Tag Archives: southern

Stuff I, Myself, Like

26 Oct

Available at Pink Tulip of Daphne’s Etsy store

I’m working on a super-secret new project for Stuff Southern People Like, which I hope to launch next week. Meanwhile, I wanted to share some fun stuff I’ve discovered on my recent travels along the information superhighway.

One of my most popular posts has been Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit (and other Colorful Expressions), so I figure y’all will just eat this up. When I ran across the clip on YouTube, I was happier than a pig in slop (but also madder than a wet hen that I didn’t think of it first).

I’ve neglected, thus far, to post about one of my all-time favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, but this prompts me to get around to it sooner than later. It’s an audio clip from a lecture she did at UL Lafayette she did in ’62 that was found in a filing cabinet last year. I’ve transcribed it for my Yankee readers, seeing as her accent is thick as Tupelo honey.

“A few young Southern writers feel about the South the way Joyce felt about Ireland, that it will devour them. They would like to set their stories in a region whose way of life seems nearer the spirit of what they think they have to say. Better, they would like to eliminate the region altogether. But you cannot proceed at all if you cut yourself off from the sights and sounds that have built up a life of their own in your senses and which carry a culture in them. The image of the South is so strong in us that it is a force which has to be encountered and engaged. It is when this is a true engagement that its meaning will lead outward to universal human interest.” Flannery O’Connor

Faulkner as “The Sound and the Fury”
by John Sokol

I’m a writer, so I’m biased, but I just LOVE the intersection of literary and visual arts. Artist John Sokol does amazing portraits of writers using their own words. His rendition of Faulkner is my favorite, but y’all should check out the entire collection, which also includes Miss Welty.

On my recent trip to MS, I noticed that the Pacific Northwest trend of putting birds on everything has migrated down South. This clip from Portlandia offers a hilarious take on it. Note to Etsy types, if you want me to buy something, put a WORD on it. (Also, I must confess that I am also partial to stuff adorned with images of birds.)

Earlier this week, I saw a presentation at Book Larder (a cookbook book store, y’all! Southern entrepreneurs, take note!) by two delightful young ladies who started up a candy business called Liddabit Sweets in Brooklyn. They just published a candy cookbook, which I cannot recommend highly enough for anybody who’s ever suffered from fudge failures and caramelization catastrophes. They demystify candymaking and include helpful troubleshooting photos. I’m still devouring the book and haven’t attempted a recipe yet, but I tasted their homemade marshmallows and was sold.

Caveat: Seeing as they’re east coasters, there are a few items missing from their candy repertoire–pralines, divinity, coconut balls, etc.–but don’t hold that against them. Also, they use way more walnuts than any Southerner would find socially acceptable, but it’s easy to substitute edible nuts.

Discussion question: When you buy Halloween candy, do you load up on the good stuff and hope for few trick-or-treaters or is that just me? What are your favorites? I usually go for Snickers, Almond Joy, and the occasional Kit Kat.

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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.

109. Hushpuppies–The Best Use of Corn Since Bread

4 Sep

Hushpuppies by Sugarcrafter—click for recipe.

I recently dined at a place that sounded awesome on paper: Southern small plates. Which I realize sounds like an oxymoron to some and a tragedy to others, but small plates are all the rage here in Seattle. The concept comes to us from Spain where small portions of scrumptious appetizers (called tapas) are ordered and shared amongst friends. The plates tend toward the $3 to $5 range and you might need four or five to make a meal for two, which would make for an economical evening out were it not for the tasty (and spendy!) libations. (My friend Karen introduced me to a great Spanish tapas place recently, and I couldn’t resist saying, “Why, yes, I do believe I will have another lemon drop!” Fresh squeezed lemon juice, vodka, and a sugared glass rim. What’s not to love? Unless you’re Baptist, in which case the answer is “vodka.”)

Ok, back to the hushpuppies, y’all…

They looked sort of like these,
but slightly more burned
and the sauce had an orange hue.

So at the Southern small plates joint the first thing I ordered was hushpuppies. This is a mistake I’ve made repeatedly in Seattle, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive five overcooked spheres of dough, each roughly the size of a gum ball. Maybe a jumbo gum ball, but still. I’m not usually a numbers person, but I couldn’t help doing the math: this $6 plate worked out to $1.25 per hushpuppy. This might have been ok had they been delicious or even edible. Upon taking the first bite, I discovered that the “hushpuppy” interior was an odd shade of orange speckled with bits of red bell pepper (a departure from the typical Seattle hushpuppy add-in: jalapeños). Despite the peppers, the hushpuppy was oddly flavorless, not to mention DRY, but I guess I just did. Perhaps that’s why they were served with a dipping sauce. I dunked the second hushpuppy in the orange dipping sauce, which rendered it even less appetizing than the first. Ick! I’d go on recounting the culinary infractions at this particular establishment, but that would require thinking about them again. In retrospect, I should have known the place would be a disappointment when I saw the dessert selections, which included: fruit cobbler, cheesecake, and ice cream. Fruit cobbler and ice cream (priced separately!) might pass, but I’ve never considered cheesecake to be a Southern delicacy. Delicious? Indeed. But not Southern, y’all.

Now that I’ve rambled on about what all hushpuppies are not, I’ll attempt to explain what they are. Your basic hushpuppy features a batter made from cornmeal, flour, and milk. Some people add an egg or occasionally a diced onion. You drop a blob of batter into hot oil and in a minute or two you’ve got a moist, delicious—if somewhat bland—hushpuppy. Sometimes they’re roundish, sometimes tubular, sometimes abstract shapes, but usually, yes, a little bland. That’s how we like ‘em, y’all!

What tends to give Southern hushpuppies flavor is that they’re fried in the same oil as the catfish. According to my dad, hushpuppies were invented at a fish fry on account of a yapping dog. Supposedly, the cook dropped some catfish batter into the oil, tossed it to the dog and said, “Hush, puppy!” Various versions of this tale exist on the Internet, but it seems a bit farfetched to me. I mean, who first wrestled the fried dough away from the dog and decided it tasted good? And also, anyone who’s dealt with dogs at suppertime knows that tossing food at them doesn’t make them hush for more than a moment. After that, they commence to begging more loudly and aggressively than ever. So this may or may not be how hushpuppies were invented, but it does make a great story for kids.

In Seattle where there’s a dearth of catfish, you’ll generally find hushpuppies served as a side with BBQ (not a bad idea—Southern restauranteurs take note!). After my seemingly endless convalescence last summer, my friend Linda kindly took me to a BBQ place in the next town over (recommended by my friend and fellow Southern small plate victim, Tricia). Lo and behold, it was the first place in Seattle where the pulled pork didn’t require sauce. Better still, the tender, smoke-infused meat was served alongside some large, fluffy hushpuppies! Made from scratch, fried to order, and dusted lightly on the outside with a little salt. Yum! They come with the meal, and you can get an extra side of five hushpuppies for $3. Twice the size of the trendy joint, half the price, and 100 times tastier.

What’s your favorite place to get hushpuppies? Are there any BBQ joints in the South that serve them? Please name names, seeing as I get back for a visit at least once a year.

Photo credits: Hushpuppies by Sugarcrafter, Other Hushpuppies by Martin & Jessica O’Brien–Flickr Creative Commons, Slap-yo-mama Hushpuppies by Jeff Balke–Flickr Creative Commons, Hushpuppie sign by pecanpieguy–Flickr Creative Commons.

107. Coconut Cake–Paradise on a Plate

28 Aug

Four layers of coconuttyness by The Thrillbilly Gourmet

If you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time, you’ve most likely dined in one of Tom Douglas’s many fine establishments. Seeing as they’re second in number only to Starbucks, it isn’t hard to do. Unless you are broke and have no generous friends. Then it could be something of a challenge seeing as Tom doesn’t give it away.

“How does this relate to Southern coconut cake?” you may be wondering. Well, actually, it doesn’t. It relates to Tom’s triple coconut cream pie. I believe that means there’s coconut in the crust, filling, and whipped cream, but honestly, I’ve never slowed down enough to check. This is some MY-T-FINE pie, my friends. But what it isn’t is good old-fashioned coconut cake. Apparently, folks around these parts fail to recognize the awesomeness of said dessert. Either because they’ve never had it or because they don’t know what’s good.

Every Seattle baker and his/her Facebook friends are doing renditions of red velvet cake that range in flavor from so-so to what Gordon Ramsay might refer to as “the dog’s dinner,” but nobody’s even attempting coconut cake. Well, some of the local cupcake places sprinkle a few flakes of coconut on top of buttercream icing and call it coconut, which I suppose it technically is. But no. To my mind, coconut cake was, is, and forever shall be comprised of no less than two, but preferably three or more layers.

Dear Cupcake Royale, more icing, please!

Why are Southerners so fond of layer cakes? Simple: more icing per square inch. (Sorry, y’all, but I’ve been out of the South so long, I can’t remember if the correct word is “icing” or “frosting.” Somebody help me out here.) With a cupcake or sheet cake, there’s only one sad, lonely layer of icing. And woe be unto you if someone serves you a slice from the middle. Which, incidentally, never happens with a layer cake. You always get a wedge that includes at minimum three layers of frosting–top, middle, and side–and quite often you’ll encounter an extra middle layer. Pardon me for going all mathematical, but that’s a 3 to 2 or 4 to 3 ratio, which always trumps 1 to 1. At least as far as icing is concerned.

Please note that I’m not a cupcake or sheet cake hater. Anyone who knows me will vouch that I’m an equal opportunity cake eater. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for layer cake every time.

You might think from the name that a Southern coconut cake would feature a fair amount of coconut, coconut milk, or even the dreaded “coconut” flavoring. Nope, many coconut cakes contain nary a flake of coconut. They’re usually regular old white cake all dolled up in coconut frosting. Heaps of frosting with heaps of coconut. Not that anybody’s going to snub a cake with actual coconut in it, but…(Sorry, y’all, I just got sidetracked looking at photos of/recipes for coconut cake on the Internets. But now you have my undivided attention again. Except that I’m hungry.)

Well, anyhow, what makes a Southern coconut cake special is that it’s always super moist and the icing is usually slightly sticky. If you encounter a dry coconut cake with dry icing, run! Ok, that’s a bit drastic. Perhaps you should merely mosey along. Unless there’s no other dessert option, in which case, you’ll have to make do.

Here’s where I should probably tell y’all the secret to making a traditional Southern coconut cake. Sadly, I haven’t the foggiest. I live with an avowed coconut hater, so this particular cake is pretty far down on my to-bake list, seeing as I’d have to consume the whole thing myself. Not necessarily in one sitting, but still. I’ve thought about making one as a party/potluck contribution, but that would involve procuring a cake carrier. Which would involve finding a place to stow said carrier when not in use, and my cabinets exceeded maximum capacity three mixing bowls ago.

A few months back, as I perused a cookware store, a book called “Southern Cakes” beckoned me to come hither. And thither I went. After one glance at the stunning coconut cake on the cover, I promptly added the book to my library queue. (A shout out to my friend Linda who clued me in that one could check out cookbooks from the library. Who knew? Just be careful not to spill.) I made a few of the recipes—including one called “Celestial Chocolate Cake,” which turned out to be worthy of its name. If you like to bake (or just drool over pretty pictures) I highly recommend this particular cookbook. Also, it makes an excellent gift. Hint, hint!

In the meantime, I’ll leave y’all with my grandmother’s recipe. As always, the directions/measurements are vague, so your results may vary.

P.S. What’s your favorite Southern cake? Please do tell!

My Mom’s Mother’s Coconut Cake

3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 t baking powder
1 pinch soda
1 t vanilla

There are no mixing instructions, so use your best judgment. Also, I have no idea how long it should bake or at what temperature.

Filling:
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
Coconut (No amount specified. Add however much you want, I reckon.)

Cook filling in double boiler until it thickens. Add vanilla.

I believe my mom once mentioned that it’s better to make the cake the day before you plan to serve it. But I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been able to wait that long to eat cake.

Photo Credits: Coconut layer cake courtesy of The Thrillbilly Gourmet, Coconut cupcake by Sea Turtle–Flickr Creative Commons.

106. Recliners–For Lazy Boys and Girls

13 Apr

Y’all might not think that my acupuncturist’s office here in Seattle could have anything in common with the average Southerner’s living room, but I’m here to tell you it does. Namely, recliners. In fact, it has more recliners than I’ve ever seen gathered together in one place. That would be eight. I reckon eight is enough.

Most of my Seattle friends would be horrified at the prospect of having a recliner in their home. Unless it was one of the schmancy zero-gravity ones that cost almost as much as, say, back surgery. Nevertheless, we’ll happily pay a sliding scale fee of $15-$35 (and be poked with needles) for the pleasure of napping for an hour or two in a cradle of cushiness.

If there’s a common trait among all Southerners, it’s this: We like to be comfortable. And let’s face it, y’all, recliners are comfortable. But, alas, they are also terribly unattractive. Not unlike some popular wardrobe staples such as t-shirts and “athletic” shoes.

Unless you're a broke-ass college student...

In my first apartment, my roommates and I had a minimalist design aesthetic. Not on purpose, mind you, but because we were A. broke and B. not qualified gimmicky furniture store credit offers.

A month or so after we moved in, our living room furniture consisted of a TV stand/bookshelf fashioned out of milk crates and a seating area that bore an uncanny resemblance to what some would call the floor. Then one day our honorary (but not rent-paying, not that I’m still bitter) fifth roommate showed up with a ratty-old green recliner from I know not where. Despite our protests that we could so be “choosers,” the recliner settled in. If I recall correctly, it had to be supported by the wall because it had the tendency to fall over when one attempted to recline.

It was kinda like this, only uglier.

Despite its hideous and less-than-sturdy nature, the recliner quickly became the coveted prize in our endless game of musical chairs. Minus the music. And also the other chairs.

When my sister was pregnant with her second son, she called to inform me that she’d broken down and bought a recliner. It was ugly, she said. But very comfortable. Except that she couldn’t operate the lever. And then her cat peed on it. But other than that, it was great. Even better once she covered it with a down comforter in an effort to discourage her cat from adopting it as his new litter box. (Sadly, no luck.)

In her cat’s defense, I’ll say that she’d recently switched his ordinary litter box with a newfangled “robot” one, which any animal might develop a healthy fear of, myself included.

Three of my favorite people: Jackson, Jenna, and Eli



When Eli was born, I stayed with Jenna for a couple of weeks, and I have to say it’s definitely one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in. Not because it cushions you with plush pillowy-ness or because it leans back into the perfect TV-watching/nap-inducing angle. But because it’s roomy enough to cradle Eli on one side and Jackson on the other and rest easy in a cocoon of unconditional love.

102. Flip Flops–The Depth of Fashion

30 Mar

Here in Seattle, the weather is about as fickle as Mary on Downton Abbey. Will it rain? Or snow? Or be overcast? Or sunny? Or marry Matthew? Yes! Sometimes all in one day. That’s one of the first things they teach you at Pacific Northwest Orientation: Layers.

Even so, with a glance out the window, I’ll see some folks in parkas, some in sandals and shorts, and some–inexplicably–wearing all of the above. What I rarely see is people wearing flip flops. Birkenstocks? Yes. Tevas? Boy howdy! But flip flops? Not so much.

I’ve been aware of the Southern predilection for wearing those foot-slapping sandals for quite a few years now. One time my sister tried to convince me that they were the height of fashion. But I’ve seen nary a flip flop shod model making his/her noisy strut down any runway anywhere. And if one ever did, I feel sure they’d be wearing the “shoes” ironically. To be fair, I’ve never seen models in Berkies either, nor do I expect to.

What I hadn’t realized until I was home this past Christmas is that flip flops are considered all-weather footwear. At least by more than one member of my family (and y’all know who you are), seeing as they were wearing them in what I’d definitely describe as “sweater weather.”

I might’ve asked why, but I’m psychic enough to predict the answer: “They’re comfortable.” To which I would telepathically respond, “In winter?” Surely frostbitten toes can’t feel all that great (if indeed they feel at all). At least with Birkenstocks, one has the option of wearing socks. Not that I’d advise this or actually do it myself (full disclosure: I have). But at least you can protect toes from the elements and/or conceal one’s winter pedicure hiatus.

Perhaps sensing a lack in the marketplace, some industrious soul came up with a flip flop sock. Which is great if you want your feet to resemble some sort of tree-dwelling creature or perhaps a reject muppet.

To be fair, I should mention that Southerners deck themselves in all manner of fancy flip flops. These are not your typical shower shoes. You’ll find them in a rainbow of colors (alas, the ones with the faux rainbow stacked heel seem to have gone the way of pet rocks). They’re embellished with rhinestones, flowers, “pearls”, you name it. Still, y’all, they’re flip flops. Lipstick, meet pig.

Perhaps I’m not giving flip flops a fair shake due to a childhood trauma. When I was 10 or 12 years old (or possibly 11), a girl named Natalia came to live with us for the summer, for reasons that are still unbeknownst to me. Natalia loved two things: her flip flops and Phil Collins’ cover of the Supremes’ classic “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

My sister and I were not overly fond of Natalia. I can’t remember exactly why, if the two aforementioned character traits aren’t reason enough. Also, she was a tattle-tale. Anyhow, I’ve come to associate that relentless “flap, flap, flap, flap” noise as the sound of Natalia (read “doom”) approaching. And I feel the urge to dash away quickly lest I be further aurally assaulted by that dreadful song, which is, of course, now playing in an endless loop in my mind.

Sorry, y'all, I don't.

Do you wear flip flops? If so, why?

Images from Etsy: Flip flop sign by Expressions of Kim (another Kim, not me), Flower flip flop by Petal ‘n Pearl Boutique, Crystal flip flop by All Things Glamorous, “I Do” flip flops by Bridal Flip Flops.

101. Cream-of-Something Soup

27 Mar

I don’t know whether or not anyone has ever heated up Campbell’s cream-of-anything soup and actually eaten it straight. In a bowl. Maybe with some bits of saltines (or oyster crackers for the fancy folks). I, for one, have never done this. Nor have I witnessed it or even heard urban legend-ish tales about people who’ve done it. See, where I come from, cream-of-whatever soup isn’t actually soup. It’s an ingredient. I mean, you might as well dig in to a bowl of flour or down a shot glass of butter.

So how did cream-of-something soup become such a Southern staple? In a word: casseroles. I’m pretty sure casseroles existed before canned soup, but I can’t imagine how. Surely folks didn’t make homemade soup and then toss some combination of chicken and pasta or green beans and crispy onion rings into a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish to make a casserole. I mean, if you’re making homemade soup, well, wouldn’t that be considered a meal unto itself? And now that I’m thinking about it, how on earth did folks make green been casseroles before they started selling those onion rings in a can? Maybe some of my more seasoned readers can shed light on this mystery. I’d hate to have to do research, and by “research” I mean check Wikipedia.

If you’ve ever been to a dinner on the ground (or the non-denominational event known as a “potluck”), you’ve likely seen all manner of casseroles, most of which involve chicken. If there’s anything Southerners like almost as much as fried chicken, it’s casseroled chicken. But we don’t stop there. We’ll happily eat casseroled vegetables, too, as long as there’s cream-of-something soup involved (and also meat of some sort). And, of course, there are dessert casseroles, but thankfully, they’re mostly soup-free.

I can see now that the topic of casseroles is far too broad for one blog post (seeing as I was about to expound on the sweet potato casserole marshmallow vs. crunchy pecan topping dispute), so I’ll stick to discussing only those involving cream-of-something soup.

One time, a friend was telling me about one of her relatives who became quite indignant upon arriving at a potluck and discovering that someone had “stolen” her recipe for chicken and rice casserole. I said, “You mean that same chicken and rice casserole that every Southern person has known how to make since birth?” She said, “Precisely.”

For the benefit of folks who don’t have the recipe embedded in their DNA, here is my mom’s version, which she credited to one of her sisters. Apparently, providing vague directions is a genetic trait.

Chicken Dinner (Geneva)

Chicken breasts

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 large onion, chopped

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cups uncooked rice

1 1/2 cans water

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and place in a large baking dish. Place chicken breasts on top and pat with butter. Bake at 325 for 3 hours.

I have made this dish many times over the years, but have yet to produce anything that tastes nearly as good as my mom’s version. It might have something to do with the vague directions or my inability to wait three hours for dinner to cook. Then again, it might have to do with all the tinkering I’ve done trying to make it healthier and/or a smaller serving size.


I do not recommend:

Using 98% fat free cream-of-something soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken and cream-of-celery soup

Using skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Omitting the onion

Using only ½ a stick of butter

Adding way too much salt

The last time I made this, I followed the recipe (such as it is) exactly (except for jacking up the oven temperature to 450 or so). Still wasn’t as good as mom’s, but better than any previous attempts. And for the first time ever, I had half a casserole in the freezer. It was almost like having funeral food, except nobody had to die. Yay!

I’ll have more to say on casseroles later, but I just have to tell y’all that during my time in Seattle, I’ve attended not one, but TWO casserole potlucks. Which is two more than I’ve ever attended in the South, but I reckon that’s because at Southern potlucks there’s no need to add the word “casserole” to the invitation. It’s implied.

What’s your favorite use of cream-of-something soup?

Photo Credits:
Cream of mushroom soup ad available from Bamboo Trading, Chicken casserole from Campbell’s, Cream of chicken soup ad available from A Glass Collector.

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