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.

Monday, July 24, 2017


Butter melting on a slice of Perfect Cornbread

As I was sitting down to eat my breakfast slice of cornbread, I realized that I did things backwards in regard to my last post, Pea Salad for a True Southern  Repast  (7-20-17).  I should have posted this post, Sizzle Perfect Cornbread - No Stick Guarantee , before I did the Pea Salad.  I hope my mix up did not cause culinary distress.  Afterall, wonderful cornbread is the cornerstone of any good Southern meal and the Pea Salad classic delicacy.

Any good Southern cook worth her weight in Crisco can stir up a fitting pan of cornbread, worthy of all the purple hull peas, fried okra, butter beans, sliced tomatoes, fried eggplant, cooked squash and new potatoes that might have the honor of residing on the same plate with this crispy delicacy.  But there are new cooks rattling the pots and pans every day.  This recipe is for the new cook of any region seeking an authentic quick bread to serve with soup, beans or meat and three.  Or maybe the experienced cook who can't get the cornbread to pop out of the skillet without sticking.  If it starts out in a packet or a little blue box, it is only an imitator hoping to achieve greatness.

I have mentioned Perfect Cornbread previously, Pea Salad for a True Southern Repast 9-1-13.  The original recipe came from a cookbook that looks like a checkerboard tablecloth which was a wedding present of my Mother's.  This is the only recipe I ever use.  I don't mess with perfection.  I learned the secret to good cornbread at my Mamaw's knee.  It's all about the sizzle, two sizzles to be exact.

1 cup of flour                                              
1/4 cup of sugar                                 
1 tsp salt                                            
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup of shortening
1 cup yellow cornmeal                      
2 eggs
1 cup of milk

Yes, this recipe does have sugar in it.  Now I am a die-hard Southern cook, except in this case, but a little bit of sugar only sweetens the pie and will get you lots of compliments.  Infact, I have never made it without.

Add 1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
to a large mixing bowl and mix well.

Prepare 1/4 cup shortening.
Add shortening to a cold cast iron skillet.
Put your cast iron skillet on the stove over a good heat, a bit more than medium.

While the shortening is melting in the skillet,
Add 1 cup cornmeal to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Add two eggs and 1 cup of milk to the dry mixture, mixing everything together very well.

Watch your shortening. ( I never walk away from the stove when heating any oil.)
When the shortening is hot pour the hot grease from the skillet into the wet mixture.  You should hear a sizzle (1).  The picture to the right is just after pouring the hot grease into the mix.

Put the skillet back on the stove and add a good dollop of shortening.  This will melt while you are stirring the hot shortening into the wet cornbread mixture. When the second round of shortening is melted, pour the wet cornbread mix into the skillet while is is still on the stove.  You should hear a sizzle (2).

Using a mitt, put the skillet of cornbread into the oven at 425 for 20 minutes.  It will be done but you might want to check it while it is cooking and turn down the oven (5-10 degrees) if too brown on top.  Using a mitt, remove the skillet from the oven.  Turn the skillet of cornbread topside down onto a cutting board or heavy plate.  Put the skillet aside.  With the backside of cornbread facing up, place a plate over the backside.  The cornbread will be between two plates.  Flip the plates so that the top of the cornbread is on top.  Remove the plate.  It is harder to read about it than to do.  You can play with that.  If you have done all of this correctly or even mostly correct, it will jump out of the skillet for you!  Enjoy!

Now that you can make Perfect Cornbread you can move to Lesson 2, Perfect Cornbread Dressing (Perfect Cornbread Dressing Site is currently under reconstruction.)

Perfect Cornbread hot from the oven!

The backside of Perfect Cornbread

For even more background on Cornbread, check out my post,                                          
The Nascar Cornmeal Conspiracy 11-11-13


Thursday, July 20, 2017

VACATION RECESS: Pea Salad for a True Southern Repast

Welcome to Wonderful

Southern Summer Homecooking

In our home, this scrumptious looking plate of goodness is referred to as a veggie dinner.  We come from a long line of summer vegetarians.  When the fresh summer vegetables are so plentiful and delectable why bother with meat?  Obviously, not totally meatless with the addition of a little piece or two of leftover ham in the green beans.  Both of my grandfathers had successful vegetable patches.  What I wouldn't give right now for one of their good tomatoes.

In the summertime, I can hardly remember my mother cooking anything besides vegetables.  I remember going to the Farmer's Market sheds downtown and coming home toting bags of goodies.  Summer wasn't summer without purple thumbs.  Or the pop of snapped green beans falling softly into the pot.  Or the pfft of corn juice bursting from the cob and  across your face.  Sadly, I was practically an adult before I fell in love with tomatoes.  I remember the plates of tomatoes I passed around the dinner table without having the good sense to fork a couple onto my plate.  My aunt would eat a tomato like an apple! 

This is not the column about my cornbread (which is perfect).  (Perfect Cornbread Post 11-23-13) That will come later when we delve into the proper method of making Cornbread dressing, close to Thanksgiving.  But you will need a mighty fine cornbread to go with this recipe.  For a little history, I will tell you that I made my first batch of cornbread one summer day when my mother had taken to her sick bed.  (This is a rarity for my mother who is the original inspiration for the Energizer Bunny.)  She had veggies cooked for lunch.  In his new job, my father was able to come home for lunch, rain or shine, which was a nice break from the stress of retail management. 

She told me to go make the cornbread for his lunch.  At this point in my shaky culinary career, I don't know if I had even baked a cake mix.  She told me the "Red and White Checkered Book" and the title.  Those were my instructions.  I know you are thinking this is a lot of info on cornbread, how could there be more if this isn't THE column, but I am the Cornbread Diva and my vast knowledge can't be contained here.  This is supposed to be about Pea Salad.

I don't know if Pea Salad is a family invention but I do know I have yet to sit down at another table serving purple hull peas and see this accoutrement. But I forgot about the purple hull peas!

I know I have eaten Black-eyed Peas but not by choice.  Purple hull peas are the purest choice for those of us down south just like we know the right way to pronounce  pecans 
(pu = pu(ff)  + cons ).  Pettest peeve - not PEECANS.  That is just rude. Not PEECONS.  Senseless. Enough.

Fresh Purple hull peas (which will turn your fingers purple if you shell them but that is what shelling machines were invented for so spend the extra unless you want sore purple fingers or you wish to inflict a character lesson upon a child) after shelling, must be washed in a colander to pick out any bad peas (very, very few).  Place them in a big enough pot to cover well with water and leave room for a small simmer.  It is tempting to boil but it will make them tough.  Cook them on low, very slowly.  They have a little scummy foam (nothing bad) you will need to slough off with a spoon during the first part of cooking.  They are best cooked for about an hour and a half or longer.  But not to the point of being mushy.  You may need to add a little water as the juice boils off.  You want more juice than peas. Add salt and pepper to taste.  And also add, the butter of the south, a good tablespoon of bacon grease.  It doesn't take much but flavors perfectly.  They are not to be swimming in bacon grease, just gently flavored.  This is the secret to using bacon grease, less is really more.  Once they are seasoned, you can keep them on the stove until the rest of the meal is ready.

My great-grandparents had several hotels in different little towns throughout their career and sons who would follow in their footsteps.  Some of these hotels also had dining rooms and hotel kitchens.  Knowing my love of cooking and family, my uncle has been so good to share with me some of my great-grandfather's cooking leaflets and recipes.  Unfortunately, I think most of the recipes were those he knew by heart and never wrote down.  But now that I'm writing about Pea Salad, I think maybe this is where it originated, for our family.  My dear sweet Burt, who was born in a border state with the Mason-Dixon running through it, loves Pea Salad on his purple hull peas and cornbread.

Measurements are approximate.  You need:     
1 good size green bell pepper/   1 small onion/    1 medium tomato
1 tsp. sugar/   1 tsp. salt/   1/2 tsp. pepper/ 
1/2 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar/  Equal parts water and white vinegar

Clean and seed bell pepper.  I used three rings of pepper, dicing the rings into small pieces, as pictured.  /  I peeled and sliced and diced most of the onion, small pieces. /  I peeled the tomato and sliced and diced it into small pieces./  Add water and white vinegar in equal parts, more on the vinegar side.  Add salt, pepper and sugar.  For something different, I added the Balsamic vinegar and it works great.  Chill before serving.  The longer this sets, the tastier it gets.  To serve:  Slice and butter a piece of hot, out-of-the-oven cornbread.  Open cornbread up and add hot, cooked purple hull peas on top of the cornbread, with a little bit of the pot juice also.  Top this with cold Pea Salad but don't use a slotted spoon.  You will want the tangy vinegar dressing.  Add a little or a lot, depends on you.  There will be several layers of taste sensations.  You may consume another serving.  It is also permissible to make your entire meal of just cornbread, peas, and salad.  As my Pa would say, "Mighty fine, best I ever had."  You have arrived.                                              (Like the country.)

a woman with butter dripping down her hand as it melts on hot cornbread (the dessert slice)       


**I wonder if anyone else has a similar salad for peas?
**This is also a necessity on New Year's Day and is delicious with Prime Rib, Ham, or Fried Chicken.    

Originally published 9-13-13

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

VACATION RECESS: A Good Air Mattress Will Get You Through

We had four because we were four, traveling the country in a packed to the gills Yellow Ford Galaxy and later, a Shimmery Green Chevy Impala.  The best ever air mattresses were dual purposed, a necessity for camping.  By night, soft pillows of air tucked under flannel lined sleeping bags.  In the light of day and within sight of water, buoys across whatever beach, river, or lake called our name to a day of water-filled adventure.

The best air mattress, wide and long, with the reminiscent smell of a sturdy Goodyear tire, tried and true.  Every seam of the mattress was sealed to perfection, above and beyond the rest of any just plain water toy.

The green mattress had the feel of suede.  Surely, this rubberized canvas was sea worthy if a mast could be installed without puncturing the sturdy fabric.  Standing on the edge of the beach, looking out over the Gulf, one could imagine launching the float towards Cuba and arriving, if only to push up on the foreign soil for just a moment before discovery.

Landfall in Cuba brought to mind the struggle of the old man and the sea, and his daily tin can of hot coffee for breakfast before sunrise, another day searching, using the handmade ropes to capture the glory fish of his last days after a lifetime of just enough.

My imagination would be only a slight match for the old man's small wooden skiff.  The race of a silver blue fish out into the Gulf, caught in an unknown trap, a heavy load to shake off.  The old fisherman's gnarled hands gripping the endowed rope, the prize finally within his seasoned grasp.  The untamed, unchallenged will of the wild fighting with every cell this unknown outcome. 

The stillness of the sea, the unshadowed sun, the scavengers of the defeated.  The strength of anger to raise an oar and strike at nature's predators circling and circling.  The real one that couldn't get away.

The call to come in, dragging the air mattress behind me, leaving stripes in the sand as I turn towards evening camp chores.  When my parents were still drinking coffee around the fire, Sister and I would head to bed.  Finally tucked into my cozy sleeping bag on top of the taut mattress, the worst sound would be the barely discernible buzz of air escaping. Or the high pitched noise might be a blood thirsty mosquito dive bombing my ear.  At this point in the trip, a mosquito was the preferred option.  With rolling over came the realization that morning would find me on the surface of the topography of this campsite with only a tarp and a canvas floor as a cushion between me and the hard, rocky ground.  Nothing is flatter than a flat air mattress that has given up the ghost, slowly all night long.

When camping, we had exactly what we needed, carefully thought out for the two week trek to the echoing Colorado mountains or the Atlantic Ocean.  Year after year, my mother mapped out a trip months ahead of time, sending letters inquiring about the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde and the free maps offered by the different states we would travel through.  Or procuring tickets to visit The White House and The Capitol.  (We didn't camp while in Washington, D.C. but going and coming.)  Those mattresses were packed and unpacked many trips.
On the trails in Colorado

Campsite unloading.  Always a happy family time.  The folded mattresses would be put on the concrete table. We didn't have anything resembling an air pump but two pairs of lungs.  Oh the joy for the lucky children who got to blow up the mattresses.  But the campsite was not up and running until the "beds" had been made in the tent.

Blowing up the mattress would make me dizzy.  My cheeks would hurt.  I would blow and blow and see little result.  I would throw out a complaint which would not usually be noticed by parents placing stakes and smoothing the tarp.  I can still hear the sound of the heavy green canvas tent unfolding and becoming a shelter against the wilds of the wilderness like bears and cougars and skunks and hurricanes.

Immense effort continued in my physically exhausting attempt to get that float finished.  Sister would be working on her air mattress.  I don't know if it was the time expended in achieving the result or the burning lungs and exhaustion after the fact.  Toting water back to the campsite from the distant water spigot.  Shining a skinny flashlight down the camp road to get to the facilities in the middle of the night.  Waiting for the rain to stop while staring at the green canvas, not daring to touch the sides and start a horrible leak.   Blowing up the air mattress was the least favorite of the unfavorites.

But suddenly the welded rubber seams would straighten up and the flat columns of air would pop and I would quickly close off the brass nozzle.  The stress and struggle would result in something that would hold me up as I floated in the nearby lake, laying across it sideways, dangling my legs into the water which got cooler as I went farther out.  Or laying down on the mattress as I bobbed across salt water, soft waves on a quiet sea running underneath. 

But without the stress and the struggle I would only have a flat piece of suede-like rubber.

When life gets hard, look for a buffer.  Don't lay down on rocks covered only by a plastic sheet and canvas.  Pour the stress, anxiety and pain into something that can lift you just inches above the uneven surface.  Without the tension of the trapped air, the mattress can't inflate.  

You can be standing on your little Ship of Life and a rogue wave knocks you into the water.  Lady Overboard!  For a minute I flounder before I remember I can swim.  The best air mattress is thrown my way and I grab it and hang on tight, kicking out of the deep water.  Finally on top, I lay back resting on the pillow, as my tears of panic dry under the glory of the sun. 

Originally posted 4-3-14

Thursday, July 6, 2017


When she was young, I took my niece to a wonderful little movie.  But the dog died at the end of the story.  I wasn't prepared for this.  The lights came on.  We walked out while I'm figuring in my head what to say about a dog dying to a little girl who may not even know about this fact of life. She was still afraid of "baccum" cleaners.  I started to mention the sweet dog.  She stopped me and said "Aunt Amy, dogs die, people die."  It wasn't just the words but the flair of the message.  Left arm out and right arm out, as if she had practiced her response.

This is a blog that celebrates the wonderful dog named Oreo, who was beloved and returned the
same.  He died in December, days before Christmas.  He had a great quality of life for all of his twelve years.

We buried his little box on Monday.  My St. Francis statue stands at his grave.  I didn't cry then but my grief over his loss has remained sharp for these last seven months.  I read a few words and told him I didn't want to go to heaven if he wasn't there.  The Bible says a sparrow will not fall to the ground without the Father knowing.  Maybe a good dog is an angel in disguise.

I am the queen of notebooks and pencils.  I am trying to whittle down my office supply collection.  Being a writer, I have the habit of writing down ideas, stories, quotes, conversations, traveling ensembles and poems on any piece of paper.  Today, I found something special when I wasn't looking.  This little gift was found in a wireless, college ruled, 80 page, high tech micro perf notebook produced by Top Flight, Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee.



You must be made for my amusement because you make my heart laugh.
Look at that dog
carrying a skinny branch in his teeth twice his length-
so pleased with himself, 
occasionally a whack against the stairs 
or the post holding up the deck.
You stop for a second
and turn to look where the branch hit the pole.
You see me and grin
as if you had put that pole in the ground
for a whack in the future-
and now
ears perked
and body alert, 
soft black and white
like tassels shimmering with movement 
your hair lifts in the breeze,
you know how long to pause for effect-
just enough to hold your moment and say-
I was made for this day!

May 2004 - December 2016

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Being from Maryland, she called a cab based in Maryland.  Although, I tell people you can see Washington D.C. from her kitchen window.  Looking through the side yard of her backyard neighbor is a boundary street.  She walks to work in Washington and returns home to Bethesda. Someday she will appreciate this unique experience. For now, she only thinks about it when I visit and get excited  to see car lights going down a street in another city!  But you can see Washington D.C. from her kitchen window.

The Maryland cab is prompt.  The car is clean and cool.  Another good visit is over.  Almost five years ago on a sunny August morning, she and her new husband packed up all their hopes, dreams and worldly possessions into one car and a rental van driven by her helpful brother-in-law.  Two full days and one night later they arrived in the city of their new beginning.  Jobs, education, friends and one dog - five years later, they are off to a great start.

I can't help it.  Everytime we part, I cry.  I tell the cabbie I'm just saying goodbye to my girl.  Just tears for the visit ending and the distance beginning.  I am happy for their place in life.  We are fortunate to see each other during the year.  The cab driver turns on the music, afraid to hear anymore of this sob story.

We drive down Embassy Row, blocks of United Nations, in brick and mortar.  Down Rock Creek Parkway along the Potomac River, always full of joggers and bikers so steeped in routine that the history across the river is invisible.  Maybe.  I always feel lucky to be able to visit my nation's capitol.  In four days, these parks and streets will be filled with celebrants waving Old Glory.

I comment on the preparations being made and he mentions how busy work will be until the Fourth of July.  He works all of the time.  But on that afternoon, he will finally take off and head to the national fireworks with a group of friends from his apartment building.  They go early to get a good place.  He says they will spread out a picnic and just relax.  He breaks out in a big smile, turning back to tell me what a wonderful thing it is to see such fireworks.  I tell him I will think of him when I watch the fireworks show on t.v.

He is not from here but he has been in America for fourteen years.  He is from Togo.  A cousin in Nebraska helped him get his green card.  But Nebraska was a hard place to start - too cold and too much competition.

I ask him if more family is here in the states.  No, his wife and children are still in Togo.  Once a year he is able to return.  But he wants to bring them over.  He really wants them to get their education in the States. We have been talking over the radio.  As if on cue, I realize I'm hearing John Lennon's "Imagine" playing in the background.  "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."  The exact lyrics when this man from Togo tells me he is dreaming of the day he can bring his family to America.  He is working on the Dream.

Hours later, I 'm on my last flight.  I feel like the plane is trying to catch the sunset, flying from the darkened east westward, towards a still coral sky, narrowing.  Below, the ground is darkening as schools, houses, grocery stores, lose their recognition.  A hieroglyphic alphabet of city lights appears to be stitched neatly with punctuations of gold and white.  From above, the message reads this is America.  In the dark, mountains and plains whisper we were here first.

The interior lights are dimmed.  My seatmate and I start a casual conversation.  I had seen him earlier, carrying a car seat down the aisle for a young mother.  As parents of an airline employee, he and his wife are able to travel to see their family.  He is grateful for the opportunity to come back to the States two or three times a year.  Originally from Chile, he is now a U.S citizen.  But his mother is in her nineties.  He and his American wife have retired in Chile.  He is glad not to miss the Fourth of July here at home.  The grill is his territory and we talk about all of the meat he will prepare for his large extended family.  Telling me about his family, he clasp his hands together.

For thirty-seven years, he looked out the windshield and across the engine of an 18 wheeler, traveling all over the U. S. and Canada.  We have lived in the same city for over three decades and have two things in common - Catholic High School for Boys and a former neighborhood.  Everytime he gets excited he clasp his hands with a clap.  But not loud enough to wake anyone.

This man has loved traveling the country.  The joy for his chosen nation is refreshing.  The pride he has in his American born children and their success in life is evident.  While he has been very successful in returning to Chile, he will come back to the U.S. someday, to stay.

He proudly volunteers his voting record and still remembers his first elections.  Even though he is in Chile, he always votes.  And being from Arkansas, we share our mutual admiration of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  I have a feeling that this "full of life" man makes a contribution wherever he is headed.  He has attained the Dream.

I couldn't believe my day's good fortune.  I began my day in Togo and finished up in Chile.  Two men from two different worlds.

Oh say, why can't we see?  Huddled masses yearning to be free of gang violence, religious persecution, mind control, despondent poverty.  When and why does our dream for freedom, two hundred years ago, one hundred, thirty years ago matter more than the least of these?  Life and liberty- a gift not a given.  A vision of hope looking through a fence or traveling in an airplane.  

Oh say, can't you see?  Life and liberty.  For the land of the free and the home of the brave.

'Good fences make good neighbours.'...
'Why do they they make good neighbours?...
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

from Mending Wall by Robert Frost