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You can basically say anything about time as a concept and have it sound profound. Try it - “time is a ___ ___.” It’ll sound like you’re saying something. In these what seem to be young days of isolation time has become a lot more illusory, though. The sun rises and it sets, the heavens keep spinning, but lord knows if it’s Monday, Thursday, or some new day just invented. One of the only things demarcating time’s arrow are what bad news we receive upon waking up, it doesn’t matter when you went to sleep, there will be bad news. So since all our hours are minutes and all our seconds days I figured a snack that works for breakfast unto late night dessert is in order. Presenting the Anytime Sweet Cheese Snack.  

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Ingredients

Goat cheese, or chevre if you’re nasty

Raspberries

Basil

Bread

For the most part I’m not a fan of sweetened cheese. Sweet dairy? No prob, load up that yogurt with sugar. But I like cheese that’s hearty and savory and sweetness can kind of muddle that. A major exception to that is goat cheese. 

There’s something about the earthiness in goat cheese that complements sugar very well and I found this through my own senses. I’m no gastronomologist, I’m sure this flavor pairing is well documented and reasoned. It’s just that if we were to look at some sort of evolutionary chart of “chef” I’d be one of those C-shaped man-monkeys, so for me this is like discovering the wheel. 

Anyway, the recipe. Start by turning bread into toast. Are you like the 1000% of the population that has taken to starting and perhaps finishing sourdough? If you are take that bread that you cooked and cook it again. Trust me, it’s wild, but it works. 

Sprinkle on the goat cheese and get a good coat of it on the toast. The warmth should hopefully make the spreading easier. Then toss on your berries. I like raspberries for this since they’re nice and juicy, but feel free to use your preferred colorful contribution. Except for boysenberries. I don’t trust those ass holes. 

Lastly, coming out of left field, add some basil. This works infinitely better if you have fresh leaves than the dried stuff, but who the hell cares at this point, right? Basil acts as a nice springiness to offset the density of the other ingredients. Leaves- they’re useful. And with that, we’re done. It’s a snack. 

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Not much to say about this I haven’t already. It’s a good breakfast or makes for a fine after dinner treat. Which is a weird thing we have all agreed upon, that some sweet baked goods are for breakfast and others aren’t. I’ll have a croissant for dessert, like a real American. 

Anyway, this whole isolation era has been getting to me. My folks are in New York and my mom seems to have come down with the virus. She went to the ER to get some of her fluids and blood pressure back up. Now she seems to be on the mend, but my dad is severely immunocompromised so if he gets it, well, let’s just say we’ve had some conversations about the ifs, not the whens, pertaining to his next birthday. Coupled with the general downturn of collective hope it’s freaky and there’s nothing I can do about it. Can’t even see someone to talk about it, which is indicative of the larger mental state I’m in while alone. But fuck it, man, I’ll see y’all on the other side of this. Just hard to tell who I’ll be when I get there. Whoever that person is, though, will bring snacks. 

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BY COURTNEY BALESTIER 

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Photo from PBS’ “Somewhere South” episode “American As (Hand) Pie.” Chef and host Vivian Howard is on the left and author Courtney Balestier is on the right.


I need to tell you about pepperoni rolls. But I understand that, as a native West Virginian, I probably have enthusiasm for this dish disproportionate to your knowledge of it, so first I need to explain. 

A classic pepperoni roll, one from a place like Home Industry Bakery in Clarksburg, West Virginia, can help us  understand the Platonic ideal of the form: yeast bread dough (my grandmother used the same recipe that she used to bake her bread buns) stuffed with satisfying fistfuls of sliced pepperoni or small batons of stick pepperoni and baked. I should also be clear, though, not just about what we’re talking about, but about how we’re talking about it. 

There are words we use when we want to minimize things. We may call something simple or DIY, makeshift or humble or modest. But perhaps the word that minimizes the most, the maximal minimizer, is just. We might say “I just have a question,” or, “She’s just a stay-at-home mom,” or, “It was just a kiss.” And it was the just that was on my mind when I was thinking about this piece. Because, for all of the thinking and writing and reading and talking that I’ve done about Appalachian foodways and about this food in particular, I kept thinking about this eighteen-year-old woman I interviewed once at West Virginia University. When I asked her about this dish—something, now, that’s baked in kitchens all over West Virginia, that’s sold in cellophane-wrapped six packs in gas stations and grocery stores and dished out at little league fields—when I asked her why we care so much, her answer, basically, was that she didn’t. 

“It’s just bread, pepperoni, and cheese,” she said. Now, there is the small matter of her being right. It is just bread and pepperoni. (The cheese is contested; I’m anti, but this is a decision everyone needs to make for herself.) It wasn’t a matter of facts, the bone I had to pick with this young lady, but of interpretation. When it comes to the pepperoni roll, as with so much of the food we talk about in Appalachia, the just is the point.

The accepted origin story of the pepperoni roll begins in the 1920s with an Italian immigrant named Giuseppe Argiro in Fairmont, West Virginia. There are actually a lot of Italians (or, as they might say, I-talians) in West Virginia—so many, in fact, that for a time Italy ran a consulate office in the northern part of the state. Like so many of his countrymen, Giussepe had come to West Virginia to work in the mines. He was no longer a miner when he invented the pepperoni roll, but the problem that he was solving was a miner’s problem: the need for a hearty lunch that could sustain a man underground but that he could eat one-handed—a working lunch. Pepperoni and bread was already a popular lunch with Italian miners, and Giuseppe put them together. The pepperoni roll caught on, it grew, it became, as the kids say, a thing, and we still have it today. We have, in West Virginia, declared it our official state food. 

I continue to find this series of events amazing. Yes, the pepperoni roll is simple, but in the way that an egg looks simple or that a circle looks simple. The pepperoni roll, really, is a poem: self-contained, complete, economical in every sense of the word. And that such a simple food, such bare bones, stone soup, quick-fix food, still thrives today—in restaurants and cook-offs and home kitchens—is extraordinary. Because we glorify a lot of things in American culture, things worthy and unworthy of that attention, but we do not tend to glorify the poor, and we do not tend to glorify the working class. These are concepts very much tied, through reality and rhetoric, to Appalachia, but in general, we Americans do not tend to lavish respect on those who make something out of nothing or on the satisfying meal they’ve managed to stretch from limited ingredients. If we do, it’s usually because we figured out a way to make that meal fancier and get Millennials and food journalists (guilty on both counts) to pay for it. The American dream is about aspiration; it is not about making do. But our man Giuseppe, and the men he was cooking for, they’re about both. 

Those people all wanted better lives, they wanted good jobs, they wanted to provide for their families, but to achieve all that, they needed lunch. And so Giuseppe, he just figured out how to give it to them. 

And now we talk about it. We debate the merits of stick pepperoni versus slice. (Stick.) We talk about Italian bread, French bread, hot pepper cheese, provolone cheese, no cheese. (I’ve made my feelings clear.) We have, in West Virginia, an entire food economy built around it. My personal favorite actor in this economy, long since gone, was Ray’s Bakery, a small storefront near my childhood home. In the summer, on the way to the nerd summer camp that I went to for kids who just wanted to keep reading books, my mom would take me to Ray’s, and I would get a donut for breakfast and a pepperoni roll for lunch. We worship this odd food in West Virginia, twinned as it is to our very existence. 

There’s one more story I want to tell you. It’s about a gas station chain, called Sheetz, that operates in West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Sheetz sells a lot of pepperoni rolls in West Virginia, which it used to source locally from different bakeries around the state. Then, a couple years back, Sheetz decided to just switch to one central bakery—which, as it happened, was located in North Carolina. People flipped out. They took to Facebook with their anger. The local news covered it. The outcry was so instant and so full-throated that Sheetz actually backed off. It did pick a single supplier, but it was a West Virginian bakery, Home Industry. But my definition of success was not this outcome, great though it was, but a comment left on Sheetz’ Facebook page: You are taking our cultural heritage, making an inauthentic version, and selling it back to us. This is unacceptable. 

I thought about this statement a lot. Eventually, it detached itself from food and clung, in my mind, to the word extraction. I thought about all the things that word means in the place I’m from, about all the ways it can and has taken form there. About what extracting this food—just about the only truly unique, idiosyncratic West Virginian food—and reproducing it to West Virginians from the outside, what that can represent to people. What it represented to me. 

And then, this simple food became a symbol of something much bigger, especially, for me, at this moment in the region’s history and in my history with it. It became a thing that we were ready to stand up for, to fight for. It became something that acknowledged our heritage—without extraction, no pepperoni roll—but that also demanded the right to our own agency in telling that story. It demanded authorship over the chapters of the story yet to be written. It is, perhaps, a lot of pressure to put on a piece of bread, but I choose to believe it can support the weight. 

Of course, you probably didn’t hear about any of this. The pepperoni roll, it doesn’t really travel. Most people outside the state don’t know about it. Someone from my hometown married a woman from Memphis who volunteered to make these pepperoni rolls he kept talking about: She bought a huge stick of pepperoni, wrapped it in bread dough and baked what I imagine is the densest pepperoni roll ever pulled from an oven. People have apparently left the state and opened pepperoni roll bakeries elsewhere, but they’ve tanked. It doesn’t translate. 

And on this point, I do have to hand it to the young lady who started us off, Ms. Just Bread, Pepperoni and (maybe) Cheese. Because part of the reason is that the pepperoni roll is too “just.” It is so simple that it’s actually a bit confusing. Anyone who hasn’t grown up with it would surely wonder, Well, why can’t I get a sandwich? Why can’t I get a slice of pizza? Isn’t this just a lesser version of both of those things? And, in a sense, that person would have a point. I would struggle to explain it to her, this indivisible kernel that is always is at the core of our relationship with food. 

 I am a West Virginian, but, by fluke of geography and lineage, I am the only West Virginian in my family. My family comes from Appalachia—my grandmother grew up in a coal camp in southwestern Pennsylvania—but I did not grow up in its vernacular of greasy beans and leather britches and cornbread. Which means that, sometimes, I feel as if I snuck into this idea of Appalachia through an open window. But the pepperoni roll. My grandmother made them for me, my mother bought them for me. They’re mine. 

How does a piece of bread and a stick of meat communicate that message? I have a lot of love for food’s ability for metaphor, but they can’t. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Anyone who does not have the same history of a West Virginian—that same spiritual topography that informs a decision as ridiculous and as vital as a food that we grow up eating and then choose to keep eating—would ultimately come to a place, like a secret door, that they don’t even know to understand. What worried me about that young woman at WVU was the fear that we didn’t even understand, that we didn’t respect it. But those words, this is unacceptable. Yes, we do. And honestly, when I was eighteen, I didn’t care, either.

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VEGAN COCONUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES 🍪

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I’ve never baked cookies before. I did one small batch, wasn’t satisfied, tweaked my recipe, and baked another batch.

I was looking at recipes online but I didn’t have all the ingredients needed. I used what I have in my pantry and this is what worked for me.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of flour (I used Bob’s Redmill All-Purpose Flour)
  • 2 cups of coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • unsweetened coconut flakes to your liking
  • 100% cacoa to your liking (it’s very bitter)
  • 5 Tbsp of canned coconut milk
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First, preheat your open to 350 degrees. Then crush the cacoa, the first batch I did big chunks of cacoa but the bitterness was overwhelming the cookie, the second batch I finely crushed it. It came out way better the second time!

Add all ingredients in a bowl and mix. You’ll want to get a sticky mold.

When I added the coconut milk, I added 3 Tablespoons first and realized I needed more. In total I used 5 Tablespoons, I would recommend to start with less and add more if the mix is too dry. Also, initially the mix will look dry but the more you mix, it’ll start changing consistency. So don’t rush to add coconut milk, you’ll just have to keep mixing. Add more coconut milk as your last resort.

Oil your baking sheet, add cookie batter in small portions to baking sheet, put in the oven.

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This is how my first batch looked. You can see the chocolate pieces are too big.

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Bake the cookies for 12 mins. Remove and let them cool. As you can see above, the cacao bits are small, enough for the cookie size, the bitterness does not overwhelm.

Overall, I was very satisfied with the results. Coconut sugar is not very sweet and since I finally crushed the cacoa, the sweetness and bitterness balanced each other.

These cookies were a perfect treat for my sweet tooth. I’ve been craving some ice cream but because of covid-19, I didn’t want to leave my house. I’m trying to only go to the store once a week. Hence, why I decided to give cookie baking a try!

Also, this recipe makes 12 small cookies.

It took about 10 mins to prepare the batter, 10 mins to bake and another 10 mins to cool. In 30 mins or less you can have some yummy vegan chocolate chip cookies.

Buen Provecho!

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If you happen to be making homemade granola bars:

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1. Don’t get distracted and burn the syrup.

2. Do lightly toast the oats (and nuts, if using) before mixing into the not burned syrup. Also do not chase shiny lights around the kitchen and get distracted and burn your nuts.

3. After assembling, get distracted by something for a while. Go get abducted by aliens or something for a bit so you can let them rest 24 hours before eating. The bars, not the aliens. Do not eat the aliens, you don’t know where they’ve been. A granola bar is just one of those things that needs time to mature, like stew, chocolate cake, coconut macaroons, brisket and oatmeal cookies. All are better on day 2.

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Lots of copies of the same recipe online, I have nothing else new to contribute, apart from strong recommendation for including chopped pecans, maple syrup and shredded coconut.

Basically boil a syrup of brown sugar and honey or maple syrup and some fat or oil, and when its thick and carmelized (but not burned because you were paying attention and stirring), mix in your oats, nuts, fruits, rice krispies, chocolate chips or whatever, mash flat and cool. Or bake and cool. Google it and you’ll get a version from someone who was measuring things instead of staring out the window daydreaming.

Tasty and filling, loads of fiber, good for the digestion, etc. The granola bars, not the someone.

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Also travel well, if you decide you need to get off planet for a while.

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So… @chibinoyume  — I believe, jokingly  — suggested that I do this. The point is to basically share comfort food recipes. Anything that is fairly simple to make, yet makes you feel warm inside. 

My recipe for today (though I have yet to decide if I’ll try my hand at other recipes for this) is Brigadeiro aka Brazilian Chocolate Fudge.

If you do try your hand at the recipe, please reblog with a picture of the resulting Brigadeiro :D

Keep reading

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