Tag Archives: cooking

How To Make Hot Tamales

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It’s not about the recipe…

 

Making hot tamales is a process

First, you gather in a loved one’s kitchen

and find the well-worn recipe

Stir up the cornmeal, shortening and hot water

while you laugh about how

the generation before you used to

perform this same ritual

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Next it’s time

to roll the meat for the filling

and laugh some more

because somebody thought

the meat logs were funny

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Then comes the assembly line

of putting the cornmeal mixture

onto the tamale wrapper

sticking the meat log inside

and wrapping it all up

repeating until we’re done

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We congratulate each other

saying “these look like

they turnt out right” and

laughing about how

someone ended up with

cornmeal in her hair

Then it’s time to

boil them all up and

smother them in the chili

that’s been patiently waiting

And savor this

Belly-and-Soul-warming meal

seasoned with

Laughter

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Well Seasoned

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Some things improve over time…

I remember once

as a young bride

trying to fry up some potatoes

like Mama used to do.

I was using a brand-new

shiny skillet.

Mercy, that skillet was beautiful,

but my potatoes

stuck to the pan and

smoked up the whole kitchen.

My shiny new skillet

was not

well seasoned.

Now, nearly 30 years later,

I have some of Mama’s old skillets.

I think they were Granny’s first.

Any good cook knows

what a priceless treasure

a hand-me-down skillet is.

My favorite one

bears the scars of age and heat,

scraped mercilessly

as forks scrambled eggs

and that old metal spatula

flipped slices of bacon.

It’s the best skilllet in the whole kitchen.

It hasn’t been shiny in decades,

but it lends a

depth of flavor

to whatever is cooked in it.

Raw ingredients go in and get

transformed into

well seasoned food

for belly and soul.

No matter how hot the skillet gets,

nothng will stick to it anymore.

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Blue Hydrangeas and Youth Dew

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Memories of Mom Cutshaw on her birthday…

My mother-in-law, Mary Lynn Clark Cutshaw, was born on April 14, 1923, and like Pop Cutshaw, would be turning 91 on her birthday.  It seems impossible that she would be that age if she were still with us, and it seems impossible that she and Pop have been gone as long as they have.  They died less than 11 months apart, with Pop leading the way in July of 2000.  I know there must have been a reason for the timing of their respective deaths, but it was a hard thing just the same.

I don’t want to think so much about Mom C’s dying as her living.  She was one of the toughest, strongest, most determined women I ever had the good fortune to know.  She intimidated me for the longest time.  I felt like an interloper; I was stealing her baby boy, after all.  I was marrying the little brown-haired-brown-eyed child she loved so very much.

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When Jeff and I got married, she said that she only wanted one thing as far as our ceremony was concerned, and that was for Jeff and me to sing a song.  I knew I would be too preoccupied to sing well on the actual wedding day, so we arranged to pre-record a duet the night of the rehearsal. I adapted the words of The Lord’s Prayer to fit the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” music, and Jeff and I recorded it between the rehearsal and dinner.  It was a wonderful gift to be able to honor her request and she was pleased with the result.

Once we were back from our honeymoon, she came up to our little rental house one day and helped me get things set up, including literally taking a knife and helping to scrape who-knows-how-many years of muck out of the oven!  She measured windows and made some of our curtains.  Less than a year later, when we were moving to Florida, she and Pop packed themselves up and made the move with us, spending the weekend (along with Jeff’s sister Bridget and her husband Michael, who lived in New Orleans and came over to meet up, share family time and help unpack) getting us bare-bones settled in.  I remember Mom C looking at all the canned food I had stockpiled to move down with us and telling me she was glad my Mama had taught me how to shop!  She had been worried that we would be moving down with no groceries of any kind to get us started.

Mom Cutshaw was a wonderful cook who made legendary pies yet somehow often scorched the green beans or burned the rolls.  It seemed like there was nothing she couldn’t do.  She knew how to sew and keep finances in order.  She was an Opti-Mrs. (the lady counterpart to The Optimist Club) and took care of children during Sunday school.  And she did more for Pop after he began suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, for a longer period of time, than was humanly possible, keeping him at home up until just the last couple of months before he died.

During this time, she gradually lost some weight, which was to be expected given the physical and emotional demands of being a 24/7 caregiver.  I don’t guess anybody really thought much about it, hoping that once things settled down, she could rest up and regain some of her physical strength.  As it turned out, just months after Pop’s death, we learned that she was experiencing a recurrence of the cancer that had shown up in her colon in 1997, this time in her liver.  Treatment was unsuccessful and she was placed on palliative care at home.  I remember asking her if she was scared, and she said she wasn’t afraid of dying, but she didn’t want to suffer.

She faced her battle bravely, just as she had faced everything else in her life.  She died in the wee hours of the morning on June 18, 2001.  The house was full of all her kids, 2 of the 3 kids-in-law and 2 of the 3 grandchildren.  I feel sure that she knew we were there, and I hope that it comforted her.

She has come to me many times in dreams.  The most vivid and telling one happened more than once.  The estate was in the process of being settled and their house was on the market for a while before it finally sold.  In my dream she kept quoting me a very specific number saying, “____ thousand and the house is sold.”  The number was low for a house and it didn’t make sense.  As it turned out, though, once the house sold and the proceeds were divided among the 3 children, the figure that came to each sibling was the number she had quoted to me in the dreams.  She knew and she shared it with me.  It still gives me chills to think about it.

She wore Estee’ Lauder’s Youth Dew, and to this day when I catch a whiff of it, I remember her… and smile.  She also grew lots of beautiful flowers.  Her blue hydrangeas were the prettiest I’ve ever seen.  I have a few dried ones in the china cabinet that came to us after she died.  Every time I see them I remember her…her strength, her beauty and youthful spirit, her courage in the face of adversity and her love expressed in meals cooked and clothing sewed, dream visits and oven-scraping with a new daughter-in-law.

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Close Encounters Of The Kitchen Kind

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Relics of a bygone era

 

I have my Granny’s ancient sifter.  It has shiny red apples painted on it and a crank handle with a red wooden knob.  I have no idea how old it actually is, but it is OLD.  I remember hearing that, in her healthier, more active days, Granny always made a cherry pie on George Washington’s birthday.  By the time I was born into the family, Granny’s health was starting to fail and she had slowed down a lot.  I don’t remember seeing her cook much when I was a child, but I know that, since Mama and my aunts learned how to cook from her, Granny must have been quite the good Southern cook in her day.

For decades she fed and nourished a husband and 9 children, after all.  Mama must have learned how to make cornbread from Granny.  I feel confident that Aunt Ruby learned how to make her biscuits from Granny as well.  (Like Mama’s cornbread, Aunt Ruby’s biscuits were unique to her, and no one else’s were ever as good.  Mercy, what I’d give now for Aunt Ruby’s biscuit recipe in her handwriting!)  Aunt Mary, Aunt Martha and Aunt Elaine would have learned lots of their dishes from Granny as well.

Granny’s sifter must have helped make hundreds of pies and thousands of biscuits in her cooking days before it was passed down to Mama, and then to me.  It is almost like an hourglass in a way, the fine dust filtering through the mesh screen into a waiting bowl, sifting flour and memories.  I wonder what that little sifter would tell me if it could speak?

I can see Granny’s little hands turning the little red knob on the side, or just shaking the whole apparatus to work the flour through.  My hands are small like hers were.  I can remember Mama teaching me how to make pie pastry and from-scratch cake, explaining the mysteries of when to measure first and then sift, and when to sift first and then measure.  (It’s all in how the recipe is written.)

I don’t bake as often as I’d like these days.  But when I am able to take the time to make something that needs sifting, I take down Granny’s little red apple sifter to start the process.  There is something almost hypnotic about watching clumps of flour transform into fine, snowy powder as they pass through the screen…my hands repeating the motions of Mama’s and Granny’s hands before me, resting where theirs rested and touching what theirs touched, all in the process of Making.Image