My Hometown

When you’re raised with a parent in the military, you move around a lot.  As a consequence, you don’t really have a hometown.

Until college, The Kid lived in the same house and had the same bedroom since birth.

By the time I’d moved out of my parents’ home when I married, I’d lived in ten different houses in five different cities.Military brats get to choose their own hometown.  It might be where we were born.  Or maybe the hometown of our parents, normally visited enough to instill both history and familiarity.  For some kids, it’s the place we were living when our parent retired from the military.  Others choose the town where they lived the longest, or went to college, or vacationed as a child.

I chose the place I fell in love.Or rather, I chose the place I fell in love with.

In 1986 Petey and I were living in Elizabeth City.  We’d been married three years, and I had an opportunity to move to the heart of Carolina for a job promotion.  I wanted to come, Duke hired my awesome husband, so we pulled up stakes and moved.

Nationally, the economy was stagnant.  Locally, things were worse.  A huge, historic industry was undergoing massive changes which translated into widespread plant closures and exploding unemployment.Always more lunchbox than three martini lunch, the small city suffered mightily.     Stores and homes went vacant, became boarded up, and fell into decline.  Crime went up, and its reputation, already less than glamorous, plummeted.

But just because everybody from away was writing eulogies, and reading epitaphs, didn’t mean my fellow residents and I were wearing black and picking out coffins.The heartbeat of this town is the rhythm of people from all different races, classes, religions, and philosophies.  Living together, working together, and getting along together.  It wasn’t all Kumbaya all the time, there were disagreements, controversies, and tragedy.But through it all, the citizens of this town kept talking.  Sure, sometimes it was a shout, and sometimes it was through gritted teeth, but there was conversation.  And there was laughter and tears, but they were shared, which magnified one, and minimized the other.Then something happened.

The residents voted in leadership that was passionate about turning the little burg around.  Unlike some politicians, they weren’t in it to amass power and shore up their bank accounts.  Not everything they did worked, and not everything they did made all of the residents happy.

And it took time. But, thirty-two years after we made the move, my hometown is one of the coolest, friendliest, most diverse, and economically viable cities in the South.  My quirky little metropolis has won awards and accolades from all over the world.  But it still keeps that bohemian, working class, wealthy retired, soccer mom, hipster, hi-tech, low-pretension vibe that made me fall in love all those years ago.The other night I walked out of a funky new restaurant into a bustling, revitalized downtown.  The strains of a solitary saxophone floated through the streets like an incandescent ribbon.  I was so proud of my hometown, I almost cried.

And of course, life means change.  Right now, there is real concern that gentrification is altering the balance of the have-a-lots, and the haves-not-so-much.  Real estate has skyrocketed, and both taxes and the cost of living is going up.It’s the very definition of, “Be careful what you wish for.”

But my hometown still has the collective wisdom to choose thoughtful, compassionate leaders who understand and deeply believe that a public servant should actually serve the public.

We should all be so lucky.Thanks for your time.

You Cheeky, Saucy Thing!

Have you ever noticed that the reaction to one unexpected, completely out of character action is often another?

That’s what happened when I passed on to The Kid a request from my mom.

Normally, someone that makes Chatty Cathy look like Marcel Marceau with laryngitis, my child is never at a loss for words.Some say it comes from me…

After spending four years and most of our money in culinary school, The Kid is our family’s Converse-wearing, puppy-loving, everything food encyclopedia.

Last week, my mom called and asked me to google our walking reference book—for a scratch-made cranberry relish recipe.  This was a highly unexpected request.To understand the earth-shattering quality of my mom’s query, you must understand a few things.My mom was born into the deprivation of World War II and raised during the convenience food heydays of the fifties; but in a large family on a limited budget.  Her mother used lots of fresh, locally grown foods, and cooked from scratch.  There wasn’t money for shiny cans, boxes, and kits.

Because of this, my mother developed a wistful longing for pre-fab food.  And decided that when she stocked her own kitchen, she’d be doing the shopping from the center aisles of the biggest, most modern supermarket she could find.I never saw fresh asparagus until my twenties, only canned.  Until I was in my teens, I thought all lettuce was iceberg lettuce.  I thought all peas were olive drab and mushy.  Mashed potatoes came from a box, and soup from a can.

As you might guess, the only cranberry sauce on our Thanksgiving table was deep maroon, quivering and tin-shaped.So, when I passed on my mom’s request for fresh cranberry relish, I was met with a deep, flummoxed silence on the other end of the phone.  The only time my child is silent is when sleeping, and if asked for a Christmas wish list.  Truthfully, even coming from my own mouth, my mother’s words felt badly awry.

The Kid later wondered if Gramma had gotten into a rap-style beef with Ocean Spray, which made sense until I pointed out that most fresh cranberries were sold under the Ocean Spray banner, as well.Well, this week my little altruist is in Canada, working for a charity, and hasn’t yet come through with a cranberry dish for Gramma.  So, I stepped in.
Harvest Cranberry Sauce

*Note: Mom probably meant cranberry “sauce”, which is cooked and more mellow than the uncooked “relish”.  Cranberry chutney is also bandied about; this is a spicier, chunkier concoction, sometimes containing ginger and savory ingredients such as onions or garlic.cranberry sauce

2-12 ounce bags fresh cranberries

1 Honey Crisp apple, peeled and cut into small cubes

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup honey, the darker the better

½ cup apple cider

¼ cup bourbon, rum, or brandy; or replace with cider

1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

Big pinch of salt

1 cup darkly toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

½ cup golden raisinsPut everything except pecans and raisins into heavy saucepan and bring to simmer.  Simmer until apples are tender and most cranberries have popped (10-15 minutes).  Check for sweetness (add more honey if needed) and stir in raisins and pecans.  Let cool, then refrigerate, for up to three days.  Will thicken as it cools.  Before service thin with cider if needed. Serves 12-18.For leftover sandwiches, mix it with equal parts Dijon mustard and mayo for a creamy, tangy spread. 

I think this will be a hit at Mom’s Thanksgiving table.  Of course, I’ve already been informed it will share billing with that carmine-colored cylinder from a can. Thanks for your time.

Living Deliberately, In Small Doses

Some people love the summer.  They love the sun, and the heat, and the beach.  They adore the green, fertile earth, and the sounds of birds and crickets.  They look forward to the long days, baseball games, and cookouts.

I have a theory about those people.They’re Canadian, British, or live in northern New England.  If a North Carolina resident says this to you they’re either lying or transplants who’ve never had the peculiar joy of receiving twelve brand new mosquito bites walking to the mailbox.  Or paying $75 for a blow-out and have the humidity make your new coiffure transform into a cheap fright wig in the time it takes to walk from salon to car.All honest North Carolinians must admit that our summer is a hellish endurance contest. Research tells us that native Alaskans have 280 names for snow.  People living in the heart of Carolina have 187 names for sweat.  And, another 72 for chafing.

But, no matter how horrifyingly demoralizing our summer gets, we all know it will eventually end, and thus yearn, from the depth of our flushed, blistered, overheated, cranky souls, for fall to commence.I’m usually over our summer by about May 14th.  Then I exist in sweaty limbo until the weather breaks.

And, boy howdy, has it ever broken.  The heat and humidity are gone, replaced by crisp dry air that smells vaguely of woodsmoke and nutmeg.  The sky is art school-level cerulean blue, and the clouds are usually solitary, lacey, and white.  The leaves are in mid-change with enough green left to make the scarlet, tangerine, and goldenrod all the more spectacular by comparison.Almost every day I put on my wellies, and the dog and I disappear for hours into the woods.  We follow paths and make our own.  We climb, and jump, and splash through puddles, ditches, and creeks.  And occasionally, when the Akita known as Crowley is nose-deep in a hollow tree and still for a moment, I take a look around.

And in my head and heart is wonder and gratitude, in equal measure.It is the very definition of beautiful.  Even the lane cut and maintained by the natural gas folks looks like a Hollywood set for an autumnal movie.  The underbrush has died back, making the forest floor manicured and verdant.  Leaves with colors Titian had no name for dance and swirl in the breeze.  The air has a crystal quality that makes everything look glossy and photogenic. And this ostentatious, glorious Monet landscape is only one block from my house.  I wouldn’t trade it for ten pair of Stuart Weitzman boots and all the Lindt milk chocolate truffles in Christendom (but it’s probably best that no one’s ever offered me that deal…).I treasure my solitary hours among the trees—all of it.  I can loudly, badly, sing along to Aretha Franklin with no one to critique, but seconds later stumble into giant, sticky spiderwebs or briar patches that leave me plucking thorns from bloodied flesh.

It’s just the price of admission to this other world; but so, so worth it.  So this week, Gentle Reader; I urge you to take it outside.  And you can do it gently.  Drink your morning coffee on the porch.  Sit outside with the kids while they do their homework.  Eat lunch al fresco (Outside, not naked, but hey, you do you.).

Because in February, when you pull on that third pair of socks ‘cause your toes are frozen fish sticks, you’ll remember these precious fall days.  And, whether you’ll feel pleasure or chagrin is up to you.Thanks for your time.

2 Good 2 Be 4bidden

I recently read a study about comfort food and stress eating.Men eat their favorite comfort foods to celebrate.  And the edible indulgences further raise an already elevated mood.

Yay men.Women crave comfort foods as remedy to the stress and gloom of bad days.

The result speaks to the tragically disordered thinking many women have about food.  That attempt to eat our way to serenity?

Yeah, not so much.  Rather than succor, we’re left with feelings of guilt.So women, instead of thinking of food as an antidote, let’s think of it as neutral; neither magical nor evil.  Healthful food that we need, and occasionally, some well-deserved, mindful indulgences.  Let’s take a page from men, with their uncomplicated, rational view of food.  It’s not our adversary, it’s not out to get us—it’s just food.Last month while judging at the King Arthur flour contest, I was lucky enough to sample one of the best bites, and possibly the very best pie I’ve ever been lucky enough to taste.  It springs from the confectionary mind of Melissa Bentley, of Zebulon, and recipient of my sweet tooth’s eternal gratitude.

Cookie Dough Cream Pie

For Pie Crust:cookie dough crust

1 ¼ cups white sugar

2/3 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 pinch salt

½ cup butter, melted

Cookie Dough:cookie dough pie 21 ¼ cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

¼ plus 2 Tbsp. cup granulated sugar

¼ plus 2 Tbsp. cup packed brown sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

2 ½ Tbsp. milk

½ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

For Filling:

cookie dough pie 3

¾ cups light brown sugar

1/3 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups whole milk

3 egg yolks

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping:

cookie dough pie 4

1 cup heavy cream

3 Tbsp. sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.

Whisk sugar, flour, cocoa powder, and salt together in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour melted butter into the mixture and stir to incorporate. Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake crust in preheated oven until the sides are firm and the bottom bubbles slightly, about 10 minutes.

To prepare cookie dough, beat butter and sugars and in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add milk and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Using some of the dough, make 8 small balls. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Reserve remaining dough.

In a medium saucepan, mix sugar, flour and salt. Stir in 1 cup of milk, mix until smooth, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until smooth and thickened, about 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining cup of milk. Temper the egg mixture with a small amount of the slightly cooled milk mixture then blend this into the larger saucepan with the cooling milk mixture.They sell tubs of chocolate chip cookie dough made safe by the removal of the eggs.  It’s meant to be eaten raw.

But, this pie.

It’s a gorgeous holiday dessert.  And a saner, much less embarrassing version of sitting on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night, eating spoons full of cookie dough by the light of the fridge.Thanks for your time.

The Rude Jerk

So, you’ve broken the rules.

You’re doing something that you’re not supposed to do.  But, you’ve decided to do it anyway.  As transgressions go, this one is minor; something like binge-watching The Crown instead of organizing the garage or using the printer at work to make flyers for your yard sale.You’re prepared to face the consequences, but you’re so slick, chances are nobody will ever find out, and you’ll take this bit of lawlessness to the grave.

And then it happens.

Busted.Your spouse, or your child, or your boss, or Nadine, the office busybody who never met a secret she could keep—somebody catches you.  In addition to that cold clutch-y feeling you get in your gut, there’s something else.  That the previous funny business is no longer even mildly amusing business.  The mood changes from “getting away with something” glee to guilty, remorseful shame, and occurs so quickly it induces a kind of emotional whiplash.That, Gentle Reader is the moment.  The moment when you’ve been rudely jerked back into reality by the long arm of the law, authority, or just disapproving fellow humans.  When the jig is up, fun is a foreign concept, and you’re convinced that not only are you an idjit, you must have been nuts to even consider doing something so dumb, and there’s no way you wouldn’t have been found out.

You also question every moment of your life that has led to this ridiculous, humiliating predicament.  You should definitely not be allowed to function without a state-supplied keeper…and maybe a helmet.  You are officially, a frivolous fool. But, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger.  Everybody on this rock has had this stomach-churning moment.

The toddler caught in the bathroom with her face, hands, arms, and hair painted in all the pretty colors of Mommy’s lipsticks, gazing at her new and improved appearance in the mirror.

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                                             But it was impossible to stay mad at this face.                                                 Riker Matthews 2009-2016.

The 200-pound dog discovered in the kitchen, standing right next to where a turkey leg was before its mysterious disappearance, with nothing left but flecks of foil stuck to his nose.

As far as me, By Tuesday I’ll be on my third rude jerk of the week, but my actions are almost always embarrassing, not criminal. 

On The Kid’s last day of sophomore year in high school, I had a funny feeling.  Donnie, a classmate, and my little scholar had been hanging out together lately.  By themselves, neither was a bad kid.  But when together, they brought out each other’s most reckless, impulsive side.When I called school to double check after school arrangements (that was my stated reason, but as I said, I had a funny feeling), the secretary informed me that I had signed my child out after third period.

Busted.

So, Petey and I drove to a café The Kid had mentioned.  In a booth that couldn’t quite be seen from outside, my errant offspring and Donnie were lounging like Roman senators waiting for the slave girl to come and peel their grapes.I was furious.  I wanted to follow in the car while the two did the walk of shame back to school to turn themselves in.  But by this time school had let out, and nobody really cared if two otherwise good students played a little hooky on the last day.But, as you might imagine, Gentle Reader, life at Chez Matthews was quite uncomfortable for one ne’er do well rising junior for a few weeks.

I’d bet though, that if you asked The Kd, the worst part was the initial discovery in the café.

Different kind of rude jerk.

Ain’t nothing got the power of the power of that rude jerk.

Thanks for your time.

Spousal Spuds

Every time, and I mean every time I ask my husband Petey what he wants for supper, he gives me the same answer.  You might think that he’s a picky eater with an extremely limited palate.

Actually, the opposite is true.

The abiding answer to my culinary query?

“Whatever you feel like making.”Petey’s response gives me complete freedom with my only limitations being price and availability.  But, you know, sometimes I am completely out of ideas, and I’m truly seeking direction.  Sadly, it never comes from him.  Honestly, the fact that I still ask the question after 35 years of non-answers says a ton about me, and not about him.

But, that’s the man I married.I only learned about ten or twelve years ago that he’s crazy for coconut cake.  It’s his favorite.  That fact’s not something I’m proud of.

But, he doesn’t make it easy.

I buy this macaroni salad from Lowe’s.  It’s really convenient to have on hand when we need a quick side dish.  He always eats every bite on his plate.

Last week he told me he doesn’t like it.

Ladies and Gentleman: my husband.

C’mon!  How am I supposed to have picked up on that one?

The man is almost militantly easy going when it comes to food.  Planning a visit to a restaurant, I study the online menu like it’s an unknown Shakespearian sonnet.  I want to know every conceivable option, the chef’s food philosophy, the ingredients’ sources, and whether they cook with gas or electric.

Petey orders the BLT.So, if the man voluntarily mentions something, or even shows an interest bordering on mild enthusiasm, I take notice.  Frankly, it’s such a rare and magical occurrence, I would beg, borrow, and/or steal to produce it for him.

The other night we were watching a PBS cooking show, and there was a potato dish.  Petey casually said, “That looks good.  We should try something like that.”Of course, he said this after it was finished and the chef had moved onto something else.  And of course, I hadn’t been giving it my full attention, and had no clear idea about ingredients or procedure.  So, I watched an encore showing with laser-like focus, and a notebook at the ready.  And in the viewing discovered the chef was awful at anything resembling details.  I was effectively on my own.

So this is what I came up with.

Petey’s twice-baked potatoes

petey's potatoes4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼ inch strips

2-3 pounds red skin or fingerling potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces

1 ½ cups sour cream

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1-2 tablespoons fresh chives or green onions, sliced thinly

1 ½ cup shredded parmesan or other dry cheese such as Manchego

Salt & pepperPreheat oven to 375.  Cook bacon in skillet on stovetop until crispy, reserving fat.

Use reserved fat to grease 13 X 9 baking dish.  Toss cut potatoes in 1-2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat and season with salt & pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes until al dente.

While potatoes are baking, make sauce by mixing together in large bowl, sour cream, herbs, cooked bacon, and ¾ cups cheese.

When the potatoes have finished the first bake, raise oven to 425.  Put potatoes into bowl with sauce and mix until coated.  Pour back into pan, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese and bake 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before service.Serves 6.

If you can’t decide whether to make this dish, you might want to know it has Petey’s full-throated, enthusiastic praise.

His exact words?

“It’s not bad.”Thanks for your time.

It Takes All Kinds

As I write this it is Sunday night, closing day of the State Fair.  I’m a little sad it will be a year until the next one.  But I truly believe I wrung every bit of fun, food, and fellowship from the fair that was humanly possible.

I fulfilled that promise I made to myself to purchase and devour three of the dinner plate sized doughnuts from Peachey’s; one for each day of my attendance.Image may contain: food

fair donut

Image may contain: food and indoor

So, these doughnuts…

The Kid and I judged in three specialty contests under the genial supervision of Lisa Prince, her sister Michele, and the rest of the State Fair staff that make each occasion a sort of quasi-family reunion of judges and staff.  During the SPAM contest yesterday, I was one of four Debbie’s in the room.  That multiple moniker situation was a snapshot of every class of mine in elementary school.I wonder if any of those other Debbie’s thought those snack cakes had been made just for them?

And, I indulged in one of my favorite state fair activities.  It’s a pastime that Petey introduced me to years ago.People watching.

The North Carolina State Fair is a parade of the entire range of humanity from NC.  If you sit still long enough (not the easiest of feats for me), you will see every single one of them.

The first thing I notice is the candy-coated shell of each human:The (usually young) (usually) female dressed in a symphony of inappropriate clothing; short, tight skirt or dress and gravity-defying shoes that would be uncomfortable to stand in, let alone walk miles in on varying terrain.

The fall enthusiast that is rushing the cooler weather in enough, too-heavy layers of clothing to have their third heat stroke by lunchtime.And conversely, the guy that can not, will not, admit summer is over and shows up in shorts and flip-flops no matter how frigid the temperature may be.

The city slicker dressed in their best facsimile of country cousin.  If you look carefully you’ll see the tags they forgot to remove from their spanking new, ridiculously expensive designer over-all’s.

Dontcha just wanna run him over with a John Deere?

The fascinating human interactions:

The couple on a first date.  Their desire to be easy to get along with will result in numerous moments of paralysis brought on by indecision of what to do, where to go, when and what to eat.  When exiting the fair one member of this couple is likely to be burdened with a mammoth stuffed animal that is three-quarters the size of the bearer.tiredThe family consisting of two ferociously exhausted parents and their brood of multiple children under the age of five.  Each child will want to go somewhere and eat something different and they want it, NOW!  Mom and Dad would just like a nap.

The farmer or rancher that has finished his business at the fair and is ready to go home.  And, his wife who hasn’t been on a date since last year’s fair and won’t be ready to leave until at least next Tuesday.That kid with that noise-making toy that sounds like all of the cats on the planet are screaming at once with a couple of faulty bag pipes thrown in.  If the toy is silenced, the sound is immediately replaced by the unearthly shrieking of a furious, empty-handed toddler.

Petey is the pooch, the kitten is the rest of the world.

Petey has a patient soul and could sit for days studying the humans that populate this earth.  I, on the other hand, have always hated to slow down long enough to take notice of my fellow man.

But the older these aging bones get, the more attractive sitting and looking become. Thanks for your time.

We Have A Winner

I just wrapped up my third year of working with Lisa Prince of the state ag department, WRAL’s Local Dish, and Flavor NC on PBS.  At the State Fair I help judge some of the specialty contests.  These are the competitions sponsored by entities such as King Arthur flour, SPAM, and the North Carolina Pecan Growers.

It’s a huge honor, and more fun and food than any one person should have, but somebody’s gotta do it, and I will proudly take this bullet on behalf of the people of North Carolina.There are folks that have been doing this for years and have judged 20-30 contests.  I’ve only done nine, but have learned a few things.  About entering cooking competitions, and a few other random truths.  I’ll start with those unrelated, incidental lessons.Traffic and parking: However long it takes to get from your house to the fairgrounds on the odd, non-fair Tuesday, quintuple it.  For weekend fair days, multiply it by six or seven.  For opening or closing day, just spend the night before out in the parking lot.

When sampling sixteen or seventeen pies, take no more than two bites each.  If you feel unable to control yourself with an especially delicious entrant, get it away from you.  And even those two bites can add up.  Post-judging, it’s probably best to dial back the midway munching.  Maybe only have one turkey leg, and either ice cream or funnel cake, but not both.If you plan to enter any type of cooking contests, I have a few tips.  They may not give you the win, but sometimes the difference between placing and being an also ran is quite narrow, and this advice may give you a few extra points.

Flavor and seasoning: Taste, taste, taste.  Make sure your food is seasoned.  If it’s a processed food such as SPAM, be careful your dish isn’t too salty.  Other foods need more salt.  There’s no way to get it right without tasting. Acid is your friend.  Dishes should have balance.  Rich, fatty foods need something to break them up, and the best way is by adding the acid of citrus juice, vinegar, or tangy dairy such as yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk.  It will make your dish stand out in what can be a sea of mouth-coating, stomach-churning, heaviness.Make your dish at home, over and over, tweaking the recipe as needed.  Get your most brutally honest friends and family to give you feedback.  The girlfriend that doesn’t want to hurt your feelings is doing you no favors if she will not tell you the truth.  On your end, if you can’t take criticism and comments, contest cooking is probably not for you.If you don’t like the theme ingredient, pick another competition.  In the SPAM contest, the kids made their entries all about the SPAM.  Many of the adults tried to hide it.  Bad idea.  You must embrace the food and celebrate it.  This isn’t a game of, “How to get the kids to eat liver without realizing it”.  It’s to elevate and showcase the chosen ingredient.

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Any excuse for a little cupcake porn. AmIright people?

Read the brief carefully.  You might make the best cupcake anybody’s ever eaten in the history of cupcakes, but if the instructions are to make a breakfast item, you will lose.  It will probably break the judges’ collective hearts to eliminate your cupcake, but they, and you, have to follow the rules.

I have seen winners who’ve been cooking for decades, and others who’ve only been at it for weeks.  So my final advice is—go for it!Thanks for your time.

My Very Favorite Things

Effusive adjective (as defined by Google)

  1. expressing feelings of gratitude, pleasure, or approval in an unrestrained or heartfelt manner.
  2. GEOLOGY (of igneous rock) poured out when molten and later solidified (not germane to our discussion today, but interesting nonetheless-debbie).

 

Best happy dance of all time.

“I could sense your enthusiasm.”-The Café Driade barista, when I discovered they weren’t out of baguettes.  Also, what The Kid now says to me when I get excited about something—normally 8-10 times a day, and at least twice that when I’m somewhere I like, or when the weather cools off, or there’s cake involved, or I’m wearing new shoes, or a favorite song is playing…so really, I guess, most of the time.

I know this isn’t technically cake, but just look at that frosting.  Hubba hubba!

I’ve always been like that.  So much so that my shirt sleeves are permanently stained red from my heart being worn out there.

When I was little I loved when this pretentious baker would appear on Sesame Street to announce and describe the very fancy dessert he carried.  He’d then fall down the stairs and end up covered in it.  I loved picking out my new lunch box every year at back to school shopping.  I loved the look on my big brother’s friend’s faces when I’d catch the football that they threw extra hard to make the pesky little kid go away and stop yelling, “Over here! I’m open!”I looked forward all week to sitting in front of the TV watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating Lucky Charms with my brother Homer.  I loved the Sundays when I’d go along with him on his paper route and then we’d hit Hardees.  We left before sunup, it was so early Elizabeth City was deserted and belonged only to us.  Eating a Hardees roast beef sandwich at 8AM feels to an eight-year-old like delicious rule-breaking.  Sometimes we’d even go fishing after eating.In elementary school in Puerto Rico, there was an annual event that I eagerly anticipated, but which my parents dreaded and feared—the arrival of the Scholastic book catalog.  We’d get the brochure early for browsing and for our parents to write a check.  For me, it was the catalyst to week-long negotiations with my own parental check writers.  I always got less than I wanted, and they always spent more than they’d planned.

But that’s the definition of compromise, isn’t it?In junior high in San Diego, I loved our twice-yearly trips to Disneyland.  And this Greek diner, Troy’s near our house.  It’s where I had my first patty melt; cheesy, grilled ambrosia, and liver; a horrible, horrible practical joke played on my taste buds.

I loved going with my mom to work on Saturdays.  She worked part-time during the week so she could take us to school and pick us up, then made up the hours on Saturday.  The office was deserted, so I’d pack a couple books and hang out with her.  She worked in La Jolla, one of the most exclusive towns in California.  I’d go out to pick up lunch for us, or window shop, or visit the library.I loved that library.  It was small, quiet, and had a great young adult section.  But best of all, the library had one of my very favorite things.  I mean it’s up there with potato salad and new boots.  It’s a nook.  A little semi-private corner somewhere, preferably a padded window seat, made for curling up, reading and daydreaming. I think my personality was pretty much finished cooking by junior high.  Looking over my list, all that stuff still makes me happy—even Lucky Charms, and the clumsy Sesame Street pastry chef.  Although, now I’d add Petey and The Kid, and walking in the woods with my dog, oh, and mowing the lawn, and lattes, and the State Fair, and Costco, and my Hunter wellies, and new sweats, and…well, you can probably sense my enthusiasm.Thanks for your time.