Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Project Food Blog: Welcome to Sugar Pies

In the kitchen with my new Kitchen-Aid Pro Mixer.
Oh, Happy Day!
My Facebook fans and Twitter followers might recall that a couple weeks ago I mentioned the Project Food Blog over at FoodBuzz. As I said then, I'm not sure what compelled me to enter this contest as I normally like to do my own thing. But, here we are anyway!

The first of the challenges is to introduce myself and the blog. Since I've been doing this for over a year now, it does seem a good time to reach back to the beginning and tell newer readers about my background and what Sugar Pies is all about.

I started this blog after watching the movie Julie & Julia. I'd begun baking and cooking after  years of eating out or warming up frozen food. That's not to say I couldn't cook - far from it. In fact, I grew up with a mother whose dream was to own her own restaurant. While she never fulfilled that dream, her food was top notch and much loved by family and friends.

My parents,
William "Mid" and Frances
O. Bannister
Many of my childhood memories revolve around food and cooking. Mama was always making something and Christmas was the peak of the cooking frenzy. At home she would spend weeks making cookies, candies, and cakes (including the best fruitcake known to man). Those treats would then be assembled onto trays and into baskets for distribution to friends, extended family, doctors, and teachers. But the highlight of the season was the big family Christmas party on Christmas day.

On Christmas day, Mama would arise at the crack of dawn to begin cooking. She would do much of the prep work at home and then about one o'clock in the afternoon we would transfer everything to a large community center where 50-100 relatives would gather. Once ensconced in the commercial sized kitchen, she would assemble cousins, nieces, and other relatives into a corps of sous chefs and the real cooking would begin. My grandmother's housekeeper, Mattie, would stand guard at the door to shoo away the kids. At the end of the ordeal, around five o'clock she would present a buffet meal that would make most restaurants envious.

From those early experiences I learned to cook. I loved watching Mama in the kitchen. Yet, when I grew up I rarely turned my hands to her art. In fact, one of my earliest tries at preparing a dinner went awry when I decided on steak with baked potatoes. Unfortunately, I'd never bothered to notice the difference between all those potatoes in the grocery store. Wanting to impress my date who managed a restaurant, I chose the largest potatoes I could find. I took them home, wrapped them in foil and placed them carefully on the grill to bake. As my date and I sat down for my big dinner he dug into his potato and promptly fell out of his chair laughing. I couldn't figure out what in the world was wrong. Then he explained I'd chosen sweet potatoes instead of russet baking potatoes. He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. I called Mama almost in tears and explained how I'd screwed up. "Well, he's an idiot. Baked sweet potatoes are wonderful! We used to bake them in the hearth ashes when I was a girl! Put some butter and cinnamon on them and you've got a great side dish!" I walked back into the kitchen, pulled out some cinnamon and a slab of butter and did as she suggested. He stopped laughing and proclaimed it one of the best and most interesting potato dishes he'd ever tried. So much for Mr. Restaurant Manager's refined palate!

Finally, after Mama passed away I began to pick up a spatula and gather my own pots and pans. After being inspired by Julie & Julia I began Sugar Pies to recount my adventures in rediscovering my roots.

Lately, I have also become involved with a local project feeding homeless people in city parks. Each week I provide a dessert or sweets to Karin Elliott who heads up the project. This means that I'm learning to experiment with large volume recipes and also getting the hang of scaling up recipes (not as easy as one thinks in baking!) I'm pleased to be helping with the project and it really keeps me on my toes looking for new recipes to share with those less fortunate. (I think Mama would be proud, too.)

Lemon Basil Cookies
This blog focuses primarily on sweets and desserts since, like Mama I love to bake. Much like her I also bake for my sanity. When I am troubled I find myself in the kitchen baking a cake or batch of cookies. While it's not good for the waistline, it does seem superior to Prozac!

You'll find in Sugar Pies a lot of stories alongside the recipes. When I make one of Mama's recipes I always like to include a story about it. Oftentimes, they are quite humorous such as Mama and the Mardi Gras Cake which recounts her collection of a traditional Louisiana recipe at the Omni New Orleans or Mama and the Christmas Wine about her purloining a very expensive bottle of Port to douse her fruitcakes. In fact, my Mama stories were such a hit locally that I was invited to a local story tellers event to tell the one about the Mardi Gras Cake.

I also like to present recipes that I know will be successful for readers and that I think people would enjoy making. I try not to be too pretentious or flashy. So often browsing food blogs you see people who are professional chefs or trained at some institute and the recipes are so daunting and the techniques so arcane that a normal person simply would never bother. If I can find a way to take something that looks impressive and make it easy for the home cook, then that is the approach I take.

I also believe in flavor. Mama used to chuckle when she'd hear people declare that "You eat with your eyes!" Her response was always that anyone who thought that needed some anatomy lessons. For her taste was king. She always said that if something tasted good then you could work on making it pretty but no matter how pretty it was, if it tasted bad there was no hope. I believe wholeheartedly in that philosophy. So, the dishes I present are those that I've tested myself, tweaked myself, and finally found to be tasty and scrumptious. I also don't use photo tricks to "pretty up" what I make. I photograph my results as they happen without retouching or manipulating the food for a false result.

What you'll find here at Sugar Pies is a mix of traditional Southern cooking, alongside forays into other cuisines and all presented with humor, love, and honesty. Welcome to Sugar Pies, y'all! Now, let's get cookin'!

PS: Don't forget to check out my new cookbook featuring 101 of my favorite recipes from the blog and my private collection!


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