Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I have new books---five in all.   One for the first two-months-plus-one-year of LAWN TEA, (2008 and 2009), and one for each complete year since.

The first and longest, for in those days when I didn’t know how to post pictures, the posts were all words, and wordy they were.   This pink one with the Fleeing Fairy on the front must weigh five pounds.

I’d long dreamt of having the pages all in one book, then perhaps it might take two, and when I finally got it all keyed in and to the printer, there were FIVE.   They sent me tracking numbers, and I suppose I thought that the final message might jump right to “Out for delivery” on that very first day, for I signed in probably every twenty minutes for hours and hours, just to check the progress.  It was so silly, treating it like a baby due and overdue, and so long awaited that I was nagging the clock to spin.

The green one is a lot of Spring and Summer, with great excursions around blocks and parks, and long lawn-sprinkles and flower-waterings, with a special small yellow tub good for an afternoon’s play in the shade. 

Number Three is a lovely purple, with the same butterfly-and-thistle header photo I’ve had since Day One.  Chris made it on Kit’s birthday years ago, in a lovely park in Tennessee, as we awaited their arrival to celebrate with us.   The refreshments, oddly, were not Birthday Cake, but watermelon—--a plump beauty which Chris had “iced down” in a huge black garbage bag with ice from the hotel dispenser.   We ate dripping hunks of the juicy red on a big concrete picnic table, with whole eons of tiny plastic animals and reptiles and dinosaurs surrounding us in the shade.
I have a picture of Kit running toward me as she got out of the car, and neither of her feet is touching the ground.

And so they appeared at the door, those flat packages of mere cardboard and strap, with a heft to them of slick paper and purpose and WORDS.   I cannot imagine how many are IN there, and who on Earth must have sprayed all those tidbits and tomes out into the atmosphere.   It’s Family and times and travels, people and places, cooking and reading and gathering and just BEING, with their own “Diary App” in the mix, to chronicle our days and doings, as well as memories of other times.   

Number Four is the cheery yellow of a later Summer, another visit, when another birthday burgeoned castles and Princesses and a Dragon.   Which swallowed one of the young Royals, who was miraculously saved by Gracie, whose quick-thinking Heimlich burped Cinderella right out, to great cheers and requests for “Do it AGAIN!”

And Number Five, the last so far, is from this past year---smaller than the rest, for I was most remiss in posting for a great long while.  The picture was taken at our Christmas Tea in December, when Sweetpea and her Ganner had been out for the evening to see “FROZEN,” and returned just in time to help distribute all those dozens of cookies.   They had burst down the stairs with a cheery “We’re HOME!” and a swirl of cool air and rosy color.

Just a sample of the pages: 

All this smooth, bright-papered largesse was a Birthday Gift from Chris and Caro, and is such a present as I never expected, never imagined to happen.  But they’re here, and did not arrive squalling, but as happy to see me as I was to hold them.    It’s lovely to have them done at last, and to share the Happy with all of you.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014


And there was FUDGE!


House after house offered a tray of flat little inch-wide pieces of fudge---the old-fashioned (fairly new then, I suppose) grainy kind, with a bit of moist sugary crunch in some pieces, like when you scraped the bottom of your cornflakes bowl as you spooned up a bite.   The bits were enclosed in every twist and turn and fold of waxed paper known to woman.  I think now how many a scrrrrritttch-and tear across the saw-teeth of the box, how many scissors-snips into squares and rectangles, the opaque little curves drifting to the table like the leaves outside, must have occurred all over town on those October afternoons.


The small packets varied in skill and care as well, ranging from hasty twists, unfurling in the basket to reveal small peeks of brown or butterscotch or plain old Pet Milk Peanut Butter, to precise neat folds like a valued present, crisply creased and secure.


Several local ladies “went all out” in their offerings---notably Mrs. Freeman, whose six boys were all grown and out of the house, for her big basket trays on the porch held one of our favourite things in all the world---fried pies. 
 Her maiden sister Miss Beatha had lived with them long as anybody could remember, and was one fine cook herself.  The two sisters must have got going in that kitchen way before daylight, making up the dough and cooking those huge pots of dried apples into such a sublime filling.   You could smell the wonderful scent of frying dough and sugar from two doors down at the Reed’s. 
 For politeness’ sake, we’d stand quietly in line as little old Mrs. Reed, her three strands of powdery pearls riding high up on the back of her neck from her hunched posture, stood beside a table with a round silver plate of candy, elegantly dropping a single sugar-crusted  “orange slice” into each person’s bag with the sugar tongs; we uttered the requisite “Thank you, Ma’am,” and turned for the steps.  Her daughter, the formidable Miss Reed, teacher of second grade and all things MANNERLY, stood chatting out front with some of the adults, keeping order all down the block, merely by dint of her presence.  And ONLY that stern presence, perhaps, kept us from rushing the Freeman porch like water bursting a dam.



It seems to have always been daytime still when we lined up at that wide green porch, mostly because we all made a beeline for there first.   There would be sweet Miss Beatha, picking up a neat square of brown paper from the pile she’d cut out of saved-up grocery bags, sliding it deftly under and around a pie, with that irresistible fragrance rising around all us impatient kids like praise to Heaven.


She’d hand you yours and you’d accept it with the heartiest thanks of the night, and take that first glorious warm bite before your feet left the steps.   Those pies were the reason that many a Mama allowed the kids to take off before supper---they’d get fed SOMETHING good before all that candy.   It was FRUIT, for Goodness’ Sake, after all. 

I’m sure none of us gave a Minute’s thought to the hot, intensive labor that went on in that kitchen all day---the steaming pots in that still-hot southern climate, the rolling out and the cutting around a small saucer, the crimping of the edges, and the manning of several black skillets of bobbing, sizzling half-moons, all in various stages of Done and Ready To Turn.  Then onto a tray of laid-out grocery sacks, for that last, gnat-enticing shower of Double X sugar.


We just accepted the sweet simplicity of that lovely gift, delivered warm and crisp and delicious into our eager, grubby hands.   We held tight to our sacks, flipped up our masks or tried to avoid the painted-on charcoal or lipstick that magically transformed our faces into goblins and gangsters and fortune-tellers in big hoop earrings.  And we bit into those sweet crusty handfuls of generosity, adding a taste of homey comfort to the excitement and the scary and the wonder of the night.

Internet photos

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Something’s moving fast this year, folks---the Fall is in the air, the FEELING is in the wind, and even lavish displays in stores ranging from Halloween candy to Turkey lollipops to fully decorated TREES are not as off-putting as usual for September.   So, after yesterday's great exclamations over barrel after barrel of candy-from-my-childhood, I’m really thinking about those sweet times. 

That kind of candy wasn’t given out “in its day,” because very few could afford to give out penny candy to Trick-or-Treaters.  We got homemade stuff, back when you COULD---tight-packed little popcorn balls, twisted into odd dreary party-cracker shapes of waxed paper, with the variously-timed syrup either sticky brown goo which WOULD let go enough to unwrap, or which required assiduous prying with fingers and teeth to get the good parts off the paper without chewing as much CutRite as candy.

And there were candy apples, with saved-up popsicles sticks, some with the ends still bearing tell-tale stains of grape and lime in the wood visible in the porch-light.   One notable Mama would proffer the tray, standing there in her black cardigan with the little pumpkin brooch, mentioning to each child studying the wares that she “washed ‘em real good.”     Everybody’s apples had been dipped into various recipes of sugar-and-water syrup, from soft ball to hard-crack stage,  with a variety of flavorings, and we could remember from year to year who had the plain, who the molasses-laced, chewy, pull-a-tooth kind, and whose tray of apples would have the burnished lacquer of the true Candy-Apple-Red from dissolved RedHots,  apt to crack an incisor and numb your mouth like Novocain all at once.   A handy combination, if you think about it.

Mrs. Tallent made shining colorful suckers, right there in a black skillet in her kitchen, and for several years, I assumed that her name truly meant gifted, for who but fairies and workers of magic could take two cups of Godchaux, some water and a drop of food   colorin’ and make such marvels.   And in her house, she had a pretty round candy-dish which looked more like our church’s Lord’s Supper set than ordinary folks’ ware.  

The steeple on that lid was like a medieval archbishop’s hat, and, though probably not intended by the glass maker, too heavy to lift quietly enough to sneak a piece while your Mama and Mrs. T. were talking at the kitchen table.   And in that dish---oh, in that dish, there were all the Queen’s jewels, as well---little irregular lumps of sapphires and rubies and emeralds, all shining through the glass, and since that one time I was privy to watching the process, I knew that the syrup started hardening in the skillet, got thick enough to pour out, and was streamed in narrow rivers all round and round on a big slab of marble she kept slid between the refrigerator and the Bendix.   And then it was cut with SCISSORS, just like snipping off a thread.    The marvel of that is a revelation with me to this day.

Then there was the rippled ribbon candy, folded and fanned back on itself, that was given to the members of her Sunday School Class every year, and coveted wildly by everybody else.  She made lemon and cherry and that dark blue lickrish avidly gobbled by a few friends, though I never got the taste for that one.   And the CLOVE---we all had Oil of Clove in the medicine cabinet, but to use it for a flavoring was just beyond me.   Two licks and it ruined your mouth for any other candy for quite a while, and sticking one sidewise into your cheek---you couldn’t talk, taste or whistle til morning. 

Mrs. T. always had the prettiest table on her porch---great swaths of dried “color corn” hanging over, and a big pumpkin, bristling with dozens of jewel-colored suckers, stuck in all around and glistening in the candlelight.

 Like this, except homemade and unwrapped. 

And moiré non, of fried pies, tea-cakes and nail-polish taffy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Since my party-giving has been sparse of late, and mostly of a make-your-own-pretend refreshments, or of the buy-most-of-the-snacks variety, I’ve been reminiscing over an album or two, of back when I COULD and DID.

An afternoon Birthday Party for a friend’s Mama’s 85th Birthday.   Miss Celeste had requested some “Tea Party Fare,” and then the hostess chose some more, heartier items to take the Four O’Clock party on way past the Cocktail Hour.

A tray of Tea Sandwiches.   Chicken Salad Fingers on the left, and Paminna Cheese Triangles on the right.

Little cucumber hearts with dill cream cheese. Both the dill and the tiny crisp cucumbers came in from the garden not five minutes before the sandwiches were made: 

Caro did miniatures of several of the sandwich rolls they make at her bakery:

Little subs with salami, provolone, basil leaves and garlic/oregano vinaigrette:

Juicy thick slices of Chris' smoked turkey, warm from the grill, on wheat rolls with cranberry mayo.

Shiny little brioche with deli ham, American cheese, baby garden lettuce, and mustard/mayo for the children, though quite a few adults were partaking:

Broccoli/ham/grape tomato quiche rectangles---one of the most requested dishes at weddings and parties that we catered over the years. This is the crustless version, and it’s sturdy enough to stand up as “finger food” if the occasion merits.   I've mentioned before the Mother Of The Bride who chose from our menu, called me with her selections, and ordered the "quickie." 

Baby red potato salad, the one true recipe I follow to this day; after the pickles are gone from the pantry, I make up just jars of the juice, with vinegar, sugar, cloves and allspice (only one of each per quart), for anointing the still-warm potatoes before adding the minced sweet onion, minced bell pepper, and boiled eggs, along with a mustardy mayonnaise and celery seeds.    Don’t know why some of these pictures are so dark---it was a lovely dish, in sunny yellows, and looked very appetizing in person.

Crudite with herb dip---I've found that leaves of baby butter lettuce or baby romaine are some of the most popular dippers. 

A three-layer mold of a firm egg salad, very little mayo, some mustard, lots of salt and pepper;  a layer of cream cheese with a breath of garlic and gently-stirred-in salmon caviar, and a topping of avocado with lots of lime and salt. Dark breads for spreading. 

Sweet/sour meatballs with pineapple. The sauce is the one used at our favorite Chinese restaurant ever, and since we went there almost every week for fifteen years, they parted with their recipe---very easy and delicious.

The ever-popular devilled eggs---she said "very plain" so I just used a bit of tomato or parsley.

A corned-beef cheese ball--my Mother's recipe. She heard about the dried beef one (probably under the hairdryer) and mistakenly bought corned beef instead of the tiny jar of dried. She smushed up an entire can of Hormel and mixed it with cream cheese, garlic, mayo, and lots of scallion tops, and  a family favorite was born, especially after she started patting on toasted pecans.

Quite good for cocktails, though there was one local guest who, at every party, would seek out whatever kind of bread was available on the buffet and commandeer two slices. He'd come back and cut a great slab of the corned beef ball, fit it between into a sandwich and munch away happily.   I think we served about four of these at our wedding.

I believe I’ve shown this picture before:   A lovely endive tray with mascarpone mixed with dried cherries, topped with walnut halves candied in port. I saved the reduction after I took out the glazed halves to dry and took it along to the party in a little jar. After the tray was arranged and the walnuts in place, I drizzled a bit of the wine glaze down the length of each one. They ate up every bite.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Magical marvels, these voices-as-instruments, and it’s a grace and a gift to be able to share NATURALLY 7.
You'll smile a lot, but you may need a hanky---I did.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


It's the custom to set up a prettily-draped little side table for the presents at a child's birthday party, and just looking around the room during “cake,” I noticed one definite of-the-now thing:   The presents were in bags, every one, from dolls to tea-sets to books, lined up like bright soldiers in uniforms of Elsa, Olaf, Cinderella, flowers and gingham and dots.   Even the youngest, now, seem to rate the muted greige of the almost-grocery bags, the sort of sophisticated subdue of today’s weddings, with their little modern, modestly mode touches of jute and twine, and the tiny commercial tags ringed round with metal, like some small utilitarian part of commerce strayed into a fete.    Not a single dainty tissued package, no softly-wrapped pastel-covered boxes or toys or those enticing shapes like half-a-Christmas-Cracker, with the poufy array of fluff pony-tailed atop---none of that old-fashioned stuff of which party-dreams are made.

And not a scrap of Scotch tape in the house, lest you mention the bits holding the posters to the wall, and though the tissue abounds in its pastelly, rustly glory, it’s a mere garnish, stuffed and arranged atop the presents like enormous pom-poms, as if every bag contains a tiny Marge Simpson or captive Don King. 

And its proper role now seems to be inside the box, to show proper reverence and care for the contents.

Tissue paper is one of the wonders of the world.   Just its smooth aura, lying folded on the shelf, with a little belt of paper waist-around---that’s something to pick up and take home, even if there’s no gift-occasion in sight.   It unfolds in myriad colours, gently molding round the gift or rounding sharp corners with a cushion of soft layers.   Lots of layers, for it’s a peek-a-boo substance, needing several sheets to hide its contents, and is a bit of a tease, as well, for many an honoree has picked up and squinted at a present, turning it over and over, pressing the paper down onto the box, to try to read the elusive print for a hint.

Back in the far-away days of my memories, party tables were covered with a tissue-paper of their own---a sort of stiff tiny-waffle surface, with swoops and swirls of printed ribbon and HAPPY BIRTHDAY or a frieze of cakes and flowers around the edge.   And on those tables, a growing pile of tissued gifts---and no child cared or noticed that most of the tissue was pre-wrinkled, from saving and folding from past use.   A stray bit of leftover Scotch tape around the edges, the hint of a torn-away sticker, or an impression of a smaller-size box in the folds---those were unheeded, and only added to the charm.   Finding a piece of that paper in the closet on a birthday afternoon, smoothing it with our grubby hands, and painstakingly wrapping it around the box of handkerchiefs or little bottle of cologne, with perhaps a strand or two of ribbon-curl---that was a much a part of the pleasure of the guest role as Drop the Handkerchief.

Rolls of printed paper were mostly for Christmas, with three recurring themes:  Battalions of Santas, great forests of snowy evergreens, and wreaths-and-glowing-lanterns, as if the Old Lamplighter had just made his rounds.

But tissue, now---that calls memories, of the satiny feel of the stuff, the festive air of the occasion, the pastels somehow taking on the sweet flavour of the pale green leaves and every-child-gets-a-pink-frosting-rose of the cake.   There was a sweetness that surrounded all those things---the sublime vanilla/sugar taste of the Birthday Cake, and the cool crisp rustle of the tissue on the presents---I can still taste them all equally in those sweet memories.   And I have a gentle sorrow for all those great swaths and poufs of tissue, lovely and useful for their brief moment, then pulled out and immediately stuffed into the waiting Glad-Bag with the cake-smeared plates---there’s a lot of history that could be made there, and I want to save it all.

I can see me in future years, a dotty old lady in a purple hat, rummaging through the trash as the children head back out to play.

And she STILL won't have learned to set the margins on this page.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Twas a lovely party, fun all around, with a lot of pale teal cloths and napkins and dishes, and purple bowls and plates---all in the colors of the two Princesses of FROZEN.


We ate and played and nibbled and played, with the echoes of nine sets of giggles and squeals punctuating the day, and as many fond Parents and Grandparents enjoying the festivities.


However, MY BIRTHDAY GIFT was a new phone, which completely LOST every single picture, so we have only the few snaps made by Sweetpea’s Mama and Mammaw during the afternoon.


There was a BIG bouquet of FROZEN balloons as a centerpiece, and all the little characters stood or sat around on the table, next to “their” party nibbles.   Elsa sat at her ease beside a pretty glass sleigh of “Kisses to Melt a Frozen Heart,” and strings of color-change lights wound around amongst the dainty trays made a pretty scene.


There were fun nibbles---Snowflake sandwiches of peanut butter/honey, and small bread-and-butter snowflakes and crowns.  There were Snowballs (powdered donut holes) and Olaf’s Noses, Icebergs and Greensicles (carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, celery) on the crudite tray with dip.  
A little figure of mighty SVEN stood next to a platter of Sven’s Haybales (marshmallow Krispie treats) and a bowl of his  Antlers (pretzel sticks), along with Troll Rocks (beautiful pearly blue gumballs), and a tray piled with green grapes.   A little bowl of “Reindeer Poop” (tiny chocolate Krispie bits) drew the most giggles and jokes, but they scooped up and ate every bite.  A tray of Anna’s Frozen Hearts (strawberries tipped with pale blue white chocolate) sat next to a big bowl of Reindeer Chow (Chex Mix).    

It’s hard to describe how pretty it was---just pretend you’re looking into one of those magical sugar Easter Eggs with the sweet little scenes inside---just squint a little bit just so, and things will become clearer. 
Sweetpea’s own creation was little packs of string cheese with snowman faces and jaunty blue ribbon scarves.   She made them entirely by herself, from “dry the package so the ink will stick,” to the tying of the ribbon---well, maybe with a helping finger on the knot now and then.  


Aunt Caro made many of the treats WAY early in the morning hours when she came home from work, and dipped these Birthday Cake Oreos in white chocolate with snowflakes atop, served on a silver stand crowned with a cheery teal ribbon.

I’m still sad that we lost all the
pictures of the pretty party, but even the best, clearest photos could not portray what a good day we had, nor the memories sweeter than that beautiful cake.


Our Birthday Girl proclaimed it “the BESTEST Birthday EVER!” (Gotta work on those superlatives a little more).