve decided to share a few of the things I’ve learned this year, with you. Here’s the first one: so many people spend their whole, entire lives coloring firmly within the lines. It’s amazing that a simple word has so much power- should. It’s become my least favorite word, this year. Should is rife with judgement. It has such little bearing on you, or me. But it’s safe and so we stay safely cocooned within it walls, its lines.
Here’s to a dish that we made ourselves, inspired by one of Nicole’s restaurant journeys and picked by me because it sounded simple, fresh and good. Stacked, it’s perfectly beautiful. Once you start to pick at it, it falls apart, just slumps into a beautiful mess. (You can still eat it though, don’t worry. I’m starting to think that it’s the messiest things that taste the best.)
Heirloom Tomatoes with Lemon Ricotta and Arugula
Serves 4 | Print Recipe
6 Medium heirloom tomatoes
1 Cup of arugula
2/3 Cup of ricotta
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1/4 Teaspoon of sea salt
Fresh cracked pepper
1. Slice the heirloom tomatoes in thick slices and set aside.
2. Dress the arugula with enough olive oil to lightly coat the leaves.
3. Mix ricotta, lemon juice, salt and pepper together in a small bowl.
4. To serve, layer ricotta and tomato slices on a plate and top with arugula. Serve with warm bread and extra salt and pepper if desired.
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 8
Petula waited for the right moment and, as soon as the fat officer was distracted, slipped to the opposite corner of the room to stand beside her sister. “I need your help.”
Rose turned to stare at her, far too openly for Petula’s liking. “No kidding. You need my help?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Because we’re knee-deep into it now? And the cops are here? And our terrible, horrible aunt is here? And our mother is here and can’t stop looking at us and crying for five seconds? And then there’s the Newells. The sweet, sweet Newell family and your long-lost son-“
“All right, all right,” Petula hissed. “I get it. Can you please keep your voice down? And maybe stop listing all of the ways this is seriously messed up? Listen to me,” she said. “That other cop, the lady, took Freddy out of here when no one was looking. They’ve been gone for a while.”
“So?” But the usual edge was gone from Rose’s voice and her eyes darted over the room.
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
“Rose, when we walked in, it was Freddy standing over Da-,” Petula’s voice cracked, “Over the body.”
“I know,” Rose snapped. “I know what I saw.” There was a sudden noise behind them, a clamor of activity. They both turned to watch Lily Newell break away from her conversation with the fat cop. He raised a hand to quiet her but she seemed to have realized Freddy was gone too and soon her voice was pitched over the din of the room. “No. No! Where is he? Where’s Freddy? Do not- don’t tell me to calm down. He is a minor! If he is being questioned-“
“He’s right here, Mrs. Newell.” The lady cop had appeared with Freddy, pale and wide-eyed behind her. She looked at everyone in the room. “Freddy was very helpful. He wants to find out what happened here as much as I do. And I think I finally know how to get the truth out of you people.”
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I am looking for a house.
It is not going well.
I mean. It’s going fine. It’s as to-be-expected, I guess. I want very specific things and I’m being rather ornery and uncompromising (which isn’t like me, frankly. Is it?) and also… it can be very lonely to look for a house by yourself. Yesterday, I went to two open houses, drove around endlessly with the dog panting in the back, and went home and had a good cry. I find myself shying away from places that are plain and small and perfectly functional, as if they’re making a statement about me and my life. As if I am consciously crafting my future to be as such- plain and small and perfectly functional. Ooof. Being a grown up is hard.
Things that are bolstering me today, in no particular order of emotional importance:
> This quote from Jessica Fetchor, lovingly transcribed and shared on Sprouted Kitchen:
“But we are always swept this way and that. We create the life we want to live, yes. Then, in return, that life creates us. We follow the tides; we have no other choice. We splash about beneath the brightest of moons, then the darkest of skies, tug hard from the surface on anchors that refuse to budge, and then, if we are very brave, dive deep.”
> This quote on Farmette, recalling a (very rainy) Irish summer BBQ:
“Imen, we get on with it here in Ireland. We just get on with it. Put up a tent or marquis if you feel the need. Everyone will come, you’ll see.”
> This photo. (Look, I don’t know why it makes me feel better, okay? Maybe because it makes me feel 10 years old again? Have mercy.)
And these pictures. Sometimes when I get the photos of this week’s recipe from Nicole, I smile. Sometimes I do a happy clap. Last night, I saw them and laughed. There’s just something so cheery about these little cups. Little unassuming grapefruit halves filled with summer cheer.
Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups
Source: Bon Appetit | Makes: 8 | Print Recipe
Do Ahead: Sorbet cups can be made 1 day ahead. Cover once sorbet is solid and keep frozen.
4 medium red or pink grapefruits
2 pints fruit-flavored sorbet or sherbet, slightly softened
1. Cut grapefruits in half and juice them. Using a large spoon, scrape out pulp and flesh.
2. Peel away any residual white pith so you’re left with completely clean rinds. Fill grapefruit halves with sorbet and smooth tops flush with edges of fruit using a small flexible spatula or butter knife to make cups; freeze until ready to serve.
3. Cut each sorbet cup in half to make quarters just before serving.
Marla and her daughter Charlotte stood outside by the truck. Charlotte looked over the stacks of boxes in the trunk and Marla went over her list. “Cinnamon swirl rolls?”
“Hot dog and hamburger buns?”
“Blueberry coffee cake?”
“Croissants and danishes?”
“My world-famous, fun and festive funfetti cheesecake?”
“2 bags of pasta?”
“Enough for a small army.”
“I think that’s it.” Marla smiled with satisfaction and nudged her daughter toward the front seat. “Come on, we’ve gotta move. The girls will be at the house by now.”
On the drive to Darlene’s, Charlotte heard her mother’s list roll over and over in her head. She watched the trees change as they left one county and entered the next. It was nearly forty minutes to Darlene’s house. Her place was the only one big enough to house Marla and the rest of their girlfriends, though it was the most out of the way for everyone. Over the years, the weekend-long festivities had extended to the groups daughters who were now all in their early to late teens and had their own weekend-long party in Darlene’s basement. Charlotte was fifteen, right in the middle of the group, who were only friends this one weekend a year. She frowned, feeling the usual nerves and antsiness that comes with spending the weekend with girls she barely knew, and found herself saying, “You’re not even able to eat any of the food we’re bringing.” Marla was diabetic and “recently and highly sensitive to gluten.” Charlotte glared at her mother, as if this were her choice of affliction. “Why’d we bring all that food if you can’t even eat it? You can’t even get anything out of it, all this work and planning and stuff.”
Marla smiled at the same changing trees. She had none of her daughter’s nerves, only her anxiousness to get there already, to tuck into two days of long, winding conversation, bottles of cheap wine and enough food to feed Terre Haute. She inevitably came home more tired than when she started but happier too. The talking was what she was needing most. Every year, it seemed like they all needed it more than ever. “There are different ways to get fed, baby girl.” She settled back in her seat, content in the drive and unbothered, for once, by her daughter’s sudden silence.
YOU GUYS. It’s the middle of July. Already. Summer is here, it is happening. It can’t be stopped.
I spent the weekend with a bunch of girls/ladies/women that I whole-heartedly adore. The little snippet above should give you a good idea of how it went down and how I’m feeling right now. I feel like I can sleep for a week but I am very happy. (Also Trainwreck is awesome; if you’re in need of some girlfriend time and your girls are busy, Amy’s a good substitute.) And hey, cheesecake. With sprinkles in it. It didn’t make the roster for this weekend but I’ve already got it in mind for next time.
For the crust:
1 and 1/2 Cups (150g) of graham cracker crumbs (about 10 full sheet graham crackers)
6 Tablespoons (87g) of unsalted butter, melted
1/3 Cup (67g) of granulated sugar
For the filling:
24 Ounces (675g) of cream cheese, softened
1 Cup (200g) of granulated sugar
1 cup (240g) of sour cream or plain yogurt, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract
1/4 Teaspoon of almond extract
3 Large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 – 1 Cup of rainbow sprinkles
Optional: additional sprinkles and whipped cream for garnish
*Note on sprinkles: be gentle when folding in rainbow sprinkles and don’t overmix.
1. Adjust oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Wrap aluminum foil on the bottom and tightly around the outside walls of the springform pan. Set aside.
2. Make the crust: Grind the graham crackers in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or a food processor, until fine. In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and granulated sugar until combined. The mixture will be thick, coarse, and sandy. Press into a 9-inch springform pan and halfway up the sides. Make sure the crust is very compact and tight. Bake the crust for 7 minutes. Let cool as you prepare the filling.
3. Make the filling: Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and granulated sugar together on medium speed in a large bowl – about 3 full minutes until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the sour cream, vanilla, and almond extract and beat until combined. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until just blended. Very gently fold in the sprinkles, starting with 3/4 cup, and they may bleed a little.
4. Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Place the springform pan into a large roasting pan and place into the oven. Fill with about 1 inch of hot water. The foil wrapped around the pan will prevent water from leaking inside.
5. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is almost set. (When the cheesecake is done, there will still be a 2 or 3 inch wobbly spot in the center.) Turn the oven off and open the door slightly. Let the cheesecake sit in the oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely to room temperature.
6. Refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours. Top with additional sprinkles and whipped cream, if desired. Cover leftover cheesecake and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
7. Make ahead tip: Freeze baked cheesecake for up to 2 months. Cover tightly and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving.
“This is really wonderful, Flo.”
Oh, please. No. It’s not. I can’t believe we’re eating it. “Thanks!”
“Yes. I love the chicken, Flo.”
Are you kidding? You’re kidding, right? The chicken is dry, the salad is too sharp, I used too much cheese in the pasta salad. I’m actually shocked you’re all eating it and haven’t stormed out of here. Was that an eye roll? Did Kay just roll her eyes? She’s an amazing cook, she knows everything on this table is oversalted and overcooked. The gig is up. “That’s so nice of you, thanks!”
“You’ll have to give me the recipe for all of this!”
You mean the recipe for the chicken, the recipe that’s so vague and poorly written that I spent thirty minutes trying to figure out what ‘vapor the chicken’ means and then threw off the whole schedule to get the rest of the dinner party menu on the table at the same time? All for a chicken that’s so dry and tasteless, I can use it to plaster the guest room? That recipe! “Sure! I’ll make you a copy!”
I just posted this on Instagram this morning, an excerpt from As Always, Julia which I’m rereading and loving just as much as the first time . It’s a collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto that span Julia’s writing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (it’s not for everyone- if you can read a three page letter about the quality of kitchen knives in the 1950s with delight, then you will love it. And also, hi, we should be friends.)
In this particular letter, Julia lets out a random little rant about how annoying it is to be a guest at a dinner party and have to be constantly reassuring the hostess that the food she cooked is actually good:
“I make it a rule, no matter what happens, never to say one word, though it kills me. Maybe the cat has fallen in the stew, or I have put the lettuce out the window and it has frozen, or the meat is not quite done… Grit one’s teeth and smile.”
It’s so hard to actually do this. I think about it a lot as I bite my tongue over something I’ve made. (Or am I crazy? Please tell me I’m not crazy.) Is it connected to our inability to take a compliment without being self-effacing (hi Amy) or are we just our harshest critics? Or do we have expectations that something we worked really hard on will be transcendent, and usually it’s just… a lot of hard work to make something that’s very, very good… and that’s absolutely good enough but maybe “very, very good” is not enough for the effort? I don’t know. But it’s hard.
And yet this salad… look how pretty this summery salad is! Wouldn’t you be so happy if someone put this down in front of your face and you did not have to make it or pay for it? And you got to eat it on a deck with your favorite friends or your sister or your new neighbors? What a gift food can be. What a gift Julia is, to be there in the morning, ranting beside my morning cup of coffee, reminding me not to be an idiot and focus on the best part of making food- that others get to eat. That you get to eat. That you made something, kid. And that’s definitely good enough for today, tonight and every day. Bon appetit indeed.
Tomato Peach Salad with Tofu Cream
Do Ahead: Tofu cream can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
8 Ounces of silken tofu
4 Tablespoons of Sherry vinegar, divided
4 Tablespoons of olive oil, divided
2 Tablespoons of soy sauce, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1-inch wedges
1 Pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Medium peaches, cut into 1⁄2-inch wedges
1⁄2 Small red onion, thinly sliced
1⁄2 Cup of fresh corn kernels (from 1 medium ear)
2 Tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tablespoons of chopped fresh chervil or basil, plus sprigs for serving
3 Slices of thick grilled or toasted country-style bread, cut lengthwise into wide strips
1. Make tofu cream: blend the tofu, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of oil, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce in a blender until light and smooth; season tofu cream with salt.
2. Make the dressing and the salad: whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, peaches, onion, corn, tarragon, and chopped chervil and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning if needed.
3. To plate: swipe tofu cream on a platter and arrange tomato salad over; top with herbs. Serve with crusty bread.
Smitty & The Girl
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 7
“I didn’t know we were coming to the house until we turned onto that long driveway. I knew it was bad because Dad started using his low voice with Grandma. But she was driving and we just… pulled up. She just parked the car like she came here every day and got out and went and rang the bell. And Dad was sitting in the car with me. And I just… I went after Grandma. The front door opened and she and I went in. I could see Dad in the car, just staring at the house.”
Freddy cleared his throat. She wanted to tell him to keep going but there was no real need. He was lost in the memory now and he needed to say it all out loud. She’d seen a few victims, a few witnesses, go through this- once they started, they had to keep going. “We saw the lady, Sylvia, and her maid. They looked really surprised to see us. The maid kept staring at me. And then Dad came in. And the yelling started. There was a lot of yelling. And then, I don’t know. It happened really fast.”
“What did, Freddy?”
“Just.” He looked at her, his eyes glassy. “All of a sudden, the front door opened and my mom- and that lady was there.”
“Yeah. And her sister. The tough one. And then everyone started talking at once and I just- I wanted to- I needed air, so I went outside to the terrace. And I was standing there and there was this noise-“
“What kind of noise?”
“I- I don’t know.”
“A bang? Or did it sound like someone got hit? Like when you hit your head on something?”
“The second one, I guess.”
“Where did the noise come from? Inside the house?” When he nodded, she said, “And you were outside on the terrace.”
“Yeah.” Freddy frowned. “And I walked into the kitchen and suddenly everything got real quiet. It was creepy. And there was this noise, I think it was a cat, and it ran through the kitchen and spooked me and I tripped on this thing on the floor, a purse or something.”
“A purse?” Clemmons frowned. “You tripped on a purse in the kitchen? But everyone was in the parlor arguing when you left?” He nodded. “Huh. Wait right here, would you?”
Freddy blinked. “Why?”
“Because I want you to look at some purses.” She patted him on the arm, satisfied to at last having found something to go on, no matter how small.
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY. S’mores for everyone!
The S’Mores Recipe Collection
Get the recipe for Chocolate Whiskey Tart with Toasted Beer Marshmallow Meringue below…
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Chocolate Whiskey Tart with Toasted Beer Marshmallow Meringue
FOR THE HAZELNUT GRAHAM CRUST:
3/4 Cup of finely ground graham crackers (about 6 sheets)
1/4 Cup of hazelnut meal, or finely ground toasted hazelnuts (or 1 cup ground graham crackers)
5 Tbsp of unsalted butter, melted
FOR THE CHOCOLATE FILLING:
2 Tbsp of cornstarch
1/8 Tsp of salt
1/2 Tsp of instant espresso powder
1/2 Cup of heavy cream (whole milk should also work)
2 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
1/2 Tsp of vanilla extract
5 Oz of dark chocolate (ideally 60% or more cacao)
2 Tbsp of whiskey
FOR THE TOASTED BEER MARSHMALLOW MERINGUE:
1 Cup of Guinness Draught
3 Egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
10.5 Ounce of bag mini marshmallows
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place graham crackers in a food processor and grind until fine (or smash in a large Ziploc bag). In a large bowl, mix 3/4 cup of the graham cracker meal, 1/4 cup hazelnut meal or finely ground toasted hazelnuts, and melted butter until moist. Press into the bottom of the tart pan and bake for 10 minutes.
2. FILLING: In a small saucepan, combine the cornstarch, salt, and espresso powder. Pour 2 tablespoons of the cream into the mixture and whisk until smooth. Turn the heat to medium-low and pour the rest of the cream in a steady stream into the saucepot, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add the egg yolks and continue to whisk, heating the mixture until it thickens and just begins to bubble.
3. You’ll know it’s thick enough when you swipe down the back of a spoon and the mixture doesn’t run together (this should take a few minutes). Immediately remove from heat and add chocolate and vanilla extract. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Last, stir in the whiskey until fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Pour filling into the graham cracker crusts and chill in the refrigerator until cold, about 30 minutes.
4. TOPPING: Place the Guinness Draught in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let the beer cook until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 20 minutes. Let cool.
5. Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the pinch of tartar and mix again until the mixture thickens slightly and becomes opaque. Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Fold in the marshmallows using a large rubber spatula. Fold in the beer reduction. Pile meringue high atop the tart and brown with a kitchen torch.
June was a brutal month. The calamities, mishaps and tragedies had been piling up for weeks until finally Millie pulled her old Camry up the street and parked it in front of her mother’s house. When the car idled and stopped, Millie actually let out a sigh of relief. It was the last day of June- already that month, she’d blown a tire and gotten into a fender bender in the office parking lot. She was fairly certain as she wound the car toward her mother’s house across town, that June would keep fighting her until its very last breath.
“It’s Mercury in retrograde,” her coworker Lisa had said flatly. The complaints around the office had spread like a brush fire and everyone around her marveled at the onslaught of bad news that seemed to come their way daily. Millie didn’t know anything about Mercury. But she was starting to get very familiar with sympathetic nodding.
She opened the car door and suddenly a boy on a bicycle flew past her, missing the door by inches. He yelled and called her a bad name as he sped away and Millie paused for a minute to catch her breath, still caught in the vision of what might’ve been. It took her a moment to collect herself and when she closed her eyes, she was hit with a scent in the air, one that sent her spinningly back to childhood. Browning beef, like the back of a Taco Bell. Millie smiled. That’s right, she thought, it was Tuesday. Taco Tuesday. To her mother, this was a very real thing, a weekly holiday. The dining table would be filled with colorful plates and bowls, dotted with peppers and onions and relish, dishes of sour cream and bright orange cheese. There would be a plate of those taco shells that stood up on their own.
Millie sat back in the front seat of her car, her door dangerously open, safe for a moment in the scent of her memories.
I have a few hard-and-fast taco rules. 1) Corn tortillas only. Toasted until warm, pliable. 2) 1 part creamy (avocado/cream) 1 part crunchy (radish/white onion) 1 part savory (fish/meat/hearty, seasoned veg) 1 part green (avocado again/lime/cilantro or all three) 3) 2 tacos for an austere, weeknight meal and 3 tacos for the weekend because #party. 4) Always make sure there’s cotija or feta on the table. 5) A side of tortilla chips and salsa counts as a side salad.
Nicole came up with this awesome recipe using roasted potatos and poblano peppers. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that it was all too easy for me to make this since I always have a bulk of the ingredients in my house. Which makes me wonder how many tacos I’m eating…
Our 4th of July Recipes
No Bake Happiness Pops | Holy Crap S’More Cookies | Vanilla Ice Cream Cake with Berry Sauce | Hamburger Cupcakes | Berry Cobbler | Blueberry Hand Pies | Sour Cherry Lemonade | Sweet Whiskey Lemonade | Caesar Wedge Salad with Bacon and Parmesan
Roasted Potato and Poblano Tacos with Chipotle Cream
Makes approx. 10 tacos | Print Recipe
1 Pound potatoes, such as fingerling, cut into 1/2” pieces
4-5 Poblano peppers
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE CHIPOTLE SOUR CREAM:
1 Cup creme fraiche or sour cream
2 Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/3 Cup of chopped sweet onion
Salt to taste
8-10 corn tortillas
Cotija cheese crumbles
To make the peppers:
1. Preheat broiler or heat a gas grill to high. If broiling, put poblano peppers on a lined baking sheet and roast, turning a few times, until tender and charred all over, approx. 15 minutes.
2. Place peppers in a large ziplock bag and allow to steam for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, peel peppers, remove seeds and slice into 1/4 – 1/2” strips. Set aside.
To make potatoes:
3. Preheat oven to 425°. Line baking sheet with parchment.
4. Toss potatoes with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Scatter over baking sheet in an even layer and roast for 20-15 minutes, stirring a few times to toast evenly. Roast until lightly browned and tender through.
To make the chipotle sour cream:
5. Combine sour cream, chipotles, and onion in a food processor or blender. Blend until creamy and smooth. Salt to taste.
To assemble tacos:
6. Warm corn tortillas in a pan (I like to toast mine right on my burner, watching them carefully, because I’m a rebel) and top with chipotle sour cream, roasted peppers and potatoes, cotija cheese crumbles and fresh cilantro. Serve with lime wedge.
We are swimming in strawberries.
Okay, well, technically these cream cheese swirled biscuits are swimming in strawberries. But so are we. They’re popping up everywhere. In Maine, it’s just a few days before the strawberry festival, before I go to the farm and load up a box with enough strawberries to fill a vault. In late June, I am the Scrooge McDuck of strawberries.
It’s been a long week- feverish and frenetic and pitched with moments of deep, tremendous sadness (but down south and close to home). My bones are still rattling.
One of my best and dearest and most loved friends is coming to visit this weekend. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve been holding on to the idea of This Visit for the last four full days. I am wading through work and sadness and humid air, caught halfway between the now and two days from now, when I can pick up my friend from the airport, give her a gigantic hug and then parade her through Maine. Strawberries everywhere.
Wishing you quiet moments and heavy skillets of summery comfort.
Skillet Strawberry Cobbler with Cream Cheese Swirled Biscuits
FOR THE COBBLER:
5 Cups (about 3 pounds) of fresh or frozen strawberries, hulled + halved if large
1/3 Cup of sugar (brown sugar or granulated sugar)
2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
2 Teaspoons of vanilla extract + one vanilla bean (optional), seeds removed
Pinch of sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
FOR THE BISCUITS:
3 Cups of all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoons of baking powder
1 and 1/2 Sticks (12 tablespoons) cold salted butted (or unsalted with a pinch of salt)
3/4 Cup of buttermilk
1/4 Cup of honey
8 Ounces of cream cheese, cubed
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Prep a 12-inch cast iron skillet with butter or cooking spray.
3. In the skillet, combine the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, vanilla bean and a pinch of sea salt. Toss well to combine.
4. In a large bowl, whisk flour and baking powder together. Using a pastry blender or your hands, add butter pieces to the flour and mix until coarse pea-sized crumbles remain.
5. Whisk together the buttermilk and honey and pour into the flour mixture. Stir with a spoon until just combined, trying not to overmix. Use your hands if needed to bring the dough together. Fold in the cream cheese.
6. Use a 1/4 cup measure to drop batter onto the strawberries or press dough on a sheet of parchment paper or cutting board, then use a biscuit cutter to shape the dough into rounds. Place the rounds on top of the cobbler. (You will have leftover biscuit dough which can be baked on a sheet with parchment and eaten warm, slathered with butter and jam.
8. Bake the cobbler for 40-45 minutes or until the strawberries are bubbling and the biscuits lightly golden. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
She didn’t mean to float away, it just sort of happened.
One minute, they were all together on the dock. The next, she had climbed into the raft. He immediately put the baby on her lap and she closed her hands around the chubby little waist but then the baby started to cry, big wails, and he picked the baby back up. She waited a moment longer and then someone nudged the raft. It bobbed on the cold lake water for a moment and then started to move.
Maybe she should’ve worked hard to paddle. Maybe she should’ve been nervous as the raft moved and bobbed and then didn’t stop moving or bobbing. Before she knew it, she was on her back on the bottom of the small raft, the nape of her neck resting against a tiny pool of cold water. She stared up at the blue sky and closed her eyes, the sun nowhere in sight.
She knew she should be worried about sunscreen, about food, about the sun’s blinding light on her eyes, on how the baby felt watching her float away. She knew she should be worried about many things, all of the things. She should be worried, most of all, for how she would get back across the lake, to the dock, to the house. Instead, she stayed down and closed her eyes. The raft would make it back to shore eventually, she thought. And if it didn’t, she would swim. It felt good, she thought, to decide not to worry.
Last night, I stayed up later than usual but I didn’t mind. We’re having a cookout lunch at the office today and I was getting ready. I shucked corn and tossed the long husks into the trash, stirred things together in a square container with a big spoon, put other crucial things in a bag. I poured thick, black-speckled espresso ice cream from the churner into a second square container and stirred in fat hunks of leftover donuts. I tried not to dwell too much on how tired I felt, this late in the week, or if a spoonful of coffee ice cream would keep me awake. I tried not to worry or wonder if tomorrow would be another hot day. If someone would cry at work. Lately a lot of people have been crying at work. It’s a strange feeling, to want to be deeply happy, to be close to it, right up against it, and be around crying people. It makes you feel a little crazy. I’m hungrier for sun and summer than I thought I’d be.
Have a good weekend, friends. Look for light, wherever you can find it. A raft on a lake, a homemade fruity cocktail, your friend’s new house in the country, coffee and donuts ice cream, naps in air conditioning, farmers market, long runs, deep sleeps. Okay? Okay. Me too.
Makes: Approx. 1 1/2 Gallons | Print Recipe
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 gallon cold water
2 cups fresh lemon juice
2 cups sliced strawberries plus more for garnish
1. Make the simple syrup: combine the 2 cups sugar with the 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, remove from heat and allow to cool.
2. Make the strawberry puree: combine the berries with 2 Tablespoons sugar and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Blend the berries and sugar in a blender or food processor until finely pureed. Press mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.
3. Add a gallon of cold water and the lemon juice to a pitcher. Add the simple syrup and strawberry puree and stir well.
4. Fill glasses with lemonade and ice, garnish with fresh mint sprig and sliced strawberries.
5. Optional cocktail version: add 1.5 oz gin to 1 cup strawberry lemonade and stir well.
Smitty & The Girl
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 6
It didn’t take long for Clemmons to get the kid alone. Gibbs simply walked into the room where the suspects gathered, made a big fuss over everyone heading into the kitchen for something to eat and hustled Mike Newell and his mother in first; no one noticed Clemmons hang back with Freddie.
“Look, here’s the deal,” she told him frankly. The kid looked at her with eyes that were glazed over from a combination of tired and shock. “I know this is rough. I want you all to be able to go home as much as you probably do. I can’t do that until I get statements from everyone.”
“I’m a minor,” Freddie Newell said quietly. He was skinny as a rail and had a streak of blue hair but he spoke with an assurance of a man twice his age. “If you want to get my statement, my father needs to be here.”
“Right.” Clemmons narrowed her eyes, interested in the way he watched the two redheads trail out of the room. One of the women, the one who was distinctly not a former cop, glanced over her shoulder, caught Freddy’s eye and looked away, her face flushed red. Clemmons thought back to all the town gossip she’d heard over the years- wasn’t there something about the Newell kid and the Mathers, she thought. “Petunia Mathers is your mom. Isn’t she?”
“Petula Mathers,” Freddie replied. He’d gone slightly pale. “She left when I was born.” He cleared his throat and she didn’t miss the disdain in his eyes when he looked at her now. “I guess everybody in town knows.”
Clemmons nodded. “If it makes you feel better,” she said. “I know a little bit about that. My family had its share of the town gossip around the time I was born.” He had no response to that but she knew he was listening. “I didn’t know my mama either. My gran raised me. She wasn’t a stranger to the Mathers either. Used to work in this house, in fact.”
Freddie looked at her now. “Did she know my gr- did she know Frank Mathers? The guy who d-died?”
“A little.” Clemmons offered him a grim smile. “I just want to help, Freddie. I want to know what really happened here. Can you help me? Shed a little light?”
Let me sum up life for you- there are tomato slices slow-roasting in the oven. There is banana bread cooling on the counter. It’s raining (drip-drip-drip). And someone just discovered that this is currently free on Amazon Instant Video.
What I’m saying is, as of now, June could be a lot worse.
Get the recipe for Mexican Street Corn here.
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