Transfer Negotiation

Ladies and Gents…welcome to 1973.1973 video

Cathy Ange and I were in love.

It was the spring of 1973, we were in the third grade, and over the moon.

For Donny Osmond.Santa had brought us his album, Crazy Horses.  At the Ange’s house,  Cathy would place the album onto her turntable in a pain-staking ritual that would have us both nearly in tears of impatient frustration.

Then Donny would sing.  Cathy and I rolled around on her bed shrieking like lunatics.  It resembled some type of possession and makes me wonder if the children in Salem were less affected by witchcraft and more by the dulcet tones of that purple-socked Osmond brother.

I couldn’t wait until Marie was my sister-in-law.

Strangely, we never had any jealousy.  If Donny had shown up to take us away from home, family, and Central Elementary School, we’d have shared him.

He’s a Mormon you know—just sayin’.

In the days before the internets, the only ways to be close to one’s idol were infrequent television appearances and print media, aka fan magazines.

There were titles like Tiger Beat, Spec, and my favorite, 16.  That year 16 had a story about Donny which was printed in installments.  Like the 19th century serializations of Charles Dickens’ novels in monthly publications, only with more teeth and less literary value.As school ended for the year I was in clover.  My best friend and potential sister wife, Cathy lived five houses down.  I was once again on my championship softball team, ‘The Stripers’.  I had the run of the neighborhood on my groovy pink Schwinn, and later in the summer, I was going to a sleepaway girl scout summer camp.

Life was good.

Then my parents and the President of the United States ruined it all.  My father had received transfer orders and by early fall we would be living in Puerto Rico.Puerto Rico!  My knowledge of that Caribbean island began and ended at having maybe heard the name, maybe.  It might have been Venus as far as I was concerned.

And the last time we’d moved I had only been five.  I’d loved our home in Mobile, but my world had been much, much smaller there.  This time I was old enough, and integrated enough into my community to know how much I’d miss it.

But there was a much bigger problem.  I would not be able to go.

At the time of the move I would be about seven months in on that eleven-part Donny Osmond magazine serial.  And unless I had an official, notarized guarantee of an uninterrupted flow of 16 Magazines, I was going nowhere.My mom sorted it.  She marched me across the street to her best friend, Miss Judy’s house.  I explained the situation and told her I’d bring her the cost of the mags, along with money to mail them to me.  She agreed.

Crisis averted; move assured.

The move to Puerto Rico was probably my hardest childhood move.  But once we got there I realized how lucky I was.  It was like three years in summer camp.  We hiked and swam in both pools and ocean.  We had our own horses, and rode in horse shows.  And, I discovered, to my delight and my parents’ horror that I am a bit of a risk-taking daredevil.

survival beach for print

That’s me and my little brother Bud, at Survival Beach, which was across the street from our house, and then just a hike down a sheer, slippery coral cliff.  I’ll bet you can’t guess why it was called “Survival”.

I learned about a new culture and discovered Puerto Rican cuisine which is about the best food ever.  We lived on a tiny base, and knew every single person, like Mayberry with palm trees.

So the move I didn’t want to make turned out to be my favorite posting.

But, I’m still waiting for that visit from Donny.Thanks for your time.


Fairly Balanced

My favorite ice cream treat is Dairy Queen’s peanut buster parfait.  It is a miracle of simplicity; vanilla soft serve draped in hot fudge sauce and studded with peanuts.

But who knew my affection was rooted in science?

While each component is plenty tasty on its own, it’s the contrasts that push it to icon status.  The hot/cold, salty/sweet, and creamy/crunchy excite us and satisfy the palate.  It’s called dynamic contrast.

The accepted definition for this term is: moment-to-moment sensory contrast from the ever-changing properties of foods manipulated in the mouth.All this fancy scientific palaver boils down to one thing: humans like contrast, and crave it.

The Kid recently found a dish on the website Smitten Kitchen, which was inspired by an Ina Garten recipe and features contrast.

Crusty Baked Cauliflower and Farro

Final amended recipe

I’m sorry guys, there are just a crap ton of ingredients in this dish.

2 cups cooked farro

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 tablespoons capers, drained

2 large or 3 regular cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 cups coarsely grated Manchego

½ cup Marcona almonds, given a brief, rough chop into halves or thirds

1/2 cup full-fat ricotta cheese

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese

2 teaspoons dry thyme


Place farro into large bowl.

Par-cook cauliflower:

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush a large baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread florets in one layer, drizzle with 1 more tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes until lightly browned and crisp-tender (they will finish baking with the farro). Reduce heat to 400 degrees.  Place cauliflower into bowl with farro.

Assemble casserole: Add the capers, garlic, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to cauliflower and farro and stir to combine. Stir in manchego and almonds. Transfer half of the mixture to an oiled 10-inch ovenproof frying pan or equivalent baking dish. Dollop rounded tablespoons of ricotta all over. Sprinkle remaining cauliflower and farro over the ricotta, leaving the pockets of it undisturbed.

In a small dish, combine panko with Parmesan, thyme and 1 tablespoon olive oil until evenly mixed. Sprinkle over cauliflower and farro.

Bake casserole: For 20 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Dig in.Do ahead: Farro can be cooked up to 3 days in advance, kept in an airtight container in fridge. Cauliflower can be cooked 2 days in advance. Casserole can be assembled and baked a day later, easily, although the crumbs might lose their crisp from absorbing the moisture below if not added right before baking. Casserole keeps for several days in fridge and longer in freezer.

The Kid loved this dish so much it was a struggle to leave enough for me to try.  I liked it a lot, but had a couple of tweaks in mind.

The sample I tasted had a lot of lemon zest; like a whole lemon’s worth.  It was too much.  It became very floral, and the flavor overpowered the other components.  We reduced it.

It needed crunch, and we picked nuts because they don’t go soggy.

We both thought about pine nuts, but Chinese pine nuts from the Pinus armandii can give you something called “pine mouth” which deadens your taste buds for a while and leaves you with a metallic taste for two weeks or more.   And unfortunately, it’s not usually easy to discern the origin of your pine nuts.So we chose Marcona almonds because they’re addictively tasty.  They were the perfect foil for the other ingredients.  It was a true balance of both taste and texture.

And, here’s one more contrast for you.

When I eat something outrageously delicious, it makes me want to cry; with pleasure, gratitude, and the ephemeral nature of the food. But The Kid gets angry.

Yeah, angry.I only offered another contrast.  I didn’t promise it wouldn’t be bonkers.

Thanks for your time.

Into the Woods

What I truly regret is that I lived here almost 25 years before I explored it.

In the fall of 2013, the Matthews Family Band was shaken to our core.  Petey was desperately ill.  From mid-October to the end of March 2014, he was in the hospital much more than he was home.

Every day I got up and headed to the hospital, staying until evening.  At the beginning of Petey’s illness, The Kid was all the way across the country in San Francisco, doing an internship.  So, I left an empty house each morning and returned to an empty house each night.

But not totally empty.riker layingOur dog, Riker, was my only, my constant companion.  Before I left the house, I took him out.  After patiently waiting for me all day, we’d go for a walk as soon as I came in at night.

After being cooped up, Riker was sorely in need of exercise, and a change of scenery.  After being cooped up, I also needed exercise, and to turn off my brain which teamed with lab tests, prognoses, and bills.Drinking was an option, but I save my calories for desserts and macaroni & cheese.  Riker might have turned to drink, but 200-pound dogs can be really ugly drunks.

One night, about a week after Petey’s initial hospitalization, our pup and I took a new route on our walk.Our street is a dead-end, and beyond is forest.  Instead of walking our usual route which was to the end of the road and back, when we got to our turnaround, for the first time ever, we kept going.

It was beautiful, calm and quiet in those woods.  There were houses all around, but because of the trees, they were silent and invisible.  There were various paths that led through trees and along a creek.


This is a tiny little waterfall; the correct proportions for a Barbie doll.  But it’s pretty and sounds nice-like a young David Cassidy.

As soon as we stepped into the woods, all my worries and fears vanished for the duration.  Petey was still sick, and the related stresses and complications still existed, but a forty-minute walk acted upon me like eight hours of restful sleep.  It rejuvenated both Riker and me.

We kept walking.

When Petey was home I continued to walk in “my woods”.  It was a respite.

Last fall, we lost Riker.  I continued to go into the forest, for both exercise, and to mourn my sweet pup.One day I was walking an unfamiliar path and saw a large German Shepherd coming toward me.

I had two choices: I could try to get away, but there was no way I’d outrun him.  Or, I could stay where I was and hope the dog wasn’t aggressive.  So, I stood still.

It was the right decision.  The dog was friendly and sweet.  We spent about four hours together tromping through the woods that day, with him by my side.  Never having been formally introduced, I called him ‘Mister’.  I later learned his name is ‘Polo’ (I like Mister better).


This is my favorite view in the woods.  I’m afraid my shoddy photography skills fail to do it justice.

I’m so grateful to Mister.  The forest had become a very sad place, which frequently saw me in tears.  I both smiled and laughed during my adventures with that sweet doggo; the first since losing Riker.

Now I take our puppy Crowley, into the woods.  I still love and look forward to every step.  And seeing it through the eyes of my dog has made it new all over again.  But, I don’t think I’ll ever celebrate my euphoria quite in the way he does.

No matter how happy the woods make me I just can’t see flinging myself down onto the forest floor and rolling around in deer poop.


This is how our furry little knucklehead used to sleep.

Thanks for your time.

A Tale of Two Mothers

It was Chef Chrissie’s birthday yesterday.  Petey called him.  Three days earlier, Chrissie called.  It was Petey’s big day.

Petey met Chrissie and the rest of the Murphy clan in Elizabeth City when he was about nine.  Five years later I became acquainted with them, also at the age of nine.

Mama Cat is the matriarch of the family, and one of my all-time favorite people.  Since they did a lot of entertaining the food that came out of her kitchen was very different from the kind of meals my mom prepared.

Bob Vila, circa 1978.  He looks like the sleazy prof that sleeps with undergrads.

There are dozens of discoveries I made at the Murphy’s; about all kinds of things, not just food–the first time I ever saw PBS’s This Old House was at their place.

I learned how to make rolls, buns, or anything unsliced and crust-covered bakery fresh: preheat your oven to 350.  Moisten the exterior of the bread product and put into the oven, right on the rack.  Let it cook for 13 minutes for frozen fare and 8 for non-frozen.

One item which I first had at the Murphy’s not only affected me, but my entire family.Ranch dressing.

I think it may have been on a spinach salad, but it was the first time I ever ate a salad and enjoyed it.  It wasn’t the last time, though.  I also took this intel home, and introduced this magical, garlicky elixir to my family.  I’m firmly convinced my brother would eat car parts, stuffed animals, and kale if drenched in enough ranch.

And this brings me to this week’s recipe.Last week my folks met us at a cafeteria for Petey’s birthday lunch.  I had chicken tenders and fried okra as part of my meal, along with some ranch in which to dunk it.

My mom, though went all in.  She ordered ranch chicken casserole.  It was a dish she’d never had before, but the “R” word in the name sold her.

I think maybe she would have liked a refund.  She said it was dry, and the ranch flavor was akin to the weird flavor and texture that happens to off-brand fat-free.

I decided to create a version that she would enjoy.  But I also wanted something that didn’t call for canned cream soups.  Most recipes I found online have at least one or two varieties, but I think they taste like the can they come in. I also wanted something that was quick and easy, so making a cream soup from scratch was too much.  I settled on two cups of old-school ranch dressing; the envelope type made with one cup of mayo and one of buttermilk.

Ranch chicken casserole, reduxranch casserole2 ½ cups rotisserie chicken shredded

12 ounces egg noodles, cooked 5 minutes less than directed then drained

2 cups freshly made ranch dressing, buttermilk style

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 minced shallot

1-10 ounce bag frozen peas and carrots, thawed and allowed to drain off excess water

Salt & pepper

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together first six ingredients.  Lightly season, then taste and re-season, if needed.

Pour into a greased 9X13 or 3-quart casserole dish.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. 

Uncover top with cheese and sprinkle with paprika.  Cook on middle rack under low broiler for 15 minutes or until bubbly.chicken ranchLet sit for 10 minutes before plating.  Serves 8.

I love and appreciate both of these mothers very much.  My own mom raised me, fiercely protected me, taught me, and nurtured me.  She gave me life.

But Mama Cat gave me ranch dressing.Thanks for your time.




Advice for a newborn

The new year is only a few days old, and I offer a few thoughts and requests for it.

Dear 2018,baby 2018I know that in these early days it’s impossible to imagine anything other than shiny optimism, innocence, and clean diapers, but you only have to take a peek at poor old 2017 to see how very badly it all can go.  That pathetic year is a dirty, misshapen failure, half crawling, half dragged off the calendar and into the history books.  It had very few friends, and hardly anyone will miss it.  Even the folks who seemed to be having a good run ended the year in a less than glorious place.

It too was once a shiny, happy baby whom people adored.  Let it be a warning to you.  Every day is a new beginning, but it is a balance, and once the number of bad ones goes over 182, it’s game over, man. So, here are a few recommendations that might help to make you, 2018, less catastrophic than your older sibling.

Just because something is new, and seems exciting, does not mean it’s better.  One of these days, ask me about a little thing called New Coke.  Or movie remakes called Planet of the Apes or Arthur or The Wicker Man.  Or ask the Brady bunches’ cousin Oliver.

And expensive doesn’t mean it’s better either.  The point was brought home the other day in Costco where I low-key stalked a guy walking around in a pair of Gucci, fur-lined, backless leather slippers embroidered with tigers.

Shoes for crazy people.

I followed him around (discretely) because I had seen these “shoes” in the fashion press and couldn’t believe an actual human had purchased them for wearing.  It looked like the guy had either lost a bet or gotten dressed in the dark, during a fire.  When I got home, I was telling Petey about it and googled a picture of these masterpieces for him.

They cost $1100.

3 shoes

Ooh yeah, that’s the stuff…come to mama.

I have no problem with ridiculously expensive shoes.  Balenciaga has a breathtaking, glorious pair of pumps this season that goes for $995.  Chanel has an amazing pair of black-toed glittery boots for $1200, and St. Laurent’s fabulicious slouchy rhinestone boots are $10,000.  Would I happily sell my soul and/or both kidneys for the funds to purchase this walking art?

Of course, but these shoes are beautiful, not a hideous joke.

Sadly, some folks have more dollars than sense.There are many, many people who were completely caught off guard by you, 2018.  That’s because they had their heads buried in their smartphones.  These are the same people who’s lives will be over with nothing to show for it except for bathroom and brunch selfies, with no memory of why they were in that particular bathroom, or who else was at that picturesque meal.

So put down the phone and be present in your own life.

Those smartphones bring me to two more insidious results of these technological marvels; social media, and its flashy offspring, “going viral”.I have many perfectly nice and sane friends who regularly sing the praises of Facespace and Twattle.  They talk about how it keeps them in touch with family and connects them with treasured long-lost school chums.  Here’s my query: if they were so treasured, how’d you lose touch in the first place?Feverish social media use is illustrative of the human need for justice and the desire for complicated matters to have simple, black and white solutions.  That’s why people will learn of something that seems outrageous at breakfast and will have tried, convicted, and publicly pilloried the culprit by lunchtime.  Then three days later when the full story comes out which explains the unexplainable, nobody cares because everybody’s busy watching some Turkish dude salt meat (I swear-google it).

Salt dude.

I have a feeling, 2018, that you may turn out to be one huge, painful hangover.  That’s okay; just buckle in, eat a big greasy breakfast, drink lots of water, and sit quietly until 2019 shows up.nydThanks for your time.


She made red velvet…shortbread that is

homie failIn a continuing effort to educate all comers, I share useful information I’ve learned, and conversely, offer myself up as a horrific, terrifying cautionary tale.  So, this anecdote of mystery and invention would have been shared, regardless the outcome.

I’ve previously written about the woefully underdeveloped and overly discriminating sweet tooth possessed by The Kid.  There are only two items always on the child’s dessert list; red velvet cake, and buttery, sandy, not too sweet shortbread.

I know from shortbread, and have a recipe my child loves.

Red velvet though, creeps me out.  There’s something about adding an entire bottle of red food coloring that’s just all kinds of wrong.  Plus, as any frosting connoisseur knows, red tastes awful.But, The Kid loves it

So, I decided to find a recipe for red velvet shortbread and make a batch for under the Christmas tree.  There was only one problem.

There was no recipe for red velvet shortbread—anywhere.  As far as I can tell, it didn’t exist.

So, I decided to invent it.  And I had to work around some non-negotiable criteria, and some pretty complicated baking-related restrictions.

Traditional shortbread is flour, butter, and a small amount of sugar.  There are no eggs, no leavening, and no liquid other than a bit of extract. shortbreadRed velvet is made with the afore-mentioned bottle of food coloring for color and buttermilk for tang.  If I added these ingredients, it would be too wet and no longer shortbread.

What to do?

For color, I used a small amount of gel food coloring as well as Hershey’s dark cocoa.  For acidic buttermilk, I substituted a bit of apple cider vinegar.

A baking god.

I mixed, said a quick prayer to the baking gods, and slid it into the oven.

When it came out, the burnished brick color had deepened to the familiar red velvet hue.

After it cooled there was a taste/texture test.  It had a mouth-feel like shortbread and seemed to taste like red velvet.  I put it in a big jar with a pretty ribbon and waited for The Kid’s discerning palate and final verdict.

The Kid’s Red Velvet Shortbreadred velvet shortbread

1 & 1/3 cups softened brown butter

2/3 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon red gel food coloring

3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons whisked together with 2 tablespoons Hershey’s Dark Cocoa

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 275. Butter 9X13 baking pan, and line bottom and two sides with parchment paper, leaving enough to use as handles when removing shortbread from pan.

Brown butter: Melt butter and cook until dark amber-brown and nutty-smelling.  Allow to cool to softened-butter stage.  Make sure to use all the browned bits—this is where the flavor is.

Cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add salt, vanilla, and red food coloring.  Beat to combine.  Add flour and cocoa, 1 cup at a time, beating until just combined.

Press dough into prepared pan, smoothing top. Cut dough all the way through lengthwise into nine strips. Cut strips crosswise into four pieces for a total of 36 bars, or fingers. Then pierce each piece with five holes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABake shortbread until color’s deepened and just set, 70-85 minutes. Sit pan on wire rack to cool completely. Turn shortbread out of pan, and carefully coax pieces apart with serrated knife. Store in airtight container.

It was a Christmas miracle—The Kid loved it.  And quickly informed me that I had to write a column about it.

That was already the plan; no matter what.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks for your time.



Movie Night

Last week, I talked about a few books that might entertain you, and give you a few minutes diversion during the holiday insanity.  This week is all about the silver screen.Let me start this out by confessing that I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since the introduction of talkies.  So, all of these movies have been out for a while, and can be found online, on DVD— or even videocassette.

My criteria for what makes a good movie is pretty simple.  It entertains me while watching, and I keep thinking about it days or weeks after viewing.  That’s it.

I’ve divided them up by genre, so you can pick them by mood.  Some of these were released in the last year or so, and some have been out for half a century or more.  And dystopian, post-apocalyptic fare make me sad, so make no appearance on this list.

Love stories:My very favorite love story of all time is The Way We Were.  The moment it starts I start crying.  And I don’t stop until long after the final credits.  I have to make sure I keep drinking during this epic love story or I can become dangerously dehydrated.  Just hearing the first few notes of Barbra Streisand’s theme song is enough for me to turn on the water works.  And, Robert Redford is a visual work of art in this movie.

Comedy:Anytime I stumble across Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on TV, it’s a good day.  This movie is straight up, unadulterated fun.  Ferris is the cool guy with slightly mystical abilities that we all secretly would like to be.  His adventures with his sad-sack buddy Cameron, and his beautiful, Mona Lisa-like girlfriend Sloane have the power to cheer up anybody’s day.  This little 80’s teen movie is an undercover cinematic classic.I firmly believe that Michael Keeton is an under-rated comic genius, and exhibit one is the surrealistically hilarious Beetlejuice.  Ostensibly the story of the recently deceased Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Jane (Geena Davis), it descends into a hilarious nightmare once Keeton’s Beetlejuice appears and subsequently steals every scene in which he appears.  The dinner/Banana Boat musical number is inspired lunacy.

Any movie starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant is a master class in comedy.  The sight of those two attractive, dignified icons acting like nutty kindergarten kids is so unexpected, and thus gut-busting-ly funny.1934’s It happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert is another black and white romp that cracks me up every time.  It might just be the gateway film to convert any whipper snapper who think a classic comedy is something starring Adam Sandler, and made in the last 20 years.

Horror:Hands down, the scariest movie ever made is Angel Heart.  Made in 1987 and starring Mickey Rourke, this movie is ultra-frightening in both gross and subtle ways.  It made me afraid of being alone for weeks.  There is a scene at the end that is the most chilling thing I’ve ever witnessed.  DO NOT WATCH THIS ALONE.My very favorite movie of all time is 1983’s The Big Chill.  It is funny, sweet, sad, and if I had a genie’s phone number, I’d ask to live in the movie as one of the characters, among these friends, on that weekend.  But I just know he’d make me Meg Tilly’s loopy Chloe.

So, instead of standing in one more line, curl up on the couch with a blanket and some munchies, and take a mental vacation.  Heck, if you eat leftovers and get your movie from the library, it’ll be free!Thanks for your time.

Coocoo for Coconut

I’m shocked and horrified; the man doesn’t love lumpia.

I can, and have, eaten this many is one sitting.

Let me back up.

Years ago, I went to a potluck baby shower.  It’s been so long ago, I have no recollection of what I took.  If I had to guess, I’d say potato salad.  But, there is something that I remember very well from that day.

Lumpia, or Shanghai-style lumpia are the Philippine’s answer to a spring roll.  They were on the buffet.  After my first taste, I couldn’t stop eating until they were gone.  I embarrassed myself that day and didn’t even care.The Kid loves them too, and I thought lumpia was a Matthews Family Band obsession.  But the other day, my husband of almost 35 years informed me that he’s not a fan.  I swear, sometimes I wonder who is this man I’ve married.

Like when he did the same thing with coconut cake.

I’m not a fan of most coconut.  The Kid dislikes it in any and every form.  So, there’s never been a whole lot of coconut around here.  And I didn’t think anybody missed it.Until one day, the stranger to whom I’m married revealed to me that coconut cake is his very favorite dessert.  But Petey doesn’t like to make a fuss.

Since I found out about his coconut cake predilection though, I’ve made an effort to get him a slice whenever I see it in the grocery store.  He seemed to enjoy them just fine, but didn’t make a fuss.A couple weeks ago, I made a trip to Pittsboro.  I went to see the new restaurant, Postal Fish Company, that Chef James Clark and Chef Bill Hartley, formerly the executive and sous chefs of the Carolina Inn, had opened.  Chef James’ wife, a classically trained pastry chef Marcey had joined the venture.

The three chefs.

As a big fan of desserts, I questioned Chef Marcey about the sweets she produced for the restaurant.  She told me about a bread pudding with a boozy hard sauce, a key lime pie that the customers wouldn’t let her take off the menu.  And, a coconut cake.  She sent me home with a slice for Petey.

He made a fuss.Image may contain: car, night and outdoorSo, I asked for the recipe to recreate it for Petey, and share with you, Gentle Reader.  And just like her generous husband always has with any recipe, she sent it along.  Because it’s a restaurant recipe, it makes two layer cakes, or one really big one.

Chef Marcey’s Fuss-Worthy Coconut Cake

Cake:coconut cake9 cups flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

1 ½ tablespoons salt

6 cups sugar

12 eggs

1 pound & 4 ounces butter

3 cups cream

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons coconut extract

Cream together butter, sugar, and cream.  Add extracts and eggs.  Fold wet ingredients into dry.  Fill four 9-inch pans.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.


coconut filling

18 cups of coconut

10 cups of cream

6 cups sugar

2 pounds butter

8 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon vanilla

Boil all ingredients except corn starch and vanilla.  Make slurry with corn starch and vanilla, add to coconut mixture to thicken.  Cool completely before using.


coconut frosting

1 pound butter, softened

1 pound cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla

10 cups powdered sugar

The beans scraped from 2 vanilla beans

Cream all ingredients until frosting consistency.

This is the recipe of a real pastry chef who knows how to bake.  It’s not wordy, but the directions are all there for you to turn out a successful coconut cake.  If you have any questions though, drop me a note.

From left to right: Chef Marcey, Paige, Madison, and Chef James

And if you have an extra slice, Petey will be happy to take it off your hands.Thanks for your time.

Get in My Good Books

So, I’ve been feeling kind of overwhelmed lately.  

There’s lots of shopping.  The Kid and I are making tons of gifts from the kitchen, and I’m making my only child two pretty involved presents.

But, I’ve been reading a library book every spare second I can shave off something else.   It’s a special book, and it’s got to go back.

My local library has a new program.  It’s called “Lucky Day”.  The titles are brand new releases which are out of regular rotation.  They can’t be held or renewed, and are only loaned for seven days.  With this collection, you can score a new release without weeks of waiting in a queue.This year, I’ve discovered two new authors from this program.  Their writing is very different, but shares one trait that I love.

They’re both capable of delivering big surprises.

The first is The Nest, by first-time novelist, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  It was named best book of 2016 by People, the Washington Post, and NPR, among others.  So, when I saw it amongst the lucky days, I grabbed it.I’m so glad I did.  On the surface, it’s just another story about an upper-middle-class dysfunctional family in New York City fighting over an inheritance.  But it is in no way formulaic.  The characters are interesting, and infuriating, and unexpected.  It is not a neat little story, with a neat little ending.  Normally I like my stories wrapped up in a tidy bow, but this story is so skillfully told, the only disappointment is that the story ended.

The second book’s The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware.  This is actually her second book.  The first was, In a Dark, Dark Wood and her newest is The Lying Game, the lucky day book I was scrambling to finish yesterday before the library police came to my house.These books are mystery/suspense, and oodles of fun.  They are told in first person by a woman who finds her voice and strength, and eventually accepts and understands her weaknesses.  There are buried secrets, love gone awry, betrayal, and cosmic justice.  Just when you think you’ve got one thread figured out, a loose end crops up that unravels everything.  These British books are all full of scenes that take place in a cold rain, frigid bodies of water, or snow.  They’re put on your softest flannel pj’s, grab a warm blanket, a hot drink, and snuggle in kind of books.My last book is a new book by an old friend, To Be Where You Are, by Jan Karon, another lucky day title.

I’ve been reading Jan Karon since she started writing her Mitford books in 2005.  When I read her first, At Home In Mitford, Ms. Karon was living in Blowing Rock.  Mitford is loosely based on that High Country village.

Her books are gentle and charming.  It’s like spending the weekend at your grandmother’s house and being tucked in by her under a faded quilt.  It’s familiar, but not home; where you’re especially welcome, fussed over, and made to feel very special.There is a term I’ve heard, “self-care”.  It sounds kind of new age-y and annoying.  But it just means to take care of yourself.  When the demands on you are making you so crazy you find yourself hating the season—stop.

Take a break, get comfortable, and read a book.

Unless you’re not a big reader.

Then come back next week, and I’ll suggest a movie or two you might like.  But for now, take a breath, and have a happy, happy holiday.Thanks for your time.

Feliz Navidad

Puerto Ricans have their own version of the warming, life-affirming chicken soup made by Jewish grandmothers.

Only it’s a drink, which is a heck of a lot more fun, and way tastier.  It’s a spiritous little beverage called coquito.  It’s tempting to say it’s a Puerto Rican eggnog—but don’t.

Sure, there’s egg and dairy in there, and of course booze.  But coquito (little coconut) isn’t just some random carton you grab at the local A&P in early December.  This is a concoction with deep familial roots in Puerto Rico.Every Puerto Rican family has their own super-secret, super-special version.  The recipe for it is normally tightly-guarded and handed down to only the very favorite offspring.

And somehow, I, and by extension you, Gentle Reader, are now in possession of one of those venerated family heirlooms.

A couple years ago I met the then-Durham chief of police, Jose Lopez, and his awesome wife, Becky in line at Costco.  They have become friends, and Becky is now my Puerto Rican food mentor, coach, and head cheerleader.  And in the spirit of friendship for which Puertorriqueños are known, she gave me her family coquito recipe to share. So, here, in her own words, is Becky Lopez’ great-grandmother’s coquito recipe.  And if you’d like to say thanks for her generosity, take a moment and spare a thought or a prayer for the residents of Puerto Rico who are still in dire straits.  If you can do more, visit, where 100% of your donation goes to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Becky’s Family Coquitocoquito ingredients5 fresh cinnamon sticks

1/4 thumb size piece of ginger (about 1/2in.)

2 capfuls of vanilla extract

2 egg yolks (no membrane)

2 cans of evaporated milk

2 cans of coconut milk

1 can of coconut syrup (Coco Lopez)

151 proof dark rum or your choice of dark rum (Important: add only after mixture has cooled down)

Bacardi stopped making 151 last year. I now use Cruzan 151 aged rum.Take cinnamon sticks and smash them in a paper towel with a mallet so that their oils and taste may be released in the boil. Peel the ginger then cut it into thin pieces. Place the cinnamon and ginger in a small pot filled halfway with water and boil it for about 15 min. This should yield no more than 1 cup of liquid mixture.

Open one can of evaporated milk and one can of coconut milk and empty them into large pot. Place egg yolks in this mixture. Stir well until there’s no separation between eggs and liquid. Remove anything floating (remove any egg membrane) and cook on medium for 10 min.  Turn off heat and add the coconut syrup, stir, then add the rest of the ingredients including the vanilla extract, cinnamon and ginger water. Stir well. Cool down and add rum to taste.

Optional: before adding rum, place this mixture in a cold place (fridge or outside) @ 45 degrees or lower overnight then strain the congealed fat from the top.coquitoWhen mixture’s cooled down add rum to your taste.

Because the eggs were slowly cooked this drink can last for years in the fridge. Grandma would always bring out the last year’s Coquito (which always taste better) and served it in shot glasses. With time it thickens and becomes even more creamy.

I have had up to 4-year-old Coquito in my fridge. The trick is to shake your refrigerated bottles at least once a month.

Buen provecho! (Enjoy!)

And from the Matthews’ house to yours, have the most wonderful of holidays, and a happy, peaceful new year.Thanks for your time.

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