Wednesday, November 26, 2014

THAT MOMENT



There used to be a Fairy Tale about a king who could smell what was cooking in every kitchen, from great to small, from manor to humble, all over his kingdom.   He’d be enticed by an especially delicious aroma, and would invite himself to dinner, surprising many a citizen by his appearance at the door.  

And right now, I would imagine that he’d have had a field day in our

country, with all the lovely scents of Thanksgiving preparations going on.   I imagine the pies are being baked today (ours yesterday, on Caro’s day off), and the vegetables prepared right up to the cooking stage.   Many a bowl of stuffing is being tossed to await the anointment with stock or broth or drippings for baking tomorrow---whatever kind of bread cubes, toasted or left to dry, tossed with their many differing ingredients, according to recipes old and new.


Enough skillets and pans of cornbread are baking right now to feed armies, and the keen fumes of onion, the nuttygreen aroma of celery, the musky curls of sage and those little poufy  dust-bunny shakes from the McCormick’s can, the boiling of stock and gravy---all those scents are rising like praise to Heaven.
There's one charity group in town which feeds 25,000 people tomorrow, and imagining the bubbling pots and laden chopping boards in those kitchens would boggle even that Old King, I think.

Lots of folks like to sauté the vegetables first, and that’s certainly a delicious way to make dressing, with those caramelly onions and celery and perhaps even a mirepoix with carrots.  But there’s a moment there, a split-second of the preparation, when the scent of the cornbread crumbled into the big bowl, and the tiny mince of raw sweet onion and just-cut celery, along with a generous scatter of fresh-ground black pepper and a good shake of the McCormick Poultry Seasoning---leaning over that bowl for the Fall’s first scent of Dressing-in-Progress---smelling those unmistakable, can-be-only-that-one-thing aromas---that’s when the Thanksgiving Dinner begins.



Not when I’ve  polished up the silver, or got out the pretty cut-glass dishes gathered from so many tables not my own, or when the sweet potatoes go in to bake, or folks packing to go to Grandma's, or getting those pies nestled safely into the trunk of the car---but at THAT MOMENT, that inhaling of the scents old as the South, readily available for centuries and compiled of the essence of the dish---THAT’S the instant the clock turns to Thanksgiving, no matter what the calendar says.
 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

THE DBBCS, REDUX

Pinterest photo---all I've ever seen was served naked.   It loses some of its terror when cloaked in KoolWhip and pecans.



Since writing this today, I've looked up recipes online which feature Jello and Blueberry Pie Filling, and all seem to have some kind of Cream Cheese/Sugar Sour Cream topping which may have alleviated or intensified the YUCK factor. And all those recipes call for GRAPE Jello, which would render it darker and even more gruesome, I think.

I’ve had quite a few requests to hear more about THE DREADED BLUEBERRY/BLACK CHERRY SALAD, and though it gives me a bit of a quease to speak of the stuff, I suppose that NOW, if weird salad HAS to have a place, ‘tis the season. The ubiquitous side dish was a great fad of the seventies, and I know the stuff COULDN’T have been as bad as I remember it---too many nice people made too much of it---gallons and bowls--- and there was probably no Pyrex 9x13 in nine counties that hadn’t cuddled a clumpy thick black sheet of the stuff.

Church Suppers were rampant with it, for a while there---one Second Saturday I counted SEVEN of the glass oblongs on the table, each set down with a flourish and a JUST SO nudge to the angle, so as to appear better and more beautiful than the next. Mission Impossible. And that was out of a total attendance of perhaps forty---had it not been for Miss Bessie Kiihnl and her always-anticipated BIG pot of Chicken and Dumplin’s and Mrs. Kilgore’s huge Magnalite pot of Spaghetti and Meatballs---well, there woulda been many a stop at the Arby’s drive-through THAT night.

And quite a few Feed-the-Young-Folks-Before-BTU evenings in Fellowship Halls featured little rounds of Styrofoam cushioning a leaf of iceberg with a square of the quivering blackish grue set neatly to the side of the dinner plate. You could tell the kids whose Mamas had Raised Them Right by their merely pushing the block with a tentative poke, then hiding the furtive wipe-of-the-fork on their napkins. The truly unmannered let their EWWWWWs be heard, and a couple with No Raisin’ a-Tall actually uttered, “Not AGAINNN!” for all to hear.   I kinda wonder if all those polite kids' tendency to clear their own plates, dumping the entire square into the capacious black-bagged cans standing handy, so that the cooks did not know of the waste---it is to be hoped that it was that, and not a secret plan by the Church Ladies to fool the NEXT batch of hostesses into making the same mistake, that kept whole broods of Mamas perpetuating the error.

The unfathomable-to-me conglomeration was a mixture of Black Cherry Jello and CANNED Blueberry Pie Fillin’---despite the proliferation of gorgeous blueberry patches and the bounty of the fresh ripe fruit, the recipe CALLED FOR CANNED Lucky Leaf, and the lemming cooks plopped that gluey blue-black clump of sparsely-fruited thickening right into the mix. The whole thing assumed the look and demeanor of the Oil Slick That Ate Tasha Yar.

Time and therapy have dimmed whatever other ingredients went into the dish, but the colors and the texture remain---the flavor kinda between the tang of an old penny and a mouthful of wasp-bitten persimmon ferment, embedded with the too-earthy uuumph of old beets, is forever embedded in memory---a testament to follow-the-leader cookery which has led so many otherwise wonderful cooks astray.

Do not try this at home.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SIXTH ANNIVERSARY---LAWN TEA







Six years ago today, the first post of LAWN TEA went out---a tentative toe in the water of this vast ocean, and here we are today---some thousand and thirty posts and a bee-jillion words later, still dabbling, still dangling that toe-tip. 







Sometimes it’s a small post, just a little sprinkle, occasionally soaking our shoes; other times it’s kinda ankle-high, with lots of pictures and descriptions, all wordy and deep.    And then again, there’s a big leap from the diving board, with too much to say and adjectives to spare.

 

When there are holidays or family gatherings, it’s sometimes like a good old Baptist Immersion, dipped deep and full of the spirit of the time, cascading words like the streaming clothes of the newly baptised.   And when I get into that Paxton People or Mammaw’s Tales mode, it must feel like one of those elbows-and-shouts young boys, drunk with Summer and swinging out over the Swimmin’ Hole on an old tire rope, to plunge in head and ears, with great splashes and yells and spittings as he surfaces.  
 



I’ve been asked several times, “Who ARE you, really?”   “Why don’t you publish your biography, with maybe twenty or fifty or a hundred things about you that would be interesting?” I, unlike Miss Bates, would be hard-pressed to find THREE, let alone a hundred.    I’ve never really thought of what I might put in---what do most people put into a bio?---yours are all interesting and snappy and witty and totally KEWL, and mine is really plain.   I could say Mom of seven, sorta, and Grandmother of eight and four greats.


 


Read a lot, write a lot, live with a kind, funny, honest, witty, huggy man---one of those rare people that you never have to worry what kind of mood he's going to be in.


 

My parents were VERY strong influences and formers of my persona, but my dearest and most influential was my Mammaw, whose sayings and memories and recipes dot my tales as much as do those of the living.

Small town everything, I suppose, except for imagination and sense of adventure---Ole Miss and then VERY small town life, until now.   We’ve been living in a large city for twenty-three years now, on a little old tree-lined street with good neighbors, good walks, a good small-town feel which belies all the wonderful amenities and music and libraries and museums and activities practically on our doorstep.



I’ve always loved to write things down---a fresh-sharpened yellow Ticonderoga #2, a lined tablet, and away I went, to notebooks and spirals and ring binders and blue books and journals.  Graduation from a desktop typewriter the size of an anvil---I always visualized Clark Gable, tie asprawl and hat askew, a grim squint avoiding the drifting smoke from the Camel clamped in his lip corner, as he pounded out the scoop on Tammany or Dietrich or Joe Louis.

On to a clickety little Olivetti in its bright blue Samsonitish case, with its elegant little typeface like neat handwriting, thence to a rollerball monstrosity which threatened to break loose and orbit the sun.
 

And with my first word processor---there I went, dashing off my own little tales and vignettes and memories. The keyboard and the resulting boxes of pages have been such a great part of my life, mostly in the wee hours when the household is buttoned up in sleep. Chris even gave me some beautiful boxes for Christmas--all wallpapered in lavender hydrangeas, and with cunning little brass handles, just perfect for holding the next couple of reams of midnight meanderings.   And so I have stored up my days and years.


I have absolutely no credentials of any kind, none worth mentioning save the above, I suppose. Sunday School Teacher and Cub Scouts and church pianist are but vague memories. 

 

Somewhere, there’s a tiny yellow map pin in one of the boxes and crates we’ve wagged from one house to another---it’s probably stuck in the dusty old velvet lining of a forgotten jewelry box, like some rusty pearl-headed pin pressed in a book with a crumbling corsage still smelling of dead carnations.  I acquired it on a whim, it vaguely defined part of me for a moment and was gratifying for a while, but I scarcely think of it from one year to the next. 

 

  Some days I can visualize my cranial space filled with that hazy thumbprint with which TV covers the faces of the innocent. The only things that keep up my pretense of any IQ past my ankles are good conversation, Jeopardy---two perfect games in all these years of Trebek's career---and Cryptic Crosswords---those fun Brit ones.   They let me know that the last brain cell is still out there, circling the bug-light, but not yet flickered out.

 

I think I'm all about family---nobody's rich, nobody's famous.   They're all kind, hard-working young folks who are very good to us and to each other.  And we know we could not have taken out a catalog and ordered better mates than they chose for themselves.

 

We cook and eat and laugh a lot; all of us read voraciously, and when we're all together, or just a few at a time, the repartee flies thick and fast.   As my Sis says, "It's just not a visit til we pee our pants from laughing." 

 

OK:  Bio:  Wife, Mom, Grandmother, reader, scattershot writer. I can take two Grandchildren and an empty house, and find forty-nine bits and bobs in drawers and closets to build a Princess Castle, a Viking Hall, a race-car track with swoops and swirls, or a party table for almost any theme, from scratch. A midnight-remembered science project can be put together from stuff in the garage, the kitchen, the store-room; for a geography lesson, we might  create a working shaduf from cinnamon  sticks, Elmer's, a bathroom Dixiecup and the rubber-band from a lobster claw.


 I can be pondering dinner for two, and with unexpected company, can take thirty minutes, a cupboard and two freezers, and have six dishes for six or ten or fifteen, on the table without wrinkling my apron.  You can tell me a subject, and I can scatter down a poem, perfect scan and rhyme, "-ameter of your choice," in just minutes---they just come to me, like reading words out of the air.   And until I met Chris, whose enormous, compelling presence and wonderful wit and intelligence keep the air moving all around him, I could tell time to the minute---I'd never set an alarm for school, college or work, and thought that everybody could do that.   


  He and I have decided that the first of us to go will be cremated and the ashes saved by the other.  On that one's demise, the children have all agreed to mingle the ashes, distribute them into small baggies, and dump a surreptitious little scattering in the shrubbery of every  library, bookstore and Goodwill in town.  Then go have a fun party with barbecue and beer.   How's that?

 
Thank you all for this lovely six years---it’s been a wonderful ride.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

GRATITUDE

A Whole World of Hope


If you remember, back in June, we were about to leave on vacation when Chris was taken very ill.  We have been awaiting on the proverbial pins and needles, hopeful and prayerful every day, for the five months until the day when he could have another test, to see if the problem had righted itself.  And so it has come.

 

One of the very best sentences ever to appear on a test report is:  Normal. REPEAT THIS TEST IN TEN YEARS.

 

And there it was---healthy and sound, all healed and well, and we are too grateful for mere words.

 

To all of you who offered prayers, kind words, and good wishes for his health, and for all of us in this dreadful time of waiting---Thank You Beyond Measure.

 

Our gratitude could reach the stars.

Monday, November 3, 2014

ELIZA'S FAIRY MAGIC

 
 
In researching Fairy Staircases for the post on FLIGHT SCHOOL, I found a treasure trove:   Eliza’s Fairy Creations.   They were pictures on her Mom’s blog, created by Eliza when she was thirteen, and I was simply captivated by her charming little vignettes, clothes, furniture and scenes.
 
DO go and have a look, and prepare to be charmed entire; the wee cunning beds and desks and artwork (a pencil half the size of a toothpick) and the simple majesty of such humble bits of nature transformed by her imagination and talented hands.  
 
You’ll feel your heart contract with the TWEE precious of it all, and expand to encompass a smile you can’t contain.   It’s magical and contagious, and I hope you’ll go and see.  I want to go there and just DWELL.