Tag Archives: southern traditions

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.

119. Thwarting Trespassers and Other Ne’er-Do-Wells

16 Jan

il_570xN.407404899_olfiDriving around Seattle the other day, a wave of nostalgia washed over me when I spotted someone’s front door decorated with a black sign featuring large red letters that said: POSTED. NO TRESPASSING. Shame on me. After a decade of living in a land where the sternest warning to strangers usually runs along the lines of “No Soliciting,” I’d forgotten these existed. But it all comes rushing back.

When I was a kid, I’d see “No Trespassing” signs all over the place. Mostly on chain-link fences or nailed to trees near the entrance to a roped-off dirt road. Places I wouldn’t even be tempted to visit had I not been shunned in all caps with bold type. I believe the signs are mostly used to keep hunters and fishers from poaching on one’s land, but if they scare off evangelicals intent on passing out bible tracts, all the better.3873449800_850c9492f4_m

I understand the desire to keep one’s private property private (teen journals, anyone?), but why must the signs be so redundant? I mean, if you’re reading the sign, it’s because someone posted it. So do we really need the word “POSTED”? That would be like me starting each blog post shouting “WRITTEN!”

Then after the no trespassing bit, they’ll tack on “KEEP OUT.” Just in case one isn’t familiar with words featuring more than four or five letters. Come on, people, if you can’t trust your audience, save everybody some time and skip right to the dumbed-down version.

My favorite trespassing sign comes from a Winnie the Pooh story involving Piglet:

“Next to his house was a piece of broken board which had: “TRESPASSERS W” on it. When Christopher Robin asked the Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, and had been in the family for a long time. Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one—Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.”

I suspect Piglet may have had roots in the South.

il_570xN.365445469_djrkThe types of trespass-discouraging tactics are as varied as the array of guns that are prepared to enforce them. From hi-tech security cameras and motion-detecting sprinklers to padlocked gates and strategically placed barbed wire. Also, dogs. Big, mean dogs. Think Cujo, not Lassie.

Word of advice: if you’re driving around an unfamiliar area, pay close attention to any and all warning signs unless you want to find yourself at the business end of a shotgun. I’m not hyperbolizing, y’all. I speak from experience.no trespassing sign

One night, my sister and I made a wrong turn on the way to a Christmas party and were greeted by two shotgun-toting rednecks who wanted to know where we were headed. (It probably didn’t help matters that we’d accidentally driven through their yard, but still. It was dark and the landscaper had gone with sort of a mud motif…)

Redneck #1: “Where y’all think you’re goin?”

Us: “We’re looking for Scott’s house.”

Redneck #2: “Scott who?”

Us: Uh…(I should mention that our friend Karen had only recently taken up with Scott and we couldn’t recall his last name.)

Redneck #1: “Scott W______?”

Us: “Yes!”

Redneck #2: “You’re gonna turn around and make a left and then take a right at the house with the ‘deaf kid’ sign.”

Us: “Thank you!” (For asking questions first and determining that shooting was not necessary. And also for the directions.)

Rednecks: “STAY OFF THE YARD!”

There may have been more advice, but we didn’t stick around to hear it.

Have you ever posted a “No Trespassing” sign or disregarded one (accidentally or otherwise)? Please do tell!

Photo Credits: “Keep Out” poster by Urban Design Ink available here; “Posted” sign by Nate Weigle, Flickr Creative Commons; “Bait” by Signs from the South available here; Toddler trespassing poster available at ismoyo’s Etsy store.

116. Green Bean Bundles of Love (and Thanksgiving)

22 Nov

Among the many reasons I’m thankful for my sister-in-law, Karen (most important of which being my incredible nephews Tray, Luke, and Josh), green bean bundles rank pretty high on the list. Since she and my brother, Louie, married when I was fairly young, I can’t remember what all we feasted on in the years before her tasty bundles and sweet potato casserole. Except for my mom’s dressing, half oyster-laden and half without. Did I mention that Mom and Louie were the only ones who’d eat the oyster variety? Oh, don’t get me to digressing…

Green bean bundles bring together three of Southerners’ favorite spices–salt, sugar, and pig–in one delicious, bite-sized morsel. Yes, y’all, I realize some folks might not think of pig as a spice, but once they spend a day or two south of the Mason-Dixon line they’ll most likely come around. After all, it’s the secret (or not) ingredient in everything from black-eyed peas and collard greens to cornbread and pie crusts.

I should warn you that A. green bean bundles are a bitch to make and B. they make a mess you don’t even want to look at, much less clean up, but they are worth it. I promise. Don’t just take my word for it. As part of my mission to spread a little Southern hospitality around Seattle, I’ve brought them to many a Thanksgiving gathering and there are never any leftovers. Like ever, y’all.

Oh, but you might want to keep the recipe a secret, seeing as some folks might freak out about the copious amounts of butter and sugar involved. Perhaps issue a word of warning to those with sensitive arteries.

I’ll give y’all the basic recipe, but you’ll want to scale up, depending on the number of folks you’re feeding and how hungry they are. I reckon this serves about six or eight at the most.

Start with two cans of whole green beans. Not the fancy French cut kind. And not actual fresh green beans. I know, fresh green beans taste way better than their distant relatives in the can, but they just don’t work for bundles. I have tried and failed, just to save you the trouble.

Open the cans and pour out all the bean juice. I like to put the beans in a bowl, but you can pick them out of the can if you don’t want to mess up a dish.

Meanwhile, take a package of bacon (whatever kind you like) and slice the whole thing into thirds. You may be tempted to stretch it out by cutting the bacon strips into fourths, but try and resist the urge to make these less decadent. You’ll thank me later.

Line a baking dish with aluminum foil, unless you want Pyrex soaking in your sink for a week.

Now, pick up a small bundle of similar sized beans (about 4 or 5), wrap it with 1/3 a strip of bacon, and secure it with a toothpick. Place the bundle in the baking dish. Keep doing this until all the green beans and bacon are wrapped. Or until you are tired and can trick somebody else into doing the work. (You may not want to trust children under six, but by a certain point you may cease to care how they look.) Note: fit as many as you can into one baking dish. They may appear to be too crowded, but there will be shrinkage.

After you’ve got all the bundles bundled, it’s time to dress them.

Melt 3/4 stick of butter (6 tablespoons), then add 1/2 cup brown sugar, a little garlic powder and some salt and pepper. Then distribute the mixture as evenly as possible atop the bundles.

Oh, I forgot to tell you to preheat the oven to 375 degrees. So once that’s done, cover the pan with aluminum foil and pop it in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Your cooking time may vary, just be sure that the bacon is cooked through and the whole thing looks caramelized.

Many years back, my sister decided that making the bundles for our whole family was far too much trouble. She does a deconstructed version called Green Beans, Unbundled. Basically, she just takes all the ingredients, throws them in an electric skillet, and stirs occasionally till they reach maximum caramelization. This is the way to go if you’re pressed for time, or if you accidentally wind up with French-cut green beans because the person you sent to the store buys the wrong thing even though you specifically told them NOT to get the French cut kind. Hypothetically, of course.

Remember when I said y’all should resist the urge to make them less decadent? Well, you can get away with using the less fatty center cut bacon and maybe even reducing the amount of buttery, sugary sauce. However, whatever you do, don’t go and try to make them healthy.

Refrain from altering the recipe to include:
Turkey bacon (or worse, veggie!)
Splenda
Light margarine
Or heaven forbid, all of the above.

My sister once encountered this abomination at her very own Thanksgiving table. It may have been the one and only time there were left-over bundles. LOTS of left-over bundles.

My very first Thanksgiving away from home, I wanted to recreate the family feast but hadn’t a clue where to start seeing as I had previously been responsible for only the sweet potato casserole portion of the meal (thanks again for that recipe, Karen).

My mom sent me a handy Thanksgiving preparation guide, which has been indispensable over the years. Whenever I pull out the photocopied pages of her recipes and read her description about how to do the dressing and such, I can still sense her with me, as if she’s looking over my shoulder saying, “Make sure your turkey has been out of the freezer for at least two days” or “Don’t forget to toast the pecans.” Of all the things I’m thankful for–and there are far too many blessings to count–I’m glad I had my mother with me to share the first 37 years of my life. I only wish she could’ve stuck around for 37 more. If only to hear what she had to say about those “healthy” green bean bundles…

I’d like to dedicate this post to Karen’s mom, Betty Glen, who died just last week. I couldn’t thank her enough for bringing Karen into the world to become part of our crazy (but well-fed) family.

Green Bean Bundles, Karen Holloway
2 (16 oz.) cans whole green beans
1/2 cup brown sugar
Bacon
3/4 stick butter, melted
garlic powder
salt and pepper

Cut bacon strips in thirds (or half). Wrap around small bunch of green beans and secure with toothpick. Place in foil-covered pan. Make a glaze from the butter, brown sugar, garlic powder and salt and pepper. Pour over beans. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Bake uncovered for another 20 minutes.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?

115. Crisco–It’s Digestible, Y’all!

9 Nov

Surely this can’t be true, y’all. I’ve expounded on 114 topics and have yet to discuss Crisco? In my defense, I’ve lived outside the South for nearly two decades and have encountered this Dixie staple just about as often as I’ve seen folks back home wearing sweaters in July. (Not counting anybody in my sister’s house where the air-conditioner’s always set to “Arctic.”)

I’m happy to note that during my time as an expat, I’ve never once had a run-in with Crisco’s ugly step-sister, Butter-Flavored Crisco. While friends and longtime readers probably already know this, I feel I should mention that I’m vehemently opposed to butter-flavored anything that doesn’t derive said flavor from actual, made-from-cow-milk butter.

Don’t forget to add Crisco!

Oh, but I must fess up and admit that this wasn’t always the case, as evidenced by a recipe I ran across the other day. (Part of my ongoing family recipe collection project–after 10 years, I’m still in phase 1.) I found a chocolate-chip cookie recipe that called for Butter-Flavored Crisco, which I’d attributed to myself! My shock and horror was twofold: A. That I’d once considered BFC an appropriate ingredient and B. That I’d copied the recipe from someone and slapped my name on it, seeing as I “wrote” the recipe long before I started baking as a professional hobbyist.

Whoever I fed those cookies to, I apologize. My bad. My very, very bad.

But back to Crisco, regular flavor. As far as I know, Crisco mainly serves two functions in Southern kitchens: deep frying and pie-crust making. That’s why you’ll often find a photo of crispy chicken or a double-crusted pie on the can. I can see how picturing just a glob of Crisco on the label might be detrimental to sales.

White wedding:
courtesy of Crisco?

Some folks even substitute Crisco for part or all of the butter in frosting and have the nerve to call it “buttercream,” but I try not to think about such unpleasant things. I know people will argue that it looks/holds up better, so let’s just agree to disagree. When it comes to food, I choose flavor over beauty every time. And for the love of Pete (whoever he is), please don’t use clear vanilla flavoring just so the frosting will be as white as the bride’s dress. Most likely, she’s not that pristine herself. But I’m not one to gossip.

Recently, I listened to a podcast that talked about the history of Crisco (not for research or anything, just because I’m nerdy like that). Turns out that two factors greatly contributed to its invention: Sinclair Lewis and the light bulb. The popularity of Lewis’ The Jungle (an expose on the meat packing industry disguised as a novel) made folks a bit leery of lard with passages such as:

They worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor…. their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting, sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

Yum! And the light bulb? Thanks to that handy invention, Procter and Gamble’s candle sales were flickering out, and they had an abundance of cottonseed oil nobody knew what to do with…

Until! A German chemist named E.C. Kayser showed up with a ball of fat he’d concocted in a lab. Yes, folks, this was the start of hydrogenation.

From Better Homes & Gardens, December 1934

After a few failed attempts at naming the product (“Krispo”–trademark issues; “Chryst”–um, maybe not, y’all), P&G settled on Crisco, an abbreviation of crystallized cottonseed oil. The ad guys knew better to tout this as some sci-fi food-like substance. “From our lab to your table!” Nope, they played off folks’ fears of accidentally ingesting uncle Bob and pushed the healthy, all-vegetable angle. Ads featured recipes and benefits galore: flakier crusts, lighter cakes, less expense, all natural, and my favorite “It’s digestible!” Really, y’all, they used that one a lot.

100 years later and folks still rely on Crisco for frying, baking, greasing up
pigs at the fair and whatnot. As Loretta Lynn told us in the 80’s “Crisco’ll do you proud every time!”

Do you use Crisco? Tub or sticks? What for? Please keep it PG, people.

Photo credits: Crisco can circa 1970 by RoadsidePictures, Flickr Creative Commons; cookie dough by Sara R, Flickr Creative Commons; wedding cake by Graceful Cake Creations, Flickr Creative Commons

Pick me, Paula! Pick me!

29 Oct

Paula Deen’s Caramel Cake in Progress:
A still life by Kim Holloway

My very first post on SSPL featured the Queen of Southern Cuisine, Paula Deen. Now 100-odd (and some even) posts later I’ve come full circle. Imagine my delight when I learned that Paula’s cultivating a new crop of bloggers for her website, and I was among the select few invited to throw my seedling into the soil. (By “select few” I mean everybody on Earth who has a blog and even folks who don’t but think they could.)

Consider this post my contest entry form and bear with me as I expound upon why I think I ought to be part of the Deen Team…

After living as a Southern expat for 18 years, I’ve lost count of the number of times folks have asked me “What’s the South really like?” A couple of years back, I started Stuff Southern People Like as a way to introduce outsiders to some of Dixie’s finest delicacies and doo-dads–from recliners to R.C. Cola. I figured folks back home would enjoy reading it, too (or at least say they did and proceed to gossip about me behind my back saying, “Bless her heart, she thinks she can write…). Along the way, I’ve heard from transplanted Yankees who appreciate the insight into their quirky new friends and neighbors. While I adore all my readers, I must confess that I especially love comments from fellow Southern expats who enjoy the “taste of home” my posts offer.

Could the Deen Team use a cultural ambassador? Someone who delights in helping people discover the convenience of dust ruffles, drive-thru beer barns, and cream-of-something soup? Someone who prepares folks for the perils of pantyhose, Walmart, and unexpected guests? Someone who offers advice on what to bring to a dinner on the ground, how much makeup is too little, or understanding the subtle differences between fried chicken, chicken fried steak or chicken fried chicken? If so, Paula, I’m your girl (out of Dixie).

Thanks, y’all. Soon we’ll be back to regular blog programming, already in progress. Plus that super-secret project I mentioned in my last post (note: this wasn’t it).

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.

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