Gone are the 'Gasms

A hot summer day. A bored Features Department. The boss on vacation.

That’s when the cry would rise, clear and strong, over the terminals and cubicles: ” ‘Gasms!”

It was time to organize a mass order from the State Soda Shop, for the best milkshakes anywhere, full of real ice cream and in any flavor the heat-fevered mind could devise.

The term, and the clarion cry, came from Bob Langford, one of the unfortunates who attempted, briefly, during my 15 years at The News & Observer, to manage The Moose. Most of them are off meds and rehabilitated now.

The term meant what you think it does, a milkshake so good that it was an ultimate experience of delight. But it also referred to a specific flavor: real peanut butter and chocolate syrup with vanilla ice cream.

“I used to order the ‘heavy chocolate,’ a custom-made ‘Gasm with half a bottle of Hershey’s,” Bob, who now works for Back Home Productions in Raleigh, said recently. “I could have three or four ‘Gasms a day back then. Now, one and I need a nap,”

Don’t we all.

My favorite flavor was Oreo. For that, the woman at the counter would grab a packet of Oreos from a nearby rack, pound it to bits with her fist and add it to the vanilla ice cream and real-by-God whole milk. She’d use chocolate ice cream, if you wanted, but I tended to stick with vanilla. The chunks of cookie made sipping the shake through a straw difficult – I nearly passed out once when I sucked too hard on a blocked chip – but it was good.

It was about a block from The N&O’s back door to the shop. But on a hot day, carrying a dozen or so foam vessels of frigid creaminess, the trip felt as long as Lawrence of Arabia’s trek through the giant desert in the movie.

Friday was the State Soda Shop’s last day of operations, its building giving way to progress, I guess.

But where, oh where, are folks going to get their ‘Gasms now?

How about a bacovore?

I had a lot of fun recently at Ten Thousand Villages in Raleigh, talking with a lively group about eating in season and shopping locally. It’s great to see more people wanting to eat food produced in their own back yards (sometimes literally). And that they see the benefits, from economic ones to better tasting food.

I handed out a chart of when different vegetables are in season in North Carolina, and you can find it here. The site also has lists of farmers markets across the state.

I also heard a great story from a fellow Winston-Salem native who remembered Beth Tartan. That was the pen name of Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks, who was food editor for the Winston-Salem paper for decades.

The lady told me that she was sitting a pew ahead of her one Sunday when Mrs. Sparks’ young granddaughter became fussy and whiny. According to my source, Mrs. Sparks reached into her purse and pulled out a strip of crispy bacon. She gave it to the child, who immediately quieted down.

That story backs up what I’ve always believed: Bacon makes everything better. Don’t leave home without it.

My best friend, grill

beets and rainbox chard in Debbie's CSA boxIn my CSA box last Thursday was the most beautiful bunch of small, pink-orange colored beets, nestled beside a sheaf of rainbow chard. I have long gotten over my beet issues – provided they’re not the pickled kind that my mother made gallons of each summer. Those beets I would not eat, not even if you tied my feet.

Because the beets’ flesh was a pretty red-and-white stripe, I sliced them thin and cooked them on the grill with some onions, then tossed it all with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then, it was the chard’s turn. A few minutes and some olive oil later: charred chard. It got a little soy sauce and orange juice, and became a bed for the grilled tuna steaks, which I’d marinated in ginger and soy sauce.

Will that big head of cabbage fit on the grill? Hope so.

Welcome to Moose Munchies!

Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) seemed so warm and fuzzy. Receiving just-picked vegetables each week from a farm an hour or so away. I felt healthier just picking up the first box of produce. A rather large box, sure enough, for just my husband and myself. But such glories lay within. You can blame that weekly box for this blog. I thought it would be fun to use my adventures with the box throughout the summer as a basis for my first attempt at blogging. But I am sure I will stray.

Many who know me are surprised it took this long for me to add my perspective to the online world. “You have so few opinions, and you are so loathe to express them,” my husband stated one evening after I had, once again, expanded upon one of the many things that will set me off (overcooked tuna steaks, lack of sweet tea at a barbecue joint, Coach K’s hair, etc.).

I hope to do some things here that will be different from my work as a freelance food writer and cookbook author, or that might enhance those things. Or stuff that will just be fun. There’s not a thing wrong with having a good time.

As for dealing with the box, it’s been a mental as well as gustatorial challenge, trying to make bok choy, kohlrabi or kale interesting for several days in a row. My latest BFF (best food friend): the frittata. A frittata is an omelet without the stress. You just chunk the eggs and other stuff together, pour it in a frying pan and there you go. No messing with a spatula, trying to get the uncooked egg on top rolled to the bottom before the egg on the bottom goes tough and brown. And, so far, I’ve been able to put anything in it. A combination of chopped African collards, bok choy and onions, sauteed in olive oil. Spinach and some of the above. Cheese, if I have it hanging around. Add some chopped fresh herbs, like parsley or basil. Even better, it uses the direct-from-under-the-hen eggs I get from the CSA. And frittatas taste good warm or at room temp.

Mix the cooked goodies (sauteed in olive oil and cooled) and cheese with five or six eggs, for a large frittatta for two, or 3 eggs for a single serving. Heat a teaspoon or so of olive oil in the pan, pour in the mixture and let it cook until it begins to bubble around the edges. Then, pop the whole pan under the broiler for a minute or two to cook the top. Don’t let it brown, just get cooked and puffy. Dinner. Mmm.