The Secret to Making Biscuits

One of my favorite memories from this past holiday season happened less than two weeks ago.  On the day after New Year’s my brother Bubba taught my oldest, Aub, how to make Maemae’s biscuits.

She even stood on a stool beside him, just like she used to with her Maemae.

Bubba told us the story of how he learned. Years ago he went to Mama in the kitchen and told her he’d like to learn how to make her biscuits.  She said, “Well, go ask your Daddy.  He taught me how to make them.”

So he went and found Daddy.  He made his request of Daddy, who asked him if he knew what the ingredients were.  Bubba replied, “Buttermilk, flour, and shortening.”

Daddy nodded.

Then he shared the most important part of biscuit making there is.

“The thing you need to know, the secret to making biscuits, is to remember that any biscuit is better than no biscuits at all.  Because you are going to make some bad ones.  It will happen, before you can get good at it.  But any biscuit is better than none.”  Daddy paused for a second.  “Now go on in the kitchen and let your Mama show you how to make them.”

And so he did.

Bubba was known for his cathead biscuits when he was in college.  Apparently grad school too, as his sweet wife whom he met there shared that she might have had her head turned by his biscuit making abilities.

I don’t blame her.

That boy can flat out make some biscuits.

Well, now.

It wasn’t always the case, but remember, any biscuit is better than…..

well, you know.  It’s the secret to making biscuits.  But let’s keep it amongst ourselves, shall we?

Tonight I’m thankful for the passing along of this family legacy–the biscuit making.  I’m thankful for a brother who makes time to share the stories and the gifts that he was given, and I’m thankful for our time together over the holidays.  It was far too short and more precious than all the gold or winning that big ol’ jackpot folks keep talking about right now.

Family, stories, and biscuits.  It’s hard to have a bad day when you’ve got all three of those treasures.

Love to all.

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Bubba’s biscuits as he rolled them out on the pan.

 

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I tried to get a photo of the whole pan, but someone was too quick for me to do it.  They were that good!

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Cooter’s biscuit with honey.  Mmmmm mmmmm.  That’s good eatin’ right there.  

the last one home

there is little better feeling than being the last one home

the last one to return to the roost where we all grew our wings

the lights on, hearts and stories waiting until all are there

and the smiles grow brighter

hugs are given and given again

and last just a moment longer than they used to

laughter accompanies the threats of telling that one story

that everyone already knows anyway

 

all await me behind the blinds with the light peeping through the cracks

beckoning me to their warmth

their affection the perfect protection from the cold chill

and darkness of the journey

 

all those I love and hold dear

tucked away inside,

piled up on every chair and cushion

and even curled up on the floor

 

plates are full

and so are the hearts

of those I love

and cannot wait to see

a sight for sore eyes

it’s been far too long

 

there is little better feeling than to be the last one home

unless it’s being the first one there, waiting,

anticipating

all the joy that is to come

 

A Grateful Heart

Whoo, y’all.

Today has been a busy one.

And I wish my poor Mama were here so very much right now.

Besides the obvious reasons, there’s this.

I’d set her down, bring her a glass of tea, whatever book she’s reading, and–

I’d rub her feet.

And back.

And shoulders.

All those years she put a veritable feast on the table, and all we could do is eat it.  In such a small fraction of the time it took for her to prepare it.

And then we children would work out the details about who was cleaning up what–I’m using “work out” as a euphemism here.

Bless her.

She could cook circles around me, as my children often lovingly *ahem* remind me.  Still, I know she was worn out from all the Thanksgiving dinner preparations.  Today I’ve only done about half of what she did, and I am one whooped puppy.

So tonight I’m calling it a night with a tired body reminding me how old I am and a mind already ticking off what needs to be done when I get up in the morning.

But first–

I am thankful.  For a body that can still do and a mind that can still plan.  I am thankful for the bounty of groceries that I have gone through today and yet, there’s still plenty more to cook from the next day and the next and the day after that.  I am grateful for the sanitation folks who picked up our trash this morning and will pick up from all this from my meal preparations next week.  I am thankful for the farmers and the growers and the folks who packaged and shipped and transported and shelved and sold me these groceries.  I appreciate the laughter of my children today while I was cooking and prepping and trying to figure out if I could find one more baking dish…..

Tomorrow we will celebrate and give thanks together once again at Blackberry Flats–our homeplace for right at 37 years now.  It’s been several years since we gathered together around Mama’s good cooking, and tomorrow, while she and Daddy and all those who have gone on up to the House will be missed–it will be a celebration of what is good and right to be back “home” eating Thanksgiving dinner.  The littles will climb trees and pet kittens and play good guys and bad guys or Star Wars or something like that, while all of us grownups will either watch football or try to figure out if anyone will notice if we close our eyes for just a minute…..or both.

Tonight I am thankful for so many things, and one big one is you.  Thank you for stopping in and reading my stories.  Whether this is the first time or the 622nd time, thank you.  When you read what flows from my heart and soul through my fingers to this keyboard and screen, you bring them to life.  And I thank you for that.  A story wants to be heard.  Thank you for listening.

Most of all, I am thankful that, as I picked up one of the potholders my Daddy made for my Mama years ago and I went over to the oven to peek in on my pies, I heard my Mama’s voice.

 

“And grant us, Lord, a grateful heart,

For these and all our many blessings.

Amen.”

Whether it’s original or not, I will always think of these as her words.  It was her prayer and how she lived her life.  No matter what happened, she always looked for something to be thankful for.

Is it any wonder that, despite all the cooking she did, this holiday was one of her favorite days all year?  She just wished we’d celebrate and give thanks year round.

Thankful to you and for you.
Love to all.

Comfort in a Cup

We have a few traditions when it comes to birthdays in our family.

First of all, we celebrate for more than a day–we have birthday weeks and sometimes happenings for our birthday month.  It’s all about the celebrating the lives of those we hold near and dear.

You get to pick what kind of cake (or pie or big cookie or whatever) you want for your birthday.  I spent years asking my Mama for a red velvet cake.  Only it was a brown velvet because she wouldn’t use all that red dye.  I think there was a study or something…..anyway, never mind the color, it was delicious.  For years she made me that.  In more recent years, I chose a Texas sheet cake.  Ooey, gooey chocolate goodness.  My mouth is watering as I type.

The birthday supper is a big deal.  The honoree gets to choose anything he or she wants.  And if you’re lucky enough to have your birthday on a weekend, you get to choose two meals.

And so it was for my girl.  She came home from college the day after her birthday, so we celebrated all of Saturday.  I knew she wanted Mexican food, so I had that planned for supper.  But for her birthday lunch, she asked for something I haven’t made in years.  Something my Mama used to make, and my new 19-year-old grew to love it sitting around the table with Mama and Daddy and whoever else happened to be at their house.  Easily among the best comfort foods ever.  The smell of it cooking.  I mean, y’all.  For real.  I was in memory heaven.

Mama was a good steward of what was in her pantry and refrigerator.  She rarely threw anything out.  Over the years she learned great ways to recycle leftovers in a new dish.  Her way of using leftover mashed potatoes might just be her most creative and best tasting effort of all times.

Baloney cups.

Pan number one of baloney cups....oh the smell of them cooking.....

Pan number one of baloney cups….oh the smell of them cooking…..

I grew up on bologna sandwiches.  I can remember being in my bed, waiting for sleep to come, and singing the O-S-C-A-R  M-A-Y-E-R song.  We loved our B-O-L-O-G-N-A.  I loved taking the red rind off and then making sure I had gotten every bit of goodness off it before throwing it away.  Delicious.

When Mama had leftover mashed potatoes to use, she used to pull out her biscuit baking pan and lay bologna slices out on it.  She’d put a scoop of mashed potatoes on top, and add a slice of cheese.  She put it in a hot oven to broil, and voila’ the house smelled amazing, and our taste buds were in for such a treat!  She served it with some fruit and we had a meal.

One of our favorites, though we didn’t get it very often.

I was surprised when my baby girl asked for this for her birthday.  Surprised and delighted.

Pan #2--who decided that 11 slices makes a pack?  Interesting choice, don't you think?  I mean a dozen or a baker's dozen, but 11?  Is that an Oscar's dozen?  :)

Pan #2–who decided that 11 slices makes a pack? Interesting choice, don’t you think? I mean a dozen or a baker’s dozen, but 11? Is that an Oscar’s dozen? 🙂

It was a special treat for all.  The Fella loved it and had memories of when we made this years ago.  I don’t think the littles had ever had it, and they were intrigued and not a bit shy about digging in.  (Suffice to say we went through a whole pack of bologna for the just the four of them.)

The way the house smelled took me back to a safe and happy place, and for a little bit I was home again and my parents were close, and oh–I think I might have gotten the greatest nourishment from those baloney cups, and I never took a bite–my soul was fed and my heart was full.

The only problem is I made the mashed potatoes from scratch.  And only used about half of them.  So now, I have leftover mashed potatoes…..and if a Mama has leftover mashed potatoes, chances are, she’s going to need some baloney to go with it.

 

Love and the comforts of home 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.

 

What True Love Looks Like

I was standing in the yard, I think I was at Granny’s.  But the trees were ones Daddy had planted, so they were precious to me.  And as I stood staring at this one tree, it fell over.  Toppled right to the ground.  In that moment, my heart shattered.  I fell to the ground crying.  It was a link to him, and it was gone.  Another connection cut off.  As I wept, my tears falling into the grass beneath me, I wondered if it falling was a sign something bad had happened to Daddy.  I thought about Mama and worried how she was handling it if something had happened. 

Then I woke up and remembered.  Silence.

Oh.  That’s right.

It was just a dream.

Lunch for the little today.  Tortilla pizza.  They love it.

Lunch for the littles today. Tortilla pizza. They love it. Just like their Cap did.

Today for lunch I made two quick tortilla pizzas for my littles.  We hadn’t had them in a while until I whipped them up one last week.  They were so excited and ate every bite, so we’ve had them a couple of more times.  Today as I was using the pizza cutter to slice one up for our Princess, I remembered that Daddy was also fond of this version of pizza in his last couple of years.  After my dream last night, he and Mama were on my mind more than usual.

“Hey y’all, Cap loved this kind of pizza too.  He told me about it after Maemae made it for him the first time.”

They both thought that was pretty cool.

“Mama, let me ask you something.  Did you have to feed Maemae?”

*absolutely out of left field, that was*

I thought for a minute.  “No baby, I didn’t.  Maemae wasn’t really able to eat anything those last few weeks.  They had her using something to help her breathe.”  I held my own breath, fingers crossed there wouldn’t be any more detailed questions.

“Oh.”  She thought for a moment, carrying her plate to the counter. “Did you ever have to feed Cap?”

Oh my.  I did on occasion.  It was mostly helping him get the cup Mama had put a straw in up to his mouth.  Just at the end though.  The last couple of days he wanted nothing.

I remember noticing in those last months when Daddy lost some of his motor skills, that Mama was fixing him sandwiches and then wraps.  She’d put just about anything in a wrap–fried chicken, meatloaf, you name it–if Daddy liked it, it went in a wrap.  At first I thought they had joined the “wrap”apalooza that the restaurants all seemed to be going to at the time, but then Mama commented nonchalantly about how it seemed like it was easier for him to handle a wrap.

Bless her.

Mama’s love language was food.  We’ve laughed and joked about it over the years, and we even teased her unmercifully.  She used to lay out a spread and apologize that it might not be “fancy” or “enough.”  We’d shake our heads and dig in appreciatively.  After Daddy died, and she was so tired from the diseases challenging her own body, she’d put a Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese in the oven, roast some broccoli, fry up some okra, and put out carrots and hummus as a side–and she would APOLOGIZE.  Oh Mama.  Don’t you know all we tasted was love?

Because that’s how she showed her love the best, it was important to her to feed Daddy.  She couldn’t ease his pain, she couldn’t slow down the progression of the cancer, but she could by golly feed him.  And feed him well.  She’d cut up apple slices with at least one meal every day.  He always did love his apples, and if she placed them in a certain bowl, he could get them out and eat them all by himself fairly easily.  And the wraps.  I don’t know if she fed him meals when we weren’t there, but I do know she got very creative when it came to making him good food that he could eat himself.  She preserved his dignity through it all.

Bless her.  I was watching.  And paying attention.

I know that Walt Disney, bless his heart, has created an image of romance surrounded by singing forest animals, dancing and sewing mice, sea creatures, dancing until midnight, book-filled rooms with candlelight, and all kinds of happilyeveraftertheend’s, but for me, I know what true love looks like.

True love looks like hands held across a hospital bed.  True love looks like a smile and a wrinkled nose.  True love looks like tired eyes and vitamins served in a little cup every night.

True love looks like a wrap.  Made special.  For the one you love most.

Love to all.

Chocolate. And Love. And Chocolate.

My Awesome Cousin has a shirt that I first saw over six years ago.  Her Mama made it for her I think.  It says, “Save our planet: It’s the only one with chocolate.”

I remember thinking that was brilliant.  I even embroidered that quote on a tote bag to share at our family reunion that year.

I got it, but I didn’t really get it.

I have always been a vanilla over chocolate kind of girl.  At least where ice cream is concerned.  And milkshakes.  And milk.  So yeah, vanilla over chocolate.  Until just a few years ago.

Maybe I can blame it on Mama’s Texas Brownies that I fell in love with.  Yes, IN LOVE.  They were the best.  But since they had coffee in them too, the results might be skewed.  I suppose I could blame it on my Joyful friend who makes brownies with a layer of Hershey bars baked right in the middle.  Oh my.  Hang on, I need to clean the drool off the keyboard.

Wherever the blame lies, I have only just in the past few years become the kind of person who needs (not craves, there is a difference) chocolate on a regular basis.  I think it might have something to do with the discovery of the deliciousness of dark chocolate.

Sure, growing up I loved Mama’s chocolate chip cookies.  She would call us into the kitchen and have us each test a  semi-sweet chocolate chip from the bag before she poured them in.  I never turned her down. It was for the good of the family after all.  When I was in Japan, around the time I gave birth to our Princess, one of the women in my Fella’s flight baked me “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever.”  (Seriously, that was the name of the recipe.)  Oh my word, were they ever good.  The best.

But my need for chocolate did not arrive until that first bite of dark chocolate.

Before, I only enjoyed chocolate.  Now I was savoring it and thinking about it and well, needing it.

So I started buying it.  And then the trouble began.

There is a great appreciation for dark chocolate with the 18-65 year old members of this household.  So much so that it gets real at Christmas when Santa puts the dark chocolate kisses in folks’ stockings.  Rest assured there will be no sharing.  To each his or her own.  And woe be the person who dives into someone else’s stash without asking.

We’ve finally reached a compromise, it would seem.  The Fella likes his frozen, so he keeps a bag tucked up high in the freezer door.  He learned to move it up there after we started finding colorful foil pieces all over the house in little corners or tucked in a planter or between the pages of a book. (Ahem, caught you Cooter!) Aub does not care for hers frozen, so she stashes hers elsewhere.  And they are off limits for me for a while (yes, condolences are appropriate here), so I’m coping.  And not digging into the stashes I know exist.  Some days it’s a moment by moment decision, but I’m doing the best I can, and it only makes me “slightly” grumpy.  (My family might say this is an understatement.)

Just before I had to cut out the chocolate, Cooter saw me grabbing a dark chocolate kiss (or two) on my way out of the house.  As we headed to the vehicle, he asked, “Mama, why are you eating chocolate?”

Without blinking, I replied, “Because I don’t drink.”

Okay, it was more to myself under my breath than out loud where he could hear me, but I think that just might be the truth.  Some days are like that.

I do miss my chocolate.  I look forward to the day I can have it again, and in the meantime, I find myself walking down the candy aisles that aren’t on the way to what I need in the store.  I find it fascinating that after all of the years of being a vanilla girl, I have developed an appreciation and affinity for chocolate.

Maybe the Peanuts cartoon was accurate all those years ago after all.

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Tonight I am thankful for the discovery of something new that brings me joy.  I give thanks for the willpower to give it up for a bit so my body can do what it needs to do.  And most of all, I am grateful for those close to me, both near and far, who share their love.  This might sound cheesy (adding in another favorite food I’m avoiding right now), but–as good as dark chocolate is, love is the sweetest thing of all.

Love to all.