YOU KNOW YOUR INSOMNIA IS SERIOUS WHEN YOU’RE UP POSING YOUR CHRISTMAS MOOSE AT 3 IN THE MORNING

BASHFUL MOOSE

I often wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning. Sometimes I wake up because there is something on my mind. In those sleepless hours, I’ve resolved business problems and come up with ideas for

MOOSE AT A LOSS

growing my business, then gone peacefully back to sleep.

Sometimes a new idea awakens me and I’m excited. Once I created a complete outline for a novel that would have been a best seller – if I hadn’t gone back to sleep and remembered not a word of it in the morning.

MACHO MOOSE

MACHO MOOSE

But the mornings I hate are those when I go from totally asleep to wide awake in an instant and know there is no hope I’ll fall asleep again for hours. I toss and turn. I get up, roam around the house. When you’re too awake to sleep and too sleepy to think, three o’clock in the morning is a boring time – even with 500 plus TV stations.

You know your insomnia has hit a new peak when get up the next morning and realize you’ve spent two hours posing and reposing your Christmas Moose, naming the poses, and taking poictures of him — perhaps for a giant coffee table book.

Insomnia .. spent 2 hours posing and naming my Christmas moose

MOOSE IN THOUGHT

Insomnia .. spent 2 hours posing and naming my Christmas moose

DISCOMBOBULATED MOOSE

 

 

Old Fashioned Beet Balls In Sweet And Sour Sauce

 

Beet Ball

Beet Ball

Sometimes I’m not quick. My friend, Dot, who owns Silverbrook Farm near Leesburg, VA, gave me some recipes from the 1940’s that she found in an old trunk. The first one was for beet balls in sweet and sour sauce.

I read the name again. Beet balls. Like meatballs, I wondered?

I pictured myself grinding up beets to make balls. What would hold them together? I couldn’t imagine why I’d even want to.

 It wasn’t till the next morning that it hit me. Beets ARE balls! Here’s the recipe – I love the differences in words. I never hear people say cupfuls or tablespoonfuls these days.

 

1940's recipe for beeets in sweet and sour sauce

Recipe from the 1940's

Start by cooking the beets — she doesn’t say how, but that’s why we have Google.

3 cupfuls of cooked beet balls
Make a sauce by mixing together 
¼ cup cupful of sugar, 1 Tablespoonful of cornstarch,
½ cupful of vinegar, ½ cupful of water.
Cook till slightly thickened, add the beet balls 
and simmer five minutes
then add two tablespoonfuls of butter.
Serve sprinkled with shredded almonds

 

TOO MUCH TURKEY & DRESSING IS ENOUGH

 

GRANDMA, ALEX, AND JOE ARE READY FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER

Christmas was perfect with all of my family home once again — and once again I cooked too much food – too much turkey and way too much dressing. Too much turkey because of my Daddy’s blue-collar pride. “We may not have much, but nobody in my house ever goes hungry.” I took that lesson to the grocery store where I asked the man at the poultry counter how big a turkey I’d need to feed nine people. He told me. I bought one a little over twice that. Nobody at my house was going to go hungry.

I made too much dressing because I never cook anything the same

CHRISTMAS WITH MY BOYS AND LOTS OF GIFTS

My Boys Home For Christmas

way twice. It’s my heritage. I come from a long line of women who eschewed recipes in favor of the taste & feel method. You mix it, then taste it – however raw. If it doesn’t taste right, add stuff, and taste again, and again till it’s right. Then you cook it.

           So I started by gathering the ingredients: 2 5 x 5” squares of store-bought cornbread, a bag of cornbread stuffing mix left over from Thanksgiving, 2-3 boxes of chicken soup stock, 1 package chicken livers, 2 cups chopped onion, 2 cups chopped celery, 2-3 eggs, Tsp thyme, Tbsp salt, Tbsp pepper, a quarter pound of butter.

Once I’d cooked celery, onions, and a half stick of butter in chicken stock and the chicken livers and turkey liver, gizzard, and neck in water till done (you can add the heart but I don’t because I think it’s gross} and greased two 6” square baking pans with butter, I put all the ingredients (only 2/3 of the giblets – saved rest for gravy) into my biggest mixing bowl and stirred it all together. It didn’t feel wet enough so I added more chicken stock.

           Then came the important part. I tasted the mixture. Way too sweet! Then I remembered I’d made the same mistake last year. Store-bought cornbread is sweet. This tasted more like liver-flavored cake than stuffing. The answer was to add bread.

           I found 4 ½ hotdog buns in the bread bin along with 2 leftover biscuits. I mixed them in and added more chicken stock. Still too sweet. No time to go to the store. I broke up the loaf of French bread I’d planned to serve for brunch. We could eat Christmas candy for brunch. I tried scrapping some crust from a frozen quiche but gave up on it.

By then bowl was overflowing, so I poured the mixture into my turkey roasting pan, and added 3 more rolls I’d found in the bottom of the freezer. This much dressing needed another half stick of butter and more salt and pepper. I wet it down with more chicken stock. To heck with the spoon. A spoon was nothing against this ocean. I pushed back my sleeves, grabbed the mess with both hands and kneaded and mixed, frequently adding more stock, till it felt right.

Tasted it again. Added salt. Added sage. Tasted again. By the time it passed the taste-test I had enough dressing to fill six 6” pans. No worry, I told myself. It freezes.

Now it’s one day later. The freezer is full. I’ve decided I hate turkey and I hate dressing and I have enough to last a month. Dinner anyone?

Day three–There’s half a turkey left  —  I ordered Chinese!

 

REAL GRITS DON’T HAVE CHEESE

I’m  a little ashamed of this posting. It’s a confession. I ate grits that had cheese in them — and I loved them. It’s so wrong. Real grits don’t have cheese! I know that. I grew up with grits — not quick grits but grits you simmer forever and with no thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, or cheese — just salt and butter.

Then I had my three boys and I raised them in the north (Washington, D.C. is north to people from south Alabama) but I raised them right. That means I raised them on crab gumbo, fried chicken, and grits. 

Several years ago, I took my youngest son to NYC. We went to one of my favorite restaurants, Sarabeth’s Kitchen on Madison Avenue. Grits were on the menu. He ordered them. He stared at them. They weren’t grits. They were some concoction with cheese. He wished he’d ordered the pancakes.

I explained the rules of grits to him. Never order grits in the north – they’ll be dry and undercooked or they’ll have cheese — and real grits don’t have cheese.

Now I’ve betrayed generations of southern cooks and the southern way of life. I’ve eaten cheesy grits and asked for seconds. Guilt loves companyso I’m here to lead others astray. Here’s the recipe from my friend Dot at Silver Brook Farms near Leesburg, VA

2 l/4 cups low-salt  chicken broth
2 tablespoons (l/4 stick) butter
1 garlic clove, chopped
l/2 cup quick-cooking grits
3/4 cup whipping cream
l/2 cup diced drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about  4 oz)
Chopped fresh chives (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. 
Generously butter 8x8x2 inch baking dish.
Bring broth, 2 tablespoons butter, and garlic to boil in heavy medium saucepan.  Gradually whisk in grits and return mixture to boil, whisking occasionally. 
Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until grits are thick and almost all broth is absorbed, whisking frequently, about 8 minutes.
Whisk in ½ cup cream and simmer 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.
Whisk in remaining l/4 cup cream and simmer until very thick, stirring often, about  5 minutes longer.
Stir in tomatoes, thyme and goat cheese.  ||Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour into prepared dish. 
Bake about 15  minutes.  Garnish with chives, if desired, and serve immediately.

 

Wall To Wall Carpets – One Of Life’s Ponderables

 My Aunt Pauline was something! She had red hair and a red head’s personality – flair and joie de vivre (she’d have loved that description) – everything a red-head should have.

AUNT PAULINE AND UNCLE JACK

AUNT PAULINE LONG BEFORE I KNEW HER -- Style, Flair, Energy

She greeted her world and every experience with relish, and she had a way of speaking that made me feel whatever she said was new, different, and exciting. She could make taking Grandmama to visit Papa’s grave sound exciting.
I loved going to her house which was right around the corner, so I was able to go on my own to visit her from the time I was seven or so. She had things nobody else had – she had a waffle iron!!

Aunt Pauline was all about what was pretty, what was stylish, what was new, and what nobody else ever talked about.

There wasn’t anybody else on Petain Street like her. Of course she didn’t actually live on Petain Street but around the corner on Craft Highway which was pretty much the same except it was paved with cement instead of red clay.

Christmas time, when I was six or seven, the whole family gathered at Aunt Pauline’s house where Mama or one of the uncles gathered us for a group picture. I came across it a few days ago and it’s probably why I woke up thinking about her.
I was in front, then were my favorite cousins Carolyn, Margaret, and Mary Gayle. On the next row

The cousins gathered at Aunt Pauline's house for Christmas Eve

The cousins gathered at Aunt Pauline's house for Christmas Eve

were Patty and Polly. I stood in the front because I was the youngest in the family, except for Johnny, and he lived way away in Brewton so I didn’t count him – I was the baby. Everybody else was dressed between Christmas-y and casual.

All dressed up for Christmas with rollers in my hair

All dressed up for Christmas with rollers in my hair

I was all dressed up in a ruffled Christmas dress — except for some reason I don’t know I had rubber rollers in my hair.

After the photo, my cousins dispersed leaving me to play with my dolls while the adults talked. I wasn’t paying attention until Aunt Pauline made a declaration I found so remarkable, so unexpected, so far removed from my world that it captured my full concentration. I stopped playing and pondered the words I would never forget.

“Nobody has carpets that are wall-to-wall anymore. It’s not the style. All the magazines show carpets stopping at least two feet away from the walls — as an accent.”

I was mesmerized, unaware of any other voices, or any discussion there may have been about this trend in home decorating – just Aunt Pauline’s.

I’d had never known a single house in Prichard to have the now unstylish wall-to-wall carpet, or an accent carpet either. Even if we could afford carpets, Petain Street was paved with Alabama’s famous red clay and the clay dust got ground into every piece of furniture and every curtain.

The old wood floors in our houses, if they were covered at all, were covered with linoleum. It came from the store in big roles that were printed to look like carpet, with blue, red, purple, and green flowers. But the colors quickly dulled as the clay and sandy soil of land nearly at sea level were ground into it by our shoes.

Even before the linoleum dulled, jagged lines of cracks appeared in it. Nobody would ever think of paying extra to have the linoleum laid and glued down by men from the store. “What? Waste all that money on something we can do for ourselves?” So the linoleum buckled even while it was being laid and it cracked with the first footstep.

“Nobody is putting in carpets that go wall-to-wall anymore. It’s not the style. All the magazines show carpets stopping at least two feet away from the walls — as an accent.”

What more is there to say? It’s a riddle and I still don’t have an answer. I suppose carpet’s the punch line of this posting. More about Aunt Pauline later.

COOKING WITH LARD AND FATBACK

I woke up this morning thinking about Grandmama’s turnip greens with corn dumplings – not just thinking about them, but smelling them. I’m sure a lot of people might think turnip greens are pretty odd things to wake up thinking about. But those people never ate at Grandmama’s house.

People don’t cook the way Mama and Grandmama cooked anymore. That’s because they’re more educated and they know eating foods laced with bacon drippings, butter, fatback, and lard is not healthy. But the food sure was good back when they cooked with lard and fatback.

So many of Grandmama’s old recipes are lost because she didn’t write them. She just cooked them. And the cooking was done by touch more than by measuring cups. Maybe that’s why they are called comfort foods. The old cooking was physical – tactile. You couldn’t just put in some cold measure. You had to feel it. How much salt did you throw in? The amount that felt right. Then you tasted and adjusted – By the way, did you know if you put too much salt in the soup or chicken stock, all you need to do is throw in a peeled potato and it will soak up the salt? Mama taught me that.

As I watched Grandmama or my great aunts, I saw their preparing of food was more than work. It was a family and social experience. Take turnip greens for example. The first step for cooking turnip greens was to gather up the greens in your apron, and take a

Front porches were for working and visiting with the neighbors

Front porches were for working and visiting with the neighbors

 newspaper and a dishpan with salt water out on the front porch where a cousin or neighbor, often the same person, would join you to gossip. Then you’d follow the directions below to make turnip greens and corn dumplings.

Ingredients:

TURNIP GREENS

TURNIP GREENS

A good sized mess of turnip greens with roots (about 2 bunches)

3 inch piece of fatback or thick bacon

2-3 palms of salt (about one teaspoon each)

Cleaning and cooking the greens:

Take the greens onto the front porch in your apron

Take them up one at a time and look them for bugs

Cut off any bad spots and trim out the stalks

Throw scraps onto the newspaper and put the good leaves in the wash pan

(The directions also apply if you’re shelling butter beans and sugar peas)

Soak greens in salt water for 5-10 minutes to kill any amoebas

Wash greens in clean water two-three times and set aside

Peel the roots and cut them into slices about an inch thick

Boil water in 2 quart pot with the fat back

Add turnip roots cut Cook 30 minutes and fork-test roots (should not be too soft)

Add greens and cook for 15 minutes

Ingredients for corn dumplings:

1 cup cornmeal

3 dashes salt (about half a teaspoon)

1 medium egg

A couple of spoons full of pot liquor (the water from the cooked greens)

Cornmeal dumplings:

Mix the cornmeal, salt, and egg

Add enough potliquor (liquid in the pot of greens) to moisten it enough to be rolled into balls

Roll the dough into balls and put them on top of the greens making sure they are covered with potliquor

Cook 5 – 10 minutes

Serve immediately or take the dumplings out and save in bowl till you’re ready to eat.

The corn dumplings were my favorite part. Next to them came the potliquor I’d scoop up in a cup when Grandmama wasn’t looking. I’d drink the greens dry if she’d let me. I can’t describe the taste. Cook the turnip greens and try it.

I’m tired of politically correct, cardboard food, sea salt, and cilantro. If you’ve saved any of the old fashioned, good-eating, salt-pepper-and-fat recipes, I’d love to have you post them here on my blog under the heading, Cooking With Lard and Fatback!