I’ve Already Graduated from College

I’ve already graduated from college.

When our daughter was in third grade, she came home one afternoon and asked me to help her with a math problem. She didn’t ask for help often, and I was happy to oblige. I sat down and worked with her, showing her how to do a problem. When I finished, she just looked at me and said, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” I said, “Well, that’s how I do it. I won the math award in high school…I know what I’m doing.” Again…”that’s not how my teacher does it.” My response? “Then ask your teacher in the morning. I have already passed third grade math.” And honestly, that was the best response for lots of reasons, the main one being that I don’t know how to do “new math.”

It reminded me of my mother when I was in school. I remember asking her for help with geometry, and her response was, “Honey. I don’t remember. That was 30 years ago. I’ve already passed geometry.” And with that, she turned back to continue watching Dynasty, because what Krystle Carrington was wearing was important. At that point in my life, I guess I thought moms retained every bit of math knowledge they had acquired in school. I guess I expected her to be able to recall the Pythagorean theorem on demand…30 years after passing her geometry class. My daughter has not asked me for math help (or any other kind of help in school) since. I guess, if she needed help along the way, she asked a classmate or a teacher.

And now, she is finishing high school in the next few weeks and preparing to leave for college! Exciting times at our house! She is enrolled, but she has lots of things to do before she can go off to college.

Back in the 80s, when I was applying to college and preparing to leave, I did it all. I don’t remember my parents helping me at all. Sure, they paid for everything, but I did all the legwork. I remember brochures and packets coming in the mail from different colleges and universities. My mother put a bag in my room to deal with that. Every day, after the mail arrived, she would bring all the brochures and packets up to my room and drop them into the bag. Every now and then, I would weed through the information and throw away the information from the schools I wasn’t interested in. When I applied to colleges, I simply asked her for checks to mail with the applications. I wrote the checks, and she signed them. I’m not even sure if she knew which schools the checks were going to. And that was OK, because I was the one going to college. She had already graduated from college.

Now, as my daughter is preparing to leave for college, I have joined some Facebook parent pages for her university, which is also my alma mater. I have written about the parent pages before. They are annoying, to say the least. Moms asking how to send baked potatoes to their kids’ dorms. (Not kidding.) Moms asking where their kids should park. (Not kidding.) Moms asking about tutors for their kids. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to do their kids’ schedules. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to drop/add classes. (Not kidding.) Rarely, there is someone who asks a question or shares information that is useful.

Why did I put “not kidding” behind each of those items I listed? I will tell you why: because those are all things the kids should be handling themselves. And do you know why? Because they are the ones going to college. Fortunately, my daughter hasn’t asked me to handle anything for her (I don’t have any login information for her student account). She likely knows I would say, “That’s something you need to figure out like I had to do when I went to college. I’m not going to college; you are. I’ve already graduated from college.” Does it mean I don’t care? No, it means the opposite. It means I care enough to let her do it herself. She needs to learn to solve her own problems. She needs to know how to get her own questions answered. She needs to be responsible for herself. I have full confidence in her, because I have let her figure things out for herself for a long time. Heck, it’s easier for them now than it was when we were in college! Now, all the information they need is on the website!

Back in the good ol’ 1980s, if we had questions about college stuff, we had to search through the university catalog. Or get the university phone book and make some calls to get answers. If we were wondering about where to order a baked potato to have delivered to our dorm, we had to find the yellow pages and look it up. Only, we couldn’t look up “baked potato delivery.” We had to look up restaurants and search for one with an ad for delivery. We also had to have some idea of which ones offered baked potatoes. Or we could walk down the dorm hall asking people if they knew where we could order a baked potato…that often worked. But back in the 80s, our moms were not ordering food to have delivered to us. No way. Honestly, I’m not even sure my mother knew the name of the dorm I lived in freshman year! No joke.

All this also makes me think about something that happened when our daughter was about six years old. My friend, Wendy, and I had taken my 6-yr-old daughter, Wendy’s 6-yr-old son, and my twin 6-yr-old nephews to Great Wolf Lodge one weekend. When we took them to dinner, my daughter was holding her own plate, but standing next to me at the buffet. Wendy’s son was holding his own plate but standing next to her at the buffet. I looked around for my nephews and saw one at the prime rib station, asking the server for a slice of prime rib. The other one was navigating the salad bar on his own. When we sat back down, Wendy and I talked about how awesome it was that they handled it all on their own! I called the nephews’ mom the next day and said, “Wow! They handled the buffet like champs!” And I still remember her response. She said, “That’s what happens when parents ignore their kids. They become self-sufficient.” I laughed, because I knew she didn’t really ignore them, but she didn’t baby them. They handled things for themselves at six! And I learned a valuable lesson. l didn’t ignore my daughter, for sure, but I let her handle things on her own. Those same nephews are off to college this fall too, and I feel sure they can handle anything that comes their way.

When we get my daughter moved into the dorm in August, I will feel pretty sure she can figure things out. She can handle it. She has always been a decision-maker. She is like me; she can make a decision…it might not always be the best one, but she can make a decision, and that is a life skill. Why can she make decisions? Because I have always stepped back to let her make her own decisions. I might present the facts before she makes it, but she makes her own decisions. I’m proud of that, because “the road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” If your kid is about to leave for college, and you haven’t let them make life decisions, you have a few more months to let them practice, so they don’t become a flat squirrel.

I’ve already graduated from college.

“Cheater” Charcuterie Boards

“Cheater” charcuterie boards.

Charcuterie boards have become popular over the last few years. Anyone who has not been living in a cave knows that. I became absolutely obsessed with creating them a little over a year ago, and I have made lots of different ones with lots of different ingredients.

Sometimes, I want to have people over and serve charcuterie, but I don’t have time to shop for it! What to do? I do what I call a “cheater charcuterie board.” I order from a business in Charlotte that will deliver charcuterie boxes and/or boards to my home with lots of fantastic, locally-sourced ingredients. I was having a crazy week a couple of months ago, but we had friends coming over on a Friday night. I wanted to serve charcuterie, but I didn’t have time to go to the store beforehand. So I searched online with “charcuterie boards, Charlotte,” and I found Off the Block Charcuterie. (If you live in another city, simply search online for “{your city}, charcuterie.” to find something similar in your area.) After perusing the Off the Block website, not only did it appear they offer quality ingredients, but I also discovered they would deliver to my home for no additional charge! Score! And I quickly placed an order.

I ordered their Large Signature Box, which features a selection of North Carolina sourced cheeses and meats plus house-roasted nuts, house-made crackers, and seasonal items. I have now ordered it several times, and the cheese have been plentiful…and included my personal favorites of bleu cheese, brie, and goat cheese. If you don’t like those cheeses, you can specify when you order. The meats have included prosciutto and other cured options. And the seasonal items have been olives, blackberries, orange slices, strawberries, raspberries, figs, and dried apricots…different items on different dates. I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been absolutely delighted every time I have ordered, and the lady who has delivered to us is lovely. The Large Signature Box is $65, and it serves 5-6 people appetizers. We tend to use it for three or four of us as a meal with wine. Let me mention here that the price also includes the delivery to my home! It’s a bargain!

When the box arrives (on time, every time!) I get out one of my own beautiful charcuterie boards and arrange the items how I want them arranged, and I even add a few of my own favorite items from my own pantry: praline pecans, salted caramel chocolate pieces, and various crackers. (My favorite crackers are Blue Diamond Nut Thins…I usually get the artisan flavors and the almond thins.) Don’t worry. I don’t try to pass everything off as my own. I always own up to the fact that I created a cheater charcuterie board, but everyone enjoys it. I usually wait until I get a compliment on the fresh items on the board, and that’s when I say, “I have to admit it’s what I call a ‘cheater’ board, because I didn’t gather the ingredients myself…”

But that’s not all Off the Block Charcuterie offers. They also offer vegan and vegetarian boards, caviar boxes, crudité boxes, charcuterie cups, and more! At Easter, I ordered a special board from them that included cookies from Honeybear Bakeshop cookies that were fantastic! To see Off the Block’s website, click here. I’m definitely ordering for Easter…and I plan to have quite a few add-ons…maybe some caviar and chocolate.

Everything we have had delivered from Off the Block Charlotte has been outstanding, and every guest has given it rave reviews! Even our very picky teenage daughter loves them. If you would like to assemble your own cheater charcuterie board or would like to order a pre-arranged board full of locally-sourced, delicious, high quality ingredients, place your order now, and they will bring it to your home (in Charlotte) at a time you select! Serve it all with your choice of wine, and voila! You have delicious appetizers or a delicious dinner…however you choose to serve it. We have ordered so many times now that I told our delivery lady yesterday we need to invite her over for drinks one weekend.

Cheers!

***I mentioned my “beautiful” charcuterie boards above. When I say I have beautiful boards, I mean they are gorgeous. A family friend I have known for 45 years retired recently, and he is making charcuterie boards by hand. He makes them from different types of wood and finishes them in FDA-approved finishes, so they are food safe. Seriously, I get compliments on them every time I use one. If you’re interested in one, contact me at kellymattei@msn.com for more information. Photos below. ***

***Again, to see the website for Off the Block Charlotte, click here.***

Late Night Grilled Cheese

Late night grilled cheese.

Last night, my daughter and one of her friends came back to our house to sleep after going to a party. They got home around midnight. My daughter poured herself a bowl of Reese’s Puffs cereal, but her friend requested a grilled cheese sandwich. I was flattered that she asked and happy to make it. All my daughter’s friends know I make a “special” grilled cheese. I know you’re thinking “it’s just grilled cheese,” but if you’re thinking that, you have never had my grilled cheese.

The girls went upstairs, taking their food with them (they remembered to bring their plates and cups down), and a little while later, my daughter texted me asking if some friends could come over for a little while. She asked, very nicely, if I would prepare grilled cheese sandwiches for her friends. I was secretly thrilled she had asked, so I responded, “Tell them to come on over, and tell them to come in through the garage. I will get the grilled cheese ready. Y’all will need to stay in the kitchen and keep it down to a low roar, so we don’t wake your daddy.”

Y’all might think I’m crazy. (Trust me when I say it wouldn’t be the first time someone called me that.) My husband certainly does. He thinks midnight is too late to be awake, so when I tell him we are having visitors after midnight…well, he just can’t process that concept. Who in their right mind would let teenagers come over in the middle of the night for grilled cheese sandwiches? I can tell you who…me! I love when they want to come to our house! I’m a total night owl who loves her daughter’s friends! I love that they request my “special” grilled cheese! I’m always happy to see them. So when I closed the door behind me on the way to the kitchen, I told my husband to go on to sleep. He said, “Make sure the door is locked and the alarm is on before you come back to bed.” He then rolled his eyes at me, and I closed the door.

I was pulling one of my favorite hoodies on over my pajamas as I walked into the kitchen and started getting out all the ingredients. Just as I had gotten started, I heard my daughter and her friend come downstairs and meet the guests as they came in through the garage. They came into the kitchen and started laughing and talking…music to my ears. Now I understand why my mother loved to have my friends over. Even after I became a full-fledged adult (in my forties), she loved when I had my friend, Angela, meet me at her house for a visit. I guess Angela and I revert back to college-age, because Mother always said, “I feel like I have college students in my house again!” She loved it.

There are lots of reasons I like to see my daughter’s friends walking into my kitchen. I’m glad they feel comfortable showing up here whenever they like. I’m flattered they like my “special” grilled cheese. (Yes, it really is special, and I won’t give away my secrets.) I love hearing them laugh and talk. But most of all, I am especially happy that they know I am a friendly face for them, and our house is a safe space. During the late night visits, I always take the opportunity to remind them they can call me to pick them up anytime they need a ride. And I hope they will remember these nights fondly years from now. I have mentioned before that my next-door neighbor once told me the friends of her grown children tell her some of their best high school memories were made at her house. I want these kids to say the same thing. I want them to have good memories of coming to our house to hang out. I want them to feel comfortable rehashing their evening fun while I “cook.” And yes, I want them to laugh about my willingness to make grilled cheese sandwiches for them at any hour.

Juniors and seniors show up on a regular basis. The seniors that come for visits are going off to college soon.But I’m not just making memories for them. I’m getting to know them all better, and I’m making memories for myself too! What I’m really hoping is that they will come visit me when they come home from college over the next few years. I’m hoping they’ll ring my phone and ask if they can come over for a late night grilled cheese.

And while they’re here, I hope they’ll say, “Some of my best high school memories were made at your house, Mrs. Mattei!”

Ready for the New Year?

Ready for the new year?

I don’t know that I’m ever actually ready for a new year, but most years, I am ready for New Year’s Day, and this year is no exception. I think different cultures have different traditions/superstitions for New Year’s Day, and growing up in the American South, I have a few of my own:

-“Rabbit! Rabbit!” I make sure to say this at some point on the first of every month, preferable first thing in the morning. But let’s face it, most mornings, when I first wake up, I don’t know what day it is! Lots of people say “Rabbit! Rabbit!” on the first day of every month for good luck. Apparently, rabbits are considered good luck. I tried to find an explanation online, and I found an NPR episode in which Martha Barnette, an etymology author, says the phrase dates back to at least the early 1900s. Some folks believe rabbits are good luck because of their fertility, which can be associated with new beginnings. Whatever. I just do it, because I’m always welcoming any good luck that comes my way! But it seems especially important on the first day of the year!

-Black-eyed Peas. A few years ago, I returned home from vacation late on New Year’s Eve, and I had not had an opportunity to go to the grocery store to prepare for New Year’s Day. Lucky for me, I had a can of black-eyed peas in my pantry. I can’t imagine what made me purchase canned black-eyed peas, because I prefer to cook dried ones, but the canned variety will do in a pinch! In my family, and across the American South, it is believed that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck and prosperity. Even when I was a little girl and didn’t care for them, my parents made me eat a spoonful of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. According to Modern Farmer, black-eyed peas came to the US on slave ships, and slaves planted them in their gardens. The same source says the Union Army took everything edible when they raided the south, but they didn’t take black-eyed peas. They were looked at then as “poor people’s food,” but after the war, they became popular all across the south. Some people in the south believe they represent coins. And some southerners cook them in Hoppin’ John, a southern rice dish. Personally, I love them…especially on New Year’s Day. I purchased them early this year…dried ones that I will start cooking early on New Year’s Day, so we can enjoy them in the afternoon. As for a recipe, I don’t make Hoppin’ John. I just soak the peas before I boil them with Goya pork seasoning and salt. I throw in the spinach, and while I normally try to keep them healthier, I’ll likely throw in some pork for New Year’s Day.

Greens. In the south, when most people say they eat “greens” on New Year’s Day, I think they mean collard greens or turnip greens. Some folks mean cabbage. I’m the outlier…I eat spinach on New Year’s Day. It’s still a green, and it’s iron-rich. I just can’t bring myself to cook turnips, cabbage, or turnips in my house, because I remember how our house smelled when I was growing up and Mother cooked greens. Collard greens, turnip greens, and cabbage taste good, but they smell rancid when they’re cooking. I can’t do that to my family, so we have spinach. Of course, I’m the only one who eats regular sauteed spinach, so I have to mix the spinach with the black-eyed peas. Greens represent money. And who doesn’t want more money in the new year? This year, I might add some extra spinach, in fact! And remember the year I had canned black-eyed peas? I was also lucky enough to find canned turnip greens in my pantry (Glory brand is seasoned really well).

-Pork. I don’t care what kind of pork it is, everyone who doesn’t have a religious exemption should eat a bite of pork on New Year’s Day. All my life, I’ve believed eating pork on New Year’s Day brings good luck, because that’s all I’ve ever heard. I looked into the reasoning, and according to thespruceeats.com, it’s considered a sign of prosperity in some cultures because “pigs root forward.” I guess that means we will continue to move forward if we eat pork. When I was growing up, my mother would cook a ham. My family won’t eat a whole ham, so I just purchased a couple of ham steaks to prepare on New Year’s Day. I’ll throw some of it in the black-eyed peas for seasoning. As for the preparation of the ham steaks, I will just cook them on the stove top in a skillet with a little butter and seasoning.

Cornbread. My parents used to make thin, fried cornbread when I was growing up. I’d never be able to do it. There was skill involved, and it was delicious. My cousin, Patti, still makes it, but I need a special brand of fine cornmeal that I can’t find in Charlotte. I’ll get Patti to bring me some next time she comes to town. Interestingly, the fried breads are round, which would be great if I could make them, because round foods are considered good luck in some countries. We used to eat it till we just couldn’t eat any more. I’ll make cornbread, but it will be regular baked, buttermilk cornbread. Why cornbread? Apparently, because of the golden color, it represents gold. I see a theme here. Southerners seem to want luck and prosperity in the new year!

-Champagne (or prosecco). Yes, I have bubbly not just on New Year’s Eve, but also on New Year’s Day, because it’s a celebration, after all. I have always believed we should start the new year on the right foot…celebrating. And bubbly goes great with all the foods listed above. And if you don’t like the foods listed above, it’s a lot easier to wash them down with bubbly!

Clearly, my traditions, except “Rabbit! Rabbit!” are all based around food! The good news for me is that these are some of my very favorite foods. For my family, though, it’s not one of their favorite meals, so they’ll choke down a few bites. We’d normally have lots of leftovers, but my nephew and a friend are coming to town this year, so I know they’ll help me eat it. I’ll have some pickled onions on hand, too, because they go so well with all of these foods! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Tasty Junk Food Finds

Tasty junk food finds.

I’m not normally a Walmart shopper. I don’t handle crowded stores well. I’m more of a Publix kind of girl.

However, today my daughter texted me from school that she needs something in particular for her school spirit week wear tomorrow. I’m all about spirit week, because I remember how much fun it was when I was in school. It’s especially fun for the students at her school, because they have a stricter dress code than we had in school. When they have an opportunity to dress for comfort, they do it. In fact, today is pajama day, and you can bet your sweet bippy she took full advantage of that. In fact, I surprised her by taking her a smoothie for lunch, and when she met me to get it, she said, “It’s amazing how much better I can concentrate in school when I’m comfortable in my clothes.” I get it, but you can’t wear pajamas to school every day.

So after I dropped off the smoothie, I went to Walmart…just for her.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m one of those people who can’t just walk in and buy one thing. I guess it’s my attention deficit disorder, but things catch my eye, and I have to investigate…and well, one thing leads to another.

Today, after I had the item I needed, I walked past the frozen foods and saw the ice cream aisle. Because Walmart is known for having “exclusive” ice cream treats, I decided to check out the offerings. And I was so glad I did! Or maybe I shouldn’t have been so glad, because I found something yummy: Blue Bell Bride’s Cake Ice Cream. It’s almond flavored ice cream with cake pieces and amaretto flavored cream cheese icing swirl. I wasn’t sure about the “amaretto flavored cream cheese icing,” but I should have just trusted Blue Bell. I bought it, of course, and opened it as soon as I got home…heavenly. What I really love is that the flavors aren’t too strong, but it’s delicious. If you like ice cream and wedding cake, try it…you won’t regret it. Seriously…run, don’t walk.

Blue Bell Bride’s Cake Ice Cream

Because I was near the refrigerated area, I decided to walk over and get some pimiento cheese. I’ve written before about Palmetto Cheese, a brand of pimiento cheese spread made in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. I prefer the jalapeño flavor for a little extra kick. But that was not a new find.

Palmetto Cheese

The new find in the same aisle? Texas Pete’s Blazin’ Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip. Holy smokes! I have always loved Bufflo-style chicken dip, but I had no idea Texas Pete’s made their own! I’ve loved Texas Pete’s products for a long time, but I really started loving them in 2002 for an odd reason: I read the obituary of Mildred Garner, the widow of Thad Garner, the founder of T. W. Garner Foods in Winston-Salem, the parent company of Texas Pete’s. See the obituary here. I know, an obituary is a weird reason to like food products, but read it…Mrs. Garner was my kind of people! I especially loved the part about people recalling “the sight of Mildred driving the family’s red Austin-Healy, holding an umbrella against the rain, smoking a RJR cigarette, and changing gears successfully.” I can’t help it. I love a good obituary. And yes, it made me love Texas Pete’s. But until today, I had never had the Blazin’ Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip. I didn’t even know it existed! So I purchased it, brought it home, and enjoyed it with some Tostitos chips. I only ate a few bites, but suffice it to say…it’s good stuff!

Texas Pete Blazin’ Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip

After picking that up, I found myself back in the frozen foods, and I spied something I used to buy all the time: De Waffelbakker’s Frozen Pancakes. Call me lazy, but it’s a lot easier for me to make frozen pancakes in the microwave than it is for me to make them on the stovetop. When our daughter was little, she loved them, so we kept them on hand all the time. In fact, my late friend, Wendy, thought I was crazy when I offered them to her son one time, saying, “I make homemade pancakes for him. He won’t eat those microwave ones.” We had a good laugh when he proved her wrong and announced that “Miss Kelly makes the best pancakes ever!” Wendy just rolled her eyes. I can hardly wait for my daughter to come home from school, so I can offer her some pancakes!

De Waffelbakkers Buttermilk Pancakes

I also purchased some cookies that weren’t so great. I had high hopes for them, because they had a giant picture of the Pillsbury Dough Boy on the package. When I was a little girl, I thought the Pillsbury Dough Boy was the cutest little character. Too bad the soft-baked cookies didn’t live up to the packaging.

Yes, I brought all those things home and tried a little of each. Fortunately, I had a spinach salad for lunch, so I didn’t feel terrible about the fact that I had tried all that junk.

I guess it was one-stop shopping for me today…something for our daughter to wear for Safari day tomorrow, and a whole bunch of junk food for us to share.

Sweet Escape

Sweet escape…

Sometimes, I just need to get away. It’s not that I have a miserable life. I love my life. But I like to roam sometimes, and last week, I was feeling the need to get away, so I did.

Last Friday, I started dreaming of the food at Nobu. If you’re not familiar with Nobu restaurants, you should be. To say they are Asian fusion restaurants does not do them justice, but that’s what they are…except the food is exceptional. The service is always outstanding, and the atmosphere is incredible. There are 16 or 17 of the restaurants in the United States (and even more worldwide), but I’ve only been to four. I’ve been to those four multiple times, but I’ve only been to four. I’ve never been disappointed…I’ve almost always been overwhelmed by the level of service and the fabulous flavors they meld together! I have some favorite dishes that show up in my dreams sometimes. That’s how much I love it.

Since I was craving it, I decided to check airfares to Miami, where there is a Nobu, and when I checked, I was shocked to find a $90 fare between Charlotte and Miami! I promptly called my friend, Meg, who is always up for an adventure, and asked if she wanted to go to dinner in Miami soon. She was totally up for it, and we made dinner reservations, hotel reservations, and airline reservations within 10 minutes! Our airline tickets ended up being $96 each, because of availability, but we were happy to pay that! Done!

We flew out Monday morning, and we had upgrades on the flights, so we found ourselves in first class on an American Airlines Boeing 777, which offers lie-flat cubicle-style seats between Charlotte and Miami. Yay us! We were so comfortable for those two hours that we hardly knew we were on a plane at all! Upon arrival, we grabbed a taxi to Eden Roc Hotel, and when we checked in there, we were offered a generous upgrade to a lovely oceanview suite with a big balcony. Woohoo! After putting our bags in the room, we dashed out for some nearby shopping, then came back to the hotel for some cocktails at Malibu Farm, an oceanview restaurant that has some great specialty cocktails. She had a watermelon cocktail, and I had a pineapple cocktail…both delicious. Yes, we were drinking our calories, but we at that moment, we didn’t care.

We arrived at Nobu just in time for our 6:15 reservation, and the real fun began! We both have some favorite dishes at Nobu, so we ordered a lot of food! Our server was incredible, guiding us through dishes we were not familiar with and making suggestions. That’s one of the great things about Nobu. In my experience, their servers know all about their dishes and can make recommendations about what dishes work well together. We started with a baby corn appetizer. Sounds weird, right? That’s what I thought the first time a server told me about it. As it turns out, it is one of my favorite things ever…baby corn in truffle butter topped with curry powder. Nobu serves small plates to share, so I think we probably had eight or nine different dishes, and that didn’t include our dessert…Miso Cappucino…one of those dishes I dream about on the regular. By the time we were done, we almost needed to be rolled out of the restaurant! Chalk that dinner up as a huge success! We were happy!

We flew home early Tuesday afternoon (less than 24 hours after arriving) after lots of great laughs and great food! I didn’t sit next to my friend on the flight, but I sat next to a nice lady who had an interesting job…giving me an idea about something my daughter might be interested in doing one day! We were home by dinnertime!

It was a getaway worth taking, and for $96, we couldn’t have driven to Miami! A sweet escape!

Cooking For The Family

Cooking for the family.

We have a small family…my husband, our daughter, and myself…that’s it. Yet it seems we are always going in different directions. I’m fine with that, because that means we are all still out there enjoying life. We regularly sit down together for meals, but more often than not, they’re not homecooked meals.

Go ahead. I hear it now…tsk, tsk.

I used to cook regularly, but something changed at our house. As our daughter got older, she became more picky (at least it seems that way), and my husband, well, let’s just say he doesn’t eat what I cook. It’s not that I’m a bad cook. It’s that his eating habits are different than most. And that’s OK, but I’m not preparing meals that way. If I did, I’d be preparing the same thing day after day, because that’s how he eats. Again, that’s OK, but I eat like a normal person. I eat a variety of foods. In fact, aside from organ meat, mollusks, and ocean bottom feeders, there’s very little I won’t try, and there’s very little I won’t eat. I am always trying to think of things my daughter and I will both enjoy…and I think I’m on to something.

Recently, as I browsed the produce section of the chain grocery store nearest my house, I came across something I’d never seen before, Steam It! Potatoes from Nature’s Way Farms. Yes, there’s an exclamation point there on purpose, because that’s how it appears on the front of the bag. They offer different types of potatoes you can steam in the bag in your microwave. They don’t even have to be refrigerated, so they can be stored in the pantry instead of taking up valuable refrigerator or freezer space! You can see the website for Nature’s Way Farms here.

Yesterday, I cooked a Mississippi Pot Roast in the Crockpot. If you’ve never had Mississippi Pot Roast, I highly recommend it. It’s an easy family meal that is delicious. You can see the recipe here. I know some people who add carrots and tomatoes directly to the slow cooker with their roast, but I don’t like to do that. I don’t want my potatoes to taste like meat, and I don’t want my roast to taste like potatoes. So, at mealtime, my husband had whatever he is eating this month, and I stuck the bag of red potatoes in the microwave for eight minutes and served them up with the roast for me and our daughter.

In truth, I was expecting the potatoes to be rubbery and tough, like so many things are when cooked in the microwave, but I was pleasantly surprised! They were delicious! And they were perfect with the roast, even though I think our daughter ate more of the potatoes than the roast…I’m just happy she ate something! In fact, they were so good that I could likely make a meal out of a bag of the potatoes sometime. Maybe take them out of the microwave and cut them all up, adding bacon bits, cheese, butter, maybe even some broccoli and sour cream. It would make a great meal, and it would seem like I had put forth a little effort!

I’ve already gone back to the store to purchase more of the potatoes, and this time, I got some of their steam-in-bag sweet potatoes too! I have never met a potato I didn’t like, so I’m thrilled to have found these gems! And I’m encouraging everyone I know to purchase them, so they will keep selling them in our local grocery stores!

If you’re wondering what’s for dinner at my house tonight, I don’t know what the entree will be yet, but I feel pretty sure one of the sides will be Steam It! Potatoes. Here’s a picture:

Obsessed with Charcuterie

Obsessed with charcuterie.

A friend and her husband came over for cocktails on our patio last week. I told her beforehand that I was going to make us a special summer cocktail, and she said she would bring a charcuterie board. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but secretly, I was excited about it!

I’ll get the cocktail information out of the way first, because I know you’re wondering. Back in March, I traveled to Miami with my teenage daughter and some of her friends for Spring Break. A friend of mine met us there with her daughter, and a good time was had by all. On the last night of vacation, we dined at a restaurant called Ocean Grill at The Setai. The atmosphere was lovely at this beachside restaurant, and when I looked at the drink menu, I was thrilled to see a Frozen Bellini. Of course, I ordered it, and it was fantastic. I remembered that when I was thinking of cocktail recipes, and I looked it up. I found the recipe at orwhateveryoudo.com. You can see it here. I went exactly by the recipe, but when I served them, I added a little more ginger ale when I added the prosecco…just to sweeten it a bit more. And they were almost as good as the ones at Ocean Grill.

So my friend and her husband arrived with a giant charcuterie board in tow! I couldn’t believe it when she walked in! She had made a lovely arrangement of cheeses, meats, crackers, fruit, and chocolate. Wow! I couldn’t dig in fast enough! We sat out by the pool, enjoying our Frozen Bellinis and the charcuterie board (and watching the parade of coyotes!).

And as usual, I became obsessed.

My friend told me Crate & Barrel has a large assortment of charcuterie boards, but I didn’t have time to go there last week, so I ordered one from Amazon. To see the one I ordered, click here. While I waited for it to arrive, I went grocery shopping. My friend said she gets great ingredients at Trader Joe’s, which is just around the corner from my house, but I can’t bring myself to go, because the parking is so bad, so I went to another local grocery store that has plenty of parking. I wandered around the store looking for the perfect ingredients…cheeses, crackers, bread, nuts, meats, fruits, olives, and chocolate.

As usual, my life should be a sitcom, because here’s what happened: I got home with all the groceries and put them away. My husband and I decided to go for a walk. We often go for walks in the evenings…usually just two miles, but it’s something we enjoy. We got about a half mile from our house when one of her friends drove up. I asked, “What are you doing here?” And she told us she was on her way to our house. What?!?! Apparently, our daughter was still out with other friends but told her friend she could go on to our house. No big deal, but we cut our walk short, got into the car with her, and went back home. It was then she told us two more friends were on their way. We love having our daughter’s friends over, so that was absolutely fine with us.

The other two friends arrived and promptly announced they were hungry. One asked, “Do you have any pepperoni and cheese?” They know I usually keep that as an easy snack, so I got out some of the pepperoni and cheese I had purchased for my soon-to-be-made charcuterie board. Another one opened the pantry and grabbed the nuts and crackers. The third girl? She grabbed the prosciutto and mozzarella I had purchased. My husband, knowing I had just purchased everything for the board, just looked at me and laughed. The pepperoni supply was completely depleted, and the cheese? Well, there wasn’t enough left to work with.

I didn’t even get to make my planned charcuterie board, but I was thrilled the girls enjoyed everything I had purchased. There’s nothing I love more than having my daughter’s friends over. Young energy is a good thing. I remember when my own mother loved seeing my friends arrive at our house. Even when my friend, Angela, came over to her house when we were both 50, my mother thought the laughter we shared was the greatest sound ever. Since our daughter is a teenager, I totally get it now.

I’m still totally obsessed with making charcuterie boards. I will make another trip to the grocery store later today. I know my daughter will have friends over at some point this week, and I will be prepared with a beautiful charcuterie board. It will have all those same ingredients I know they love, and hopefully, they will devour everything.

I will stand back and smile while trying to think of new ingredients for the next charcuterie board.

My Food/Beverage Guilty Pleasures

My food/beverage guilty pleasures.

I don’t know if everyone has food and beverage guilty pleasures, but I definitely do. There are some things I simply cannot pass up…and some things I crave. I have some guilty pleasures that are labeled as guilty pleasures simply because of the calorie content. But I have other guilty food and beverage pleasures that are guilty pleasures because they are trashy and cheap.

When I was pregnant in 2003, I craved birthday cake. No, not expensive birthday cakes. I craved the, as we called them, “el cheapo” birthday cakes from the local grocery store. I don’t know if it was the cake part or the frosting, but I craved them…and I treated myself once a week. Actually, my husband would pick up a small birthday cake, labeled a “patty cake,” once a week when he went to the store. He was a regular at the grocery store, so we used to laugh and laugh at the conversations the employees likely had every time he walked out with another cake…they probably thought he had a whole house full of kids. Nope…just one pregnant wife.

These days, if I crave a quick and easy cake, it’s more likely to be one from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Holy smokes, those things are good! We joke at our house that they must put some secret addictive ingredient in them, because once you have one, you keep craving them. If you haven’t had one, you should. They have store locations in lots of places. We are fortunate to have a couple of different locations in the Charlotte area, and one is just a few miles from our house. We don’t go often, but when we do, we stock up! Our personal favorite? The chocolate/chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting. We also like the Raspberry/White Chocolate. Oh, who am I kidding?! We wouldn’t turn down any of them! To see the website for Nothing Bundt Cakes, click here.

But I am a little ashamed to say I crave some cakes that are even cheaper than the regular grocery store cakes. Cheaper than a grocery store cake? And more embarrassing? Yep. Here’s my embarrassing cake guilty pleasure: Hostess Birthday Cupcakes. You likely remember the Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes with the white swirls you’d see in stores as a kid…they came in packs of two. Well, Hostess also makes Birthday Cupcakes. They taste, to me, like Twinkies with cheap frosting on top…but I’m not gonna lie…I’m completely addicted to them. I think about them all the time, but I only buy them once every few months. Each little cupcake in the two-pack has 180 calories, so I must refrain on a regular basis. But sometimes…I give in and go buy some. I’m not going to tell you where I buy them locally, because well, I want to be able to find them when I want them, but you can look on the Hostess website here. In truth, when I browse the Hostess website, I see there are lots of Hostess brand treats I’d love to try. But since I only allow myself to have those treat every couple of months, it will likely be a while before I can try them all. Does anyone else remember having Honeybuns as breakfast or snacks as a kid? Hostess makes them!

My cookie guilty pleasure comes from Tiff’s Treats in Charlotte. I discovered this place when someone sent me a box of them a year or two ago. My daughter and I couldn’t stop eating them! These cookies are yummy! My favorite flavor? The M&M cookies…they take me back to my childhood when my aunt used to make them. What makes Tiff’s Treats even better? They deliver! If you join them as an “elite” member, you even get free delivery and monthly specials! And if you send them to someone, you can also send cold milk or ice cream! I highly recommend this guilty pleasure. Check them out online here.

I also have a fried food guilty pleasure. All my friends know what it is, because I order it any time we go to Ilios Noche. If you haven’t visited Ilios Noche on Providence Road in South Charlotte, it’s high time you did. And when you do, order this guilty pleasure: Zucchini and Eggplant Chips. You’ll thank me later. They are lightly breaded and fried and served with tzatziki. You’ll keep going back for them, no doubt. See the Ilios Noche website here.

Other food guilty pleasures? Chips and salsa from Paco’s Tacos and Tequila in Charlotte, The Bento Box from Cowfish in Charlotte, soufflés from a favorite restaurant, and the Hazelnut cookie from a favorite restaurant. I could tell you where they are, but then they’d likely disappear before I could ever get them…some guilty pleasures should remain a secret, I suppose.

Now I’m likely to really disgust some of you with my beverage guilty pleasure. No, it’s not Mountain Dew or any other super sugary soda. It’s not Kool Aid, Hawaiian Punch, or Hi-C. I will readily admit I loved Kool-Aid as a kid. Everyone did in the 70s…if your mother allowed you to have it. Ours definitely did. In fact, I drank so much grape Kool-Aid that…embarrassing as this is…my poop turned blue. It’s true. Yikes! But back to the topic at hand…my embarrassing guilty beverage pleasure is a drink called Verdi Sparkletini. You likely haven’t heard of it, and that’s because it’s not something you’d likely buy. It is sold in the wine aisle, but the label calls it a “malt beverage.” It’s usually less than $6 a bottle. Go ahead and laugh. I know it’s cheap and trashy. And I think you are supposed to chill the bottle and serve it. However, I was introduced to it last summer when someone I know (I won’t let her secret out) served it to me over ice. Now, I’m not a beverage snob, so I didn’t care, and I was happy to try it…lucky for me! That day, we had the watermelon flavor, but they also make a yummy raspberry flavor and a peach flavor. In all seriousness, served over ice, they taste like spritzers. I offered one to a friend last summer at the beach, and she turned her nose up at it, telling me, “That cheap stuff gives me headaches.” I begged her to try it, and after we finished the bottle, we were both really relaxed…and neither of us ever got a headache! In fact, my friend ended up liking it so much that she secretly purchases a bottle every couple of days! Check your local grocery stores in the sparkling wine aisle (even thought I’m not sure it’s really wine). And it won’t turn your poop blue!

Oh, how I love my guilty food and beverage pleasures! Did I mention Guthrie’s chicken fingers that I have to pick up and bring home in a cooler any time I drive through Opelika, Alabama? Yeah…that’s a little embarrassing…I run into the restaurant (it’s co-branded with a gas station) and order the big bucket of chicken fingers. Then while they’re getting those ready, I run over to the gas station section and purchase a bag of ice and a styrofoam cooler. I fill up the cooler with the ice and put them in my car before I run back into Guthrie’s to get the chicken fingers. I put them on ice and drive the rest of the way to Charlotte! My daughter meets me at the door for those Guthrie’s chicken fingers every time! See their website here.

Now I’m feeling the need to drive to Opelika…

Fluffernutter Sandwiches

Fluffernutter sandwiches…the glorious blend of peanut butter and Fluff brand marshmallow creme on white bread.

My friends in New England have known about Fluffernutter sandwiches their whole lives, so they might be surprised to know people in other parts of the country have never heard of them. Well, I can’t speak for people in the midwest or west, but I know lots of people in the south are unaware of the Fluffernutter.

How do I know that? Well, after I posted about Fluff and Fluffernutters on my personal Facebook page this week, I got lots of comments from friends, saying they had never heard of the Fluff/peanut butter combination. One friend emailed me, saying, “I had no idea marshmallow fluff was such a thing! I’ve bought it for a recipe. But never just to eat!” Yet another friend asked me if Jet-Puffed brand marshmallow creme works the same. Short answer? No…it doesn’t spread the same way. Only Fluff will do.

Want the recipe? It’s simple. Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread (I always use white bread for Fluffernutters). Spread Fluff on another slice of bread. Put them together for a Fluffernutter! FYI: I don’t use as much peanut butter or Fluff as shown in the top photo, but maybe I should!

I learned about Fluff and Fluffernutters years ago, because I had the good fortune of meeting a friend who had grown up in the Boston area. She became one of my closest friends ever for lots of reasons, and yes, maybe the fact that she introduced me to Fluff made me love her even more! She loved Fluff and had been eating it since she was a little girl. In fact, she said that when she was a child, her grandmother would often make her Fluff sandwiches…sans peanut butter…because that’s what she liked! We would laugh when we talked about it, because she was basically eating a sugar sandwich. My daughter loves a Fluffernutter…even now that she’s in high school, I put them in her lunch every now and then.

If you’ve never tried a Fluffernutter sandwich, it’s high time you did. You will wonder how you managed to live so long without knowing about this glorious treat! I was probably close to 40 when my friend told me about it. In fact, I included it in a list of simple sandwiches in a post a couple of years ago. You can see that here. Peanut butter is good with lots of things…bananas, chocolate, apples…the list goes on and on. So should it be any surprise that combining it with marshmallow Fluff makes a great combo too? Trust me. Once you’ve learned this hack, you’ll never go back. I have a friend in Alabama who says she gained 20 pounds after I introduced her to Fluffernutters.

My Boston friend also introduced me to the deliciousness that is Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, because that’s something else New Englanders have known about since the beginning of time. Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee is hard to beat. When our kids were little, we would vacation with my Boston friend in Maine every summer, and every day, we would get iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s a sweet memory. And try Dunkin Donuts iced coffee with your Fluffernutter…one sweet, joyful experience!

And recently I learned that some people toast their Fluffernutters! I had no idea that was a thing, but I’ll be trying that today too! How did I never think of that? Does anything sound more like comfort food than a toasted Fluffernutter?!?

So if you are a parent or grandparent who has never tried a Fluffernutter or served one up to your child or grandchild, now is the time. You can be a hero at home if you make them this treat! *Disclaimer: Of course, if they are allergic to any of the ingredients, do not serve it.* Kids gobble up this treat! I have a friend in Alabama who is a grandmother, and she questioned me about it after my Facebook post. I told her the grandkids will love it!

If you have trouble finding Fluff in your grocery store, you can order it from Amazon here. I recently ordered it after I couldn’t find it in grocery stores in Charlotte. I used to get it in Target, but I haven’t seen it there in a while. (There’s nothing wrong with Jet-Puffed, but it just doesn’t spread the same way.)

When you try it and love it, say a little prayer of thanks and tell God to give a thumbs up to my friend, Wendy, in Heaven. She passed away in June of 2018 after battling cancer for years. But I think of her every time I have a Fluffernutter or Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee.

Bring on the Fluffernutter!