I’m not a cook. I can follow a set of instructions, but I’m at peace with the fact that I have lazy tastebuds. Do you remember when you were a little kid, and it was confusing to differentiate between colors and flavors? You might have described the taste of something as “purple.” After all, if orange could be a flavor and a color, why not purple? I’ve barely grown out of that.
Like anyone with a lifetime of undiagnosed eating disorders, self-inflicted fat-shaming, and Type 2 diabetes, the idea of making some sort of food, especially a dessert, and then showing it to people fills me with the kind of dread I normally reserve for a tax audit.
But something that makes me very happy is drag — and drag performers. And Ginger Minj, who brought “Broad’s Way” to Provincetown this summer, has a cookbook coming out. It’s called Southern Fried Sass and is due out in November from Atria Books.
Getting Ginger’s advice and “wildest stories” — that’s what the publisher promises, anyway — in a “hilarious book that’s part memoir, part cookbook” sounds good to me. If a drag queen, especially one as funny as Minj, can make cooking enjoyable, then I am willing to give it a go.
Unfortunately, Ginger left town as soon as she wrapped up her last show at the Art House before we had a chance to discuss a recipe in person. Her team sent me the recipe for her Bitchin’ Blueberry Bars but not a single word of advice. I was on my own.
The recipe is heavy on blueberries and sugar, so I contemplated adding an extra dose of my diabetes medicine into the mix. Would a dusting of ground Metformin alter the flavor? Is it even possible to cook with Ozempic? I decided to try Truvia Cane Sugar Blend, a mixture of cane sugar, stevia, and erythritol that promised 75 percent fewer calories than sugar alone.
The word “erythritol” gave me a moment of hesitation. If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t like to eat it, but for the sake of science I tossed the Truvia into my shopping basket anyway.
Most of the instructions were easy to follow. I even learned something new about myself: I cannot zest. I know that a tool exists to make lemon zesting easy, but I don’t own one. I opted to try zesting with a cheese grater. When the minuscule amount of grated lemon rind I was able to accumulate got mixed in with the blood that came from grating my fingertips, I decided my blueberry bars would be best served sans zest.
I also bailed on measuring the lemon juice. I squeezed half a lemon into the mix, picked out the seeds with the hand that wasn’t bleeding, and called it a victory.
The recipe calls for salt. I’m not much of a salt junkie — high blood pressure — so the only kind I own is a jar of pink Himalayan salt I bought at T.J. Maxx two years ago. The stuff is strong, so I used only a quarter teaspoon instead of a half.
A one-hour baking time was just enough to read a National Public Radio report online about pink Himalayan salt. In brief, it comes from salt mines near Islamabad, Pakistan. The lowest-quality salt in the mine is sold to India for approximately $32 a ton. It’s then packaged and resold as pink Himalayan salt in the U.S. My 16-ounce jar was $11.99.
Thus engaged, I lost track of the time and pulled the pan out of the oven a little late. There was a smattering of char on the top layer of crumble, which I insisted to my husband was actually desirable. He shrugged and suggested I try scraping it off anyway, which I did.
It should be noted that it takes two agonizing hours for the finished product to cool and set. The scent is intoxicating. I suggest leaving the kitchen or possibly your entire dwelling during this period to avoid eating everything you can get your hands on while you wait.
When it was finally time to cut and serve the bars, the bottom layer was baked perfectly, the remaining crumble tasted fine, and the berry compote in the middle was tangy, sweet, and perfectly purple.
Ginger’s Bitchin’ Blueberry Bars
Makes 9 bars
For the crust and topping:
2 sticks salted butter, cold
2½ cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. Truvia or sugar
2 tsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. salt
1 large egg
¼ cup vegetable oil
For the filling:
3 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup Truvia or sugar
1½ Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
- Preheat the oven to 375° F. Grease and line a 9-by-9-inch pan with parchment paper, letting it hang at least one inch over each side of the pan.
- Make the crust: Cube the butter. In a large bowl, beat the flour, 3 Tbsp. of Truvia or sugar, lemon zest, and salt together. Add the butter and beat until completely incorporated. The mixture should have a fine sandy texture. Stir in the egg and oil.
- Scoop out one-third of the crust mixture, press it into a bowl, and refrigerate. Press the remaining two-thirds of the mixture into the pan. Make sure it is as compact as possible to give your bars a sturdy crust.
- Toss the blueberries, a cup of Truvia or sugar, corn starch, lemon juice, and zest together until the berries are evenly coated. Spread the berries over the crust. Remove the remaining crust mixture from the refrigerator and sprinkle large clumps over the berries.
- Bake until golden brown, about 1 hour, then allow bars to cool in the pan for about 2 hours. Using the overhang of parchment paper, remove the dessert, cut into bars, and serve.