Tag Archives: life

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.

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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

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.

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.

122. Bread Pudding, the Kind You Eat With a Spoon

26 Feb

Two Sister's Prize-winning Bread Pudding

Two Sister’s Kitchen Prize-winning Bread Pudding

On my last trip to MS, I enjoyed something I hadn’t had since forever (or a few days shy of it anyhow): bread pudding. Ok, I should qualify this by saying that have tasted quite a few menu items called bread pudding, but here in the Pacific Northwest, emphasis is on the bread, while pudding is an afterthought. Sure, the name leads off with “bread” and said ingredient comprises most of the dish, but in my mind pudding trumps bread every time. Although to be fair, bread should be considered a high card in my Richard Simmons Deal-a-Meal deck. Anyone remember those?

Attention restauranteurs: If a dish requires a fork–or worse yet, a knife–for successful consumption, it ought not be called a pudding. Unless one is British and in the habit of calling any and all sweet endings to a meal “pudding.” Yep, Gordon Ramsay, I’m giving you a pass, even though I’m still holding a grudge about how you made gnocchi look so simple to make on one of your TV shows. It. Is. Not! But I digress…

Based on my traumatic experiences with red velvet cake around these parts, I realize I’d be better off avoiding any semblance of bread pudding here, but that’s nigh impossible. Like Sam in Quantum Leap, I keep ordering the stuff hoping each time that the next bread pudding will be the metaphorical “leap home.”

I can’t tell y’all how many times I’ve succumbed to the siren song of a delectable-sounding dessert listing only to be served a slice of chewy so-called bread pudding. Yes, folks, a slice! I’ll happily devour slices of cake, pie, tarts and, of course, bread. But if there’s any way to slice it, pudding isn’t pudding.

Delicious? Probably. Pudding? Not so much.

Delicious? Probably. Pudding? Not so much.

As soon as I caught a glimpse of the bread pudding at Two Sister’s Kitchen in Jackson, MS, I knew I’d have to pace myself. While I would’ve loved to dig in to more crispy, crunchy fried okra and scrumptious salty biscuits, I managed to save room for the bread pudding. It was speaking to me, y’all. With a megaphone.

When the waitress asked my sister and I if we wanted the B.P. with or without hard sauce, the answer was quick: Duh! When offered the choice between something sweet and something sweet with something sweeter on top of it, these two sisters always go for the latter.

Extra! Click pic and read all about it.

Extra! Click pic and read all about it.

Lo and behold, this was everything B.P. should be–warm, mushy, spoonable, and sweeter than Tupelo honey. I didn’t detect any of the so-called hardness in the sauce (hard as in liquor), but occasionally folks skimp on it either for economic reasons or perhaps to appease Baptist patrons.

Also, this particular B.P. featured nary a raisin, which I considered part of its charm.

I wish I could serve up a scoop of this delicacy to anyone who’s only ever experienced it by the slice. Since that’s a wee bit impractical, I’ll leave y’all with a recipe.

Why didn't somebody tell me about this!!

Why didn’t somebody tell me about this!!

A couple of caveats, I think there ought to be a higher ratio of liquid to bread, seeing as mine always leans a little too far toward the slice-y side for my taste, but I haven’t quite figured out the proper proportions. Next time, I’ll add an extra cup of milk and see how it goes…

I usually manage to botch the first batch of hard sauce, but when I made this for my book club potluck brunch on Saturday using the following recipe, it turned out beautifully (and tastefully). Folks were pouring it on top of everything: baked Bananas Foster oatmeal, apple cinnamon muffins, rhubarb cake, even–wait for it–fresh blueberries. (We may be nerdy book lovers, but boy can we cook!)

Also, while planning ahead is not part of my DNA, I find that prepping this the night before allows time for A. Bread to reach maximum saturation and more importantly, B. sleeping in.

Where’s your favorite place to order bread pudding? Have you ever tried the oh-so-decadent Krispy Kreme variety? Please do tell!

Sort of Authentic Southern-Style Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit with a little help from Paula Deen.

For the pudding:
7 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
3 cups whole milk (or 2%, if that’s how you roll), warmed up a bit
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-lb. loaf of bread (I like to use brioche or challah, but most any non-savory bread ought to work, except maybe Wonder)

(Note: Additional ingredients are needed for topping and sauce, so read on to make sure you have everything or–if you’re like me–workable substitutes.)

If your bread isn’t already stale, tear it to bits and toast in the oven till slightly brown. By the time you gather the other ingredients, it should be ready.

Butter a 9 x13 baking dish and find somewhere to stash it till needed.

Whisk eggs in large bowl. Add milk, sugar, cream, melted butter, and vanilla then whisk to blend well. Toss in the bread and mush it around till everything’s saturated. Pour it in the baking dish and refrigerate overnight or at least a couple of hours.

For the topping:
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and while you’re waiting mix together:

1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Sprinkle mixture as evenly as possible atop the bread pudding, then bake till puffed and golden–about an hour. (Oh, and you’ll want to put the casserole dish on a baking sheet. I did not and had a heck of a mess at the bottom of the oven.)

For the rum sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. rum
Cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Bon Appetit says:
Stir brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add cream, rum, and spices and bring to simmer. Simmer until sauce thickens and is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

This took me WAY longer to accomplish. Probably because I usually opt for the less is more approach when it comes to heat. Also, because I don’t really know what a “simmer” looks like so every time a few bubbles started popping up, I panicked and turned down the heat. I stirred and stirred, but the stuff just wasn’t thickening. I considered tossing in some cornstarch, but didn’t. Finally, I turned up the heat, bubbles be damned, and it started to thicken up just a bit. Then I ran out of time and just poured the stuff in a faux Tupperware container and headed out. By the time I got to the book club brunch, it was just right.

Photo Credits: Bourbon Bread Pudding by awiskandaspoon, Flickr Creative Commons; Two Sister’s pics and BP Throwdown from eatjackson.com.

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.

121. If Duct Tape Can’t Fix It, Maybe It Ain’t Broke

20 Feb

That's fixed. What's next?

That’s fixed. What’s next?

Here in Seattle, hipsters have taken to duct tape like the previous decade’s hipsters took to knitting needles. They’re getting crafty with it, y’all. First came the duct tape wallets, quickly followed by other accessories like key fobs, braided bracelets, purses, and flower pens. From there, it’s a rain-slicked slope to making duct tape clothing and shoes. And then this happens: Half Naked Woman in Hot Pink Duct Tape Injures Three Cops. True story. I just Googled “duct tape Seattle” and whoop there it was.

A while back, I was meandering through Target (the only way to go) and happened upon a display of duct tape right out of my 80’s schoolgirl fantasies (the ones that didn’t feature Duran Duran). Did y’all know they make duct tape in EVERY color and pattern? In addition to the aforementioned hot pink there’s purple, green, orange, plaid, penguins, polka dots and everything in between. Even zebra print.

Duct tape doesn't get any cuter than this...

Duct tape doesn’t get any cuter than this…

Of course, folks in the South were using duct tape long before duct tape was cool. And they’ll be using it long after duct tape goes the way of banana hair clips and friendship bracelets. However, every Southerner knows that duct tape isn’t for MAKING stuff; it’s for FIXING stuff.

Before I expound on the many uses of this tool kit on a roll, let me answer the age-old question: “Is it duck tape or duct tape?” Yes. Apparently, the product was developed for the US military during World War II and used for repairing weapons, vehicles, and other equipment. Soldiers dubbed the olive-drab-colored substance “duck tape,” possibly due to its waterproof qualities.

After the war, a silvery gray version became available to civilians who used it to wrap air ducts (among other things) and thenceforth it was “duct tape.” Cut to 1975 when the company Manco snapped up the “Duck Tape” trademark, added a cute duck to the logo, and sold 800 gazillion rolls of it.duck tape

That’s the verbose way of saying: “duct tape” is to “tissue” as Duck Tape™ is to Kleenex™.

So, what can you mend with duct tape? Well, here’s what you can’t fix: broken hearts, moldy bread, and zombies. Anything else is worth a shot.

I reckon the most popular use for duct tape is car repair–exterior, engine, upholstery, you name it. But it’s also great for mending furniture, windows, refrigerator shelves, bikes, plumbing, and so much more. Check out failblog and picture the possibilities. Whee!

My all-time favorite use of duct tape (aside from some exemplary car repair courtesy of my dad) comes from my friend Scott’s house–back when he was a bachelor before said residence was completely remodeled and became known as Karen and Scott’s house. Emphasis on the Karen.

Y’all, he was using duct tape to reattach peeling wallpaper. To Reattach Peeling Wallpaper! Or was it electrical tape? Memory falters. Two things I’ll never forget about chez Scott were the bathrooms. One didn’t have a door and the other didn’t have a ceiling. I guess he ran out of duct tape.

What’s the craziest duct tape repair you’ve ever seen? Have you ever personally fixed something? Or, hey, MADE something??

Please do tell.

Photo credits: Chair repair by laszy, Flickr Creative Commons; Adorable duct tape journal available at The Elegant Duck ETSY shop

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