Monday, February 14, 2022

Of Love Stories and Winter


 Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Are you like me, wanting to read everything an author has written when you find one you love? 

When I kept enjoying short stories written by Margaret Culkin Banning in my vintage magazine collection, I decided to find her novels. So far I've read two of the four I've found.


I Took My Love to the Country was the first one and is a good love story, published in 1966. 

It's a sophisticated love story divided between New York City and the fictional town of DeSota, North Carolina. Clearly, DeSota is much like Highlands, North Carolina where the wealthy from big cities have had second homes for many decades. The mountains of North Carolina are my soul's home and I remember driving through Highlands so many times on trips back and forth to visit family.

I loved this book and Banning's writing style and I loved that much of the story is centered around the world of the horse country wealthy. I have always been kind of hooked on Hunt Club themed novels and this included a lot of it. 

But I also loved that the novel was centered a lot around the old family home that Stephen and Jenny Cooper come back to in the mountains after he loses his job in New York City.

The Splendid Torments, published in 1976, takes place immediately post-Watergate in Washington, D.C. It is a fascinating read of politics in an era I can remember from my young married days. 

It is fictionalized but I could easily identify many of the fictional characters. The book portrays the way relationships between husbands and wives can be severely stressed when one of the spouses works practically 24/7 for the current administration. 

It made me think of one of the story lines in the television series West Wing where Leo's wife leaves him, unable to take the neglect of her that her husband's job demanded. 

The book also shows that politics is something very hard to leave if you have a real passion for it and government. 

So there are two love stories for you but I'm not urging you to read them because I know that my taste in fiction is from mid-century and backwards, not current contemporary novels. 

Here are two more things I love...

 The heavy bronze statue a sister sent me from her store that I named Betsy after our beloved basset hound. She wears a watch that belonged to my mother.

The second thing I love is the small square painting of the Cross that our nine-year old granddaughter painted for us for Christmas!

 February has brought with it an urge to change things around in the house. At Valley View I would move whole rooms around, with some strong helpers. Living rooms became dining rooms and a few years later reverted back to living rooms. Something was always being moved at Valley View. Here at Home Hill that's just not feasible. But this month, after Candlemas Day when Christmas was finally packed away, I've shifted chairs and moved accessories from one room to another and it satisfies my need for change. The picture below shows where I swapped the mid-century sunburst type clock that was in my living room to my bedroom and put the vintage English sunburst lamp in its place. 

 I brought some of my poetry books from a bookshelf to the living room where they would be easy to select from, and the Banning novels are back in my bedroom where I'm now reading Lifeboat Number Two. [June 14: just finished reading this because I kept laying it aside. I enjoyed the last part of the book when the many shipboard characters became more familiar to me but it is not a book I want to reread, unlike my favorite Banning books.]

I'm still deep in winter decorating and will wait until March to start thinking of Spring even though tips of green are already pushing their way up through the grass outside. I know that's not what bloggers do in a world where everything starts a month or two early. 

It's just that I know me well and next July I'm going to be missing the cold of February where curling up with a good book is extra special. 

What about you? And do you also have to binge on a certain author when you discover them? 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Oh, for a good right arm!


Do you ever not get around to baking something meant for Christmas until after Christmas? This Tennessee Jam Cake was meant for December but now I better claim it's for St. Valentine's Day. (Google sent me the picture above, animated but I can't make it dance for you.)

When RH's mother was alive she used to make Jam Cakes for Christmas and he loved them but I don't have her recipe. Instead I used Alabama author Eugene Walters' recipe for the cake but ditched his icing recipe as it has raw egg whites in it. 

I never can pull off pretty baking styling  pics because I always seem to make a mess while I'm cooking but I do have a gorgeous view to the pond outside the window where my pretty blue mixer sits. 


One reason I loved the way this cake recipe turned out is because it called for separating 5 eggs and beating the egg whites stiff before incorporating them into the final cake batter. That step makes a lighter cake. Then again, I love a dense cake too... I guess I just plain like a homemade cake, however it's made and this one was delicious!


That's RH icing the cake for me. He also had to beat the icing for me because I've been having a lot of trouble with my right arm since Christmas when I hurt my left wrist and started overcompensating using my right arm. These things seem to take a long time to heal.

RH claims that his mother used her coffee icing with the jam cake and I do have her recipe for that because I have her Devil's Food Cake recipe.  So yummy coffee icing went on this.

I tried to find a similar jam cake recipe to link to rather than trying to type out this one but rejected every one until I found a recipe for it from one of our favorite Nashville restaurants that is very popular with local country music stars. RH and I and our daughter and son-in-law had our Thanksgiving dinner there one year, such good Southern food, the walls covered in autographed photographs of the greats of country music and often a few live ones to see too.

So here's a link to the Loveless Cafe's Big Momma's Blackberry Jam Cake! 

And Big Momma's recipe looks so good that I'm going to try it next time, especially since I think this cake needs caramel icing instead of coffee. (Not that I couldn't sit and eat a bowl of my mother-in-law's coffee icing all day.)

I should have taken a picture of my fabulous cake pans. If you love to bake cakes please check out Chicago Metallic Professional Lifetime Non-Stick Cake Pans. I bought two of them from Chef's Catalogue years ago when Cook's Illustrated magazine recommended them. I don't know if the ones sold on Amazon are the same quality as my original ones that I paid $16 a piece for (you only were allowed to buy 2) because they are super heavy and I see some complaints on Amazon that theirs aren't as heavy as the old original ones. And Chef's Catalogue sold all their inventory to Tuesday Morning but say they'll be back soon. I hope so because I furnished my kitchen over the years from that catalogue.

RH took big slices of cake to family the next day and we really need to send more because it's taking up so much room in our small fridge. I think most cakes are so much better cold, don't you? 

RH has had to help with a lot of my cooking lately as my elbow and wrist just won't do chopping and slicing and opening jars right now. I won't include a recipe for the dish in this next picture because I've posted about it in the past and almost no one likes canned sardines the way we do but here's a picture of my lunch the other day, Sardine Rotini Pasta Salad. I washed all the produce in my fridge and RH chopped it and opened the cans of sardines for me and stirred, another thing that's hard for me to do right now, and by golly, this is a good salad. 

A big container of it went to our first born who likes sardines too, and my recipe for that is promised to his wife because mom just might be past the point of a lot of chopping anymore. And dad's not too thrilled with chopping vegetables right now. 

Not with me standing over him saying "No, not that way, you're getting the pieces too big! Slice them thin! And you have to cut the cilantro in small slivers! I won't be able to eat big pieces of onion, you'll have to chop it extra fine."

Oh, for a good right arm!

Friday, February 4, 2022

For Zack and Daniel, from Tex


 From my journal on February 4, 1998:


Black branches and silver limbs. The cedars are powder puffs of green and white, branches drooping. The holly tree's red berries are lunch for our Mockingbird. The creek is green and brown rushing water. Tex snores beside me on a pallet while Penelope must be in the bedroom, probably on my bed. 

Earlier we three went for a walk in the snow and oh, the glory of walking in it with fat wet flakes falling on my face, coming almost horizontally with a northern wind over the wooded hillside. 

We went slowly, Tex and I, stopping to look at each new vista. Penelope racing ahead of us in her red sweater and then back to me. We crossed the back creek into Daniel Boone Hollow and stood under a tulip poplar. 

Just watching across to the waterfall of wet gray slate, snow swirling, I stood still so long that the birds forgot I was there. They began to chatter and call, woodpeckers and many others.



Tex, our Welsh Corgi, was our companion on so many snow walks. He loved snow. I remember standing at the kitchen window and watching him run after the boys' sleds as they came down the hill. Once he stayed out too long with them and actually got a little frostbite on his pink paws. 

We have had so many special dogs over the years but Tex loved his family with a passion. I don't care what the Dog Whisperer says, Tex truly was almost human. Or maybe that is an insult to canines. Would any human have shadowed me so faithfully? Adored me? Hah! It was Tex that stuck to me like a tick when I was sick, when I was recuperating from surgeries, lying at the end of the sofa by my feet or beside me in bed.  

Whenever I was doing whatever I was doing, he was there.

Except when he was with his brothers.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A Girl and A Casserole

 On April 18, 2018 I posted about making my last tuna fish casserole, maybe. Almost four years later I broke down and made another one. Three of them.

What can I say? It's been a long January and I needed comfort food. I needed to make tuna fish casseroles and share them with two of our sons who live fairly close, whether they wanted them or not.

I needed to set a pretty table, even if it was just for myself and RH. And that is Christmas decor you see on the table. It's still here and I'm still enjoying it, still loving lights on two Christmas trees at night while we watch football games.

It will all be here until Candlemas Day on February 2. Then the bins will come out to pack it all away. I think I'll be ready by then.

 I think these were my last tuna fish casseroles, probably. 

I do like them better with fettuccine instead of macaroni, and I do love the lactose-friendly Gruyère cheese from Costco that RH can tolerate. But I did not care for substituting all chicken broth for the part-milk, part-broth recipe I used to make. But I was so tired of making two separate versions of casserole that I was willing to try.

My sons told me it was delicious, but then, they'd lie to mom not to hurt her feelings. I make cranberry sauce all fall and winter and the tartness helped cut the richness of the casserole.

And the tomato salad I make year round is one I can count on even when I switch to Costco's Campari tomatoes in winter. I adapted this from one of Ismail Merchant's recipes.

 Cut tomatoes, chop scallions and jalapeños, mince garlic cloves. Make vinaigrette of lemon juice and zest, a little Maille mustard, olive oil (you know the proportions), salt and fresh ground black pepper. Shake to emulsify and pour over and toss to serve. 

Sometimes a girl just wants a casserole. It just occurred to me that it's been eons since I've made Chicken Divan. I'll add more Gruyère to RH's Costco list.