Savior on a Stick

In Savior on a Stick, the ubiquitous state fair food, corn dogs, play a critical—Momma Leite may even say divine—role in keeping David alive during a 3-month sojourn in Dallas.

a corndog with a halo on a heavenly sky : Lana Vu

June 1988. I stood on the front porch of my friend Patty’s Arlington, Texas, home with suitcases in hand, not unlike Felix Unger in the opening credits of “The Odd Couple.” Like him, I was being thrown out–not out of a tiny Upper East Side classic six–but rather a sprawling six-bedroom casa, complete with pool, three-car garage, automatic sprinkler system, and, what I would miss most, a freezer full of corn dogs. As Patty’s lawyer–a bowling ball with legs who had skin like tobacco-colored crepe paper–put it, I was an “unnecessary risk.”


Patty and her husband, Dan, were getting divorced. While he was shacking up with his dental assistant, I was living non-conjugally with his wife and three kids after I had, for the nth time, denounced New York City. The greater Dallas area was my new home, I told myself, and I embraced it with all the excitement and innocence of Kennedy in 1963.

I chose Dallas because Patty and her two friends, Laverne and Maxine (clearly, not their real names), were planning to open a spiritual center and wanted me to join as advisor. (This was during the time known as the Great Shirley MacLaine Epoch, so forgive any star-blinded lapse in judgment.) I was no more qualified to rope and brand a Texas longhorn that I was to advise these under-sexed, overpaid housewives. But we had met at a conference for the great spiritually unwashed and took a shine to each other. Plus, I’d sublet my apartment for three months as a first step in escaping my strangled existence in NYC.

When Dan, who was looking for any reason to unseat Patty from the house he financed, discovered a “light-in-the-loafers city slicker” mixing with his impressionable children, I was on the porch within an hour.

No home. Few prospects. Little money.

Of the three Lone Star Andrews Sisters, Laverne was the most compassionate.

“Let’s move you in with CarolJean,” she said, patting the seat of her pickup as I tossed my bags into the back. CarolJean was her 21-year-old daughter trying the living-on-my-own gig, and none too successfully. She was a retired high school baton twirling champion, who, after the glittery sequins unraveled from the costumes that I later discovered she still wore around the house, gave up and took to life on the couch.

When we entered her apartment, she was, as predicted, prone on the sofa–in each fist a baton twirling like a propeller. The slam of the door startled her and, misjudging the height of the ceiling, she scuffed it. Apparently, she must have suffered from significant depth-perception problems: the ceiling everywhere was punctuated with a riot of eraser-gray commas.

“Well, I have to get buffed and fluffed!” Laverne said loudly for CarolJean’s benefit, then she gathered me close. “Bless you, David,” she whispered. “Bless you.” I was left with the eerie feeling that it wasn’t me who was on the receiving end of the goodwill baton.

CarolJean led me to my room, which was empty. “You’ll need a bed, I guess,” she said, knocking off the thermostat cover with a horizontal figure eight of one of her propellers. In the kitchen: “The top two shelves are mine,” she said of the empty fridge, “and you can have this here left side of the freezer.” On the right, nothing but an opened wholesale-size container of frozen fat-free Cool Whip. “Oh, and there’s no gas, either, so you have to cook everything in the microwave.”

With that, she retired to her room, only the occasional thunk of rubber hitting plaster to be heard late into the night.

Life careened downhill after that. Within a week all of CarolJean’s rented living room furniture was repossessed. A month later, so was her BMW, a belated gift to herself for her crowning twirling achievements. After a few more weeks, I’d grown desperate. Patty, Laverne, and Maxine moved on for good. Their token visits petered out (phone calls were out of the question because the line was turned off). They had turned their attention from the spiritual center to an aerobics studio–wedding planning venture. “Drop one sack of lard and pick up another–all in one place!” Patty liked to say.

I meted out my money, trying to budget until I was able to return and reclaim my so-called life. With no car to borrow, I was forced to walk three miles to and from the supermarket once a week to shop for food. One Friday, so depressed by my reduced means, I copped out and walked to the nearest convenience store. And it was there, in front of the frozen foods, with a month left before I flew home, that I had my version of the Epiphany. The very same corn dogs that I’d enjoyed with abandon with the kids at Patty’s house were on sale. And not just on sale–but deeply discounted. Woozy from lack of sustenance, I calculated that if I bought several boxes, and limited myself to three dogs a day (four on Saturdays and Sundays), I could make it through.

Back home, I ripped into a package and slid two dogs (an extra ration, I know, but it was worth it) onto a plate and into the microwave. I knew they wouldn’t have the just-fried crunch of the ones Patty made in the oven for the kids and me, but no matter. As I bit through my joy on a stick, I silently thanked all the pork and beef by-products that went into the making of my meal. The cornmeal coating, which I nibbled off a bit at a time to enjoy the different flavors and textures (yes, a corn dog can have different flavors and textures), was pleasantly mealy and had that slightly chemical sweet taste of Bisquick pancakes that were slathered with butter but bereft of syrup. The hot dog itself was juicy and, well, meaty enough to balance its cornmeal shroud. When I was done, I washed the plate (the water hadn’t been turned off yet) and returned it to the cupboard. Sated, I curled up under a blanket in what I deemed my bed and fell contentedly to sleep.

Over time I took to thinking of corn dogs as my own personal savior, which I know can–at first blush–appear blasphemous. But I meant it with all the reverence and fervor of a tent revival convert. It’s not that I was seeing the face of Jesus fried into the cornmeal coating. Rather, ever since that moment of awakening in front of the frozen food case at the convenience store, I knew I’d be okay. I knew that I’d make it through the long, dark days before returning home.

One breakfast while sitting on the kitchen counter dunking a corn dog into a jar of mayonnaise (by this time the only furniture that wasn’t either repossessed or smashed by CarolJean’s increasingly aggressive displays of indoor twirling was her bed), it dawned on me someone should write a country song called “Savior on a Stick.” It’s not as crazy as it sounds. If Jesus can be on board a car, in a marriage bed, in schools, in a church–why can’t he be on a stick in my corn dog? (Of course, if you’re of a different religious persuasion, feel free to substitute your god’s name here.)

The bottom line is, something or someone caused to me to zig to that convenience store rather than zag to the local Tom Thumb, where prices were significantly higher and I didn’t have a shopper’s card. And that someone was my own personal savior—on a stick or not. Originally published March 28, 2011.

David Leite's signature

The corn dogs that I consumed by the box while living in Dallas can’t hold a match to these homemade little lovelies on a stick. What I like about this corn dog recipe—well, one of many things that like about this corn dog batter—is that you can control the quality of the ingredients. Think about it: You can use organic cornmeal, all-beef kosher hot dogs, even tofu dogs for the vegetarians among us. Bet you won’t find those at the state fair.–David Leite

LC Contemplating Corn Dogs Note

Clearly the corn dog is all—or very nearly all—about the dog’s crunchy, corny coating. But Beth Price, our Director of Recipe Testing, recently drew our attention to how not all corn dogs are created equal, though not for the reasons you may think. She finds the most compelling part of a corn dog to be the crunchy little blob of fried batter at the base of the hot dog. You know, that part that seemingly secures the corn dog to its prehistoric yet practical eating utensil, the stick. That little blob exists only when the dog is fried on the wooden skewer, whereas this recipe inserts the skewer into the corn dog after frying, for what we think are fairly obvious safety reasons. Still, even minus the coveted blob, Beth and her sons swooned to this recipe. For Beth’s fellow blob devotees—or those of you who are just curious or drawn to danger, here’s the scoop on how to make those little love handles.



  1. I have had the pleasure of eating a fresh corn dog, hot off the assembly line at the factory in Livingston, CA. A true culinary delight that I will never forget.

  2. Way down here in Australia, we like to call these bad boys “dagwood dogs” or “Pluto pups”. You can get them from any old fish and chip shop, and they honestly are not too bad when you are in the right mood.

    In my town, there is this Cajun/Creole restaurant that I tried a variation of these suckers. They substituted the sausages for prawns, and if my memory serves me correctly, you could dip them in a spicy sauce. I can easily see the appeal.

  3. When we were in college and the traditional starving students (but living in a very cool three story Victorian in the Castro — probably why we were starving), our sympathetic friends would come over with 2-litre bottles of soda, huge bags of chips and packaged dips. They’d eat a few bites and leave the rest for our survival. ;)

    Fortunately, the parents of one of my roomies lived nearby. She’d get her daughter to take her shopping on Fridays and accidentally buy too much of this and that she didn’t really have room for in her fridge, and we’d have actual meat and veggies for a few days. Ah, college days. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a corndog, but I’m going to try this recipe just for the nostalgia factor.

    Still loving your writing, even after re-reading. ;)

    1. ruthie, well, I’m mighty flattered. Thank you. I hope you like the recipe. It’s a simple one–and a guilty pleasure at best–but…oh, what the hell. Enjoy it!

  4. Oh, how I love your posts, David! Gale-force laughter to the point of tears!

    “The greater Dallas area was my new home, I told myself, and I embraced it with all the excitement and innocence of Kennedy in 1963.” OHMYGOD! Shockingly awesome!

  5. Sorry I missed this until today. Its just a wonderful bit of writing David. Really wonderful. In my language, ” ‘At sombitch kin WRITE!!!”
    Your endorsment of corndogs, a bonus.

  6. Well, New Friend in Northwest Connecticut, so glad you liked the post. And I shall mourn the passing of the Texas Food Pyramid. A mighty edifice it once was.

  7. David, I’m Ree Drummond’s mom. She is visiting us in South TX and she just discovered your cookbook on our kitchen counter and screamed. We LOVE your book!!

  8. I never knew what a corn dog was until now… I’d heard about them, in movies and books, but didn’t really want to find out anymore and filed them in the corner of my mind with grits and head cheese. But a deep-fried sausage sounds pretty good. The next time I’m in the US I’m going on a search for one : )

  9. This little glimpse at the rich tapestry of (your) life has left me smiling, but I think I’ll just have to take your word on these little gourmet treats. Here in Australia we have similar deep-fried snacks served on sticks at fairs, but ours are also served with a final coating of tomato sauce (ketchup), giving them a ghoulish finish. I find the thought of actually eating them to horrible to contemplate.
    But whatever happened to CarolJean and her batons???

    1. You’re welcome, Amanda. Thanks for the kind words. I don’t know what happened to CarolJean. Last I heard, now this is years and years ago, she was evicted from the apartment and moved back in with her mom, who was non too happy. (Maybe it was all this scuffed ceilings and broken lamps she wasn’t looking forward to,) I did return to Dallas for a conference several years ago, and I tried to contact CarolJean, but I couldn’t find her. Possibly she married. I did look at a lot of the baton twirling schools to see if she opened one–but there’s nothing.

  10. Corn dogs are my kryptonite, but I totally get your shying away from them after that experience. But if you’re ever tempted to try a batter-coated fried dog again, do try an Anda-dog, an Hawaiian specialty — hot dog on a stick coated with Okinawan doughnut ( called Andagi) batter. As they say in the Islands, So Ono!!

    1. Hi Manju,

      I’m tempted! What is in the doughnut batter? What a great way to combine 2 wonderful deep fried treats.

  11. Oh, the stories of our lives! It’s a good thing we can look back and laugh at a situation that wasn’t funny at all at the time. We humans are amazing, aren’t we? Your corndogs were my saltines and cheez whiz. gives me the heebs just walking by it in the store to this day, but it got me through!

  12. Neat story. I can’t believe you just didn’t start walking back to New York.

    I do mini-corn dogs by dipping Hillshire Farms Little Smokies into an eggless adaptation of Paula Deen’s hushpuppy recipe, made more batter-like with the addition of some extra milk and all-purpose flour. I couldn’t make them fast enough on Christmas day. We had hushpuppies with bacon jam and mini corndogs.

    Not a bad Christmas feast for a nice Jewish boy from Los Angeles.

  13. I love the story David! The last days sitting on the bed, that could be taken away at any moment, happily eating the corn dogs is priceless. Now I will admit publicly here I have never had a corn dog. Ever. This must come from growing up in Canada (and then add the Portuguese household). I can’t say they were in abundance there. So I have added this recipe onto my experiment list. :) And I like Lisa’s idea about the shrimp, may do them at the same time and have a corn dog fest. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Thanks, Chrissie. I never had them before my Texas tour de force, and they never were a staple at church fairs in New England. I haven’t had one since, but now am a wee bit hungry for them.

      1. This, and your other stories, should be a movie. You give such visual descriptions, and hilarious although, shall we say “bittersweet.” I mean the baton-twirling roomie is a total cinematic gimme.

        Your story about discovering the milk mayonnaise and green olive dip…I can so totally see your partner chatting in the background while you happily, and with dedication, devour the whole bowl, then shrug when he glares at you. It’s perfect! ;)

        1. Ruthie, you’re going to have to stop or or you’re going to make me blush! Thank you for the kind words. There’s nothing I love more than to make people laugh.

  14. When I was a kid, we’d mix up Pogo batter (when the powdered cornmeal mix came in a box with those little sticks) and deep-fry them. My mother came home after work more than once to find my brother and I deep-frying those and a batch of doughnuts we’d mixed up. The deep-fryer disappeared shortly thereafter, before we could burn the house down. We ate them with lots of mustard, but the batter fried on to the stick was the best part!

  15. If you ever get tired of the hotdog in the corn dog then substitute a large peeled and deveined shrimp-just delicious

  16. Hey, Michhael, someone has to be the first reader to make them. So glad you liked them. Personally, I can’t look at them, after having eaten more than 100 in a month….

  17. I so love your stories. I can put myself in your place easily from your vivid descriptions. I’ll put my recipe/yours aside for a bit, until I’m over the glut of corn dogs (thanks to you) I’ve just devoured in my mind. Urp!

  18. Your subsistance on corn dogs reminds me of a time when I was attending college and was running low on funds. A friend from Barbados left me a couple dozen bags of curry powder before he went back home. I curried everything I could afford, which was usually frozen vegetables and the odd chicken leg, for a few months.

  19. Oh, David, the things we learn about you when you post these memories! I’d say “I love it,” but I’m not sure that’s the appropriate response to someone stuck in a Dallas area kitchen, subsisting on corn dogs and watching the repo man come and go at will. I firmly believe corn dogs have only one place in the world: the fairgrounds (OK, or some boardwalk arcade, that’s two places). But when there, and all crispy outside… Mmmm.

  20. I love your stories! I relate to this one because a very close friend more than once opened her home to individuals who, as you put it, “had taken a shine to one another.” I recall words like aura and channeling and tofu. In no time at all the stars would align for guests and host to separate.

    I have never made corn dogs. I used to get mini corn dogs from our local WHITE CASTLE but they stopped making them and I haven’t had a corn dog since. I will check my horoscope and dust off my fryer.

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