“What would you be if you could be anything you wanted? Seriously, anything. Just pick something. Go ahead, you can do it. Here, I’ll help you.”
I stood there chewing on the inside of my cheek, a nervous habit of mine, and then I yawned. But it wasn’t a real yawn, it was fake. Also a nervous habit of mine.
The camp director was very nice. She was tall and lanky and appeared to have a penchant for long khaki shorts. She had fiery red hair and freckles across her nose that I bet were at their peak right then, seeing as how it was summer and all. She looked down at me quizzically. Are you tired, Lauren? You can take your turn a bit later if you’d like. It’s okay! This is supposed to be fun!
“No, I’ll go now. Sorry.” My cheek was starting to hurt. It was summertime in Kentucky and I was at theater camp, trying to understand how to become a grand a c t r e s s. I struggled the entire week with whether or not this choice of summer camp qualified me as really cool or really nerdy, but I don’t think I cared so much as to which box I fell into. I wanted to learn how to do magical things like all of the people on the stages I’d watched over the years. I wanted to sing and dance and recite my lines across from a handsome co-star and make people feel happy or sad or excited or … anything, really. I wanted to bow dramatically and then run off the stage only to run back on for another bow because the cheers just wouldn’t stop. And roses. I’d imagined my arms filled with all of the roses that I’d collected on stage from the adoring fans, after the curtains had fallen and the seats had emptied. I was enamored with the idea of it all.
But on this particular day – this hazy, humid mid-summer’s day in small-town Kentucky – I was a little girl at a local theater camp being asked to act out my dreams. Or, more specifically, my dream job. I was supposed to pretend like I was stuck inside a glass box and, using just my movements and facial expressions, act out a certain profession so everyone could guess what I was. So, Charades basically. I couldn’t come up with anything that I felt like acting out, and my nerves got the very best of me there in that moment. I froze. Stage fright! It was my first dose. I’ve had others to be sure, but this first one was a doozy. Lots of other kids I knew were seated on the floor below me, knobby little legs all crossed, chewing noisily on the bagged lunches they’d been given, eyes staring up at me like, Well?!? What’re you gonna do now?
Yes. I’ll take my turn, thank you.
“Okay good! One more time – and we’ll make it easier on you. Just pick something – anything – and act that out. It can be a person or a thing or an animal – whatever! Here, I’ll do a quick demo …
The red-headed camp director became a monkey then. Right before our very eyes, she pretended to peel a banana and then jumped around like a cast member of Planet of the Apes. She was good at this.
Next she morphed into a school bus driver, welcoming children onto her imaginary bus with an overly friendly wave and smile, honking the imaginary horn that was stuck to the imaginary steering wheel.
She concluded her demo by becoming a mime, clearly.
“You see, guys? It’s all about the little movements, the subtle things. That’s what separates the great from the good. Those little itty bitty details will make all the difference in your performances. Okay Lauren! You’re on! Aaaand, action!” With that, the director sat down in her chair (an actual director’s chair) and began to eat her deviled eggs. I will never forget that. I stared at those deviled eggs for about five seconds and, before I knew it, I became the devil. Literally. Lacking a better idea and wanting very badly to be down on the floor with the other kids, happily eating my lunch and judging the next victim, I just went with the first thing that popped my mind. Thanks, deviled eggs.
I crouched and peered and gnarled and gripped my imaginary pitchfork. I swooped around and did my best to look scary and powerful and bad. My details were, well, struggling.
Is she a monster? People whispered. She’s a tiger! A saber-toothed tiger! No, I think she’s like, a wizard or something. I’ve got it! She’s an angry farmer!!
In that moment, it hit me that my choice might have been a little weird and worrisome for the camp directors, so I just went with that. Yes!!! I said. I’m an angry farmer. Wow. Great guess! I jumped off the stage almost immediately. The kid who’d guessed “correctly” looked completely flummoxed that he’d been right and the camp director seemed satisfied enough. I, however, felt like I’d failed miserably at my quest to become a big-time a c t r e s s. Maybe next time.
The director patted me on the back and handed me the plate of deviled eggs, classic picnic fare for just about any place south of the Mason Dixon line. I took two and vowed to myself to do better. Because this go round, the devil was most certainly not in my details.
Smoky Tomato and Candied Bacon Pickled Deviled Eggs
5 strips of bacon (not thick-cut)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
The juice from 2 cans of beets (15-oz can)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1.5 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tsp whole grain mustard
1.5 teaspoons smoked paprika (or more)
Salt, to taste (about 1 tsp)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, divided (red wine vinegar would be good too)
Chopped chives, for garnish
Preheat your oven to 360 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and, if you’ve got one, place a baking rack on top. It’s okay if you don’t have one – you can still roast the bacon right on the foil.
Coat the bacon slices with the brown sugar and place on the prepared baking sheet/baking rack. Bake for 11 – 12 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked. Cool and then chop them into small pieces. Set aside.
Place the eggs in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then remove them from the heat. Let the eggs sit in the water for 8 minutes and then drain the water out. Rinse the eggs with cold water and peel them when they’re cool enough to handle. Pour the beet juice and 3 tablespoons of vinegar into a large bowl. Place each peeled egg into beet juice/vinegar mixture and allow them to pickle for 2 hours. Slice each egg in half lengthwise.
Remove the yolks from each egg and add them to a small bowl. The best way to do this is to simply press on the back of the egg until the yolk pops out. In the same bowl, add the mayo, tomato paste, mustard, smoked paprika, salt, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. Stir well to combine. Season to taste, adjusting things as needed. Place this egg mixture into a gallon-sized zip-top plastic bag (or you can use a piping bag). Snip off a small bit of one corner of the bag and squeeze the yolk mixture back into the hollow cavities in each egg. Top each egg with some of the crumbled bacon bits some chopped chives.
Triple Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake
1 package Devil’s Food Cake Mix
1 (3.4 oz) package chocolate instant pudding and pie filling
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coffee extract
2 tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa powder (I use black onyx cocoa powder, which you can purchase online)
Chocolate ganache, for drizzling (see below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour or spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, oil, vanilla, coffee extract, and cocoa powder.
Beat with an electric mixer until combined and smooth. Pour into the prepare pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes our clean. Cool completely and invert out onto a cooling rack. Drizzle with chocolate ganache, if desired.
for the ganache: In the top of a double boiler with simmering water (medium-high heat), combine 4 oz chocolate chips and 1/3 cup heavy cream. Cook gently until the chips have melted and you have a smooth, glossy sauce. Drizzle the ganache over the cake.