Monday, July 20, 2015

Life At Face Value. And With Shrimp Burgers.

Uh oh. You’d think – after six years, including a three-and-half-year engagement, and now, nearly two months of marriage – my beloved DB would understand everything about me. We've known each other since kindergarten. He knows where I had lunch the day I graduated from high school (The Mills House). He knows the one food I find abhorrent (cilantro). He knows I don’t snore (except when I do).

He knows that I hate to make phone calls, that in my refrigerator, all containers, bottles and cans are lined up, labels facing out (which, don’t even, because you know it looks good and makes sense), and that I lift my feet when crossing railroad tracks (for good luck).

Truly, even when we're 200 miles apart, I scarcely draw a breath without him knowing it.

But this morning, after yet another weekend of trucking stuff down to his/our home in Charleston from my/our home in Charlotte, I kind of slipped up. I didn’t even realize it ‘til I was getting ready for work.

Me (to my beloved, on the phone): Hey, Baby. Any chance I left my makeup bag there?

He (to me, frighteningly unaware): Yeah, but that’s OK, right?


Me (to my blissfully unaware husband): Of course it’s OK. I was just curious.

He (innocently): You can just use Darling Daughter’s, can’t you?


Me (taking a deep breath): Nah. It’s just makeup.

He (sweetly, and do I sense -- relieved?): That’s what I thought.

Cripes. I never intended to be deceitful. Perhaps I should just take our conversation at face value. (Bahaha! “Face” value!) I see me as I am, and he sees me as -- his bride. Could I possibly be any luckier? 

(Assuming, of course, that my makeup bag and I are soon reunited.)

Shrimp Burgers
Here's a prime example of my ongoing effort to "fake" things. Earlier this summer, Darling Daughter returns from a fabulous beach vacation where she dined -- many times -- at the Provision Company in Holden Beach, NC. She says she ordered the same entrée every evening -- the Shrimp Burger. "I can make that!" I proclaimed. And without ever tasting it, I came up with something that Darling Daughter says is pretty darned good. Maybe I shouldn't rely so much on makeup, after all.

2 lbs. raw shrimp, peeled

1 rib celery, cut into chunks
1/2 Vidalia onion, cut into chunks
1 handful parsley

2 egg whites
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

1 cup panko bread crumbs

4 tablespoons canola oil

Tartar sauce
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 large kosher pickle, minced
2 tablespoons capers, drained and minced
1 teaspoon horseradish
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

lemon wedges, as a garnish

In a food processor, pulse one pound of fresh shrimp into large chunks. Remove and set aside. Now, process celery, onion, parsley and remaining one pound of shrimp until coarsely smooth. In a large bowl, stir together shrimp paste, shrimp chunks, egg whites, Old Bay and panko bread crumbs. Set aside.

Stir together tartar sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Form large (golfball-sized) balls of shrimp. In a large, heavy skillet, heat canola oil over medium high heat. In batches, flatten out balls of shrimp burgers and cook, 3-4 minutes on each side, until lightly golden brown. Served on toasted buns with tartar sauce.

Alternatively (and my preference, as well as Darling Daughter's) -- forego the buns, and make mini-burgers (slider size) and serve with tartar sauce or lemon wedges.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What You Really Need To Take To College.

Darling Daughter is about to leave for college. Don’t ask me when, because for once in my life, I’m not keeping a daily countdown. I don’t want to know. Instead, I’m spending our dwindling days together like 52-year-old doe in headlights, immobilized by an onslaught of “What To Pack For College” lists.

I. Hate. Those. Lists. Hate ‘em. Not just because they signify Darling Daughter’s imminent departure, but because most manage to be both tedious and absurd.

If you have a college-bound student, you surely know what I mean. And if you don’t have a college-bound student, then you may be even more irritated than I am, because at this time of year, “what to take to college” (and its equally irritating cousin, “what not to take to college”) is the topic du jour for morning talk show hosts and mid-day journalists and Facebook bloggers and, let’s not forget -- total strangers in the aisles of Target.

One such list urges coeds not to leave behind their phone chargers and tampons. Phone chargers and tampons? I’d like to meet the girl who is ever farther than 10 feet from one of her (many) phone chargers. And tampons? The only time a typical teenaged girl is without one is when she’s heading to CVS to buy more.

Another list suggests that a college freshman shouldn’t fail to pack costume clothing and a step ladder. Say what? In 18 years, I’ve never once seen Darling Daughter atop a step ladder. Whatever would she do with one in a dorm room that’s only slightly larger than her shower stall?

Nonetheless, we’re neck-deep into buying “stuff” to ease the transition from home to school – extra long sheets, rugs, mattress pads, and really, sheet straps? But I worry that I’m losing sight of the most important things she needs to take. For example:

Self-respect. Darling Daughter, you’re a smart girl, but a lively (both academically and socially) campus environment can leave even the smartest girl questioning what she stands for, hopes for, and lives for. I’m trusting you – my darling, precious, daughter – to take care of you -- mind, body and spirit. Make the decisions that are right for you. You’re the only one who can.

Self-confidence. You’re about to tackle some gargantuan life changes – moving away from home, leaving friends you’ve known since preschool, demanding college classes, seemingly limitless freedoms. And while, pretty much everyone you know will be facing the same changes, that doesn’t make them easy. There will be days when classes are tough, professors are unreasonable, and some people won’t like you. There will be days when you question your abilities and your worth. But Sugar, that’s how it is here in the real world. So remember, I didn’t raise you to please other people. I raised you to be you. So go ahead, be you.

An open mind. Darling Daughter, despite and because of my best efforts, you have lived a sheltered life. And for the most part, that’s been a good thing. Even though you’ve had opportunities to roam the globe, you’ve been raised and educated in a pretty snug little community, where you’ve been protected and nurtured and kept safe. These next four years, you’ll be exposed to things and people and events you (and I) can’t even begin to imagine. And while some may be shocking and appalling, others will be eye-opening and, if you allow them to be, life-shaping. Please remember that “different” isn’t the same as “bad” or “wrong.” Keep an open mind; your life will be forever enhanced.

Perspective. People love to say that college represents the best four years of your life. To me, that’s a heck of burden. You can’t look at things that way. You’ve got to just take one day at a time. When you’ve had a great day, build on that. When you’ve had a rotten day – and you will – remember that it’s just that one day. The next day, you get a fresh start. So go ahead – start fresh.

Common sense. One of the things I love about you is how very, very practical you are. You think ahead. You plan. So if you’re ever tempted to pull an all-nighter, rather than preparing along the way, or trying to convince yourself that you can start studying at midnight, or that you don’t need to return my calls or texts, consider what advice you’d give to a friend who was making the same unwise decisions. You know what to do. And when you do the right thing, you won’t have regrets.

So that’s it. That’s my own “what to take to college list.” Or, at least, it’s the beginnings of one. Oh -- and a cooler. Take a cooler. Because although I can’t help you pack self-confidence or self-respect or an open mind or perspective or common sense, I can pack a cooler. And when you come home for a visit – I’ll want to fill yours up with favorite foods, like this cold veggie noodle salad.

I love you,


Spicy Summer Noodle Salad

8 ounces spaghetti or rice noodles, broken into 3” – 4” lengths, cooked al dente, rinsed in cool water and tossed in 1 tablespoon canola oil

2 carrots, grated
1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, sliced into very thin moons
1 cup raw sugar snap peas, stacked and sliced, crosswise, thinly
2 scallions sliced thinly
½ red bell pepper, halved lengthwise and sliced very thinly
¼ head purple cabbage, sliced thinly or grated coarsely

1 handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped coarsely

¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup ponzu sauce
juice of one lime
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
generous squeeze of sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt

In a large bowl, toss noodles and fresh vegetables. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Toss dressing and salad in large bowl. Adjust seasonings and serve salad chilled or at room temperature. Pack leftovers in small containers, seal well, pack in a cooler, and send back to college with your precious daughter.

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 entrée. 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.