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!