Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Mine were of the hard-scrabble living in the hot, fertile, unforgiving hills and Delta of Mississippi, of the close-knit, home-staying clan, with but two of the entire brood ever having moved from near the homeplace. We looked at the grayed faces of the black-and-white pictures we’d both gathered to show, naming the names and the relationships, seeing the who’s who of our ancestries. Her tales were of the White House dance cards of a flapper Grandmother, of the big Italian dinners, of the enormous platters of wonderful food spread in front of a loud, rollicking clan, with joking and laughing and fun, and mine were of plain old Southern meals, big Sunday dinners and fish fries and music on the porch after.
We went out into the breeze of the arbor with our iced tea, sat in the big comfy chairs, enjoyed more tellings and hearings and sharings. We came in, set the table for our lunch and set out the chicken salad and Paminna Cheese with crackers, stuffed filling into two-halves-each of the devilled eggs I’d meant for Friday. She grated a cloud of Parmesan over the top of the artichoke heart gratin and stuck it in the oven whilst I readied the rest of the lunch.
We sat down and grasped hands, my short and simple heart-prayer, “Lord, thank you for this food and this FRIEND.” We reached and ate, trying little samples of each dish, just leisurely spooning bits from bowls and plates, savoring the tastes and the time. We didn’t rise from lunch until almost three---a quiet, easy time of savors not-all-on-the-plate.
She peeled the asparagus whilst I prepped and steamed broccoli and grated cheese, then she made the quiche batter as I called out the ingredients and steamed the asparagus, readying all that for Sunday’s brunch. We were still talking, still enjoying, until it was time to dress for dinner. The guys came home, and having had an early Chick-fil-a for lunch, had a cold drink and a few nibbles before we went out. I set out some sticks of Cheddar, some tiny tart tomatoes and a bowl of delicate pink salt, a bowl of sesame sticks, and then we all went downtown to Fogo de Chao, which is an experience quite in and of itself.
We arrived in the major hustlebustle of the evening, with lines at the salad buffet not at all impeding the graceful ballet of the young-men-with-swords as they scampered their gaucho-pants through and around and beside. It’s quite a fun place---the salad bar itself a work of art, with all the platters white rectangles tilted just slightly against the back wall of the station, and as you walk around it, every tray is a beautiful composition, like a picture on a wall, with a frame of contrasting carved vegetables. There were roasted peppers and hearts of palm, slices of perfectly flavored dark beets in a frame of thin golden slices, chicken salad and apple salad and broccoli and the thinnest-sliced shiitake afloat like moonbeams in a delicate vinaigrette. The immense roasted asparagus were fat as trees, beautifully bright green, and still perfectly al dente in their marinade.
Deft hands set down small dishes of mashed potatoes, a doily-lined tray of crisp sticks of fried polenta, a boat-dish of whole peeled bananas, dipped into the fryer just long enough to soften through and turn a deeper gold. Another filigree basket held feather-light gougeres, hollow as popovers, and shattering into the most delicate cheese flavor to the bite.
There’s shouting and scurrying and hurried clearings and re-settings, but never in a hurry to rush you--I think we were there for two hours. And the young man who filled our glasses several times has done a bit of joshing with Chris the twice we’ve been there---he knows we’re from the South, and he greeted us with “Shucky Darn!!! I’m glad you’re back!!” What a fun time we had.
We shared crème brulee and chocolate mousse cake, then strolled out into the glorious evening, just round the corner, and were in the shussssssssh of the big fountain in The Circle, where white lights gild each tree and the Symphony Marquee, and the color-changing lights on the tall buildings made the setting into a Fairyland-after-dark. The sedate clop of the horses with their white carriages lent the tempo of another time, and viewing the statues and the huge visages of soldiers of all the nation’s wars gave quiet reflection amongst the sounds of soft voices and rushing waters.
And so Saturday---slow and reflective, loud and bustling, sharing and gathering in---a wonderful day with friends.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
And so they sat, waiting and hoping for rescue, til they were finally set down here in town at close-to-four a.m. And the car rental office was closed, with their hotel way on the other side of town. But luck was beginning to smile, as their lovely seatmate, a nice lady who lives not-too-far-from-me, knew of their plight, and since her husband was picking her up and they had to come all the way over here, passing their hotel in the process---well---things just work out, sometimes, don’t they?
And there I was, sleeping away, knowing nothing of their late-night teeth-gnashings and final ravenous nibblings from a vending machine. And morning dawned, as we arranged for us to pick them up for breakfast, and Chris to take him back to the airport for their car, etc., etc.
She and I were on the phone when Chris drove up in their parking lot. “OH!!” she exclaimed. "I didn’t know you were going to send SANTA CLAUS to pick us up!!” And the day went on in that happy note, as they spilled from the car, all smiles and hugs, and I went flying out the back door to greet them. They were just who I was expecting, and though I can only hope that we met their own expectations---we got along wonderfully, and I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.
We ate amongst the just-peeking-out ears of the hostas and the windchimes and answering birdsong---I’d prayed for nice weather, and was answered tenfold. The big patio table (customarily the residence of whatever-we’re-carrying-when-we-reach-the-back-door), was brightly-clad in a splashy floral cloth, and the lunch table was all pink---cloth, plates, goblets---with springy green napkins. And since the mealtimes were so oddly mixed, we combined the pastries and bacon and fruit with the odd assortment of Things in Dishes that we hauled out of the fridge, and each plate had our own combinations of Chicken Salad, Paminna Cheese, Egg Salad, or hummus, with crackers and pita chips. Everybody just chose their own, and we dipped into each bowl and platter as we felt like it.
Then the guys went off to do the car and hotel stuff, and she and I spent a long time in the upstairs sitting room, passing old family pictures back and forth, each interested in the other’s family and history, swapping odd little stories and anecdotes. We've shared so much of our histories and our families in e-mails and blogs, we seemed to know just who the other was talking about, and saw the faces-for-the-names we'd only read of. We went out for the rest of the afternoon in the arbor, with the nice breeze in the leaves and the wind-chimes unceasing in their merry tune---we talked and laughed and shared more and more stories of children, of grandparents, of little phrases and pronunciations and words that families pick up and share forever, known only to them.
We showered and changed and went to Hollyhock Hill for dinner---a big old country house in the middle of the city---it’s a big houseful of dining rooms, all white-draped and latticed and scroll-worked in a gardeny setting, with cheerful waitresses---in the best, old-fashioned sense of the word---these ladies were the Real Thing---in white blouses and blue jumper-dresses scurrying past with trays and bowls and platters. We enjoyed a big “Family” chicken dinner---some of the dishes carried on in their familiarity since the thirties---from the first-set-down dishes of homemade beet pickles, relish tray with celery and radishes (how often do we see a whole radish in a restaurant these days?) and sweet-sour-dressed plain lettuce salad, and basket of fluffy biscuits with a little silver bowl of apple butter.
Then the platters of crisp golden chicken, the bowl of mashed potatoes with rivulets of melted butter, the true farmhouse gravy, the golden corn and the country-style greenbeans, long-cooked in their broth of ham and seasonings.
Dessert was a nostalgic moment of our childhood "lunches out"---vanilla sundaes in small metal "sherbets" with a little chrome castor of sauces and syrups. And so we wended our way back out into the evening for a stroll past the fountain, and on toward home with the windows open to the soft evening air.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I’d love to host those gatherings, but lack of court and lake and moss-strewn allee are not the only drawbacks in my neck of the woods---things like that just don’t happen during any of our visits. We cook a lot and eat together and go sightseeing and pick out fun restaurants, but no matter the preparation, no matter the planning---I stack the cloths, napkins, silver, china ready to hand; the tables are set up on the patio, the chairs carted up and out amongst the hosta beds and beneath the trees. Then somehow we all seem to throw things into a pile of good food and talk and mismatched glasses and a stray Tupperware amongst the china and sometimes the battered old salt-and-pepper from the stove, and just have our own brand of good time. It's comfortable and homey and totally US.
And today I am foggy as all-get-out, with so many clips of moments and words and gestures and colors and warmth and bright---a great and glorious film-display that clicks along at a great gallop like a slide-show gone amok---interspersed, of course, by the totally intrusive hackhack that seemed to be my odious mantra the entire time. I’d run astray of some Lime-Away in my zeal to have everything just so, and acquired a persistent cough that intruded on many moments, sometimes sending me fleeing for another room to get composed enough to return.
It was a wonderful gathering---all and more and too much sugar for a dime. I was all so carried away with the they're finally here that the time spun WAY out of control and was used up betimes with the force of afterburners. I SO wanted it to be memorable (Yup, it was mostly unforgettable) and really nice and gracious and the food and conversation and setting just so. Visions of lovely collations at softly draped tables under the trees---those are dreams of another plane, I think, in my own milieu, for I have the intent, the know-how, even the lovelies for the stageset of it, but only in the intent and the work to make it so---all that prep and then we were so excited we just grabbed stuff and strewed it around and wallowed in every moment of a comfortable togetherness of old friends. I just LOVED it.
And moiré non,
Friday, April 24, 2009
They slept in for a bit (arriving at your hotel at daylight will do that for you) and then came on over. I'd had Caro to bring us pastries and I'd cooked bacon and set out the makings for the lovely yogurt/granola fruit parfaits, but when they had further delays between the limo service and the rental car---we couldn't decide if it needed to be lunchtime or breakfast.
So, we set it all out, Tupperware and all. I'd planned how lovely it would be with the floral cloth on the buffet and the pink tablecloth and pink plates and goblets, but then we said Who Cares? and dragged all the Things in Dishes out of the fridge and added them to the table, along with crisps and Ritz and of course, PAMINNA CHEESE. We just all helped ourselves and had a grand time. (And paminna cheese lends a whole new depth to a pineapple Danish---mmmm-mmm).
I'm loving getting to know these faraway friends, friends whose voices and ears and eyes have been only ethereal in the most modern sense, and we find that we're already friends.
And soon as they return in a few minutes, we'll all go out for a good ole Indiana Chicken Dinner at a wonderful restaurant. I hope they're enjoying this as much as I am.
Monday, April 20, 2009
And with my first cup, I took a little meander over to Mrs. G.’s nice accommodations, and at first believed that she was about to impart a nice homemaking tip that I’ve used for several years. The hilarious story had nothing to do with homemaking---but it left me with a giggle and still wiping my eyes from laughter.
And that inspired my own thought-for-the-day, which is not funny, nor is it really interesting, I suppose, but I’ve shared it with the folks in my family, and more than one of them have mentioned sharing it around at work or meetings or coffee dates. Plebeian though it is, it’s come to be a habit, and it makes me feel that my home is cleaner and safer---and those are devoutly to be wished---yes?
I’m right now recalling the dear friend, a small-town electrician, who was called to repair the fairly-new dryer of a family who had never had one before. It just wasn’t “runnin’ right” and wasn’t drying “like it used to,” although it was only a few months in use. He opened the lint trap, took out the screen with its multi-colored burden of so much lint he swore he thought he’d removed a raccoon, and heard several gasps from the bystanders, “WHAT’S THAAAAT???!” being the principal reaction.
OKAY---Heloise is smiling down. Take the lint trap out of your dryer and take it to the kitchen sink (or laundry sink, if you’re lucky enough to have one of those) --- (after dumping it of its fluffy burden, of course). Hold it curve-side-down beneath the faucet and run water through it, all up and down the screen.
See how the water has a hard time flowing through? It’s all that time of mixing softeners and dryer-sheet-wax with the heat, making a sort of transparent cover for each little square, and that does not make for a happy dryer.
Now. Take a little brush (mine’s the ever-present handy little nailbrush that lives on the sink, along with the pump-bottle of Apple Dawn, the scrubby-sponge and the dish-brush) and squirt a little dish detergent onto the screen. Scrub it gently all along the screen, with the grain, both ways, length and width.
Now, run some hot water through---it’s like you’ve opened the floodgates, and that’s how much more air-flow and drying power and less-time-and-electricity will be used for your laundry. Give the trap a good rinse with the sprayer faucet, and then give it a little tap against the sink to knock out the water---you’re good to go.
If you’ve gotten this far, go try it. Your dryer will thank you, and I’ll be appearing next at the Most-Boring-Blog-Post Awards next year. I hope it's in Vegas---I LOVE neon.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I have no words for this.
This is for all of us plain girls who ARE somebody, and DO dream our dreams. And it's never too late---take a second look.
Friday, April 17, 2009
We made our own parfaits, layering strawberries and yogurt and granola in tall pretty dishes, and passed the Cool-Whip and hot fudge. I think the girls made two each, mostly on the Cool-Whip side, and we had lovely rich sticks of Cheddar and fresh-cut pineapple and dark fat grapes clutched so closely that they each had flattened sides like peas too tight in the pod.
They pulled out of the drive just as the Friday siren gave its weekly blare, and I'm still sitting in midst of a Combat Zone whose artillery fired Alphabits, pretzel rods, lost grapes, plastic eggs, scrambled toys and yogurt snacks.
I spent the afternoon in a coma of departure and spent energy and a mind full of child-treasuring, with quite a bit of lovely memory stuffed into this recovering brain. They backed away down the drive in the sunshine, flurry of waving handkerchiefs, blown kisses, handprints-on-windows, and one last cheery beepbeep of the horn.
I staggered indoors, hugged Chris bye as he went out to tend to his Friday business. I showered, sat dazed before a Sandra Lee with a tuna sandwich and huge sustaining 40-weight iced tea, turned down the bed unmindful of the noon hour, and got two pages into a re-visit of No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency before I fell into the cool dark.
Chris picked up our favorite dinner at our favorite Chinese place, and tomorrow I'll man the vacuum, the Windex (leaving the beneath-the-glass-table fingerprints for smiling later) and try to make some sense of whatever these rooms used to be. They're certainly empty now---of energy, of bright, of giggly, taller-than-last-time selves with heart-wrapped fingers.
And so they came and went, and a hunkahunka me went down that drive today. The part that's left will sit with Chris and tea in the darkness of tomorrow’s early morning den, re-living the time through all the photographs, seeing moments we missed in the flurry, and we'll each tell the other what the other missed, our own parts of the whole that we'll construct and share.
The rooms were silently still today, after the flurry of tea parties, crafts, plantings in pots and in the garden soil, admiring each worm found as the prettiest or the liveliest or the tiniest, of making paper airplanes and helicopters and origami cranes. We dyed three successive sets of eggs (none hidden, none found---the sheer artistry was enough, and I happen to have a HUGE jar of olives), stuck colorful tattoos to cheek and arm and hand, and had TWO Easter Parades yesterday.
The push car and the stroller and banners and everyone in hats, strolling the neighborhood in the sunshine, with streams of bubbles in our wake, courtesy of their Aunt Caro’s lovely array of goodies in their Easter Baskets. We picked up seed pods to plant at home (and later did, with the cute frog-handled fork-and-trowel sets from their baskets), As we walked, they grabbed a handful of limp violets from a crack in the sidewalk, the littlest two pointing endlessly skyward in amazement at birds or fluff or just a sunglint flying past. We came home to ice cream cones on the patio---our junior hostess scattering sprinkles grandly with a lavish hand, like FairyDust in the sunshine.
Later, we went back out again with two reinforcements, when my dear DIL and our other little one who live nearby joined us after work; we chose a new assortment of hats (feathers on mine a la Carrie Bradshaw's I-wore-a-BIRD-on-my-head wedding chapeau), and trooped around the blocks once more. Then we gathered for a big dinner of steak and burgers and little-corn-with-handles, courtesy of Ganner and his Magical Grill.
And when their parents went out for a late movie date, I sat with the monitor and a book, listening to see if they needed me. Our little guy whimpered once, then started to wail; I went up, brought him downstairs, and he slumped softly against me into sleep before I got to the rocking chair. I just sat there in the quiet for a long time, holding that precious warm bit of our future in my arms as he breathed against my neck.
And now, there's a lone tattoo-filled egg forgotten in a chair, a small sock beneath the children's table, the camera cooling down from its days of red-hot service, my tear-stained hanky waved long and fervently in the driveway, and the Cool-Whip on the carpet will endure forever. Amen.
Monday, April 13, 2009
But Miss Welty, now---her characters were more of the everyday sort; the common ones who lived with scarcely a ripple in the scheme of things---with lives and foibles and quirks and traits we’d all recognize. They lived and breathed that hot, humid air---the air of steamy cottonfields, of gin-hum and tractor-dust and life lived hard and full, with graceful mansions steak-by-jowl with shacky tenant houses and poverty of the heart.
I knelt at the feet of Miss Welty once, at her home in Jackson; I remember the black dress I was wearing, with a little slit up the sides, and how I pulled it tight around my knees, so as not to have them RIGHT THERE, bare, where such a lady had to look at them. I recall the moment of sinking gently in front of her, a bit to the side, but I cannot for the life of me figure how we got there, or why we were invited. My escort was friends with quite a few of the literary cognoscenti who were mingling about the house, and I knew several of them, as well---I recognized the stentorian bray of Willie Morris from the next room. Much as I liked his company and loved his books, I was too enthralled at being in the presence of Miss Welty’s own voice.
It was one of those moments like meeting The Queen or Churchill---you were IN it, but not OF it, somehow, and I hoped madly for invisibility or a veil between, so I that I could sort of bask in the aura of HER, absorbing up close the sheer REAL of her capabilities and her knowledge and way with words, and she take no notice of me.
She sat in a big old rattan chair on a sunporch kind of place, the huge chair forming a sort of throne-enclosure around her. She had on the widest-spread skirt I think I’ve ever seen---it looked like it was made of a plaidish tent, and swirled around her ankles as she sat, like a wash of brown tide about her sandals. She had the soft, drawling voice of the Jackson-raised, a bit refined, but every bit as slow as my own, and she was speaking to another visitor of a trip to Holly Springs for the antebellum pilgrimage.
She’d taken my hand when I was introduced---her own hand bony and long-fingered. I judged her to be tall, going by the angularity of her arms and face, but she was bent so forward in the chair, I think that time had probably decreased her height from her thin, lanky youth. She remained seated for all the time we were there, receiving her guests and friends graciously as a monarch greeting visitors.
She smiled around each word, saying them carefully and slowly as the words of her stories must be read---she’s one of the read-it-aloud authors, with the savor of the words on the tongue as pronounced as the colors and actions portrayed.
I remember smelling a pot of coffee brewing, and the scent of a lemony polish; the air was just a little bit dusty, as befits a home I imagined to be unused save for the writing room, and it was a perfect afternoon. We came out into the glare of the Mississippi sun, leaving behind a shady place, a place of shadows and people and characters created from that vivid, fertile mind and the active imagination of that quiet, smiling woman of letters and far-reaching words.
She not only defined the South, far above the drama of Gone With The Wind’s shouts and battles, pouts and primpings---way beyond the Snopeses and Big Daddy Varner and Maggie the Cat and Miss Scarlett and all their ilk. She set us plain folks into prose and sent us out into the world, and she captured us in the telling.
I’ve KNOWN people who came to “borry some fire,” and whose hard-scrabble lives were ground out day-by-day, as if they’d learnt not to hope for tomorrow. Miss Beatha Crow, a neighbor during my early childhood, was straight out of her pages. She came to Mammaw’s house to get a tray of ice one Summer-noon dinnertime, squinting her way in the screendoor, sending the request into an exact one-eighty, as she brought her own story into the house, asking if she could "borry some ice."
We asked politely, “How’re YOU, Miss Beatha?”
“Ah been arnin’ all mornin’” she replied, fanning her red face with a big floppy hat as she sat right down at the dinner-table just as we finished. She smelled of the hot clean of older women whose cotton clothes have been line-dried, with just an overlay of talcum staving off the heat-sweat, and of the licorice-scent of the smear of Mum visible in her sleeveless dress.
Invited to have a bite, she just kept demurring a clean plate for herself, as she dragged my Grandpa’s just-used one over in front of her with a “Oh, No’m! This’ll be jest fine.” She picked up the neatly angle-set knife and fork from the plate, helped herself to peas and cornbread, and started to eat. I was amazed at her quick-to-the-point hunger, so dismissive of manners or grace, and I always wondered if her sister just sat waiting for the ice for her own glass of tea until Miss Beatha came home.
In the century since Miss Welty was born, a formidable group of writers have surfaced to chronicle the South’s days and years. Some echo her quiet, precise voice; others trumpet our idiosyncrasies and ills and sins like the gaudy rack of supermarket rags in a check-out line. Fiction fashion changes, fads grow and wane, and the true voices are the ones which endure. And we the people---we sleeve the sweat off lip and brow, turn a page, see our lives in the printed lines.
The South’s HOT. It’s full of mosquitoes and snakes and gators and other hostile life; it’s growing by bounds, and it’s melting into the ground in places. But it’s FERTILE, pretty near more fertile than any same-sized plot of ground on this Earth, and the fertile imaginations are the most impressive crop.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
When they come back in, I'll go out and hide the "real" eggs in hidey-places, for them to hunt whilst the tiny two gather up the plastic ones. We're planning an old-fashioned weenie-roast out at the firepit, with marshmallows (Caro's first reaction was: "We're gonna make the kids some REAL S'mores!)" I love that twilight time, with the logs burning red and the fireflies beginning to flicker in the trees, and snuggling on the big pillows for a story before coming in for bed.
And I intend to spend most of my time just WITH the little ones---Christmas was so hectic, with all the cooking and gifts, and now all is neat and ready for just BEING for a while, to color and draw and paint at the breakfast table, to try on all the silly old hats and pearls and boas and handbags in the linen press, to sit on the floor and comb pony manes and giggle, to all pile on the girls' bed one night, like we do in hotels, and "smoke" great big pretzel cigars and sing, "Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat . . ." as we split a Dr. Pepper sparkled over ice, and toast "TO YOUUUU!" until the last sip is gone.
When we were visiting the kids in Georgia a couple of years ago, tiny Kit, who was about two, wandered into the room in her feetie-pajamas, with a coffee-can lid neatly balanced on her palm, despite the several dollars’ worth of coins it held. She walked up to Ganner and me and announced, “Iss hez and tayuhssss.” We immediately acknowledged that it indeed WAS money, and watched as she poked each coin through the slot of her immense pink piggy-bank.
Finished, she held the pig out toward Ganner. “Iss Wibbers,” she said, with a tiny sibilant whistle on the end of each word, Kitese for “Oh, Dear Grandfather, allow me to introduce my own pet pig, Wilbur. He is named for the character in Charlotte’s Web.”
We said hello to Wilbur, and she said, “E nees Hez n Tayuss.” So Ganner reached into a pocket and held out a big handful of coins, thinking that Kit would take them one at a time and put them into her bank. Not so.
With a strike like lightning, that tiny hand went Whop! and got EVERY ONE of those coins in one swoop. We could not believe the magic of that gesture---how did her little hand HOLD them all, let alone grab them all at once. I don’t think she could have held out her hand and let us put them all carefully in---there were that many.
To see if it really happened, Chris fished again, came out with several quarters and quite a few dimes and nickels. And once again, she swooped and gathered fast as eyesight. Wibbers was indeed a full, happy pig that day.
And so we'll store up the laughing and the snuggling and the sheer presence of four small people, our people, who are taller and more grown-up every visit. And we'll have those times to hold onto until we see them again.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
It's a wonderful blending of the season, the generations, and the mysteries of planting and harvest, as well as a child's wonder in the learning and the hands-in-the-dirt lessons handed down by generations.
This is one of the reasons I go back time after time, to the images and stories from the Mississippi writers and photographers---listen to the music of Spring:http://secure.smilebox.com/ecom/openTheBox?sendevent=4f4455344e5445354e773d3d0d0a&blogview=true&campaign=blog_playback_link
Monday, April 6, 2009
That one would qualify as a meat 'n' twelve. Tables seat about ten or twelve, with plates set on the perimeter, and a huge, spinning round shelf in the center. You sit with whoever's there, catch a bowl or platter as it spins past you, help yourself, and try to find a setting-down place for it next time around, so you can pick up another dish. Super food, lovely proprietors---two ladies who own and supervise; not an immaculate curl out of place, and pristine dresses creased just SO as they sit down, take a sip of their 40-weight tea, and speak toward the kitchen: "Mighty good tea today, Margrit!"
I tried to imagine the life they must live, just supervising all those wonderful cooks every day---I thought of them as waking to their coffee, reading the Jackson Daily Ledger in their silky robes, a bath and dusting powder and teensy dabs of Toujours Moi or Shalimar in the crook of the elbows, then dressing, stockings rolled just below their knees, and drifting downstairs to take in the delicious aromas and the serene temper of the white-draped dining rooms, ready to receive their guests with the aplomb and ease of royalty, confident in their long-time retainers in the kitchen.
A discreet sign says "Please take only one meat," but the vegetables pour out like manna from the kitchen; when the bowls get a bit low, they are replaced immediately, with the same or an equally delicious side dish. People come in, sit down, and begin from the beginning. I seem to remember going to the sideboard for the little glass dishes of pie or banana pudding when I just couldn’t turn that table again.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Doe's Eat Place in Greenville is one well worth mentioning, a shabby old building with black skillets turning out heavenly steaks and takeout tamales delivered in coffeecans and tables close enough to the stove to get singed. The steaks there ARE world-famous, with Zagat and Michelin and the Sterns pointing the hordes to the door. Quite a few others come to mind, of lifelong popularity and a steady, loyal clientele who make Friday night at the Hollywood (fried dill pickles!) or lunch at Stitt's or a special celebration at Mary Mac's traditions in their areas.
But there are also very small places, principally patronized by locals, and word-of-mouth is their only advertising. They're also well worth a word, and a visit. There are small formica-tabled diner types, with divided crockery plates and plastic menus needing a good wipe from a wet rag. Hamburgers and meatloaf and liver-and-onions abound, with fried chicken and catfish prominent in the bill of fare, and you see the why of the diked plates when the overflowing chicken-fried steak and gravy and mashed potatoes are set before you.
And the Meat 'n' Threes!!! Lines go around the block, even at the shacky ones with creaky floors, mismatched furniture, and oilcloth from the Seventies on the tables.
Dishes required for all self-respecting Southern Meat'n'Threes (rotating basis, Meatloaf Tuesday, etc., quite acceptable):
Chicken and Dumplins
Country Fried Steak
A big ole pink ham for Sunday Dinner, cloves optional
Whole Turkey Breast, sliced into the gravy
Mac N Cheese
Snap Beans w or w/o Baby Potatoes
Sweet potatoes, usually canned, with sugar and butter simmered with the juices to almost caramel
Kidney Bean Salad with boiled eggs and celery and a good clop of Blue Plate or Duke's
Pea Salad, ditto, with the addition of sweet pickles
Combination Salad (Iceberg, tomato chunks, cucumber, bell pepper) with choice of 1000 or Ranch, or sometimes already tossed and wilting into the bowl, with just mayo and salt
Congealed Salad--Any flavor, with crushed pineapple and KoolWhip stirred in before jelling
Cornbread; any version, including jalapeno; sticks, wedges, squares or muffins, but they'd better not APPROACH it with the sugar bowl unless they're north of the Tennessee/Kentucky line
Coconut Cake---creamcheese icing is good, Seven Minute is perfection
Chess Pie--the addition of a tablespoon of cornmeal gives it the perfect texture
Lemon Icebox, made with Eagle Brand, egg yolks and fresh-squeezed lemons, and the orphaned whites whipped into a downy cushion, swirled atop, and just barely kissed into golden peaks by the oven
Karo Pecan---everybody's Mama's recipe
Peach Cobbler (No cinnamon---just butter, sugar, vanilla---pure and perfect)
Nobody would expect all of the above every day, but the assortment and variety and good cooking is astounding.
And our good fortune: though we live in what Chris calls the "Northernmost Southern State," we have at least three places very close by which serve exactly the above menu, done in exactly the way you'd find it in Natchez or Clarksdale or Greenwood.
Here, you’d have to specify: Sweet Tea. Down there, they just bring it.
moire non. . .
Saturday, April 4, 2009
But these guys were a gentle presence, moving the limbs carefully, talking softly as they shined, inside and out. And the birds returned almost as soon as the men moved the ladder and themselves a couple of yards down the wall.
M'sieu et Madame Rouge have raised their family twice now in the widescreen view with no interruptions or harm, so they just return, do a bit of Vernage, and settle down to roost. I've loved their trusting propinquity, their gentle song, their firm devotion to nest and chicks. And their own joy in the day is quite contagious; just a quiet cup in the small blue chair, as the sun peeks through and they talk over their schedules---what a nice way to start the morning.
They have quite the sense of fun, as well. A couple of summers ago, they had become used to my presence, and would come quite close, especially if they saw the hose being reeled out. They do love a damp ground for worm-catching, and are quite fond of a bath, as well.
From my journal of July, 2007:
My cardinal family came to join me today, as I sat out in the arbor, watching the slow sweep and rain of the sprinkler on the thirsty plants. The guy bird perched atop the wire of a tomato cage, watching the slow patter approaching. He flew the couple of feet to the top of the cucumber fence, and sat, letting it rain upon him time after time. I could almost see the smile on his little face.
The lady bird, however, was a rowdier sort. She found a puddle and frolicked away, flinging the water, flapping her wings, shaking her head, and when the spray was due to come her way each time, she faced it joyously, her wet-draggled face feathers taking the onslaught. She played there for quite some time, each blast of the fountain across her face giving her the happy look of a goofy old dog in the window of a fast car.
I hope the Summer to come is as pleasant for them.
Friday, April 3, 2009
The house is strangely alight, as well, for such a dim day outdoors. The windows were tended to by two polite, hard-working young men, and it's the first time we've ever had the whole storms-down/screens scrubbed/glass polished event, and they sparkle. Last night, as I went around checking locks and seeing to securing the nest, the unaccustomed pure clarity of the street lamps and the front-porch lights along the block was so bright, it seemed closer, somehow---like my neighbors had stepped closer for an approving look at all the primping and polishing.
The sheers over the big living room windows haze today's lackluster attempt at sunshine, but I know that soon all the green and the shine will win out, and all will be beautiful. I can see the leaves on the arbor trees from the upstairs kitchen, and I pray that Monday's predicted snow will not gray their first hopeful attempt at Spring.
And with hearts lighter than yesterday, it's time to get out some stuffed bunnies and dye some eggs.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The solid glass of the door, unlike the metal-bottomed one of yore, gives us all the Daylight Vitamins we could need, and last night, as we sat with our dinner-on-trays-with-NCIS, there was still lingering twilight visible up the stairs. Nice.
So my first glimpse of April was SUNNNNNY, indeed. The whole room, usually in need of a 100-watt or two, is uncloaked, unmasked, and bright as the promise of Spring. It does necessitate, however, a little more attention to all those April Bunnies missed in the total cleaning of this room last week. I can see one from here, drooping like leftover Mardi Gras over by the reading lamp, and I'll have a good inspection while this Light Lagniappe is still on this side of the house.
And so I wish each and all an unaccustomedly-bright April, with unexpected light in your days, and lingering twilight so Fairies can look in.