The Old Man: Marrying Stuff

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When the Old Man was much younger, he took a beautiful bride who had many old things. Some of these things were antiques she and her parents had collected and some were heirlooms of previous ancestors.

In most cases these things were odd (five wooden wall clocks from 1900, commemorating the Spanish American War) or cumbersome (an ornately carved pump organ). Other family members had already furnished their homes in particular styles, so these things became our things.

I think many young people are reluctant to accumulate antiques and heirlooms because they fear their ability to choose things for their own idiom might be compromised. Or perhaps they wisely anticipate the burden of a 250 pound pump organ.

We, however, had little to place in our first homes and we were possessed of a romantic – or perhaps simply unrealistic – nature. So the organ first joined us in Winchester, Virginia, and we then took it with us to suburban Chicago, back to Florida, then to Washington, D.C. and finally back to Florida again. Never once, have I been able to play an entire song on it. But great grandchildren of the man – my late father-in-law – who replaced the fabric on the wood treadles half a century ago merrily coaxed low moans from it just the other day.

Some of the other pieces that have been with us our entire lives together include:

•A Victrola that stands four feet tall in a conspicuous place in our living room, and still spins nonagenarian records at 78 RPM whenever the spirit moves us and we want to know what 1924 sounded like.

•Clocks and more clocks, in addition to the aforementioned timepieces from the Spanish American war. These include a small, ornate German clock that used to chime the hours and tick the moments in between for us in our cold and cramped first apartment, an English basement on Capitol Hill.

•A cherry china cabinet with glass shelves and a bowed glass door that my wife helped her father refinish, using Q-tips to reach into the narrow, carved grooves. As young parents we feared a toddler would crash into the glass, and for years positioned furniture defensively around it.

•A maple gate-leg table from the Depression that could tuck into a small space against the wall when we didn’t need it, or be made to expand by means of an ingenious folding leaf into a surface large enough for six and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Call them antiques, heirlooms or hand-me-downs, I think we always felt that these things were a trust, over which we would enjoy stewardship for a time, and then it will be someone else’s turn to live with them. We have added considerably to the collection over the years with many odd and cumbersome pieces of our own. What makes them special is the knowledge that they meant so much to someone long before us, and they have continued to play prominent roles in the accumulated memories of our family for the past three decades.

I hope our kids have big houses.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

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The Nectar of the Gods

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by Cecelia

I’ve tasted the nectar of the gods; it’s my mother-in-law’s French dressing.

If you’re not a French dressing fan, this dressing will convert you. It’s tangy and pairs well with a variety of dishes.

When I began dating my husband 17-years-ago, French dressing was far from my favorite. I associated it with menu items like Salisbury steak and fruit cocktail; dishes shunned and replaced with pesto, arugula and sun dried tomatoes by the late 90s.

I remember sitting down to a Sunday supper at my in-laws’ house. The menu was fried chicken, yellow rice and a tossed salad with French dressing. I glanced around the table for another dressing option. Finding none, I drizzled a little French dressing on my salad.

The first bite of salad made me ask my brother-in-law to pass the gravy boat of dressing back down the table. In fact, by the end of dinner I was spooning it over my fried chicken like one of the family.

Today, I make this dressing about once a month. It is delicious on salads (obviously) sliced avocados and, if you pour a little over your fried chicken, I won’t judge you.

You’ll need a blender and three jam jars before you begin.

Sally’s French Dressing:

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.

Cecelia is a military brat turned Southerner. She is an avid reader and lover of camellias, blue and white china, gin and tonics and tomato pie.

Robert E. Lee Cake

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by Pookie

Recently, we celebrated the Old Man’s birthday and I made the well-intentioned mistake of asking him what kind of cake he wanted. He yelped out his answer before I even finished the question: Robert E. Lee cake…a delicious, lemony, and incredibly time consuming undertaking.

Although the original recipe calls for real and full fat butter, it is just as good with vegan butter for those, like me, who have a complicated relationship with dairy.

The most important thing with this particular cake is to set aside about four hours to spend on it from start to completion (a lot of time is spent waiting for things to cool). So kick off your shoes and get your county music playlist ready to go.

It is worth every minute!

Robert E. Lee Cake

For the cake:

1 tablespoon of room temperature, dairy free vegan or real butter (I use Earth Balance sticks)
2 tablespoons and 2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 tablespoon salt
8 eggs—separate the yolks and whites
2 cups of sugar
¼ cup lemon juice—strained
2 teaspoons lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 350. Use the tablespoon of (faux) butter to grease two 9 inch layer cake pans. Then take the 2 tablespoons of flour and coat the pans, although you probably won’t need the whole 2 tablespoons.

In a large bowl, combine the 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Set it aside for now.

In a second large bowl, beat the yolks and sugar with an electric hand mixer until its thick, about 5 minutes. Add in the lemon juice and zest and keep mixing for another minute. Grab the flour mixture and add that to the egg mixture at about half a cup at a time, mixing thoroughly each time you add more.

Now, remember the egg whites? Take the mixer, with clean paddles, and beat the egg whites until they’re fluffy and stiff. This will take a little longer than you think. Then, spoon the egg whites into the batter and gently fold them in until they’re thoroughly mixed. Don’t rush this part.

Pour the batter into the two pans and smooth out the tops. You’re going to be stacking layers so making it smooth will help later on. Bake them in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until they pass the toothpick test. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 5 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool to room temperature.

Filling:

6 tablespoons of room temperature (vegan) butter cut in pieces
¾ cup of sugar
¾ cup of strained lemon juice
6 egg yolks (you can save the whites for healthy omelets the next morning)
4 teaspoons of lemon zest

This part is pretty easy but takes a while. Just combine all the ingredients except for the lemon zest in a sauce pan. Cook it over low heat and stir constantly until it gets thick and curd-like. Don’t boil it or the egg yolks will curdle. Once it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon fairly heavily, scrape it into a small bowl and stir in the lemon zest. This will also need to cool to room temperature.

Icing:

4 tablespoons of room temperature (vegan) butter
¼ cup of orange juice mixed with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 pound of confectioner sugar
2 teaspoons of lemon zest

My personal favorite part of any cake! In a large bowl cream the (vegan) butter, and then add in about 1 cup of confectioner sugar. After that is mixed, add in a splash of the juice mixture. Keep doing this until everything is mixed together—about 1 ¼ cups sugar and 2 tablespoons of juice at a time. Lastly, you’ll add in the lemon zest. You can omit this if you’d like though, the cake is already very lemony!

Assembly:

Cut the two cakes in half horizontally to make 4 thin layers. Go ahead and assemble the cake on your cake plate, it just makes it easier. Place the bottom layer on the plate and spread about 1/3 of the filling over the top. Then add the second layer and repeat until you have a fully formed cake. Now ice it and try to wait until desert to dig in.

Enjoy!


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

Chairing

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The text might arrive while I shuttle my children to soccer or struggle with long-forgotten algebra as I help my seventh grader with homework. Or I’ll text as I switch laundry out or leave a PTA meeting. The texts are usually just one word: “Chairs?” That single word boosts my mood and enables me to make it through the day.

Why the word chairs?

Well, our neighborhood has coined the term “chairing” to describe our impromptu cocktail hours in our Adirondack chairs. My neighbors have owned their chairs for years; picking them up in Cedar Key as a reminder of the special hold that island has on them.

Mine came to grace my yard more recently. My husband surprised me with them at Easter-choosing four chairs rather than only two, so that we could always invite the neighbors to join us. To say these chairs have revolutionized the way I live and use my yard is an understatement.

We’ll gather in one yard or the other many evenings. It’s a given that if you see the other couple in their chairs, you’re invited. It’s that Southern Hospitality that you think died with your great-aunt Millie or the kind of Southern Grace places like Celebration try to recreate, but fall just short of capturing.

Bottles of wine, antique stemware and seersucker napkins are expected. Snacks are a must—I find myself keeping pimento cheese or cream cheese and peach pepper jelly on hand at all times for chairing. Cheese straws or fig flat-bread might be featured, or if it’s been a crazy day, we might just pass around a box of Wheat Thins.

We sit and visit, review our days, discuss The Goldfinch or latest Vanity Fair article, theorize on where the missing Malaysian plane might be or discuss the great mysteries of our neighborhood, the current topic being why another neighbor keeps a step ladder in his front yard.

We stay as long as we can until the wine’s all gone or the mosquitoes eat us alive.

Knowing your neighbors and knowing them well is a luxury in these times. We four—five now that Pookie is graduated and home from Ole Miss—benefit from this old Southern way of living. Using fine china, antique wine glasses and linen cocktail napkins during chair time reminds us to cherish and appreciate the lovely perfection of ordinary days. Sharing food and drink to nourish the souls of your neighbors and your spouse is an act of love and serves to build the kind of life-giving relationship that seems intrinsic to the South.

We are the 2014 versions of Atticus and Miss Maudie in Adirondack chairs instead of on porches.

Cecelia is a military brat turned Southerner. She is an avid reader and lover of camellias, blue and white china, gin and tonics and tomato pie.