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!

New Year’s, Collards and Potlikker

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“Greasy grit gravy and gizzard greens
Big fat pie and mobo beans
Make you wanna split your jeans
Eatin’ greasy grit gravy and gizzard greens.”                        From the song Greasy Grit Gravy, lyrics by Shel Silverstein

In the South, legend has it that if you eat a serving or two of collard greens on New Year’s Day you’ll have riches in the New Year. Each bite symbolizes $1,000.

We eat so many collards throughout the year you would think our last name would be Gates or Rockefeller by now. Without any financial incentives we do collards as a side dish, at brunch topped with fried eggs, or as a main dish spooned over spaghetti squash with bacon.

Collards are the original kale; but better. They can be cooked any way you see fit and are also full of great anti-oxidants even when boiled with a ham hock.

Every Southern cook I know has their own “special” collard recipe: Leslie adds cabbage to her collards, Tristan throws onions and garlic into his pot, but I prefer the smoky potlikker-style collard recipes.

Potlikker is the best part about any kind of green. (Pookie loves it so much that she has a hat from the Southern Foodways Alliance that says “Potlikker, it’s a SFA thing”). That delicious pork seasoned broth can be saved and turned into soup, reduced into sauces or as Craig Claiborne suggested in his book Southern Cooking, “If you want to be fancy, you can always make cornmeal dumplings to float on top of the cooking liquid.”

In our house, potlikker doesn’t last long enough to make it to the fancy dumpling stage, and only rarely to the soup stage. We usually take what’s left and pour it over some corn bread and eat the dripping goodness with no shame, although sometimes over the sink.

Here are a few of our varieties of collard greens recipes.

Happy New Year!

Tristan’s Big Batch of Greens
1 onion
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Smoked ham trimming and bone
6 heads of collard greens, cleaned and chopped (no stems)
In very large pot, bring 1 and a half gallons of water to a boil. Add onion, garlic, salt, ham trimmings and bone. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add greens and cook for 1-2 hours until tender.

Sunday Collards, The Lee Bro.’s
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 smoked ham hock or ¼ pound slab of bacon, diced
8 cups of water
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 ¾ pounds of collard greens, ribbed, washed, and cut into 1 inch wide strips (confession: I use the pre-washed and pre-chopped collards and they work just fine in lieu of a direct garden connection)

Pour oil into an 8-quart pot over medium-high heat and swirl until it covers the bottom. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, put the ham hock or bacon in to sear and let the fat render. Takes about 5-6 minutes.

Pour the water into the hot pot. Then add the red pepper flakes and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the cooking liquid for 30 minutes.

Then add in the collards by the handful. They will try to float so stir them often, fully submerging them, until they’re a bright green. They’ll become floppier and more compact, so you can add more handfuls. Continue adding handfuls of collards, stirring and submerging them, until all greens are in the pot (6-10 minutes). Turn the heat to low and simmer very gently for 1 hour. The greens will be a very dark matte green and completely tender.

From The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners, Matt Lee and Ted Lee, 2006.

And check out the great work going on at the Southern Foodways Alliance at http://www.southernfoodways.org

Enjoy!

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

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I have had so many requests for this recipe since I first shared it at Thanksgiving that I am re posting it in time for Christmas. Enjoy!

wehaveanoldhouse

“I have nibbled at the Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie, and have served it to those in whose welfare I took no interest, but being inclined to plumpness, and having as well a desire to see out my days on earth, I have never eaten a full portion.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, “Cross Creek Cookery”

This is a pecan pie for people who don’t really care for pecan pie.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ “Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie” is a transformational recipe that lacks the bitter, burnt flavored top crust that other pecan pies seem to have. It is more like praline candy than pie and according to Rawlings “fat men are particularly addicted to it.” So you know it’s good!

For 30 years, I have made this pie for Thanksgiving, sharing it with people I very much care about, not just the “fat men” who clamor for it.

Enjoy!

Utterly Deadly…

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Tangerine Sherbet

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“Actually, it is very simple, and the only tricks to it are in having one’s own tangerine trees—and the patience to squeeze the juice from at least a twelve-quart water bucket of the tangerines.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek Cookery, 1942.

O.K., she may have overstated the number of tangerines, but Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings knew how to turn an abundance of seasonal fresh produce into delicacies .

Back before the Farm to Table movement had taken hold or I had ever heard of Michael Pollan or Wendell Berry, we bought our Old House with a small citrus grove in the yard. Moving from a thin row house in Washington, D.C. to central Florida, I was determined to use every last bit of my new-found bounty of grapefruit, oranges and tangerines.

So I filled the freezer with juice and learned to prepare a real tangerine sherbet that is nothing like the old tubs of orange-colored ice my mother used to keep on hand for summer treats.

No, as Rawlings noted, this is a dish that has “an extremely exotic flavor and is a gorgeous color.” It is also an easy make ahead treat that is perfect as a Christmas gift, spooned over vanilla ice cream or eaten by the gallon right out of the container.

Sadly, our tangerine tree succumbed last year to old age and disease. This has left us with a void of readily available sherbert.  Although our kids are grown now and no longer plow through pounds of it while leaving sticky spoons all over the house, they miss the tree as much as I do and keep asking  when we’ll get another sherbert tree. So this Florida winter, you will find me out at the farm stand buying bags of tangerines and getting that juicer fired up.

I hope Santa will bring me a new tree…

Cross Creek Tangerine Sherbet

I cup sugar
1 ½ cups of water
Juice of one large lemon
4 cups tangerine juice
Zest from 4 tangerines

Boil sugar and water for ten minutes. Then add the tangerine zest to the syrup while hot. Let cool slightly and add the lemon and tangerine juice. Taste for sweetness and acidity, as the tangerines vary. Chill thoroughly, strain and freeze.

I freeze some of the sherbet in single serving containers for easy desert options or treats for the neighbors.
ENJOY!

Victory Over Daily Life: The Washing Machine

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The slight smell of burning rubber coming from the laundry room should have alerted us to a problem. But it was the weekend and something in the dryer probably just got hot.

By Monday, it became clear that it wasn’t the dryer at all.

Isn’t it always a load of towels that sends washing machines into spasms? Or in our case just murdered the appliance with the sudden precision strike of an assassin.

It was Monday, I was ill, and it was raining. So I did what any person in my situation would do…I called my mother to complain. Whine really.

And it helped.

There was no reason to panic because I actually have two washing machines. The recently deceased one that was a part of the 2004 addition to the Old House and the older top loading one that sits in the original laundry room behind the garage and is nothing more than a shelf for Christmas decorations.

I believe that every old house in our neighborhood has an outside laundry room, sometimes connected to the garage but never to the house. Early in the morning, you can often catch a glimpse of our neighbors, huddling in their bathrobes, dashing out to their laundry rooms to fetch some necessaries. It’s Florida and the builders of these houses got it right when they decided that the last thing they needed was an appliance blowing hot air.

After my pouting and foot stomping, I pulled myself together enough to call the repairman and dust off the old machine so that I could be back in the laundry business.

Now it’s Thursday.  In three days I have become an expert on washing machine transmissions. Who knew that there were such things?  And who would have thought that they would eventually leak oil and die on a rainy Monday?

Not just the one machine…no, both my washers decided to go out together like an elderly couple in one of those wonderful stories, or probably more like Thelma and Louise.

The new machine with a viable transmission is on its way.  A trip to the laundromat ended the immediate dirty clothes crisis.

My cold is gone. The sun is out.

But I’m sure there will be something else to whine about when I call my mother this afternoon!

Work Night Arroz Con Pollo

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I remember the smell of the sofrito coming from the stove as I played with my two great childhood friends in their house located just a few feet from mine. Because I was a child I never fully understood that just a few years before this family lived a very different life in their native Cuba…before they were forced to make a dangerous escape to the United States as a young couple with two small girls and leave everything behind except the clothes they were wearing.

This extended family became a loving window to a larger world for me. One grandmother was a painter who patiently sat with us at the small dining room table as we drew and colored pictures trying to impress her. A grandfather was convinced that he could teach me to speak Spanish but gave up after a few days declaring with a smile and a wink that it was an impossible task due to my Southern accent.

The food that came out of that small kitchen was unlike anything I had ever imagined. Golden fried plantains, heaping bowls of black beans over white rice and for New Year’s, a whole pig roasted in a pit dug in their back yard and served on a giant platter complete with an apple in its mouth.

Arroz Con Pollo, or chicken and yellow rice, was always my favorite and one of the thousands of versions of it is still served at every church dinner, local festival or fundraising event around Florida.

“If the mockingbird is the Florida state bird and the orange blossom the state flower, then chicken and yellow rice may well have become the state dish,” Jane Nickerson wrote in her 1973 Florida Cookbook.

And while I have tried many “reinventions” of the recipe, the old Spanish-based one from Tampa’s Columbia restaurant remains the best. Unfortunately, work nights call for some short cuts but this is a delicious standby using a store bought rotisserie chicken and some items already in your pantry (especially the packaged rice when you don’t happen to have saffron on hand.)

But even in this short-cut version, the smell of that sofrito still carries me right back to those days on Crystal Terrace…

Work Night Arroz Con Pollo

1 store bought rotisserie chicken (I use either a no flavor or a mojo flavored chicken if you can find it)
1 small white onion sliced
Two cloves garlic minced
1 small can chopped tomatoes drained
1 small green pepper chopped
A 16 ounce bag of yellow rice mix (I use Vigo)
Frozen small peas cooked to package instructions
1 jar of sliced pimentos

Preheat the oven to 350

Quarter the chicken and set aside. Prepare the rice to package instructions preferably in a large covered oven proof pot. Sauté sliced onions and garlic until tender, and then add tomatoes and green pepper to heat through. When the rice is done, add the onion mixture to the pot and give a big stir. Add the chicken to the top, cover and place in the oven until heated through, usually about 15-20 minutes. Add heated peas and sliced pimentos to taste.

Serve with a warm loaf of Cuban bread (or any crusty bread) and ENJOY!

A Thanksgiving Reading

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By The Old Man and Me

Under an opaque sky and the damp cool air you get in the South before the freezes come, the cedars and magnolias of the old Faulkner mansion regarded us with silent suspicion as we unfolded our little wooden table.

It was Thanksgiving and we had the grounds as well as the holiday to ourselves since it was the first time neither of our children could make it home. We spread the cheery tablecloth, popped the wine cork, and let the smell of bakery pumpkin pie, BBQ joint smoked turkey legs, and homemade stuffing made for us by a friend fill the air of Rowan Oak.

Before we ate, we started a new tradition. We each brought a favorite book and read a passage that meant something to us. Since we were on the sacred grounds of Rowen Oak, we read from “Absalom, Absalom” and “As I Lay Dying.” The next year, as we sat in our own Florida backyard, we read from a variety of writers including Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain.

This year we will again be separated by too many miles when the time comes to sit and give thanks on Thursday. But no matter where we are, whether it is at an extended family gathering in Lake Wales, Florida, a restaurant in Albuquerque, or an Army base in Missouri, we will stop and say a few words. And hopefully some beautifully constructed passages from a favorite book will make each of us feel “at home.”

This year one of the books we will be reading from is Mark Richard’s glorious 2011 memoir “House of Prayer No. 2.” Writing beautifully in the second person, Richard’s memoir is equally funny, heartbreaking and poignant. A good story is definitely something to be thankful for.

Here is a favorite passage:

“You tag along when they go down to Roanoke to pick up Truman Capote at the airport, and the first thing he wants is a drink, and the only place your friend with the limousine knows is the Polynesian restaurant by the airport where they serve birdbath-sized drinks with fruit and parasols, and Mr. Capote says, Perfect! You’re supposed to keep an eye on the time because you still have an hour drive to school, but Mr. Capote keeps ordering scorpions, and you’re all getting drunk listening to him talk about a man who injected rattlesnakes with amphetamines and put them in a car that someone got into and the doors locked once he got in and he was bitten to death, isn’t that something? It’s true, it’s true! He keeps saying in a catlike voice; he says he has the newspaper clippings to prove it.

By the time you get to the school auditorium for the reading, people are leaving, and there are some people really angry with you. Mr. Capote requested a pink spotlight, and even though he’s had as much to drink as you, he goes right to the podium and gives a reading of a Christmas story that makes people cry. Afterward, he signs two books for you; one you give to the father of a girl you are in love with who will die. She will be your first true love. When you would drive out to her gentlemen farmer’s house, you’d take bunches of gardenias cut from your neighbors’ bushes, and while you’d wait for her to get ready, you and her father would sit on the back patio if it wasn’t too buggy; his house was near the river where you could still see trenches from the siege of Suffolk, and the two of you would talk books, Faulkner and Camus. For years after she dies, when you would run into each other, you both try not to cry.”