Boiled peanuts and boat rides….Thanksgiving down south…
November 28, 2011

Things were pretty civilized Thursday am at BWI....

Most of you know I traveled back to Alabama for Thanksgiving…the first time I’ve done so since I moved to Baltimore in the 80s….suffice it to say…it’s been a while. And it was amazing. Relaxing, good times, good weather, boat rides, cooking, hanging out with the fam…just a fabulous long weekend. I attempted to recreate the weekend for you in pictures….

Intense fog over Smith Lake in the distance ….

Sign down the road...none of us are sure what a turkey shoot is...

I was the lucky one…arriving on Thanksgiving Day…dinner is already cooked!! Love the table my sister set(all from foraging, not buying)…and I did make the pear name tags!!

Ok, I did buy the pears, but we ate them later...

I was tempted to buy some boiled peanuts…I am a recent convert to the treat….and look they’re right there, just open the can!

So easy right? Just open the can...

But in the end, we boiled our own…..though it takes HOURS(seriously). And as we couldn’t find green peanuts(ours were dried, but not roasted)…they were good, but could have been better I think.

My first time actually boiling peanuts....they're not bad!

"Confederate Roses" my sister put by the bed....

And we actually went for boat rides on the lake, it was so warm out….

My nephew Allen, and my daughter are ready to go...

Tommy enjoys the ride more than anyone....ears flying..note the AU collar.

When in doubt, wear pearls.....

And there was a precious antique store that’s opened up just down the road….they had some amazing things in there…and a great eye for display. Love the lunchboxes….just like the one my Father took to work every day.

So cute, mounted in multiples!!

My daughter fell in love with these owl cookie jars...

And we all love these coffee cups….the joke is, Crane Hill is really just a four way stop, with a little store there….Love it.

Crane Hill folks wish all of you happy holidays!!

Thanksgiving vagabonds head home…dragging their food with them…
November 23, 2011

This Thanksgiving I am doing something I haven’t done in years and years….I’m going home…to Alabama. I know many of you will find that odd, if not unbelieveable, that we’ve never gone back for Thanksgiving. But when the kids were younger, we always wanted to be home for Christmas, and it was just too hard, and too expensive to try and do both. But this year, we’re on the road down south.

My sister called and asked did we have any favorite dishes, so she and my other sister wouldn’t leave anything out. So sweet to ask, but as I told her…we have been Thanksgiving vagabonds for so long…we haven’t been able to latch onto anything really…something we can’t live without. The various Thanksgivings we have had(not in any particular order of preference): cooking at home, driving to Pennsylvania for dinner in a restaurant and staying at an awful cabin in the woods(we also got lost on the way to dinner-big argument best forgotten), driving to Philly(parade and dinner in restaurant), driving to NYC(dinner in restaurant and Macy’s parade), dinner at friend’s house, dinner at a restaurant here in Baltimore…..and so on, and so on. We’ve done just about every variation you can think of,  except Thanksgiving on a cruise ship(an idea for next year?).

So this year we will meet my sisters and some various members of their familiesnot everyone can make it, of course…my nephew has new baby twins in Florida, my son and the lovely Jennifer will be in Pittsburgh…but my daughter is going(hurray!!) and other nieces and nephews and kids will be there…and I can’t wait. Seriously. Can. Not. Wait.

Love Smith Island Cake with Reece's Cups!

In the spirit of carting food across the country with me… because as my husband says, “There won’t be any food where we’re going, of course“….funny…I am picking up a Sugarbaker’s Smith Island Cake. It’s one of my faves, made with Reece’s Cups in the icing( so incredibly decadent and delish)…and it will also be my younger sister’s birthday cake, which we will celebrate that day.

Jan was born the day before Thanksgiving..about 6 weeks early…how inconvenient is that?! And as dinner for all the cousins was to be at our house(for reasons unknown to me my pregnant Mother was hosting everyone), the turkey was in the freezer and forgotten in the rush to get to the hospital. We were shuttled off to my aunt and uncle’s house where we were served ham sandwiches…with ketchup on them. I’ve never forgotten the culinary horror of not wanting to eat them, as we did NOT put ketchup on our ham sandwiches. My uncle said, “I guess you’re just too excited to eat, right?” We nodded yes…polite(starving) southern girls to the end.

Ah, memories of Thanksgiving rarely looked like this!

And in the spirit of nostalgia, I’m fixing something my late Mother always called “Cowboy Dinner“….perfect for the cook in a hurry.  She would brown some hamburger meat, saute green pepper and onion, then add some pork and beans(maybe a little ketchup and mustard for seasoning?)….and voila…Cowboy Dinner. As kids, we loved it. As adults, it will be interesting to see what we think today of this childhood memory. Or maybe I’ll fancy it up a bit(who knows?).

Here’s wishing  all of you have a lovely holiday…that you have either family or friends with whom to share a meal…and if it’s just you…cook yourself something extra nice. Be nice to Uncle Joe, even when he says something truly jack-ass, laugh at Aunt Mary’s story you’ve heard a thousand times…Oh, and come home safe, ’cause we miss you!

Leaving Loachapoka….
March 25, 2010

Where, you may ask is Loachapoka? Town of about 165  people as of the last census…about 7 miles west of Auburn. Come on, surely you’ve heard of Auburn, home of the great Auburn Tigers….no? And why do I bring it up anyway? I was inspired by a song I listened to on Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog( yes, bloggers read other people’s blogs too and I love hers, though clearly she has a lot of help.)….GOOP…here’s a link.  She spent some time in Nashville doing a movie and had a list of things to do and see there…and also included some of her fave musicians from Nashville. And while I’ve heard of Marshall Chapman, I wan’t  that familiar with her music, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE her song, Leaving Loachapoka.  Give it a listen on the link above.

I think it reminded me a little of where I come from…another small…well, po-dunk  town in Alabama….which I also left. It was a very conservative, very straight-laced area where the rules where hard and clear…I never saw any alcohol growing up. People don’t believe me, but seriously, I never saw anyone…at a high school party or anywhere…drink.  And I remember when I graduated from high school, and an assistant youth minister at my church( where we attended every Wednesday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night…no exceptions) said to me before I left, “Don’t see everything through the eyes of where you grew up.” Honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about…until years later. Even though I was happy there as a child….I can’t imagine still living there, and can’t envision what my life would have been like had I stayed. Who knows?

Anyway if you’re wondering what we do or did in little one traffic light towns like that….when I was growing up, my parents drove us to the Birmingham airport on Sunday afternoons to watch the planes land and take off. And I loved it.   What do they do in Loachapoka where there is no airport? Well there’s Syrup Sopping Day. Really, they do have one. But when that’s over?….here it is best watched of course,  while listening to Chapman’s lovely song about Loachapoka. Enjoy….

Saying goodbye to Momma….
December 7, 2009

I got the phone call about 4 this morning that we all dread…that someone we love is gone. I knew as soon as I saw the number who it was…my baby sister calling to say,”She’s gone…Mom’s gone”…and as much as I thought I was ready for it, I’m not. I’m really not.

I wish I could talk with her one more time…ask her about so many things. My Mother was the keeper of the family memory trove. If my sisters or I could not remember something, all we have to do was ask Momma….she usually remembered and knew the answer. She had gone downhill this year….I was down to see her about a month ago(most of you can imagine how glad I am we went), and she was just…. evaporating. Tinier than ever..down to just over 100 pounds…she was just folding in on herself. But still sharp as a tack….not much got by Mom…not much at all. …in fact she was reading the newspaper ,last night in the hospital(she couldn’t get to bed until she read the news). She still worried about all of us, and wanted the best for us. Something so touching on our last visit….my sister told me she so wanted to host a dinner for us( my sweet daughter went along on this trip too…she hadn’t seen her Mamaw in some time)…so she had the food manager at her assisted living facility fix us a special dinner. What was on the menu would not be good enough…it had to be special. And she was so worried about that meal, and I hated that she worried about it. But don’t I do the same when my son and daughter-in-law come in for a visit?  I so want it to be special. All their favorite foods have to be there… it has to be perfect. I am my Mother’s daughter.

My son just called….he said, “You know Mom, Mamaw was a really cool lady…to think that someone who really couldn’t get around except in  wheelchair, and had so many physical problems, a little old white lady in Alabama, would get out and vote….for Barack Obama…is really something.” And she really was something.

I didn’t talk to her yesterday…didn’t tell her I had gotten the Christmas china out, and used it for company lunch yesterday. I hope she knows. I hope she knows how much I love her and how very much we will all miss her indomitable spirit.  I’m headed down to Birmingham today to help my sisters get the funeral together and then, the task of dismantling what was left of her belongings. Much of it was gone already, as her world got smaller and smaller, but still. Many tears ahead and much laughter too…as I’ve often thought, the only good thing about a funeral is the family reunion that comes with it. She’d love that…and love to be there. And she will be in a way. Godspeed Mary Grace. Godspeed. And tell Daddy hi for me.

A Seafood Pirlau….how to say it, how to cook it….
October 12, 2009

Frank Stitts fabulous cooking.....

Frank Stitt's fabulous cooking.....

Did some cooking over the weekend, and my first ever Low Country Pirlau(some people pronounce it per-loo), from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table Cookbook from Highland’s Bar and Grillin Birmingham(you know you’re somebody when author Pat Conroy writes your foreword). If you’ve never eaten there, let me tell you it’s a culinary kingdom and Stitt holds the keys to the castle. His cookbook came out in 2004 and won several big awards…my late Mother-in law Shirley, bought me a signed edition of the book, for which she probably stood in line. Great lady,  that woman….I miss her all the time, and especially when I use the book. So what is a pirlau? Here is one definition I’ve been able to find on a low country website….

Pirlau (there is no one accepted pronunciation, “pur-loo” being just one variant) is a rice porridge with African roots; the name reflects the dish’s international origins, as it is related to the Middle-Eastern pilaf and the East-Indian pilau. In its essence, it is a thick stew based on chicken (or wild game bird), vegetables and spices with a great deal of long grain rice mixed in. It may contain the mucilaginous vegetable okra as a thickener, in which case it might masquerade as a gumbo.”

red and yellow maters from farmers market

red and yellow 'mater's from farmer's market

Mine did not masquerade at all…I would say a pirlau is kind of like a bouillabaisse, or a paella….though thicker than the former and a bit soupier than the latter. But no saffron. And there aren’t many recipes on line for pirlau…..I found this simplified recipe on the Baltimore Sun’s website….it’s  kinda close one to the one I used, though Stitt’s called for 4 ripe tomatoes, not one, and used chicken broth which you turned into seafood broth by simmering the shrimp shells in the broth for 10 minutes. His also called for a red bell pepper and an onion chopped and sauted(which I think are crucial), and couple of cloves of garlic…and the seagood is key. I found some wild caught Gulf shrimp, which are just soooo  sweet and yummy…It was a fabulous dish. And there was no okra in mine, though I think it might have been nice addition.

The Wine Market....

The Wine Market....

Friday night we ate out at The Wine Market, celebrating a family birthday….remember how  pleasant it was Friday? We dined al fresco on their lovely  patio…may be the last time it’s used this year…though you never know in Maryland…there could still be more Indian Summer days ahead of us.

A Friday Sea Turtle Hatching…and my baby girl hatches too!
August 21, 2009

A baby sea turtle gets ready for his first swim in Gulf Shores....

A baby sea turtle gets ready for his first swim in Gulf Shores....

My sister(my OLDER sister I always like to say, much to her chagrin), sent me this video of a sea turtle hatching where she lives in Gulf Shores Alabama. It’s almost 10 minutes long…but if you watch to about the midway point, a hundred  tiny turtles come scrambling out of the nest. It’s a big event for people who live at the beach, and they are very protective of the nests and the hatchlings…the nests are marked, and have a wire covering on top of them, so nothing can get to the nest before they hatch, and people keep an eye on them…111 turtles hatched that day!  So sweet, as they all paddle their way to the water, by instinct. As you’ll see, the residents even build a little “autobahn” for the baby turtles, a kind of  “turtle chute“to make getting to the Gulf of Mexico less laborious. And off they go…, into the waves….to their destiny.

And speaking of off they go, to their destiny….I’m almost afraid to say the words, lest I jinx it, but…my daughter… has a job. In a bad economy, a real, live job….with a wonderful non-profit organization in town that does such good work. I’m really excited/relieved/hopeful/ for her….after the first day she came home and flopped on the sofa with an, “I’m exhausted!”.  And I know exactly how she feels…it’s overwhelming when you’re at a new place, learning new things, trying to be what they want you to be, when you’re not sure what that is, and knowing that everyone is watching the new girl. I’ve been there too…many times. It is exhausting. I was unbelieveably tired my entire first year here at WBAL-TV…just exhausted when I got home, until I got used to the pace, and the work.  That’s just the way it is. But I bought her a pretty little case for her cards, as a small first week on the job present…she was so pleased. And I’m proud of her…my own little hatchling, off the to the sea.. to her destiny. You go, girl! And sis Audie…thanks for the video…I could listen to the waves all day.

A New Kid in Town, and no I’m not getting married
October 20, 2008

Went to the Performance Workshop Theatre in Federal Hill Sunday afternoon for the last performance of  A Time to Speak, based on the Holocaust memoirs of Helen Lewis, a one woman show starring Joan McCready, a long time friend and neighbor of mine. She was fabulous, as always….I only regret that there are no more performances for any of you to see. PWT is as intimate a theatre setting as you will ever see….only room for about 25 or so people.

Theres a new chef in town...

There's a new chef in town...

We wandered for a while in Federal Hill on South Charles…and stopped in at Junior’s Wine Bar….hadn’t been in since it was an Italian place that closed a long time ago….I had forgotten what a great space it is. In the center of the restaurant, a step up from the front section is a HUGE round table that seats at least 10 and maybe 12-14. As I was staring at it(the place had just opened for the day and no other customers were there yet), a man comes over, sticks out his hand and says, “Hi, I’m the new chef here, Anthony Marini….can I help you with something ?” He then explained how they hope to do chef’s table dinners at that very big table….arranged in advance, of course, for groups or parties….and small world…he’s from Birmingham Alabama…my hometown, and had a couple of restaurants there! We chatted for just a moment…he’s only been in town for a week….but his new menu looked very interesting . I looked him up on line and found a review from a restaurant of his in Birmingham that talked about the 10 course dinners….sounds fabulous and daunting.

Oh, a couple of days ago, a very nice woman came up to me in the supermarket, and said, “Donna congratulations on getting married !”…..and when I told her that it is my son getting married, not me (already there), she seemed a little disappointed, but pleasant about the whole thing. And yes, wedding plans are now coming fast and furious…I’m just keeping my head down.







Solar Clothes Dryer??? Hey, wait a minute….
October 17, 2008

At first I was so excited....
At first I was so excited….

When I first saw this sign at Kendall Hardware in Clarksville….I had gone there to look at their woodburning stoves, as we’re looking at some alternative ($$$$$$$$$) ways to heat the homeplace this winter, as opposed to oil heat. And when I saw this sign I was genuinely excited….What a great idea I thought, because as you know, the electric clothes dryer is a big waster of your kilowatt hours….some say they cost about $100 a year to run.  But then someone pointed out to me in a rather droll fashion…”They’re talking about a clothes line.” Oh. Then I’m not really interested.

Hey, I grew up hanging out wash in Alabama(I know, so old school but my parents were not quick to  get the latest, not when they had 3 girls to hang the wash), but let me tell you, for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, hanging wet sheets on a cold day with freezing fingers is not as picturesque as it sounds. I’ll never forget when we got our first clothes dryer…we were simply amazed by how soft everything was when they emerged all warm and fluffy…..not stiff , like from the line, and while I know there are many of you who just LOVE the smell of line dried laundry, I’ll just buy a laundry detergent with a fragrance called “Fresh Linen” and call it day. But there has been a resurgence of interest in drying laundry outdoors….for environmental reasons and more personal ones….websites devoted to the art, and ways to make your laundry less stiff.  But I’ve been there, done that. Don’t want to go back.

Oh there are times I do use my solar clothes dryer…. a few white things like tablecloths that dry well in the sun, stretched out on the grass… and in the summer, they even bleach out a little. It’s great, as long as a dog doesn’t pee on it. But I love my dryer…love it. I suppose it would be ok to have a drying rack like we used to have at home for drying things in the basement in the winter….(you know the old wooden folding ones?)…might as well make use of all that heat and add a little humidity at the same time. But the dryer stays.

Gustav tales from the Gulf Coast….
September 2, 2008

Gustavs big blow....

Gustav's big blow....

As many of you know, one of my sisters lives on the Gulf Coast…Gulf Shores, Alabama, to be exact. She and her husband live in a charming home that sits on stilts, high in the air, right on the intracoastal waterway. She and I have spent quite a few pleasant hours sitting on her screened porch, overlooking her pretty garden (on which she has worked very hard), and the waterway…watching brown pelicans, pleasure boats and big barges loaded with coal glide past, to parts unknown.

They’ve had to evacuate several times…of course…The very first time, my bro-in-law George had tied their boat up under the house , every which way from Sunday, when an old timer came along and said, “Son, I don’t care how you tie it, if the water comes up, that boat is gonna be in your  living room.” They moved the boat. And since then they have a “list of what must be done” when they leave….such as, take up every other plank on the pier in hope of saving it, putting all their potted plants(and there are lots of them-too many George says) in a trailer and haul the trailer to someone who lives on higher ground, carry all the lawn furniture upstairs into the house, move everything on the screened porch into the house, take the blades  off the porch ceiling fans, empty the freezer and fridge in case  the power is out for a while….you get the point. It’s exhausting. Hurricane Ivan was their worst hit in Gulf Shores….they lost their pier when a big barge got loose from its anchor in the canal, and careened wildly downstream, knocking out piers along the way. They had lots of water under the house, of course the cars and boat were moved…the windows were boarded up so the worst of it was they couldn’t get back to their house for at least a week or so, because the roads were covered with trees and refrigerators and boats and everything you can imagine. And even though that was three years ago, there are devastated houses there that still look it happened last month.  And her garden wasn’t the same for a year or two, after being soaked in sea water.  Since Katrina, they’ve been lucky along the Gulf Coast.

I called sis this weekend as they were making preps to go to their son’s house…she was agonizing about how much to do …as Gustav really wasn’t really expected to hit there, but you don’t want to be sorry, what if it changes course…you can imagine. And everything that you do, when you come home, must be undone. Boards back on the pier, furniture thumped back downstairs, …another day or two of labor. She says it’s worth it to live there…right now anyway…though their insurance has skyrocketed to the point that if they get another big hit, they really might not be able to afford to stay.  And they have talked frankly about leaving, even though she loves it there…they both do. That has been the scenario for lots of folks in those parts….just too much trouble and too much money to stay.  Same for New Orleans. But this time….this time, they were lucky. Lots of people were.

Back from ‘bama….
June 17, 2008

I know, I know….no blogs for a while. I decided not to take my laptopwith me to Alabama last week on vaca….it’s heavy, didn’t wanna lug it around, lazy…you know the story. And here’s the thing. When you don’t write for a while…like when you don’t exercise or do any other habit that takes some effort, for a while…it gets easier not to do it. Especially when there’s no punishment involved for not doing so. Sure, you gain weight if you don’t exercise, so there is some retribution there, but if I don’t blog, really who cares? But I did get an email from a reader named Elaine, saying, “wha happen?”…and my daughter’s college roomate, whom I really don’t know…Heidi…said through my daughter, “Your Mom’s blog really needsto be updated”.  She is evidentally a dedicated reader. So, you two, and thanks to both of you, have gotten me back on track.

goats for sale-really.Though Heidi tried to give me a list of what not to write about. She said she wasn’t interested in hearing about my trip to ‘bama. Girl, girl girl!! Where else would you get to learn that there are goats for sale by the side of the road? Really, I passed by the sign several times, and finally saw the goats. Cute little critters, Heidi, very very cute.

And where else would see my favorite meal in Alabama? I’ll bet Heidi, that you have never had a plate of fried catfish…it’s one of my must have meals when I’m there. yummy-catfish!We go to a place called The Angler a few miles down the road in Cullman from the family lake house (that’s where I pass by the goats for sale sign, among others)….and while they have other fare, gumbo, grilled chicken salad, some pastas, etc….I alwaysget the whole catfish ( fillets are for sissies), with hushpuppies, natch, and greens and slaw. Some very fine eating, Heidi. sweet or unsweet?And iced tea of course. Pitchers of sweetened and unsweetened, though I forgot momentarily that when you order tea in ‘bama…..if you don’t specify unsweetened, they assume you want sweet tea. Important tip if you ever visit there, Heidi. You strike me as an “unsweetened” girl…so am I.

But there is more I have to tell you about my little trip to ‘bama…about a kind of genealogical search my sister and I were on…but more on that later. Go order a glass of iced tea, Heidi…it’ll do you good and help you too, as my Momma would say.