Chef Nathaniel cooked his last meal here – cookie dough crepes for breakfast. He said he looked at a standard recipe for cookies and melded it with his crepe recipe.

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Our grandson has unlimited patience when cooking, a trait I envy. He buttered the pan, poured the batter, swirled it quickly to cover the bottom, and placed chocolate chips by hand. When the crepe was cooked, he folded it in half by pulling one edge over with his bare hand! He folded it in half again with his hand and only then used the spatula to put it in the dish.

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He put the dish in the oven to keep the crepes warm until we were ready to eat. Being a simple homemaker, I would have put the dish on the table. Not the chef! He plated the crepes and drizzled chocolate sauce on top, shown in the first photo. I haven’t decided yet if they were as good as they looked or better. I think I’ll rate them much better.

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We did other things during the week that I didn’t write about. The most important for Nathaniel was touring the campus of Johnson and Wales University in downtown Charlotte. He made the appointment himself, planning this trip with GP (Grandpa), and had the enthusiastic approval of his culinary arts teacher. For his junior year in high school, he has academic classes in the morning and vocational training in the afternoon. The woman at the university went over his academic record, recommending subjects for him to take next year. She discussed steps for applying to the school and getting financial aid. Both John and Nathaniel were impressed with the campus. Being in an urban setting, it was more vertical than horizontal. About half the students are there for culinary arts. The dorm rooms seemed spacious compared to David’s at Concordia, and the kitchens were impressive. They saw students cooking thick, juicy streaks and were given samples of candy being made in another kitchen.

While the fellows were Johnson and Waling, I spent several hours with former neighbor Amy. Amy left the house next door and moved to Charlotte to be near her daughter and grandchildren. I hadn’t seen her since she moved eight months ago. She looked younger than before! She talked happily about her new friends in the neighborhood, connecting with a high school classmate, getting roped into reunion activities, and enjoying her relatives. Her condo renovations and decorations were finished, and the place was fantastic. She has more floor space now than she did in the log house next door to us.

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We spent a day at Biltmore, the largest private home in the United States built by George Vanderbilt. The family has not lived there since the 50s, but it is kept up meticulously, with cut flowers in many of the rooms on the tour. There was one thing in the gift shop that really appealed to Nathaniel. He wears a suit to school almost every day, so formal clothing is a real interest for him. He tried on the top hat and would have bought it if he had the tuxedo and money to match.

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Chef and the Black Forest Cake

Grandson Nathaniel’s vacation project was baking a Black Forest Cake. He had prepared one at home and agreed to do another for GP (the boys’ favorite text name for Grandpa). We watched, licked pans and bowls, and waited patiently for the ceremonial cutting.

He baked the layers on Monday, soaked the cherries on Tuesday, and put the finishing touches on the cake on Wednesday. Before you read any more, you need to know that he cleaned up all his utensils every time he was in the kitchen. Every time!

After the first layer was on the stand, he added cherries and the filling.

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Next came the second layer with more cherries and filling.

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Whipped cream frosting covered the whole cake.

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The finishing touches included piped borders and miniature chocolate chips. What patience it took to place every chip where he wanted it!

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The toy camera was still in my hand when Nathaniel took his own photos of the finished product.

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And the taste? Simply marvelous! A sharper knife would have cut cleaner slices, but at that point we didn’t care what it looked like. We wallowed in chocolate, cream, and drunken cherries. Hail to the chef!!!

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Chef on Holiday

Nathaniel joined us for our daily walk to the creek. He always gets up very early for school, so it wasn’t a stretch for him. It’s traditional for the toy camera to record the event, at least the first time of a particular visit. The fellows were bundled up, since the temperature was slightly below freezing when we set out.

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After our grandson said he had made a Black Forest Cake at home, John hinted he wouldn’t mind if he made one at our house. I went in the kitchen with him to make sure he could find everything he needed. I said, “I’ll sit here and read the newspaper, so I’ll be close if you need anything. I know not to talk while people work in the kitchen.”

That’s when I found out the difference between a home cook and a chef. I can’t do two things at once, so if people talk to me while I’m cooking, everything comes to a halt until the conversation is over. Not so with Nathaniel. He said, “It doesn’t bother me if you talk. I work in a noisy kitchen all the time.”

Nate asked a question, and I was fine until I turned to reply. I burst out laughing, not being able to talk to someone who looked like he was wearing dangling earrings, swinging wildly. His phone was in the pocket of the apron because he was listening to music as he worked. I had permission to video a reenactment.

Lunch was a family affair. John started the charcoal fire, and Nathaniel cooked the meat while I cleaned off the table. This was the first time this year for us to eat on the screened porch. Usually we work up to it gradually, going outside and wearing heavy sweaters when it is really too chilly to be outside. We left the kitchen door open, because it was warmer outside than in. Despite the reality of the weather, Nathaniel will still be praying for snow.

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The Chef in My Kitchen

I was surprised to find myself intimidated by the New York chef in my kitchen. If he had been cooking alone, I would simply have left him to get the job done. As it was, the menu was mine, and I had to cook beside him. Granted, I had more experience than he did, but he had standards and techniques above mine.

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The chef was none other than grandson Nathaniel (17). Why, you want to know, was he wearing his full uniform? It’s because that’s what he was wearing when he came home from school Friday afternoon. He has academics in the morning and attends classes for culinary arts in the afternoon. He had half an hour to pack after coming home on the bus, and John picked him up for the long drive to North Carolina. Driving through the night, they arrived here at 11:30 Saturday morning. As soon as they came in the house, I admired the checkered pants and white jacket. Nathaniel put on the apron, still sporting a bit of tomato soup on the front. For the full effect, he donned the hat, as well.

We sat down to visit until time to cook our main meal, and he offered to help. I was thrilled to accept such assistance, but the balance had changed in a subtle way. I was aware that he wouldn’t cook with dull knives or Teflon pans. He is learning to present dishes with flair for eye appeal, and he is a purist at heart. He chopped the onion, celery, and green pepper for the fried rice while I cooked the broccoli and salmon. I set the table and got out serving dishes as he finished cooking the rice and the Hollandaise sauce. We had no garnishes on the plates, but we enjoyed our meal with conversation and laughter. What more could you want?

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Aromatic Dust Buster

As accidents go, this one was far overdue. I am more likely to make a mess in the kitchen than anywhere else, and I haven’t had a spectacular disaster in a long time. I was carrying a loaded coffee filter toward the brewer. How it jumped out of my hand, I’ll never know. Dry coffee exploded over the floor, with deep brown particles skittering everywhere. The dust buster cleaned it up within minutes. Now when I turn on the little machine for a quick pickup, residue of Dutch chocolate coffee perfumes the air around it. It was almost, ALMOST, enough to make me want to clean.

A Strange Valentine

My intention was to bake something a day ahead for Valentine’s Day. Not wanting to start something I couldn’t finish, I waited for John to unload the china cabinet from the car so that I could go shopping. While I was waiting, I began to clean. I vacuumed our bedroom, swapped computer desks, organized some papers, and deflated the balance ball that slammed me ignominiously to the floor a few months ago. He was still sitting in his chair. I emptied the vacuum and vigorously used it on the two other bedroom carpets. The background information is that I loathe cleaning. It’s like erasing a blackboard. You get it clean, and there will be only a few moments before you or someone else messes it up. John hadn’t moved in his desk chair. I refilled the humidifiers and the fountain. If he had moved, I couldn’t tell. He didn’t seem to be dead. By this time, it was time to start lunch. After our meal together, I checked my email and took a half-hour nap. When I woke up, John was gone, having left a note that he would be back by 5:45. I saw that the cabinet had been moved into the living room. While I was snoozing, neighbor Bob helped John carry it into the house.

John, bless his heart, came back with a lovely plant and a helium balloon. He knew I preferred plants to cut flowers. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the way to my heart is with a balloon. Yes, John is a keeper.

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It turned out that I misunderstood what he said. He didn’t want that delicate piece of furniture to ride up to New York and back for his lightning trip at the end of the week, not that we shouldn’t use the car until he had unloaded it.

After his explanation, I said, “You know I don’t like to clean the house, but that’s what I was doing while waiting for you. When you have a moment, you might tour the north wing to appreciate the clean carpets that are my Valentine to you. I’m fairly sure this would be more pleasing than a fancy card.”

By the look on his face, he might have quibbled with that. He enjoys commercial cards, whereas I generally have no use for them. I might need to rethink this card thing.

I started a coffeecake for John before noon, and it was finally ready at 6. I suspect the aroma lasted longer than the bread will.

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Quick Visit East of the Mountains

We drove about three hours to visit brother Bob, wife Beth, and daughter Julie. We made a quick visit to Costco, that being the closest one in North Carolina to us. We didn’t have a list, so we were going to walk through the huge store and pick up whatever we saw that we needed. You wouldn’t believe how quickly they marched through that place. They all have longer legs and bigger strides than I do, so I didn’t have time to begin to want anything before they jumped in the checkout line! I was too out of breath to complain. If I didn’t know better, I’d think John planned it to save money.

Because of Julie’s work schedule, Beth cooked dinner for us so we that could relax and eat together. For someone who doesn’t particularly like to cook, Beth puts a marvelous meal on the table. We enjoyed that and each other until bedtime. I didn’t think of getting a family photo at that time.

The next day Bob and I had a chance to play together, he on the French horn and I on the piano. He plays trombone with three groups in town, but he has been learning the horn for a year or so. John and I were amazed at how good he sounds now. I was most impressed that he picked out hymns to play and transposed them in his head. I couldn’t transpose up or down one step on the piano.

John and Bob loaded an heirloom china cabinet into the van, and we ate at a local barbecue place that they think is the best in their area. We don’t know what the others are like, but this one was superb. Julie wasn’t able to join us, so I missed catching her with the toy camera.

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John, Beth, and Bob at the BBQ restaurant

You might see from the photo that this restaurant was very casual, as are all authentic barbecue places. The food was served in a plastic basket lined with paper. We were given cutlery wrapped in a paper napkin, but that wouldn’t be enough for the messy meals they serve. A paper towel holder was installed at every table with a holder above for the sauces. Bob and I needed the towels, but I think John and Beth were cleaner eaters.