Crazy little things I love

Sep. 17, 2013 @ 02:01 PM

As a kid when I was sick, my mom did the coolest thing. When we went to a drugstore to fill a prescription, my mom would buy me a small treat. Usually I would pick colored construction paper.
As an adult, I keep this tradition alive. If anyone in the family is sick, a small token for the patient is added to any medicine purchase.      
There’s just something about a little bonus that’s good for the soul. Even sick, it perks up your mood a smidge.
It turns out that this is an almost universal sentiment. When the economy is in rough shape, expensive purchases slow down, but the sale of small luxuries go up. 
With a child in college, and a goal of not eating cat food in our retirement, our budget is limited. Most meals are cooked and eaten at home, and when we do occasionally dine out it’s usually somewhere inexpensive like Waffle House or the Dog House.
But living in a region of quality, varied food offerings, I’ve found there are plenty of special culinary treats that cost very little, but are pure delights. 
With these purchases, I feel pampered, but not guilty. 
Once a month, three of my high school buddies, Paxton, Lucy, Pablamente, and I meet for lunch.  We take turns picking, and this month was Lucy’s turn.  She chose a place called Peppers Market & Sandwich Shop (2107 Grace Park Dr ive, Morrisville). 
Each weekend Pepper’s does brunch until 1:30.  We met at 1 p.m., and Paxton and I were thrilled, because he has an unnatural affection for French toast, and I love breakfast generally, and Benedict dishes especially.
They had a dish called New York Benedict, which uses rye bread in place of English muffins, and corned beef instead of ham (I do not care what Canada says, it’s not bacon). 
Our orders came, and we tucked in. The first thing I noticed is they gave me plenty of hollandaise (always appreciated). The second was, the corned beef was house-made. It was spectacular; juicy, flavorful, and rich. It tasted like somebody’s Irish grandmother had slaved over it. I was informed that all their meats are made onsite. Cost? Less than 8 bucks.
In the bar at the Washington Duke, they serve homemade potato chips and caramelized onion dip. The only way I can stop eating them is when they run out, or if held at gunpoint.
The folks at Daisycakes make the world’s greatest whoopie pie. If you’ve never had one, it’s a sandwich of cookies filled with buttercream. The first time I had one it was so yummy I almost cried. I immediately got on the phone and called owner Konrad Catolos, and thanked him for making me so happy.
The Kid turned me onto mushroom soy sauce this past spring. It’s very rich and thick with a really intense flavor. My child calls it an “umami bomb.” Another delicious ingredient I’ve begun using is smoked paprika. It doesn’t just have a gorgeous color, the smoky flavor and aroma is almost enough to trick your taste buds into thinking that there is bacon somewhere in the dish.
Speaking of smoke, Chef James Clark at the Carolina Inn makes amazing wings. He smokes them, fries them and then covers them in a tasty mustard sauce. For a girl who generally avoids any and all wings, I can’t get enough of those things.
Costco carries my new favorite chip. It’s called Wild Rice Works, and is full of brown and wild rice, dotted with black sesame seeds. They’re crispy, salty and relatively good for you. So awesome they make tortilla chips look like poker chips.
My absolutely favorite indulgent gift to myself is also the cheapest. The folks at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Brier Creek are the geniuses behind it. It is a milk chocolate covered caramel, topped with a sprinkling of sea salt. It’s so good it makes me grateful to be alive. 
To answer the age-old question, “What price happiness?” At Brier Creek, it’s 94 cents.
The recipe this week is simple.  While you’re out running around doing things you have to, reward yourself with a simple culinary pleasure because you want to.  You know you deserve it.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is