Saturday, December 27, 2014

REMINISCING




Reminiscing---from a post on New Year’s Eve, 2009


We’ve been conversing about other times, simpler times, my friend Janie and I, and of the things we miss in this fast-paced, ipod, texting, wheatgrass, flashmob, WarGames, CGI, please hold, Muzak, next, please, sugarfree, non-fat red tape Bluetooth white flag greenpeace black Friday Yellow Pages agent orange purple Jesus twitter tweet world.

During our e-mails today, she added these, as well:
Ice cold Cokes in the little bottles (it never tasted so good!)
Wurlitzer jukeboxes with the pretty lights
Sonny and Cher
Flip Wilson
Father Knows Best
Old time tent revivals with rickety wooden benches
Burma Shave signs
Full service gas stations
Crinolines and bobby socks
The Smothers Brothers tv show
Debbie Reynolds in the Tammy movies
Tommy Sands


I’ll concur, and add a few of my
own, since we’re reminiscing. I MISS:

Grady Nutt---Miss Minnie Pearl---Walter Cronkite---Gladys Taber---church bells--- Christopher Reeve---Beah Richards---chenille spreads---Pam &; Jerry North---the scent of the earth at First Turning---orange popsicles---Gee, Your  Hair Smells Terrific---Kraft Theater---going caroling---Richard Boone---All-Day Singin's and Dinner on the Grounds---screen doors with springs---Andy Williams---letters in the mailbox---Martha Rae---mud pies---snow cream---caftans ---the scent of burning leaves---Rob and Laura---vanity skirts---John Ritter---Plum Nuts ice cream--- throwing bread to the bears---hayrides---Vacation Bible School---watermelon cuttings---black telephones---TAXI---those prickly Christmas corsages with artificial greenery and pinecones---Gilmore Girls---Andy Sipowicz---pink Desert Flower lotion---individual iced cakes at parties---crew cuts---wooden ironing boards---real clothespins---Alfred Hitchcock Presents---Mr. Rogers---the scent of Coppertone---Imogene Coca---Fred Waring---Alice at Tea in My Cup---jerky, screechy black-and-white Julia Child on Saturday afternoon---Miss Frances and Ding Dong School---Twilight Zone---mercury thermometers---the REAL Monday-Night lineup which included Designing Women and Hearts Afire, and culminated in Northern Exposure.





Photo by my friend Janie at Southern Lagniappe

Reaching into a cooler or a Coke-box---the kind with lift-up lid and the vague scent of salty metal, with the arctic water and floating ice surrounding the little glass bottles of Coke.

The old pump-organ which occupied one whole wall of my Mammaw’s “middle room,” with its furbelows and fancy carvings, the old rough keys yellowed as horses’ teeth, and
how the decades of layers of hanging hats, pincushions, ribbon, bias tape, seam binding, tape measures, Cardui calendars, tussy-mussies, hatpins and dogtags gave it the look of a melted closet. I know I dusted the thing---I REMEMBER dusting it---I just can’t think HOW. I’d sit on the floor, put both feet onto the pedals, and pump madly for a moment, then hop up onto the stool, and quickly one-finger through “Wha—aat a Friend we Haaa-ve  . . .” before the air supply wheezed silent.



Our little corner “caffay” with the floor of inch-square black-and-white tiles, where the eight red boomerang-formica booths and six counter-stools served thousands of those sublime mustard/pickle/onion crinkle-paper hamburgers over the years, and a little steel sherbet-cup of vanilla ice cream with a string of Hershey’s syrup was the most elegant dessert on Earth.






And speaking of ice cream---there’s nothing to compare with a hot Sunday afternoon out under the mimosas, cranking up a freezer or two of banana ice cream---Eagle Brand, whole milk and a big hand of smooshed bananas---to serve soft and rich into wide soup bowls. I can feel the dust-heat and hear the scrape of those spoons.


Sample sizes. The tiny lipsticks, usually white plastic, about as big as a good squeeze of toothpaste, with a teensy real cover and a tiny cylinder of real lipstick---the ends usually flat on two sides, like a roof on an elf-house. The little pots and jars of real cold cream and moisturizer and astringent, and wee stoppered drams of cologne---the real stuff, not those magazine tear-outs or those nose-clogging “cards” foisted out by brittle women in Nordstrom and van Maur.





The ladies-in-black at the really elegant clothing stores in the larger towns. I imagined they had a training school for these take-no-prisoners, brusque women, like some sort of college with courses in “No-nonsense” and “Abrupt.” They all wore their glasses on chains around their necks, had crisply-permanented or upswept hair, and wore thick-heeled old-lady laceup shoes; every look at you seemed delivered through a lorgnette. Thank goodness I was only there to hold Mother’s purse..



Net or organdy or dotted Swiss skirts on kidney-shaped vanity tables.   I coveted one of those with my whole heart; the trendy-chic teen across the street had one, with a low gold chair to match---it looked as if our town seamstress had made a house-call to stitch Spring formals onto both pieces of furniture.






The scent of old-time grocery stores, with hints of spice and onion skins and the arid crisp dustiness of dried beans, the pungent hit of flyspray, the exotic float of musk from the big hanging stalk of bananas, and the sweet vanilla/licorice/chocolate mingle of the candy case. All enhanced, of course, by a flappy screen door with a green-painted metal “Nehi” or “Grapette” guard-strip just at hand height. Bell optional, but gratifying.




Photo by my friend Robert Walker, of GritsPhotography



Dishes in products---many a little home kitchen was furnished with one-at-a-time wheat-pattern dishes from boxes of Duz, and I once had quite a nice collection of pale blue glassware---goblets to juices, extracted carefully and excitedly each week from boxes of Rinso, the powder as blue as the glass. Gas stations had dish-a-week giveaways, too, with a fill-up.



Cartoons and newsreels and the Saturday serial at movies. This new practice of filling up the gaps before and between shows with thunderous car and Coke ads, and the seat-shaking noise of “trailers” for twenty minutes just isn’t the same, somehow.

Soft-walking, quick-handed waitresses in uniforms, especially pink ones---nylon a bonus. Extra points for Dr. Scholl’s shoes and a pencil through the perm---their stern, no-nonsense style of hospitality was more than made up for by THOSE SUBLIME HAMBURGERS...






It seems I must have had a word-quota to use up, and I’ve just flung them all out amongst you on this last week of the year.    They come with warmest thanks for dropping in, passing by, speaking out, or in any other way participating in this odd and welcoming possibility called LAWN TEA.

I look forward to the days ahead, full of promise, and wish you all well and warm and happy in the New Year.

rachel





Monday, December 22, 2014

R. I. P. MR. JOE



Joe Cocker




Our celebrations have long included
Dancin’ in the Kitchen before we sat down to eat, with everybody wending and winding around the cooks and the preparations, waving napkins and prancing ourselves around to a rockin’ tune.   Our very favorite, even before Sweetpea’s baby hands could go to the CD shelf and “find Mr. Joe” was this one---Feelin’ All Right. 


I dare you to try to listen and DON'T dance---impossible.

We’ve swiveled and shaken and swirled, done a booty shake and hip wiggle and tailfeather twist and washing-machine with company, with just us, just me washing dishes, and on some very fancy occasions, all of which left us pumped up and sometimes gasping as we came down to Earth to hold hands for the Blessing.  Fun times.  

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to know that even after you’re gone, complete strangers would still be enjoying moments of such joy and frivolity simply because of something you’d done in your life?

R. I. P. Mr. Joe.  I hope you know how much you were loved.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

GLOW



Roasted Butternut Squash.   This was all the way back at Thanksgiving, but it was just beautiful, scattered with toasted pecans and dried cranberries, and just the tiniest snowing of sea salt.

I love the way the light divides and casts such a glow---we need all the glow we can get, and sharing it around is fun, too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

CARO'S PLUM PUDDING



Caro has long wanted to make a Plum Pudding, for not one of us has ever even tasted the old-fashioned treat.   We SAW an enormous one once, piped in on the shoulders of four hearty minstrels dressed in satins and lace, at the Madrigal Feast at the University years ago.

It came in on a great sedan-chair to much pompous circumstance, flaming into the darkened room with the gravity and hauteur of a royal personage, and making its fragrant way up to the table where sat King and Queen and courtiers.    That thing would have filled a bushel basket, and must have been doused in a gallon of spirits, for the flame lasted for the entire slow, elaborate progress of piper, heralds, attendants, and four stalwart carriers keeping it level and proud for the entire length of the banquet hall.

We were all primed for a taste of such a beautiful, historical dessert, but then the waitstaff set down a pretty platter with one of those rolled Yule-Log cakes---like foot-long Little Debbie Swiss rolls---before us and handed a sharp knife to one lady at each table.   I was the one chosen for ours, and I assumed it was like the honor of being asked to “be Mother” and Pour Out, so I cut and served to all our ten-at-table.   It was chocolate, with whipped-cream swirls inside, and not at all what we were expecting.



The Buttered Basin (I've ALWAYS wanted to call one that)


So now we have one---with chopped dates and prunes and sultanas and currants, and just for the elegance and custom of the thing, a few of the long-hoarded candied figs sent by our dear Ben and Lil last year, from their own fig trees.  Tawny Port and sherry and eggs and crumbs, along with the crumbly rich sweetness of Demarara sugar and spices I cannot remember went in as well. 




Terrible picture---in all that stirring and leaning over the batter with the camera, I must have inhaled too many Port and Sherry fumes.


And I think Caro enjoyed ordering a pound of suet from the butcher---Mrs. Beeton would have been proud.  We took turns stirring, per the custom---Sweetpea was not present, so I took a small turn with one of her tiny doll-tea spoons, just for luck.   The batter went into a well-buttered specially-ordered-from-away Pudding Basin, was covered in a neatly-creased chapeau of parchment paper, tied with red-and-green kitchen twine, the shining cap clamped on, and it was steamed for six hours.   Just knowing it was bubbling away in there, on that cold afternoon in November, lent a luster of anticipation to the still-in-Fall-colours house, and tipped the holiday spirit into Christmas mode.





It sits in a cool place upstairs, awaiting a further two hours in the simmery bath on Christmas Eve, when it will be unmolded onto a platter, garnished with holly and ivy, baptised with more port, and ceremoniously lit and sung to.   A little boat of crème Anglaise, for the import of the thing, and I’ll bet that neither chiding nor tradition will keep Chris from running wild around the table with the Redi Whip can.    




Perhaps in addition to a place set for the Christmas Angel, there’ll be one for Little Jack Horner this year, as well.


Monday, December 15, 2014

CHRISTMAS TEA 2014



A simply lovely evening, from the gathering upstairs in Caro’s sitting room, with the tree and evergreens and poinsettias and candle-light, on down to dinner, with the table set by Sweetpea, with her beloved red chargers (I swear, that child appropriated those things and enjoys them as much as toys.   They are pressed into service as table-settings, trays for lego-and-cootie-feet refreshments, a shield-maiden’s breastpate, an umbrella, and even Frisbees on occasion.  The tale of their use as targets for the Marshmallow guns is for another time).

I just washed them up and let her have at it---note the customary Christmas finger-puppets, brought out for every Christmas Eve gathering which involves children, but we ladies had a fun time letting them converse and interact, ourselves.   See the everyday, mis-matched silverware, the tiny plastic spoon laced through the cup-handles, the FROZEN sleigh full of kisses, and a kiss in every teacup?  

And when she and Ganner returned from their movie, they joined us for some dinner around the table. We’d already had the cheese course, but they caught up.   The ladies complimented her table setting, and she was properly modest---a little blush, a demure bowing of her head over the bright smile.   “Thank you.  It was my honor,” she said.   I thought her Mama and I were going to have to flee for Kleenex.


We had a lovely repahhhst, with Chris' glorious pink ham, Caro’s dates-in-bacon and colourful platter of rollups---both jalapeno and seafood, and a beautiful plate of cucumber cups with smoked salmon, sour cream and dill. She composed a lovely cheese plate, with her homemade cranberry compote, fig jam, walnuts and toasted pecans.

I did the dips---plain old everyday Ranch, and store-bought hummus, as well as the hot artichoke dip, Paminna Cheese, Chicken Salad, the Deviled Eggs, crudite platter, and the tri-colour Christmas-Tree ravioli in a pesto vinaigrette with pickled mushrooms, roasted peppers, and roasted garlic.   The baby Yukons in a cloak of sour-cream and butter were a nice warm homey dish amongst all the party dishes.

And Caro worked for DAYS on the boxes and bags and platters of Christmas Sweets for sharing out---of those, moire non. 

Dates wrapped in Bacon



Sunday, December 14, 2014

TWINKLES AND TRUFFLES



Busy getting ready for our tea party at five---the scent of toasting pecans from upstairs and the prospect of six ladies coming in laughing from the cold, all bright sweaters and holly pins on coats.   It’s our annual Christmas Tea Party, with dear close friends, and I wish you could sit at this happy table.

All things bright and sweet to you all,

Rachel and Caro

Thursday, December 11, 2014

ELLA MAE AND HER DAD-DEE






We had the privilege to see and hear Elvis sing this song in one of his last performances.  It was close to the finale, and the energy and emotions in that huge auditorium were simply electric.  We’d stood in the sweat and the tears and whatever else was in that mystical atmosphere which drew you in and made you part of that great aura which surrounded such a presence.   We sang our hearts out, building up to the finish, when Elvis landed on one knee with his hand outstretched to an enormous spotlighted flag unscrolling on one wall.   What a Moment, and what a Memory, to be a part of such a bit of music history.

And he would have just LOVED little Ella Mae.

Sometimes something so sweet and so dear will come along and just capture your heart.  She’s charming and precious; her daddy rocks a dorky hat.  He adores and is adored by his sweet baby girl---what’s not to like?.

 I’ve enjoyed watching this many times, and though she must be a young lady of more-than-three by now, I still want to believe she must be out there somewhere, riding around, singing along with Ebbis and her Dad-DEE. 

  A Christmas Present from me to you.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

CONDIMENT TREE



Our first Christmas in Indiana, (not counting the arrival-after-driving-all-day-Christmas-Day VERY first one, which was necessitated by Chris’ having to be back here on duty the next day) was a lovely time.   We’d met a lot of new friends, and since many of them were far from home, we’d had many, many of them over for meals and evenings.  As a matter of fact, the little “guest book” I was given as a hostess gift contained almost three hundred names that first year (including many repeats, of course, with quite a few names written over and over during the course of the year).

We wanted to get our tree up to enjoy for a couple of weeks before the holiday, as we’d be traveling back to Alabama for the celebration with family, but with this and that, we hadn’t bought one til along about the fifteenth or so, though we’d decorated the little apartment with a few things we’d purchased or brought along.


One night, as we were on our nightly walk around the complex, enjoying the brisk air and the beautiful night skies, we saw a lumpish shape like a dark trash bag by the dumpster out behind the offices/party room.   Small gleams of tinsel in the lights of the parking area showed it to be a smallish tree lying on the ground, with the little stand still clamped to the trunk.   We picked it up, looked it over in the dark for breakage or debris, and carried it home, each on one end, like transporting a limber green picnic cooler.

We stood it up on our little patio and brushed away a few leaves, marveling at our good fortune that the party hosts had apparently discarded tree, stand, and some small shining ornaments, as well.  It was exactly the right size for fitting in front of our patio door, and all decorated, as well, like a lovely gift just found lying on the ground.  The small flat square decorations sort of fluttered in the cold breeze, and I gently unhooked one to get a closer look.  It had the look of a ketchup packet, with writing on the sides, but---if I may be a bit indelicate here---a CONDIMENT it was not.

SOMEONE had had a party theme we still cannot fathom, lo, these twenty-something years later, for our sweet little from-the-sky tree was gaily hung with a couple of dozen fluttering flat packets best not mentioned in polite company, and certainly not on a nice lady’s blog.  They’d even bought the proper little hook hangers, and strands of silver tinsel in preparation for this odd party, and skewered every small sachet right through for hanging.

We still mention that little bonus tree almost every year, with its unseemly decorations and unknown purpose.  I cannot think what might have been the cocktail conversation around that small oddity, or what other décor might have graced that party, and we shudder to think what the actual party favors might have been.   

We gave it a whole new start in life, with pretty baubles and a strand of pearls, I remember, to live down such an embarrassing debut display amongst some VERY STRANGE people.   We've had very few folks we know well enough to tell such an odd story to---til now.

Our latest---a Leanin' Tree upstairs

Thursday, December 4, 2014

BOOK TREE




At our local HALF PRICE BOOKS (my favorite bookstore ever---if only they could load my NOOK).  The spines are ever-so-delicately silvered to obscure writing, but the contents are unmarred and as ready for reading as ever.   I found it charming and clever, and quite the best use of remainders outside donation to a hospital ward, nursing home or shelter.

A Christmas Tree and BOOKS, all at once---what a splendid combination.   I hope your days and nights are filled with every wonderful you hope for and enjoy this blessed season.   

Linking today to Beverly's PINK SATURDAY.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

THAT MOMENT



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

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

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


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

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



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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

THE DBBCS, REDUX

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not try this at home.