Wednesday, September 20, 2017



               I love chicken fried steak. Does anyone NOT love chicken fried steak? You can eat it on a biscuit for breakfast. For lunch, put some mayonnaise and ketchup on a couple of slices of white bread and and add a piece of steak. Or just wallow in mashed potatoes and gravy, pinching off bites of chicken fried steak like a cluster of grapes just off the vine. Without grape scissors.

   I am not ashamed of my love affair with mashed potatoes. I was taught by the best, my Daddy. He was famous for his Mashed Potato Dance which produced the lightest, fluffiest, butteriest mashed potatoes, every and anywhere in the world. With the drained pot full of cooked potato nuggets, he would position the potato masher in the bottom of the pan and commence to dancing. Usually with a whistle and always a little jig. He would add a little milk, salt and pepper. Dance, dance, dance. Potatoes would spin into a frenzy like sugar at the cotton candy machine at The Texas State Fair. The masher would disappear into the glorious cloud of potatoes finding their best purpose in life.

At the perfect minute, the cloud would be rolled out into a bowl, steps away from the waiting dining table. Potatoes like to say "the party can't start without us." So true. But one more step. With a heavy hand, solid dollops of butter would be pushed into the piping hot potatoes. Quite a few dollops. A dusting of salt and pepper. Then the bowl would be rushed to the table as yellow pools of glistening butter began to melt, overflowing a proper china edge, threatening to flood the linen cloth. Fortunately, potatoes were quickly spooned onto the plates, averting a dairy disaster. And still, fork ready, a few seconds of "Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies." Finally, the very first bites of everyone seated at the table, mashed and buttered potatoes. All a body could ever hope for.

These were the potatoes of perfection I made on Sunday night. But I made the mashed potatoes to go with the Chicken Fried Steak.

This is not about accurate measurements but more of an illustrated inspiration to get out those cast iron skillets and a can of shortening. I wouldn't spill the beans to your cardiologist. However, I am about all things in moderation, mostly. My main temptation is how much I enjoy the preparation and the endeavor of making something so delicious. I am not bashful about my good cooking. And I am walking proof of my enjoyment in putting a good meal on the table for family and friends.

These are rudimentary instructions. To feed a crowd, buy two good size packages of cubed steak/minute steaks. They don't look as big until you get them home. I always half each steak. Try to handle this meat as little as possible because they are tender.

The trick to the chicken fried part is the dry-wet-dry mixture. In a shallow pan, add two cups of flour and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. You will need to add more flour as the dipping progresses.  To another shallow dish, add 4-5 eggs and beat well. I added a little half and half this time because I only had four eggs.

Arrange your counter top - wet mixture, dry mixture and wax paper. Pick up a piece of uncooked steak and dredge both sides in the flour, gently. Next, lay the steak in the wet mixture, front and back, quickly but so both sides are covered. Return the steak to the dry mixture but this time, lay the steak down and pat each side well with flour. Put the breaded steak onto the wax paper. Continue the process with each piece of meat. I used to put my breaded steaks immediately in the hot grease. But now I let them rest for 5-10 minutes before cooking.

For the record, I do have a very sensitive smoke detector. It usually, almost goes off when I cook this meal. Never walk away from hot grease cooking on the stove, for any reason. Grease can be very finicky even when you think things are going well. Always have a lid in close range.

The only time I came close to burning my kitchen down involved flowers from my favorite store. I was standing at the sink unwrapping layers of the old timey waxed paper. A nearby candle ignited the paper and whoosh, burning waxed paper was flying around my kitchen towards my fringe ball country curtains. About stopped my heart. Thankfully, the fires burned themselves up just in time.

This is the picture of the dueling skillets. Note the slabs of shortening. Steaks shouldn't be swimming in the oil. Maybe about 1/2" in the skillet. Do not cook the steaks on high. If that instruction has to be shared, maybe this is not the best recipe to get your frying badge. I do a medium temp.

Using a tong, gently place the uncooked, breaded steak into the pan of hot grease. Add two more, each one at a time. If you are doing the large batch, apply the same to the other skillet. With the tong, you can peek underneath the side cooking in the oil. But resist the temptation to flip flop flip. The steak will be ready to flip when the meat juices rise across the top of the steak. Flip.

These are called minute steaks because they cook very fast. When the piece has browned nicely, remove with a tong and place on paper towels to drain. Salt lightly. When the paper towel is full of cooked steaks, place a new paper towel over the first layer. Continue to layer in this manner.  

This could be a discourse on cooking with grease. Find a good Grannie and a swift mother in law to give you pointers.

Turn the burner off and remove the skillet to a cool, unused burner to help cool down the grease. Melted shortening is just like sloshing water but burning HOT. When it has cooled for about five minutes, drain small portions of grease through a small tea strainer to pick out the crunchies.

Gravy is a personal sauce. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes you give up. But it just takes practice. I would say it is seldom for the novice. You will need fresh flour to make the gravy. Ratio of equal parts of warm grease to flour, in the skillet, over a high medium, stirring until it isn't liquid. Salt and pepper. While using a whisk, slowly add milk, add milk, thickening as it goes.Turn the heat down if it is bubbling too much. I used my leftover half and half but I usually use skim milk. Add the crunchies. Gravy is all about constant stirring and scrapping the sides and corners while adding more milk for consistency. Patience. Turn the heat down low. Add salt and pepper. If the gravy tastes good, it can still have a lump or two.

The result of all of your hard work is the product shown above, Chicken Fried Steak, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy. No green vegetables were harmed in this production. But if you have energy left, just open a good can of green beans for "something green." Everybody needs a couple of tablespoons of greenery a day.  ENJOY!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Office in Progress
National Day of Reading. Nothing specific. Just do it, as my mother used to say to me. Now, I say to her, I get it! I am giving myself a big kick in my size 19 denim jeans. I have read twenty four books since March 15. That's an ambitious number considering this gal has been a very delinquent English Major. Please don't call my local library. Cate gave me a pair of Jane Austen's for Christmas. I began with Pride and Prejudice. I also got an Amazon Fire tablet for Christmas and it lit a spark. This girl is on fire.

For some reason, words have been popping off the page. I have made notes while I am reading - unheard of for me but essential for growth. I have started a list of books the authors have noted or what I find in research about the author. I have read a couple of those already. Copy quotes, look up words. Where has my brain been? I have done this in the past but not with this intensity. 

Read, write, read, write, read, write. They really do go hand in hand. Now I'm hitting my forehead, why didn't I think of this earlier? There are so many stories and time is getting to be a factor if I am going to read everything in the world.

And except for one or two, I feel the reading has added to my experience in life. I have thought of these stories for weeks afterwards. Very interesting. I highly suggest you get to a library or tablet as soon as possible.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought up a new post called Page 99. Today I am using that concept to look through some of my favorite books on Page 99, first and last sentence. Presenting: Page 99.

ü  2.  the German dialect of Austria.  au-to-clave, a container for sterilizing, cooking, etc. by super heated steam under pressure.
Webster’s' New World Dictionary of the American Language,
College Edition, 1966, USA*
Borrowed from my parents' house for my bright college future.

ü  'Take what rest you need, and remember that, though unable to serve me here in Paris, you may be of the greatest service to me at Marseilles.' 'And how dressed?' asked Villefort quickly.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas,1846
One of my all time favorites.

ü  Elvis was theirs. I could see the faces of some of those boy friends sitting there while their girl friends went crazy about Elvis, and man, they were as black as thunder.                              
ELVIS WHAT HAPPENED, Red West, Sonny West, Dave Hebler 
First edition: August 1977     
 I purchased this in the original Scribner Bookstore on Fifth Avenue, just released. Elvis died two days later. Scribner 1846-1988. Death by "precious real estate." Home to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe.....

ü  Beware! Very Challenging  99 Sat 11/23/15 Speedy!
Daring Sudoku, Will Shortz, July 2011
Still can't pronounce but love to play. Also full of many notes from Doctors' Offices and Atlanta layovers. No one suspects anything when you have a pencil in your hand and a puzzle book!  

ü  Tire specialist: the tire specialist isn’t tough to spot – he’s the guy who spends the entire day hanging around the team’s tires, changing the air pressure, checking the heat buildup, or measuring the wear of a tire after it has taken a few laps on the track. To find out more about pit crews and pit stops, turn to Chapter 10.
NASCAR for Dummies, Mark Martin, 2000, USA
Good old Arkansas boy. This book taught me everything I needed to know. Loved NASCAR for years (Newman, Martin, Jr.). Tired of rule changes and Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.

ü  “Conroy, I grew up in the country among country people. But what makes them really effective is the addition of a shot glass of bourbon.”
My Reading Life, Pat Conroy, 2010, USA
(Ordered this from LOCAL BOOKSTORE.)
Read this in April – The Great Santini in May. No Sunday School picnic. Raw, beautiful, intricate relationships. I’m lucky enough to have his cookbook, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, Recipes and Stories of My Life, 2004, autographed.

ü  “No, Ricky is staying with us for a while, and we’re so happy to have him.” This is a courtesy to the custodial parent, who may have to rearrange schedules and transport his or her child to your event.
Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, Peggy Post, The Definitive Guide to Manners, Completely Revised and Updated, 2004

Bought this for our wedding shindig. I love this book. It is fun just to read. Good manners are about the comfort of other people. Manners for Anyone.

ü   On Fridays, after namaz at the mosque, everyone would get together at our house for lunch and we’d eat in the garden, under cherry trees, drink fresh water from the well. I traced my fingers along the gold-colored stitching on the borders.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, 2003,USA
Traveling to Afghanistan, a trip I never expected. A world unseen.

ü  Heavily closed, with a jarring sound, the valves of the barn-doors,
Rattled the wooden bars, and all for a season was silent.
Many already have fled to the forest, and lurk on its outskirts,
Waiting with anxious hearts the dubious fate of to-morrow.
The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,1900, USA
I picked up this ancient book at “The Curious Book Shoppe on Block” Very good shape, considering. Serendipity for me. I have read Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline plus others. I love writing and reading poetry.

ü Because we had to stand near the phone because it was cold in the house and the heating duct by the telephone was the warmest and also because we were looking for a button that Caro said she lost right around in the area. And it was all because back in the early twenties when Miss Mitchell was a debutante, she went to a charity ball and just went wild and performed this wild and risqué Apache dance, and shocked all the Atlanta Junior League ladies so horribly that there was nothing they could do but punish her by never inviting her to be a member of the Junior League.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells, 1996,USA
I haven’t read this in a long time but I keep it around because I remember being enchanted by the story. I was a Ya-Ya Stitcherhood for many years, cross-stitch buddies. But life is always changing. This book is better than the movie. Every book is better than the movie.  

I hope this encourages reading on tremendous new levels. I have been working on my official new office for over a year. It wasn't this straight until today. Notice, only the shelves are showing. You can never have too many books. For a later day. Book in purse.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Not much to look at but still, a Prince is a Prince. When news of a new girlfriend began to develop and the serious nature, I knew my chances at being Queen were up. Diana was a year younger than me. While I was working on an English Degree, reading 300 pages a day, from Shakespeare to Lord Byron, she was learning the fine etiquette required for eating bouillabaisse with four utensils while in polite conversation with a Head of State. My Prince was just around the corner studying architecture and her Prince was the world's most eligible bachelor.

I quickly became the expert on all things Lady Diana. Two months after her engagement, I had my own Lady Diana haircut. Fashions quickly began to reflect her style - ruffles, bow ties, sweet prints, sheer white hosiery, white collared dresses and blouses - romantic flounces in soft colors. She was a young, natural beauty. And now she was marrying the future King of England.

Young. Not even twenty years old when she was engaged to the thirty-two year old Prince. They had been formally introduced in 1977 by Diana's sister, Lady Sarah. Lady Diana was a sixteen year old girl and Prince Charles was a twenty-nine year old man but their families had known each other forever.

At the time, I never batted an eyelash over the age difference. It was cool to think of marrying an older man who was also the maybe, King of England, someday. Adults who knew me tried to discourage me over the whole affair.  You would have thought I was the one marrying the older man. But they saw how swept away I was in this romantic endeavour and humored me. I knew Diana and Charles loved each other. That's why people get married. I can understand how a diamond tiara and the Royal Yacht could turn a head.

But did any adult involved really think a marriage with a twelve year age difference would work out, much less be any fun after the heir and the spare reached preschool?  Not a single adult acted in the best interest of Lady Diana. Not a parent, priest or Prince.

Yes. She said yes. That's what you do when you are madly in love with life and a Prince and a gorgeous, huge sapphire and diamond ring. Yes is the easy part. Twenty is still so new to be learning life. But it is the best time to try without reservation. Bold and brave. Swept away.

Diana's tilting head and endearing blush were innocently given up for the photographers as she and her Prince stood on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, posing for the official engagement pictures. Moments later they returned inside for a news interview. While holding Diana's hand, Prince Charles laughed slightly and said in response to a question, the game changer, "Whatever 'In Love' means." The cameras were rolling and so were the thoughts of most rational people watching.  But in another spot, say fetching some fish and chips, a smaller ring would have been bouncing off the cobblestones.

But this is not a regular deal. Royals don't throw rings and marriages are perfectly planned. A twenty year old woman can be crushed but more determined to go for the fairytale, the expected route for a Queen-to-be.

And she still said yes. 750 million television onlookers are anticipating a beautiful wedding as her carriage pulls up. Wrapped in clouds of glorious silk taffeta and tulle - a vision of bridal joy. Flat, delicate silk, mother of pearl slippers with suede soles, so she doesn't slip, measure her steps toward a future of choice. We didn't know what we didn't know, thankfully.

And we can be carried along on this fairytale ride in an open carriage full of flowers and balloons because we want love to work. We want a Prince and Princess to really live happily everafter. And maybe for awhile, they loved and were happy. This romantic likes to think so.

Along the lane of my Wales' obsession, I have collected sixteen lovely books detailing everything from the Princess' fashion, including maternity fashion and nursery handbook, to the book by her butler and the book written by Andrew Morton with Diana's secret tapes, revealing anything but a fairytale existence.

My favorite book is the very first book, Charles and Diana, The Prince and Princess of Wales by Trevor Hall. It begins right before their engagement and goes through the announcement of her pregnancy. Their first official walkabouts as the British people fall "in love" with Lady Diana, discovering her gift of ease and warmth and interest in the people and world around her.

Three weeks after the Royal Wedding, Charles and Diana met seventy photographers at Balmoral on the Brig O Dee. These are my favorite pictures. They look happy and relaxed. Finally, it appears that Charles has figured out whatever in love means. Soon they will have a young family, reinforcing the fairytale.

Princess Diana is beautiful, the most photographed woman in the world, ever. In time, she will not need anyone's permission to be her own person. She has poured herself into her two sons and they will continue her legacy of outreach.

I would rather celebrate the person instead of an anniversary. However, with time, I have questioned the world, including myself, which bought the books and magazines. Sadly, I don't think we ever realized the vicious power of pursuit until the ending of the frenetic desperation in a Paris tunnel.

The Althorp family presented a touring exhibition of Princess Diana's personal things: her wedding dress and other clothing, along with memorabilia from her childhood. Diana: a celebration. A very simple and elegant exhibit.

Behind the quietly lit glass, the yards of silk taffeta and tulle were breathtaking. Her dress was a fluffy concoction of bows and lace and poufs - a wedding dress fit for a young Princess. She was tall, tall enough to carry the twenty-five foot train behind her. Her preserved wedding attire looked as if she could slip the dress over her head and replay the events of that day.

 I remember as a young girl, my mother, grandmother and I going through a trunk of my mother's things. When she reached in to pick up her veil, the tulle netting disintegrated like a dandelion in a whisper.

I looked at Diana's wedding slippers. They were silk and embroidered with mother of pearl sequins with suede soles. My wedding shoes are in the top of my closet.  They are white leather sandals with a cut out trellis pattern. They are tucked away to stay, forever. No one will wear them again. But I know they are there.

I am sentimental romantic. Sometimes on my anniversary, I will get a step ladder and get the box down, open the red Bandolino box and pick one of them up. I look at the tiny shoe from another day. I turn it over and look at the scuffs on the sole. I didn't have a carriage to carry me. It's as if holding that shoe in my hand can bring back the magic of August 1982 at three o'clock in the afternoon. And some years, I have needed the magic of the memory.

Nothing but the most exquisite for the wedding of the century. From the top of a sparkling diamond tiara to the bottom of a suede sole. So as not to slip on the royal red rug at St. Paul's Cathedral or the step out onto the festooned balcony of Buckingham Palace. Never let her sole touch the ground. Angel flying too close to the ground.



Tuesday, August 8, 2017


And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.

Possibly the greatest words in any love song, ever.
A love ballad in fifteen words. 
Sung by a tall, good-looking, supremely talented, Southern boy.

I have spent a few tears today. My first troubadour has died. Glen Campbell's music was the first music I wanted to own. He was also the subject of my very first blog post (August 11, 2013).

I was born and raised in Texas but my family was from Southwest Arkansas. We'd never been to Delight or Billstown but I remember my father always being interested in anything Glen Campbell did. Arkansas Boy making it good.

My Daddy loved to sing and we would travel with the car radio playing the latest hits, singing "Where's the Playground Suzie", "Galveston", "By the Time I Get To Phoenix." I was too young to recognize the leavings and longings of popular music.

When I was about ten, I wanted a Glen Campbell album for Christmas. A couple of days before Christmas, I found a wrapped album with my name on it, under the tree. I remember having to live with anticipation of what I knew had to be a Glen Campbell Album.

Tearing the paper that Christmas morning revealed an illustrated vinyl record of Walt Disney's Peter Pan. I was crushed and panged with guilt, trying to hide my feelings and say thank you for a gift I didn't want. I remember thinking my parents still thought of me as a little girl. But at night, I was lying in bed, listening to my transistor play "Wichita Lineman."  

 The double platinum album of the same name won the 1968 Grammy for Best Engineered Record, Non Classical and topped charts in Country Western, Pop and Adult Contemporary.  Written by Jimmy Webb, ("Up, Up and Away," "Galveston," "MacArthur Park" to name a few), Wichita Lineman is ranked 195/500 on The Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs of all Time. Of course. It should be higher ranked but it is only two below "Freebird." Or Freebird should be two below the Lineman. 

Please, Power and Light, give this man a vacation. He can't work because everything reminds him of his beloved. Jimmy Webb doesn't even mention the word love. He doesn't have to. Needing and wanting. All that anyone really wants. Which came first? Need, want, love. This is a commitment for all time. This is open and honest.

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.

I love this song. It never fails to pull at me. I love Glen Campbell. He was my Wichita Lineman. No one is shocked today but we are sad. Life is better celebrated than mourned.

 Peter Pan resides in a flea market somewhere.  About five years ago, my parents gave me a birthday present they said I would like.  At the first rip of the paper, I could see Glen Campbell's smiling face.   
We will always want him.

Monday, August 7, 2017


Bone on bone. Two words you never want to hear.  But we did, a year ago today. Instead of a fun birthday celebration for Burt, we sat eating at our favorite meat and three, mulling over the situation. It would require a lengthy recovery - six months to a year. Frankly, it was a lot to take in. But we had been taking it all in for almost twenty years.

I had just bought a used piano from a friend - $100. I learned to play the piano in 3rd grade. Since getting married, my dream was to have one in our home. Fifteen years later, I finally got my wish.

Only one day. I cleaned and polished. With the piano in the house, I felt like I had gotten back a piece of me. I knew the classics and scads of scales, Dan Fogelberg and Stairway to Heaven. The piano was my voice, a barometer of my day. I turned to the piano in joy, in sorrow.

Being Father's Day weekend, I fixed Burt a favorite meal of hamburgers and onion rings.The onion rings were delicious. We three ate onion rings until we could pop. I didn't make them very often. Onion rings are not that hard to prepare (I see a new post in my future) but there is a big mess of grease, dried flour and egg. Afterwards, I wanted to run in and play the piano for a minute, until I could clean up. And I'm also never one to jump at work when there is something more fun to do.

I was on the phone with Val, playing hymns and singing happily. I wanted her to hear my new piano. She said she would never forget what she heard. There was a big scream, commotion and then Burt got on the line and said he had to call the ambulance.

I will never forget the sound in my head. The piano bench broke on my ankle. I had never broken a bone. When the firemen arrived they said they had to wait for the paramedics. The medics arrived and said "Yes, it looks like..." They secured my leg, lifted me up on the gurney and put me in the back of the ambulance. It was 6 o'clock in the afternoon but not a single neighbor came out to see why a firetruck and an ambulance had raced down our street. Cate got to ride shotgun without the sirens. Burt followed in the car.

That one minute changed our lives, as "one minute you are fine..." . The life changing in an instant resides on slippery slopes and floors, inside of cars or four inches of looking away for just a minute. An inadequate amount of life changing is the lucky Publishers' Clearing House, "Mama, there is this boy", I got the job; sometimes, it seems that way.

Surgery with pins, a six week recovery in a hot pink cast and family and friends filling in the pieces. Many years of normalcy. But slowly, the bones gave into progressively worsening arthritis.  Twenty years of later - debilitating movement, range of motion with stiffening and swelling.  Now we were considering a major surgery we hoped would cure the situation for another 10-15 years.  Measuring my steps in my head had become second nature to me.  I was afraid of falling. My strength was nil. Knowing how far I could push myself which wasn't very far. I was becoming so crippled to the point, I watched commercials noticing how people walked and ran.

I was only going to check out the situation. Words like no weight for three months, two weeks in a cast, elevate, walker, wheelchair, cane, no driving.  P.T. The unknown. The complications. Basically, a total disruption for months which would rehabilitate me but meant never ending work for my family. Because I would need almost total help. I signed on the dotted line.


937,000 acres of farmland glistening gold as seen overhead in the flyby, a tourist of another kind. Do you take the picture in the moment of?  The tragedy is spread out before me but on the ground, eye level is watching water rise hoping the levee will hold, the bags are packed full and high.  Men stand looking at the disappearance of a road as a car lot inches into brown. A home surrounded by the gold, no drive or road to anywhere. After a few inches, what is the difference. The gold ebbs away from a piece of road, the slope of a yard but stretches into the culvert. High. Low. Gilded fields with an occasional green burst. My birds eye view. I can see the water poured out in days of rain across the plain, but there a house is stretching high where I can see just fields away, gold. I spy a red dot, a bulls' eye on a patch of green. An outbuilding steps away from the house still holding fast, a green rick rack pressing a border. To high ground. Red dot. Not enough to go around. Fool's Gold puddles into mud, down streams sixty-four million dollars.  


Standing next to her, I was a giant. She was a grown woman, the size of an eleven year old girl. She was holding a blouse. I nodded to let her step in front of me. I had several items to purchase. She never acknowledged my offer, which she took. In the South, this would be a double thank you. The woman looked across the store to a man waiting. There was no color in her clothing or face. There was no second of wasted energy in her movement. Her hands were the only life in her body. At first, I turned toward my daughter and raised my eyebrows for the "quick" purchase I had so graciously acquiesced to.

The longer we stood at the counter, I realized her pain. Past or present, a slippery slope had changed her. Her frame was so slight as if she had relinquished what made up her life.  She was in the grip. There is no pain without fear. With no comfort zone, she balanced as if on the top of a pinhead, the circumference of one wound tightly. Standing, barely a dot of existence.


Five fingers feverishly reaching out. Just the hem, the tip of the fringe. A fleeting chance in the dust of the road. Everything was gone; the money, the physicians, the hope, the joy, twelve years. The hemorrhaging was getting worse. Did she want twelve more years, living a life unclean, without ceasing?

He was surrounded by a large, unrelenting crowd. People shouting to get his attention. People bumping into him to tell them their stories. The disciples did their best to protect him.

If I can just touch the fringe, just the brush of it on the tip of my finger. That's all it will take.

Jesus stopped and turned around. The crowd still moved around him. He saw the woman, still leaning over. She looked up, realizing she had been noticed. Jesus said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." I know. I know the minutes of your day. I see you physically breaking down, overcome by a flood of depression. I know the anxiety of your never ending condition.

In one instant, the woman was healed.

The last hope in frailty, flood, fear. Faith to let go - of the dotted line, a red dot, the dot of a pinhead - and touch the fringe of the hem of the cloak worn by Jesus.  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

VACATION RECESS: Double First Cousins, Southern Comfort and Just Desserts

Summer in the South usually means at least one family reunion with first, second and third cousins, and sometimes double first cousins.  Double first cousins are not cousins marrying cousins, but the offspring of sisters who married brothers.  You cannot be raised in the South and not know who your people are.  You will be asked more than once, when meeting new folks, if you are related to the Judge with your last name, but you say no, because his people didn’t come from middle Tennessee in the 1870s.  Even my Yankee (anyone whose sun sets north of the Mason-Dixon Line) friends admit we tend to keep up better with family.

The origins of these reunions are often found in birthday celebrations.  Grandpa may still be rocking on the front porch but Grandma seems to get the parties.  In family pictures, Grandma is usually a severe-looking, bun wearing, snuff-toting, Bible thumping woman who has spent her better days looking out for everyone but herself.  After tending fields, making clothes, plucking chickens, nursing babies, and stirring pots; without any modern conveniences like warmed baby wipes, satellite TV, fast food fries, e-mail, or hormones in a bottle; well, you get the picture, the old lady finally gets well deserved recognition. 

Grandma’s birthday becomes a holiday when the oldest passel of kids wants to sing her praises for raising twelve surviving children.  And a good reason to party at the old home place in the country.  My two family reunions are the result of Grandmas’ birthdays in July and August.  The reunions started over seventy years ago.  My reunion memories started with big kisses from Grannie and “The Aunts”, sitting in the shade, wearing cool cotton dresses, hosiery and sturdy black shoes and sensible summer hats.  Today, the great aunts sit comfortably in the air-conditioning in their polyester pants and tennis shoes.    
The July reunion is on my father’s side.  There is a four-generation picture with me as a baby, sitting on my great-grandma’s lap.  She was very old.  Fifteen years ago, the last of her twelve surviving children died.  This reunion has evolved from the old home place, a city park, the air-conditioned community center, another outdoor venue due to unforeseen circumstances and a weekend reunion at a nice-sized country hotel with a pool and a big dining room complete with a kitchen for all the cooks to gather around.  For the past few years, we are now meeting about an hour south in another state, where most of the cousins now live.  We get together Friday night and have lunch at Saturday noon.  Everyone wears a nametag, which is very helpful, as you only see these people once a year unless someone dies or has a long hospitalization. Facebook has been great to help keep cousins connected. I’ll never forget driving three hours down to the family cemetery on a cold, foggy January day and turning up on the gravel road at the church to see a huge hosts of my Daddy’s cousins already standing on the road beside his grave. Most of them had travelled over three hours. That is family. 

Our fun would begin when we got to Mamaw's and Papaw’s house on Friday night.  My sister and I would run to the kitchen to see what sweets Mamaw had fixed for her baby, our Daddy.  On a sugar high, we would jump into the rollaway bed on the sleeping porch, lying right under the window unit.  The casement windows around the tiny room were adequate for a breeze but no match for a humid, summer night in South Arkansas.  Being a city girl, I loved the artificially chilled air.  On Saturday morning, the smell of bacon would wake us up.  Bacon, eggs, toast, oatmeal, juice, milk, coffee, peach preserves and sorghum.  Papaw set the breakfast table every night before retiring.     

 Sunday came early as all the cooks crowded their hips into Mamaw’s kitchen to pack up all the food and head for the community center.  The old home place is now a grazing field and not family-owned but we did have a “singing” on the property a few years back.  Spread out on tables in the air-conditioned, fly-free room are, at the very least, garden fresh tomatoes, fried okra, buttered corn, purple hull peas, squash casserole, sliced purple onions, bacon seasoned green beans, dressing, macaroni, cucumber salad and a couple of jello salads. 
 Stuffed bell peppers are lined up next to pot roasts and briskets.  Homemade fried chicken and store bought fried catfish.   A dessert table laden with caramel pie, banana pudding with meringue, jam cake, chocolate cake, peach cobbler.  Milk jugs labeled sweet and unsweet.   More than enough to feed one hundred people.  A look around the room reveals we eat what we cook because it is truly Southern comfort.  After seconds and thirds, family matters.  Births, weddings, graduations, and a moment of silence for those not with us this year.  This side of my family is more weepy but there is a lump in your throat when they say your loved one’s name.  Then we pass the hat, or plate, nowadays.  By the time you drive off, your first button is undone and you fight the tide of sugar calling you to slumber.
The Labor Day Sunday reunion is on my mother’s side.  For almost every Labor Day weekend of my life, I headed to Grandmama and Pa’s.  We would have a little family reunion on Saturday and depart on Sunday morning for the drive to see our extended family.  Ten people would fill up two cars.  I always wanted the car without my parents.  My sister and I would be dressed in our new back-to-school dresses and shoes, whatever the temperature.  If you rode with my queasy cousin, you might get a bottle coke when we stopped to get her one.  Coca-Cola is good for what ails you.

 Family still owned the farm, complete with a red barn, whispering to city children to come see the charms of the country, and the smells.  In our brand new finery, we would climb halfway up the hayloft ladder and jump into a huge pile of hay. Miraculously, no one was ever hurt.  When we were sticky, dusty and hot, the bottomless ice drink coolers offered every kind of cold coke.  In the South, Coke, not Pop, is universal for any sweet carbonated drink like Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, NuGrape, IBC Root Beer, and certainly, Coca-Cola.  Every reunion we counted up how many drinks we guzzled.  These were the days when children drank milk and water all week long and a Coke was something special.

 This reunion was still held outdoors.  The only respite was when you were standing inside, in line to use the bathroom which had been added to the back bedroom of the original home place.  The bed would be piled with purses while ladies checked their lipstick in the bureau mirror.  The men used the hall bath.  Drinking eight cokes sent me in and out of the house.  At noon, everyone gathered around another food-laden table made of sawhorses and planks.  This dinner had the addition of exotic meats.  During the prayer, everyone closed their eyes so they wouldn’t see the flies having a field day on the disrobed food.  Several ladies could not fan every square inch of food.

My Pa was always in charge of this reunion.  He spent many, many hours in genealogy studies, long before online services.  He would’ve loved having a computer and the information highway at his fingertips. His mother was born just weeks after the family jostled all of their earthly goods over hill and dale, arriving in the new state to settle on fresh land.  My sister now lives hundreds of miles away, in the same town our people started out from. In a way, she has found a new dream in this faraway land, completing the circle.


 A lady holding a plate of southern comfort and another plate piled with just desserts      

p.s. Grab the dessert plate first and be sure and get a taste of my Pina Colada Cheesecake, it’s a special request

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

VACATION RECESS: Summer Necessity Right Now

Perfect iced tea even in the morning or in the middle of the night when you get up and go in the kitchen for a glass of milk.  Being a good judge of all things Southern (the good parts), I say a person who drinks iced tea in the middle of the night has a Southern gene in their body.  Another indication would be the drinking of a glass first thing in the morning.  Right off the bat, let me say, this is not about how many cups of sugar are in the brew.

(Picture courtesy of AT)

 My parents always made good iced tea.  I would ask them how and they would say "this, this, and this."  But I had a hard time duplicating.  At family reunions, there are always cleaned out milk jugs marked "sweet" and "unsweet."  Beverage companies are jumping on the iced tea bandwagon after someone figured out bottled tap water would sell.  There is only one brand I like/only purchased in an iced tea emergency and I'm not telling.  Like everything else, homemade is better.    Good grief.  I'd been married for almost thirty years and I was still looking for the holy grail of ice tea perfection.

I am a good cook.  I just decided I was going to practice and come up with the perfect recipe for iced tea. Sometimes the most common and easiest of things allude us. Doesn't everybody in the South know how to make iced tea?  Somehow I missed out on that lesson.  I can tell you how to fix Chicken Fried Steak, Flatsy Patsy (cobbler), Cornbread, and Purple Hull Peas. (Just to name a few.)  And I can say "Bless Her Heart" while smiling and not move my lips.

Here is the recipe I came up with.  A fridge magnet holds up my recipe (with Clark Gable's pic and "Frankly, my dear" spelled out).  I try not to curse but I did yell a big cuss word after I fell down the steps the other day.  I apologized to my painters.  After all, I am a new Sunday School teacher, not a perfect person.

Amy's Perfect Iced Tea    Guarantea'd

   FILL a four cup teapot with cold water
   PUT on stove and boil water
   REMOVE from heat
   ADD 4 individual-sized tea bags*** (I prefer the tried and true brand name)
   COVER with the teapot lid (little tags hanging out)
   STEEP for 8 minutes (to soak, to cover or plunge in liquid, to saturate) I set a timer.
   WHILE the tea is steeping
   PREPARE a 2 quart plastic jug (I prefer plastic because glass can shatter.)
   ADD 4 cups of ice to the jug
   (Sister has lived in the Deep South and likes to drink Iced Tea Syrup.  I prefer very little sweet or just straight.)
    IF I add something sweet:  2 tablespoons of sugar  OR 1 good squeeze of honey
    BUZZER goes off
    POUR hot brewed tea over ice in the jug.  Stir with spoon if sweet has been added.
    FILL large glass with ice and pour in ICED TEA.  Add lemon or lime slice to taste.
    POUR fresh iced tea from the plastic pitcher into crystal pitcher (for show).

***I now make DECAF/CAFF tea.  Instead of 4 teabags,  ADD 1 FAMILY-SIZED DECAF bag and 2 INDIVIDUAL tea bags.  Everything else stays the same.

Anyone, North, South, East, or West, can consistently enjoy delicious iced-tea, with this process and the measurements.

For Iced Tea emergency, contact Amy's Iced Tea Hotline where good tea is guarantea'd.