Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Work, Food, Paddle

I remember writing in a post after the last holiday season about how I wasn’t blogging much because I was too busy living life.  That about covers the last several weeks.  Since I originally conceived this as a journal for myself, though, I’d hate to let it all just slip away into the porous cavern of my memory.

Be thee warned, fair traveler through these pages…prepare thee some libation and refreshment, for the journey will be long.  If thou should persevere to the end, the rewards will be…well, there will be pretty pictures.  Feel free to skip ahead.

I think I shall begin just before Mother’s Day.  Miss Chef and I were valiantly trying to keep up with ourselves…well, we were actually both trying to keep up with Miss Chef.  This quarter, she is teaching the course in which students are thrown into a working restaurant kitchen at the school.  She runs the kitchen three days a week, Chef Adam is teaching the other “half” of the course on the other two days.

Now, seeing that she’s quite capable of running the real restaurant’s kitchen in Chef Adam’s absence, you’d think that would be a breeze, right?  Well, there are a few caveats…first, her class was down to six students.  Second, as part of their rotations, the students are also required to act as servers in the dining room, and run the deli area where many of the staff and other students get their lunch.  All of which means she’d be down to about three students in the kitchen!  The head of the department hired a student to take care of the deli, and Miss Chef has somehow managed to talk some others into volunteering as servers.  Have I mentioned that she has a lot of fans in the student body?

There were some other problems which, for discretion’s sake, I shall refrain from going into.  Suffice it to say, the first several weeks of that class our only conversations at home seemed to consist of Miss Chef’s profanity-laced rants about the ridiculousness of the situation.  There wasn’t much I could do but listen.  I did a lot of listening.

So Mother’s Day weekend was going to be a bit of a challenge.  Sunday is the only non-work day on Miss Chef’s schedule, and it’s generally devoted to an all-day session of grading and Miss Chef’s own homework for her MBA class, which she was already falling behind in.  We were girding our loins and gritting our teeth—well I was, anyway—for a long, two-week slog.  And then, Chef Adam put a wrench in the works. 

On one of his weekly group bicycle rides, he wiped out on a wet road, landing on his chest.  He was mostly ok, but after an ER visit and a later trip to the doctor, he’s most likely got a cracked rib or two, and most definitely lots of bruised tissue.  In other words—major ouchie-poo.  Also, working in a kitchen slinging giant stainless-steel pots and pans around?  Not on the doctor’s orders.

So now Miss Chef was pretty much running two kitchens, both essentially staffed by students.  The one at school is not usually very busy, but the books were filling up fast at the other one.  I know Miss Chef’s a superstar, and she thinks she’s invincible, but even she had to face up to reality.  So she withdrew from her MBA class.  (She can pick it up again this month.)  She also called in a favor from a teaching colleague to take her class Monday morning, because she knew she’d be useless after a double on Sunday.

I once again was hostess for Mother’s Day brunch.  It went pretty smoothly, though I was worried about Miss Chef making it through.  After working a long, busy Saturday night, she was in the kitchen at 8 am on Sunday, not to emerge until after dinner service.  Chef Adam was defying doctor’s orders as much as he could stand…and just watching him standing, hunched over with a slightly dazed look, was painful in itself.  When I rounded the corner into the kitchen to witness his lifting a 5-gallon stock pot to shoulder level and pour it into a larger one, I didn’t even say anything.  I let him finish, then gave him a few seconds to put the pot down, blink a lot and start breathing again, before asking him the question I had come for.  He’s old enough to know when he’s being stupid.

We served over 120 at brunch, and when I left at 4:00, there were 75 on the books for dinner.  Somehow, both chefs limped through and served them all.  If only the diners knew the superhuman effort involved in the lovely dinner they were treating Mom to that night…


The ensuing week was almost like a vacation, since Miss Chef didn’t have to try to keep up with her own homework.  We went to the movies one night, to a wine bar another.  And I had a little mini-vacation planned for myself last Friday.  A friend and I were meeting for lunch at the school restaurant, to see what Miss Chef and her students could do.  I even took a half-day off from work for the occasion.  Who’s a loyal and supportive wife, eh?

There were only two other tables dining, so the chef was able to give us lots of personal attention.  She suggested we do a chef’s sampler menu, to which we readily agreed.  I mean, who knows better what I like, and what better way to see what her team could do?

Hilariously, almost every dish contained at least one major ingredient that I generally avoid eating!  The first thing to come out was an amuse-bouche, or palate-teaser, of a chopped shrimp salad.  Ok, I’ve been known to occasionally order shrimp, but I generally dislike seafood.  Still, it was only two bites, and of course it was delicious.

The first actual course was chicken florentine soup.  I am kicking myself that I forgot to take a picture, because it was a gorgeous bright, dense green.  That came from spinach, which is not one of my favorite vegetables.  Of course, with lots of chicken stock and some cream, who am I to turn my nose up?

The second course was a salad roasted beets and local greens and goat cheese.  In fact, Miss Chef is inviting different farmers to her class each week to talk to the students about what they do.  They had already met the woman who grew these greens, and will soon be meeting our favorite Goat Lady, Michele of Bosky Acres.

Oh, I did remember to take a picture of the salad.



Those are roasted beet slices along the edges.  I don’t like beets, either.

Now that I had my camera out, I was much better about remembering to photograph my food.  (Miss Chef wanted good shots of her dishes, too.)  Can you believe she served me fish!  I hate fish!



This is a crispy-grilled salmon with spinach puree and creamy risotto.  The risotto was delicious.  The salmon was…salmon.  Sorry, fish lovers, I’m not much help with the critique here!  My dining companion said it was wonderful, and it was flakey and moist, which I guess is what you want, right?  I don’t know from fish.  But don’t worry, I ate it all.  Because I love my Miss Chef.

Onward we went.  Next up was the pork chop I was planning to order before we ceded all control to the chef.



Please keep in mind these were supposedly “sampler” portions.  (At some point my friend asked Miss Chef how much more food we should be expecting.  She said to me, “Do you remember how we felt after our meal at Tru?  That’s what you should be expecting.”  *gulp!*)

Anyway, this would be a pork chop—well, half a pork chop—with local stone-ground grits and a clever barbeque beurre blanc sauce.  (Beurre blanc is a very traditional sauce made with butter and wine and some other goodness, but honestly…who cares, beyond butter and wine, amiright?)

I think I left some of this on my plate.  I’d already had about three meals!  But wait, there’s more…an inspired palate-cleanser Miss Chef was very excited about.



They freeze water in this martini glass just long enough to create a shell around the outside and on top.  They punch a hole in the top, drain the water and refill the glass with a strawberry-lemon-basil purée.  Then they add sparkling water (which Miss Chef was substituting for champagne), and add a quenelle of passionfruit-something sorbet on top of the remaining ice cover.

Here’s a side view.



I told her she should call it a strawberry sunrise.  You break through the ice with a spoon, then stir it up and either drink it or spoon it.  Yummy!

We also had a vanilla crème brûlée for dessert, but at that point I was too befuddled to remember the camera.  We also had Miss Chef sitting down with us at the table, as service was over, and she had to eat before cleaning up and jetting off to the other restaurant for the night.

Me?  My friend and I waddled out of there, then I went home to meet the A/C maintenance guy and catch up on laundry and yardwork.  Hey, my life’s not all glitz and glamour, what can I say?


Saturday morning started with more food—we went to the farmers’ market, of course!  I didn’t take any pictures there, either.  I did score in getting dozen eggs from Carl, our official Thanksgiving turkey grower.  After telling me he’d sold out, he realized he’d miscounted on his reserved orders, and waved me over from across the market to sell me his last carton.  We are so connected.

That afternoon, I was bound and determined to get to the Whitewater Center.  It had been two months since our last visit, and I had yet to get a paddle in my hands.  I was so motivated, I’d even bought a pair of cheap water shoes at the drugstore earlier in the week.  So after taking care of a few chores, I changed into my new shoes and old shorts, stuffed money, ID and camera into my dry bag, and hopped in the car.

It was a gorgeous sunny day in the upper seventies, and the Whitewater Center was very busy.  However, we have once again invested in annual passes, so I was able to bypass the milling crowds at the main entrance.  I parked at the far end of the lot, walked down the hill straight to the kayak barn, got my wrist band and grabbed my pdf and paddle.  Down to the dock I trotted…ok, I strode carefully, trying to avoid the larger rocks on the gravel path, because my new water shoes don’t have much of a sole.

Anyway, I got down there and finally got my seat into a kayak—then promptly fell over backwards with my feet flailing in the air!  Obviously, it had been too long.  Never fear, the kayak was sitting up on the dock, so I didn’t fall out of the kayak, just onto my back in the kayak.  The dock may have been part of the problem—I’m used to getting into a kayak already on the water—but I had to smile grimly at the slightly concerned look on the face of the girl waiting to push me off.  (I think it was just my imagination that she hesitated a bit before rather gently lowering me into the water.)

Once off the dock, I was relieved to know that my paddling skills were still intact.  I also noticed the water level was very high.  We’d gotten a record rainfall the preceding week, and it was still definitely working its way out.  I paddled easily through the island cut-through where we’d squeezed through last year when we spotted those feral pigs.  No pigs this time, just lots of other kayakers.  There were lots of families out there on the water, and lots of teens and young adults.  For some reason, the older teens like to take out whole flotillas of kayaks and paddleboards, go several hundred yards upriver, then hang out holding each other’s kayaks, held together like a giant adolescent raft while they sit and talk.

Beats getting stoned behind the neighbor’s garage.

Anyway, I continued further upriver, into the creek that I like to explore.  Now that we’ve been visiting it for a couple of years, it’s fun to see if I can spot any changes.

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Ah, beautiful, peaceful water.  Very high water, too.  That birdhouse on the left is usually standing in swampy mud come mid-summer.  And that grassy area usually has a muddy, gravelly beach stretching out in front of it.  Very little sign of fish or turtles.  Maybe they got washed downriver!

I ran across a few pairs and small groups of kayakers here.  We mostly say hello, how ya doin’, but there are no piles of chatting teens back here.  As I went further back, I exchanged terse hellos with another young woman, was ignored by two twenty-something guys talking about finance (seriously?  Can you stop the babble for five minutes, people?)…and then, eventually, it was just me and this guy.

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About this time, I was trying to figure out where the big dam of fallen trees had been last year.  It had totally prevented any further exploration up this creek, but the water was so high now there was no sign of the blockage.  I continued on…past the fork Miss Chef and I had been able to explore only once before.  And even further…and further…I must have gone another half-mile beyond any place I’d visited before.

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As the creek continued to wind itself deeper into vast rooms of greenery, I eventually became aware of the sounds around me—no more chatting and shouting.  Just the plash and drip of my paddle, and the songs and calls of birds all around me. 

Well, there were plenty of low-flying planes, too.  We’re pretty close to the airport.  But between those planes, I heard hawks, ducks, chickadees, cardinals, crows, and plenty of others I couldn’t identify.  I swear I smelled honeysuckle at one point, even though I haven’t seen any blooming for a couple of weeks around home.  I smiled when I recognized the musky smell of black walnuts stewing in the damp.  And then I was hit by that smell of woods—leaves and dirt and compost and who knows what else.

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It was a sensory underload.  Remove the sounds of humanity, and I was hearing and feeling the world again.  I had to take pictures, because I couldn’t take the whole place back with me.  I felt too peaceful to leave this place behind.  As it was, I spent two hours on that kayak, coming back to the dock with sore arms and a numb butt.  And I felt absolutely blissed out.

This is my cathedral.

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I couldn’t ask for more from a kayak experience.  I didn’t even mind that Miss Chef wasn’t able to come with me.  We probably would have broken the quiet with conversation…then again, I suspect this place renders most people silent.  Churches tend to do that, I’ve noticed.

There was more food…Sunday we had brunch at a vegetarian restaurant, drove through uptown Charlotte on the way home, then on a whim, stopped at the 7th Street Market and toured through the Levine Museum of the New South.  We finished our cultural afternoon with a late lunch at Mert’s Heart and Soul.  Monday night we had dinner with Chef Adam at the Customshop, of omelette fame.  And there’s more ahead…tomorrow night is a Microbrews Cruise at the Whitewater Center, featuring kayaking and samples of locally-brewed beer.  There’s a farm dinner at our favorite restaurant on the 30th, and I just got an invitation to a bbq and beer party for Memorial Day.

Somewhere in there, I really need to hit the gym!


  1. Beautiful, as always!

    I don't like beets, either, but the rest of that meal seemed a dream!

    1. Every once in a while, I get payback for all those lonely weekend nights. :)

  2. That strawberry ice drink was genius! Does Miss Chef deliver?

    1. No, sadly, she rarely even delivers to me. I must work on that...

  3. That last photo really does look like the most beautiful of churches.
    I don't know how Miss Chef survived that crazy-busy time. I would need many of those pretty frozen drinks, filled with something much stronger than puree.

    1. I was a bit disappointed she didn't sneak in a little champagne for us.

  4. All of those dishes look so good. You can send me your beets and salmon anytime :)

    1. I would, but Miss Chef would probably be insulted.

  5. Wow. I think it's hilarious that Ms. Chef fed you stuff you don't really like. Whatdaya do to her?

    The Whitewater center is still on our list to conquer.

    What did you think of Mert's? I think the food is OK. We LOVE the sweet potato cake but every time we've been there the service leaves a lot to be desired.

    Jim and I are considering doing the gym thing again accompanied with diet. Diet and exercise. Ugh.

    1. Miss Chef likes to push my boundaries a little. It's probably good for me.

      We've also noticed the crap service at Mert's. It really pisses Miss Chef off, because the owner seems very good at the business, but his employees ruin what he's trying to do. Usually the food's been good, but it was hit and miss this time. I'd still go back, though.

  6. Broken ribs!?!? I am so sorry to hear Chef Adam took a nasty fall. That is so not fun. I hope he's on the mend and feeling better.

    My mouth started to water at the roasted beets (which i LOVE) and then I was blown away by the mention of "taster" portions. Wow. That was a lot of food, and it all looked great. And the martini glass trick is fantastic. I might need to attempt that myself.

    Your water trip was stunning. Absolutely stunning.

    I'm sure you and Miss Chef are counting the days til the end of the school season. It's almost here. Hang in there.

    xo jj

  7. Wow! Just wow! I would love that so much. All that nature and solitude...just you and your little kayak exploring the creeks. It's so green, lush and wet there. Oh my! We could use some of that here. The wildfires are out of control in the Gila. Firemen have been called off because it's just too dangerous. Over 100,000 acres have burned so far...with no rain in sight and just lots of high winds. It's pretty bad.



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