The Tenth Day of Christmas

On the tenth day of Christmas…..

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My Frigidaire runneth over, and I am very thankful.

ten dishes of leftovers in the fridge.

I love leftovers.  I really do.  They are the best.  I love having food already prepared, easily warmed and served–especially during the week when our schedules tend to get a little busier.

Over the holidays I did more cooking than usual.  Today it caught up with us, and oh the joy of having leftovers to pull from to feed folks after a busy evening away from home!

And in a timely coincidence, there were ten different dishes of leftovers to choose from.

Potato salad
Chili
Sweet potatoes with apples and cranberries
Black-eyed Peas
Rice
Ham
Squash
Lasagna
Chicken Sloppy Joes
My Brother’s Biscuits which taste so much like Mama’s (enough to bring a tear to my eye, thankful he left us the rest of them left over from our supper last night)

We have enjoyed our mix-matched suppers, and I’m pretty sure we have one or two more left in there. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I wouldn’t be better off to spend my weekend cooking, so every night of the week could look like tonight. Something to ponder anyway.

Tonight I’m thankful for leftovers and for a family who enjoys eating them. I shudder to think what life would be like if they didn’t love them. I’m thankful for the dishes that taste better the second and third time around, but most of all, I’m thankful for my brother and the biscuits he made before he and his family headed out. They taste like home and family. Now there’s something I could enjoy every single day.

Love to all.

Second Day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas…..

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two Mock Pecan pies.

Christmas Eve was my baking day.  I love baking as a general rule.  Our family has decided you either have the baking gene or the cooking gene.  Sister claims I got the baking one, while she got the cooking one.  “But your children are luckier than mine,” she said.  “It’s not like you won’t cook just because you like to bake–you’re going to feed them.  But me, it’s rare that I bake treats for mine.  Yours get the food and the treats.”

What I don’t tell her is sometimes, just ever so occasionally, the treats are the food.

The Fella asked for a Buttermilk Custard pie, and Aub wanted the Mock Pecan Pie.  I wanted to do some baking for other folks as well, and I wanted to get in one more batch of Mama’s Lucia Pepparkakor cookies (Swedish Ginger Cookies), so I knew I’d be in the kitchen for a while.

I have my Great Aunt Maye’s Buttermilk Custard recipe.  It makes two pies, so I started to work mixing and pouring and blending.  I preheated the oven, poured the mixture into the crusts, and placed them in the oven.  Then I was off on the next round of baking.  As I watched the pies, I noticed they weren’t behaving as per usual, but I shrugged.  I could taste test one and send the other as a gift IF the first tasted okay.

About the time I was pulling the pies out of the oven, I noticed the message on the microwave, alerting me to the fact that something was ready inside, and would I please remove it.

Huh.  I wondered who had prepared something and left it sitting there.  Seriously, people?  I went over and popped the door open and uh-oh.

I looked back at my pies.  And then at the butter sitting in the bowl all nice and melted. Sigh.

Okay.  So I had butterless buttermilk custard pies now.  Two of them.

Double sigh.

After Aub did a taste test and reassured me that the pies still tasted good–(yes, they had enough sugar, but they were missing the required butter portion of my Daddy’s test of something being good)–I went ahead and made a second batch of Aunt Maye’s Buttermilk Custard pies to have for gifts.  The first two would not be leaving this house.

As I poured the mixture into the pie crusts for the second time that day, Aub said, “Ummm, Mama?”

“Yes?!” I was more than a tad short with her.

“Ummm, shouldn’t the buttermilk be in those as well?”

I looked over and sure enough, there sat my buttermilk.  In the measuring cup on the counter, just as pretty as you please.

Y’all, I’m not sure I was meant to make those pies that day.

Still, I poured the mixture BACK into the bowl and stirred in the buttermilk and tried again.  They came out looking beautiful and just as they should.

It was after that fiasco that I made the two beautiful Mock Pecan Pies for Aub.  She says they taste really good, and I may or may not *ahem* be able to confirm that statement.

I also made two small pound cakes that day, but that hardly bears mentioning.  After years and years of making those, I can just about make them in my sleep.  Well, at least, let’s just say I have yet to leave anything more serious than the vanilla out of that recipe.

Two is a good number for Christmas.  Two batches of two Buttermilk Custard Pies.  Two Mock Pecan Pies.  Two times forgetting an ingredient and twice the fun and laughter over my mishaps now that it’s all behind me and I’ve gotten some good sleep.

There’s nothing like the good sleep of the night after all  the Christmas fun, is there?

Wishing you all at least two chances to get things right and twice the fun during this beautiful season.

Love to all.

 

 

casserole kindness

the phone call came in the midst of the chaos
and hearts aching and tears
and all of the planning and rushing around
flowers, words written, songs chosen,
people coming and going
and no time to settle down and breathe
or think
or grieve

the phone call saying, “I’ve got this”
and “What time works best for you?”
such a little thing to some, maybe
but for us,
it was everything

supper was coming
and for a few moments
we–the new widow, the children, spouses,
and grands
we all could be together
and gather around the casserole dish
filled with loving goodness
and give thanks for the hands that prepared it
the loving spirit
who stepped outside of her own world
and showed up in ours

though she was plenty busy herself

because that’s what love does
it shows up
in the midst of sorrow and joy
and it sits with folks where they are
and takes their hands and holds on tight

the dumplings were so good
and gone way too fast
but the memory of that meal,
of the love from someone who didn’t have to,
who had many excuses not to,
that radical hospitality
and loving on folks
will never be forgotten

casseroles and covered dishes
speak a love language all their own,
healing hearts and
lifting spirits,
if only for a moment or two,
filling the darkness with a light
that feeds our souls

thankful
for that casserole
and the hands that made it
four years later
remembering

with a grateful heart

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Cakes, Cookies, and Circling Close

Today was our family’s Fall Hootenanny, and this beauty was waiting to greet me when I walked through the door.

LOVE.  100% Pure Tee Love right there.

                                                  LOVE. 100% Pure Tee Love right there.

That right there is a genuine Ten Layer Chocolate Cake.  My Aunt made it because she was thinking of my Granny, her Mama.  It took her a whole afternoon to make it.  What a gift of love, and I swanee, it fairly melted in my mouth.

Oh yeah.  It was inhaled very quickly.

                                           Oh yeah. It was inhaled very quickly. Because #THATGOOD

Funny, isn’t it, the journey that food takes us on?  I make a coconut cake for our Spring Easter Egg Hunt/Wienie Roast for the same reason–because it makes me think of Granny.  Yesterday I baked my Mama’s Lucia Pepparkakor cookies and used her jack o’lantern cookie cutter, and I could almost see her hands rolling out the dough.  I also made a pound cake with a praline/caramel glaze and thought of my Daddy and his love of caramel cakes.

Mama's Swedish Ginger Snaps

                                                            Mama’s Swedish Ginger Snaps

Food.  Love.  Interchangeable really.

I sat at the table today with my cousin’s three children.  The oldest took a bite of a Mint Chocolate Chip cookie that another cousin usually makes and brings to our family gatherings.  As he began to chew, he closed his eyes and said, “Mmmmm.  It’s even better than I remember. It’s just so good.” He looked up very seriously. “I could eat more than three.”

Oh bless him.  He was so precious.  His memories of our family as he gets older will include these cookies as much as the coconut cake and Ten Layer Chocolate Cake remind me of Granny.  (He also has a theory about eating Rice Krispie treats and enjoying them because they aren’t too filling and there’s more room for the cookies–another year and he’ll have this whole dessert management thing down to a science. And with this family and all of our talented bakers, we need it.)

We also had our annual Turkey Egg Hunt.  Our Princess was shocked to discover, upon enthusiastically telling others what we were going to be doing today, that not every family has a Turkey Egg Hunt.  All I can say is y’all are seriously missing out.  Hunting eggs twice a year is kind of our thing.  Turkeys get equal billing with this crew.

Our Princess chasing down another turkey egg.

                                         Our Princess chasing down another turkey egg.

Today was a day of standing around and telling stories, sitting with folks younger and older and shooting the breeze.  It was about hearing all the love in the voices of those who have known me longest (and they still love me anyway–I don’t take that lightly).  It was about missing the ones who weren’t with us and giving thanks in all kinds of ways for those who were.  It was about old traditions and new beginnings and swapping recipes and making plans for future visits again real soon.  It was a day of open doors and windows and scooching over to make room for more.

Because that’s the love language of my people, y’all.  We’re not the most extroverted bunch, but when it comes to scooching over so someone else can squeeze in, we’re good.  We’ve got that part down.  And if it means we can share a cookie and a smile while we’re sitting there elbow to elbow, then all the more joy for everyone.

Tonight after we got home, the littles and I watched an episode of “Girl Meets World.”  That we love this show and why is a whole ‘nother post.  The main character, Riley, shared these words with a group of friends and family on the episode we watched tonight:

“We think that we are the center of the universe, but the truth is… we need to circle the ones we love for as long as they’re here. We need to hold them close, because no matter how far we travel, they are the ones who hold us in place. It’s gravity, and without it, we’d just all float away from each other.”

That’s what today was about, circling the ones I love and giving thanks that they are here.

And cakes and cookies, and all the stories and memories they can hold.

Y’all go find somebody to circle.  Hold ’em close.  Maybe even share a cookie.

Love to all.

The Love Behind the Extra Leaves and Card Tables

I miss our big family get togethers from when I was little.

It doesn’t matter where. From my great Granddaddy’s to my Great Aunt’s to my Granny’s to Mama’s. I loved them all. The hustle and bustle of activity, tables or counters or stovetops groaning, laden with all kinds of good foods–and some that I wasn’t so fond of, but it didn’t matter.  In that setting, a no thank you helping was palatable.  Sweet foods were piled on the plates next to the casseroles.  Some casseroles were having an identity crisis and could have passed for both. (Pineapple cheese casserole, I’m looking at you.)  They had all the goodies of a church potluck, but these were even better–they were with our very own people.

I am still not quite sure how Granny fit all of us in her little house. But she did.  Some folks ate at the counter that ran between the kitchen and the living room.  Others ate at the card tables she set up for folks in front of the couch with chairs on the other side.  Still, how her four children, their spouses and all the grands fit in there, it boggles my mind. Never mind how she prepared enough food for all of us.  It was so good that you had to work not to eat too much, because tucked away in the back bedroom–first known as the “Cold Room” and then the “Pretty room” after its denim and red bandana curtain/bedding makeover–was all of the homemade candy Granny had been preparing.  Divinity, buckeyes, Marth Washingtons…..oh my land.  I just gained ten pounds sitting here drooling over the memory.  I’m pretty sure Granny’s love language must have been food.  If you left hungry, it was your own fault.

Gatherings with my Mama’s side of the family took place first at my Great Grandaddy’s house.  He had a big table, so we’d all gather round the table piled high with food.  What I remember the most from their house was breakfast before dawn (Granddaddy was a retired probate judge and farmer)–biscuits and red-eye gravy.  Excuse me, while I wipe away a tear.  Those things were melt in my mouth GOOD.  For dessert a four layer cake with lemon cheese icing was a given.

Oh me.

After Granddaddy passed, we’d gather at my Great Aunt’s house.  I think she’s on my mind especially today as it’s her birthday.  A few years back I planted a yellow rosebush on her birthday because they were her favorites.  I expect later on I’ll go cut one and bring it inside and smile at all the ways she shaped who I am.

I was beyond thrilled the year I was deemed old enough to go get the extra leaf for her table.  She and my Great Uncle had a lovely table, but what with it being just the two of them, they usually kept it as a small round table.  As we all arrived, there would be a conversation as to how many leaves we needed–one or two.  Then someone would go fetch the required number of leaves carefully from under my Great Aunt’s bed.

Oh my, what a precious moment.  The gently gliding it out from under the bed, wrapped in its sheet.  Then the careful unwrapping and folding the sheet and placing it aside for later.  I carried it upright with both hands through two doorways, calling out to my siblings with a voice that near trembled with the weight of my responsibility, “Move please.  Step out of the way.  Don’t bump me.”  I could NOT hit the walls or doorway with this treasured piece.  The process of dropping it in place and securing it always fascinated me.  After it was all together, it was time to set the table and watch my Great Uncle fry up the okra.  That and my Great Aunt adding almond slivers to the snap beans or a casserole or two were the finishing touches before we sat down to eat.

These days such gatherings are few and far between.  I miss there being more people than I can count, but knowing every face I saw.  I miss the ritual of preparing for the people. It was sacred, a moment of reverence, of appreciating and honoring and creating a place for each one gathered there.  Each one mattered.  Each one had a spot at the table, the card table, or the counter.  And in our hearts.

Today I’m thankful for these memories.  For the hush in my heart when I remember sliding the leaf out from under the bed and feeling the beautiful wood.  For the taste of foods I haven’t eaten in years.  For the smiles and laughter and “scooching” over just a bit to fit in one more person. Because there was always room for just one more.  Most of all, I’m thankful for my Daddy’s sisters who have continued this tradition in their own way.  Who continue to set a place and gather us all close.  The words “thank you” just don’t seem enough.  But I do appreciate them so much.

May you all find yourselves in need of an extra leaf or a card table–surrounded by the people you love.

Love to all.

The Legacy of Leftovers

I cook like my Mama y’all.

Well almost.

She was an incredible cook.  She could whip up something out of nothing it seemed.  She knew what went with what and there were only two times I questioned her cooking sensibilities.

Chicken Chow Mein.   (Seriously, whoever thought that eating bamboo and those worm-like sprout things should be taken out behind the woodshed and given a good *ahem* talking to.)

Easter Egg Casserole.  (Y’all ever have this?  No?  That’s what I thought.  Mama used the leftover boiled/decorated eggs from Easter and put it with the Easter ham and cream of something soup and cheese and English peas and I’m pretty sure baked it with those fried onions on top.  The funny thing is that after ALL those many years of complaining about this thing that turned up EACH AND EVERY YEAR on or after Easter, the first year I found myself away from home living in Japan, I craved the blasted thing.  And so yes, I had to try to make it myself.  Sigh.  Isn’t it crazy what food can do as far as taking us home again?)

And–oh wait.  There were three times.

Each and every time she insisted on putting mushrooms in something.  Ugh.  Mushrooms.

Just say no, people.

And I’m not talking about the little squares that “occur” occasionally in the cream of something soups.  I’m talking she bought the cans of the really big ones.  Seems like they got bigger every year.  And when we all got out of the house, she started spending a little more and getting the fresh mushrooms and cooking them herself.

In chili.  Spaghetti.  On pizza.  In snap beans for goodness’ sake.  Why would anyone want to ruin a perfectly good cooking of those?

She and I resolved our issues in recent years though.  Every Monday was our crash hers and Daddy’s date at the pizza buffet day.  Mama and I would ask for a veggie with pizza spice.  We’d each eat several slices.  And my Mama let me pick off my mushrooms and give them to her.  Something that was never allowed growing up.  She wanted me to learn to eat what was put before me and be thankful.  And once I did that, I was allowed–no–encouraged to give her my mushrooms.  “Why do I want to waste good mushrooms on you?” she’d ask with a wrinkle of her nose.

All righty then.  I love you too, Mama.

But I digress.  So yes, I cook like her but not quite up to her caliber yet.

I cook like her in quantity.

She had a joke with my Fella–“Well,” she’d say, leaning closer, as if to share a confidence with him, “it might not be good but there sure is enough of it.”

Silly woman.  Of course it was good.  She’d given up making that chicken chow mein mess by then, and I was allowed to pick out my mushrooms.  It was ALWAYS good.

Quantity.  I have a family of five to cook for, and much of the time now, we’re down to four *sniff* with my oldest off at the Oldest and the Best–and I still cook like my whole extended family is coming over.  Most nights.  And most nights I have leftovers.  Lots of leftovers.

Can I just tell you how much I love leftovers?

A whole bunch.

And do you know that I’ve only in recent years discovered that there are folks who don’t “do” leftovers?

Y’all.  I’m for real.  I know, I was shocked too.  We were raised on sale with a coupon eating leftovers.  And I loved it.

(Except for those chicken chow mein leftover nights.  Okay, letting that go now.)

My Fella loves them too.  He is willing to eat “whatever’s oldest in the fridge and can still be eaten” on those nights when we’re cleaning out the Frigidaire .  I appreciate that so much.  I can’t imagine if he weren’t okay with them.

Leftovers do a couple of things for me.

First, they save me time and thought and preparation–it’s easy, we’re going to have this leftover with this leftover for supper for tomorrow night, done.  I do try not to serve something two nights in a row, but nobody really seems to mind or notice.  Except for my picky eater Cooter.  If it’s something he doesn’t like, then well, two nights in a row is borderline abuse in his book.

Second, I feel like I’m saving money.  I don’t mind paying a little more for the good beef if I know we’ll get two meals out of it.  It doesn’t always happen, but if I can have even just enough for the Fella to take for lunch the next day, I’m happy.  All about the bargains.

But there’s a downside to leftovers y’all, and please tell me I’m not the only one.

I get a case of LOSS every night when it’s time to put the food away.

Leftovers Storage Syndrome.

The struggle is real, y’all.

I have the hardest time deciding what to put my leftovers in.  I used to be really good at this when I lived with my folks.  I could nail what size dish down to the last drop of the leftovers.  It was rare that I’d misjudge and we’d have to wash a dish unnecessarily because something didn’t fit.  Very rare. It was kind of my thing.

Only now I don’t live with my folks.  And I stress each and every time I have to search for the right container.

It’s almost enough to make me stop cooking enough to have leftovers.

(Hush my mouth!  Did I just say that?)

Remember last night how I talked about my scatteredness?  It’s affecting my kitchen cabinets too, I’m ashamed to tell you.  I have dishes in this one and this one and that one, and something for real sho ’nuff is eating LIDS around here.  I will find the dish but no lid.  Time and again.  What is that about?  I think maybe the socks that keep leaving their mates behind are ganging up and kidnapping lids.  For what I have no idea.  But it’s the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with so far.

I have nice storage stuff too.  I just can’t get it together for storing.  So yes, I’m also embarrassed to tell you, that the other day when I had sloppy joes leftover, I grabbed what I could find because I was so tired of looking for the “right dish” and threw it in, snapped the lid and put it in the fridge. Done.

 

There was more in there, but yeah, it was an oversized choice.  I've lost my touch.

There was more in there, but yeah, it was an oversized choice. I’ve lost my touch.

And so every night when I go to have my yogurt, I have to double-check that it’s not my sloppy joes waiting to be eaten again.

Ah well, I’m grateful for clear lids.

Tonight I’m thankful for memories of my Mama in the kitchen.  She could work magic in there.  She showed us how much she loved us in that room.  So much laughter and teasing and  teamwork and storytelling went on in that kitchen, and it was all because of her.

I’m also thankful for the gift of leftovers. And folks who will gladly eat them.  That I even have dishes to put them in at all is also a gift, and I appreciate that.  I know how lucky I am, I do.  But I am also grateful for the ability to laugh at myself and shake my head and look at my chaos and shrug.  It’s just the season.  Fingers crossed “this too shall pass,” as my Mama used to say so often, and I will get organized, I won’t have LOSS anymore, and I will once again be the Queen of Sizing Up the Right Dish.

Until then.  Ah well, better to keep laughing, right?

Wishing you all just enough leftovers and love to all.

 

Just a Bowl of Butterbeans

In the past week or two, I’ve had a couple of friends discussing favorite foods and they have asked me what “my people” ate.  Do I eat grits?  Yes.  Do I like okra?  Anyway you want to serve it–absolutely!  Chopped onions on my black-eyed peas?  Step back and watch me go.  Do I love buttermilk and cornbread?  While I know this used to be supper for my Daddy and his family sometimes and it’ll eat okay, my favorite is really cornbread and pot liquor.  I love fried okra, fried green tomatoes, and a big ol’ bowl of grits.  When the garden was in season it was not unusual for a pot of fresh picked snap beans with red potatoes and onions to be our supper with a slab of cornbread on the side.  I love me some home-cooked vegetables.

And this right here, this is my ultimate comfort food.

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Just a bowl of butterbeans.

And it’s not surprising really.

The memories in a bowl of these–feeds my soul for quite a while.

Of helping Daddy plant the garden.  Of beans drying on the floor in my Granny’s “cold” room in the winter for spring planting.  Of sitting in comfortable silence with Daddy when we picked–or having gentle conversation, as easy as the breeze that lightly blew in the evening air.  Of sitting with a fan blowing on us to help relieve the heat as Mama and I shelled them into a washtub.  Of watching Mama blanch the beans and put them on the towel to cool for freezing.  Of the times all I wanted to eat was a bowl of butterbeans.

Oh me.

I’ve been eating on this pot of butterbeans I cooked for a couple of days now.  And today it hit me what this weekend is and why I might need comfort a little more than usual.  My Daddy went in the hospital for the first leg of his battle against his Goliath five years ago this weekend.  Five years?  How can that be when I remember the details of that day so clearly?  How I made the calls and cried in the dark and told my brother I could not breathe if my Daddy was gone.

Just a bowl of butterbeans.

Here I am, five years later, and well, I guess I know better.  Daddy left this life over two years after that, but he is not gone.  He is in the summer evening breezes and the memory of conversations we used to have sitting outside watching the sun go down and swatting gnats.  He is in the music I listen to, the good stuff he raised me listening to.  He is in the couch sitting over there, so full of comfort because that’s the last place I sat next to him before it all fell apart.  He is in the yard I gaze out over, remembering his vision for it and how he helped us move here.  He is in the children I love as I see in them his eyes or smile or recognize his wit and his frustration with folks when they just won’t do right.  He is in the bowl of butterbeans and all the memories that swirl amidst the beans and pot liquor.  He is in my heart.

Gone?  Never.

The food of my people was the good stuff.  Things from the garden or pasture or barn with a can of Vienna sausages or a fried Spam sandwich thrown in for a snack every now and then.  The soul of my people can be found in the fields, in the breezes, in the songs of the birds as they fly from the cedar tree to the fig tree where Granny had hung pie tins to run them off.  It is in the sandpile where we built froghouses and on the dirt road where we walked and rode bikes and threw dirt bombs at each other.  It is in the memories, and I give thanks my soul is very full.

As I was eating my bowl of butterbeans today, a song blew in and began playing in my mind.  I thought for a moment.  Was it a real song or had I only imagined it?  It’s been so long since I thought of it.

And so I did some digging–thankful for the internet, right?–and there it was.  Waiting for me, patiently, like an old friend.  It’s not my Daddy’s voice singing it–but the joy of the little girls dancing, the agility of the couples enjoying the song, and the fact that this Daddy and child have been performing together over sixty years…..it comes in a close second.

Hope y’all enjoy it too.  Love and the goodness of a bowl of butterbeans to all.

 

BUTTER BEANS (Charles D. Colvin – To the tune of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee)

Little Jimmy Dickens – 1965

Also recorded by: Johnny Russell; Papa Joe Smiddy.

 

Just a bowl of butter beans

Pass the cornbread if you please

I don’t want no collard greens

All I want is a bowl of butter beans

 

Just a piece of country ham

Pass the butter and the jam

Pass the biscuits if you please

And some more o’ them good ol’ butter beans

 

Red eye gravy is all right

Turnip sandwich a delight

But my children all still scream

For another bowl of butter beans

 

Some folks think that cornpone’s best

Some likes grits more than the rest

But if I was a man of means

I’d just want them good ol’ butter beans

 

See that lady over there

With the curlers in her hair

She’s not pregnant as she seems

She’s just full o’ them good ol’ butter beans

 

See that big, fat, ugly lad

He’s made everybody mad

They don’t love him, by no means

He’s the hog that ate the last of the butter beans

 

When they lay my bones to rest

Place no roses upon my chest

Plant no blooming evergreens

All I want is’ a bowl of butter beans

 

Just a bowl of butter beans

Pass the cornbread if you please

I don’t want no collard greens

All I want is a bowl of butter beans