Sunday, March 31, 2019

March Goodbye

Tomorrow I'll change the Kevin Dobbs calendar page from March to April.

But these three things tucked into the wire cookbook basket beside the calendar will stay there for a while.

They're a reminder of the miracle of spring arriving again but also of two people very special to me on either side of our little granddaughter.

The unicorn card on the left was written to me many years ago by my dear mother, and the card on the right of Japanese cherry trees in bloom is a Christmas card that was once sent to my father from a Japanese business associate. 

Isn't it beautiful? 

I hope it is as lovely a Spring where you live as it is here in Tennessee this year. As RH and I were out driving yesterday I saw one flowering tree after another, each seeming to outdo the previous one. 

I'm going to take time to enjoy Spring and I hope each of you will too, to the upmost! 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Remembering Phyllis McGinley and one author leads to another.

Phyllis McGinley, March 21, 1905 to February 22, 1978.

Every March I've meant to write on her birthday about this American Pulitzer Prize poet who meant so much to me as a young married woman. Not for her poetry, I had yet to discover that, but for her book of essays called Sixpence in Her Shoe, the old faded red book in the picture below.

 It was the first contemporary book I had read that made homemaking sound attractive in an age of Betty Friedan back in the early 1960s.

I think that McGinley is responsible for plunging me headlong into a lifetime of love for houses. All kinds of houses. Trying them on for size in my mind if not in my life. Constantly playing the game of "what kind of house do I want" even before RH and I ever bought one.

Admit it, you've done it too.

Avidly, I read McGinley's words:

And charm in a dwelling is like charm in a woman. It is a mysterious essence compounded of warmth, character, and a welcoming countenance.

The right house, no matter what its period, must pluck you by the sleeve and say, "Take me. We were meant for each other."

I loved the stories of how McGinley set about furnishing and decorating the houses she and her husband and daughters moved to, lapping up her advice on all of it.

But natural good taste is rare. A few lucky souls have it from the cradle like long eyelashes or perfect pitch. Most of us simply muddle along with our prejudices or our predilections instead.

I had no prejudices or predilections as a young married woman and natural good taste was not handed out to me in the cradle. I was a blank slate but knew I was. I did have that going for me.

We proceed by trial and error. We work and we plan and we read the instructions and we study other people's triumphs. Then if our surroundings really matter to us, if we are willing to use our eyes and our wits, we gradually acquire what is even better than taste: minds of our own.
It is only the mindless house which is dull...A house which charms and welcomes does not need to conform to any current fashion. But it must wear its owner's signature.
At least the houses I inevitably admire do wear that signature. They are not necessarily ones I want to copy or to live in. I enjoy them because they mirror the character of the friends who planned them.


 The rest of the book, on many other subjects, is equally as good, and still as relevant today as when I first read it in 1964.

Decades later I bought McGinley's Pulitzer Prize Poetry book, Times Three. I came late to loving poetry. It was not until I said to heck with poetry and started reading it as prose that I discovered I loved it. 

And it was an author of fiction who led me by a roundabout way to buy McGinley's poetry book. 

 I bought my first Alexander McCall Smith book that happened to be his first of the Isabel Dalhousie series.

The Sunday Philosophy Club's philosopher Isabel was like a bolt of lightning in my life. I had never thought much about philosophers but if Isabel was one, I liked them a lot.

A few Isabel books later I noticed that she was an ardent fan of a poet I hadn't read since high school, W. H. Auden. I won't use any Auden quotes from the Isabel books here because this is primarily a love letter to Phyllis McGinley but I took sharp notice of my favorite lady philosopher's love of the poet she called WH and ordered his big book of poetry. 

Fell in love. With 50% of the poems, not bad for a prose-reading woman. 

Then at a Goodwill, where I always look for older books, I spotted a book by Phyllis McGinley. However, it was a book of her poems and would I really read a book of what I thought would be like the humorous McGinley poems that had been in my mother's women's magazines? Even if I still loved her Sixpence in Her Shoe?

I opened it up and discovered that the long foreword was by an admirer of her work, no other than W. H. Auden himself.

For eight pages Auden quotes and praises McGinley's poems.

Holy cow! I nodded and empathized and laughed my way through McGinley's Times Three. Even when she poked fun and denigrated the South and our enthusiasm for ham.

Not lamb or bacon
But ham in Raleigh
And ham in Macon.
Ham for plutocrats,
Ham for pore folk,
Ham in Paducah and ham in Norfolk;
In Memphis, ham, and in Chapel Hill,
And Charlottesville.
Ham for the Missy,
Ham for the Colonel,
And for the traveler, Ham Eternal.

Oh, patriotically I implore,
Look away, Dixieland, from the smokehouse door.
--Phyllis McGinley, from "Notes for a Southern Road Map"

I laughed but I admit to another thought running through my mind, something to the effect of, well, honey chile, head back north if that's the way you feel. Just kidding. No, actually I'm not. But I do still love you, Phyllis.

That's probably more than enough poetry or prose from me now, but in my enthusiastic delve into poetry while pulling together a birthday salute to Phyllis McGinley, I pulled another favorite poetry book off the shelf,  Edna St. Vincent Millay's Collected Poems

I opened it up and discovered a little treasure inside, a pretty card from my mother from many years ago. When I saw the unicorn I knew I had to save it for our youngest granddaughter who is passionate about unicorns, or she was at Christmas.

I won't share the whole message with you as much of it was personal family news but I smiled to read that my father had brought home some purple grapes and she had made eight cups of grape jelly. 

To my three sisters, if you're reading this, wouldn't you love to have some of Mama's homemade jelly again? 

 Do any of you reading this, whether you ever comment or not, do you tuck cards and notes into books that you're reading, to be found years later? Don't you love it when you find them?

And don't you love it when the love of one author leads to another author? And on and on it goes, discovering one book after another. Isn't that a wonderful thing?

And have you ever been blessed to walk in a house for sale and have it "pluck you by the sleeve and say 'take me'?"

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Bits and pieces come back to me of past Springs...

And so many of them, 25 years, were part of this garden...

It was a Spring garden, essentially...

And it was a beautiful place.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"The Hurrying Wind"

Now we have what Hal Borland calls "the hurrying wind." At night I wake and hear it and it sounds as if black stallions were galloping above the roof of the farmhouse.
Gladys Taber from The Book of Stillmeadow

I love the winds of March, as long as no tornado watches come with them.

Weather, all kinds of it, are fairly magnificent, don't you think?

Punishment to me would be living somewhere that sees every day the same, day after day. Although, I suppose some would call that paradise.

When I wake up every morning and raise my bedroom shades I look over to our neighbor's yard where his flagpole is. If Old Glory is whipping about in the wind, I take it as an auspicious sign. 

But if the flag were blowing about every day I would soon take it for granted. 

I fall into a rut too easily. I even enjoy a rut too much, I think. And that's not a bad thing most of the time. 

But I recognize that it can also become a trap. Sometimes I need life to shake me up a little, prod me out of my rut, make me examine my priorities. 

Hurry me along like the March wind.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Dessert First

Ever eat your dessert first?

We didn't do that but I'm writing about dessert first here as it's terribly hard to get excited about green split pea soup, even if the soup is one of our favorites and so yummy loaded with chopped onions, celery, carrots, garlic and potatoes.

What's underneath that whopping spoonful of fresh whipped and slightly sugared cream in the picture above?

That's my leftover pancake batter fried like sopapillas and inside is a slice of fresh pineapple, sugared lightly and macerated for an hour in Kirsch, then coated lightly with really good apricot jam and then dipped in the pancake batter.

And it is good enough to make you want to smack your momma, as a preacher friend of ours used to say.

I got the recipe for Pineapple Fritters from The Happy Table of Eugene Walter.

I found Eugene Walter by way of Pat Conroy who wrote fondly of the Alabama writer.

Eugene Walter was a southern writer of dazzling gifts. He possessed an uncanny ability to make the English language dance the flamenco across the page. He loved great humor, clowns, monkeys, food, and bourbon, in no particular order. He acted in Fellini movies, wrote screenplays, poems, cookbooks, translations, novels, and short stories of rare but complete genius.

I could always trust Pat Conroy's book recommendations and it is one of my sorrows that he left this earth much too soon to recommend more to me. 

I've only read Walter's cookbooks, three of them, but when I pull one out to use a favorite recipe again, once more I find myself reading great chunks of his book and wanting to try many more recipes.

And because of Eugene Walter I stopped shaking pepper that comes out of a can on my food--he called it dead dust--and only use freshly ground black pepper because he said that the volatile oils in freshly ground pepper was good for the digestion.  Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but the vintage pepper shakers in my kitchen still hold black dust only because RH prefers it.

So while the split pea soup and buttered rye bread was delicious last night, knowing that it was to be followed by Pineapple Fritters made with my leftover pancake batter was even better.

I even had it all for lunch today too because I had a very special guest join me--our firstborn son! While it is wonderful to have all four of our children together at one time, it is very special to sometimes have just one of them here.....

                              all to myself!

Never use the dead dust sold as ready-ground pepper. Don't bother. Freshly-ground black pepper has volatile oils which only last about an hour after grinding. This oil is an aid to digestion, a stimulant to appetite...
                                              Eugene Walter in Termite Hall



Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes

I love this picture from a 1928 McCall's magazine! 

To me it looks like the mother's on the phone with her mother asking for her recipe for pancakes while her son wants her to hurry up with breakfast.

He is her son, isn't he? With the whitewall haircut? Surely that's not supposed to be her husband!

RH and I are ready to have pancakes anytime,  but on Shrove Tuesday seems to be the day for it, even if we're Baptists and Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent were not part of our childhoods.

After years of reading Jan Karon's Mitford novels, I'm a literary Episcopalian who long ago found an old Book of Common Prayer that I love to read. 

While I don't truly observe the Lenten season, just knowing it follows this special day helps me remember to prepare my heart for Easter.  

So it was pancakes for breakfast this morning!

RH likes his with hot maple syrup.

And we both love to use this little brown jug by Hall for the maple syrup.

We found it years ago at a restaurant supply place that was down by the river in Nashville. Many's the time we went there rummaging through stacks of china with our first two children, who were totally bored!

The little brown jug goes with china from The Clock restaurant that we found there, filling in with a few pieces from eBay in later years.

All but one look like this plate that we have five of and two small platters, but we have one larger plate that RH claims that is ever so slightly different. 

 I don't believe we've ever bought pancake mix, not when the real thing is so easy. I've used the recipe for buttermilk pancakes from this old A World of Breads for decades. 

It's so simple and calls for 5 eggs although I've been known to put in as many as 8 when we had our own hens at the old place.

That's 4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons sugar, mixed together well. Add 5 large eggs, 1 quart of buttermilk and 1/4 cup melted butter.

Remember, you stir waffle batter well but only incorporate ingredients in pancake batter. Pancake batter should be a little lumpy just like cornbread batter.

And whether you like hot maple syrup as RH does, or cold blackberry jam as I do, you have yourself one fine breakfast.

I've also been drinking one small glass of  organic cranberry juice each morning with no added juices or sugar and is it ever tart! 

I've been off bacon for five weeks now until that baked potato last night and a couple of strips to go with the pancakes this morning so no more of that for a while.

But it sure tasted wonderful!

Tonight it's going to be Vincent Price's recipe for green split pea soup, another tradition for Shrove Tuesday, I learned.

Time to go check on it and cut a fresh pineapple to soak some slices in Kirsch for an hour. That will be battered in leftover pancake batter and turned into tonight's dessert.

Stay tuned, please!

Did you have pancakes this morning?

Monday, March 4, 2019

Cold Night Supper

Brr, it's cold here tonight! 

A perfect time to follow M. F. K. Fisher's suggestion in Serve It Forth for a hot baked potato and tomato soup.

On a cold day such things as hot baked potatoes, all sprinkled over with fresh ground pepper and sweet butter, or creamy tomato soup with a faint smell of cinnamon to it...these are the things that flow first into our remembrance on cold days.

But why not have both the baked potato and tomato soup? It sounded good to us tonight, the Creamy Tomato Soup by Progresso. I splashed a little dry sherry in it.

RH pronounced, "That was a good supper!"


After this cold spell it's predicted that we'll have some spring temperatures here in Nashville, and then the Mikasa Black Forest plates that we use in the winter will be retired until next year.

But tonight they and the simple comforting hot food for our supper was just right.

I only wished I could share a simple hot meal tonight with those families hurt, and many devastated, by the tornadoes. 

Watching the stunned faces on this evening's television news broke my heart. Lives lost, houses destroyed, a wide swath of destruction. 

Where do you start in the face of such tragedy?

Let's keep them in our hearts  and prayers and help any way we can. I know there will be people there delivering hot meals to all they can. 

A grilled cheese sandwich and hot tomato soup might be just right for this cold spell they're going through too. It won't replace what they've lost but I know the people already on their way to help will do what they can to comfort them with hot food and basic necessities.

But it will be a long road back for many people. 

Let's remember that.