Friday, April 27, 2018

Backyard Makeover

This picture I printed out from Pinterest a year ago has been on my kitchen cupboard all this time, right over RH's coffee pot, a subliminal enticement that I hoped would come true.

This last weekend it did! 

Not that I wanted an exact copy but we both knew something needed to be done about the ugly stack of bricks that covered the pipe over an old well that was right outside the kitchen window.

This was to be an inspiration for a focal point for the two new patios that RH was going to build for us so that we could have a place in the backyard to sit and watch our fur babies play and flowers grow.

RH had already spent three days building the first patio, one that will be shady in the summer, and our son came in last weekend to help him on the rest of the project.

Here is what it looked like, snapped from my kitchen window, when they began Saturday morning:

In the circle of dirt in lower right section is the pipe that sticks up from the old well that belonged to this 1935 cottage.

I have a love of old cupolas and this one has been sitting in our driveway for almost a year now, waiting its time to become a focal point!

Once in place it was time to pretty it up and Defee and RH went to the rock pile for some pretty ones.

Next came placing the beautiful Tennessee Crab Orchard Stone slabs that RH bought last summer. I love the color variations in these.

They wheelbarrowed in the pretty brown pea gravel and it became the beginning of my dream to have paths I could walk on with the dogs without stepping in mud, or something worse.

And it is going to be something beautiful to look at while I wash dishes and prepare meals, a very important thing.

RH and Defee took a well deserved break on the patio before starting up again with the next step. 

Bree-Bree kept them company.

I'm sorry, I know that I'm prejudiced, but she is gorgeous!

And those are two handsome hardworking men behind her!

They worked until sundown on the next project, a much needed drain to direct rainwater out of the yard and into the driveway. 

Along with this job they decided to double the pathway leading to the gate. The pavers are still covered with sand here but I will love having this wider path.

There's still lots more to do back here because in a garden there always is. There's still the second patio to be tiled where you see all the sand in the right section below.

Lots of planting to be done, mostly perennials and evergreens and flowering shrubs, a few along as we can afford them.

But I couldn't resist some instant color annuals too and spent my birthday money from another son on these. Lots of herbs in there too.

I want pinks and purples and pale yellows among the greens that are my favorite. 

My mantra is Theme Green, inside and out. It's what makes me happy.

Those red and blue lawn chairs that RH and Defee are sitting in above will be moved to outside the barn for pond watching and RH has painted all our old metal lawn furniture in yummy shades of greens, including some chartreuse and lime.

I can't wait until we move them to the patio! And see them from my big kitchen window!

I'll still take all offers of dishwashing help I can get though, just saying.

Thank you so much, RH and Defee! 

You are amazing and wonderful to make this dream come true for me!

And don't forget to look at the other picture hanging up in the kitchen........

Friday, April 20, 2018

"His mission is song."

Two thrashers are nesting outside our kitchen window in a tall holly bush and we could not be happier with our new tenants. 

I turned to Hal Borland to learn more about them and found that they enjoy singing..........

          many phases put together a hundred ways

          trademark is the repeated phrase

          long, intricate songs

          can sound like a flute, piccolo, violin

          sings morning and evening for hours at a time

          rests at midday and dark of night

"But his mission is song."

Hal Borland

I love this more than I can tell you.

And I have my concert tickets in hand, front row and center.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Last Tuna Fish Casserole

I made my last tuna fish casserole the other night.
            I think. Maybe. Probably.

I made two of them, one with cheddar and one with Boar's Head Gold Label Swiss Cheese that is lactose free for RH, with his lactose free milk.

I felt swamped by nostalgia as I made it for the last time, this dish that I had fed my children so often while they were growing up, the recipe that I tripled once they had all left home, one each going to Gurn and Zack to take home for their suppers.

It has been an old friend, the makings of which were almost always in my pantry and fridge.

For there was always a box of macaroni on the shelf and cans of tuna fish. Always the red cans of Campbell's Cream of Chicken and Cream of Celery. Always chicken broth. Always milk in the fridge and cheese, and usually frozen green peas.

Add a salad and French bread and there was dinner.

It was comforting, creamy, and with the addition in later years of crushed Golden Flake Dill Pickle chips on top, almost addictive. And fettucini recently instead of macaroni made it gourmet, kind of.

I will still keep tuna fish in my pantry even though now I prefer the Italian brands. And I may always have an emergency can or two of tomato soup for puny days or chicken noodle for stuffed-nose days when I don't feel like making homemade. But now there are other brands of those that have less chemicals, less additives, and no MSG.

And I make excellent homemade soups myself so those cans really need to go. Hear that, RH? No more stocking up for a year when Progresso soups are BOGO.

So these were my last tuna fish casseroles.

            I think. Maybe. Probably.

Here's my recipe for it just in case my kids someday wonder how Mom made them in the old days:

For 3 Tuna Fish Casseroles:

1. Stir in very large bowl: 2 cans Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup, 2 cans of Cream of Celery Soup, and 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup (no mushroom soup if Defee's eating it). Stir in 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon tumeric, 2 teaspoons dill, S & P. 

2. Stir in a cup of mayonnaise (or more). 

3. Stir in 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice.

4. Stir in 9 cans of tuna fish.

5. Cook 2 boxes macaroni or fettucini, drain and add.

6. Stir in small bag of frozen petite green peas.

7. Stir in 2 cups milk and enough chicken broth to make it soupy.

8. Add 3 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

9. Pour into 3 casseroles and top with more cheese plus parmesan.

10. Crush 3 bags of Golden Flake Dill Pickle chips and top each casserole with one bag each.

11. Dot with pats of butter and dust with paprika.

12. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, don't let chips burn.

Sweets are still around in my kitchen and if I don't make them, RH is going to buy them at the store anyway, with all those chemicals and HFCS. 

So why not a homemade cake or cookies instead of Nabisco Vanilla Wafers that are loaded with them, and linger past the sell-by-date?

Two boxes of vanilla wafers, RH? Really?

Here's what I made for dessert just because I had a bottle of Martinelli's Apple Juice that I didn't use for a pork recipe. I found this cake recipe for Apple Juice Cake at Pies and Plots.

There is no dairy in it, safe for RH, but it does call for Crisco type shortening, bad for all of us. I keep a small can in the pantry for using with butter for pie crusts and for my Grandmother's coconut cookies that RH craves sometimes, find the recipe here at a previous post called Who Ate the Cookies.

I remember when I used to keep a large can of Crisco shortening in the pantry. That's another product that I probably ought to banish, maybe use lard instead, according to some. 

This cake was so good, even better the longer it sat. More of a coffee cake than cake and delicious toasted with butter. I did send half of it and lots of casserole to the job one day.

But no more. I think. Maybe. Probably.

Oh, the foods of the past that we thought nothing of eating!

"I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly.

Tuna fish casserole is at least as real

as corporate stock."

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Happy Birthday, Gladys Taber!

Spring has a special effect on us in the valley.

The whole beautiful world invites us out,

and we have an urge to wander.

The gentle, rolling hills;

the clear, winding brooks;

the bright, rushing streams:

all are filled with the rhythm of life,

and we move with it too.

Gladys Taber in
Stillmeadow Calendar

I think of Gladys Taber often, my book friend and teacher, but especially on her April birthday. 

          Thank you, Gladys, for all you've meant to me.

           Save a place for me, please, in the Quiet Garden Above.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Grits Is Cold and The Little Foxes

I am a grits-aholic, to the bone.

We who love grits disagree about grits, what kind to buy and how long to cook them, what to put in them.

One thing is a given. Instant grits or quick cook grits are not the real thing, not really.

One argument you don't hear much of these days is whether grits is singular or plural.

We just don't say anymore,
"The grits is good."

We say, "The grits are good."

And that's a darn shame because grits is singular and properly we should say:

"The grits is good this morning, Mama!"

My authority on the matter is Bette Davis playing Regina Hubbard Gidden in 1941's The Little Foxes.

Davis's Regina was one superbly bitchy woman.

Regina is married in the film to a favorite actor of mine, Herbert Marshall--remember him and his beautiful voice in The Enchanted Cottage as the blind pianist?

Back to grits...early in the film, long before Regina decides not to go fetch her husband's medicine when he's in the middle of a heart attack, crawling up the stairs, she and her daughter are sitting at the breakfast table on the veranda.

Mother dear sends the grits back to the kitchen, telling her servant,
"The grits is cold."

Subject closed. I'm glad that's settled.

There's nothing easier to cook than a pot of grits. I use water for breakfast grits and chicken broth for supper grits.

One ingredient for grits is as necessary as the grits itself. 


You might as well not go to the trouble to fix and eat grits if you're on a salt-free diet. But then, I can't imagine eating a tomato without salt, or an egg, so who's to say.

Tamar Adler inspired me to try her variation on grits in her An Everlasting Meal -- reviewed here on my other blog.

Cut salami into slices on a long bias and brown each slice in a pan. [I used the small dry Italian salami the first time I made this.]

Add red wine vinegar to cover and a spoonful of tomato paste. Let the slices of salami simmer until they've begun to soften, then spoon three or four pieces per person over each bowl of grits. Top each with fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese.

I followed Adler's recipe exactly the first time I made this and it was very very good.

The second time I added chopped scallions and a chopped jalape͠no and it was so good I embarrassed myself with compliments.

The third time I used Genoa salami instead of dry Italian, and minced instead of slicing it.

And then I thought, "Why not add the whole small can of tomato paste instead of a spoonful?" 

Yes, I fell for my besetting culinary sin of "If a little is good, more is bound to be better."

And it is not, more is not better.

And then I compounded my goof by stirring it all into the grits, as an imp on my shoulder suggested, instead of serving a little on top of each serving of grits.

I don't know why it surprised me that it looked so disgusting that I didn't even take a picture of it. What I should have done next was throw it all in the trashcan but I thought if I made really good scrambled eggs and toast that it might taste better than it looked.

RH summed it up as we ate our first bite:

"Well, I can say this about the grits, it's different."

Different and utterly awful. I was very glad my scrambled eggs and toast helped take the taste out of my mouth.

But it's what came after this that I'm ashamed of.

I let the little foxes into a perfectly lovely vineyard of a Sunday morning and fell into one of those moods where I berate myself when something goes wrong.

Why didn't I just follow directions?

Why didn't I just think?

Why isn't my table set pretty?

Why didn't I fold that basket of laundry yesterday?

Why can't I ever get anything right?

And here's about what I looked like right then, on a perfectly lovely Sunday morning, if you add a lot of decades to the face:

Does this child look as if she's about to say this?

"Mama, the grits is good!"

I didn't think so.

Do you think I learned my lesson? For a while I did.

I've made a conscious effort over the years to nip that bad habit in the bud--I always think of Barney Fife when I say nip it in the bud, do you?

And I am much better about this than I used to be. But on this morning's perfectly lovely cold dark April morning with snow spitting outside, I once again fixed grits for breakfast.

Plain Jane Grits with just butter melting in it.

And I sliced one potato very thin and a few slices of onion and sautéed them in butter along with slivers of our excellent Easter ham. Then stirred three beaten eggs into it and there we had an excellent breakfast.

I asked RH to fix his plate and then to take a dozen or so pictures of my pretty table.

Then we ate.

But do you think I was happy? No, not me. 

I let a whole skulk of little foxes into the vineyard (a bunch of foxes is called a skulk. I just googled it.)

I sat at my own plate, over on the big dining table because I didn't want to crowd place settings for two on our pretty 1950s dinette set, and I proceeded to criticize my plate. own eggs had set too long in the pan while RH was getting photos of his table for this blog. Naturally I had to oversee him doing it. ham should have been minced smaller.

...I should have had biscuits instead of toast. needed salsa....

And then I really blew it.

After breakfast I imported RH's photos from his camera to my laptop and as they appeared, one by one, I started saying, "Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no."

This brought RH to my writing room asking, "What? What's wrong?"

[I mean, maybe the world was ending or something.]

I said: "You put too much of the egg stuff on your plate. It's ugly. You should have taken a small artistic helping, there's not enough white showing around the rim of the plate."

Can you believe he didn't blow his stack? He just laughed, and not in a mean way, just in a way of complete wonder at his wife's foolishness.

At least I folded all my laundry yesterday.

Song of Solomon 2:15
Take us the foxes,
the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in blossom.

Anyone else out there ever let the little foxes in?

Besides me and Bette Davis?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter and Mama

This was not Mama's Easter dress. 

This was not even a Sunday morning go to church dress.

It was a fun dress, a party dress, a date dress, and she lent it to me my junior year when I wore it to the Letter Banquet. It swished when I walked.

Mama's Easter dresses were more subdued, usually with a jacket.

Many years it was navy in color.

And rarely was it one she had made herself because she had four other Easter outfits to sew, one each for me and my three younger sisters.

There probably were some hems to finish late Saturday night, but she wasn't terribly late to bed because she was so naturally organized.

Daddy gave the Easter Bunny help with our Easter baskets so she didn't ever have to fool with that. And our corsages were always Daddy's domain. 

But there were those four outfits to have ready, four pair of new shoes and dressy socks--or stockings when we were older. New purses (with an offering in them) and sometimes little hats for us, always hats for her when I was very young, a few with short veils.

Easter dinner was planned and partially prepared, dessert and homemade rolls made a day or two ahead, the dining room ready.

Breakfast was usually simple on Easter morning because it took time for three little girls, and later one more, to look at their Easter baskets and then get dressed. Daddy had often been up early to go to Sunrise Service first but he kept an eye on us when we were all dressed and ready while Mama finally had time to get herself ready. 

I remember one year as a young teenager waiting in the car with him and my three sisters, the car motor running, Daddy tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, all of our eyes on the back door waiting for Mama to appear. 

When she did he told her that she looked beautiful--he always did--and then we sped down the driveway headed for Sunday School and church.

I thought about Mama a lot today (Saturday), about all those early years. She's in her 90s now, living in Florida where my two sisters watch over her. She knows them most of the time, not always. But that's okay, they know her. 

Here we are, Mama. 

All ready for church in brand new handmade dresses. 

We sure had Daddy outnumbered, didn't we?

Thank you for all the pretty dresses, Mama...💗

Mama not only was an amazing seamstress, she had a real love of fabric--oh, that fabric collection!

I remember many favorite dresses Mama made me, but this one was extra special. It just felt good on my skin and it was in my favorite color. I'm in the purple dress in the middle and it was really about the shade of the purple border, not faded purple like the faded photograph. 

My sisters' dresses look white but they were probably pretty pastels. Mama's dress looks white too but it's probably not.

And something weird is going on with all our noses in this photograph but I can truthfully say that we all had very pretty noses. Scout's honor.

And we look so solemn. 

Easter was always solemn. It was different from other Sundays at church, kind of like a spiritual New Year's Day. 

But oh it was glorious! With music and message to make our hearts soar. 

Daddy loved Easter hymns so much although I don't remember him ever singing in the choir, don't remember if he could even carry a tune. 

Now he sings with the angels.

How glorious that music must be!

Happy Easter to all.

He is risen;

He is risen, indeed!