I Was A Teenaged Phlebotomist

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Phlebotomy (/fləˈbädəmē/), noun-the surgical opening or puncture of a vein in order to withdraw blood or introduce a fluid, or (historically) as part of the procedure of letting blood.

In junior year of high school, I got a part-time job at the local hospital as a lab secretary.  To pick up extra shifts, I learned how to draw blood.

One day about five or six of us lab folk were working to draw the blood of a rambunctious and terrified little boy.  My job was to hold his arm still.

The phlebotomist who had the needle finally got it in the vein, and the blood started to flow and fill the test tube.  The kid took one look and yanked his arm back.  The needle slipped out, the blood shot out like a super-soaker filled with strawberry Koolade. 

Right into my eye.

Another day I had to draw blood for a gentleman for a test for a social disease.  At the time I was, shall we say, “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed”.  I chuckled to myself thinking it would be a real bummer to accidentally stick myself with his used needle and contract an STD before I’d ever actually had the “S” part of the acronym.

And then I stuck myself.  With the patient’s used needle.

Luckily for both of us, his result came up negative.

Once I got pretty good at the job, a few of the techs thought I should go into the medical profession. 

But, I couldn’t.

Because I’m constitutionally unable to leave the work at work. 

There was this little old lady named Mildred.  She was a pistol, a hoot, and a barrel of laughs.  There first day I met her she told a nurse to purchase a new undergarment, because the body part that should have been restrained, was absolutely not.

But of course, her phrasing was much more colorful and hilarious.

She became my role model for being old.  When I speak my mind and make you laugh, a lot of that is Mildred.  She didn’t have family and almost never had visitors, so I hung out with her during breaks and after work.

But she wasn’t in the hospital for a manicure.  Of course, she wasn’t.

And so, one day, when I went up to her room, it was empty.  A veteran nurse explained to me that you can’t get too close to the patients and continue to work in healthcare—it’ll break your heart.

So, the first chance I got, I got out of healthcare.

But not before I met the Balthus brothers.  Between the two of them they were 847 years old.  And, they were the crankiest, meanest old cusses in Eastern NC.  They were so inseparable they were even hospital patients at the same time.

The lab techs were all tittering and giving each other significant looks the first time I went up to draw their blood.

In their room, I introduced myself, and the abuse began.  As you can imagine, nobody likes to have their blood drawn, so nobody was ever happy to see me.  This antipathy was turned up to 11 with the brothers.

Both men began a string of verbal abuse that continued until I left.  Brother One warned me to get my GD hands off Brother B.  As the needle was about to enter B’s left arm, his perfect right hook got me in my left eye.

I was much more shocked than I was hurt, so I said the first thing that entered my mind.

“Fine!  Then I’m not going to draw your blood!”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Little Pot of Porky Joy

North Carolina is a piggy state.  Our pork processing industry is the nation’s third-largest, generating almost a billion and a half dollars a year.

But where Tar Heels really shine, is in the preparation and consumption of it.  I can explain in four little words.

Eastern NC Barbecue.

Short of Puerto Rico, nobody even comes close to the wondrous things we can do with a pig.  It’s a mystical art that reaches back through the centuries.  The Taíno people, an indigenous population who lived, among other places, Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico invented barbacoa, the slow cooking of wild boar upon wooden frames. 

There are stories that pirates in the Caribbean took up this cooking method.  Because of the state’s unique position jutting far out into the Atlantic and the cause of many a ship’s doom, there was quite a population of those same pirates that eventually, whether by choice or by shipwreck, came to call NC home.

Did they bring along the idea of barbacoa with them, which then was passed along to the rural population who had access to whole, freshly slaughtered hogs?

With this heritage, residents of the Old North State have eaten pork in many delicious forms.  Barbecue, sausages of all types, and has anyone ever been to a Southern funeral where there were no ham biscuits?

I think there’s a state law mandating piles of them must be at the get-together after any good North Carolinian is laid to rest.

Pigs were domesticated first in Europe and Asia.  In France, they invented a rich unctuous dish that’s naturally preserved.  It’s a dish that is unfamiliar to many people in this state but has a lot in common with our own porky sensibilities.

It’s slowly cooked, using pork shoulder, a cut that needs time to coax out its flavor and texture.  It’s rich, using the fat as well as the meat.  The fat also preserves it by getting poured into a layer on top and hardening, which serves as a barrier to sick-making microbes.

It’s called pork rillettes (re-yets).  And it’s the easiest fancy French food you’ll ever be lucky enough to put into your own pork hole.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pork Rillettes

2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound pork belly, skin removed, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup brandy

1 ½ cups chicken stock

12-15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

10 peppercorns, cracked

10 juniper berries, crushed

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

5 bay leaves

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Salt to taste

Heat oven to 250°.

Place everything except salt and vinegar into large heavy pot with a lid.  Cover, and place inside oven.

Cook 2 ½ hours, then have a peek.  You’re looking for the stock and brandy to be cooked out, and the meat to be completely soft and falling apart.  If the stock hasn’t cooked out, uncover and cook for thirty more minutes.

When pork is sitting in fat only, remove from oven.  Discard bay leaves and thyme twigs.

Pour into colander or sieve, catching and keeping the fat.  Place pork and solids into stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix on low until meat is almost a paste.  Add ¼ cup of the reserved fat and mix on low until fully combined.

Divide into 8 small jars or ramekins.  Gently press smooth to remove any air pockets.  Top each with a spoonful of reserved fat.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks if fat cap is undisturbed.  Once the cap’s been broken, you have five days.

Spread on toasts or crackers, or place a dollop on chicken breasts, steak, fish, or roasted veg.  

Trippin’ With The Murphys’

The crazy thing is, of all the Murphy kids, younger son Chrissie was the one sibling I really disliked.  I thought he was mean, hateful, and angry at the whole world all the time. 

I recently asked Chrissie, who’s now closer than a lot of my family, what he thought of me all those years ago.

To him, I was an annoying friend of his little sister.  An interchangeable mosquito.

My feelings were very different toward oldest son, Mike.  I had a huge crush on the boy who was always sweet to me.

The patriarch of the family was Bear.  He was commander of the base in Puerto Rico where we all lived.  He was a no-nonsense military man. 

He was strict with all the kids.  But with his sons, he was tough and cut no slack.  He had very high standards and accepted no excuses.  None of the kids would ever dream of back-talking or sassing that man.

Bear’s attitude manifested in anger with Chrissie.  His defenses were always up.  Most emotion was hidden behind a mask of aggressive apathy.

Kitty was the same age as me and my best friend.  She was smart, funny, proud, and had a very full inner life that was never shared.  Her defense against the world was a comic flakiness.  Teachers and parents, and even friends had a hard time holding her accountable when it was clear that she had full knowledge of her shortcomings and they made her far more disappointed in herself than anyone else ever could be.

Min was all of these, and more.

Minnie was the oldest daughter.  I’d never before or since met anyone like her.  She was a comedian/tomboy/secret agent/big sister to the sister-less/rebel/Dr. Dolittle/business genius/magical wood sprite.  Almost fifty years later I still think about conversations and adventures we shared.

The family matriarch’s smart and sophisticated is Mama Cat.  She showers her children and their friends with warmth, affection, and humor.

Lighthouse Beach, where we often went.

 Often, Bear and Mama Cat would take us all to nearby beaches.  Michael, Minnie, Kitty, and I would bodysurf and Chrissie surfed.

Many of the older kids surfed.  Lawns were mowed, children were babysat, dogs were walked, all in the pursuit of the cash to purchase their own boards. 

One afternoon we were on our way home from the beach.  Chrissie’s surfboard was partially in the car, with about a quarter of it out the window, like an exuberant dog on a ride.

The garage was a two-car with no doors, but with a four-foot-wide supporting pillar that divided it.  Bear pulled into the driveway.

The house on the right is the Murphy’s actual home in Puerto Rico.

I saw it coming, but didn’t have time to say a word before it happened.

As Bear pulled into the garage, Chrissie’s hard-fought surfboard was still sticking out the back window.  Never noticing, never slowing, the inevitable happened.

The board hit the pillar and a huge gash was neatly excised from the board, instantly and forever rendering it useless.  Except as modern art.

Actual Modern Art.

The care went completely silent.  I was watching Chrissie.  His face was red and his jaw was clenched.  If anyone else had destroyed his board they would already be begging for the sweet release of death.

Bear, sat as a stone—immobile and unreadable.

Actually Grandfather Mountain; it’s a metaphor.

Something was coming.

We just sat there—nobody opened a door.  We were waiting for an explosion, but couldn’t tell which Murphy man would be the catalyst—Chrissie to scream at his dad, or Bear to blame and berate.

Actually part of a movie.

Finally, after what seemed like eons, there was a slight clearing of throats.  One of them would speak!

Bear, with an unfamiliar sheepish look on his face, said five words I’ll never forget.

“I’ll buy the new one.”

An actual highly embarrassed bear–not the patriarch of the Murphys’.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

A Letter From Grandma Karen

Something happens when you walk your dog every day on the same streets.

You make friends.

Two of those friends; Stacy and his wife Melody, gave me a bag of some of the cookies that Mel had brought home from her family cookie swap.  Each and every one was delicious.

So, of course, I asked for recipes.    

Yesterday, Mel gave me a turquoise blue envelope.  Inside was six pages of paper from her Grandma Karen, including the recipes for three cookies. 

 Gentle Reader, this week’s essay are excerpts of the letter she wrote, her peanut butter cookie recipe and her snickerdoodle recipe (possibly the best snickerdoodle I’ve ever eaten).

What follows is in her own words and her own recipes.

“I have made cookies, breads, cakes, candy, etc for friends and neighbors, the sick, and to welcome a new neighbor to the neighborhood for most of my life, and I wanted to share this with my children and grandchildren.

I tried to think of something we could all do and have some quality time together.  We all like to cook and bake.  I decided it might be fun to get together at Christmas time and make cookies.  I called my daughter and granddaughters, and they agreed.

This will be our 5th year.  I hosted the first one.  I bought each one a Santa hat and a Christmas wine glass.  Bought non-alcoholic sparkling juice cocktail, red and white.  Other small gifts were Christmas aprons, reindeer headdresses, etc. 

We take turns hosting.

Here’s how it works: Each of us has to make at least a dozen cookies of each recipe we make so each person goes home with the same amount of the assortment of cookies.

PS-I dress up like Mrs. Santa Claus to deliver my goodies.”

*debbie here again: Coming from decades of my mom’s Christmas cookie frosting parties, I have a few thoughts about Grandma Karen’s much younger tradition. 

It doesn’t sound like there’s an annual dance and arm wrestling over how many cookies we’re allowed to leave with.  I like that.

And although we eat Mexican food at Mom’s party, I gotta say, I feel strongly that we should definitely up the swag quotient at our own festivities.

The Matthews Family Band at the 2019 cookie frosting party.

And finally, I know this is mid-January, and Christmas is over with a capital “O”, but the reason you’re reading it this week is that I think a cookie swap is a terrific idea for a party any day of the year.

In 2020, let’s make a cookie swap the new book club.  Keep reading, but book clubs are tired.  Use Karen’s parties as a template, just swap out her sparkling juice for the real thing.

Then go home in an Uber.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup shortening (Crisco)

2 eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 ½ cups flour

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cream sugars and shortening.  Add eggs, peanut butter, vanilla, flour, and baking soda.

Roll into balls, press with a fork.  Bake on parchment-covered cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes.

Snickerdoodles

½ cup shortening (Crisco)

½ cup butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

2 ¾ cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Cinnamon-sugar for rolling

2 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°.

Mix shortening, butter, and eggs, thoroughly.  Blend flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt.  Mix with shortening/butter/sugar/eggs mixture.

Shape into 1-inch balls.  Roll into cinnamon/sugar.  Place 2-inches apart on parchment-covered baking sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes.  Makes about 6 dozen.

*While baking, these cookies will puff up, then flatten out.

Follow The Purple Primate

Within these columns, Gentle Reader, I must admit I’m guilty of my own presumption of sagacity far too often.

It’s all Petey’s fault…well, mostly his.  There is though, woven within my very blood cells, the understanding of how everyone everywhere should behave, and the need to share that knowledge.  I am, like Lisa Simpson, a know-it-all with a big mouth.

But back to Petey.

Not long after we got our first computer, when The Kid was a toddler, my ever-loving spouse asked me to help him send an email to a high school friend of his whom I had never met.

I happen to glance at the note, and spotted my name, “…and I married a wise woman, named debbie.”  Not only had he never said this to me, no one that’s ever known me said that about me.  So, you’ll understand why my reaction may have been slightly abrupt. 

“Whadaya mean by that?”

Then Petey earned himself a batch of cookies when he said, “Well, you are.”

And really, doesn’t wise woman sound so very much nicer than busybody?

On a related vein, I’d like to tell you a parable from my life. 

The Kid and I had gone to Wake Forest and were on our way home.

We were on Highway 98 when we started seeing these signs.  You know how sometimes your memory of something can have a weird discrepancy with the IRL events?

Well for some reason, I remember a purple monkey at this point.  But The Kid assures me with a slightly worried frown, that there was in fact, no monkey.  But, as the wise man said, “Monkeys make everything funnier.”

Anyway.

The sign consisted of two words and one exclamation mark: Go Ape!

Now, I don’t know anything about your life, Gentle Reader, but in the lives of The Kid and me, it’s been a minute since we were invited to “Go Ape!”.  So it kinda got us talking.  For probably 15-20 miles, we discussed, half-jokingly, about whether we should “Go Ape!”.

But it was a very academic question because in a happy coincidence, the path to going ape just happened to lie on our path toward home (it really wouldn’t have surprised if the signs heralded our house, in the way that in the 1930s one might find a sign proclaiming the existence of an eight-foot chicken playing the violin).  

But then.

Our primate provocation, “Go Ape!” gave us a heads up that soon our paths would diverge, we had a decision to make—if we wanted.

It’s nuts, right?  Two grown people, actually, seriously considering going ape.  Whatever that meant.

And then it was there, the divergence.  And we…

we…

we went team simian.

And, began driving further, and further, and further out of our way.  But we had thrown in our hand, and wherever this road led, The Kid and I, carried aloft by Agent Colson (The Kid’s wheels), were in it.

The road eventually led to the location of “Go Ape!”, a high ropes course of climbing, zip-lining, you get the picture.

And this time a possible dilemma had no horns; “Go Ape!” was closed.

We turned around in the parking lot and headed home, a little disappointed by the rather mundane nature of our destination.

But the charge we got from just going for it, just saying to the world, “Yeah, we’re following two-word road signs armed with equal parts abandon and ignorance, so what?”

So, every once in awhile, when you’re out with your kid, or squeeze, or squad, or alone; please, Gentle Reader, I implore you,

“Go Ape!”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcitymom.

For Everything, there was a (Southern) Season

In November of last year, it was announced that Southern Season, a Chapel Hill institution since 1975, and friend to generations of lovers of food would be closing.  It’s been a long slow demise which began with the 2011 sale of the titan to TC Capital Fund.

But in its heyday, it was a fairyland for anyone fascinated by all things.  It was a juggernaut; almost a culinary amusement park.

When The Kid was in elementary school, I worked at the Waldenbooks at University Mall for a few months.  Whenever I could, I’d run down to Southern Season, at the far end, and pick up lunch.

In the salad bar was a pasta salad that I loved, I bugged the chef, and he finally told me the secret was water, it becomes a dressing that somehow lightly coats the pasta with flavor.

Artichokes…nooooooooo!

When The Kid was in high school, and Petey worked weekend nights at Duke, we would make a Saturday supper pasta that contained many ingredients that the absent Petey loathed, or were his personal kryptonite.

When we had our infrequent E-ticket adventures at University Mall, we always stocked up with plenty of pappardelle for our feast at Southern Season.

Thanks for the memories, old friend, and thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Walden Books Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta rotelle, bow tie, or cavatapi, cooked according to directions, then drained and cooled—do not rinse)

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

Salt & pepper

Dressing

1 ½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons malt vinegar

Hottest tap water (have a ½ cup ready, but you won’t need it all)

1 cup Cherubs tomatoes sliced in half

1 bunch green onions, sliced thin

Salt & pepper

Whisk together mayo and vinegar.

A teaspoon at a time, whisk in water until the dressing is just a little thicker than bottled creamy salad dressing.  Stir in tomatoes and green onions.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, but no more than two.

Assembly

30 minutes before service: In large bowl, stir together pasta, peas, and dressing.  Start with a little dressing and continue adding until it is just a little too wet, it will tighten up, and as it does, coat the pasta.

*Salad pictured is a variation on the recipe.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and sit in a cool corner of the kitchen for 30 minutes before service.

Southern Season Krypto-night

1-approximately 16-ounce package of parpappardelle pasta

3 tablespoons salt

3 thick slices of pancetta

1-pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced uniformly

½ teaspoon dry thyme

1 bag or box frozen artichokes, thawed and halved

Many cloves of garlic, at least 8

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for service

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

Salt & pepper

Pasta water

Put a large pot of water on for the pasta.

In a large skillet, cook pancetta or bacon until it is completely rendered and crispy, remove from pan and set aside on paper towels.

Put mushrooms and artichokes in 1 tablespoon of the reserved fat.  Lower to medium-low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes to facilitate the vegetables to release their liquid. 

Uncover and turn up to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until the veg has lightly browned.

Add garlic and lemon zest, cook just until the garlic starts thinking about browning.

With a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer pasta to skillet, stirring in a spoonful of pasta water at a time until everything’s coated, but not saucy at all.

Take off heat, add lemon juice and stir in peas.  Serve in large shallow bowls with a healthy snow shower of Parm.

Makes 4-6 very hearty servings.   

Rock of Ages

It appeared that some awful tragic event had taken place; an earthquake maybe, or victims spilling out of an airplane, and tumbling from the sky.

A man, woman, and toddler were immobile on the pavement, the landing spot of poor decisions and alcohol.

It was early May.  Petey and I had been dating since January.  We didn’t have a date that night because we were taking Mom out for her birthday. 

On the way, I happened to glance out the window at the surreal sight of Petey and our friend Pig, standing in the parking lot of the bank, which was closed.

They were pacing around Petey’s beloved Corolla, which was sitting at a 45-degree angle resting upon a large landscaping rock as if taking a short break from the business of ferrying Petey around Elizabeth City.

I think my whole family had taken in the bizarre vignette at the same time.  By the time I yelped, “Dad!”, he was already maneuvering the car into a u-turn.

As soon as we turned into the bank and the car slowed, I jumped out and ran.

Right up to two drunken, befuddled miscreants.  I was embarrassed, disappointed, and frustrated by the poor judgment of Petey and the Pig, and resulting havoc.

But I also knew I had to put that on hold, because when not being a drunken fool, Petey was studying to be a registered nurse, and would graduate in a few weeks.  The bank was in one of the most visible spots on the most traveled road in town.  It was only a matter of time before someone made a phone call and a man with a badge showed up.

This dumb mistake could very well ruin Petey’s career before it even started.

Even my parents agreed we needed to get Petey out of this pickle, then after the crisis, have a discussion.

Not the actual incident, but I guess Petey’s not alone.

The car was resting on its undercarriage, so backing down was not an option.  It needed to be lifted up and off.  And the Corolla’s jack wouldn’t go high enough.

We were gonna need another jack.

At that time, my dad volunteered as an EMT and a first aid trainer.  He worked on ambulances and taught CPR and basic lifesaving techniques.  He had a class to teach the next day and his materials were already packed in the trunk.

To get to the jack, the classroom aids needed to be taken out. 

All three of them.

The entire family.

Imagine this troupe spread all over a parking lot…

The man, woman, and toddler dummies used to teach cardiac and pulmonary resuscitation.  

They were removed from the trunk and placed upon the pavement. 

All three of them.

The entire family.

Creating what looked like the scene of a massacre.

Somehow they succeeded in separating car from rock.  Moments after pulling the car into a regulation spot and replacing dummies into the trunk, a police car slowly drove past the now unremarkable scene of two cars and their non-law breaking occupants.

Dinner was forgotten as Dad drove Petey and Pig home in Petey’s Toyota and Mom followed with me and my little brother in our car.  We then went home, leaving Petey at his house to think about what was undoubtedly a blistering lecture from my dad.

The humiliating experience and “Dad talk” worked.  Petey stopped drinking and became a nurse that co-workers and patients all agreed was remarkably level-headed, knowledgable, and nurturing. 

But every once in a while, sitting around the table after dinner, while Petey sits with the most sheepish of expressions, the rest of the family will be nearly hysterical remembering “That Rock at the First Union Parking Lot.”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom

Napoleon was Here

I like my cocktails the way I like my men; rich and sweet.

The Kid just nominated Chris Evans for the rich/sweet position. He has the added benefit of being hotter than a $20 Birkin bag…

That’s my colorful way of saying we had eggnog for Christmas and jazzed it up with a shot of brandy.

We decided spur of the moment, so we didn’t make our own.  We picked it up at the grocery store.

The Kid and I purchased what might be the best prepared version out there—from Hillsborough’s Maple View Dairy.  It’s really thick, creamy, sweet, but not too, and contains just the right amount of nutmeg.

We purchased the brandy at our local ABC store (a nightmare by the way, at 5PM on Christmas Eve). 

For most Americans that don’t have a butler or a bat cave, brandy is not a very familiar spirit.  Brandy is distilled wine.  This distillation changes the flavor to something deep, caramel-y, and not very fruity. 

Yes, it is served in a snifter, and warmed with the hands.  But for sipping you kind of need to buy the really good stuff.  To help you out, brandy producers have set up a system of achronyms.

VS-“Very Special”; at least three years old.

VSOP- “Very Superior Old Pale”; four years old.

XO or Napoleon-“Very Old”; at least six years old.

Hors d’âge- “Beyond Age”; at least ten years old.  This is the stuff Bruce Wayne and his squad sit around drinking, in really expensive crystal snifters.

For cooking with, or mixing into cocktails, the middle of the road that you’ll find at your local ABC is plenty good enough.  We payed $7 for a pint and it put the nog into our egg nog just fine.

The cream sauce recipe is a wonderful way to use leftover brandy.  The Brussel sprouts bring acid, freshness, and green to help keep the meal from becoming ridiculously rich.

Enjoy the sauce, enjoy the sprouts, and enjoy the new year.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pub Sprouts

4 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta

1 small yellow onion

1 pound Brussel Sprouts

2 tablespoons malt vinegar

Salt & pepper

Clean sprouts by cutting off ends and discarding any leaves that look funky.  Then either slice each very thinly, or using slicing disk, run through food processor.

Cut onion in half, then slice into thin half-moons.

Slice pork into ¼ inch wide strips (called lardons) and cook onto medium-low in heavy skillet until fully rendered and crispy.  Reserving fat in pan, remove crispy lardons to paper towel-covered plate.

Pour off fat from pan, leaving approximately 2 tablespoons.  Add onions and cook on medium until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add Brussel sprouts, cover, and cook for 3 minutes until veg are wilted and have released their liquid.

Uncover, add vinegar and cook on medium until the liquid has cooked off and the veg are lightly browned (7-8 minutes-ish).  Taste for seasoning, and reseason, if necessary.  Serves 4-6.

Mushrooms in Brandy Cream Sauce

2 pounds mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 shallots sliced thinly

2 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon dry thyme

½ cup brandy

1 cup chicken stock

¾ cup 2% milk

¾ cup heavy cream

Salt & pepper

In a large heavy skillet melt butter and add mushrooms, shallots, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cover, and cook on medium for five minutes.  Remove lid and cook until the pan is dry and veg are lightly browned. 

Add brandy and cook until the liquid has almost cooked out.  Pour in stock, milk, and cream.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer (use a splatter screen if you have one because this sauce will—a lot).

Cook until the sauce has thickened and is glossy (around 8-10 minutes).  Serve on meat or starch.

In Search of a Perfect Year

Almost every single one has something to do with my mouth—either what goes in it, or what comes out of it.

I’m speaking about New Year’s resolutions.

Nobody with a belly button is perfect, therefore everyone could stand a little self-improvement.  The amount of fixing I need could fill the Grand Canyon with enough left to fill every mayonnaise jar in North America.

So, I decided to improve myself and my year by making a few resolutions.  And the making of them caused me to look back at past resolutions which is when I started to suss out a theme.  Many of them concerned not speaking, speaking (much more likely), and eating.

Oral fixation for $1200, Alex.

I resolve to forgo all those extra calories in my mom’s Christmas cookies.  So for the foreseeable future, I’ll be saving the calories by skipping lunch and supper and eating cookies in their place.

I resolve to remember that I am not the hall monitor of the world.  In the unlikely event, someone asks for my advice, I will happily give it.  But I will no longer offer unsolicited; my judgments, warnings, and wisdom. 

Unless I cut this out, and quick, I face the very real risk of becoming that person; the one who always knows what’s best, knows what you’re doing wrong, and knows the right way things should go.

Nobody likes this guy or is happy to see him.  The people around him are constantly looking for reasons to leave, “OMG, would you look at the time?  I need to pick up my friend from the airport, and help a co-worker move.”

That guy’s like the biter in kindergarten.  That kid never gets invited to birthday parties.

I vow to shut up, be present, and listen.  Far too often in a conversation with someone, I get very enthusiastic, and that causes me to interrupt them.  That’s rude and annoying.  And many times I only half-listen while I feverishly think about what I’ll say next.  Then I jump in by interrupting.  It’s a vicious, irritating circle.

I promise to put down that plastic and back away.  I might put it in cart, but I really need to stop proceeding to checkout.  I need no more bottoms, no more tops, and no more shoes (Really?  No new shoes?  Yes really.  Now shut up and pretend you’re a grownup).  I have enough dog walking/play clothes to walk every dog in North Carolina in clean clothes—twice a day.    

Who knew shopping in one’s pajamas could be such a dangerous proposition?  Amazon, thou art an evil temptress.

One year from today I’d like to have regained my fluency in Spanish.  When we moved to North Carolina in 1979, after three years in Puerto Rico and three more in San Diego, I could read a Spanish-language book and carry on a conversation in Spanish.  I spent a week in Mexico without speaking a word of English.

After decades of disuse, much of it has been forgotten.  My goal is to be able to freely converse  with the young woman at my local panaderia (bakery).  I’d like to be able to order a pastry without accidentally telling her that my cupcake has fleas (it totally doesn’t).

Finally, after years of writing about food, this year I want to learn the skills to make me a better photographer of all things edible.  I want people to look at my pix and think, “Holy cow that looks delicious!”, and not “I can never unsee that and I may never eat again.”

Here’s to growth and change in 2020!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

New Year’s Reset

I’ve only seen my mother drunk once.  It’s not that she’s a highly successful secret drinker, she just doesn’t drink alcohol very often. 

But one  New Year’s Eve in Puerto Rico, we went to a party.  Everybody brought their kids, and we were relegated to a rumpus room with chips and sodas.

My brother and I were pretty well-behaved children, but I think my mom always worried that she’d turn her back and we’d grow fangs and become serial-killing-bank-robbing-jay-walkers.  So she frequently checked on us.

At first.

After a while, the space between visits got longer, and her demeanor changed into something, in any other human, would be considered silly.  But my mother doesn’t do silly, or goofy, or wacky—ever.

But she also never imbibes, so it took some time to realize what was going on.

My mother was getting snockered!

Her beverage of choice that evening was Cold Duck.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it: “The Cold Duck…recipe was based on a German legend involving Prince Clemens Wenceslaus of Saxony ordering the mixing of all the dregs of unfinished wine bottles with Champagne.”

The Wenceslaus in question.

Now, if that doesn’t sound like a party, I don’t know what does.  Honestly, though, eww.

At some point, my mother and another guest decided that they were on one of those drunken, all-consuming, to-the-death missions to go Christmas caroling.  So six days after Christmas waving bottles of their sparkling abomination, they roamed the neighborhood, belting out carols that all seemed to come out sounding like “Feliz Navidad”.

Mom’s caroling was a tad more PG-13.

If, Gentle Reader, you’ve ever spent the evening guzzling cheap, way too sweet, effervescent wine, you probably have an idea of how this story ends.

Come morning, my abstemious mother was hugely hungover; every system in her body rebelled and punished her in the strongest possible fashion.  She took to her bed and late in the evening emerged, looking like a blinking, wincing piece of glass that would shatter at the merest sound or touch.

Mom eventually recovered but she’s never allowed herself to get even tipsy since.

So maybe you’ve also had a really, really good time ringing in the new year, but this is the South, and to keep the planet spinning on its axis, you are contractually required to eat greens, cornbread, and black-eyed peas.

But you feel as though instead of its axis, the planet is in actuality spinning on your head and in your gut, and you know, in your rode-hard-and-put-up-wet soul that there shall be no complicated kitchen maneuvers today.

That’s ok.  Because you, a few days ago, prepared.  And, today you have that traditional feast waiting for you, in the fridge and pantry.

A few days earlier, in that strange lull between Christmas and New Year’s make the easiest short ribs ever.  In the morning, season frozen, boneless short ribs, and wrap in a parchment pouch along with two onions and a few heads of garlic, halved.  Seal everything into a foil pouch, cook at 275° for 5 ½ hours, then toss, unopened into the fridge.

Next, prepare a batch of grits (cornbread substitution) and saute some spinach, finishing with lemon.  Refrigerate.  Make sure you have on hand, a can of Southern black-eyed peas (Lucks is the tastiest and most authentic).

Right before dinner, nuke grits and greens, heat up the beans, and toss the short ribs into a skillet to crisp edges and warm.

You can eat up, knowing that your adherence to tradition has saved the universe and given you good luck for the coming year.

Then go back to bed—you don’t look so good.

Thanks for your time, and have the happiest of new years.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.