vacation elation: part 5 ~ delicious delectables

what a ride!

we’ve been through almost every detail of my vacation. did you feel like you were there with me? that was my intention: to describe it and share it in such a way that you felt involved. i hope that in your eyes, through my eyes and words, you were able to do just that.

so let’s get you what you want. i know you’re waiting to hear about the food. at least, that’s what Charles keeps asking for. 😀 thus far, my sharings on the meals and culinary delights has been minimal and that is for one good reason: it wasn’t that great to me. say whaaaaaat? yes, it’s true. while i have heard many legends about the food, i have to be truthful and admit that it was not all that it had been cracked up to be. i know, i know.. but let me explain.

  1. my tastes are simple. the bestie says “you have a child’s palette”. and she’s right. i have no room in my flavor saver for anything out of the ordinary and that’s a huge separation in my world.
  2. i do not like condiments. this includes most actual “condiments”, as well as the majority of dips, dressings and sauces.
  3. if i don’t know what it is, what it contains or how it was prepared, i will not consume it. period.

now, i know what you’re thinking: “what a fuddy dudd”. and you’re right! i’m the first to admit it. chef skills are wasted on me. good flavor is all i need. techniques, skills and the sheer fabulosity of five-star dining is not for me. i’m a simple girl where food is concerned and when it comes to eating out, i stand reserved. if coerced into going to a fine dining restaurant, i am usually uncomfortable — feeling pressured to enjoy the experience and “try” something but so apprehensive that i stick to any and everything that appear to resemble something i am already familiar with. i know, i know..and to think.. i once wanted to be a chef.

while the entire menu everyday was not stellar, to my boring standards, i did find the many options, the endlessness and the made-to-order dishes quite divine. i didn’t sleep that much, so every few hours i would cruise the buffet and find something to nibble on. that was the best part. there was always something. always.

i started my mornings with a made-to-order egg white omelet with peppers and a little cheese. after the first morning, i never had to say it again. the young man who fashioned this marvelous breakfast treat for me each day knew what i wanted when he saw me. i am still amazed at the service. i don’t know how he was able to remember MY request while serving two thousand nine hundred twenty-eight other people… i’d like to think it’s because i’m unforgettable (hahhahahhahhahahah). along with my beautiful HOT well done omelet i added two slices of wheat toast, strawberry yogurt and a wedge or two of both cantaloupe and honeydew. there was plenty of options for the rest of the cruise to choose from: bacon, sausage, pancakes, scrambled eggs, oatmeal with the deluxe fixins (brown sugar, raisins and the like), grits and cold cereal. that’s just what i can remember! i know there was more.

my aunt ordered her breakfast in and enjoyed it in the stateroom while preparing herself for the day. they would leave the door hanger menu each day and you could order as much as you wanted. this was not my interest, mostly because i do not like food served to me that has been under a lid — cooling off, or warming up and sweating all over itself. but! that’s just me. my aunt loved her breakfast and reminded me that i didn’t have to get up five minutes after i had laid down. hahahha. after the first two mornings, i made an effort to be up and up before 8 or 9 when the majority of the boat was attempting to dine. at that time, the omelet line would be twenty or thirty minutes long. i found my quiet early morning, poolside, breakfasts quite pleasurable. i met several like-minded diners and enjoyed first morning conversations with them.

with breakfast secured, i often went poolside to catch some morning-turned-midday sun. this is not a surprising fact. as the day wore on, the satiety would subside and the hunger would surface. i mostly skipped over the lunch buffet with the day’s masterpieces. i think i ate at the burger bar everyday. that is where my other friend would greet me with

“hello ma’am. veggie burger with cheese, right? no onion?”

how did he know that??!?!?!? there was a line of hungry folks in front of me and twice as many behind me. but no matter what, the same smile, the same question and the same acknowledging head nod. super fantastic! next to my condiment-less veggie burger i would pile golden fried chicken strips that weighed no less that half a pound each. followed by beautiful crunchy skinny french fries and topped off with a pile of chips drowned in bubblin’ hot nacho cheese. most times i would fill a plate with the little plastic cups of water and then place my plate of food on top to maximize my trip and to always have enough to share.

since i have such simple tastes and prefer the simplicity of food, i CHOOSE not to try things that i am almost certain i will not like. i know that takes the adventure out of it, but what can i say? it’s just not my style. i can assure you that i gave everything a good long glance and considered several new things. perhaps my creature of habit habits talked me out of actually taking the plunge and TRYING everything. we’ll never actually know. don’t be too disappointed. i had fun, i enjoyed myself and i didn’t starve. i also did NOT gain the expected complimentary five to ten pounds that most people gain on a cruise. yay, me!

every night, we attended the formal captain’s dinner. this is pretty much the only reason that i was not poolside. i would retire to the room about 5 or 6 and give myself time to get pretty for dinner. i was delighted that i did because it was so much fun. there was a theme every night and each night there was a standby menu (just for folk like me) and the day’s menu holding all of the food secrets and surprises for that specific night. it might not be obvious at this point, but i pretty much stuck to the same ole things. on day two, i was spoiled ROTTEN by our server Tatiana. i arrived each night to find a cheese platter just above my place setting so that i might enjoy that huge chunk of bleu cheese with my salad. i have yet to find a bleu cheese that i enjoy as much as that one. she spoiled me to the hilt.

my favorite dinner was the vegetarian black bean enchiladas. they were truly delicious. i left thinking about them and spent a couple of days surfing the internet, the Carnival website and the cruiser blogs until i found the recipe. i have yet to make it, but you can be assured that when i do, you will know about it. they really were good and with my eccentricity where food is concerned it takes something quite amazing to knock my socks off. my socks were off! my eyes were closed and i’m pretty sure i was drooling and groaning like a toddler just getting control of her hands. they were goooooooooooooooood. but, the rest of the days… ? meh. nothing to take note of except…. dessert.

the real treat for me was the treats. i have a wicked sweet tooth. wicked. and every evening there were three new yummies to choose from. Tatiana is a dessert lover and she and i would discuss the dessert menu at length with one another before i made my choice. the best recommendation, the best choice and the best dessert was the crème brûlée. hands down. i do not have any photos of the foods i ate, but we’ll make do with this one:

ohhhhh.. the layers of deliciousness...

and while we’re at it, let’s get a definition of it:

Crème brûlée ( /ˌkrɛm brˈl/; French pronunciation: [kʁɛm bʁyle]), also known as burnt cream, crema catalana, or Trinity cream is a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel. It is normally served cold. The custard base is traditionally flavored with vanilla. The earliest known reference of crème brûlée as we know it today appears in François Massialot‘s 1691 cookbook.

sweet candy and Jessica Tandy! (thank you Donna Tubbs-Brown). now. tell me, what is not delectable and inviting about that photo? tell me you don’t wanna bite it. i do! i can almost taste it right now.. that rich vanilla custard base, so smooth and flawless. covered by the thinnest layer of heaven, i mean, burnt caramelized sugar and topped with a few berries. oh lord it was good. how could you deny a recipe that’s eighty-five years older than the country we live in?? — well, that i live in??? and truth be told, this was my FIRST crème brûlée. before i dove face first into the shallow dish, i had flashback from a favorite movie, Amelie, when she discusses her love of the little nuances in life; including cracking the caramelized sugar with a spoon:

it is the impish grin that eludes to the joy contained within a crème brûlée

and immediately looks into the camera to ensure that you share her excitement.

i know that when Tatiana placed the dish before me i sighed. she said “and for you, crème brûlée” with her estonian accent and that added to the loveliness. as she walked away she said “enjoy TAH-knee-SHUH” and winked at me. i sighed again, picked up my spoon, closed my eyes and took a second to revel in the anticipation of the delight before me.

3, 2, 1 — SMACK! the crunchiness crunching and then the first bite. oh, heavenly goodness. so rich and delicious. it was everything i had hoped for and more. the joy of cracking the caramelized sugar was fun and i think i wore that same smile. i don’t know if there was conversation. i didn’t feel the boat rocking or moving as i did at every other sitting. i didn’t see or hear anything. the crème brûlée devoured me, and i in turn, devoured it. i wish i had one now.

so, all in all, i had basic breakfasts and lunches. nothing outstanding or rare. i had one memorable dinner and one unforgettable dessert. i have no complaints. at all.

my darlings! we have come to the end of this cruise adventure. the elation of the vacation has come to an end. thank you for walking slowly with me down this detailed recount of everything that i could remember. i know that i will think of more later and perhaps, there will be a part six. only time will tell. i so appreciate your time, effort and attentiveness in continuing to return for more.

the cruise is over, but the memories are forever burned into the soul of Brown Sugar Britches. this was an experience unlike any other. i am grateful for having had the opportunity. i am more grateful now that i’ve had time to simmer with the ideas and relay the awesomeness to you. until next time… do stay sweet!

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the beauty of baking

... a work in progress and the comfortable insurance by the knowledge that "something is in the oven"...

life can be stressful. full of lists. full of tasks and errands. things to do, things to buy, places to go and entertainment for the eye. what’s your form of self-induced personal therapy? i’ve discovered over my blahtey-blah years that myyyyyy therapy, my way to therapize myself is to bake. yes, bake. baking, with like, an oven and stuff inside. june cleaver housewife style with utensils, gadgets and an ever-handy-and-extremely-cute apron. it is not just a therapy but a calling. a hobby. a lucrative interest. it’s fun and the reward is obvious: tasty treats to devour… umm, i mean share.

needless to say, i take my baking very seriously. not so serious that everything is measured down to the pinch and recipes followed in a sterile manner, but serious enough that i do not make or take phone calls while baking. i’m serious about it in a way that makes it so rewarding for me, and through word of mouth, for my  taste testers as well. i wouldn’t say that i can bake “anything”. i certainly have a familiar repertoire. i mostly focus on desserts, but i would be a lie if i didn’t say that i was kinda-known for my homemade handmade chicken pot pie. i think it’s to die for. it is one of those recipes that impresses more each time i make it. i am also pseudo-famous for my gramma’s recipe banana bread. that recipe is going to make me millions one day. hopefully i get the opportunity to go professional and worldwide with it. it’s gonna knock yo socks off!

in the meantime, i have dabbled in this that and the other. i have an extensive collection of recipes, cookbooks and seven years worth of “Cooking Light” magazine. i grew up in a one-woman household. that woman, lucky for me, was my grandmother. she had a group home for developmentally disabled adult men. she was their sole care-provider, and in-home chef. there were four of them, “the boys” as we referred to them, she and i. so everyday she cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for six people. it is because of her, that i owe my love of food. now, let me be clear, i am NO foodie. not a foodie, not at all. i have a very limited set of “likes” where food is concerned. but that doesn’t stop me. she also taught me how to bake. i taught me how to cook (many years later), with the help of all those cooking light magazines, several choice cookbooks, and a lot of cooking tv. not to mention, the short time that i spent working under chef Jonathan at the convention center.

now, with that said, let me tell you why i love to eat, cook, and more specifically, why i love to bake. i have been loitering in kitchens my entire life. literally. having grown up with my grandmother in the group home setting, she spent a lot of time in the kitchen and i wasn’t far. i didn’t study her and mimic her every move, but i watched and surveyed. i’d ask a few questions from time to time. she would always answer without skipping a beat. i didn’t know it then, but there’s a huuuuuuuge amount of timing involved with the preparation of a three-course meal for dinner everyday. she taught me basic cooking techniques and everyday use of tools and other kitchen equipment.

as well, the bestie and i grew up across the street from one another. when i would spend the night, we would get up in the night after all other house dwellers had nodded off for the evening, and just sit in the kitchen. back then, there was a square wooden butcher block dealy-bob, on wheels, in the middle of the kitchen. it was the perfect ottoman for us, and the kitchen counter became some sort of tile covered recliner. we would pick at the ever-present food items; not excluding: a barrage of fresh fruit, some sort of bread or pastry type item and perhaps some leftovers from the previous meal or something from nanny’s house, all the while talking and laughing.

speaking of nanny, she was and continues to be the other thriving influence in the kitchen. she’s the only lady i’ver ever known to blowout two kitchen aid stand-up mixers. “doin’ what?”, ya ask. everything you can imagine. nanny is my bestie’s gramma. she’s from arkansas and was married to papaw for 60 years before he left her in charge of his dog. if you’re looking for nanny, you haven’t been in the kitchen. shannon (my bestie) and i grew up spending occasional weekends at nanny’s house. she was a certifiable short order chef every morning. she would ask in her adorable southern drawl:

“what youn’s want tah eat?”

and as adolescent brats our answer was most often:

“i don’t know”

her response was the same, without fail:

“well if youn’s don’t tell me, i can’t fix it.”

ahhhhhh, the good ole days. she would make for each of us, whatever we wanted. for certain, there were going to be biscuits and eggs. i think sausage and gravy was also a menu staple. nanny would make us … get this… homemade pop-tarts from leftover homemade pie crust and plum jelly, made from the tree in her front yard. what is not to love about that? i watched nanny make biscuits, dumplings, and all the cookies, cakes and pies you can imagine. she fries a mean chicken breast too. i watched her mix and make the most delicious food with her two little hands. the kitchen remained spotless and the refrigerator was always full.

that’s a lot of time in and around kitchens and all i was doing, at the time, was eating. out of that came a fondness for southern cooking, a need to sit or stand in or about the kitchen and a need for fresh fruit. my mom loves to cook too. visits home are always the best as i am provided the arriving meal of my choice: spaghetti and homemade half-wheat/half-white bread. mmmmm… good stuff. my mom taught me how to put what i liked together into something to love. she also taught me that i needed to make Love, my special ingredient. without love, nothing would turn out right.

so, as you can see, my love of cooking is organic. it comes from deep inside me. i love every aspect of it. from preparation to service. i most enjoy the bringing together of ingredients to create one masterpiece. i think that is why i enjoy baked goods so much. they all seem to start with the greatest of all cooking trifectas: butter, sugar and eggs. the only thing that varies is the ratio, temperature and mix time. isn’t that an amazing little factoid? the difference between a cookie, a cake and bread is just exactly how much you have of each of those items.

i’m going to say that where cooking and baking are concerned, i tend to stick to the script. i don’t usually vary from any given recipe too much. i believe that the learning is in using the recipe to make your ultimate goal. i also believe in conquering each recipe for its ratio, taste and texture secrets and then adapting that recipe for your own fiendish fun. methods and techniques are extremely important and necessary when baking. a recipe is simply a set of instructions. but it’s a detailed list and you can pretty much assure yourself that it is as abridged as it can possibly be. removing steps from a recipe is like skipping steps in math. you might have a reasonable facsimile of the final product, but something is not quite right. i use a recipe until i know it by heart. until i can know, by sight, how well it’s going to work.

baking is a controlled chaos. i clean up before i mess up, so that i may clean as i go in hopes of having a clean kitchen when i’m done. i pull my ingredients from the cabinets, drawers and refrigerator and line them up. i measure them all with my level of accuracy and start my process. as i learned in home economics, i familiarize myself with the recipe before starting. i try to have all the utensils and ingredients ready to go. step by step to the finished product. oh what fun.

and now that i have given you the why, i would like to share the how. i am not a professional by any means, but i am an enthusiast. who knows what will happen?? but in the meantime i would like to share with you my love of cooking, (mostly baking) and the wonderful side affects. enjoy!

(that means i’ll be back later with recipes, pictures and yummy reviews)