The Cackalacky Mystery

The Newlyfeds is now embarking on quest to undercover the mystery of Cackalacky Sauce. Cackalacky is a sweet-potato based hot sauce, coming from our neighbors in Chapel Hill. It’s not the hottest, though it packs a respectable wallop. (Macho sauces that exist just to create sores in the mouth aren’t that interesting anyway.) Instead, Cackalacky’s sweet potato base rounds out the heat just a little while adding richness and depth. You can pour it directly onto meats or use it in cooking. I like eating it straight from a bowl as well.

We usually find it on the table at our weekly Federal run and will sometimes run through an entire bottle in one meal. Lately, though, Federal has run out on occasion. Apparently, the supplier shows up periodically and unpredictably. And that seems to be the case in the stores where Cackalacky is supposedly sold. I found a random bottle at Tom Robinson’s Seafood in Carrboro, but came up empty at Whole Foods, A Southern Season, and Parker and Otis.

I became a fan of Cackalacky on Facebook recently and am hoping this will begin to unravel the mystery. Cackalacky, are you just flirting with us, giving us occasional tastes of your delicious self and then not calling for weeks? Are you one of those lovers who can’t make a commitment, entering our pallid lives for a few brief, thrilling moments and then disappearing? Have you turned your eyes elsewhere, finding other loves in other states outside your home town? Is this a game you play with us to make us love you all the more?

Or do we just need to get a grip and order from the web site?

Summer Black Bean Salad

After our beach excesses, Fred and I crawled back to Weight Watchers a couple of weeks ago, tails between our legs, shame-faced and begging forgiveness. But God was merciful and good, and we actually lost a little.

In general, though, we remain stuck. (Eating rabbit in cream sauce at the Federal isn’t helping.) Fred has lost close to 40 pounds and needs to lose 20 more, but the scale has not budged for him in months now. I’m trying to hang on to my own 17-pound loss, but keep creeping over my goal.

I explained our frustrations to our leader before the meeting. She said that we should try what’s known as the “Simply Filling” plan, in which you don’t count your points but eat primarily from certain groups of foods. She began to describe it.

My eyebrows went up in skeptical anticipation. I’d done the “Simply Filling” plan once before. I knew what it meant. Lots of vegetables and lean meats. Lots of fruit and milk. A lot less of our most recent dietary staples: bread, pizza, pasta, and potatoes.

The leader finished. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she said.

“It won’t work,” I said bluntly. “I’ve tried it and I hated it.”

“Really?” she replied, looking surprised. (It must be incredibly difficult to be a leader, forced to display cheerful optimism when confronted with people like me.) “I’ve found it’s a great way to kick-start my weight loss again.”

She handed me the booklet detailing the plan. “Just see what you think,” she said. She didn’t pat my hand, but I know she wanted to.

I took the book and grumped into the meeting, where I started flipping through the pages to avoid our leader’s upbeat smiles. About halfway through the book, I stopped. There was a photo of what looked like a pretty darn good black bean salad.

I read through the recipe, which included mangoes, limes, cilantro, and jalapeno pepper. This looks promising, I thought.

And it was. It has not revolutionized our weight loss yet, but it’s a sign of hope.

Black Bean Salad

I’ve substitued peaches for the mango, since peaches have been in season here, and added avocado because we had some on hand. The avocado could be omitted, but it adds a nice creamy texture.

For this dish fresh ingredients are absolutely essential. It will be ruined if you try substituting lime juice from concentrate for fresh, or use canned chopped garlic (or worse, garlic powder), or dried cilantro. I find that canned beans work just as well as cooked dry beans, but cook your own if you feel otherwise.

1 15 – oz. can black beans (you can also use dried beans that you have cooked), drained and rinsed
1 peach (peeled or unpeeled), cut into 1″ pieces
1 avocado, scooped from skin and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, minced (I leave in the seeds for more kick)
Juice of two limes
3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
Salt to taste

Mix lime juice, garlic, and cilantro in small bowl. Add remaining ingredients to medium-sized serving bowl. Pour lime juice mixture over bean mixture and add salt. Stir until thoroughly mixed.

Federal Bunny

I know: you’re tired of hearing about Federal and what a great restaurant it is. (Another review is here.) The problem is that it’s just about the only restaurant we visit these days. It’s our reward for slogging through our Monday Weight Watchers meeting and surviving the first day back at work. And the vision of the pork sandwich and a beer certainly sustains Fred through a week of trying to eat more vegetables and limiting his intake of animal flesh.

But on Monday, Federal served up what may well be the best special they’ve ever had–rabbit with bacon, served over mashed potatoes and roasted parsnips and carrots in a cream sauce. (They were nearly out of it then, so you probably won’t be able to get any now unless they’ve gotten in a new order for the week.)

This entree single-handedly destroyed the noble efforts I’d made the week before at watching what I ate. It tempted me as I stared at the menu, but I lied convincingly to myself, saying that I wasn’t that hungry.

I went for the salad with figs and goat cheese and the soup with carrots, parsnips, and lavender. Our friend Paul ordered the rabbit. That’s good enough, I thought. I’ll get to try it.

When the rabbit arrived, wafting scents of thyme (I think) and bacon across the table, I was grateful for Paul’s lack of willpower and willingness to share. I reached across the table and took a forkful of rabbit and mashed potato, making sure to get a bit of the cream sauce.

That was it. I dutifully ate my delicious salad and soup. I kept staring at the rabbit. By the time I’d wolfed down my dinner Paul was only about half-way through his entree. I knew I wouldn’t make it.

I called our waitress over. “I’ll have the rabbit too,” I said.

Pizza Pizza

Pizza has single-handedly transformed our food life over the last couple of months. We’ve gone from a diet of vegetables and meat served over pasta to a diet of vegetables and meat served on bread, occasionally mixed with vegetables and meat rolled into a burrito. But vegetables mean variety, and the more vehicles you have for delivering them, the more exciting your menus seem.

For us, the revolution started with the amazing chicken liver pizza I made in June. But the dough, though excellent, was a barrier. Like most of us, I don’t have the time or the patience on a weeknight to wait for all that rising and resting.

That’s where five-minute no-knead boule dough comes in. Quietly gurgling away in the fridge most days of the week, this dough is ready to leap into action whenever pizza is called for. You just pull off a chunk, roll it out, and have homemade pizza in just a little more time than it takes for the oven to heat up.

Be forewarned that if you are a pizza snob, you won’t find perfection in this crust. It lacks the tender softness of the best doughs and often veers too far into the realm of the crispy. But if you are looking for a quick and better than average supper on a pretty darn good crust, this dough is your faithful friend.

A side note: Don’t be intimidated by the amount of writing in the recipe below. It takes only a couple of times through to get the technique down and do it from memory.

Here’s the basic dough recipe again.

Five-Minute No-Knead Boule Dough

NOTE ABOUT FLOUR: The important thing is not so much the amount of flour but the final consistency of the dough. The range given here should allow for the many different types of flour you might use at home. Note that bread flour will also work in this recipe. The amount used will tend toward the lower end of the range.

6 1/2 – 8 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. lukewarm water (test on the inside of your wrist)
1 1/2 tbsp. yeast
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt

Add yeast and salt to water in a 5 quart bowl and stir. Add 6 1/2 cup flour with a wooden spoon and stir until uniformly moist. Dough should be soft and conform to container. If it is too thin (e.g., the consistency of thick cake batter), add more floor until it just holds together into a ball but is still soft. Cover loosely with towel and let rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse or flatten on top, 2 – 5 hours. At this point you can refrigerate dough in lidded but not airtight container for up to two weeks. (Refrigerated dough is easier to work with.)

Topping Preparation

Have toppings prepared and oven preheated before working with dough.

It’s a good idea to roast vegetables that are “wet” ahead of time (squash, broccoli, zucchini, etc.)–and all other vegetables are good roasted as well. To roast, cut up vegetables to desired size and put in a bowl. Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Scatter over cookie sheet and place under broiler, on top rack, on high for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Vegetables are ready when they have begun to brown.

Here are some favorite combinations we’ve tried lately.

Anchovies, onions, chopped fresh cayenne or other pepper, and a mix of gorgonzola and cheddar cheeses

Roasted squash, onions, garlic, red pepper, and Parmesan cheese

Sliced leftover steak, chopped fresh jalapenos, onions, and white cheddar cheese

Baking

Place baking stone on bottom rack of oven and preheat to hottest temperature possible. (In the case of my oven, this is 550 degrees.) Sprinkle cornmeal on pizza peel. Dust a rolling surface with flour. (I use a non-fuzzy kitchen towel.) Dust your hands with flour and pull off a piece the size of a small grapefruit. For very thin crust, pull off a smaller piece; for thicker, pull off a larger one. Sprinkle dough with flour and roll out to desired size.


Rolling out pizza dough. If you’d seen my hair in the original photo you’d understand why I cropped my head off.


Transfer dough to peel and repair damage than will inevitably ensue until you get more practice. Make sure there are no holes in the crust and that the shape roughly conforms to what you imagined (e.g., round or square). Brush surface of crust with a tablespoon or so of olive oil. If using tomato sauce, spread sauce over surface. Add toppings.

Slide pizza onto baking stone–a few forward shakes, and pretending that you are trying to pull a tablecloth out from under a table loaded with dishes, might help. And remember that even disasters like this still taste good.

If you don’t have a pizza peel or a baking stone, transfer the pizza dough to a cookie sheet, add your toppings there, and cook on the bottom rack of the oven.

Bake for 8 – 10 minutes. Add cheese toppings. Bake 2 – 3 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Roasted Cantaloupe Seeds and Spiced Nuts

It has been nearly two years since I mercilessly mocked Fred for thinking that you could roast cantaloupe seeds and was humbled to discover that indeed you could. Now Fred’s quiet triumph is fully complete: I’ve made them, and they’re good.

It started with an impromptu evening with friends last month. Deciding at work to have guests for cocktails and snacks, and having no time to go to the store, I reviewed the pitiful contents of our cupboard as soon as I got home.

There were truffles left over from Christmas, a bit of cheese, and pretzels. There were also several items inexplicably stored in the freezer, perhaps in the faint hope of miraculously improving their quality: rum cake whose unthawed state was distinguishable from its frozen one only by its warmth; Amish Friendship Bread that I’d tried to turn into a cake, which when originally served had most closely resembled two large, round, stale Twinkies encased in chocolate frosting; and homemade wheat bread that had the taste and texture of sawdust suspended in a loaf of Wonder.

In the bottom drawer, however, underneath the vodka bottle and a roast, I hit pay dirt: pecans. It was time for Susan Koenig’s Spiced Nuts.

I’ve lost touch with Susan, but she was a fellow graduate student in the University of Madison English department with me in the 1990s. These nuts were a party staple and a great version of the concept–spicy with just hint of sweet. Here’s the recipe.

Susan Koenig’s Spiced Nuts

2 1/2 c. nuts of your choice (Susan ususally mixes pecans, almonds, and cashews)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (Susan recommends peanut, but I’ve used just about everything)
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 300. Place nuts in a bowl. Pour oil into small heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat until warm. Add cumin and cayenne and stir until mixture is aromatic, about 15 seconds. Pour flavored oil over nuts. Add sugar and salt to coat evenly. Transfer to baking pan and spread out. Bake, stirring occasionally, until nuts are toasted, about 20 minutes. Store in airtight container for up to two weeks. Rewarm before on baking sheet in 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

As our friends sat around our living room that evening, devouring this wonderful snack, I went into the kitchen to get beverage reinforcements. And I noticed the cantaloupe from our CSA, Britt Farms, sitting plumply on the counter. And a light bulb came on.

I’d been dumping the seeds from our farm cantaloupe into the trash. Suddenly, though, with the taste of those spiced nuts rolling around on my palate, it occured to me that Susan’s spice combination would be perfect on those seeds.

Then came the sickening, slowly dawning horror that this could be a case where Fred was right.

I roasted the seeds anyway. I even let Fred eat them.


Spicy Roasted Cantaloupe Seeds

Seeds from 2 cantaloupes, rinsed and drained (no need to remove all the pulp; it roasts nicely. Seeds can be stored in refrigerator for a week or so, until you have collected enough to use.)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350. Place seeds in a bowl. Pour oil into small heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat until warm. Add cumin and cayenne and stir until mixture is aromatic, about 15 seconds. Pour flavored oil over seeds. Add sugar and salt to coat. Transfer to baking pan and spread out. Bake, stirring occasionally, until seeds are toasted, about 20 minutes. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Scenes from the Sea (This Time, for Real)

We’re back in Durham after two weeks at the beach, one at Kiawah with my family and another at Oak Island with friends.

In Kiawah, I made kitty sand castles with my niece, Grace.

These projects involved a lot of sandy goo, most of which ended up on Grace herself.

Fred created a nest in the corner of our room, his little haven of detritus surrounding him within 24 hours–empty vegetable boxes (used to transport books), sketchbooks, scissors, sunscreen, empty gum packs, and his razor. He managed to whisk away a dozen or so random bits of paper before I could get the shot.
At Oak Island, I stuck to my crossword puzzles.

Especially after Fred made me take this picture of a pun.

And even more so after he showed me how he had repaired his glasses.

“What is that, honey?” I asked, cringing.

“Isn’t it great?” he beamed. “My glasses were completely falling apart, so I took one of those blister packs from my Claritin pack and stuck it on there! They’re really holding together now!”

“You did what?” I squealed in happy delight. There would be years of material from this one.

It was dawning on Fred that his ingenuity was not making the kind of impression he’d hoped it would. “I was afraid they might look a little odd,” he confessed. “They really stuck out when I first put them on, with the squares and all, so I trimmed them down.”

I went into the bathroom, where thin slivers of Claritin pack covered the vanity. I collapsed in laughter. I laughed some more when I saw Fred wearing the glasses the next day. I still laugh in the morning sometimes just thinking about those blister packs sticking out of the side of his glasses.


I’m glad to be married to someone who makes me laugh.

Scenes from the Sea: CSF and Tom Robinson’s Seafood

Unbeknownst to me, my recent quest for octopus started with a meeting at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The event, sponsored by DukeFish, was a focus group on the possibility of starting a CSF (community sponsored fishery) in Durham. A CSF works much like a CSA (community sponsored agriculture), in which individuals purchase a “share” in a farm for a summer and in return get vegetables delivered every week. (Duke’s Mobile Farmers Market offers this option.) Think tuna and shrimp in your weekly box instead of squash and tomatoes.

I signed up for the focus group the second I heard about it and persuaded poor Fred to come along with me. Not realizing that the event had been organized by graduate students, I was lured by visions of free wine and product samples–crab dips with water crackers; sushi rolls; smoked salmon with capers, onions and heirloom tomatoes; seared tuna slices drizzled with organic olive oil and sea salt.

When we arrived, about five minutes late, the graduate students had already decimated the hummus, vegetable tray, ranch dressing, and pita bread to cobble together their pitiful suppers. Fred and I picked up some baby carrots and a few stray red pepper slices, scraped the remaining hummus from the tray, took our water bottles, and sat down.

Still, the group was interesting and the conversation productive–especially for me, since it led to the discovery of Tom Robinson’s Seafood in Carrboro.

As we discussed the possibilities of the CSF–the graduate students stuffed with pita bread, the rest of us trying to ignore the rumblings of our stomachs as they mulled over the carrot scraps– we agreed that it wasn’t easy to find fresh and reasonably priced seafood in Durham. “Except for Tom Robinson’s, of course,” said one participant, “which is the only place I can get sushi-grade fish. And it’s in Carrboro.”

Tom Robinson’s? Was it possible there was an alternative to $23/pound sea bass at Whole Foods and tired, mushy, dried-out supermarket offerings? I turned to Fred.

“I gotta talk to this guy after the meeting,” I whispered.

A desperate look came into his eyes. “Aren’t we going to get something to eat?” he croaked.

Fred often says he’s a simple man. He’s right. I knew exactly how to handle this one. “We can go get a pork sandwich at the Federal after this,” I wheedled.

The desperate look disappeared and was instantly replaced by hopeful anticipation. I knew I’d get however long I needed.

It turns out that the other participant was a writer for the wonderful blog Carpe Durham, and he lived in our neighborhood. Tom Robinson’s, he explained, was a little place, but the owner traveled to the coast once a week and brought in fresh seafood. There was usually a pretty good variety, and prices were reasonable.

Just a week or so later, the Octo-Pie project under way and no octopus to be found in Durham, I found myself giving them a call.

“Do you have octopus?” I asked.

“Yes,” said a Spanish-inflected voice on the other end. “But it’s frozen. Not fresh. Is that okay?”

You have the only octopus between here and somewhere in the mid-Atlantic and you’re asking me if it’s okay if it’s frozen, I thought. “That’s fine,” I said. “How do I get there?”

I drove down 15-501 from Durham, wended my way through Chapel Hill’s achingly slow and self-righteous traffic, smug in its care for pedestrians and conservation of our natural resources, and turned left on Roberson Street in Carrboro.

I would have missed the building had it not been for a small sign reading “Fresh Fish” stuck in the grass next to the street. Next to the sign was a small white cinder-block building, in a white gravel lot, looking very much like it had been lifted up from a little sea town in the Bahamas and plopped down in the middle of Carrboro.

Walking in to the building through the screened door, I saw just two medium-sized coolers and a stainless steel rack with a smattering of condiments. A Japanese family was pointing at the contents, speaking to each other in their native language, and apparently deciding what to order. The Japanese are very picky about their fish, and when they frequent a place, it’s a good sign.

I picked up four pounds of frozen octopus, a whole pink snapper (about a pound and a half), and a pound of whole shrimp (heads and all) all for around $50. The prices were slightly lower than at Whole Foods, and I was also able to keep the head and bones of the snapper for stock. On a later trip, I was even able to get some conch, pictured below. (It was fresh and had a wonderful flavor, but I botched the recipe I tried by not properly tenderizing the meat beforehand.)


My only reservations about Tom Robinson’s are 1) the place doesn’t exude the kind of cleanliness I like to see in a fish market, and 2) on a return trip, a little over a week after the first one, I saw a distinctive whole fish for sale that was very suspiciously like another from my previous visit. Still, the snapper we had was firm, fresh, and delicious, as were the shrimp, and the prices can’t be beat. Fred and I will be going back for more.

If you want to make a trip yourself, here’s the address. They don’t have a web site, so call them if you need more information.

Tom Robinson’s Seafood
207 Roberson St.
Carrboro, NC 27510-2349
(919) 942-1221‎