16 October 2017

 

A few years ago I became a Pinterest addict.

Yes, I admit it, I claim it, I wear it like a Scarlet Letter, only without the shame.  How could I not be?  So many great ideas, tips, crafts, articles, exercises, recipes and other marvelous STUFF I didn’t know I needed in my life but clearly did, all in one handy-dandy place just waiting for me to Like, Pin and try.  I liked ALOT, a function that is sadly no longer available, I pinned ALOT, I tried…not nearly as much as the other two, but I gave and still give it the “old college try.”

One of the first boards I created was Autumn Inspired Breads.  At the time I was searching for a new taste of Fall,  a new sweet bread slightly spicy, slightly nutty, cozy warm and filling-heavy to complement my coffee and invoke the idea of the season even if the temperatures were not cooperating with the calendar.  I found a few  candidates that I baked, enjoyed and shared, but knew that I had found THE ONE when I stumbled across a Pin for Pear Bread from the website Bake or BreakGleaned from Nancy McDermott’s 2007 cookbook Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations, this bread came with a warning from Bake or Break’s author:

“After you try it, you may never want to bake anything else ever again. It is just that good.”

She wasn’t lying!  Try it, you’ll see!

Pear bread 1Pear bread 2

PEAR BREAD

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 cup chopped pecans

3/4 cup softened butter

3 lightly beaten large eggs

2 cups sugar

2 cups peeled and diced* pears

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees Celsius).

Once you’ve lightly greased and floured a  10-inch bundt or tube pan, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.  Once mixed, scoop out about a quarter of a cup and combine with the pecans to coat, then stir the coated nuts and flour remnants back into the flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the butter, eggs, sugar, pears, and vanilla.  Add this mixture to the flour one, stirring just until the flour disappears and the batter is evenly moistened.

Pour the batter into the bundt or tube pan and bake for sixty to seventy minutes, or until the bread is browned and firm on the top and a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool in a pan on a wire rack for at least ten minutes, remove from the pan, and place top side up on a plate.

Serve immediately with coffee, put your feet up and savor the season!

* The original recipe called for grated pear, but I like it much better with larger pieces.  Either way, diced or grated, you can’t go wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

4 October 2017

Today’s Wednesday Word is “Nandy.”  Nandy isn’t technically a word.  You won’t find it in a dictionary.  But it is one I grew up with.  A word, that my ear heard over and over again, until it became REAL.

This is the story.

My maternal grandmother Marie taught my sisters and me a bedtime prayer.  Every night that I can remember spending with her, nestled under covers in her big comfy bed, we prayed that prayer.  And it began, or so I thought, with Nandy.

Nandy Lord,

Lay me down to sleep.

I pray, dear Lord,

My soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray, dear Lord, my soul to take.

God bless, Mama and Daddy, and Maw Maw and Paw Paw and Nanny….

On and on we asked for blessings for our family and friends.  Sometimes we made it to Amen, but sometimes not, drifting off before we reached the end.  The ending wasn’t as important as the beginning.  As Nandy.

It wasn’t until my twenties, when once again, cuddled under covers in her bed, that I asked her what Nandy meant.  She was befuddled.  “Nandy Lord,” I queried.  “Where did it come from?”   The answer.  Not Nandy, Now dear Lord!

Now dear Lord.  It made sense, but it was all wrong.  It sounded too urgent, too uncomfortable, too demanding.  It didn’t feel right on my tongue.

And so years later, I still find myself saying this childhood prayer, eschewing the correct for the familiar, invoking the Nandy Lord, my nighttime boon, to please lay my weary head down to rest.   This mistake of years, this heard misheard, makes me smile and think of her, my Maw Maw, my Marie, my Mirandy and each blessed day and night I got to spend with her.

 

 

 

2 October 2017

Monday started, as most Monday’s do, with a stumble-step to the coffee pot.  And just like most Mondays, a steaming cup of coffee in my hand, I turned on the news, or at least what masquerades as news here, to see what was happening in the world.  What was happening was horrific.  Another mass shooting in another U.S. town.

One more after one more.  I watched stricken as the story unfolded, as the death toll rose.  I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t believe it had happened again.  Of course it could.  It did.  Over and over again, month after month.

When the world rages, when the senseless occurs, when humanity tears at itself, I retreat.  I gather my chicks.  I feather my nest.  I seek the quiet, the natural, the simple, the good.  I make a meal. I count my blessings.

After the school work was completed and the books put away for the day, dinner simmering on the stove, my children and I gathered our assortment of apples.  Together, worries and cares slipping away,  we pared, cored, chopped, measured and placed all in the pot to gently blend the flavors and release the  comforting aroma over the remaining hours of the day.  To make applesauce from the ingredients.  To bring peace to our hearts.

Apple peeler Continue reading

1 October 2017

Why I like October

October is possibly one of my most favorite months of the year.  There is finally a hint of cool on the breeze, a promise that the humid heat is at last coming to an end.   The leaves of the hardwoods, maple, oak and hickory,  all shades of red, yellow, orange and brown are beginning to release and scatter on the ground.  Apples are ripe in the orchards, wild persimmons in the woods, adding hues of gold, red, green and orange to the cultivated and the natural.  The aromas of cinnamon and pumpkin and pecan and caramel fill our home and flavor our food.  Occasionally, a hint of wood smoke from an early morning fireplace “chill-breaker” or the remnants of an evening pit fire waft on the foggy morning air.

Chittering squirrels shore up their drays, spotted fawns nestle in the straw, and birds v-form in flight toward even more southern climes–all clear signs to the keen observer that winter is coming.  Nature knows.  I know.

But for now, it is October, finally Fall.  And in this season, surrounded at the same time by the abundance of the harvest and the dying of the leaves, I prepare my nest.

26 September 2017

Today is the Republican primary runoff, and a few, a sad few, registered Republicans are heading to the polls to cast their ballots for a candidate to represent their party in the November Senate election.  Now I won’t talk politics, because as a child raised in a deeply political family that dates back generations, I recognize that political discussions outside the tight familial circle is likely to get you into a heap of unwanted trouble, unless you are running for public office and, in that case, you asked for it!   This is especially true in my small town, where most people are related in some fashion or another to one or all of the candidates running for election, whether Republican or Democrat.  Silence is best, especially when you cast your ballot.

I learned this lesson when I was a young girl.  Before the Alzheimer’s disease ravaged her mind and locked her inside of herself,  my paternal grandmother, Nanny, took me with her to vote.  My hand in hers, she walked me to the voting booth, pulled the curtain closed, and turned her attention to the ballot.  When she was finished, I asked her who she voted for.  She told me it was a secret, her secret, and it was supposed to be so, otherwise they wouldn’t have provided the little booth with the curtain closure.

A secret.  For a young child, I was mesmerized.  A secret was a BIG deal, full of excitement and promise.  Like a surprise, blabbing it would only diminish it.

A few months ago, many of the old metal ballot boxes used in those past elections, rusted and worn from years of use and years of storage, were discarded, trashed.  Unassuming, but important, those tin receptacles had held the thousands, tens of thousands, of secret ballots cast throughout the years that had affected the course of history, not only for our county and state, but for the nation as well.  First ballots of the formerly disenfranchised descendants of slaves, ballots for Lurleen, Alabama’s first female governor, and lesser so, but important to me, those cast for both my maternal grandfather and even my own dear daddy.

I couldn’t bear to have them languish any further.  So barring any better idea, I decided to use them in my Fall display.  It is after all Election time, and it never hurts to have a tangible reminder of the importance of the vote and of keeping one’s mouth shut afterwards.

 

 

25 September 2017

Sloppy Loos 2

I don’t make this often, but every now and again, I get a hankering for a food from my childhood–Sloppy Joes.  Sloppy Joes were a staple food at my school’s cafeteria.  I swear we had it every week!  Like square pizza, it was a food to look forward too.  Gelatinous red spilling out of a soggy bun, not even Manwich quality, but Good Lord it was good; either that or I have rose-tinted glasses taste buds.

Now I’m a bit more discriminating about my food choices (sorry Manwich, even you don’t make the cut), but on occasion I still crave this messy meal.  So I’ve tweaked a few recipes that I’ve tried over the years and have come up with this one to feed my family of four.

I hope you enjoy!

Sloppy Loos (because “Hey!  Why not name a meal after yourself?!”)

Serves 4 or more

Approximately 1 pound of lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup
½ cup chopped bell pepper (yellow or red)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons prepared mustard
1 ½ tablespoons vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat cook the ground beef, onion, bell pepper, and garlic until the beef is browned and the onion and bell pepper are tender. Drain and discard the fat.

While the ground beef mixture is cooking, combine the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar in a separate bowl. Stir to combine.

Pour the ketchup mixture over the drained ground beef mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once the sauce begins to bubble, reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.

Spoon onto hamburger buns, rolls or other bread of your choice.  I typically, use potato rolls, just because I like them!

For a truly American cafeteria-style meal serve hot with baby green lima beans and macaroni and cheese. YUM!

24 September 2017

Percy Jackson Books

Bedtime Story Time is still going strong even though I have failed to post about a single book that we’ve read since February, and there have been many:  Kathy Appelt and Alison McGhee’s Maybe a Fox; Marguerite Henry’s 1949 Newberry Medal winning book King of the Wind; Henry Winterfeld’s Mystery of the Roman Ransom, the sequel to the book Detectives in Togas that I wrote about on February 21, 2017; Miriam E. Mason’s A Pony Called Lightning; and the first three books in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

In August, the boy child chose the 4th Percy Jackson book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, for story time, and then, upon its conclusion, coaxed his sister into choosing the fifth and final book, The Last Olympian.  With only half of the chapters remaining, we are certainly going to miss the adventures, antics and attitudes of the characters. Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Thalia, Nico, Tyson, and a host of Gods, Goddesses, monsters, mortals and demigods have made this series truly memorable.

A few years ago, my son began reading the first book, The Lightning Thief, and because I AM THAT MOTHER, I read it too.  Afterwards, he and I  both devoured the other four books in the series, watched the two movies that corresponded loosely with the first two books, and read Rick Riordan’s other Percy Jackson titles Greek Gods and Greek Heroes.  To say we enjoyed them all would be an understatement.  My son even got an orange Camp Half-Blood tee-shirt that he wore proudly in his school’s character parade and for nearly every week thereafter until he sadly outgrew it.

I don’t know exactly what the allure is, since we are now almost finished reading the entire collection for a second time, only this time aloud and with my daughter, but I think it has much to do with the wit and the sarcasm of the author.  The mythology of the Greek Gods, with all of their bad behavior and familial intrigue in tow, as well as the tales of their oft-times doomed half-human progeny have new life breathed into them.   There is nothing dry here, just a rollicking progression of mishaps and monsters and monstrous mishaps that pique your interest for the ancient myths and give you a hearty chuckle on almost each and every page.

These are great books to read aloud, especially if you have a penchant for voices, since there are many, many characters that you will have to give voice to.  But the benefit of all of these characters is that there is someone, or in many cases some thing, that everyone can relate to: the nature lovers, the book nerds, the underdogs, the neglected, the handicapped, the special and on and on and on.  My daughter’s favorites are the studious Annabeth and the artsy Rachel Dare.  Mine and my son’s, the simple but crafty one-eyed Tyson.  My husband’s–well he is not presently here to ask!

We are cheering on the half-bloods as the final battle against the Titans draws close.  And even though we don’t know if the heroes will be able to stop Kronos, or if the Titans will once again reign supreme (well my son and I do), reading the books in the evening before bed has certainly slowed time down for my family, even if just for a short while, and given us many nice memories; and for that, I am and will always be eternally grateful to Mr. Riordan, Kronos and the fighting demi-gods of Camp Half-Blood.

6 September 2017

Today’s Wednesday Word is Irma.  Irma is a name that has its origins in Old German, but whether it means “universal” or refers to an ancient Saxon warrior-deity is beyond my realm of knowledge or concern.  What I do know, is that the World Meteorological Organization has been compiling and maintaining lists of Atlantic storm names since the 1950s and Irma was ninth on this year’s list.

On 30 August,  somewhere near the Cape Verde Islands, a spawning ground for baby swirlers, a daughter of Typhoeus issued forth and quickly grew into a monster of proportions  worthy of her mythological daddy. Gaining the moniker Irma, she raged and roiled her way toward North America, becoming a category 5 storm along the way, with winds reaching 185 miles per hour.  Currently, this dervish is within fifty miles of Puerto Rico, her eyes now set on mainland United States.  She’s bad, as bad as they come.  All we can do now is wait and watch and prepare.

When I was young, only 3 years old, I experienced my first big hurricane.  It was named Frederic, another good German-derived name!  My maternal grandparents along with my elderly namesake had gathered at our newly-built brick home to ride out the fury…a newly-built brick home right smack in the middle of a stand of very large pine trees.  Of course, in their defense, pretty much every house in our county was similarly situated among the pines, theirs just happened to be further up in the woods than ours did.

I remember the darkness (Frederic struck at night) and the winds whipping the trees in impossible arcs. I remember that we didn’t have electricity, and that my parents had lit several oil lamps to pierce the gloom.  I remember that the large windows in our living room were covered in frogs, suction-cupped to the glass their backsides blocking the view, and my mother yelling at my grandfather when she discovered that he had left the “safe zone”  in the hallway and found a cozy sofa to sleep on, directly in front of  that wall of living room frog-bellied windows.  I remember the deep quiet when the storm had passed, when nothing moved, not even the air.

And I remember the excitement.  Hurricanes are exciting when one is three.  They are not so much as you grow older, although there is something still eerily exhilarating about preparing for and then waiting on a storm’s arrival; hoping that the electricity doesn’t fail until at least the second pot of coffee has been brewed and praying that the tree right outside the window doesn’t decide to give up its ghost and come crashing through the house.

I’ve experienced many hurricanes throughout my life in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana since Frederic, some meek and mild by the time they reached my neck of the woods, others full of wrath and vengeance.  Which one, Irma will be once she reaches the southlands still remains to be seen, but from all accounts she is projected to be a terror.  So I wish anyone in its path good luck.  Prepare as best you can and find a safe place to hunker down, preferably not in front of a wall of windows.  And if they tell you to evacuate, don’t think twice, leave.

Godspeed…I’ll see you in the quiet on the other side of the storm.

 

 

 

5 September 2017

Just over a month ago, I wrote about an ongoing project that I am working on (See 2 August 2017), transcribing old editions of The Washington County News, the weekly newspaper of my home.  While it is imbedded with little snippets of humor,  most of which I won’t even claim to understand because I guess you had to have been there to get it, some of the funniest entries I’ve come across in the papers are the medical ads.  Yes, that’s right, the medical ads.

Now I’m pretty sure, or at the very least pretty hopeful, that these tonics, balms and elixirs pedaled in small-town newspapers across the country at the turn of the twentieth century,  were actually thought of as cures by their manufacturers and not grand money-making ruses.   But, viewing it from a “modern” vantage point, they seem pretty nonsensical; like Castoria that was touted to cure fever, sleeplessness, diarrhea and constipation in infants or Oxidine that was said to cure biliousness, fever, chills and even MALARIA!  Cure-all medications that could be conveniently mail-ordered or purchased at any local druggist for less than $1.00.

One of the advertisers of these wonder drugs that has repeatedly caught my eye is the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company, who manufactured a vegetable compound for the cure of feminine ills.  Back aches, nervousness, sparks before the eyes, blues and even an impending sense of doom, apparently all documented symptoms of female weakness, didn’t stand a chance against this magic tonic.  See for yourself:

 

So when I came across an old Lydia E. Pinkham Cosco-sized medicine bottle in a local estate sale, its contents long-since drained by some haggard Southern woman,  I couldn’t help but smile, giggle, and immediately purchase the darn old thing.

Lydia Pinkham bottleHere’s to you Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham and to your vegetable compound for still curing the blues almost 100 years later!