My Life A Bit South of Normal

Saturday, January 19, 2019

671 Pages of Everything

Watching the demise of Sears and Roebuck brought back memories of my childhood. At 6 years old, the Sears and Roebuck Catalog was my window to the world. I could sit for hours just going through the catalog. As a child, Sears was just a catalog and a small office downtown where Mama would go to pick up the items she had ordered.

As I grew up, my tastes changed, Google came along, and well . . . Sears was just a relic. I was never impressed by the retail Sears stores. It just wasn't the same as the imagination of an 8 year thumbing through 671 pages of "everything" in the world - at least my world.

But Sears and its catalog was a big part of American life for a long time. News Graphic wrote that the Sears catalog, "serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living." From the 1890's until 1993, the catalog offered everyone in America a "Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone and the "Cheapest Supply House on Earth", claiming that "Our trade reaches around the World." 

And they were not kidding, 1898 Sears offered "Female Pills for Weak Women".

The 1902 catalog featured the "Giant Power Heidelberg Electric Belt" for men. Touted as "The most wonderful relief and cure of all chronic and nervous diseases."

The Fall catalog of 1909 offered - "The Sears Motor Buggy [boasting] speeds of up to 25 miles per hour and operation so simple even a child could do it."

In the Fall of 1932, one could even buy a house. Many of these still exists.

And, chicks in 1942. Who knew?

And then there were the "fashions" of 1973.

But, tonics, cars, chicks, and fashions aside, my best memories of Sears was in the late fall when the Wish Book arrived - that magical book with every game, toy, and doll that ever existed in the world - well at least in my world. My brother and I would fight over the Wish Book, each of us circling our dream gifts with a blue pen. The corners of dozens of pages were turned down as place markers for treasures that we wanted to add to Santa's list.

One writer reminisced - "There were chapters on wrenches and telescopes, on air hockey and grandfather clocks; there were “Star Wars” action figures I never saw in actual stores, and screenshots of video games that I would never see again, and images of disturbingly cooperative families playing board games."

To this day, there is one item, actually an entire page, that I wished and dreamed of and pleaded for. I can remember it like it was yesterday - the Little Hostess Buffet. But, it was never to be. Neither Santa Claus nor my parents shared my enthusiasm. They could not relate to my "I'll just die if I don't get it" feelings. If I just had this incredible piece and all its accouterments, I would be set for life. Oh, the parties I could plan, the friends I could entertain, the tables I could set. But it was not to be. It never arrived.

Perhaps the price of $13.47 ($103.72 in today's world) had something to do with it. 

To this day, I love to entertain, especially with china and crystal and silver. Looking back on that 1964 catalog, I'm not sure not getting my Little Hostess Buffet made me destined to imagine tablescapes, collect linen napkins, amass sets of China and sterling or, perhaps, my wish for such a "toy" was a prophecy of a life long enjoyment of entertaining. 

Is yesterday's Sears Catalog today's Amazon? If so, maybe it is nostalgia, but having the catalog (often hidden beneath my bed to keep it from my brother) was much more rewarding than scrolling through screens and web pages. After all, it is hard to circle what I want on line with a blue Bic pen.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Rangpur Limes, Elderberry, Juniper, and Chamomile

Ever wondered the origin of the term "Pick your poison"? Well, here you go:

"The origin is simply that since the mid-19th century "poison" has been slang for alcoholic drink (in Australia a pub was known as a "poison-shop"). This may refer to the Latin root "toxicum" (meaning "poison") of the word "intoxicate", or it may just be a reference [to] the bad effects of excessive drinking. Thus the phrases "what's your poison?" "Pick your poison" and "choose your poison" arose naturally. There is no reference to any historic incident, and no connection with Aristotle or Henry VIII, neither of whom was either poisoned, or poisoned anybody!"*

My poison of choice is gin. Unlike Vodka that is traditionally made from potatoes, but can be produced from virtually any fermentable ingredient that are filled with starch or sugar (mainly wheat, rye or corn), Rum distilled from fermented sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, Bourbon - which is made from distilled corn, wheat and either wheat or rye, Scotch from malted barley, Irish Whiskey from both malted and unmalted barley - Gin is made from botanicals, such as juniper, coriander, citrus peel, cinnamon, almond or liquorice along with florals (Angelica archangelica, chamomile and elderflower, Rhodiola Rosea, rose petals).

The uninitiated will comment that gin tastes like "gasoline", "mouthwash", or "pine needles". Wait, have patience grasshopper. Unlike tasteless vodka, a gin is complex, floral, spicy, citrusy. 

My first gin was Beefeater. In college I was introduced to Boodles, not that I could afford it, but I enjoyed the bottle or 2 I received as gifts. Later on Bombay introduced their Blue Sapphire, which has nice citrus  and juniper notes. What I enjoy most these days is Tanqueray's Rangpur.

This unique gin is infused with Rangpur limes. Actually, a "Rangpur Lime" is not really a lime, rather a hybrid between the mandarin orange and the citron. It looks like an orange but has a strong citrus lime flavor. All this gives the gin a great lime flavor  (along with floral notes) even before one adds the tonic and slice of lime.

During our most recent annual "Girls trip to New York", we found ourselves spending most of a miserable cold rainy afternoon in an Irish pub. When you put 3 southern women at the bar in a New York Irish pub, things get very interesting. But, I digress. 

An hour or so into the afternoon, I noticed this blue barrel shaped bottle among the other bottles of gin. I inquired of Mike, our friendly bartender, what it was. He brought the bottle over - Gunpowder Irish Gin. Never heard of it. Irish gin? (But then what else would one expect in a true Irish pub?) Always willing to venture out, I ordered a Gunpowder G&T. The anise and berry notes along with a light lemon background are mixed with aromatic florals.  Wow!

I am not encouraging alcohol consumption by any means. Consuming alcoholic beverages should be more than just intoxication. It should be serious, responsible, and enjoyable. You can enjoy a good small batch Bourbon, savor a good peaty Scotch, sip an Irish Whiskey, or whatever one does with Vodka. Or you can appreciate the complex subtleties of a fine gin - just saying.

As a side note, a G&T was the Queen Mum's adult beverage of choice - the underlying basis of her 'Big Red Bus' quote - and she lived to be a 101.

* Quoted from The Phrase Finder.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Elusive Coconut Cake and the Truth of Moderation

Operation Gonna Get My Waste Back is moving along. That is until someone shows up with a homemade coconut cake - then the jury is out. 

My love for a good coconut cake brings back memories of my Grandmama and her kitchen - that magical place. I know most of us have fond memories of our grandmothers and the delight that came from their kitchens - especially that one thing everyone at the family union waited for with bated breath. In my case, that was her coconut cake.

Unfortunately that cake went to the grave with her. I have never been able to recreate that perfect culinary creation. Oh, I have a recipe  (on a 3 x 5 slightly stained note card) in her hand writing, no less. Try as I might this luscious splendid gâteau, eludes me.

Even using the exact ingredients - down to her traditional Red Band Flour, I cannot recreate that light fluffy cake. But, I think with 10 - 12 more attempts, I can probably produce the lighter than air yellow cake as I remembered. The icing, however, continues to challenge me. Even using a traditional double boiler and hand mixer, I have yet to get it right.

Not that I am bragging, but I pride myself on my cooking - baking included. I conquered the Lemon Doberge cake,  if I must say, on my first attempt. Even though at first glance, the recipe of 5 layers of a rich white cake, each layer separated with sweet, yet tart, lemon custard, all covered with a very fluffy butter cream icing having just enough zest to give it a wisp of heavenly lemon flavor, was initially daunting.

But not Grandmama's coconut cake. Perhaps it is not to be. My baking days have been put on hold for a while - a long while. After all, who can seriously bake without constantly tasting each step to ensure perfection. Well, not me. 

Grandmama's kitchen produced more than the most memorable coconut cake. Her fried chicken was to die for. Her macaroni and cheese, not to be confused with the "Blue Box" kind, was a thick deep, serious dish of lots of cheese, butter, macaroni noodles, and eggs, baked to perfection. She prepared fresh vegetables from her garden like no other. She was able to perfectly cook, bake, smother, or fry any of the wild game and fish my Granddaddy was always bringing home. My childhood in her kitchen gave me a love for fresh game - cooked right!

And, her crowning glory (just 2nd to the coconut cake) were her biscuits. Those small light fluffy pieces of delight, rich with Crisco and Red Band Flour, were loved by all of us. So much so, that the covered aluminum pan sitting on the dinner table at every meal, holding her biscuits, was the one item all 5 of her grandchildren fought for after she died. In our minds, this container alone was a secret ingredient. (No doubt, my loss in the scramble for the magical container is the one thing that keeps me short of perfect replication of her biscuits.)

Meanwhile, back to my bike.  Operation GGMWB continues.  And this does not include a coconut nor a Doberge cake, biscuits or gravy smothered doves. Oh, to what depths vanity will drive us! One desire (more like delusion) is that the success of my most recent project will be the ability to enjoy these delights once again. They say moderation is the secret to success. But seriously, does "moderation" mean the tease of a very small piece or just not going back for seconds?

Come to think of it, anything that is suggested to be consumed in moderation, must be worth more. After all, life is short, why moderate. One of my favorite quotes from the late Queen Mum was, "Wouldn’t it be terrible if you’d spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t eat things, took lots of exercise, and suddenly, one day, you were run over by a big red bus and, as the wheels were crunching into you, you’d say, 'Oh my God, I could have got so drunk last night.' That’s the way you should live your life, as if tomorrow you’ll be run over by a big red bus."

Given she had a full life, was adored by everyone, and lived to be 101, perhaps she had it right. The secret of getting the most from your life may not be moderation per se, but moderating what you moderate.