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126. Balls–Because Who Wants a Square Meal?

26 Mar

Oreo balls--Not necessarily round.

Oreo balls–Not necessarily round.

In other parts of the globe, these delicacies might be called hors d’oeuvres, bon bons, truffles, and the like. In the South, we call ‘em like we see ‘em: Balls.

The selection of stuff Southerners will roll up into a ball and pass around to friends and relations grows larger by the day. Ten years ago, I’d never imagined one could transform broccoli into a edible sphere that would become a potluck staple. What’s next, kale?

Love at first sausage ball.

Love at first sausage ball.

Much like Southern salads, balls come in two separate, yet equally delicious, groups: sweet and savory. A few of the treats refuse to take sides, so I’ll henceforth refer to them as “swavory.”

Seeing as I like to save the best for last, we’ll start with savory. In this group you’ll find meatballs, sausage balls (yes, sausage is a meat, but these are two entirely different animals, so to speak), spinach balls, crab balls, ham balls (not to be confused with ham rolls), fried macaroni and cheese balls, and the dreaded cafeteria staple, cod balls. I found a recipe in the Bells Best III cookbook for Curried Chicken Balls, which includes mayonnaise, cream cheese, chutney, and flaked coconut. I’m guessing the next time that particular contributor offered to bring a dish to a party, she was told, “We could really use some ice. And maybe a couple of 2 liters.”

3168885199_b4cf60e58f_mI haven’t yet mentioned cheese balls because they represent a whole subcategory of savory. These usually feature cream cheese as the main ingredient–sometimes balanced out with shredded cheddar–embellished with one or more of the following add ins: worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, Tabasco sauce, Lipton onion soup mix, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix, minced onions, diced peppers, cayenne, and paprika. Once the desired ingredients are mixed together and shaped into a ball, the whole thing is covered in one of two things: chopped pecans or thin-sliced corned/dried beef.

I’ve run across a few cheese ball recipes that feature pineapple, which fit in the swavory category along with such creations as: popcorn balls, and…well, nothing else comes to mind at the moment. Can anybody help me out here?

Goodness gracious, great balls of coconut!

Goodness gracious, great balls of coconut!

The sweet ball category breaks into two subsections: chocolate covered and not. Amongst the former you’ll find: peanut butter balls, coconut balls, Oreo cookie balls, cake balls, and regular old chocolate balls. The latter group includes: rum balls, bourbon balls, amaretto balls, teetotaller balls for Baptists (just kidding!), pecan balls, date balls, and peanut butter balls (sans chocolate, but why?). Any or all of these can be rolled in coconut, though some probably take to powdered sugar better. Speaking of which, one could make the argument that given their shape donut holes ought to be referred to as balls. I, myself, am not planning to start a petition, but if there’s one floating around, I’ll sign it. Just don’t ask me for a contribution.

Why are Southerners so smitten with balls? I couldn’t tell you. Maybe the bite-size portion makes them easier to eat. However, I’ve yet to run across a Southerner who finds eating to be complicated in any way whatsoever. Ok, perhaps what to, but certainly not how to.

Translation: You're not worth the trouble.

Translation: You’re not worth the trouble.

One thing’s for sure: making stuff into balls doesn’t simplify the operation. Quite the contrary. How much easier would it be to toss some pre-cubed cheese on a plate and call it a day? Or to frost a couple of layers of cake as opposed to dipping a couple dozen in temperamental chocolate? Scientific answer: A lot!

I can think of only two reasons why Southerners go to the trouble: 1. Balls are cute, making for a more-attractive dessert table and 2. We love you. We really love you.

Growing up, one of the highlights of Christmas for me was enjoying the bountiful harvest of my mom’s annual candy crop. English toffee, pecan pralines, white fudge with candied fruit, haystacks, and my sister’s favorite, coconut balls. Once Mom got to where she couldn’t make the candy anymore, well, she didn’t stop, but she pared down the list considerably. Coconut balls were the first to get their walking papers.

One down, 870 to go!

One down, 870 to go!

After a few ball-free years, I decided to valiantly pick up the baton and produce some coconut balls. My reasoning was: A. I love my sister and B. how hard could they be? Seventeen hours into the process (give or take), my mindset had shifted to A. not that much and B. aaaaacccckkkk! That was my first and last attempt to visit that particular torture chamber. However, if you are more patient than I, you’ll find them worth the trouble. After all, in the words of the Steve Miller band: “you got to go through Hell before you get to Heaven.”

What are some of your favorite balls? Please do tell!

Coconut Balls
2 lbs. Confectioner’s sugar
1 can coconut (16 oz.)
1 stick paraffin
1 large pkg. Chocolate chips
3 sticks butter
1 can Eagle brand
2 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Combine sweetened condensed milk, sugar, and coconut in large bowl. Melt butter and pour over mixture and mix. Add pecans. Chill for at least 3 to 4 hours. Melt paraffin in double boiler and add chocolate chips. Stir until all are dissolved. Roll candy into balls. Dip into chocolate and place on waxed paper.

Note: As usual, the ingredients and directions are a little vague. Use your best judgement. Seeing as folks don’t enjoy the delightful flavor of paraffin as much as they used to, I’d recommend locating some high-quality chocolate melts. In a pinch, you can add about a tablespoon of shortening or vegetable oil per package of chocolate chips to thin the chocolate for easier dipping.

Oh, and one trick my sister and I learned this year: Don’t waste money on one of those fancy chocolate dipping utensils. Just break off the middle two tines of a plastic fork, and you’re good to go!

Photo Credits: Oreo balls by This Year’s Love, Flickr Creative Commons; Sausage Balls by Ezra Pound Cake; cheese ball with crackers by Adrianne Lacy, Flickr Creative Commons; coconut date balls by Christaface, Flickr Creative Commons;

124. Fried Crab Claws, Mighty Fine Finger Food

5 Mar

352913848_a52a025c75_mOf all the Southern delicacies I miss here in the Pacific Northwest, top honors may just go to fried crab claws. I occasionally encounter pretty good hushpuppies, fried chicken, and pulled pork. I’ve tasted some delicious grits and biscuits. I’ve even located a reliable source for beignets. But I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve run across a fried crab claw of any kind here–oh, and have one finger left over.

Yes, one of Seattle’s most celebrated chefs serves up some dee-li-cious crab cakes, but what on earth is he doing with all the claws? I beg of you, Tom Douglas, fry those suckers up!

Yes, but are they fried?

Yes, but are they fried?

Whenever I’m back in Mississippi, I make it a point to try and get myself some fried crab claws. In September, my sister and I drove nearly an hour to this joint in Vicksburg that has the best ones around. Unfortunately, nobody told us that half the town–including Rusty’s–shuts down on Monday. Still, after much searching, we managed to locate a tasty plate of them at a place called Monsour’s at the Biscuit Company. However, we were disappointed to learn that the “biscuit company” in the name had long since vacated the space. Apparently, the building once housed the National Biscuit Company or as they’re now called, Nabisco. Sure, I get the historic significance, but I think they ought to at least have a biscuit on the menu. Don’t get a girl’s hopes up like that!

As an appetizer that goes for around $14.95 a plate, fried crab claws are a little spendy. You might be tempted to split one order for the whole table. Don’t. Each claw offers up only one delectable morsel of meat, so you’ll want to share with one person max. Unless that person is greedy, in which case order your own.

If eating meat that still resembles the animal it came from creeps you out, then fried crab claws aren’t for you. They are what they are: claws, dipped in batter and fried. There’s only one way to eat them: position your teeth with the cartilage between them, bite down and scrape the meat off. No utensils will do. You’ve got to go caveman on them. Provided your cave is near the ocean, I mean.

Hmm...y'all might want to reword that.

Hmm…y’all might want to reword that.

Even in the South, menus featuring fried crab claws can be few and far between, so I suggest ordering them whenever you can. My sister just told me that we have to go to Walker’s Drive-In next time I’m in MS, seeing as they serve up a Super Size portion of them. She guesstimated 60 claws in one order, then backpeddled to “at least 50.” I am dubious. But also, hungry.

Know of any good places to get good fried crab claws? Any of them within driving distance of Seattle?

Photo credits: Plate ‘o claws by chez pim, Flickr Creative Commons; neon crab sign by Naser Risk, Flickr Creative Commons; we have crabs sign by tsmyther, Flickr Creative Commons.

Friday Favorites: Stuff I, Myself, Like

22 Feb

il_570xN.385008154_4wu1Ok, y’all, today I’m introducing a new feature here at SSPL. If you find yourself wondering what all the other features are, well, this would be the first. There may be more to come. Feel free to cross your fingers, but refrain from depriving yourself of oxygen. Let’s see how this one goes.

On Fridays, I’ll be delivering a roundup of interesting tidbits collected from around the interwebs. They will most likely be Dixie-centric, but I reserve the right to wander off into French macarons should the mood strike.

So, without further adieu…

Southern Women by Allison Glock in Garden & Gun magazine reflects on the defining qualities of Dixie chicks with lines like: For my mother, being Southern means handwritten thank-you notes, using a rhino horn’s worth of salt in every recipe, and spending a minimum of twenty minutes a day in front of her makeup mirror so she can examine her beauty in “office,” “outdoor,” and “evening” illumination.

Sh%t Southern Women Say: I’d offer a description, but that pretty much sums it up.

In the interest of providing equal time for the estrogen-challenged folks, I invite y’all to check out Real Southern Men. The Best of RSM post is a great place to start.

Since no list of stuff I like is complete without at least one mention of food, feast your eyes on these treats from Chocolate, Chocolate and More. Yum!!

From Chocolate, Chocolate and More--Click for recipe.

Click pic for recipe.

Have y’all heard about The Southern C, the social network of the South? You can read all about it on the Southern Living blog or you could just take my word for it and join. Tons of great content about all things Dixie. I admit to being a little biased, seeing as I’m a featured contributor, but you’ll find all sorts of gems from fellow Southern bloggers, including Hope at Fairhope Supply Co. and Nealey at Dixie Caviar.

image001

In May, I’ll be at the Southern C Summit, and hope to see some of y’all there. Details below:

We are bringing together the best of the southern blogging community, businesses and brands for learning and networking opportunities. Our intimate niche gathering of southern creatives will offer rich content, conversation and collaboration all overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Jam-packed with educational sessions, panel discussions and keynote presentations from well-known southern names and social media leaders, attendees will learn useful take-away information and strategic ideas to implement immediately.

Be inspired by our speakers. Be inspired by one another. Share ideas. Sharpen your skills. Discover what works. Make connections. Form friendships.

To help promote the first annual summit we are having a photo contest on facebook and the prize is a free pass to the summit! Check it out- only 10 days left!

We are still offering early bird pricing so if you are interested in coming to the Golden Isles to learn how to elevate your blog or brand- register today!

What’s your favorite find of the week? Please do tell!

Photo credits: Awesome “Hey Y’all” sign available at SlippinSouthern’s Etsy Store; Chocolate dipped pecans by Chocolate, Chocolate, and More.

Rerun: 84. Mardi Gras (“Throw Me Something, Mister!”)

12 Feb

Throw me something, mister!

Laissez le bon temps rouler, y’all. At least until midnight tonight. You’d think that in the South Fat Tuesday wouldn’t be that big a deal. I mean, what distinguishes it from Fat Wednesday, Fat Thursday, or Fat Friday? In a word: beads.

Pop quiz: Which city hosted the first Mardi Gras celebration in North America? If you answered “New Orleans,” you are A. wrong and B. obviously not from Alabama. Yes, folks, the good people of Mobile, Alabama, got the party started years before New Orleans was even founded. They gave birth to the tradition, and then New Orleans came along and turned it into a juvenile delinquent with a substance abuse problem. Not that they’re bitter.

Is there any place more fun than New Orleans on Fat Tuesday? I think not. If your idea of fun includes being jostled by an unruly mob, having beer spilled on you (repeatedly), and groveling (or worse) for some cheap-ass plastic beads. For some, this is heaven. For others, it’s hell. For me, it’s a little of both. Yes, folks, I’m willing to dodge a little vomit in hopes of catching a doubloon. If anyone wants to trade one for the giant pair of granny panties I caught one time, please let me know.

The last time I celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I was in my 20s. If I were to do it again, I’d want a hotel room with a balcony. Not necessarily to avoid being trampled (though that’s a plus), but to have access to a bathroom that’s been sanitized for my protection. I would rather pee on the street than enter the ninth circle of hell better known as the porta-potty. Picture the poophouse scene in “Slumdog Millionaire.” Or don’t. I still have nightmares.

Ok, moving on. Did I mention there’s cake? And costumes? And beads? And cake?

It’s not particularly tasty cake. But there’s green and purple frosting. And a plastic baby inside. If you get the slice with the baby, you win a fabulous prize: you have to procure a King Cake and host the next party. Woo hoo! Who doesn’t enjoy providing pastry for a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells? I’m not sure what happens if you don’t follow through. Maybe Rumpelstilskin convinces your first-born child to run off and join the circus or take up with a bunch of proselytizing vegans.

Well, I should wrap this up before Ash Wednesday rolls around.

What’s the best thing you ever caught at Mardi Gras? No STD stories, please.

All photos from Flickr Creative Commons: Bead seekers by Philippe Leroyer, Mardi Gras Beads by Mike Bitzenhofer, and King Cake by Logan Brown.

114. Skiing (On Water, Not Land)

19 Oct

Here in the Pacific Northwest, when folks talk about skiing, they’re referring to a winter sport that requires equal parts money (for gear and lift tickets), physical fitness (strong thighs are a must), and an abundance of snow (natural or man-made). While it’s possible—but statistically not likely—for a Southerner to possess one or both of the first two components, having all three at once is about as rare as encountering al dente pasta below the Mason-Dixon.

For Southerners skiing is a summer pastime with relatively few requirements, namely skis and a rope. Of course, you will also need a boat. Oh, and a fair-sized body of water. But any Southerner within driving distance of water will surely know at least one person with a boat.

I don’t want to give y’all the impression that skiing is effortless and/or intuitive. Quite the contrary. Learning to transition from the awkward squatting-in-water position to the graceful exhilaration of skiing takes quite a bit of time, effort, practice, and most importantly humiliating failure (and the requisite mockery by friends that goes along with it). On the plus side, unlike snow skiing, there’s hardly ever any bruising, broken bones, or serious injuries but also, alas, no sympathy.

I’d go into more detail here about what all skiing entails, but it’s been so long, I can’t remember. Basically, you hold on to the rope for dear life and then try to stand up once the boat starts moving. If for any reason a tree comes between you and the boat, drop the rope immediately. I’m not sure why I thought to add that, but perhaps I have a repressed memory involving a skiing catastrophe.

If one prefers to hop right over the skiing learning curve (or perhaps I should say “wake”), I have two words for you: inner tube. All the fun of gliding across the water at top speed without the bothersome chore of standing up. I have also heard of an on-land version of this involving a makeshift sled tied to the trailer hitch of a pickup truck, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home. Again, anyway. This means you, Scott.

Me & Louie, back in the day…

When I was 5 or 6 years old, one of my favorite activities—besides riding a motorcycle with my brother Mike—was skiing with my brother Louie (but y’all should call him “Lewis”). I’d stand with my feet planted on his skiis as we flew on water across Hoover Lake. The best part was when he’d let go of the rope, and we’d slowly glide to a stop.

Whether I was behind a boat or on the back of a bike, I relished the thrill of the wind on my face and the rush of a speed I could not control. I was fearless then. Maybe because I didn’t understand the possible consequences or perhaps I trusted that my older brothers would always keep me safe. As the decades roll by, I’m often surprised to find myself clinging to caution with white knuckles. I like to think, though, that if given the opportunity, I’d let my 5-year-old self do it all over again. But only if she wore a life jacket/helmet.

Addendum: The other day, my dad told me that Mom was out on the lake skiing when she was six months pregnant with my little sister, Jenna. Dad said she’d asked her doctor who told her it would be “good exercise.” Know what else is good to exercise? Caution!

Do you also consider yourself lucky to have made it out of childhood in (mostly) one piece? Would you ever let your own kids live as dangerously as you did?

Photo credits: Water Skiing by Travis Wetzel, Flickr Creative Commons; Me & Louie, Holloway family archives.

112. Waving at Strangers in a Hospitable Manner

19 Sep

On my first date with Geoff, after dining at a former brothel and before my favorite jug band hit the stage at Sunset Tavern, we had time for a stroll along Ballard Ave. As we passed the window of a restaurant, we noticed a group of about 8 to 10 people waving at us most enthusiastically. I didn’t recognize anyone, nor did he, and eight years later we still haven’t a clue what that was about.

Of course, had said incident occurred in the South, I most likely wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Ok, perhaps a second, possibly a third, but definitely not a 37th (Who WERE those people? Oops! Make that 38th). Unlike eating tofu, waving is just one of those things Southerners do. It’s like we breeze through the “Wave bye-bye to mommy” stage and master “Wave hello to that guy mowing his lawn” before we can even walk.

I haven’t studied any data on the subject, but I believe the frequency of waving depends on the size of the town. The smaller the population, the greater one’s likelihood of becoming a wave-ee.

I’m not even counting:

• Waves of recognition from folks you know (because they usually skip right on past waving or handshakes and go straight for the hug).

• Waves from automobiles to indicate A. “Thanks for letting me in your lane, kind driver” or B. “Oops! Sorry, I’m a dumbass, not an asshole.” (Like when you almost plow into a pedestrian–theoretically, of course).

• Beauty Queen-style waves from parade floats. (There’s a mnemonic device for this, which starts with “Screw in a lightbulb, touch the pearls…” Sadly, I’ve forgotten the rest. Can anybody help me out?)

• Waves from anyone dressed as food, wearing a sandwich board, or holding a sign. Either they’re being paid or hoping to, preferred currency being cash or occasionally attention.

I’m talking about random acts of waving. Like when a lady planting an azalea in her yard or an elderly gent taking his daily stroll to the mailbox takes a moment to look up, smile, and offer a friendly wave. As if they’re saying, “Hello, fellow human, nice to share the planet with you.” Or else possibly they’re being swarmed by gnats or mosquitos. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

One night when I was in college, my friend Sandy and I were driving around aimlessly when we took up the notion to start waving at folks we passed in a vigorous, insistent way, not necessarily in a “Your left rear tire has burst into flames!” manner, but more along the lines of, “Elvis!! You’re alive!!” or “Hey, Ed McMahon, come on over to my doorstep!” Probably, those folks were just as perplexed as Geoff and I were following our walk-by waving incident. Come to think of it, perhaps all my former random wave recipients decided to hold a reunion in Seattle and turn the tables.

Anyhoo, if you happen to be in the South and find yourself on the receiving end of a seemingly random wave, the proper response is to smile and wave back. Just remember to use all your fingers.

How do you feel about exchanging hand gestures with strangers?

Photo credits: Adorable waving elf by GoodlookinVintage available here, Food Dude by yasa_, Flickr Creative Commons.

110. Dropping By Unannounced (Preferably Around Suppertime)

7 Sep

But how about some advanced warning next time…

Considering the millions of people who live in Seattle, I’m surprised how often I run into folks I know when I’m out and about. It always gives me the feeling that this metropolitan city is merely a small town with an overactive growth hormone. I know that it’s not a small Southern town, though, because these chance meetings usually occur at bookstores or restaurants and hardly ever at my very own doorstep. People here call first or, preferably, text.

Not so in the South. One must be prepared to welcome unexpected visitors at any time (or, in the alternative, hide under the bed till the knocking at the door subsides).

The other day, my dad mentioned that a friend from church intended to mail him a card but she couldn’t remember the address so she sent her husband over to hand-deliver it. Later that same afternoon, someone else dropped by to share an overabundance of home-grown tomatoes. (And may well have received a pile of figs in return.) That’s just how Southern people roll, y’all.

When I was growing up, our house was a popular location for the folks who happened to find themselves in the neighborhood. I should mention that “neighborhood” in the South could mean within a 100-mile radius. With no actual houses in between. It’s all relative.

Speaking of which, immediate family members tend to be the most frequent droppers by (and the most famished). I may have mentioned certain of my mom’s kinfolks who always stopped to spend the night en route from Texas to north Mississippi. Rarely was there advanced warning and they usually traveled in a pack of six to ten people. Fortunately, my mom—the self-appointed Sleeping Arrangements Organizer—always managed to designate a nocturnal resting place for everyone. (When Mom died and my siblings and I returned home, my sister said, “How are we supposed to know where everyone should sleep?”)

One of my family’s Frequently Told Stories involves my then-teenage brothers hosting a wild shindig while my parents were out of town. A couple of my mom’s sisters unwittingly crashed said party and the liquor had to be stashed right quicklike.

In the South, you just never know when someone will show up out of the blue, so it’s important to keep a clean house, stocked pantry, and company-friendly beverages. Also, you might want to put on something decent. Maybe not full makeup, but at the very least, pants. And if you have a pool, resist the urge to skinny dip (or as Southerners sometimes call it, “fat dip”) until after dark. Remember, your friends and relations are happy to keep you on the straight and narrow.

When I was a kid, I occasionally tagged along when my dad went “visiting.” This was before I acquired analytical skills and consequently did not understand how the sudden, unexpected presence of one’s preacher might put a damper on one’s Saturday afternoon. We always received a warm welcome, but surely more than once someone must’ve dashed to the kitchen to stash a few cold ones.

Despite what the U.S. Constitution says, Southerners have no expectation of privacy (reasonable or otherwise). You could string caution tape across the front yard to dissuade unannounced guests, but that would most likely just attract more look-y loos.

One of my favorite scenes from Friday Night Lights was when the coach and Tami arrive home and discover Buddy Garrity waiting in their driveway. Tami fumes, “WTF is smarmy-ass Buddy Garrity doing in our driveway?!” (I’m paraphrasing.) Then without missing a beat, she gets out of the car and says (sweet as iced tea), “Oh HEY, Buddy! Come on in!”

And, no, I’m not signing your petition…

Here in Seattle, we have a politely worded sign to dissuade solicitors from knocking and/or littering our door with propaganda. It doesn’t say that folks we KNOW ought not summon us unexpectedly, but that’s implied. I can’t recall ever encountering such a sign in the South or a Southerner who wouldn’t think the request A. sort of rude (despite the “please” and “thank you”) and/or B. not applicable to them.

A little more than a decade ago, I took up the notion to “get back to my roots” (which lasted all of four months). I formulated and executed my moving plans quite hastily and hadn’t informed many folks. During the last dozen or so miles of my journey from Seattle to Florence, MS, I decided to pop in and visit one of my oldest and dearest friends. When Sandy opened the door, I said, “Hey! I’m living here again now!” She gave me a huge hug and invited me right in. That’s how I knew I was home.

What do you think about random acts of visitation? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Y’all Come Back sign by Frolic ‘n Friends available here, I’m Already Disturbed sign by Off the Wall Painting available here.

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