Saturday, December 31, 2011

Haiku Monday: New Beginnings

This week's Haiku Monday is hosted by Aunty Belle at . 

The subject is:  New Beginnings.  Below are my submissions:

Light consumes the dark
Fresh fire, a new start, receive!
The Lamb, white as snow

Black eyes, greens, and ham
prosperity and luck....Come!
New Year, Southern style

And lastly, one more Haiku with the theme of New Beginnings,  in honor of Edward Bruce Ward, and for my brother Heath.

He passed on Christmas
a year of firsts now complete
time brings peace, arise!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Princess Cans

For two years now, I have had a haunting, gnawing feeling that I should learn how to preserve food.  Food preservation, or "canning" is also called "putting up" by country people and old timers.  Canning was a subject that had not entered my world for over forty years and then out of nowhere presented itself to me at every turn.  "I don't have time for this", I said.  "CAN" said the voice inside my gut.   I have heard that there is a canning movement in America.  It seems that many of my middle-aged peers have heard the same voice.  I am left to wonder if the good Lord above is trying to tell us something.  Most certainly we are living in interesting times, and there is a small chance that in my lifetime the grocery stores that we all take for granted will one day cease to exist.  TEOTWAKI, or, The End Of The World As We Know It, is a worthy topic for deeper discussion on another day.

I assure you that canning is NOT in my genes.  I once asked my Mom's mother, Grandma Frieda, if she had ever canned.  She told me that she had only tried it once, and that her canner exploded and left glass and tomatoes forever stuck up in the plaster ceiling.  Well now, doesn't that sound like fun? Grandma Frieda was not a domestic goddess, but she was indeed the sweetest person I ever knew. The only thing I saw my Mom preserve was strawberry jam, and even then she merely covered the jam with parafin wax - there was no "hot water bath" to seal the jar lids. Then suddenly, I found myself surrounded by women who have been canning all their lives.  My friend Delnice provides my biggest inspiration, and she is always happy to take a call from me with a canning question.  Delnice puts up a lot of food for herself and her small family.  She buys produce from local farmers, grows some of her own food, and then prepares it and puts it into jars at the exact right time.  Delnice doesn't do "small" either.  If Delnice is going to can, by gosh she is going to do it up right.  I'm talking 73 quart jars (those are the big ones) of green beans in one weekend.  Delnice exclaimed to me one day when she stopped by to see my work, " got the BUG!"  Apparently there is a canning bug out there that will get you!  Aunt Brenda is another significant influence in my canning career, as she is the one who got me started.  Brenda called me up one day and said, "Okay princess, if you want to learn how to put up tomatoes, then come on over and help me today."  Over I went, and she taught me everything she knew about canning tomatoes.  The whole process was fascinating, and from that moment on I was hooked.

I started canning late in the summer as a final act of self defense against the endless 5-gallon buckets of tomatoes delivered by my Father in Law, "Big T".  Big T lives alone, but grows enough food every year to feed a village.  He is a talented gardener and a generous man who loves to share his hard work with others.  For many years we have tried to use up the "groceries" that he brings by eating them right away.  This effort tackles about 1/10th of the bounty - we would chop up the remaining 9/10ths and put them into freezer bags for later use.  I have completely lost my freezer space to an endless army of little bags stuffed with reds, greens, and yellows.  The dates on those bags go all the way back to 2006.  I just can't seem to use them all up before I get new ones, and after awhile, the stuff inside starts to taste like freezer burn.  I hate to throw away food, and this fact was probably the final straw that broke me into canning submission.  I mustered up some courage, got out my big pots, canning utensils, jars, lids, and salt, donned my apron, and began to attack the mountain of tomatoes with the skills I had learned at Aunt B's house.  SUCCESS!   I was now the proud owner of eight quart jars of scarlet beauties, and I loved them all like they were my children.

Hot water bath method tackled, I decided to take on the ever-feared pressure canner.  Aw yes, the evil brooding device that haunted me in my dreams, with its rocking pressure gauge and steam spouting lid!  I bought a PRESTO brand pressure canner, looked up whistfully at my pristine ceiling as if to say, "kiss your ass goodbye" and got to work.  For two months, my weekends were spent standing in the kitchen on aching legs chopping, stringing, peeling, boiling, and sealing.  I walked away with a small cache of green beans, soup beans, apple sauce, jellies, jams, and red wine picked beets.  Ain't they puuuuurty??

I learned some very valuable lessons along the way, and each batch provided me with wisdom that could only be gained by doing.  I will share my knowledge with you next time.  For now, I will sit back feeling victorious, yet longing for warmer days ahead when I can get my Southern hands on some fresh veggies to call my own.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Haiku Monday: Spin

The Haiku Monday theme this week is "spin".  I chose to write about my favorite "spinner", Tag.

Round and round, tired hound
Nesting on flannel and pile
Winter's nap well earned

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The TSA, and Bedbugs, and Intruders....Oh My!

A husband says to his wife, “Did you have a weapon?” What year is it:
A)      1819
B)      1864
C)      2011
D)     Any of the above
The correct answer is D, Any of the above.  Let’s explore!  In 1819, women needed to protect themselves and their children from Indians or wild animals while their husbands rode into town to procure supplies for the winter. 

 In 1864, the civil war raged on and southern women needed protection from marauding Yankee soldiers burning their way through to Savannah.    "As God is my witness....I'll never be hungry again" - Scarlett O'Hara.

And in 2011, American values are quickly fading, and fear of personal harm exists at every turn.  In 2011, Children are taught “stranger, danger” and most kids don’t get to ride their bikes more than three blocks away from the house.  Women take self-defense classes and tightly clench cans of mace while jogging through the park.  As for me?  Well, I am usually armed in some way or another – strict orders from Sergeant Major husband.   I’ve got it all – including the million volt stun gun/flashlight combo.  Usually I am armed…but not yesterday.  Yesterday my cute little carry-on bag and I boarded a plane to San Francisco.  No checked luggage because Delta charges extra for that now, and I am on a budget.  TSA prohibits me from carrying onto a plane anything with a sharp point or a trigger.   Not a bad rule, but it should only have to apply to the bad guys.  Oh, right, the bad guys sometimes LOOK like the good guys.  Truth be told, I think the TSA are the bad guys – anyone who yells at the old man in the WWII Veteran’s hat, or pats down little kids in a search for weapons of mass destruction is either too stupid or too hateful to be responsible for national security.  Atlanta TSA, Phhhhhbbbttt!!!!!!!!!
Upon arrival in California, I check into my hotel, scan the mattress for bed bugs (I know, but you have to check the beds now because of the rampant infestation that is sweeping across America), and lock the door.  I thought I also checked the lock on the door to the adjoining room, however, at around midnight, I am no longer certain that I checked that door.  Why?  Because I am jarred out of my deep sleep by a scraping mechanical sound, as my next door neighbor unlocks the adjoining room door and bolts into my room.  WHAT?  You can’t do that!  I don’t really remember what happened next because I can’t see without my glasses, and my body was overtaken by a tsunami of adrenaline.   What I think happened next is that I embraced my inner Linda Blair and screamed at the top of my lungs, “GEEEEEEEEEET OOOOOOOOOOUT” .  Amityville Horror meets San Ramon Marriott. 
If the perpetrator was indeed meaning for my calamity, they changed their mind pretty quickly and pulled the door shut.  If the intruder was a confused hotel guest who somehow just managed to open the wrong door, well, I’m sorry but I am pretty sure they are dead, of fright.  Hotel security came and got me a few minutes later to escort me to a safer room.  Amazingly I was able to get back to sleep and arise fresh for my meeting the next day. 
So my answer to the question of, “did you have a weapon?” was, “no”, and Sergeant Major husband has a special one-on-one class planned for me this weekend.  It’s called, “how to turn a drinking glass into a weapon in three seconds or less”.  Oh My!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Business of Woman's Best Friend

We have a pretty strict leash law here in Georgia.  I am in support of the law for many reasons, the first being that I don’t want mean dogs chasing after me.  I’ve been attacked by two dogs in my life – and neither experience was pleasant….AT ALL!     In fact, it’s amazing that I am still such a dog lover, but I am!   The second best reason for a leash law is to protect the dog!  Seven years ago, my 14 year old chocolate lab, Nicki, snuck out of our gated yard on trash day and was struck by a hit and run driver as her hind end was hanging out just a little too far into the road while she chowed-down on a  knocked over trash can.  Some folks say that “you die like you lived” – and so as devastating as this tragedy was to me, it was indeed poetic.  I have never seen a dog love food so much as NIcki.  No casserole, pie, or cake was safe on any counter in the house.  One thanksgiving, Nicki stole the turkey off the grill – the dog sitter was quite alarmed as she saw a dark brown streak running past the picture window with a big steaming bird in its mouth!  I mean, REALLY!!!  This happened!!
Aside from the reasons above, I don’t see much need for a leash law.   However, there are people who take those leash laws very seriously, and sometimes they just use it as an excuse to be ugly.  My friend Janet lives in a townhouse community in Atlanta.  Some residents call the poor Animal Control guy, Officer Eagens, every time they so much as SEE a dog step outside the owner’s front door without a leash on.  This poor guy, Eagens, he has to drive out to that neighborhood every week, to post  notices on peoples’ doors with warnings of “leash your dog or we’ll fine you, and if you still refuse to comply we might take away your pet”.  Yuck.  OH, and by the way, the people calling Animal Control keep their poor dog locked up in the garage day and night – and NEVER walk him.  Must be too much damn trouble.  I wish they would give up that poor dog for adoption and get themselves a snake or a rat, which would be a more appropriate reflection of themselves.
Coupled with a leash law, is the ever present “no dog” signs (it's got a picture of a dog hunching over with a line x-ing over the dog), which serves up a double meaning,  also alerting you that a big jerk lives in that house.   I think these signs are imported from New York City. 
People get absolutely hysterical these days if you so much as TOUCH a blade of grass in their yards.  Come on people, it’s the outdoors!   Please relax!  I am so paranoid that someone is going to give me the evil eye from their kitchen window for even WALKING past their house with my dog that I carry a big wad of plastic bags in my pocket, as well as hanging a plastic bag onto my dog Tag’s leash as a visible sign that I will definitely be responsible for picking up my dog’s business.  As for Tag, he leads a double life.  Most of the time he is up at our mountain home with his Daddy.  Here, Tag gets to do his thing anywhere he wants to.  Just because he wants to!  He contributes to the natural flow of animal, vegetable, miracle.  When he’s done, he scratches and ever so nicely covers things up with leaves.  Oh, but BEWARE the city!  Sometimes, I take Tag down with me during the week to my city apartment.  I have named this apartment  “Little Paris” because it is perfect, and girlie, and well, so civilized. At Little Paris, we are under constant dog poop security watch.  I mean, you can’t walk ten feet without running into a dog poop station.  What’s that you might ask?  Well, it’s a contraption that holds dog poop picker-upper bags on the top, and below that is a little bitty waste can with a lid on it – for the depositing of your used bags. 

I am very happy to comply with the rules, and quite frankly I think it’s a great idea.  It’s just funny to me how serious this has all become!  I don’t think the topic of dogs running free, or poop in your yard was even around when I was a child.  People just weren’t that concerned about it all, and I think that was a better way to live.  Tag and I are back to the mountains today, running around sniffing, digging, and other stuff – it’s a beautiful thing.  Feel free to find us sometime if you ever want a 20 acre dog park to play in!  And if your best friend happens to do his or her business in my woods….well, I will happily look the other way!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I am only one bourbon drink away from being a very bad guest

I thought about holding this entry for a later date – this being my second post and all, and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me.  But, here goes.
I have a lengthy and informal list of rules about what it takes to be a good guest in someone else’s home.  I picked up these rules along the way – from Dear Ann Landers columns, etiquette books, watching movies, advice from my Mom, and most importantly from my own experiences both as a host and a guest.  Certainly good manners are an important aspect of our lives – they are what separate us from the animals, in addition to our opposable thumbs and war.  
The first lesson in being a good guest came when I was a little girl, and I was taught that if a food is passed to you that you do not like, take a little, put it on your plate, and try it anyway.   Don’t exclaim, “I don’t like that !”   In a proper raising, simple manners can became second nature - Put your napkin in your lap.  Ask to be excused from the table.  Thank the hostess before you leave.  That sounds easy enough, right?
Let us move on to “good manners as a guest 201” – the adult class.  I think there are five very easy steps in being a great guest for a dinner party.  Certainly there are more steps involved when you are invited to an overnight stay, and I will put together my rules for this situation at a later date.   So someone invites you to their home for a dinner party, or Thanksgiving, or a bridal shower, or fill in the blank.    Ready, set, GO:
1.        Do not arrive early.  The hostess is running around like a crazy person in the last ten minutes  before the event, and the last thing she wants to see early is you.  Please, unless there is a reason to be right on time (for example you are a guest at a surprise birthday party),  be fashionably late by at least ten minutes.
2.       Offer to help, but if help is refused do not insert yourself into the host’s kitchen and start asking where the clean glasses should go.
3.       Make conversation with your fellow partygoers.  I know that this is uncomfortable for some people, and here is my secret – keep the focus on the other person.  People love to talk about themselves, they really do.   Find the quietest person in the room and compliment something they are wearing – they will perk right up and you two will soon be off and engaged in lively chatter.  The hostess will be grateful as she looks out and sees you doing your part – and she’ll say to herself something like this, “Thank goodness for Scout - she took an interest in poor cousin Charlie”.
4.       Do not be the last person to leave.  This lesson has been hard for me over the years, because I generally have such a great time at a party that I lose track of the TIME.   The hostess WANTS you to leave eventually.  Please don’t put off the inevitable.  In my opinion, the best time to leave a party is when there are about four to six other guests leaving – you can say thanks and whisk right out the door.    Safety in numbers.
5.        For goodness sakes, please do not drink too much.  This one is tricky, especially at a party when there is an abundance of alcohol.  Set your mind before you get to the party that you will not over-serve yourself.  Eat your food while engaging in great conversation with cousin Charlie, have a glass of water or two between drinks, and leave before things get ugly.
5a.  If you do mess up on rule number 5, please be a happy drunk.  Do not start crying about your job, your husband, your dead brother, or your lost dog – your makeup will run terribly and people won’t invite you back to their house in a very long time, if ever.
5b.  Do not start rummaging through the hostess’ liquor cabinet looking for the bourbon.  If you get to this point, you are obviously too drunk to know it, and bourbon is the last thing you need.  Close the liquor cabinet door honey, thank the hostess for a lovely evening,  grab your designated driver, and get the heck outta dodge.  Pronto.
5c.  If you still want that bourbon once arriving safely at your own home, here’s a great drink recipe!!
The Classic Manhattan
2 oz. Jim Beam
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes bitters
2 to 3 maraschino cherries
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add the liquid ingredients and shake.  Strain into a cocktail glass and add the cherries.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Preserving The South and Saving Myself

My best childhood years were spent living in the South.  Those years spanned the late sixties and early seventies.  Daddy drove a beige Karmann Ghia that we called “Peanut,” and Mom wore white go-go boots.   In the summers, most kids ran around outside barefoot.  It’s not that we couldn’t afford shoes, we just didn’t want to wear them!   I can see Daddy now, rubbing a gasoline soaked rag on my feet to remove the tar before I could come inside for supper.  
A full sit-down dinner was expected each night, and boy you had better not be late.  I don’t think there ever was a particular time each day that Mom would put everything on the table – but my brother and I just knew when to come in.  My mother did not share my love for cooking, and there were about ten dinner menus that she rotated through.  A good day for me offered fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  A not so good day presented corned beef and cabbage or worse… liver with onions.  Good or bad, there was always a dessert, and I had to clean my plate to get some.   Mom’s favorite cookbook is The Art of Southern Cooking, by Mildred Evans Warren.    We call it “Mildred’s cookbook” and it is my go-to source for Thanksgiving- day recipes such as southern cornbread dressing and giblet gravy.  Mildred Evans was a family friend from Perry, Georgia and she was a true southern lady. 
The Art of Southern Cooking  Mildred Evans Warren  HB/DJ 1981
Food is such a solid foundation for our earliest memories.  It connects us to our roots.  My roots are firmly planted in a bed of boiled peanuts, tomato and Miracle-whip sandwiches, pecans and fresh peaches.  Oh, and watermelon – eaten on the half-shell between bare legs, bare feet, and with black seeds spit out everywhere in between.  Every July, we picked blackberries alongside railroad tracks. (Mom always had to check us for ticks when we got back home).  At daycare, the ever crafty Miss Lib encouraged us to eat our butter beans by spearing them on a toothpick - at Miss Lib’s, playing with one’s food was always okay as long as one ate it!  I don’t remember going out to many fast food restaurants when I was growing up.   It was a special event for us to drive out to the KFC and pick up a bucket of chicken – an occasion usually reserved for moving day.   We were a military family, and we packed up a time or two.
Okay, let’s fast forward about forty years.  Fast food is a way of life and a cornerstone in the foundation of American culture.  Our grocery store chains sell tasteless tomatoes and strawberries throughout the year, and shrimp, not identified as “wild”, comes from shrimp farms in Thailand.  Shrimp… farms?  Really? 
A disconnect exists for most Americans between the food they eat and where this food actually comes from.  Children do not understand that their chicken nuggets may have actually started out as an animal.  I have a friend whose son said to her one day, “Um, Mom…did you know that chicken comes from a ‘chicken’? ” This statement was promptly followed by her younger daughter making a face and exclaiming, “Ewwww, that’s gross”. 
Question:  What exactly is the nutritional value of a nuked Hot Pocket, or a container of bubble gum flavored Go-gurt?  I know children who have not eaten, in their young lives, a single vegetable or a piece of fruit.   These kids run on sugar, carbs, and preservatives, and this make me want to cry. 
The America that I remember is dying.  We don’t eat home cooked meals together, we don’t send handwritten letters, we don’t speak kind words to strangers, we lock up our houses at night, our faces are glued to “screens” for hours and hours each day, and nobody makes anything anymore.  I don’t want America to die, I don’t want all that is lovely about the South to die,  and I darn sure don’t want to die before my time because of a crazy lifestyle that puts money in my pocket but kills my spirit and wrecks my health.
I am starting this blog as a way to discover and share some of the wonderful things about the South.   Hopefully, I will discover ways to preserve myself in the process!  Love!