Saturday, February 28, 2009

POST #100

As February drifts away, and other passings and changes and driftings occur in our lives, I want to share this. It made me smile today.

And this is how they made it:

I'd LOVE to be in a place where something like that just happens.

Friday, February 27, 2009


We’ve never been of the Pets-are-Disposable persuasion---once you have them, they’re yours forever. And we have one now that we’ve had for ten years---our big old blue and gold bird. And he’s getting to be too much for me, with a baby in the house most of the time. He needs social activities and dancing and lots of attention, and I find that at my age, I have to dig deep to find enough for the lively little one I’m entrusted with. I just can’t give Rich the attention and time he needs, and he deserves so much more, plus macaws sometimes live to be eighty, and he needs bright, new things to do and see and people to be with.

So, we’ve found him a new Family---a Family who lost a bird just like him under tragic circumstances, and has longed to have another someday. We met them yesterday, he and I---a gracious young woman and her just-teen daughter. There’s a kind husband and a pre-teen son at home, and they are all a-whirl in the planning and the placing and the getting-him-home with the fervor of any adoptive parents---they have the rooms all laid out---where the big cage will be, in the bank of big sunny windows, and his perch in the den, and the outdoor cage in the shade of the patio. They were amazed that we're giving him to them, but you just don't SELL a relative.

She had called the vet one day, asking to be put on the list to re-home a blue and gold, and they said that they didn’t have a list---no one had ever asked that before. We happened to call them the very next day, and when they called her back, they said, “You must be absolutely meant to have this bird---it’s Karma or Fate or something.” And I’m convinced that they are. And it is. Something.

He’s eleven years old, and we met him before his eyes were open. He was a tee-ninecy baby, with a huge head and little teensy body like Tweety bird, though not as big. He had been hatched for several days, and was in the incubator at the store. All the babies were in shoebox-sized clear plastic bins, with a little fluff of paper in the bottom, and he was sitting backed up to one wall, with his little round belly and his scrawny legs splayed like a tiny drunk on a sidewalk.

I was surprised to see that his beak looked reversed, in that the bottom lip was a little square shelf, into which the delicate little curl of the top one fit, belying the magnificent fierce scimitar-curve of beak to come as he grew up. He was trying SO hard to sleep, but he was growing in some of those stiff old feather-casings, and every time he’d nod his head, one would poke him under his chin. He’d jump awake, then nod off again. I felt so sorry for that sleepy baby---he just took my heart.

He’s big on “Hello!” and says it in all our various voices, as well as “Hola!” on occasion.
He has a fairly interesting vocabulary---lots of food words, and admonishments to himself. You proffer a bite of food, and he parrots the question we've asked so many times: “What IS it? Is it a cookie?”

He takes a bite or two as you hold on, then grasps with one big foot. He asks: “Ya GOT it?” and follows that with an appreciative “MMMMMM!!! YUMMY!”

He's a terrific dancer, as we sing Louie, Louie---though neither of us knows the words, so we just sing OH-Oh-Oh-OH-OhOh on the beat, as we shake our tailfeathers and wave our arms. I can hear him nearly every day, singing away, saying "C'mon! Let's Dance!! C'mon! Getcha Arms Up!" in my voice, as he prances the perch, bobbing and waving, til a final ascent into the top of his cage, where he hangs by one toenail and swings back and forth, yelling about arms, waving his wings in great swoops.

All meat is “Chicken”---he’s allowed a rib bone occasionally when we grill, but I was always afraid those powerful jaws would shatter a chicken bone to splinters and harm him. He’ll gnaw and gnaw til there’s barely a scrap left on the bone. Bacon, however, is a separate, sacred entity---he can smell it cooking in a campsite in Montana, and will start calling out for his share. A clink of fork-on-plate will also bring on several requests for a taste when he hears you start to eat.

All vegetables are “Salad.” Fruit is “Apple,” and anything sweet is “Cookie.” He’ll ask for those at regular intervals all day. He likes bananas, strawberries, grapes, apples---he also loves tomatoes. Just hand him a grape or cherry tomato and he will leave just a skin. He always gets the stem-third of a banana, peel still on, and he’ll hold it like an ice cream cone, munching away til even the stem is gone. When you serve him warm scrambled eggs, he will stand with his face in his food bowl (as opposed to getting a bite and back on his perch to eat) and will eat until there's not a scrap in the bowl, making intricate contortions with his head to get his beak placed just so to lick up all the crumbs.

A couple of summers ago, a strange thing happened---we were going somewhere, and I was already upstairs at the door. I always snug my glasses and my sunglasses into the neck of my T-shirt, since I haven’t carried a purse in YEARS and don’t like carrying them in a pocket. I got up there without my sunglasses, and I called out to Chris, “Please bring my sunglasses when you come up!”

He called back, “I don’t see them anywhere!” And in this throat-tight little squeaky voice, Rich said, plain as day, “In Yuh PAAAH-ket.”

I just automatically reached in, and there they were, though I’ve NEVER carried them in my pocket before or since.

I come in the door---he says “Hello.” Chris comes in---Hello. But if we both enter together, his greeting is “Cookie?”---he always assumes that we’ve been out for Chinese. And we always read him his fortune. Once, in a Twilight Zone moment, as I wondered why on EARTH that would be in a fortune cookie, assumedly to be read by a PERSON, it read, “Beware of those who collect feathers.”

Any trip to McDonald’s brings home a bag of fries, and I love to see his golden eyes dilate and expand at a rate faster than a mouse's heartbeat. He coaxes with kissing sounds, begs for "Frenchy Fries" and strides up and down his long log of a perch, ringing every bell and swinging every mobile perch in reach. He politely tugs one from the extended greasy nosegay, grabs it in one slender foot, asks, "Ya got it?" and happily munches, all the while saying "MMMMM!!!! Yummy!!!" in a throat-constricted tone like a tenor reaching for a note beyond his range.

And of course, I have to join in for companionship's sake, munching a few of my own, while we dance a bit, his wings dipping and a bit of Ray Charles action with his head while we listen to the Oldies station on his radio.

So this weekend, he goes to his new home, with two cages, his food and litter-pan stuff and all his toys and cookies and the big bucket of nuts. We've been given visitation rights forever, and I know he’ll be happy, but I’ll probably be a wreck for a while. And I don’t know WHEN I’ll ever be able to listen to Louie, Louie again.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Faraway, never-met friends are coming to visit in the Spring---surprise and lagniappe and an extra helping of Life Unexpected. I’m looking forward to the meeting and the talk-times and the teatimes in the arbor, whether communing over the dainty intimacy of a fresh-brewed pot and china cups, or laughing over tall glasses of lemony Southern sweet tea, slooshed over ice. I anticipate this visit just as I’ve always calendared and marked weddings and months-away births and trips to wonderful places.

They’re bringing THEM to me, the new two, their selves and their other-state raisings and thoughts and voices I’ve read and never heard with my ears. I’ve marked it; their itinerary is on my fridge door, like theirs of the magnetic mosaic of life-on-display which I’ve seen in pictures of their own kitchen. They could be my children, come home in a flurry of hugs and hellos and welcoming grins, and I hope they’ll settle in as into a familiar old chair.

I look around my Winter-neglected house and think, "How will this look to THEM?"---taking tally of changes and cleanings and excuses for little call-the-carpenter repairs I've been wanting to do for ages. The I-WANNAs outnumber the actual doings of the things; the carpenter will be here in ten days, the longed-for painting of the big hutch will wait for open windows, and it's too soon to dust. (Oh, my---that didn't come out right).

Chris and I have talked of where-to-take-them and what-should-we-see and will-there-be-enough-time-for-that, marking off the clock of the days with possibles and maybes. We’ve chosen a favorite restaurant for Saturday night, and then a stroll around the beautiful night-whiteness of the Circle, with its million-watt glow of tiny bulbs scattered like sprinkles on a cone, its fairyland trees twinkling, its white-leathered carriages with their patient steeds sporting jaunty bouquets. We’ll walk the enormous steps up to The Fountain which surrounds the graceful spire set like a birthday candle in the frosting likenesses of huge sculptured soldiers-from-All-The-Wars, with Victory's torch the blaze on top.

It’s a quiet place, somehow, in the rush of the water and the breeze of the night, with the cool of the droplets and the blue depths; you lean and look, musing on the times and circumstances depicted on the ever-frozen faces and haunted eyes. And it’s beautiful, a fiercely-challenging beauty of strength and courage and determination for the true and the right. The sound of the water and the night-breeze and the depictions of such brave dignity make being there much like the hush and comfort of church.

And for another evening, I’ve chosen a home-comfort kind of place, a local landmark we've never visited, which specializes in family dining and the kind of Sunday Chicken Dinners that everyone either remembers or wishes they did. It’s a pretty place, a set-the-bowls-on-the-table-like-at-Mammaw’s kind of place, and all the reviews on the website are glowing and fulsome in their praise. “The best fried chicken I’ve ever had,” gives way to “The BEST Fried Chicken in the WORLD.”

And perhaps, to their taste and experience, it is. And we reserve our judgment til the tasting, we of the lifetimes of well-seasoned black skillets tended by deft, talented hands. We’re experts in the field, whether we’ve ever been aproned up for the shaken paper bags, the sizzling skillets, the huntin' camp pots on tripods over a just-cut wood fire, the Church Suppers whose bounty and excellence of fare were occasioned by the home-pride of a hundred Good Church Ladies seeking not to be outdone.

They set down their BEST, every time---kept to a single-minded standard of excellence judged by each other and their own stern principles---and few restaurants can claim that. And we know Grandmas and Mammaws whose experience in that one cultural item would equal degrees and awards and testimonials were it in a field of work accredited by other than glowing compliments and an enviable reputation.

Good Church Ladies ARE AS VAIN AS ANYBODY WHEN IT COMES TO COOKING---A COOK’S REPUTATION IS ALL. The Pillsbury Bake-Off pulls forth no such efforts from kitchens as the collective strivings of a community of good cooks on Church Supper night.

They get into those kitchens and whip up Aunt Hattie’s Potato Surprise or Death by Kool-Whip desserts or Bean Bundles tied with pimiento strips, and dedicate the same time to the prettifying as to their own careful grooming and Standing Appointment coifs.

As a longtime student (PhD in Church Suppers, WMU meetings, Garden Club receptions, et al.) of the Southern covered-dish social phenomenon, I know the kitchen-proud heart of every woman who sets down her best effort, in her best, prettiest dish, and then looks up to see that new hussy bearing in a tray of hummingbird tongues garnished with Carmen Miranda's best hat.

I seem to have come full circle, so to speak, from elegant carriage rides to home-cookin’---but then I always do.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Tomorrow morning, our Littlest one will be visiting for the day, and we’ll be cooking one of her favorites: Several big fat biscuits to share---cut open steaming from the oven, a good knob of butter laid in to melt its richness all over the insides, then some of the homemade pear preserves I made last Summer. Her biscuit gets just a little drizzle of the clear, sweet syrup, with tiny bits of pear finger-thumbed from her shining steel tray.

Chris and I like the nice rosy hunks of pear enclosed in the poufy biscuit---he lifts his to his mouth and takes a big bite, chewing with enjoyment. I like mine put together like a round little sandwich, then eaten bite by bite with my fork, between nibbles of crispy bacon.

We thought we'd missed out last year, for no one made the trip either up from or down to the pear trees at the old homeplace in Mississippi in the Summer. However, one sunny afternoon, Chris came home with a bushel-and-a-half from where else???


He stopped to look around at a house WAY out Highway 74, and didn't see much of anything to buy. He got back in the car and started to pull out into the road, when he saw a huge pear tree, still hanging pretty full, and completely surrounded with a goldy-green moat of fallen pears.

He went back and asked if he could buy some, and they said "Help Yourself---we're glad to get rid of them." And then, for convenience, and just to be polite, he did buy a one-dollar empty bushel basket and a fifty-cent peck.

It took me quite a few hours to peel and cut the bushel---an old sand-pear is the armadillo of the fruit-world---they give no quarter, aren't any good to eat, and will fend off the sharpest knife, until you let down your defenses. THEN will come a slide and a nip and the knife's bitten YOU. Sly, tough old things.

I used quite a generous amount of "Fruit-Fresh" in the water as I peeled and set aside, and they kept the nice pale color of a just-chopped apple. By morning, the mountain of sugar had coaxed a lot of lovely juices out of those hard little pellets of pear, and the hour or so of cooking turned them rosy and chewily-soft, all sweet and the very essence of pear. Kind of a Cuisinical Miracle, I think---something so unyielding and stand-offish, hiding its promise literally under a bushel, then blossoming into the soft sweet rosiness of a new doll's cheek.

Sometimes I think about these old pears when I meet or hear a grumpy or loud or curmudgeonly person---they seem all prickles and stings, with no give to them, turning a hard shoulder and resisting all approaches with surly rebuff, but finding their true selves in the alchemy of sweet warmth.

They just need a good nap and some sweetening to make them rosy and fit to be in any company. I hope I don't ever stop thinking that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Violence UnSilenced

I have not long been a part of the blogging world. I'll never know all the whys and wherefores, the how-to and the possibles. I look at the gadgetry and the clickety-links and the "enlarge this picture" and the colorful, moving pageant that scrolls its way so effortlessly and instantly from one continent and idea and preparation to another. My one picture was laboriously posted with help of Chris and a LONG set of notations in my journal, so as to do it by myself “next time.”

I frequent a few sites in particular; I stumble from them into “their” favored spaces, the ones that they list as their own, and explore from there into tributaries and capillaries of trickle-down and surge-up that lead to riches and realms unknown.

Family and cooking and homekeeping lead to decorating and in turn to baking wonderful and beautiful and whimsical things. The links spread and guide and channel me to another and another, as I click and read and admire and look my eyes full of the colors and shapes and beings of places and times and scenes I know not, and I embrace the swiftness and the transformation and the window-openings of the so-easy travel, the momentary peeks into other lives, other moments, in an eyeblink.

And I, too, link here several that I enjoy and look forward to seeing; also waiting every day are the scores more, returned to for another glimpse of that garden---what will be blooming today?---and the mouth-watering photos of foods and ingredients and methods unusual to me, but soon to become old favorites.

Just the words and the banners and the enticing photos lead me back time and again for another taste, another comfy read, another moment in a life not my own. And I'm captivated by the New: people and places to be experienced through eye and ear, though never to be met save through the marvel of this Strange and Mystical Machine that so captivates us all.

As a Newcomer myself, scarce a quarter-year of the crowd, I might hesitate to bid Welcome to another who also seeks and finds, who sends out thoughts and happenings and ideas and opinions into the world, unsought and unexpected. This is not MY Party---I feel like the pot-luck guest who brings a coupla McDonald's ketchup packets to dinner. It seems, somehow, like jumping up to usher in a fellow guest, pushing past the host to offer first greeting and refreshment not of my own making.

It’s felt awkward, somehow, to introduce a new find---a new bright parcel still bursting from the wrappings, a just-birthed NEW place that is even now looking around with wondering eyes and seeking its way---as if I had anything to do with the sweat and tears and trepidation involved. I can offer nothing but my whole-hearted support and admiration.

And there IS such a place; I’ve seen it growing into being, sending out seeking hands and a hopeful heart to find welcome, to make a home. Its Mothers and Founders have a story to tell---uncounted stories, truth be told---far too many. The words are coming, fast and hard, like hail from a clear sky, and like drops of the gentlest rain, speaking of erosion and tearing down, as well as resurrection and re-birth.

The site was created by one of my favorite writers, and has been a while in the making. She’s the lady known as maggiedammit; we are not acquainted save through my reading her work, and sending an admiring comment now and then. This site is her HeartChild. It’s only a few hours old, and the anticipation was such that it’s been visited by thousands, already.

I’m the most UN-political person there is, and urge upon others neither my opinions nor my choices. But I know what’s RIGHT and what’s NOT, and I'll fight a bear for what IS. This subject crosses every spectrum of life there is, and these voices should be heard.

The site is, and I hope you’ll look in. And speak out, if you have your own story to tell.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Words I like the sound of:

lavender incredulous mimicry importune abbreviate synonym

altitude fomenting reprobate curmudgeon replete fortify

beneath precision infinite oceanic frenzy perfume lower launch grate rosy ability

jounce volumes bannister forthwith secure unfurl carpocket fluff sesame cheddar

ratchet doorway plausible fairy sculpture replete chocolate magazine highchair

quicken étagère recline admit duvet branch chime gatepost lamplight meringue

calico organdy entertain antique effigy

bridge stonework cabinet parquet armament chainmail marmoset soliloquy

enterprise magnum bisque flight skyline plenty approve minimal

forage marquetry entrance (both meanings, but I like best the one of magical charm, which rhymes with dance)

Speaking of words, one of my favorite Wordsmiths is Miss Fannie Flagg. I picked up another copy of Fried Green Tomatoes yesterday; she WAS, as they say, travelin' in High Cotton---the only copy in the store, sandwiched right between two giants: Fitzgerald and Flaubert.

Dadgum Right.

And a new game that’s fascinating:

Pick a word---any one with any other word INSIDE it somewhere:

Example: aMENDment

Now, take the inside word, substitute its OPPOSITE in its place, and then define the new word you’ve made.

aRIPment----a change for the worse

apPEARrance apPRUNEance---your looks after 65-----Both by Billie Hobart

There are loads of them online, as people catch on and start thinking of their own. Just from the above group, as I scan the words:

mARMoset mLEGoset----a child’s delight at his new building toy

oceANic oceTHEic---------water worship

meRINGue meOVALue-------Self-worth

Somebody stop me.

The very cleverest of the original dozen, I think, is:


tWRITEmill-----A device that turns out monotonous, hackneyed essays

Sherrill Foote

All opinions or contributions to both of the above are most welcome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


All the hearts and flowers and feathery froufrou scattered in Blogland today is cheering and fun. I’ve seen everything from Victorian Valentine wallpaper to Green Hearts in a Garden to a cow with a love-spot center forehead to a rash of pink tablescapes worthy of Miss SL herself.

I LIKE Sandra Lee. She's polite and perky and always in a good mood. Her kitchen is an ever-changing fairyland of light and color. And there's a kindness to her that glows off the screen---we can all use more of that. I got to know her in a time when TIVO’ed repetitions of her cheery tossings and smearings were a bright light in the darkness I occupied before and after knowing I was harboring a pesky kidney stone.

I had sat with my “bad” knee on a pillow, thinking my limpy knee the culprit for my tired, cranky feelings, and would become immersed hypnotically in all her pastels and tablescapes and cream of mumble soups, my feet on the big ottoman which made my corner chair into a comfy chaise longue, and my thoughts soaring in waves of pink and green and mauve.

I watched as she chopped and added and snipped packets and marinated with a bottle of vinaigrette. She sips and swallows, devoting to a cocktail the care and anticipation of a diamond cutter, swirling that 'tini in the pitcher with the fervor of a star-crossed lover.

She mixes and stirs, dumping cake mix and gravy powder and taco seasoning with mad abandon, her flowing, silky sleeves draping dangerously close to stove burners and marinades alike. She stands unaproned three inches from a skillet of frying chicken, her cost-more-than-my-whole-wardrobe blouse unscathed through the fray.

I’m not watching for TIPS---I just enjoy the along-for-the-ride inanities of it after a busy day---the colors and the arrangements and all the dipsy-do that won’t be cluttering MY closets. "She” spends endless hours in crafts shops, gathering up the red plastic buckets and ostrich boas and piano-key plates necessary to complete the tablescapes; ribbon and tassels abound, with nametags written on everything from avocados to zebra-striped rocks.

If Michael and JoAnn had a mad affair in Hobby Lobby, honeymooned at Big Lots and came home by way of Sur la Table, this would be their Love Child. If I may mix Metaphor and Matrimony.

And I love the fairy-tale kitchen, magically re-arranged for each viewing according to scheme and theme---a yellow-papered greeting on a stormy Monday night when you can’t think WHAT to thaw for dinner; a bright red seaside arrangement of an entire coral bed to lift you through the malaise of the moment, and pink clouds of tulle and frosting which bespeak the little girl in all of us too-grownup women. And anyone with access to a whole palette of Kitchen-Aids and Crockpots to match the mood---she’s one to watch.

I’ve drawn considerable fallout from a couple of recipe and cooking sites, with mine as the only dissenting, uplifting voice in the masses, my comments drowned out in a sea of calumny and ridicule, some of which was heaped on ME for my plebeian (and one used the word redneck) taste.

As in “Racheldee, Racheldee---whatever ARE WE going to do with YOU?”

Nothing, thanks. I need not their jeers nor approbation. I’d LIKE to care what they think, but it’s just too much effort. And so I go my own way, thinking my own thoughts, making my own choices.

Sandra Lee doesn't really COOK---but she certainly entertains, and I like her. She BRIGHTS me.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Abraham Lincoln. February 12, 1809.

Again, I have no words. None seem worthy today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I knew Chris was an avid griller soon after we met, and when we drove to Memphis to purchase our wedding rings, he stopped on the way out of the mall to admire the nice rank of Webers lined up outside a store. We purchased one right then and there, and he still refers to it as "our first piece of FURNITURE we purchased together."

And when we moved up here, he came in late October, a couple of months before me, and went to buy a grill for our apartment. Somehow, the summer supply had gone, had been put away for the icy season, but a man at WalMart said he'd bought one of his own earlier, had only used it once, and he'd call ahead to his wife and let her know that a stranger was coming with MONEY to buy their grill. I've always wondered what the dear woman thought about some Southern weirdo coming in and buying their grill right off their patio.

Last night we had two racks of babybacks, to feed our grillsmoke withdrawal pangs. We grill all year long, and Chris thinks nothing of standing out in the driving snow, manning the Weber, cooking up Mahogany Chickens or racks of Country Ribs or marinated tenderloins (pork or beef). His only consideration is that the snow not actually fall upon the meat itself. I've been known to stand beside him in a blizzard, holding up a big old blue and white golf umbrella, whilst he brushes each piece of meat or vegetable with marinade or sauce.

And these ribs were perfect: the very essence of porky tenderness---not that first creamy tenderness of a piece of meat cooked just SO, nor the long-pitted drop-from-the-bone tenderness of a piece of Memphis-done perfection, but the middle-ground, a tender, softly-tearing mouthful of smoky, porky realness. My tongue could feel the little ragged edges as the meat ripped gently apart.

And now we have seven grills (sigh) in all sizes and types, all stages of use and decrepitude, all for one specific use or another, dotted all over the lawn out back. All Webers but one. That one, built by my BIL in a moment of sculptural frenzy with his new weldin' torch, is composed of a horizontal barrel, a smokestack, and a goblet-bottom made of a heavy pipe and a disc blade. I'm waiting for the refrigerator-rack-and-toilet model to grace the back garden any day.

A couple of years ago I bought several hundred pretty yellow bricks on sale, for a walk out to the back gate of the garden. THEN I saw him surreptitiously eyeing the book of build-your-own-Pit plans at Home Depot.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


There's a wonderful article on Slugburgers by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Mississippi's famous writer of articles-on-all-things-both-arcane-and-interesting. I read it several years ago, and it featured sounds, sights, smells, tastes, reactions and aftereffects of her first and only exposure to Corinth's most famous culinary creation. I had hoped to find her archives somewhere online, but the only site wants to sell me a book from e-Bay.

Oh, well, trust me, it was a lovely bit of writing, bringing to life every greasy, salty, mustard-clad bite. You could almost hear her arteries begin to harden.

My raisin' was in the Delta, and we had never heard of the "hill" folks' delicacy, though our local Milk Bar---guess we were too rural for a complete "Dairy" title--sold something similar. The little one-room building, whitewashed all around, had so many items and prices printed backward in white shoe polish on the INSIDE of the windows that you could barely see the workers within. You walked up to the little screen-flap window, picked your poison from the long list of cholesterol, paid your money, and promptly had the screen slammed down as the cashier turned to yell your order at the frycook standing two feet away.

The refrigerator door was opened to reveal several tall stacks of half-inch pink checkers, each separated by a small square of tornoff waxed paper. Heaven knows WHAT was massaged into that “ground beef” before the final patties were formed---last week’s unused buns, all crumbled into one last effort of use-it-up economy, or the lingering heels of every employee’s loaf of Wonder at home, brought in to stretch the “bought stuff” into more than it was. It coulda been oatmeal or even grits---we didn’t care.

One of these pink coins was grabbed by the paper and slapped upside down on the grill. The hot, dusty parking-lot air began to fill with the tongue-aching scent of sizzling meat as the cook threw two bun halves into the grease deposited by decades of burgers. And the not-quite-mixed bread-and-meat goo began to cook at different rates, different reactions of sizzle, so that each bite of the burger might offer a different taste and texture.

I remember the soft center section, the part that would’ve been rare had the patty not been so thin and the grill-cook not so watchful---that part was unctuously creamy with moist meat and soggy bread. And it was tempting to eat all way round the circle first, to get the mouthfuls of the crisp edges with their crunchy taste of meaty, grease-crisped croutons, or the almost country-fried-steak effect of all that bread mixed in and sizzled on the flat-top.

It never mattered to the cook if you got two tops or two bottoms, bun was bun; you didn't care either---you just wanted that sizzling and frying and mustard-smearing to be done, with a nice slice of onion and a coupla rings of salty dills slapped on. The meat, by this time, had been spatula-smashed with all the weight of Miss Ella's muscular right arm, flowering into a bun-sized, thin circle with crisp, lacy edges. Greasy spatula saluted top of bun, the lot went into a crisp crackle of waxy paper with the fancy pinked edges, and you received your prize, seizing it to your bosom like a holy relic.

You backed away, averting your eyes from the waiting hordes, lest they lose control and wrest your long-awaited treasure from you. A clink of coins into the machine around the corner, the sissssssss of an ice-filled Pepsi bottle, and you retreated to the grimy picnic tables in the shade of the back lot, sinking onto that splintery bench like returning from battle. Rustle of paper, scent of onion-mustard-meat approaching your lips, then Heaven.

As I said, I've never tasted anything called a Slugburger, but I remember those filler-filled burgers of my youth with great pleasure, and with regret for the young of it, the bright-eyed lusty joy with which we wolfed down whatever was put in front of us, the uncaringness of the days before cholesterol and triglycerides were invented. That Milk Bar owner built house after house, renting them to many families, and she built them one burger at a time.

Slugburgers: No. The most memorable sandwiches of our lives: Oh, yes.


There are whole generations and centuries of good Southern folks whose lives were lived quietly, unobtrusively, uncelebrated save for their way with a cake, a pie, a recipe for chowchow or preserves or perhaps a sublime custard which, when cranked and iced and stirred in the old wooden ice cream freezer, became the food of gods.

Books and drawers and albums and files are filled with handwritten receipts; little boxes of quaint cards are inscribed with measures and methods of a time far ago, testament to the perseverance of family favorites. And a good half of the pages bear the names of the creators, the copiers, the carriers-on of a tradition older than memory---the naming of a recipe for the hands which created the original.

And for most, that one bit of history is the only claim to lasting remembrance for these women---the homesteaders, the keepers of the gardens and sties and springhouses, of dairy-rooms and honey-sheds, of smokehouse and brew-room, of kitchens plank-floored and bare save for a scarred plank table and a few wall-hooks for utensils.

And the years of rationing, of doing without and making-do with what could be had---ingenuity and hard work triumphed in those times, and families were fed. Who is to remember and celebrate those cooks, if we do not?

My own great cluttered drawer of clippings and lined paper and curled brown bits of sack and calendar holds myriad recipes named for an aunt, a friend, a church lady whose delectable dishes caused gridlock when she set down her tray.

There are treasures like Maw’s Caramel Pound Cake, Mrs. Thornton's Watermelon Preserves, Mammaw's Pineapple Layer cake---they're all there, along with Maw's Lime Pickle (always referred to in the singular by her, and the name is sacred in the family annals), Aunt Mary's Creamed Corn, Aunt Lucy's Candied Sweet Potatoes (and they WERE---nearly pound-for-pound with sugar in the syrup; they would almost stand in for fudge), Mother’s Banana Bread and Karo Pecan Pie, as well as Chris’ Homemade Cookies.

Perhaps my strong feelings on this subject have come too much to the fore, as I have been rambling through old journals and albums, kindling memories of things to write about. And most of it is family remembrances and recipes and little wisps of where-we-come-from to pass on to the new branches of our family taking up the kitchen torch. I've just been so immersed in all the remembering---it's very important to me to hand down whatever I can to enrich the heritage as we remember it, and to steward it for the future members.

So, I'll just keep referring to all the old recipes and the old ways by their proper names---the names of the women and several men---Chris’ Spaghetti Sauce, Daddy’s Dishpan Salad and his unforgettable pitted pork. Some of the names would now be lost to time, save for their talent in the kitchen.

I will not let their work and their names be lost. And I'd love to hear the names attached to other families' recipes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


While we're on the subject of Pie: Pie has such a close relative in Cobbler, I wanted to mention a memorable dish that we stumbled upon on the way to Cincinnati last Summer. On a back-road meander through a little town, we found a little country diner---a rustic, comfy one of the Kafe'-with-a-K sort, and the walls covered with the proprietor's paintings of birdhouses and barns, each with a little Post-It pennant announcing the price. We partook of unimportant hamburgers, and asked what kind of pie.

That's what you DO in a diner. Even though CAKE is our favorite, and there WAS a pretty white one sitting under the flat-topped dome on the counter, there's just something about a DINER that says "Pie." And sometimes you order some of every kind, just to be friendly.

This time the choices were apple and pecan, neither of which appealed at the moment. We were about to pass on dessert, when the hostess (and owner) tilted her head slightly toward the kitchen-cutout and said, "Let me see if the Blackberry Cobbler has come out of the oven yet." (I remember her face and demeanor as the lady who recommended the Dutch Apple Pie to Starman in the diner---his first taste of Earthfood, and I loved the waitress' pleasure at the total enjoyment on his cream-smeared face).

She returned with a shallow bowl the size of a dinnerplate, two long iced-tea spoons---the better to share it with, My Dear---and a quite visible trail of fragrant steam. In the bowl was a BIG river of beautiful purple, little rivulets of lavender and mauve spreading as it melted the two huge scoops of vanilla atop the sugar-crusted lattice.

It was too hot to eat at first, but we were determined to dig in before it melted the ice cream into liquid, so we did. Spoon after spoon, it was the essence and life and vitality and round dark sweetness of every blackberry that ever swelled on the bramble. It was the most delicious cobbler I've ever tasted, big ole whole blackberries with their shapes altered just enough to let free all those pent-up Summer juices. I hope we can find that little out-of-the-way place again.

It in no way abrogates or invalidates my vote for cake---no hanging chads or recounts or concessions---it's still cake for me. But that was GOOOD cobbler.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I have a strange recipe, left all the way through time from Home Ec class in high school. It's one of the oddities in the history of Southern cuisine, one of the I-Wonder-Who-Had-That-Much-Time-On-Their-Hands moments in recipe creation. And how they thought up THAT sequence of ingredients is beyond my solving.

We seldom ever had a fruit PIE---you dumped a buncha peaches or blackberries or cherries into a dish, slathered it with butter and crust, and called it cobbler. We were all raised making those, so the Pie Lessons were for real pies in a pieplate with a crust or two. And instead of learning mincemeat or black-bottom or sugarcream, so beloved of the Northern States, our teacher Mrs. Parrish broke out all the old Church Supper stand-bys---chess and lemon icebox and banana cream and orange chiffon, as well as the ODD ONE. Every year.

That one was an imaginative combo of Ritz Crackers, lemon juice, sugar, and butter, with a whopping spoonful of cream of tartar to give it that apple zing. Sealed into a double-crust pie, it was boasted to taste just like THE REAL THING. It was called Mock Apple Pie, and the thought of one particular one mocked me for years.

It’s been an eternal blush-provoking memory, that one pie-making class, the one when we all baked one pie from scratch, and so you were allowed to skip whatever-class-was-next after Home Ec, just on that one special day, by Sovereign Decree of the School Board, of which MR. Parrish was chairman. I disgraced myself and every lesson of kitchen technique and protocol I’d learned in all three years.

I made an Orange Chiffon (cue Knox theme music here)---a favorite of my Daddy, and we could take home a slice at lunchtime. My best friend made a two-crust beauty, filled with the above Ritz conglomeration.

Mine was pretty, a lovely tangerine shade standing high in the crust, with nice swoops of the spatula across the top, and little paper-thin twisties of orange slices arranged JUST SO. Hers was a gorgeous creation, a perfectly crimped, stunningly burnished golden brown, cooling in all its crusty perfection. She had made it from the skin in, cutting flour and Crisco, carefully rolling and lifting and cutting and doing those difficult finger-crimps. It was a marvel of piedom, remembered as the paragon of pies, partly because of its great beauty and tantalizing fragrance, and mainly because I practically destroyed it with one touch.

The crust was just the crispest, tenderest, flakiest of all time, with little separations evident just from the crimped edges. But in one spot, there was one little thinner-than-paper, almost-transparent marble-sized bubble of air trapped between two of the layers. My finger just reached OUT, for the most gossamer touch, and shattered a hole the size and import of a moon crater.

I must have been alone, or at least not the center of attention when it happened, but I had hypnotically reached out to that one little irresistible poof of air, secluded under its phyllo-thin roof, and I had RUINED HER PIE. I slunk away, joined several other groups in admiring their efforts, received kudos for my own, and did not return to that fatal pie zone til it had been cut and was being enjoyed by quite a large crowd.

I tried to blend in, and must have, because I mentioned it for the first time last year, and she said she did not remember a thing about it. That's a GOOD friend. I've never made one since, nor have I wanted to...I just have the notebook, with its Jello salads and bean bundles and my orange chiffon, but I cannot bear to look at that page for Mock Apple Pie.

But many years later, some Cosmic Force of Redemption found me in my tiny spot in the Universe, and smiled, through the innocent trust and confidence of a child.

When our Gracie was about five, she and Caro and I had spent the afternoon of Tuesday-before-Thanksgiving making pies---sweet potato and pecan and lemon, and she had punched out little leaves and flowers and all sorts of beautiful decorations. We arrayed them grandly around the margins, crimped them into the edges, and scattered them atop, crusted with sugar.

When we finished the three, there was one of the roll-up crusts left in the box. She said "Let's make a CHERRY pie!!!" I said I don't think we have any cherries; she smiled me the smile we'd reserve for a gently-addled aunt and said, "See, there they are---Cherries!" And they were, right where she pointed---on the crust box. So, as not to undo any child's fancy of the magical power of being in Grandma’s kitchen, I went unhopefully to the pantry, knowing I hadn’t bought a can of pie filling in a coon’s age.

And there, atop everything else, front and center, over the tuna and the Del Monte beans, the crushed pineapple and the Campbell's, with the beam of that 100-watt hitting it like the Gleam of Glory, sat a can of Lucky Leaf, shining in the shelf-light. Not a mote of dust, not a sign of its having lived a moment in that pantry---I'm convinced it sprang to life as I hit the light switch---soft strains of angel-song in the background, and a swell of harps.

And it was a LOVELY pie; we ate every bite for Supper dessert. And I know that I am shriven.

Friday, February 6, 2009


We're going out to dinner tonight---Chris is craving sushi; his favorite place has quite a few other wonderful dishes, so I never mind sitting opposite all that raw fish. He's quite fond of sushi and sashimi, of ceviche and all manner of uncooked seafood, especially oysters.

My children learned to like oysters early, from the time they were just toddlers, and their Grandfather would come back from the coast with several coolers. He'd stride into the house, disheveled from the long ride, and odorous of the several days on a deep-sea fishing trip, and thump down big old croaker-sacks of the briny marvels.

Everybody would set to, working those little oyster-openers like magic, but never leaving them half-shell---there were too many waiting mouths and hungry diners. The meats were scoop/scraped into bowls, with the liquor, and passed on to whoever was holding an eager fork, poised for the spearing, the dip into the cocktail sauce, and a quick slurp of satisfaction.

From somewhere, I had acquired a set of cocktail forks, maybe eight, with slender stems and wee Neptune prongs with out-turned edges, the better to grab those slippery little globules. Those forks were much in demand for spearing the quivery bites, and they always seemed to be co-opted by all the big ole Bubbas of the group, the grownup huntin’ fishin’ yahooin’ bunch who talked loud, laughed louder, and brought an aura of huntin’ camp to wherever they were. They’d disappear a fork into those giant hands, then daintily reach into their bowls with the grace of an Eastern Star Matron eating fruit salad.

Cousin Cookie insisted on seating each oyster atop a "soda cracker" before dabbing the top with a little sauce, then working that cracker neatly between her Revlonned lips like a puzzle piece. She'd start to chew, and the dry cracker would burst into crumbs, some of which would fly like sparks from her too-full mouth. She'd laugh that big smoky laugh, and even more cracker-bits would go floofing down her front, but she never lost that oyster; oh, no.

Uncle Junior liked Loosiana Hot Sauce only, dripping a drop onto the helpless bivalve which flinched from the assault. I was the sauce-maker, and learned who liked it hot, who needed an extra hit of horseradish, who would like a lot of lemon. I'd set out all the different kinds in little bowls, and they always seemed to find their favorite. And I'll bet there wasn't a soul on the place, except maybe ME, who didn't say "Oyst-Yers."

All the while, quick hands were shucking and scraping, also slowly filling one great bowl with the slurpy jiggly creatures for carrying carefully into the kitchen. For there would be FRYING.

All this activity was usually going on out in the backyard, with gatherings of hunting dogs and sometimes a pet duck or two, happy to wait endlessly for a chance at a taste. Inside, the skillets were going, three on the stove---two with fish and one with hushpuppies, and sometimes another bobbing with the meal-covered oysters. The odd pan was a still-silvery old battered Wearever Dutch Oven, the black plastic handles burned-away nubs from all the oven-use. It had served faithfully all their married life, turning out the Sunday pot roast with its luscious oniony gravy, and taking several turns a year at the most magical of all: the creation of the creamy, unforgettable caramel which covered Maw’s own best-in-the-world pound cake.

This pan was also the potato pan, and required several "fryings" to turn out enough fries for the crowd. One did several turns each dinner, filled with Maw’s own recipe for French fries. She cut the potatoes into fry-sized pieces, threw them into cold water, drained them, and then dumped a handful of flour on top. A scatter of salt, pepper, maybe a shake of powdered garlic, a toss and toss with two big spoons, til the flour was wet and clumpy and sticking to the potatoes, and into the sizzling oil. They came out crisp and flavorful and covered with little clinging crispins which were just delightful to crunch.

There's an order to the cooking---fries first, to satisfy nibblers; then the fish, which takes the most time, then the hushpuppies, which come out hot and crisp and fragrant, just as you're ready to sit down. Oysters are last, to keep them at just the right texture and crispness. The fried ones are reminiscent of tangy fried okra, if you’d cut it a little thicker than normal, so the insides stayed just a little soft.

When I think of oysters, I think of that kitchen, hot enough to send you to shuck off your sweater, and redolent of all those frying scents: The sizzle-crisp of the garlic-kissed potatoes, the unmistakable aroma of frying fish, the mealy-brown crumb of the oniony hushpuppies, and the sea-scent of those oysters, all overlaid with the crisp tang of fresh-cut lemons, a dozen of them at a time quartered into the big chipped red enamel bowl.

But mostly I remember gruff, laughing menfolks---from babies to seventies, out in the yard shucking and eating those gallons of fresh-from-the-Gulf oysters, their huge hands tucked around those dainty forks. I’ll bet if I’d looked closely enough, I might have seen several pinkies raised in a gentlemanly gesture to the occasion.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Today’s gonna be a Twofer---I have to get this in before midnight turns the pumpkin.

Chris likes to serve my coffee every morning. As I’ve probably said before, he’ll shoulder me gently out of the way if I reach for the first cup on the counter before he has a chance to pour it for me. I fill the percolator at bedtime, then he plugs it in when he hears me open the door of the bedroom.

(I must admit, though, that part of the chivalry may just be kindled by my surly demeanor of a morning, until I’ve at least breathed the fumes of caffeine---perhaps his discretion IS the better part of Valor in this case). Anyway, if he weren’t a bit slipshod in dropping stuff and piling stuff on every surface and leaving stuff where he might think to ask for it next December---IF---then I might be a little dismayed at the absolute ship-shape of the morning counter.

Pot shining, with handle to the right, for easy access, at the rear. Sweet & Low in a cute pink bowl, left front. Cheery red cream pitcher of skim aligned perfectly on the right. Demitasse spoon perfectly perpendicular to counter edge, pointing at pot, exact center. And just the other day, I caught him turning the POT-LID so that the flat edge of the button faced front.

It’s an OCD DREAM. And he ain’t---not in any other facet of his life. Just my coffee. Personally, I think it’s self-defense.

But the rose---it grew to be an every-holiday thing, then, after we moved into this house in stroll-proximity to a BIG grocery Mart, Chris started making it a point to plug in the coffee on Sunday morning, then walk out, to return with pastries, a paper, and a rose.

The ladies at the store point him out to each other; they tell customers about him. They swear to go home and slap their own husbands upside the head.

But, a couple of years after we moved up from the South, he FORGOT. He came home bright and cheery as always, with no rose and not a word, though we’d made plans to go to dinner, and I was all dressed.

We were living in a darling little rental, a ranch with lovely little rooms and a cute garden, and so I said, “Why don’t we re-enact our meeting? You go in the kitchen, and I’ll sit here on the sofa, and you’ll come in and we’ll MEET.”

He just enters into the Spirit of ANYTHING with a happy heart---he smiled and headed for the kitchen. I sat down, arranged my skirt just so, and gazed expectantly toward the door.

Then I called out, “Are you bringing me a rose?”

An immediate, flustered “YESSSS!” from the kitchen.

And out he walked, smiling exactly the same as back then, and with a flourish and a bow, presented me grandly with my red pot scrubber impaled on the carving fork.


Today is the anniversary of the day we met so long ago, so far away. Chris will come home this evening with a red rose, as he has for the past twenty-three years, in celebration of this date so auspicious in so many lives.

Before the Internet became such a Meeting Place, we met through the small-town version of that---in a much simpler way, a more innocent time---through a sweet little newspaperish magazine available in grocery stores, quick-marts and fillin' stations. Ours was called "Tradewinds" and spanned several states, I think; you could find lily bulbs, hound pups, parts for your '58 Fairlane, recipes, and nice people to chat with or meet.

A day or two after New Year’s Eve, 1985 into 86, five of us "girls" who went out together on occasion went to dinner---one brought a copy of the little newsprint-paper magazine, and we all dared each other to answer one ad. I chose Chris, and I think it was because of the sweet way he mentioned his children, his love of reading, and his intentionally stating that he didn't watch football on TV that caught my eye, and they’ve all held true all these years.

You wrote a letter, put it in an envelope, sealed it, and wrote the number of your choice on the front. That envelope went into a bigger envelope with three dollars, and was addressed to the paper. They sorted everybody to the right place, and a few days later, he called.

We chatted for probably two hours, and suddenly it hit me---I was sitting there on my bed like a teenager, forgetting that I was WAY late to pick DS#2 up at the bus-stop. I threw down the phone and FLEW, meeting him probably three miles toward home, walking that old blacktop road. I'd said, "I'll call you BACK!!" as I dashed for the door, but when I returned, I realized HE had called ME and I didn't know his number. He called back within a few minutes, and we talked til WAY late---somebody cooked supper, but it wasn't me.

We talked on the phone for a couple of weeks, and on Feb. 4, he would be calling on some clients close to my town, so we arranged to meet. I would not let a stranger come to my home, and I didn’t want him to know where I lived, so we met at the lounge at the local Holiday Inn where I knew several of the employees.

That brave soul walked into a redneck bar where he didn’t know anyone, carrying a long-stemmed red rose.

We had been talking for maybe fifteen minutes, when in strolled my two sons, who stood towering over him at the table. They swapped the new pickup for my big old car, to go pick up some friends, and since THEY had met him, scads of people had seen us together, and I had gone to high school or football games with half the police department, I figured I was probably safe. So we went to his room and talked until four a.m.

He had arranged the two chairs so that we sat facing each other almost knee to knee, and we talked all about our families and faith and friends, our home life, our lives and what we liked to read, and all sorts of get-to-know you stuff. He even had a bottle of wine stuck in ice in the sink, and he’d been to WalMart for two pretty glasses---I didn’t have the heart to tell him I HATE wine, so I sort of held the glass and sipped at it til it was warm and even more unappetizing.

The funniest part is---he also dislikes wine, and just thought it was the nice thing to do---have a glass of wine with a lady. We both choked it down, just to impress the other, I guess. Never again.

Then, when I simply HAD to go home, he walked me to the truck, and I couldn’t crank it---had never tried; we had just bought it that Christmas, and I’d never driven it. So Chris had to drive me home anyway, after all those stranger-precautions I took. And we were married that Summer---short courtship.

One funny coincidence was that one of my friends at work, seeing how well my experience turned out, placed his own ad, and met a lovely young woman whom he brought as his date to our wedding. She had answered Chris’ ad as well, but they did not get together because we had already met.

I still get chills at the "maybe not" of the whole thing, but he says it would have happened somehow. He subscribes to the theory that he'd have stopped to fix my flat tire, or some such happenstance. And we marvel often at the people we love, and the people we’ve met and had a part in shaping THEIR lives a bit, and they ours, as well as the Grandbabies who might be totally different people had we not met on that foggy night in February.

Life pays forward, and the far-reaching things we set in motion would astound us. For example, if we had not met, I would never have moved here, DS would have not later moved to be near us and met the lovely young woman who is his wife, and I would not be writing this to the music of their little one through the monitor, singing herself to sleep.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


This has been a snow-blower, pile-ups on the highway, stomp-your-feet-before-you-come-in day. There's a big pot of blackeyed peas a-simmer, with the bone from the Christmas ham, as well as a readied bowl of the dry ingredients for corn fritters and a big, broad-shouldered OSo Sweet onion chilling in the fridge.

It's what would and should be known as a Dumplin' Day. Those are the ones when the weather is just TOO cold and bad to go out in, the warmth of home and flannelly shirts and cups of cocoa beckon, and the scents of a pot of something richly simmering on the stove soothes and relaxes the body and soul. And nothing is better at that than a big pot of chicken and dumplings. It's even a silly, feel-good word---dumplings---sounding like the fat cheeks of rosy new dolls or the back of a baby's plump knees.

My Mammaw's (and in turn my Mother's) dumplings were the roll-out-on-the-counter type, made with some of the stock from the simmering pot. Fat carrot slices, chunks of celery and some leaves, and an onion or two, speared all round with toothpicks, THEN cut into sixths or eighths, gently bubbled in the deep heavy Wearever pot with the biggest old hen from the butcher's counter, and in some instances, an elderly one from her own stock, come to the fullness of days in that dusty chickenyard out back.

The yellow-fat old bird seethed away for a couple of hours, turning the vegetables into smooth, melting mouthfuls, and raising glistening dots of oily fat to the surface of the rich stock. A few peppercorns, a handful of salt from the little crock beneath the counter, maybe a small curl of sage from the bush perfuming the air out by the porch.

Several cups of the broth were ladled into a small flat pan and inserted into the freezer for half an hour so the dough wouldn't take a quick-rise as it was stirred together---that was MY reason, for I always kept SR flour. And it's easier working with cold dough than when it's warm and stubborn. Dough-crawl was always a problem---must be something in the sense-memory of millennia of dough that keeps it trying to retract from every thump of that rolling pin.

The first broth-chilling pan I remember was one of those little flappy-handle ice-cube trays, clickety cube-release thing removed, slid back into its neat little frosty slot in the freezer compartment. Flour and broth were stirred into a stiff mass, no herbs or salt or butter, then the whole chilly lump dumped onto the flour-dusted white countertop, top dusted with more flour, and rolled, elastic and lively, into a big round disc.

Great slashes of the big ole cutter-pan made squares and triangles and odd little shapes from the rounded edges. A gentle slip into the bubbling pot, ten minutes lid off, ten with it on, and the dish was ready. The chicken had already been lifted with the huge old slotted spoons, set aside to cool a little, then was sort of yanked into presentable pieces, hacked into serving bits, sliding from the bone, with the backbone and neck removed to a small plate for Grandpa's thorough attention and enjoyment. These were also the two pieces with the small bits of bone which might escape into the broth, and Mammaw had a strict aversion to having any stray bits left to surprise the unwary.

The whole stew was ladled into a huge farmhouse bowl, a big ceramic one with a yellow rim and flowers on the sides. We could have fed a regiment from that bowl. I kinda doubt that there's ever been a civilization or culture in this wide world that DIDN'T have some version of chicken and dumplings. I hope not.

In the first kitchen, that of the little "shotgun" house of my very early childhood, my Mammaw could reach each and every item whilst standing in front of the quick turnaround was all that was possible. The stove (an early Amana, I seem to remember, from repeating the beautiful word like a mantra as I stood on the big flour bucket and stirred stuff), the fridge (a tiny Philco that I could almost see the top of, with its latchety pull-down lever to open the door "Ca-Chick"), and an immense Hoosier cabinet were, with a scruffy-but-scrubbed wooden table, the only appliances and furniture in the room.

The cabinet held a flour sifter in one side, into which about a ten-pound bag would fit. You just stuck a bowl under (dumpling flour went into a heavy red-outside-creamy-white-inside bowl which resembled and weighed about as much as something carved from an immense brick).

Mammaw had one of the first dough-scrapers I had ever seen, made by my own Dad by cutting a metal pie tin in half with tin snips. Mother had the other half at our house, and the two ladies made good use of the homemade convenience. The business edge was wicked sharp, I recall, and not to be trifled with. Later Daddy thought to give a little corner snip off both of the flat sides, and there you had a neater surface for scraping, plus you could cut your dough and piecrust very handily without grabbing a knife. It also was useful when you finished...just scrape the scraps and flour to the edge, hold the flat half-pan beneath the counter, and hand-dust the debris into messy cleanup.

Mammaw also had the traveling scissor-man "dull" the edge of her scraper. The man came to town several times a year to sharpen anything that needed it---he had an array of wheels on which he ground the knives, scissors, even your garden hoe and plow. He would also patch a pot, putting little metal washer-thingies through a hole to reseal it into usefulness. He ground the sharp flat blade of her scraper to a shining roundness, so that the metal would not scar the white enamel pullout tray of her Hoosier cabinet, on which she rolled her crusts and dumplings.

That recipe was geared to a bowl that would probably hold two gallons. That big old farmhouse bowl weighed enough empty to require a good lifting arm, and full---well, there were always plenty of volunteers to lug it to the table.

And with side dishes of greens and silverpeas and chowchow and conserves and a big heavy-cut glass each of celery stalks and slender green onions standing next to the steaming, crusty cornbread or featherlight risin' rolls---Any general or king could have sat down to that table.

That kinda day.

Monday, February 2, 2009


I imagine that the boys still have a bush hog kicking around somewhere on the place. Can't mow first mowing of the lawn without one, some years, and they are just the thing for getting that pesky brush out of the way to get to the blackberry brambles, which are little Death Engines themselves.

We also had countless cotton-trailers, combines, beehives, egg-barns (I can still see Maw’s fridge now, laden with Mason jars glinting golden in the light---when you have eggs to spare and it's Angel-Food cake baking---the yolks mount up by the hundreds. (Chess pie, egg custard, coconut pie and pudding, dinner-plate mayonnaise and lemon icebox pie are where orphaned yolks go to live).

There were also coon dogs, a whole mess of Beagles, eighty-four Mallards raised on the little pump-pond, Mr. Plummer's rice ditches to swim in---the unholy red which DS#1's platinum hair turned one summer from the minerals in the water, and my resulting efforts with Clairol Ash Blonde to try to neutralize the glare, are family legend. And someone came home from church with us to Sunday Dinner nearly EVERY Sunday.

We cooked what we raised, canning and freezing and baking and broiling and frying---the old ways and the new recipes, the heirloom seeds and the new-found, exotic fruits and vegetables from faraway lands. Southern cooks seem to have a reputation to uphold, Cream of Soups and Jello salads notwithstanding, and not many folks would refuse a good Southern meal---cholesterol and carbs abounding.

It's all those black skillets, I think, and the sure hands which wield them to such delicious effect---we all have several of the crusty-bottomed beauties, it seems, and they have a history of their own. They're handed down from generation to generation with the reverence accorded Great-Grandmother's parure, coveted and claimed and used with the accord they're due.

When you're newly married and starting your own home, a gift of a cast-iron skillet is a lovely thing, indeed. But being made a present of a pre-blackened one, long-used by a generation or several of your family---that's akin to a knighthood, a great inheritance, a special gift like no other---better than Great-Great-Grandpa's gold watch-that-he-wore-to-Antietam or Aunt Juadine's recipe box (well, maybe sorta equal to that one).

And when your forebears made their livings on the LAND, with trips to the far-off stores bringing home only the coffee and sugar, with perhaps a twist of precious tea on occasion, the homestuff was what you cooked---from your garden, from the hog lot, from the chicken-yard, from the woods which totally surrounded your homeplace. And when that whole family WORKED the land, from dawn til dusk, coming home dusty and plumb tard out, braising or baking any kind of meat (if you had it) took too much time before the needed sleep. Frying was the quickest way to cook a lot of things, and saved on fuel, besides.

When the only staples left in your larder were lard and flour, you could still make those two old stand-bys---biscuits and gravy; it was just a bonus to be able to fry whatever you could catch, shoot or gather, in order to feed your family.

That’s passed down, like history. Or a ready-blackened skillet.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


We had a lovely lunch at a local place yesterday (mine was a masterpiece of a sandwich with grain bread, avocado, tomato, cucumber, roasted peppers, sprouts and pesto---and I'm not a vegetarian). And we each had a cup of roasted-butternut soup, warming and velvety and redolent of mace and honey.

Before ordering our lunch, we strolled the many aisles of wonderful teas and coffees and cheeses!! and all the jellies and jams and pickles and capers. . .everything under one roof, since we could see through the glassless iron-laced windows into the wineshop side of the store, and could smell the luscious aromas from the cigar shop in an adjoining section. I blushingly admit to enjoying a cigar now and again, though even a whiff of cigarette smoke sends me out for air.

Despite having an entire cabinet devoted to all my lovely teas and cups and various adjuncts (the teapots are all over the house, displayed on rails above both kitchens, over the microwave, nestled into the open dish cabinets and bookcases, etc.), I was just carried away with all the selection.

Names I had never heard before---the whisper of a tropic isle, a sun-drenched field, an exotic hillside in a country I'll never see save through pictures and descriptions and sips of their glorious teas. I overdid it a bit on the buying, but I craved those teas, the IDEA of them, the projected tastes and moments and events and frames in which I'd serve them and enjoy them and share them with friends and family.

The new ones on my shelf are:

A couple of the old Stash standbys---some chai spice and a new red-and-white combo, with rooibos as the main component.

A pretty shiny box of Yamamotoyama China Oolong.

A couple of the ROT's---Ginger Peach Decaf and Honey Ginseng Green.

A trio of Grace Rare: Owner's Blend, Darjeeling and Connoisseur...these three on sale rack, but well within ED. Shiny square cans of Hedley's English Breakfast and Earl Grey ---Chris' before-breakfast or cold-afternoon favorites.

This a.m., I've had a cup each of rooibos/white (lovely vanilla flavor, beautiful color in the cup). And oolong--exactly like I like it. And last night's bedtime chai spice was just as it should be---gently aromatic of clove and cinnamon and cardamom, sweetened with honey---the perfect sweet-sleep tea. The bedtime cup conjured up visions of warm pajamas and soft slippers and a good book before retiring.

And I reserve the right, as a long-time SOUTH person before moving to the Heartland, to enjoy each and every one of these OVER ICE when the spirit moves.