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133. Cornbread Dressing, Because Stuffing is for the Birds

26 Nov

One of Southern Living's "83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides" Click for recipes.

One of Southern Living’s “83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides” Click for recipes.

First off, I must clarify that we’re not talking about stuffing. Most Southerners can’t be bothered to actually stuff a turkey; we’re far too busy stuffing ourselves. Besides which, everybody knows the turkey cannot possibly hold enough stuffing to go around. Unless said turkey were roughly the size of one of those balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And then it wouldn’t fit in the oven.

The major difference between dressing and stuffing is the main ingredient. One features crumbled cornbread, the other cubed white bread. Also, dressing tends to be moist and delicious, whereas stuffing is less so. Plus, stuffing has been known to contain all manner of non-essential add ins: Dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, mushrooms, root vegetables, and even kale.

The list of ingredients for cornbread dressing is blessedly short: cornbread, eggs, stock, onions (and maybe celery), and salt and pepper. Some folks add in sage, but my mom hated it nearly as much as All Things Tacky, so our dressing was always sans sage.

Southerners along the Gulf Coast often add oysters in the mix. I’m not sure how my Delta-raised mother latched on to this tradition, but for years she made half and half oyster and regular. Which would have been fine if half the family liked oyster dressing. Alas, only two out of eight or so did.

gobble gobble napkinsBut then Hallelujah! My sister-in-law Kay took over the dressing one year and introduced us to duck, which upped the deliciousness factor by roughly 1000%. Nary an oyster ever darkened our dressing again.

I should warn y’all that dealing with duck can be a pain in the ass, not to mention the fingers (from trying to pull hot duck off the bone due to a failure to plan ahead). The depth of flavor and level of moistness the bird adds is worth the extra effort. Especially if you’re not actually participating in the preparation.

Since I spend most Thanksgivings in Seattle, I have resigned myself to eating stuffing. Folks here don’t understand the true nature of cornbread. If they attempted to make dressing with sugary Yankee pone, they’d end up with dessert. Which, now that I think about it, might not be such a terrible idea. Especially if they threw in the fruit and nuts.

Several years ago, I rejoiced upon learning that an expat Southern couple would be providing the dressing for a Thanksgiving gathering. Between the creamy mashed potatoes and the authentic cornbread dressing, Chad and Leah made me think for just a moment that I was home for the holidays. Alas, they’ve moved to Asheville, and I’ve been stuck with stuffing ever since.

give thanksIn case you are wondering why I don’t volunteer to bring the dressing, it’s because I made the mistake of introducing Seattle folks to green bean bundles. Now they’ve become my price of admission to all Thanksgiving gatherings. These fussy sweet and savory bundles are only slightly less challenging than dealing with duck. If I tried to make both dishes, I’d never have the energy for shopping on Black Friday.

As the holiday approaches, I’m thankful to be part of a family whose love eclipses distance and time zones, and for my “family” here who make Seattle home.

Also, I’m thankful to Kay Holloway for sharing her recipe so I can pass it along to y’all.

Kay’s Duckalicious Cornbread Dressing

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

For the cornbread:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal mix
1/2 cup flour self rising
2 eggs well beaten
Enough buttermilk to pour it in the skillet
Pinch of salt
Tablespoon of sugar
Finely choped onions (don’t tell Jenna)
Finely chopped celery

Add some butter to a baking dish and preheat in a 400-degree oven. Mix all of the above ingredients, pour into heated pan and bake till golden brown (25 minutes?).

For the dressing:
One duck, thawed
A few boiled eggs, chopped
Lots of butter
Seasonings to taste

Boil Duck, debone, and save broth. When cornbread is cool, add duck meat, chopped boiled eggs, pinch of sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble well with hands, add duck broth and stir until well mixed. Put pats of butter at intervals and bake @ 350 till browned. Add duck broth if it gets too dry and stir. (Lots of real butter and greasy duck broth.) My note: If you’re making a pre-smoked Butterball as I am wont to do, cook the bird on top of the dressing, so the juices seep into it. Also, I had no idea Kay added a pinch of sage to the dressing. Thankfully, Mom never noticed.

Kay says: I usually make 2 or 3 containers of the cornbread to have plenty for the dressing. Never had too much, of course Mike and the kids would pass through the kitchen and nibble on it. It’s actually good with the tiny celery and onions in it! Comfort food tastes way better when someone you care about “fixes” it!

What’s your favorite holiday comfort food? And what do you like in your dressing? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Cornbread dressing and 82 other recipes from Southern Living; Gobble Gobble Napkins available from WhiteTulipEmbroidery at Etsy; and Give Thanks Pumpkins from SkyeArt at Etsy.

Rerun 68: Funeral Food–Love in a Casserole Dish

10 Jul

mikeWhen I packed up my car and moved away from the South nearly 20 years ago, my brother said “Don’t forget your raisings!” And thanks in part to his constant reminders, I haven’t. A month ago today, Mike Holloway passed away in his sleep. I’m sharing this post in honor of him.

Most Southern ladies of a certain age keep at least one casserole in the deep freeze at all times. You never know when somebody will up and die, so it’s best to be prepared. However, if you’re momentarily casserole-less, not to worry: grieving Southerners always welcome fried chicken, even if it’s store-bought. I’d like to put in a plug for one (or more) of those chicken nugget platters from Chick-fil-A (unless somebody dies on Sunday, when all the Chick-fil-As are closed). I’m still grateful to the kind soul who delivered one of those when my mom died.

Photo by softestthing
Flickr Creative Commons

I should mention that funeral food isn’t actually served at the funeral. You bring it to the home of the deceased so the grieving family members and the people who drop by to pay their respects have something to eat. When Southerners lose a loved one, they rarely lose their appetite, but almost always lose the desire to cook.

Of course, you needn’t only bring savory sustenance. Sweets are an essential part of a Southern mourner’s diet. And for the love of all that’s holy, do not make funeral sweets with Splenda, people! Grief and dieting go together like…like…ok, they just don’t go together AT ALL.

Photo by Chris and Jenni
Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to bring over some meat-flavored vegetables, that’s great. But a salad probably isn’t your best bet. No, not even a congealed “salad.” Especially if the recently departed had been hospitalized for any length of time before their departure. Nobody wants to be reminded of institutional gelatin, even in the best of times.

In case you’re in a quandary about what to bring, consult this handy guide:

Banana pudding: YES!
Photo by Jason Meredith
Flickr Creative Commons

Great Southern Funeral Food:
Casseroles (anything made with cream of something soup is most welcome)
Deep fried anything
Chicken ‘n dumplings
BBQ
Lasagna
Potatoes (preferably mashed or au gratin)
Homemade mac ‘n cheese
Bread
Ham (spiral sliced preferred, but not required)
Chili or hearty soup (Not chicken noodle; no one’s getting better anytime soon…)
Deviled eggs
Homemade sweets of any kind (remember, no Splenda!)

Suitable Southern Funeral Food
Cold cuts and sandwich fixings
Egg/potato/chicken/pasta salad
Store-bought sweets (think Sara Lee, not Little Debbie)
Ice cream

Crudité: NO! P.S. Where's the dip??
Photo by Robyn Lee
Flickr Creative Commons

Ill-advised Southern Funeral Food
Green salad
Crudité platter
Fruit basket
Low-cal frozen entreés
Tofu of any variety
Chewing gum

If you can’t get over to the home of the deceased right away, don’t despair. In fact, I’d recommend avoiding the rush and swinging by with snacks a few days later. Trust me, the bereaved will appreciate a fresh supply of comfort food.

When my mom died, I can’t remember eating much else but cold fried chicken and some kind of cake (caramel, maybe?). But I do remember my relief at not having to think about fixing something to eat. While food isn’t a panacea for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain.

What’s your all-time favorite funeral food? And do you have a casserole in your freezer right now?

Rerun: 17. Air Conditioning–Don’t Stay Home in June Without It!

5 Jun

"Air conditioned" -- a key selling point in Texas! Dixie Motel's vintage neon sign. In Brenham, Texas.Well, folks, I’m back in Seattle, but thought I’d share a few more old posts regarding some of my favorite Southern things. Depending on the time of year, air conditioning ranks in the top 10.

Friends and family back home are shocked to hear that I (along with most folks and businesses in Seattle) do not have air conditioning. The horror! The horror!

The thing is, Seattle gets unbearably hot for about two or three days a year, but in many parts of the South, the heat starts up in April and sticks around till October. (One of the reasons I love the state fair so much is that it almost always marks the transition into cooler temperatures. Hence the term “fair weather.”)

I am truly a child of the late 20th century and cannot even fathom how folks in the South could tolerate summers without air conditioning. Wearing hoop skirts and petticoats! Heck, I can’t even fathom how folks today go outside in business suits and/or pantyhose anytime after May. (A good argument for self-employment if I’ve ever heard one.)

Southern folks are not known for moving at a particularly rapid pace, but perhaps you’ve never seen them in the summer. It’s always a mad dash from the comfort of an air-conditioned car to the safety of an air-conditioned house. And by “safety” I mean safety. People die out there in the heat. Or wish they would.

One summer I was at my parents’ house when the air conditioner went on the blink. Within minutes, my mom and I were packed and headed to the family’s cabin on the Pearl River. Normally, I wouldn’t be all that enthused about spending time in the cabin, but that day we couldn’t get there quickly enough.

For the first few hours there, my mom and I lay on the bed underneath the air conditioner reveling in the glory of an icy cool breeze. I only wish I’d known at the time how precious that moment was. I’d be willing to endure any number of summers in the South if my mom were there with me. I’d love to hear her just one more time say, “It’s hotter than HELL!” (pronounced “Hey-You’ll.”)

Update: During my tour of the South, some places had beautiful weather (Savannah, Knoxville), some were cool and drizzly (Oxford, MS; Charleston, SC), and one featured what could only have been a tropical storm (Jekyll Island). During the last week of my visit, MS was exactly the way I remembered: HOT! Also, HUMID. While I was complaining about temperatures reaching upwards of 90 degrees, folks back home reminded me “It’s not even HOT yet!” Oh. My. I truly have acclimated to the milder climate here in the Pacific Northwest. For me, visiting MS in August would be like strolling across the surface of the sun, while wearing a parka. I’m a wimp, y’all.

How do you cope with the heat? I, myself, will admit to eating far too many shaved ice treats (complete with sweetened condensed milk) from the Snow Biz stand in Brandon. We don’t have anything like that here in Seattle (that I know of) which is probably a good thing…

Rerun–66. (Not to be confused with 666): Deviled Eggs

29 Mar

Photo by Debbie R
Flickr Creative Commons

One day when my sister and I were in an antique store, she picked up a deviled egg plate and said, “Since I’m Southern, I probably should have one of these.” Alas, neither of us purchased one. Fast forward 20 years: I spot a nice glass deviled egg plate at Goodwill for $5. But did I buy it? Oh, no, I did not. Then a couple of weeks later I run across that SAME glass deviled egg plate at an antique store and they wanted $50 for it.

Right now you are probably thinking that I spend far too much time rooting through people’s old stuff. And I haven’t even mentioned my new estate sale obsession…But I digress…

I never actually tried a deviled egg until I was well into my thirties. I grew up Southern Baptist, for whom eating Satanic snack food is a sin almost on par with dancing. Ok, I made that up. Baptists eat heaps of deviled eggs (especially around Easter). But the sinful dancing part is true, in case y’all missed “Footloose.”

Why are these eggs brown around the edges? Because they're actually cookies! Photo by distopiandreamgirl
Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve kind of always had an aversion to yolks, and the only way I would eat eggs was scrambled until… My fellow Southern expats, Chad (Tennessee) and Leah (Georgia) had a brunch one Easter and there was (of course) a tray of deviled eggs. People seemed to be enjoying them immensely, and I started to feel left out – actually, the “left out” feeling began when the conversation turned to triathlons. Anyhow, I tried one. And another. And another. “Deviled eggs!” I thought. “Where have you been all my life?” Deviled eggs: “Duh! Only every gathering you’ve ever been to in the South.”

I was an immediate convert, an evangelist even. I probably went through a whole carton of deviled eggs before the novelty wore off or the cholesterol shot up. These days, I don’t make them at home much, but am always delighted to happen upon them out in the wild.

So far, I haven’t found any that tasted as heavenly as Leah’s. But I’ve used Paula Deen’s recipe, which is a pretty good approximation.

Now if only I could find a suitable deviled egg plate on which to serve them…

Paula Deen’s Traditional Southern Deviled Eggs

Ingredients
7 large eggs, hard boiled and peeled
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ TBSP pickle relish (Paula specifies sweet; I prefer dill.)
1 tsp yellow mustard (French’s style, not fancy pants Gray Poupon)
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika, sweet gherkin, or pimentos for garnishing (optional)

Directions
Halve 7 eggs lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl.
Mash yolks with a fork and stir in mayonnaise, pickle relish, and mustard. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Fill egg whites evenly with yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika, pickles and pimentos. Store covered in refrigerator.

Do you have a favorite deviled egg recipe? Please share!

Update: Last time I was in MS, I snagged my mom’s deviled egg plate. I’ll use it for the first time this Sunday at my friend Linda’s Easter brunch. Yay. This time around, though, I’m skipping the relish and adding bacon.

127. Pilgrimage–Not Just for Pilgrims Anymore

28 Mar

Shadowlawn, Columbus, MS (c. 1848)

Shadowlawn, Columbus, MS (c. 1848)

Yes, folks, Tara may be gone with the wind (or more accurately, fire), but throughout the South you’ll find many a pre-war home still standing. Judging by the variety of coffee-table books and Pinterest boards on the subject, folks really enjoy looking at these not-so-humble abodes. But what’s better than ogling photos or casting admiring glances from across the street? Why, being invited inside, of course! For a fee, but still.

During a spring pilgrimage, Southerners travel from far and wide for the opportunity to stroll the gardens and peek under the dust ruffles of these stately mansions. In all my years living in Mississippi, I can only recall taking a tour once, during which I was shown a “secret” dresser drawer wherein treasures could be stashed. I recall thinking, “Hey, my mom’s dresser has one of those!” Of course, one would be disappointed to discover that the “treasure” in Mom’s secret drawer consisted of birthday cards, old letters, and memorabilia. Her actual treasures? Well, she stored her jewelry in Band-Aid boxes tucked away deep in the cabinets. Sometimes hidden so well, she couldn’t find it herself.

For my mom’s side of the family, the pilgrimage was a time to bust out the hoop skirts and tricorn hats and put on a show. I inherited my fondness for all things fancy from the Lucas’. Two of my mom’s siblings were antique dealers and almost all the rest were regular customers. Every family reunion had a touch of the estate sale feel. But with more casseroles and cake.

Mom and Jenna (post nap)

Mom and Jenna (post nap)

For many years, my aunt Clara’s home Shadowlawn was part of the Columbus, Mississippi, pilgrimage tour, so naturally we were, too. My sister and I stood on the front lawn greeting visitors with a smile, wave, and perhaps an occasional “Welcome, y’all!” Each of my mom’s siblings would be assigned a room and provided with talking points along the lines of “the antique Victorian half tester bed” or “this vahse…” (never “vase,” always “vahse”).

I’m not ashamed to tell y’all that one of the highlights of my pilgrimage career was being promoted from lawn duty to room guide, and not just because the indoors had air conditioning. I can’t recall many of the room’s furnishing, but I’m certain there was an antique washstand (like the one we had at home) and at least one “vahse.”

During one particularly taxing day when my sister was around four or five, she climbed up on one of the beds and proceeded to nap. As the story goes, more than one tour taker was startled when Jenna moved saying, “I thought she was a DOLL!” Clearly, they do not know my sister like I do.

Me, dreaming of glass doorknobs...

Me, dreaming of glass doorknobs…

Between pilgrimages and July 4th family reunions, I spent a lot of time exploring Shadowlawn, from the room ‘o dolls from around the world to the exotic taxidermy collection. Once, I even spent three days locked inside a downstairs bathroom. (Ok, it might’ve been half an hour, but I’ve adjusted for kid time.) While I was in there, I admired the doll whose crocheted skirt doubled as a toilet paper cover. We never had one of those. On account of “they’re tacky.” Beside our toilet? A replica of Rodin’s statue “The Thinker.”

One of my favorite things about Shadowlawn was the glass doorknobs. As a kid, I told myself that one day I would live in a house with glass doorknobs. And now I do. My walnut vanity has not one but two hidden drawers. But I’ll most likely never own a vessel worthy of being called a “vahse.” Keeping it real, y’all.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

As I write this, more than two decades since my last visit to Columbus, I wish I had paid more attention as a kid. I wish I’d appreciated the opportunity for such a pilgrimage. These days, Shadowlawn is a bed and breakfast, so I could go back if I wanted to. But now that Mom and most of her brothers and sisters are gone, it just wouldn’t be a pilgrimage.

In case you’re curious, it’s Spring Pilgrimage time in Mississippi. The Natchez Pilgrimage continues through April 9th and the Columbus Pilgrimage runs March 31 through April 13.

Have you toured an antebellum home? What did you think? Please do tell.

125. Graceland, Where the King Died on His Throne

7 Mar

gracelandOf all the Mississippi natives who’ve reached the first-name-only level of fame, I daresay that Elvis tops the charts for Most Interesting Residence. I reckon Oprah’s place is none-too-shabby, but I wouldn’t know, seeing as I’ve yet to snag an invite. (Sorry, Mr. Grisham, I know your admirers are legion, but the media’s not about to start referring to you as “John.” I mean, even Mr. Lennon never made it to single-first-name status and his band was more popular than Jesus. Except in the South. Where there’s two things you don’t mess with: Texas and Jesus.)

You know you want one...

You know you want one…

During my sojourns in Memphis, I’d passed Graceland a time or two before stopping in for a visit. I always thought they’d open up the gates and let me drive right on in. They. Do. Not. Instead, you park across the street and go into the souvenir shop to purchase tickets. After you’ve had sufficient time to examine all the trinkets at least twice, you’re transported to mansion in the manner of a herd of cattle, if they would fit on a shuttle bus.

But once you arrive at the mansion and pass the threshold, WOW, it all looks so…normal. Yes, that white couch probably seats about 17 folks (20 if you scooch in), but it’s not bejeweled in any way. Plus, I was kinda hoping for a disco ball or two.

billiard roomNow the billiard room is impressive in that it’s the only place I’ve ever seen where the fabric on the couch matches the fabric on the walls and the ceiling. They had the pool table roped off with a sign saying Please Do Not Touch. However, if you do, it’s not like you’ll be shocked, tasered, or anything. Probably. I’m just speculating.

Next up: the infamous Jungle Room. I always thought the furniture was custom made for The King. Turns out he bought the whole kit and caboodle from a furniture store’s showroom. Everything from the primitively carved, fur-covered furniture to the green shag carpeting (on floor and ceiling) was already constructed and just waiting for some rich guy with crazy-ass taste to come in and buy it. Voila! Elvis! For an extra special treat, check out this 360° view of the jungle room from the official Elvis site. jungle room closeup

I loved how his bar/lounge featured a wall of TVs like you’d find at Best Buy. The arrangement on the wall, I mean, not the TVs. They’re the sort you might find at Goodwill, seeing as they were made in the 70’s. If Elvis IS alive, I’m sure he has a top-notch media room. With a ginormous couch. Apparently, he had a thing for huge couches. Also, the color yellow.

Not pictured: Eternal flame.

Not pictured: Eternal flame.

I think these days they might let you go upstairs, but that whole part was roped off, so I don’t have much more to report. There were other rooms, but none that left an impression. They let you go outside and look at his grave, where there’s an eternal flame burning to keep his spirit alive. Not sure how it fares in the rain, but I reckon it’s the thought that counts.

There’s also a museum where you can see some of his outfits and other ephemera. It costs extra to check out his cars and airplanes, so I didn’t.

Finally, the shuttle bus takes you back to the souvenir shop parking lot so you can retrieve your car and drive off into the sunset. Unless, perhaps, you’ll like to take a final stroll through all the Elvis paraphenalia…No? Ok then.

Have you been to Graceland? What’d you think of it? Please do tell.

And now, I’ll let Paul Simon sing us out:

Photo Credits: Graceland Mansion and Billiard Room by Danube66, Flickr Creative Commons; Jungle Room by NoirDame, Flickr Creative Commons; Elvis’ grave by Su_Anna, Flickr Creative Commons.

Friday Favorites: Stuff I, Myself, Like

1 Mar

3744467338_cfe206a34b_mWeek 2: so far, so good!

Here’s my roundup:

Hope over at the Fairhope Supply Co. shares 23 Southern sayings she overheard during the course of one week, including “Does this camo come in pink?” and “She didn’t even bother to put the KFC on her own plate.” Enjoy!

I used a couple of Nick Russell’s amazing photos to illustrate my post on Faulkner a way long time ago. If you’ve never had the opportunity to explore Rowan Oak for yourself, these pics will take you there. Almost as good as sneaking past the barriers to get a closer look for yourself. Almost…

The writing's on the wall at Faulkner's house.

The writing’s on the wall at Faulkner’s house.

Click for recipe. Note: Site takes a moment to load, so be patient.

Click for recipe. Note: Site takes a moment to load, so be patient.

Planning a culinary excursion around the South anytime soon? Don’t leave home without Garden & Gun’s handy guide to the best eats. Sure, it’s incomplete at only 50, but even a list of 500 would be, so…

If you’re in more of a DIY Southern food mood, check out Something Swanky’s recipe for Pecan Pie Bread Pudding. It’ll definitely be the next version I try. Also, this is my new favorite spot for ogling food. Added bonus for putting “swanky” in the blog name!

And finally, for anyone who’s ever had a cat that loves boxes:

Hope you have a splendid (and swanky) weekend!

Photo credits: Howdy sign by KeddyO, Flickr Creative Commons; Faulkner’s writing on the wall by Nick Russell; Pecan Pie Bread Pudding (drool…) by Something Swanky.

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