Wednesday, October 11, 2017


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The mention of that corned beef in yesterday’s blog post reminded me that I always tell Chris when a pot of corned-beef-and-cabbage is on the menu.  (I can never write that magical combination without thinking of the comic strip Maggie and Jiggs---she of the opera and caviar pretensions in their New York mansion, and he longing for the simple homely fare of his childhood).  Chris will “run by” whichever branch of SHAPIRO’S is in his line of travel for one of their still-warm, incomparable loaves of RYE BREAD.  That crust!  The damp, cushiony texture of those beige slices falling beneath the knife with a little scatter of crust-crumbs and plump caraway seeds!

I am a whitebread (actually cornbread, if truth be known) convert, Southern raised and deli-deprived. Though I don't remember any corned beef, any pastrami or lox, there was one close approximation, especially for that Deep South area. There was a little hole-in-the-wall "cafeteria" in an adjoining town, the town where “the” dress store was, for a special occasion which called for store-bought. The small "hot-line" could always be counted on for sauerkraut and some enormous juice-bursting sausages, two per order, with a dainty string-bow holding the little garlicky garland together. Another pan held slumpy stuffed peppers, the beef-and-more-garlic bread stuffing wafting its siren-call up and over the other fragrances in the display.
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Scalloped tomatoes, crisp latkes the size of thick saucers, their tiny frill-cups of applesauce and sour cream awaiting your choice, a deep pan of the yellowest noodles I'd ever seen, halves of shiny-brown baked chicken and their roasted potato-wedge accompaniments.

And the first and only "green" green beans of my experience, barely poached, then tossed with oil and onion and peppers. They were a far different breed from the low-cooked snap beans of our table, and had a "beany" tang to them that ours never had---perhaps the long cooking in our kitchen removed all 
trace of their former lives, imbuing them with the salt and hammy, porky goodness of their additions, making our beans merely the conveyor for all the rich tastes of Southern seasonings.

But way down on the end, after the deep-meringued desserts, the tapioca in little cut-glass dishes, the high-standing squares of kugel with its proud golden crust, stood THE LADY. The lady with the high-piled hair and the moustache to rival my Uncle Fate’s, the avert-my-eyes-so-as-not-to-stare-at lady, who took our measure, our unused-to-the-fare tenor with all of  our redneckness shining through, and asked, in a charmingly lilting accent, "RRRRRRRoll or conbraid?"

I would draw up my shoulders, nodding knowingly and cloaking myself in all the worldly air assumable by my ten-year-old clunky little self, and say, "Rye, please."

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She'd smile conspiratorially in approval, reach beneath the counter, and bring forth two slices------inch-thick grayish-tan, soft, pillowy caraway-studded slices, crusted in gold. Onto a tiny plate they went, slid across the silvery counter to my waiting hand.

I LOVED that bread. It was Dorothy's door after a lifetime of black-and-white Wonderbread movies. It was always freshly made, sometimes still warm, with a lovely silky crumb, a stretch-and-chew to the crust, and a little ping of sour-sharp surprise when you crunched one of the seeds.

I remember that little twelve-foot counter as one of the brightest memories of my restaurant past. And now, when we enter the sanctity of the fluorescent brightness of Shapiro's, with its tantalizing scents and tastes and tables to seat two hundred, I still take up that little plate of rye and bear it to my table with the same child's anticipation.

And it never fails to live up to the memory.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Two of the FL GRANDS at last year's paint-party.   Too far away now, but we're just so grateful that they made it through all the winds and waters.

October gave a party,
The leaves by hundreds came;
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.

The Sunshine spread a carpet
And everything was grand;
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.
-----------------George Cooper

I’ve always thought that the year should start in October instead of January. January just grabs ahold of you in an icy grip, keeping you befuddled with the aftermaths of the holidays and all that work and cooking and traveling and celebrating. January is a Pipsissewah of a month, a cold-in-the-head, car-won’t-start time of year, with grumpy people with their heads down struggling against wind and umbrella and ice, the mere feat of standing erect on skiddish streets a burden and a task.

But OCTOBER, now---October is just the best time of year there is, with the golden days and the whish of leaves and the turnings, turnings. The leaves turn and the birds turn South and the time turns from shorts and sandals to comfortable sweats and that favorite old sweater, taken out for the first time in two seasons, snugged on in a cool twilight, as the savory scent of something-in-the-oven wafts out in welcome.

Just walking around outside is a marvel---the air feels silky on your skin and the sun lights gently upon your hair, with a different scent, a different FEEL to everything---better and better as the season progresses. The sight of the harvesting, the change in the produce of the markets, the farmstands offering the crisp fruits and the cider and the huge orange bulk of pumpkns and gourds---we just went to one today, picking out two more cushion-mums, a loaf of wheat bread, six apples, and a watermelon-green-striped gourd like a bashful goose.

Somewhere a long time ago, I read a quote something like, “If I have but one month left to live, let it be October.” I would echo that---it’s always been my favorite time of year, with the air and the light and the rustle of leaves and just the OCTOBERNESS of it. Not because it’s cooler after the summer heat (which is important), not because it ushers in the Holiday Season (also a good thing), and not because of anything in particular which happens or has happened then (though we DO like Halloween).

That’s not it. The month has a personality of its own; it stands on its own, unlike any other time, and I’d know it with my eyes closed. There’s a huge daily enjoyment to the month, with all the sheer exuberance of the color and the brightness---you can just BE in the moments of it, and just enjoy. A simple walk around the neighborhood takes on a different slant---swishing your feet through the leaves, or seeing the swirls of leaves as they drift down like snow, or admiring the Autumn blooms and decorations on the neighbors’ houses and lawns.

Things to do the first few days of October:

Paint Halloween Houses with Sweetpea, her Mama and Caro. (check.  This past Sunday afternoon)

Visit the famous HORTON’S in Tipton to enjoy all their Fall regalia.

Bake a Bundt cake---a beautiful golden-yellow one, fragrant with vanilla and cinnamon.

Decorate for FALL.  (Does three velvet pumpkins on a windowsill count?)

Simmer this beautiful Corned Beef for several hours in its tangy brine, then add in carrots, baby potatoes and wedges of tender cabbage---serve just at twilight on a cool night. It would be enough just to enjoy aura and the scent all day---there’s a satisfaction and a contemplation to having something savory going for supper, and knowing that it will take time and that things are progressing as they should.

There are lots more, and I'd LOVE to hear yours!

Monday, October 2, 2017


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           Today we are all Las Vegans.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Don’t we all wonder, as we pass by, what history is writ in the sagging shutters, the peeling paint, the windows with their sightless panes neither lit from within nor turned to the sun---don’t we wish we knew that story?   Don’t we muse and speculate, as we measure out past days in our minds, what family must have blinked into the day and settled into sleep for countless years between those walls?  All the What Ifs and What Mights, sifted though our own memories and filtered through our own lenses of Time---I can see and hear and feel those days and childhood shouts and breathless runs through the grass, those white-hot kitchen days of canning and cooking, those evenings on the porch as the night drew on.     

I’ve just been privileged to read and enjoy just such a story about a deserted old house, for my friend Debbi of her own FRONT PORCH has brought its days and occupants and occupations to brilliant light, just from her imagination and photos of the languish of its planks and roof, seeing into its past through the veil of droops and weeds and rust.   I hope you’ll go and have a look---that girl knows her way around Charleston, and her words and images bring it shining to the page.

Friday, September 29, 2017


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We just celebrated Caro’s birthday this week, and I’m remembering that back in my very younger days, before she was born, we inherited a wonderful old worn wooden rocking-chair which had been in the family for years.   The boys were 1 ½ and 2 ½ at the time, and we’d sit together many times of the day to read a story.   It happened that the Saturday Evening Post had published Fox in Sox in its bright, colourful entirety, and I would sit in that big old chair, one little boy on each side of my lap and Caro-to-be in the middle, and that wide magazine spread before us.   I’ll bet I read that story more than a hundred times.   We can all just launch into the rhyme on any verse, rocking wherever we are, sitting or standing, and continue on til the rollicking end. 

We will love Dr. Seuss forever.  I’d say more about that, but it’s been said most eloquently already:


The moment we persuade a child to pick up a book for the first time we change their lives forever for the better, and on Read Across America Day, we recommit to getting literary works into our young peoples’ hands early and often. March 2 is also the birthday of one of America’s revered wordsmiths. Theodor Seuss Geisel — or Dr. Seuss — used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear. Through a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasized respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things; and by example, taught us that we are limited by nothing but the range of our aspirations and the vibrancy of our imaginations. And for older lovers of literature, he reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously, creating wacky and wild characters and envisioning creative and colorful places.

 Today, and every day, let us celebrate the power of reading by promoting literacy and supporting new opportunities for students to plunge into the pages of a book. As Dr. Seuss noted, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

Together, we can help all children go plenty of places along their unending journey for knowledge and ensure everyone can find joy and satisfaction in the wonders of the written word.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2, 2016, as Read Across America Day. I call upon children, families, educators, librarians, public officials, and all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. BARACK OBAMA

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Monday, September 25, 2017


Our cans were all silver in colour, but Bryan has been a popular brand all my life.
We’ve been mentioning biscuits-for-breakfast as the weather cools once more into the Cozy-up, Gathering-in season of Fall. 
I do think I must have been born under the sign of the lard can, for we had one in both of the houses of my childhood, and their twin resided under the kitchen cabinet of Ma, who was my first Mother-In-Law, and Grandmother of my three children.   They were called Maw and Paw by the GRANDS, then all of us, but signed cards and letters "Ma and Pa."  That woman was just an angel on this Earth.   
We lived right there on the yard with  them on the farm home-place, and she had the exact silver can under her own kitchen counter, right down to the big circled “HF” imprinted in the lid. She had a bowl and sifter in hers, as well, and contrary to my Mother’s fastidious spooning and measuring and stirring, Ma made biscuits BY hand and WITH her hand. She, too, put twice-too-much flour into the bowl, made the crater by banking it against the sides with her fingers, and then three-fingered a clop of Crisco out of the three-pound can.

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Her busy little soft hands were quick as lightning, working that flour into the handful, fingertips busily rubbing, til the “peas” stage. I don’t think she measured the buttermilk, either, but just poured from the BIG crockery pitcher, lifting it with a big sigh, and then I’d clean the white clotty handprint off the handle with a wet dishrag before replacing it in the refrigerator. She also made the buttermilk in a big crock, which somehow took up most of the left side of the refrigerator, possibly a gallon’s worth. Dried milk, water, a cup of last week’s making, overnight on the kitchen counter with a neat tea-towel cover, and voila!! Good as a fresh-churned batch.

I loved to watch her hand squish that biscuit dough; at first the buttermilk shot through her quick fingers like soapsuds, then as the flour absorbed some of it, the dough became a heavy, pliable mass, with the flour worked in from the sides til it was to her liking---a quite wet dough which would seek to escape from her two hands when she lifted it from the bed of flour like a limp cat.

Onto a flourcloth it went, the cloth homemade from newbought Curity diapers, each sewn double for strength, and covered in a thick layer of flour. Several lifts of the four cloth edges in turn, to even up the dough and give it a thorough coating, then pinches quickly rolled through floury palms, placed gently into a Crisco-rubbed skillet, with a final two-knuckled salute to the top, making twin dimples to hold the pools of brushed-on melted butter. The cloth also went back into the bin after use, its dusty weight settling into the dark to await its next needing.

All our biscuits were different, all good, all crusty and golden and steamy-soft within. Ma’s had a crispy bottom crust, beloved by Pa, who would separate several biscuits with a quick twist, butter them BEFORE we said the blessing, then sometimes distribute the dripping top halves to the little ones, while he applied a liberal dousing of sorghum or pear preserves to the cookie-crisp, butter-saturated bottoms. For Pa, life was simple: gravy went on the soft, spongy top halves, syrup on the bottoms.   

 Ohhhh, that all our paths could be so easily chosen.

Friday, September 15, 2017


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Sweetpea stays with us when her Mama goes on business trips, sleeping upstairs in her room, and being trundled back and forth to school and activies.   Night before last, her reader featured a new version of the old Kissing-a-Frog tale, with a Princess enchanted this time by an angry witch, and doomed to live as a frogess until a Prince should kiss her.     The story featured quite a few words in Spanish, so as we read in turn, each taking several voices and parts, I would translate and teach her to pronounce the unfamiliar words.  

The tale was of a Viceroy’s family (short explanation of King, in Spain, and you know how we have a Vice President?---who is second in command?---well, Roy is the word for King, and so Viceroys were in command in Mexico because they were the King’s Second people, etc. representing him there.  So that  part was well-received and remembered.

Then came the losing of the Viceroy’s son’s golden arrow down the well, with the promise for its return, etc., as “You will let me eat from your plato, 
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and sleep beside you in your cama, 

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and (most important), give me a beso in the morning.”

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And so, with the several repetitions of this promise, and her excellent memory and inflection on the words---Man, we were moving right along.  And so to sleep.

Yesterday, at breakfast, I said, “Tell Ganner the story of the PRINCE and the Frog,” and away she went---Viceroy explanation included, and arrow in the well, and promise.  Now, that promise was smooth sailing the night before, and she launched into eating from the plato, and sleeping in the cama with flying colors.  Then, somehow, her new-found knowledge and the similarity of the words conflued to hatch an innocent joke that we’d have had to hide to laugh.

She finished her tale with a grandiose accent and a flourish: “And he promised to give her a PESO in the morning!”

And if you do laugh, how do you explain THAT one?

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017


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I love reading the far-flung home-places of the people who drop in here to read, by Google, by machine, or by accident, but I seldom just come right out and say Hello.   I’ve lately been intrigued by the recurring glimpse of a Union Jack and the words “Southend, Southend-on-Sea,” often on my sidebar, and hope that it’s someone who is coming on purpose, so to speak, from that faraway land I love so much.   The very name is charming, bespeaking a cozy seaside stroll, or vast stretches of rocky shore, or sandy hills to the water’s edge. 

I’d love to have you comment, if you’re ever so inclined, but in the mean-time---Welcome, and Thank You.  It’s a nice compliment to see you, day after day.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Sometimes you get a hankerin’ for the tastes of long ago---from LAWN TEA, January 2009:

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There are still a couple of Glad-Boxes of Christmas leftovers in the fridges; we bought WAY too many groceries for the expected crowd---still languishing are the two artichokes, planned for DD's enjoyment with blender Hollandaise; the bag of forgotten cherries, Gracie's favorite, left to grow saggish in the dark, whilst we ate fat grapes and slices of cold, crisp apple with our sausage balls on Christmas morning.

The "green" stuff needs using quickly, and in the cold room are still snapped-tight Tupperwares of all kinds of fudge and cookies and chocolate-dipped things.

I just encountered the small square box of Clementines, an at-least-once-a-year treat gone neglected, slid sidewise down between stacks of other stuff, the heavy little fruits held from dumping by the green net of their covering. Discovering a pile of THOSE a month later, following your nose to the bittersour tang of dead orange in the air and the velvety-blue of their moldy skins dusting the floor---not fun, and I'm glad I noticed.

I ate two for breakfast just now, and the sweet little nuggets of flavor, so near to orange, so breathy of tangerine---the taste reminded me of Christmas flavors all over again. But the prevalent memory is of the Satsumas we encountered one Summer long ago.

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Looo-siana Satsumas!!!! It's a remembering that comes often, many years since the actual event, and it should be commemorated with choirs, harps, and a flock of little pink hearts---pale pink hearts, fraught with longing.

One day at my workplace, everyone had gone to lunch but me---I'm talking DEEP South here, so colloquialisms apply. A lady came into the office with both arms dragging low, from the weight of two of those orange-net bags into which fruit is sewn for transport. She gave two mighty swings, and plumped each upon the counter in turn. She said, "I've got Looo-siana Satsumas and Grapefruit---any of y'all wanna buy some?"

I took a look at the fruit, quite plump and heavy with juice, but the moldy-green of the surface was a bit aback-taking, to say the least. It was not the green of unripe; it was the green that floated on the FARRRR end of the drainage ditch which served the kitchen plumbing of our very rural home. The grapefruit was not quite so algae-ish, so I hefted the bag, realized it was FAR more than the ten pounds she allowed that it was, and said I'd take that one.

She sighed a regretful sigh and reached for the bridesmaid bag. Now, I can turn down anyone who gives an eyeroll sigh, an angry sigh, a who-do-you-think-you-are hummmmph, but her sad tote-that-barge resignation at having to lug that thing BACK out into that Mississippi heat and peddle it elsewhere---THAT was my undoing.

I said I'd take that one as well. Whole kingdoms and bits of history have hinged on less import than that one sentence. I lugged them out to the car after work, counter-threw them myself when I arrived home. After school, the children came in, took one look, and all gave an EWWWWW-flavored, "What is 

Fruit, I said, mentioning that I'd give it a good wash before we peeled it. I cut the Satsuma bag, dumped a few into the sink-bowl, ran cold water, brush-scrubbed. No swan emerged from the dirty-ducklings, just a fainter nasty green tingeing the peel, but we took life and ptomaine in hand and peeled one. The rind fell away easily, revealing contents that Faberge would have gladly displayed in any egg. The fruit was spectacular---a glorious golden orange with a luminous quality, almost like being lit from within, that I'm sure has been enhanced by time and longing.

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The segments were sweet, with the orangey orange flavor that all oranges aspire to be, with great clusters of the tiny juice-sacs gleaming after the bite. I cannot describe the texture or the flavor or the color of those bits of happenstance---it was the best fruit we'd ever eaten, and for seconds, we all peeled one of ou
r own, then another. Somehow, the five of us consumed half the bag between then and bedtime, finishing off the fruit in the next couple of days.

We still speak of it as the Miracle Satsumas, and will ever wander towards Goblin Market, hoping to find more. All the years since, any Satsumas in any market are greeted with a little lift of hopeful anticipation---wishing to find, hoping to taste just one more time.

I wonder if ANY could ever be as good. And still we hope.

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oil on canvas by Linda Killinger

Friday, September 8, 2017


Somewhere in my closet are a couple of caftans---those long or longish creations which sort of skim your body and float gently as you walk.  They’re especially nice for relaxing on the patio after a fragrant Summer shower with lovely soaps and lotions.   They’re my own version of the storied “hostess gowns” which so captivated my very-young, very limited fashion imagination, especially in relation to the “Sunday Night Suppers” of cookbook and soap opera legend in those Mary Tyler Moore years.   I love wearing them in a comfortable setting with close friends, or put on just BECAUSE, with my wet hair up in a turban and cream on my face. 

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Long-ago memories of my favourite caftan, all floaty silk and gently bat-winged, in yards of soft taupes and tans and smouldery gold swirls of acanthus leaves with the sun peeking through. 

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My, I felt elegant in that one, with my heavy Sarah Coventry necklace and gold toe-sandals, and had no qualms about wearing it over and over.

The perfect seventies accessory---My, didn't EYE feel soignee!

I can't imagine where that beautiful garment is now---probably mouldered in a tip, for the last time I saw it was many years ago, slung over the shoulder of a poor young woman who had spied it hanging in the back of my office, dry-cleaner-bag-and-all, and practically cried over the beauty of it. And when her slow, Southern drawl went on to say, "I'd wrap myself in it on my mattress every night---I ain't got no sheets, ye know,"---my heart overflowed and I pressed it into her hands. 

And I've no doubt it cuddled her dreams for a long time.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Cousin Maggie's porch in the treetops

It’s comin’ a EARLY CHANGE, I think, as Mammaw would haave put it.   Very cool this morning, and for several days, and just the wind in THE TREE is whispering a different song.   Few words of my own, so I’ve delved into one of my many journals lined up on the shelf, and brought out those of other folks I’ve jotted down over the years:

The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first grey hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.  Oliver Wendell Holmes

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."                                         
                  L.P. Hartley

On grandparents telling their children how to raise the GRANDS:
Unless they go deep into the woods, hold their hands or hold your peace.  Carolyn Hax

Good Ole Boy planning a prank:  Make it look convincible

Sometimes I put fun labels on food at parties:

Red Kool-Aid for a Halloween party:  Sucker Punch.    Of course, the green is Skeleton Key Lime.


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Re: not being the favorite child:

 My husband and I are firstborns. Yeah, not invariably true that you always love the first the most.  We don’t want to be loved MOST, but a little less LEAST would be nice, just occasionally.  

Re:  choosing to be alone on holidays:    

I have no doubt they all pictured me sitting around my house, probably in the dark, clutching a carton of eggnog and weeping all over the cat.

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I have misplaced the rhythms of Morpheus.  I am sentenced to pace the passages.  My nights are punctuated by a bell that does not call me.   Sister Monica  CTM 

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“. . .if you don’t do anything to your face and you get old and you can stand up and you can remember your lines, the work is there.”                                     
                  Judy Parfitt

I do desire we may be better strangers.   To Dogberry  MAAN

On being expected to buy an extravagant wedding gift to “cover your plate” at the reception:
“It isn't the treat; it's the stupidity."

Responses to a someone’s asking if they can have your stuff when you die: 

“You know, we never have a visit that you don’t ask me about getting my things when I die.   I find that so absolutely distasteful and rude and ghoulish that I had Hoke make me up a new will and YOU’RE NOT IN IT!”   Miz Youngblood of Paxton, to her niece

Or Miz Hitchcock’s:  “Well, why WAIT!!   Jes’ back the truck up right NOW!”

Marty Kittrell photo--Mississippi River

Home is not simply a mark upon a map any more than a river’s just water.
It is the place at the centre of the compass from which every arrow radiates,
and where the heart is fixed.
It is a force that forever draws us back or lures us on.
For where the home is, there lies hope.
And a future waits.
And everything is possible.       Call the Midwife

                    Celtic Blessing

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And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.           ROALD DAHL

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


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The Thirtieth Anniversary!  Has it been THAT many years since Baby escaped from that corner?  Time, etc.

It’s odd the things which cling and keep on keepin’ on, but ANYTHING with Swayze, Orbach, Bishop and Honi Coles---that’s a keeper, in any decade.

For all the DD fans, who will catch every nuance, and for all my GRANDS who like some STRANGE things!!

Thursday, August 31, 2017


 I’ve always loved the IDEA of playing Mah Jongg---those fluid movements of all the graceful, deft hands sliding tiles and laying down bamboos and numbers with the quick flash of jade bracelets.  We’ve not ever played much hands-on, with the real pieces, though we were given a gorgeous old set way back in the seventies. A dear older lady had it out and waiting for me one day when I dropped off her groceries and mail, and she insisted on my taking it and enjoying it with my family, just because I ran errands for her occasionally.     It was in a pretty leather case, with crushed-down Pool-Table-Green velvet inside, marked forever with the indentations of the tiles. 

The tiles must have been ivory, I think, for they had the tinge of old piano keys in a forgotten parlor, and were way too heavy for Bakelite. I asked my friend who owned the Chinese grocery (not simply for Asian foodstuffs, but delineated as so to distinguish from Mr. Melton's store or Piggly Wiggly) if she could recommend someone to give me lessons, and she immediately invited me to their Sunday-afternoon game at her house.

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It was a splendid afternoon, with two tables of bright, well-dressed ladies talking all over each other in syllables and tones I'd never understand, but which was like some sort of addictive music as they played, punctuated by a PUNG or CHOW or BAM! as they clicked down tiles in such a blur of motion that it was like watching a whole table of sleight-of-hand masters.

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I loved the games, learned not nearly what I should have, was treated as an honoured guest, and met some lovely people, who exclaimed and made little tik-tiks of admiration when I brought our game one day.

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And now, I enjoy the glorious colours and shapes and designs of all the choices in my online game---everything from the original to automobile emblems and flags-of-nations, in the "new" game in which you match two free tiles, click, and they wisp away into air, like those talented fingers used to do with the tiles on those hot Summer afternoons at Mrs. Wing's.

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Monday, August 28, 2017


Stand up, stand up TO, stand out, stand FOR, stand proud, stand strong, stand TOGETHER.

Monday, August 21, 2017


My friend Chronica Domus has posed a question about Sawmill Gravy, mentioned in the FEEDING THE HANDS post the other day.    "'Wonderful, just wonderful, and now you've made me yearn to sit at one of those groaning tables full of great food and great people, listening in on the chatting. But, a question for you first. What in heavens is "sawmill gravy"? Do please relieve this Brit's mind as it hasn't a clue, thank you."

I have referred the answering to my dear friend Marthy Tidwell, whose knowledge of Southern Kitchen lore is boundless.

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My friend Rachel asked me to give you a little run-down on Sawmill Gravy, and I’ll just say right off that I’ve found that it seems to be whatever the local folks say it is, in whatever town, area, settlin’, hoot or holler you live in.   It’s not quite a written-down receipt---not anywhere, I don’t think, because it’s not something you PLAN on, most times, because it’s not any cook’s best dish.    It’s a kinda in-a-hurry thing, you know, like stirrin’ up a cuppa-cuppa cobbler out of the last peaches in the freezer when you find out your husband’s asked two lodge buddies home for supper after the Stated Meetin’.  

Folks vary, too, on what’s in it.   Some swear by crumbled-up sausage, all stirred and fried up before the flour goes in to brown, because their own Grandmas did it that way.   What they may misremember is that the amount a sausage that would feed TWO in patties will stir around in the pan to season and satisfy a whole big skillet of gravy, when it’s all browned up and thickened.   And those Mamas with seven children to feed before the bus arrives at dark-thirty can stir and fry and whip that right up while those two dozen biscuits brown up and come out of the oven, and still have time to find two books, lunch money and a shoe in the meantime. 

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Of course, SAWMILL in the name gives it a rough touch, to begin with, because those loggers and sawyers had about one of the hardest, dirtiest jobs in the whole universe, and those big tough-hided men needed a lot of nourishin’---the cooks in those camps had to sling some hash, so to say, startin' WAY before daylight.   I’ve heard some say that some of those cooks made the gravy with cornmeal, but I’ve not ever tasted any of that.  It was supposed to make a crumbly gravy, even without any sausage, and got a lot of complaints that the mingy owners musta made the cooks use sawdust to stretch the gravy along for so many hungry men.   I’ve never seen anybody make it like that, but I guess such things happen.

Now, in MY family, we just call the one with sausage SAUSAGE GRAVY, and my Mama’s version of SAWMILL Gravy was just plain old gravy, the kind that’s just a good brown roo of lard and flour, with plain water and salt and pepper, and maybe the last cup in the coffee-pot before secont-boilin' to knock up the flavor a little.    That one is just a thick, rich quick stir-up maybe for a Winter breakfast, or to stretch the supper for extra.   It’s kind of a name that you give to the gravy you make when it’s never seen a smitch of meat, as versus the grease that you fried pork chops or chicken in.   You can make the same thing with a little broth from boilin' up squirrels or rabbit, saved in the freezer for emergencies, but those are all always called by their own names---Squirrel Gravy or Rabbit Gravy.    

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So Sawmill gravy, to us, is a Po’ Folks gravy, made to satisfy a meat-cravin’ when there ain’t none, sometimes made almost thick enough to cut with a fork, furtherin’ the pretense, you see.  Over grits or rice or several biscuits, it’s made many a good hearty breakfast for hard-workin’ folks going out to a long day in the field or mill, or repeated in a good hot supper with maybe just a tad of good jelly you put up last Summer---well, a full stomach can sleep WAY better’n a growlin’ one, no matter the plain fare. 

 And biscuits and gravy---those common old staples of lard and flour cooked two entirely different ways,  but fillin' bellies and keeping backbone from belt buckle for generations---those have a place in history, just like flags and rights and battles and time. 

I hope I’ve explained this little bit of Southern’ cookin’ for you---maybe some of Rachel’s friends can chime in and give you their version of what Sawmill Gravy is. 

Very sincerely yours,

Marthy Tidwell

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Saturday, August 19, 2017


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Norman Rockwell painting

One of the most interesting families in Paxton is the Comeaux crowd, a wonderful big sprawling clan from Cajun Country, transported to Paxton by Luck, Love, or Good Cookin’.  Back in the Fifties, Mr. Arsene Comeaux and his brother, Mr. Beh’teel came up to the Delta from way down in Louisiana with their Daddy and all his huge earth-moving equipment and know-how, to teach the local farmers how to set in Rice Fields in that rich, cotton-blessed gumbo.

  The two young men weren’t too tall, wiry with corded muscles like great vines up their arms, and could lift a good-sized log and caber-toss it out of a field as well as any good Scots in a kilt.   They were great life-grabbing men, loud-laughing and hard-working and an endless source of romantic giggles and chat amongst the teen girls of Paxton, and some of the Mamas had also been known to primp up a bit before the menfolks came to the house for noon dinner. 

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It became like the old Harvest Times around the county, like in the old days when the horse-drawn reapers and combines with their equally-sweaty drivers would rampage across the fields from dawn til way into the night, with great crews of dusty “hands” gathered to  take in one field after another.   It was expected way back then that the “house” provide the meals for all the workers, and the womenfolk of the family prided themselves on the hearty fare they could turn out from those big old black stoves, those gleaming Amana Ranges, those yellow-formica counters and dinette suites to match, standing right there in the farmhouse kitchens, serving as mixing stations and chopping areas and storage of each successive dish as it was arranged.   

At each succeeding new Rice Farm, the womenfolk would hardly sleep for days, spending nights and all, over piecrusts and eight-pies bubbling away twixt supper and breakfast,  along with great hams and big pots of stew-beef and  spaghetti and meatballs, all ranged down long narrow plank tables out under the trees in the yard.    On the second day, all those good meaty hambones would reappear, in vast pots of pinto beans, set out with spoons and bowls and several black skillets of crusty cornbread, along with bowls of vinegary slaw and platters of sliced tomatoes and sweet onion.   There was a code to those Harvest meals, as unbreakable as taking your very best dish, IN your very best dish, to a Church Supper.   You fed the men well who “made” your living by bringing in the fruits of your labor, even if all you could offer was side-meat and six biscuits apiece with sawmill gravy, along with the last three jars of the plum jelly from your cannin’shelves.

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And so the ladies of the area welcomed the dozen or so workers who traveled with the Comeaux family, calling them in at noon and supper in the same way as their fore-mothers---to the picnic tables in the yard, or under the patio, or even to card tables set up in the living room and den, if they had room.     But there was a bit of difference in the serving, this time---the getting out of fancy glass bowls and calling back and forth between Miss Kathryn Roseberry and Grandma Stewart, both young farmers’ wives back then, as to who was making the Four Layer Chocolate Delight, and who the Apricot Nectar Cake, and which one had prior rights to Sallis-Berry Steak, so that no toes, social or kitchen, were stepped on.

Those Comeaux boys, grown men both, came back and courted two of the Paxton girls whose family tables had held such welcome, and they’ve settled and prospered and become valued families of our little town.   Funny how Fate and Food can bring folks together, id’nit?