Saturday, March 24, 2018


In this Springtime  and Company-Coming frenzy of sorting and placing and tossing out amongst our own vast collection of stuff, thinking as I cull and keep of that delightful Hobbitt word "mathoms," I still wonder about Miss Mary. 

Long before our attention was called to the lifestyle which has been named HOARDERS, Miss Mary was a source of wonderment to me, for I watched her overflowing basket, week after week, as she prowled the vast echoes of the charity shop where I volunteered on Thursdays. Over the years, we could set our clocks by Miss Mary. She would appear in the door just after we opened on mark-down day, her iron-gray permanent scraped stiffly backward under one of her many bright headbands, her unmistakable harlequins catching the gleam of the fluorescents as she rounded the long rows of aisles, picking up a plate here, an outdated skirt there, a cheery sweatshirt with teddies and hearts and bells. 

Her husband, Mr. John (yes, they REALLY WERE John and Mary) was a man of quiet ways, a familiar farmer-in-a-cap, of tall spare frame and the particular bowed gait which bespeaks a man of work, of a well-loved pickup into which he slides his jeans-clad spindle-shanks with their permanent wallet-outline on one back pocket, more often than he eats or sleeps.

He seldom entered the shop, save to carry out her big purchases---once a set of little nesting tables---one true find, for the gilt and graceful cabrioles had set the pricing ladies all a-twitter over the charm of them. He’d sit in the parking lot, listening to the news or weather or whatever interests a man of the soil, then clomp in, his cowboy bootheels right at home on that century-old plank floor which could have graced any western saloon, nod us all a “Hidey” and sigh with resignation as he hefted all the once-ours, now-his in those big white bags from the counter

Miss Mary picked up at random, but with a sense of a driving purpose---as I pulled the overdues and re-priced the things which had overstayed their welcome, I moved aside as she gently inserted herself into the space beside the basket of bargains, fingering and squinting at brand names on china, then just blindly grabbing up a Last Supper plaque, a plastic Louis-Whicheverth-style clock with one hand missing, or a heavy vase-shape in garish colors, with cookie-cutter-cutouts of clay laid haphazardly on, seeming a product of some long-ago therapy workshop.

And I think of all those mis-matched, homeless items, from all corners of the globe, come together in her ever-filling house. Surely she didn’t have a place for all those oddities---the clothes, she sometimes remarked, were for her daughters, but everything else---worn purses and dishes and wall-hangings of chipped plaster and wood---I just had the impression that they were taken home and set on every available surface or nail-pounded into walls already frescoed in junk.

The shop is long since gone, with its final burdens-after-the-sale donated to a nice man who also volunteered and had a small second-hand shop of his own. And Miss Mary was there to see the doors close, grabbing up one final garish horse-head plaque before the cash register rang its last.

I just hope she had a happy life---she seemed much older than I, and I waver between hoping that she did not die in a house so filled that she could not breathe for it, and wondering if they let her take some of her things into her room at Golden Years, and how she chose them.

Or did she have to be unearthed, years later, having perished beneath an avalanche of painted eagles and chipped swans and plaster cats with eyelashes?

Perhaps her children were left with the gleanings---all those Thursdays of joyful pursuit, all those big bags lugged out to the pickup, all 
those small artifacts from other people’s lives, crammed into one vast junkyard of a house. I hope their memories of their Mother were not of tacky gew-gaws, but of her kind smile and her gentle voice, for she was a sweet woman. I pray she fared well and enjoyed every cluttered moment of her life, and I hope they remember her as kindly as I do.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


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Little ramblings on writings about food:

In a perfectly delicious Father Brown short story, The Invisible Man, I was captivated by the first paragraph:

In the cool blue twilight of two steep streets in Camden Town, the shop at the corner, a confectioner’s, glowed like the butt of a cigar. One should rather say, perhaps, like the butt of a firework, for the light was of many colours and some complexity, broken up by many mirrors and dancing on many gilt and gaily-coloured cakes and sweetmeats. Against this one fiery glass were glued the noses of many guttersnipes, for the chocolates were all wrapped in those red and gold and green metallic colours which are almost better than chocolate itself, and the huge white wedding cake in the window was somehow at once remote and satisfying, just as if the whole North Pole were good to eat. Such rainbow provocations could naturally collect the youth of the neighbourhood up to the ages of ten or twelve. 
       G. K. Chesterton, of course.
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And the next story in the same book is Lamb to the Slaughter with the most infamous leg of lamb in written word, served with some potatoes and a can of peas whose purchase establishes a handy alibi.

Mary Maloney was waiting for her husband to come home from work.    

Sinister sentence, that---especially from a "children's" writer.        

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In John Mortimer’s grim-and-cheeky stories of the Gourmand/Barrister, many mentions of lavish repasts occur between demise and denoument, stabbing and solving.  In Rumpole Rests His Case, there are numerous  breaks for lunch at Pommeroy's for S&K pie, apple tart, and Chateau Thames Embankment in the glass.   Ahhh, Rumpole---the man for whom the cuisinical term “Trencherman” was coined.

There's one memorable dinner party with some tres retro acquaintances, whose shawl-swathed lamps and cavernous dining room were enhanced by sitar music and the odors of what seemed to be "ecclesiastical incense, smouldering carpets and simmering lentils."

Mrs. R.---She Who Must Be Obeyed---is no shabby cook, either: she provides her Old Darling with a sound Brit breakfast of rashers, eggs, mushrooms, beans and tomatoes, with six crisp slices in the silver rack.   Dear Horace. 

From my friend Maggie the Cat, in her online essay, “A Whiter Shade of Sauce.”

“It’s never inspired a wild fandango, let alone cartwheels 'cross the floor. Calling it Béchamel doesn’t make it chic and rolling the "l"s in balsamella won’t make it sexy. It’s White Sauce, pale, pure and reliable, the Vestal Virgin of Escoffier’s Mother Sauces.

“It’s a Mama sauce, a Maman sauce, a Mom and Mummy sauce. There’s no macaroni and cheese, no creamed spinach, no creamed potatoes or onions without White Sauce. No lasagna, no rissoles; barely a scalloped potato. No soufflés. No crap on clapboard. No sauce for chicken-fried steak or salmon patties. No choufleur gratinée or cute little coffins of chicken a la King. No éclairs, cream puffs, or Boston Cream Pie, because isn’t pastry cream white sauce with sugar, egg and vanilla?

“In this order, place butter, flour and milk in a saucepan, some salt, maybe a twist of beige from the nutmeg grinder -- all it calls for is some attention with the wooden spoon and an eye to the size and activity of the bubbles. The proportions are way simpler than the multiplication flashcards my father drilled me with in third grade. My mother called them out over her shoulder as she chopped parsley and cleaned the big can of salmon.

“I remember: “One tablespoon each of butter and flour for thin, two for medium, three for thick. Keep stirring. Watch the heat -- you don’t want to burn it.” Some Maternal Units would never besmirch the snowy stuff with black pepper -- though not my mother, Julia Child was passionate about the white pepper only rule. I like the black specks, (always) a grating of nutmeg, and (often) a pinch of cayenne. When I have extra time I add a fillip of my own: I throw a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and a few fresh tarragon leaves into the milk, warm it up to the small bubble stage, then let it cool down and infuse. I strain out the herbs before I add the milk to the roux, pondering the greatness of the bouquet garni, and what a clever cook I am.”


And my response to her wonderful treatment of such a simple, elegant old stand-by recipe---the secret’s-in-the-sauce kind of concoction, and which elevates a plebeian mix of flour, butter and milk into elite territory, along with whawhatever vegetable, meat, pasta or casserole is cloaked or soaked in it:  

Absolutely Breeeelyant, Maggie, as always. Your mastery of the concept and the execution is impressive, but not surprising. And your research and knowledge are a formidable team with your incomparable way with words.
I learned to make White Sauce at a very young age, in exactly the same 1-2-3 over-the-shoulder that you did; my Mammaw would be boning chicken for a la King, or skinning the tiny blanched pearl onions (specially ordered once a year, for Christmas Dinner---no canned mush for HER table).

After about the second “making” I noticed that she just kept right on with her work, humming along with the radio, and I remember the tight feeling in my chest as the swell of pride in my kitchen independence almost overwhelmed me. I’d made cakes and cornbread and biscuits by myself for ages, but WHITE SAUCE! Ladies talked about how hard it was in WMU meeting and at Wednesday Bridge at my friend’s house, while we hid and listened and snuck little sandwiches. It was mentioned so often, for so many dishes, I’d thought it was some kind of formula you’d have to learn in college.

I way later learned the word Bechamel from Italian neighbors---the ones who taught me to make ravioli from scratch, and pizzelle and latugi. They sang out the word so rapidly as we started putting together the lasagna---Besh’-meh---that I had to ask several times, so I could look it up. And it was good ole White Sauce.

I used the word for quite some time back when I was catering parties---I’d rattle it off myself like I assumed they knew it, too, and it FELT impressive. But when I got back to my own old Franklin, melting the butter gently in the big wide skillet, using a worn-down old flat wooden paddle to keep every fleck of flour constantly moving---I was standing in that familiar old kitchen in that tiny shotgun house, hearing my Mammaw’s words so long unspoken, “A Tablespoon each of Butter and Flour . . .” 

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All this drought and now the Freshet turns Flood.   Anybody got a wrench?

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Saturday, March 3, 2018


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I woke up this morning remembering that today is Grandmother and Papa White’s 100th Anniversary.  She was five years older than he (just like I am than Chris, only he was 19 and she, 24) and his Mama took to her bed for about a week and wouldn’t get up. 

The young folks left the house in their Sunday clothes, heading the buggy for the Preacher’s house to get him to marry them, and always said the angels must have guided them, for they “met the Preacher in the middle of the road.”   They just sat in the buggies and had what they called a “sitting down” wedding, with them facing one way and he the other.   They were married for 68 years, til he passed away in 1986, and she soon after.

And I do hope that you all know that I’m still here, reading and enjoying all your blogs and activities and adventures, seeing your happiness and creativity and hopes and joys, as well as your heroic and stalwart progress against odds and sorrows and trials.   My heart is with you in all your endeavours---I just still haven’t got past this little glitch which causes GOOGLE to disremember me at every turn.  Contrary to some opinions, I’m just lost out here in the atmosphere, and not pouting, traveling or passed on.  My e-mail is in my profile, should you ever want or need to drop by.   Moire non when I can correspond once again,