Tag Archives: food

Pans And Patience

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And a misplaced tradition…

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there were women in my family who made magical sweet treats and savory dishes.  My cousin Judy carries on her own version of the family culinary heritage.  I thought of her today as the first snow of the season fell, because on the first snow day every year, Judy likes to make a fruit pie.  I hope she enjoyed baking today and looking out at her beautiful snow-covered farm.

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WAY back in the day, both of Reed’s and my grandmothers, and also Aunt Martha, made apple stack cakes.  Apple is the only flavor I ever remember them making, at least.  I also remember the apples for many of those cakes being dried on window screens inside a shut-up car in Mamaw and Papaw’s yard.  Granny never referred to dried apples as apples; they were always simply called “fruit”.

Reed had the foresight to ask for lessons in stack-cake-making from both Mamaw and Aunt Martha.  The recipe itself is not a difficult one, but the making of a stack cake is a process.  I remember Reed saying that Aunt Martha told him it just takes pans and patience.  (I might add that counter space would be really helpful!)

It’s strange how so many of my food memories have become less about the food and more about the hands that prepared it.  Of course, every tooth in my head is a sweet tooth, and I do LOVE me all those yummy treats, especially the rare, special-occasion ones.  A few years ago at Christmas time, Reed got a hankering for a stack cake, but did not have the desire, pans, or patience to make it himself.  Fortunately, we have a high school friend who at that time owned a highly-acclaimed local bakery (she has since sold it to her niece, so it remains in good hands).  Reed mentioned to Peggy that he sure would love a stack cake, and Peggy said something along the lines of, “I can hook your a$$ up!”

And hook it up she did.  He brought this humble-looking, beautiful creation to Christmas Eve at Dad’s house, and eventually we tore into it.  The moment I took a bite, I burst into grateful tears.  Decades disappeared, and my mouth and mind were flooded with the flavor of nostalgia.  Once more, I was reminded that tastebuds and heartstrings are directly, and closely, connected.

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People of faith often talk about Heaven being a wedding feast, or a banquet.  I like to believe that this is true.  And I like to imagine the tables there, laden with something to satisfy every craving, and plenty of room for everyone to share in the marriage supper of The Lamb.

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(I shared this recipe for a church cookbook shortly after I was married.  The amount of fruit needed was not specified, it’s just something you have to eyeball…but more is better.)

Good Days

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The blessings of being refreshed…

Yesterday was an epically great day.  It was fabtacular!  It was, in fact, blogworthy, for several reasons.  So I want to share my day with anyone who might happen to read this post.

The day started with a simple pleasure, a sweet-smelling bubble bath.  I had won an eBay auction on some shower gel in a favorite scent that has been discontinued, and my bottle of aromatherapy had arrived in the mail on Monday.  My nose, skin and mood were pampered by this simple indulgence, so the day started off great and only got better.

Yesterday was also the much-anticipated day of the Alton Brown Edible Inevitable concert tour stop in Knoxville at The Historic Tennessee Theatre.  I looked forward to this for months.  Not only did he do his show, he announced a “flash signing” at the venue in the afternoon.  I was able to go, get him to sign my Granddad’s antique butcher’s apron and have a photo made and a chat.  He seems to be a genuinely nice guy.

I am a huge fan of Alton Brown, Food Network fixture, creator of the program “Good Eats”, chef, author, food scientist, TV show host and Peabody Award winner.  He also plays guitar and is quite the comedian.  His live shows have received great buzz on social media with good reason.  They are hilarious!

The tickets went on sale the day after my chorus and I arrived in New York City last June for our Carnegie Hall performance, which I wrote about in previous posts.  At breakfast in the diner before our first rehearsal, I was freaking out and melting down because I was unable either by phone or on the Web to get through to any site or venue to purchase show tickets.  A flurry of texts and e-mails to Sweet Pea followed, and with some effort, he was able to procure tickets, FINALLY.  So I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the New York trip and focus on the music and memories being made there, while anticipating the Alton Brown show coming in the fall.

I had met Mr. Brown 4 years ago when he was on-site at work for that year’s United Way kickoff.  I still can’t believe that whoever planned the event managed to keep it quiet until he was actually on the premises.  I had the chance to meet him and chat, and have a photo with him.  The one I am sharing here is from my boss’s Blackberry.

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Ensuing years brought, among other things, weight loss surgery for me, as well as lots of other changes, including menopause, deaths of loved ones and hitting the big 5-0.  So I approached yesterday’s photo-ops with gratitude, and a little trepidation because looking older is not a prospect that brings me joy.  Fortunately, I think the pictures turned out all right.  (Believe me, I’d never share them otherwise!)

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It was also manicure and haircut day.  Again, simple indulgences that can do wonders for a girl’s mood, self-esteem and sense of well-being.  My friend, “Queen” Elizabeth, introduced me to the place I now go to get my nails done, and as it happened, yesterday she had an appointment scheduled not long after mine.  So visiting with her was an unexpected treat as we both had our hands transformed by the experts at the nail salon.  Elizabeth is a source of wonderful positive reinforcement and a bubbly friend, a joy to be around.  Seeing her yesterday was a sweet surprise.

From there it was haircut time with Brianna, who always gives me cute hair and makes me feel good about myself.  I think a good hair person is as important as a good doctor, and for many of the same reasons.  They fix a problem and make me feel better.

After the haircut I had a little time before the show, so I was able to go by Lola’s and check on the house.  I’ve been going by there about once a week just to make sure things are OK.  When I got out of my car, I saw a small downy feather floating down across her front yard just a few yards away from me.  I was rooted to the spot as I watched its slow-motion descent to the ground instead of chasing it.  Once it landed and I was able to snap out of my haze, I did try to find the feather on the ground, but I wasn’t able to.  I think it might have been Lola’s way of letting me know she was with me, because I felt her presence as I watched that feather floating through the air.

From there I went to Pizza Palace for spaghetti and a t-shirt (the shirt is something I’ve been trying to get for almost 2 years and has eluded me for whatever reasons!) I picked up one for me and one to take to Alton Brown as a souvenir of his stop in Knoxville.  He seemed happy to receive it and asked me where his pizza was!

The show was hilarious and I laughed until my face and throat were sore.  Today I’ve been able to rest and enjoy a quiet day snuggling with Our Boy Roy, listening to gentle rain and reading.  In the mail today I received a wonderful surprise, a “mailable hug” from my talented friend Katie Jo.  She has started a campaign of sharing hugs via the mail and social media.  I am sharing my hug here and in every other way I can.

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Share this hug with everyone you know.

#thehugproject

#spreadhugsnothate

I told Sweet Pea last night that I almost felt guilty for having such a great day and enjoying it so much. He looked at me and said, “You’ve been through some @#$%.  You deserve a great day.”

I think we ALL deserve a great day.

Magic In A Skillet

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THE Cornbread recipe and the secret ingredient

 

Mama has been gone a long time, and I miss her every day.  Her humor, her feistiness and her huge, generous heart are qualities I can never hope to attain; all I can do is be grateful when a little piece of her shines through me and gives people who never knew her a glimpse of what a true Southern woman is like.  Mama was a true original and, among other things, an excellent Southern cook.

Mama’s cooking was never fancy, but it was always tasty.  I remember the rump roasts she used to make in her little beat-up aluminum roasting pan, cooking low and slow until the whole house smelled of beefy goodness.  She made chili in a Revere Ware Dutch oven, sometimes boiling up a bunch of church lady hot tamales to go with it.  She made lots of delicious foods that fed both body and soul.  But for me, the most memorable of Mama’s signature dishes was her cornbread.  

It was a well-practiced recipe that she could have made with her eyes closed and one arm tied behind her back.  While our Granny was alive, she wanted a “dodger of bread” every day to eat with her lunch, and to enjoy the leftovers later on.  So it didn’t matter if it was 112 degrees in the sweltering August heat, Mama fired up the oven every day to make Granny her cornbread.  Just a few simple ingredients, the right skillet and half an hour in a very hot oven were all it took to make magic.

I think, though, that the real secret to Mama’s cornbread was the love she stirred in.  Love seasoned the black cast iron skillet, flavoring the humble mixture of meal, buttermilk, bacon grease, water and time to create something mouthwatering and soul-satisfying.  Daily bread, indeed.  

My brother, Reed, recently found the recipe that Mama had written down for him long ago, and he shared it with me.  Most likely she wrote it down for him before he moved away from Knoxville the first time, so he would be able to make it for himself, nourishing his belly and his spirit.   (I had watched her make cornbread countless times when I lived at home, and occasionally after I got married and moved out, so she knew I knew how to make it.)  Simply named “Mom’s Cornbread”, it lists the staples needed to make the mixture and gives the baking instructions. 

Grease the skillet, mix the meal, bacon grease, buttermilk and water to “the right consistency”.  You’ll know it when you see it.  All she didn’t write down was, don’t forget to stir in the love.  The Secret Ingredient is the most important one of all.Image