The Lovely Details: Bourbon and Sweet Tea Punch

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Last weekend we hosted the First Annual WeHaveAnOldHouse Dinner Party to thank our contributors, early supporters and family in addition to celebrating the first six months of the blog.

It was such a treat to see everyone together and to enjoy some outrageously good Southern food including Cecelia’s homemade French dressing served with a tomato, avocado and red onion salad AND used as a dipping sauce for fried chicken.

Since no proper dinner party is complete without a welcome cocktail, we thought we’d polish up the silver punch bowl and cups and create a signature drink that combines our Aunt Jen’s Sweet Tea recipe and our love of bourbon. Our guests definitely enjoyed it.

We hope you do too.

The WeHaveAnOldHouse Bourbon and Sweet Tea Punch

Two cups sweet ice tea (recipe follows)
One 12 oz can frozen OJ
One 12 oz can frozen limeade
Add bourbon to taste (we use about 2/3 of a 750 ml bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon)
7 cups water
Mix all ingredients and chill.

Aunt Jen’s Sweet Tea
(What Southerners Talk About When We Talk About Y’all), published in October, 2014

8 cups of water
3/4 cup sugar
6 regular tea bags
Lots of ice

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Once the water is rolling, add in the sugar and bring back to a boil for about a minute. Turn the heat off and add the tea bags. Then just let it sit until the tea is thoroughly steeped and cooled down. Pour some into a glass with ice—preferably crushed—and enjoy!

Cecelia’s Homemade French Dressing
(The Nectar of the Gods) published in September, 2014

1 can of Campbell’s tomato soup
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/3 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
1 Tbsp dry mustard
Dash of garlic powder

Pour all ingredients into blender and pulse until fully combined.

Divide into three small jam jars or other containers. Refrigerate for up to three weeks.

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A Short Visit in Maycomb

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Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square…Scout Finch.

I have never driven through rain quite like that.

It was early June of 2010 and the Old Man, Pookie and I were almost at the end of a weeklong road trip from Pookie’s college in Vermont, to her new school in Mississippi, and finally back home to Florida.

But first we had to make a long-overdue pilgrimage to Monroeville, Alabama, the real-life Maycomb where Harper Lee set her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Where, as children, she and Truman Capote once lived next door to each other, making up stories and racing down sidewalks and through neighbors yards to the courthouse square.

It had to be a magical place.

On the map the drive from Oxford, Mississippi to Monroeville, Alabama looked easy enough: a few four-lane highways and a couple of two-lane country roads.  It was just after dark when the rain started.  It was somehow foggy and raining at the same time.  The country back roads that were nothing on the map became treacherously curvy and hilly.  Visibility was so bad that the Old Man used the navigation on his phone to tell me how far I had to go before the next twist in the road. There was no place to pull over.

Somehow we made it through the white knuckle drive and the rain began to subside just as we pulled into town. It was a Saturday night but nothing was open and no one was out.  Even David’s Catfish House, where Miss Lee was rumored to be a regular patron, was fixin’ to close. It was no different than any other small town Southern county seat with a courthouse square.

The following morning we found the site of Miss Lee’s childhood home, which had been replaced by a walk-up dairy bar.  The home where Capote spent time with his aunts burned in the 1940s.  All that remains is the stone wall that separated the properties.

And Miss Lee.  She still lives in her hometown.  And today, 55 years after the publication of her only book, she announced that this summer she will publish Go Set A Watchman, a novel she completed in the 1950s which features a grown-up Scout Finch.  I have already signed up for a copy.

So maybe Maycomb, Alabama is a magical place.  Just like Cross Creek was magical for Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, or Oxford was for Faulkner.  Or maybe even your community.  Even if it appears a little tired.

The Undefeated Eleven

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I’ve long been a believer of the “ripple effect” in dealing with people, especially the young people I meet.

The intellectual term is “elevation” which was coined by Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University. Haidt believes that witnessing courage, compassion, or generosity can not only make us better people but increase the likelihood we’ll do good works of our own.

I thought of creating good ripples when I came across the yellowed newspaper clipping that was stuck in the back of a book I found in the private library of the grandest estate in town. The clipping had a picture of two coaches and 21 boys wearing football sweaters and leather helmets which must have been miserable in the heat and humidity. It was taken in 1927 just a few blocks from our Old House which was newly built. The headline read “The Undefeated Eleven.”

This team was not playing for the local high school but for the Bartow Boy Scout Troop 1 and they travelled the state of Florida playing against military and junior high school teams. The never lost a game. The coaches were their troop leader: George Watters “Floppy” Mann and E.A. Bosarge who, according to the news report, “guided the boys in their troop in other activities besides football.”

“They taught them ballroom dancing, how to play bridge, and gave them exercises in table manners using silver borrowed from Gen. and Mrs. A.H. Blanding for place settings,” the story reported. “Mann and Bosarge did all the instructing, except for the girls who joined the group for ballroom dancing classes.”

“They took the boys on trips during two summers to Canada, Mexico and Colorado, using their own money plus a charge of $6 to each scout and contributions from interested citizens. The boys travelled in a bus, furnished by Bosarge, and a truck which Mann owned, and camped out at night along the way.

Mann was a success in business and lived in our town until his death in 1974. Bosarge went on to a long and prominent legal career which included arguing cases before the Florida Supreme Court. General A.H. Blanding was appointed Chief of the National Guard Bureau by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 and before that as a member of the Florida Board of Regents he helped to build the University of Florida into an academic powerhouse.

One of the boys, G. W. “Buck” Mann, helped guide the citrus and cattle industry for years in Florida. Another, Kelsie Reaves, went on the graduate from West Point, work as a staff officer for Joint Task Force 7 conducting atomic tests at Eniwetok Atoll, command the 14th Infantry 25th Division during the Korean War, serve on the staff of NATO, command the 3rd Armored Division in Germany as well as serve as the Deputy Director, Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. during the Vietnam War. He retired as a Major General.

“Elevation seems to have a ripple effect, triggering cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes,” professor Haidt says. “It makes people more open, more loving, grateful, compassionate, and forgiving.”

I like to think that it was their proficiency with etiquette, their world view influenced by travel in addition to toughness learned on the playing field that helped these boys establish a town, serve their country and lead productive lives. But whatever the reason, the story of these boys and their volunteer leaders from a tiny rural town is a great lesson to all of us that good actions can lead to good ripples.

Cooking for Eudora

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“…like all good visits snatched from the jaws of time…” – Eudora Welty, letter to William and Emily Maxwell, June 10, 1970.

This is how I feel when my friend Cecelia and I meet for lunch—whether it’s a long overdue catch-up like the one we enjoyed today or a brief conversation over a sandwich.

Cecelia is also a world class cook with intuition: the friend who somehow senses that you didn’t quite make it to the grocery or that while the husband is travelling you will probably settle into a giant bowl of cereal for dinner. Without having to say a word, she will appear on the doorstep with a perfect Flow Blue Platter full of her famous “Macho Salad” or pork tenderloin with apples saying “I just made way too much and we’ll never finish it all.”

Cecelia is a gracious Southerner in the tradition of Eudora Welty’s neighbor and the Southern Living cookbook author Winifred Green Cheney, who kept the great writer as well as many other friends and neighbors sustained.

“She cooks to honor the visitor, and also she cooks for a varying but ever-present list of neighbors or friends who are convalescing from illness, who are in trouble of some kind, who are alone or confined to their homes,” Welty wrote in the preface to Cheney’s 1976 cookbook The Southern Hospitality Cookbook.

“The original Lady Bountiful was the invention of an Irish dramatist in 1707,” Welty wrote. “Winifred exists as her own version. She makes her rounds with baskets and trays as a simple extension of her natural hospitality. In good weather but especially in bad, splashing forth in raincoat and tennis shoes, carrying a warm cake straight from her oven, she sympathizes with you or celebrates with you by sharing her table with you.”

In addition to being a world-class neighbor, Cheney was a food columnist for The National Observer and also wrote the Southern Living Cooking for Company as well as the books Singing Heart and Singing His Song. Although her recipes are definitely from the 1970s sour cream loving era, I take some comfort in the fact that Cheney died at the age of 87 in 2000; Welty died the following year at age 91.

My favorite recipe from Cheney’s Southern Hospitality is the Sour Cream Pound Cake which she introduces with little fanfare other than “With no exceptions, this is the best pound cake I have ever tasted.”

Agreed!

Sour Cream Pound Cake

“Let me be confined to my typewriter with a deadline, and, as though it were a fate I didn’t deserve, Winifred appears with something on a tray to sustain me,” Eudora Welty.

Preheat oven to 325

1 ½ cups butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, lemon or ½ teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon almond)

Cream butter until it has reached the consistency of whipped cream. When you think you have creamed it enough, cream it some more. Slowly dribble in sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in sour cream. Put measured flour into sifter with soda and salt, and resift three times. Add flour ½ cup at a time to creamed butter, blending well with mixer on lowest speed. Add flavoring.(Cheney used vanilla and almond along with two tablespoons brandy. I use orange blossom honey moonshine).

Pour batter into one tube pan, greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours or until cake tests done. Cool on rack 15 minutes and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Remove from pan and continue to cool.

Enjoy!

Motivation: I Meant To Post This Yesterday

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by Pookie

There is just enough room
on the half-made mattress
for a strategic nap,
body curled carefully around
an assortment of books,
clothes, and technology
that have long been separated
from appropriate housing.

There used to be a chair
next to a former desk,
but it is now a shelf
of laundry that might be clean
and a table of used
and forgotten kitchen-ware.

There is a pathway on what
might be hard-wood floor
from the door to the bed
and the bed to the bookcase,
an artfully mapped plan around
high-heels and dusty sneakers.

The piles keep growing
but there is still enough room
to moderately function.
I will deal with it later

Pookie is a poet and proud Ole Miss Alum who is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.

A Whole Life In Common

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“You don’t have to have anything in common with people you’ve known since you were five. With old friends, you’ve got your whole life in common.” Lyle Lovett

For a fleeting moment it was just like 1984.

Together for the first time in 31 years at another beautiful wedding; although thankfully this time we were there just to help with last minute errands instead of me wearing my Maid of Honor dress or him giving the Best Man toast.

The former Best Man and I were there to celebrate not only the marriage of a beautiful young couple but to honor the bride’s parents, our individual allies from childhood, to whom friendship means so much. The people who are the first ones that you call for reassurance when you are angry at life or to laugh with when you have the most incredible story; to cry with when a child is sick or a parent has passed; and with whom you simply must share your 50th birthday drinking champagne straight from a bottle while on a boat.

Like all weddings, we reminisced about the old days together. The guys have their skiing and golfing adventures, Pam and I have a childhood spent carpooling to school, Miss Jackie’s dance classes, and the Swim Club in one of our mother’s vehicles. The days back before anyone became very successful in business, before I met and married the Old Man, and way before any of us thought about children of our own.

In the 30 years since my own wedding to the Old Man, I have learned that marriage celebrations are so much more than a couple starting their family. It’s also publicly identifying the friends who will become your life champions just when you need them the most.

So as the Old Man and I danced alongside our friends at their daughter’s wedding reception I just couldn’t help but feel just how lucky I am to have found people with whom I truly have my whole life in common.

The Old Man: Burning in the New Year

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Traditions are one of the ways we tell ourselves and each other who we are. And if you live in a small town, you know how sometimes even the smallest of traditions can carry enormous weight. New Year’s Eve is when my little southern town in Central Florida carries on what is apparently a unique tradition in America.

The Bartow Christmas tree burning has been going on for 78 years according to some accounts. Even though the pile of trees collected and stacked around a 35 foot-tall wooden pole on the edge of a soccer field seems to get a little smaller each year, the tradition keeps going.

A decade-and-a-half ago, when we came to witness our first tree burning, we stumbled across the bumpy grass in a darkness that was so complete we wanted to stretch our hands out before us. Finally, we recognized the dim shapes of dozens people gathered at the edge of the field. We made our way there, recognizing voices from our church and neighborhood. We found a place to stand just as a pinpoint of light from a flashlight ignited above a small podium a dozen yards away.

The voice of S. L. Frisbie IV, the editor and publisher of our town’s twice-weekly newspaper, welcomed everyone and began to explain what was about to happen. With the soft-round vowels of our local accent and the gentle humor that is his trademark, he told the story of how a city councilman in the 1930s worried about the fire hazard of having tinder-dry Christmas trees inside wood frame houses more than a week past the holiday.

This councilman began a rumor that it is bad luck to have a tree in your house after the First of the Year. Once he convinced his colleagues on the City Council of this superstition, he succeeded in winning the City’s approval to hold a community bonfire with donated Christmas trees from the citizens. The idea quickly won support. Whether they were concerned about luck or just wanted to know that their own tree was part of the celebration, people eagerly contributed their trees to the effort, and a new tradition was born.

The bonfire was interrupted during the Second World War over concerns that Nazi U-boat navigators might spot the glow on the horizon. Once we were free from the thought of Germans peering through periscopes at a small town 60 miles inland, the tradition was renewed, and S.L. says the Associated Press occasionally lists our town’s tree burning as an example of unusual community events in America.

And so, our town’s tradition has also become our family’s tradition. Ever since we first came here, we have stumbled through the dark with children and friends to the join the small crowd at the edge of the soccer field.

We listen to S.L. deliver the same monologue — with the same jokes and same wonderment over such things as New Year superstitions and enemy submarines. Then we join the voices in the dark singing a Scottish tune most of us don’t understand the words to. And then we applaud and cheer as the stack of trees bursts into a golden blaze that climbs high into the sky, driving the night from around us.

In this moment we know the past is burning away, and its glow is helping us to see clearly everyone around us, smiling, laughing, and gazing at the flames. On New Year’s Eve, we’ll be there again, celebrating the past and looking forward to the future.

Happy New Year!