Butter and Salt and Girl Scout Cookies

Saturday, February 9, 2008

It's that time of year. In fact, it's that time of year several times over. First of all, we are approaching St. Valentine's Day. In restaurant parlance, this is often refered to as Noah's Arc Night. Two by two they come. Even tables normally reserved for eight people will probably have only two diners. We don't do a "special menu". We do slim it down a bit so that we can cope with the volume. Gone are the hamburgers, which seem simple enough, but because health regulations regarding doneness take longer than most entrees. Gone are some things that will back up my one fryer. We try to compensate with over the top desserts- whipped cream, red hots and strawberries all over everything. We bring in fancier things like filet mignon and sweetbreads. We set the dining room with candles and flowers. We turn the lights down a bit. St. Valentine's, is the first of spring's hurdles. The last will be the Mothers' Day/Graduation Weekend. Honeysuckle tends to bloom in the middle of that one.

The other thing that happens this time of year is Girl Scout Cookies. I have always been a fan of these. I usually gobble up a whole sleeve of the peanut butter ones right away. The shortbread ones sometimes show up with our ice creams at Crook's. The thin mints have their own special ritual. I put butter on everything and years ago I absentmindely dragged a mint cookie through some that was softening on the counter. In my logic, coarse salt was the obvious next addition. Now, each spring, I feast on little butter and salt sandwiches as long as the cookies are around.

Butter and salt are a subgroup of the larger family of grease and salt. I often refer to "transforming magic of grease and salt. This sends some folks heading for the exits, but most people will admit privately that these ingredients are essential to good eating. I'm sure that my admiration for butter is second to none. And what would we do without bacon? Last spring, I joined a group of local chefs to do a fund-raising event for WUNC Radio with Lynn Rosetto-Kasper at A Southern Season. My part was a wilted salad made with Chapel Hill Creamery's New Moon cheese and lardons made from Cane Creek Farms' sidemeat. The dressing requires whisking whole butter into the melting pork fat. The audience fell silent. but Ms. Rosetto-Kasper seemed delighted. Having gone on about this so, I hasten to add that I am actually in favor of moderation at meals. You needn't eat great platefuls of grease and salt at every sitting. Cooks should use whatever seasonings and techniques that are appropriate for the best results. Years ago, Julia Child began chiding those who advocated avoiding fats at all costs. Her message more or less was to enjoy your food and to not be so skittish and you'll be fine. She lived into her nineties. (Please see above left for a picture of me strolling through a bacon forrest with a glass of sweet tea and Jack Daniels last fall in Oxford, Mississippi. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.)

posted by Bill Smith at 5:05 AM


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