Signed, me

Somewhere in my house are my third- and fourth-grade report cards. They are the only written records of my elementary school years, and I must assume that my mother saved those and no others because they were the zenith of my career.

As I recall (still looking for them), the grades were good. But no matter how many As and Bs I earned, what drew my mother’s wrath were the perpetual Cs in handwriting.

Yes, they used to grade students in handwriting, back when we had to swing from vine to vine to get to school each morning.

Now, Pitt County schools are among some across the country that have dumped teaching cursive. Students will be taught to print until third grade,  then they’ll learn typing. The argument is that teachers don’t have enough time to work it into the curriculum with all the other subjects they must cover, and that everyone types, anyway.

My mother wouldn’t be happy about that. She threw a fit over my penmanship every time report cards came out. (She brushed off the Unsatisfactory or Needs Improvement marks I received in “Avoids Unnecessary Talking” by saying, “That’s you, all right.”)

She came from a time when a woman’s penmanship presented an important face to the world. Hers had the perfect smooth loops and lines of an engraved wedding invitation and hardly wavered as she aged. Mine had, and still has, the look of a rain-smeared “Lost Dog” poster on a telephone pole.

On the other hand, my friends tell me that my texts aren’t any easier to comprehend.


At least the food was good

Things didn’t go as my light blue heart had hoped on the basketball court Saturday night. But you can’t blame the food. Perhaps these sliders can redeem themselves on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3.

Turkey Sliders with Cilantro-Lime Mayonnaise

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey

1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno

1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 egg

About 1/4 teaspoon each salt and black pepper

Dash of olive oil

Vegetable oil for frying

Small slices Monterey Jack cheese

16 small French rolls

1 cup mayonnaise

About 2 teaspoons lime juice

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

Sliced avocado

In a bowl, combine the turkey, jalapeno, bell pepper, onion, mustard, chili powder, garlic powder and cumin. Stir in the beaten egg. Stir in a good dash of olive oil.

Combine the mayo, lime juice and cilantro in a small bowl. Add more or less lime juice to get the consistency your prefer.

Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Form small patties of the mixture, about the size of a large soup spoon or what will fit the size of your rolls. Fry the patties on each side until brown and done through. Place cheese on top after turning the patties, if you want cheese. Drain the patties on paper towels and keep warm as you continue cooking.

Cut the rolls lengthwise and spread a thin smear of the mayo on each side. Place the patties inside and top with avocado slices. Keep warm until serving.

Makes about 16 sliders

A diet in the cards

The Hub and I were on a closet-cleaning binge recently. These binges seem to strike in the winter, when we manage to get bored enough to actually see cleaning as a fun activity. We spent some time mulling over how many editions of Monopoly we really need before ending up keeping them all, from the original through British, San Francisco  and Star Wars versions. Then we found a small deck of playing cards.

Boy, would these cards make a poker game a downer. Each card has a photograph of a snack food along with the calorie count. I might drop my royal flush if I noticed that the seven cashews I just ate were 115 calories. And of course one only eats seven cashews.

There’s pretzels, popcorn, caramels, potato chips (one, 11 calories). A petit four for the queen, a delicate 95 calories. The backs are a pattern of pill capsules.

The Hub recognized the cards immediately. His father was a doctor, and drug reps would leave all kinds of promotional trinkets.

The cards, called an Eska-Deck, were produced in 1969 for SmithKline & French, which later merged with GlaxoSmithKline. Because of the deck’s name, I’m wondering if it was intended to promote SKF’s  late-1960s diet drug Eskatrol. According to what I could find online, the drug, an amphetamine, was removed from the market in the early ’80s by the FDA, but not before it found its way into a Jimmy Buffett song.: “Get a bottle of rum and an Eskatrol and watch the same thing happen to you.” – “Fool Button,” Son of a Son of a Sailor, 1978.

The very same album also includes “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” which brings us all the way back around to food. But none of the Eska-Deck cards include a burger. Fortunately.

Hail to the bison

Well, it appears that some people are all in a swivet about the menu for today’s Presidential Inauguration Luncheon. Apparently a diet group analyzed the menu and said it contains 3,000 calories.

Well, what do you expect them to serve at a luncheon for the inauguration of our 44th president – fat-free yogurt and granola bars? I believe many of those calories were pre-shivered off during the long wait outside. And the Obamas will be walking later, so they’ll get in some exercise. No to mention poor, old Beyonce, who’s probably still burning calories breastfeeding.

And, hey, if you only eat like this every four years, you’re doing pretty good in the diet department.

The menu pretty darn good to me, especially since I had chicken and rice soup with a pastrami sandwich and a clementine while I was watching the inauguration.

Exploring BLOs

The Hub’s dairy allergy has compelled me to explore the wonderful world of nondairy butter-like objects, and I have had mixed results.  Some simply can’t be used in cooking and are meant only as bread spreads. Of those that can, some have a mild flavor but are mostly water. Others have a strong soy component that gives a funky flavor and color to baked goods. Coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, has worked well except when melted and added to cold pancake batter. It quickly re-solidified and I ended up with chunks of the oil in the pancakes.

I tried a soy-based butter-like object when making cornbread recently and was very unhappy with the results. The cornbread was a funky tan color, very crumbly and tasted strongly of the spread.The Hub ate it. That’s how much he likes cornbread, bless his little heart.

I’ve made quite acceptable scones using coconut oil and almond or coconut milk (the kind in cartons, not cans). So I thought about cornmeal biscuits, which came out pretty darn good. I do drop biscuits. Rolling and I just don’t roll.

Cornmeal Biscuits for The Hub

1 cup flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Heaping 1/4 cup coconut oil

3/4 to 1 cup almond or coconut milk

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar. Use a pastry blender to cut in the coconut oil until it’s in small pieces; do not mash it all in. Stir in enough almond or coconut milk to make a wet dough. Use a large soup spoon to scoop out dough and place in a nonstick rimmed baking pan (I use layer cake pans). The biscuits will rise more if they are close together or even touching so the dough won’t spread out. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned on top.

Makes about 8 biscuits

Devil those eggs, dearie

I love Mrs. Patmore on “Downton Abbey.” She’s like the Julia Child of the aristocracy’s kitchen staff – not in the sense that Mrs. Patmore knows a whit about French cooking, but that her meal preparation goes on no matter what. I believe those two old girls would have a fine time together at the servant’s ball.

But to discover here that no well-dressed table in that elegant era was without deviled eggs – well, I feel even closer to my darling ginger-haired Mrs. P.

If you’re planning a viewing party as the third season is underway on WUNC-TV, I offer this recipe from my book “Deviled Eggs: 50 Recipes from Simple to Sassy” (Harvard Common Press). The recipe is from Ben Barker of the late, great Magnolia Grill, and is fit for lords, countesses or anyone you might host – even chauffeurs.

Magnolia Grill’s Deviled Eggs with Caviar

12 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, cut in half and yolks mashed in a bowl

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus more for garnish

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 ounce sturgeon caviar (best-quality American or imported)

Combine the thoroughly mashed yolks with the mayonnaise until fairly smooth. Add the mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco and chives and mix until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the whites evenly with the mixture. The eggs can be made several hours ahead up to this point. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Right before serving, top each deviled egg with a generous spoonful of caviar and garnish with minced chives.

Makes 24

A night in a strange and beautiful land

soup course in yamazushi’s kaiseki

I am fond of novels that I can crawl into and arrive in another land. Rarely can I achieve the same teleportation experience by watching a movie, and it has never happened in a restaurant. I’ve had many great meals in wonderful environments. But I’ve never, in a restaurant, had that same experience of visiting another world, until now.

Yamazushi in Durham has been around for years as a sushi bar and Japanese restaurant. Then The Hub and I read a review of a revamped Yamazushi. The sushi bar is gone, as are menus. The chef/owner, George Yamasawa, now serves five- or eight-course kaiseki. Kaiseki began as simple meals served during tea ceremonies, but the tradition has evolved into multi-course dining events. Each course is served singly, carefully timed. Kaiseki traditionally includes a rice

chestnut rice and japanese pickles

dish, a sashimi course, a fried dish and a grilled dish, among others.

Not only did the chef create the gentle procession of eight dishes to our table, but they were served in and on pottery he made himself, so I felt we were completely in a world the chef created.

The website advises emailing for reservations (essential) and someone will call to confirm. When she did, I was able to make some requests: no dairy or pork, per The Hub (vegan and vegetarian meals are possible). But, besides that, we had no idea what we’d find on our plates.

The experience was like a culinary version of the Japanese prints that show a winding trail up a mountain through forests and streams. North Carolina

marinated black cod on asparagus

scallops bathed in white miso. A dashi-based soup in a bamboo-handled teapot. My first taste of sea urchin, on the sashimi plate, which I ate without fear; the land I was in did not harbor fear. Crispy fried soft-shell crab with green tea salt. Black cod marinated for 48 hours in sake and miso, then grilled and perched on bright green asparagus. A bowl of rice with chestnuts, the nutty sweetness balanced by a plate of tart-salty Japanese pickles.

The Hub and I spent three hours in this lovely land, sipping sake between courses in ceramic cups we selected from among the chef’s handiwork. We had only to focus on each other, the food, and the gentle, pleasant passage of time.