Giving Dad the Fingers

Gentle Readers of the female persuasion with children, I’ve got two questions for you.fa's dayI spent the last couple of weeks prodding The Kid to purchase a Father’s Day gift for paterfamilias Petey.

How about you?mo's dayIn the entire twenty-seven years that our offspring’s been on the planet, I’m guessing my spouse has spent a grand total of three to five minutes doing the same for Mother’s Day

How about you?

Ladies, you probably know where I’m going here.celebrationGuys are lucky.  They’re lucky we make a fuss for them, and they’re lucky that we, sadly, expect and accept much less fuss in return.

But I digress.  My point here was gifts for Father’s Day.  The Kid and I both got Petey gifts to fancy up his jeep.  He loved them.  To be honest, he never buys anything for himself, while I shower myself with unnecessaries quite often.  But, I’d still enjoy the occasional minor fuss.

Mobile family

I always thought my dad (in the yellow shirt), looks like Rock Hudson.  Big brother Homer’s on the far left, my mom is the blond va-va-voom, little brother Bud in green, and me.  

Like my husband, my dad is a man of simple wants and needs, so is very difficult to buy for.  This year, in addition to a visit from the entire Matthews family band (sans dog), The Kid got Grampa a special new shirt, and I made him a batch of homemade shortbread.

brown pecans

The pecans should be as deep and dark as these.

But this was very special shortbread, made with flavors that my dad especially likes.  I used brown butter and deeply toasted vanilla-tossed pecans.  On top I drizzled a novel take on white chocolate—I caramelized it.  Sounds weird, but it’s less sweet, nutty tasting, and makes the whole house smell like caramel-scented heaven.

Toasted Pecan Shortbread Fingerspecan shortbread1 cup toasted pecan halves with ½ teaspoon vanilla extract stirred in while still warm from toasting

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

½ cup cold butter, browned, re-hardened in the fridge overnight, and cut into pieces

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides.

In food processor, pulse pecans until finely chopped. Transfer to bowl; set aside. In processor, blend flour, sugar, and butter just until moist clumps form. Add reserved pecans; pulse just to incorporate.  Don’t overwork dough.pecan shortbread doughPress it evenly into bottom of prepared pan. With straight edge cut down into dough for eight lines in one direction, and three on the other, making 24 shortbread bars. With floured fork, prick each finger length-wise down the center of each bar. Bake until lightly golden, 30-35 minutes.freshly baked pecan shortbreadCool 5 minutes in pan. Use foil to lift shortbread from pan onto cutting board. With serrated knife, carefully separate warm shortbread into the 24 pieces. Remove from foil; cool bars completely before drizzling.

Caramelized White Chocolatecaramelized white chocolate4 ounces white chocolate with at least 31% cocoa butter

1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Flaky sea salt (optional)creamy caramelized white chocolatePreheat oven to 250.  Place white chocolate in small, shallow oven-proof dish.  Cook 10 minutes, then remove and stir.  Continue cooking, stirring every ten minutes, until chocolate has turned the color of peanut butter (50-60 minutes).  If it gets stiff as it roasts, pour in a little oil, then stir some more.  Keep adding oil, a few drops at a time and stirring until it becomes silky smooth.  When chocolate is browned and smooth drizzle over the shortbread and let set before serving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf desired, sprinkle a tiny pinch of the sea salt right after drizzling.  Keep covered in a cool place for up to one week or freeze for up to a month.

So, yes, guys can be frustrating.  But I’m keeping mine—he lets me warm my feet on his, and he’s really good at opening stuck jars.jar openerThanks for your time.

We Saw The Light

say boom boxGentle Reader, I listen to music constantly; ear buds in, I wrap myself in the musical arms of whichever style and artist I’m in the mood for.  Often, and alarmingly, I sing along, although my dulcet tones would sound more appropriate coming from rusty machinery or a bag of broken glass thrown out a window.live musicBut there’s something about live music.  The give and take between artist and audience.  The shared affection of large groups for performer.  Nuance and spontaneity that cannot exist in recordings.

It’s been many years since I’ve been to a concert and I didn’t remember how much fun a live performance can be—it’s like when you reunite with someone after many years apart; you’ve forgotten how much you actually love being around them.shakey audio treeLast weekend The Kid and I went to the Ritz, in Raleigh, to see Shakey Graves, a blues/rock/country troubadour.  He had two opening acts.

The first was Kate Rhudy, a folksinger and songwriter.  Her music was entertaining, but, her red-headed bass player stole the segment.  He had the most magnificent mullet I’ve ever seen.  It was haircut, fashion statement, and lifestyle choice.  It deserves its own fan club.sweet mulletThe next band was Illiterate Light.  Historically, opening acts are place-holders.  They are something to get through until the guy you came to see comes on.

Then drummer Jake Cochran and guitarist Jeff Gorman performed.

Firstly, they were a two-man band, which takes a particular kind of bravery and skill; the fewer music-makers onstage, the more attention is paid to each. ill lightDuring their first song, I decided they weren’t bad.  Then they went into their second number, and along with the entire crowd, I watched it with my jaw on the ground.  These guys were amazing.  I could feel the delighted astonishment that flowed through the crowd.  We were all musical Madame Curie’s and they were our discovery—we were instant fans.ill light 3Cochran had an endearing charm, the cheeky good humor that drummers are famous for, and the ability of the best classic rockers.  Gorman’s guitar riffs and electronic sound manipulation had us all cheering and gasping in near-unison.  Their singing and performances were glorious and so full of emotion, that at one point I was afraid the boys might have a stroke.  Their cover of Neil Young’s Vampire Blues was so exciting and intense I wanted a cigarette when it was over.ill light 2They’ve recently been signed by a major recording label which will soon release the first single.  I will keep you informed with date and info.

They were so good I felt like I was in Hamburg, watching the Beatles in 1962.  They were so good, I wasn’t sure Shakey could top them.

I needn’t have worried about him following Illiterate Light.  He came out and his talent, skill, and charisma blew us all away.shakey caseAs musical “All About Eve” scenarios faded from my head, Graves played his first song, Roll The Bones with guitar and the one-man, foot-operated percussion instrument he’d designed and used during his tenure as the officially designated busker on the Mumford and Sons tour.Shakey 2He played songs like Counting Sheep and Kids These Days from his new album, Can’t Wake Up.  The stage backdrop was the beautiful color-saturated artwork he’d created for its cover.  It was at various times hard-rocking, funny, and touching.  His sweet yet funny song, Dearly Departed had everybody singing along.  It was a thrill seeing him performing the first tune of his I’d ever heard, Late July.

During Shakey’s set, The Kid smiled at me and said, “I’ll bet you have your column for tomorrow, don’t you?”20190511_225518I just smiled and nodded my head along to the music.

Thanks for your time.

I Hope That Something Better Comes Along*

But you know, sometimes it doesn’t.road map‘Tis the season for road trips.  I enjoy traveling to new and interesting places or well-loved homes away from home.  But I really hate flying these days; it’s unpleasant in a multitude of ways.  And, I’m not great sitting in cars for long stretches, but I’m working on that.

Being there is much better than getting there.travel troubleBut, for me, being there makes my body anxious and cranky.  Unfamiliar water makes my skin break out.  It’s almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep.  And, after a few days, my body starts to rebel if I’m not eating right.

A lot of times traveling means eating on the fly—sometimes literally.  But one should keep some semblance of healthfulness.  Being logy and having an upset tummy will take the fun right out of a vacation.touronsMy goal is to have a balance of carbs for energy, protein to keep me feeling full longer, and healthy fats, with fruits, veggies, and whole grains to keep my engine from seizing up.  I want as flavorful and nutritious bang for my caloric buck as possible.

Of course, the best way to do this is to prepare your own food.  I’m a huge fan of dried fruit/toasted nut mixes—just watch the portion sizes; it’s very easy to inhale a whole fruit bowl that when dried appears to be only a handful or two.  140 healthy calories can turn into a ruinous 2000 if you’re not mindful.travel snacksThose pre-packed snack boxes have the right idea, but usually are full of sugars, sodium, unnecessary fats, and chemicals.  When it’s packed at home, it can be tailored to your own tastes.  Mix something like semi-hard cheese, whole grain crackers, a hard-cooked egg, some grape tomatoes, and dried blueberries.

Sadly, packing your own is not always an option.  Sometimes the only way you’re going to eat is to get some version of fast food.  Luckily, these days it’s not impossible to find healthier choices.macoatmealAt Mickey D’s, breakfast is now served all day.  The oatmeal is around 300 calories if you get it made without dairy; which is often just a container of their coffee creamer dumped in.  There are whole grains, fresh apples, and dried fruit.  The yogurt parfait is also a not horrible bite.  It’s only 210 calories and has fresh berries and low-fat granola.

If you order one of their salads, get one without fried meat.  The Southwest grilled chicken salad is 350 calories and has fresh fruit and veg.  The grilled chicken ranch is 320 calories.sheetzSheetz, with their War and Peace-sized, fully customizable menu can also be an option.  Their breads include whole-grain options, the meat can be grilled, and they have crispy greens to dress them.  I made a tasty loaded rice and bean bowl with vegetables and guacamole for only 300 calories. You can build a salad for yourself—just ask for the dressing on the side.panera spinachPanera’s showing up along many highways, and they have a commitment to providing clean healthy food.  Their green passion smoothie is 200 calories and full of fresh fruit and greens.  They’ve introduced a new spinach salad full of good stuff that is very similar to their old spinach salad which I loved and have sorely missed.

But hey, you’re on vacation, so don’t deprive yourself totally.  Splurge occasionally.  Stop at that ice cream stand and have a cone.  And maybe at Sheetz, buy an order of their decadent, delicious tater tots, but share them with your companions.muppet*The title is a song from that classic road trip film, The Muppet Movie.

Thanks for your time.

Happy Birthday, Bud

birthday cakeIn one week, my little brother will be fifty-one(!) years old.

My birthday is twelve days before his special day.  For a million years, he would send me a twenty-dollar bill in a card, and a week later I would mail his card with a twenty in it.  Sometimes it was the very same twenty.

But, one year I had a thought.  What if we stopped the transfer of funds, and tried something new?  When it came time for Bud to send me the annual twenty, I gave my little brother a hundred dollar Monopoly bill (Hey, it’s pretend cash, we might as well go for it).  He could write happy B-day, sign and date it.monopoly hundredMy mom was not on board at first.  But we liked it, and it was our special little tradition.  In three years, the first bill got filled up, so we just took a new Monopoly C-note and stapled it to the first.  This year is the fourteenth year.  Other than a kinda sweet, kinda sappy sibling tradition thing, I love it for a far more important reason.

Bud has the later birthday so, when I send it to him, he’s got to hold on to it for a year.  I only have to keep if safe for about a week before I mail it to him.  If I had to hold onto it for a year, our sweet little tradition would have been a one and done.mailmanEach year we try to find cards that are so rude (Not dirty, just extra snarky), the only person you could send it to is a sibling—they already know you’re a jerk.  Shoot, they had a hand in molding your clay into jerk-like form.

This year my card from him advised me to hold on to all the wax from my candles as there would be enough to wax both my legs and my mustache.lady mustache 2Shows how much he knows; my mustache has gone gray, so I don’t have to wax it anymore.

He was born when we were stationed in Mobile.  When my parents brought him home from the hospital, they brought me a baton.

At the time, I liked the baton better.majoretteI had a few lessons in twirling, but I was never very good at.  It did come in useful when I wanted to whack something or someone on the head—not to hurt them, just to get their attention.

He grew up to be a mechanical engineer, but since birth my brother’s loved to tinker.  We were all sitting around one night watching TV when Bud was about three.  Suddenly, the coffee table collapsed, scaring the bejesus out of us all.  He’d removed all the screws from it, because he could.fixitWhen I was in college, I had some minor surgery.  One evening my folks came to visit me in the hospital, having left my fourteen-year-old brother at home.  The next night when they visited, they told me that the mirror in the bathroom my brother and I shared had shattered.  Nobody knew what had happened, but it was completely busted when they got home.

I looked over at Bud, who had accompanied them.blowtorch“Were you trying to make a blow torch?”

He’d been contemplating his shoes.  He looked up at me, with a sheepish expression, and no eyebrows.  I busted out laughing.

live and let die

“No, Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die.”

He’d seen the Bond movie, ‘Live and Let Die’. In it, 007 made a homemade weapon to kill a tarantula (that’s all the info you get from me; google it or rent the movie).  When my little bro gave it a go, he’d happened to have it aimed at the mirror, and the glass did what it does when subjected to open flame.

He actually did become an engineer.

Happy birthday, Bud.

glennieThanks for your time.

Fruit of Vroom

Crowley blogMy brilliant idea kind of all started when I inadvertently found a new treat for my Whirlpool-sized pooch, Crowley.

I’m a sucker for the word “Clearance”.  Honestly, I’d buy a case of the bubonic plague if it had a big yellow sticker and was marked down 90%.  I’ve actually found items this way that have become pantry staples (sunflower butter), and other items that I’d give one of my kidneys to find again (Oh, Mrs. Thinster’s Salted Caramel Cookie Thins, where are you?).

bubonic

But I got a great deal…

So anyway, I eat tons of dried fruit, and found some peaches on a huge markdown.  I eat the chewy kind of dried fruit, but these were of the freeze-dried persuasion.

Most dried fruit is dried by the sun or mechanical means, but with enough moisture left to make it sticky and pliable—think raisins or prunes.On the other hand, freeze-dried fruit is completely desiccated.  The process is known as lyophilization.  Think the crispy, crumbly Styrofoam-like food sold in camping and survival stores and used by NASA and the military.  What I had scored on the sale shelf was freeze-dried peaches.

When I bought them, I figured I’d eat them as little sweet snacks, like candy.  I like peaches.  But the flavor of these peaches shocked me.  I knew they were freeze-dried, I knew that meant that as the ice was drawn off the intensity of their “peach-ness” was magnified; but it must have been by about a million.peach trifleThey were like the taste of every peach I’d ever eaten.  Every can of fruit cocktail, every bowl of cobbler, every Hostess fruit pie had combined to create this huge peach punch to my taste buds.  One bite was my limit.

Thus, Crowley’s new treat—he loves them, in all their peachy glory.

blueberry meringue

A sight to rival Mona Lisa…

Then I saw a recipe for blueberry meringue.  Meringue is a chemical, physical reaction that doesn’t leave room for fiddling.  Add any type of fat, including egg yolk, and the whole shebang will probably never come together.  Add too much liquid, and you get bupkis.  You even need to be careful not to overdo it when adding extract or food coloring.

So, for blueberry flavor, the genius who came up with this recipe used dried blueberries!heliotropWhich is brilliant, because you get buckets of taste and also as a bonus, it becomes a gorgeous heliotrope color.

Yesterday I made one of my strawberry cakes for a friend’s Easter dinner.  After all this freeze-dried fun, I decided to conduct an experiment. cake 2Instead of plain jam added to the frosting, I added only two tablespoons of jam, and also a couple tablespoons of finely crushed strawberries.  It lowered the amount of liquid I needed to use, and made the frosting less likely to get soft and run if the cake was in a warm environment.  I also added a couple tablespoons of the crushed berries to the cake crumbs that I pressed into the sides of the cake.  This turned the crumbs a really pretty, springy shade of pink; almost Barbie-ville.

The success of the strawberry cake got me thinking about what else could freeze-dried fruit do.freeze dried buttersCompound butter.  Last week I talked about flavored butter and encouraged imagination and experimentation.  So, imagine making a fruit compound butter.  What about apples and cinnamon?  For those of you with death defying taste buds, how about habañero/mango?  Here’s one:  An Elvis; freeze-dried bananas, finely chopped peanuts, and crushed crispy bacon.

I believe I’ll have some of that butter on my toast.  Thank you very much.

I am no food genius and not the first person to come up with this idea.  I’m more of a village idiot who discovered something really cool, but also the town crier who’s telling you about it.idiotThanks for your time.

Bull City Brave

duke street explosionMany of you know that Petey, The Kid, and I call Durham home.

Today there was an explosion downtown that leveled most of a block.  One person died, and there were numerous injuries.  The Kid went to middle and high school directly across the street from the site, and in the early ’90s, I actually worked in the building.

The Matthews family is all accounted for and well.  Our larger family of Durham is shocked, hurt, and grieving.  So, as you go about your day, please send a few good thoughts toward the Bull City.bull city collage

Thanks for your time.

Everybody’s A Chameleon…Expert

punchyHave you ever been so tired that you got punchy?  Where everything is hilarious and you laugh so hard, so continuously that you’re also crying?

Well years ago, on a seemingly never-ending road trip I’d made a rather anemic joke, and my friend Sherelle meant to say, “Everybody’s a comedian.”What actually came out was, “Everybody’s a chameleon.”

That phrase entered my, and now our family’s lexicon.  It means that everybody thinks they’re America’s answer to 90’s stand-up comic Sinbad.

By adding the “expert” part, it speaks to a phenomenon that perhaps due to easy access to the interwebs, seems to be everywhere.know it allAnd it’s kind of getting on my last nerve.

I first noticed it when we bought our house.

All of a sudden, everybody we met was a carpenter, plumber, electrician, landscaper, and decorator—sometimes all at once. trashI’d take out the trash and somebody I’d never met would tell me why my grass was more weed than grass and what combo of toxic chemicals would take care of it.  Or a complete stranger would inform me that the shovel I’d picked out wasn’t the right tool for the job, even though, he had no idea what particular job I planned on doing.keep calm knowFinancial geniuses would insist we absolutely should renegotiate out mortgage, never mind interest rates were going up; we were just too unsophisticated to understand the complex forces at play.bullwinkleThen we met a whole new raft of scholars when we were expecting, and again after The Kid arrived.

The shape of my belly denoted a boy, or a girl, or triplets.  I should exercise constantly or move as little as possible.  I should eat anything I want and as much as I want.  Or, I should severely restrict my calories, and become a vegan. little know it allLucky for The Kid, we ran into hundreds of child development specialists and pediatricians each time we left the house.

Nursing was bad, or formula was a clear-cut case of child abuse.  We should enact a strict routine or go with the flow.  The baby should be given a thorough bath daily, or soap or water should never tough a child’s skin and instead should be rubbed down with butter and olive oil twice a week.big babySolid food should be eaten within days of birth or maybe not until the thirtieth birthday.  Potty training should be early and Draconian, or child-led and have a goal of the child being fully trained by sometime around high school graduation.

The baby should never be held and rarely picked up.  Or the baby should be duct taped to one or both parents for the first three years. dog mythsOnce one becomes a dog owner, it’s astounding how many authorities you’ll encounter.  If you have a mutt, you’ll be shamed for encouraging indiscriminate mating.  If you have a full-breed, people will inform you that a rescue dog in a shelter was put down because you have a fancy, over-bred show dog.shelter petaIf you do have a an AKC registered pooch, you’ll discover 90 percent of the population is either a breeder or trainer of that variety.  One should treat them like the fur-covered children they are or treat them like wolves and never show affection. akita feedingOne guy in our neighborhood has bred every Akita anywhere on the planet for the last 200 years (except ours, I guess).  He’s also trained them all to obey him by blinking his eyes.

And not only is he the world’s expert, he actually invented dogs, and created the very first one in 1972 by carving it out of a block of Swiss cheesecarved dog

 

Thanks for your time.

A Professorial Appeal

prof and geoffI think you’ll agree with me, Gentle Reader, that well-stocked libraries are vital to the type of civilization in which we want to live.  No one can know what may be the trigger that fosters the love of reading in a young person.  And books enrich one’s life in infinite and eternal ways.

Sadly, some evil-doer walked into the library in Sussex, England and stole every single graphic novel they had.prof mikeMy friend, Paul Alborough, also known as international recording star and pioneer of chap hop Professor Elemental, has recorded an appeal for donations to restock the looted shelves.  And if you have any books that you are able to donate, you can help.  His video has all the info you will need.

If you’re new to the party and would like to discover the amazing Professor, head over to his website.  In addition to his ground-breaking and delightful music, he always has ideas for small things you can do to make the world a better place.  Right now he has links to donate for training support dogs for folks who need them.prof chapsThanks for your time.