Debbie Matthews: Watch me make sausage

Feb. 19, 2013 @ 03:32 PM

I was feeling pretty durn smug all those years ago in Chicago after chatting with new best friends The Kid, and the author and creator of one of The Kid’s favorite universes.
Poor old Chef Chrissie was the lynchpin of our family vacation. He was each and every bang for our Lilliputian, limited buck.
Who is this mystery man?
It depends on who you ask…
Petey: Petey and Chrissie have known each other since girls were yucky and frogs were cool and slimy.
The two miscreants had Chi-town plans that included beer, beef and elaborate burping/scratching rituals.
The Kid: As an only child, there’s no torment from brothers and sisters. Petey and I do our best, but know it’s not enough.
But put K and C in the same room, and they’re loud, rude siblings. Rolling around like two puppies, laughing so hard they can barely catch their breath.
I now know what “rollicking” means.
They may each think the other is a giant dork (The Kid usually refers to Chrissie as “Chef Monkey Butt,” and each phone visit Chef C has for us a new adjective to describe the state of our baby’s personal hygiene), but no two ever had bigger cheerleaders or stronger defenders in each other.
Me: Forty years ago this fall, I met Chrissie and the rest of his family. The first 15 of those were wasted by Chrissie and me — we hated each other. It was like Donald Trump and anybody else.
Now he is what The Kid would call a 2 a.m. friend. He is on a very short list of what I call hand-picked family. The chef has also held my hand, via telephone, during my entire metamorphosis from take-out queen to adventurous home cook.
He is my sensai. I worship at his big, smelly feet.
Our motley group of four kept breaking apart and coming together in different permutations.
One day, Mama Cat and Bear; Chrissie’s parents, were in town. They went shopping and Petey and The Kid were going to the children’s store.
Everyone was meeting up later at Chris’ to eat.
Our excursion that day was part of our job.
Chrissie and I were in charge of supper.
The plan was to make sausages and potato salad. But we weren’t just going down to the supermarket for ingredients. No, Chef Chrissie taught me to shop the Chicago way.
For veggies and herbs, we hopped off the bus at one of the many neighborhood farmers’ markets.
For sausages, we got on the train and went to a German section Chrissie was familiar with.
We headed out of the rain, and into an old-fashioned butcher shop.
Once on a trip to little Viet Nam he taught me one tip I’ll hold onto forever: If you buy authentic, foreign products, buy them in an ethnic market.
Variety of types and brands is unbeatable. The turnover is quicker, so you get fresher. Lastly, the price is amazing. You can get a quart of fish sauce at an ethnic market for the same price as a couple of ounces at Harris Teeter.
But on that day, we were at a German butcher to get what I thought was a load of hot dogs. Then Chef C pointed, “Look over there.”
There was about six different styles of brats.
My favorite is bratwurst, which actually means, “gastro sausage”. Disco sausage would be a cool name, too.
White brats, with pork and veal, only. Not easy to find in NC.

Chrissie’s Brats
4 bratwurst
1 onion sliced into half moons
1 tall beer
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper
Melt butter in skillet and sauté onions. Place brats in next. Season, and empty beer into pan. Reduce heat, and simmer until all liquid is evaporated. Serve.

Locally Boar's Head makes a pretty good brat. Find them in some deli cases. These are great on steamed buns with the onions, sauerkraut, and horseradish mustard.
Then I made my mom’s potato salad. It may seem simple, but Bear said it was the best he’d ever had.

Mom’s Picnic Potato Salad
5 pounds red skin potatoes, boiled, skin on, and totally cooled
½ yellow onion diced
2 teaspoons fresh dill, or ½ teaspoon dried
2 ½ cups Hellmann’s mayo
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh pepper
Peel potatoes and cut into salad chunks. Stir together all ingredients except mayo in a large bowl. Starting with about half the mayonnaise, toss. Continue gently adding and tossing until you are satisfied. Let rest on countertop for 15-20 minutes before service.
If you want to dress this up a little, render about 3-4 strips of bacon, and crumble in. I call this “party potato salad.”

We then stopped by the venue to check in with Petey and The Kid. That’s when I met and chatted with the children’s author.
In the ladies’ room, I looked into the mirror, and took inventory of the myriad of thing’s I’d learned.
All through the visit, I’d learned a ton from Chrissie. But, the most important lesson I’d learned on this day was that maybe there is something to waterproof mascara, after all.
Trudging through the rain with Chef C had melted my mascara and covered my face with black, vertical lines. I’d had the conversation with the author and The Kid, looking the whole time like a goth mime.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is