I’ve always thought that August must be the least-loved month on the calendar. August means unbearable heat coupled with drenching afternoon monsoons. It is also the end of summer vacation and, for kids, the most dreaded attribute of all is that August marks the return to school. Even the name itself sounds unpleasant, “Aww gist.”
And while the stores may already be hauling out the pumpkins, fall merchandise and, dare I say, Christmas décor (seriously, it’s 110 degrees out, what are they thinking?), it is still very much summer in Florida.
Summer in Central Florida means rain, lots of it, every day. You can practically set your watch to it. That rain is accompanied by raucous thunder and impressive lightning.
A few weeks ago, as I was driving back from Daytona Beach, I had a very intimate encounter with the power of lightning. You see, during one of these afternoon storms, my car was struck by lightning — with me in it.
Now, I have to say that being born and raised in Florida, I’ve always been very respectful of lightning. And, my grandmothers made sure to instill the fear of lightning in me at a very young age. During an electrical storm, don’t talk on the phone (antiquated landlines, of course), don’t shower or take a bath, and stay away from the windows.
On that fateful day, as I was on International Speedway Boulevard driving back to DeLand from Daytona Beach, I encountered an awful storm and literally could not see 2 inches in front of me. So, I decided to pull over and wait for the storm to pass.
As you know, that road has large stretches where there is only forest on both sides. While waiting in my car on the side of the road, I saw lightning hit a tree a few hundred yards in front of me.
While I was taking that in and giving thought to the fact that I should probably get out of that area, lightning hit the tree right next to my car. I saw the bolt strike the tree; the tree ignited in flames, which were quickly put out by the pouring rain, and then the lightning moved through my car.
That last part was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. To be completely honest, I’m not even sure how to describe it. It was as if time stood still for a moment, and everything seemed as if I was watching a movie. All this took place in about one second’s time.
As I was trying to process what was going on, every single warning light and sensor suddenly came on in the car, and it shut off. Yeah, now I am scared. I tried starting the car, and it would not start. I knew I had to leave that area. I tried and tried, and it just would not start.
Out loud I said, “Dear God, I need to get out of here, please let this car start.” I turned the key, and it started.
I got back on the road, but the car was making all sorts of noise and would only go about 15 miles per hour. I was still about 15 minutes from home when I called my husband and said, “You’ll never believe what happened to me just now.”
When I arrived home, he gave me a hug, and at that very moment, I realized the severity of what I had just been through. More importantly, however, I realized how very lucky I was to be alive.
That tree could have come crashing down on my car, or the car could have burst into flames. Yet, I was safe and sound without as much as a scratch. The car, on the other hand, took a four-week (and very expensive) vacation to the dealership.
After 46 years of living in Florida, I have had my share of Florida weather stories. I’ve witnessed entire chunks of the roof peeled open like the top of a can during a hurricane. I once went 28 days without power because of a storm.
And when Wilma hit in 2005, I worked for a hotel that had a pool on the seventh floor. It was full of fish that had been deposited there from Biscayne Bay seven stories below. My car being struck by lightning, though, was a first.
I have no doubt that God was with me that day. The whole experience could have been so much worse than it was.
There have been many moments in my life where God has made me remember how very much I have to be grateful and thankful for. And while I have a very strong sense of faith and like to believe that I try to live my life with purpose, sometimes you just need a reminder of how very precious life is. In that flash of lightning, life’s fragility and the power of gratitude were illuminated.
With that in mind, this month’s recipes are simple pleasures that can be enjoyed in summer or, really, any time of year.
Breakfast on the weekend is always a special treat. A few years ago, I began making all kinds of bread. I’m a huge bagel fan and have always been intimidated by trying to make them myself. They are time-consuming, but quite easy to make. With cream cheese, lox, tomatoes, red onions and capers, there is no better Sunday breakfast!
• 7 cups flour
• 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of salt
• 1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2-3 cups of cold water
2 teaspoons yeast
Seasoning for bagels: sea salt, dried onion flakes, everything seasoning, etc.
Directions: Combine all the ingredients in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low until it forms a ball; this may take a few minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer, and divide it into 12 evenly-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a hot dog shape. and then connect both ends to form a ring.
Transfer the rings onto a baking sheet that you have dusted with cornmeal. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight. I like to make these on Saturday evening and enjoy them on Sunday morning.
The following morning, remove the pan from the refrigerator and place it in a warm and humid place (I put them on my covered patio). Allow them to proof for two hours.
After the two hours, preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. While the oven heats, get a large pot of water to boil. Carefully drop two to three bagels at a time into the boiling water.
Once they rise to the surface, about 30-60 seconds, remove them with a strainer, and place them on your parchment-lined baking sheet.
Add your seasonings of choice to the top of the bagels while they are still wet. This way, they will stick.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes, and let cool for 25 minutes or so before slicing. These will keep for several days and freeze beautifully.
Next up is my recipe for fried chicken. Fried chicken recipes abound, and I’m sure you may already have a favorite one. I’ve been doing this one for years, and it never disappoints.
• 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
• 2 tablespoons garlic powder
• 1 tablespoon paprika
• 3 teaspoons black pepper, divided
• 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
• 2 1/2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
• 2 large eggs
• 1 1/2 cups water
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 chickens (3 1/2 to 4 pounds each, cut up) or 7-8 pounds of boneless chicken breast
Oil for frying
Directions: In a large shallow dish, combine 2 2/3 cups flour, garlic powder, paprika, 2 1/2 teaspoons pepper, cayenne pepper and chicken-bouillon powder.
In another shallow dish, beat eggs and 1 1/2 cups water; add salt and the remaining 1 1/3 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Dip chicken in the egg mixture, then dredge through the flour mixture, a few pieces at a time. Make sure they are heavily covered.
In a heavy skillet, place about 3 inches of oil, and make sure it’s ready before you begin to fry the chicken.
Place several pieces in the pan at a time, turning once, until the chicken is golden brown and juices run clear, about 7-8 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels.
While you fry the batches, you can keep the chicken warm in a low oven set to 175 degrees. I find this chicken is even better the next day.
• 3/4 cup water, divided
• 3 (.25 ounce) packages unflavored gelatin
• 2/3 cup light corn syrup
• 2 cups white sugar
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or flavoring of choice)
• 1/4 cup cornstarch
• 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
Directions: Line a 9×9-inch baking dish with plastic wrap, and spray with cooking spray. Spray another piece of plastic wrap (enough to cover the top), and set it aside. Place 1/2 cup of water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and sprinkle gelatin on top of the water to soak. While the gelatin is soaking, combine 1/4 cup of water, corn syrup and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture for one minute.
As with all candy, take care when handling the hot sugar mixture. It is like molten lava! Carefully and slowly pour the sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture, and beat on high for 12 minutes. Once the mixture is fluffy and forms stiff peaks, add in vanilla extract or flavoring of choice, and beat until just combined.
Pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared baking dish, using a greased spatula to smooth the top. Cover the mixture with the piece of prepared plastic wrap, pressing it down lightly to seal the covering to the top of the candy. Allow the marshmallow candy to rest overnight.
The next day, mix together cornstarch and powdered sugar in a shallow dish. Using a large, greased knife, cut the marshmallow into strips, then into 1-inch squares. Dredge the marshmallows lightly in the cornstarch mixture, and store them in an airtight container. Stored properly, these will keep for a couple of weeks.
I like doing different flavors, such as peppermint, bourbon, lemon, etc.; just change the flavoring. You can also use food coloring to make them different colors.