Hair-Brained

It takes pain to be beautiful –Judy Simons.

In addition to being my mom’s best friend, Miss Judy was a hairdresser in Elizabeth City. She was responsible for maintaining my mom’s status as a blonde beehived bombshell.  I also went to her for haircuts.

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Is it Mom or Marilyn Monroe?  I can’t tell.

She was the instrument of the pain of which she spoke.  It was delivered in the form of less than gentle attempts to comb out the snarls from my tresses.  She was rough, and I was a big, tender-headed crybaby.  We were a match made in irony heaven.

My whole life I dreamed of the glorious day when I was old enough to have a say in my own hairstyle.  I was at the mercy of my mother’s aesthetic, and her view of an appropriate cut for a little girl.

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Do you see the look on my face?  I HATED my hair.

In kindergarten, she made me get a pixie.  I hated it.  It’s been close to fifty years, and I still harbor a little hostility about it.  But Twiggy and Mia Farrow were huge in the late sixties, so I sat in an adjustable chair and forlornly watched as almost all the hair was rudely amputated from my head.

Have I mention I hated it?

So finally, one day I was allowed to choose my own hairstyle.

I wanted the groovy cut that Carol Brady had.  Miss Judy gave me a perfect rendition. After I was given control, my hair was nothing special, long, with bangs and a ponytail, little girl hair.

Until the eighties happened.

I was a big fan of tough rocker chick, Joan Jett.  She was cool and brave and didn’t care what anybody thought.  And one of the coolest things about her was her hair.  She had a shaggy, shoulder-length do with bangs.  I got a picture of her and headed down to my local hair cuttery (Miss Judy was no longer an option).I loved it and decided that this would be my look when I married Petey in a few months’ time.  Unfortunately, not long before the wedding, the woman who cut it moved.  I found someone new and made an appointment for a prenuptial trim of my beloved Joan Jett.  She took one look and asked me two questions.

“So, did you do this to yourself?  And how do you want me to fix it?”Sadly though, that mop top I sported was the gateway cut to all sorts of disastrous coiffures.

It was so huge it looked like I styled it with a bicycle pump and shellac.  For a short time in the mid-eighties, my hair was assigned its own zip code.  My daily spraying habit was probably responsible for the disappearance of a dinner plate-sized piece of the ozone layer.

My Big Hair

And this is as sexy as it got for me, folks.

It was spiked.  With a half-cup or so of a gel/epoxy hybrid, I could conjure spikes on my head that were awe-inspiring.  They stood proudly at attention, stiff and sharp enough to make a porcupine weep with envy.

It was asymmetrical.  One side looked like the first day of school haircut of a thirteen-year-old boy.  The other side was a rigid bob, the likes of which you’ve probably seen on the head of the woman staffing your bank’s drive through window.

And, it was dyed.  For a while, it was the color of black cherry jello.  Petey wasn’t a fan.  He complained, “When I married you, you had brown hair.”

After the great pixie battle of 1969, I wasn’t having it.  He, nor anyone else was the boss of my hair. “Oh yeah?  Well when I married you, you had more hair!”

Thanks for your time.

Profile, The Second

This is week two of the Euphoria chef series.  Starting on September 21st, and running through the weekend, Greenville SC will be holding the Euphoria food, wine and music festival.  Chefs from all around the country will attend to cook and teach.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview a few of those attending.  Last week, Chef Scott Crawford of Crawford and Son, in Raleigh was generous enough to do an email interview.Chef Dominique Crenn, is chef/owner of Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn in San Francisco.  She holds two Michelin stars, and the title of world’s best female chef.  Chef Crenn was a finalist on Food Network’s Next Iron Chef.  She’s also mother to two little girls, and an extremely chic French woman.  I’m a huge admirer.Chef Crenn kindly consented to the interview, but rather than doing it via email, she wanted a telephone conversation.  On one hand, I was thrilled.  But on the other, I was petrified.  I felt like a middle-school science student interrogating Sir Steven Hawking.

I needn’t have worried.  She was gracious and patient.  What follows is a transcript of the call (When you read her answers, imagine them in a charming French accent).France does many, many, many food things better than the US.  What does the US do better?  I don’t know if it’s better than France, what I like about the United States is liberty and freedom, of thinking and creativity.  There is less bureaucracy than in France.

What is the one French food or food experience you miss the most?  My mother’s cooking. What was one of your favorite?  Many, many, many dishes.  She used to make this beautiful whole salmon or any type of fish that used to come from the fish monger.  And roast it with many beautiful vegetables and herbs with some olive oil in the oven.  Just delicious, and I miss that.  And I miss her famous tarte tatin, which is an upside-down apple tart that she used to make—that I miss, a lot.  It’s comfort food, you know?  It’s made with so much love.

What is your guilty pleasure?  Chocolate.What is your favorite?  Maybe a chocolate with a praline (The French pronunciation of praline is prah-lee-nay).

What do you make when you get home from the Atelier and it’s late, and you’re hungry?  Grilled cheese sandwich.

Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn Open-Faced Sandwich

One of Chef’s grilled cheese creations.

What kind of cheese?  Comté cheese, or some type of aged goat cheese.

You have twin daughters, how old are they?  Three years old.

What do they eat for lunch?  Do they like grilled cheese too?  It’s very interesting.  They’re very picky, but they love everything vegetable.  They love pasta and pizza, but we make everything from scratch.  They love cauliflower!  They like to go shop and pick up their own vegetable and go home and cook it, so this is pretty cool.I read what you said about American kids, that they’re our most treasured possession, but we feed them the worst food.  It’s very important to introduce to your kids a very healthy diet.  Fresh food; stay away from the prefab food.  You know in the long run, before the age of four, this is where they get their taste and understanding what food is about, without even knowing, and this is very true.

This ain’t no Ginsu knife, boys and girls…

What five tools can you not live without?  I don’t know if it’s a tool, but I cannot live without salt.  Definitely, a good, sharp knife.

What type of knife do you use?  Japanese.

Please join me next week for more of my conversation with Chef Crenn.

One bad ass woman.

Thanks for your time.

 

Rocket Ma’am

I was never a very strict mom.

I really had only two ironclad, non-negotiable rules.

The first was to treat everybody with kindness and respect.  I mean, that’s something we all should do, right?

My second decree concerned pets.

We’re big dog people, but no cats; I cannot abide the unsavory aroma and image of a litter box.  No reptiles; snakes and their ilk creep me out.  And no rodents; they’re rodents for cripe’s sake.

You see, get just one snake, and before you know it Kenan Thompson is wearing ugly jewelry and getting molested by the damn things.

The Kid looked at the options left, and asked for hermit crabs.

So, we headed down to the pet store and procured two hermit crabs, which were baptized, Abbot and Costello.

They might be completely lacking in the sit, roll over, and cuddle departments, but they are exceedingly low maintenance.  They need less care than a gold fish and just a smidge more than a pet rock.Not long after Abbot and Costello celebrated their two-year anniversary at Chez Matthews, my parents went out to Seattle to visit my big brother Homer, and took The Kid along.

Like we’d done a few times before, Petey and I were on “Hermie” duty.

When our child returned we had a tragic surprise.  A&C were dead.  I thought Petey was feeding and watering, and he thought I was.  There were no tears, or recriminations, but The Kid was sad and angry.

I felt worse than awful.  I don’t know what kind of cognitive or reasoning ability hermit crabs possess, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those poor crustaceans’ slow deaths.  In my mind they wondered what happened and why their human stopped taking care of them.  I wasn’t sure whether they died of thirst and starvation or broken hearts.The Kid asked if we would assist in a funeral.  It was the least we could do, and maybe, somehow it would help to assuage our guilt.

Since burial, not cremation was requested, we found a small, pretty box, and lined it with a soft piece of fabric.  I grabbed our old, beat up 5-foot spade and volunteered for grave digger duty.

I set to work, but it wasn’t easy.  I only needed to dig down about eighteen inches, but it was late in a rather dry summer and the ground was like concrete.  I struggled and sweated, but didn’t accomplish much.After about ten minutes of getting nowhere, I decided to take a different route.  Instead of using one foot to push the spade into the ground, I’d jump onto it with both feet.  I judged that the force and the weight of the maneuver would drive it deep into the ground, and facilitate the creation of a hole.

I took a deep breath and leapt like Michael Jordan.

And the handle broke.

And I went flying through the air like a half-baked human cannonball. I landed on all fours about eight feet away from the gravesite.  When I had collected myself enough to be aware of my surroundings, I looked to see if anyone had seen my mortifying acrobatics.

Petey and The Kid were a couple feet away, laughing so hard they were leaning on each other to stay upright.

Nothing could bring back Abbot and Costello, but at the sight of my antics, The Kid’s pain was lessoned some.

As for me, my guilt didn’t really decrease.  But because the pain of my battered body, skinned knees, elbows and hands were so much worse, it kinda felt like it had.tractionThanks for your time.

Drop debbie a line with a suggestion for the next end-of-month column, or anything else at, momsequitur@gmail.com.

Chefs in Profile

On the weekend of September 21st through the 24th, there will be a food festival in Greenville, SC.  It’s the 12th annual Euphoria celebration.  The Kid and I will attend.

To get us all in the mood, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview and get to know some very talented chefs who will be cooking at Euphoria.

First up is Chef Scott Crawford of Raleigh.

Chef Scott Crawford

In addition to five years as executive chef at the Umstead Hotel and Spa, Chef Scott ran the kitchen at the groundbreaking Standard Foods and Grocery.  Last year in the Oakwood neighborhood in Raleigh, he introduced Crawford and Son, a love letter to sustainable Southern cuisine.

A champion of folks working hospitality, he founded the Raleigh chapter of Ben’s Friends, a support group for people in the industry with substance abuse and addiction issues.

All three chefs got a very similar set of 15 questions.  I believe the compare/contrast helps us to get to know and understand them a bit better.

What follows is Chef’s questions and answers; verbatim.1.) For your tomato sandwich: Duke’s, Hellmann’s or homemade? What kind of bread? DUKES! Fresh milk bread…still warm.

2.) What is your “Can’t wait to get your hands on” seasonal ingredient, and what’s your favorite treatment? Apples! I love how many different apples are grown in North Carolina. Some of my favorite treatments that happen every year: Bacon-Apple Marmalade, Vanilla Apple Pickles, Sherry-Apple Date Butter, Green Apple Granita

3.) What is your guilty pleasure? Cookie Butter!

4.) What do you make when you get home from the Crawford & Son and it’s late, and you’re hungry? I make huge, fresh vegetable salads with olive oil, and lots of vinegar and crunchy salt.

Every chef has the tools they can’t live without.  This is Julia Child’s famous peg boards with some of her “can’t-live-withouts”.

5.) What five tools can you not live without? Japanese Utility Knife, Mini Offset Spatula, Sharpie, Peeler, Pepper Mill. In a professional kitchen, these are the must haves.

6.) What five ingredients can you not cook without? Salt, Pepper, Vinegar, Olive Oil, Sugar. I can make anything taste good with these ingredients.

7.) What is one dish that a novice cook should learn for entertaining that’s easy, impressive, and inexpensive? (Any recipe you care to share will be highly appreciated) Soup! No one makes good soup anymore.

Just eat around the stones…

8.) What in the culinary world angers or disappoints you? As an industry, we still haven’t figured out how to truly take care of our own. That upsets me. I don’t have all the answers yet but I won’t rest until we can do better.

9.) What in the culinary world pleases you and gives you hope for the future? The culinary world welcomes all types and gives us an outlet for creative energy. It also offers an intensity not found in other creative jobs. It’s addictive.

10.) What’s your birthday dinner? Anything…as long as it’s with my family. 😊

11.) What do you take on a picnic? We love to go hiking and find a relaxing spot to sit and eat pastries from a local bakery called Boulted Bread.

Big fan of Boulted as well.  And yes, they grind their own, right in the bakery.

12.) What food trend or ingredient are you totally and completely over? Liquid Nitrogen.

13.) What is the best way for passionate but not affluent people to enjoy fine dining?   Tour their favorite food city lunching and brunching. Lower price point but equal excitement.

A cornu-freaking-copia every single visit.

14.) Favorite local farmers market and vendor? Ronnie Moore’s here at Raleigh Farmers Market.

15.) What is one thing about you that nobody would ever guess? At one point in my life, I lived in my car. 😳Thanks for your time.

 

Honeymoon Home on Wheels

Last Sunday was my 34th anniversary.When we got married, I was 19, but looking back, I was an infant—if The Kid had shown up, talking about marriage at that age, I would have put that child into protective custody in a fortress high in the Himalayas, like Shangri-La in that movie Lost Horizons.

But my parents bought into recognizing their children’s free will way more than I as a parent now think prudent, so, Petey and I plighted our troths, hitched our ponies, and set up housekeeping.

That house was a 12X60 mobile home with no A.C.It’s a testament to how literally crazy in love we were that it never occurred to us how very, very hot and intolerable it would get, and how very, very, cranky and intolerable I would get from said heat.

About a week after we got home from our honeymoon, I cheerfully informed my new husband that I was going to my parent’s house and their central air.  I would return when there was a functioning cooling system in our home.  Cold hearted?  Maybe so, but that ultimatum saved our marriage, and probably Petey’s life.

That same day an air conditioner was procured and installed.  Crisis and lurid murder-suicide averted.

I wanted some of the corn that was growing next to our trailer, and decided that I could only acquire it through a midnight commando raid.So, on a moonless night, dressed in black from head to toe like a cat burglar, I pilfered two ears of corn.  The entire time Petey looked on, enjoying his very own, private life-action slapstick comedy.

I’d never lived out in the country before.

Our first winter, we got a crash course on country life.

When the corn was harvested, all the mice living in the field needed a place to stay for the winter.

They chose us.

Unfortunately, it was not this adorable…

I begged Petey to save us from the invasion.  His answer was rodenticide.  I didn’t know what it was or how it worked.  Its an anticoagulant, meaning the mice died by bleeding to death.  Which they decided to do in my underwear drawer.

A few months later I had another unpleasant brush with nature.

Petey had had an overnight shift at the hospital so I was alone in the love shack.  In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a noise from the kitchen. Under the sink something or someone was trying to get in.  It sounded like they were trying to dig through the floor with a file, or teeth, or claws.  I jumped up and down and yelled for it to go away.  The scratching ceased—for about 90 seconds.

I spent the rest of that night on the kitchen floor, pounding and yelling every time the attempted invasion commenced.  When Petey got home about 8AM, I was hoarse, exhausted, and furious.

He broke out some more of the poison, which put an end to the nocturnal raids.

Bigger than a Volkswagon, it was.

A few days later we found the body.  It was the biggest muskrat that ever lived.  Wikipedia says the top weight of the Ondatra zibethicus is 68 ounces.  My midnight marauder weighed at least eighty or ninety pounds.

Despite the Rodentia mass slaying and the contemplated heat-induced mayhem, we survived our three years in the country and thirty-one more.

And, it’s taken me a while, but I’ve grown more mature.

Here it is August, and it’s been at least a week since I fantasized about killing anybody.

Thanks for your time.

Don’t forget to drop debbie a line with ideas for the end-of-month column.  

 

Get Down With Brown

My shopping philosophy is pretty simple, and it’s served me pretty well.

The higher the quality the higher the price.  So, buy the best quality you can afford, at the best price you can.

But there’s an exception to this theory: butter—but butter in a particular state.Growing up, at our house, we always ate margarine.  The only time I ate butter was when we visited family in either Pennsylvania, on my grandmother’s delicious homemade potato bread, or in New Jersey on a freshly baked breakfast roll.

Because of this, in addition to being way tastier than Parkay, I also associate butter which childhood and indulgence.  So, when I began stocking my own larder, it was butter, not margarine which had a place of pride in fridge, table, and belly.I don’t remember when I discovered the wonder that is brown butter.  But, it was the luckiest kitchen mishap ever.  I was melting butter for a veggie side dish, and my attention strayed.  Soon I smelled this amazing, nutty, buttery aroma.  By the time I returned to the stove, the light golden color of melted butter had deepened to a rich caramel.

Normally I would just utter a few rude oaths to my ineptitude, pour it down the disposal and start again.  But this stuff just smelled and looked too darn good.  And it tasted even better.

After that, I began experimenting.  At first, I used it like a flavoring.  I mixed it into Velveeta Shells and Cheese.  It tasted so good, I almost forgot that the resulting dish had enough fat and calories to kill an elephant.

You know, I don’t feel quite so guilty about the brown butter mac.  But Petey would happily eat this abomination seven days a week.

When I decided I wanted to live past my thirties, I cut back on the double fat mac, and began substituting it for regular butter; both in melted form, and solid (like for baking).

Brown Butter

Butter

Melt butter on medium-low in a shallow saucepan or skillet.  Once melted, let it continue cooking, watching it constantly.  It will start to foam, and then brown.  As it browns, swirl the pan to monitor the color.  The darker it is, the more pronounced the flavor, but burned it is inedible.  When the butter solids are the color of dark brown sugar, take it off the heat.To use as solid butter, let it cool slowly, stirring frequently to keep the browned solids suspended throughout.

One of our favorite things on which to pour melted brown butter is steamed cauliflower.  The nutty flavor works beautifully with the slightly bitter veg.  Lately, I’ve been using it as a sauce for simple pasta dishes.  It enhances the taste without covering delicate flavor.

Have the butter browned and waiting in a skillet when the pasta is ready.  Then just spoon the finished noodles or ravioli into the butter and toss.  Ravioli with a mild-flavored filling is made for brown butter.  For a sauce with more complex flavor, add the juice of a lemon and a handful of grated parmesan.  It’s a delicious, sophisticated sauce for fish and poultry.And this brings us back to where we began.

Although expensive European higher fat, lower water content butter is delicious (heck, I have a box of Kerry Gold from Ireland in my fridge right now), it isn’t the best pick for browning.

What browns in butter are the milk solids, and as you move up the price and quality scale, the amount of solids drop.  So, the cheaper and less clarified butter makes the best brown butter.

Would that it worked that way for shoes.shoe collageThanks for your time.

Graditude Light

I was convinced healthy food was a complete and total snooze, and to be avoided at all costs.

Until I actually began eating it.  There’s some pretty tasty and healthy stuff out there.

I loathed country music and was certain there was nothing for me in the entire genre.Until I discovered Patsy Cline, and listened to Van Morrison’s “Pay the Devil”.

And in the same vein, new age-y touchy feely stuff leaves me very cold.  If I’m wandering around the interweb and see an article entitled, “Three Reasons Why People Are Not Successful in Transforming their State of Being Whilst Performing the Transform Feelings Process.” or “How to Awaken Your Psychic Power to Feel Your Aura”, it makes me want to eat some mayonnaise and lay down for a while.

Except…There is one principle of the crystal crowd with which, like Riker,  I do indeed concur! Wholeheartedly!—gratitude.  Taking things for granted and believing that good things are owed to you breeds arrogance and narcissism.

Acknowledging the good things in your life increases your happiness, fosters compassion, and builds humility.  And quite frankly, just about everybody could use a dose of humility.

And I do appreciate the big things like Mother Earth, and the brotherhood of man.  And the small things like a baby’s laugh and the feeling of the warm sun on your face after a long, hard winter.  I mean, who doesn’t?

But I’m also thankful for the small, less noble things.  In other words; the simple, shallow gifts in our lives.Good hair days.  When you temporarily defeat your cowlick or your roots aren’t showing or being frizz-less on a humid day, or your thin hair has volume, or your thick hair is as shiny and sleek as an otter.

Frosting.  Creamy chocolate, airy marshmallow, glossy ganache, and complex, robust, yet delicate vanilla are but a fraction of the varieties available to top your cake, or in my case, spoon, finger, or shot glass.  Whoever it was who decided to mix fat and sweet, then put it on top of stuff rivals the collective genius of the Wright brothers, Guttenberg, and Da Vinci.

A really good bargain.  The Kid and I have an ongoing competition to see who can get the best, most unbelievable sale price.  Recently I got a $50 skirt for $6.99, and a $60 hair tool for $2.50.  No fooling.  I’ll be in a rocking chair at the home before my child tops those discounts.A good, old fashioned gothic romance.  They’re formulaic, silly fun.  Give me a mysterious mansion, a misunderstood lord of the manor, a malevolent, demented retainer, and a plucky, orphaned heroine.  Throw in some shameful secrets and a few murder attempts and I’m in pulpy, paperback heaven.

Freshly laundered flannel sheets, and new, warm-from-the-dyer sweats.  They smell good and feel like a cozy caress.  Some people like shiny and slippery, but I’m a warm and fuzzy girl, and proud of it.And, Little Sweet; the tiny, glam rocker played by the original American Idol winner, Justin Guarrini.  You’ll catch him riding miniature horses, washing his delicates, and acting as pool toy in Diet Dr. Pepper ads.  That little lil’ guy just cracks me up, every single time.

Sometimes life can just flat out stink.  And sometimes stress and strife can make you wonder if things will always be so darn hard.  Sometimes, on those days, the only enthusiasm you can work up is for clean sheets after a warm shower.

So, go right ahead and then get a good night’s sleep.  Because, you never know, tomorrow might bring frosting with it.Thanks for your time.

Eating the Blues Away

At my advanced age, I honestly didn’t think it was possible.tater salad collageI’m talking about one of my very favorite topics of conversation, and my very favorite food group; potato salad.

On the way home after a doctor’s appointment with Petey today, we stopped at Fresh Market.  I had gotten an email about a New York Strip sale for $5 a pound (Don’t grab your car keys, shockingly I was confused.  It wasn’t at Fresh Market, and it wasn’t New York Strip—being my spouse is one never-ending adventure.)

But as I always do on any visits to Fresh Market, I check out my two favorite departments; the bakery and the prepared foods.As is the delightful norm, the bakery was full of freshly baked delicious-looking, potentially jean-busting breads and desserts.

Dominating each store like the main square in a medieval town is the large, four-sided prepared food department.  It contains everything from sushi to ribs.  And then there are the salads.  There are different chicken salads, maybe five pasta salads, a really creamy macaroni and cheese, and salads of the spud variety.

Normally, Fresh Market has two or three, with flavors like loaded baked potato, sour cream, and egg or sometimes, herb.  At one time or another I’ve taken them all home.  And I’ve enjoyed them.Buuuut…

Today in the case was a potato salad which not only had I not seen or tasted, this was a version of which I’ve never heard or even thought about.  And, let me be clear, I spend a lot of time thinking about potato salad.

And I mean a lot of time.  Like an almost not quite right in the head amount of time.  So, up until the other day I thought that when it came to potato salad, there was nothing new under the sun.

Fresh Market turned my potato salad world on its head with…Blue cheese.

It was really all about the dressing.  This was a relatively common mayo/sour cream version.  But then those deli mad scientists went and added crumbles of a mild blue.

Red and Blue Potato Saladred and blue potato salad

3 pounds small red potatoes, left unpeeled and cut into bite-size chunks

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

½ red onion, diced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt & pepper

Dressing:red and blue dressing1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup light sour cream

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Pinch of onion powder

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

½ cup crumbled blue cheese

Salt & pepper

Cook potatoes in very heavily salted water until fork-tender.  Drain and let cool completely.

90 minutes before service, make dressing: Whisk together first six ingredients.  Gently fold in cheese.  Season with care because blue cheese is salty.  Cover and refrigerate for one hour. 

Place cooled spuds, celery, onion, salt and pepper into large bowl.  Drizzle first tablespoon vegetable oil over veg and toss to coat.  After dressing has been refrigerated for an hour, stir into potatoes until it’s a bit wetter than you want for finished salad (the taters will absorb some dressing).  Cover, and let sit unrefrigerated for 30 minutes.

Right before service, drizzle salad with the final tablespoon of oil and fold in lightly so that the salad has a slightly glossy look.Serves 6-8.

At Fresh Market, I bought a ½ pound of the salad for the sole purpose of reverse engineering and getting the recipe to pass along to you, Gentle Reader.

Not really.  I mean yeah, I thought about you and getting the recipe, but mainly I wanted some to take home and devour in private.

That would be a sheepish grin…

Thanks for your time.

 

Retail Adventures In The A.M.

This essay is the first one inspired by a reader’s suggestion.  Each month’s final column will be the result of an idea generated by you, Gentle Reader. In the summer I have a loathing of venturing out in the middle of the day.  I am also an unrepentant night owl.

Luckily we live where there are a variety of merchants which are open all night.

Shopping after hours, there is an abundance of weird, with a large measure contributed by me, as illustrated by the following tales.

The Kid went to an arts high school.  The theater department happily accepted donations of clothes and props.  One day they received a trunk full of vintage clothing and hats.  The drama students spent the rest of that Friday afternoon playing a teenage version of dress up.Later that night I was downstairs watching TV and my child called downstairs to me.

“…um…could you come upstairs for a minute please…?”

I met The Kid at the bathroom sink, peering closely into the mirror in a manner which Queen Maleficent might find familiar.  “I think I might have…lice.”  Then I was shown a couple tiny creatures, and upon close scalp inspection, I noticed a couple similar things.

Whenever I am faced with upsetting facts, my mind tries to subvert reality.  My brain looks at a fact and supplies ten reasons why it’s not true.  I fold, spindle, and mutilate the truth so aggressively I resemble Bagdad Bob feverishly tap dancing at the podium, working to convince the world that Saddam is a brilliant strategist who makes infidels tremble at the thought of the punishment he will deliver.So the lice discovery denigrated into The Kid trying to convince me that yes, they were indeed lice, but they were treatable and everything would be okay.  But during the entire 2 AM drive to Kroger I decided we would shave our heads, shave the dog, burn down the house, and start all over again.

The Kid may have been the acting adult in this scenario, lice are still lice, and my baby skulked around Kroger in a baseball cap with a tightly cinched hoody on top.  I was looking to add some accelerant and tinder to our purchase.  We bought the lice remedy, and rushed out with our heads ducked low like a couple of disgraced televangelists.

Once home, I treated the patient, changed bedding and tucked in The Kid.  I went downstairs for some furtive googling and discovered that lice are short lived (as in about 90 minutes) when not on a head.  And they’re species specific, which meant I wouldn’t be stalking our poor dog with a pair of clippers.One summer, The Kid had a friend from out of town staying over.  They planned a road trip for the next day.  Our child came downstairs at about 1:30 AM and asked us if we would make up a couple boxed lunches for them.

I had already filled the fridge with lunch fixings because I anticipated the request.  As I was congratulating myself for my awesome, intuitive parenting, The Kid had an addendum.

“Oh yeah, my buddy won’t eat fried food or cheese, and is afraid of meat.”

Afraid.Of.Meat. So Petey and I made a late night trip to our old friend Kroger.  And there, like a couple movie zombies, wandered around the store looking for inspiration and wondering aloud if soy cheese counted, and what kind of non-frightening condiments were allowed.

We put together what I thought was a pretty tempting repast and sent them off on their trip.  The Kid informed me later that not a bite was eaten from the specially created meal—it looked like it might have some undefined verboten vittles, so was discarded.I never saw said friend again; which was probably a good thing.  The Kid didn’t either; and later told me that the food thing wasn’t her only “quirk”.

One Friday night when Petey was doing an overnight shift at the hospital and The Kid was home from college, we decided to eat out for dinner.

Unfortunately, we were finding it impossible to decide where to go.

As we went through the list of eateries in our area, the clock kept ticking away.  Our deliberations began when Petey had left for work, about 6:30.  Soon, the places that closed early were out of contention.  Then, the joints that close around 10PM fell off the list. Finally, our decision was made for us.  There was only one non-Waffle House restaurant near us that was still open.  Luckily they had a widely varied menu, because we still didn’t know what we were in the mood for.

Finally, around 3:15 in the AM, I was wrapping my lips around the best patty melt I’d ever eaten.

Another time when The Kid was home from school, my child strenuously campaigned to get me to watch the BBC series, Sherlock, but for three months I kept putting it off.

Finally the night before my baby left for school we sat down together to watch season one, which The Kid owned. At the end of three hours, I was a goner.  It was one of the best things I’d ever watched on TV, and I was mildly in love with Sherlock Holmes portrayer, Benedict Cumberbatch.  I asked The Kid to pop in season two, and was horrified to learn that my child did not own it.

Holmes and Watson were facing both Moriarty and a bomb!  I had to know what happened.  It was after 1 AM, but there were stores near us open 24 hours that might have the desired DVD.

Noooo!  Somebody, somewhere has to have it!

We began calling every merchant we could think of and begging for season two.  We came up with nothing.  But…there was one guy, at a Walmart about 30 minutes away that may have misunderstood which DVD we were searching for.  I made the decision to go there and see for myself.

We jumped into the jeep and headed off.  I drove to Raleigh, the whole way working to convince myself that we were not on a fool’s errand, and they had a copy in stock.

At 2 in the morning, there is only one person working in the DVD department.  We had spoken to him on the phone, and he told us they didn’t have it. When we arrived at Walmart, we made a beeline to see for ourselves.

As we were hunting, an associate approached us to see if he could help us find what we were looking for.  It didn’t take long to do the math and figure out that the crazy lady he had recently spoken to on the phone was now standing in front of him, looking for the selfsame show that he had just told us they didn’t carry.  We got to see with our own mortified eyes that it was not there.We did get a small bag of Mickey D’s fries for the long, embarrassed ride home.

You can go many places on the interwebs and see the bizarre that comes out shopping in the middle of the night.  But for me it’s not necessary.

Like those reusable shopping bags we take to the grocery store; in the middle of the night, we bring our own crazy with us from home.Thanks for your time.

La Farm Formidable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALionel Vatinet is the devil.

And a magician.

Up until very recently, La Farm had one location in a strip mall on Cary Parkway.  In this small space, Chef Vatinet and staff turned out bread, pastries, candies, and other treats for their own retail sales and cafe.   They also made items for five local Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and their own, delicious food truck.

How they pulled off this miraculous feat of legerdemain is well beyond my imaginings.

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The Kid’s favorite at La Farm.

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…and, mine.

This week I spent some time at their new production facility for La Farm.  It’s in the old Sorrel building in downtown Cary, built in 1958.

In this airy, roomy space both the bread bakers and the pastry folks have tons elbow room.  But, in this building there is also space to play and experiment.  To do things like making their own graham crackers for a s’mores tart.

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After stuffing us full of bread and sandwiches, this is the dessert spread they put out.  The s’mores tarts are the little meringue stars.  And aren’t those the prettiest macarons you ever saw?

But they didn’t just unlock the doors, move in equipment and get to work.  Chef Lionel and team looked at things that very few of us would even think of.

Like the air.  The retail space needs to be comfortable for customers 365 days a year.  The bread area needs to a little warm and humid, to rise dough without drying it out.  The pastry room needs to be cooler.  The air can’t blast down because it can make dough form a skin which will inhibit the fermentation.

Chef had an innovative air conditioning and venting system from Europe installed.

I spent some time speaking with his head pastry chef, Jim. I asked Chef Jim about the bags of orange butter cookies at the register.  When applying to cook at an establishment, a common practice is for the applicant to actually cook.  Jim baked his delicious little orange confections and got the job.

I have a recipe that is an homage to pastry Chef Jim and his citrus treat with a nod to a blueberry cookie from Trader Joes.  They’re a lemon-scented shortbread studded with dried blueberries.

Blueberry Lemon Shortbread Cookiesblueberry lemon shortbread1 & 1/3 cups butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dried blueberries, coarsely chopped

DIRECTIONS

Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.

Put sugar and lemon zest into food processor and pulse until the sugar is very fine, and the zest has disappeared into the sugar.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and lemon juice.  Beat to combine. Stir blueberries into flour and add mixture, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.Pour dough onto surface and knead just until it comes together.  Divide dough in half, and roll each half into a log about 2 inches in diameter.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To bake: Heat oven to 275.  Slice logs into 1/2-inch thick rounds.  Place on sheet pans and bake for 60-75 minutes or cookies are very light golden and barely browned around the edges.

When done, slide parchment and cookies onto cooking rack.  Let them cool completely before removing from paper.

Makes approximately 36 cookies.La Farm can make a bread loving girl lose her head.  I could spend a full paycheck on and eat my body weight in those gorgeous, aromatic, delicious wares.

In addition to bread, cookies, and treats, Chef Lionel Vatinet serves up fresh temptations daily.Thanks for your time.