The Motley Crew

The following is based on a true story, with only a few dramatic flourishes.Setting: A small hospital in a small town in the rural south, during the very early 1980’s.

Cast of Characters:

Petey: A young orderly and a nursing student.  Very quiet but possessing a wicked sense of humor that he shares only with his closest friends.  Nicknamed “The Silent Smiler” by some friends and called “Magnum RN” by others.  He also happens to be adorable, with deeply brown, wavy hair, mustache, and eyes the dreamy blue of a perfectly faded pair of Levi’s.

smiling magnum

Wayne: Also known as “Pig” due to his prodigious size and corresponding appetite.  Works in the laundry department.  This job lasts until he is feeding wet sheets into the industrial-size wringer and feeds his arm through by accident.  He makes an almost full recovery except for the fact that when cold, his arm turns the dreamy blue of a perfectly faded pair of Levi’s.

He is a man-child the size of a bear. A couple of his notable accomplishments include pulling a stop sign out of the ground just to see if he could, and never getting the lyrics correct of any song ever written.  He also routinely devours at least two large pizzas in one sitting.

Fentriss: A quiet orderly with the romantic soul of a poet, and velvety brown eyes that contain an ineffable secret sadness.  He’s a hospital employee until after a very long night out, decides to nap in the unoccupied bed of a double hospital room.His next job is at the local funeral home.  One of his tasks are to drive the hearse to the cemetery.  His employment is abruptly terminated when he exits the car during graveside services and forgets to turn off the radio—the radio playing Black Sabbath with volume set at a level which could rattle the fillings from one’s teeth.

Devin: Another orderly and the first of the group to live on his own.  He owns one of the largest collections of music on vinyl in town and possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music.  This makes his place the defacto clubhouse and the scene of numerous small-town bacchanalia.This leads to a mythic and much recounted episode and famous quote which occurs when he finishes the remaining third of a keg before the group can regroup at his place the next day.  When questioned about the vanishing brew he responds with a line that no one present has ever forgotten, “It was here, I was here, I was lonely, so I drank it.”  Sad?  Or hilarious?  You be the judge.

Also has the slightly frightening ability to put a fried chicken leg in his mouth, and in mere seconds remove from his gob a completely clean bone; piranha-style.

Honest.  Until this google image search, I had no idea there was a group named The Fools.  A non-imaginary group, I mean.

The four young men form the fabulously popular (in their own minds) air band, named The Fools.  Their eager, enthusiastic road manager and concert promoter (in her own mind), debbie; also known as debutante, and Little debbie Digit: Queen of the Rotary Dial, or didge for short.She was also employed by the hospital, as a lab clerk.  This job entails visiting every floor and individual unit delivering lab results, which normally takes 30-45 minutes start to finish.  This roaming facilitates the burgeoning relationship between her and orderly Petey, increasing the delivery times to an hour or more.  Didge’s bosses become suspicious when the two become engaged.

The names of these participants have been changed to disguise their identity.  And I’m also pretty sure that the statute of limitations has expired.Thanks for your time.

And Yet More Shame

When last we met (last week’s column), I was in the kitchen of Skylight Inn in Ayden, watching Mike “Chopper” Parrot.  He was using his weighty, custom-made cleavers to chop pound after pound of some of the most beautiful pork I’ve ever seen.  Slow-cooked ‘til falling-apart tender, with crispy skin so golden it should be stored in Fort Knox like the precious substance it is.The man currently looking after this family concern, Sam Jones comes into the kitchen, and asks if I would like to visit his new restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ.  He also wants to take me to the old family homestead, to see the pit on which his grandfather, Pete Jones, learned to put fire to pig.

Our first stop is eight miles away, in Winterville, site of his new venue.  Located in a newish commercial district, the new restaurant looks like a trim barn with a metal roof.The expanded menu of Sam Jones BBQ is the motivation for the new eatery.  Skylight has been a beloved tradition since 1947.  You don’t put the Statue of Liberty in a sundress, you don’t get Harry Potter contacts, and changing the menu at Skylight just isn’t done.

But the pig is still cooked slowly in a detached cookhouse.  All the menu items are made from scratch.  French Fries and potato chips both begin as whole potatoes.  The macaroni and cheese start by making a roux, and dessert comes from the chef’s imagination, not a number in a food service catalog.And, if you’re a stickler for tradition and can’t quite make it Ayden, they also serve the classic Skylight plate of barbecue, coleslaw and cornbread.

About that cornbread…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s not like anything I’ve ever eaten before.  It’s definitely not cakey, sweet, normal cornbread.  I’ve had corn sticks, that’s not what it is either.  My problem is I descend from Yankees.  If I’d had some Southern kin, it wouldn’t be unfamiliar.  ‘Cause it’s cornpone.

The outside is crispy, with almost a fried texture.  But it’s the inside that’s the carnival for your taste buds.  It’s creamy like a bowl of grits.  The combination of flavors and textures are complex and compelling.  Sam told me there are only four ingredients—and one is lard.  But after some looking, I’ve found a recipe that doesn’t come from the Jones family but comes out as close as you’re going to get without a trip east (which I enthusiastically recommend).

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Brandon, the Rembrandt of cornpone.

This recipe comes from a website called, BBQ-Brethren, and a guy that calls himself T-Man.  But I changed his procedure because I watched Brandon Allen making pan after pan at Skylight.  I finally stopped him for a second so we could share a piece.

Brandon poured in a ladle of melted lard, then poured the batter over it.  After it came out of the oven, he popped out the cornpone and recycled the lard.

Counterfeit Cornpone  skylight cornbread

4 cups white finely ground cornmeal

2 tsp. salt

4 cups of water (or more if you want batter to spread a bit)

1/4 cup of lard

Pre-heat oven to 450. Melt lard in 9×14 pan. Mix dry ingredients, add water and mix.

Take out pan, pour in batter, and bake for almost 1 hour, until deeply golden.

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Daniel, giving that pig one last dance.  Actually, he’s preparing it for the pit.

It was a very memorable day.  I could write reams and reams about my adventures.

The shame I refer to in the title?  Leaving, I got turned around many, multiple times.  It took me an hour to travel the first ten miles.

And, no, I don’t need a GPS.  But I am in the market for a live-in Sherpa…Thanks for your time.

And Now You Know the Rest of the Story

When I was a child we moved to Puerto Rico.  We lived on a military base that was transitioning from a large Air Force base to a much smaller facility that was a joint Coast Guard/Naval station.  The first year or so that we lived there, everything was kind of in flux.

There was no dedicated English language TV or radio stations.  There was something called dual language, where you turned on specific a radio station and a TV channel with the sound turned down, and they were supposed to be in sync.  Sometimes it was seamless, and sometimes not so much.After a while the base was provided with AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Services).  We all called it something else, and if you look at the acronym, you can probably figure out what that was…

AFRTS radio played lots of syndicated programming.  Every Saturday Casey Kasem read corny letters from listeners and played for us the top 40 pop songs in the nation.

And there was this other guy, named Paul Harvey and although he didn’t play music, his show was pretty corny, too.His schtick was to tell a story within a story.  For example, he’d talk about this total failure named Al.  Then the ending would be something like, “And we remember Al to this day, only we know him by his full name…Albert Einstein!  And now you know the rest of the story.”

Not many folks know that a lot of the maxims and proverbs we’ve grown up on have been edited.  These sayings were shortened for various reasons, often to make memorizations easier.  But sometimes this muddied the meaning, or even changed the meaning altogether.  So, with no further ado, I bring you…

The rest of the adage!

Nobody wants to.

A friend in need is a friend indeed, unless he needs bail money or a ride to the airport; then he’s a complete stranger.

Beauty is only skin deep, but nobody ever got the cover of Vogue because they had a particularly fetching spleen.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, unless, of course your meal is poached or some other type of tasty hand preparation.Don’t judge a book by its cover, except when that cover screams, “I am a tacky, shallow, poseur.”

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  He also has no idea who the Kardashians are.Good things come to those who wait, unless it’s Black Friday and you’re waiting for the mall to open.  Then those things are more likely sprained ankles, blunt force trauma, and maybe a face full of pepper spray.

If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas; unless you lie down with my dog.  Then you’ll get up covered in dog hair and saliva.

These folks are wearing the sweaters they knitted using dog hair.  It doesn’t say what they smell like when caught in the rain.

Laughter is the best medicine, except when you have an infection.  Then an antibiotic is a much better choice.

Life is short; Art is long.  I think we really must have a talk about this body shaming of poor Art.  He has no control over his height.

No man is an island, but he can make a pretty convincing peninsula.Quitters never win and winners never quit.  But I firmly believe that…oh never mind.

The early bird catches the worm, but the late worm can just swing by Starbucks on the way in.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, unless you use bacon.  Then you could teach that old pooch how to read music and play the didgeridoo.I’ll be here all week folks, tip your waitresses.

Thanks for your time.

I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Shame

Having no cell phone means having no disembodied voice telling me where to go when traveling to the unfamiliar.  Most of the time that’s a welcome reprieve from everybody else in my life either telling me where to go or thinking it so loudly I can hear them in my sleep.

I do own a GPS, it’s a hand-me-down from The Kid’s college days.  But, it’s anything but user-friendly, and every time I touch it I lose the map I want and instead am given directions for a brisk 2,700-hour walk from my house to a soda shop in outer Mongolia.

Recalculating…

So, I had three pages of hand-written directions to get me to Ayden, North Carolina, home of the Skylight Inn.

And I did really well, too.

Until I got about five miles from my goal.  Then I wandered the countryside like a drunken time lord.  I stopped at a convenience store and got directions.  It took three more stops before I pulled into the parking lot of Skylight Inn—thirty minutes late.As I pulled in, a truck pulled out.  I didn’t know it, but it was driven by my host Sam Jones.  He’d been waiting, but he eventually ran to the post office.

He returned quickly, but in the meantime, I changed into boots and put my hair under a cap—I wanted to be able to go wherever Sam would let me.  After suiting up I went around back.  There an unexpected sight greeted me.

Sam

Sam, and his kingdom of logs.

About fifty feet from the restaurant and continuing as far as I could see was pile after pile of split logs, ready to be tossed onto the fire and turned into glowing charcoal to cook the pigs.  Coming toward me from this forest was a young man pushing a wheelbarrow holding at least four million logs.

Vulcan of this forge is also known as Daniel Williams.  He is the man who keeps the fire burning, the pigs readied for the pit, the pork cooked, and the golden skin as crispy as a bad perm.

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The Skylight Inn cookhouse fireplace.

Inside the cookhouse, it’s at least 4000 degrees.  But this is an old-fashioned place for an old-fashioned way to cook pig.  So, the only way to regulate the temp is by shoveling more or less burning wood around and under the pig.  The only thermometers used are the probe version to check the internal porcine temp for doneness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I arrive the pigs, which have been cooking overnight, are finished, and ready for the next step in their progress to becoming lunch.  Mike Parrot, AKA “Chopper” comes in with a large basin and takes a portion of porker back with him into the kitchen.

I follow him in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChopper attacks the pig with skill, a touch of showmanship, and a pair of large, shiny, lethal-looking cleavers engraved with his nickname.  He also has the same design tattooed onto one bicep, made toned and strong from the breaking down of up to ten or more pigs a day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMike asks me if I’d like to give it a whirl.  On any other playdate I would happily roll up my sleeves and jump right in, here I regretfully decline.  I know myself, and I know that any length of time wielding those weapons of deconstruction would give a new nickname.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo Chopper for me; I’d forever be known as “Stumpy”.

The day I spent at Skylight was very full.  So full, in fact, I have to finish this tale next week.  Join me for a field trip with Sam, my first bite of cornpone, and more time in the forge.

Thanks for your time.

 

My Fellow Travelers

Last week I spent a couple hours on I64, traveling east, then a couple more back home.

And I noticed something both alarming and depressing—the roadways seem heavily populated with bullies.

Sometimes, a car suddenly appeared behind me, almost close enough to drive right on up into the back of my jeep.It was at this point I felt unequivocally bullied.  There was menace in their maneuver.  At the earliest possible moment, they would go around, at a frightening proximity; both next to me, and when they pulled in front.

In addition to feeling like I’d just been roughed up for my lunch money, I felt an absolute disregard for, and denial of, my humanity.  I was not only in their way and deserved rebuke, I was less than. On my way home, this attitude struck me even more forcibly.  You see, I was returning home after a day with Sam Jones, proprietor of Skylight Inn and owner of Sam Jones Barbecue.

To look at Sam, you might make a few assumptions.  And, they may go something like this: he’s a rich, famous restaurateur who comes from the most famous and important family in town.  He’s got a fancy new restaurant, and nobody’s ever said no to him, and nothing bad’s ever happened.

Not Sam; just a representative cliche of a stereotype of a rush to judgement.

Heck, in 2003 the Skylight Inn won a James Beard award for “American Classics”.  This award thrust him firmly into the realm of celebrity chefs.

Two years later, Sam was working in the family restaurant, a respected volunteer in the Ayden fire department, and talking marriage with Ashley, a fellow Ayden resident, and his girlfriend of six years.

In their hometown, they were well-known and well-liked, the prom king and queen of Ayden.  Their future was bright and glorious, just like the rest of their charmed lives.One day the couple was traveling in Sam’s truck.  He pulled into an intersection.  And that was the last thing he remembered until he found himself crawling on the road, looking for Ashley.  There had been a collision, ejecting both from the vehicle.

She was under the front of the truck.  She wasn’t pinned, but Sam knew it was bad.  He found his hand-held radio and called in the accident. When rescue arrived, he wouldn’t allow them to transport him until Ashley had been loaded into the ambulance.  With paramedics furiously attending her, the truck left, and finally Sam was taken so that his own, not insignificant injuries could be tended to.

Ashley didn’t make it.

Within six months of this nightmare, both grandparents, constant, daily presences in his life, passed away.  Sam was left in a dark, dark tunnel and it seemed, some days, that he would never emerge.  And many days, didn’t want to.Today, Jones is married with two young children.  He’s also become chief of that volunteer fire department.  He loves what he does and gives back every chance he gets.  He’s smart, funny, cooks amazing Q, and tells a great story.

The point here is that everyone has a story—everyone.  Even the famous guy with the exciting life, even the middle-aged lady driving the well-worn jeep with too many bumper stickers. Every.Single.One.

Life is short, often hard, and can change in the blink of an eye.  There is no telling in what part of a stranger’s story that we encounter them.  It could be the best day of their life or the very, very worst.

So here is my plea.  Please, let us all treat each other more gently.  Just imagine this world if we all acknowledged our shared journey and are kind to every person we meet.Thanks for your time.

This Little Piggy went to Ayden

A reverent hush falls upon the congregants gathered around the altar. The assembled make way as the officiant approaches.  A few hands tentatively reach out, as if to touch the great man but fall back before making contact.

The anticipation and adoration are palpable as the holy man opens the altar with a practiced hand.  A collective gasp goes up as the adherents get their first glimpse of the shimmering, golden display.

Regardless of the various gods worshiped on holy days by the devotees’ present, this religion is a beloved unifier to North Carolinians of every stripe.   It is though, a theology containing two distinct branches.

The benighted western sect, with its sweet, viscous dogma.

Or the true and correct Eastern orthodoxy, with its light and bracing acidic ideology.Sam

It is the church of whole hog barbecue.  And on this night the high priest is a sixth-generation man of fire and smoke, the cardinal of “Q”, Sam Jones.  He helms his family’s historic Skylight Inn in Ayden and his new Winterville venue, Sam Jones Barbecue.  Sam is a rock star, and his succulent version occupies the top barbecue spot of many respected chefs (and one peddler of palaver, her patient spouse Petey, and their Kid).

This ceremony took place the evening I met Sam, at a party in Raleigh he’d catered.When I informed the entire Matthews family band that Sam Jones would be cooking, the full membership, consisting of Petey and The Kid, asked to come.  I’d never eaten his cooking, but Chef James Clark, a friend whose food opinions I completely respect, says Sam makes the best barbecue in the state—which mean it’s the best Q in the world.

On the night of the event, most of the attendees were uber-connected hipster types, photographically preserving moments and posting them to assorted forms of social media. Sam had set up his traveling cooker in the parking lot.  The building was raised about 15-20 feet above the paved lot, which created a balcony that looked right down onto the portable pit.

Suddenly, the mood of the crowd changed to one of excited expectation.  The pig was done, and Sam and crew would carry it upstairs, chop it, dress it, and serve it.

And the scene was exactly as I described it in the opening of this piece.  The balcony was lined with eager, camera-wielding party goers.  It was the textbook example of wired foodies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the calm island in the eye of the Instagram storm was Sam, wearing a small private smile.  Upstairs he chopped the falling-apart tender pork, mixing it with bits of the crispiest of pork skin.  He then dressed it with generous amounts of pepper, vinegar, and Texas Pete.  My timid palate quailed at the amount of hot sauce, but turns out, it was perfectly spiced.

I had already decided to ask if I could come and hang out at his restaurants, but I also wanted his reaction to this new, internet-driven fame, and the attention and admiration barbecue was receiving.He resembled the wise and sane Sheriff Andy Taylor in the nutty burg that is Mayberry.  He said that as a child, “barbecue was in the armpit of the culinary community”.  He’s glad of the shift in perception, which means he can introduce more people to the food his family has been proudly cooking and serving since the middle of the 1800’s.

And, he also told me he’d be happy to have me visit.

So, next week I’ll spill on my day in Eastern NC, getting to know Sam and his crew.  It’s a day I’ll never forget.Thanks for your time.

A Tale of Three Cities

My folks just got back from Pittsburgh.  Dad’s from there and they went up to visit his sisters.  They drove and stayed at his big sister’s house.

They came home a day early.

When we were kids and took vacations, we always stayed with family.  Our sojourn would turn family out of their beds, find us sleeping on the floor occasionally, and line up for the bathroom.Now when Petey and I go out of town, even to see friends and family, we stay at a hotel.  Everybody has a happier visit.

But not everyone has the time to go away for days or weeks, or can afford multiple days at the Friendly Arms.

A day trip is a terrific way to go interesting places and sleep in your own bed afterward.  I’ve chosen three places that are close enough to do in one day, and have great food and unique things to do.From east to west;

Durham.  The Bull City has enjoyed a renaissance, and if you haven’t visited lately, you owe it to yourself to go.  Downtown has the Durham Bulls Ball Park, Central Park with its Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon farmer’s market, and the Carolina Theater, with both indie movies and live entertainment.

Can you even?

Shopping is terrific downtown.  Vert and Vogue has unique, beautiful clothes.  If you love gorgeous fashion, but have limited funds you must stop at Fifi’s on Main.  Chet Miller has unique items and thoughtful gifts.  It’s owned by Jennings Parker, who has an awesome aesthetic, and also owns one of the best lunch places in town; Parker and Otis.When you get hungry, try Elmo’s Diner, Toast sandwiches, and Watts Grocery on Broad St.  If you’re feeling indulgent, try the Cupcake Bar or The Parlor, for amazing made in-house ice cream.Greensboro.  Try the Greensboro Science Center or the Greensboro Children’s Museum.  For a scary good time, take the Ghost and Vampire walking tour.  Elm Street downtown has numerous cool little independent shops, including a bookstore that serves beer.  There are numerous parks, including Bur-Mil with tons of attractions, including a working grain mill.Friendly shopping center has plenty of mall-type stores and also some nifty locally owned businesses, including one of my very favorite kitchen stores, The Extra Ingredient.Grab some eats downtown at Crafted, an artisan taco stand/burger joint.  And right down the street is my newest, most delicious find; Cheesecakes by Alex.  They’ve got around twenty different cheesecakes, but I beg you, try the lemon/blueberry layer cake with yummy buttercream.  Two other eateries I recommend are Monterrey Mexican (try the street style carnitas tacos), and Jam’s Deli, with awesome sandwiches and one of the best restaurant potato salads I’ve ever had.Boone/Banner Elk area.  Mast General Store in Valley Crucis.  You can easily spend a day here and need to come back again.  At the corner of Highway 105 and Broadstone is The Ham Shoppe.  These guys will put together a terrific picnic for you.  Plus they have lots of local treats like cake and mountain made butter.Blowing Rock is an adorable village that’s better experienced on foot.  Tons of shops and great places to eat.  Plus, there’s a Kilwyn’s with all the fudge and ice cream that implies.  Their blue moon has been my very favorite since childhood.

Blue moon, or more correctly, blue bubblegum makes me as happy as the kinda creepy face in the ice cream.  It’s a good thing I don’t get to Kilwin’s very often.

In Banner Elk you must get a meal at the Banner Elk Café.  Good food and nice folks.  The best activity in the high country is just to drive around.  You never know what the next bend in the road will bring.Thanks for your time.

Think Penguins and Igloos

I don’t like this hot, gross, humid, maddening weather—at all.  Not even a little.  I don’t like the bugs.  I don’t like the way the scent of a ripe trashcan or a spill from a garbage truck reeks in a malevolent, aggressive way that lingers for days.  I hate the weather turning my sleek bob into a frizzly fright wig.  I hate when it’s hot and muggy and there’s not a fresh breath of air to be had outside; even in the middle of the night. The only good thing about this time of year here in NC is the produce and the fireflies.

It sometimes feels like it’s too hot to eat, but you gotta.  But it almost always feels like it’s too hot to cook.

All the cool kids are doing it…

So, go cool, and when you just can’t avoid using some heat, do it wisely.

A rotisserie chicken is a sweaty guy’s best friend.  Look around and get the best bargain you can find.  Costco sells a hippo-sized clucker for $4.99.  You can usually get at least four cups of meat.  And don’t throw that carcass away.  Throw all of them into zip top bags and freeze.  Once it cools off you can make enough chicken stock to last until Groundhog Day.Use the birds in place of any protein that’s too hot to cook.  Honestly, it’s so versatile it’s the little black dress of food.  Tacos? Yup.  Pasta? Yes ma’am.  Pizza? Why not?  Quiche?  Oui, oui.  Chili? Well, it’s kinda hot for chili, but you do you.      Stock your fridge with fresh greens, fruits, and veggies that can be eaten raw.  Stone fruits are in season, so enjoy cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, and pluots, a plum/apricot hybrid.

Eat salads that are nourishing, but won’t make you feel like you just ate Thanksgiving dinner.  Lots of greens, some type of protein, things that pack a real nutritional bite for your buck, plenty of textures, and a non-creamy dressing with plenty of acid, and no artificial colors and flavors.I offer my own personal salad recipes as catalyst for your taste and imagination: mixed baby greens, shaved red onion, goat cheese, a handful of dried cherries and cranberries, and butter toasted, salted pecans (I do a huge batch of pecans either late at night or during cool-ish rainy days, and keep refrigerated).  The dried fruit and nuts are a terrific take-along snack, too.

My favorite dressing is Trader Joe’s vinaigrette.  But a drizzle of balsamic and a smaller drizzle of olive oil is almost as good.My other salad, which I call my detox is also simple, delicious, and requires not one degree of heat.  It’s just baby spinach, shaved red onion, halved grape tomatoes, and chopped avocado.  I dress it with the juice from half a lemon.  The fat in the avocado eliminates the need for another fat for the dressing.  Just don’t forget the salt—avocados demand a heavy hand with the Morton’s.

This little pint will literally keep my friends and family from mayhem this summer.

When all else fails, ice cream.  Talenti has a chocolate sorbet that is a gift to your taste buds and only 150 calories per serving.  Old-fashioned sugar-free fudgesicles have 40 calories per.  The Kid is a giant fan of Halo Top, a frozen treat with imaginative flavors and very few calories.

One, please.

When you must use heat, do it at night or very early in the morning.  Use a slow cooker, microwave or take it outside and grill it.

And when all else fails, pick up that phone, and let somebody else cook it and bring it to you.

Then after dinner, go run through the sprinkler.

In your nightgown.Thanks for your time.

The Unhappiest Camper

My mom could be the archivist for the entire history of the entire world.  She’s not been around quite that long, but that woman is crazy organized.

The Crusaders could show up looking for the Ark of the Covenant and in 5 minutes she’d lay hands on it, and have the guys pack it into their station wagon.  And after she’d filled their bellies with a metric ton of food, she’d wave goodbye from the front porch as they started their trip back to medieval Europe.Which is why, when I asked if she had “The postcard from camp” for me to borrow, in literally 45 seconds, she was handing it to me, and threatening to commit bodily harm upon my person if I lost it or forgot to give it back (I had The Kid photograph and email it to me, so it never left the house).  Bodily harm avoided.

But think about it: a postcard, from 45 years and eight moves ago.

Oh, yeah, I’ve got ’em in the upstairs file cabinet.

The threats may have sounded harsh, but Mom can tell Jason exactly where she’s storing his Golden fleece.  The Lost Colony would never have been lost if she’d been responsible for its safekeeping.  Me?  I went to Costco yesterday, and even with a gun to my head I couldn’t tell you where that receipt is.

“The postcard from camp” is part of our family lore—and evidence that my slightly skewed view of life began early. It was 1973, I was nine years old and spending a week at Camp Matoaka in Suffolk Virginia.  It was a sleepaway Girl Scout camp which unfortunately closed in the 80s.

I was an old hand at day camps and vacation bible school, having attended numerous camps since the dawn of time (well, my time anyway).  But sleepaway was an entirely different beast.  And I was wretchedly homesick. The first letter I sent to my folks was a cry of anguish.  I hated it, I wanted to come home, why did I have to be at camp, I wasn’t eating or sleeping, and was thinking about going over the wall and walking home (5o miles) all by myself.  Mom was beside herself.  She was ready to get in the car and drive north at unsafe speeds to break me out.Luckily my Dad talked her down.  I stayed for the entire session.  But, when our tent counselor found out about the note she “strongly encouraged” to write again and tell her I was fine, I’d gotten over my homesickness.  It was actually very wise on her part, now that I’m a mom I know the pain and worry that a kid can inflict upon a mother.postcard frontThis is that note, originally written in a third-grader’s careful, ornate cursive; verbatim:

Dear Mom,

Hello!  As you can see, this is the swimming pool yesterday I found a bra on the path and today I found a wash rag on it I don’t think I’ll be using my knive (sic) a girl got cut and two sitches (sic) I’ll tell you the deatails (sic) about camp when I get home

Love Deb

PS Tell me the adress (sic) for the queen Elizabeth hotel for Janpostcard backAs you can see, punctuation was not my friend, nor was spelling (but, I guess the phrase, “As you can see” is a very close, personal chum).  As an English major, it pains me.  The knife was from the camp-created packing list and we were meant to do scout things with it, it wasn’t for some West Side Story rumble in the forest.I also have no idea of who Jan was, or why she was interested in a hotel in Elizabeth City, but have no doubt the information was sent by return mail.

Because, my mom. Thanks for your time.

Rice, Rice, Babette

This week there isn’t much snappy patter or witty bon mots. The room I would normally use has been taken up by a recipe from Julia Child.  It’s got a lot of steps but none of them are hard.

It’s perfect to use up some of that fresh zucchini, but more importantly, it’s delicious.

Bon Appétit! (To be read in your best Julia voice)Julia Child’s Tian de Courgettes Au Riz (Zucchini Tian)

j child zucchini

2 to 2 1/2 pounds zucchini

1/2 cup plain, raw, untreated white rice

1 cup minced onions

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, mashed or finely minced

2 tablespoons flour

About 2 1/2 cups warm liquid: zucchini juices plus milk, heated in a pan (watch this closely so that it doesn’t curdle)

About 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese (save 2 tablespoons for later)

Salt and pepper

A heavily buttered 6- to 8-cup, flameproof baking and serving dish about 1 1/2 inches deep

2 tablespoons olive oil

Shave the stem and the tip off each zucchini (or other summer squash), scrub the vegetable thoroughly but not harshly with a brush under cold running water to remove any clinging sand or dirt.

If vegetables are large, halve or quarter them. If seeds are large and at all tough, and surrounding flesh is coarse rather than moist and crisp, which is more often the case with yellow squashes and striped green cocozelles than with zucchini, cut out and discard the cores.Rub the squash against the coarse side of a grater, and place grated flesh in a colander set over a bowl.

For each 1 pound (2 cups) of grated squash, toss with 1 teaspoon of salt, mixing thoroughly. Let the squash drain 3 or 4 minutes, or until you are ready to proceed.

Just before cooking, squeeze a handful dry and taste. If by any chance the squash is too salty, rinse in a large bowl of cold water, taste again; rinse and drain again if necessary. Then squeeze gently by handfuls, letting juices run back into bowl. Dry on paper towels. Zucchini will not be fluffy; it is still dampish, but the excess liquid is out. The pale-green, slightly saline juice drained and squeezed out of the zucchini has a certain faint flavor that can find its uses in vegetable soups, canned soups, or vegetable sauces.While the shredded zucchini is draining (reserve the juices,) drop the rice into boiling salted water, bring rapidly back to the boil, and boil exactly 5 minutes; drain and set aside.

In a large (11-inch) frying pan, cook the onions slowly in the oil for 8 to 10 minutes until tender and translucent. Raise heat slightly and stir several minutes until very lightly browned.

Stir in grated and dried zucchini and garlic. Toss and turn for 5 to 6 minutes until zucchini is almost tender.

Sprinkle in the flour, stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes, and remove from heat.Gradually stir in 2 1/2 cups warm liquid (zucchini juices plus milk, heated gently in a pan — don’t let it get so hot that the milk curdles!). Make sure the flour is well blended and smooth.

Return over moderately high heat and bring to simmer, stirring. Remove from heat again, stir in blanched rice and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Taste for seasoning. Turn into buttered baking dish, strew remaining cheese on top, and dribble olive oil over cheese.

Half an hour before serving, set in upper third of a preheated 425-degree F oven until tian is bubbling and top has browned nicely. The rice should absorb all the liquid.Thanks for your time.