Saturday, August 10, 2019

Don't forget the forks.

Could you stand it if I just rambled along in this post without much focus? 

Did I hear someone say, "Isn't that what Dewena does in every post?"

Well, it's going to be worse than usual because I'm in that marvelous exhausted  state of loopy euphoria that means we've just had a whirlwind but wonderful visit from our granddaughters--oh yes, their parents came too.

It was only for one night this time but we crammed as much talk and laughter in it as possible. However, I didn't get one single picture of our darlings. Hence the picture of the vinegar bottle above, another Sparrow Lane Vinegar, this time their Gravenstein Apple Cider. I could drink this stuff!

I had meant to think of a clever way to talk about the simplest salad recipe possible. Took the pictures, coming up zero on the clever. So here it is anyway...

When you have a handful of ripe little sweet tomatoes a day, go pick some.

 Don't forget to check the volunteer vines from last year's plant, growing in the gravel. They're the sweetest, for some reason.

How they've survived with BreeBree and James Mason trampling on them, I'll never know.

"Who, me?"

Cut a jalapeƱo, snip some chives, cut a few cukes--or confess that you bought them at a local farm stand. 

 Slice and snip and toss them in a pretty bowl that you've first poured some of that marvelous apple cider vinegar in, with a little special sea salt stirred in. Do you know this one from Trader Joe's that they carry during the holidays? 

 I ration it all year long.

This salad is so easy and it looks like I'm about easy at this stage in my life. Even my simple Ismail Merchant recipe for the salad below, link here, I've only made once this summer.

Oops, recipe Here!

What was my menu going to be the one night we were expecting our family in Friday night? It had to be easy and nothing's easier than a pot of spaghetti sauce you can let simmer all afternoon.

Ever tried this tomato basil sauce?

 We love it and watch for it to go BOGO at Publix.

Here's something you can't find at Publix, it came all the way from Crete to me on my birthday and it's the most heavenly aromatic herbs I've ever used (sparingly of course, want it to last).

And then you naturally set a pretty table to welcome your guests, don't you?

Sorry, that picture above is several years old. The truth is we served ourselves right out of the pots, from the stove on everyday Fiesta plates.

And our salad for the meal? I triple washed a beautiful head of organic ruffly lettuce, spun it dry and then laid it all out on tea towels, washed a bell pepper, cucumbers, scallions and tomatoes and plopped them out of a towel too.

And our beautiful daughter-in-law had barely stepped out of the car before helping me assemble last-minute individual salads for everyone. Some French bread toasted in the oven and we were ready to sit down at my plain old everyday table and eat.

I didn't take a picture of my fabulous dessert--a recipe I think I saw last week on Facebook, or somewhere. A box of Angel Food cake mix and a 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple stirred into it in a bowl and let it froth, all the way to the top of the bowl. Pour in a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 30 minutes. 2 ingredients. Now that's easy and you know what, that cake was not bad at all. If I ever make it again though I think I'll pour melted butter all over the top of it when it comes out of the oven. I mean...butter, right?

I have got to get my pretty table setting groove back though. What's the use of having all these pretty dishes if I don't use them? And I kind of feel like I'm letting the house morale down by not going to much trouble. 

I think about all the old movies where the British dressed for dinner even while on safari, whatever happened to that way of thinking? 

Do you find yourself making things easier and easier on yourself as time goes by? Or am I the only one?

At least I had a fork for everyone.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Tarragon and Other Herbs, and A Kitchen Essential

Tarragon is one of my favorite herbs. Even though I've never been able to find French Tarragon locally, the Mexican tarragon works fine for me and has the prettiest flowers and comes back every spring. 

Beside it in the pictures is a kitchen essential that no one could call pretty but I've treasured it for five decades. It's a wide-mouth funnel that I used every summer for canning.

I haven't done any canning in ages but I still use that old funnel to fill jars easily, like with the Ranch dressing I made in the picture above. And I save glass jars all the time now since we threw away all our plastic food storage containers.

All of those Tupperware parties I went to as a young married and didn't realize how bad it was to store food in them!

If you don't have one of these handy funnels, here's a link to a pretty one. I thought about buying one but it seemed like being unfaithful to my old friend. When I use it I remember all the jars of chili sauce I put up each August, and corn relish and pepper relish and pickled okra and every kind of jelly and jam imaginable. 

Do you still can and preserve garden goodies? I miss those days.  I wonder if RH would agree to give me a few days to put up chili sauce one more time?

 [Woman's Home Companion ad, July 1943]

Besides fresh tarragon, I use a lot of tarragon vinegar too. And my favorite brand is Sparrow Lane.

Their Tarragon Champagne Vinegar is amazing, as is their Pear and their Gravenstein Apple Cider and everything else they make. Here's a link to their vinegars!

I've been on a seafood and fish kick this summer and fresh tarragon and tarragon vinegar seems to go so well with it.

I've cooked rainbow trout anytime I could find fresh North Carolina ones at the store. Here's a pic of it with tarragon butter sauce...just google any recipe for the sauce, some of them call for shallots too but for delicate trout that would be overpowering.

With salmon I tend to use fresh dill...

Don't you just love that you never have to replant dill? Ours sprout up all over the garden each spring.

And of course, pasta shrimp dishes just seem to call for basil and parsley, don't they?

I do wish I could figure out one other kitchen essential. Why is it that some bloggers' kitchens look gorgeous even in the midst of cooking a big meal, with dirty pots and pans overflowing the sink and dirty bowls and dishes on the counters, while mine just looks a mess?

 But then if I had a gorgeous huge vintage copper sink, maybe I would post more pictures of dirty pots in mine too. And it wouldn't hurt a bit if I was as beautiful as she is while cooking. Please, please don't think I'm putting her down because she is my number one online inspiration and I adore her! I really must share her YouTube channel with you because...well, just because it's my favorite and we should always share our favorites, don't you think?

By the way, is there any more tedious task than peeling and deveining shrimp? These Gulf shrimp were worth it but I was so thankful I wasn't cooking for a crowd.

What is your most tedious cooking chore? Besides washing the pots and pans, that is? 

And what is your favorite herb? I have a dear friend who cannot abide cilantro, which amazed me until I read that many people have a gene that makes cilantro taste like soap to them. Okay now, am I gullible to believe that or is it just another urban legend? Anyone know?

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Books, Always

I no longer read books with depressing realism anymore; did when I was younger but now have to be selective.

In the novel No Trumpet Before Him, by a favorite author of mine Nelia Gardner White, the main character questions the effect some literature may have on college students.

"Baudelaire may have genius. But this is a sad world--do we need Baudelaire to make us more sad?"

After more conversation about the problem of finding good literature that also gives hope to the human spirit, a depressed young man who has returned from serving in World War II says, "Name ten poets who are geniuses and who have hope."

The man answers, "Well we have Frost and Dickinson and Whitman--among our own--and Eliot--there's Auden too. I could name ten, if you liked."

How do you feel about this? We can't have censorship over what others read but do you too find that you have to watch what you choose to read? 

I read so many classic books as a teenager and young adult--as a senior in high school I discovered Russian classics and devoured them--and I don't regret it as it stretched my mind. Back then I could read about the social problems of the ages and I don't recall it leaving me in despair. Now they do so I just can't read books that make me despairingly sad.

Of course there are sad parts in books I read. I even bawled when Father Tim's dog Barnabas was missing in one of Jan Karon's later Mitford novels and I realized he had gone over the Rainbow Bridge between two books, but that's different. 

What I cannot read anymore are books themed on abuse of any kind. And now I turn, more often than not, to older books on my shelves. In thrift and antique stores I look for gentle mid-century books. 

When thrifting, a dust jacket can sell a book to me. Sometimes I'm glad I bought it, sometimes not.

Would you have picked up this book? I couldn't resist it. Charlotte and Dr. James by Guy McCrone made me want to read all of his books set in the UK. The dust jacket flap proclaimed the book to be "a cheerful, busy book of many happenings" and it was. And just right for me at this stage of my life.

So Well Remembered by James Hilton was one I only got a few chapters into and put it aside for later. How could I not love any book by the author of Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Random Harvest? So I'll try it again someday.

Birthright by Lettie Hamlett Rogers is one I'll pass on for now too. Reading a few chapters made me realize just how uncomfortable I am now with the South of the 1950s I grew up in. A South I naively didn't see at the time, was indeed insulated from, but that I recognize now as unbelievably wrong is pictured in this book as a young schoolteacher tries to tackle the animosity that desegregation arouses in the community. 

 The Golden Journey by Agnes Sligh Turnbull is one I reread every few years as I do many of hers. There is a dreamy dining room in the book that I adored.

The mantel in the dining room was inscribed: Benedictus benedicat--May the Blessed One bless.

The curtains were changed for each season, the oak paneling was from England and scattered on it were carvings of squirrels, brownies, leprechauns, a pony. There was a special one of a monkey with his cap in his paws. And from the "chandelier above the gleaming table...crystals fell like a shower of iridescent raindrops."

This just goes to show that novels I'm likely to enjoy reading now must have a house that is almost a character itself. And of course, a good love story in the plot is nice too.

 The last two novels are the ones I chose this week at a local antique store when a coughing spell to top all coughing spells overtook me. I haven't read any of these two yet but the dust jacket flap of The Long Love by John Sedges begins: 

When Edward Haslatt asked Margaret Seaton to be his wife, he promised her that he would make their marriage the chief concern as well as the abiding joy of his life. He kept his pledge.

Now that sounds like a man worth reading about. I'll have to see if his wife proves worthy of that pledge.

Oh, my goodness--stop the presses! I just googled John Sedges and he was the pseudonym for Pearl Buck! And this was book one of her American Triptych including The Long Love, The Townsman, and Voices in the House.

I can't wait to start this as I love Pearl Buck and I'll be spending the last of my daughter's Amazon birthday gift card on the last two books in this series.

Here's a portrait of Pearl Buck that I love and used on a post here once for her birthday...

The last new (old) book, Kathleen Norris's 1931 book Second Hand Wife, I'll save for a proper mood to hit me, one where I want almost nursery fare. I think I have a few of her books left on my shelves but even in my teens her books were a little too formula for me. I loved her autobiographical Noon so we'll see if I like this book.

 The last book, shown above, was my choice with my daughter's larger Amazon gift card. I swooned over Jeffrey Bilhuber's The Way Home, but it deserves a post of its own sometime. Otherwise this post will be as long as Pearl Buck's triptych.

Have you ever read any of these authors, by chance? I know there must be some Pearl Buck fans out there. 

Have you yet found yourself having to coddle your sensibilities and censor your own reading material? 

And as always, what are you reading now? 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Once Again

Once again I've been a blogging dropout.

Why is it so hard to write that first post back once you've been absent a while? 

For me it's partly because I begin to wonder if my world is too small to be of interest to others? 

As I looked through pictures trying to think up a post, it seemed that so many of them were of food I had cooked. Why do I do that? It's not as if I were a food blogger or invented my own recipes. I guess it's just that I like to cook and take pictures of it. And I forget to take pictures of other things. 

I forgot to take even one picture of the beautiful hydrangea arrangement I made in RH's mother's amber glass bowl when it was at that perfect week in early July when many of the white blossoms had turned that perfect shade of green. Or of my house when it was all cleaned up for company. And then forgot to take pictures of our company.

I even forgot to take pictures of our darling granddaughters when they visited us for the Fourth weekend. Thankfully, their parents shared some of their own with me.

 Their father took the one above of both of them and their mother took this one below of little sister perched on our garden rooster. Oh my goodness, are they not adorable!

I did take a picture of their daddy with my own two babies.

 But completely forgot to get a picture of the girls' beautiful mother who helped me cook our 4th of July dinner. The Copper River Salmon with lemon, butter, caper sauce was delicious and here's a link to that recipe.

We didn't smoke the salmon outside the way we used to for so many years. The smoker is still in the barn waiting to be set up somewhere when RH figures out a place for it. He wants just the right spot as the bar was set pretty high at his outdoor kitchen in our picnic shelter at Valley View.

An outdoor cooking station here is something he's still mulling over. He did manage to finish installing the tiles on our larger patio this summer, with the help of a grandson. I must get pictures of that soon.

Now that I have managed to post again here at Across the Way maybe the next posts will come easier. Dewena's Window will have to wait longer. I'm going into my second week fighting a bad summer cold and after trying to ignore it in hopes it will go away, I think I'm going to give into it and take a few days to read and rest and maybe come up with some ideas for future posts.

One thing I know for sure is that I'm not getting back out in public again until I'm better. A trip to a local antique store two days ago where a coughing spell overtook me convinced me that they thought I had the Bubonic plague. 

I did manage to thrust two books at RH as I rushed out the door, gasping "pay for them."

The owner of this little shop did not say "Y'all come back now."

 My favorite part of fixing salmon is having leftovers to use up in delicious salads. Here was a simple one I threw together of arugula, chopped celery and scallions, the salmon and sliced warm boiled new potatoes dressed with a lemon/red wine vinegar, Maile mustard, S & P, and olive oil.

Oh my goodness, it was delicious! RH thought so too.

Even though not a food blogger I must post pictures of food I cook because it is such a big part of my small life. If I ever ride a camel in front of the pyramids of Egypt as a friend of mine did this summer, I will post pictures of that. Until then, you're stuck with my food pics!

As long as I can intersperse them with ones of our two princesses, maybe that will be okay? Because you know I like to see your food pics too. 

And next will be a post on some of my summer reading choices.

Remember when Oprah had a show episode called--

                            "Whatcha' cooking, Nashville?"

Where she surprised people on a street in Nashville on a Saturday by knocking at their door with her film crew?

I loved that show! I couldn't believe that only one or two families invited her in, most didn't. 

So I'm knocking at your door and asking "Whatcha' cooking, friends?   And whatcha' reading?"

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Again, Remembering M. F. K. Fisher

As today would have been the birthday of M. F. K. Fisher, I thought I would tell fellow fans about my most recent purchase of a book about her.

When I walked into a book booth at a huge antique mall in Nashville, this is the first book my eyes landed on. I pulled it out and discovered it was about my favorite food writer. 

Jeanette Ferrary had the privilege for twelve years of visiting Mary Frances in her home that she named Last House, sharing many simple yet marvelous meals prepared by her. 

Ferrary writes:

It wasn't the foods Mary Frances served that made an event of practically everything she did; it was her sense of ceremony, the moments before eating
anything, watching her rub the chicken. It was the first sizzle, the surprise of sun-yellow cornbread in a black iron skillet, the way the room filled with smells of sweet onions caramelizing. It was symphonic.
Jeannette Ferrary
Between Friends: 
M. F. K. Fisher and Me

[One Fourth of July decoration I still put out each year is the small oil painting of American flags I did many decades ago, inspired by Childe Hassam's wonderful paintings of Old Glory.]

I will confess right here that my cooking in the kitchen is not symphonic, never was, never will be. I am an awkward cook when anyone else is in the kitchen with me, uncertain even when alone, reading directions over and over. While I love to cook, my gift is not to inspire others with my cooking unlike  M. F. K. Fisher's gift that was exactly that.
She has inspired me over and over. I won't be making her recipe for this Gazpacho Salad for the Fourth tomorrow but I made it often last summer and will make it many times during the hot summer days ahead. It's that good, with all it's fresh chopped garden vegetables in it.

 What will RH and I have for this year's Fourth of July? 

My favorite 4th dinner is an old New England one that I began to copy after reading Frances Parkinson Keyes's old book Also the Hills: salmon, tiny new potatoes and fresh green peas. In years past when we had salmon for the Fourth we also had some kind of grilled ribs, smoked chicken, etc. for the meat lovers in the family. 

Here's a photo of me from my old recipe scrapbook where I served a whole Alaskan salmon, marinated in wine and herbs, cooked on RH's smoker, bones carefully removed by me. I remember wanting to preserve my creation but back in the early 1990s when this was taken I never dreamed I would one day be publishing pictures of food I made on the world wide web. 

Did you? Do you wish you had photographed all those magnificent meals pre-blog days? I do.

 We don't make a big grilled meal anymore to go with salmon for the Fourth. It's been years now since we had big family gatherings at Valley View. We're past doing it now and Home Hill's kitchen too small; children are grown and have their own 4th plans.

And that's okay. 

We probably won't even have our dinner in our outside dining room. Far too hot.

 But I will pick some of those hydrangea beauties for our table inside, and I'll cook a beautiful Copper River salmon for our dinner with a lemon caper herb sauce.

And maybe, just maybe, there will be a few other people joining us here for it. 

All this to say that RH and I are going to have some special company for the 4th weekend! I'll be getting ready for them to come and enjoying them while they're here and will be visiting my blog friends when company goes home, when I'll be resting Sunday, toes up.

I'll look forward to seeing what everyone who celebrates this special holiday cooked and decorated. The Fourth of July never fails to thrill me, the decor, the music, and I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy on television and the Capitol Fourth on PBS and Boston Pops playing the 1884 Overture if I can find it. The last few years I haven't been able to. Anyone out there know what channel it's aired on? Surely not only local Boston stations now.

 I love it all but especially the food!

I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.

A quote from M. F. K. Fisher in
Between Friends: 
M. F. K. Fisher and Me
by Jeannete Ferrary

What are you eating for the Fourth if you celebrate it?

Do you go to a parade? Decorate like crazy? Watch Yankee Doodle Dandy? Every single year?

Happy Fourth of July -- and Happy Canada Day! 

[7/12/19: After a text from my sister asking for my salmon recipe, I'm linking here to it. ]




Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Man After My Own Heart

Are RH and I some of the few who love storms?

Granted, we've never been hurt in a tornado and escaped to sunny Destin when Hurricane Matthew neared our home in Ponte Vedra Beach. 

Even the epic ice storm in Nashville of  1994 where we stood with Zack and Defee at the picture window and watched trees in the yard being snapped in two was so awesome (full of awe) that we weren't afraid, only mesmerized by the sight and sounds.

I am so glad that RH shares my love of storms and love of weather, all kinds of weather. We love every seasonal change.

Another man after my own heart is Jessamyn West's Jess, married to the Quaker minister, Eliza. In the movie Friendly Persuasion Jess is played by Gary Cooper and Eliza by Dorothy McGuire and I always pictured these two actors when I read West's Friendly Persuasion and Except for Me and Thee. 

Eliza liked weather herself: sun and a brisk wind on washday, warm weather when her Plymouth Rocks hatched...she liked to hear weather busy doing its duty; sending the windmill around, distributing a leisurely rain once the corn was in, snapping the nails in a hard frost when fall fruits needed a touch of cold for mellowing. But Jess relished weather, it seemed, for its own sake. Hailstones big as pullet eggs cutting the corn to shreds, and Jess in the thick of it gathering up buckets full like diamonds. The wind so strong the log cabin, low as it was, quivered like an old dog beat down to its haunches, and Jess out, hat off, mouth open, gulping down draughts of air like a doctor's prescribed medicine. 
Jessamyn West
Except for Me and Thee

I always loved Jess for this. And I love RH for this too!

And speaking of RH, he just yelled in the door to turn on the TV, there's a big storm approaching. Uh oh, five minutes until another front like this one above from the other day reaches us.

Got to go get some pictures and gulp down some rain fresh air--and pray we keep our electricity. RH is madly trying to finish cutting the grass.

He's a man after my own heart. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Scent of Water's Col. & Mrs. Adams

For years I have meant to review Elizabeth Goudge's The Scent of Water, especially after rereading it in the days following the loss of our twin dachshunds Milo and Otis in the fall of 2017. 

Night after night my reward for getting through the day was getting into bed with The Scent of Water. It was the courage and dignity of two minor characters in the book, Col. & Mrs. Adams who were living in necessary frugality in their Holly Cottage, who helped give me courage to face the next morning.

And so I will simply share with you here Goudge's words about this remarkable couple who I wish had a book of their own, themselves the main characters. 

Here are Elizabeth Goudge's Col. & Mrs. Adams:

They did not have supper, just cocoa and bread and butter when they went to bed, cocoa being cheap...

 The fact was that by the time they had done the work that had to be done in the cottage, cooked and eaten their frugal lunch and washed up afterwards, they were tired and couldn't do much more for the rest of the day except sit; out in the garden in warm weather, in front of the fire in winter.

Colonel Adams was eighty-two and crippled with arthritis. He had suffered with a grim and humorous heroism for many years though now the joints were fixed and he was in less pain; but it was difficult to get about on his two sticks. Mrs. Adams was younger, a little creature who hardly reached her husband's shoulder, but her physique had not been equal to the strain of bearing her four sons, losing three of them in the war and having the fourth turn out so disappointing. Then had been the perpetual planning and contriving that had been necessary with the cost of living ceaselessly rising and Service pensions staying where they were. And so now she was delicate...

But if life had been hard for Mrs. Adams it had never occurred to her to think so, and her soft face was serene as a kitten's. It had never occurred to the Colonel to complain either. His lean brown face, with bushy white eyebrows and white calvary mustache was wrinkled in lines of perpetual good humor...
Colonel Adams finished his tea and turned his chair around to the fire and lit his pipe. The little room was shabby and charming...remnants of a beautiful carpet...yellow curtains and chair covers were faded and darned but still pretty. There were books, photographs of their children, and a few bits of rare china that could not be sold because they were cracked...Outside the window the evening light was turning the garden to magic and in the wood the cuckoo was still calling.
 Elizabeth Goudge in The Scent of Water

While there were other wonderful characters in this book, and I have a personal fondness for another minor character, Mrs. Hepplewhite who most people avoid like the plague, Col. & Mrs. Adams really tugged at my heartstrings.  

The whole community where the book takes place wrapped itself around my heart and I even rejoiced when the Adam's selfish sponging son had his own redemption story. 

Many layers make up The Scent of Water, not to mention the title itself that contains hidden meanings.

Finally, "What is the scent of water?"

The answer: 

     "Renewal. The goodness of God coming down like dew." 

Have you read The Scent of Water? Did you enjoy it?

Any other Goudge fans out there?