Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I Like To Think God Giggled.

Lord knows, I love making plans.

In the 44 months after David proposed, we planned aplenty. We planned to take dance lessons. We planned to choreograph a wedding dance with all four kids. We planned a wedding video of the two of us – belting out Love Is An Open Door -- on a boat, of course.

We planned to serve a whole roast pig at the reception – with bushels of oysters. Since our first date was on a boat, and we were engaged on a boat, we’d be married on a boat. We’d have receptions in Charlotte and Charleston. We’d process down the aisle as a gospel choir sang, To Make You Feel My Love. Maroon 5 would surprise everyone by showing up to perform the altogether adorable Sugar. And we’d toast each other with a drink concocted specially for our big day.

Hey -- it could’ve happened like that. We had years to think it through. But in the end, on a whim and a wing and prayer, we pulled together a wedding – our wedding -- in something like six weeks. No choreography. No boats. No videos. No Maroon 5. And oysters in April? We know better.

So planners that we are, we came up with another plan. We’d get married here at home.

Fortunately, there isn’t much rain here in Charlotte in April. So we chose to be married in the backyard. By the Lake. We planned like crazy. We planted flowers. We cleaned the decks and patio and gazebo. We installed new outdoor speakers. I bought cunning little sandalwood fans to cool overheated guests.

And then it rained.

Hey -- you know what they say: As we plan, God laughs.

And as He laughed, we moved everything inside. So much for the music. So much for the garden party. So much for decks and flowers and outdoor speakers and cunning little sandalwood fans.

Our hastily planned outdoor wedding turns into something far more cozy, far more intimate, and far more precious. A forever friend performed the ceremony by our fireplace, and our guests could hear every thoughtful, inspiring word. The kids’ toasts got everyone’s tears flowing. David and I could take the advice of another friend, pausing to regard in awe the exceptional gathering of friends and family who have supported and loved us these many years.

It was perfect. 

I like to think God laughed. I know we did. Praise the Lord.

Anyone in the market for 70 cunning little sandalwood fans?

Bonner4Real Sangria
With no time to "concoct" a special wedding cocktail, we relied on a reliable favorite -- cranked up a notch. This has to be the most requested recipe I've ever developed. Be sure to give yourself a week or two in advance to spice the rum. Cheers!

4 bottles of dry, light red wine, chilled
4 cups orange juice
4 bottles or cans of ginger ale (the spicier, the better)

for garnish, fresh sliced limes, lemons and oranges

Super Spiced Rum
1 liter spiced rum (give or take)
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 orange, sliced thinly
1 lemon, sliced thinly
1 lime, sliced thinly

As much as one month in advance, combine "Super Spiced Rum" ingredients in a large, covered pitcher, stirring well until sugar is completely dissolved. Store in a cool, dark area, stirring every few days, until needed.

On the day of your event, strain the spiced rum through a fine sieve, discarding the spieces and fruit. Then, make sangria one pitcher at a time, combining one bottle of wine, one cup of orange juice, one bottle of ginger ale, and one cup of Super Spiced Rum. Stir well, and serve over ice, with citrus garnish.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

One Of The Best Things I Ever Ate

I’m pathetically proud to admit that when one of my kids asks me to pass the salt, I inquire, “What kind? Sea? Kosher? Pink Himalayan, perhaps?”

When a vinaigrette calls for oil, I wonder, Is this an occasion for a lemon-infused olive oil? California walnut oil perhaps? Or should I stick with extra virgin? 

I use soft winter wheat flour for biscuits, baby spinach for salads, and unsalted butter for, well, everything, because as previously noted, I’ve got gracious plenty salt – in shakers, grinders, cellars, and cunning little salt pigs with cunning little porcelain spoons. Why in the world would I cook with pre-salted butter?

Yes. I’m particular about ingredients. So it puzzles me to realize that I’m unsure of the ingredients in one of my favorite dishes. I’m unsure of the technique. Come to think of it, I’m unsure of the name.

Mom always called it “Milk Pudding,” but her parents and older brothers referred to it by a far less appetizing name: Thickening Milk. Hardly the menu description that gets mouths watering. But wait – there’s more. “Milk Pudding” – or whatever you call it – isn’t a dessert. And no, it’s not some high-falutin’ English pudding. From what I recall, it was butter and flour – or maybe milk and flour – stirred together into a super thick paste in a large skillet. Then, you’d stir in some milk and some sugar and a splash of vanilla. Again, though, not what you think. Are those lumps? Yes they are. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Creamy hot milky sweet goodness – with chewy lumps. Of flour. I think.

Despite the name, “Milk Pudding” was a dinner entrĂ©e. Sometimes served with a salty slice of ham.  And as I recall, Daddy never cared for it. It was a Mom specialty – passed down from her mom. I’ve never seen it in any cookbook or on any menu. Google searches – for “milk pudding” or “thickening milk” – turn up nothing. My best guess is it was one of the meals cooked in during the Depression – making due with cheap ingredients from the pantry.

Just milk, flour, sugar and vanilla. And maybe butter. The most basic of cooking ingredients. And one of the best things I ever ate.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What I Wish I’d Said, Part One

As much as I love to write, I hate to speak. Put another way, I hate speaking even more than I love writing. And that’s saying something.

Looking for someone to raise her hand in a business meeting? Look away from me. Words of wisdom? Well, there’s a book I can recommend. And anything close to my deepest feelings? Um. Can I get back to you on that?

I don’t have the gift. The moment passes. Hours later, though – usually between two and three in the morning – I have absolute clarity. In the quiet, in the dark, when it's far too late, and I should be sleeping – it comes to me: What I should have said.

A few weeks ago, I was with my mom and siblings to celebrate the life of Mom's husband, Bob, who died a year ago. It was a brilliant idea, really. After the angst and difficulty and mourning of the year, we gathered to share favorite memories of the man who’d made such a powerful imprint on our lives. I reveled in everyone else’s stories – in hearing the tried and the true and the ones I’d somehow forgotten. But then, my sister says, “Cheri, tell us your favorite memory.” 

So I said -- nothing.

I froze. Rock hard, sub-zero, re-route traffic, school’s closed, the water main's busted, Kelsius zero. While everyone else was thoughtful and emotional and generous with their memories, everything that came to my mind sounded trite and trivial and silly. I had nothing meaningful to contribute. Nothing at all. 

But then it came to me. About eight hours too late.

Somewhere between two and three in the morning, it came to me. My favorite memory of Bob – what I loved most about him – was the way he loved Mom.  He loved her inside and out. He loved her “because,” and he loved her “regardless.” When I think back over their nearly 30 year marriage, I have to admit that there were times when their relationship was maddening. They did everything together. Everything. They worked together. They shopped together. They thought together. They decided together. They cooked together. They ate together. They prayed together.Ask either one of them a question – even the simplest of questions – and the answer was predictable: Let’s talk with your Mama. Let me talk to Uncle Bob.

He doted on her and adored her. It was obvious that Bob saw my mom the way I did -- as the most brilliant, beautiful, capable person on the planet. His Christmas and birthday gifts to her were always over the top, but nothing was more extravagant than the love he demonstrated, day in and day out. He was mindful of the little things that often get brushed away and overlooked in longterm relationships. He really cared. He cared about Mom. He cared about her feelings. He cared about her kids.

Uncle Bob set the bar high. As we all watched, he demonstrated how to put someone else -- my mom -- first. He loved my mom – in an extraordinary, exceptional, life-altering kind of way. He showed me what it was to love -- and to be loved. He showed me what was possible in a relationship. He helped me figure out what I wanted in my own relationship.

I wish I’d said that.

Best Ever Pimento Cheese Spread
To celebrate Bob's life, we also indulged in some of his favorite foods: roasted oysters, egg salad sandwiches, shrimp, cream cheese and olive sandwiches, spanish peanuts, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, blue cheese dip, and pimento cheese. When I was growing up in Charleston, pimento cheese (or, as some folks pronounced it, "minner" cheese) sandwiches were served at receptions of every sort -- all fancy, on white bread with the crusts cut off.  In fact, Bob often said that if egg salad sandwiches and pimento cheese sandwiches hadn't been served at your reception, then you weren't actually married at all.

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons grated onion (optional)
10 oz. extra sharp Cheddar cheese, freshly grated (do not use pre-grated)
4 oz. canned pimentos, chopped

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except cheese and pimentos.  Gradually stir in cheese and pimentos until well combined and moistened.  Chill for an hour or two, and use as a dip for celery sticks or a spread on sandwiches or crackers.