Tuesday, October 27, 2009

WEDNESDAY WE HAVE FAR TO GO

We'll be away a little bit---we're meeting some of the chillun in Tennessee today, for a visit and to pick up our GrandDog, who will be visiting us for a while, as his Mama and Daddy have accepted a temporary transfer which cannot include FuzzyPup.

We haven't had a pet for a while, and I'm kinda looking forward to it. I hope he likes us full-time.



moire non . . .

TUESDAY WE IRON

And I did. Almost all day, some weeks, depending on if I had the Great-Grandfather’s khakis in the mix. Grandmother wasn’t well a lot of the time, but she insisted that he go out of the house (even to the garden) in fresh creases and presses, so sometimes I’d go get her basketful and iron it with my own.

Many a morning-into-afternoon was spent at that screaky board, the hiss of steam and Niagara, the scent of Duz (I built up quite a little set of pale-blue glasses as Duz premiums---there was one in every box, and they ranged from teensy juice to some good-sized goblets---what a thrill to tear back the lid and shake the powder aside to unearth that shining glass. And never a one had been broken in transit---amazing) with the old familiar cloy of the starch and occasionally, Ironing Board Sandwiches. The children were still very young in that little house, I remember, and I’d set up the board in the living room so I could see the TV---it made the work go much faster.

We’d take a break for lunch, and usually I’d have made us each a sandwich right after breakfast and stashed it in the fridge for lunchtime. Their favorites were what we dubbed Ironing Board Sandwiches---after standing at the stove to make grilled cheese quite a few times, I hit upon the Ironing Day idea of putting each one in foil, with a tiny smear of butter on the outsides. At lunchtime, I’d put a couple of dishtowels on the board, top them with a paper towel or two, and iron our sandwiches---a precursor to our later ones, made in the fireplace with a long-handled "Croque Monsieur" iron---at least our version, which translated into more like a Croque Bubba.

The family favorite was our version of a Tuna Melt---a little can of Star-Kist stirred with a little mayo, perhaps a few finely-minced home-canned sweet pickles, spread onto the bread or buns (buns didn’t even NEED butter on the outside). A slice of unwrap-it cheese, and the top laid on, to be wrapped and await its ironing.

I’d usually do two at a time, so I could keep up with relative “done”-ness and heat and crisping of the outsides. The scent of the buttery, crisp-bread steam coming from the little packets was enticing, and one child would scurry to set out some grapes or share out slices of apple, another to pour the milk or tea, and as soon as the second two sandwiches were pronounced ready (usually judging by their flatness) we’d sit down.

Long years after, when they had teen friends over, a couple of times I made up a dozen or so of the packets and stuck them in the oven for long enough to crisp the outsides a bit and melt the cheese---they ate up every one, and my three would mention that they were MUCH better ironed. And once, they even got out the board and "cooked" them right then and there.

Ironing---I don’t know if any of the children still iron any of their clothes in this day of dryers and wrinkle-frees, but they all still speak fondly of those Ironing-Board Sandwiches.

Monday, October 26, 2009

MONDAY WE WASH






Until perhaps twenty years ago, Monday in the Southern USA was also known as Wash Day. New Orleans even had a special dish you could smell simmering past the doors of almost every house---Red Beans and Rice. It was quick to put together and could perk away on the stove til the washday crew finished or became plumb tuckered out and stopped for a bite.

But I guess Maytag Man, with the ease of rush-home-from-work-put-in-a-load-of-clothes an everyday thing, put the marking of that day out of fashion, and think that is a nostalgic loss, though certainly not mourned for the labor or the drudgery of spending an entire day-a-week slapping those wet clothes around on washboards and in boiling pots in the back yard.

I’ve been thinking all this Summer how much I’d like a little clothesline strung across the back garden---our neighbors on each side have one, and the sight of their brilliant-white bed linens and quilts flapping in the sunshine is a quick flash back in time, to the days of hanging out those fresh-washed clothes. The scent of the diapers and the other small garments, washed in the gentlest of powders---Ivory Snow---was just the cleanest, most wonderful smell, and the Duz-or-Oxydol-washed sheets and cottons---the air and sun lent a freshness to them which pervaded the whole house as they were brought in for folding.

I had the neatest little pin-bag---a nice little white canvas bag looped onto a heavy wire ring, with a thick upstanding prong for hanging onto the line. I slid it along ahead of me as I reached into the basket for the wet garments, starting always with the largest and tapering to the socks. And I’m not dicey about a great deal of organization---that’s just the way I hung things, and the way I enjoyed looking at them on the line. There’s a great satisfaction in the sight of three or four lines of sweet-smelling laundry, flapping in the sun; sheets like yacht-sails and little shirts as smaller pennants for the mast---that’s a sight I miss, though I would not trade this wonderful Roper gas dryer for a Beemer.

And I do still have a box of pins in the utility room; these are probably from Dollar General, and I got what I paid for---flimsy sticks with loopy wires which plink and catapult one side or another off behind the washer at the least touch sometimes. But the pins come in handy for small things which don’t need to go into the dryer. I’ve always loved the look of those pinch-pins we used to make Christmas-tree toy soldiers out of, the smooth pale wood and the little spraddled legs for grasping, but I’ve never had any luck in learning to make those catch hold of two garment-laps---four thicknesses altogether, which is the best way to hang things. I see folks in movies and on TV, hanging clothes by the corners, two pins per garment, space, another garment---what a waste, and what a need for a historical consultant to show them how it’s really done. The only rightful owners of a pin-to-themselves are socks, and I’ve pinned many a duo of those, as well.


When my children were very young, and before I had a dryer, I had two sets of clotheslines---a neat set of three, strung from matching T-posts we set in concrete in the back yard, with long notched-top poles set aslant at whatever angle and height was required to keep the longest sheet or blanket off the ground. I can still feel the rough square of the "prop" as I'd finish the hanging, then grasp that long pole and slide it forward on the ground, lifting the long stretches of line higher and higher into the wind.

A silly memory is of my Mother, whose snippy opinion of a neighbor was formed because the woman went into great gales of laughter when the whole line of fresh-washed clothes for her four rowdy boys collapsed onto the wet, muddy ground just as she finished hanging them. Mother thought that anybody who could laugh at THAT must not be quite all there, but I thought Mrs. Freeman was the most fun Mama in the whole bunch---she'd run out and catch a forward pass or go fishing with her gaggle of elbows-and-shouts boys when other town ladies were settling the affairs of nations at the Civic Club or Town Hall. I just loved her, and still remember that hilarious washday when she LAUGHED uproariously before picking up those bedraggled, muddy clothes to start all over.

The other set was indoors, for rainy-day drying---the thin-but-stout nylon roping secured to strong hooks in the beadboard up next to the ceiling in the "spare room." And with two in diapers, twice, there was a lotta wash and hanging, out or in. On rainy days, I'd pull the stout cords over to the hooks, loop them on, and hang those saggy-wet clean Curity diapers by the dozens. It took a while for those to dry, and sometimes I'd have to rotate a line or two, but with the little gas heater on LOW and the doors closed, we had a nice little warm place for taking care of laundry.

I always felt so sorry for the children of a relative whose Wintertime house always smelled of pee from the warmed-overs drying on one of those little rickety tinkertoy racks in front of the heater. If it had meant I had to wash out all those diapers by hand in the bathroom sink and dry them over the shower rod, you do what you have to do to keep your family clean.

I may put in my request for a set of lines out back in the Spring---I'd SO love to bring in armloads of sheets and blankets and spreads to go on our beds again. Or just look out at them, blowing in the sunshine. The softener and detergent companies are missing a sure thing---bottling the scent of sun-fresh, air-dried clothes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

SUNDAY ROASTS

These are not the beautiful "make mine rare" roasts of the Dinner Party or the Company Banquet. They are the softly-falling-apart-into-the-gravy chunks of gently-cooked meat with the rich flavors of careful browning and a judicious hand with the roux and the salt. The pieces of tender brown roast and the succulent gravy over homemade mashed potatoes could grace a State Dinner, and should.

There are three methods for making a “Roast” in the background of my cooking life: My Mammaw’s, which usually was actually “Steak and Gravy” in a big clear holds-a-gallon Pyrex, covered with the tight, matching lid.

MAMMAW'S STEAK AND GRAVY

Buy a couple of pounds of Round Steak, cut it into serving-size pieces (usually about three per steak). Put some flour, salt and pepper into a pieplate and dredge the pieces well on both sides. Brown them in several tablespoons of Crisco or Wesson Oil in a heavy skillet, just like you were cooking Country Fried Steak.

(If you’re actually using a Roast for this, get a nice two or three pound flat one, never the round ones which should be dry-roasted). Brown the entire thing in one piece if you like, then proceed with the recipe).

Cut up two or three big onions and about six ribs of celery into good-sized pieces. Put the first layer of browned steak into the bottom of the Pyrex (it can still be bleeding---do not cook it done while browning it, for it will cook til falling apart later). Layer on half of the onion/celery mixture and repeat the layers.

Make Gravy: Kinda eyeball the amount of grease left in the skillet, and make sure it equals about 4 tablespoons. Stir in that much of the dredging flour and turn heat fairly low; stir this roux with a flat paddle, scraping the bottom well each stroke, until it’s a nice nutty brown.

Stir in three pints or so of boiling water, being careful of the violent bubble-up. Stir mixture til it’s a thin gravy, then pour carefully over the steak in the bowl. Cover tightly, put into a 350 oven and bake at least two hours. CAREFUL again when removing lid---steam is very dangerous.

Gravy will thicken and meat will be fork-tender. Serve over rice, mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Leftovers (if there are any) make a superb Stroganoff with a little sour cream stirred in.

Then there was MAW'S METHOD---simple as all-get-out, like the Boiled Beef of centuries, but somehow meltingly delicious:

Same steps---flour roast, brown it. Put it into a BIG heavy Wearever with a lot of chopped onion and pour on plain water to cover. Salt lightly. Bring to a boil, cover, set into a 350 oven for two hours (or just let it simmer on top of the stove---same difference).

When roast is fork-tender in the broth, lift out meat with two egg-turners and set aside. Take a pint jar, put in 1/3 cup of the dredging flour, almost fill jar with water, screw on the lid, and shake like mad. Be sure broth is boiling and set small strainer across pot; strain thickener into broth, stirring til it’s thick and rich. Salt and pepper to taste, return roast to pan, being sure it's coated in the gravy, and serve.

70’s SUNDAY ROAST---ten minutes actual work:

Put two large sheets of Heavy Duty foil into baking pan---large enough to wrap roast with a couple of good folds down. Lay in a 2 or 3 pound roast, sprinkle on one envelope of Lipton Onion Soup (or onion/mushroom or vegetable), clop on a BIG can of Cream of Chicken Soup (or three little), fold foil down carefully into folds twice, do the same for the ends so no steam can escape, and bake for two to three hours at 350.

On any of these, you can add carrots, potatoes, whole baby onions (even Brussels Sprouts---the favorite of DS#2) halfway through, or you can steam the vegetables separately and put them in for the last 20 minutes or so, to soak up some of the gravy’s flavor.

The real beauty of all three of these is that they take exactly the time to cook as it takes to change into your Church Dress, herd all the chillun to the car, drive to Sunday School and Church, visit for a little bit with your neighbors in the parking lot, and drive home to a fragrant house and delicious Sunday Dinner.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MMMMayo

I found this rambly piece way back over in WORD, though I thought I'd posted it before, but can't seem to find it in the archives.

A family recipe using Myonnase dates from the 1880's, and it's hard to imagine how that recipe made its way from Careme to the hills and hollers and Delta of Mississippi in such a relatively short time. But the long trek was worthwhile, if for no other reason than ONE Tomato Sandwich---thick slices of home-grown tomato, vine-ripened and brought in warm from the garden, scattered with a few grinds of salt and laid between two soft-as-soft slices of Wonder Bread slathered with rich egg-yellow homemade mayonnaise with its kiss of vinegar and mustard---I cannot imagine that a table in Heaven would hold a lovelier dish.

Our choice from the grocery shelves is as close to home-made as you can get---Blue Plate or Duke's---both Southern born and bred. Blue Plate is made by Reilly Foods in New Orleans, and if you got any more Southern, you'd need a snorkel to keep from drowning in the Gulf.

I'd also forgotten to mention that I did learn, years ago, to make "dinnerplate" mayo, with a fork. It was my own Mammaw's recipe, with an egg yolk, dry mustard, some white or tarragon vinegar, a dash of salt, beaten with plain old "Wesson Oil"---which is, of course, one word where I come from. "Wessinoahl"---the frying, mayo-making, poppyseed dressing whirling, be-all, end-all of the gourmet market of the 60's and 70's South.

You just tilt that plate, throw in the yolk and a little sift of the Coleman's dry mustard (somehow that's been a standby in kitchens all across the South---kitchens which otherwise boasted no more daring a seasoning than ground cinnamon for the sweet tater pie---and the bright-yellow little can of grocery-store Coleman’s was in our shelves, though the Watkins man made his weekly route). Dash of salt, slurp of vinegar---tarragon (tare'-gun) especially prized for its exotic nature all around.

It's nice to have a friend to help; otherwise you have to prop the plate on a high-folded towel to have one hand free for pouring the oil, which is rightfully poured from the one-cup Pyrex with the red lettering, part of a three-piece set native to every Southern woman's dowry, along with three dozen embroidered pillowslips and the nesting bowls.

Drip, drip, drip, then thread; then, as it thickens, more volume, more vigorous beating, clanging that fork onto the china like a roundup dinnerbell. And some kind of magic happens; it begins with the first stirring, using the unknown principles of cling and surface tension and centrifugal force or some such, and somehow, nothing escapes that plate; not a drop is lost. When it's at its perfect fluffiness, with all or most of the oil absorbed---don't be persnickety about getting in the last drop; whole makings have been lost trying to even up the damage done by over-oiling an already-perfect mixture. You just KNOW when.

THEN. Lay the plate down flat and pick up that nice halved sweet onion you've got waiting. Hold it sorta diagonal up several inches from the plate of mayo, and scrape a sharp little knife across the cut surface, counting the drops as they fall from the edge. Exactly ten. No more, no less. Stir them in thoroughly, pinky-tip a teensy blob into your mouth, and check for seasoning. Perfect.

Scrape it into a pretty little bowl and serve alongside some thick, perfect tomato slices, or a nice wedge of tangy aspic (especially a Bloody Mary one), or on a cold crisp Waldorf. Spread it onto crust-cut bread, lay on some watercress or thin pink curls of Co-Cola baked ham or smoked salmon and roll into little cigarettes to serve to be-hatted matrons going about the business of Civic Duty. Make a still-warm 'mater sandwich with a big red round one, right off the vine. Set that bowl out on a lace tablecloth and call it good.

Almost every fork in my Mammaw's silverware drawer was like a four-fingered hand---the pinky-tine on one side beaten half-an-inch-shorter than the other three by constant banging against a plate, whipping up that Sunday mayonnaise.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HF, REDUX

I had an evening greeting from my friend Tonja, at http://tonjasgatherings.blogspot.com/ who sent me a picture of the little plaque she keeps on her desk:




Perhaps it's not spelled the same down there in Alabama, but that doesn't mean the performance and effect are any less stunning.

SOUTHERNISMS

Do come and sit at our table---you're welcome any time. The coffeepot stands ready, the tea kettle can reach a cheery boil in the time it takes to reach down a teapot, and there's usually something sweet in one cake dome or another.

You may or may not understand the language, for it's foreign to many of our visitors, at least the first time---we speak Southern, and it translates easily.

Some of the things you hear may be:

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

I hopeta shout----- I couldn’t agree more; it's as fervent as my hope of Heaven.

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 a 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 $700 Star Chair Rod.

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 of teeth.

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

Havin' a 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; or 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 meant to.

Don't know Pea Turkey-----Has absolutely no knowledge of the person, place, happening or idea. (but is usually willing to talk lengthily about it, anyway)

Ain't seen Hide nor Hair of him-----Have not been in his presence, nor have I even waved at him in the road

A Coon's Age-----A LONG time, as referenced by the supposed years of a long-lived raccoon. Spoken mainly to someone you haven't seen in a while----Why, I haven't seen YOU in a coon's age.

Drunk as Cooter Brown-----WAY past inebriated, up into the territory of the mythical (or factual) Cooter, who seems to be the epitome of tosspots

Great Day in the Morning!-----Exclamation of surprise, shock, or admiration, depending in inflection

Shine-----Moonshine---the clear, distilled corn squeezin's sold in quart jars from the back of pickups. Usually in the dark.

I DO declare!-----Exclamation of mild astonishment. I'd totally forgotten the froufraw when my Sis' college roomate was all up in arms that her Not-from-the-South Sister-in-Law was about to name the new baby niece Heidi Claire. Poor thing just didn't know. I don't remember how that came out.

I Swannee!-----I DO declare, but exasperated

You DO beat all-----Also depends on the inflection and voice---can be a form of approval, in expressing admiration or thanks. In an exasperated tone---getting close to ON MY LAST NERVE.

Which brings us to various levels of anger:

There's spittin' mad, and there's "it flew all over me," and there's "I could just pinch his head off," as well as "so mad I could fly." REALLY bad occasions are reserved for "I could just go to bed and eat Velveeta right out of the box."

And Chris' personal favorite: The famous last words of Good Ole Boys:

Hey, Y'all!! WAA Chis!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

THE DREADED BLUEBERRY . . .

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

I’ve had quite a few requests to hear more about THE DREADED BLUEBERRY/BLACK CHERRY SALAD, and though it gives me a bit of a quease to speak of the stuff, I suppose that NOW, with minds geared to the Spooky Season, and gore rampant on movie screen and television---now would be the time, if there is one. I was just thinking of all the mayhem and gory fare offered at our local movie theater, where we go to the early weekend matinee (we call it “let’s go have popcorn for breakfast") and when I clicked “Sunday” for movie times to see AMELIA---she was still as lost as before, with nary a sign of her amongst the horror fare---on sixteen screens, no less.

So if weird salad HAS to have a place, ‘tis the season. And I know the stuff COULDN’T have been as bad as I remember it---too many nice people made too much of it---gallons and bowls--- and there was probably no Pyrex 9x13 in nine counties that hadn’t cuddled a clumpy thick black sheet of the stuff.

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

And quite a few Feed-the-Young-Folks-Before-BTU evenings in Fellowship Halls featured little rounds of Styrofoam cushioning a leaf of iceberg with a square of the quivering blackish grue set neatly to the side of the dinner plate. You could tell the kids whose Mamas had Raised Them Right by their merely pushing the block with a tentative poke, then hiding the furtive wipe-of-the-fork on their napkins. The truly unmannered let their EWWWWWs be heard, and a couple with No Raisin’ a-Tall actually uttered, “Not AGAINNN!” for all to hear.

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

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

Do not try this at home.

Monday, October 19, 2009

COKE CUISINE

Whole meals have been planned around themes in the South for decades. Fish Fries, Oyster Roasts, Barbecues, Chitlin' Fries, Corn Roasts, Watermelon Cuttings. One which COULD be put together, I suppose, though it might take on the legendary horrors of The Grape-Nuts Chicken debacle, is a Co-Cola meal, since there are so many recipes which feature the Born-in-the-South-Beverage:

There's CO-COLA SALAD:

Tall can of black cherries. Pour ½ cup juice into measure. Discard rest of juice.
Open a Coke and pour into cherry juice up to 1 ½ cup line.

Cut up half a block of Philadelphia CC into small pieces and set aside.

Bring liquid to a boil in a pan; add a large Black Cherry Jello. Stir to dissolve, then stir in Cream Cheese bits to dissolve. Stir in a tall can of crushed pineapple and the cherries. Let sit in fridge to cool; stir once to distribute fruit throughout Jello. Pour into serving bowl or lightly-oiled loaf pan. Chill til firm. (A half-cup or so of chopped pecans would not go amiss in this salad, either).

On the day that Elmira made her special "Ice Cream Salad" at the Corner Caffay, the place was filled, and late-comers mournful when the pans ran out. Instead of the cream cheese, use a nice-sized scoop of ice cream, vanilla or Cherry Nugget, and pour coke into juice up to 1 1/4 cup line. Melt ice cream in hot Jello mixture, then finish as usual. She always made this in loaf pans, to slice and serve on a lettuce leaf.

CO-COLA BAKED HAM

Buy a nice five-pound bone-in butt portion of fully-cooked ham---Hormel and Armour never steer you wrong.

Unwrap, take off the little plastic covers from the bone-ends, and put it in a 9x13 or whatever baking pan will hold it and the juices nicely. Pour a can of Co-Cola over the top, cover with heavy-duty foil, sealing the edges tightly under the pan rim.

Bake 3 hours at 350. When time is up, take off foil. (If you’re gonna cut those fancy diamonds into the ham, the time is now---no cloves---that makes the Fairies cry).

Mix up a cup of brown sugar, 1 t. of Coleman's dry mustard, and a couple of tablespoons of the drippings. Spread mixture over all the top of ham, rubbing it in with a rubber spatula. Put it back in the oven for 30 minutes, let it rest at least 20, slice and serve, hot, warm or cold.

And save that wonderful “Pan Likker” for those who like it, or use it in a big pot of snap beans along about Wednesday with whatever ham is left on the bone.

CO-COLA CAKE:
Oven 350---Pam a 9x13.

1 Stick Butter
1 cup Coke
Big handful of Miniature Marshmallows
1 Square Baker’s Chocolate

Heat in pan and stir until marshmallows and chocolate are melted. Cool to room temp.

Sift into bowl and set aside:
2 1/3 c. Flour
1 t. Baking Soda
1 1/2 t. Baking Powder
3/4 c. Cocoa
1/2 t. Salt

Beat with mixer in large mixing bowl until creamy and sugar is dissolved:
2 Eggs
2 c. Sugar
1 c. oil
2 t. Vanilla
3/4 c. Buttermilk

Beat in half of flour mixture. Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture and beat well. Add rest of flour mixture and beat until well mixed. This is a thick batter.

Pour into pan, smooth top, and bake 40—45 minutes. Use a skewer in the center to test---should not be shiny wet, just moist. Cool on rack til almost cool, then pour on frosting.

Frosting:

1 Stick Butter
1/2 c. Cocoa
¼ c. Hershey’s syrup
A box of Powdered Sugar
1 t. Vanilla
Dash of salt
Coke, as needed for thinning
A cup of toasted pecans, chopped

Put half of sugar into mixing bowl.
Melt butter in pan; stir in cocoa to dissolve and begin to smell like FUDGE. Stir in syrup and pour over sugar in mixing bowl. Beat until well mixed, then beat in half of remaining sugar, then the rest. Dribble in a few drops of Coke until frosting is “how you like it” for spreading. Stir in pecans.

Pour and swirl over almost-cooled cake. Let sit until frosting firms up a bit before cutting into squares. (Mark off the squares with a pecan half in the center of each if you like). 3x4 in the pan will give you a dozen pieces.

If you don't feel like cooking all these convolutions on a theme, here's a real time-saver:

THE BEST CO-COLA RECIPE KNOWN TO MANKIND:

Fish an icy Co-Cola out of an ice-filled cooler. WHISSSSSPP off the cap and take a cold, burning swallow. Hold Coke in left hand. Pick up a crinkly package of Planters’ Peanuts in other hand, lift to mouth. Use eyetooth to tear a teensy slit across top of bag. Grasp loosened flap in front teeth and rip from package. Give the tiny wisp of cellophane a little PUH into the air as you proceed.

Now, sliding your hand up around neck of bottle, ease your fingers up to make a cup around mouth of bottle. Pour peanuts from package into finger-cup funnel into bottle. Listen to the satisfying hiss as the salt meets the CO2; inhale the unmistakable scent of Summertime. Just as foaming subsides, lift bottle to lips, tilt head back, and pour in a nice cold swallow of Coke, filled with the rich salty peanuts.

Chew peanuts, swallow Coke. Putcha feet up. Contemplate Life.

Bliss.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

ERODING ROOTS

My days are especially brightened by the talented vision of two fellow Mississippians---Janie and Marty, and I travel back each day through the images captured by their lenses.

There's Marty Kittrell's site:

http://martykittrellphotos.blogspot.com/2009/10/random-photos_16.html

That gorgeous purple flower is exponentially more beautiful, but reminiscent of the optic-fiber flowers in a clock we had way years ago. It hung in our bedroom, and on Sunday nights we'd lie in bed late, watching the tips of the flowers glow, as we listened to Music From the Hearts of Space. I hadn't thought of that in years.

The organ pipes, taken just as that one frame, are like polished instruments each one, in a black case to keep them safe and shining until time to take them out and unleash the music.

And the brave little sprigs in the rail-tie---would you believe I water the tiny outlines of moss in the cracks in our driveway? Life is indeed a miraculous and wonderful thing.

And I just had to link today's pictures from Janie:

http://southernlagniappe.blogspot.com/2009/10/just-pictures.html

Churches and bells and trees with knees---she does know how to find the images of Home.

The warmth of a red barn, a golden bee in the Southern sunshine as I type here with my fingers chill and an urge to run upstairs and turn up the heat another wee notch this damp cold day.

And I love the old cross tilting with time and tree-roots---a true depiction of "to dust ye shall return."

But pay particular attention to the bare-root tree, struggling to hold onto purchase on the eroding bank. The Mississippi Roots mirror my own in an uncanny fashion---they're long and reaching, but not quite anchored as they once were, with a lot of uncovered, unfettered branches to them. I know I'm HOME here, but the tippytoes of my roots are still clinging to those last holds on that black Delta Gumbo.

Perhaps someday my anchoring grip on Delta soil will let go, and the tree will topple, but not yet. Not yet.

SAWDUST AND CLOUDS

Here are the two asked-about and requested recipes from yesterday’s Preacher Food Menu.

SAWDUST/PRETZEL SALAD

Sawdust salad is an under-the-hairdryer name for a congealed salad, with Strawberry Jello the preferred congealer. And stacking the layers into pretty strata, for display upon a lettuce leaf on a salad plate---well---that’s just the pinnacle of a luncheon hostess’s ambitions in some circles. It certainly TASTES good, and is easy to make; though the “steps” are five, there’s no difficulty to the assemblage.

And it’s a little hidden Russian Doll of a recipe---leave off the last two steps, and it’s the classic Pretzel Salad, known and served for decades at Bridge, at Club, and at Church Suppers around the South. (Though you CAN come back with that tub of Cool Whip and anoint the top layer if you wish, making swirly twirls with the spatula, and laying in halved strawberries marching in across-and-down-rows for the cutting).

A hostess or two has been known to stir a teensy clop of Blue Plate into that top coat of Cool Whip, to make it into “A Real Salad.”

-----------------------SAWDUST/PRETZEL SALAD------------------------------------

First Layer---CRUST
2 cups crushed pretzels
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 c. sugar
Mix and press into bottom only of 9x13. Bake 10 @350. Cool completely. A glass pyrex looks prettier, but remember it will take much longer to cool for the next step.

SECOND Layer---Filling
1 (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 (8 oz.) Cool Whip
Beat cream cheese and sugar together, then stir in Cool Whip
Spread over cooled crust. Chill while Jello is cooling.

THIRD Layer---Jello
2 c. boiling water
Large Strawberry Jello---take out 1 tsp. of dry mix for topping
2 c. strawberries, chopped
2 T. sugar

Stir sugar into strawberries, set aside.
Mix Jello and water, chill til beginning to set.
Mix in strawberries---spread over CC layer. Chill til firm.

FOURTH Layer---Topping
1 tall can crushed pineapple
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1 t. Jello powder

Mix dry. Stir in pineapple and cook until thickened. Cool and spread onto firm Jello.

Fifth Layer---Cheese shreds.
Sprinkle on 1 cup finely-shredded sharp cheese.

SEQUENCE:
Make crust and set the pan on a rack to cool.
Make up the Jello and set bowl in fridge to cool and start to thicken.
Make the filling. Spread it on crust, put in fridge.
Make topping, keeping an eye on Jello so as to pour it before it sets.
When Jello is about the consistency of egg whites, pour it onto filling and put in fridge to set up completely. Spread cooled pineapple topping, sprinkle cheese, wrap, chill. Takes WAY less time to make than tell about.

Chill several hours before serving.

-------------------------------------BLUEBERRY CLOUD--------------------------------------
MERINGUE PIECRUST

3 egg whites, room temp
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. sugar
Pam a 9” pie plate. Oven 300.

Put a little vinegar into the bottom of mixing bowl, and wipe it around the insides with a paper towel. Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until soft peaks form. Add vanilla, and slowly beat in sugar until very stiff and glossy. Spread mixture into plate to form a shell. Bake for 50 minutes. Turn oven off, and leave meringue in oven for an hour. Cool.

BLUEBERRY CLOUD (OR STRAWBERRY, BLACKBERRY, RASPBERRY, PEACH)
3 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
2/3 c. sugar
2 t. cornstarch
Dash of salt
1 T. fresh lemon juice ( and some grated zest if you like)
1 t. vanilla

Wash fresh berries, but don’t dry; thaw frozen. Put berries and lemon juice into non-stick skillet and crush them a bit with a spoon. Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt, and add to pan. Stir over medium heat until berries pop and get juicy, and mixture comes to full boil, stirring constantly with flat paddle until thickened like sauce.

Cool and spoon into meringue shell. Chill until serving time, then top with dollops of whipped cream or some pretty rosettes from the Redi-Whip can. And filling that shell with a made-up Lemon Icebox Pie Filling (take those leftover 3 egg yolks, a can of Eagle Brand, 1/2 c. lemon juice, stir them together and let sit a minute to start firming up) will make a Pavlova that you could serve in Paris.

A few more of these and we'll be publishing a little spiral-bound cookbook.

Friday, October 16, 2009

PREACHER FOOD MENU

Fried Chicken

Chicken and Dumplin’s

Roast---Not Pot Roast, but not roasted, either

Pot Roast

Roast Chicken (simply called Baked Chicken)

Pork Roast and Dressing

Creamed Potatoes---usual title for Mashed Potatoes

Sunday Butterbeans

English Peas from a can

Del Monte Green Beans cooked with little Potatoes on top

Green Bean Casserole

Asparagus Casserole

Squash Casserole

Sweet Potato Souffle (Toffee-type Crust with Pecans on top)

Sweet Potato Casserole (with Marshmallows on top)

Pineapple casserole

Spanish Rice
Boullion Rice
And Macaroni and Cheese, courtesy of a reminder from Janie, at Southern Lagniappe; it certainly is worthy of mention for a Sunday Dinner Table


SALADS:

Five Cup


Congealed Salad (Jello, Pink Salad, Loaf Salad, Freezer Salad, Windowpane Waldorf, Watergate, Black Cherry Ice Cream, Sawdust, The Dreaded Blueberry-Black Cherry, Orange Mousse, Buttermilk Salad, DREAM SALAD)

Overnight/24 hour/Layered Salad

Combination salad

Potato Salad

Devilled Eggs

Macaroni Salad (shells for Sunday) sometimes with Tuna

Any home-canned pickles, preserves, conserve, jelly or jam deemed suitable for the menu


BREADS

Yeast rolls (Cloverleaf, Parker House, or bun-shaped)

Brown and Serve Rolls

Pillsbury Crescents

Angel Biscuits

DESSERTS

Banana Pudding

Chocolate Pie

Lemon Icebox Pie

Brownie Pie

Blueberry Cloud

Mountain Mama

Lemonade Bisque

Caramel Cake

Coconut Cake

Ambrosia Cake

Red Velvet Cake

Pound Cake and: Hot Fudge or Peaches or Strawberries or Lemon Sauce

Lemon Velvet Cake

Strawberry Cake

Strawberry Shortcake (plain yellow cake, unfrosted, with berries and cream)

Angel Food Strawberry Cake (same, with a split Angel Food, re-stacked)

Ugly Cake

Definitions, explanations and recipes forthcoming.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NANCY DREW---BLUE

It’s Vintage Thursday again, and I’m enjoying taking these journeys with all the people showing their treasures: drop in at http://coloradolady.blogspot.com/ to take a look.

We’ve built lots of bookshelves in this house; it came with but two---the one below and a mirror-image of it behind in the room next door. We’ve scattered paperbacks and magazines and all manner of splashy gardening and decorating and travel books randomly over the house, wherever they landed and wherever there was room. But our best and most precious, our treasured-from-the-past, the first-read and most fondly remembered books of our youth are placed in the varnished wooden bookcases, as befit the best of things.

This shelf has a row of my young-days’ favorites spanning about halfway from the left, his take up at Little Ships and go about ten to the right; the shelf above is filled with collections of stories which amazed and entertained us both as children, though we may have picked up these copies from Goodwill or Flea Markets along the way.










My own prizes are the Nancy Drew few, loved and lost and found again, as related in an earlier post:

http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2008/12/lost-and-found.html






Keetha, at http://writekudzu.blogspot.com/2009/10/that-could-have-been-me.html who is much younger than I, posted this week about the quickening of her heart as she saw a familiar yellow book jacket pass in a crowd; her Nancy Drews are the modern ones to me, though they’re the classics to her, a child of the Eighties. My own heartbeat leaps at the sight of those pale blue fabric books with the unmistakable bright orange silhouette on the front. Those are from the Thirties and Forties, passed to me by an older cousin; though the picture and Nancy herself change a bit as the decades change, from a characteristically Thirties profile of skirt, hat, flowing scarf and smart pumps, in an almost-pinup pose with the Magnifying Glass,




to a bit more of the toned-down black silhouette of a young woman of the Forties with a lot on her mind, more subdued clothes and sensible shoes for chasing after villains.





Somewhere in between there, in only the sixth volume, there was perhaps another edition published, as the series gained momentum, for the books were a bit plainer, in a dull blue, printed in a much more subdued orange hue.







And so generations of us girls have traveled with Nancy, speeding along in that snappy roadster, chasing clues, decoding ciphers, righting wrongs, solving mysteries.





I've gone back and back, these last few days, just in getting these out, feeling the fragile old fabric, the delicate, crumble-at-a-touch pages, inhaling the scent of old books and old times and hot Summer afternoons up a tree with Nancy, Bess and George for companions.
Everybody needs a Hero, and I’m glad these kind, smart, pleasant people were some of mine.

PREACHER FOOD

Over the years in a smalltown church, I learned the traditions of Feeding the Preacher. It could be for a come-after-church Sunday Dinner, an after-visit “Do Stay” if the lady of the house felt comfortable with the meal she was putting on the family supper table, or on one of the nights of Revival Week, when there would be not one, but TWO preachers as guests---the home-church one and the Visiting Preacher, who was Bringing the Message every night (and sometimes every morning) that week.

And there’s Preacher Food. It’s good food, good old Southern cooking raised to its almost-zenith (the apex, of course, the nights of Church Supper when one had not only the Preacher to judge the cooks’ credentials, but the entire female contingent of the congregation looking on and tasting and weighing the merits of every bite, right down to the serving dish and the parsley atop).

And why the hands-down, all-time favorite in the Sunday Dinner category is Fried Chicken, with all the attendant flurry and mess and spatter and flour mist in a kitchen soon to be scurried into the sterile mien of an operating field before flying off to church---that’s a mystery past my solving. I just CAN’T fry chicken without making a mess.

Of the kitchen, the stove, the burners, the cabinet tops, the floor---and me. No matter how careful, no matter the spatter-guards and the careful Scotch towels draped across the stove clock and the chrome---no matter the Ziploc corralling in all that flour mess and dust---I make a terrible chaos in the kitchen.

So, unless Fried Chicken was the absolute apogee of the cook’s repertoire, with crispness and taste and a well-drained lightness of being which surpassed any other dish in her arsenal---I just can’t see doing all that messy frying right before getting into a dress and pantyhose and pumps, grabbing up Bible and children, and rushing out the door. And, for many---also the day right after a visit to the Chat ‘n’ Curl for a fresh ‘do and helmet of AquaNet to last the week.

Ladies who had primped and powdered and pressed floated down the aisle to their pews in a drifting cloud of Crisco and Chanel, and in the close confines of the Choir Room just before the opening notes of the Doxology signaled the processional, Arpege competed valiantly with eau de Colonel.

But Fried Chicken it was for multitudes---for just family or for guests, as well. And for my first Mother-In-Law, who taught me to fry chicken,
http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2009/01/passing-torch.html

the same set menu Winter and Summer. With Fried Chicken went a pot of mashed potatoes, a can of Schoolday English peas, and a can of Pride of Illinois corn. There was even menu shorthand---you could name off your meal: Chicken (no need to say fried---if it was with Dumplin’s, you said so); can of peas, can of Pride. There was always pineapple salad, the sweet rings and the mayo and the hoop cheese placed on a lettuce leaf on a little side plate when company was coming; a cherry on top if it was REALLY Special.

Breads varied, from the most ethereal light rolls of the experienced cooks, to the buttered rocks served up by the novice bakers. Dessert was whatever the cook had felt like making on Saturday.

And moire non on Friday, re: Menu.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

AUTUMN BRUNCH

The weather brought our brunch indoors, but it was a cheery gathering, with lots of talk and good food.

A salute to the last of Summer fruits---melon with strawberries, pineapple, grapes and some lovely small sweet plums (I don’t think we got a picture of the fruit---this one is similar, made for a party last year. I’d not yet strewn the tray with the plushy apricots---they lent a golden light to the whole thing, luminous and translucent).



Chris did his wonderful several-hour ham on the grill, along with some luscious grilled pineapple spears. (I will confess, we’ve called it by another name, for our two-year old Grand and I have been studying shapes, and she immediately christened it “tri-apple.” So we’ll be saying that for a while, in the way Grandparents tend to do).



The quiche took a towering turn---everybody came running to OHHH and AHHHH when it came out of the oven---I don’t know WHAT made it get all above itself like that, proud and puffed up---I made it exactly as always---eggs, Pet milk, minced ham, steamed broccoli, cheese and grape tomatoes. Anyway, they called it “soufflĂ©” and I didn’t let on. The one in back is the Egg-Beaters version, with LF cheese, and had finished its bake a while before the big one---it's settled in upon itself, possibly humbled by the grandeur of its companion.


There was a little plate of lox cream cheese with plain bagels and a plate of thin onion and tomato---for those who like fish for breakfast---it’s Chris’ idea of Brunch in Heaven.





And some of the usual party fare which everyone expects to see on the table---the jalapeno/ green onion rolls in tomato tortillas and the veggie rolls with grated carrot, red bell pepper and laid-in baby spinach leaves in spinach wraps.




Some chicken salad croissants, made the Southern way, with apple and pecans.



Kahlua brownies---I’ve not baked many heavy items this Summer, and these were rich and velvety, with that little hit of coffee on your tongue, and the toasted pecans from the trees on the “place” in Mississippi.


A small cheese plate with Morbier, a bleu, a peppery Brie, a deep rich golden Cheddar, and a tip-wedge of Parmigiano Regiano---I love a crumb or two of that WITH dessert---the flavor depths seem to intensify each other---the rich tang of the cheese with a sweet bite of pastry or chocolate. The picture shows them before arranging---they'd been huddled together so as to fit under the little dome.

And half-size pastries from Caro’s bakery, still warm in the box when she brought them in. There are raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, pineapple (my favorite) and apple butter.


We ate and drank and talked, with cheery conversations continuing out and down the drive; I can only suppose that we all spent the afternoon in a cozy carb coma.
PS If anyone's interested in recipes, sing out and I'll post them on over in the week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

SUPPER AND SANKERS

Chris is out doing burgers on the grill---a quick, easy settle-in supper on trays with some of the many new-season regular shows we’ve missed this busy Autumn.

Last night we also had a homey supper, for cozying in our easy chairs with the likes of The Mentalist and Fringe (the latter for viewing only AFTER supper’s over---sometimes it’s pretty tame, and then occasionally, it can JUMP at you. But we love Walter).

A pot of field peas, cooked softly with onion and bacon, then tiny pods of okra placed atop, to steam soft and luscious; some leftover pork roast, sliced and baked in foil with barbecue sauce and crushed pineapple; a pan of crusty jalapeno/cheese cornbread, and a little bowl each of Summer Salad---juicy tomatoes, English cucumber, Vidalias, all cut and salted a while before supper, to bring out their juices into the bowl and meld the flavors.

We also had a couple of cups of fresh blueberries left in the fridge, so I made a little gratin-dish-for-two of Blueberry Sankers:


You can see that it did not brown much, as most of the batter is still submerged---a mixture of flour, sugar, melted butter, milk and vanilla drizzled over the five-minutes-in-Buttershot-in-a-skillet-popped blueberries. A little more butter drizzled on top, a scatter of Turbinado, and into the oven with both cornbread and pork. I love having dinner all cooking and ready to pull out hot and fragrant, when we’re ready to sit down.

And there’s a satisfaction in the KNOWING of it, the COPING of it, in that you’ve prepared things, tidied the kitchen, and naught is left but getting ice in glasses and pouring the tea. It's a lovely thing, on a Fall or Winter afternoon, to have something sending out its aromas into the warm house, whether rich, meaty odors of pot roast or roast chicken, or the cinnamony scent of scones or acorn squash or banana bread.

The house can be a mess, your hair needing the attention of a brush, your apron and cheeks flour-dusted, but opening the door into a fragrant kitchen is as welcoming and warm as a hug.

I’d stirred a little turbinado into a smitch of ricotta, right in the container, ready and waiting in the fridge, and left the dessert sitting on the stove.

We ate, watched, poured more tea. I took trays to the sink, made two bowls of dessert with their sweet, creamy topping, and it was a nice ending to a busy, blustery day.

And the history and provenance of Sankers can be found here:

http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2009/01/sankers.html

Friday, October 9, 2009

WELCOME!

WELCOME----WILLKOMMEN----BIENVENUE----YOUKOSO---SHALOM---

And Hi, Y'all!!

I'm SO pleased to have so many people dropping by today---I had no idea WHY, until I heard from PAM that we'd been randomly chosen by FOODIE BLOGROLL as one of the featured sites of the day.

What a lovely surprise, and I hope everyone will enjoy the visit. This blog is of and about the American South, of my generation a few decades back, of my learning to cook and cater and my love for hearth and home and kitchen and kin. The pictures in the posts below blow up REALLY big when you click them---I'm just learning to post pictures; my words have been my paintbox for so long, I'm new to all the bells and whistles of blogging.

There are recipes, little tutorials or how-to lessons on little things I've learned to make things easier or more convenient or enjoyable in the kitchen. This week we've roasted peppers, picked home-grown tomatoes, shown off old teapots, commisserated with a little one whose chicken had lost his voicebox, and talked about a brick inscribed LOVE and its importance in my school days.

I do hope you'll feel at home here, and though this is short notice and a delightful surprise, I bid you welcome and Godspeed until your return.

Thank you for dropping in,

rachel

THIS OLD BELL


Our bell with the ready assortment of striking-rocks, to provide different tones and to fit small hands. The lock is the exclusive property of the littlest Grand, who is the most constant in her musical practice---she alone has been responsible for hundreds of pecks and pocks in the already-odd paint job, and enjoys all the tunes we can play---lots of times in harmony, depending on the two chosen strikers.



This old bell stood on my parents’ lawn since I-can’t-remember-when. Daddy acquired it and its twin somewhere years apart, ensconcing them on the back lawn with dainty skirts of bright red salvia and frills of coleus and ivy at their feet. I'll treasure the memory of the cheerful clamor as Chris' three little boys swung on the levers, ringing out a joyful noise at the end of our wedding vows on the lawn.

The two bells were the last things onto the trucks when Daddy sold our family home years ago---the furniture and other belongings, now divided amongst three households like slicing a pie, with this to us and that to Sis and that going to Daddy’s new apartment, with the separate ways of the line of travel as those trucks left the driveway marking our distances in miles.

We had six sturdy men in our own group, that day of divide-and-depart, and Good Ole Boy friends from all around gathered as well, to lend their muscles and see us on our way. Big brackets of 2x4’s were nailed into the floors of the trucks, the bells wrestled by sweat and loader and groan into the slots, and a further prison nailed solidly in, to assure that there would be no shifting in the travel. The other went home to Texas with Sis, whose back lawn is graced by its sturdy presence and resounding voice.

And we three, when we got our hefty girl home all those hundreds of miles---all 1300 pounds of her---were lucky to have such a good friend in the local State Patrol. Chris had done lots of tech support for his home computers, and he offered to call in a favor from one of the tow-truck companies he knew. So up the drive came our truck, between shrubbery and eaves and fence, squeezing in like toothpaste, backing up to the floor of flat pavers we’d laid in anticipation of the need.

The tow truck followed in his wake, threading that obstacle needle with remarkable skill, easing past lawn and the ugly above-ground pool---an unsightly blue tuna-can which was not long for the keeping. A big sling and the winch and some accompanying noise of gears, with the shouts of all the male participants and onlookers. Through the air she was lifted, to settle into her permanent home---out amongst the Rose of Sharon and the brushy bones of the not-yet back arbor.

She’s a beautiful thing in the afternoon sun, despite the unfortunate what-were-they-thinking coat of gold Rustoleum, now pocked with the poundings of a thousand clanks and tings and clangs---the line of rocks on the stand are testament to countless liftings and steadyings as each of our little ones chooses a rock, a lock, a stick, a toy, and makes music on the bell. Those faces of joy in the music, the testing of spots which sound different tones, different notes, the chipping away of that awful, incongruous paint which is aging into something like a beauty of its own---those are a delight and a treasure in my days.
I've learned that a bell has a body, a head, a neck, ears and eyes, a mouth, a tongue---all the better to sing with, my dear.

If you click to enlarge, the writing on the support reads: The C. S. Bell Co. Hillsboro, O.

And on the reverse, December 1941. I like to think this was the last bell made before the company turned their metal-working tools and materials to the War Effort. There were only five work-days in that fateful December before Pearl Harbor, and perhaps mine was the last to be formed, to cool and roll off the line to take its place in a peaceful churchyard, calling the faithful to worship and prayer in the dark days of WWII, and clanging out the news of Peace when all the fighting stopped.

We ring it for occasions---Fourth of July or other joyful times, and for other, more solemn moments---school tragedies or other markers of mourning; we go out, as many of us as are at home, and ring the bell. As when the Virginia school lost so much of its bright promise one ordinary morning, we all went out and rang the bell.

The "test" sirens sing out every Friday at 11 a.m., so just as the wailing wound down, we rang the bell 32 times, one for each soul gone too soon. Ringing the bell its own loud GONG by swinging is quite a feat, so we have a nice row of softball-sized rocks sitting along its ledge. DS and I each took a rock, and as the siren-song faded, I hit "Bong." As if we'd practiced like an honor guard, he counted silently, with tiny nods of his head two, three and he hit.

It went on, each of us doing our little count-nods and the other two standing in respectful silence, as the bell resounded in turn for the entire 32 notes, ringing out through the neighborhood, drawing out fence-friends from both sides and singing in the clear morning air. I hope that some family's hearts were lifted in that moment as the clear round notes lifted into the breeze.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

PREMIUM TEAPOTS


The yellow teapot on the left was a gift from Chris to Caro on her birthday last month; he bought it because she’s a teapot collector, plus it is a send-in-the-premium-coupon Lipton Tea Company giveaway item circa 1935. You clipped the coupons off the tea box, sent them to Lipton, and they mailed your teapot to your small-town post office. I suppose you could choose your color, for I found pictures of a lot of different hues from the same year; this one is the exact shade of the filling of a luscious, tangy cool slice of Lemon Icebox Pie.

Not Lemon Meringue Pie, which is a different item altogether; that one has a cooked filling, heavy on the juice and peel, with water and cornstarch as prime ingredients. Icebox pie is a diet-busting slice made simply with egg yolks, Eagle Brand Milk, and a lot of lemon juice, mixed and poured quickly into that lovely graham cracker or vanilla wafer crust, before it can thicken all on its own. That’s the filling. The whites are whipped into creamy billows, whirled into swoops atop, and baked for long enough to turn the smooth topping to a lovely tanny-gold.

(How do I ALWAYS interrupt with a recipe? That’s a great failing I’m working on).

The burgundy and teal pots are tall, graceful Aladdin cousins to the short squat burgundy Magical Pot of Mammaw legend.
These two are premiums from McCormick, and according to Mammaw, the pots were right there in the store to choose from, and there were several colors, but the choices grew scarce as the promotion neared its end. Aunt Lou’s part in the story was that several ladies in the town wanted to “reserve” a color for which time as they had accumulated the proper number of coupons. And then there was THAT froufraw when others found out and got angry at the store, at Aunt Lou, and at the ones who DID get the favored colors. (Some of whom, by the way, had had the gall/folly/lack of tact to mention it at WMU and Club).

I don't know if Mammaw CHOSE hers, liking the squatty roundness better than the tall elegance, or if hers was the last one left. She had a thing about taking advantage, just because the prosperous store owner was her sister, though another sister, Aunt Lo, was a firm proponent of the nepotism rule of Pick 'n' Choice all the way.

And the waiting and hoping tells of the times---when tea was probably thirty cents a box, and perhaps ten coupons would get you the teapot---today we'd just throw all ten boxes in the buggy, pick our color, and go home with the lot. But THREE DOLLARS!! That was a week's wages for a lot of people, those who HAD work. It would more than buy the week's groceries, or a needed pair of shoes, or fabric for making several dresses for the daughters of the house. Those little pots were hard-won and sought after, and when it was the only teapot you HAD, daily use was careful, indeed, and special occasions were made more special by the having.
It’s unusual to find one with the little clerical collar insert still intact. I like to use the two tall ones when Chris and I have afternoon tea together---I drink coffee in the mornings, and the pot is too big for one. We use the insert in either one, and it makes a lovely, perfect-to-the-last-cup pot of tea, because after the five or six minute steep, the insert is removed to a saucer, and the flavor of the tea remains the same for every cup, without that over-brewed tannic flavor that can happen with loose leaves in the pot.

And I don’t know who the little yellow girl on the right is---she just sits there solidly on her perfectly flat bottom, taken down from her perch over the microwave when Chris wants a pot in the morning. My neighbor knitted me a variegated cozy, white with almost every color you can think of amongst the threads, and it looks good on all our pots, with an opening for spout, handle, and a teensy tonsure which fits over the lid button. We use the small yellow most, and she never spills a drop.

She has no credentials, no provenance, as do the other three, but she’s family, too.
Please drop in at http://coloradolady.blogspot.com/ and see all the lovely Vintage Thursday treasures that other folks are displaying.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ROASTED PEPPERS

Chris came home with a big bag of red peppers one night last week. They have been $3.00+ a pound for a long time, so at a dollar each, these felt like riches. He’s very fond of a tiny bowl of roasted pepper strips, with a little slick of olive oil and coarse sea salt, alongside whatever else might be on his plate.

A long-ago friend taught us how to roast them on the grill, back in the Nineties, and we’ve enjoyed them in countless dishes since.

So, from this beginning:
Click to embiggen, but jump back:





To charring all around, to black in lots of places, so the skins will become wrinkly and crisp in spots:




Into a double-paper-bag, to fold down and let them huddle in their sauna for a while, to loosen all that papery skin and finish tenderizing the peppers:



After about twenty minutes dump them onto a tray to cool until you can handle them. (or into plastic bags and into the fridge as I did, to chill overnight because it was suppertime). The peppers had been kept company on the grill by a big juicy hamburger each---so big, in fact, we had to slice them horizontally for a comfortable bite. His with mayo, tomato, onion, and Cheater pickles on the side; mine with mustard, onion, dill pickles. He ate his bare half-burger on the side---I had mine for lunch the next day.


When you’re ready to peel the peppers, lay them out on the tray, slip off the skin (you may have to scrape the blackened bits a bit, but not usually. The easiest way to seed them completely is to pull out the softened stem section---most of the seeds will come out with it. Then cut or tear the pepper down one side, so you can lay it out flat, with the insides up.

Use the fingerprint side of your entire index finger for a gentle rub across the pepper wherever any seeds have adhered. They’ll slide right off onto the tray for discarding, but try not to dispose of any of the lovely juices---pour them into a bowl with the peppers. Unless there's a real puddle, you can drip the juice off the edge, whilst the seeds hang on where they are, like Rose and Jack on the rail.

Slice peppers into long strips or cut up like pimiento from the jar---they’re delicious in Paminna Cheese as well. The strips filled a ½ gallon square Tupperware, and the juice came up about halfway. Store in fridge up to two weeks---I’ve bought them in oil, but I’ve never stored them in it---those are commercially canned, and there are some cautions about storing some kinds of vegetables in oil.

When you’re ready to use, just take out what you need, warm them gently in the microwave, drizzle on a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, or serve any way you like. (Especially tossed with hot pasta and freshly-grated PR).

We had some the next night for a first course of Pepper Soup (sautéed onion, a quart of chicken broth, a little salt, and two chopped peppers, simmered for a bit, then cooled and whirled in two batches in the blender, then strained back into the pot. This was just a tad thin, so I thickened it with a little cornstarch slurry at serving time) and Corn Fritters. There WAS a garnish of sour cream, but it sank without a trace, but was a nice surprise, stirred up all creamy and warm from the bottom of the bowl.


And storing the peppers in the bags overnight lent an extra hint of smokiness to the entire bowl, adding extra depth to the soup.



Before the soup, Chris had a few raw oysters and horseradishy cocktail sauce, and then a plate of Fried Oysters with remoulade, lemon and sliced tomatoes. I had a tomato stuffed with tuna salad and a couple more corn fritters. Nice dinner on a Fall's-almost-here night.

Friday, October 2, 2009

AAA to D

The boxes have begun to arrive---left quietly on the patio table by the cheery young folks from FedEx and UPS, and most have been scurried away to the hiding spots in Caro's realm upstairs. A little cloak of holiday secrecy is in the air, as the Christmas presents, stocking stuffers and small additions to the decor are opened and whisked away to await the season.

I NEVER get a headstart on presents. I just HATE to shop, and I'm the laggardy one, even if I HAVE IT IN MY HANDS two weeks ahead, thinking I'll send it TODAY, but oh, that's too early---no rush---it should arrive JUST in time for the birthday/anniversary/Christmas, etc. And then two days before, I hand out three times the freight money for whatever magic flies the presents to their intended.

Or not at all, and that's just so WRONG. Worst of all is losing the months-ago-bought present in the depths of THE ROOM, where sherpas fear to tread. I cannot impart to you the hopelessness of that room. Everything is piled in bags and boxes and grocery bags, toppling into corners and all thrown about every which-a-way---I go looking for the garment bags in March, find a lovely folded robe still in cellophane, luxurious and soft and warm, meant for the Christmas box to Georgia, and lurking in the dark way past decency. I just HATE when I do that, and sticking a gift card or a check into an envelope on that last-possible-date just feels unfinished, verging on up into the kingdom of TACKY.

And I don't think we'll EVER top last year's silly-present---Chris always finds some outrageously unfit gift for the Grandchildren---I think he likes to see DD grimace and say "DADDDDD-EE!" in a tone of fond exasperation and trying-not-to-laugh. Last year it was a rubber chicken, for our Kit, middle child of the Georgia clan---Chris has given her some of the silliest things---for example, a REAL frog, all taxidermied and tanned into a neat leather purse with a strap and a zipper---and in all the pictures of her baby brother's arrival, a lot of the hospital pics of the happy family gathered around Mommy's bed feature Mr. Frog in plain sight amongst the flowers and smiles.

But the rubber chicken---it made its appearance way late in the gift-opening one night during Christmas last year, and was received with delighted squeals from Our Girl, who punctuated every conversation with chicken squawks for the rest of the evening. The thing was yellow and rubber, like a buncha old recycled Playtex gloves, and the neck was a foot long, stuffed with a piece of PVC pipe which magnified and echoed and channeled the long AWWWWWKKKKKKKKKKKKK into ear-splitting dimensions. She'd let it fill its flabby tummy with air, then squeeze it bagpipe fashion between her elbow and side, giving us all the full effect of the blast. She was three. It was fun. The first time. The next forty decreased by an amusement factor of -10 each time.

Therein lay the next morning's unforgettable moment. They were staying at a nearby hotel with an indoor pool, and when they all arrived back next morning, all dressed and ready for breakfast and a day of fun, little Kit came in the back door and stood disconsolate and as droopy as the long tassels on her little Peruvian hat.

She stood huddled in her little purple coat, holding the chicken like a waiter's napkin across her arm, the now-pipeless neck hanging draggled and limp. Her Daddy had just. had. enough. about bedtime, and had performed a pipe-ectomy on Mr. Chicken while the children slept. Voiceless, spineless, unsupported, chicken hung mute and forlorn like the display in a French butchershop.

And Kit, a child of modern toys of the electronic age, pronounced her diagnosis:

"His BADDD-ries ran down!"

Thursday, October 1, 2009

LOVE

HAPPY OCTOBER!!






And LOVE to all who enter here. The brick is not one of those garden-shop inspirational ones, those with sweet sayings and mottos like Gratitude or Peace or Hope, though I do have several of those scattered about. This old fellow is from back in the late 1800’s---it is the last relic of the small-town school which my Sis and I attended.

It was torn down several years ago, after sitting fallow for quite some time, as the passing years and idle hands created a shambles in its once-filled insides. The building’s eyes, once witness to so much boisterous chatter and lively goings-on, were stone-broken and empty, victim to time and the laughing vandalism of the young---the shards of glass scattered onto the pathways and sidewalks, and onto the small desks inside, still bolted into their face-the-front tableau.

I thought of it over the years, site of all my childhood learning, place of Magellan and Paraguay and Pi, school to my grandparents, my Dad, my own generation of cool cats and Elvis and sweet flirtations in passing hallways, of droning hot afternoons in study hall or class, the wasp-whuzz against the panes as lulling in the heat as Mr. Adams’ monotone in right-after-lunch Math.

When the school was demolished, Sis bought all the hardwood from the gym floor, those pale golden inch-wide planks of our playing field with its echoes of thundering feet, cheering crowds of long-still voices as loud still as the echoes from the Circus Maximus. And Daddy got us each a brick---it was a school legend that kissing beneath or pressed against one of the few out-facing ones with the word LOVE visible on it was almost as good as a Promise Ring---you were steadies thenceforth.

And it’s a wonder that there was an imprint left, for it was Good Luck to run your fingers across one on Exam Day or Finals or that quiz you didn’t study for. Or to grant your wishes that Jimmy Parsons would ask YOU to the after-game dance. I imagined that the grooves of the L and the E looked a bit shallow over the years, eroded by countless finger-smoothings to little shallow wells, and the O a small cup in the brick.

Click to blow it up---let LOVE fill your screen. See the little remnants of mortar in the letters---this fellow probably spent his life lying down between his comrades, laid square and true into the pattern, holding up the whole. And so, no fingermarks, no touches from hopeful small hands, no light-of-day until the wrecking-ball smashed so many of the long-standing bricks, and left mine to fall untouched into the pile. It seems that "my" brick might have been part of a corner of the building, for there's a paler rim around two sides---the deep purple of the face still the dark of the clay and firing, and the two small strips of "frame" could have been rain and sun-bleached into a lighter shade.

We never gave a thought that the word DIDN’T carry happy wishes; the pure commercial aspect that it might be the name of the brick company never entered our romantic little heads. OUR school said LOVE, and even the folks listed as “VISITORS” on the big bright scoreboard would stroll over and touch the word for luck.

And before a game, any game---or even before they boarded the old yellow bus to go to another town for a game, the players all scrambled down the backside of the building, giving a rub to the "V" for VICTORY. It was like the run down the line on the field, slapping the hands of teammates for luck. I'd love to see one of THOSE bricks today, smoothed into a valley by all those rough farmboy hands.

I think about who might have touched it---was it Daddy's teenage hands, so callused at his young age, from the work on the farm? Perhaps my own Grandmother, a blushing young girl whose schooldays ended in the eighth grade, or one of my dear Aunts, beautiful in their teen years, humbled by their homemade clothes and passed-down shoes, and all inspired to do better in their later lives, as they grew into even more beautiful strong, smart women, with dash and flair and lovely outfits and perfume. Was it a young man of my own generation or a hopeful girl I knew, gently tracing the letters, with a wish upon each?

And so I spent my schooldays, in those hot, frozen-in-time, ever-changing days of the evolving South, going every day into those doors, to the scents of chalk and childhood, to be embraced and sheltered by thousands of graven images of
LOVE.

Please have a look-in at http://coloradolady.blogspot.com/ for a lot of other much-loved items on this Vintage Thursday.