Thursday, March 20, 2014


Almost Spring, Y’all!!   Talk about coming out of a long dark Winter into the LIGHT.

Time to get moving.  

One of our very favorite guys---Walken Dancin'---it’s so much fun it’s SCARY.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014



The Aga’s fire’s extinguished, the whisk and spoon laid down.  A bare and wistful silence lies upon the kitchen once so merrily irreverent and warm, for the smart, witty Curmudgess of Cuisine, the lovable Codgess of Cooking who brightened so many hours with her way with words and pots and pans, has passed away in Edinburgh.
R. I. P. Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright.
Even all YOUR names could not encompass the bright, bawdy, brilliant marvel that was YOU.

Thursday, March 13, 2014



Whilst wondering idly over a bit of authenticity for our St. Patrick’s Day brunch on Sunday, thoughts of what-would-be-a-good-potato-dish floated through.   We’ve usually had a dinner-time meal, from Colcannon to lamb chops to why-not-corned-beef-and-cabbage, and several recipes from the Ballymaloe cookbook over the years, but this is a noon brunch.  

Porridge, of course, good coarse-cut long-cooked kind, with a scatter of raw sugar---Sweetpea's favourite breakfast, and fruit ditto:  fresh pineapple.

We’ve served jacket-potatoes---Yukon golds, mostly, plain against a green bowl in their shiny pale jackets, or a platter of them, random-chopped in the pan, steaming beneath a blanket of stirred-together soft butter and sour cream and salt, and scattered with shreds of Colby. 

 O’Brien, we thought this year, watching Bobby Flay celebrate his ancestry with an Irish brunch of his own; that is, until the unconscionable amount of paprika that went into that iron skillet, turning the whole dish into a Red Flannel Hash, sans beets.


Plain old Hash Browns would be good, all fry-pressed into hearty crust, with half-a-dozen-or-so over-easy eggs laid atop, glistening with bacon fat.  We could set that magnificent skillet down before Royalty, and all be glad. 

And the iron skillet---never before had it occurred to me to wonder if some of my own forebears in other countries might have had black skillets of their own before the Southern ones here.  I was thinking way close to home on that, for scarce one of my friends here in this middle-state area has a black skillet, and so my mind leaves their terroir back in the South, with grits and greens and The Blues.   But surely that was the pan of choice over all those peat and coal and wood fires all over Ireland and Scotland---indestructible iron, for baking and sizzling and frying.   A Grand-Dam’s black skillet would be an heirloom, indeed. 


I see that they DO have quite the market for the indispensible old faithfuls, for several kitchen-supply companies in Ireland feature them prominently in their ads and brochures, this one from Brennan’s Supply in Waterford, no less.   Is not the juxtaposition of such elegance and grace alongside such sturdy, homely practicality simply charming?   Loaves and hyacinths.
I hope it can be postulated that many a cook there is blessed with one or two of the wonderful old seasoned ones, turning out breads and fry-ups every day, as their faraway, unmet cousins here pull skillets of cornbread and fried chicken and biscuits from their own stoves.  Knowing the old faithful skillets graced homes and fires and hobs far, far back and far away in our history is a comforting thought---something to be depended upon, every day, when weather and cupboard suffered the vagaries of time and place and fortune. 
A cannon-ball loaf of Caro’s wonderful Irish bread is a given, though it’s a bit tarted-up in itself---currants dotted through, and a frivolous roll in some large-tender-crystals of bakers’ sugar which crunch splendidly between your teeth.   Some thick-cut bacon from way down in the Greenbelt of Springfield, Arkansas,  with a dish of fried onions and green peppers and mushrooms on the side.   There’s a little bag of sprouts upstairs to be roasted,  and also a wedge or two of rich yellow cheese and the several pots of jam.
I might even get out the Irish coffee glasses.


Are you free on Sunday noon?

Monday, March 10, 2014



I knocked the vanilla bottle out of the fridge door this morning, and knowing I couldn’t catch it, just waited there for a long moment, face squinched, shoulders hunched against the coming smash-and-loss.   All was well, for perhaps it was all those years of loving and coveting the contents of those brown-filled glass bottles of the past that caused my memory lapse; the plastic container made a hearty thunk and just lay there, perfectly fine.    And so I DID remember this post, from way back when I started Lawn Tea:
I've always been in love with Vanilla. Capital V. I thought it the loveliest of scents, and would sniff and sniff at the cork when I was too young to be trusted with that big glass bottle of Watkins that my Mammaw or Mother was using to doctor up a pie or cake or homemade ice cream. It's a good thing it's not really tasty on its own; I remember sticking an adventurous tongue-tip down into a lid and being shockingly disappointed at the bitter, mouthfilling taste. Had it been naturally sweet, I’d probably have gone off on a toot of great proportions, climbing a chair to the shelf for my fix, til they caught me nipping at the bottle.

I was forbidden the "grownup" scents: My Mom's White Shoulders, Mammaw's latest something-Coty, my city Aunts' sophisticated, musky-peppery Chanels and Joy---well, maybe a tee-ninecy nip of one of those, if I could insinuate my sneaky self into the guestroom while they were dressing for the day, and the bottle was right there. They were always ready to gladden my heart with a little spritz.

Otherwise, I would make some reason to detour into the kitchen before leaving the house, in order to dab a drop of the lovely vanilla-essence behind my ears and in the crooks of my elbows. I waltzed through the day, confident in my own enticing aroma, and AFTER I discovered cinnamon and oil of clove as a fragrant addition, I must have gone around town for more than a year, faint tan smears on my skin, my whole aura redolent of cookies and pie.   Thank goodness dogs are carnivores; I'd have had whole packs following me home.

And during college years, (long since graduated from eau de Watkins and McCormick to Emeraude on my own), my roommate was a graduate student in Chemistry. She worked long hours in the lab after classes, and would come in very late, after I had gone to bed. One semester she was working on synthesizing Vanillin, and I would wake in the darkness, inhale that heavenly scent from her entrance, and smile, falling back into sweet, childhood-scented dreams.     And once, when I had a special date, I got her to take my favorite angora sweater and hang it up near her work-station all day. When I went out that night, I smelled FABULOUS, and I still wish they'd bottle that stuff and sell it at Nordstrom.

My vanilla bottle (STILL Watkins; we found our own supplier in the Yellow Pages, but now, the proud gleaming glass has been exchanged for plastic) gets a workout nearly every day...we use it in iced tea, pies, cakes, puddings, party punch, as a richening note in several mixed drinks as well as cut and pureed fruit, in coffee, pie crusts, all sorts of breads and muffins and desserts. And I keep a vanilla bean faithfully tucked down into each sugar cannister. I've been known to dab a bit onto a light bulb, and YES, behind my ears once in a while for old times' sake. Brings back some nice memories, and sometimes makes Chris waltz me across the kitchen to an oldies tune.

So what if Vanilla IS the quiet, unnoticed kid, the wallflower whose mere presence points up the special attributes of her peers? It adds a lovely undernote, a richness, a depth, an extra level to so many other flavors. Even CHOCOLATE is enhanced by its paler companion, borne up to new heights and enticements. And Vanilla ice cream alone is, if nothing else, quite a good reason for getting up in the morning.


So Hooray and Huzzah for whoever found that wonderful plant with its magical scent and possibilities, sending its glory out into the world long after the flowers are gone.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


We spent the day out yesterday, with a quick lunch and little errands to Sam’s and groceries and a client’s warehouse to pick up a part, as well as to Whole Foods and Fed Ex.   And at the close of the day, we went to one of “our” Chinese restaurants.



I always get THE SOUP.  It’s exactly what you want on a cold  evening, when the lanterns are lit and the bustling wait-staff cheerful and  merry, with a crowd of burst-in-from-the-breezes hungry diners enthusiastic for the hot, fragrant food.


The soup station is a lovely thing---a long shining bar laid out with a whole array of squared-off Della Robia wreaths marching down the counter, with every vegetable and noodle there is, as well as colorful mounds of thin-shaved chicken and beef and fish, the pale curls swirled into flowers and waves of pastel.


I pick up my bowl and walk slowly past each offered dish, choosing a few pepper-strands, a pile of white  onion shards, the smallest flowers from the broccoli pan.  On to the choice-of-several noodles for a few long strings, a handful of mushroom slices, and my favorite---a tangle of crisp, tender bean sprouts.


I hand the bowl beneath the glass, to the waiting young man in the floor-length apron, and he transfers the contents to a wedge-shaped colander-with-a-handle, which he submerges into a big cauldron holding perhaps eight of the wedges at a time.


I stand and watch the sushi chef at his work, the slicing and the arranging, with a judicious little dot of wasabi just so, and the quick efficient roll of the nori around the package, like wrapping a long roll of coins.   He dips and rolls and  slices,  placing a paper-thin wafer of pale fish upon the ball of rice, laying it down with a little flourish every time like a  presentation.  He wipes his blade, sheathing it neatly into a scabbard at his side and stands watch, guarding those neat rows of dainty morsels with his trusty sword.
And then my soup is ready, the vegetables emerging dripping and steaming from their dip into the broth.  Into my bowl, then a ladle of the broth itself, redolent of beef stock and soy and garlic, and some elusive brown flavor resembling the fragrance of toasted wheat, adding its rich note to the concoction.    Off to the dumpling table for two pot-stickers---the only meat in the dish, to be cut into tiny bits so that they and all the long vegetables can be eaten with chopsticks, before raising the bowl to sip the broth.


Chris goes for the protein---a pile of crawfish, a little sushi and sashimi, with a tiny bowl of wasabi and pickled tingly ginger.  



Loosiana lobsters.

Crawfish hardly seem worth it---all that catching and cooking and cracking and probing, for one tee-ninecy gobbet winkled out from within all that rosy shell.


Then he gets down to business:


Lots of chicken and seafood, a bit of Peking duck, a Rangoon or two, some wonderful bok choy.  

And they have an Ice Cream freezer!  You dip your own choice from one of a dozen BIG old-fashioned cardboard cartons with metal rims, beneath the frosty sliding glass.  Looking down into those for too long a moment will transport you right into a tesseract-aimed-for-childhood, when the choice of flavors might be the one decision of the day. A tiny bowl with a neat round scoop of Black Cherry for me---perfect dessert after the rich, hot soup.

We went out.   I had soup.

Thursday, March 6, 2014



 Teenage Saturday Mornings were for floor-waxing, and I know by plain common sense that it couldn’t have been EVERY Saturday, but it certainly seemed like it.  Our house was a strangely-constructed one---it started as an ordinary little two-bedrooms-hall-and-bath-on-a-side, with living room, dining room and kitchen on the right.


Right after breakfast on Saturdays, I’d start shifting furniture---some to the back porch, smaller chairs and tables piled on the couch and atop other tables, just to get most of those pesky little legs out of the way.  Then a good go-over of all the floors with the dust-mop, and a damp-mopping if required. 

Just snapping that lid thunk off the Johnson’s paste wax can sent up its distinctive aroma---kind of a cross between Quaker State and Shinola, as I remember.  I can smell that piney, oily turpentiney scent now, as well as if I’d just dug a great handful out of the can with an old sock on my hand.


This was NOT a run-a-quick pad-on-a-stick around the floors---no, not for US.

This was a Three-Sock process---one on my hand for applying, and later, a fresh, dry pair for my feet for the polishing.   It was a hands-and-knees procedure, going backward across the floors, keeping the hand-sock well covered in the paste, applying circles and lines and sometimes my name (and a bad word, quickly erased, now and then, as the Summer heat and sun and dust came through the window-screens and the hot morning wore on in an aura of itchy-wool evergreens and sore knees til I felt covered in wax and lint).

   The first room was dry by the time I'd applied a layer to the last, and I'd go wash my face and arms and hands, and get something cold to drink before the polishing. Then I’d pull an old pair of Daddy’s wool socks on my bare feet, turn on WMPS radio, and rock ‘n’ roll the floors shiny.   I’d sorta shimmy-skate my way in from the doorway, getting all the way up into the far corner, where I’d use a wadded piece of old blanket, cut from a worn-out wooly one, with the square rubber-banded around the end of a heavy ruler to get precisely into the sharp little angles.

All the rest was a foot free-for-all, skimming and stopping to balance on one foot and give a particularly-stubborn spot a good sliding scrub with the other.

And yes, Daddy sometimes wore Monkey Socks, but they were beneath his workboots and nobody ever knew he was wearing vulgar footwear.

Sometimes, if Mother were in the mood, I’d invite a friend or two over to “dance the wax,” and we’d slip and slide and shake, laughing and singing with the radio, til the floors gleamed and we had to head to the fridge for big glasses of tea. 

They’d all head home for their own noon lunches, and I’d get the furniture all back into place, and THEN was the perfect time to go wash the car, getting wet and cool and clean as I sprayed and scrubbed.  Unless they'd all wanted to stay for that, me being the only girl in the neighbourhood, with houses full of BOYS all around---but that's another story.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


When I was growing up, Saturdays were not “days off.”  Daddy had a full-time, ten-hours-a-day, six days a week job, and Mother and I tended to the housework, the cooking and all the little peripherals, like garbage and mowing, pruning the trees, planting and hoeing and picking the big vegetable garden, canning and filling the freezer, and one of my special jobs every Spring was keeping the whitewashed sheds and workshops gleaming shiny white with a big hand-mixed bucket of whitewash and an old broom.



I also washed our car every Saturday afternoon, after I finished making the week’s cake, usually a pound cake, for Sunday dinner, and to last the week for an after-supper TV snack with coffee every night.  That pound cake was a killer-diller, with six eggs and three cups of sugar, three sticks of butter  and a little bit each of vanilla, almond, and lemon extract.   I got where I could cut a big square out of the side of a grocery sack, set the cake pan center on it, then draw a circle just around the base.  After you cut out the circle you folded it four times into a point so the whole thing made a little dart-shape, then snipped the point just so, to make the hole.  Then the dart would unfold into a perfect fit for the bottom of that old tube pan.


The inside of the pan was lavishly buttered by hand, top to bottom, all over the top of the removable base pan, and all up the center tube.   Then the paper was slid in and buttered again, to await the batter.  (At this point, I invariably thought of the settlers whose windows were "glassed" with greased paper, and I'd ponder all the hardship and drawbacks THAT would entail.   Still do, occasionally when I toss out the big brown paper sack on which we've drained fried chicken, holding it up to the light and marveling at our blessings).

It was one of those “cream the butter and sugar” recipes, with “then add eggs one at a time” as the next step.  I loved the way that the big old Sunbeam spun the bowl around, as the butter and sugar mixed and melded and then turned into a pale, creamy mixture.  Adding each egg and beating after made the batter look curdled, like when your Hollandaise is breaking, but a little bit more beating would make all things right, and then came the next egg.

There was just something about the grace of making that cake---the steps and motions, the ssssssift of the flour and scritttch into the sugar cannister, the cracking of those big orange-yolked eggs into a little bowl for pouring into a medium one, for you never, EVER cracked an egg right into a batter, whether the mixer was running or not.  


You give the eggs the benefit of the doubt, but even if you’ve just braved a hen-peck to get them fresh right from under her tail feathers,  you STILL break the egg in one bowl, have a look at it, then dump that one into another bowl, and so on until you’ve broken, checked, and maneuvered each one into the medium bowl.

And none of that “I KNOW they’re fresh,” which is uttered by some quite bright stars in the culinary firm-a-ment, as they crack an egg and clumsily drop it over the side into the sweet, surging maelstrom.  Having the freshest eggs in the kingdom won’t help you if you crack an egg into the mixer bowl with the beaters running. Dropped egg shell will sail right off into that perfect batter, disintegrating as it whirls, ruining a whole bowl of expensive ingredients, an enjoyable, meditative baking time, and quite a few tempers of those who’ve been anticipating that cake.

I always found it kinda hard to get just ONE egg to fall out of that bowl at a time, since they, like the chicks-that-might-have-been seem to have this flocking instinct right in the embryo, all wanting to flow over the side at once, but you just tip and woggle that bowl til an egg or most of its parts forsakes the crowd and hops in.  

It’s also one of those “sift the flour three times” cakes, and that was when you put in the tsp. of salt.   And each ½ cup of the sifted flour in that bowl went in one-at-a-time, as well, or at least by big old kitchen spoonfuls, as the mixer ran gently and the bowl turned, growing heavy and slow with the rich mixture.

All the flour in, then the teaspoons of flavor---just opening the bottles gave an aura of exotic scents and unknown climes to the whole kitchen---a little bit lighter on the almond---about a scant capful from the tiny bottle. 


A little more than a cup of batter was left in the bottom of the bowl, to receive two drops exactly from the McCormick “red” bottle, and this was stirred in to make the reserved batter a rosy pink.   This enchanting fluff, like melted Easter Eggs, was dolloped around the top of the cake, swirled in with a skewer to get it down into the yellow in billowy streaks, and then into the oven.  One Hour And Ten Minutes, but check it with a straw at an hour.

Cooled and cut, that cake was a shining marvel, golden brown all around the outside and down the center well, tasting of sugar and vanilla and lemon and all those butter-sizzled crumbs of  crust.

It cut like velvet, falling beneath the knife in smooth, firm, moist slices, with the beautiful pink and gold marbled effect adding to the charm.  I remember these as the epitome of cakes, the apex and crown of the baker’s world.  Perhaps it’s all the softening haze of remembrance, but they really WERE that good.   And that beautiful.

The prospect of that magnificent cake, cooling on the counter, sweetened all the rest of those long, slow hot Saturdays, as the day wore on, with shoe-polishing, clothes-for-church pressing, hair rolling, Sunday School Lesson, supper, and a final sigh in settling on the couch to the opening notes of Lawrence Welk.


In writing of these old times, I find myself switching tenses in mid-thought, for I fall so into the moment, in that bright kitchen with the Sunbeam whirring and the scents perfuming the air. The “here’s what I DID” and the “Here’s what you DO” become part and parcel, and curl pentimento across the words, as the old Southern phrasings peek out.  I think in times like these, a little license to waver in time might be indulged, for the memories press close, and that glimmery membrane 'twixt then and now grows ever thin.