MUSIC PAIRING: Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
When I was little, the most common word we heard at home was ‘no’. Mom, can we get Lucky Charms? No. Mom, can I have a soda? No. Mom, can we buy a trampoline? No. Mom was the day-to-day disciplinarian in our house while Dad was who she made us deal with when we were reeeeally acting up.
As a now well adjusted
mature adult, I can say Mom did things RIGHT. She instilled in us patience, gratitude and the appreciation of delayed gratification. She’s also responsible for my great love of surprises. See, even though she said no to 99.99999% of everything, there was always that time where she’d sneak something in when we’d least expect it. For example, we kids loved drumsticks. You know, those ice cream cones with the chunk of chocolate in the bottom of the cone? That was a common ‘ask’ when we were kids that got probably the most amount of nos throughout my childhood. But then one night, after we’d done homework and cleaned up after dinner, Mom would randomly ask one of us to go look in the freezer. We’d open the door and there, gleaming like diamonds, would be a box of drumsticks. I would go bananas. Mom just naturally knew how to build a sense of appreciation in us by helping us understand that you don’t always get what you want but, if you’re patient and thankful, life can really surprise you.
Although drumsticks (and cheese puffs) might win for best surprises Mom always said no to, what really takes the cake is when Mom would surprise us by saying yes. Case in point, lunch at the Swan Coach House in Atlanta. The Coach House is one of those restaurants that’s perfectly girly and just right for dainty ladies outings. Their tables are adorned with white tablecloths, flowers and little lace doilies that acted as coasters. I remember the Coach House being the first “fine dining” place Mom ever took me. In reality, it’s not fine dining at all, just a very lovely, elegant place that embodies the manners and pride of the South. For 8 year old Valerie, however, it was like heaven.
Their most signature dish is chicken salad which is served in a beautiful puff pastry shell alongside this creamy, frozen fruit salad. Additionally, it comes with homemade cheese straws. Holy mother of pearl, was that lunch divine. I should say IS divine as the Coach House is still going strong since 1965. The reason my mom particularly loved it there is that it’s not only a restaurant, it’s a small art gallery as well. My mom is a watercolorist and it was a rare event for her to visit galleries of any kind. At the Coach House, she could escape for an afternoon immersed in what she truly loves, art and food.
I can’t eat a cheese straw without thinking back on the beautiful memories of those outings with Mom. We didn’t have much money growing up so these afternoons were rare and prized. Again, Mom’s clever way of instilling that sense of appreciation in us… I woke up the other day and for some reason, I wanted some. With a quick search on my bff’s site, I was all set. Though these straws have that great bite of spice to them that I don’t recall in the Coach House version, they brought me right back to sitting across the table from Mom, trying to keep my napkin in my lap.
Why Norah Jones? When I woke up thinking about cheese straws, it made me also think of Mom. I felt like listening to something as lovely as she is while I baked these delights and Norah Jones fits that bill beautifully.
Recipe by: Smitten Kitchen
- 1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
- 3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon half-and-half
- Preheat oven to 350.
- In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper in five 5-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
- On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife (or ravioli cutter like I used), cut the dough into thin 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide (dipping the knife in flour after every few inches ensures a clean cut). Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet (though I lined mine with parchment), leaving at least 1/4-inch between them. The dough may sag or may break occasionally in the transfer, but don’t worry, they'll still be delicious. The straws can be any length, from 2 to 10 inches.
- Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
- Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator for two days but are you seriously going to have any leftover to keep? Probably not.