Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BAUBLES, BEANCURD AND BEADS

One day during the first year of our marriage, Chris took me to a little Chinese restaurant in Alabama. When we walked in, we saw that the room had an odd décor: one wall consisted of wood panels a couple of feet wide, punctuated by shining panels of what looked like rainbowed waterfalls cascading to the floor.

The waitress walked us past all the tables, taking us right up to the corner wall, where she rustled back an armful of ceiling-to-floor strings of beads, revealing our booth in a small alcove. There seemed to be maybe five more of the colorful caves down the wall, lit by rosy lamps and candles on the tables.

She brought our drinks and took our order, standing in the little doorway with the beads clicking and hanging around her, with her body in a cleared space, and her hands materializing out of nowhere to hold the pen and pad. She would go away and return; with a swishing sound, a covered plate would appear between the strings, hanging there disembodied til the hand, arm, person followed behind. Then her exit would be accompanied by a sweeping, clicking rattle, as she left dragging yards of beadwork like a potentate’s glistening robes.

We spent the meal alternately enjoying the delicious food and giggling at the unintended floorshow---the acoustics were quite muffled, but we could hear similar whitewater rafting sounds coming from adjacent booths. And her gyrations to enter, set down plates, refill water, turn and exit gracefully with all that clinging daycor were just hilarious.


It was an Alabama parody of the classic geisha maneuvers to kneel in the hallway, slide the shoji, set in the tea-tray, rise, enter, close door, kneel-rise-kneel, with all the sinuous hand motions in graceful ballet, moving around the table in an up-and-down glide like a graceful carousel figure. Ours had none of the Kimono cachet of the originals, in her crisp white shirt and black apron, but she bravely did her best to subdue the long strands of clicking pastel which hampered her every move.

I don’t remember where this happened, or the name of the restaurant. I just remember its lofty pretensions and extraneous efforts at romantic privacy, both of which are lost in the mists of time and absurdity. And I remember that graceful young woman who fought her way time after time through a thicket of baubles just to serve our dinner.

Monday, June 29, 2009

HOW COME?

That's another old Southernism, as well, meaning Why. It's usually used in a sense of wonderment, as in Why On Earth? And depending on the stress on the syllables and the facial expression of the user, might be equal to the daunting phrase Why on God's Green Earth . . ., which will stop a bear in his tracks.

And I've got a bit of a wonderin' going on, myself, and I can't remember anything I posted or said or linked that might have caused it, but a GREAT number of my drop-ins lately have come in via this post:

http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2009/06/putting-up-corn.html

I cannot for the life of me imagine why. Or what they followed to get there. Their landing spot is directly there, without going through the current post---it's like there's a little X for a helipad right there, and in they drop, like a Lifeline helicopter. Does anyone know what I did, or how that happened? If any new folks happen this way because of that, I'd sure like a comment to tell me how you arrived here.

And you're very welcome, whatever the route. I hope you'll follow it again.

RANDOMONDAY #9 POETRY

I sorta-kinda-prolly had something in mind for today, and got busy this morning with little chores and a grandbaby in the house, with lots of outside playing in this Ordered-From-A-Catalog June day. It's been the most glorious morning, with soft breezes that feel like water on your skin, and the sound of the bee-zillion leaves on THE tree out back, like great clouds of wings whirring. It was a patio-sweeping day, with all the furniture moved off to the lawn, then enough breeze that it just played with us, sending all those leaves and bits swirling around the wall of the house and back where they'd been when we started.

And for an early cup, a lovely visit with my nearest neighbor, to discuss "her" party sometime in July---she had a BIG birthday several years ago, and the Summer Busies and not feeling too well at the time left me postponing and delaying, with one or another of her children out of the state or out of the country, etc., so we just now settled on a MONTH, at least.

And a menu---all the lovely dainties and good things of the "party planning" posts earlier in June. And she loved everything I suggested, raising her eyebrows in delight at each suggestion. She'd been a "War Bride," marrying a young soldier in the early Fifties and coming to America. In her youth, she and her Mother sort of did what we call in the South "made do" with a scanty larder and scarce luxuries, and though she's been here all these years, raised several children with a lovely husband, with access to grocery stores beyond imagining, she's still delighted and amazed at beautiful food and parties, and that someone wants to do a nice thing for her.

So we visited, so we planned. We have everything covered---tables, chairs, chair skirts, dishes, silverware, food, beverages, guest list, invitations (all mine but the guest list---she provided that). All but the date, and I hope that the day we choose will be a bountiful day, of sunny skies and gentle temperatures and soft breezes---just like this one. I wish it were today, with all the silver polished and all the lovely food ready to set out upon floral-clothed tables on the lawn. She deserves a lovely party. And I want to make one.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Another Random Note---I received this little post in a "comments" section this morning, and am answering the request to mention her book. Always delighted to be of help to another G.R.I.T.S. Girl.

My name is Patricia Neely-Dorsey. I am from Tupelo,MS and the author of Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems. I have been enjoying reading your blog and was wondering if you might possibly feature my book on your blog to introduce my "little book of southern poems " to your readers and help me spread the word.

(And then I believe she quotes a review):

Patricia Neely Dorsey's Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems is "a true celebration of the south and things southern." The author states , "There are so many negative connotations associated with Mississippi and the south in general. In my book, using childhood memories, personal thoughts and dreams, I attempt to give a positive glimpse into the southern way of life. In my book I try to show that there is much is more to Mississippi and the south than all of the negatives usually portrayed .

I invite readers to Meet Mississippi (and the south) Through Poetry ,Prose and The Written Word."

SOUTHERN LIFE

If you want a glimpse of Southern life,
Come close and walk with me;
I'll tell you all the simple things,
That you are sure to see.

You'll see mockingbirds and bumblebees,
Magnolia blossoms and dogwood trees,
Caterpillars on the step,
Wooden porches cleanly swept;

Watermelons on the vine,
Strong majestic Georgia pines;
Rocking chairs and front yard swings,
Junebugs flying on a string;

Turnip greens and hot cornbread,
Coleslaw and barbecue;
Fried okra, fried corn, fried green tomatoes,
Fried pies and pickles too.

There's ice cold tea that's syrupy sweet,
And cool, green grass beneath your feet;
Catfish nipping in the lake,
And fresh young boys on the make.

You'll see all these things
And much, much more,

In a way of life that I adore.

Copyright 2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life In Poems
BOOK AVAILABLE: www.reeds.ms/book.asp or www.Amazon.com
AUTHOR WEBSITE:
www.patricianeelydorsey.webs.com

Sunday, June 28, 2009

SNAP BEANS

This one is memorable in that it appeared on the table at every special occasion, from the time I met my first Mother-in-Law, through the kidnapping of the recipe by my own Mother, who called it her own when she passed it around under the hairdryer, and on to all of my children, who still can these and cook them for their own special days. These are snap beans, pole beans, green beans---whatever your designation. They are cooked in brine and canned, then drained and cooked in a big pot in which some ham or bacon, as well as a good bit of chopped onion, have been slowly fried into softness.

I've never tried them straight out of the jar, but we gave several jars as take-home gifts to friends from Pennsylvania, and she put some out in a pretty bowl on the Christmas cocktail-party table, then raved over everyone's wanting the recipe.


We much prefer pole beans, such as Kentucky Wonder, but bush beans seem to be more prevalent in markets. And you can cut this in half EASILY, just don't reduce the cooking time by much.

For two gallons of snapped, washed beans:

Put the beans in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add 1 pint sugar and 1 pint white or cider vinegar---any kind but balsamic. Run water into the pot until it covers beans an inch or two, then stir. Cook 45 minutes and can into hot jars. Screw on Mason lids and turn upside down til cool.

Italics above for the shorthand dictation of the recipe by MIL: Two gallon Beans. Take a pint jar and fill it with sugar, pour it in. Same jar, pint of vinegar. Tablespoon of pickling salt. Water inch or two over the beans. Cook 45 minutes and can. Verbatim. That's how ladies shared recipes in those days---a good step up from Mrs. Beeton's "First take your rabbit. . ." but quick and easily understood by other cooks.

These have a slight sweetness, very little, and a nice vinegary tang. But they're meant to be a savory dish, so for cooking:

It will take two quarts to make a nice bowl of these, if you're going to cook them down in the Southern manner. In heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or pan:

Gently fry six or so slices of bacon, cut into inch-bits or not, or a hunk of ham, cut into little cubes. While bacon/ham is still soft, but has rendered some of the fat, add one or two large chopped onions and fry a bit more. Dump beans in a colander and rinse, then add to pot with about a pint of water. Add salt, some pepper if you like, and a mere thought of garlic, then cover and cook at least 45 minutes.

They will cook down "considerable" and make approximately as much as two cans of Del Monte do before cooking. These beans are not to be taken lightly, not the frivolous opening of the above DM for a quick green addition to a meal. Pickled beans are serious, and should be served with the respect due a carefully-considered, long-taking task. They’ve had a while betwixt vine and pot, to meditate and reflect on their gravity and importance, and have soaked up sunshine, sprinkler-flow, the vinegar and the sugar and all that bacony, oniony depth that makes them worth the time and effort. Besides, they're DELICIOUS!!

For really special, scrub a couple of dozen baby red potatoes, peel just one little strip around, and drop on top the last twenty minutes of cooking. Scatter a bit of salt across the potatoes when you put them in the pot, and cover so they steam to a creamy softness. We’ve had them on our Thanksgiving table every year, and they’re fine with turkey and all, but on an ordinary night, with a hot, crisp pan of cornbread, a fried chickenleg or two, and a black skillet of that preciously-guarded cut field corn from the freezer, baked with butter and salt and presented crusty and golden---THAT'S to be thankful for.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

THE KITCHEN TABLE

I've been given the honor of being a guest writer today at The Women's Colony, and I hope you'll look in. Most of you have seen the piece already, I imagine, as it came from my files when they were looking for homey stories about kitchens and cooking.

It's the first one in : http://womenscolony.squarespace.com/kitchen-table/

There are many other rooms and areas and subjects in today's edition, and some really wonderful writers, especially our Grande Dame, Mrs. G. She is the owner and writer and driving force behind Derfwad Manor, which I imagine you've read and enjoyed, and now has founded this new site, with all sorts of things to do and see and enjoy. I've been reading it since way back in the DM days, and it's a bright spot in my day.
Please come over, stroll around, look in, relax and enjoy the good stories and wonderful photos and especially the talented staff and the good company. You'll feel right at home, and if you want to stay a while, there's a long line of white rocking chairs on the front porch.
moire non,
rachel

SCHOOL LUNCH




Chris' Dad has been gone from us for two years, now; the rocks we gathered---one BIG one from the roadside in each state we passed through on the way home from the funeral---are greened with a verdigris nurtured by all the steady rains of late. They sit in their appointed places amongst the deepshade hostas in the far back garden, where the wind chimes sway a faraway tinkle and the birds chat amongst themselves.

It's a peaceful place, with a little stone bench and a quiet engendered by the white noise of a big shopping center's machinery hum, the stark squareness of the business world hidden from view and distanced by the lush shrubbery and trees. I usually think of him when I wander out with first cup, or when I take a couple of pretty books out to the arbor for a foot-propped hour or so of time-frittery.

When I worked with GrandDaddy in Alabama, in the big multi-purpose offices which served his several businesses, I usually fixed lunch for him and whoever else was in the vicinity when we sat down---Chris or other family dropping in, or any of the workmen who conveniently managed to be nearby at noon. There was a neat kitchen with a big ole welcoming Formica table and its bright yellow chairs, and I’d make a pot of stew or beans to simmer all morning, or soup or salads or sandwich-fixings.

When it was just us two at lunch, I loved to hear all the tales of his growing-up days---his ox, and his goat-cart, and all the work of the truck-farm and the log house and all about the family. I learned years of family history and lineage, and personal little vignettes about this one and that one, from the perspective of a small boy, a teen laboring at work beyond his years, and then a husband and father and grandfather to an ever-expanding brood.


He told about going to the tiny school down and around the road. His Mama or much-older spinster sister would make them all lunches to carry for school---leftover cornbread with a hunk of cheese and a tomato to wipe warm down a shirtfront, with a little paper-twist of salt, or syrup biscuits and sausage, or his favorite: Two cold biscuits with fried ham, and a buttered one filled with his Mama’s homemade fig preserves.

One Monday, my two oldest sons had been to visit for the weekend, and I made them a nice breakfast before they got on the road for home. As I cleared the dishes after they left, I split two big ole cathead biscuits and put in thick slices of the pink ham, baked for Sunday Dinner and then sliced and fried for Monday breakfast. Then I took a buttered one and laid in two whole, beautiful preserved figs out of the jar, amber-quivery with those Summery sweet juices from the bushes in our yard.

It felt like a moment, somehow, to be prepared and arranged in a contemplative way, to be made into as much of the real of the thing as I could manage. And though I had foil and Saran and all manner of Tupperware takers and toters, I wrapped each sandwich in waxed paper and hunted up a little brown paper sack, wrinkled with its first use, but clean and whole, to hold them.


When lunchtime came, I set my bowl of salad at my place, and put the sack out of sight in one of the chairs at the table. We sat down, he said the blessing, and then he looked at my salad. He looked at me, then at his empty plate, back at me, with a little eyebrow lift of inquiry.

I reached and got the hefty little sack and set it in front of him. He opened it and peeked in, then drew out one little package, then another and the last. He opened them, looked at the fat round biscuits, then looked up at me with a big smile. It was as if memories had flown up into his face like butterflies with the opening of that bag, and I swear there were also tears in his eyes.

He ate every crumb and talked and talked about what a good lunch that was, and then told everybody who came into the office in the next few days. And he mentioned it fondly from time to time over the years---that schoolyard lunch in the brown paper bag.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

PICNIC

This is my First Ever participation in a Blog Game, and the lunch is running late. I'm hurrying out the door with two of my big ole Redman picnic baskets, and I have to fly. There's to be an Alphabet-Picnic, and the invitation goes to all---the hostess is Louise at


http://monthsofediblecelebrations.blogspot.com/2009/06/picnic-game-recipes.html

It's a variation of the old game we've all played when traveling---I spy an article that begins with "A" and then you repeat the "A" and add your "B" and so on around the group.

Louise has sent out the menu; she said this was PotLuck, and she's received offers of many, many delicious-sounding dishes (all in alphabetical order---isn't that handy?).

And so, presented for your Degustatory Delight, is the Bill of Fare:

Apple Pie with Dutch Crumb Topping (Miranda)
http://www.aduckinherpond.com/2009/06/the-gift-28/

Buttermilk Spice Cake (Mary)
http://oneperfectbite.blogspot.com/2009/06/buttermilk-spice-cake-with-cream-cheese.html

Chocolate Cherry Pie (Janet)
http://dyingforchocolate.blogspot.com/2009/06/im-going-on-picnic-and-bringing.html

Dilly Potato Salad (Gloria)
http://cookbookcuisine.blogspot.com/2009/06/potato-salad-and-picnic.html

Election Day Cake (Erica)
http://www.mental-hygiene.org/index.php/2009/06/22/picnic-day-election-day-cake/

Fruit Cocktail Meringue Pie! (Erica)
http://www.mental-hygiene.org/index.php/2009/06/22/picnic-day-fruit-cocktail-meringue-pie/

Gluten Free Upside Down Cake (Dia)
http://diadesigns.com/blog12/2009/06/06/dias-upside-down-cake-gluten-free-macrobiotic-and-vegan/

Hangar Steak (Stacey)
http://www.staceysnacksonline.com/2009/06/hanger-steak-w-chimichurri-sauce.html

Ice Cream in a Bag (Marjie @ Modern Day Ozzie & Harriet)
http://moderndayozzieandharriet.blogspot.com/2009/06/ice-cream-in-bag.html

Jell-O a la Haute (Karen)
http://foodvox.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/haute-jello/

Kue Pukis (Selba)
http://selbyfood.blogspot.com/2009/01/kue-pukis.html

Lotek Salad (Selba)
http://selbyfood.blogspot.com/2009/03/lotek-sundanese-vegetable-salad.html

Margaritas (Tracey)
http://tracyladolcevita.blogspot.com/2009/06/jalapeno-cucumber-margarita.html

Nectarines Grilled & Glazed (Cori) http://misohungry.blogspot.com/2009/06/nectarines-glazed-and-grilled-its.html

Oysters (racheld) http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2009/02/oysters.html

Potato Balls (From Cynthia Tastes Like Home) http://www.tasteslikehome.org/2008/08/roast-breadfruit-mad-tea-party.html

Quesadilla (From Elise @ Simply Recipes) http://elise.com/recipes/archives/000226quesadilla.php

Redneck Gazpacho (racheld) http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2009/05/family-recipes.html

Shook-Bag Chicken (racheld) http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2009/01/passing-torch.html

Tzimmes http://noshtalgia.blogspot.com/2007/02/tzimmes.html

Ultimate Cheater Pulled Pork http://oneperfectbite.blogspot.com/2009/06/ultimate-cheater-pulled-pork.html

Vinegary Potato Salad http://feedingmaybelle.blogspot.com/2009/06/vinegary-potato-salad.html

Warm Sweet Potato Biscuits http://girlichef.blogspot.com/2009/06/im-going-on-picnic-and-im-bringing.html

Xxxx Pizza http://tavolini.blogspot.com/2009/06/picnic-game-xxx-pizza.html

A final note from the hostess herself---(Thank you, Louise for the coordination and the gracious hospitality!) :

Y-The Alphabet Picnic Game basket is full.I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing...YOU!
Zee Zipped up the leftovers and ran. A fun time was had by all...
Cheers!

And a Bon Al Fresco Appetit to all,

rachel

SNIPPETS

Beside my easy chair, the shelf of the bookcase nearest my knee holds a neat rank of journals, ready-to-hand when I hear a line on TV, see it in a book, a magazine, a letter. I grab the latest in the array and jot down whatever catches my fancy, whatever makes an impression, while I can remember the quote and the author. Some of the writing needs deciphering in the light of day, as I’ve been known to write in the dark, scooting the pen up and over the lines of the paper, and dotting I’s and crossing T’s in inappropriate places, leaving myself to wonder if I’ve jotted down a grocery list or a gem of wisdom unsurpassed in philosophy.

Some are small things, tiny bits of wisdom or insight which I’d like to keep and make a part of my own pattern; others just struck me for the composition and the flow of the words. I don’t care who said ‘em, I just want to keep them, to read later or to happen upon with a little lift of Ahhh when I’m searching for a recipe or a phone number.

The books are filled with such little sayings, such interesting tidbits, sandwiched among the pages of parties we’ve catered, addresses and e-mails and phone numbers and tracking numbers for packages. They just wait there, for me to thumb back through, picking up the spilled bits of ribbon or torn paper or recipes or shattery-pressed four-leaf-clovers, fragile as dried spiders on a windowsill.


A few of the hundreds of little thoughts which people my journals---they’re small things, but they BRIGHT me.

Every rock and bump and detour in the road puts one more muscle in my moral constitution.
Barney in The Music Festers, known as The Choir episode

Friends are quiet angels who lift us off our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.
Someone named Aunt Dolly, somewhere on the Internet.

My temperament and my instinct had told me alike that the author, who writes at his own emergency, remains and needs to remain at his private remove. I wished to be, not effaced, but invisible—actually a powerful position. Perspective, the line of vision, the frame of vision—these set a distance.

When we are in the act of writing we are alone and on our own, in a kind of absolute state of Do Not Disturb. Eudora Welty 1909—2001

One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night. Margaret Mead

If you don't use success to enrich your life, then you're just putting failure into Gucci shoes. Mick Jagger's character in Elysian Fields

I want to be my Momma when I grow up. My Friend Kim, in an e-mail---no present or accolade in a Mother’s life can top that.

John Russell, on why he continued to lend a fair ear to less-than-stellar music and an open-minded eye to the indecipherable art with which he was confronted in his post as Art Critic of the New York Times:

“I do not see my role as primarily punitive,” he wrote in “Reading Russell.” “There are artists whose work I dread to see yet again, dance-dramas that in my view have set back the American psyche several hundred years, composers whose names drive me from the concert hall, authors whose books I shall never willingly reopen. But it has never seemed to me much of an ambition to go though life snarling and spewing.”
John Russell NYT Art Critic 1919—2008

Dear Miss Manners: What should a lady carry in her purse?
Gentle Reader,
A clean handkerchief and enough money to get home if she needs to use the handkerchief because she has been taken ill or made to cry. Judith Martin


Re: the I’ll Apologize When SHE Apologizes Philosophy of life:

"It's these little gestures, where closeness could have been fostered and instead distance was formed, that are life's great tragedies because no one mourns them" A brilliantly insightful young woman named Tabris on Etiquette Hell.


We're here. We're required to show up, attend the party, and clean up afterward. Life, according to Minnesota Matron

On the ordinary, unexpected GOOD things:

It was a gentle jolt, a reminder that these inconspicuous, ordinary moments of nice— the cups of sugar, the genuine smiles, the held doors, the jumped batteries, the can I get that for yous— are what keep us fastened and snapped, what keep us gentle and sweet. Like milk and eggs, these unexpected twinklings of everyday grace are the staples of life. They are what measure us.
Mrs. G. Derfwad Manor
http://thewomenscolony.com/

There are pages and volumes more, and I hope to be open to new ideas and philosophies and bits and pieces of learning, as long as I and the books last.


Opening one of the books and finding a forgotten snippet is like encountering a valued old friend.

Monday, June 22, 2009

RANDOMONDAY #8 SOUTHERNISMS

Idioms seldom found North of the Mason/Dixon Line:


I Wishta gosh.....................I do sincerely hope.

I hopeta shout....................It's the absolute Truth, or: I couldn’t agree more.

Hind Wheels of Destruction...My first MIL’s description of either a messy house or the looks of a lady whose grooming left something to be desired.

Omtombow........................I am speaking of . . .

Hissy fit............................Angry outburst ranging from actual hissing at the object of wrath, when others may overhear, to screeching, plate-throwing tantrum. Usually indulged in by females, but a Good Ole Boy, who has witnessed these all his life, may surprise you with quite a creditable one of his own, on occasion. Such as being on a charter boat and having the marlin get clean away. With his new $700 Star Chair rod. For plates, substitute beer cans, ice chests, life preservers, and a brand new watch, flung off his wrist by accident in the frenzy of his fit.

Screamin’ heenie................Ditto, but starts out full-blown, without any of the hissy buildup.

Slick over cloudy.................Raining and gonna get worse.


Come up a wind..................Started to storm.

Commenceta rainin’.............Began to rain, especially spoken by someone WAY out in the field when the storm started.

Takin’ on............................Crying or wailing or gnashing teeth.

Makin' over.........................Differs from Takin' on in that it refers to fawning or flattering over someone or something, like excessive cooing at a baby or admiring Darla Faye's unfortunate new hairdo.

Don’t let on........................Do not dare speak of what I just told you.

Dog in the fight...................An interest beyond curiosity in whatever’s happening. If the proceedings will affect you personally, you can complain, speak up, or sue. Otherwise, shut up about it.

Lit a shuck.........................Ran fast, usually AWAY from something. Paralleled by bat-outa-Hell.

Puttin’ on the dawg.............Putting on airs; dressing, entertaining, or purchasing beyond your means.

Puttin’ the big pot in the little one....Entertaining a big crowd.

Might could........................Perhaps I’ll be able to.

Ditten GO to......................Did not mean to.


My favorite is a personal one, from something that really happened back in the 70’s:

My Mother told of an afternoon visit from a nearby neighbor’s maid, on her way home from work. She described the woman, already known to all of us, as “like somebody who never did anything right in her life.” I think that was a little bit mean, for Effie was kind and cheerful, with a deep belief in the healing properties of Vicks’ Salve, alkyrub and Rev. Ike.


She always smelled of the Vicks, Summer and Winter, and just passing her in the grocery store would clear your sinuses right up.

And her employer regaled Mother often with the tales of the carefully-saved ones and fives, wrinkled and probably a little bit sweaty from safekeeping in her brassiere, which she sent off to Rev. Ike of the Golden Throne and the red velvet TV studio, in exchange for amulets, water from Lourdes, from the Jordan, or both, and microscopic wooden bits and rocks, said to be from holy places, and endowed with curative powers and wish-granting magic.

“Miz Bee,” she said, as Mother opened the door. “Is it all right if I get those grapefruit hulls from your can back there?” with a gesture out toward the alley through which came the big wheezy garbage trucks.

“Sure, Effie, but they’re in there with all the trash and coffee grounds and stuff. Surely you don’t want to use those,” said Mother, who had enjoyed many a bit of candied citrus peel from my kitchen, and whose mind could encompass no other earthly use for the throwaways.

“Yes, Ma’am, I’d like to have them,” she replied. “It don’t matter if they’re messy.”

“But Effie,” persisted Mother, “why would you ever want those?”

“Oh, Ma’am,” Effie said. “They just make such NICE garbage.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

FIRST DAY OF SUMMER

This is “FIRST DAY OF SUMMER” and I don’t think it’s celebrated very widely in the South. We don't do much to actively COURT the heat, so to speak or honor the inferno days. We don't even speak well of it, except to say that the sun is good for the crops. And I don’t remember any special parties, except once on this day, I catered a MidSummer Night’s Dream party, all herbs and lace and fairy things, on the date. And to me, it was NOT MidSummer---it was the first day, but Oh, Well.

Several years ago we were in England on this date, and were sadly informed by our tour guide that we would not be able to take the promised trip to Stonehenge, because the roads had been shut down. (He DID mention that if you were a practicing Druid, you would be given admittance, but he could assure neither our safety, our virtue nor a return of the bus to pick us up on the morrow).


We took a LONG and winding way around the site, and as he and the driver (who lived just there, and took one night off to go home to his family) mapped out a little-known route, and we took it. It led us deeper and deeper (in the literal sense---the roadsides grew higher and higher, as we rode through a narrow by-way which had been carved into a miles-of-trench by countless centuries of carts and wagons, with no forethought to modern vehicles, and looking out the windows put you face-to-face with dirt. One turn was hair-pin and hair-raising, as I looked down from my far-back-seat perch, with the almost-archaelogical-dig strata going past the windows on both sides of my three-directions view, and the other vehicle inches from my face as they skillfully negotiated the passage.

When we came back out of that deep road, the fields stretched for miles, and they were absolutely teeming with people, though an entire alien race could have landed in Salisbury plain right then, and would have easily blended right in.
It was like the crowds converging on the Superbowl---long lines in the lanes and paths, costumes and characters from Yoda to Spock to Frodo and friends. Everyone seemed to be carrying a cooler or a bedroll or a musical instrument, and a whole flock of bongo players, drums shouldered and keeping up a steady rhythm, passed us as we crept along like an aquarium-on-wheels amongst the walking crowd.

The investment in black fabric alone must have swelled the coffers of quite a few merchants, and the makeup and the music---it was like a specially-arranged performance, and we not only had ringside seats, we moved along, and caught forty more rings of that many-ring circus. We passed through a small village, and apparently no one was looking out as we crossed one of a pair of bridges. When the guide spoke over the microphone: “A pair of Naiads bathing to your right,” the stampede back down the aisle rocked the bus and landed two gentlemen almost in my lap. And indeed, there had been two ladies, beautiful young ones, both absolutely naked, pouring water from the little stream over each other.

I think the guide and I were the only ones who caught a glimpse---everyone else was either running to get a look or dodging elbows and flying feet.

And then, from far, far away---the golden shapes in the sunlight emerged, swimming into view almost through a haze; we took pictures through the windows, as the lime-vested gentlemen waved us to keep going and the foot-dust like the Flight from Egypt filled the air.

I think I’ll remember that most because we didn’t get to stop and get out and look closely; the far remove keeps that mystical, magical place ever as a mirage, a picture in a Baedeker, a cover silhouette on the journal I carried to record the days of my trip. And the mystique has probably grown in the remembering, to even greater size and import than it would have had we stood and looked at it a while, like tourists gazing on a church.


We caught glimpses, we saw outlines, we saw the glow of sun on the spires, and we saw the great procession of those faithful to something older than memory, older than time. That’s an unforgettable impression, and seeing it only through glass left the thought that perhaps it was a mirage or our imaginations, or visible only for a moment, like Brigadoon.

HAPPY FATHERS' DAY

I wish each and every one of you a Happy Fathers' Day and a Happy First Day of Summer!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

OLD POSTS

Several people have mentioned that they are going to go all the way back to November and "start from the beginning." I'm pleased and flattered that so many of you take an interest. I love reading the comments, and if anyone cares to comment on any post, no matter how far back, this magic machine notifies me by e-mail, and I'll certainly read and respond.

Nothing is really in any chronological frame, and except for the chapters about the "Family Forest," there are no chapter numbers---but that can be read in any order, as well. The Capote post was the first of those, because from that picture of him with his time-worn aunt (who was most likely younger than I am now), I just took off on a tangent, bringing in who knows how many long-ago relatives.

Thank you all for your kind interest and the lovely words. I especially love the memories you relate, of things and places and times in your own lives that you're reminded of. It's a privilege to evoke such memories and an honor to share in them.

rachel

SYLVIA SATURDAY

Yesterday, I mentioned my total illiteracy (perhaps that should be illimagery) as to posting photos. I'd read the tutorials, clicked and clacked and browsed, and just could not seem to make the pictures appear in the little screen where the words live.
And a new friend, RobinfromCA,

http://weareflyingnow.blogspot.com/2009/06/cloche-party-and-award-time.html

kindly commented here and gave me the easy-guide-to-life, so I think there's hope yet. I started out at Cindy's house, http://romantichome.blogspot.com/ which is just delightfully romantic, and went on to other links.

The theme yesterday was "Cloches" and the lovely things you could display in and under them. There were little vignettes and scenes and seashells and flowers and perfume bottles and all sorts of small still-lifes, enchanting as the view into a big sugar Easter Egg. I strolled around people's parlors, bedrooms---bathrooms, even, taking in the beautiful arrangements and pale colors and the soothe of the neatness of them. And I wanted those. I wanted ALL of those, the IDEA of them, and the ACTUAL of them, in their frozen, pristine glory; they bespeak a serenity and an artist's hand and most of all, a tidy milieu that escapes my capabilities.
And the cloches themselves---they've been accumulated and acquired at antiques stores, after their lives of nestling a fragrant serving of cepes sous cloche, whisked dramatically away by a gloved hand to release the aromas a minute. Or perhaps they harbored a bird's nest in a small boy's room, dutifully dusted day after day by the upstairs maid, as the boy grew to man and the nest grew limp with the sag of Time, and the whole thing sold, nest and all, with the thump of the auction hammer. The whole morning, as I came back and looked in, was a Martha Stewart Dream of Heaven.
The only thing in my house remotely approaching such hermetic tableaux is on the pass-through from kitchen to breakfast area---a plain old Wal-Mart cakedome which has been home for several years to my little dollhouse kitchen. The three small white plastic appliances, along with a tiny buffet with one reluctantly-sliding drawer, are all that's left of my childhood's playthings. They lay still and abandoned for many years, wrapped in Kleenex and snugged into a box in my parents' big closet, until I found them while rummaging for a proper tie for Daddy to wear to my Mother's funeral.

I'd spied the pale blue of the box-bottom in a stack above my head, and, with a little frisson of recognition---the small flowers which dotted the lid of my teenage stationery box. Heavy, it was, as I got the step-stool from the kitchen to reach it down. And inside, the Blue Willow teaset long lost and longed for, asked about, given up on. The cups and saucers and small pot and its two cohorts were heavy in the bottom, with the tray and four small plates, each piece wrapped in yellowing tissue. Two of the cups still held the dreg-stains of dolltea in the bottom, and though I've dusted all the outsides, I cannot bring myself to wash those cups, to send down the drain those last vestiges of my long-ago self.

And the little white kitchen---I try to recall the dollhouse, and cannot. I DO know the kitchen was an unnatural PINK, painted in the dead of night with my Mother's nail polish.  And I remember the meals and parties I cooked in that kitchen, my imaginings soaring beyond any magical teaparty as I worked. And so I have it. The magic of childhood remains, mingled with a bit of reality. Guests look and say "Awwwww!" and then look again. Then they laugh.

Click on picture for a front-row seat; these are so close you'll get a crick in your neck:



And a clearer look, sans cloche:




As my friend Keetha says, "Just keepin' it real."

Friday, June 19, 2009

TIP: THE ICEBERG

Crispy crunchy iceberg.

After you've had all the GREENness and oakleafs and reds and mescluns with their tiny personalities and their wee cutenesses and popularity, after bales of romaine and bushels of arugula and radicchio, acres of endive and cress and frisee, there comes a time in the tide of things in which only iceberg will do.

It's a good old sweatshirt of a vegetable, a trusty friend and colleague, a lean-on-me food that can provide the L for BLT, shred into a perfect nest for keeping teensy tea sandwiches fresh and moist, top a taco or a sub or a burger with less than elan, but more than ennui.

It shreds or chops or leaves or cups with ease, making the transition from filler to cushion to neat package. Wedges of it with a cloak of dressing whose recipe is guarded like State Secrets take their place on tables with the most exquisite cuts of meat, in steakhouses of brilliant pedigree and long tenure, where white-shirted waiters in aprons-to-their-shoes have grown old in such lofty service.

It floats forth on pristine crystal plates in some of the most privileged homes, some of the most treasured restaurants, and nestles between layers of ersatz beef and secret sauce with perfect ease and equal aplomb.

And a pile of finely-shredded, lightly-salted iceberg is my favorite accompaniment beside a juicy grilled cheeseburger with all the fixin's. I eat it with my fingers, and don't even PRETEND it's fries.

It has its own credentials.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

PAPER OR PLASTIC?

Another blogger's musings about carrying shopping bags brought to mind my own attempts to GREEN my little bit of things. I try vainly to remember to put the big bag filled with regular-sized bags into whichever car I'm going to the grocery in. I get into the store, into the checkout line, and THEN wish I'd brought them in from the car---any other minute in the process, and I could have run out the shusssssh of the Exit and grabbed them up, but having stood, hostage to the latest bright blurbs in the adventures of Brangelina or the how-I-did-its of the newest O, I could not cause further delay to the long, snail-pace line behind me.

And so, as I prepare to depart the house, I mind-list the necessaries: bags, glasses, keys, card-and-ID, and list. The grabbing of the smalls is a breeze, as I put on my shoes, feeling the fresh-from-the shower comfort of cool cottons and Altoid breath, hair neatly up and smooth, the going-somewhere fresh of the day and the out-the-door brisk walk to the car. Blithely bagless til it's too late, and I'm mumbling my stairs-bags-trips mantra to the unheeding clerk beeping the items across the go-nowhere belt.

Too many plastic bags are overflowing the HUGE wall-hung bag in the pantry/laundry room. Our grocery has handy hanging rolls above the produce, set there like the valances on Miss Scarlett's portieres, and I wind off a great long stole of bags, wrapping them around my neck. As I choose the produce and bag it in that gossamer cling, I tear off each one in turn, til the babyseat is overflowing with poufy tops spouting above the lemons and avocados and tomatoes shining through the thin clear film.

Then, the meat department, where little floor posts hold vertical rolls for those pesky leaking trays of chicken parts, pork chops, and icy naked birds bound up in their own slick corsets. The brain cramp comes in trying to get each tray situated just SO in the bag, the price scan facing the clear side of the plastic, though I KNOW that little old magnetic thing can read through walls, if necessary. Two like items are set back-to-back, as I try to position the barcode as well as possible between the bits of green tracery on the film.

And at checkout, my worst bit of brainburn comes when they say "Paper or Plastic?" Though there are signs blaring everywhere touting the use of paper and the evils of plastic, I say "Plastic." Then the compulsion comes to blurt the same mantra I say every week, "If your paper bags had handles, I'd use paper. I have to carry the groceries up the steps and down a flight of stairs to get to the kitchen, and with paper, I can carry only one bag at a time." Do I really think that's going into the cashier's head as she peeps the endless flow of items past her little cheeping sentry? Do I think she cares?

Nope, and I say it anyway, to assuage this need-to-excuse. She could care less if I requested FIVE bags per item---she's not bagging the stuff. And still I choose plastic, still I explain. I also sometimes feel this manic urge to say it quite loudly, for the information of all the folks eyeing my un-eco choice as if I'd just taken a crosscut saw to Pooh's house.


And at home, there's no need for the flimsy produce bags, so they go into the trash, wadded into the space of a peanut. The nice thick white ones are for saving, for all sorts of uses---birdcage cleanouts, for carrying lunches or snacks, and all the other quick-carry needs. And during my unfortunate knee problem a couple of years ago, I discovered the handy way to tote stuff up and downstairs when you’re being ultra careful---hang a bag on your arm or throw it down “tump” to the bottom.


So plastic it is, crammed with hard things and heavy things and things that bump against knee and elbow like a poor man's rock-and-sock cosh; the bread loaf folds itself upward in its private bag like a cocooned caterpillar, and keeps the curve through its many open-and-closes. And the loaf or pack of buns captured in the closeness of the poly-bubble with the dryer-sheets' fragrance is ruined before it reaches home.

I'd rather have paper---I like the IDEA of it, the fleetingness of it, the sturdy crisp brown-ness of the bags as they stand like starched clothes, fresh from the iron. I like a neat array of them slotted between the freezer's side and the baking-pan rack. They're handy for lining cake pans, for draining fish and hushpuppies, for holding the corn-from-the-grill a few minutes, and the shucks for disposal, for dredging chicken to fry.

Something about that fold-down and shake of a big paper bag, the whooshy sound of the chicken shaken within, and the little cloud of flour emerging as the folds are unfurled, reminds me of cooks in my past, and the repetition of such an age-old ritual rounds out the generations, somehow, in a very satisfying way. And the scent of that sizzling chicken only adds to the charm.



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DELTA WEDDING

I’ve been following the wedding preparations of one of my favorite young writers, and since the wedding a couple of weeks ago, she’s been posting pictures of lead-up-to and the wedding and reception. I was really looking forward to both, because of my lifetime of attending and helping with and cooking for Southern weddings.

And this one was everything a Deep-South wedding should be---a gathering of family, good friends and neighbors and church members to celebrate and affirm and support the new family.

With my very best wishes to Keetha and The Husband:

http://writekudzu.blogspot.com/

(A much later, edited-in PS to my dear Readers: What you want is the WEDDING POST. Not the one for today, the 17th. No, anything but that).

It was beautifully, classically simple, with the colors chosen for springtime and for the groom’s Alma Mater; it included parents, grandparents and the young son of the bride. The wedding was in a beautiful old church, with lifelong friends and relatives as attendants; the reception was in a lovely old house, with wooden floors and furniture polished with the steps and touches of a century. And the Southern touches were there, in the flowers---lush bouquets of hydrangea in enormous vases like julep cups, and in the patina of the sideboard holding tall tiered stands of chocolate-dipped strawberries, and a tray of golden, perfect cheese straws---both de rigueur at a serious Southern affair.

There were small biscuits of several flavors, with the juicy pink slices of ham in its garnishes of pineapple and cherries; a footed bowl of chicken salad and regal rows of fancy crackers on a silver tray, tulle draping the lattice backdrop and damask beneath the tiered cake. I even spied a small silver bowl of Richardson’s mints among the artistic array of forks and monogrammed napkins.


And the Groom’s table, with chocolate layer cake and the Mississippi State helmet and colors, right down to the carefully-chosen M&M’s---that says HOME to me.

I loved being taken back to so many happy, happy occasions, the times when a gathering meant hugging and laughing, when a group of people stood together to celebrate the beginning of a whole new group, whose own gatherings will grow and encompass and spread to welcome other new beginnings.

I’m going to get out Mrs. Jennings’ recipe for Cheese Straws and see if I can unearth the cookie press. Last time I saw it, the Grandchildren were using all the little insert doohickeys like a Spirograph to draw shapes on most of the printer paper in the house. The wedding straws circled round that big silver tray in perfect symmetry were rolled and cut, with a little pinking-shears ravioli-edger thingie, but Mrs. J’s straws were always the squeezed-out ones.


The dough is thick as piecrust, and has to be extruded in one smooth line (oh, the tales of breakages and cracks and tapery little bits and pieces when I'd waver just a little in strength and my hands would give out) so I could never imagine how such a fragile-looking little woman could make dozens of those things practically every Thursday and Friday, for whatever goings-on were happening on the weekend.

They were flat on the bottom from the smooth side of the shaping-tip, and had tiny ridges atop, like the horizon-stretching rows of good rich farmland we lived amongst, and those tapery tops had a crispness that crackled to the bite. They were rich and crisp and made with “real butter”---stressed with each and every order, as she apologetically quoted the price, and seemed to need to explain the expense. I can remember that they were twenty dollars for two pounds, her minimum order, back when I was first learning to decorate cakes.

They’re supposed to be made with a mixer, but I short-cutted the process many years ago, after Mrs. J. retired---Putting the finely-shredded sharp cheese into the processor, then the butter, then the sifted flour and seasonings, just for enough whirls to make the dough clump---those make a mighty fine approximation, and can be rolled, wrapped, frozen and sliced into “Cheese Pennies” just as well.

CHEESE STRAWS
Oven 300. 5 dozen.

Put 2 c. Kraft Extra-Sharp fine shreds into processor and whirl for a few seconds. Drop in a stick of room-temp butter and whirl.

Sift 1 ½ c. plain flour with 1 t. salt and a big sprinkle of cayenne. (Old Bay is permissible, if you're bent that way).

Add to processor and whirl just til it holds together slightly. Put out onto cool surface and knead just a few seconds, then fill cookie press, and add ridged-line tip or plate. Squeeze out onto Silpat into 2” lines, cutting ends neatly flat. Bake 10-13 minutes til golden. Cool on racks.

For Pennies, halve the dough and roll into two rolls about the size of a quarter. Wrap tightly with waxed paper or Saran, bag, and freeze. To bake, slice into 1/4” slices and place on Silpat-lined cookie sheets.

From thawed, add a minute or so to above time. From frozen, add about 3 minutes. Cool on racks.

Stack either shape gently between layers of parchment or waxed paper in air-tight containers.
They keep nicely for three or four days.


Mrs. J. always required us to bring her our own Tupperwares a couple of days before she baked. I guess you can use up just so many Hostess Fruitcake tins before you run out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

YORKSHIRE PUDDING

When I went to England for the first time, I had a list of things to try and see and do and buy and experience, quite a few of them food-related. I wanted a bowl of porridge in Scotland (related in another post), Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, treacle tart, a real afternoon tea with scones and cream and jam, and several other traditional things (all of which were accomplished and enjoyed very much).

So the first night on the road, we had dinner at our little hotel, and it was the only buffet of the trip, save for the bountiful breakfasts for which England is so famed. As I passed the gentleman who was "carving the joint," I asked for the beef. He misunderstood and carved off two hefty, steaming, juicy slices of the pork instead. I just accepted it, went right down the line, retrieved the nice muffin-pan shape of golden Yorkshire pudding, poured a bit of the rich brown gravy from the silver boat onto both, and had one of the best dining experiences of my life. It was rich and salty and BEEFY with the essence of the meat.

Later in the week, we stopped for lunch in the Lake District, and Yorkshire pudding was one of the features of the day in the restaurant/souvenir shop we were ushered into. I thought I'd try it one more time, and it was a bit different from the first. My plate arrived, or at least I hoped there was a plate under the weight of that huge bowl-shaped piece of browned dough holding its pint of gravy. The gravy was not so rich this time, nor did it have that tang of good meat essence nor the satisfying flavour of anything but browned flour and whatever liquid was used to make it. But it made up in quantity.


It was enormous. It covered a dinner plate, with just room on the edges for the server to get a tiny thumb-grip on either side. It looked as if a brown cake-pan had been appropriated from the kitchen, filled with brown liquid, and sent to table, its little ridges of sides barely holding in the flood. It sloshed when it was set before me, and the quandary arose: dip a spoon in that bread bowl and eat gravy soup until the ramparts could be breached, or cut right in, thus granting exit to enough brown sauce to flood the pretty tablecloth and perhaps flow back toward the kitchen. I'm a generous cook, with a lavish hand with the groceries, but I think I've served MEALS without that much gravy on the table.

Then we looked around us. Whole families were chowing down on plates of the kiddie-pool-sized servings. Twig-sized young women were tucking into the stuff with the gusto of lorry-drivers, and small children had their OWN great moats of brown in front of them. It was amazing. This was food for hearty hikers, tramping into the house in Wellies, beaming and rosy-cheeking their way through great trenchers of heavy food and gallons of steaming tea. Flour and water were the order of the day, and we were all consuming enough carbs to bankrupt Atkins several years early.

The pudding appeared to have been baked in a pieplate or cakepan, with inch-high sides which rose up and held its juicy burden, and the bottom was just about the depth of a piecrust, though springy and tender. I shared spoonfuls of the gravy all round the table; my companions scooped up spoons and bowls of it. One lady had no receptacle save her plate, so she lifted her teacup to the tablecloth and accepted a saucerful.

We all dipped and slurped and it made immediate "English dip" for the hearty sandwiches of all others at the table. I managed to down about a third of the rich eggy bready pudding, saturated as it was with the salty sauce, and passed samples to fellow travelers at other tables. When we finally lugged our stuffed selves out and back onto the bus, we left one semi-circle standing like a dough map of Stonehenge, listing toward the gravy. The stuff could have made a Biblical legend, a story passed down through whole families as they gathered on Friday nights, with children for generations asking, “Tell about the gravy which never ran out.”

When we left to go trekking through Wordsworth country, there was STILL a great moat of gravy left on that plate, with the golden pudding swelling and growing limply pale in the light of the grey afternoon.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

SONNETS IN THE ROSES

This time several years ago, we were in England. I somehow thought I had posted this little memory, but on looking back through all the months, I cannot seem to find it anywhere.

Our first real stop was at Stratford-on-Avon, home of the Bard, and we toured his home and gardens, with a lot of picture-taking and exclaiming at Anne Hathaway’s lovely thatched cottage. We gazed up at the Juliet window in his house, its mullioned shutters open over the little balcony, and as we entered, we were swept up in a tide of the very young “Up With People”-type crowd that had surrounded us in the airport, their red polos and khakis their admission to the club.

I lost sight of everyone in my tour group, so I just explored at my leisure, seeing the canopied bed (a rope-suspension affair that I cannot fathom being comfortable, no matter how many geese were sacrificed to the mattress), and the rough tables at which I imagined him penning his magnificent verse. The fireplaces still held ashes, the candle-drip still clung to yellowed, bent tallow, and the windows looked out upon the colours of Spring.

I stood for a moment in the Juliet-window, not imagining a young swain come to sweep me away, but trying to grasp the universe of ideas and words and contexts which must have whizzed through that amazing mind as he gazed out. His words poured onto the paper, onto the stage, into minds and hearts and down through wars and changings and evolvings of our world, making the phrasings and idiom of yesteryear into a part of our own vocabulary, sometimes understood, sometimes lost to Time, but an integral part of today’s theater and language, fresh as from the Globe.

I wandered on through, emerging into the gardens. Our guide had said that we had two hours to see the site and the town, with a hand-waved direction toward the souvenir shops branching out on almost every street. I stepped into the first shop and bought ten postcards and a tiny, pocket-sized golden book of sonnets.

Walking out and around, I headed away from commerce and tourist confusion, in the direction of the big parking lot where waited our bus. Within a couple of blocks of there, I spied a little gravel-paved courtyard within a small gateway, which framed an enormous yellow rosebush with branches reaching up to the housetops. I couldn’t resist stepping in for a moment, and since the sign advertised only weekday hours and the "closed" sign on the door greeted anyone who might enter that deserted, walled place, I realized that my Saturday presence would probably be of no bother to anyone.

Whilst all my traveling companions were strolling and looking, buying garish bits and pieces of take-home and send-to memorabilia to commemorate their time in this place, I walked to a low stone wall encircling the plot, sat beneath the great golden umbrella of roses, and read all the sonnets in the Summer sunshine of the place they were created.

Try buying a keychain or a coffee mug that can top that.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

INDIVIDUAL ICED CAKES


The anticipation as the tiny smitch of Scotch tape was slit from its small closing, the crackle of the fluted paper as the lid was lifted from the bakery box, unmistakable waft of the vanilla-something scent of faintly-cooked sugar fondant---that’s an unforgettable little ritual, bespeaking a really fancy occasion. I can almost feel the crackly folds of a scratchy party-dress---the only proper attire to befit such a regal dessert.

The bakery in the big-town-two-over was a wonderland of lovely scents and fairy-colors---the windowfull of wedding cakes with their swoops of pink swaggings and the perfectly-formed pale roses grew stiff and forlorn in that Delta sun, but the allure and the awe never ceased. And to call and order up “Three dozen individual iced cakes,”---well, that was the rallying-cry for nothing less than the very best tablecloth, the never-used smallest forks from the silverware chest, and the borrow of Aunt Ninna's four-piece epergne.

Just calling in the order was a thrill---I remember my First Time, giving the directions to the clerk for several dozen, the exact pink of the rosebuds atop, and a pickup-time down to the quarter-hour. I could just smell them over the phone.

Other shopping was got out of the way early, and the import of pulling into that parking spot in front of Stowe’s was akin to arriving on the red carpet. The width of the box itself was impressive, with just a little sag to the center from the weight of cake and fondant. Three books-brought-from-home aligned in the far-back dip of the backseat to balance the contents, and super-careful driving so as to need no quick braking, we made our way home. A birthday cake from there was a must, but these little jewelbox creations---they were the next-best-fairythings to those immense sugar Easter eggs with the peekhole to tiny tableaux which I coveted with every longing of a girly-girl’s heart.

The party itself---a shower, an afternoon tea, a visit from the Exalted Grand Matron to the far-flung flock---that was an Occasion. The silver-polishing, the punchcup-borrowing, the napkin-pressing---having been delegated those make-work tasks for several years, I think I could have taken a post at Windsor when I was twelve.

It was a special time that no other kind of gathering promised---you wore those nylon stiffnesses, those white gloves, the one-pink-flower straw hat, and it was lovely.

Chicken salad was de rigueur, either in tiny crustless sandwiches or puff shells. A silver chafing dish of Chicken a la King with a silver basket of teensy thumb-pressed piecrust patty-shells alongside, some daintily-cut cucumber somethings with the bread pillow-stitched around the outsides, some toasted pecans, a slender silver compote of Richardson’s Butter Mints for most occasions, or made-to-match from the bakery for REALLY SPECIAL, and one of the favored punches of the day in the big frosty bowl—those were expected and arranged with the pomp and solemnity of setting out the Lord’s Supper set on Fourth Sunday morning.

The silver cakestand or wide repousse' tray, doilied within an inch of its life, with the small rustly-papered dainty cakes set just so in precise ranks, as the newspaper reported time and time again, “completed the table appointments.”
I don’t know precisely what the allure of those things was---the small size, the how-did-they-do-that smooth shining fondant, the coveted pink frosting rosebud that tasted better than any candy in the Kingdom, the melty flavor of a vanilla fondant and tender white cake contrasted to the hearty yellow layers and homemade frostings of our own kitchen---there was just something about the magic of those small decorated rectangles that no macaron from Laduree’ nor even standing in the storybook realms of Pierre Herme’ could outshine in enchantment.

I didn't want to eat 'em. I didn't want anybody to eat 'em. It was enough that they just BE. They went beyond the ideal of cake and into sweet jewelry. I just wanted them to languish there in that box, available for an open-and-sigh, and didn't care that they would shrink into tiny patterns of themselves, like yellowed old ivory dominoes. They could have stayed forever, like Miss Havisham's wedding cake.

And it was years before they began to be called petits fours, and hostesses were quick to mention the appearance of Peddy-Fours on their party table. Even the French appellation, re-constructed into local dialect, did not do them justice. The sheer rarity of such august occasions as to warrant such frivolous fare, when you could make up a whole batch of cupcakes yourself---the luxury of the thing was a great part of the charm.

Those small bits of cake and frosting were so special that they defined the import of an occasion, like Black Tie on an invitation conjures élan. And they still do, in my memory. Right now, just thinking of them, or seeing a tray in a picture---I can smell that enticing scent and feel that scratchy dress.

Friday, June 12, 2009

LEMON BARS

Few Southern Tea-tables are complete without a pretty platter or cakestand of Lemon Bars, and, as in most other phases of life below the M/D, there’s more than one camp: The tangy, translucent golden bars, redolent of juice and peel, which shine in the light of a Summer day like squares of sunshine. They seem to have a clarity and glow of their own, much like slices of lemon meringue pie.

Tangy Lemon Bars


Crust:
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar (plus more for dusting)
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pats
Finely-chopped macadamias (optional)
Sift, cut in, stir in nuts if desired, press into sprayed 9x13
Oven 350---20 minutes

While crust is baking:
Lemon filling:

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, slightly beaten
3 Lemons: Finely grate zest from one lemon; squeeze it and two more

Sift sugar, flour, and baking powder. Add beaten eggs, juice & zest
Pour onto still-warm crust.

Bake 20—25 til firm
Cool, cut into bars, sift powdered sugar atop on rack over pan
Keep in fridge; Garnish with paper-thin quarter-slices of lemon

AND:
LEMON/CHEESE BARS, also known as Lemon Cheesecake Squares, a.k.a. Ooey Gooey bars.


They have a personality removed from the decorous neat squares of their kin---they are rich and creamy and never-cut-quite-perfectly, thicker than the others, and with a delicacy of flavor that contradicts their slightly-rough exterior and countrified name.

These are like a heavy cheesecake, with none of the transparency or shine of the others---they’re more like Lemon ICEBOX Pie, the one with Eagle Brand to cloud the color and richen the texture and flavor.

We may make both. Can’t have too many lemon bars or too much chocolate.

Ooey Gooey Lemon Bars

1 Betty Crocker butter yellow cake mix

1 stick butter, melted
1 egg
1 c. finely-chopped macadamias (opt.)
Mix and press into sprayed 9x13. Preheat oven to 350.

Some people use lemon cake mix, but we prefer the yellow---the lemon mix has a definite flavor of extract, and interferes with the pure fresh lemon flavor of the filling.

Filling:
1 box powdered sugar (4 cups)

1 (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
2 T. finely-grated lemon zest

Beat cheese and eggs smooth with mixer; beat in powdered sugar 1/2 at a time, then stir in vanilla and zest. Pour over unbaked crust and bake 30—35 minutes.


May puff a bit, and will be thicker than the other recipe. Cool and chill. Cut into 6 portions, run a knife or spatula around edges of pan, and remove pieces from pan with wide spatula. Cut each one into 6 pieces, cutting straight down with thin sharp cleaver-type knife. Wipe knife with wet paper towel between cuts. Garnish with pouf of whipped cream, topped with quarter-slice of lemon or a raspberry or even an old-fashioned lemon drop.

These look even nicer if you make straight-down clean cuts all around the uncut edges, to even them up, for the sides will have crawled up the pan a bit. Keep refrigerated stacked between wax paper in Tupperware.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

PUTTING UP CORN

It's not quite the season here, but the tassels are waving and the seas of green in the passing-by fields are swaying like iridescent satin. I love to ride along a road that's perpendicular to the crop, when the goldy-brown comb-partings between the rows flash past in a kaleidoscope of green/gold/green/gold like flashes of sun through a picket fence. Corn is beautiful from hard, chitinous seed to milk-swelled ears tender to the bite, to bowls of thick rich creamy perfection-of-corn, cut and scraped and cooked into the very essence of the seed's promise.

There's a "Putting Up Corn" tradition in our family which starts when one of the menfolks backs a pickup up into the shade of the backyard. He wheels that familiar vehicle with a masterful hand, past the lawnchairs and into just the right spot, though he can hardly see over the high green mass of roasin' ears piled into the truckbed.

He's been out in that dusty, smothery taller-than-he field since right at daylight, snapping those hot green pockets of corn from the waving stalks. It's field corn, white corn, not those yellow sweet ears for boiling and munching from the cob. This is starch-laden, thicken-in-a-minute, heavy white milk-swollen corn, made to be cut and stirred into custardy perfection.


He'll leave you the pickup; you gather whatever helpers you can. He's on to more important work...he'll go mount a tractor cab or another truck and carry on with his long, dusty day. It is time for whoever is in the house, or who can be called or commanded or coerced into gathering under those trees for corn duty. The whish of husks, the crisp snap of the stems, an occasional whack onto the grayed old picnic table to dislodge the frowning, disgruntled cornworm, and the pans of white ears grow fuller as the pile of greenery on the ground gains in height.

Smaller hands are handed brushes, to briskly "silk" the corn--Southern cooks are as finicky about cornsilks as they are about no dark meat in the chicken salad. They'd as soon find a bug in the pot as a cornsilk---that's just trashy.


Experienced hands take the corn into the kitchen, where the backsplash and several yards of counter and ESPECIALLY the oversink windows are lined with taped-on newspaper, fresh garbage bags, or paper towels, take your pick---just don't let that splash hit the counters. Why, when old Mr. Prysock was laid out at home, someone had to scrape all the dried corn-splashings off the windowsill before that kitchen was fit to serve in. The GCL didn't let on, but they never did look at Mrs. P's cooking the same again.

Great washings and splashings and laying out on kitchen towels---neat rows form pyramids, fresh damp cool of wrung-out towels cover the waiting mounds, and the cutting begins. Very sharp knife, dishpan in sink, corn held tipdown, and one neat cut sliced down, taking just the tip off each kernel. Then the blade is reversed, scraping the dull side down each facet in rotation until all the white milky nectar is released into the bottom of the pan.

Three or four hundred ears are prepared this way, then comes the "blanching" of pan after pan over LOW heat, flat-paddle stirring until the small bubbles rise--each bubble a gentle "puh" as the mass thickens. Quick cooling of pans set into icewater, quicker scooping into small square freezer boxes, and the chore is done.


There is no actual frying to the "skillet corn" of my family's recipe. The same black skillet which turned out equally brown-crusted cornbread and catfish and chicken served to cook my Mother's fried corn. She plopped a stick of Blue Bonnet into the skillet and stuck it into the heating oven to melt. Two or three of the quart containers, straight from the freezer, were dipped briefly into hot water to loosen the contents, then the frozen white blocks were clunked out into the hot skillet. A moat of water was poured around, salt showered across the top, then into the oven.

An occasional pull of the skillet out with one hand, as the other spoon-scraped the thawing corn off the tops of the mounds; when all had been melted and stirred into the water, the skillet went back in, to bake into a custardy, golden-topped creamy perfection unrivaled in taste and texture. Tiny crunches of the kerneltips punctuated the velvety bites; balance of salt and butter and crusty top made this the most memorable dish in my Mom's considerable arsenal of killer recipes.

Despite the starch-laden Thanksgiving table's having dressing, potatoes, sweet potatoes AND cheese and macaroni, the skillet of corn held precedence over it all, surpassing even the turkey in importance. There were center-spooners, savoring the silky creaminess; the crust-scrapers enjoyed the crunchy butteriness mixed into their spoonful. Nobody skipped the corn.

I have to depend on Farmers' Markets, and only recently have we again "put up" three hundred ears at one time, but I have the skillet and the know-how, and the taste lives on.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CHINOIS REVERIE

In a few more days, we'll fall off the cusp of Spring into the heated depths of Summer. Summers now are quite different from the ones before we moved here, as I was reminded with a jolt when I was sorting through cakepans in the pantry and ran across the bag holding my Mammaw's Chinois.

Neither she for all of her 79 years, nor I, until the past few, had ever heard it called that---it was the jelly drainer, or "that cone thing" for all those summers we picked plums and grapes and all kinds of berries, peaches and pears and cherries, all from our own fields and trees, or from the free-to-all roadside wild trees and bushes out in the hills where she grew up.

We would head out in the relative coolth of the dawn (85 degrees or so by 6 a.m.) and brave the thorns and snakes of the blackberry bramble, or the wasps' proprietary interest in all the plums and cherries. Later in the season, we'd pick all we could reach from the peach trees, then I'd climb carefully up into one after another, giving each rosygold velvet bubble a gentle fingersqueeze to check its readiness as she awaited below, holding a wide basketful of field grass to gently receive and cushion the fruit. No peach ever bruised in our care---we treated those miracles of juicy sweetness with the softest of touches, and besides, the time from tree to jellypot or cobbler was far too brief. And her avid pronouncement of "Elberders are the best for picklin'," was not to be disputed, especially as I stood, poking the required four cloves into each perfect, peeled globe before simmering them in the rich syrup.

For jam or jelly, the berries and plums and grapes were all crushed and sugared, to sit for a while in the porch shade until they gave up their fragrant juices. A white-rimmed-in-red enamel dishpan was set on the kitchen counter, the silvery cone thing set sturdily on its three rocket-feet in the center. The heavy, pointed wooden pestle (called a "maul" by Mammaw) was pressed and turned steadily until the rows of holes gave up the rich nectar, like hundreds of small faucets pouring forth melted jewels.


I loved being allowed to "turn the maul" and became quite proficient at quite a young age. It was lovely to see the pulp dropping into the whiteness of that shiny pan. A further squeezing in cheesecloth was necessary to make jelly, but jam went straight on the stove for cooking.

All the Mason jars went into a silver-weathered little old “junk house” for storage---shelves and shelves held the bounty of garden, fields, patch, brambles, roadsides. The scent of entering that screaky door, the dust motes dancing in the invading sunbeams, and the lustrous old melon-shell of my Mammaw’s wooden mandolin hanging high on one wall, are a great part of the memories.
So now I have the chinois; it hangs in my pantry on a hook, with the maul in a neat cloth bag. I walk beneath it every day, though I use it seldom in winter, save for soups or occasionally for ricing potatoes. Summer is its season, though summers here are a pale version of the burning, steamy days of those Mississippi summers of my childhood.


The Farmers' Market provides plums (though not the small golden ones which made Mammaw's jelly famous far and wide) and cherries and blueberries and all sorts of fruits of the season.They've all passed through that old jelly drainer at one time or another, and soon it will be time to take it down again, to smell the sweet juice cooking, and to remember those hot Mississippi days when we gathered up all of Summer in our hands, ran it through the Hell of an August kitchen, and put it in jars.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

IN BETWEENS

Several items, all probably indigenous only to the South, are the in-betweens, neither sweet nor savory, but a delicious, unexpected combination of both. I’m thinking of having two at our party (one of which I’ll ask DS to make a couple of big pyrex pans of---“HIS” Pigs in Blankets. I can work for several days on a party, and when he walks in and sets down whatever he's bringing---it's like a vacuum, drawing all things to it. I just beam, 'cause I taught him).

They’re the usual tiny kielbasa-type sausages wrapped in neat strips of Pillsbury’s Crescent Roll dough, and then a honey/butter/brown sugar syrup poured around and amongst them before baking. They are crusty and crispy and golden on top, as usual, but the bottom part is almost like a sweet dumpling bubbled down in that lovely syrup. The combination of rich salty sausage and crisp bread and the luscious syrupy softness of the dough---it answers all the senses but hearing, I suppose, and you wouldn’t care if Bach were playing---live from Leipzig on your IPOD--- when you taste these.


SOOOOOEEEEET PIGS!
You pat out a pack of rolls, all into one sheet, finger-tapping the little perforations closed. Cut with a pizza cutter into small strips. Wrap each sausage with the ends showing, and with the overlap at the bottom (prettier that way, and more dough down in the syrup). Spray the pan---it should be one you can take to the table, because these need to be served "As Is" and
As Soon As they come from the oven.

Mix 1 stick melted butter, ¼ cup honey and ¼ cup brown sugar. Drizzle in between all the rolls, and bake 375 for 18-20 minutes. Serve these directly from the dish---nobody minds when the taste is this good. And better make a pan for each 10 guests you expect, for most occasions, like brunch. Tea-time allows for a more dainty serving, but don’t always count on it.

I got this next recipe from a lovely Italian neighbor, along with the family recipes for ravioli (I was surprised when she sent me a half-gallon jar of the lovely little pillows in broth. It’s customary to make them that way when all the ladies of the family get together in one kitchen to make hundreds at a time. That way, each family can use their own recipe for sauce once they get them home). And the latugi---they used to send us great cardboard boxes of the wonderful crisp bows, tucked into themselves just so and deep-fried before being rolled in sugar or cinnamon-sugar.

She served an oddly-juxtaposed cheese dish at a wedding shower at her house, and I think we all took a dainty bit, then went back for seconds.

It’s grated sharp cheese, a nice garlicky aoli, and cracked black pepper, stirred well together and formed into a small ring in a Jello mold---somehow lots of Southern recipes are predicated on the idea that simply evvabody has an aspic mold. Then when it’s turned out to serve, you pour a jar of store-bought strawberry preserves or fig preserves into the center, and serve with melbas or Carr’s.


This last one is kinda like that conversation in Saturday Night Fever, when Tony says, “I made up that dance.” “You did?” “Well, I saw it on TV and then I made it up."

I saw Miss Paula make bowties and serve with chocolate sauce for dipping. I wanted a kinda betwixt/between, and on most of the occasions for these, we serve strawberries with hot fudge for dipping, so I decided to make them with the same egg wash for glue and glaze, but instead of just sugar sprinkle, I tried Turbinado, some almost-pretzel-salt and toasted sesame seeds, pressed into the dough after the glaze went on.

Line cookie sheets with parchment or Silpat. Roll the thawed puff pastry into a 12” square for 1”x2” bows, brush egg wash on top only, and sprinkle with dry mixture:

In a small bowl, mix:
3 T. turbinado sugar
1 tsp. Maldon salt
¼ c. toasted sesame seeds.
Sprinkle carefully over the entire top of the glazed pastry. Roll the pin back over the whole thing, pressing lightly, so the dry toppings will adhere. Press the edge of a ruler into the top to mark off 1”x2” sections, then cut with a zigzag pizza cutter into strips.


Pick up each one and give it two twists in the middle so the toppings are on top. It’s kinda messy, and you might want to pick up any spillage and press them onto the tops. Place bows in rows on cookie sheet, with a little room for spread.

Chill the whole cookie sheet of bows, then bake as directed on the puff pastry box. Makes 6 dozen. And whatever is stuck to the bottom side gives them a lovely something extra, like the crunch on a
palmier.



The fried bowknots are wonderful, but I prefer not to be deep-frying when I’m getting ready for a pretty party, so these are perfect---they keep for three days, in an airtight container.

The combination of sweet and salt and the rich depth of the toasty seeds
---a lovely bite, especially with tea or coffee as the twilight deepens and the party winds down.

SWEET THINGS and NOT

Just a very short post today---an appliance is breathing its last---seems we have replaced several in the past few months, and we did NOT acquire them all at the same time. This is like having moved into a new house with all new stuff, and after a while, everything goes "on the fritz" in a frustratingly-short time frame.

From last year's Mothers' Day, when Caro presented me with a new washer, to today when Chris is doing research on this latest thing, we've had to get a new dishwasher and water softener system, and have had Curtis the Ice-Machine repairman as practically an adopted son.

Perhaps a handbasket would be preferable to this one-horse-shay-ride. But probably not.

So, just a couple of little thoughts on sweet things for our tea: Tiny brownie cupcakes, upside down and coated with a lovely shiny ganache, and Ambrosia Cake---named by a long-ago client who requested "that good orange cake you make for wedding cakes, but with coconut." And since orange and coconut are the two main requisites for a big ole cut-glass dish of cool, fresh Ambrosia---the name stuck.

CUPCAKE BROWNIES: Makes about 2 dozen mini brownies.

Oven 325. Pam mini-muffin pans. You pour ganache over these upside-down on a rack, so don’t use paper liners.


These are the brownies I made when I first started cooking---straight off the Hershey's box. Few people make brownies with anything but chips or chopped semi-sweet or Baker's, but there's just something about the taste of that cooked sugar and cocoa and butter that's just slightly missing with chips.

1 stick butter, melted
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs
½ c. plain flour
1/3 c. cocoa
¼ t. bp
¼ t salt
1 c. mini chips

Any kind of nuts you like, but they're optional.

Sift flour, cocoa, bp and salt; stir in the chips. Stir together butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs. Stir two mixtures together and fill pans 2/3 full. Bake 16—18 minutes; top will be shiny and a little cracked when done.

Cool brownies rightside up on racks over a large pan with at least ½ inch rim. Cool, then flip brownies; pour ganache---twice if you like it thick, but allow first coat to dry. Decorate with angelica or a dainty piped flower or whatever fits your theme or color scheme. I've been meaning to do that new-fangled thing with tiny crystals of Maldon Salt atop the ganache, as well.


¾ c. heavy cream
½ lb. dark semi-sweet chocolate, chopped---
I bought TWO eleven-pound slabs of Callebaut several years ago. They stayed in a cool room, tightly wrapped and bagged, and the last one is still fresh as ever---not a sign of bloom.

2 T butter

Bring cream just barely to boiling point in small heavy pot. Add chocolate and butter. After five minutes, stir well with a whisk til every lump is gone and the mixture is silky and shiny.

Pour carefully over each brownie. I like to use a small gravy ladle, giving the coat on the top a little round stroke to send it down the sides. Use a small spatula to be sure sides are covered. Some will drip into the pan beneath, and can be gently reheated and used if no crumbs went into it.

Slide a small spatula beneath the cupcakes with the lines of the rack and lift gently onto serving trays. Do not pick up ganache-covered anything with fingers.

AMBROSIA CAKE

Tear a sheet of waxed paper just larger than a 10” round cake pan. Set pan on paper and carefully draw around outside of pan with sharp tip of a knife. Cut out circle with scissors and lay it in bottom of cake pan which has been sprayed with Pam.

1 Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix
¼ cup. Tang drink mix---(dry)
Mix together and then make and bake cake as package directs. Let rest in pan for about 10 minutes, then run a little spatula around the cake to loosen, flip onto rack and peel off paper. Cool completely.

While cake is cooling on rack, put ¼ c. milk into a med. bowl. Stir in 1 pack Sweet & Low and 1 tsp. coconut flavoring. Add a package of shredded coconut and press down into liquid. When cake is frosted, drain well and press again, this time with a couple of thicknesses of paper towels. Coconut should be lusciously moist, but not drippy---that would pool and ruin the bottom of your frosting.


(If you're making this as a plain white or yellow cake, this is when you'd tint the coconut, if you want to. Just stir a couple of drops of McCormick's into the milk and toss the coconut til it's thoroughly colored. Proceed with draining and pressing, etc.). And even prettier is the little glimpses of tinted pink or other pale frosting, peeking through the glistening white coconut.

Frosting:
2 8 oz packs cream cheese (softened)
½ stick butter (softened)

Dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. powdered sugar (Or the whole box, depending on how moist you like frosting).

Cream butter, salt and cream cheese with mixer til light and fluffy. Beat in powdered sugar, one cup at a time, then stir in vanilla. Frost top and sides of layer. No need for a lot of smoothing or swirls. Toss coconut with fork, then apply to just-frosted cake, top and sides, pressing in with gentle pats.


I "dress" the cake directly on the tall cakestand, since the nice curved lip helps keep errant strands in place, and I can pick them right up and apply them again. This is stunning on a sunlit tea-table, especially with twists of candied, sugared orange peel as garnish.

I never "wish my life away" but suddenly I'm longing for July.