Monday, August 31, 2009

THE DAY AFTER

The Birthday Party was wonderful, with Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunts and Uncles and cousins, a lovely lunch, a fabulous Mickey Mouse cake made by the Party Girl's Mama, (PG finger-pinched and ate the nose right off Mickey while everyone else was seeing to getting lunch on the buffet).

Outcry from two cousins: She's eating his NOSE!!! as those small fingers continued to dip and nip and I moved over to remove her from temptation. Into her highchair, in her new blue party dress and bloomers, Mouse Ears bobbing as she ate bits of hot dog, cheesy potatoes, tiny bits of tomato and broccoli.

Loads of presents---that girl is gonna be a COOK, I tell you. Her Mammaw presented her with a tiny set of REAL stainless steel cookware---despite the diminutive size, I longed to get into that brand new Play-Kitchen from her parents and whip up a dish or two. And, of course, no little Southern girl can keep house without a black skillet, so her basket from Chris and me included a tiny three-inch model, already blackened and ready for cornbread and maybe one cathead.

But, as with every present opened, eager cousin-hands whisked the small pots and pans away, dragging a tightly-held colander or book from her tiny grasp, occasioning wails of dismay despite the next bright package set before her face.

Clothes, games, TWO Boxes of 96 from her Aunt Caro, with the attendant drawing pads and coloring books---one set for HERE and one for home. When all was reduced to a great litter of bright paper and the emptied clear plastic nestlings for all those toys and games, the cousins ran back out to the swings, and Baby Girl and I settled quietly onto the carpet with the WHOLE BOX of crayons dumped into the nice snap-lid carry-box so thoughtfully provided by AC.

We drew endless colorful murals onto the blank side of the enormous Play-Kitchen box, sitting or standing or crawling on the floor for best access and effect. The quiet time before Cake had a calming, cheering effect and the rest of the day passed in a happy blur of many small sandals running and sweet crumbs dropped and just one more small scoop from the big tub of Schwann's vanilla, as the blat of curly-horns and the spring of plastic Slinkys punctuated the lively party-air.

Another milestone, another moment in Time. Many many photographs snapped by her faithful Ganner, many presents and hugs, and WAY too much sugar. I'm not sure about Birthday Girl, but I came home and took a nap.

I'm awaiting her small, enormous presence any minute now; the oatmeal is warm in the pan, the toast skillet has a tiny knob of butter awaiting the kindle, and all is still in the house. For now. There's still that bright red Radio Flyer Trike waiting on the patio. I anticipate another lively day.

And so goes August. It's been quite a month, the apprehension of two surgeries for Chris, and the fading life of another dear older family member, as well as ups and downs of weather and temperature and energy and delight.

We've had quiet days and boisterous ones and the special joy of learning of a new life which will join our family in the Spring.

And tomorrow, September!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

BIRTHDAY PARTY!!

We're headed out right now to a Birthday Lunch for our BabyGirl----she's TWO!!

We're taking a basket of goodies---A Travel Aqua Doodle, a big puzzle-frame with wooden pieces which make any of six pictures, according to how they're arranged, several books, and a big pastel ball made of plastic lattice, easy to grasp and catch with tiny fingers.

Her Aunt Caro is taking her a book about Tinkerbell Tea, plus lot of goodies for her AAAAAARRRRRT---coloring books, sketch pads, some small felt-tip markers for her dry-erase boards, and a BOX OF 96!!!!

Do I have to explain what that IS??? I didn't get a Box of 64 til I had children, and bought it myself. We've got to get more Fridge Magnets---I see that now.

And there's a bright red Radio Flyer Trike waiting on the patio for tomorrow.

We're also taking Devilled Eggs, Bowtie salad with olives, two cheeses, peppers and dill, and some crabmeat rollups.

That and and all our blessings, including all that good company---who could ask for more?

Happy Sunday, Everyone!

Friday, August 28, 2009

ROOSTER?

I have no chicken teapot, towel, statue, doorstop, tray, napkin or tablecloth to my name, yet I've immensely enjoyed today's Rooster Friday. I've looked in on many a bright colorful array, displayed in all sorts of ways, in welcoming arrangements and in everyday use.

And it's been great fun, though I feel like the party-crasher at the pitch-in who arrives with no covered dish, no casserole or wonderful dessert to set amongst the lovely buffet.

So, I thought I might just try offering a "little rooster" of my own, the only one I have, of a delightful little creature which inhabits the back patio, coming trustingly up to my feet to take a nut from my fingers. I looked up into the immense backyard tree last week, and could not immediately take in what my eyes were seeing---the tree seemed to be sporting a golden knot, where only old dark burls and a small dried limb had been before.

Then I saw her, taking the sun, in the ONLY sunlit space on the entire back lawn---she'd found the ONE bit of glow that had made its way down between those sixty feet of limbs and leaves, and was basking there, safe from neighbors' cats and free to snooze in the sunshine.



A little story-moral in golden fur: Take the Sunshine where you find it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

VINTAGE THURSDAY, ENLARGED


The Easter Card from Daddy to Mother during WWII---see Vintage Thursday post, below this one. It's a paper doily, browning with age, stuck to a plain piece of cardboard with some little floral stickers. (Click any of these to enlarge).

DADDY'S ROOM:

I've had several requests to make today's photos larger, so that the pictures on the wall will be more legible. I hope this will suffice for perhaps reading the cross-stitch, etc.

PS Please don't pet the Dust Bunnies.


SAMPLERS, PICTURES AND CROSS-STITCH:



The green oval says: TO LOVE AND BE LOVED IS THE GREATEST JOY ON EARTH.

The white frame just to the right of it says: MOTHERS HOLD THEIR CHILDREN'S HANDS FOR JUST A LITTLE WHILE---THEIR HEARTS, FOREVER.

And in those square-script letters beside the blue house in the pink frame, which was my very-first stitchery project when we moved here; he was at work all day and I was here and didn't know many people yet, so I think I finished it in about four days:

NO MATTER WHAT, NO MATTER WHERE, IT'S ALWAYS HOME WHEN LOVE IS THERE

And I find that my memory failed me in speaking of the little star in the "Valentine"---I've seen it so seldom of late, I mistook the holiday---it is an Easter card. The small pin on it was instead a small rectangle, white enamel with a thin maroon border, with a tee-ninecy star in the center.

Thank you all for the lovely welcome---I appreciate it. And the comments have been lovely.

VINTAGE THURSDAY

I love looking in on all the links to the different “days” on other folks’ blogs---Vintage Thursday is today, and this is my first attempt to post pictures of any of the houseful of “stuff” which we’ve accumulated over the years.

My camera angles are always skewed---I have not the eye for composition which is given to most of the wonderful photographers I enjoy dropping in on every day, and anything I snap has either a cockeyed angle, weird lighting, or an intrusive shadow somewhere.

And so, this picture looks as if I’ve crammed a whole bedroom into one of those little Rent-a-Storage places, about 8x8, rolled up the little door, and snapped a very unflattering picture.





The room is a standard ranch bedroom, cozy and comfortable, but when I see something which would “go” in there, especially something in Goodwill, I just toss it in my basket and put it out amongst the other things. And though the size of the room does not allow such decorating fads, the bed IS catty-cornered for ease of spreading and getting into and out of, thus taking up more of the visual room of the room. Thus the pictures look a bit crowded.

This was the guest room in my parents’ house for WAY years back---always called, “Mammaw’s room” for my Dad’s Mother, who came to stay with us for several months every year.. And then, after Daddy sold our family home, the furniture came here and it became and still is, “Daddy’s Room,” even after all these years since his passing.

On the wardrobe on the left is part of my childhood Blue Willow teaset, long lost and then found in my parents’ big cedar closet, snugged way back into the back of a wide shelf. It is one of the only two “toys” I have from my childhood, and two of the cups have the whisper of a dolltea stain in the bottom which I cannot bear to wash out.

The little blue chair is a Fifties’ model, one of those Jetson-shaped little geometrical things with four stick-legs, originally covered in a shades-of-green vinylish fabric. The chair was left to Caro by her other grandmother, and not long ago she zipped out a neat blue slipcover, pillow, tassels and all, from a lovely big panel of somebody’s living room drapes (also from Goodwill).



The long rows of old-fashioned pictures and samplers and cross-stitch are from various sources---the wardrobe picture on the right, the house in the pink frame, and the small brick building below all my own work---the wardrobe with its elegant hanging gown stitched for my parents’ Fiftieth Anniversary and brought home with me years later when our childhood home was sold.

The little praying girl hung in the hallway of the house I grew up in, along with a pair of those sad-eyed little children (possibly on velvet---I’ve tried to put them out of my mind entirely). The photograph of cotton blooms is from the field just beside our old house.

The picture just to the left of the green oval frame is a Valentine made by my Dad and sent to my Mother during WWII---the faded paper lace and the little open book in the top corner were all glued onto a sheet of cardboard from who-knows-where-he-was, the book centered by a tiny metal star---one from the center of a medal he’d earned. I try to think of the night-time moments as he put the pretty little arrangement together, and where he got the doily-lace, and the thick small book-shape, and the idea of removing the tiny brass star from his marksman's medal---I knew his hands were talented with woodworking and all sorts of creative endeavors, but I'd never thought of those gnarled old fingers handling such delicate and dainty materials.

And what must have been the reaction when my Mother opened that fat letter, standing there in the crowded Post Office with all the other eager-for-news families of soldiers. The whole thing was leafed between the pages of one of those musty old black-paged scrapbooks---a little faded, but no frays or tears anywhere, and I couldn’t resist framing it. It's the only tangible thing besides pictures that I have to confirm that my parents were young and in love and expressed it to each other.
And yes, that's me-at-three---I'm smiling, I think, but I'd been crying because the photographer insisted that I take off my blouse for the "cameo" shot, and people were looking. I DO remember the embarrassment and think of it every time I look at that picture.

The room is used only for "company," and seems to take on the air of a museum set, but I just go and stand in the door and look in, drinking my eyes full of the past which was mine, mingled with the ago-times of many people never to be known.
VINTAGE THURSDAY LINK:
http://coloradolady.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

MAMAS

I try to be kind---it's just always "come natural" to me, and it's certainly a lot easier than being a grump. And I can't find or imagine a moment in this world that MEAN would be appropriate or acceptable.

I read once, during the time that all my children were very young, that there are two kinds of Mothers. One, hearing a crash somewhere in the house, shouts, "What did you BREAK!!!??"

The other, the more coveted sort, calls out, "Are you OK?"

I resolved that the latter was the one for me. I kept to it: it became second nature, then first, and we went on for years in such accord, as a matter of course.

Then, there was that one day that it was hot and I'd grasped a handful of ooey-dead-but-not-quite-stiff fishing worms, by running my hand innocently into DS#1's jeans pocket. Then, I'd had to take a cut potato to the broken lightbulb that just WOULD NOT come out of the lamp.

And then there was the dropped gravy bowl---said bowl would hold about two cups, but by the time the stuff had run like lightning from the central splash, it had filled up the entire kitchen linoleum and was making its way toward the den rug---the Augean STABLES had not that much liquid. I sorta corralled it into the dustpan with a baker's-bench scraper, and thus into the sink, but it was a MESS, and I don't mean maybe. Super-hot mopping water and half a Mr. Clean to get up the greasy film, even after two rolls of paper towels.

Oh, did I say it was HOT? Deep South HOT, with a blaze unknown in gentler, more tepid climes---like, say, the Kalahari. I'd been in the garden before daylight, to take advantage of the "cool spell"---why, it had barely reached ninety before 6 a.m.---and we'd shelled and washed the beans, and I'd sweated and stood over boiling pots of blanching beans, in the afternoon-sun-filled kitchen, and I think I'd just. had. enough.

About the third crash, the fifth yell from afar, I just took leave of my senses, and, motto and parable aside, I screeched, "YOU'D BETTER BE BLEEDIN' !!!!

I apologized and it was accepted, but still I cringe at the memory.

Any similar Mama stories?

Monday, August 24, 2009

LUCY'S KITCHEN NOTEBOOK

There’s an absolutely charming blog that I peek in on now and again, for the words and the pictures and the stunningly-photographed views through the lens of Lucy Vanel, whose Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook is much enjoyed around the globe. She’s a G.R.I.T.S. Girl herself, living in Lyon with her lovely French husband, and they are the recent parents of a little son, long-awaited and much adored.

This is from an e-mail to Lucy some time ago, thanking her for a nice comment she made, and telling her of the differences between my kitchen habits and her own---how the literature and the press and the aura of French Cooking make me long to try the flavours of her markets and fishmongers and boulangerie---all seem to have a persona removed from the plastic-packaged goods to which I have become so warehouse/supermarket-inured.

She travels to one for the meat, to another for the bread, and still another for a certain vegetable of a too-short season, finding the perfect small pearly turnips, the tenderest new endive, the spoon-ripe pears on their optimum day. Her tradespeople know her, greet her as Madame, and occasionally show her a too-human side when the day has been long and the work especially daunting.

And to leave the house full of expectation each day, for what may be in a shop, or a stall or a fragrant bakery---though I’m not at all rigid in any segment of cooking save sanitation, I’m not accustomed to going out every morning, finding something wonderful and short-seasoned, and calculating what’s in the pantry/what do I have to buy to go with, and planning dinner right then and there, feeling it a triumphant find of the season. I do well to get to the store with list, glasses, money and market bags. And I don’t think I’m alone.
xxxxx
To Lucy:


The pictures of your coffee press and bowl could have been taken at my own table, though my view is in no way comparable to yours. Mine is of golden sunpeeks through lacy grapevine which I have coaxed (by dint of a weathered trellis) into covering the window of my kitchen. The cobweb of silk on the window is punctuated by drifts of leafshapes, and provides a lovely, ever-changing pattern on the refrigerator, the floor, and finally becomes a wall of every shade of green there is, as the sun makes its way up and over the roof to the west.

And so today I have had my own vanilla-perfumed bowl of Latte, to the music of the windchimes outside, muted by the tightly-closed windows on this very warm day. And I must dress and make my way to my own grocery, the place of all-in-one-store, with sterile refrigerators of silverskinned fish and the pink rows of cuddled shrimp; the shusssssh of the door as it opens and then bumps you on the rear, clouding with the warmth of the let-in air as you consider your choice, is an expected part of the experience.


I'm grateful for the beautiful food, the cleanliness of it, the purity of line, the earth and grit washed away from the great regiments of colored peppers and tomatoes and strawberries, each in their own well-regulated rows.

But I long to walk up to your butcher's counter at closing time, to order the bacon, to greet good evening, to whisk away from his brusque day's-end dismissal. I'd love to approach the vegetable market, touch the peach velvet, inhale the thyme and tarragon which stirs the scent at the merest touch, heft a melon or finger-smooth the squash, and decide on dinner, on the spot.

I will carry home these groceries, place them in the also-sterile cool of the refrigerators and freezers, and lose a bit of the flavour, somehow, in the transition from earth to chill storage. Though I do not long for the heat-drenched days of my life in the South, the covetous thought stirs of MFK Fisher's peach, which lay on a plate in her Paris kitchen throughout the day, changing from its pristine shape and color, and by evening, lay "bruised and voluptuously dying."

I must go, and I cannot wait to return to your blog, devouring the words with my eyes, tasting and sipping and sitting in those places, with those lovely foods and wine. Just the first few paragraphs, the first time I ever found your blog, of your surprise dinner with your husband, the little crocks of tasteables with the first glass of wine, stirred perfect memories of Ms Fisher's jaunt into the countryside for her solitary, perfect, unexpected lunch of a lifetime.
Please write and write, but do not miss a moment; venture out and taste and smell and share. I'll return in a couple of hours and begin from the beginning---it's a treat I've promised myself this 90-degree day.

xxxxx

I whole-heartedly recommend this beautiful blog---I started from the beginning and came forward, and have gone back time and again to the luscious pictures and words, and the continuity is better if the stories of buying and putting together their mountain home and of their long quest for that lovely little boy are read chronologically, but you can start absolutely anywhere and be captivated.

Just click on Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook, right over there in the "Blog List" on the right panel. It’s one of my very favorites.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

BAKED ALASKA

Baked Alaska-For-Two at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, across the table from Mr. Wonderful in an inch-wide tie.

The lights were low, the velvets and brocades of the room muting the soft murmur of conversation at romantic tables lost in the candlelight, and I was wearing my pale blue peau d’ange cocktail dress with the matching bolero and a corsage of pink glamellias.

Dessert was brought out high above the shoulder of the waiter, presented with a flourish, and ignited to applause from several tables around. In a center depression in the lofty, golden-tipped meringue, half an eggshell cuddled a sugar cube soaked in lemon extract, and the perfume was amazingly exotic. The little blue flame blazed for a moment, then the waiter deftly divided the cake onto two plates, poured a pool of raspberry sauce, and discreetly disappeared into the twilight.

It was golden meringue and vanilla ice cream and a slightly dry cake layer, but it took its cue from the ambiance of romance in the air, and was a memorable feast, borne forward for years as a special moment etched in time. Lovely evening, but he was not to be my Mr. Wonderful---I met HIM later, and he was well worth waiting for.

But for the moment---that captured-in-a-bubble niche in time which seemed to hover over real life like a floating cloud---it was impressed upon me: a decadent dome containing the chocolate of eons, a Waterford pitcher of poured peach blossoms, an eight-hour lunch at the French Laundry, eaten with a runcible spoon from Careme’s own service---those are NEVER going to equal that Baked Alaska.

Anyone remember a particularly wonderful dessert or any other special dish that stands out in memory? Grandma's cobbler, Mom's special way with chocolate cake or hot cocoa, your own first efforts at baking a cake or cookies---all memories most welcome. I love the history of cooking almost as much as the cooking itself, especially personal histories, with meaning to the one remembering.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

GRAPE-NUTS CHICKEN

Years ago, a recipe went round the South for a tasty chicken dish, marinated in Wishbone Italian, rolled in crushed cornflakes, baked til tender and golden. It turned up at church suppers, funeral feasts, potlucks, pitch-ins, and Tupperware gatherings.

We were invited to the home of friends for dinner (we knew the husband well, as he and the men of our family were members of several organizations and all were farmers. I had met the wife briefly on occasion). Now, for the life of me, I cannot imagine what prompted the invitation, except possibly the husband's urging of a social occasion amongst us four.

And I was delighted for an evening which entailed real shoes, a dining room, and someone else's cooking. The idea of sitting down for an entire meal, without jumping up for the salt, refilling glasses, or wiping up spilt ones---that had its charms, as well. And though I did not know these people well, it was going out for the evening, an unusual and lovely thing, indeed.

Living-room-served Appetizer was rumaki, but not bacon-wrapped. The livers and whole water chestnuts had been marinated in the soy mixture, dumped in a baking dish, marinade and all, topped with slices of bacon, and baked til the bacon was brown around the edges.

The whole panful was poured into a clear glass dish, which then resembled some science experiment gone awry---graybrown chunks of boiled liver, long flappy strands of ecru boiled bacon, the whole floating in a brownish fluid flecked with liver crumbs and congealed lumps of blood. We were given toothpicks and told how much easier this recipe was than wrapping all those yucky, bloody livers. And there we stood, all dressed for special, probing our toothpicks into the brothy clumps with the enthusiasm of folks poking a bear with a stick. We emerged with a dripping bit, held our tiny plates beneath on the way to our mouths, and hoped for the best.

But you know, if you could get past appearances, they weren't so bad; the crispy chestnuts had taken on the hue of the sauce as well, so you weren't sure which you might be putting into your mouth, and would be surprised that the soft unctuousness you were expecting might turn out to be a not-unpleasant crunch.

But then came the True Crunch: the famed Cornflake Chicken. But they were out of cornflakes, it seems, so the hostess made do with the next best thing in the cereal cupboard: Grape-Nuts. Now, Grape-Nuts, on a good day and in its natural state, perhaps with a little pool of milk and a scatter of blueberries, is a passably pleasant breakfast. But those hard little nuggets, already baked into a shelf-life of ninety-nine years---well, baking them further still---that was not a good idea.

After the surprise of the first bite, we cut and scraped and managed to eat the INSIDE of the chicken pieces---the outsides resembled wallpaper flocked with BB's. Hoping to avoid a trip to the dentist for repair work, we did some meticulous carving and managed to carry on a conversation, all at the same time. Even after all this time, I can remember trying to separate those little stone crumbs from the tender chicken, corral them in my cheek, then swallow them like aspirin with a few sips of tea, whilst maintaining a conversation.

Side dish was a lovely platter of baked sweet potato surprise, another favorite au courant on the hairdryer circuit. The recipe included mashing the potatoes, then forming them into a ball around a marshmallow, then rolling the balls in: (developing a theme here) TADAAAAAAAA!!! Cornflakes.

Repeat chicken chorus ad lib, with a nice gravelly coating of Grape-Nuts around those mooshy sweet potatoes---like a mouthful of sweet aquarium rocks. How anyone could have thought TWO dishes rolled in cereal would make a balanced meal is beyond me, but the Grape-Nuts carried both recipes to heights undreamed of by the original cooks.

I think of that nice lady occasionally, how she opened her home to us, set her table nicely and cooked us dinner, and how ungratefully snarky my memories are. And I don't think I ever told the story from that day to this---it just seemed so ungrateful, somehow, after all that effort, and not befitting the hospitality.

But I still can't pass the cereal aisle without thinking of that chicken.

Friday, August 21, 2009

TEAROOM DREAMS

yourdictionary photo

During my Hot-South childhood, the Summertime meant that I could stay day after day at Mammaw’s house.    Mammaw’s House. I had a Grandfather until I was grown and married, but still their dwellings (two---one the original small shotgun house with three rooms, two beds, a sofa and I-can’t-imagine-where-Mother-and-her-brother-slept-growing-up, and the larger, bright new house that Daddy built for them when I was in High School) were always referred to as Mammaw’s.

And Summers also meant that we would have visits from her two sisters, both from “OFF”---one who’d married and moved to Mobile, and the one whose far-traveling husband settled their family WAY up here in the Heartland. Aunt Bessie, the Mobile one, would spend a week or two lounging around the house, sending me for cold drinks and to the store for this and that.

The other Aunt was WAY more fun, and I know she must have grown tired of an eager child monopolizing her every free moment. I loved to see her get off that bus; she’d step down with a great sigh, breeze her face a bit with her Last Supper fan, and pop up her big black umbrella (parasol, to all the ladies of the family) for the walk to the house, and start talking.

She regaled us with tales of all the city doings, the streetcars and the taxicabs and all the stores. I always tried to steer her to stories of “Ellis Airs”---the biggest, nicest department store in town. And she always obliged, telling of beautiful dresses and shoes and handbags which her daughters brought home from a day of shopping. And they ate their lunch in the store. There was an actual restaurant right there inside the building, and you could just take your shopping bags in, set them beside your chair, and order your lunch.


We always had our noon-dinner at home, and my experience with store-purchased lunches was limited to an occasional stop in a Mom & Pop diner for a burger on the way to or from Memphis, or closer to home, seeing great truckfuls of fieldworkers brought into town for a quick lunch at Aunt Lou's grocery store. Their meals were limited to whatever the farm owner would pay, and quite a few of them came back to the butcher counter for “Nickel worfa bloney and nickel worfa crackers” which they ate directly off the square of butcher paper, out on the picnic tables in the shade, or squatted out back beneath the big old sycamores.

Auntie's stories went into delicious detail about the ladies’ hats, and of their gloves (removed for eating, of course--- a lady never ate with her gloves on---that was TACKY. And those movie stars with the long gloves with diamond bracelets and rings OVER their gloves in the movies, lifting those champagne glasses or caviar-on-toasts to their bright-red lips---a confirmation of their hussyhood right there).




The world of aspics and toast points and tomatoes stuffed with chicken salad seemed to be a preview of Heaven. I longed to sit at that dainty table just once, to see beautifully-dressed patrons with the demure bearing of a religeuse in its dainty topknot---the ankles-crossed, mouth-corner napkin-dab ladies who breezed in with the auras of Shalimar and Chanel and Pall Malls, and exited in a fluff of air-kisses and shrugged-on mink.





And I've been to Ayres for lunch, for the incomparable chicken salad and the aura of gently-fading sophistication, in the days before the Tearoom was relegated to a museum, where the lunches are treated somewhat like the other exhibits---relics of another time, another kind of life, to be sampled as would be a sip of Elizabethan mead.



But now beginning a return to the gentility of Chicken a la King on toast points are the Women Who Work outside their homes, whose morning-packed celery sticks and hastily-picked-up "wraps" sometimes give way to a more relaxed, more refreshing hour amongst the ferns and shining real glasses of iced tea and pots of Earl Grey, with the click of silver-on-china and someone to extend gracious service and clear the dishes.


The choice between crinkling open a smushed burger at a paper-strewn desk, and opening a crisp menu featuring sole almondine and petit pois, with congenial conversation and soft music playing unobtrusively---no contest.

I have seen the groups of women gathered in various restaurants at lunchtime, their lovely clothes and bearing, with expensive purses on their arms, and exquisitely-wrapped gifts in hand. And I always enjoy seeing the cheery bevy of purple punctuated with bright red hats---those ladies seem to have the most wonderful time of all.

They’d have made a perfect tale to hold me rapt with admiration and envy during Aunt’s story-telling down South.




Thursday, August 20, 2009

GIRL IN RED

Totally unrelated to the last post, which spoke of a trip to Scotland, but brought to mind by the events of the last few days:

When we were traveling on our tour bus in Scotland, our route took us late in the day past the town of Lockerbie. We did not stop; there was no sightseeing. We merely rode the highway as we had so many others, gazing out the windows, reflected and reflecting.

We sat speechless, one and all, in the unaccustomed silence, giving the landscape our entire respect and attention. No one spoke, no one slept, no one read or slouched or sighed in boredom. Even the tour guide whose bright wit and merry disposition gave us all so many fun moments was solemn, sitting quietly and hazing down his voice to the timbre of a golf announcer, as he occasionally called our attention to a sign or a building or a memorial.

He spoke of moments, of people, of shock and sorrow and healing, and we absorbed the dignity of the time with quiet respect.

And I remembered reading of the little Girl in Red, who became the small innocent icon for the tragedy, as she was remembered by a fellow passenger from a previous flight:

"To the little girl in the red dress who lies here who made my flight from Frankfurt such fun. You didn't deserve this. God Bless, Chas."

I cannot speak for anyone else, but for the memory of that one little child, and all those who perished with her, I echo:

You didn’t deserve this.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

OUR FRIEND DEE

This is the time of year that we held the after-funeral lunch in memory of our dear friend Dee, who, well into his eighties, had headed out several times a week for a round of golf. He loved the game; he loved the outdoors of it, having spent most nigh forty years of his life sleeping the light away, and going to work through the night hours. He seemed to be eager for the sunshine, and the fresh air and the striding across great swaths of green, after all those years of drawn shades and missed light.

That sunshine and the greens and the mighty thhhwaaaack of club against ball---his powerful shoulders and arms could drive a long one right out of sight. He was a gentle man, courtly and mannerly, in the way of so many big men---stooping a bit from his great height to acknowledge a greeting or an introduction gave him an air of polite graciousness, merely by dint of his having to incline his head and bend a bit.

Shorter men could merely grasp your hand and look you in the eye. Dee bent in gentle deference to your presence, and you felt the dignity and the import of his regard, as your own hand was enveloped completely in his huge warm one.

We gathered that day on his lawn, eating the lunch that my family had prepared. I had asked in his last days, as his family’s resignation and dwindling hopes led them to plan for the inevitable, if I could do a lunch at the home after the funeral. They were so sweetly grateful, but firmly insisted that they pay the grocery ticket. And so we came to an agreement---we’d get together to plan the menu, then I’d take it from there. My family and I would cook and arrange and garnish, getting out all the pretty dishes and platters and cloths, and all would be ready when they returned home.

We made a lovely lunch, of their favorites and local recipes and old Southern standards. We arranged tables on their lawn, theirs and ours and those of another neighbor, with chairs carried through the gate by the willing hands of eager-to-be-busy grandsons in unaccustomed neckties and shining shoes, and by my own son who wanted to do something really special for a wonderful neighbor. Umbrellas dotted the lawn, along with colorful cloths and cushions, and the luncheon was set up on the dining table in the house.

People just kept coming in the front door and wending their way through the rooms, for hugs and sympathetic words, and emerging into the shady yard with plates of food and big glasses of iced tea and lemonade. Dee’s wife, my dear friend Honey, was sweet and welcoming to friends and neighbors, and their several daughters hugged and greeted old friends of their own, as well as their Dad’s friends and golfing buddies. And it felt so good to have things go so smoothly and look so nice, without their having to worry about any of the details.

It was a beautiful day, much like this one---quite pleasant in the August breeze, with quiet conversation and an occasional low burst of laughter in reminiscence. We talked and ate and remembered. The daughters poured a round of Dee’s favorite Scotch, and we all drank a toast to such a delightful friend.

Later in the season as I was leaving for Scotland, I asked Honey for one of Dee’s golf tees. She gave me a nice old-fashioned wooden one, which had been a gift from the grandchildren. I carried it in my take-on bag, and on the lovely sunshiny afternoon when our tour group visited St. Andrews, where the game began so many centuries ago, I found a beautiful spot beneath an intricate old fence, knelt for a moment, stuck the tee into the ground, then stood, and with my foot, I pushed it deep into that grassy earth.

I’d told one of my seat-mates about what I was going to do, and when we alighted from the bus, quite a few of them gathered around and accompanied me as I went in search of a proper spot. As I finished, a soft AWWWWWW went up from my fellow travelers, and they were all smiling.

That’s been years ago, and I imagine that the varnish has dissolved away, the wood has melted into the damp ground, and the tee is a part of that place which created the game Dee loved so much. I hope so.

Monday, August 17, 2009

AIR FULL OF SPICES

I love spices. I love the scents of them, the tastes and just the IDEA of them, those far-traveled flavors of cinnamon and fennel and caraway, the allspice berries and the exotic cloves, with their little nail-shaped, round-headed selves, all nippy and fragrant with a thousand miles of the Spice Road in their wake.

I use cloves in several pickles, especially the Lime Sweets and the quick-make “Cheater Pickles” which can be made up in ten minutes. We use them to make Christmas-scented pomander balls, studding fat oranges with hundreds of the little knobby-headed fellows, and scatter a handful into a big glass candle-chimney, along with anise stars and a few little logs of cinnamon stick. The fat holiday candles’ heat causes the aromas of all the lovely spices to perfume the air in a most enticing way.

I bit a clove once, by accident, in my Mammaw’s Sweet Pickled Peaches; those were the roundest, most beautiful things in the Fruit House, and the dozen or so carefully-hoarded jars were saved for very special occasions. The big globes of golden-orange peach had been slip-skinned into smooth round perfection, and chosen each-of-a-size to match each other in the wide-mouth Masons. The deep-sweet syrup with just a tiny tang of vinegar was completed by a clove or two as garnish in each jar.

And in my zeal to enjoy each and every drop of the wonderful peach spooned up neatly from the small cut-glass bowls, I accidentally crunched down on an errant clove, numbing my tongue and gums and causing great laughter at the table as I grimaced away the odd feeling and flavor. I didn’t want to do THAT again. Ever. And to this day, I cannot stand even the scent of Dentyne gum.

At first our kitchen shelves boasted only salt, pepper, cinnamon for cinnamon toast and baked apples, and a can of sage or “Poultry Seasoning,” like a hundred redolent dust-bunnies crammed into that tiny white can. Mixed pickling spice was a given, so important with its allspice, bay leaf, tiny crusty circles of sliced dried red pepper---those were tied into a small square of white cloth and immersed into the great white pots of “chillie sauce” and spiced tomato sauce and chow-chow before they were canned.

Slowly, the number of spices increased, as we added nutmeg, celery seeds for slaw and potato salad, mustard seeds for squash pickles and Bread & Butters, turmeric for the “yellow rice” which accompanied shrimp and other fish dishes. Spices were bought for a one-of-a-kind recipe passed on under the hair-dryer, or clipped out of Farm Journal, and when a new faddish recipe surfaced amongst the Church Supper set, like as not another new spice or herb was added to every cook’s arsenal, whether she liked the flavor or not.

And now, with trips to Penzey’s and World Market and Trader Joe’s---the spice shelves are laden with things too irrestible to pass up---some used often, and some which grow dry and flavorless with old age, their scent and savor whispered away unsung in the dark of the cupboard.

And the heady scent of that rattly whole nutmeg calls me to open the bottle and sniff even when I’m not going to use any. But I think our tiny grater’s perhaps tossed in a drawer, far from the spice rack. A friend mentioned a while back that she kept her grater clear across the kitchen from the spices, and wondered why she did that, when it caused more steps from drawer to nutmeg.

And in a burst of silliness, I wrote back:

Believe me, that little grater is unendingly grateful to be far away from those pesky rough hooligans. Nutmegs are the schoolyard bullies, the Lollipop Guild of the spice world. They sneak out past curfew, they gossip and lie, and they just can't. be. trusted.

Quite a few spoilages, over-seasonings and boilovers in a quite normal kitchen can be traced to those lurky, tricksy nutmegs. They sit there, giggling behind their hands, as we spill, drop, pour laboriously-made stock right down the drain, and have unspeakable encounters with blistering pothandles and razor-blade mandolines.
Keep that little grater safely away from those jinxes. And don't turn your b
ack.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

SEED

Though this post was actually WRITTEN on August 15, it was begun on July 27 and forgotten. Something about the mechanisms of this blog-site dictates that once begun, etc. . .

And so, when I wrote and finished it this morning in August, it automatically whisked itself back in time to the former date. I do apologize. Would that it were so easy to transport in time like that---I think I'd go back to 1957 every Friday to buy groceries and fill up the car.
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Chris plants and tends the tomatoes. He measures out the Miracle-Gro, waters, ties up with gentle bands. He picks and critiques and enjoys his crop every year. I think the sheer growing of a thing, the shoring it up and helping it along, is a fulsome gift and a fulfilling craft.

Our tomato plants and the herb garden have burst out into great giants of flavor, the tomatoes in their huge pots heaving themselves out and up into a jungle of lush green studded with all sizes of round fat globes in every shade from jade to pale gold to dusky bronze to the deep promising red of a perfect vine-ripe.



My own well-meaning farmer leanings are expressed in the pulling and tending, as well. We returned from breakfast last week, and I strolled out to have a look at the herb garden. The lawn-mowing men were coming in the afternoon, and I hoped that they might make mowed-sense of the tangleknot that the round herb beds had become. It had rained mightily the day before, and the damp ground was easy beneath my feet.

So I reached, and grasped a handful of tall-grown stuff beside a basil plant. The satisfying CRUTTTTTSH of the unearthing, roots and dirt, of the handful from the night-rained earth was a moment of revelation, somehow. It came loose, dropping clots of black dirt, and with it, its root-bed future. The long green-growth spikes of grass and the heavy dirt-cluster at the end felt in my hand like those weighted-ribbons-on-strings of my childhood, and the resemblance satisfied a memory, I think---I'd clutch a handful, skrunch it out of the ground, and as I lifted and flung, it sped on its dirt-led trajectory several yards from my hand. I was off on a chase of grab-and-toss, littering the edge of the fenceline with piles and piles of weeds-to-wilt, and hearing my creaky old knees protest the bending.

I did not cover the entire garden, (a metaphor itself, perhaps) but I did make great bare circles of dark earth around each plant. And when the mowers arrived, I went with them to the garden, holding back each herb-limb from harm as the roaring blades approached, and we three danced there, in a dip-and-sway-and-lunge ballet, to the tempo of those great gnawing machines, til they’d made the loveliest little manicured lawn, punctuated by the now-recognizable herbs, their fragrances loosed to the air by hand and step as we worked.
I came in scented with sage and oregano, lavender and thyme, with a small bagful of basil leaves, some tips of mint for the tea, a floppy branch of spiky tarragon for the chicken.
The mint-perfumed chill of the tea, the lush licorice of the grilling chicken, the clean of the after-garden shower---all that rounded off the day in a satisfying way. It was a G-rated version of the intense R and X of the true farmer---no blisters, no sunburn, no salt tablets or shade-seeking or pouring of water over an overheated head. It was silly in its ease---not as low as the affectations of Marie Antoinette as farm-maid with her little gold trowel, but an easy thing, nothing to brag of. But it was real, somehow, that small bit of grubbing in the dirt; it was a carrying-on of the seeking-out and the cultivating.
I can one-hand finger-count the years when we haven't had a garden---it's just been a lifelong thing for me since I was old enough to drop a seed or shell peas in a pan. I've hoed and planted and watered and picked and canned and cooked---doing the work of taking the bounty seed-to-table all on my own. I've squatted in the pea-patch and in the beanrows til my back protested and the sweat-salt blinded my eyes. I've hit the garden before daylight, so as to be there before the heat of the day, and laid the last shelled/blanched/cooled bags into the freezer when the clock and sun had gone full-round into the next unforgiving dawn.
And so the now is such an insignificant thing, a patch of herbs and a few tomato plants. It's the gentle-lady's equivalent of the great acreage of the ago, but it holds the charm of the seeds' secrets as fully as a field stretched to the horizon. Our one petunia in a pot carries the weight of an endless cornfield in its bones. What we ask and receive of the earth and the sun and seed is old as Time, and just as magical.

POSTING HICCUP

I still don't know about all the bells and whistles of this blog-site, but I've done a thing that I can't find out how to fix, and it makes me feel so IGNORANT.

Thank you, INDY COOKIE, for posting to tell me how to fix my problem!!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

DINNER WITH FRIENDS

Our friends are back on the road today, so we had one last dinner together last night. The guys manned the grill and talked about guy stuff out back. Ben surveyed the great yard-high forest of baby Rose of Sharon bushes in the FairyDell and asked to take one home.

He was offered any and all to take with him, as well as his choice of a pot from the great terra-cotta graveyard out between the garages. We had started with one old haggard bush, overshadowed by the huge honeysuckle branches, but whose valiant purple trumpets would equal any lily in the realm. And now, just from drop-downs and bird-scatters and whatever way the wind blew, we have perhaps a hundred brave slender trees of them, purple ones and pink ones and white ones---the latter two with a deep mauve circlet inside the well.

The original purple bush:


Lil and I stayed downstairs, just chatting and having something cold to drink. She knits all the time, and her needles clicked away as we talked. She also presented me with a lovely round “World’s Best Dishcloth” which can be seen below peeking out as a hotpad beneath the farfalle dish.

We looked back at the little treasures that I had gathered in our small forays to the Flea Markets---the baby-sized silverware, the dress, the set of dessert plates, and a set of lovely muted lampshades for the chandelier, which make it look much more elegant than did the tiny candlestick-sized rosy ones which sat way high like Stan Laurel’s hat. The angels were on the downstairs Christmas tree, so when we packed the stuff away, I just put them on the chandelier:


The rest of our group arrived, and we put the dinner on the buffet:


The square Tupperware in front is Chris' creamed corn, cooked a couple of weeks ago, and taken from freezer to microwave to table.

Steaks and turkey Kielbasa:


Some glazed baby carrots---I’d never bought the little white ones before, so I thought we’d try them for company---besides they LOOKED pretty. I took our BabyGirl’s serving out before I put them in the skillet in a butter/brown sugar/Buttershot glaze. The difference between ours and hers was striking---hers were pristine white and orange; ours looked like the calves of someone too long in the tanning bed.



The bowtie and cheese casserole behaved itself admirably during dinner, being delicious and fulfilling all its duties, but now just WILL NOT lie down properly, and insists on sitting there sidesaddle on the page. I knew that those bratty fusilli were known to behave that way, but farfalle are, by definition, the Gentlefolk of the pasta world.

Some buttered sprouts, especially for DS#2, whose favorite vegetable they are:


We’d been petting and nurturing one particular tomato plant, which was a new variety for us: Pineapple tomatoes. They had a good bunch of those folds around the stem which promise a good tangy old-fashioned tomato taste.
And here he is---the finished product. It’s the big orange-ish slices in the front---I didn’t want to put anything on those slices to compromise the natural flavor, after all that watchful anticipation. And it was lovely---almost between fruit and tomato, with a good sweet tang and rich juices.

So I made only half the plate into Caprese, interlaying the Big Boy slices with fresh Mozzarella, then a little garnish of fresh shiny basil, with the olive oil, pink sea salt and Balsamic on the table for anyone who wanted the whole Caprese experience. DO click this one for a close-up:

And though I’d made the six-yolk boiled custard for a banana pudding the day before, we seemed to be out of bananas, so I used the last three slices of the lemon pound cake, cut it into cubes, halved a box of lovely red strawberries, and layered it all into this:


Strawberry Trifle.
We passed the last of their home-grown blueberries to scatter, plugged in the decaf, and had a lovely dessert time. We took a large serving to my dear neighbor, whose favorite thing is strawberries, as we walked our visitors out into the summer twilight and hugged goodbye til July, when we hope to see them in Virginia.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

LOOSINGS AND FINDINGS

I walked into this dark room at 5:30 this morning, and was struck by the color on the dining table---we'd just set down stuff any-which-way last night when we got back from Flea-Marketing with our friends. The red was unexpected punches of color in the dim light, so I grabbed the camera, shoved the things all together, and snapped.

The dress is for BabyGrand, and should fit her by Christmas; Chris picked it out and I remember how my Mississippi neighbor used to buy Polly Flinders for her little girl all the time. The little silverware was the one thing I was looking for yesterday, so she'd have a nice set here, and was the only one her size in any of the places we stopped. Just by coincidence, it is the same pattern as our set that we use most often. She's quite adept with her little plastic utensils, and the other day, I set down her lunch, and as I returned from the kitchen with my own plate and tea, I heard her say "Amen" as she reached for her plate.

And the Julia book---bought not because of the recent furor over the two J's, but because I'd never had one. I glanced through the pages with my first cup, and could imagine that strident, happy voice saying the words. This one just says "Copyright 1961" without any other printings listed, so I don't know when it was published, but I think that on the first, the three ladies were listed alphabetically.

My little water-jug that I carry in the car, and a tomato grabbed as we headed into the house---their red qualified them for inclusion, since they're a part of the nice day we spent together.



Tonight, everyone will having supper here---the four guests, BabyGrand and her parents, and the three of us. I'm about to go start a little cooking prep, and make a dish of bowtie gratin, ready for the oven, wash and tear some romaine hearts to toss with thin Vidalia, mandarins, craisins, sunflower seeds, and lime vinaigrette, a Caprese of all these wonderful tomatoes, with fresh Mozzarella and some of that shiny basil from the garden, and some lovely crook-necks and zucchini to go on the grill with the steaks.
I made the custard for the banana pudding yesterday morning, so it could chill before I assemble it today. I hope this will be a lovely dinner all together, and a good bon voyage to the friends who will be leaving early in the a.m.
It feels almost a farewell-to-Summer, somehow, this parting, like I always imagined closing out a Maine beach house would feel---that was the pinnacle of imaginary Summer experience to a Deep South child, those Maine Summers, especially the thought of spending day after day in a camp in the Northwoods. Screened porches and canoeing and swimming in a cold lake---what vacation could have been better? I have still to see Maine, and look forward to the someday.
For now, the here and now. And that's all right, as well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

MARDI GRAS

Not the REAL one, but a Fat, Full Tuesday, nevertheless---full of activities and friends and good food and some sightseeing, some quiet, introspective moments, and an enjoyable supper at home with our friends.

Our guests went to tour the Speedway this morning, so it was very quiet here, with the neat rooms and the unaccustomed empty sink and pristine countertops. I had allowed for the mere possibility that they might come over for breakfast, so I had everything ready to just set the table, get things out of fridge and pantry, and sit down.

So I just leisurely drank my first cup, strolled out into the day, enjoyed the bird-song, the breeze, the still-below-72 of the morning, and the damp greenth of the herb beds, which BabyGrand and I had watered thoroughly yesterday, when we ran and played and read and had such a good time together, I was exhausted at the end of the day.

Yesterday was a lot of hose-water and sprinkling with a teensy green plastic watering can, snub-nosed as a seal pup, and continuously re-filled from the hose. Water held eternal fascination as it made drops on the clover, spatted onto the driveway, poured into our shoes. We got barefoot, wrestled the hose way out back in the garden, watered the leaning herbs and the furling hostas, skitted a hungry mosquito or two from our tempting ankles, dripped watermelon down our chins and elbows at four, and finally she had a warm lavender bath in the pink TeleTub in the shade of the Big Ole Tree before her Daddy picked her up.

And so this morning was quiet, somehow, with the unaccustomed serenity of calm surfaces, neat counters, none but us in the house and no chores a-waiting. We showered, chatted, I drank more coffee, Chris went out to the workshop.

Our friends came back around noon; we debated going to lunch, and since all was in readiness, they needed no persuading to sit down and have a cool drink while GuestFriend and I took Things In Dishes from the fridge, poured crackers and doll-sized rice cakes into bowls, scooped the clear crystal ice, poured tea. GuestFriend’s Friend sliced a big bright plate of tomatoes, and we sat down.

We ate and drank from Solo's finest red cup and plate combination, which I’d stuck high on the pantry shelf---I’d been surprised when Chris brought them home with the groceries, and had plates all set out. I have absolutely NO Miss Martha Fixation on real plates---I just have a lot of them, collected in bits and bobs over the years, and I love setting a pretty table. Today was for fun.

We passed the tuna salad, Paminna Cheese, the egg-and-olive, the curry chicken salad, the wheat bread right in the bag, while I sliced lovely soft slices from the loaf of velvety Farmer’s bread. Everyone picked and chose, and everyone had a one-of-a-kind plate, kinda like going down the line at a buffet---no two alike, like us. And we laughed a lot, with Chris and his childhood friend swapping stories and good-natured insults and do you remembers, as everyone else laughed along and chimed in.

Then we went to several wonderful Flea-Markety-stores in a nearby town, the ones with fanciful names like Stitch-in-Thyme and Twice Around, finding a book or two, some lovely little shades for the dining room chandelier---very Summery---and 12 beautiful pastel dessert plates in a kind that I love, but can never find the name of. I'll post a picture, and maybe someone can identify them.

I looked at the price, then went to the front and asked if the booth owner would accept $X. Manager said she’d call, then said she wasn’t answering, but would 20% off be suitable? So I have new plates. Dish junkie, just like Chris says.

We came home, poured some iced tea, ordered a wonderful assortment of Chinese dishes; Chris picked them up, and we sat down not five minutes after he arrived. We talked a long time again, then they went home to their stunning small houses-on-wheels. Our Friends will be back, possibly for breakfast tomorrow, while the others will visit old friends up north of here.

And so, another day, full of friendship and sharing and eating together at our table, with friends old as gold and friends newly met. And Chris and I ourselves are full and running over with new news which came after the guests departed. That will be for sharing later. Much later.

Monday, August 10, 2009

FAIR MONDAY

Preface: I've tried and tried, and CANNOT make this post double-space as usual between paragraphs. I'm the master of the run-on, but having it run TOGETHER---that's not what I meant to do. But I AM getting the hang of pictures, though I put dessert first---isn't that the natural order of things? (click for closeups)



Our Fair-Going Friends arrived late yesterday, bringing friends of their own---they all live for part of the year in their immense Motor-homes in Florida, and are traveling through the MidWest this Summer, attending every State Fair they can fit into the round of their itinerary.
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We had a wonderful time last night, catching up and swapping silly stories---isn't it funny how certain friends or family members just seem to increase your IQ, just by mere conversation? These two we've known a long time---Chris since high school; I met them at our wedding, as they'd traveled all the way from Virginia to Mississippi so that he could stand up with Chris.
We get to talking and laughing, each feeding off the others' jibes and ripostes, and each seems to become exponentially more witty and interesting as the night goes on. They DID bring six bottles of their famous Scuppernong wine, hence the merriment quotient. I had only a token sip, as I do NOT like wine of any sort---we had a toast to good friends and new ones, and then I left my glass somewhere to grow warm and unwanted. And five bottles still stand unopened and untouched, on the pass-through with their comrade who has several inches left in the bottom.
And it was TOO HOT to sit outside. At 6 p.m. I've been such a braggart, talking about this glorious weather, crowing of our Seventies and low Eighties, but feeling I'd earned the right, by dint of my lifelong incarceration in the muggy steam of Mississipi, and my parole to the temperate Summers of Indiana---kinda like a reprieve or an award for all the discomfort, somehow.

And Caro cooked most of our dinner---what a lovely gesture!!! We'd had her divine thyme chicken paillards last week, along with a wonderful Asian salad made of whole-wheat spaghetti, long shreds of bright carrot to match, thrown into the pot just the minute before the pasta was drained in the colander and shocked cool in ice water---a lovely sesame/soy/sweet dressing with ginger and two colors of sesame seeds. So I asked her to repeat the dishes for last night, and she did.
She also made a small dish of long-shredded cucumbers in rice vinegar, garlic and a drop of fish sauce, and I made a big pot of low-cooked southern snap beans, left whole and cooked slumpily tender, with little baby red potatoes cooked atop. And a nice loaf of soft Farmer's bread and butter.
The small dishes in the back are the "Things in Dishes" that I always like to make to have handy in the fridge for snacks or a quick lunch---back there are, of course, Paminna Cheese and Egg and Olive, for spreading on the crackers and crisps with our drinks before dinner.
And to crown it all, a dish of Heirloom tomatoes, brought just for this meal from their garden back home---there are Cherokee Purples and slices of a big red Mortgage Lifter---doesn't that name conjure a great garden of tomatoes, peddled and sold to pay off the farm? And some small yellow ones which had the true tang of a homegrown.
The table is set sorta higgledy-piggledy, with dishes brought from the kitchen and set down by several willing hands, as Chris grabbed the camera.




And for dessert, a tender, moist-crumbed Lemon Pound Cake, topped with whipped cream and the blueberries from their Virginia garden, picked the morning they were leaving home.
We're having a wonderful visit, and I'm sure they'll have wonderful tales to tell of today's Fair adventures when they come home for supper.
moire non,

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SOUTHERN SUNDAY


Today’s The Lord’s Day, and the fervent Spirit of The Faithful is rising like incense to heaven all over the South. Not that it’s faint or puny anywhere else---the South’s just what I’m used to, and my umpty-leven years of church attendance in the part of the country with Sunday School, Sunday Church, Training Union, Sunday Night Church, Prayer Meeting on Wednesday night, Choir Practice somewhere in between there, and assorted Ladies' Groups, Men’s Breakfasts, Girls’ Groups, Boys’ Groups, Kinderfolks and CradleRoll---well, they didn’t coin the phrase “Every Time the Doors are Open,” for nothing.

Ours was a small church, with a not-too-rapid succession of good, Godly men as pastor, a really good choir and musicians, and the usual assortment of members, young to old, and all in between. The music was wonderful---loud and melodic and from the good foot-pattin’ rhythms of “At the Cross” and “Leanin’ on the Everlasting Arms,” to the quiet calm of “Just as I Am” and “It Is Well.”

The podium was a plain brown boxy one, with a little slanty top, just like the one in the auditorium at our school. The table just in front was a long-ago varnished one, with curled letters of “This Do In Remembrance of Me,” carved into the front panel. The top was gently battered by the thousands of set-downs of the just-passed offering plates, and was demurely covered on Lord’s Supper Day by a snowy cloth ironed into stiff-starched primness, to befit the trays of the bread and tiny cups of grapejuice. A big hand-made wooden stand in the middle of the table held an immense Bible, always open to the day’s passage.

Baptist preachers don’t preach sermons. They Bring the Message. From fiery, fist-pounding lectures with the scent of brimstone in the air, to soft, pleading entreaties that elicit tears and more than one sobbing trip down the aisle to salvation---those are the messages laid on the hearts of those preachers to be given to their flock.

And the pews. There’s no piece of furniture on Earth quite like a church pew. They range from rough-hewn flat square benches, the better to keep the congregation awake and alert in their upright severity, to graceful curved sways of architecture which leave the arms and legs on each end a good several inches forward of the mid-point of the length. Looking down from behind the podium in some churches, on the curves of the pews neatly nested one behind the other down the room, is like looking past pale brown waves to a far horizon.

The finish is smooth and satiny, with the backs and the seats worn even smoother than planes and sandpaper could make them. Generations of sit-down-and-get-up, along with countless wiggling children, bored and fidgety teenagers, innumerable slide-downs to make room for late-comers, along with Sinner-Squirm and Spirit-Filled-exhilaration---those have all given the old pews a polish like the glow of a well-loved Camaro.

You’ll never find that Gleam of Glory on a plastic folding chair or a velvet flip-down stadium seat.



Photos by Marty Kittrell

Saturday, August 8, 2009

SATURDAY SILLIES

One of my follow-every-day blogs was very short and simple today, with a silly sign on a Ladies' Room wall. So, with all the activity and housecleaning and cooking and supervising the yard crew, in preparation for five-day guests, short and simple it is. I have my own favorite one of those, from years ago:

Neat little sign:

PLEASE JIGGLE HANDEL.

And below, written in pen:

IF I DO, WILL IT JIGGLE BACH?

Friday, August 7, 2009

GOOD NEWS

When I sign onto the Internet, my provider also provides me with AP news blurbs, front and center in big blue letters, most of which I try to glance away from or squint past. Today’s five concerned: the airspeed failings of quite a few planes, the resignation of yet another public figure, Billy Mays’ autopsy findings, the grave illness of a member of a prominent political family, and the wife of yet another caught-in-the-headlights politician, carrying her worldly goods out of the governor’s residence after his much-publicized disgrace.

We need some GOOD NEWS, folks!! So I go straight to my list of happy places, and check in with friends I've never met, sharing their happinesses and their families and their accomplishments, their ups and downs and the sidewise loops life throws at us, as if I'd known them always.

And if not for them, and the fact that I spent the day with quite a few nice people I know, having lovely chats with a neighbor, a very Dear Daughter-in-Law, and a polite, smart young man who works for us now and then, with the added charm of spending the entire day in company of a quicksilver little almost-two in pink capris and a matching ribbon on her tiny whalespout, running and playing tag and chasing bubbles and drawing great colorful pages of aaaaaaart, I think I’d just go to bed and stay there til Christmas.

And here’s a story that BRIGHTS me:

One of our wedding presents long years ago was a beautiful handmade vase, gift from my dearest cousin---she comments now and then, as “Anonymous” and then signs her posts, “Love high as the mountains, Maggie.”

It’s a lovely piece, cool and smooth to the touch, heavy with clay and character; there’s a jaunty tilt to one side, a prosperous little swell of a belly, and a small streak of glaze, dripped from the lip and drizzled down an inch or two. I love it, and it’s been with us in all the homes of our marriage.

One night soon after we received it, I woke WAY in the wee hours and went to the kitchen for some water. I walked into a bright-lit room to find Caro sitting at the long orange bar and the blue vase filled with jonquils. Her childhood paintset lay open beside her, the long thin box of Crayola watercolors in the little square wells rimmed in faint frames of yesterday’s spill.
She was mixing colors on a plain old white Corelle plate, the hues running toward each other and mingling into fanciful shapes and shades.

She’d painted only bayou scenes heretofore, with scraggy cypress knees and hanging moss and a scatter of graceful mallards coming in for a sunset landing. But she'd always had the touch of an artist, making elaborately-decorated cakes and beautifully arranged party trays, carving fruit and vegetables into intricately-beautiful birds and flowers.

I watched for a few moments, then left her to her work. And in the morning, this was waiting for me, finished and dry and ready to frame:



And it's gone with us wherever we've lived ever since.
Isn't that a LOVELY thing??


Thursday, August 6, 2009

OH, MAYBELLINE!

On another blog I frequent, one of today's subjects was Mascara. The relative merits of wand and lengthener and the new buzzy one which is supposed to enhance application, but sounds like something from Clockwork Orange, speaking from a No-Moving-Parts-Near-My-Eye stance.

And in my usual too-many-words fashion, I went into a long remembrance of Maybelline-I-Have-Known, reminiscing about a type and method archaic to todays young, trendy audience. It probably came across as akin to speaking of a school slate and chalk to someone pausing mid-texting to give a grudging ear to an old codgess.

But it's MY story, and I'm sticking with it.

Maybelline is a Charter Member of the You've Come A Long Way, Baby Club. Mascara-on-a-stick. Now that's an idea whose time has come and stayed. And stayed.

I think we'd be hard-pressed to find too many people who remember the Real Thing---a subject not unlike pulling a flapper dress out of your closet. That tiny red box, shiny with promise, less than one inch by two, thin as an Andes mint, with its red plastic Barbie-brush with a handle like a toothpick and the tiny track of black, tarry stuff. It even had a wee shard of mirror for squinting into as you worked.

You held the brush under the faucet, gave it a little shake, then stroked it gently along the little furrow of mascara, getting a bit onto the brush, and blinking furiously in reflex as you applied the stuff to your lashes. The coveting of our own FIRST BOX of Maybelline was akin to the months-premature stashing of our first discreet Big Blue Box in the closet, and the flash-and-snap of a quick face-check made sure to show the smart red case.

Application with that tee-ninecy brush was truly a hit-or-miss operation, leaving you with Liza Lashes on one eye, and a wistful unmatched few on the other; great clumps of the clotty stuff would adhere in places, and the Kleenex/finger/Q-tip you used to remove all the stray bits would be smeared with black. Then lightly-feathering grooming of the brows, or a quick two-swoops which often left you looking like a mis-matched Groucho Marx---that completed the application.

And I will not mention a touch-up, between classes or in a smoky Ladies' room or perhaps a furtive back seat, with all the attendant clump-and-cleanup. On those occasions, if there were no handy faucet, girls were known to SPIT onto the brush, smear the resulting black YUK onto their eyes, and leave the germy residue in that tight little box for the next occasion.

I regarded those young women with the same aghast caution as I did the ones who popped out a contact and stuck it on their tongue til they could get to a re-applying place---many a glance to ascertain if they were contracting Pinkeye or becoming in imminent need of a pirate patch.

With the amateur hands wielding the sharp little brushes, the clots and clumps of errant waxy black, and the teeming bacteria which must have infested those gleaming small boxes, sharply SNAPPED over their nasty contents---it's a wonder we were not all blinded for life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

ZOOOOO

Friends will be here this weekend for the State Fair; they're traveling tandem with another Motor Home couple, visiting as many Fairs as they can reach this Summer. They've got their itinerary mapped out---here this week, another in Iowa, in Kansas, and so on. What a lovely way to travel, and what a fun thing to do, like a Summer-long sleepover in a new fun place every week.

We always went for one day to the Mid-South Fair in Memphis, and just speaking of it conjures all the hot scents of frying sugary breads and peppers and the sheer CROWD of it; the sounds of the yelling barkers and excited children and the music of the rides all competing in a tinkly cacophony of enthusiastic tunes.
I've always thought that there's a big Music Lab somewhere, in which folks sit and listen, doing mixes of the Greatest Hits from the Circus, Disneyland, and Good Humor, magically guaranteed to strike a longing chord in the hearts of small Fair-Goers, and a wallet-opening one in those of their parents.

And sometime during the year, we went to the Zoo. We'd take a picnic and eat in one of the shady areas, then stroll the paths and wander in and out of the exhibits.

Chris and I took the younger four children to the Zoo soon after we met, and it was a lovely day. I had always carried a big old French marketing net bag with loaves of bread to feed the animals (back in the day when you COULD). We stood and frisbeed slices to the spectacled bears, and one lady bear, beaten to the slice she had her eye on, began to wail and shout and make all manner of accusations against her fellow cave-mates. And me.

“HEEE got it and EYEEE should have had it!!” “SHEEE threw it to HIMMM and didn’t give MEEEEE any!!!”

She bayed and yowled, looking right at ME---the instigator of the whole thing, and I should just DO something about it. People began to stare, and to gather, as her diatribe went on, decibels and frustration increasing by leaps and bellows.


She all but POINTED at me, raising holy heck, as we frantically whizzed slice after slice in her direction; she ignored the bread and the scamperings of her kin---she was MAD and everybody was going to know about it. And I was the culprit.

We ran out of bread and escaped with our very lives, leaving behind a snickering, laughing crowd and a VERY irate bear. Never went back. Scared to.

The quiet note which calmed the day and soothed the ruffles was later in the afternoon, as we strolled with a few picnic leftovers in the big bag. We wandered amongst the birds, most of them unashamed little beggars---pigeons and others which were free to fly away, but knew a good location, and had this one staked out. They clamored at our feet, accustomed to the rich lode of handouts.


Several of the larger exotic ones held back, secure in their beautiful rarity, and perhaps a bit haughty because of it. One of the most delightful experiences of my life was sitting quietly on the grass, holding grape after grape on my outstretched palm, as a peacock in full regalia danced his courting dance for a moment, then stood pressed companionably against my side and swallowed them one by one in the Summer sunlight.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

STORMY MORNING

The thunder crashed about the house last night, and I dozed to sleep to the closer-than-distant rumblings. I ‘d heard the first of the close-booms, and went out to the patio to move to shelter the little pine table on which our BabyGrand had done her “aaaart” yesterday as the sun shone and we watered the hostas and wandered barefoot in the damp clover of the lawn.

And a great BOOM of it woke me this morning. I came sleepily out of our room, headed for the kitchen, and this, as every morning, was awaiting me:







I wash the pot and fill it with water and Yuban every night. Chris, who does not care for order and organization in most things, sets up the little coffee-station in the same manner every morning before I wake---Sky-blue cup, Sweet ‘n’ Low on the left (oh, the cream-and-sugars I’ve gone through---this slate floor has been the ruin of a lotta nice dishware, and the cute little clear pink sugarbowl, perfect with the tiny S&L spoon, met its demise a few weeks ago in a losing battle with the sneaky cord as I moved the pot). Skim in the cheery red pitcher, small pretty spoon (one of a set I found at Goodwill years ago, reminder of the luxurious days of full-service air travel, with TWA engraved on the handle---remember the real food in little toy dishes served on the pull-down tray?) centered just so.

He poured my first cup and I said, “Let’s go up into the sitting room and watch the rain.” So we did, and we talked softly of the Grandchildren, of the workday to come, of Japanese swords and coloring books, as we watched the great sluices of water cascading down off the edges of the overworked gutters.

One spot in particular would pour off torrents in a big V-shaped sheet, sometimes a foot wide, then narrowing inward to a couple of inches as the flow lessened, then immediately widening again with the force of the downpour. It was a lovely little warm cocoon, and we sat side-by-side in little pale comfortable barrel-chairs, which took the place of the blue one in the picture when I found them at a yard sale for $17.00 each last month.

This picture was taken on a sunny day, back in the Spring, but today was a darker day, with the windows splashed and the rosy glow of the little lamp welcoming and warm.







He came down to refill my coffee and came back up with a bowl of just-cut Decker melon chunks and two dainty forks; I would probably have fiddled around with the whole aura of the thing and put the melon on plates, or at least pretty bowls, taking up time better spent in the sheer enjoyment of the moment. But this was just perfect---the melon bowl he brought today was the big ole stainless one left over from my first Mixmaster, deep and scratched with a thousand uses. We just sat there companionably with our feet up, chatting and spearing another chunk of that incomparable melon, as the rain poured down.

This little space is just off the upstairs kitchen, and is what was called the “dining area” in all these Fifties ranches in our neighborhood. And all the neighbors-but-one have their tables and chairs there; since we have such a big space downstairs, with breakfast area and dining room, we opted to just make the entire long “living room” little groups of seating.

This cozy spot with chairs and booksbooksbooks is perfect for such a day as this. Lovely start to a stormy day.

Monday, August 3, 2009

LIFE IS LIKE A . . .

I keep thinking I've posted this, but can't seem to locate it in the archives. So if I have, please SOMEBODY tell me, and I'll zip it away and replace it. I just wouldn't like to think you were sorta looking at each other with a little bit of eyeroll. "The poor old dear---getting forgetful, I see. Well, we'll all be like that someday, I guess, Bless Her Heart."

Polite restraint to spare my feelings would be wasted. I wanna know these things---if you're told you have a run in your stocking, and it's still five hours til you can go home, there's nothing you can do, so I'd as soon not know.

But if my slip's showing or I've got lipstick on my teeth---speak OUT---I'll thank you for it and repay in kind when needed. And not just ladies, either---we have five sons, and I've been known to offer a perfect stranger the kindness of a discreet, "Zip up." Digression, digression.

Several years go, we went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Chris always has the pancake breakfast with all the extras--eggs and bacon and grits and the fruit sauce and the "whipped cream." We were waited on by a young lady who told us right off the bat that it was her first day.

She flustered her way through setting down water glasses, did manage to give us a menu each, and told us breathlessly that she was new and they had given her four tables and she just could not keep up and got someone else to take two of them, and she was just going to have one, now, and that was us.

Not knowing quite how to take the undivided attention, and hoping for the best, we ordered, as she laboriously wrote on the pad, like a stenographer who is just learning shorthand. Tell, write, pause. Repeat.

And with the "over easy" and the "cherry sauce, please," she was just out of her depth. We patiently, slowly enunciated our order, and she left to get the drinks. She returned with two iced teas. Chris asked for lemon. She went away and returned with two wedges lying forlornly on her cork tray, no bowl or saucer. She picked them up one at a time in her fingers, looked around bewildered for somewhere to put them, and set them neatly onto the tabletop, balanced and rocking on their little round sides.

We held our giggles til she left, and shared the laugh with several folks nearby, as they had been watching in amazement. Her progress down the aisle could be followed by the "I just can't DO four tables" concerto, and she had repeated it to perhaps six nearby groups, before she finally returned with our food.

It was surprisingly accurate, though she had forgotten the napkins. And Chris said he'd like to get the whipped cream for his pancakes. She fled and returned, walking slowly and carefully, a small bowl of fluffy white grasped in front of her like a child carrying soup.

Which it was, alas. The fresh-from-the-hot-dishwasher bowl she had sprayed the cream into had melted all the bottom additives, making a whey-ish liquid topped by a cloud of cream, which followed Newton's First---when she reached across to set it down, it kept going, slid out of the bowl and went PLOOP! right into his crotch.

There he sat, neatly garnished, while the whole place Hee-Hawed.

Complain to the manager? I’ll say NOT!! I’d PAY to see that again.