Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Low-Carber’s Dream Come True

2014-03-22 15.36.59We low-carbers are a tough bunch. Whether it’s for weight loss, sugar regulation, gluten sensitivity, or any number of very good reasons, we are willing to look our junk food nation in the face and say, “No!” However, even though the blood test results are gratifying and (for people other than me) the scale is going down, down, down, there are two things we really miss for which we just can’t find an acceptable substitute: crunchy cereal and stretchy bread.

Until now!

Thanks to Melissa McGhee and my sister’s internet searching, we have found two miracle recipes that you would love even if you weren’t eating low-carb, but are especially wonderful because they fill those two gaps.

First of all, Melissa McGhee’s granola recipe, that beautiful cereal that you see above. I’ve talked about Satisfying Eats, Melissa’s cookbook and blog, several times in this space, and I continue to be amazed at her work. Although I do have this recipe in her cookbook, she has it posted on her blog, too. My sister made it first and said that her family loved it, and my mother tells me that she ate it right from the zip-lock bag as a snack! But, oh, it is so good with milk, and reminds me of Honey Bunches of Oats. Use whatever milk is best for you: cow’s milk, coconut milk, almond milk, or whatever.

2014-03-22 13.02.52The first time I made it, I did not realize that the coconut flakes were very important to the recipe. I used shredded coconut instead, because I had it in the pantry. Not the same thing at all, as you can see! Also, please be aware that raw pumpkin seeds are green. If the pumpkin seeds you see on your grocery store shelf are white, they are coated with salt. We actually used to eat these as a snack when I was a teenager. Can’t remember why, exactly, we thought they were healthy. I had to go to Whole Foods to find raw pumpkin seeds. Rather than pumpkin pie spice, I used mostly cinnamon with a sprinkle of nutmeg and ginger. This recipe is a bit pricey, but not much more than good store-bought granola.

I would show you a picture of a bowlful with milk, but it disappeared too soon. Even my carb-eating son loved it.

2014-03-22 18.42.32
Next, my sister told me about Mr. Peanut Sandwich Bread, a recipe that she’d found on the internet that made a flexible sandwich bread! No, it’s not a sweet dessert bread, but an everyday loaf bread that actually holds together no matter what you put on it—just like a gluteny wheat bread, but very low carb with no gluten at all! Here is my favorite hand model, David (conscripted while innocently walking through the kitchen), showing you how even a thin slice bends without breaking.

2014-03-22 18.02.03With only six ingredients, this bread is incredibly easy to make. I even skipped the sweetener. We’ve made ham and cheese sandwiches, pimento cheese sandwiches, and egg salad sandwiches with it without having any fillers fall out the way most low-carb breads will. It also toasts well. The top of mine popped up a bit, but I can see online that hers did, too. It is strange to add the baking soda and vinegar and then use the electric mixer. It feels as if you’re whipping up your elementary school volcano science experiment. But it works!

Now all of your low-carbing dreams have come true, and you can run out and get your ingredients. You’ll probably see me there. Time to restock!

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Someone, by Alice McDermott

SomeoneMarie is the daughter of Irish immigrants, growing up in an Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 1930s and ‘40s. She is a quietly rebellious child—“our little pagan,” they call her—unlike her perfect older brother, Gabe: thin, handsome, and scholarly. He has an obvious vocation, say the priests at school, but Marie’s parents are not so eager for him to enter the priesthood. When Marie is a teenager, she refuses to learn to cook, and when she graduates from high school, she believes that it is déclassé to travel to Manhattan to work, so she turns down one opportunity after another until her mother finds her a job at the local funeral home.

Marie lives in an odd time and place. Her entire community is so straight-laced that it seems that women are supposed to marry without ever dating and have children without ever having sex. Her mother never explains anything to her, and after a brief and disastrous love affair, she never has a real relationship again. She dates, but it seems to be a shameful, middle-of-the-night activity. Since McDermott jumps around in time throughout the book, the reader knows that she eventually has several children, but how she accomplishes this seems to be a mystery.

Alice McDermott writes beautiful novels about the Irish- American experience. It is not until Marie is grown, after World War II, that the children of Irish immigrants begin to talk about leaving “the old neighborhood,” moving out to other parts of the city or even to the suburbs. Their own children are just Americans, not so clearly defined by their ancestry as their parents had been. McDermott’s characters shine: her loving father, who always had alcohol on his breath, which Marie later considered a sign of masculinity; her quiet and tragic brother; her hardworking, practical mother; and Fagin, her employer at the funeral home. One of my favorite characters was Tom, her husband, because he reminded me a bit of my husband. While Marie’s family was subdued, Tom loved to talk. In one scene, Tom and Gabe walked in the door, and when Marie asked about the traffic, Gabe said, “It was fine.” On the other hand, Tom, walking up the stairs with the suitcases, talked on and on about traffic jams, beach traffic, and out-of-town drivers just as David would. A talkative husband is a gift from God. No tension, no underlying stress or unspoken secrets. All of life, happily narrated.

In our changing, homogenized world, it is less common to see entire ethnic communities living together, sharing a distinct culture. In many ways, this is a fortunate development, opening up horizons for everyone, equalizing opportunity. On the other hand, Marie’s children show no interest whatsoever in their family’s past, treating their parents—as grown children do—as relics who are out of touch with reality. McDermott leaves it to the reader to make any value judgments here. Marie is not sentimental, but not resentful, either. Her story is a portrait of one life lived in a time of transition, as all times may be for someone, somewhere.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader’s copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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John Knox: Shaken, Not Stirred

Image“I meant to make a Presbyterian last night,” Michael announced one Saturday morning, “but then I fell asleep and I forgot.” Since I have positive feelings towards Presbyterians in general and am extremely fond of several Presbyterians in particular, I was quite unsettled by this Frankensteinish statement. Michael saw my shocked face and gestured to the coffee table. “It’s a drink.” Aha! A “Presbyterian” is the name of a cocktail in a recent alcohol-soaked issue of Garden & Gun featuring a chilled silver cup of Mint Julep on the cover. According to G&G, Presbyterians are made of bourbon or rye with ginger ale. Sure they are. Other offerings include a Dark & Stormy, with dark rum, ginger, and other secret ingredients, and a Spicy Shrub Paloma, with tequila, lime, and expensive-sounding things. This one looks cool and refreshing, and is topped with a big bunch of sage. Check ‘em out here. No lightning bolts required.

ImageWill Spring Ever Get Here?

I don’t think I’ve seen this much snow in one winter since we lived in Kentucky. Every year, I say that I won’t be ready to dig a garden until we have at least one snowfall. Well, I have been so ready for so long! We’ve had several snowfalls or ice storms that were significant enough to keep us housebound for a couple of days, although we have been fortunate to avoid power outages, unlike some of our co-workers.

Now that it is officially, legally spring, the Bradford pears are desperately trying to bloom, but the gray skies and cool temperatures were making it tough. We finally had an almost sunny morning yesterday, so I stopped to take a picture of these Bradfords, standing all in a row, valiantly trying to push those blossoms out. Since it is forecast to be in the seventies this weekend, I was starting to feel hopeful about that gardening.

Then I got to work and someone said: “Did you hear that we’re supposed to have ice and snow again Monday night?” It makes me want to push the blossoms back in for another week.

You Promised: No Island

ImageYes, David and I are the last people on the planet to watch the series Lost. So many people talk about it without explanations that I started to feel as if I were missing a chunk of cultural literacy. Happily, it is available everywhere, so we ordered up the first season from Netflix, but before we started watching, I asked Michael, “This isn’t one of those shows where they land on a deserted island, and people get voted off the island each week, is it?” He replied, “You’re thinking of Survivor.” So I felt better.

First episode: A plane crashes on a deserted island. Hey, wait! Michael said, “Give it three episodes.” So we did, and we really like it. No one gets voted off the island, although a few people have died, and there are surprises all the time. Each episode highlights one character’s back story, so we’ve gotten completely tangled up in everyone’s lives. We’re at the end of season one, and we look forward to season two, right after…

House of Cards! Since everyone is talking about this now, I thought we’d get our cultural literacy in a few years earlier this time. Michael assures me that I will not like it, because it has too much profanity. He’s usually right about these things, but don’t tell him I said that. I’ll let you know. For those of you who, like me, wondered if it was only on Netflix streaming, I can tell you that season one is available on disc, too. Queue up, as they say in Britain.

Turns out that our new knowledge was gained not a moment too soon. Now that there is another jet—I mean, a real jet—that has gone missing in the Pacific, everybody is talking about Lost again! This time, I can just nod sagaciously and make cool remarks. Of course, it’s like being on the other side of the television show, as if we’re the people looking for Jack and Kate and the gang. Since I don’t know how the show ends, I won’t compare too closely, but I do hope we can find the real plane.

ImageEven Boomers Are Geeks

My husband called me on my office phone this afternoon: “I’m in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and I can’t find an email or text with the grocery list on it.”

“I didn’t send you an email or text with the list.”

Silent confusion on the other end.

“I said it to you. “ Pause. “This morning. At breakfast.”

“Oh!” Pause.

Me: “Do you want to hang up and I’ll text it to you?”

“No, I guess you can say it and I’ll write it down.”

Remember notepaper tacked on to the fridge with magnets? Not any more.

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Filed under Family, Life's Travails- Big and Small, Men and Women

Not Brain, but Not Pinky, Either

ImageWherever you are and whatever you are doing, someone else is out there racking their brains to figure out how they can control you. Whether it’s Putin invading the Ukraine or the soccer mom making stringent rules about the snacks you should bring to the game, certain people are never happy unless they are confident that everyone else is playing by their rules. Lately, it seems that I am finding them everywhere.

ImageYou know the type. Every group has at least one person who only belongs to the group because it gives him an opportunity to be in charge of something. One has to assume that many politicians fall into this category. We all hope that they are there because they want to make things better for everyone, and surely most of them do, or at least they did when they started out. Working with state legislators lately has been an interesting experience. When you talk to them about sick children, you expect human beings to react sympathetically, and they usually do, but it’s amazing to see how instinctively some of them are paralyzed by the fear of losing power if their constituents mistakenly believe that they are in favor of legalizing any form of marijuana. Shockingly, that is the end point for many of them.

This is nothing new. Reading Heretics and Heroes (see review, March 13, 2014), I watched a steady stream of power brokers move across the world stage who wanted wealth, yes, but even more than that, they just want to take over countries, churches, or any other organization that would make them feel special. While Michelangelo broke his neck painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling for four years, his patron, Pope Julius II, was playing puppet master by manipulating alliances with various Italian city-states, as well as Spain, France, and England. What this has to do with being a spiritual leader, I do not know, but I’m sure that there is a church not too far from you in which some guy ran a no-holds-barred campaign for head deacon based on the choice of carpet color in the sanctuary. Same fish, smaller pond.

ImageWe are fallen people, let’s face it. Every personality type has strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to lead is valuable to all of us who would rather just live quietly. Michelangelo would not have been able to create great masterpieces if he hadn’t had a wealthy patron, but Julius could just as easily have prevented Michelangelo from ever being able to work again. He held all the cards in the relationship. Governments are important, since we don’t want foreign powers invading our country or even burglars breaking into our houses, but when your government makes arbitrary laws—thousands and thousands of them—for no other reason than to give itself more control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives, it has gone too far.

As a democracy, we are free to vote people in or out of office, but what about the power mongers in our daily lives? At work, you may be diligently working away, completely unaware that someone else in your department is bent on world domination, starting with undermining you in public. At home, you may be cozily reading your little ones a bedtime story, while your homeowners’ association president is considering whether she should force you to tear down your swing set by saying that it doesn’t meet the neighborhood standards, all because you planted prettier flowers than she did this spring. No matter how petty, holding power—or even the perception of power—is what keeps these people awake at night. The rest of us are just trying to get dinner on the table.

We are all engaged in a search for significance. For most of us, the struggle for fulfillment doesn’t hurt other people, but we can’t prevent the power-hungry from having some influence on our circumstances. I have had some success in loosening the grip of control and manipulation, and if you’re struggling with little monarchs around you, some of these ideas might help. Although I can’t do anything about Putin, I might be able to help you to find some personal freedom.

ImageFirst of all, check your own motives. If you’re doing something just so that you can control someone else, you’ve already lost. As Switchfoot wisely says, “Love alone is worth the fight.” If the motive for what you do is not love, what is it? Whether you’re working every day to support your loved ones or you plant flowers for the love of beauty and nature, make sure that your motive is love.

Secondly, don’t fight with power mongers. Fight for right, but not for power. If you’re just trying to have more power than they do, you are them. Furthermore, if you lose, they just get more power.

Thirdly, live transparently and vulnerably. My mother used to say, “Sunshine is the best cleanser.” Have you ever watched a television show or movie in which someone is being blackmailed because of a big secret in their past? I’m always yelling at the screen, “Tell!” If you’ve done something wrong, confess it. If it needs to be a public confession, do it. It’s painful, but afterward no one can manipulate you on that point. Now, continue to live openly. This does not, of course, mean that you should be totally indiscreet; we don’t want to know that much about you. Don’t worry about how other people think men or women (or young, old, Christian, agnostic, liberal, conservative, northern, southern, or whatever people) should act. Just be yourself, since there’s nobody else you can be, anyway.

ImageFourthly, if you need to, move their actions into the light. This takes a tremendous amount of courage and, for me at least, spiritual preparation. I take my inspiration from Matthew 18, and speak directly with the person who is undermining me. This interaction can be a real minefield, so it is important to be very sure of your motives and to speak and act kindly and lovingly. I have not always been completely successful with that, but it usually works out better than not speaking at all. If that doesn’t change the situation, you may have to involve another trusted individual, and then perhaps more than one person, always making sure that the individuals involved are impartial people with some authority, not just a big group of your friends. That’s intimidation. Many people are afraid of such confrontation, but if you check your motives constantly, this is a much more righteous way to live than with passive-aggressive, seething resentment. The goal of confrontation should be resolution of the problem and restoration of the relationship. If it’s done well, the relationship could be even better than before, and you will have disentangled yourself from manipulative control. In the process, a whole lot of other people may be so glad that you did.

ImageLastly, do real things that you love, and don’t look around to compare yourself to others. Figuring out how you can live authentically can be a life-long journey, but letting other people take you for a ride will never bring you joy.

If you are gifted in leadership, we can all benefit when you use those gifts to run your corporation or your PTA group, but no one wants to be a slave. If you are a Christian, you should believe that we were all created in the image and likeness of God, and so you should recognize the human dignity of all persons. I’m not sure how that translates for an unbeliever, but the point is that fear should not be a part of any relationship, even those that call for respect.

If, however, you are not a leader, go on and farm, paint, teach, program, build, sing, or whatever you do for all of us. Stay wide open to life and own your own soul. Examine your heart and make sure that you do it for love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)


Disclaimer: You know that one about “any resemblance to actual persons, either living or dead, is totally coincidental”? Yeah, that one.


Filed under Christian Life, Life's Travails- Big and Small

Heretics and Heroes, by Thomas Cahill

ImageIf Mr. Nylund had taught history like this in high school, I might actually remember something. Rather than boring lists of battle dates, kings, and generals, Thomas Cahill follows movements of thought and key personalities through the ages to show us how our lives are impacted today by the movers and shakers of yesterday. He is perhaps best known for How the Irish Saved Civilization, a brilliant revelation of the medieval monks who were scribbling away, preserving classic texts, while the rest of the world was slogging through the Dark Ages.

Moving forward in his “Hinges of History” series, this volume is subtitled How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World. Beginning with Christopher Columbus and traveling as far as a tiny peek of King James and the Bible translation that bears his name, Cahill showcases several fascinating icons of the later Renaissance and the Reformation, as well as some little-known personalities who played a crucial role in shaping the culture we know today. It’s the unexpected connections that he draws between people and events and back again that make the book read like a novel, drawing us into the narrative and deepening our understanding of the era. For example, what is the difference between Dante and Boccaccio? The two writers were not too far apart in time or in geography, but their styles could not be more dissimilar. Cahill points out that the Black Death caused Boccaccio to lose up to a third of his contemporaries, and so his stories assume a more cynical, humorous style than the formal, dignified language of his predecessor.

Cahill illustrates how no one works alone, and that spectacular events are usually preceded by some quieter developments. Although we celebrate Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450, there were other types of printing presses that had been developed earlier in Asia. Since the Chinese language does not use an alphabet, however, but has a different character for each word, the advent of movable type in an alphabetic language was a huge leap in technology, allowing communication to flow rapidly throughout the population. In the same way, Martin Luther followed Wycliffe as a Bible translator, and Erasmus and others as an independent thinker. However, even though his ideas did not appear out of a vacuum, history usually requires a particular person at just the right time to take a quietly brewing idea and cause it to explode onto the world stage—disseminated, of course, by the new printing press.

Politics, theology, technology, philosophy, and art: all the threads that weave together to create what we call culture. Cahill reveals how one thread leads to another: cause and effect, push and pull. This is one of my favorite time periods, and many of the characters are, indeed, heroes of mine. On the other hand, it’s not all Sistine Chapel ceilings. No one expected the Spanish Inquisition, and even though we shudder at the treatment of Jews and Muslims during this time, it’s even more difficult for Americans to understand how bound up the church and state were, and how the least little deviation from the prescribed religion could cost you and your family your lives. This is one reason that reading history is so important for everyone: these issues are not all in the past. There are many theocracies in the world today, and even in Europe in the twentieth century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer underwent a life-altering transformation when he went to Rome and saw how the church could be made up of people from all over the world. He had always been German and Lutheran, and had assumed that one had everything to do with the other. His entire worldview changed from that moment. Cahill mentions Bonhoeffer at the end of the book as one of three featured people who carried the lessons of the Renaissance and Reformation forward and learned “How to Live on This Earth.”

Cahill was born and raised as a Catholic and has studied the Bible extensively at excellent universities. That being said, his approach to scripture is that of a scholar, and for an ordinary believer like myself, his interpretations can be somewhat startling at times. When he writes that Luther read Paul’s letter to the Romans as if it were written for him personally, rather than being particularly for the Roman church, I had to stop and think that through, since I read scripture like Luther. Certain writings are expected to speak to all people for all time, even though they were written at a particular time in history. That is why cultures all over the world call them “holy scriptures.” Even though we may disagree on religious issues, however, Cahill is generally even-handed in his portrayals, showing the spectacular strengths and disappointing weaknesses of all of these heroes—or are they heretics?

There are so many master artists in this age, and I was pleased to see two sections of color plates tracing the history of European art from Donatello in the mid-fifteenth century to just a bit of Rembrandt in the seventeenth century. Watching painters throw off the stylized and stiff conventions of medieval art to take up more realistic styles and ordinary subjects is glorious. Cahill spends a good deal of time on Michelangelo and Brueghel, two very different men from very different countries and ages, both of whom are favorites of mine.

At the end of the book, Cahill mentions that he regrets that—because of space constraints— he could not include music history, but he invites the reader to learn more at his website. There you will find study notes and some background on music, as well.

Very highly recommended for everyone. Put on some Renaissance music and drift back in time. You’ll emerge with a deeper understanding of our world today.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Things Are Starting to Happen!

ImageThe logjam of legislative inertia is beginning to creak and shift. Representative Pat McElraft, of Carteret and Jones counties, plans to introduce a bill into the North Carolina House of Representatives to legalize Charlotte’s Web in North Carolina.* On WRAL’s 6:00 News tonight, Rep. McElraft participated in an emotional segment that followed up on the station’s report on Dravet Syndrome a couple of weeks ago. You can view the video here. Ms. McElraft plans to call the bill “Hope for Hayley,” after a little girl in her district who has Dravet Syndrome.

Many residents of NC have been working tirelessly to find someone in the legislature to take the lead on helping Dravet Syndrome children, but it has been difficult. Although several members were sympathetic, no one has stepped forward publicly until Representative McElraft. If you feel moved to thank and encourage her, as I did, please drop her a line at

Bruce Mildwurf, of WRAL, also deserves a great deal of credit for his excellent reporting, which I’m sure moved many people to action on this critical issue.

As the news report states, now is the time to write or call your own representative and senator to let them know that you support the “Hope for Hayley” bill. Even if you have written to them before, now that the bill is named, you can be more specific in your request. You can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them here. It is so easy to write a few lines to let them know that their constituents care about these suffering children.


*If you are new to this conversation about Dravet Syndrome and Charlotte’s Web, please read three previous posts on this blog, beginning with January 17, then February 15, and February 24.

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Filed under Dravet Syndrome, Life's Travails- Big and Small

OPR: Other People’s Recipes

I had an extra day off last weekend, so I did a bit of successful cooking and thought I’d share. One of these recipes is just in time for your Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. But first, let’s start off with a Southern classic.

ImageMy husband, David, is a big fan of pimento cheese. Now I’m assuming, first of all, that you already know that the only acceptable brand of pimento cheese to buy is Palmetto Cheese. Using anything else would be like using some other mayonnaise besides Duke’s: insane. So, now that we have your store-bought items straightened out, we’ll move on to homemade. Every once in a while, David gets a hankerin’ for homemade pimento cheese, and the best all-around recipe we’ve found is, of course, from Garden & Gun magazine. You can access the recipe here.

ImageDoesn’t it look colorful and fresh? Be sure to grate your own cheese, rather than using a bag of pre-shredded cheddar. Companies put additives in shredded cheese in order to keep it from sticking together, and you don’t want your beautiful pimento cheese spread to be full of cellulose or potato starch.  Do use the spring onions instead of substituting chopped yellow onions. The flavor is slightly different, and the green bits are so much more appealing. There are two different heat-producing ingredients, but don’t skip either one! Just moderate the quantities to taste.

ImageNot that I would ever admit to tasting it, but when David put this pimento cheese on one of Melissa McGhee’s (“Satisfying Eats,” left) cheesy biscuits with a slice or two of bacon—Oh, my! Don’t tell your cardiologist.

Melissa McGhee posted a new recipe for Irish Soda Bread—grain-free, of course!—last week, so I tried that, too. Her recipe can be found on her website here, and be sure to “like” Satisfying Eats on Facebook for new low-carb, healthy recipes all the time.

ImageSince Irish Soda Bread is traditionally a quick bread, you will not miss any yeastiness in this loaf. I am used to a plain soda bread, but this one has a couple of special touches. Melissa has added caraway seeds and raisins, although I have to admit that I did not have raisins on hand, so I used dried cranberries, which I “chopped” by placing them on a cutting board and running my chef’s knife through them a few times. Next time, raisins! I also smashed the caraway seeds around in a mortar and pestle for extra aroma and flavor. They really added a lot to the bread.

ImageHere is the finished loaf, which I baked for 26 minutes, and it was nicely browned. It was smaller than I expected, as you can see here on the cooling rack, so if you have a large family, be sure to bake two. They are very simple to make. The texture is very much like traditional soda bread, and with the raisins, it was almost scone-like. We had the leftovers with breakfast the next morning, as a matter of fact. This bread will definitely be an addition to our St. Patrick’s Day meal!

I have really enjoyed Melissa McGhee’s first cookbook, above, in the past few months. My favorite recipe is still probably her cheesy biscuits, but a couple of weeks ago I tried her “Famous Cheesecake,” and it was just fabulous. For a cheesecake, it was also pretty easy.

I hope you and your family enjoy these two low-carb recipes in your house, too! Let us know how they turn out.

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We Went to a Famous Restaurant!

ImageDavid and I celebrated our thirty-fourth anniversary Thursday night at a restaurant we’ve known about for a long time, but had never visited before. I know what you’re thinking: “Thirty-fourth? Cheryl, you must have been a child bride!” It’s true. I married when I was five years old. Soon, I will have to start saying that I married before I was born.

Anyhow, back to the restaurant. Last fall, David and I watched the PBS reality TV show A Chef’s Life, not only because we are total foodies, but also because each episode featured a different local food product. We are all about local agriculture and very proud (adopted) North Carolinians, so even though I normally will not watch reality TV, we enjoyed this series very much. Every week, the star greeted us with, “Hi, I’m Vivian, and I’m a chef.” Then Vivian Howard told us all about her restaurant, her husband, her twins, her community, and, most importantly, her food. Vivian is from eastern North Carolina, but she left home to go to culinary arts school, met her chef husband, and worked in famous restaurants in New York. When her parents offered to buy her her own restaurant, but only if she moved back home, Vivian was torn. Having her own restaurant was her dream, but living back in eastern North Carolina was her nightmare. In the end, obviously, she opened Chef and the Farmer in Kinston.

TV show

So, last night, David and I found ourselves driving away from the Triangle on Hwy. 70 into… a lot of empty highway. What is wrong with this picture? After driving through Goldsboro and out the other side, we finally found Kinston, turned left at a surprisingly hoppin’ ABC store, and there, in a big, brick building was our destination, as our GPS service announced. We weren’t sure that we were in the right place because the TV show features the other side of the building on the opening credits, so we walked up to it before we saw the sign, above.

The interior is dimly lit, with clean lines and beautiful woodwork. There is a bar on one side, with customers eating full dinners at the bar, tables on two levels in the center, and an open kitchen with a counter in front on the other side. All of the artwork on the walls was done by Vivian’s husband, Ben. We were on the slightly raised upper level, right at the rail. I asked permission to take pictures, and then found that my Motorola Razor flash has movie-production lights that stay on for what feels like forever when the room lights are low. You can imagine how mortified I was by the fact that every face in the room turned toward me, and I’m sure I had a neon sign over my head saying “Tourist!” And it wasn’t even worth it, since the pictures of the room didn’t turn out.

The wait staff was superb. I’ve been to restaurants where the waiters act as if they wish the customers would leave, and others where they were so chummy that they carried on long conversations and even sat down with us! All of the staff here were friendly, but professional. Our waiter was knowledgeable about every dish, suggested wine pairings, and waited patiently for us to make decisions. Dirty dishes were whisked away, unneeded flatware disappeared, extra flatware appeared before the corresponding dish arrived, water glasses stayed full, and they never interrupted our conversation.

ImageWe started off with fried collards. Now, I have tried baking collards before, but the results were mixed. Some of them turned out right, but some were still mushy and some were tough. Vivian must use baby collards and put them in a deep-fat fryer. They were so light and crispy, with just enough salt, and they collapsed into collard essence in your mouth. Don’t you love the bowl? We didn’t prop it up; it is made to tilt to one side. I want one. The bread was great—David had seconds. One was rosemary and the other was sweet potato and caramelized onion. I tried both, and the sweet potato one was like dessert, rich and sweet.

ImageI thought I was going to stick to my low-carb eating plan, but that did not work out. It plainly states on the bottom right corner of the menu: “no substitutions.” So when I ordered the short rib and root vegetable shepherd’s pie, did it occur to me that shepherd’s pie is always topped with potatoes? No, I had a brain hiccup. I’m not exactly sure what short ribs are (why are they short?), but we decided to order adventurously. The meat mixture was thickened with a sweet potato, rutabaga, and sunchoke purée, and it was perfect for a winter night. The side dish was a roasted Brussels sprouts salad, and as I am one of the five people in the world who think of Brussels sprouts as a favorite vegetable, it was a fun new way to enjoy them.

ImageDavid had spice-rubbed striped bass, with ambrosia, watercress with coriander vinaigrette, and coconut rice fritters. We shared bites, of course, and I can tell you that this is not your mama’s ambrosia—no mini-marshmallows here. No, no. This was a delicately sweetened dish of varied citrus, including grapefruit, and the salad featured very thinly-sliced cucumber and fresh herbs. One bite of the crisp cucumber brought back the tastes of spring and garden-fresh vegetables. The bass was cooked to perfect doneness and not a moment more, and the coconut rice fritters had a light crust, but were creamy and slightly sweet inside. I can completely understand why there are no substitutions. The various elements of the meal are designed to complement and enhance one another. I’d love to taste this meal again in the summer.

While we ate, Ben wandered around, chatting with customers. We could see Vivian in the kitchen, and she sometimes came out to talk to people at the counter. We did not meet either of them, and I like to think that it has nothing to do with my cell phone camera. When I asked, the waiter told us that there will be two more seasons of A Chef’s Life, and that they are filming the next season right now. So, if you see someone looking starstruck and taking embarrassing photos, that would be me.

We took home our desserts (hey, I ate potatoes, so may as well) and ate them by the fire in our living room. I could not take pictures, because David’s latest craze is ambiance, which we pronounce like the French, “ahm-bee-ahnce,” and it basically means “dark, with fire.” However, we had the chocolate mousse cake, which comes with pomegranate-buttermilk sorbet, but we ate that at the restaurant. The cake was so incredible that it completely redefines the whole category of “cake.” The cake layers were fudgy, with the fluffy mousse filling in between, and it had this syrup over it that was called “warm fudge,” but there was something else, too. Pomegranate, perhaps? I hate to say, since I didn’t ask and couldn’t even see it, but we said, “Oh, wow!” several times while we savored every bite.

ImageAlthough we first heard of Chef and the Farmer through PBS, we realized later that it had been featured in Garden & Gun, the magazine we love whose title shocks Northerners every time. We thumbed back through our copies, and there in the October / November 2012 issue was the close-up of Vivian’s hands holding a dripping, gourmet tomato sandwich. David wants to go back during tomato season. There was a wall at the restaurant with framed photos of their many magazine and newspaper reviews, and the News & Observer recently announced that Vivian Howard is a James Beard award semi-finalist again this year. They have also won many other awards, and you can learn all about them and see their menu, which changes constantly, on their website at

You simply must go. There is nothing ordinary on the menu. Even if the food is something you grew up with, Vivian will envision something unexpected and make it extraordinary. Be sure to make reservations in advance, which you can do on the website. The reason we went on a Thursday is because there were no tables available on Friday or Saturday until 10:00. Perhaps two weeks in advance will be enough. If you normally dine at Golden Corral, be prepared for sticker shock. Dinner with one glass of wine apiece and dessert will run over $100 for two people, plus tip. It’s worth it. It took us a little over an hour from Clayton, so I’d allow an hour and a half from Raleigh, and it’s an easy drive. Do not use a Motorola Razor camera; try something less spectacularly blinding. Dress is casual; I mean, it’s Kinston. Vivian and Ben have opened an oyster bar across the street called The Boiler Room, so if you are an oyster fan, you can try that instead.

ImageNext year, I’d like to go to Paris for our 35th, so you have plenty of time to send donations. You can make a monthly pledge! I promise to send a postcard. I have one right here from the Boiler Room.


A Chef’s Life photo from PBS, accessed on Google Images, 3-1-14.


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