Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Life's Gentle Music, etc.

Angel Oak, Johns Island, South Carolina

Tuesday’s Ten on Tuesday list is of ten favorite sounds.

1. Tree frogs. After it rains at our house, every tree frog in the county gathers at our little pond, all singing their little hearts out, sometimes all night long.

2. Ocean waves crashing on the beach at midnight.

3. Birds singing in the trees on a weekend morning.

4. The crack of the bat when a member of the Braves hits a home run, or better yet, a grand slam.

5. Bacon sizzling in a hot cast iron skillet.

6. The sound of a big motorcycle engine revving as it speeds off down the road.

7. Train whistles in the distance at night.

8. A friend calling my name.

9. A cat purring.

10. The wind soughing through the trees.

OK, so they're not all "gentle" sounds, but they're sounds I like.

Bitter Tide

I finished reading Bitter Tide by Ann Stamos (a.k.a Judy and Takis Iakovou). This novel takes place in New York City in 1901. In the first chapter, our suspect gets off a boat from Ireland at Ellis Island and promptly shoots her fiance, right in front of witnesses! There are some very nice, clever twists in this story which kept me turning pages all the way to the end. In the middle of the book, the sleuths, Joseph Hannegan and Rachel Bonner, become attracted to each other and then have what seems to be an insurmountable disagreement. I told Judy not to tell me how it ends, but that I was hoping Joseph and Rachel would reconnect, and Judy said, "Well, it is the first book in a series," which, of course, told me nothing. Bitter Tide is one of those books that I got so involved in that I was sorry when it ended. I must ask Judy when the next one will be coming out. Read this book. It is thoroughly researched and beautifully written.

I'm currently reading Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox. This book, too, is beautifully written. I don't know if Fox is that articulate or if he used a ghost writer, but it's very readable. Reading this book is a learning experience, about optimism, and politics, and Parkinson's disease, and friendship, and family. I'll let you know about this one when I finish it.

I don't think my to-be-read pile is ever going to get any smaller. I was at a writer's conference the weekend of July 17th and I bought three books. One of them was a copy of Bitter Tide, which I gave to my sister, but still, I have two new books added to the pile. And my birthday is coming up, and my family usually looks to my Amazon wish list for gift suggestions. Richard got a box from Amazon several days ago, so that's more to add to the TBR pile. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I love getting books as gifts, and I love shopping in bookstores. It's probably a good thing there is no bookstore in Tifton, otherwise I'd be crushed under the pile of books. To get to a bookstore, I either have to go 50 miles south to Valdosta or 45 miles west to Albany. My situation is saving me from myself.

Y'all take care, and get back to reading your favorite books and listening to your favorite sounds.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ten Favorite Places To Eat

These are in no particular order. The pickings in Tifton are slim, unless you like chain restaurants, so I went back in my memory for some outstanding eateries.

The Downtown Deli, Moultrie, GA. This is where I eat lunch every Tuesday and Thursday when Small Public Institution classes are in session. They know my name and they know what I want to eat. When I get to the counter they shout back into the kitchen, "Barbara, Ms. Marie's here!" Then Barbara gets to working on my hot ham & cheese sandwich. I also have a single-serving bag of Miss Vickie's Simply Sea Salt potato chips and unsweetened iced tea. (So, I'm a creature of habit. What of it?) I eat alone, which is probably a good thing as the sandwich is sometimes messy. I take a refill of iced tea with me back to the library and it gets me through the rest of the day.

2. DePalma's, Athens, GA. Richard and I became a fan of this place when we lived in Athens. One of our favorite meals there was the cheese and onion breadsticks (they give you enough for an entire entree), with a salad and then dessert. Another dish I liked was the spinach manicotti. Richard frequently got their lasagna.

3. Burger King, Anywhere, USA. Believe it or not (and why would you not?), every once in a while I like to have a Whopper and fries.

4. Waffle House, Anywhere, USA. Sometimes their quarter-pound hamburger and double hashbrowns just really hit the spot. Following that with a double slice of chocolate cream pie makes it an even more enjoyable dining experience.

5. Tarragon Grill, Moultrie, GA. Because it's about 27 miles from home, we sometimes go there for special occasions (like my birthday coming up soon). The restaurant is in an old farmhouse. The appetizers are good (like fried green tomatoes), and one of the entrees I like is a pasta Alfredo with shrimp. Their lasagna is good, but they give you so much it seems like it would be hard to walk to your car after eating it (I've only had a taste of it). The cheesecake with caramel sauce is yummy.

6. Santa Fe Cafe, Seattle, WA. I spent an evening there with my serials management class and professor (if you don't know what that is, then you must not be a librarian). They serve foods from New Mexico, which is slightly different from your basic Tex-Mex or south-of-the-border restaurants. Very tasty food.

7. Sir Scott's Oasis, Manhattan, MT. I spent Christmas with my Aunt Dorothy (Mama's oldest sister) one year, and her son and his wife took us there for dinner. They have seafood flown in from the west coast every day, and if I recall, I had fresh halibut. Their steaks are two inches thick and cooked just perfectly. Sir Scott's is a small restaurant carved out of part of a pool hall, so some rather unsavory-looking types came in, but nobody started any bar fights.

8. The Marketplace Restaurant, Charleston, SC. This place is no more, but it was one of the most elegant places in Charleston for dinner. My parents took me there once when I was in college, and we all enjoyed it very much. One of my classmates was a waiter there (complete with tux and black bow tie), and he arranged to get our table.

9. The Charleston Ice House, Charleston, SC. I don't think this restaurant is around any more either. (It's been over 20 years since I left Charleston). My favorite meal was a spinach salad followed by a bowl of she-crab soup laced with sherry.

10. Peking, Athens, GA. This place has the best lunch buffet I've ever had. The food is always fresh, not like some buffets where the food looks tired. Of course, Peking was always a hopping place. It's where I was first introduced to Crab Rangoon, one of my favorite Asian appetizers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Food Memories

We were invited to an Earth Day potluck dinner last year by a friend of ours, Ms. Earth-Mother, herself. We were requested to bring something organic. Richard said there would probably be lots of nuts and twigs. The Earth Day dinner was nice, no nuts and twigs. Well, there were nuts, but no twigs. At dinner we had some cards on the table with questions about our food memories. Julie led our discussion, and it was kind of fun.

A question during dinner was to name some recipe that has been passed down through the family. I mentioned Mama’s macaroni and tomato soup. This is probably my favorite soup. I make it frequently during cold weather because it is a very warming and filling dish. Richard and I both love it. I make it with stewed tomatoes, evaporated milk, basil, salt & pepper (plenty of pepper), and a smidgen of sugar. Oh, yes, and macaroni.

Macaroni and tomato soup reminds me of other things that Mama and Grandma used to make, like cornbread, gingerbread, chili soup, oatmeal cookies, boiled dinner, baking-powder biscuits, pies, and other stuff that I can’t think of right now. Grandma (from South Dakota) lived with us for about ten years before she died, so I got to eat a lot of her cooking.

Grandma made some tasty gingerbread. I haven’t had any in a long time. Recently I asked my sister Carla if she could lay her hands on Grandma’s old brown recipe notebook. I remember something about a lemon sauce, but Carla didn’t include that when she sent me the two gingerbread recipes she found in Grandma’s recipe book. I may have to seek custody of that recipe book for a while. I think it’s my turn. No telling what I could find in there that I have forgotten about.

I used to love boiled dinner. It was meaty ham hocks, cabbage, onions, carrots, and potatoes all boiled together (hence the name). The salty ham hocks were just the right seasoning. I would mash up my potatoes and carrots with my fork and then spoon some of the liquid (pot liquor) over them. I refused to eat the cabbage (hey, I was a kid!) and onions, but I learned to love such things later in life. Boiled dinner was a very economical meal.

I think my family went through a monetary dry spell for a while because I remember eating things that I now know cost very little. One meal that I hated (!) was corned beef hash and eggs. Mama would put the hash in a cast iron skillet and make four indentations in it. In each little well, she would break an egg, and then she would bake it until the eggs were done. It wasn’t the egg I objected to, but the canned corned beef. Another miserly meal she fixed was great northern beans and bacon. Mama would put the beans into a Pyrex pie plate and then place four strips of bacon on top. She would broil that in the oven until the bacon was cooked and the beans were hot. I actually liked that meal (What’s not to like? It had bacon in it). I don’t remember what we had to accompany those meals, but I don’t think it was much. There was always sweet tea, of course, but that was cheap.

Grandma and Mama always made savory cornbread, but after I tasted sweet cornbread when I was away at graduate school, I came back home and played around with Grandma’s cornbread recipe until I got the proportions right for the sweet stuff. Sweet cornbread goes well with Southwestern and Mexican food. I sometimes make Grandma’s chili soup. It is made with tomato juice as the base, and flavored with browned ground beef, kidney beans, and chili powder. It’s very good on a cold Saturday night with either some garlic bread or some sweet cornbread. I know there are those who think sweet cornbread is an abomination and a sin against Southern food, but I prefer to think of myself as open-minded and able to enjoy both kinds of cornbread. Don’t give me and my sweet tooth a hard time.

Grandma’s oatmeal cookies were soft and sort of cake-like with plenty of raisins. I remember sitting at Grandma’s kitchen table eating warm cookies right out of the oven. They really went down well with a glass of cold milk. Every time I make them, they come out crispy (yet not over baked), but I haven’t given up trying. One of these days I will get it right.

Another favorite treat is Mama’s mincemeat-filled cookies. They are wonderful. I’ve made them many times. They’re made with a soft sugar-cookie dough and mincemeat from a jar mixed with pecans. Mama almost always had them around from Thanksgiving through Christmas. We didn’t have these during all my formative years which leads me to believe she discovered the recipe when I was a little older, probably a teenager. When I would come home at holidays, there would be one or two big Tupperware containers full of the cookies. I loved those things and they were addictive. The only way I could stop eating them was to leave town.

My Aunt Nellie (Daddy’s older sister) could make some biscuits. She had one of those old-fashioned oval wooden bread bowls. Without measuring, she would put some flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl. Then she would work in some shortening and after that would come the milk. She always put in more flour than she actually needed, and she would pull however much she needed into the mixture in the middle of the bowl. Then she would form each biscuit separately. This was all done by hand. She didn’t roll them out and cut them with a biscuit cutter. The unbaked biscuits would be lined up neatly in a large flat pan, baked, and served hot at the meal. They were always soft and tender and perfect.

I also make baking-powder biscuits, but I have to measure. Aunt Nellie’s biscuits had a cake-like texture, but mine are flakier (not that that’s any better, just different). When I make biscuits, it’s usually for breakfast on Sundays. I also mix up some softened butter and clover or Tupelo honey to spread on them. A favorite brunch meal (and I got this from Mama) is biscuits with butter and honey, accompanied by sliced cantaloupe. Sometimes when Richard and I have biscuits on Sunday we will also have bacon (how can you go wrong with bacon?).

I learned to make pie crust from Mama. She went through a phase where no matter what she did the crust came out tough. Through trial and error she finally figured out her technique, and that’s what I learned. In my early pie-making days I made a few tough crusts, but I think I have my technique down now, too. I use a recipe for the proportions but I never read the directions. Richard can attest to my pie-baking prowess. (Oh, am I bragging? Sorry.)

It seems all that food heritage was not lost on me. I paid attention and copied recipes. My mother and grandmother never hovered over me when I was in the kitchen, unless I asked for help, but I remember standing in the kitchen when Mama was cooking and watching her do things. I learned more from my family than I ever did in home economics class in high school. I think that’s how we all learn.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

This week's Ten on Tuesday is 10 Things That Turn You Off About People. Let's see how many I can come up with.

1. Bad breath. I know some people can't help it, but there are antacids and breath mints. Toothpaste is always good, too.

2. In the same vein: Body odor. Pleeeze, take a bath; use some deodorant; but, for God's sake don't try to cover it up with perfume.

3. Lying. Don't lie to my face and then later deny it. Besides, if you tell the truth, then you don't have to remember which lie was told to whom.

4. Arrogance. Just because you have a PhD in rocket science doesn't mean you are a better person than I am.

5. Regional snobbery. Don't come to my home state and tell me how backwards I am and how everybody is so much smarter where you come from. Do unto others... (I once had a guy from Indiana "pay me a compliment" by saying he was surprised to find a Southern girl with brains. I should have kicked him in the nuts.)

6. Don't talk down to me. If I don't understand what you're saying, believe me, I'll ask.

7. Poor fashion sense. I'm not the most fashion savvy person in the world, but if you're middle-aged or older and even a little saggy and wrinkled, don't wear halter tops and short-shorts. And I especially don't want to see your bare midriff. (Oh, yeah, if you need a bikini wax, don't wear a bikini.) If you're a man, for heaven's sake, don't wear Speedos.

8. People who won't let you get a word in. Hey! I have something to say, too!

9. RSVP. People who do not, when specifically asked to, are annoying.

10. Disrespecting your elders. People who have been on the earth a long time deserve our respect, if for no other reason than that they have experience you don't. (I'm using the term "been on earth a long time" loosely.)

Well, there. I did it. This is kind of a negative subject, but I tried to rant humorously.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Old Sewing Machine

It was an old sewing machine, not an antique, not passed down from one generation to another. It was just an old sewing machine.

So why was I crying as my husband and I drove to deliver it to the woman who had agreed to buy it?

I had bought a brand new Husqvarna-Viking machine as a birthday present to myself. I had been wanting a new one for several years. The old one was kind of clunky, it made uneven buttonholes, and it didn’t sew delicate fabrics very well. A new sewing machine was a good thing.

The old machine, a Signature from Montgomery Ward, was a workhorse that had never needed repair. My parents bought it for me when I was sixteen.

My grandmother criticized the first thing, an apron, I had made on my new machine. It upset me because I was only sixteen and I was so pleased with myself. To me, it was a momentous occasion, the completion of that first project, and to have my grandmother focus immediately -- and only -- on its faults was a blow. My mother soothed my bruised feelings, telling me that Grandma believed that the inside of a garment should look as good as the outside. My apron did have some raw edges on the back side of the waistband, but Grandma, didn’t you see the pretty decorative stitching I put on it? I learned from the criticism, though, and began to do better.

My floor-length senior prom dress was pink dotted Swiss, with an empire waist, a pink grosgrain ribbon sash, and puffed sleeves. I had flowers in my hair and my handsome fiancĂ© at my side. Senior prom was the night we all got to stay out as late as we wanted. After a breakfast at Howard Johnson’s, I got home around six a.m. My mother was up and getting ready to go to work. I managed to see the frown of worry slip off her face as we arrived looking tired but safe.

Not long after that I made my wedding dress – the first one, that is. It was white crepe, knee-length, and it had long sleeves. I think I made it from the same pattern as the prom dress, but I added a ruffle of lace to the scooped neckline. I was the very picture of purity. The marriage didn’t last long. I was only eighteen and far too young to be married. I gave the dress to one of my close friends, who shortened it to a scandalous length and wore it dancing.

Oh, well, not every story ends with happily ever after.

In college, I made a golden-brown wool skirt, calf-length with a center slit to the knee. I wore it with stylish brown leather shoes, dark-tinted stockings, and a tailored, high-necked blouse, the kind that would later be used to make women’s power suits more girly. The outfit was pronounced “smart” by one of my fellow dorm-dwellers. It was certainly more dignified than the blue, bonded-knit hot pants (how’s that for a double-barreled blast from the past) which I wore with black-tinted stockings, black patent-leather high-heeled boots, and a tight black turtleneck sweater. Hair to my waist and half again as much jewelry as I really needed completed the look. I got whistled at. Back then, that outfit did not make me look like a streetwalker as it would today.

Having survived my college years and entered the workforce, my sewing slowed down somewhat. I had a job where I could wear jeans and t-shirts, and I seldom wore anything else. I had heard talk of the walls caving in if I was to show up in a dress, but I did now and then and the walls are still intact.

At some point, and I don’t remember what triggered it, perhaps the offerings in the fabric stores, I began to make tropical print shirts for my father. He always liked the Hawaiian aloha shirts, but he never went to Hawaii and didn’t know anyone who did. I found a perfect camp-shirt style pattern, and discovered I could turn out a shirt in two evenings, completely finished inside and out, according to my Grandmother’s custom. One of my friends at work learned that I made the shirts for my father and asked if I would make one for him. One might think that with all that interest in my sewing I might go into business, but I don’t especially like sewing for other people. I sewed for my father because he was family and I made the shirt for my friend because he could make me laugh.

In the 1970s, I made the obligatory hippie skirt out of a pair of jeans. I opened the inseams and inserted gores of a faded burgundy denim that I had. I embroidered important things on the skirt and added an eyelet ruffle at the hem. If I could still fit into that skirt, I would wear it. I’ve kept it for sentimental reasons.

Another item I kept for sentimental reasons is a quilted jacket I made for my mother. It was mostly black and cream with multi-colored panels of fans down the front. The look of pleasure when I gave it to my mother was the most rewarding moment in my sewing-for-family efforts.

I got married again, and this time it took. I have made a few shirts for Richard. One that he has practically worn out is made of dark blue cotton with little Golden Retrievers printed on it. That is significant because our dog, Brandy, a Golden, was a big part of our life. Brandy is in doggie heaven now, but Richard still has that shirt. I also made him a shirt with tools printed all over it. Richard is a woodworker, so the tool theme fit perfectly.

Can you see why I was weeping when we were transporting the old sewing machine to its new owner? I made memories on that sewing machine.