Tater Tots a Lots

I can remember the gentle aromas of fine cuisines—like my mother’s shrimp scampi with a hint of tang from the lemon juice—guiding me through the halls and toward the kitchen like a wisp of the wild. I can imagine the flush of aromas from restaurant kitchens each time the solid-wood double doors make their iconic swing—back and forth, back and forth. Each swing of those mahogany doors, a snapshot of the next entrée or appetizer, a new flush of the senses. All these scents swirl in memory and fantasy, some delicate and others robust to the senses, almost intoxicating. All such dishes linked to a memory of fine flavors and fine dining with the whole family. The scents and flavors of dishes cooked and presented in the best of fashions. However, sometimes, “in the best of fashions,” can simply be a man, his tots, and an oven. Along with fine-dining delights, I remember the smells of not-so-complicated dishes playing cat and mouse with my urges to eat (EVERYTHING) whilst drunk on mine or my friends’ couch. These not-so-complicated dishes can be any number of things, but I’ll talk about one of my favorites, tater tots and one of the best ways to enjoy tater tots. Sometimes that’s all you need.

In my younger years, I’ve spent a few drunken nights stretched across the couch, sprawling my hands across the coffee table for the bowl of tater tots, my aim never being quite on par while under the influence—hands first smacking the remote, a couple gas station receipts, a half-eaten bag of chips, and almost the ash tray (no Bueno). At that point, you’re in a sort of “nom nom” state, casually named after the sound of the intoxicated scarfing down of handful after handful of those delicious tots.

My roots run deep with drunken tater tots and those roots have since evolved. Throughout the years, I have experimented with many different combinations with my tater tots including: melted cheese, ketchup or barbecue sauce, chili, and even some unmentionables, but I can promise you none compare to tater tot casserole. Tater tot casserole tops all in the ventures of tater tot creations. The first time I tried this wonderful creation it was like Einstein has explained relativity to me, I was dumbfounded. I was sitting at the dinner table in my dad’s home, and the neurons in my brain were popping like popcorn, because my taste buds just couldn’t comprehend the blend of flavors. It is quite possibly the best way to enjoy tater tots. The ingredients are like, “Man, is this is unhealthy, but damn is it good.” I’d thought about eating this dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but then I thought about the crane they’d need to get me out of the house and I thought not. If you like your drunken tots, then I suggest you make this before the day-drinking party begins and feed it to your friends.



1 small onion                                       3 lbs. tater tots

1 can cream of chicken                                    French’s Fried Onions

1 pint sour cream                                             Shredded Cheese (chef’s choice)


The first thing you’ll want to do is preheat the oven to 350⁰ Fahrenheit. Next, chop that onion like you’re the king or queen of Fruit Ninja. Set that aside for a moment. Then, combine the sour cream, cream of chicken, and chopped onion in a large bowl.

Next add your choice of cheese. I prefer a 4-cheese blend with some cheddars in there. You can either add the shredded cheese in with your gooey gloppy, blob of a delicious mess in the bowl, or you can save it for later and top your casserole with the cheese. Personally, I like to toss it in with the mixture and then add a little more to the top for that little bit of glory.

Take a casserole dish and layer your tater tots on the bottom of it. Take your glob of soon-to-be deliciousness and pour it over the tater tots, spreading it with a rubber spatula, or whatever tool your post Cro-magnon man-sized brain devises. Then, top off the blend with some of that scrumdiliumptious shredded cheese. Don’t cut the cheese; those smells don’t mix.

Place the dish in the oven on the middle rack and bake for around 45 minutes, or until it’s golden brown. In the last 5 minutes of baking, sprinkle some French’s Fried Onions on top. Remove from oven and let cool. I recommend  mixing everything before drinking and then heat and serve.



Posted in Food Essays--Spring 2017, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Sweet Smells of Summertime Goulash

Summertime. Literally the best time of the year and the only time my Grandmother makes her famous “Goulash”. You may ask yourself, “why a goulash in the summer and not like a salad or something’? Well, one, it’s literally the best damn thing ever, and two because it is a meal that brings my 15-stirring-saucefamily together as a whole, which is something that’s very difficult due to schedules and the mere size of our family. But no matter how stressed, tired, or whatever you are, she expects your ass there”! She makes this dish in the summer time to be sure she has the freshest ingredients on hand, so she says. But it’s funny because her definition of the “freshest ingredients” are her freshly grown peppers from her garden that is usually undertaken by rabbits and beetles, but still turns out some amazing veggies. It is also a time when we can sit outdoors and enjoy the smells and sights of Mother Nature as a family. In my opinion the best day having this meal is on a summer evening preferably Fridays around 5:30-6:00pm when the sun is setting and it’s not so hot out, with the sky full of beautiful blues, oranges, and reds, the smell of summer in the air that is swept under your nose by the slightest breeze, hanging out on the back deck with the tiki torches lit to rid of the pesty insects, while my grandparents’ dog runs wild barking usually at nothing, it’s just so cozy. I spend a good amount of time at my grandmothers during the summertime. As a family we all do. I love being around my family and the crazy atmosphere that comes with everyone being together, almost similar to the movie Home Alone, the very first scene where the family is going crazy packing up for their family trip, the chaos just makes the moment for me. Any other time of the year we are handling the stresses of the holidays, school, work, and hibernating, so the summer is a good time to come together talk about life goals, accomplishments, laugh especially at the one who spills sauce on themselves first, and to devour some famous goulash cherishing the moments we have together.

Goulash, that name always makes me laugh, like who on earth even came up with that name? I actually just tried looking up its origin via a google search and it was just a hot mess (pun intended). One thing that I love about this meal is the preparation. It usually involves my mother helping my grandma which usually ends in what sounds like a bunch of hens cackling. On occasion you will hear my mother blurt “for Christ sake Ma, LET ME HELP”, and then my grandma will usually respond, “Get the hell out of the kitchen Laur, pour yourself some wine, and relax”! Which then she responds, “fine mother, I will enjoy my wine and then continue pestering your ass in the kitchen”! It always makes me laugh on how they are with one another, and of course, it is all in a playful manner. I hope one day when I cook for my crazy family me and my mother will have those types of conversations, they make for great comedic skits!

Meanwhile, I think the best part is just sitting on my grandmothers back deck listening to my aunts (four of them mind you) give us all words of wisdom on each different aspect of life. Usually, the most common words of wisdom are,“get your head out of your ass and work hard for what you want in life”. Or another such as, “Don’t get old and miserable like me”. – Quoted by my Aunt Cathy. And mind you those quotes don’t normally apply to me because I am obviously the best nephew, son, and grandchild of course!

My grandfather who has since passed would always bust my chops when it came to dinner, telling me I was picking like a bird when it came to food. Except for his famous spaghetti sauce that he would make and would always want me to “test” it for taste (we never let grandma know of this haha). I think that is why I have such a connection to Italian sauces. My grandfather was known for his spaghetti sauce, and my grandmother is known for her tasty goulash. Man, if only we could go back in time to when they were so competitive with each other. Fighting on who makes the best sauce, and then talking about how certain people show up for whose dinner, it was hilarious. These two people practically raised me as a child, since my mother was always working raising two children on her own, myself included. The smells of Italian food always bring back those good memories. You know. The memories where your entire family is sitting around laughing, talking about the weather, the news, sometimes politics (man my grandfather would get so worked up, but it was always hilarious to me), and just the good of what is going on in everyone’s lives. I think the most significant part of the goulash recipe is the smell it throws in the air. The sweet smell of the sauce, peppers, onions, and spices, how their scent travels throughout the house making it smell like an Italian Restaurant you would come across in Italy. They say scent is the strongest sense to memory, and they are right about that. This goulash recipe is a recipe of memories, reminding me that family is where my heart is.

Goulash Recipe:

1 cup of fresh diced onion

½ cup of diced red peppers

½ cup of diced green peppers

1 clove of garlic

2 cans of hunts tomato sauce

1 6oz can of tomato paste

1 package of ground beef (organic)

1 basil leaf (taken out after sauce is cooked)

*throw in some of grandmothers secret Italian seasonings and some love ❤

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A Very Cherry Tradition

Caroline Leahy
ENG230 Final Food Essay
cherry tree

In the Leahy household, seasons revolve around their own types of smell. For example, fall holds a strong role of cinnamons, apples, and spiced pumpkins. The winter fills our kitchen with the aroma of chicken noodle soup as my father puts in hours chopping vegetables. The spring takes on a fresh baked-goods scent and flowers as the sun makes its way back into the weather reports. The thing is, food brings back memories. Summer may be the greatest nostalgic scent of them all: June is the month of cherries.

I blame my intense sweet tooth on my grandmother. Baking should be her middle name. Ever since I can remember, she has always had a thing for cherries – and an even bigger thing for picking them herself. Out of all the tiny fruits to choose from within the berry family, she insisted that these are the best to make pies from. The woman is smart, for blueberries would take years to pick enough, and are not nearly as sweet as cherries.

Every year in the early days of June, all of the cousins come together from all around the state, and spend an early morning filling sacks with handfuls of fresh cherries. If one has never been to a cherry-tree orchard, let’s just say they are massive and beautiful. Once at arrival, we all set out through the countless rows of trees and begin picking – our burlap sacs quickly becoming filled (and becoming very heavy). Trees bare cherries in bundles, so the sacks fill up rather easily. However, the key is to pick fruits that are hard in texture (only cheaters go for the soft cherries – they are the most abundant in the summer sun but the hard ones provide the most flavor). It’s not difficult to understand just how many bundles to pick, for once when I asked my grandmother how she seems to always know the perfect amount to pick before stopping, she simply said: “Oh Caroline, you just keep picking until you can’t pick anymore!”. The woman was right. And anyways, the more cherries the better.  By the end of the morning, with pounds of cherries, slightly sunburnt cheeks, and stained finger tips, we head back to my grandma’s house to continue the tradition.

The thing with cherries that sets them apart from other berries is the huge pit they contain in the middle. No one likes a pie filled with cherry pits, so the next step is to de-pit every cherry picked. Thankfully it is June and the weather is beautiful, so the cousins gather around on the porch and begin splitting open the cherries one by one. My guess is that people have realized how tedious a task it is to split open each cherry, so now there are special piping tools made of metal that gracefully split the cherry perfectly in half with much ease. But before buying these, my family has found that chopsticks can do quite the trick as well. Some of my little cousins still prefer this method as well; it is not until five pairs of broken chopsticks later that they cave in and use the piping tools.

I know what your thinking: an afternoon filled with cherry splitting in the hot sun sounds rather awful! Well, there is something to be said about being surrounded by loved ones, sitting in the summer sun with the sweet aroma of cherries filling the air. What makes the most of it all is the good company. My cousins and I only see each other on special occasions, some maybe only once a year, so the stories we have to share are endless. The whole event in itself is rather humorous, so it makes for a day filled with laughing at one another over the stories we tell, the memories we have, and the buckets upon buckets of cherries we all still have yet to split.

By the time we finish, we are left with legitimate buckets of split open cherries, gossip-filled ears, dark-red fruit stains traveling up to our wrists, and a grandmother with a warmed heart knowing her family is happy all around her. Seeing her happy like that really reminds you that it is the little things in life we must cherish the most. The pie shells on the other hand, have been eagerly waiting.


The Sweetest Pie You’ll Ever Try

Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 60 minutes Total: 1hr. 30 minutes Servings: Approximately 8

Ingredients (per 1 pie):

  1. 4 ½ cups fresh (mixed with sweat and laughter tears) whole pitted cherries
  2. ¼ cup cornstarch
  3. ⅔ cup sugar
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for flavor
  5. ¼ cup almond extract
  6. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  7. ⅛ teaspoon salt
  8. 1 tablespoon cold butter
  9. 1 egg yolk
  10. 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

How to Make the Filling (the best part):
*Heat oven to 400 degrees*

  1. In a large bowl, mix in vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon juice, and a hint of salt.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together before adding in the cherries (keep the cherries fresh – do not mash them or crush them. The best bites of pie are filled with whole, sweet cherries). Do not stir – gently toss to combine.

Pie Crust:

  1. Roll out a 13 inch circle of dough (make sure the dough is at room temperature).
  2. Spoon cherry pie filling into the crust – discard the liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Only go for the thick stuff and make sure to dot the corners of the crust with cold butter -this will hold the folding in place.
  3. Use a knife (or even scissors – whatever is easier just please not chopsticks for Gods sake) to cut the second half of dough approximately ¾ inch from the edge of the pie. This will be used to top the masterpiece you are almost done creating.

How to Perfect the Folds of  a Perfect Pie:

  1. Gently place the top layer of dough over the entire pie. Begin folding the top layer over the bottom layer – getting fancy at this step is allowed as long as the pie is completely closed at the edges. Keep in mind that the border should be about ¼ thicker than the remainder of the crust.
  2. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes before baking.


  1. Whisk together whipping cream and egg yolk. This concoction will be used to drip over your pie and make it sweeter. A baking brush is perfect for this step.
  2. Cut 3-4 slits on the top surface of the pie and FINALLY it is ready for the oven!
  3. Bake for 20 minutes before lowering the heat to 350 degrees, and then bake for another 30-40 minutes. The crust should be a perfect golden brown.



Posted in Food Essays--Spring 2017 | Leave a comment

It Is Easy, Being Cheesy



There are some foods out there that are just perfect in any occasion. Mac and cheese is one of those foods. Imagine coming home from a long day of school and starving for real food. Well actually I don’t know if mac and cheese counts as real food but it’s at least better then that high school cafeteria food. I’d come home with no real experience in making food and create the simplest, most delicious mac and cheese that’s existed. It’s quick, easy and taste like heaven. The best part, is that we always had it; I guess it because of the sales but we always had emergency mac and cheese no matter what. We always had mac and cheese and other leftovers to get creative with.

First off you have to get that boxed Velveeta golden goodness that comes with the cheese sauce and macaroni shells from Kraft; none of that powder trash. Oh, and make sure to squeeze every last ounce of cheese from the Velveeta cheese sauce, every last ounce. The general rule of thumb when it comes to mac and cheese, the more cheese, the better. The shells are my favorite but I’ll give you a factual reason why they are the best. Shells are mini macaroni bowls that hold a nice couple of milliounces of cheese rather than the cheese just being a coat around the macaroni. And to take advantage of the mini bowls, add a splash of milk to make the creamiest, most flavorful mac and cheese that you will ever make. Don’t add too much or else you’ll get some kind of abomination that’s a cross between macaroni and soup. Also don’t forget to add a hint of butter to make the flavors burst.  

I remember one Monday afternoon, after me and my brother had just gotten home from school, we were feeling how we had always been feeling as kids: bored and hungry. To compensate for that we’d always invent some sort of creation to tantalize our taste buds. Ben, my brother, was the master of creating random, delicious food that sounded gross but was actually great. He would take whatever was lying around, mix it all up and just create new recipes. Once, it was literally just a cream cheese and potato chip sandwich…that’s it. But it was really good. And I would run around pretending like I was contributing in some way just so I could try whatever Ben created…but honestly I usually just watched him make it and he was okay with it. One day we decided to create the mac and cheese of all mac and cheeses. It boiled down to mac and cheese with extra added cheeses like slices of cheddar. But the final secret ingredient made the cuisine…hot cheetos. Spice makes everything better, especially if it flavorful spice. But it was beautiful, it was art; red logs in a sea of yellow with a unique addicting taste.

So I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because if I wasn’t making mac and cheese with my brother, I was making it with my Dad. But, it was the weekend and I had just finished doing my dreaded chores and was praying for some compensation. Luckily my dad was a fair man and decided to make some fancy mac and cheese.  Now, the setup was all the same; shells and cheese sauce. But instead of adding hot cheetos he’d add…chilli. You can make your own chilli but we would just dump a can of it over the mac and cheese; it was chilli-cheese dogs without the…dog. When my dad would make it, it would be very different from Ben’s and mine recipe and it wasn’t because of the ingredients. When my brother and I cooked, we cooked to eat, to get nourishment, to stop being hungry. But my dad cooked because he loved to cook. When I watched my brother cook, all I thought about was the food but when my dad cooked, I seemed to focus on his movements; the way he would gently rip open the sauce packet and stir with his wrists. It was always amazing to see how focused he’d all-of-a-sudden get on the food. He cooked everything just the right amount, he’d add the perfect amount of chilli, he was just passionate and you could taste that in the mac and cheese.

The beauty of this mac and cheese is that you can make it as complicated or as simple as you want. Whether Ben and I were starving and just wanted something to munch on or whether we were bored and just wanted to create a fun pastime mac and cheese was there for us. The importance of the mac and cheese never really came from the AMAZING taste although it was really good; it was just the memories those mac and cheese boxes created. It was how the mac and cheese would bring my family together even when we were busy.

Ingredients: Pretty Straight Forward

Krafts Velveeta Shells & Cheese Original with Creamy Cheese Sause and Shell Pasta

Extra Cheese Slices or Cheese Sticks, preferably pepper jack sliced

Tiny bit of Whole Milk

Hot Cheetos (optional)

Canned Chilli (optional, please don’t mix with the hot cheetos)

Steps: Pretty Straight Forward

1) Fill a pot with water and macaroni and cook it until it’s soft

2) Dump the water and fill the pot with creamy cheese sauce and mix vigorously

3) Quickly add extra wanted cheese to make sure it melts and chilli after that to keep it warm

4) Add the spit of milk and continue to mix

5) Finally add any extras before the mac and cheese cools down (chilli OR hot cheetos)

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A Bounty of Blueberries

Okay, so I’ve made it clear that I have an obsession with fruit.  With most fruits, if it doesn’t come from a farm in my area, it does not satisfy me.  Fruit from outside origins is tastes strange and bland to me.  I do not act this way with any other food, save desserts.  I am all about sweets.

When I look back at my memories, I clearly see that this was an obsession that started when I was little and only grew with time.  And it, not surprisingly, started in my own backyard.

I really don’t remember when my father first planted our blueberry bushes: they were always just there.  We’ve added and subtracted from our collection over the years, but two tidy rows of four and five bushes decorate a small section of our yard, and from these four and five bushes have come many happy memories.

In June, the blueberries show themselves and my father collects both my brother and myself, and together we go to the patch and pick.  This is, for me at least, a long and sweaty ordeal.  Summer is my least favorite season because I despise the heat.  I do, however, adore the bounty the season provides, and hence I go outside.

I vividly remember being a child with my brother, my best friend, and her older sister.  We would gather on the side of my yard closest to their side of the yard under the black walnut trees.  We would then gather sticks from beneath those trees and build a fort that my father would tolerate for a week.  Whenever we got hungry, we would take a “Blueberry Break” and head down to the bushes to eat.  I was the one who suggested these breaks the most often, and I suggested them to the point where my brother told me we wouldn’t finish the fort.  On this particular occasion, my father left our fort alone for two weeks.  The fort was the biggest one we ever built, and all four of us could sit in it comfortably on newspaper cushions.  We talked, played Pokémon on our Gameboys, and had a blast until the novelty of it wore off and we played as we normally did without it.

Perhaps this is why my brother picks quickly and usually goes back inside first.  He learned in his childhood that if he works hard now, he’ll be done quicker and can escape the misery of the heat quicker.  So he returns to the air conditioning and my father lags behind only because he’s helping me fill my quart bucket.  I don’t know why I pick slowly.  I just do.  And I must admit that a berry or two or ten doesn’t quite make it to the bucket.

Having picked four quart buckets full, we emerge from the heat into the air-conditioned cushions of the sofa in the kitchen.  While we were outside, my mother has been busy baking a crust.  I sit, antsy with anticipation.  My mother takes half of the berries and creates a sauce with them.  Then she mixes the raw berries with the sauce in the crust and puts it in the fridge.

This is where we have to wait.  In order to not have blueberries cascade everywhere when we cut the pie, the pie must sit in the fridge overnight to set.  I sleep, knowing that breakfast will be quite delicious.

When I wake up, I bound down the stairs.  Both my parents have left for work at this point, and I am either home alone or with my brother.  Either way that pie is mine.

If my mother didn’t have time to make the whipped cream that goes on top of the pie, I make it myself.  It’s simple really: heavy cream, sugar, vanilla extract, boom.  Delightful white fluff is ready.

This pie makes summer mornings worth waking up to.  We usually manage to pick and eat our way through three or four of these pies, which is fine with me.

As I said, I’m obsessed with fruit.  Fruit has always been my Dad’s thing, too.  He and I go to multiple fruit farms over the summer to pick and buy fresh fruit.  It’s become something that the two of us do, and I love it.  And where, exactly, did all this start?  Between two tidy rows of blueberry bushes in my own backyard.  While blueberries are a pain and a half to pick, I love them.  They remind me of simpler times, of happier times, and of happy times yet to come.  They remind me that the bad things will pass away soon, if only I’m willing to wait.  They remind me that patience and persistence lead to sweet rewards: rewards that grow sweeter and sweeter with time.

So I pick blueberries with my family.  So I pick blueberries with the summer sun.  So I reap what I sow, and the harvest is good.


Blueberry Pie:

8 cups (4 quarts) of blueberries

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

1 cup flour

2/3 cup Crisco

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

First: make the crust.  Mix the flour with the Crisco and then add enough water to make it a dough (usually around ¼ cup needed).  Roll it flat and place inside a 9 inch deep-dish.  Make sure to drape some dough over the edge of the dish.  Poke holes in the crust with a fork and place in an oven at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Once the crust is out of the oven and cooled, mix 2 cups of Blueberries with the sugar, cornstarch, and water.  Boil for two minutes while stirring constantly.  Pour the remaining 6 cups of berries into the crust, then pour the mix on top.  Make sure to stir, spread out, and place in the fridge overnight.

Once the rooster has crowed five times, make the whipped cream.  Whisk 2 cups of heavy cream and ¼ cup sugar for a really long time.  When the fluff is almost ready, add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.  Spoon this gorgeous white fluff on top of the pie and eat to your heart’s content!!

Posted in Food Essays--Spring 2017 | Leave a comment

Dirt and Worms:   How to Impress and Win Approval of Your Boyfriend’s Parents


First time I ever met my boyfriend’s parents was when invited over to celebrate his 17th birthday the summer after I graduated. My parents were invited over as well so our parents could meet. We had been dating since February, and up till August I had never visited his home. “The driveway is too difficult for cars to handle”, he would protest. Then my car surprisingly maneuvered up their gravel drive with several run off ditches across. After that he would say the Huskies would be difficult to be around. Honestly, he had me there. Those dogs were high energy and getting up the stairs with anything was a heroic feat involving people trying to fend them off from tackling you. This was the first thing I learned upon getting in the house: do not leave an opening and find a seat quick. It was usually due to this that Michael tried to limit having me over quite as often since his house was a constant flurry of activity. I do honestly think he was more worried about me meeting his parent than myself as I was the first person he ever had visit his home and his first girlfriend.

In the weeks before I kept badgering him to tell me about what dessert to bring since I volunteered to provide a dish since his family was kindly offering to feed me and my parents. It was only polite to do so, despite that I rarely ever cooked. However, I could bake decently. Give me directions and I could make cookies, cake, jello, pudding, anything not too fancy or advanced. There are two things that occur when I do take an opportunity to bake: either it’s fantastic or so horrible that no one would touch. In answer to what they liked he said “We are not a huge sweet family, my parents like somewhat plain desserts as my father is from the Netherlands. He hates Oreos and anything really sweet.” My thoughts upon hearing this was, uh-oh. I knew of no desserts that did not taste sweet. I spent over a week comptemplating what to make, apple pie? Peanut butter pie? Cookies? They were all sweet and I knew my options were limited. Which bothered me. I felt I needed some sort of approval from his family. I practically pulled out my hair in worry that anything I made would not be liked. I decided to make at least him happy. Thankfully there was a recipe I knew since I was born: Dirt. Yes, I was going to go dig in my yard a nice huge worm-filled shovelful of earth to feed to my boyfriend’s family for his birthday. Perfect way to get their approval, not sweet in the least.

Wrong idea, dirt is actually a dessert my family on all special occasion have at family gatherings. It would be completely gone by the end due to how popular it was. It is not actually dirt, but a kind of pudding using Oreos and cream cheese. It’s alternate name is Flower Pot since it is layered with pudding and Oreos. On top would be gummy worms for decoration. Contrary to the name flowers were never included since imitation flowers are not really editable. One time Michael, my boyfriend came over for my graduation and tried the dessert with relative suspicion. However, upon tasting the pudding concoction he was in love. “Why is it called dirt? How can someone name something like a dessert such a thing?” He had asked after finishing the dessert. I looked at him almost blank, I did not know why it was called that name other than the dessert appear to look like layers of dirt with worms. “I guess because it’s what it looks like is where the name comes from.” I choose this dessert to bring since I knew he loved it. While I did buy Oreos I remembered his father disliked them. So kept them separated from the desert in a container rather than layer and left out the gummy worms. By the time I created the dessert all I had was pudding. It looked nothing like it should have. The name no longer fit. I had taken away the layers of Oreo cookies and gummy worms which made the dessert. While saddening desperate times had called for such measures.We sat through dinner while our parents conversed about their jobs and fairly got along. The Dirt sat in the fridge waiting along with the Huskies which lurked like land sharks for any morsel of food.

Dessert rolled around and I waited nervously while they took their first taste. My mom and dad were shocked almost upon seeing how I dissected the recipe. My mom remarked how it tasted sweeter than normal. I thought, I messed up even though I cut the sugar in the recipe by half. It should not be sweeter than normal. Surprisingly Michael’s parents loved it and I felt relieved since after my mom’s comment I thought I messed up. “What’s in this? How did you make it?” His mom asked with interest. “Just cream cheese, sugar, milk, and pudding. If you would like I can give you a copy of the recipe?” I replied. By the end of dinner she had a copy, the rest of the desert for later, and Michael thanked me for making him his favorite dessert. Later I heard his father did not like many desserts, but he in the next week would be going through the dessert the most. In the end all that worrying did not matter, nor how I made this dessert. It came to the point whether his parents liked it or not, I learned not to lose focus on the one most important fact: it was Michael’s birthday, not theirs. Remember when baking for a special occasions who this dessert your making it for. However, if it’s a large family gathering such as a reunion bring something generally people love. This recipe is simple, easy to make, and tends to be popular.

Dirt Dessert

TOTAL TIME: Prep: 30 min. + chilling

MAKES: 20 servings



  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar (I halved this)
  • 3-1/2 cups cold milk (I used 2%)
  • 2 packages (3.4 ounces each) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 carton (12 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed


  • Gummy worms (Yum 🙂
  • 1 package (15-1/2 ounces) Oreo cookies, crushed
  • Shaved white chocolate (rarely needed)



  1. Find an occasion you are invited to, and where you are nervous.
  1. Choose a recipe (whether this one or not)
  1. Worry over recipe and badger anyone who you know about what you should make.
  1. Make Dirt: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. In a large bowl, whisk milk and pudding mixes for 2 minutes; let stand for 2 minutes or until soft-set. Gradually stir into cream cheese mixture. Fold in whipped topping.


  1. Spread 1-1/3 cups of crushed cookies into an ungreased 13-in. x 9-in. dish. Layer with half of the pudding mixture and half of the remaining cookies. Repeat layers. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve with shaved white chocolate if desired. Or Just exclude from recipe out of fear someone may not like it at all.
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For the Love of Zucchini

I’ve grown up in a number of different places.  I spent my first few infantile months crammed into a two bedroom apartment in West Pittston, Pennsylvania.  Fast forward to eighteen months and my mother and father were stuck in the hallway of the hotel we were living in because the lock froze during what was purportedly one of the worst blizzards to hit Virginia.  By the time I was four I was living in a development one mile away from Disney World (every four-year old’s dream) in Winter Garden, Florida.  When I think back to the days that I lived in that prefabricated home I can distinctly recall, aside from the fact that I might still be engaged to one of my old babysitters (I never did take that plastic spider ring back), my mother’s baking.  Specifically, her Zucchini Bread, a favorite snack (although it could be a meal if you tried hard enough) of mine.

zucchini 1


My mother is an avid gardener thanks to my Great Grandfather Leo, a secretive Freemason and proud owner of a green thumb.  Thanks to him, my mother grew up growing everything from brussel sprouts, to tomatoes, to zucchini.  She always plants zucchini.  I can distinctly remember many summer days in the sweltering mid-July heat, trying to find a spot of shade somewhere around our seemingly endless (to the mind of a four-year old) cul-de-sac, only to smell my mom’s zucchini bread wafting out of the front patio door.  What possessed her to heat up our small home even more by baking I’ll never understand, not that I was complaining at the time.  After about an hour of resisting (or not resisting as it were) the temptation to run in and start begging, “Mommy, is it ready now? I’m hungry. When is the zucchini ready?” I would be rewarded with a warm, velvety soft slice of heavenly, sumptuous bread.

It was a comfort to me in times when I needed it.  While I might have played Casanova with my erstwhile caretakers, I did not get along very well with peers my own age because of my regular upheaval of homes.  There was one girl in kindergarten named Jessica who would torment me during all hours of the school day.  On one occasion, I was sitting at a table in the lunchroom and my childhood tormentor decided to walk behind me with her full lunch tray and trip herself.  Naturally, she blamed me for it and I was removed from recess for a week after that.  My mother, knowing my frustrations (and suspecting my innocence), was ready and waiting with freshly baked Zucchini Bread when I got home during that week.

Imagine for a moment the pillowy softness of this snack in your mouth.  The moist, baked batter slowly dissolving on your tongue and in your cheek as you chew.  The occasional crunch of a walnut under-tooth.  I don’t think that I could adequately describe just what my mother’s homemade zucchini bread tastes like, but I’ll try:  it’s sweet, but not too sweet, with a slight citrus tang, and an earthy kind of flavor.  I suspect that no matter where I go in life, I’ll always have this connection to her, and to who I am from this one simple snack.  Even now, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, when my mother bakes her zucchini bread I feel safe, loved, and comforted.  If I were to say it tasted like anything, I would say it tastes like home.

zucchini bread 1



Homemade Zucchini Bread


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar

1 cup finely shredded unpeeled zucchini

¼ cup cooking oil

1 egg

¼ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel

½ cup chopped walnuts


In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Mix.

In a separate mixing bowl combine the sugar, shredded zucchini, cooking oil, egg, and lemon peel. Go ahead and mix this too, but maybe throw in a pinch of old childhood memories.

Slowly combine the contents of both bowls and mix until they are just combined. This might be a good time to add bits of your family. Not literally, of course, but how you felt about them when you were young and growing.

Now stir in the walnuts.  Nothing extra here.

Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan. Act like your old four year old self and lick any batter left over out of the bowl. No need for a spoon.

Bake at 350° for about an hour. During that hour, you are required to think nostalgically about some specific memories from when you were young.
Let the loaf cool for 10 minutes before enjoying your own personal slice of home.

Posted in Food Essays--Spring 2017 | Leave a comment