Tag Archives: family

Rerun: 2. Deep Freezers–Like Closets, But Colder

7 Jun

freezer ad

While I’m on the subject of appliances Southerners can’t live without…

Everybody I know in the South has a deep freeze. Everybody. Care to guess how many deep freezers I’ve seen between here and L.A.? Yep, that would be none.

So why do Southern folks love deep freezers? Frankly, I don’t really know. I could speculate that they need the extra room to store a hunting season’s worth of venison, but more often, they’re packed with Kid’s Cuisines and Costco bags of chicken breasts. Oh, and ice. You can always use an extra bag or two of ice. Never know when the gas station up the road will run out. And then how will you make margaritas?

My sister asked me a few years back why I didn’t have a deep freezer. I believe I was living in a basement apartment at the time, so I figured the answer was obvious. Anyhow, like the Albert Brooks character in “Mother,” I am of the belief that not everything belongs in the freezer, which is why they make it smaller.

Fast forward a few years to the day I noticed our freezer was on the blink. First hint? Soft-serve ice cream. Geoff and I took a field trip to Lowes and Home Depot in search of a replacement. After great debate (well, not exactly Lincoln and Douglas, but still) we settled on a top-freezer Frigidaire with an Energy Star rating. Imagine my surprise when we got it home and I noticed that the freezer compartment was considerably smaller than our previous model. I must admit, I have begun to reconsider my position on deep freezers.

The other day, as I was attempting to wedge a Costco bag of pecans into the freezer door shelf, I made the executive decision to banish Geoff’s square egg maker (don’t ask) and stainless steel pitcher to the countertop. Upon noticing his exiled stuff, Geoff picked up the pitcher and said, “This is the foamer for my espresso machine.”

WHAT?

“You mean,” I say, “The espresso machine that’s been in the basement since we moved in? I’ve been working around this thing for FIVE YEARS?”

Indeed. And he’d been working around it in his old freezer for countless years before that.

So then I proceed to look for more dead weight in the freezer. I hold up one of those cold pack thingies and say, “What about this? Do you use this?”

“That came with the refrigerator,” he says.

I reckon once I finish tossing the useless crap, I won’t need a deep freeze after all.

What all do you keep in your deep freeze? Could you live without it or even want to?

Update: For the better part of the last year, I’ve been lobbying for a deep freeze. I really need more real estate for storing cookie dough, French macarons, and buttercream frosting. Not to mention the ginormous freezer bowl for the KitchenAid ice cream maker. Oh and all the ice cream and sorbet made in it. Besides which, I’ve been meaning to get around to trying my hand at freezer jam with the overabundance of plums from our backyard tree…Geoff is of the opinion that I need not stockpile frozen treats. I agree; I don’t need to. But I WANT to! Show of hands, who thinks I should get one?

Photo credits: GE Freezer by Deluxx, Flickr Creative Commons.

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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.

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.

123. Making Things Personal in a Decorative Fashion

28 Feb

k pillowIn the South, if you leave a tote bag, towel, or drinking glass unattended for too long, someone’s liable to come along and embellish it with initials. (The Pacific Northwest equivalent is to “put a bird on it.”)

If there’s anything Southerners like better than the sound of our own voices, it’s the sight of our own initials. How else do you explain the obsessive compulsion to monogram everything from pillow cases to table cloths, not to mention all the jewelry and clothing in between. If anyone can figure out a convenient way to etch initials into casserole dishes, I will buy plenty of shares when your company goes public.

In an effort to provide y’all a little background on the tradition, I took a quick stroll around the Internet and got so overwhelmed I had to sit down and rest a spell. Monogramming is a topic far too broad to tackle in a single blog post, so I’ll just tell y’all what I know about it and encourage you to explore the subject on your own. Google will direct you where to go.

il_570xN.418700762_10crFrom as far back as anyone alive can remember, Southerners have embellished household treasures like silverware, linens, and crystal with the family’s initials. Using a single initial to represent one’s surname would be easiest, but then there wouldn’t be much to argue about. Consequently, most monograms expand to include three initials. The question becomes: “whose?”

Frankly my dears, I haven’t a clue. So many variations exist, it makes one long for the days when swooning was fashionable. Often, monograms consist of two smaller initials flanking the left and right side of a larger letter. For single folks, the formula is pretty simple: small letter on left represents an individual’s first name, large letter in center represents the surname, and small letter on right represents the middle name. (Now that I think of it, you hardly ever see “Jr.” as part of a monogram, so I don’t know how men from consecutive generations know whose personalized camo hat is whose.)

Get your own beer, Bubba!

Get your own beer, Bubba!

Marriage complicates things, including monograms. Folks start asking, “Is what’s mine A. Mine, B. Yours, or C. Ours?” When it comes to whose initials go on what and in which order, opinions vary. Shocker, I know…

These days when Southern brides register for linens, cutlery, and the like, they often opt for a joint monogram featuring the couple’s soon-to-be surname in the center, flanked by his and her first initials. Some say the husband’s initial gets top billing; others say that honor goes to the wife. I imagine at least a handful of engagements flame out before the registry is finalized. In the interest of fairness, I recommend tossing a coin or playing “rock, paper, scissors.” Or why not mix it up–he gets towels, she gets pillowcases.

I don't just make this stuff up...

I don’t just make this stuff up…

For personal items like hair bows (seriously, y’all) or golf club covers, stick with individual monograms. Like peeing standing up, selecting a monogram is much easier for a man, seeing as his initials rarely change. For married women, the question becomes: should the initial right of center represent one’s maiden name or middle name? Decisions, decisions.

You may be wondering: “What about folks with hyphenated surnames?” Well, y’all, correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine folks who hyphenate surnames aren’t exactly the monogramming type.

At the risk of losing some of my Southern cred, I must admit that I, myself, have never developed a taste for monogramming. I did once buy a purse with a “K” on it, but that’s about it. I’m far more inclined toward objects featuring words, such as a vase that says “bloom” or a pet bowl that says “drink.” And, yes, I realize that flowers and cats aren’t exactly known for their reading comprehension skills…

Apart from the occasional piece of jewelry, my mom wasn’t much of a monogrammer either, with one notable exception: sunglasses. Ever since I can remember (and probably before), my mom liked her sunglasses large and monogrammed. While she liked to be stylish as the next person (or more, if we’re being honest), she never could bear to compromise when smaller frames became de rigueur. She had me always on the lookout for generously sized lenses suitable for the task at hand. For a while this search was about as fruitless as my current quest to purchase jeans of any type other than “skinny.” (Attention merchants: Not all of us are!)

Rockin' Mom's sunglasses

Rockin’ Mom’s sunglasses

Of course, the summer after she died, every store on the planet stocked ginormous sunglasses, each pair larger than the next. Thanks, fashion industry, for that extra dash of salt.

My dad, ever on the hunt for a bargain, once happened across an incredible deal on a wool sweater from a fancy menswear store. Sure, it had someone else’s monogram on it, but my dad is nothing if not resourceful. This was back in the 80’s when Izod was all the rage, so he simply repurposed a lizard from a pair of socks and stitched it over the erroneous initials. Problem solved.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen monogrammed? Do you like adding your initials to stuff? If so, what?

Photo Credits: K pillow available at the HAWthorne Etsy shop; vintage-inspired napkins available at the KristinesEmbroidery Etsy shop; monogram hair bow available at the LittleGoodieTutus Etsy shop; me in sunglasses courtesy of Holloway family archives.

120. Cream Corn, Not Just for Folks Lacking Teeth

30 Jan

5950519991_9ae46e4c4e_mOf all the ways there are to enjoy corn–on the cob, popped, niblets, batter for frying or even sweetener for Cokes (any flavor)–I think the most under-appreciated outside the South would have to be cream corn.

Makes sense, seeing as it looks like something one would expect to find in a hospital cafeteria or airplane sick bag. I’ll be the first to admit that cream corn isn’t about to win any food porn pageant. It’s sort of what I pictured when those Little Rascals kids whined about the “mush” they had to eat. It is, after all, mushed up corn.

Knew how to make some mean mush...

Knew how to make some mean mush…

mush recipe

Imagine my surprise when I bought a book from 1903, which included recipes for mush that didn’t look half bad. This confirmed my suspicion that Spanky, Darla and the gang were a bunch of drama queens.

Now where were we? Oh, yes, cream corn.

Up until just a few years ago, I gave cream corn a wide berth. It’s not something I’d have deliberately chosen to consume and if a blob of it accidentally landed on my plate, I’d try to discretely eat around it. I can’t recall exactly when my opinion changed, but it must have been a holiday meal with my family wherein nobody went to the trouble to make my sister-in-law Karen’s amazing corn casserole. Instead, there was cream corn. Reluctantly, I sampled a bite. Then promptly went back for a second helping.

Since when was cream corn not only edible, but–dare I say–tasty?

As it turned out, this particular cream corn had never seen the inside of a tin can. Instead, it came from the freezer section in a tube reminiscent of the sort used for Pillsbury heat-up cookies. (Not the official name, but y’all know what I’m talking about.)

After returning to Seattle, I sought to recreate that creamy, corny goodness. Alas, the only frozen corn was on the cob, niblets, or popsicles (high-fructose corn syrup strikes again). One time, I got desperate and bought a can of the stuff. I cannot NOT recommend this tactic highly enough. Just say no, folks.

No, thank you...

No, thank you…

Then lo and behold, cream corn made an appearance on the menu of 5 Spot. Having been burned by Seattle’s interpretation of Southern food on seventeen too many occasions, I was dubious (but also, as I mentioned, desperate). So I ordered it. And y’all, it was awesome. Yes, I’m still talking about cream corn.

Another time I got it as a side at a BBQ joint I frequent, and it was even better. Hooray! Maybe Seattle chefs were finally beginning to embrace some classic Southern preparations without tossing in random extras like mushrooms, peppers, or kale.

Except.

The regional menu at 5 Spot changes every quarter and when I went back to the BBQ place some months later, I was informed that cream corn is seasonal. Really? Well, yes, I realize that corn is seasonal. But also, really? I mean, tomatoes are seasonal, but that doesn’t prevent Italian restaurants or pizza places from being open year-round.

Just add butter!!

Just add butter!!

When I was home for Christmas in 2011, I saw my sister making cream corn and discovered that the frozen stuff isn’t the holy grail after all. What makes it good is the stick of butter she melted into it. Oh. My. I guess I should have figured out that cream corn contains, well, cream. But who knew?

Armed with this ammo, I set out to make myself some cream corn from scratch last year. By “scratch” I mean frozen niblets since the corn season in Seattle lasts about five minutes. In a word, yum! I used this recipe as a guideline, but tinkered with the ingredients to taste, so your results may vary.

Last September in MS, I made a version of the recipe using fresh corn with the help of my 8-year-old nephew, Jackson, and he liked it so much that he saved it to eat last at dinner. (High praise amongst our clan!)

Just in case I don’t write about corn again anytime soon, I have to share my favorite corn-related anecdote:

My dad hates corn. Always has. He will not eat the stuff, even if it’s disguised as a “casserole” loaded up with cheese and saffron rice. (Although he loves corn bread, so go figure.) If I recall correctly, his rationale is that corn is what one feeds to pigs, and he can’t stomach the idea of eating pig food. He will, however, happily eat actual pigs.

One day, he was eating my sister’s homemade soup and said, “I sure do like these crunchy water chestnuts.”

Jenna said, “Uh, Dad, that’s corn.”

Delusion–the ultimate flavor enhancer.

Do you like creamed corn? What’s your favorite recipe?

Photo credits: Cream corn by Shutterbean, Flickr Creative Commons; “The Perfect Woman” book cover and oatmeal mush recipe snapped by yours truly.

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