October Welcome

The calendar says it’s time for more orange in our lives.  Another fiber art piece has orange in it now, based on a drawing of a jack-o-lantern by our front door.

The jack-o-lantern is a cherished piece made by one of our favorite Georgia potters, Shelby West.  Shelby’s work is normally southern folk pottery with an ash glaze, but for Halloween, he creates some unglazed pieces with personality.  A watering can on an old stool created a fun vignette which says “Welcome to Our Home,” country style.  The photo was printed on cotton fabric, free-motion machine stitched; then embellished with paint, hand embroidery, and beads.

The image is bordered with hand-dyed Cherrywood fabric, layered on linen canvas, then on a remnant of an old quilt.  The orange in the old quilt (a basket pattern) made it the perfect backdrop.  The piece measures 15” x 17”.  A portion of a vintage napkin with delicate appliqué in the corner serves as the label on the back.  I tilted this one October Welcome.

Grits for Supper

 

Grits are a staple in any southern girl’s diet.  We have them for breakfast sometimes, but all my life I’ve had grits at sunset more often than at sunrise.

My mother occasionally served a breakfast menu at suppertime.  Usually country salt-cured ham and redeye gravy were part of that, along with grits, eggs, and exploding biscuits.  (Thus the comment young Wallace made.)   And we always had grits when we had fried fish for supper.  Nowadays, breakfast menu items appear at supper in the form of omelets all year long.  But when the weather is cool, we sometimes have the full meal with sausage or ham, eggs, biscuits, and grits.

Every time I make grits, I think of my friend Ferrelle.  Ferrelle owned a wonderful cooking, kitchen, and gift shop, and served up fabulous ideas for enjoying life.  We once had a conversation about grits which “upped my game”.  Ferrelle’s advice included using stone ground grits (we favor the yellow ones from Nora’s Mill in Helen, GA), cooking them with chicken broth rather than water, and adding a bit of cream right before removing them from the heat.  Oh, my.  They are so rich and creamy.  I vary the flavor by adding different cheeses at times, and cooked, crumbled bacon on top adds flavor and garnish.

Since Ferrelle retired, I rarely see her.  But we keep in touch through mutual friends and Facebook.  And I think of her often when I use a kitchen gadget that I bought from her, when I need a gift for someone and mourn the fact that her store is no longer around, but most especially when I cook grits.

In recent years, I’ve added a “grits and greens” casserole to my cooking repetoire, giving grits an excuse to appear at lunchtime or to go to a potluck dinner.  A google search by for that title will yield many recipes, but Ferrelle’s advice will make any of those better, too.

There is a drawback to possessing this knowledge.  Sometimes we see grits on a menu in a restaurant and order them.  We are always, always, disappointed.

Photo notes:  Since I seem to think everything should be a story in cloth, I’ve begun stitching on a Nora’s Mill bag.  You see images of the front and backside.  More work to be done, but I know you’re hungry, so go cook some grits.

Addendum:  How could I forget fried grits?  After I posted this, a friend reminded me, saying that her grandmother “would also refrigerate left over grits in a shallow pan, then dip chilled finger-sized slices in beaten egg and fry them like French toast. These, drenched in syrup and served with a patty of sausage, made a wonderful Sunday evening meal.”

I haven’t tried the French toast/syrup idea, but I have fried them similarly and served them as a side dish with grilled salmon or pork chops.  At least once I prepared them similarly and served them as croutons on a salad of Spring Mix greens with goat cheese and prosciutto.  A balsamic vinaigrette topped it off.  It was wonderful.  How could I have forgotten that?

Fruitcake

Turman Capote and I have a shared history.  We had loving spinster aunts as partners in fruitcake preparation.  When I taught a high-school course called the American Short Story, students’ reactions to the old-fogey ways Capote related in his A Christmas Memory were not ones of delight.  But I was thrilled to revisit my childhood.

It’s the time of year when I buy things at the grocery store that I would normally never allow past my lips.  Some candied fruit (I don’t even want to know how that is accomplished), a lot of sugar, butter, nuts, disposable baking pans.

This is a result of a lifelong habit of eating fruitcake at Christmastime.  My mother baked the dark fruitcakes for as long as I can remember.  She chopped all the fruit by hand, added nuts that either my grandmother or my Daddy had picked out of the shells, and that I had picked up from underneath the trees at home, and filled the house with a delightful smell including vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Mama made these cakes and gave them to family and friends.  Her gifts were generous, a full recipe baked in a tube cake pan.  They were huge!  Every year the search was on to find a store selling the round tins which would hold these 5-lb treasures.

Once I was grown, I became a recipient of the heavy gift in the tin.  Mama would always have ours ready to take home at Thanksgiving and we would savor the treat throughout the holidays.

Jim found a way to improve on Mama’s recipe.  We would remove her foil or waxed paper wrapping, substituting cheesecloth.  The cheesecloth would soak up the brandy Jim added and make the cake more moist.  Yes, that’s it, moist.  Once when Mama came to visit us at Christmas, I served dessert.  She remarked, “This is GOOD fruitcake.  Who made it?”  “I made it?  Are you sure?”  “Well, I don’t know.  This tastes much better than the one at my house.”  We never confessed the alteration.

Mama gave a cake to anyone who she thought would like them.  Only when I started following in her footsteps did I realize what a gift a fruitcake was.  The time, and expense, to bake these was no small matter.  A few years ago, a cousin said, “You know your Mama always made me a dark fruitcake at Christmas.  I always took it.  But I couldn’t stand those things.”  She lowers her voice when she uttered the words “dark fruitcake,” as it she were speaking of something evil.  Now that I think about it, I bet Mama realized Charlotte was unappreciative, but she was one of those people who would have been hurt had Mama not given her one.

I’ve found some shortcuts to Mama’s process.  I sometime buy nuts already shelled, and bake the concoction in small foil pans.  Once the cakes are cooled, they are ready to wrap for presentation to appreciative friends.  I know fruitcakes are the punch lines for many jokes, and I know we are all more conscious of our diets these days, but most reactions I get to the fruitcakes I share are of the “oh, I love this – it takes me back to Christmas of my childhood” type.  And when I take a plate of sliced fruitcake to social gatherings this time of year, it’s always emptied.

If your mouth is watering for a trip down memory lane, here is Mama’s recipe.

  • Mama’s Stirring Fruitcake
  • 1 lb candied cherries
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (white)
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (green)
  • 3 pts shelled nuts, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ lb raisins (⅔ cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ lb butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons cake spices
  • Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at the time and beat well.  Add flour and spices and beat well.  Add fruit and nuts.  Pour into a large greased pan and place in 375 degree oven (note that she found 300 degrees in her oven to be better).  After baking 15 minutes, stir.  Do this a total of 3 times.  After 3rd time, pack in tube cake pan and bake 15 minutes longer.  Let stand in pan for 15 minutes before turning out.

My recipe notes:

I reduce the nuts to about 4 cups.

“cake spices” seem to be unavailable these days, so I use: 1 t. allspice, ½ t. nutmeg, and ½ t. cinnamon

I sometimes use 3” x 5” loaf pans to give as gifts.  This recipe fills five of those.  The plate pictured above the recipe shows one of those small loaf pans sliced.  So the whole recipe is five of those!

Note:  An internet search will yield numerous links to Truman Capote’s story, analyses of that work, and even audio files for your seasonal listening.  It’s worth the time.

Porch Swings

porch swingWhen I was a little girl, I loved to take a book and an old quilt and head for the swing in our backyard.  While there, I traveled to faraway lands and met some interesting characters.  Though there were plenty of interesting characters in Sycamore, the people I met in the pages of library books took me on journeys through forests, big cities, and westward. (I’m remembering, Girl of the Limberlost, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Jubilee Trail, all books I read several times over).

When I heard Meryl Streep deliver the line, “I’ve been a mental traveler,” in her role as Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa, I identified completely.  I devoured so many library books, especially in the summer reading program, that I worried about what I would do when I had read all the books.  My husband and children were amused by this revelation until they saw the tiny building that had housed my childhood world of literature.

Now I no longer fear reading all the books.  I fear not having time to read all the wonderful stories I want to read.  I fear not remembering which titles I have read.  I fear wasting time reading bad writing.

I do appreciate instant access to, if not all the books, many more books than I can read, in the palm of my hand.  Yes, I love my shelves of books, I love visiting the public library (I spent some time there yesterday) but I also love reading on my iPad.  I can browse new titles, read reviews, perhaps check out the author’s website, and download sample pages or an entire book without ever leaving home.

Sunday afternoon was cool enough to spend quite a while in the swing.  With the overhead fan adding to the natural breeze, and the sound of the sprinkler and the occasional bird calling in the background, I was transported to dreamland.  I was reading, then dozing.  But in the half-here/half-there consciousness for which Sunday afternoons are famous, I realized that I was living a dream.  In a swing.  On my front porch.  On a summer afternoon.  With a breeze, a book, and a lawn sprinkler.

Simple pleasures are the best.

Whistle of Home

train jg photoSome part of my soul goes home every time I hear a train whistle.

I grew up near a railroad track parallel to US highway 41 in south Georgia.  I now live near a railroad track near US highway 41 in middle Georgia.  A lot has changed about me, the highway, and the sound of the trains.  But the constant is that the rumble of a train on the tracks, the predictable ‘two longs, short, long’ blast of the horn brings a smile to my face.  Every time.

My parents brought me home from the hospital and put me in a crib less than fifty yards from the railroad track.  Yes, I’m still a sound sleeper.  I grew up waving to engineers as the train came by, counting cars, learning something about motion and direction and the hauling of goods and people.

There were passenger cars, flatbeds hauling pulpwood and granite headed south, tanker cars, box cars with freight and hobos, and stacks of automobiles headed north.  Occasionally the train stopped in front of our house.  Occasionally a hobo would come to the door looking for work, or food, or both.  Once the engineer came to the door and borrowed some of my mother’s clothesline to make a repair.  A coupling had come uncoupled, so that train pulled away with two cars attached with a makeshift linkage.  My mother often wondered how far her clothesline traveled.  And, forever after, we made do with two rows of clothes drying instead of three.

And, cabooses.  There were really red cabooses at the end of every train.  With a conductor who wore a striped cap and sometimes stood on the porch and waved.  Recently, we have begun stopping at every retired caboose we see and Jim snaps a photo of me onboard (or trying to get onboard if there are “crazy women should not climb on the train” signs).

My nephew Woody explored the inside of a caboose when he was about six years old.  He was visiting with us and announced over the suppertable that “there’s a lot of room in those little cars.”  My mother was horrified, my Daddy tried to hide his smirk, as we learned that the train had stopped and Woody had climbed aboard for a look-see.

As I recounted yesterday’s trip to the JugFest in Knoxville, GA, I realized there was a train theme.  We collect southern folk pottery, and seeing all the new work was certainly a thrill, especially that of Shelby West.  But the non-clay purchases I made seem to all be related.  There is the crow, Heckle, made from a gear, a pair of pliers, and a railroad spike.  There are earrings which are hammered, fold-formed, and enameled pewter.  The artist’s anvil is made from a piece of rail from a train track.  And, we shot the requisite photo on the retired caboose in downtown Roberta.

During the forty-something years I lived out of earshot of a train, I never lost my love of their sounds.  Thankfully, I’m married to a man who loves them too.  Though I do recall on the first night he spent at my parents’ house (in the same bedroom I first slept), he woke me at 3:00 a.m., sitting straight up in bed and exclaiming, “what is THAT?”  My reply, “what is what?” revealed that I heard nothing out of the ordinary.  Once awake, I realized the shaking of the house, and in fact, the very earth beneath, was nothing but the train.

Over the years, we have both delighted in finding a B & B near the railroad tracks.  When weather conditions were right, we could hear a distant train when living in our first home together. The sound of the whistle at night came to mean peace to Jim, as it always had to me.

The proximity of the railroad was a plus for us when deciding to buy this house.  Shortly after moving here, we were returning home from a trip with friends and we stopped to get lunch in a small town. Jim and I heard a faraway whistle and shared a smile across the group, knowing only we appreciated the sound – and realizing how we had missed hearing that during the week away from home.

Photos:  Jim Gilreath’s photo of the Nancy Hanks steam locomotive in Gordon, Ga. Fall, 2015.

train play paducahSandra Dee playing on the caboose in Paducah, Ky. Spring, 2016.

Home Again

Version 2“Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog,” is one of this family’s oft-repeated phrases when we pull into the driveway.  I know, it’s a misquote from the nursery rhyme, but we like it.  It has history in our household.

But today, my version might be, “home again, home again, figgity-fog.”  Today was our first full day at home in several weeks without another trip on the horizon.  And, even when we were home between trips, there were meetings, and deadlines, and classes, and you get the idea.

So on this day without pending preparation for another trip, I’m unraveling the impressions of the past few weeks.  Impressions which have become almost a blur.

I have been inspired by images from all our travels.  The scenery on backroads, quilts from contestants and vendors in Paducah, art in galleries, techniques from fabulous textile teachers, and Nature herself are all jostling for position in my brain.

Those forms are mingling with fabrics, threads, buttons, and beads found on these travels, too.  Now I am processing all those tidbits as I stow the treasures and sketches and thoughts, anxious to begin combining some of them in new work.

In my resting phase, I turned to Jude Hill’s Spirit Cloth blog.  Her textile work is amazing,  her words poetic.  I have read her blog for years.  Since she opened all her former online classes to all of us through her Feel Free site, I’ve browsed many old posts, too.  Her words soothe, much like handling cloth does.

On all our travels, I carried my sewing basket.  I accomplished some soothing stitching on an ongoing project, and even worked on a new one on the road.

But being at home with all my implements is a different kind of creating.  So now I’m ready to combine thoughts and materials anew.

The photo is Headed Home, a small piece I made for our local guild’s “two-color” quilt challenge in 2014.  The house is hand appliqued, the background machine quilted with vaguely parallel lines stitched closely together.  The twigs are from our yard, whitewashed and couched down by hand.  The quilt finished at 8” x 20”.