Thursdays We Go To Billy’s

Billy’s is our local.  Local pub, local bistro – we just think of it as our local, as our Irish friends would call it.  Some of the staff are current or former Barrington High School students.  One of Barb the owner’s sons is a teacher at the High School.  Andrew was a waiter there one college summer.  We feel very connected.

Melissa & Barb

We started going to Billy’s on Thursdays years ago, when that was our housecleaning day.  Because I felt strongly that our kitchen stay clean for at least 12 hours before we messed it up again, we had dinner out.  Billy’s is exactly one mile from our house, so it was an obvious choice.  Housecleaning day is now every other Friday,  but Thursday still feels like our Billy’s night.

One mile from our house!  If we had to, we could walk home.

We almost always sit at the bar, where we enjoy the company and attention of the fabulous Melissa, Mel to those who are regulars.  We go early to be sure of getting seats at the bar – five?  Five-thirty?  It sounds ridiculously early, but since I wake up 12 hours later to go to work, it is just the right time for us to have a leisurely dinner.  Mel is a creative and expert bartender, always ready to recreate an old favorite or invent a new drink.  She remembers our preferences in both food and cocktails.  We can actually say “I’ll have the usual” and she’ll know.  Chuck’s is a Ketel One martini, very dry, with blue cheese stuffed olives.  Mine is a Stoli O cosmo, not too sweet.

For years I would only order steak frites, medium rare, with a house salad, no onion, blue cheese dressing on the side.  Barb makes the best blue cheese dressing anywhere, and I’ve had them all.  If Billy’s weren’t already fabulous, it would be worth a trip just for that dressing.  The steak is tender, flavorful, perfectly cooked, and served with a yummy horseradish sauce on the side (as Harry said to Sally, “on the side is a very big thing for you.”)  I often have small containers of Billy’s blue cheese dressing and horseradish sauce in the  fridge.  Sadly they look alike at a glance, so one must be careful to check before dressing a salad at home.

Now I mix it up in my ordering.  It’s always a challenge to decide, since I’ve never had a bad meal there – everything is delicious.  How can I try something new if I know, love, and crave the old things?  Ah, yes, I’ll be back next Thursday, so I can go back to the tried and true then.

Their lobster sandwich is perfect.  Very lightly dressed in a lemony mayonnaise, served on grilled bread with bacon and baby spinach, and heaped with fries.  Or sweet potato fries.  Or onion rings.  Or some combination. 

The littlenecks appetizer is truly the taste of Rhode Island, and no one makes it better.  Small clams in a tomato-y, garlicky, oniony broth with chunks of chorizo

Amazing littlenecks

(pronounced shureez here in New England), with lovely grilled bread on the side for dunking.  When Chuck and I moved back east from Ohio in 1997, we craved clam broth and ethnic food.  Here it is, in a steaming bowl.

Do you want seafood?  They cook it perfectly.  The fish in the fish & chips has the lightest, crispiest coating imaginable.  

Fish & Chips to go
Not the least bit oily, and enormous!  Halibut with a sundried tomato tapenade, served over a parmesan or fontina risotto.  Swordfish.  Shrimp.  New England Shore Dinner.  All are delicious, and there are no better seared scallops anywhere.  We are spoiled by the variety and presentation of fish here, to the point that we won’t order certain ones in other parts of the country.  Scallops in New Orleans?  Why?

Craving a burger?  We have friends who won’t eat one anywhere else.  You can get them served on your choice of flat grilled bread, buns, or Portuguese bolos.  Bacon?  Sure.  Cheddar, American, provolone, goat, or Swiss cheese?  Up to you.  Avenue N and Table both make outstanding burgers, too, but with fewer options and variations available.  Chuck’s favorite is the Marsala burger, with mushrooms and bacon. And nobody beats Billy’s fries.

If you are very, very lucky, you may find that Barb has made eggplant rollatini, my favorite.  We got a double order to go on New Year’s Eve, to enjoy the next day with our other lucky foods. 

Fabulous Eggplant Rollatini, with a couple of bites already gone

Kid-friendly, but without feeling overrun, Barb and her staff at Billy’s do a great job of making everyone feel welcome. 

Billy’s is never this empty! I went by early to take the pix

In case you’re wondering:  no, this is not a paid review. I just love this place.

http://www.billysllc.com/
 

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Moment

Here’s a short post about America’s favorite cookie.

I love to cook, to bake, and to eat.  I like to improve on recipes, to make them my own. Like all cooks, I have strong opinions about the right way, the best way, to prepare any given food.  Baking is more of a science than cooking, but still after testing and tasting I have written my own recipes for rum cake, biscuits, gingerbread, and more.  I have tested more chocolate chip cookie recipes than I could count on two hands.

Normally I am a purist, not in terms of following a recipe, but in terms of using as natural and organic a product as possible.  There were a few times in my sons’ elementary school years when I used instant vanilla pudding in my chocolate chip cookies; it created a beautifully chewy cookie, but there was an undeniable chemical undertone.  My favorite recipe to date has been Alton Brown’s The Chewy, as modified by The Brown-Eyed Baker (hey, I’m a brown-eyed baker, too!):  The Chewy

My friend and coworker Cindy makes the best chocolate chip cookies any of us have ever had.  They are fat, pale, chewy, and delicious.  They call for margarine instead of butter, and for a long time I refused to believe that margarine could possibly do anything that butter couldn’t.  I am, after all, a butter whore.  I stopped buying margarine years ago.  But time and time again I tried Cindy’s recipe and failed to create the same perfection in a cookie.  Until today.

Today I followed Cindy’s recipe almost to the letter, and they are almost perfect.  The one flaw is that I used coarse sea salt instead of regular table salt, and so the cookies have a little salty crunch to them.  Maybe that’s not a flaw?  I do love salty and sweet together.

Here’s the recipe, and I recommend following it as written.

Cindy’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 sticks Land O’ Lakes margarine.  Not butter or any other brand
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.  Melt margarine in a large bowl.  Mix in sugars, then beat in egg and vanilla.  Add flour, salt, and soda, and mix until just combined.  Stir in chips.

Cover two cookie sheets with parchment or nonstick foil.  Scoop tablespoons of dough onto prepared sheets, two inches apart.  Bake for about 8 minutes, or until just barely browning at the edges.  Remove from oven, cool on parchment for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

Makes about 3 dozen.

UPDATE:  I rejiggered the recipe using butter, and it worked!  Use less, I don’t know the chemistry of why that works, but it does:  1.5 sticks of unsalted butter, instead of the 2 sticks of margarine.  Proceed as written.

 

January 20, 2017

Is this one of those days, those days we will look back on and say, “I remember just what I was doing?”  Is today the day that our lives as we know them changed?  I wore black to work, and many of my colleagues wore a sadness, a weariness, on their faces.  Some wore red, white, and blue, and some seemed unaffected, but who knows if they were just better at hiding their sorrow or joy than I am?

I haven’t blogged much since the early fall.  I had knee surgery, and then I was gobsmacked with the other 51% of the country, and 95% of the world, by the election day results.  Sunday/Monday before election day I had the womit bug – Tuesday I developed a whopping sinus infection.  Wednesday in a fugue state Chuck and I flew to New Orleans to visit Rob and see his various band performances.  Was it my fever, my congestion, or my disbelief that made me feel otherworldly?  Our first day in New Orleans I took myself for a pedicure, and I actually fell asleep during it.  It was heavenly.  Self-care is important!  But so is taking care of the people who take care of us, and I was appreciative and I tipped well.

I had the joy of seeing Rob perform three times, including once when his band Miss Mojo started at 11?  12?  It was waaaay past my bedtime, and I had taken a disco nap in order to see them.  It was wonderful.  They were so good – Miss Jenna has some serious pipes!  If you haven’t already heard them, I urge you to check them out:  https://missmojo.bandcamp.com/releases

After a lovely five days, we came home, and the reality of impending post-Obama America kicked in.

I have been in a state of continuous self-care, which in my case includes turning away from the news. And eating comfort food. And probably drinking more than I should – not really self-care, but appreciated medication. Like Pink Floyd, I became comfortably numb.

January 20, I woke up. A little bit. I realized that someone I adore who I thought was a Trump supporter was, in fact, just as devastated as I was. I learned that people I know to be lifelong Republicans are as upset about a DT presidency as I am. Never, ever make assumptions.

I also learned that someone I know who is a committed, lifelong Republican is an eager supporter of a Trump-Pence presidency. This person also has an openly gay adult child. What level of cognitive dissonance is required to celebrate an administration that makes no secret of their plan to restrict LBGTQ folks their rights?  That advocates aversion therapy, i.e. shock the gay right out of them?

I don’t understand how support of this TP presidency is possible. Do I need to understand? I need to put one foot in front of the other, do what I can to make my world a better place, and support my loved ones in the manner I see fit. That’s all. That’s my job.

Now I pick up trash when I see it in the supermarket parking lot (although not if it’s slimy – I have my limits).  I make an effort to be patient with parents and colleagues who have historically danced on my last nerve. I tell people when they wear or say or do something beautiful. And I refuse to live in despair. I will not anticipate the end of the world or the end of the American dream. I will use my imagination more positively.


40 Clove Chicken, aka post-election comfort food

  • 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 pound (give or take) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 40 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup olive oil, more or less.
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • Salt, pepper, paprika to taste

Put flour and seasonings in a plastic zipper bag. Add bone-in chicken, seal bag, and shake well to coat completely. Set chicken aside, and coat boneless thighs in remaining flour. Set aside.

Preheat oven set to 300 degrees. Heat 1/2 cup oil and half the butter in a large Dutch oven with a lid.  When hot (a bit of flour dropped in will sizzle), place in the bone-in thighs, skin side down. Cook over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn over, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Set aside.

Add more butter and oil to the pot if necessary, then cook boneless thighs in the same manner, about 4-5 minutes per side.

Remove from heat. Add the garlic and stir. Place thyme sprigs over boneless thighs, then place bone in thighs on top, skin side up. Pour any remaining olive oil in the pan, and add any remaining butter. Pour chicken stock in the pan until it comes about halfway up the bone-in thighs, leaving the skin exposed. Cover the pot, place in the pre-heated oven, and bake for about three hours.

Serve over rice, noodles, potatoes, or just with crusty bread to soak up the amazing gravy.

That little voice must guide you.

My friend Katherine writes an excellent blog called Rural and Progressive.  This photo and attached letter come from her daughter, of and to her children.  Please read, via the link below.

The Friday Photo January 20, 2017 reposted with permission from my daughter McKinsey Cummings photo credit McKinsey Cummings, Macon, GA, Martin Luther King Jr, Day, January 16, 2017 Chase, 8.5 years old, Ella, 10 years old An Open Letter to My Children on MLK Day 4 days prior to the inauguration of He Who Must…

Please read this beautiful letter.  via “The little voice in your heart must guide you”- my daughter’s letter to her children — Rural and Progressive

 

Foods I dislike

WARNING:  I may dislike a food that you love.  I’m mildly sorry if you are offended by my dislike, but if you are, I hope you’ll get over it.  I don’t care if you like it, as long as you don’t insist that I like it.

purple-suitI didn’t build this Rubenesque body by skipping many meals, and there are, in fact, very few foods that I dislike.  As my cousin-in-law Elisabeth once told me, I’ll even eat gristle.  But there are some foods that I have a hard time putting in my mouth, let alone swallowing.

Velveeta or other American cheese food product.  With one possible exception, which is very rarely on a burger, I would never willingly eat American cheese food product.  The fact that it is called  “food product” is enough to turn my stomach.  I don’t want to eat american-cheesea “food product.”  I want to eat food.  I don’t understand the appeal of this food product.  It tastes like it was created in a laboratory.  It melts well, I suppose, but so does real cheese.  So does plastic, for that matter.  It probably has a shelf-life measured in years, not weeks, and maybe that appeals to some.  Someone once served me chocolate fudge made with Velveeta instead of butter.  Cripes, there out to be a law.  A corollary dislike is the florescent yellow-orange goo that is sold with corn chips at the ballpark, called nacho cheese.  Ugh.  On the other hand, Nacho Cheese Doritos?  Love them.

Cream cheese.  Whatever happened?  I used to love it.  I grew up on cream cheese and bagels, cream-cheese-and-jelly sandwiches, and cream cheese cake.  Now it gives me the jibblies if I eat it.  Is it texture or taste, you ask?  Taste, since it doesn’t matter to me if it’s in a block or whipped in a container.  Either way I can’t stand it.  Cream cheese frosting?  I skip it.  My carrot cake gets vanilla buttercream instead.  One of my standard Christmas cookies is an Oreo truffle, made with cream cheese.  They are wildly popular, and I make dozens of them, and I shudder.  I substitute a mild goat cheese whenever possible in cooking.

As Sandra Boynton says, I’ve never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like.  Almost.  I don’t like banana bread.  This is a bit of a quandary, because I also don’t like ripe bananas, and so as soon as the bananas show any brown spots, I peel them and freeze them.  To make banana bread.  Consequently my freezer has bags and bags of frozen bananas.  I’ll make a huge batch of banana bread a few times a year, and bring it to work, or send it to my children.

Scotch.  Okay, not a food, but a comestible.  Which stimulates a significant gag reflex in me.  I have to give up any thought of being a sophisticated scotch sipper.  No problemo.

Honey mustard anything.  I love honey.  I like mustard.  The two together become a slimy, sweet excrescence.  Pretzels, chicken, ribs, turkey sandwich – it doesn’t matter what it’s served on, or with.  Whatever it is will be better without.  If I discover some honey mustard has snuck into a sandwich I’m eating, I will choke down or spit out the bite (depending on where I am and with whom), and toss the rest.  I’d rather go hungry.

American milk chocolate. Like Hers7-hot-cocoa-brown-hair-chalk-1hey bars.  I specify American milk chocolate because I’m actually fond of European milk chocolate, which is rich and creamy.  American milk chocolate is chalky and overly sweet.  If I am jonesing for chocolate, and the only choice is a Hershey bar, I’ll skip it and go brush my teeth to get the craving out of my mouth.

Asparagus in a can.  I don’t think I could put it in my mouth, or get it past my nose.  Maybe, if I were making a cream of asparagus soup and the market had no fresh asparagus, and I absolutely HAD to have homemade cream of asparagus soup, I MIGHT consider using asparagus in a can. canned-asparagus ***  Nope.  I’ve thought about it, and if that were the case I would use frozen asparagus.  What if the market was out of both fresh and frozen asparagus and I absolutely HAD to have cream of asparagus soup?  Jeebus, I’ve never needed cream of asparagus soup that badly.

Anything artificially sweetened.  There are no words.  Saving a few, or even a few hundred, calories is not worth that poison flavor and effect.  I stay away.  Ok, well, full disclosure:  I do have a diet coke about once a year.  Other than that, I stay away.

White chocolate.  What my dad called Lard Bar.  lard I don’t loathe it on the scale of nacho cheese goo, but I see it as a complete waste of calories.  It is flavorless, except for sweetness.  It can be useful as a contrast in decorating, say, those Oreo truffles mentioned above, but otherwise, why bother?  I’d rather eat real lard.

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Eaten?  Well, it was 1990 or 1991 during the Chinese Lunar Festival, and the woman I worked with, Isabel, wanted to share a very special, traditional holiday food with me.  I love trying new foods, and will try anything (even insects, if cooked), so I enthusiastically agreed to try the Lunar Festival food.  It was Sweet Lotus Seed soup. lotus-seed-and-longan-sweet-soup-che-hat-sen-long-nhan_7556197 It was cold, achingly sweet, and mucilaginous.  I am inherently a polite human, and so on tasting the soup, I couldn’t spew it back into the cup.  I had to swallow it.  It was like drinking cold sweet snot.  If there’s any reader out there who would like to make me a bowl of this soup to prove that it is not disgusting, I will happily try it again.  Maybe I was pregnant when I tried it.  I couldn’t choke down much then.

 

 

 

Photo credit:  © mucilagenous | Dreamstime.com – <a href=”https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-piece-salted-lard-image37456786#res16757777″>Piece Of Salted Lard Photo</a>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I dream of New Orleans

I am a native New Yorker, and when I am there and the weather is fine, I can’t imagine loving any other city as much.  But the truth is that I just might love New Orleans a little bit more.  I love the food, the art, the music, the architecture, the food, the drinks, the street musicians, the lack of snow, and the food.  I love the mix of slow-moving Southern with fast-paced urban.  As many writers have observed, this is the most European and/or Caribbean of American cities.  A few days in New Orleans always leaves me overstuffed, exhausted, and wanting more.  I’m grateful that Rob Kellner has chosen to study and live in New Orleans, affording me a reason to visit four or five times a year.  I want everyone I know, and especially everyone I love, to love New Orleans too.  I want to bring friends and family here and show them all my favorite corners, buildings, and foods.  In lieu of that, what follows is a list of a few of my recommendations for visitors to New Orleans.  This initial list grew out of some suggestions to my friend Barb, who will be visiting New Orleans for a few days with family, including a teenage daughter, and without a car.  These suggestions stay close to the tourist-centric French Quarter, with a toe-dipping into the CBD, Marigny, Warehouse District, Garden District, and Uptown.

 

Things to do not necessarily in order of preference but in order of my stream of consciousness:

 

Hotels.  There are hundreds of hotels to choose from, and dozens of guest houses and inns. Here are listed a very few in or right near the French Quarter, but not on Bourbon Street, and is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Dauphin Orleans – www.dauphineorleans.com  On a quiet street in the French Quarter, away from the madness but in easy walking distance of everything.
  • Hotel Provincial – www.hotelprovincial.com  On Chartres Street, a few blocks from Jackson Square.  This is where I stayed the first time I visited New Orleans.  A block from the French Market, a few blocks from Frenchman St.  Charming.
  • Hotel St. Marie – www.hotelstmarie.com  On the CBD side of the French Quarter, part of the lovely Valentino hotel group
  • Royal Barracks Guest House – rbgh.com  In a quiet residential neighborhood of the French Quarter.  A bit quirky and funky, with an engaging hostess.
  • La Galerie Hotel – used to be Maison Dupuy.  New management who seem very enthusiastic and committed to a good experience for guests.  In a quiet corner of the FQ.  http://www.lagaleriehotel.com/
  • Homewood Suites on Poydras – a very different experience from the above hotels, it is big and clean and just like any other Homewood Suites except it’s in New Orleans.  Includes breakfast.
  • Hampton Inn on Carondolet – again, a chain hotel, but an interesting one, in a converted old office building which at 12 stories was once the tallest building in the city.  Some of the rooms are enormous.  Breakfast included.  Very convenient to both the French Quarter and the CBD.  One block to the start of the St. Charles streetcar line.

 

Food.  Dear Lord, where do I begin?  There is so much good food to be had in New Orleans.  There is also plenty of mediocre food, so do your research.  Note:  pretty much any Brennan family restaurant is going to rock.  This tribe has a true appreciation of good living, or what the late diva Adelaide Brennan called “eating, drinking, and carrying on!”

Here is a map of restaurants and bars that I have enjoyed:  Ellen’s NOLA Dining Map

  • Commander’s Palace.  This is the Queen of the Brennan family, the flagship.  Eating at Commander’s is an event, and the food is outstanding.  Feel free to wander into the kitchen to thank them after your meal – it is open by policy.  You might be lucky enough to bump into Chef Tory McPhail, as I did last January.  img_0473Expect to drop quite a bit of money, but it will be worth it.  And you will never forget it.  http://www.commanderspalace.com/
  • Pêche.  My mouth waters just thinking of our last meal there, which was lunch at the bar.  Gorgeous restored warehouse building, light and airy.  Get the brussels sprouts.  You can thank me later.  http://www.pecherestaurant.com/
  • Cochon.  Older sibling to Pêche, from restauranteur Donald Link, but with a focus on pork instead of fish.  You can smell Cochon from several blocks away.  If you want a grab and go meal instead of restaurant dining, check out Cochon Butcher around the corner.  http://www.cochonrestaurant.com/   http://www.cochonbutcher.com/
  • Cafe Adelaide.  Named for Adelaide Brennan, and with her Andy-Warhol-style portrait gracing the walls.  Certainly on my short list of favorite New Orleans restaurants, and with a lovely bar.  It’s like eating at Commander’s but closer to your hotel, and lighter, what they call “playful Creole.”   If you go midday, here or at Commander’s, you can get 25-cent martinis with your lunch, but no more than three, “’cause that’s enough.”  And it is.  Believe me.  http://www.cafeadelaide.com/
  • Felix Oyster Bar.  On Iberville Street between Bourbon and Royal there are two Oyster houses facing each other, Acme and Felix.  Acme is the one you’ve seen on The Food Network, and it will usually have a long line of folks waiting to get in.  Skip it.  Cross over to Felix on the other side.  Less neon.  Less famous.  At worst a short line on a busy Saturday night.  Amazing food.  Chuck, Rob, and I polished off three dozen chargrilled oysters in one sitting.  Huge ones, because Mr. G, the oyster chef, liked us and picked the biggest oysters he could find for us.  Damn, my mouth is watering again.   http://www.felixs.com/
  • Red Fish Grill.  Try the BBQ oysters, oh my!  Like buffalo wings, but oysters.  Yum. Great bar as well.  My friend Carolyn and I started around the corner at Felix for our first course, then settled in later at Red Fish Grill’s bar for a second course.   http://www.redfishgrill.com/index2.html
  • The Praline Connection.  Classic New Orleans soul food, on Frenchmen Street.  I’m especially fond of the collard greens, fried chicken livers, and catfish.   http://www.pralineconnection.com/
  • Mother’s.  Line up, and while you’re waiting read over the enormous menu that will be handed to you when you walk in.  If you’re not ready to order when you get to the register, move back until you are.  Order your food, pick up your drinks, and find a table.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of empty tables in the back.  A waitress will bring your order to you no matter where you sit.  Have the Ferdi Special.  You’re welcome.  http://www.mothersrestaurant.net/
  • Salon by Sucre.  Sucre is an exquisite bakery specializing in French macarons.  Upstairs is the Salon, which is a beautiful restaurant and bar. Stop by for a drink, an appetizer, or a whole meal.  Save room for a macaron for dessert – luckily they don’t take up much space.  http://www.restaurantsalon.com/
  • Cafe du Monde.  This is not a meal, unless you usually eat donuts and coffee for a meal.  I don’t judge.  For me, this is dessert, snack, and people-watching.  Beignets are fried dough, traditionally eaten here with cafe au lait.  You’ll want to order a glass of water, too.  Don’t wear black – these beignets are doused with powdered sugar.  http://www.cafedumonde.com/
  • Dat Dog.  If I were to create a hot dog stand, this would be it.  As casual as the day is long, with indoor and outdoor seating.  Great bar, with about 30 different beers, good wine, and a solid cocktail menu.  Endless combinations of sausages, toppings, breads – if it’s too much to choose from, just ask for the chef’s choice.  They’ll whip up something guaranteed to be wacky and delicious.  http://www.datdog.com/
  • Willa Jean.  Willa Jean is a member of John Besh’s family of restaurants.  It is loud and light and has amazing food.  We went for brunch.  Have the artichoke and cheese business.  Also the frosé is delightful.  I found Besh’s flagship August to be stuffy and pretentious (I’ll have to go back to prove myself wrong), but I love Luke on St. Charles, and now I love Willa Jean.  http://www.willajean.com/
  • The Pelican Club.  I love The Pelican Club.  It is on the lovely little alley called Exchange Place in the FQ, and if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t know it was there.  Inside it is bigger than it looks on the outside.  It is elegant without being in the least bit pretentious.  The food is outstanding.  http://www.pelicanclub.com/

 

I could go on.  And on.  I’ll stop now, but will add to this list occasionally.

 

 

Empty Nest

I have two sons:  Andrew is 24, and Rob is 21.  Andrew graduated from Barrington High School in 2010, and happily accepted High Point University’s offer of admission and a Presidential Scholarship.  What he didn’t accept, at least at first, was our insistence that he attend HPU’s Summer Experience, a sort-of boot camp for incoming freshmen.  Eventually he acquiesced and accepted his fate.  He would spend one month during the summer taking two classes, adjusting to dorm life, and making friends.  In hindsight, he thanked us for insisting that he do this, but at the time, he was resigned rather than excited.

Andrew and I arrived in High Point, NC and moved him into his dorm, met his summer roommate, and took a trip to Target to buy the essentials we hadn’t packed.  When all that was done, with a bit of false cheer and bravado, he suddenly turned, hugged me, and said “oh, mama – I don’t know what to do next.”  This from my unbelievably cheerful, effervescent, friendly son, who has never met a stranger, only a buddy he doesn’t know yet.  When Andrew was under one we said he would someday be either a politician or a game show host – he was that outgoing.  The honorary mayor of Barrington at five.  But faced with being left in a strange place, knowing no one, he had a moment of panic.  I said, “look – the guys across the hall have a big screen TV with the World Cup Soccer on, and their door is open.  That’s an invitation.  You go, introduce yourself, and watch a little bit.  I’ll wait here.”  He said, “no, you have to go.  I’ll be okay.”  And we both took a deep breath, and we went out, he to the boys across the hall, me to my car.

When I got to my car, I realized I had left my car keys in Andrew’s room.  I didn’t want to cramp his inchoate style, so I went to the Student Center across the parking lot, bought a coffee, sat in the sun while I drank it, and THEN went back up to Andrew’s room.  When he saw me in the hall, he broke from his new little posse and said, “what are you DOING here?  GO!!!”  So I went.  I got my keys, got in the car, and drove the 269 miles to my hotel for the night.  And I wept, not so much that I couldn’t safely drive, but for at least 100 of those miles.  I wept for the young man who made an effort to not need me anymore, for the anxiety we both felt, and for the end of my hands-on parenting of this remarkable man.

Three years later, and it was time to send Rob off to college.  Rob graduated from BHS in 2013.  He applied to one college, Tulane University, was accepted, and won a whopping full tuition scholarship.  In August 2013, Chuck and I drove one car, while Rob and Andrew drove the other, to High Point, to move Andrew back into his campus apartment.  He shared this for three of his four years with two of his original freshmen year roommates, one of whom he bonded with during Summer Experience.  From there, Chuck, Rob, and I continued down I-85 toward Atlanta and on to New Orleans, to move Rob into HIS Summer Experience, called NOLA week, at Tulane.  We were told that Rob could have one suitcase and one duffle bag, and nothing more, for that first week, so we dropped him at Tulane and drove away, but stayed in New Orleans for the week with the rest of his belongings.  Chuck saw clients and worked while I wandered the city, visiting museums and restaurants and galleries, but had almost no contact with Rob.  On Move-In Day, we returned to Tulane, unpacked the rest of Rob’s belongings from the Pilot, and settled him in to his room.  Unlike Andrew, Rob had not met his college besties during the pre-orientation week, but he met them on that move-in day.  He shooed us away, and we headed for Rhode Island.  In the car, somewhere in Georgia, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” came on the radio.  “I’ve been afraid of changing, ’cause I’ve built my life around you.”  I started to sob, to grieve, to shriek.  I had built my life around my children.  I had no aspirations beyond growing good men.  Now that they were launched, who was I?  Who am I now, if no longer full time mama?  I was bereft, panicked, mourning.

I cried off and on for about a week.  And then life went on.  Luna the shepherd-poodle and I spent a lot of time together, and I missed the companionship and sounds of my sons and their friends in my house.  I missed Rob’s piano, the soundtrack of my daily life.  I didn’t miss the endless dirty dishes and boxer shorts left laying about.  I missed the laughs.

It’s been another three years since we became empty-nesters, and the first in seven years that we haven’t had a road trip south to set up someone’s dorm or apartment and make someone’s bed.  This adds another layer to the syndrome – what we lost in emptying our nest we mildly replaced with summer move-in rituals, now gone.  Our men are where they are going, at least for now.

This weekend Andrew was home to participate in a friend’s wedding.  I took him to the airport Sunday afternoon, and I cried on the way home.  Every time my boys leave I feel a shadow of that empty-nest grief.  I love them, and I applaud their independence – after all, wasn’t that the goal of our parenting, to raise men who could leave and thrive without us?  I am more at peace than I was with my new role – although I’m not sure what that is.  I have no idea what comes next, and that’s usually okay.

But when they leave, I cry a little bit.

 

Empty-Nest Grilled Cheese

  • Chewy, Jewish-style Rye bread
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Swiss cheese
  • soft butter
  • Dijon mustard, optional

Use about four slices of cheese per sandwich.  Spread soft butter on one side of the bread, then place on a cold griddle.  Turn heat to medium, and leave it alone until toasty and brown, about 7 minutes.  Spread butter on the top of the sandwich, then flip.  Cook another 7 minutes or so.  Remove to a plate, cut on the diagonal, and eat.

I washed it down with a Gold Rush:

  • 1.5 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • .5 ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients over ice, and strain into a martini glass.

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