I am a woman of great enthusiasm, slightly above-normal persuasive powers, but minimal forethought.The wearing of post earrings means being continuously poked in the neck.  Every time you hold a phone to your ear, every time you lay on your side, that insidious little metal shiv shanks you.

My delicate, sensitive nature precludes me from wearing such jab-happy jewelry.  I now only wear the tiniest hoops they make; literally, they’re made for babies. A normal human might ponder such pain-inducing side effects well before the piercing and rethink the whole enterprise.

But as I said, thinking before doing is neither skill nor talent that I possess.

Pestering however, so is.

When I graduated from kindergarten, I also received a doctorate—in beleaguering.  Give me a cause, and I could nag all four guys at Mount Rushmore into submission.Mt RushmoreIn the first grade, I was obsessed with getting holes poked through my tender little earlobes into which I planned to hang sparkly bits of metal and/or stone.  My poor mother bore the brunt of this unbridled obsession.  I brought it up and argued in its favor multiple times a day.belksFinally, on the very last day of school that year, Mom said yes.  A man was coming from away to our local Belk Tyler’s for ear piercing.

Even though my mother said she’d take me, I knew I had to be on best behavior until those holes were actually in my ears or the opportunity could be snatched away.  So, all day, I did my very best imitation of a meek, obedient child.When we got to Belk’s, there was the piercer, a dapper, charming man in the fanciest suit I’d ever seen in Elizabeth City.

Mom had told me they would probably spray my ears with something that would numb them, and then slip the earrings in—it would be quick and painless.So, imagine my surprise when he wiped my lobe with some alcohol, put an actual cork, like from a Gunsmoke whiskey bottle, behind my ear, and stabbed me with the sharpened post of an earring.My eyes and mouth were three perfect O’s in my face.  I wanted to cry and run away, but I also wanted both of my ears pierced, so I remained silent.

My mother, however, did not.

The first ear was assaulted so quickly she hadn’t registered what happened until afterward.  Completely out of character and against everything I’d been taught by her since birth, my mother proceeded to make a scene in Belk Tyler’s.“What is wrong with you?  How could you do that?  Take your hands off my daughter and get away from her!”

Meanwhile, I was paralyzed from pain and the shock of my mother raising her voice in public.The swank disappeared from the man as he spun around to face her and growled, “So, whaddya want lady?  You want the kid to walk around with one ear pierced?  ‘Cause I don’t care, you already paid.”

At that point, Mom was shocked into silence along with me.  Taking her stillness for acquiescence, he finished the job.  Struck dumb, we left Belk’s and went home without a word.When you get your ears pierced, you must leave the original earrings in for six weeks.  Wearing those sharpened golden daggers and being continuously stabbed by them bred a loathing for post earrings deep inside my soul.

Hence, the baby hoops.

My mom?It was like a logjam broke that day.  My mother was never again hesitant to speak her mind in public.  Which is very honest and extremely healthy.  But sometimes, for her daughter, a bit less than comfortable.

Thanks for your time.

A Tale of Two Mothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranch chicken casserole, reduxranch casserole2 ½ cups rotisserie chicken shredded

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

2 cups freshly made ranch dressing, buttermilk style

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 minced shallot

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

Salt & pepper

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 350.

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

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

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

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

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




My mom, the awful cook

*Last week the Henderson Dispatch had some serious production issues and my column did not run in the paper.  Since they are running it this week, there will be no new Henderson piece.

Please enjoy this classic column from 2011:

This is the Tree Frog cabin in Linville, NC.  One of my favorite spots on earth.

A dream vacation for me would be weeks in a quiet mountain cabin, or an isolated beach cottage. I’d do tons of cooking with local produce and ingredients.

For my mother, that would be a punishment. She belongs in a bed and breakfast near shopping, and in the center of mild happenings, dining out every meal.

Sooo much more my mom’s speed.

With the same deliberate, reverse pride I have in my lack of algebraic aptitude, Mom will declare her lack of skill and interest in the culinary. “I’m not a good cook, and only do it to eat!”

This is no passive-aggressive bid for flattery. She honestly thinks she can’t cook.

She’s wrong.

You could fill an elementary school auditorium with the people who have eaten her spaghetti sauce once, and forever after jockeyed for repeat invitations to her table with the naked shamelessness of a reality star at 14 3/4 minutes.

Her macaroni and cheese is terrific. Best eaten cold, late at night, and in semi-private. My faithful companion: my eight-year-old self, in a flannel nightgown and bare feet, armed with a Superman fork in one hand, a salt shaker in the other, and a defiant grin. It is comfort food of mythic proportions.

Ask The Kid about Gramma’s chicken-fried steak. Last visit Gramma was implored to not only make it, but to give a chicken fried class.

She’ll occasionally cop to minor skill in baking and deserts. She’s a trained cake decorator (in the 1970s-no-fondant-lots-of-star-tip style). Despite buying the crust, her pies do just what pies should, taste yummy and make you feel loved (a la mode or not).

Each year at a holiday soiree, she feeds everyone lunch, and we ice hundreds of sugar cookies. Not only do we feast, we aren’t allowed to leave without dozens of her deceptively simple but crazy delicious Christmas cookies.

She’s a self-taught wizard of producing sweet treats with very little on-hand, while dodging three loud, hungry kids and all their friends.


She can make eclairs without fear or recipe. Who does that?

Here are two of my mother’s classics:

The first, wacky cake, is from her mother. I think it was originally a recipe to cope with shortages during the depression and rationing during WWII.
I don’t think there was frosting on the original (Heresy!). But Mom covers hers in a thick warm layer of milk chocolate, fudgy goodness.

Wacky Cake

wacky cake
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
3/8 cup?! (I know, weird; sorry.) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350. In a lightly greased 9 inch cake pan put in dry ingredients. Make a small well in the center of the dry and pour in wet ingredients. Mix together and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out moist with just a couple of crumbs clinging to it. Cool, then cover with warm fudge topping.

Fudgy Milk Chocolate Icing

fudge icing
Melt three tablespoons of butter in saucepan. Whisk in 2 tablespoons cocoa powder. When dissolved, add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons whole milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. It will look like you’ve made a mistake, but keep whisking and it will turn to a glossy yummy glaze. Also good on marble brownies.

The other is a recipe picked up at a horse show potluck in Puerto Rico, and named for a trendy playdoh-type toy we all had then.


slimePrepare large box lime Jello according to package directions. When cooled, but not set, pour into blender along with one 15 oz can of pears, drained, and one 8 oz block of cream cheese, softened. Blend until completely smooth. Pour into mixing bowl and fold in one packet of Dream Whip (Whipped topping mix found in the baking aisle. Can substitute thawed, 8 oz tub of Cool Whip) made according to directions. Let set for at least four hours before eating.

Don’t ask me why, but we all had to have this stuff.

Thanks for your time, my father’s sweet tooth, and Mom’s bake sale fantasies.