Goodbye to the Wet, Hot Season

end of summer

This blistering summer was so rainy and overwhelmingly humid that nearly everybody around town was talking about it. Most likely, any or all of you were part of one of those conversations. I guess that it’s hard not to talk about what you have to deal with every day.  But I, for one, have been sensing a change that’s coming. It usually happens every mid-August or early September for me. Maybe it’s the sparkling blue of the sky as the cirrus clouds hang up in the high altitudes, like gossamer strands. Or it could be the chip chip chipping of the mockingbird, choosing not to sing during the end of Dog Days, for whatever reason. And it might be the way that the narrow, lengthening shadows lay on the ground for most of the day. Or maybe it’s an occasionally cooler night that triggers the sense in me that Autumn is around the corner.

But what is it that makes the Fall of the year so welcomed, so anticipated, and in a lot of cases so longed for? It depends on the person, I guess, but in the minds and hearts of many it probably has something to do with the prospect of home town football; the turn in the temperature; the leaf change that comes around November; or the mystery of a foggy glow at midnight. It could also have something to do with the far-off sound of shotguns on a Sunday afternoon; ghost stories; the woody, mellow smell of burning yard litter; or the farmers’ market on a Saturday. And it might be something about that derelict old shanty at the end of the lane; the local dollar store’s aisles filled with Halloween candy; seeing the last golden flower nodding its tired head, far away in an abandoned field; or the incredible food and history associated with Thanksgiving that sends the mind racing.

This past Sunday I was watching FOX News while getting ready for church, and a Marie Calendar frozen turkey dinner commercial came on. Then I looked out through the front window at a beautiful morning, and thought about the hint of Fall that I have noticed these last couple of days. I immediately got to thinking about cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, gravy and mashed potatoes, congealed salad, squash casserole, biscuits, brownies and chocolate chip cookies, ambrosia, tender speckled butter beans, a honey roasted ham, laughter, and turkey of course.

Fall is a time for remembering, anticipating, and experiencing all those beloved notions that our thoughts can conjure; whether it’s the delight of great Thanksgiving fare, or any of the other much adored things that are connected with the season. But Autumn is also about a lovely dying away, when the world prepares for a well-deserved change; a comforting change that has been achingly awaited, like an old friend returning from being a long time away from home. Autumn is a season when we are all reminded, once again, just how awe-inspiring it can be to experience something as simple as a high school football game, or a forgotten pumpkin vine out at the old fattening pen, or the clusters of glittered leaves and acorns on the thrift store shelf; and then to get caught up in the overwhelming wonder of it all. So, please come quick Thanksgiving and Halloween and leaf change and cooler conditions; and all the rest that there is to love about the soon-to-come season of wonder. . .

Boiled Peanuts

 

boiled peanuts

 

There is an editorial every month, written by Rick Bragg, on the back page of Southern Living magazine. He always does a really great job. This time around he wrote about the differences between people in the north and people in the south- focusing on our love for the wonderful tomato sandwich, versus the lack of this delicious gastronomic experience above the Mason/Dixon line. I agree that they are amazing- with their salty, juicy, drippy, acid/sweet, mayonnaisey greatness, between two slices of fresh white bread- they are definitely yummy. In fact, I love tomato sandwiches so much that I have posted messages on Face Book about them. I even wrote a grandiose and silly tomato sandwich poem one time. Anyhow, after I read the article I got to thinking about other things that are different down here where we live, compared to the northern states- or all of the rest of the states, or maybe even the rest of the world. And that’s when I thought about boiled peanuts, and a funny situation that happened a long, long time ago.
Back when I was just out of high school, there was an Ohio evangelist and his wife whom we scheduled to hold a week long revival at our church. The man had sent a letter to our pastor with the proposal of holding services whenever we would like. They pulled their travel trailer onto a space of lawn between the church and the parsonage, almost a month after our pastor made the arrangements for them to come.

My dad, my sister, and I went to the first installment of the revival the following night, on a Monday. The evangelist delivered a good message, and I think his wife sang and maybe he did chalk art- not sure (I wish that I could remember their names). After the service, we were all standing around, shooting the breeze, and getting to know the friendly, Bible thumping couple a little better. That’s when my dad asked the evangelist if he could bring him and his wife some boiled peanuts tomorrow, as he had just cooked up a fresh batch the night before.
“Boiled PEANUTS! What is THAT? I’ve had them parched and salted and raw, but never BOILED! Really? Are you pulling my leg?”
“Nope,” said dear old Dad. “I’ll bring you some, and I can guarantee that you’ll like them.”
Well, Dad made good on his promise and delivered a ziplock bag full the the salty, runny, wondrous Southern treats to them the next morning- my dad standing on the thin iron steps of the home on wheels as the evangelist stood at the open door; accepting the gift with much apprehension, but willing to try them, at least. They talked there for a few minutes at that same door (“I know you’re gonna like ’em. Let me know what you and your wife think.”), smiled and said their thank-yous and goodbyes, and then Dad was on his way.
That night at the revival, a few minutes before things got started, Dad was anxious to see how well the two evangelists had enjoyed the new experience. He just knew they had been crazy over something so tasty.
“Well. . . they weren’t the best things that I ever had, but I guess they were alright,” the evangelist said, trying to sound half-way positive. “They were a little crunchier than I had expected. In fact, they were a lot crunchier that I had expected.”
“Crunchy? What do you mean?” asked my dad.
“Well, when I tried them, the shells were harder to eat than I thought they would be. I tried about three or four, but they just didn’t get any better.”
Yes, the evangelist had consumed the boiled peanuts whole. Dad did not think to fully explain when he presented them earlier that same day. He thought it was obvious not to eat the shells, I guess.
“No. No. No. You have to crack them open with your teeth and only eat the part that’s on the inside,” Dad told him.
He never could convince the evangelist to try them again the right way. His wife didn’t even try them the first time- she was basically repulsed by the notion.
But, at least Dad attempted to win them over to the idea. Sometimes you just can’t convert the ignorant with the truth. Hopefully, the evangelist made a convert or two. . . hopefully.

FOOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!

eatingHere is a mention of great foods  that I have had lately (eating is one of my favorite pursuits, and I consider myself a recreational eater- haha):

I was recently at a our local Mexican Restaurant, where they happened to have a really impressive food bar. They don’t usually have this, but they did on that day. To start with, there were crunchy tortillas and taco shells in lined baskets, with all the fixins’ beside them in little serving bins- diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, salsa, Mexican rice, shredded cheese, black beans, jalapeño peppers, homemade guacamole, re-fried beans, sour cream, and other stuff that I can’t remember. Not only that, but there was tray after tray of enchiladas, all grouped and covered with different rich and creamy sauces- filled with chicken or ground beef. Oh, the amazing, salty combination from the flavors of the cheeses and tomatoes and beans and various herbs in those sauces.

Then there’s a dish called lasagna. With its layers of wonderful wide noodles, alternated with marinara sauce and ricotta cheese and hamburger meat- mmmmm MMM! Is that stuff good! Sometimes a certain flavor will hid itself away, like when you have been enjoying the basic yumminess of all the basic ingredients melded together, and then you get a mouthful with extra ricotta. It can make you feel like you have died and went to Heaven. Lasagna is right up there with my favorites.

Another food that is hard to beat, is something a lot simpler that those mentioned above. And that would be a grilled cheese sandwich, accompanied by a serving of modest but comforting tomato soup- straight out of the can. Cheese and tomatoes, in some form or another, seem to be part of a theme here, so far. But theme-related or not, there is hardly anything around that can rival how well the savory nature of the crispy bread and the oozing yellow, piping hot Kraft squares, goes with the taste of that warm-for-the-soul tomatoey liquid.

But now, breaking the main-dish-trend of this rambling and carrying on, I will switch gears and briefly mention brownies. Even though I am not much of a sweet tooth, as well as not being a super huge chocolate fan, I would have to say that nothing- NOTHING- even comes close to how your entire house smells from those guys slowly baking in the oven. And the way that they turn-on your taste buds- one cakey, chocolatey bite at a time; as you slowly eat each crumbly morsel in complete disbelief at how unbelievable it is- is an intense and decadent eating experience, one that is without compare.

And here, I will end by giving fruit its due- especially the lovely pear, which is delicious  straight off the tree. Pears have a unique quality in my mind- they are rich and mellow at the same time; with a subtle, gritty texture; while being sweet, but not too sweet. And man are they juicy! In fact, it seems like the longer we leave them on our trees in the early autumn, the better they get. But when cooked, they get to be even  more rich, in a way that can blow the mind- cinnamon juiciness beyond belief. And I think everyone appreciates a nice little pear salad every now and then. Just place a couple of pear halves in a bowl, dollop with some mayonnaise or cottage cheese, then add a sprinkling of shredded cheddar with a few Maraschino cherries, and have yourself a tried and true culinary treat, that is actually pretty healthy.

How does the song go? Something like “Food, glorious food- I’m willing to try it.” Well, I am definitely always ready AND willing.

 

 

 

The Pestilence

flies

My dad’s sister Betty, who lives in Tallahassee (the Boop, as we call her), was recently honored with a surprise 75th birthday recognition service at her church. She is a wonderful lady and it was well deserved. Afterwards, the family had a great lunch at her house. The food and iced tea was overflowing- we partied like it was 1999! And of course, we looked at old family photos and retold old family stories. It made me remember something that my dad and my sister and I experienced in the nearby, provincial hamlet of Dellwood, when I was about 15 years old. . .

The three of us ventured out on that warm, August mid-morning in my dad’s flashy Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon, to visit our seldom visited, second- and third-removed dirt road relatives. His car was beautiful: wire chrome wheels, a sky colored exterior with the wood look on the sides, and an interior that was a plush baby blue- adorned all over with shiny chrome buttons and faux wood accents. It had all the bells and whistles, and really was a jewel of a car. He got a great deal on it because it had been a demonstrator.

Anyway, we stopped by a house or two, and had nice but not-too-lengthy visits with the kin of Dad’s old summer stomping grounds. Then around 11:30, we pulled into the driveway of the main family that my dad wanted to see, and were welcomed with open arms. We were even invited to enjoy a down-home, back woods lunch, and we accepted. (Dad had often told my family how bad the gnats and flies were in Dellwood, but so far I hadn’t seen any.)

When we entered the dining room, the whole family had just sat down to a spread that looked like Thanksgiving at Buckingham Palace (do they have Thanksgiving?). The table was laden with every imaginable thing that country people of high standing eat- fried fish, mashed potatoes, fresh peas, tender young butterbeans, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, warm rolls, a salty country ham, a cake, various pies, bread and butter pickles, you name it- AND IT WAS JUST A REGULAR DAY!

Then I saw the flies. They were everywhere like a Biblical plague- in the air, on the walls, in our hair, and all over the food. Our gracious hostess and the rest of us swatted left and right almost continually. Soon grace was given, and Dad, sister, and I reluctantly prepared to suck it up and eat the fly-infested fare. The rest of the crew did not seem to care at all.

But right before the lot of us started to fill our plates, the hostess said, “Wait just one minute, I’m gonna take care of this. I’ll be right back.” She quickly returned with a fresh can of bug spray. Then she pressed the button and released a thick haze of poison, about 24 inches directly above all that food, from one end of the table to the other. And we all watched- most seemed entranced somehow, but for sure three of us were stunned and horrified, with our spoons and forks poised as the killing pesticide slowly precipitated down upon our lunch. “Okay everybody, dig in,” she said. And we did.

I think that the flies, and the stuff they leave behind, would have been a lot easier to swallow than the contents of that can of Raid. I guess I will never know. But even now, after all these years, I notice that my toenails seem to sometimes have a very faint glow when I turn out the lights at bedtime, and I’m not completely sure what that means. Hopefully it’s just my imagination.