Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Memorial Day 'PFLAG' Post

It's time to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Memorial Day is the perfect time for that to happen. Memorial Day commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. Period. That is the only criterion. That they were military people who died while in service to our country. We don't require that they be a certain gender or race or religion. We are humbled by their sacrifice and love of country and fellow Americans. We are all touched to see the pictures of our young people with dirty faces, etched with pain and fatigue, far from all that is comforting and familiar. Lonely, frightened, but very brave and very proud. How dare we exclude anyone from making that contribution to our society? Do we have to learn every lesson over and over again. As a country, haven't we seen how much we lose by excluding people from making full contributions to the world?

Some people worry about how gays in the military would affect morale. The military needs to put on their big boy pants and just get over it. Sometimes what is RIGHT is not what is EASY. Sometimes you have to fight your fears and prejudices in order to do good. As with so many other changes that have had to come to our society in order for us to build a free, tolerant country, a few years hence we'll wonder what all the fuss was about.

In one of her novels Rita Mae Brown, one of my favorite authors, talks about the pink dot theory of sexuality. She wishes that one morning everyone in the world who is gay would wake up with a big pink dot in the middle of their forehead. When straight people realized how many people that they loved and respected and admired were gay, they would have to quickly get past all of the prejudice and hate. In the same vein, if all the crosses and headstones and names engraved on the memorial stones of Americans around the world suddenly turned pink tomorrow morning on the fallen GAY American soldiers, wouldn't we have to then acknowledge our debt and honor them?

'Don't ask, don't tell' is a big, giant, ugly wrong that we are doing our fellow Americans. To honor ALL our fallen heroes, we have to get rid of barriers to service for ALL Americans, straight and gay.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


We had dinner with our friends, John and Jack last weekend and it was a wonderful evening. Good food, good drinks and good company. The whole flow of the evening really made me think. They are a couple that have been together for about twenty five years and are a wonderful host team. John is a fabulous, instinctive cook. Jack doesn't cook at all. While John is putting the finishing touches on dinner, Jack serves the drinks and entertains. The group flowed back and forth between the living room political discussion and the kitchen prep (guess where I spent most of my time). John comes out to have a drink or two while things take care of themselves in the kitchen. It is just such an easy, effortless looking flow - welcoming and gracious and low stress. I wonder if Mr. Kim and I entertain like that and HOPE that we do. But it is something to try to pay attention to. John also served a COMPLETELY demolished Bundt cake that came out of the pan in about 40 pieces. We all laughed and then proceeded to eat every delicious crumb. I know for a fact (because it has happened) that I would never have the grace to do THAT. That cake would have ended up in the back yard for the birds and I would have been at Wal-mart at 3am buying a cake mix.

I think that we need to pay attention when we are feeling well taken care of and comfortable. In the first place, to be grateful for it and appropriately appreciative. But also - TO COPY IT. The things that make you feel comfortable will make others feel comfortable and welcome and are well worth stealing. I've always dreamed of having a big enough house to have a DEDICATED guest room. The kind that is ONLY a guest room - not an office/sewing/craft/junk/guest room. A place with lovely linens, good reading lights, drawer and closet space, lovingly chosen books and magazines and even a tray with a bedtime snack. I envision something that would make my guests know how much I value them and make them want to stay forever. When we put guests in our room and we sleep in the family room on an air mattress (or WORSE, when they totally refuse to dislodge us and THEY are on the -slowly leaking- air mattress), I always think that they must feel that they have discommoded our lives and that they are a nuisance instead of the treasured and welcome guests that they actually ARE.

But a simple dinner party gives you the same opportunity to be gracious and welcoming. If the kitchen is a wreck and I am stressed and rushed, I can't blame my guests for wondering if they are a bother or, if indeed they were expected at all. I am pretty good about cleaning as I go now that I am a grown up (Momma will attest that that was NOT always the case), but I often meet guests with no makeup and hair scraped back with a hairband. One look at my pale, blotchy face and lank hair and my guests can certainly tell that time ran out on me.

When we visited my dear friend Rachel and her husband Chris last year, we were included in their family Sunday brunch. They had a houseful - including a VERY active toddler and almost everyone in the house was cooking something. All I can remember is feeling welcome and loved and relaxed and being charmed at the family tradition of turning the music LOUD and dancing around the kitchen. Chris was carving his gorgeous ham, Caro was arranging her cheese tray, Son was taking his incomparable Sweet Piggies out of the oven, Rachel was everywhere, we were setting tables, getting chairs, Grandchild was interested in everything and everyone and Joe Cocker was wailing and we were swaying and dipping and tapping. And I was as impressed and enchanted by this day as I was by dinner at John and Jack's. They both gave me something to aspire to and to remember when I am welcoming folks to my home.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mr. Kim blogs: Baking another cake

I don’t bake often. The last cake I baked was in July 1984. I remember it well because I was young, stupid, and trying to surprise Queen Kim for her birthday. We were new parents and dirt poor and living in a walk up in the Fan District long before it became a toney place to live. And while I had mastered the art of the boiled egg and fried meat, I had never baked anything, unless you count helping my sister with that Easy Bake thingie when we were kids. But a cake was a must for some reason that escapes me now.

So I went to the store and bought what looked like a decent cake mix (scratch not being even on my radar). The Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines options were more expensive than the simple Martha White box cake, and surely there was not a difference, so home it went. In our oversized kitchen with exposed pipes and ancient appliances – surely a bedroom when the upper and lower apartments were a single residence – I stealthily put everything together. No hand mixer – that would tip the surprise to Kim who sat one room away – so I hand combined everything. I do not at this point recall what I did wrong, but the cake came out of the oven looking like two misshapen disks. I do not mean high in the middle, I mean high on one side of one and high on ALL sides on the other. I am quite certain I just went by the clock and never checked their doneness. But I forced them on top of each other and slopped some glop frosting on them from yet another mix, having either eschewed the premade frostings or not seen them or perhaps they weren’t yet available, who knows. But I slopped it all together. And I carried in to Kim.

The look of joyful true surprise on her face as she looked at me quickly gave way to undisguised amusement at this sliding quasimoto of a cake. I echoed her laughter to hide the embarrassment as I realized for the first time how silly it looked. Then we bit into it and found that the worst was yet to come. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot about THOROUGHLY mixing ingredients. And I never baked another cake. Until now.

I saw Paula D throw together a very simple apple pecan cake last week and decided that even I could manage it. She assured her audience that it was fool-proof, and I usually chuckle at such statements since these chefs have never seen me cook anything. But I decided to take it on.

Cutting to the chase, I put this together on a day off to surprise Kim. When she came home form work, the look of joyful true surprise on her face as she looked at me quickly gave way to undisguised amusement as I told her what was baking. The texture turned out very moist and smooth, and the flavor was a nice balance of apple and cinnamon, an obviously trite but winning combo. It held together better than I feared it would. Kim must have liked it, as she has asked me to make another for our new neighbors in place of her planned cookie-welcome.

What-Nots? I'll give you What-Nots?

At her wonderful blog, Lawn Tea (see side bar), my friend Rachel had a wonderful piece about What-Not shelves ( You should go read that first because that is the post that inspired this one. Go ahead, I'll wait....ok, back? Wasn't that wonderful? Well, if you read the comments you can see that I said: "What-not shelves must skip a generation in my Momma's family. I can remember Bomo having shelves crammed with souvenirs, S&P shakers, and, shamefully, what a good friend calls ‘Negrobilia’ – kerchief headed Mammys and Uncles with white whiskers. When she was a little girl, one of Momma’s chores was to dust all this stuff, a chore she detested, so we had NOTHING in our house.” I harkened back to Bomo, though, and my shelves are stuffed with pictures, The Child’s childhood artwork, family mementoes, etc.

A sampling of The Child’s artistic output:

My Younger mementos:

My maiden name is ‘Younger’ and we are supposedly related to the Younger Brothers – outlaws who rode with Jesse James. My collection includes a book published sometime around 1920 called The Younger Brothers Bank and Train Robbers of the West: An Authentic and Thrilling History of the Most Noted Bandits of Ancient or Modern Times and a commemorative mug from the Madison, MN 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Younger brothers capture.

A decorator would come in and tell me to clear the decks, but I just feel happier with all those items within view. If there was a cosmic balance in the universe, my decorating style would fall somewhere between Bomo's crammed to the rafters style and Momma's more Scandinavian approach. But I think that I'm actually WORSE than Bomo. A Victorian matron would be perfectly at home in my house (I don't have the antiques, just the attendant clutter). I've said before somewhere (it is totally in keeping that I don't know WHERE - here? a letter to a friend? a conversation? Lord knows) that my decorating/craft/life-style is 'collage' and it is really true. I love pretty things and if one is good, 5 are better and if you layer them, they will look even lovelier. (Oddly enough this concept does not extend to my person – I wear the bare minimum of jewelry most of the time and NEVER too much – I like the rule of putting on all the jewelry that you think you need to wear and then taking one piece off).

After Bomo passed and Bubba was planning on moving to an apartment, I went down to Florida with Momma and Ted to help clean and sort and such. I had a horror of all of Bomo's dearly loved pieces sitting forlornly on shelves at Goodwill (though I DO like the thought of the thrill that they would give a collector - I've had that thrill) and scooped up all the things that no one wanted. It really wasn’t avarice and I only took the things that I remembered and that I knew must have meant something to her. There was her 1847 Rogers Bros. silverplate, some pottery, lots of glassware and most beloved of all, her Roseville cooky jar:

These go from upwards of $250 on ebay, but I would never sell it. It always stood in every kitchen of hers and from it she dispensed those truly terrible cheap Voortman cookies - coconut bars, sugar cookies, sugar wafers w/ sugar laced shortening between improbably pink wafers, 'chocolatey chip' cookies, etc. - the kind that they seem to SELL stale. They really are awful cookies, but every so often, I have to have one - my Proustian moment, I guess.

These were also Bomo’s:

There are two of the candlesticks and I remember Bomo keeping the ruby candy dish full of hard candy - peppermints, butterscotch and the like.

My father's mother, Bebo, didn't have a lot of knick-knacks, that I remember. There was a cedar chest or two - filled with magical things like invitations to White House dinners and dances and dance cards. My grandfather, Thomas Younger was Custodian of the Congress (or maybe the Senate) up to his death in the late 1930's. This job entailed the day to day management of the US Capitol building and it's employees - anything not covered by the congressmen's staff. His funeral was the first private citizen's for which Congress adjourned. I have a copy (somewhere) of the Congressional Record page on the day that the announcement of his death and the adornment was read. Bebo was very modern and thought all that a bunch of old fashioned stuff that I wouldn't be interested in. But I would have! I loved all the little hints that she gave of parties and dancing and drinkin'! As a matter of fact, the knick-knacks that made the most impact on my little girl mind were a giant martini glass and a rubber martini olive the size of a lemon. They were eventually set high up on her china cabinet – I believe that the olive might have had some bite marks in it (I was a biter - of things, NOT people). 1960's objet d'art, I reckon.

Rather than a What-Not shelf, I have a What-Not house. The only true What-Not shelf that I have is this one that my Granddaddy made:

He made this as a young man when he still worked with wood. He later became fascinated with metal. I remember him driving by a house in Greensboro that was being framed in all steel. He visited it often while it was being built and thought that steel framing was the smartest thing anyone had ever done. I had another shelf that he made, similar to this one with a little drawer. It was lost in a move somewhere and I’ve mourned it ever since.

Every space in my house is covered with knick-knacks - pictures, silver baby cups - Bebo did have these:

This cup and dish are engraved ‘John’ and were my father’s. They were a gift from then Senator Harry S. Truman and his wife.

I also have Mr. Kim’s, The Child’s and mine:

I love that the older pieces were obviously used – they have scratches and dents from fat little fists bashing them against a table.

The top of the piano:

The ‘Wedding Corner’:

This includes photos, a lovely announcement that was cross stitched by my cousin, Judy and a wonderful book called The Marriage Altar, published in 1898 with chapters on ‘Choosing a Wife’, ‘Choosing a Husband’ and ‘Secrets of Wedded Happiness’. One of our favorite wedding gifts was this:

It is one of our wedding invitations, beautifully decorated with watercolored flowers, vines and leaves.

There are things that I have made, things that The Child has made, scrapbooks, photo albums, etc. Also my seemingly endless collections - Wizard of Oz memorabilia (a whole post that I'll do someday), Depression glass, linens, ceramics, children's books. But I don't know how to get rid of most of them. They represent people - people that I love and some of whom are gone now.

A small portion of my collection of children’s literature:

My Trixie Beldens, Donna Parkers and, of course, Queen Nancy are elsewhere.

A mini cookstove and a collection of tiny card games from Momma and Bomo:

My dining room is an especially rich trove of knick-knacks. My wonderful father-in-law, Kenny, built a beautiful shallow shelf with a rail around 3 of our dining room walls and these are chock-full of china, glass, etc.:

Here is the china cabinet with china, crystal and silver:

And the sideboard with more:

As you can see, I also collect cake plates. Almost none of this stuff was purchased by us in a regular store. Most of it is inherited, gifts, flea market or thrift store purchases. I like the idea of rescuing beautiful things.

The kitchen is also full. This is what we call Banshee’s cabinet:

It’s called that because this was where we fed our kitty Banshee to keep her food away from the always voracious pug, Otis. Both are gone now, but in this house, change comes slowly. It is an old cabinet, almost like a Hoosier, but drawers and a shelf in place of a top cupboard and sifter, that Momma and Ted found in their garage when they moved to Florida. It was stained a peculiar orange color. I took it home and painted it in my beloved pastels and loaded it up with the pastel ceramics that I collect. More ceramics:

I am not the only collector in the house. Here is Mr. Kim’s kaleidoscope collection:

A friend of a friend had a little side business with her husband. They would bid on the contents, sight unseen, of those rental storage units that people had stopped paying for and sell the items at flea markets. They would let us purchase things before taking them to sell. I got some amazing items - frames, a large mirror, beautiful table linens, etc., but it made me sad to see all of the lovely abandoned pieces. Why were all of these things that should have been cherished lost to their owners? Why didn't someone claim the family pictures, the beautiful hand crocheted dresser scarves? These are things that I treasure from my own family. Was there a death and the family didn't know about the storage place? Did they know and not care? The whole idea of that distresses me.

I know that I have a tendency to romanticize things and people and places. This is especially true with 'special' household items. Were they wedding gifts? Items carefully saved for out of housekeeping money? With my grandmother's things, I picture her as a young wife and mother, working everyday and saving back a tiny bit every week for something pretty that caught her eye. Maybe she wandered around Woodward and Lothrop (a sadly defunct DC department store) during her lunch hour and saw a platter or serving piece and pictured it on her table. I imagine her delight when she finally had saved enough to purchase it and take it home. Maybe she had friends over as soon as she could just to show off her new treasure. I remember how much Bomo loved pretty things and when I look at the pieces that I have of hers, I'm glad that she had them to make her happy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Labor of Love Foods and Memories

This is something that I posted on last summer:

I’ve been spending most of my weekends lately going to Reidsville NC to visit my grandmother who is in a rehab center working to recover from a stroke. Most of my childhood summers were spent in Reidsville with my grandparents on their farm. So many of my food memories, tastes and lessons were learned there. Either in my grandmother’s (or others’) kitchen, in the cafes that my grandfather took me for ‘dinner’ (lunch to Yankees) and at church suppers. Granddaddy had 80 acres and 30-some head of cattle, so we ate LOTS of beef. One of his friends had a huge vegetable farm and pigs. His tenants cooked exotic things like fried fatback and hog jowls and took me to tent revivals (slightly alarming to my Episcopal soul) where the food afterwards was always delicious, warm and always slightly damp from being covered with foil in the summer humidity. I remember my grandfather taking me along to the Tire company where he did business (along with a poker game) and, while he was busy I’d visit with the men in the factory, who would always buy me a Co’cola and a Tom’s peanut bar.

There is one pear tree left in my granddaddy’s orchard. Where there used to be almost two dozen assorted apple and pear trees. Snugged up next was a cow pasture where gathered the whole 30-some of them, chewing and drooling, their eyes entreating us to toss them the apple cores they loved so dearly. In spite of Granddaddy’s threats of switchings to come if I overfed them, I always obliged with a few. And never got the switch, either. Granddaddy was a tough talker, but soft inside.

Those apples were tiny and puckeringly tart – cooking apples, I suppose. They dried out the inside of your mouth like you’d been eating alum. Mostly, Grandma Jean cooked with them. But small, sour apples are still my favorites. The pears were small, too. Crunchy, with no pear-y juiciness. But they made the most divine pear preserves.

Granddaddy is gone now. Grandma Jean’s recovery from a stroke and return to home is questionable. The old log house and the huge, sheltering tree are gone and where there were cows and a barn and an old tobacco shed are new houses and a road (!!!). But the pear tree is there and Granddaddy’s shop still gives off a wispy scent of machine oil, hay and cigar smoke.

When I was there a couple of weekends ago, I dragged a step ladder out to the pear tree and picked all I could reach. I thought we’d eat what we could at home. But a couple of nights ago, I was driven to make some of Grandma Jean’s preserves. I had no business making preserves! I needed to do laundry and clean at least one bathroom. Or go to bed early. But I needed to make those preserves…I needed to TASTE those preserves.

So I peeled and cut up the pears:

I finally found a use for the useless (to me) Y peeler – it is wonderful for peeling extremely hard pears with very stubborn peels!

Added lemon juice and sugar and let them sit overnight:

Last night when I got home from work, I boiled them down and put them in jars, not forgetting to add the lemon slice that Grandma Jean always adds. Sometimes, when I make them, I add a slice of ginger, but not this time; this time I want HER preserves, not my version.

There weren’t a lot of pears. There was only enough for two jars:

One for me and one for Momma. I may never have these exact preserves again – it is a very old, gnarled tree – and who knows what will happen to it by next year. But for now, I have that jar and these preserves:

And they taste like sunshine and autumn and my grandparents and my childhood. All in one spoonful!

UPDATE: This was written last August and Grandma Jean is home and doing very well. Her speech is still effected by the stroke, but she’s ‘graduated’ from speech therapy and getting around very well. Her friend, Judy - a warm and loving and exceedingly wacky lady – stays with Grandma Jean and they take care of one another. Each providing something that the other needs. It’s always been an equal friendship and doesn’t stop because of Grandma Jean’s stroke. I looked at the tree the last time I was down and I think that I may be able to get a few pears from it again this year. If so, I’ll grab a few and sneak them home to make some preserves. My dear friend, Rachel (if you haven’t yet GO TO HER BLOG – Lawn Tea – and lose yourself in her incomparable writing) suggested a Fried Green Tomatoes moment (when Evelyn brings Ninnie the covered plate) for Grandma Jean – only with hot biscuits and the preserves. I hope to do just that thing.

Mother's Day 2010

I am an extremely dilatory blogger. I have a jillion ideas in a Word document on the computer and all day long thoughts will hit me, but I never seem to be able to find the time to sit and actually write. I am a long way from being an actual writer, but I know that REAL writers need quiet time to gather their thoughts, to find the right words, etc. And I just don’t have that time in my life. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself. The people that I know who do write have lives every bit as full, or even more so, than mine. Maybe if I had all the time in the world, I’d still post these way-after-the-fact posts a month apart. I’d like to find out, though ;^) .

Mother’s Day was a little bittersweet this year. We celebrated with a brunch at our house and were expecting Mr. Kim’s mom (his dad and Judy were busy elsewhere), the Macs and Momma and Ted (Daddy and Katie were in Florida and getting him out of Sarasota takes a MAJOR life event). Unfortunately they had some illness at the Mac’s and Momma and Ted just didn’t feel good enough to make the big drive. I missed them all a lot, especially not being with Momma for her birthday (May 6) and Mother’s Day. But Kenny and Judy were able to come after all, so that was a nice surprise. And Jo was there, so we did have Mom's available for all the mom necessities (cutting the cake, looking at photos - who else will look at all of your pictures?).

Brunch started with nibbles:

Crackers and celery with Rachel’s Redneck Gazpacho and her ‘Paminna Cheese’

The ‘gazpacho’ is a weird and wonderful mixture of fresh tomatoes, mayo, bacon and Saltines! It tastes like BLT in a bowl.

We also had quiche:

Lorraine, made with this decidedly oddly shaped Neuske’s bacon:

It’s no Blessed Virgin in a potato chip, but it enlivened OUR morning.

Spinach and tomato with Monterey Jack and goat cheese

Sausage rolls:

Katie’s Chicken Casserole:

Salad w/ Cream Chive Dressing:

Fruit salad:

Dessert was a Key Lime Poppy Seed Cake:

It was a white poppy seed cake filled with lime curd and frosted with a key lime extract flavored 7 minute frosting. Very, very good! I forgot to get a picture of a slice, but it was beautiful inside and the leftovers got scarfed up really fast at work.

I also did one of those frosting cakes since they come together so easily:

German chocolate cake with pecan, coconut and caramel frosting drizzled with chocolate and caramel.

I made Gary’s version of Columbia White Sangria to serve, but forgot to take a picture. It was delicious and POTENT!

We had a lovely day, with lots of visiting and stories and laughing. Mike and Jessica ‘made over’ me in a nice fashion. Mike gave me a beautiful purse that he noticed me drooling over while we were doing our Mother’s Day shopping and Jessica gave me a cute little Paul Frank cosmetic bag:

I am a fool for monkeys.

She has also arranged for something that I’ve wanted forever. She’s going to have an artist friend come over and paint our family motto (Suck It Up) in our family room. It will be the first thing that you see when you walk in the door and I’m thrilled.

I talked to Momma and Grandma Jean and had nice visits with both of them, but it wasn’t the same as being with them. I think that next year, I may try to arrange a Reidsville trip with us and Momma and Ted so that we can be together. Mother’s Day is important to me. I don’t see it as a “Hallmark Holiday”, but as a chance to really sit down and think of how you can show the most important person in your life’s history what they mean to you. A nice card, with a heartfelt inscription, some flowers, a gift, a good meal and a chance to talk and reminisce – all of these show how you feel.