Monday, February 28, 2011

MUSIC, IV---MADRIGAL FEAST

All photos from the Internet

Down at Eye-You, as Indiana University is called, there used to be the most wonderful series of evenings during the Christmas season called Madrigal Feasts, put on by the School of Music. I’d heard of them, and the first time we went, I’d won a “day-trip” from a tour company in a drawing at a local mall. It was just for a day-tour of somewhere close enough, and so we chose to go to Bloomington for the evening for the program.

And it was simply wonderful---on a crisp, clear-cold evening just before Christmas, we met the tour bus over in the parking lot of the mall, and we rode the highway through the sunset, with the great wide windows of the bus giving us lovely views of the countryside as the twilight deepened, whilst the guides led us in carols, and others passed around the peppermint sticks and lemon drops.


The whole banquet hall had been transformed into the revel-hall of a medieval castle, with an enormous fireplace, and a big throne-balcony up high, with King and Queen and courtiers.


The feast was wonderfully done by the cafeteria staff, and all the food was just delicious. Instead of the boar, for show there was an actual huge pink piggy-head, with the little tag in the ear, bought from a processing plant, and arrayed on an enormous salver, which was heralded by a flourish of trumpets and brought in on the shoulders of four servants. We were served a lovely Prime Rib, and salads and other accompaniments. Another flourish of trumpets after the table was cleared, and the servers brought in the bushel-sized flaming pudding, lofty and holly-decked, while smaller versions were placed on each table.
And all the while, the striking voices were singing the old songs and rounds and lays and melodies. Everyone was in court costume, and the music was magnificent, accompanied by members of the orchestra. And I would imagine that that was the first time most of the guests had ever heard the actual words to GREENSLEEVES, since we know it now mostly as What Child is This? I was also amazed to find some of the airs and words a bit familiar---they were nearly the same tunes of some of the old Hill Music, the melodies of my ancestors, but with a more elegant delivery than the old plaintive twang.
Down on the immense banquet floor with our tables were jugglers, jesters, magicians, fortune-tellers, minstrels and all sorts of other entertainers of the time frame.

We were still singing as we came out into the clear, frosty air, and on the bus all the way home.

But alas, it’s one of the sad facts of life that schools are having to “make cuts,” and one of the first activities to fall was the Madrigal Feast. We were dismayed to hear that the funding was no longer available, and amidst the local mumbles and rumors of new fieldhouses and coaches' salaries, we have it on good authority that as a parting gesture on the night of the very last Feast, the serving staff put earbobs and lipstick on the pig.



Sunday, February 27, 2011

MUSIC, CHAPTER THREE

All images from the Intenet

Today's How Sweet the Sound reminded me of our Sunday mornings when Chris and I were first married---the song was part of our Sunday morning getting-ready-for-church time. We'd sing along with this one, and Take My Hand, all through breakfast and dressing and getting out the door, still humming or singing Lower Lights or Golden Bells in the car, all the way up the walk into the church doors. That little cassette held a lot of good music.
And Chris is down there this minute, at our little church---gone to visit his folks for a few days. I marked the time just now between "changing classes" between Sunday School and Church, then the little soft-speaking time as everyone took their pews, and the expectant hush which fell as the choir filed in. About now they’re making their way out into the Noonday, shaking hands and speaking and hugging babies, headed for the parking lot, where, if it’s not rainy or too cool, they’ll stand and greet and make plans and catch up on the week's doings with their neighbors.

Isn’t it lovely the feelings and memories that the music of our pasts evoke?

There’s the Sunday morning at our little small-town church, when the vast numbers of a local family all returned to the “Home Place” for a family gathering, to see one of the grandsons off into the Army. None of us knew of the bad time coming---the marking of this new beginning was really a closing and a finality for the gathering of that family, and I look back on that golden morning, with the sun streaming in the windows, as all the voices rang out in Amazing Grace and Make me a Blessing and God of Our Fathers. We sang Godspeed and Grace to that sweet young man, not dreaming we were bidding farewell to the linking of the family chain, which was never to be the same.


That Sunday, the rafters rang, just as they did the Sunday in September every year, when our small church hosted the All-Day-Singing-with-Dinner-on-the-Grounds. That was a gathering of remarkable, talented, totally-dedicated unsung singers who knew each other and every song in the worn little books they carried to a different church each Sunday of the Summer.

We knew the lady-who-sang-tenor by voice and face---Miss Artha was a pleasant woman, her Saturday-at-the-Beauty-Shop evident in the stiff sails of her poufy hair; her resemblance to Miss Vestal Goodman was even more pronounced, down to the sparkling rings on the hand holding the hanky. She was faintly kissed by celebrity amongst all the followers of the old-time music, and her Kitty Wells notes resounded over the quartet with the ease of a lifelong familiarity.






And then there were the twins who belonged on the Opry, and the different family groups, and the four men approaching their Eighties, who had sung these same songs together for decades, with an occasional wavery note making the effort all the more wonderful and endearing. All the visiting singers carried those little shape-notes folios---a great box of them was hauled out of a trunk and distributed to those of us whose experience of many of the songs was limited to this one time of year. I loved singing along, for the accustomed kinship of the music to most of those regulars was easy as breathing, and it made ME feel the ease, too.


And sometimes, for some songs, there would be an intensity in the air, a hum that was not of voices, but was akin to standing beneath the engines of an airplane---a power not of ourselves, not harnessable, like the swinging, surging notes of that old piano to I'll Fly Away---gripping and carrying, so that all you could do was jump in and hang on til the tide rolled in and deposited you, breathless, on the damp sand.




A Shape-Notes page. These could be read by folks who couldn't read music, and I'm sure some of them couldn't read the words, either, but knew them by heart.

Hosting The Singing was an honor to the church and the community, also a time for catching up on kin and friends from far churches and communities, stopping for a noon meal brought from far and wide, the platters of ham and fried chicken and nine kinds of potato salad from the local Church Ladies sitting side-by with the crocks of beans and the pound cake transported from The Hills and the pie and rolls from the kitchens of fine cooks in Tallahatchie County and Byhalia.
This one, by happenstance, is at Enon Church in Itawamba County, where I've been many times. I think it was even of my era, for I had a dress just like that.
One Easter Sunday, our own little choir sang the Gaither’s Alleluia, cover to cover. We had fifteen choir members---strong voices---soaring sopranos for the melody and descant, and right-on altos and tenors and good baritones, with one spectacular, cavern-deep bass. We had church members who played organ, piano, flute, drums, bass and guitar, and even the practice sessions seemed like a divine experience. The place was packed that Sunday morning, and the music was WAY beyond ourselves---another tide which swirled and danced and carried everyone to a lovely place.


How I’d love to hear those songs sung by all those people one more time---many of the voices are gone to another Choir now, and so many moved away or moved on. I have to feel that the notes are still somewhere, waiting for the next Edison to come and capture the sound waves and restore all those precious, lost tones. I think that WILL happen someday, that retrieval of the chords and notes and phrases, for miracles occur and are being invented every day.


Until the Possible, we’ll keep them alive by remembering. Please share your music memories, any and all.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

MUSIC, II

I think I got a little carried away with all I wanted you to see and hear of the music that I love and remember in vivid small vignettes. There are several links, so enjoy all you'd care to.





We gazed up at Marguerite Piazza standing halfway up her sweeping staircase, with the notes to O Holy Night swirling around her, escaping from her lips through a power greater than herself and soaring up up into the sparkly Christmas night, with us at her feet, feeling the music invade our bones, and feeling that our hearts were indeed the center of all thought and being, because they were filling, filling, and might burst from the intensity. I’ve wondered often what good thing I did to deserve that moment.




The rockin’, twangin’ notes of Gimme Three Steps and Ole Time Rock ‘n’ Roll and Third Rate Romance and You Don’t Have to Call me Darlin’ played by our favorite local band, and every other Country/Western band that ever sweated through those sweltering evenings-til-dawn of smoke and shouting and nobody listening to anyone but themselves and the nearest piece of Maybe that they had zeroed in on as a Possible for the night. My several friends and I had one never-fail tenet when we went out for the evening: We all went together, we danced and enjoyed the company of other people, and we left with our own group; that one stood us in good stead in our lives and in our friendship.


Jerry Jeff 'Internet photo

Caro singing on Beale Street on the anniversary of Elvis’ death, and her being called up from the audience often in those same smoky places, with applause and shouting over the room at the mention of her name, to take her place at that microphone and make everyone move a little closer to the one that brung ‘em. And her wonderful voice just shining on the afternoon of our wedding, as she sang The Rose in the midst of friends gathered in my parents’ garden.




My dear pianist friend’s fingers spilling forth Rachmaninoff’s Variation on a Theme from Paganini the first time I put the music in front of him---he sat down and it just channeled out and up, like leaves swirling against a wall. And the look on Chris’ sweet face at our wedding, as those same notes rang golden into the Summer afternoon, and I came around the corner of the lawn in the beautiful dress he had designed for me.



Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain and both his and Ray Charles’ versions of Georgia. Willie’s version just strikes you to your heart, and then Ray’s is practically a Religious Experience.


The Winter afternoon that Chris surprised me with tickets to hear Itzhak Perlman at IU, and we rode down through the white fields with the sunglints and the whizzing shadows of the trees and the CD in the car making our own little capsule like a Silent Movie in the flickers and the music, and I felt so elegant and well-dressed in my new velvet pants and romantic white satin blouse with velvet yoke. And then in that grand room, that magical violin lifted us all several feet into the air, so we sat there, like a convention of fakirs on carpets, floating on the magical swell and flow of the notes like water.




The other bit of lagniappe was that his accompanist was a virtuoso in his own right; we felt that we had been doubly blessed with those two on stage together---sometimes dueling, sometimes dancing a pasa doble, sometimes lifting the other up to exponential heights---tripling, squaring the possibilities of two.

And he waited backstage for us to come and shake his hand; I took it in mine, and don’t believe that I imagined the warmth and the almost electric touch of those supremely-gifted fingers, as we clasped, spoke, and moved on. We were almost the last of the line, and he was gracious and unhurried, holding my hand and smiling as he held his crutches beneath his arms with what I think must be unimaginable muscle-strength from the exercise of an athlete.


I moved on to the accompanist, Rohan de Silva, and as I shook his hand, I leaned in and whispered into his ear that there were two Maestros on the stage that day---only he needed to hear.



Internet photo

And another Christmas, when my Sis’ first In-Laws were down for the holidays---we had a nice crowd at my house on Christmas Eve, and since Sis AND her Brother-in-Law both played guitar and sang really well---they put together a one-of-a-kind version of Christmas in Dixie for our new kin, substituting all the towns and cities of the various visitors into the song, and we three sang it there in the glow of the candles and the flickering fireplace.


There’s more than music in these memories, but it’s the smooth, shining ribbon which ties them together.

Friday, February 25, 2011

MISSING THE MUSIC, I

An old high school friend asked me in an e-mail several years ago what music I’d like to hear again, and I remembered so many wonderful melodies and moments that I went on for two pages. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been more musical than usual lately; this morning I awoke to loud thumps and what, from the mists of my slumbery state and the warmth of my bed, somehow became entangled with the score to a Tarzan movie from the Weismuller days. I opened the door to a loud, rousing version of Joe Cocker’s The Letter blasting on the speakers, with Chris singing along from the depths of the utility room, where he was compiling the little daily snap-tops of our week’s vitamins.
And we’ve been drumming quite a bit of late, because we have TWO now, plus a just-acquired “'monica” which had belonged to Chris’ Dad, who was quite the virtuoso. Our little one loves the thing, and caught right on to the running of scales and the intake/out-blow method of music-making. She hands me a drum and some sticks, and picks up her harpoon---we play. Any and all who enter here play, as well, being handed around drums, sticks, maracas, a pot lid---we’re like the geriatric version of a kindergarten rhythm band, with a tee-ninecy conductor.

Here, the musical memories and wishes may have to go on for several chapters over several days, but if you’re interested:




All images from the Internet

I’d dearly love to hear my dear, dear neighbor from Mississippi at his Steinway, playing Liebestraum and Pavane for a Sleeping Princess and Moonlight Sonata and the mystical, haunting Traumerei, which he always played for me after a hard day at work or when the boss’ mannerisms had been especially harsh. I would sit in his Mother’s little gooseneck rocker, and he would hand me a dainty glass of Tawny Port; I would rock and dream and it would soothe away the day, and by the end of the Schumann I was almost melted into the chair like a spent snowman, dwindling in the sun.


I severely regret the misplacement of a plate-sized reel of tape during one of our various moves; I’ve had no way to play it again, as we have never had a reel-to-reel machine, but just the having of it was enough. It was the pinnacle of my friend’s career as an artist and teacher, playing The Age of Anxiety, with Bernstein conducting. And just to hold it in my hands would be a miracle, of sorts---all that talent and those gifted hands and minds condensed and graven into that fragile, spinning hoop of vinyl and dreams.


These could have been mine, except there were ten of them, and save for  Mammaw's mandolin, most of the instruments were just what they could put together. 


I’ve always longed to see that ragtag band of my ancestors out in the hills, to see the home-made instruments and their faces and their clothes and how tall they were---to see the young, sinewy boys and the too-soon men and the innocent sweet girls with the string-callused fingers and the palms of field-hands. Had they had a good dinner and were they tired from their day in the field before they felt the sun’s arc ease toward the horizon so they could come home to the shade of the yard? I imagine they lined up to wash their hands and faces, sluicing their heads and the backs of their necks for cooling, and toweling down with the same old gray towel on the porch-nail, a small, backwoods semblance-rite of purification before entering the sanctity of their Mother’s home.

Another use for an old galvanized washtub:


I would love to watch and hear them play and sing the old hill songs---Lorena and Wildwood Flower, and all the other old warbly, plaintive songs which would have been blues had they known the word---playing at barn dances and weddings, or congregated at home in the parlor or front room or wherever their phone was, playing over the party line.

And more music tomorrow---I'd love to hear your own memories and longings for music of times past, or music missed, or music yet unheard.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

BUTTERBEAN SMOOTHIE

This image reminded me that we went to see the Waring Blenders, once, with Mr. Fred Waring conducting---lovely evening. The program was wonderful, and I especially remember the audience singing along to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," in that beautiful auditorium, with the notes of that sweet, swaying old-fashioned love song gently wafting up from all those voices, as they must have from music halls, concert venues, choir events, and even burlesque houses and saloons for decades.

I'm having quite an afternoon with a blender, myself, because Caro, Bless Her Heart in the BEST way, is in the midst of having a root canal. She hasn't eaten for a couple of days because of the pain, and I was determined to make her something she can sip through a straw. "Room temperature or barely warm, please," she mumbled from beneath the covers just now when I went to check on her.

And you know what she wanted? Last night's leftover butterbeans, pureed. I was kidding when I mentioned them in the Bang-Dade post, but I made a pot of them last night so she'd have something soft to nibble on. Now I've made her the puree, with just enough of the pot liquor to make it a creamy soup---I tasted a little spoontip, and it's like the babyfood that savvy babies would order, IF they could talk.

I also made a fresh strawberry smoothie, with vanilla yogurt, a little apple juice, and a sprinkle of Splenda, coming to room temp, and will make her some very creamy mashed potatoes in a little bit so they can cool off some.

This is just SO sad, and she's so brave and I'm the one who's crying about it. We're soldiering (and blending) on, so moire non when there's more time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

BANG-DADES

Sweetpea has had a love affair with the band-aid box for quite some years now, and is allowed to get out her own, open it, apply it wherever necessary, and dispose of the little flips and flitters of wrappings. She gets boxes of Tinker Bell and Dora and Cinderella bandaids in her Christmas stocking, Easter Basket, etc., like other kids get candy. She long ago christened them "bang-dades," which seems a particularly appropriate malapropism.

She was playing a serious game of Triage when we had breakfast yesterday, and applied quite a few to one and all present, and I noticed that when her Daddy came in from work in the afternoon, he was still sporting a fancy green Tinker Bell bandaid around one finger. Kinda sweet, actually.


Of course, this fascination has led to a great number of sticker-books and all their attendant embellishments---if it will peel and stick to something, she's your girl. Yesterday, she was very quiet for a while as I was busy in the kitchen. I emerged to take a peek, and there she was, sitting in "her" chair watching Fifi and the Flowertots, her lap filled by a sticker book the size of a dictionary, and all totted up with stickers up and down her pants legs and shirt sleeves. The piece de resistance, though, was the personal decoration.

Y'all have a good day, now---Me and Miss Hanna Belle Lecter will be over here having some butterbeans and a nice Sealtest.




Monday, February 21, 2011

FRELLIT!

Y’all know this is a G-Rated blog. Always has been, but today, things may change. And if you’re dainty---I’ll interject a caveat in the words of the inimitable Miss Nigella, “Look away Now.”

Yesterday was a lovely day. It was a sort of disjointed day, in that Caro and I started out to make some candle-rings---noted in the Pink Roses post above. I GOT the pink roses and the little wire rings, the just-the-right-shade of blush-pink candles, the greenery, the silky cascade of white flowers to intersperse, and we got out the clippers, the needle-nose pliers, the green tape. Then we went upstairs looking for the BIG knee-high silver candlestick to hold one of the rings and candle. Caro thought it might be in the little white dresser set smack against the wall behind the couch.

We moved out couch, explored drawers and shelves, finding a pretty pink Depression-glass fluted bowl for the low arrangement, plus all sorts of room for the stack of Christmas Marthas which had been beneath the sitting room lamp, the Winter candles, some seldom-used tablecloths. Decided what the heck, we’ve got the couch out anyway, and swept all behind and beneath, extending our brooms’ reach to the far corners of the hardwood. Swept up a few fallen begonia leaves, decided to clear the entire table and deadhead the plants.


Spilled leaves and stems, swept again. Cleaned off coffeetable, polished glass, re-arranged bibelots on plant table in corner. Ran back and forth downstairs for Windex, cloths, tiny broom and dustpan, ice from the machine. Caro remembered box, long lost, holding the yards and yards of garland with hundreds of pale pink roses which had been the “valance” six or eight years ago when we got the living room sheers. That would look nice over sitting-room arch where Christmas garland had been.

Downstairs to get step-stool, up to hold and measure and drape. Garland down again, to get spilled roses from bottom of box and fill in bald spots. Up and up. Prettyyy!!



Getting kinda late in the day, so we decided to part ways and go start different parts of dinner, her in her kitchen, me in mine. I stop to admire lamp, fairy, hand-clutch of roses just laid down there until we need them. Little did I know how MUCH I was gonna need something pretty to look at.



Chris home with week’s groceries---all the attendant puttings-away and dividing into packages for the freezer. I to kitchen, him to computer to finish a letter he’d started. He’d decided in the grocery store that since FuzzyPup is so fond of the fishy flavors of Alpo, perhaps some cat food might be just the ticket. I don’t think it’s quite the thing to cross species on the formulas, but what the heck---I’d see if he liked it, anyway---we had four cans. Chris at computer; me in kitchen.

Fuzzy alerted me that his tummy was ringing; I opened a tuna-sized can of 9-Lives (which WAS TUNA, which plays into this melodrama in just a moment). The always-has-been method of making “Fuzzy’s Dinners” is a couple of tablespoons of Alpo scooped out of the Tupperware into a little bowl, then covered with water. Microwave set for One Minute, and when the countdown hits “40” there she is, ready to be mixed with a little dry food and served. I followed procedure.

Chris, typing away, asked, “How do you spell grammatically?” and I started spelling. Somewhere in between the twice-asking “one M or two,” and my walking over to spell it S-L-O-W-L-Y, an enormous BANG! emanated from the forgotten microwave. Sputtering a BAD word under my breath, I ran for the kitchen, threw open the door (definitely NOT to the moon on new-fallen snow) and was met with THIS:



It’s exploded Nine-Lives. Tuna Flavor. With CHEESE in it. In little goldy pellets mixed in with the brown clumps. FISHY clumps. Like cat vomit. And my language matched the occasion---anybody know the Southern term "Blue Streak"? It had been a long day, I was tired, and yelling Frell, Frack or Frickin’ at intervals seemed to help. Some. I’d slam the door and say another one. I grabbed out the big glass tray from the bottom, clustered with unspeakable detritus from the ocean’s depths, plus whatever came out of the Velveeta Plant’s dumpster, and practically threw it into the sink. MORE WORDS. More slamming.

I sprayed the whole inside of the thing with Pine-Sol orange---two doses, and I probably swore with each whoosh. It was TUNA. Old yucky non-human grade TUNA. Fish. The innards and lips and eyeballs of FISH. But now it smelled better. And we started laughing and saying every bad word we could think of, just Hee-Hawing and shouting obscenities, while Caro laughed, too, but kept her distance from these two loonies and that horrible smell.

And I slept really well last night, probably the endorphins from all the cussin', and have been quite fine today. But CAT-FOOD!

I swear, we coulda put the whole dang CAT in there and not have made such a mess.



And it still don't smell like roses, but a good CUSS is kinda freeing, somehow---I think it's probably better than Prozac.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

GO SEE!

MY FRIEND HANA AT A PIECE OF CAKE IS FEATURED ON CAKE WRECKS TODAY!!

HAVE A LOOK.



PS
Dear Heavens! I just realized how this must sound. Sunday is the day that they feature the SUPER-wonderful, exquisitely beautiful work of some REALLY talented artistes who are bakers and decorators.

PINK ROSES

 

It’s a chilly, drizzly day here today, with a BIG WOOHAH of a storm showing on the Weathermap---blue clouds swirling like a dragon from here to Montana. We’re way down under what would be the tail, so he’s sorta backing past us way up through the Lake area, with his body stretched across the Dakotas and a big old horned head threatening to cover the BIG SKY altogether. A few snorts of blue-smoke breath hang down all the way into Nevada, just as I looked at the map just now, and it looks fierce all the way.

Yesterday was sunny and fabulous---I crackled open a package of my new seersucker Capris, fresh from the Lane Bryant bag, grabbed a T to sorta match, and out we went, to lunch and some SHOPPING. I seldom say the “S” word, for I think I must have some form of agoraphobia---not that I don’t like to get out of the house, and if there’s lunch involved, I’m your girl.

I’ve just got to where walking around in a store is so boring, and I’m ready to go home really soon---like one of those Southern husbands sitting on a tee-ninecy chair at Goldsmith’s with his cap in his hands between his khaki knees while his wife tries on clothes. That bored. (And if he’s holding her purse, he’s bored AND embarrassed).

But yesterday was different. It was Pink Saturday, courtesy of sweet BEVERLY, and my early-morning scan of the links revealed picture after picture of the most beautifully photographed, most lovingly arranged vignettes and tabletops and desserts and FLOWERS---all with shades of pink. And pink IS my color, I think---I’m just to a Pastel Phase of life, where comfort and cushion and color trump style or smart.


Olive Duntley photo

And one picture in particular caught my eye---this one. Just the colors of the roses, and especially the depth of those pink candles---you could see into them a bit, like looking into beautifully-hued glass, almost, and I WANTED SOME. I wanted to FIND those; I wanted to MAKE that, and have it to look at in my own house.


Since I don’t go out much, when I said, “How about lunch and a trip to Michael’s?” Chris’ answer was quick and happy, “AbsoLUTEly!” he said. And we did. We had a long leisurely lunch at Cracker Barrel, and then back out into the warming sun to Michael’s, through the aisles overgrown with every shade of silk and plastic known to bloom.



I think we DID find the candles there, two round baby-pink ones, a squat one for the dining table and a tall regal one for the immense candlestick that’s hidden somewhere in the silver graveyard upstairs.

On to JoAnn’s, with nothing much in the right colors, then to Hobby Lobby, where the great aisles of lush, hanging plants and leis and bouquets and hand-clutches boggled the eyes even before the mind could take hold.

Seven (all there were) blushing silk roses with the hue of a Southern Summer, a big bouquet of the palest wobbly blooms, a lovely cascade of some white silky lilac-y things, and some gently-green leaves to intersperse. Two candle-rings and of course, a big bagful of markers, coloring books, crafty things, little pastel buckets, and felt cutouts in all hues and shapes for the Grands’ Easter Baskets.

I’ll enlist Caro’s aid in getting these together, and this rainy day may be just the time. I’m craft-impaired, but she’s a whiz, and I’m looking forward to the work as much as the result.

Moiré non about all the blush and bashful covering my table,

Friday, February 18, 2011

TEACAKES



Internet picture

I saw a lady bring her Church Supper dish to the Fellowship Hall in a pillowslip once. They WERE on a plate, which was, indeed, slipped inside a clean white cotton pillowcase for bringing to the church. And when she set them down on the big table of desserts, a lovely sweet scent arose from that area of the table, from amongst the heavier aromas of the several chocolate cakes with Hershey’s Never-Fail Frosting, and the lovely cling of the fruit-scents from the line of pies, with just the tiniest burnt-sugar whiff from the several meringues atop the coconut and lemon pies and the proud peaks of Mrs. Pellum’s famous Banana Pudding.

Miss Lottie had brought TeaCakes. All one word---TEACAKES. The old-fashioned, tender, ingredients-in-every-kitchen, not-quite-a-cookie treat so prevalent in so many homes for decades. They’re a treat, again, nowadays, to those of us who were raised on them, and whose Mammaws kept a steady supply in cupboards and pie safes and in my case, the big old Hoosier Cabinet with the built-in-flour dispenser and the shelves on which resided the leftover biscuits from breakfast, the long, thin pan of cornbread, cut in the middle and stacked to fit on The Cornbread Plate, and the regal Pineapple Cake.

I don’t know what it was about that old sweet-scented cabinet that kept everything from drying out or spoiling. It must have been tight as Tupperware, for the cut surfaces of the cake and of the cornbread were always as soft as second slice. And the plate of TeaCakes!! They were a delight, like a soft, sweet biscuit---I’ve always imagined that they were the ORIGINAL Biscuits which gave British Cookies their name
.

They were sometimes made with lard, but most folks had their own butter, and then margarine made its appearance, to no unpleasant detriment to the recipe. Fortunate children of the later 1800s, through the War Years (when they were made with whatever sugar and butter-equivalent was available) and on through the Fifties---carried them to school in their lunchboxes and pails and brown paper pokes. A biscuit or two from breakfast, with whatever ham or bacon or leftover egg or just bacon grease sandwiched between, and then a Tea Cake or two---that was certainly not a balanced lunch, but filling and satisfying, with the two courses not-quite-the-same: salty, then sweet.




TeaCakes are the South’s Madeleines, I think.




Ina Garten's madeleines

Proust’s memories were not kindled half so keenly by those small sweet shells as ours are by the remembrance of one of those soft, bendy, slightly-sweet Southern confections, sometimes with a tiny sprinkle of sugar sparkling atop. I once saw a dozen ladies at a Sarah Coventry party in the Seventies rise up and scamper those pumps over to the refreshment table before the saleswoman even finished her spiel, because the hostess had unobtrusively started bringing in the food, and she’d set down a two-tiered stand of TeaCakes.


They’re that hypnotic, that mystical in the scheme of Southern taste-memory. Perhaps it’s a particular memory of another time, each individual person thinking of a Grandmother, an Aunt, a special treat, a familiar, comforting taste, a pretty party in the midst of such succeeding days of Plain Old Life.

I just know that TeaCakes evoke sweet memories, and not just of their taste. I had such an urge to write about them, in this thinking-of-Spring weather, though they’re right at home with a hot cup of something warming on a cold night, that I didn’t stop to make any---I tried to find suitable pictures on the internet, but few have the soft, pale, droopy-biscuit look of the REAL thing.





Internet picture

TEACAKES
Oven 350


½ pound Butter
1 2/3 c. sugar
2 eggs

1/2 c. buttermilk
3 c. A/P Flour
½ t. soda
½ t. salt
1 1/2 t. vanilla
(opt.) a drop or two of lemon or almond flavor, but try them with the pure old-time Vanilla taste the first time.

Cream sugar and butter. Beat in eggs one at a time, then buttermilk, vanilla and other flavorings.

Sift dry ingredients, and stir into wet. Flour counter and knead dough a few turns. Roll into a ball, flatten it a bit on the counter, wrap, and refrigerate until firm.

Roll out about between 1/4 and 1/3 of an inch thick, and cut with cookie cutter (round is the preferred, standard shape, and the teacakes won’t hold an intricate edge, for they spread as they bake). Leave an inch between.

Bake for 8-10 minutes for regular size, 6 for the smaller. They will be still rather pale. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes before removing to rack to cool completely.


Store in air-tight can or canister or Tupperware. There are those who SWEAR that Teacakes are best on the second day---we even had a taste-off once, with some baked at different times, and Miss Lucille unerringly picked the second-day ones every time. Must be like that “allow flavors to mellow” thing.

You CAN cut them out with a sharp-edged glass, like so many of our Grandmothers, or, like mine---a cannin'-jar ring for a big plate of the wide, droopy beauties which always resided in the depths of Mammaw’s cabinet, or with a snuff-can, for a dainty bite with tea. I suppose that’s where they started.

TEACAKES. A REAL Remembrance of Things Past.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ANGELA LANSBURY

For a long time, now, I’ve been meaning to write something about someone I admire, and whose work I enjoy---we often wait too late to bestow the flowers. So, today, I send a very heartfelt salute to one of the true Queens of the Stage and Screen (even the tiny home version)---Angela Lansbury. She’s been a star since she first stepped upon the movie set in Gaslight, as the pouty, petulant, devious maidservant, abetting the horrid husband of the beautiful and besieged Ingrid Bergman---both of them just babies-on-the-screen, and yet more mature than many of the older “starlets” of today. She was the most memorable character in Dark at the Top of the Stairs, as the lonely small-town beauty operator Mavis Pruitt, quietly accepting a little attention from another woman’s husband.

Her “Mame” on Broadway was a triumph, and the studio’s decision to settle for Lucille Ball in the movie role was a great disappointment to her, as well as to most movie-goers, who found Lucy to be not Mame, but eternally, inevitably Lucy. The voice of Mrs. Potts was the anchor and comfort of Beauty and the Beast, and Mrs. John Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate---ranked in the 100 most memorable movie characters of all time---was the polar opposite, as she gave a chilling performance as a murderous, power-hungry treasonous mother of a political assassin . (She was only ten years older than the actor who played her son).
She did decline to play Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because she didn’t think she could do justice to such a sadistic, unfeeling character. Her five Tonys were for “Mame,” “Dear World,” “Gypsy,” “Blithe Spirit,” and as the unforgettable chef, Mrs. Lovett, in “Sweeney Todd.” And who could forget the tipsy, free-spirited, unabashed Salome Otterbourne, in “Death on the Nile.”
And then there was Jessica Fletcher. Everybody over thirty in the country watched Murder, She Wrote, and we all loved Jessica. She was smart---very, and witty and kind and wealthy enough to travel; she was always perfectly groomed and her house was a marvel of another era’s appeal, with the Early American décor spiked with a well-traveled, educated woman’s sense of style, and those meals she turned out from that elegant, slender white stove were legendary in Cabot Cove. And she always solved the case.
Her reputation for caring about old friends and co-stars was legendary, and the troupe of older, still recognizable faces of actors-from-our-youth paraded across the screen constantly, still working, still paying their dues, courtesy of their dear friend. She was a long-time institution on the Sunday night TV lineup, lasting eleven seasons, with 294 episodes. I’d heard that the series finale was coming soon, and though she’d triumphed in the ratings for a decade, drawing fans from all over the world, in contrast to the flurries of hoopla for the finales of M.A.S.H. and Seinfeld and Johnny Carson and Cheers, the very gentle whisper of the end of Murder, She Wrote was just not worthy of such a splendid run of such a wonderful, wholesome-despite-the-theme show. I remember the show ended, and instead of next week’s preview, Angela appeared on the screen, graciously thanking the audience for all their support and faithful attention. And that was all.



It DID seem, that in light of such a popular show and such a successful run, it deserved much more of a BANG than that WHISPER. And now---she’s still out there at 85, still gracious and energetic and the same sweet person we’ve known all these years. So, from me to you, in honor of TWO of the people I’d like to have dinner with---Angela Lansbury AND Jessica Fletcher---go watch her talent spread over fifty-something years, as she appears in The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1945, and as Jessica’s cousin Emma McGill in Murder, She Wrote. I love that she’s singing the same song, decades apart.









Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird---MSW, Season Two




Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

VALENTINES. SWEET!

This was my greeting as I emerged from brushing my teeth yesterday morning---Sweetpea and her Mama had arrived, and had set down my Valentine Vase---made by their own hands on Sunday afternoon. We’d been to brunch on Sunday, and while we went frisking off to the library after, they went home and made these sweet baby-hands roses for me. They’ll go into my Book of Treasures when I finally decide to put them away.
Sweetpea and I made some cupcakes together, in our matching aprons, and her Fifi spoon at the ready. She loves putting the little fluty papers into the muffin pans, and I could hear her whispering to herself “Just one. Just one,” as her little fingers tried to separate the bright little papers. (Do not ask about the mishap with the balloon-whisk attachment for the new little hand-mixer---a cascade of water, eggs and oil down the front of several drawers is not a pretty sight, but we laughed anyway). She took delight in holding the end of the ice-cream scoop while I scooped each blob of batter into the cups. We also made and baked a little pan of brownies for her Mama’s present---a cheesecake/peanut butter swirl on top---she did most of the skewer-work.

They cooled while she napped, and she and Caro frosted and sprinkled cupcakes late in the afternoon.

We’d made us each a little burger for lunch, and took them upstairs to have a picnic lunch with Caro---three ladies at the coffeetable. Caro made the most wonderful shells for dinner---stuffed with a spinach and cottage cheese mixture, and topped with a lean beef sauce and FF cheese. They were super-delicious:


I put them in the oven late in the afternoon, with a pan of good old stand-by Stouffer's lasagna, and later a loaf of store-bought garlic bread. I made a salad of baby romaine, thin sweet onion, pepperoncini and lots of grated Parmesan, with a tangy vinaigrette:

Caro came down and set the table---not an elaborate tablescape, but simple and pretty with the colors of the season---Mother's white china, Sweetpea's little Wedgwood plate, some thrift store pink plates, some clunky old pink Fostoria glasses from another thrift store, and a pretty, heavy heart-shaped vase from yet another, brought home by Chris on Saturday filled with pink and silver kisses:

We nibbled some veggies and hummus, and then danced a bit as usual before we sat down.



In all the bustle of getting everything out of the oven and hot to table, we didn’t get a picture of the buffet---it was very plain, just the pan of shells, the lasagna, the salad, and the bread.

Plate:


Everybody’s place had a Valentine from someone, and some assorted goodies they especially like---Ganner's were dipped apples: one chocolate chip and one turtle.


After we ate dinner, DS cleared the table and got the dishes rinsed, while we all chatted, then we helped ourselves to the dessert “buffet.”


Three kinds of brownies---toasted pecan, Reese’s and cheesecake; the cupcakes (strawberry), some cookies-with-hearts, and a fantastic cake, made by Caro's coffeecake recipe, with a lovely firm crumb---lemon poppyseed, like a pound cake in a 9x13. The three kinds of bark: Almond, Peanut, and a lovely pale concoction of white chocolate, peanuts, and crushed Nutter-Butters which tastes exactly like the inside of a Butterfinger. It DID look a bit like you’d poured out a bowl Northern beans when it was on the platter to cool and firm up.

A lovely addictive hodgepodge of Chex, Cheerios, pretzels, peanuts, and M&M’s tossed in white chocolate, and nicknamed CRACK:


It just occurred to me that anyone with a peanut allergy would have not wanted to even come in the door of this house last night.

And always, kisses in the little heart dish.

Loads of the sweets went out the door with all the kids to take to work today, (thank goodness) and Caro declared at the end of the evening, "No more desserts like this til CHRISTMAS!" I waited to open my Valentine from Chris til this morning---just a little private moment for us two, and a lovely holdover of such a nice day.

Hope yours was as SWEEEEET!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CRAPE MYRTLE

I'm linking this post to Beverly's PINK SATURDAY. I love going over and looking at everyone's lovely things and sites and cooking and antiques and handwork and treasures every Saturday. And every one is PINK in some form or fashion. Please go look in on some of the wonderful displays and arrangements---all unique, and all uniquely beautiful.



Crepe is for the gauzy fabric with all the little convolutions which catch the light, and for the funeral hangings, and the stuff of dreams festooning gym ceilings at many a small-town high school dance; it's also for those encroaching wee satiny areas on the otherwise flawless complexions of us ladies of a certain age.

Crape Myrtle, however, is a fluty plant, in a spectrum of colors to make peacocks bow. It’s a softly blowing, wispy, ethereal floof of blossoms on pale green limbs, in the hues of watermelons and plums and roses in the shade, of lemony drinks in Summertime, of the cut surface of a yeller tomato, fresh from Mammaw’s corner plants, of the swaying purple iris behind the Snow-on-the-Mountain and the same shades of verbena chiming in their little notes of pleasure in the Summer sun.

My favorite is Watermelon, but it just won’t grow here in this frosty section of the Heartland.


And I spell it c-r-a-p-e, always, despite dictionaries and detractors. It’s the way my Mammaw spelled it in her daily letters to me, though we lived not ten miles apart---the way she thought of it, the way she put it down in her unmistakable swirled hand: “My Crape Myrtles are just SO pretty right now.” “The Crape Myrtles I planted out at the churchyard are in full bloom, with lots of the petals falling like pink snow on the graves.”

She LOVED a Crape Myrtle, and since it’s my very favorite plant of all time, Southern or other, I spell it just the way she did---she of the long-distance love affair with the staff at Burpee and Park and Nichols, her letters to them as avidly read and as kindly replied to as were the ones she sent off to me on the afternoon truck.


It will forever be CRAPE Myrtle. It just is.



And I need some----RIGHT NOW.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

HANA'S ROSES

And while you're staying warm, contemplating snow, or just having an ordinary day---go see what HANA's been doing. This is SUGAR, Y'all.

I'm eternally amazed at her artistry.

PS on February 20: See "GO SEE" post above---Hana's featured on the Sunday BEST THERE IS on Cake Wrecks---the one day of the week they feature BEAUTIFUL cakes. Hers is the third one down---simply exquisite.

COOKIN' UP SUNSHINE

We’ve had sunshine!! It’s been scarce and sparse, and sorta grudging of its rays, but the twinkle on the shining glass pitchers on the fridge, and the pattern of the lacy beams---I just stood and looked my eyes full.




And Chris has not been deterred. You know that snow/gloom of night thing? Well, I do believe there are die-hard Weber owners whose grilling would go on in a blizzard. I’ve stood out there and held an umbrella over the food so as not to let the snow/rain fall upon it as it sizzled and he turned and sauced and plattered. I am married to the Champeen Griller of all time.

One night during the iciest, snowiest time, with a little break in the downfall, he was out there with a big platter of country ribs, just working away.

I did a skillet of “baked” beans and a little bowl of baby red potato salad (I SO apologize for my lack of camera skills---I do well to get my hands dried before I go scurrying for the camera, to get a quick snap while the food's still hot or cold).
Along with a pan of stir-fried cabbage with garlic and soy, some snow peas and dip, and some of those just-made bread and butter pickles, you might think you were at a summer cook-out.

About four of these same ribs, left over, went into the oven in foil a couple of nights later, with Sweet Baby Ray's, brown sugar, and lots of onion and garlic. We had those with jalapeno cornbread, a pot of snap beans and baby potatoes, and a salad.

We didn’t do anything to observe the Superbowl. We DID have a nice supper while it was going on---a Sam’s rotisserie chicken, warm and savory and perfect. Caro made some black-skillet-on-the-stove salt-roasted potatoes---little scrubbed half-size bakers with a couple of cups of Kosher salt in the bottom of the skillet, and a handful of fennel seeds thrown in.

I got out the dish of leftover spaghetti---made on a whim the day before, with nobody home but me---a can of diced tomatoes and a packet of plain old store-brand spaghetti-sauce seasoning. It’s one of the comfort foods from long ago, when the ease and the economy of a meal in a hurry was the thing, with everybody in from school and doing homework, and the short time we seemed to have at home evaporating into the night.

I two-layered the pasta into a pie plate, with a layer of mozzarella between and on top, and baked it a bit while I made the slaw---finely-shredded cabbage, with a sweet sesame dressing. The last hunk of the loaf of Italian bread, all slathered with garlic butter and nestled in foil, went into the oven to crisp the crust and let the buttery middle get all melty.




We ate on little trays,


and spent the still-icy evening watching several of our saved-up White Collars of the new season. We love a clever plot (especially if it’s plotted against the bad guys---like Burn Notice and Leverage both are, as well) and after Indiana Jones as #2, ole Neal Caffrey rocks a hat in the #3 spot (With Chris in #1, of course). And the wonderful married couple are so rock-solid and real, it's a joy to see on TV. (Isn't that an odd thing to say---the dearth of TV families who LIKE each other is astounding and dismaying, isn't it?)

And to account for all this good cooking, we’ve been doing a lot of dancin’.

And you?