Wednesday, October 11, 2017

GIVE US THIS DAY .. . .




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The mention of that corned beef in yesterday’s blog post reminded me that I always tell Chris when a pot of corned-beef-and-cabbage is on the menu.  (I can never write that magical combination without thinking of the comic strip Maggie and Jiggs---she of the opera and caviar pretensions in their New York mansion, and he longing for the simple homely fare of his childhood).  Chris will “run by” whichever branch of SHAPIRO’S is in his line of travel for one of their still-warm, incomparable loaves of RYE BREAD.  That crust!  The damp, cushiony texture of those beige slices falling beneath the knife with a little scatter of crust-crumbs and plump caraway seeds!

I am a whitebread (actually cornbread, if truth be known) convert, Southern raised and deli-deprived. Though I don't remember any corned beef, any pastrami or lox, there was one close approximation, especially for that Deep South area. There was a little hole-in-the-wall "cafeteria" in an adjoining town, the town where “the” dress store was, for a special occasion which called for store-bought. The small "hot-line" could always be counted on for sauerkraut and some enormous juice-bursting sausages, two per order, with a dainty string-bow holding the little garlicky garland together. Another pan held slumpy stuffed peppers, the beef-and-more-garlic bread stuffing wafting its siren-call up and over the other fragrances in the display.
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Scalloped tomatoes, crisp latkes the size of thick saucers, their tiny frill-cups of applesauce and sour cream awaiting your choice, a deep pan of the yellowest noodles I'd ever seen, halves of shiny-brown baked chicken and their roasted potato-wedge accompaniments.

And the first and only "green" green beans of my experience, barely poached, then tossed with oil and onion and peppers. They were a far different breed from the low-cooked snap beans of our table, and had a "beany" tang to them that ours never had---perhaps the long cooking in our kitchen removed all 
trace of their former lives, imbuing them with the salt and hammy, porky goodness of their additions, making our beans merely the conveyor for all the rich tastes of Southern seasonings.

But way down on the end, after the deep-meringued desserts, the tapioca in little cut-glass dishes, the high-standing squares of kugel with its proud golden crust, stood THE LADY. The lady with the high-piled hair and the moustache to rival my Uncle Fate’s, the avert-my-eyes-so-as-not-to-stare-at lady, who took our measure, our unused-to-the-fare tenor with all of  our redneckness shining through, and asked, in a charmingly lilting accent, "RRRRRRRoll or conbraid?"

I would draw up my shoulders, nodding knowingly and cloaking myself in all the worldly air assumable by my ten-year-old clunky little self, and say, "Rye, please."




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She'd smile conspiratorially in approval, reach beneath the counter, and bring forth two slices------inch-thick grayish-tan, soft, pillowy caraway-studded slices, crusted in gold. Onto a tiny plate they went, slid across the silvery counter to my waiting hand.

I LOVED that bread. It was Dorothy's door after a lifetime of black-and-white Wonderbread movies. It was always freshly made, sometimes still warm, with a lovely silky crumb, a stretch-and-chew to the crust, and a little ping of sour-sharp surprise when you crunched one of the seeds.

I remember that little twelve-foot counter as one of the brightest memories of my restaurant past. And now, when we enter the sanctity of the fluorescent brightness of Shapiro's, with its tantalizing scents and tastes and tables to seat two hundred, I still take up that little plate of rye and bear it to my table with the same child's anticipation.

And it never fails to live up to the memory.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

OCTOBER GAVE A PARTY

Two of the FL GRANDS at last year's paint-party.   Too far away now, but we're just so grateful that they made it through all the winds and waters.

October gave a party,
The leaves by hundreds came;
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.

The Sunshine spread a carpet
And everything was grand;
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.
-----------------George Cooper

I’ve always thought that the year should start in October instead of January. January just grabs ahold of you in an icy grip, keeping you befuddled with the aftermaths of the holidays and all that work and cooking and traveling and celebrating. January is a Pipsissewah of a month, a cold-in-the-head, car-won’t-start time of year, with grumpy people with their heads down struggling against wind and umbrella and ice, the mere feat of standing erect on skiddish streets a burden and a task.


But OCTOBER, now---October is just the best time of year there is, with the golden days and the whish of leaves and the turnings, turnings. The leaves turn and the birds turn South and the time turns from shorts and sandals to comfortable sweats and that favorite old sweater, taken out for the first time in two seasons, snugged on in a cool twilight, as the savory scent of something-in-the-oven wafts out in welcome.

Just walking around outside is a marvel---the air feels silky on your skin and the sun lights gently upon your hair, with a different scent, a different FEEL to everything---better and better as the season progresses. The sight of the harvesting, the change in the produce of the markets, the farmstands offering the crisp fruits and the cider and the huge orange bulk of pumpkns and gourds---we just went to one today, picking out two more cushion-mums, a loaf of wheat bread, six apples, and a watermelon-green-striped gourd like a bashful goose.




Somewhere a long time ago, I read a quote something like, “If I have but one month left to live, let it be October.” I would echo that---it’s always been my favorite time of year, with the air and the light and the rustle of leaves and just the OCTOBERNESS of it. Not because it’s cooler after the summer heat (which is important), not because it ushers in the Holiday Season (also a good thing), and not because of anything in particular which happens or has happened then (though we DO like Halloween).

That’s not it. The month has a personality of its own; it stands on its own, unlike any other time, and I’d know it with my eyes closed. There’s a huge daily enjoyment to the month, with all the sheer exuberance of the color and the brightness---you can just BE in the moments of it, and just enjoy. A simple walk around the neighborhood takes on a different slant---swishing your feet through the leaves, or seeing the swirls of leaves as they drift down like snow, or admiring the Autumn blooms and decorations on the neighbors’ houses and lawns.

Things to do the first few days of October:

Paint Halloween Houses with Sweetpea, her Mama and Caro. (check.  This past Sunday afternoon)

Visit the famous HORTON’S in Tipton to enjoy all their Fall regalia.

Bake a Bundt cake---a beautiful golden-yellow one, fragrant with vanilla and cinnamon.

Decorate for FALL.  (Does three velvet pumpkins on a windowsill count?)


Simmer this beautiful Corned Beef for several hours in its tangy brine, then add in carrots, baby potatoes and wedges of tender cabbage---serve just at twilight on a cool night. It would be enough just to enjoy aura and the scent all day---there’s a satisfaction and a contemplation to having something savory going for supper, and knowing that it will take time and that things are progressing as they should.

There are lots more, and I'd LOVE to hear yours!

Monday, October 2, 2017

WE'LL REMEMBER

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           Today we are all Las Vegans.




Saturday, September 30, 2017

WHERE YESTERDAY LIVED






Don’t we all wonder, as we pass by, what history is writ in the sagging shutters, the peeling paint, the windows with their sightless panes neither lit from within nor turned to the sun---don’t we wish we knew that story?   Don’t we muse and speculate, as we measure out past days in our minds, what family must have blinked into the day and settled into sleep for countless years between those walls?  All the What Ifs and What Mights, sifted though our own memories and filtered through our own lenses of Time---I can see and hear and feel those days and childhood shouts and breathless runs through the grass, those white-hot kitchen days of canning and cooking, those evenings on the porch as the night drew on.     

I’ve just been privileged to read and enjoy just such a story about a deserted old house, for my friend Debbi of her own FRONT PORCH has brought its days and occupants and occupations to brilliant light, just from her imagination and photos of the languish of its planks and roof, seeing into its past through the veil of droops and weeds and rust.   I hope you’ll go and have a look---that girl knows her way around Charleston, and her words and images bring it shining to the page.





Friday, September 29, 2017

READING IS OUR THING!





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We just celebrated Caro’s birthday this week, and I’m remembering that back in my very younger days, before she was born, we inherited a wonderful old worn wooden rocking-chair which had been in the family for years.   The boys were 1 ½ and 2 ½ at the time, and we’d sit together many times of the day to read a story.   It happened that the Saturday Evening Post had published Fox in Sox in its bright, colourful entirety, and I would sit in that big old chair, one little boy on each side of my lap and Caro-to-be in the middle, and that wide magazine spread before us.   I’ll bet I read that story more than a hundred times.   We can all just launch into the rhyme on any verse, rocking wherever we are, sitting or standing, and continue on til the rollicking end. 

We will love Dr. Seuss forever.  I’d say more about that, but it’s been said most eloquently already:

READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY, 2016 BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA  A PROCLAMATION:

The moment we persuade a child to pick up a book for the first time we change their lives forever for the better, and on Read Across America Day, we recommit to getting literary works into our young peoples’ hands early and often. March 2 is also the birthday of one of America’s revered wordsmiths. Theodor Seuss Geisel — or Dr. Seuss — used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear. Through a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasized respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things; and by example, taught us that we are limited by nothing but the range of our aspirations and the vibrancy of our imaginations. And for older lovers of literature, he reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously, creating wacky and wild characters and envisioning creative and colorful places.

 Today, and every day, let us celebrate the power of reading by promoting literacy and supporting new opportunities for students to plunge into the pages of a book. As Dr. Seuss noted, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

Together, we can help all children go plenty of places along their unending journey for knowledge and ensure everyone can find joy and satisfaction in the wonders of the written word.


NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2, 2016, as Read Across America Day. I call upon children, families, educators, librarians, public officials, and all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. BARACK OBAMA


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