Southern Way

Southern Way

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Live Large or Stay on the Porch

A co worker of mine who comes from North of the Mason Dixon line is still getting used to being among-st us. She appreciates southern culture - that of the refined gentile lifestyle, where our tables are set with sterling silver, all the children know their manners, and (most) everyone is friendly and helpful. She was a little taken aback when while walking her dogs one evening she noticed that her neighbors carried glasses of wine while walking their canines (the men carrying bottles of beer).

If that did not set her back, a visit to her hair dresser may have. She goes to an upscale salon on King Street that offers their clientele a glass of white wine during their visit. She saw that as hospitable. It was the gentlemen who walked in carrying highballs of bourbon to get their hair cut, that threw her. (Seems a well known bar is next door and the men would stop there first to pick up a bit of refreshment before coming in for their appointments.)

She asked me if this was the norm or the exception. I explained this was pretty much the norm in Charleston, the southern culture even with its manners, civility, breeding, and good taste, was much more relaxed when it came to our social ways. Basically we enjoy entertaining and having a good time. Not that we approach life with reckless abandon, but we go large or go home. (For example, where else do men think nothing of wearing kelly green ties with pink flamingos on them, bright plaid madras pants, or seersucker suits of any color - in public.)

Then I told her about our girls trip last summer where the five of us commandeered a table by the pool for a week at the small boutique hotel where we were staying in the Keys. We needed it to accommodate our half gallons of vodka and scotch and  cooler of beer, wine, and champagne, as well as the mixers and garnishes. Early every morning we would start with Bloody Marys and Mimosas, move on to beer and by the late afternoon be into the liquor or wine. At the beginning of the week, we were getting odd looks from the other guests. However by mid week, we could tell those looks of mild objection had turned to more than slight envy.

When I  finished my tale I realized the expression on my friend's face indicated she would never look at me in the same light. I'm not sure if my story confirmed what she thought she knew or revealed a side of me that scared her. It was what it was.

Later she asked a gentleman in our office (who is from Pennsylvania), "Do you notice they drink down here a lot?"

The conversation among the three of us continued about the social norms in Charleston and how strong one's constitution had to be to keep up. I made it clear that I was an old dog and knew when it was time to climb back on the porch.

The conversation ended with my comment,"And, we haven't even gotten to football season yet."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cured or Not


- to preserve (meat, fish, tobacco, or an animal skin) by various methods such as salting, drying, or smoking.

Call me behind the times, but I am always amazed by what I don't know, and worse, yet, how long it takes me to find out what I am missing.

In the grocery store yesterday I notice "Uncured" bacon. Now for those of you already enlightened about this, stay with me here. Like many of us, I was raised reared in a world of "Cured" meats. The salty and smoky flavor of cured ham is unmistakable. When you are cooking collards, do your throw pieces of sandwich ham from your Oscar Mayer package into the pot?  Oh, no. You want that a piece of ham hock from a cured ham to give that unique salty smoky flavor.

This brings us to the types of curing: salting, sugaring, and smoking. There is hot smoking, cold smoking, and smoke roasting. 

All this is based on chemistry, a subject  I avoided like the plaque once I got to college after surviving Mr. Allen's Advanced Chemistry class in high school. Centuries ago, man, in all his wisdom, concluded that spoiled meat contained something very bad (botulism) that would lead to death.  The idea of vegetarianism not being appealing, through trial and error (thanks to Harold's camp fire and Eric's salt seller) they found that by "curing" their meats they could both enjoy their kill and avoid botulism. 

All this brings me back to the meat counter in the market and the "Uncured" bacon. If bacon by definition is "cured meat from the sides and belly of a pig (ie pork belly)", does not that make the term "Uncured Bacon" an oxymoron? 

The official definition of “Uncured” bacon is "bacon that hasn't been cured with general sodium nitrites (salts), flavorings, and other things." Even as we delve into the belly of the issue, the semantics of  it gets murky. While "Cured" bacon is soaked in a brine of flavorings and salt - which contain nitrites, the definition of "Uncured" bacon continues as "[usually] cured with a form of celery juice, which contains natural nitrites, and plain old sea salt, as well as other flavorings like parsley and beet extracts". 

This all begs to ask the obvious - if it is still "cured" with sea salt..... 

I'll spare you an opus on nitrites and nitrates. The long story short - both "Cured" and "Uncured" bacon are cured (yes cured) with these "chemicals". The "Uncured" version can say that their process uses natural nitrites from celery juice and beets. But we live in a world of nitrites and nitrates. Many green leafy vegetables have more nitrates per serving than bacon (of any kind). Heck, nitrites are part of the powerful antimicrobial agent in our saliva. 

So much for all the hullabaloo about the nitrites/ nitrates in bacon. This new "Uncured" epithet looks to be just lipstick on a pig. Whether "Cured" or "Uncured", neither makes bacon more healthy. All this mess about curing aside, just start talking to the health nuts concerned about fat. Suddenly nitrites look like super complex mega vitamins. 

In defense of the real thing (not that I would take sides here), I did read a recommendation to buy and eat "Cured" bacon due to the rare chance of contracting trichinosis from the pork in "Uncured" bacon. But I would not worry about. After all, there are folks injecting botulism in their face daily. Who knows, in the future the rage could be capsules containing yersinia pestis (Bubonic Plaque) to ensure eternal youth. And, I don't think that can be cured.

Why mess with a sacred food, especially one of the southern trinity: Bacon, butter, and gravy?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Food Gentrification


- to renovate or improve. 

Folks, while the world is concerned about the macro issues of world wars, economic recession, and health crisis, perhaps we should look closer and consider a micro issue that is slowly overtaking our society.

Now, I only speak for those of "us" with good taste, who were brought up, not necessarily in a wealthy home but one with a rich heritage of good food. Where the meals consisted of a cuisine anyone would kill to enjoy. These repasts were based on a heritage of the land and the sea, local herbs and spices, along with those brought from Africa and the Caribbean. 

But now these rich dishes are being reduced to simple boxes and disgusting cans. Instead of slow cooking dutch ovens, a microwave and a can opener can (supposedly) reproduce these southern delicacies in minutes.

This is what our "society" has stooped to. I will warn you, the following images are very disturbing. 

Our collard greens, fresh from the fields, that we cook (using everyone's "secret" recipe) adding a hamhock, strips of bacon or fat back,

Southern Style Collard Green

Have now been reduced to this:

Related image

Boiled peanuts should be dug up, rinsed, then cooked in a large pot over a gas burner. Part of the glory of this dish is the camaraderie around the cooker, telling stories, adding salt, and tasting the peanuts to see when they are done.

Image result for boiled peanuts in a can

And, now some poor children think a can opener is all that is involved in "preparing" and serving boiled peanuts. Worse yet, can you imagine what they taste like?

Margaret Holmes, Green Boiled Peanuts, 13.5oz Cans (Pack of 6)

My Mama and my dear mother-in-law both made the best macaroni and cheese. It was a serious rich cheesy casserole so thick is was cut and served in squares. This dish was as good the next morning (if anything was left over) as when it was first served. 

And, this is all some in this generation equate to "Macaroni and Cheese". Oh, the inhumanity!!

But the worse casualty, what someone should be tied and quartered for. That sweet succulent crab that we grew up eating. We used to use chicken necks tied to string to catch them in the inlet between Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms. Then that night we would sit on the front porch and pick and eat crab until we were full. Or Mama would make her rich crab casserole. After I learned to cook, I would use the fresh crab meat to stuff large shrimp, then wrap them in bacon to be grilled.

Image result for blue crabmeat

And today - mock, fake, crab like, style food ...

Image result for fake crab

I know I have offended many, confused some, but hopefully opened the eyes of a few to the true southern food that is now "Gentrified" by these feeble fake foods.

Bon Appetite or, as we say down here, pass the biscuits and butter, please.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Mysteries of the Universe

Now that I am in my 50's I am beginning to learn there are certain mysteries of the universe. Oh, there were many I experienced as a child. Examples were: How did Mama always know I was guilty of something? Why did a fried chicken only have 2 legs? Why was the answer to one question always, "Someday you'll be old enough but not now."? Then the answer to next, "You know you are too old for that." Why did the thirty minute Christmas dinner at Grandmama's before we opened our Christmas presents take FOREVER but the two weeks we spent at her house each summer go by so fast? But I digress.

The enigmas that stump me today include folding a fitted sheet. Yes, I know Martha Stewart did an entire program showing how easy it is. But, then Martha and her minions are not in my laundry room every Saturday morning when I struggle with the elastic pockets that do not square up, only to try "folding" it the best I can into something that resembles an organized wad of cloth.

Or that the term "Well Done" in respect to steak actually means, "A decent piece of meat, burnt to a crisp and ruined."

That someone puts boiled peanuts in cans and worse yet, people buy them, consume them, and think they are tasty.

That men can detail and wash a car and operate a TV remote control yet picking up their clothes off the floor or putting the toilet seat down is beyond their comprehension.

Speaking of remote controls, why do TVs require 2 remote controls to operate and why is the term "universal remote" an oxymoron?

And above everything, how can just eating a 1 pound box of Godiva chocolates cause one to gain 5 pounds? No wonder I was never good at math.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Growing up Gourmet

I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't take imagination or creativity to be successful in the food world. It is the "geniuses" who have rinsed and repeated the past, repackaged it, and sold it as the newest, bestest thing you must have. 

A prime example is the fad of fried chicken in New York City.  A friend of ours from California, who thinks of himself as a "foodie" sent us a cookbook a year or two ago with a note - "This is written by the best chef in New York City, just ate at his restaurant. Check out page 23, Fried Chicken, the best thing I have ever had."

Now, there are so many things wrong here - a "foodie" from California sending friends in the deep south a cookbook by a New York chef, pointing out the recipe for the newest fad - fried chicken. And, he was serious. 

I wonder if he realizes the three food groups down here are butter, bacon, and biscuits. And God forbid he learn the secret of good biscuits - lard.  

Several years ago I posted that I Don't Fry Chicken . That is right, full disclosure, as southern as I am, I fail at the trinity of true southern cooking. I cannot fry chicken, cannot make a biscuit to save me, and cannot cook collards. Although, since that post 6 years ago, I have managed to "Master" one, compensate for another, however the third still alludes me. But, I digress.

Back to the case at hand. To think that the new chic trend of "Farm to Table" attracts so many and cost so much when enjoyed at your favorite restaurant. How many of us grew up eating at our Grandmama's gourmet table? Heck, in this case, I had two such venues to choose from.

Suddenly in lieu of Arugula and Chard, Collards are the greens served at the haute locations. Once again I grew up enjoying that gourmet fare. And the new "Heirloom" tomatoes that are so dearly priced - why the tomatoes in my Granny's, Aunt Kat's, and Aunty's gardens were all misshapen, of various colors, plump, and full of flavor. Once again, as my Aunty often said, we were living "High on the Hog" and were totally unaware.

That brings us to pork. It may be the "The Other White Meat" but down here is the base of the most reverent and sacred of southern food - Bar-b-Que. And, not just pulled pork, my Granddaddy had smoked and salt cured hams in his barns. 

I could go on about the fresh quail and dove we ate the evenings after a successful hunt by my Daddy and Granddaddy. Or the fresh oysters, shrimp, and crabs we enjoyed after harvesting and catching them while we vacationed at the beach. We enjoyed them that night, along with fresh corn from the field. Now that is "Farm to Table." 

So, little did I know I was eating at a gourmet table, eating what people pay dearly for now. We did not know it was gourmet then. Hell, we did not know the word "gourmet" then. We knew it was good, fresh food, and full of flavor. Even though I did not grow up in a wealthy family, the table was always set with sterling silver, we all ate together, and you never left the table until you asked to be excused. 

I always complained that we never "ate out". What I never knew was that I enjoying fine dining at every meal. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

I Can't Make this Up

Just to continue my story of No, I Really Don't Do That, I just got this email from someone inquiring about a photo in my shop:

Hi, do you know how much weight can be placed int the carrier attached to the bike? Also how much would it cost to ship to michigan? This is perfect for me to pull my dad around!

Mind you, this is the 2nd such inquiry. Pray tell, if you saw this listing with the description saying "canvas" on a photography website, would an authentic "light two-wheeled hooded vehicle drawn by one or more people, used chiefly in Asian countries" available for only $129 seem like the item listed? And, if you were to check the sizes, you would see your choices were 12x16 or 16x20? Seriously?

The madness just continues. .  .

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Some Where Over the Rainbow

As most folks, OK, as some folks, my politics have evolved as I have aged. Just as my priorities have changed and I have matured, I have been able to look at life on my own terms. In doing so, let's just say the rose colored glasses I was raised reared wearing became a bit cloudy years ago. Removing them was akin to Dorothy pulling back the curtain when she arrived in Oz. But, I digress.

Usually by this time in the election cycle, I have made my decision and am just biding my time for that Tuesday in November when I can cast my vote. In our political climate, things are generally black and white - in the past years - literally. I firmly believe that we are endowed with both the rights to vote our consciences and voice our opinions. And with that, we should have the manners to tolerate those, albeit obnoxious as they may be, who have views that differ from our own.  After all it is the public debate, the candidates' campaigns, the parties's push, and the pundit's field day that give most us the fodder we base our decision on. 

Of course, newly added to this mix are the tabloid headlines, senate hearings, FBI investigations, and TV reality shows. What would Tom (Jefferson) and John (Adams) think of what we have done with this part of the democracy they so brilliantly set up? I cannot speak for John, but I imagine Tom would be very happy he did not have to run for office in light of today's climate. Rather than a system that gives us the best candidates to represent us, we have created a climate where we make it is as difficult as possible for a qualified successful person to rise to the top. Hell, qualifying as a Navy Seal is probably easier. 

The Republicans, with 17 candidates at one time, became a circular firing squad. And when the smoke cleared all that was left was a reality TV star no one would have ever taken seriously as a candidate just one election cycle ago. But, then the Grand Ol' Party should remember there was another actor they once did not take seriously and now they worship his legacy.

The Democrats are led by a former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State- whose experience and resume is probably better than anyone who has ever run for office. However, the mention of her name makes many men gag and run from the room at the very idea that she would be the one in the oval office. And, women, either see her as the ultimate one to break the glass ceiling or have yet to forgive her for "Standing by her Man". Her only primary opponent was an avowed socialist senator, no one took seriously, who managed to take a grassroots movement and give her a run for her money. 

It's a free country and everyone has a right to their vote. However, the way I see it, this year the Tin Man is still looking for his heart, the Lion is still looking for his nerve, the Scarecrow is still looking for his brain, and I am going to move to Aruba. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Living Life Well

If anyone knew my mother or read the book I wrote about her, "Sterling Silver and Dollar Stores", you know she was quite the character. And, for all four feet, eight inches of her, she was larger than life. I admired her and loved her very much. She lived her life with gusto and overcame many things. Words to describe her include quirky, eccentric, compassionate, southern, and devoted. 

She had many friends. Among those, were women she had kept up with from her youth, her days at Wake Forest, and the early years when she and my Daddy first moved to Orangeburg. One of those was "Miss" Margaret Ballard. 

Our first address in Orangeburg was a wonderful street, Edisto Avenue. There Mama and Daddy found a great neighborhood that offered them immediate friends and a gaggle of teenage babysitters to help care for me. I was just a tot at the time. It was a very special time of our lives. Dad's home movies chronicled much of it. This was time they met the Ballards.

As the years of my Mama's life moved on, much like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, she maintained her friendship with "Miss" Margaret through good and bad. I knew they were close friends, because like good friends or close sisters, women who are fond of each often complain about each other. As they got older, Mama would make comments like, "Margaret has no business going to her mountain house by herself. She is going to fall and no one is going to know she is there." This was said by the little lady with a huge limp, who tootled up and down the road to HER mountain home by herself, often without even letting anyone know where she was. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

I could tell Mama was jealous of "Miss" Margaret because while Mama was very independent, there were boundaries she feared. She just would not let herself go with a certain reckless abandon. I am not talking about anything dangerous, but I am talking about doing anything she wanted to because she could and because she wanted to.

They had a lot in common. They both had college educations and careers. Both were active in their churches and fast to help others. Physically both walked with a limp, "Miss" Margaret was almost crippled but that did not slow her down, while Mama had one leg that was a bit shorter and a hip that caused her to walk with a serious limp. Both were devoted to their children and grandchildren. And, probably most of all, both had homes in the mountains that they dearly enjoyed. But this is where the similarities stopped.

Yes, my Mama could cook, but she was only known for fried chicken. "Miss" Margaret was known for her lemon pies. Mama could be seen driving up and down the road in her little Honda CRV, often with some antique she had picked up in the back. "Miss" Margaret would be heading west toward the mountains in her convertible with the top down. While Mama had a Dachshund when we were little and was not overly fond of our dogs, "Miss" Margaret raised Cocker Spaniels and shipped them to buyers across the country.

I read this morning that "Miss" Margaret had died. Her obituary, while detailed about her life, could only touch on her personality. No one who knew her needed to be told, they all knew her and her life. But, those who never knew her missed out on knowing someone with a life well lived. Now that I am in my 50's, after reading about her life this morning and thinking about Mama, I realize that I better grab that brass ring and start really living life. I have missed so much time, passed so much by, been too timid, not been willing to take chances, and not taken advantage of opportunities offered. 

If there is anything to learn from these two ladies it is that life is too short and I have spent much of it afraid of my shadow. From now on, I need to roll the windows down, never regret an invitation, stay out a little later, and live life for today.