Since we’re talking Guilty Pleasure Foods that make us feel better this week, I thought it only right to continue with what is also quickly becoming Snake Week and tell you about the great Snake scare of 1991. Because it’s possible that I’ve never felt worse in my life.
After my debacle with the nature-center snake in kindergarten, I was pretty scarred. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I refused to look at snakes in my science books at school. And once, when my sisters made me a fort to sleep in and used a striped sheet over the top, I woke up screaming from a nightmare about snakes. This is true.
In light of that, what transpired next is pretty unbelievable. In 1991, I was eight years old, and while walking down my driveway one day, I saw half of a dead garter snake, it’s other half probably smooshed and stuck to some vehicle’s tire. Clearly horrified, I scurried past it, shuddering.
However, that same day, my sister Jean was preparing to return to college. Her half-packed bag was sitting on the floor of our shared bedroom, which was happily decorated with dusty-rose carpeting and floppy-eared bunny wallpaper. (Guess which one of us chose the decor.) When I walked into our room and saw her open bag, something maniacal flipped within me, and I realized I had the opportunity to play a tremendous joke on my eldest sister.
I raced down to the kitchen, grabbed two ziploc bags, and ran back to outside to the driveway. Mustering up every ounce of courage I had, I used one of the plastic bags to pick up the dead half-snake, and then I put it in the other bag. By some miracle, I managed to seal the second bag, snake enclosed within, and run back inside undetected, literally kind of dry heaving from fear the entire time.
(Keep in mind that at the time I pretty much idolized my older sister and did everything in my jean-rolling power to be like her: who can understand the mind of a eight year old?)
I buried the bagged snake under several layers of her clothes and snickered to myself as I imagined her unpacking her bag the next day in her dorm room and shrieking to find my half-dead snake…as well as probably assuming it was the work of our younger brother.
That evening, Jean headed back to college; her school was about a 10-hour drive away, so I knew I had to wait until the next night for my plot to be revealed. The next night came, I eagerly awaited the ringing of our land line, imagining how shocked Jean would be at my clever plan.
But the call never came.
She was probably too tired to unpack….
Another night came and went with no call.
Maybe the snake got caught in her shirt and is just sitting in her dresser?
On the third night, as I usually did, I was reading in bed well past my bedtime. As I flipped over, I heard a crinkling sound under the covers.
What the? Is that a Saltines wrapper?
[Unfortunately it was not uncommon for me to snack in bed while reading. Sorry, Mom.]
I flipped back the covers and to my great and utter horror, there was the snake. In the bag. In my bed. For the third night. It’s mushy, slightly decomposed eyes stared deadly back at me as I literally shrieked. In one fluid motion, I flung it out of my room, as my bed and the open door were mercifully aligned.
I sat in the bed, trying to regain a normal heart rate for the better part of the next hour.
The next day, in wild-eyed rage, I called my sister, who snickered into the phone as she regaled the story of how she had found the snake prior to leaving and and stuck it in my bed. In. My. Bed.
If I recall correctly, my mom took no pity on me the next day and laughed as I pleaded with her to remove the tossed snake from the hallway, saying something to the effect of, “You made your snake bed…now go lie in it.” Thanks, mom.
Nothing like a decomposed snake story to whet your appetite, right? #foodblogfail
Maybe two inches of snow fell on your lawn on April, yes April 9, with six more inches and twenty-four more hours of “wintery mix” predicted. Maybe you’ve got a huge paper due. Maybe your kids are acting like a herd of feral cats today. Maybe you and your boyfriend are seriously on the fritz. Or maybe you woke up with a snake in your bed.
The fact is, life is tough. And sometimes you just need a little bit of sitting on the couch with a box of Cheez-its to drown your sorrows in.
Let’s discuss the phenomenon that is the Cheez-it, shall we? Your first concern with this guiltiest of pleasures should be that the letter z is used in the spelling of the word cheese. Major red flag. Secondly, there is nothing edible in nature that even comes close to the Cheez-it’s unnatural orange color. Third, there are six ingredients on the Cheez-its nutritional label that I had to use my phonetic prowess to sound out; my favorites were “oleoresin for color” and “TBHQ for freshness.” Clearly, this is not food.
Despite all of this, I still stand strongly behind Cheez-its and their role in my life as a guilty pleasure. At the school where I taught, there were Costco-sized buckets of these in every kindergarten classroom, and it took all of my willpower not to eat them, handful after handful, during every staff meeting.
So, I decided to make my own since I will rarely allow myself to buy a box, knowing they’d be mostly gone by the end of my five-minute drive home from the grocery store. The results? Crispy, cheesy bites of goodness. No, the homemade version was not identical to the real thing. Despite my best efforts, I could not master the thin crispiness that we’ve all come to identify with Cheez-its. But what this recipe did give me is the ability to satisfy my occasionally intense Cheez-it craving with just seven highly pronounceable ingredients. Perfect for those snake-in-the-bed kind of days.
(recipe adapted from In Katrina's Kitchen
(yields about 6 dozen crackers)
I adapted this recipe by using extra sharp cheddar cheese and using slightly less flour (the full cup tasted a little too floury to me). Additionally, I modified the cooking method with what worked best after several rounds of experimentation.
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vegetable shortening
½ tsp. salt
3/4 c. + 1.5 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 tbsp. ice water
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
Using a pastry cutter and/or your fingers, mix together the cheese, butter, shortening, and 1/2 tsp. salt. You want the mixture to be crumbly (almost like a pie crust before you add wet ingedients...you're looking for small clumps; it won't be sticky).
Alternate adding the flour and the ice water (I stick my water in the freezer for 5-10 minutes before using it). Again, use a pastry cutter and/or your hands to thoroughly mix it in. If the mixture is still too crumbly, you may add 1-2 tsp. more water, but you DO NOT WANT A WET DOUGH.
Divide the dough into four equal portions and pat each one into a square about and inch thick. Wrap each rectangle in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Take out one square (leave the others in the refrigerator). Allow it to warm up for 3-5 minutes minutes (this will make rolling go much smoother). Roll out the dough on a large piece of parchment paper, trying your best to roll it in the shape of a square. You're trying to roll it as thin as you can, less than a half inch. If the edges "split" while you're rolling, simply pinch them back together.
Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, cut the rolled out dough into 1-inch squares. Do your best to cut them into uniform sizes so they cook evenly. Use the middle end of a broken toothpick to punch holes in the center of each square. Sprinkle with course sea salt. Transfer the squares onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (If they are sticking together too much to separate and transfer, stick them back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes).
Preheat oven to 375*. Bake crackers for 7-15 minutes until puffy and slightly browned around the edges. The time in the oven depends on your oven and how thin you rolled the dough. I would suggest watching them like a hawk after 7 minutes because they will burn (snap) just like that. They will get crispier (and cheesier tasting!) as they cool, so don't let the texture make you accidentally burn them. Remove from baking pan and let cool on a a wire rack.
Repeat the process with remaining dough squares.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator if you don't eat them all immediately after they come out of the oven.