Trippin’ With The Kid

Gentle Reader, my child is a human pratfall whose very existence is chock full of frequent, unintentional slapstick.  Every day is a new, embarrassing installment of “looking back, years from now, this’ll be hilarious”.

It’s like I gave birth to both Lucy and Ethel.

And it’s never more on display than when The Kid is on a road trip.

In college, our little scholar snagged an internship at the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, California, about thirty miles south of San Francisco.  The child decided to drive.

Across the country. 


So, in the days it took to make the trip, I barely moved away from the phone (still only have a landline).

And, one day, THAT phone call came.

The car had blown a tire, in the middle of Texas, in a desert, miles from anything or anybody.  The force of it had also cracked a rear fender.  Luckily, The Kid had the presence of mind to call AAA for assistance before calling home.

My heart broke for The Kid.  And at the sound of my voice, my child, all alone with a damaged car, broke down.  I promised I would stay on the phone until help arrived.  We were only on the phone for a few minutes until the call ended abruptly.

It seems the spot where the poor thing was standing happened to be a fire ant hill.

Eventually, tire was replaced, duct tape was procured for fender, ants were washed off, cortisone applied, and road trip resumed.

Later in the trip, a bungee cord replaced the failing tape.

And until the day the car was sold, the fender was held together with an industrial-strength bungee cord.   

We decided it was time to pony up for a GPS when late one night on another trip, The Kid got so totally turned around in West Virginia that a mountain tunnel was traversed five times in one very confused hour.

After the last trip through, my little Marco Polo got directions—from the very serious Homeland Security agent that stopped the car.

Red flags had been raised when cameras picked up the multiple tunnel trips in the middle of the night.  Travel was resumed after The Kid promised to never use the tunnel again.

Then there was that time when the recent college graduate decided to travel to Ireland—in January.  Why you ask, Gentle Reader would any human travel to Ireland in the chill of January?

Because plane tickets to the Emerald Isle in January are about fourteen dollars apiece; because nobody, even Hibernophiles and native Irishmen want to be there then.

The Ireland portion of the trip went well.  But to get the slashed airfare, one had to fly out of Boston.  So, The Kid had to make the drive home, from Boston, In January. 

Petey was very ill in Duke hospital at the time, each day a new life or death struggle.  And fittingly, a nor’easter was approaching the northern US Atlantic coast bringing feet of snow in its wake. 

So yeah, I was in a very Zen state of mind.

The Kid’s plane touched down with the storm bearing down on Boston.  My child jumped in the car and headed South.

With a storm in the rearview.

Literally, on the drive home it was like an Indiana Jones movie where a lava flow is following close behind our hero.  Only instead of lava, it was a wall of snow chasing my child down I-95.  The Kid pulled in the driveway, along with a snowstorm that dumped a foot of snow on the Triangle.  

The storm had made the trip hanging off that darn bungee cord.

Thanks for your time.

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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 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 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.


morning afterYou know it’s been a heck of a weekend if, on Sunday night, you’re craving a salad and a shower.

Last weekend The Kid and I drove down to Greenville, SC and attended the 12th annual food, drink and music festival, Euphoria.  It was an all-you-can-eat, drink, and listen extravaganza.

So, we did.

Saturday afternoon we went to the “Feast by the Field” held in and around Fluor Field on the West End, the stadium for Greenville’s minor league baseball the Drive.  Chefs from all around the country cooked up tempting bites that represented them and their style.


The duck, with those amazing collards.

The first bite was one of my favorites of the weekend.  It was an empanada filled with slow cooked short rib and served with a green tomato relish and microgreens.  Another favorite was a cornbread toast point with duck confit, the best braised collards I’ve ever eaten, and topped with crispy duck cracklings.  I asked for the collard recipe, but unfortunately, it came the chef’s grandmother and was not for sharing.

My favorite offering of the event was mini cupcakes.  I chose a salted caramel one.

I ate it in two bites.Saturday night was the inaugural Big Easy Bash.  It was held in a town near Greenville which is undergoing a kind of renaissance, Traveler’s Rest (is that a cute name for a little town, or what?).  It was a celebration of all things New Orleans.

The band, Soda City Brass Band was talented and playful.  One of my favorite moments of the night came when the trumpet player broke out his digeridoo and played some jazz.

The band came out into the crowd and a large portion of the of the crowd paraded in front and behind.  This is called “Second Line”.  My child and I joined the Lousiana and danced our hearts out.  The consumption of numerous, brightly colored cocktails may or may not have played a part in our decision.

Chef Tariq Hanna

Tariq Hanna, sugar wizard, and creator of brown butter ganache.

My favorite dish of the night was no surprise, a dessert.  The pastry chef actually works in N’awlins and his creation was totally traditional, and at the same time, completely insane.  It was a tart, about 3-inches long by ½-inch wide, filled with bread pudding.

So that is unique enough.  But he then along the top he piped a line of something I’d never heard of, but which now resides on my short list of favorite foods.


How is it that I never heard of this ambrosia?  Can you imagine the buckets of it that I have missed eating because I only just discovered it this late in the game?  It’s just too depressing to even contemplate.


John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue in Charleston.  The Best Short Ribs ever, and the best bite at Euphoria.

Sunday though, was my favorite event.  The reason?  It was brunch, a delicious hybrid of breakfast foods, lunch fare, and a slice of melon.  With an emphasis on barbecue, it was called “Fired Up!”.

And here I discovered and devoured my two favorite of the weekend: pork belly tacos, and short ribs that were so amazing, I told the chef to call me if he ever needed a kidney.  Next to him was a pile of stripped bovine rib bones so massive it looked like the aftermath of a cookout at Fred Flintstone’s house.We were lucky enough to have a VIP ticket.  It conferred upon us exclusive events, early admissions, and entry to the VIP lounge.

I’ve never been a VIP before.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that after this weekend, it’s gonna be tough going back to being a mere “P”.

Chef Crenn

The Kid and I were so honored to meet Chef Dominique Crenn.  What a weekend!

Thanks for your time.


Time Marches On

I’m a fan of Walgreens because of two things.

First, as far as I know, they’re the last folks in our Pseudofed-wary world to sell old school Nyquil.  It’s packaged under Walgreen’s label, but it’s that same disgusting red liquid that never fails to quiet your cough and knock your butt out when you have a miserable cold and need some shut-eye.

The other element that I love about Walgreens is that somewhere in every store a portion of an aisle is filled with products, each bearing a bright orange tag.  And that tag informs the shopper that the corresponding item is at a deep discount which is usually 75% off.

You never know what you’ll find.  I got a bento box for The Kid for 4.99.  For Petey, it was a big bag of Cadbury milk chocolate toffee priced at 75 cents.  I scored a big box of oatmeal for $1.50, and at $5 each, I couldn’t resist three pair of fleece-lined leggings. walgreensIt’s a treasure hunt under florescent lights.  The other day when I was in they had fancy little Batman and Superman 8 GB flash drives.  Each was nine dollars and the size of a hushpuppy.

So you’ll understand why the picture I saw last night made me shake my head.

It was a photo from 1956 of a bunch of guys struggling to get this piece of equipment the size of a guest bathroom out of the luggage compartment of a Pam Am airplane.  It had “IBM” stenciled on the top.The “equipment” turned out to be a 5 GB hard drive.  That’s almost 50% less capacity than the superhero drives at Walgreens.

The picture reminded me of learning about UNIVAC in elementary school.  UNIVAC was a computer which filled an entire room and had less processing power than the calculator we bought The Kid for high school math.

All of this brought home to me how the entire world has transformed since I was a child.

First of all, it’s a miracle we made it out alive.I, and every kid I knew rode in the back seat of a car that didn’t even have seat belts, let alone anchored, padded, car seats made of space age polymers.  We rattled around station wagons like BB’s in a Pringles can.  My folks had a VW bug, and when the car was filled with riders, they’d fold me into the little cubby behind the back seat—right above the engine.  I often rode in the same spot in our next car, a pinto; which was eventually recalled due to fiery explosions that occurred when the rear bumper was tapped.

In Puerto Rico, we actually had a party line, in which more than one household shared a circuit.  The phone rang in a particular cadence so that you could tell what house the call was for.

Today long distance and local calls are billed at one flat rate.  Talk to your Aunt Verbena in Altoona for 300 hours a month, or make local calls only; it all costs the same.

But back in the dark ages, calling long distance might necessitate a double mortgage.  A ten-minute call cost the equivalent of about $65.Pill box hats, 15 cent Cokes, and Captain Kangaroo have all gone away, and that’s a crying shame.  But some disappearances are nothing but good.

Like the welcome void of bouffant hair-dos and asbestos oven mitts.  And when was the last time you really wished for leaded gasoline, slide rules, or UHF?Thanks for your time.

Patriotic Party Guest

You can ask The Kid, and there will be full confirmation—I am a corny, kitschy, sentimentalist.

When Petey and I travel, we both love to do the touristy thing.  I’m the girl that would totally stop at World’s Largest Jack-in-the-Box (Middletown, CT), the Indian Death Tiki of Awesomeness (Maggie Valley, NC), and spend the night in dog shaped digs at the Dog Bark Park Inn (Cottonwood, ID) or beneath boulders at Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast (Farmington, NM).

OMG, I love these things…

Each fall I literally do a happy dance in the grocery store the first time I see the mellow-creme pumpkins on sale (and don’t even start–they are a completely different confection from candy corns).

I buy one loaf of spongy white, Sunbeam or Wonder bread a year.  It’s used to make my annual Thanksgiving night, before bed, turkey sandwich.

My sweater is exactly like the one in the middle.  Yes, folks, it’s so bad they put it in a very famous Saturday Night Live sketch (I owned it before the sketch).

At Christmastime, I watch hours and hours of fifty-year-old cartoon and Claymation holiday-themed productions.  Each year, If not physically restrained by Petey, I would happily perch on Santa’s lap for a nice, long chat.  I own a Christmas sweater so ugly it’s illegal in 25 states and actually has functioning bells on it.

So when there is a barbecue or picnic for the Fourth of July, you darn well better believe that there will be food, beverages, décor and fashion in red, white, and blue.

For dessert, I buy Independence Day hued M&M’s and liberally scatter them, along with handfuls of broken pretzel pieces, on top of my dark chocolate, fudgy brownies.  And I serve Sundaes with homemade vanilla ice cream drenched in fresh cherry and blueberry sauces.

Blue historically, has been hard to find in savory foods.  I guess there’s blue cheese, and I like it fine, but it’s only blue because of mold; which isn’t really very festive when you think about it.

About fifteen years ago, the US was introduced to a colorful new spud.  Even though it’s known as a purple Peruvian potato, don’t be fooled.  Most of them are as blue as the moon in Kentucky, Elvis’ suede shoes, and a K Mart special.

Uncle Sam’s potato salad

red white blue spud salad

3 pound purple/blue potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

24 ounces Cherub baby tomatoes, left whole

8 ounces goat cheese crumbled

5 or 6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

Leaving on the skin, cut the potatoes into bite-size piece and cook in heavily salted, boiling water until fork-tender (15-20 minutes).  When still hot, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice.  Season, and taste for seasoning. 

Let cool completely then put into a large bowl with tomatoes.


lemon herb dressing

Whisk together:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Refrigerate dressing for at least two hours.

Thirty minutes before service, add dressing to potato/tomato mixture, a little at a time until the vegetables are lightly coated.  Gently mix in goat cheese.  Cover and let sit indoors at room temperature (not outside, where it’s hot, you don’t want a trip to the emergency room for dessert).

Before service, sprinkle the bacon on top.  This way it will still be crispy when eaten.  Serves 8-10.

And if you don’t get it together for the fourth, don’t fret.  This potato salad also works for Bastille Day, on the 14th.  Though, you should probably call it Frere Jacques potato salad.

Thanks for your time.