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Posts Tagged ‘South’

True confession: I didn’t eat coleslaw for nearly 30 nears.

For someone who grew up in the South, that’s quite an accomplishment.

The coleslaw I remember from my childhood was a gloppy, mayonnaise-laden mixture that I could not imagine eating. For one thing, it was incredibly crunchy, although I can’t tell you precisely WHY that was so off-putting to me. I’ve never been anti-mayonnaise, either, but those tiny bits of cabbage coated in it were uniquely unappealing.

At some point, however, I discovered vinegar-based coleslaw.

This. Yes. This made sense.

Flavored with vinegar and a little salt and sugar, this brand of coleslaw was more akin to a fresh salad than the heavy blob of a side dish I remembered. I was old enough by that time to be over the fear of crunchiness, too.

I still didn’t venture to make my own coleslaw, however, for a while after that. For one thing, I knew it was a dish that my sometimes-picky husband wasn’t going to touch.

When I joined a CSA, however, I suddenly found myself facing a head of cabbage every couple of weeks. I was also armed with a brand new food processor, complete with a shredding blade.

Oh yeah.

I quickly found a Rachael Ray recipe for Oil and Vinegar Slaw on FoodNetwork.com and went to work. It calls for a 16-ounce bag of shredded cabbage mix, but I just substituted 16 ounces of the head of cabbage (I just chopped off a chunk at a time and weighed it) and ran it through the shredding blade. I never looked up what else might be in cabbage mix, but what I’m making is delicious as is.

Oil and Vinegar Slaw
(Recipe by Rachael Ray)

  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 sack, 16 ounces, shredded cabbage mix for slaw salads
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Salt and pepper

Mix vinegar and sugar. Add oil. Add cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Toss with fingers to combine. Adjust seasoning. Let stand 20 minutes. Re-toss and serve.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 42: I picked up a Michael Graves drawer organizer, priced at $4 rather than the normal $10, at Dirt Cheap, which seems to have an unending supply of items from Target this winter. I had three small kitchen cabinet drawers filled with accessories and gadgets, all of which I use sometimes, but some of which I use ALL the time. And drawers are like handbags — the thing you need is always at the bottom under other things.

Now I have the stuff that I use all the time sorted into four little organized rows in a larger drawer. I moved the contents of the larger drawer (rolls of foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, etc.) into two small drawers, and the third small drawer holds the things I use sometimes.

The three small drawers before organization.

 

(If you haven’t heard of Dirt Cheap, it’s an offshoot of Hudsons Salvage. When I was growing up in South Mississippi, Hudsons was known for selling what I called “disaster merchandise” from stores that had suffered fires or flood. Today, Hudsons and its offshoots, Treasure Hunt and Dirt Cheap, sell what’s known as “problem inventories,” which apparently include everything from closeout stock to seconds. Shopping at these stores is an adventure, to say the very least.)

Also this week:

Day 41: Filled all the liquid soap containers with liquid soap, then forgot to bring them upstairs for a whole 24 hours. But it’s the thought that counts, right? And your hands can’t be that dirty anyway.

Day 43: Sort of organized some school files I brought with me on a CD from my last job. This is the sort of task that makes Dropbox pretty appealing.

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It’s good to have friends who help you maintain a positive attitude and healthy habits. It’s also good to have friends who urge you to make questionable choices every once in a while.

When I emailed a photo of a surprising food find — Little Debbie Banana Pudding Rolls — to a former colleague earlier this week, he responded immediately:  “My professional advice to you is to buy two boxes of them right now. Why two? Because you’ll eat one box on the way home from the store.”

How could a girl resist?

I grew up eating Little Debbie products at my grandparent’s house in South Mississippi — my brother and I could always find a box of the treats on top of the refrigerator. I am the Forrest Gump of Little Debbie products, with a readily accessible running list of the different varieties taking up valuable space inside my brain. Ask me about nearly any of the company’s products, and I can run down a quick review for you. Here are just a few that popped into my head this very minute:

Devil Squares: Their substantial filling and sort of weirdly textured chocolate coating combine for a unique and delicious culinary experience that made me, as a child, feel slightly more sophisticated than my tomboyish habits generally merited. (more…)

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I don’t even know what to call this piece of furniture. Spice cabinet? Spice drawers? During its long tenure in my grandmother’s house, it was simply the blue drawers in the hallway; for adults, the holder of telephone books, for kids, the source of puzzles and books, pencils and paper.

I brought it home after my grandmother’s funeral last week, stuffing it into my tiny car along with a few photographs and a handful of handwritten recipes from the bottom kitchen drawer.

I asked for this piece long ago (my grandmother had been assigning artifacts to children and grandchildren alike for nearly three decades), choosing it over the fancier formal china cabinet that resided in the den and didn’t match my personality or decorating style any more than pineapple-topped bedposts.

Seriously, what’s with the pineapple-topped bedposts?

It’s in my office now, slightly cleaner thanks to a brief encounter with Murphy’s Oil Soap, but still bearing evidence of its age. Rather than puzzles and phone books, it holds the essentials of a perpetual graduate student. Mostly, though, it just holds memories, and I’m grateful that my husband maneuvered it into my car with mere inches to spare.

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OK, I know I sound like a shill, but you should totally buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this summer.

I had the best time last year with my weekly pickups from Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tenn. It really did turn into my own version of Iron Chef, having to work with whatever ingredients showed up in the box each week. And since there are few things scarier for my husband to hear than the statement “I made something new for dinner,” it’s somewhat of a miracle that he had a blast with it, too.

It’s a lesson in the natural cycle of crops for those who aren’t used to the whims of Mother Nature. For example, last year’s rains made for a very short corn crop, so I didn’t get nearly the amount of corn I had expected, but I got tons of tomatoes, chard and peppers of all varieties. And strawberries. Not those tasteless baby-fist-sized strawberries you get at the grocery store, but juicy, delectable berries, so many that you can’t eat them all and will be forced to make the best ice cream ever with them. Darn the luck.

Some folks tell me that they just prefer to go to the farmer’s market, which is cool if you like rolling out of bed before 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Which, truthfully, I have been known to do. But what I find myself not doing at the farmer’s market is buying something I’m unfamiliar with, or buying so much of something that I have enough to freeze for later. (I’ve got two more servings of zucchini/onion/garlic soup base in the freezer, and I just ran out of frozen bell pepper slices in January.) Even if you’re not going to get into canning, you can still have a little taste of summer when it’s 30 degrees outside.

Seriously, it was the best summer food-wise that I’ve had since that summer in the early 1980s when my grandfather and I grew a huge patch of watermelons and I ate my weight in fresh tomatoes.

Head to Dennison’s page on LocalHarvest for details on its 10-week program, or search for a CSA closer to you.

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It’s been four years since Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out nearly all of my childhood haunts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and causing unimaginable destruction in New Orleans. It also did thousands of dollars in damage to my home in Mobile, Alabama, but that’s an afterthought considering what happened to folks west of there.

The dichotomy of kindness and chaos during Katrina’s aftermath did a number on me. At times, my faith in the innate goodness of people was strengthened, but then another tragic headline would tear that faith to shreds.

I didn’t know where my mom was for two days. Turns out she lives on the highest part of Biloxi and just had wind damage, but the only images of Biloxi on television showed blocks of flattened houses. The last image she had seen of Mobile before she lost power was the appropriately named Water Street, filled with so much water that there were waves cresting over street signs.

Fears on both sides were put to rest when Mom, her boyfriend and their two bad little dogs pulled up in my driveway on the third day.

Not two years earlier, I had scattered my dad’s ashes in the Mississippi River from the levies near the French Quarter, returning his remains to the city he loved, the city whose music inspired him. The Mississippi River had, in turn, scattered itself all over the Crescent City.

I had left two of my dad’s saxophones with a horn dealer in New Orleans a few months before the storm. After his death, I had decided that they needed to be in the hands of someone who would use them.

Several weeks after the storm, I made a halfhearted attempt to track down the dealer and check on the horns. I found out that his warehouse had been destroyed, and my best guess was that his delicate old home had, at the very least, sustained massive wind damage. I was close to being ashamed of myself, checking on $1200 worth of horns when parts of the city had virtually been wiped from the map.

The thing is, I didn’t really want the money (though it would have bought a good bit of non-squishy carpet), and I certainly didn’t want the horns back. I just wanted to see if they survived the storm.

My fiercest hope is that they survived the wind and the water and the looting, that someone picked them up and gave them to a down-and-out musician, or hell, SOLD them to a down-and-out musician for Sheetrock money, and that they’re making music on the streets of New Orleans to this day. My worst fear is that they’re rusting away in a landfill, or entangled in debris at the bottom of a neglected waterway.

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The last time I saw my dad play was at my wedding. He was the kind of guy who needed an assignment to make it through four hours of socializing with strangers, and putting him on stage was a great move. He knew how to blend in with the band without upstaging anybody, though he threw in some ass-kicking solos when the moment was right.

I was cool with the idea of not knowing exactly where my dad’s remains would lie. Really, I couldn’t wait to get the box out of the house after it arrived in the mail. I never had any intention of keeping ashes in a vase on the mantel.

Sometimes I have this vision of his ashes flowing through the streets of New Orleans in the floodwaters, landing here and there, making themselves a permanent part of the spirit of the city.

I miss my dad, and I miss New Orleans. But the thought that his saxophones might be helping entice tourists to toss dollar bills into a horn case on a street corner somewhere makes it all a little more bearable.

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CSA

Pictured above is the haul from my first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery from Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tennessee. Even after splitting it with a friend (save for the strawberries, which were way too ripe to last the weekend), it’s quite a collection of freshness.

Enlisting in a CSA is a little like buying a share in a farm, only you don’t have to keep the deer out of the cornfield or harvest anything (although I must point out that digging up potatoes may be the dirtiest fun you’ll ever have before dark). Every Friday for 10 weeks, I get to pick up a big box of just-picked produce (whatever is ripe), split the goods, and head home for what I have dubbed Iron Chef Huntsville.

I figure it’ll be a weekly summer adventure. Before the season is over, we’ll have, among many other things, watermelon, tomatoes, squash, corn, potatoes, beans, peas, and something called a Cape gooseberry.

Last weekend, we more or less lived off of fresh greens (Swiss chard and Yukina savoy), cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

Also, for the first time ever, I had to cook a green tomato. My grandparents had a small farm, so growing up I had access to what seemed like an unlimited supply of tomatoes. Red, ripe, juicy, delicious tomatoes. The whole fried green tomato thing never made any sense to me. Who in their right mind would pluck a tomato from the vine before it ripened? Who would batter and fry this unripened fruit instead of waiting to make it the key ingredient in a BLT?

My reaction upon tasting fried green tomatoes for the first time a few years ago: meh. I would have rather waited for a sandwich.

I’ve never been a fan of frying things, despite being an occasional fan OF fried things. So I found a reasonably professional-looking recipe for baked green tomatoes, scaled it down and sliced and coated my way to an OK side dish.

Meh. I still would have rather waited for a sandwich.

The strawberries were lagniappe, as the folks running the farm were under the impression that there would be no more strawberries after mid-June. These bonus berries were far too delicate to hang on until Monday, when I delivered half the goods to my fellow shareholder (she got the cabbage and eight-ball squash – not exactly evensies,  but we’ll work it out). These went into a batch of strawberry ice cream, a concoction that turned out to be so rich and delicious that it actually saved my oft-criticized ice cream maker from the Goodwill box.

If you have any interest in making ice cream, get Ben & Jerry’s recipe book. Just using the one recipe has convinced me to toss the other two ice cream recipe collections I have and devote my empty calorie expenditures to homemade ice cream, at least for the summer. The tasty, tasty summer.

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Since moving to Huntsville in 2007, I’ve been invited to go camping by everyone from co-workers and classmates to new friends and virtual strangers.

I’ve explained time and time again that as natives of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my husband and I don’t camp. We rarely even discussed camping until two years ago, except to mock or feel sorry for those who felt the need to brave the sticky humidity, frequent rain, biting insects and frightful fauna of Southern Mississippi and lower Alabama.

Usually, these victims were fathers of Boy Scouts, lured into the wilderness by well-meaning but misguided troop leaders. Those who ventured out once got our pity, but those who went the next year after lodging a week’s worth of complaints about the first year’s mosquito-ridden disaster got nothing more than a good mocking.

Seriously, hotels are all around us. Use them. Love them.

The weather in Northern Alabama is admittedly more hospitable to camping. The humidity is lower (don’t even bother griping about the humidity here – I’ve been to Nicaragua in August), and at night, the temperature actually stands a chance of dropping below 85 degrees. There are still big checkmarks beside the boxes for biting bugs and snakes, however, plus coyotes seem well-represented up here.

There are, I suppose, a few events that could be made more fun by camping. I could get a really early start at the really awesome Tyrolean Traverse in Desoto Falls State Park. I could make it to some caves in Tennessee that local grotto members start exploring at ungodly times on Saturdays. Heck, I might even find myself at Bonnaroo next year.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m talking myself into camping. My love for indoor plumbing supercedes many adventure possibilities. You’ve got more selling to do, North Alabama.

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I’m planning a trip to New York City and I am PSYCHED. People who grow up in the rural South usually have one of three reactions to urban life:

  • They are annoyed by crowded sidewalks, brutal traffic and the intricate layout of city streets.
  • They are terrified by the city’s sheer vibrancy.
  • They fall in love with said sheer vibrancy and begin plotting their way to a high-rise office and studio walkup.

I’ve loved city life since moving to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the early 1980s. My family’s home was an easy 20 minutes from the Louisiana state line, which was a mere 40 minutes from downtown New Orleans.

The Crescent City is a troublesome example, because it runs on its own rhythm. All cities do. But it introduced me to a world of close quarters, where strangers lived literally feet from one another, rode buses and streetcars, and many times, heaven forbid, WALKED. It was a world in which people ate dinner at 9 p.m., not 6 p.m., and they certainly didn’t call it “supper.”

It was a world of sophistication far removed from my home in Kiln, Mississippi, where I literally had to drive across a defunct cattle gap to get to school every morning.

I truly fell for city life when I was 21 and went to London for four weeks to take a World War II history class. I barely slept the entire time I was there because I didn’t want to miss a minute of action.

Between the Underground and an extremely well-run (read: on-time) system of buses, I could be anywhere in the city within a half hour. The crosswalks required traffic to come to a standstill for pedestrians to cross busy streets – and we’re not just talking crosswalks at red lights and stop signs.

After a lifetime of being accused of walking too fast, I was a welcome addition to the People in a Hurry on the city’s sidewalks. I learned the true people-moving potential of escalators, and I’ve been uncomfortable standing completely still on moving stairs ever since.

The restaurants, the shopping (note that my favorite destination in any foreign city is a grocery store, and a must-visit destination in any large American city is a foreign grocery store), the population’s ethnic mix … there’s just too much that I love to list it all.

New York has it all: subways, buses, foreign grocery stores, fast-moving sidewalk crowds, world-class restaurants, even non-stationary escalator-riders. And not a cattle gap for miles.

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Speaking to a friend from Texas today, I noted that Southern families, or maybe just farming families in general, seem to have tragedies woven into their histories, generation after generation. This probably isn’t a fair assessment – Northerners have plenty of dysfunction, too, no? – but it’s what I know.

Southerners can be shockingly straightforward about the past. An uncle dies, you hear the story of how he accidentally shot another man while hunting in his youth, and barely escaped jail time. Again and again you hear about the aunt who died decades too young because a pompous doctor refused to perform a life-saving hysterectomy. You learn about an old family friend who lost his hearing and hand to a careless dynamite accident.

Cancer. Alcoholism. Diabetes. Car accidents. House fires. Thwarted love. Mental illness. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and a thousand things that do go wrong.

When things go right, there’s not so much story, but isn’t that the story that should be told?

My brother, raised by a father whose own father abandoned him before he was even born, a man whose love for us in the end couldn’t overcome what he had missed growing up, has been an unbelievably good father to his two daughters. He may be a natural, but I suspect he is purposely railing against the past.

I’m married to the sort of man that my mom deserved, a man who actually wants to be married to me, and isn’t just filling the role that society dealt him.

Having spent my life outrunning dozens of potential unhappy endings, it always shocks me a little to think that my brother and I may actually be OK, that we’ll stay happily married to our respective spouses, that he’ll always be the guy who really deserves the No. 1 Dad coffee cup, that we’ll pursue careers we don’t despise and maintain hobbies that we love.

I don’t know if I’ll ever stop running. But the idea that I might win lets me catch a breath every now and then.

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