An Upcycle Made By Two

In my high school, there was a girl named Kacey. 

She was imposing, and fully, forcefully, occupied all the space her body inhabited, like a warrior queen.  She was neither self-effacing nor apologetic.  Kacey was quiet but not shy.  She had a gaze that could quell both the boisterous and the boneheaded. Even someone as illiterate to the subtle as me could interpret her silent condemnation.  

I admired her.  She was kinda my hero.

Kacey was an amazing artist and her mom was a decorator. The inside of their house was a revelation.  It looked like a spread in House Beautiful

But the furniture and accessories didn’t fall into any one category.  There were pieces from various periods, ethnicities, and design philosophies.  They also used repurposed found objects; this was the first time I’d ever seen a trunk used as a coffee table.  I asked the name of this style.


Kacey’s mom explained that meant using many different styles to make a harmonious whole.  I loved it.  And I loved the idea of repurposing well-worn items to new uses. 

The Kid has an apartment with a small patio containing a hammock chair.  I offered to get a table for the space.

But there were a few, very specific requirements.

It needed to be tall enough that The Kid could easily reach it from hammock height.  It needed to be impervious to weather.  It needed to be either heavy enough to not blow in around in a storm, or easy to bring inside.

I also wanted it to be unique and look good.  Purchasing something purpose built that had the qualities needed would be very expensive.  I would make like Kacey’s mom and create a table from various parts.

Not my collection. For illustrative purposes only.

There’s a thrift store nearby that I love to visit.  I’ve bought a really cool lamp for the living room, books, old Corning Ware which I collect, and other items I find that are interesting and cheap, even if I have no idea what to do with them.

I have a wooden stool in my kitchen that I painted years ago.  I also did one with an Argyle design for The Kid’s kitchen for Christmas one year.  They come in handy all the time.  During a visit to the thrift store, I’d scored another for $8 ($40 at Target).  I put it away until I figured out what to do with it.

Then I had a thought.  The stool would be the perfect height for that outdoor table.  Then I found a large tray to top it, about two feet across with a ridge around it.  I planned on just gorilla-gluing it to the stool.

But then Petey began collaborating on the project.

He had a much better idea than glue.  We went to a hardware store and he helped me choose the right product to make both parts weather-proof.  But instead of glue, he suggested Velcro.

But not the regular Velcro that’s on jackets and children’s sneakers.  He showed me industrial Velcro.  This stuff holds fifteen pounds per square inch.  And the entire tray didn’t weigh three pounds.

Then Petey really stepped up and helped me with measurement, placement and assembly.  It turned out great; The Kid loved it.  It fit perfectly in the back of the car for the ride to its new home.  But if it hadn’t—Velcro; it could’ve been broken down for transporting.

The total of supplies came to around $30.  A quick google for something similar shows the cheapest version online starts at around $80.

So, if my math’s right, I think my project might have earned me fifty bucks…?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Why We Write

I went to BJ’s and picked up some Nabs for Petey.  And because I got them at BJ’s, there were 36 full-sized packages of crackers and peanut butter in the pack—hey, he likes Nabs, and they were really cheap.

But the upshot was that I was standing in my kitchen wondering how and where to store enough Nabs for, literally, the whole class.  I decided to check our guest/box room for a forgotten basket or vessel of some kind.

final_5c11666232962c0013aa6d0bWhile I was in there, I noticed an old Duke three-ring binder.  I opened it to see if there was anything interesting in it.  In it was pure comedy gold.

Among the many camps The Kid attended while in school (cooking camp, camp at the Museum of Life and Science, a history museum camp that was an immersive experience in the WWII Homefront) was a Duke-sponsored writing camp.  The first year our child was a day-student.  The second was extended day, and for the last year it was sleepaway camp.The Kid has always had an interesting imagination, and a way with words.  Not long after learning to write, my child wrote a story about a pirate that was both afraid of the water and prone to extreme seasickness.  I know that’s my baby, but c’mon, that’s hilarious—I mean, just picture that poor guy.  Somebody’s junior high had the world’s worst guidance counselor.Each morning at camp they had a writing exercise.  They were given a prompt and had a set amount of time.  Where they went was up to them.

I’m guessing that this particular topic was handed out in either later days of a session, or if early on, not The Kid’s first year at camp.  There is a certain element of smart alecky-ness to the result.What follows are The Kid’s own words.  Comments from me are in italics.

I write because:

Because I think my dog is writing about me.  Our new dog doesn’t write, he instagrams and snapchats.crowleygramBecause the mole men tell me to.  They’ve stopped urging creativity and are now focused on digging and building an underground kingdom into which I’ll one day fall while mowing the lawn, never to be heard of again.

Because the lady at the drive-through gave me the evil eye.  She still does.

Because I want to scream but am in a library.  Nothing’s scarier than a librarian’s glare.

This guy says, “write”, I write.

Because a leprechaun I met when I was three told me I had to.  But not one word about that darn pot of gold.

Because my mom likes purple.  Yup.

Because I once saw a gremlin on a plane.  First I’ve heard about that.Because they serve a combination of chicken and fish called a chish.  Gross.

Because I expect the mother ship any day now.  Is mother ship one word, or two?

Because stereoditional is too a word.  It kind of sounds like one of those huge German portmanteau words that possess a paragraph of meaning.  Here’s my take: stereoditional is an object, or a state that can only exist as a pair, like bookends.  Or, an old lady’s purse and Kleenex.Because I have a chalkboard full of ideas and I can’t write about just one.  Lay’s potato chips of the mind.

Because the spirit of Bob chooses you to read your writing.  Don’t know a Bob. I think maybe The Kid was running out of gas here.There you have it.  A hopefully humorous, but more likely unsettling look into the mind of my one and only progeny.  Who’s now living as an independent, unmedicated adult.

Heaven help us all.

Thanks for your time.

Follow The Bouncing Lunatic

In school, The Kid had a band of unique children for friends.

There was Wrenn, a tall willowy blond, who would’ve given Jane Birkin a run for her money (look her up).  Wren busked (performed music in public for donations) by playing the tuba wearing a top hat and long swirling gypsy skirt.  I called her my little wood sprite.

Kacie was a middle school friend who named all her food.  Not like, “This is asparagus, these are noodles.”  Nope.  It was more like, “You are a beautiful cupcake.  I shall call you Arabella.”Yup.  Then she’d eat it.

There was Andy.  Andy’s a good kid, and so is The Kid.  But put them together, and some type of chemical reaction occurred that turned the two into middle school miscreants. With Andy as accomplice, there was skipping of school, saying they’d be one place, and actually being somewhere else entirely, and all-round, general butt-head-ery.  But even though they drove all the involved parental units crazy, they were and are thoroughly good kids.

And Thea.  The child was a walking exposed nerve.  Everything was felt very deeply, and all emotions were heightened, given free rein, and emoted with volume and gusto.  There were no mixed messages from Thea.  If you ticked her off, you would be informed of it, with no room for misunderstanding or confusion.

She also had a terrific surfeit of energy, of every type.  She was an overly caffeinated puppy inside a Red Bull-fueled race horse, wrapped in a rocket ship from the future.  Thea was so constantly, so completely wide open, we called her Animal, after the frenetic, demented puppet drummer on The Muppet Show.While in high school, The Kid, Thea, and a third student James Henry, were chosen to compete on Brain Game, a quiz show on a local TV station.

They studied—everything; the questions came from subjects as varied as Chaucer, the Betty/Veronica love triangle, and osmosis.

Finally, the big day arrived.We arrived for the taping well before the appointed hour.  That left plenty of time to kill, with contenders that were already twitchy with anticipation.

There was a large garden at the station, and we sent them for a walk to hopefully burn off some nervous energy.  Soon, The Kid and James Henry came back up, feeling better and less frenetic.  Thea, however, stayed a bit longer.

The child was running up and down rows of azalea bushes.  She’d disappear as she ran behind the larger shrubs, then she’d pop back again where the plantings were lower.She resembled a real-life mole in a garden-themed whack-a-mole game.

Then it was time for the big game show.  We were shepherded into the studio; parents and teachers in the bleachers, contestants on stage.  The host welcomed us, gave us a rundown of how the taping would work, and had a brief chat with each kid to steady their nerves, and get them ready to compete.*Spoiler alert: our kids won.  They blew the other teams out of the water.  They almost had a perfect game.

And, they accomplished it with only two members.

Because when the red light came on, and the cameras started to roll, Thea, the girl who never had nothing to say, the girl who was feisty, fierce, and funny, was struck, as if from the hammer of Thor himself, silent and frozen.For the entire thirty minutes of taping, the child was broken.  Then the show was over, and the red light went out.  And like an especially loud and profane meteor striking the earth, our scrappy Thea was back in the building.Thanks for your time.

It’s Chili, Wear a Sweater

Katey and Jim

Petey and The Kid.

This week, the essay has been hijacked by The Kid’s new chili recipe.

We both hope you like the recipe.  It’s in my spawn’s own words and singular style.

The Kid’s Chili1-5 k's chili–              About 3lbs of beef cut into 1-1 ½in cubes (I used a mix of chuck roast and Denver steaks as that was what was on sale, but the only hard rule here is to not use stew beef. Stew beef is the little bits and bobs left over when trimming larger cuts, so there’s no telling what you’ll end up with)

–              6 slices of bacon

–              1lb sausage (I used bratwurst, but this can be subbed for any pork sausage) removed from casing

–              1 12oz dark, high alcohol beer (My favorite is Founder’s Breakfast Stout)

–              1qt Chicken stock6-9–              3 dried Pasilla chilis, torn into 1in pieces, seeds removed

–              3 dried Guajillo chilis, torn into 1in pieces, seeds removed

–              6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

–              2 poblano peppers with ribs and seeds removed, finely diced,

–              1 yellow onion, medium dicedk's chili–              1 12oz can of tomato sauce

–              3 cans of beans, drained and rinsed (I used two cans of great northern beans and a can of kidney beans, but feel free to mix it up.

–              2 cans white hominy, drained and rinsed

–              1 Tbsp tomato paste

–              1 tsp anchovy paste

–              1.5 Tbsp Dark or mushroom soy sauce (Available for cheap at Asian markets, excellent for adding an umami punch to just about everything)–              2 tsp marmite (Optional but recommended. It will keep forever in the fridge, but also adds a good umami kick)

–              ½ Tbsp Cumin

–              1 tsp Cinnamon

–              1 tsp Garam Masala

–              1 Tbsp Gochujang (Korean chili paste)

–              2-3 bay leaves

–              1 packet Goya Sazon con achiote y culantro

–              Salt and pepper to taste                Bring chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat, add dried chilies. Simmer until stock has reduced to a third starting volume. Once reduced, blend stock and chilies together until very smooth. Set aside.

               Render bacon on low heat in large dutch oven. Once bacon has fully rendered, remove from pot and set aside. Turn heat up to medium.

               Add sausage to the pot and allow to brown. Once it has some color, remove from pot and set aside. Turn heat up to medium high.

               Once hot, add cubed beef, seasoning with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside. Turn heat down to medium low.

               Add onion and garlic, seasoning with salt. Sauté until it begins to turn translucent. Add poblanos, and sauté until soft. Add tomato paste and anchovy paste and stir.                Add sazon packet, cinnamon, garam masala, and cumin. Cook until pan is mostly dry. Add gochujang and marmite and stir.

               Add beer and dark soy sauce to deglaze pan and bring to a simmer.

               Add tomato sauce and the chili sauce from step one.

               Once at a simmer, add all meat and bay leaves. Turn the heat down to medium low and lid the pot.

               Cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.

               After an hour passes, add in beans and hominy. Since they are fully cooked, there’s no need for them to be in there the whole time but adding them an hour in still allows for some flavor absorption.               Cook until beef is tender, about 2-3 more hours. Make sure to stir occasionally.

               Either serve immediately with your favorite chili toppings or chill and reheat the next day for best flavor.

Thanks for your time.

She made red velvet…shortbread that is

homie failIn a continuing effort to educate all comers, I share useful information I’ve learned, and conversely, offer myself up as a horrific, terrifying cautionary tale.  So, this anecdote of mystery and invention would have been shared, regardless the outcome.

I’ve previously written about the woefully underdeveloped and overly discriminating sweet tooth possessed by The Kid.  There are only two items always on the child’s dessert list; red velvet cake, and buttery, sandy, not too sweet shortbread.

I know from shortbread, and have a recipe my child loves.

Red velvet though, creeps me out.  There’s something about adding an entire bottle of red food coloring that’s just all kinds of wrong.  Plus, as any frosting connoisseur knows, red tastes awful.But, The Kid loves it

So, I decided to find a recipe for red velvet shortbread and make a batch for under the Christmas tree.  There was only one problem.

There was no recipe for red velvet shortbread—anywhere.  As far as I can tell, it didn’t exist.

So, I decided to invent it.  And I had to work around some non-negotiable criteria, and some pretty complicated baking-related restrictions.

Traditional shortbread is flour, butter, and a small amount of sugar.  There are no eggs, no leavening, and no liquid other than a bit of extract. shortbreadRed velvet is made with the afore-mentioned bottle of food coloring for color and buttermilk for tang.  If I added these ingredients, it would be too wet and no longer shortbread.

What to do?

For color, I used a small amount of gel food coloring as well as Hershey’s dark cocoa.  For acidic buttermilk, I substituted a bit of apple cider vinegar.

A baking god.

I mixed, said a quick prayer to the baking gods, and slid it into the oven.

When it came out, the burnished brick color had deepened to the familiar red velvet hue.

After it cooled there was a taste/texture test.  It had a mouth-feel like shortbread and seemed to taste like red velvet.  I put it in a big jar with a pretty ribbon and waited for The Kid’s discerning palate and final verdict.

The Kid’s Red Velvet Shortbreadred velvet shortbread

1 & 1/3 cups softened brown butter

2/3 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon red gel food coloring

3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons whisked together with 2 tablespoons Hershey’s Dark Cocoa

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 275. Butter 9X13 baking pan, and line bottom and two sides with parchment paper, leaving enough to use as handles when removing shortbread from pan.

Brown butter: Melt butter and cook until dark amber-brown and nutty-smelling.  Allow to cool to softened-butter stage.  Make sure to use all the browned bits—this is where the flavor is.

Cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add salt, vanilla, and red food coloring.  Beat to combine.  Add flour and cocoa, 1 cup at a time, beating until just combined.

Press dough into prepared pan, smoothing top. Cut dough all the way through lengthwise into nine strips. Cut strips crosswise into four pieces for a total of 36 bars, or fingers. Then pierce each piece with five holes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABake shortbread until color’s deepened and just set, 70-85 minutes. Sit pan on wire rack to cool completely. Turn shortbread out of pan, and carefully coax pieces apart with serrated knife. Store in airtight container.

It was a Christmas miracle—The Kid loved it.  And quickly informed me that I had to write a column about it.

That was already the plan; no matter what.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks for your time.



Rocket Ma’am

I was never a very strict mom.

I really had only two ironclad, non-negotiable rules.

The first was to treat everybody with kindness and respect.  I mean, that’s something we all should do, right?

My second decree concerned pets.

We’re big dog people, but no cats; I cannot abide the unsavory aroma and image of a litter box.  No reptiles; snakes and their ilk creep me out.  And no rodents; they’re rodents for cripe’s sake.

You see, get just one snake, and before you know it Kenan Thompson is wearing ugly jewelry and getting molested by the damn things.

The Kid looked at the options left, and asked for hermit crabs.

So, we headed down to the pet store and procured two hermit crabs, which were baptized, Abbot and Costello.

They might be completely lacking in the sit, roll over, and cuddle departments, but they are exceedingly low maintenance.  They need less care than a gold fish and just a smidge more than a pet rock.Not long after Abbot and Costello celebrated their two-year anniversary at Chez Matthews, my parents went out to Seattle to visit my big brother Homer, and took The Kid along.

Like we’d done a few times before, Petey and I were on “Hermie” duty.

When our child returned we had a tragic surprise.  A&C were dead.  I thought Petey was feeding and watering, and he thought I was.  There were no tears, or recriminations, but The Kid was sad and angry.

I felt worse than awful.  I don’t know what kind of cognitive or reasoning ability hermit crabs possess, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those poor crustaceans’ slow deaths.  In my mind they wondered what happened and why their human stopped taking care of them.  I wasn’t sure whether they died of thirst and starvation or broken hearts.The Kid asked if we would assist in a funeral.  It was the least we could do, and maybe, somehow it would help to assuage our guilt.

Since burial, not cremation was requested, we found a small, pretty box, and lined it with a soft piece of fabric.  I grabbed our old, beat up 5-foot spade and volunteered for grave digger duty.

I set to work, but it wasn’t easy.  I only needed to dig down about eighteen inches, but it was late in a rather dry summer and the ground was like concrete.  I struggled and sweated, but didn’t accomplish much.After about ten minutes of getting nowhere, I decided to take a different route.  Instead of using one foot to push the spade into the ground, I’d jump onto it with both feet.  I judged that the force and the weight of the maneuver would drive it deep into the ground, and facilitate the creation of a hole.

I took a deep breath and leapt like Michael Jordan.

And the handle broke.

And I went flying through the air like a half-baked human cannonball. I landed on all fours about eight feet away from the gravesite.  When I had collected myself enough to be aware of my surroundings, I looked to see if anyone had seen my mortifying acrobatics.

Petey and The Kid were a couple feet away, laughing so hard they were leaning on each other to stay upright.

Nothing could bring back Abbot and Costello, but at the sight of my antics, The Kid’s pain was lessoned some.

As for me, my guilt didn’t really decrease.  But because the pain of my battered body, skinned knees, elbows and hands were so much worse, it kinda felt like it had.tractionThanks for your time.

Drop debbie a line with a suggestion for the next end-of-month column, or anything else at,

All the cool kids are doing it

We all have a picture in our heads of the ultimate “us”.It’s ourselves; but the best of ourselves: thin, attractive, brilliant, witty, and magnetic.  Our most sophisticated bon vivant selves.  No society guest list is complete without this sparkling personage.  This paragon’s regrets to an invitation render hostesses suicidal.

In New York of the late 1800’s there was a squidgy little problem and two very proper and pedigreed people took it upon themselves to solve it.

The problem; New York was being flooded by parvenus.  The old families, many from the original Dutch settlers of Manhattan, were having their shoes pinched by an influx of immigrants and their children who’d made buckets of money in the industrial revolution.  They had cash, but it had been acquired by the most vulgar means possible; labor, rather than inheritance.


Mrs. Astor and Cousin Ward

Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor and her cousin by marriage, Ward McAllister, relying on their own instincts and impeccable breeding, would create the definitive list; announcing to the world, via The New York Times, who made the cut, and more importantly, who did not.

Some of the socially acceptable were Clement C. Moore, whose family was long-time New York royalty and whose father was author of ‘The Night Before Christmas’.  The Post family, as in the doyenne of etiquette, Emily.  And some guy with the extra-fancy name of Marquise de Talleyrand.

Left off this very exclusive index were folks with names like Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Carnegie, and Duke.

Sorry, bub.

I would definitely not be considered for anybody’s list of old, aristocratic money.  I may be old, but don’t know my family lineage past one great grandmother.  Until I was in junior high I thought aristocrats was a Disney movie about cats.  And there sure ain’t no money, honey.

But I like to think of myself as having enough personality to be an asset as a party guest.  I’m well-mannered, up on current events, and many people think I’m vaguely humorous.My theory was cruelly disproved last week at a party I was invited to in connection with my food columns.  It was a chic party at a new and extremely fashionable location.  The guest list was chock-a-block with beautiful people.

I’d attended a very similar gathering a couple years ago, and was so uncomfortable I went home after about 7 ½ minutes, feeling like the countriest of country cousins.

This time I decided to get The Kid to come along for moral and comedic support.

After about 7 ¾ minutes, The Kid and I felt like sweat suits at a royal wedding.  We escaped to the bar for a couple very expensive drinks, and then went home.We just aren’t ‘beautiful’ people.

But you know, I don’t think that those other guests, almost visibly straining to be stylish and sophisticated, were all that beautiful either.

Here is a partial list of sights that I think are truly beautiful:The exhausted face of a nurse who is 14 hours into a double shift.

The eyes of a groom as he watches his bride coming toward him.

The hands of an old woman which have cooked, and nurtured, and loved for decades.

The embrace of a mother and soldier son on his return home.



Robert Redford in The Way We Were.  I mean c’mon, that guy was walking art.

So, I’m not the sparkling social butterfly I’d always thought I was.  But I still think I’d be fun at a Tupperware party.  And if you invite me to your cookout, I’ll bring the potato salad—and I make banging potato salad.


My broccoli/cheddar tater salad.  It’s just one of the many recipes I have for my very favorite non-cake food.

Thanks for your time.


Mad about plaid

Lemme tell you a little story.I really dislike coconut.  The flavor is actually okay, especially in piña coladas made even more decadent with lots of ice cream.  For me it’s a texture thing.  The Kid, however, has no such exceptions.  Coconut is dietary anathema.  It does not pass my child’s lips in any form.

Because of our animus, coconut has never had a place in my kitchen.

Petey eats it, but Petey is one of the least picky humans I know.  I’d always thought it was one more food that he could take or leave, but would eat if placed before him.

But a while back, after close to three decades of matrimony, I discovered something that I never knew about my better half—the man loves coconut.His favorite dessert has to be coconut cake, with many layers, lots of pastry cream filling and tons of 7-minute frosting.  And each component jam-packed with sweet, white shreds of coconut.  The man has a sweet tooth.  As do I.

Not so with The Kid, probably because in our house, sweets are not forbidden fruit, and I think this easy access produced an almost non-existent desire for most things sugary.The Kid does though, have a big crush on shortbread.  Walker’s, the brand with the red plaid boxes are a special favorite.  Last year I made some for the child’s stocking.  That recipe was okay, but wasn’t as rich and buttery as Walker’s.

I wanted to make something a Walker’s devotee might mistake for their more famous shortbread cousin.  Last night I made another batch with a new recipe.

It’s based on a Martha Stewart recipe.  And in the making of it, I picked up a couple of tricks that will vastly improve your final product.Before baking, I cut the 9 X 13 pan of cookies into 40 pieces.  There were ten on the short side and four on the long; long rectangles which are called ‘fingers’.

I created these using my straight metal dough scraper, cutting all the way to the bottom.  Then I used a toothpick to place five neat holes down the length of each piece.  After they baked, I let them cool completely in the pan before turning them out.  I then used a serrated knife to convince them to break off cleanly.

And, as with any simple recipe with few ingredients, use the best quality you can swing.  It will make a difference.

Martha Stewart’s Walker-style shortbreadmartha-shortbread1 1/3 cups (2 sticks plus 6 tablespoons) butter, room temperature, plus more for pans

2/3 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-by-1-inch baking pan, and line bottom with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and vanilla, and beat to combine. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.

Press dough into prepared pan, leveling and smoothing the top.

Bake shortbread until evenly pale golden, but not browned, 70 to 85 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Invert pan, and remove parchment.


The Kid’s Christmas shortbread.

When completely cooled turn shortbread out of pan, score cuts with a serrated knife, and carefully break into bars.  Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

I planned to flavor the shortbread with lemon zest and nutmeg.  But I discovered something else about my child.

Like a classic Chanel suit, The Kid likes it best simple and unadorned.In the case of shortbread, less is most definitely more.

Thanks for your time.