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Episode 12 of Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons.

11265012_947589145292940_401786430629120687_nEpisode 12 is live! Available at Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and your regular podcast outlets. Remember how our grandmothers created different flavors of cake simply by mixing up whatever was in the pantry? Apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg would become an Apple Dapple Cake. Add black walnuts and it’s Nutty Apple Dapple. After talking with Laurie Blakey of Pearl’s Bake Shoppe in Charlottesville (and Richmond), I’m convinced this needs to become a thing. The next dessert trend.

Laurie’s love of cake comes from her grandmother, Pearl, who had a farm in Greene County. Laurie herself is from Albemarle, and first opened a Pearl’s in Richmond with partner Laura Condrey before tackling another shop here on West Main Street. Her commitment to quality and her concept of “Pearl’s Perfect” stems from her grandmother’s passion for baking and attention to detail.  And it’s not just cupcakes. Pearl’s creates scrumptious pies, tarts, macarons, cakepops, you name it! The “Yam Ham” biscuits (country ham and sweet potato) are not to be missed, and Pearl’s wedding cakes have won awards. Virginia Living named Pearl’s cupcakes the best in the state. Laurie firmly believes if you cannot do a perfect vanilla cupcake, you might as well not do any others, and after tasting it, I wholeheartedly agree.

Pearl’s is also dedicated to making sure customers with dietary needs enjoy her cupcakes by spending countless hours researching ingredients for her gluten-free and vegan options. One of the first awards earned was “Most Accommodating to People With Dietary Needs” and this award remains the most precious to Laurie. Her gluten-free and vegan options go beyond just meeting the requirements, but taste sinfully close to something loaded with butter and flour.

We spent so much time talking about our grandmothers, sharing stories, and pouring over old cookbooks some of which are pictured below. Laurie is an awesome storyteller in her own right, and her tale about her 7th birthday is one not to be missed. I hope you’ll join us!

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This episode is sponsored by In A Flash Laser.


I’ve got a love/hate relationship with potluck suppers. I do love the surprise. There’s no set menu. You arrive to find an entire buffet of homemade food, but you have no idea what each dish will be. Like Golden Corral without the spectre of salmonella.

But I hate them too. Because of the self-imposed pressure to perform. Whenever I’m invited to a potluck two thoughts come into my head: What can I bring that’s tasty. And what can I bring that takes almost no effort? While I realize these two things are not always compatible, they end up important because invariably I’m invited to a potluck during a week when I have a dentist appointment, three deadlines, two visitors, a dirty house, and I feel a cold coming on. My head understands no one is standing behind me with a “You Did Good” clipboard to check off. Still, a part of me wants to drop off a gorgeous golden-crusted concoction oozing deliciousness and have everyone exclaim, “You brought that?! Wow!” A part of me wants to win the potluck game.

Potlucks weren’t always so cutthroat in my head. When I was a poor college student and the larder was bare, I went to a few potlucks, not many, as my friends cocktailed, never cooked.* The ones I did attend were Stone Soup affairs. Folks brought what they had and we made do. Usually with cheap jug wine or Milwaukee’s “Beast”. I recall a special New Year’s Eve Gumbo Potluck in particular where everyone got drunk on sangria, then watched “When Buildings Collapse!” on Fox.

The competitive spirit creeped in the older I got. Maybe it was some twisted leftover childhood trauma from how I used to brag excessively about my mother’s cooking, then for our French dinner in middle school she dropped off a sad-looking green bean casserole. I recall a Christmas party in my twenties where I made chocolate paté from the “Great Chefs of San Francisco”. It took hours. And it made a shit-ton. I was eating chocolate paté in July. Not that’s a bad thing. Then there were the neighborhood picnics where I sweated and slaved over massaged kale like it was an Olympic hopeful before saying, “Fuck It!” and making a cold semi-Asian chicken salad from my Dinner Doctor cookbook.

I blame Food Porn, or what I lovingly call “Food Pron”. Ever since food became fetish it has to be camera ready. Dripping in delicious succulence and ready for its closeup. Which means it probably has to be fancy. Or at least involve bacon or tweezers. Because comforting casseroles and deviled eggs don’t scream, “Do me now! Do me hard!”

Case in point. The Friendsgiving event I attended a few weeks ago hosted by Our Local Commons. Now I love this event. I look forward to it every year. Local food purveyors, restaurant folks, and enthusiasts gather with their potluck offerings to give thanks, to drink local cider and beer, to gorge, and to collect funds for a local charity. And every year I sweat what to bring. Because these guys are professionals. And I’m just a scribbler who aligns herself with the professionals and hopes they’ll allow her to join the party.

And every year the food is stunning. Just Bon Appétit meets Gourmet magazine stunning. Without the benefit of food stylists. This year was no exception. Sizzling bacon-wrapped dates from Mas Tapas. Mushroom Tarragon Pithivier from The Spice Diva. Succulent roasted goat from The Ivy Inn. Buttery cauliflower paté, yes foie gras tasting stuff made from cauliflower! Gorgeous Pumpkin Cake with Salted Caramel Cream from Maliha Creations. Perfectly fondanted (fondant? seriously?) Hummingbird Cake. Just to name a few. And the taste? So good I want to give up.

So what’s a poor scribbler to do? Give up. Well, okay not give up, but settle for dishes I know at least taste good. They may not win any food stylist awards, but they’ll make your tummy happy. Last year I brought Cathy Fields’s Big Stone Gap Corn Pudding which doesn’t look like much but is guaranteed to add 5 pounds to your frame. This year I brought my Muddy’s Pound Cake. With some fancy schmancy apple butter from Paul Virant that I got from Fire, Flour, & Fork to slather on top. He’s a Michelin-starred chef from Chicago. I figured a little highbrow butter on some homespun cake couldn’t hurt.

How did the Friendsgiving turn out? I ate my weight in succulent bacon-wrapped dates and drank about a gallon of bourbon apple cider. Marveled at how gorgeously delicious a mushroom tarragon pithivier can be. Roasted mushrooms marry themselves with the licorice of the tarragon and the flake of the pastry (pithivier is a puff pastry pie, yes, I had to look it up) and make your tummy happy.

The ultimate chagrin? I went to cut a slab of Muddy’s Pound Cake to find only one thin sliver missing. But the apple butter was GONE. G-O-N-E gone. Sigh. Fancy-schmancy wins again. Sure, Muddy’s Bundt is homely. But in taste? It’s fucking gorgeous. Buttery, light, with the best part the chewy-browned outside layer. Like the best Blondie you ever had. Even better topped with the last vestiges of the apple butter. It added about 5 pounds to my frame. Which seems to be my new criteria for a good potluck addition.

So sure, the good-looking cakes cleared out pretty quick, while once again my homely contribution sat on its Dixie paper plate. That’s fine. Because at the end of the night there was more for me to take home. You can have your fancy cakes. I’ll pick my Muddy’s recipe every time. Not only is it a way to remember and honor her memory, in my humble opinion, it just tastes better.

Thank you to Our Local Commons, and all of the folks who made Friendsgiving possible this year. I truly enjoyed it. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Remember, whether your dishes are gorgeous or homely, no one is standing behind you with a clipboard. You’re fine. As long as the dish tastes good, everybody wins. Cheers!

*Ironically, one is now a chef while the other owns a restaurant. Go figure.

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Fire, Flour & Fork. Part 2.

When I was 22, I had a dinner engagement with Joyce Carol Oates and I stood her up. Didn’t call or send a message. I just didn’t go. Yes, THAT Joyce Carol Oates. The uber-prolific National Book Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of We Were the Mulvaneys, and Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart. Her. I’m just naming the novels I know even though she’s written like 60? Not including essays and short story collections. Unbelievably talented, Mount Rushmore novelist. Chance of a lifetime.

And I didn’t go. At the time I was a freshman in college and my English professor saw something in me which I later discovered was a virginal youthfulness he wished to exploit and sleep with, but at the time I thought was a hope and concern for my burgeoning writing talent. My mentor turned out to be what Lena Dunham calls a “Sunshine Stealer”, just a dirty old man looking for a jolt of youth. And sex. But that’s a whole other story for another time. And we’re here to talk about Joyce. And Fire, Flour & Fork I swear.

The professor noticed me reading “Because it is Bitter…” in class and invited me to a dinner he was hosting for her. I was thrilled. Immediately went home and crammed another two books of hers in so I would appear knowledgeable and worldly. Which wasn’t easy since she’s prolific in the length of her novels as well. But when he called the night before and said he’d arranged for me to sit NEXT to Ms. Oates, I panicked. I’d hoped to smile discreetly from afar and maybe say a few words. Sit next to her at dinner? The whole night?! My social anxiety flooded up tsunami fashion. I didn’t go. Hid in my apartment for a week in case I ran into him, or by some weird possibility her, even though we’d never met. When I finally returned to class I mumbled, shrugged, and acted about as interested in literature as I was in contacting Ebola.

All this is a long way of saying I’m terrified of meeting my heroes. Always have been. It’s completely irrational. My head tells me they’re just people, but my heart, my gut sends up a ticker tape message along the lines of, “They’re better than you, they’re smarter than you, they’ve done more with their lives than you,” which runs on a loop until I end up in a corner with the shakes.

Case in point. When Anthony Bourdain was here, I purchased the VIP tickets, but did I get my book signed? Hell no! I sat in the back and stared at him like a crazed stalker, completely petrified. What on earth could I say to him or Eric Ripert that would be even remotely cool or intelligible? I was content my question, “What’s your favorite secret junk food vice?” was asked during their talk. That’s as close as I wanted to get. Another time at a dinner hosted by Chefs Michael Symon, Jonathan Waxman, and Bobby Flay, all I could do was grin like a buffoon.

Sadly, it was the same story for the Appalachian Memoir dinner at Fire, Flour & Fork. Chef Sean Brock was in the restaurant all night, but the most I could manage was a creepy smile in passing on my way to the bathroom. He wasn’t even looking in my direction and still my heart jumped up in my throat like a fucking spider cricket! Imagine talking?! Visions of gobbeldy-gook spewing out of my mouth like verbal diarrhea about how much I love, admire, and seriously CRUSH on him during every episode of The Mind of a Chef flooded my brain. No thank you. I’ll just smile and pretend my heart isn’t pounding out of my chest thank you very much.

Which left me even more nervous to meet another hero of mine, Chef Christina Tosi. Tosi, pastry chef at David Chang’s Momofuku Milk Bar, is a native Virginian, and a MASTER in the art of sweets. I made her cornflake, marshmallow, and chocolate chip cookies last Christmas, but substituted Fruity Pebbles as suggested in her cookbook, Milk. My family loves them and to this day calls them “Crack Cookies”.

Coincidentally, at her cooking demonstration she’d be making Crack Pie, one of her signature creations. This decadent confection resembles more a dense sticky toffee pudding than anything in a crust. Imagine a chess pie that’s chewier, sweeter, nuttier, and more buttery. Nestled in an oat cookie crust, this pie is so sweet your cavities will cry out in protest. I couldn’t wait to see her bake it.

I so dearly with all my baker’s soul wanted to ask her a question about an original pie creation I was working on. But would I have the courage? From the way I’d just acted at the dinner I thought not, but I also knew this might be my only chance to get an expert opinion. I mean, how badly did I want to win next year’s Charlottesville Pie Fest anyway? Pretty badly it turns out.

Her demonstration was amazing, a true expression of what public speaking with cooking utensils could be. Chef Tosi was engaging, funny, self-deprecating, and so at ease in front of a crowd it’s like she cooks in public every morning of her life. She mixed, rolled, kneaded and dusted, talking with an easy way and knowledge about all things pastry. I hated her. When she stated, “Milk powder is MSG for pastry chefs,” I scribbled it down furiously, tweeted it out, and sighed in wistfulness and envy that she could be so relaxed, so quippy, with an effortlessness and ease I’d never known. Not once.

“Milk powder is MSG for pastry chefs.” —-Chef Christina Tosi

After her demo, and after we’d all inhaled a slice of Crack Pie like it was medicine, I somehow found the courage to get an autograph for my well-worn copy of “Milk”. Maybe it was the intense sugar rush, or the fact I’m just over my damn self already and sick to death of my fears, but somehow I found the wherewithal to stand in line. I even spoke with two elderly ladies who’d never heard of Tosi, but had enjoyed the Crack Pie and were wondering which breakout session to attend next. I practiced talking to Tosi by talking to them, probably too much, even giving them my recipe for Tomato Candy of all things. I could hear myself babbling. I’m sure it was the nervousness. Or the sugar. Or both.

By the time I got to my hero, I was on a roll. I’d heard her tell someone she’d gone to UVA and latched onto that. Asked her about UVA, commented on the beautiful landscape, and before I could stop myself, launched into my soliloquy about one of her heavenly cakes and what did she think about turning it into a pie? I could sense the long line behind me growing restless, but I didn’t care. I was full of sugar and had a mission. Help me make this pie!

Chef Tosi was friendly and helpful and very carefully gave me suggestions on what she thought was a wonderful idea. She signed my book, wished me well, and sent me on my way. The whole exchange probably took less than 5 minutes, but in my head it lasted hours. Days. It was all in slow motion. My heart pumping the entire time. Which might have been the sugar. It ain’t called Crack Pie for nothing. Too late I realized I hadn’t gotten a picture.

Have I conquered my fear? Not quite. In my head I know opportunities only come around once, and when faced with a door, you should open it, but tell that to my beating heart and sweaty palms. For my gut it isn’t always easy. At least I now have concrete steps to take when faced with meeting your heroes. Eat a TON of sugar. If you’ve had a triple latte beforehand that helps. Have in your mind one question to ask. If you find out she knows your hometown, jump on that for all it’s worth. Never stop talking. Seriously, keep talking until the angry line of ladies signal you with their eyes your time is up. Or the event organizer kicks you out for being a stalking Creepy Creeper.

I often think what would have happened if I’d gone to that Joyce Carol Oates dinner. Sure, I would’ve had to fight off Mr. Grabby Hands but I might’ve also discovered a true mentor, one who could’ve opened doors for me. If I wasn’t so paralyzed, I might be further along. Maybe even have a book or two under my belt. But I do believe things happen for a reason, and for whatever I was supposed to be a no show. Even if it was only for a quirky blog post story some 25 years later. If it happened again? I’d go this time. And probably sit at the dinner smiling at Joyce like a buffoon.

And what, you may ask, was the question for Chef Christina Tosi? What pie am I interested in making? You’ll just have to attend next year’s Charlottesville Pie Fest to find out :0)

Thank you Fire, Flour & Fork for a terrific event. Who knew conferences could be so therapeutic? See you in 2015!

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