Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 18

writers-soul-18Last week I read the chapter in Heather Sellers’s book, Page After Page, where she compares the source of one’s great writing to a compost heap. That seemed apropos because there are days when I feel like my writing is… well, you get the point.

Anyhow, if you haven’t read her book, I highly recommend you do. There is a reason I keep returning to it as a source of inspiration unlike any other writing book I’ve ever read. Rather than expound upon those reasons again, simply search my blog for posts where I mentioned Heather Sellers and/or Page After Page. Back to the compost.

According to Mrs. Sellers, our life provides the best source of writing material because we keep it hidden beneath layers of time, and like compost, it ferments to the place where the events become less painful and/or incredibly memorable. It is then that we should till the compost of our existence, digging deep, to dredge a great story. How profound.

But I don’t want to write about the time in third grade when two friends, with whom I thought I shared an amazing friendship, passed notes saying they’d rather not hang with me. I intercepted one such note. Or the time my dad gave my dog away on my birthday and packed me off to my cousins’ house to spend the night while he did so. Or the time my mom accidentally put my guinea pig out to graze right after my dad fertilized the yard. Or the time my first real boyfriend trounced my heart with my former best friend. You get the picture.

Just so you don’t think I’m poor-mouthing my life, or parents, there are great memories, too. One that springs to mind I don’t actually recall, but I’m told I gushed, “I love my daddy; he lets me ride my horsey,” after I received a hobby horse for Christmas. Then there are all the wonderful memories of my mother as Troop Leader during my Girl Scout years, especially when she took us to COSI.

What concerns me as a writer is writing about myself and/or writing myself into a story. Several people who have read different pieces of my work say things like, “Oh, Prudence Mayfield is so you,” (The Secrets of Dr. John Welles) and, per my husband regarding my current WIP, “Yeah, the mother in that story is totally you.” My son also says this about the daughter in the same story. And once, my mother said, “I recognize what happened in this short story as you in high school.”

These comments surprised me because I wasn’t consciously writing myself into my work. I suppose subconsciously, I was dredging through my compost. So much the better if it makes the writing great. But to intentionally write about myself and experiences? I’m not so sure about that. There are some dark, dank, compost-y places in my head and heart that I believe should just stay there.

Another reason why this whole thought process intrigues me is because I have a major complaint against writers who vehemently insist that the story wasn’t about them. Then you read their biography and, just as you suspected, it reflects their life so perfectly, they might as well have used their real name.

Now I know there is a small part of every writer that is written into his or her work even if it’s just his or her preferences regarding food which his or her protagonist just happens to like as well. Even hopes and dreams can reflect who the author is. Writers – quit trying to deny this. So, I’m left with the questions: how much of myself do I intentionally write into my work? And, if asked, do I confess that I wrote a passage so well because I experienced what my character(s) did? Or do I turtle my head into my coat and swear it wasn’t me?

I already believe that I serve my heart upon a platter for dissection, AKA public opinion. All artists feel this way. Rather than becoming caught up in trying to determine how much of me is in the story, just enjoy it, and trust that I have quite a bit of compost from which to grow new tales.

Suits Me to a Tea

suits-me-to-a-teaI remember the first time someone asked me if I wanted regular tea or sweet tea. I was a teenager on vacation with my parents in North Carolina. I thought the best thing that would happen to me that week was endless basking in the sun and swimming in the ocean. Who knew that a counter person working the register at McDonald’s could bring such happiness to a Northerner from Ohio? Even better, the delicious beverage was served at every restaurant we visited during that trip. My family had discovered sweet tea and drank it by the gallons that week. We even purchased large cups of sweet tea to drink on the way home. The restaurant wasn’t out of sight before it was consumed.

Flash forward a couple of years to the advent of sweet tea reaching McDonald’s in Ohio and other restaurants as well. We Northerners were elated, but we had a few things to learn: keep your sweet tea refrigerated so it doesn’t grow bacteria and don’t try to pass off that junk in the beverage machines as sweet tea.

All this to say that sweet tea factored in to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, the first time John met Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby at the University of Maryland. John had been invited to visit Sam’s home along with Claude. While he instantly liked amiable worrier, Sam, John’s initial opinion of Claude was reserved at best. Claude sneaked bourbon into the sweet tea without John’s knowledge. When John took a large swallow, he choked on the presence of the strong alcohol much to Claude’s entertainment. The conversation that followed would either make or break their tentative relationship.

There are many recipes out there for sweet tea and the history is quite enjoyable to read. I had no idea that iced green tea was the original favorite. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. Of course, you can always put a splash of bourbon in yours; just remember to warn your guests first.

Sweet Tea

¾ c sugar (I use raw)

¾ c water

suits-me-to-a-tea-2Place the sugar and water in a saucepan, stir thoroughly, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture for seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the heat so the syrup doesn’t scorch. You should attain a gentle, rolling boil. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.

10 cups water, divided

6 regular-sized tea black tea bags

1 pinch baking soda

Ice

Lemon slices (optional)

In another saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil. Remove the pot from the range and place on a trivet. Add tea bags and baking soda, and steep for six minutes. Do not squeeze the tea bags when removing. Add the simple syrup and stir. Allow to cool to room temperature.

When the tea/syrup mixture has cooled, pour into a pitcher and add the remaining seven of cups water. Serve over ice with lemon slices if desired.

Enjoy!

Sweet History Lesson

sweet-history-lessonI researched the history of sweet tea for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, because I used it in a scene involving John and his two classmates at the University of Maryland, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby. As I’ve mentioned previous blog post (Who is in Your Details, No Bad Apples), it’s important to check your facts, and I honestly didn’t know how far back recipes for sweet tea went. Thankfully, the time period in which I wrote the scene was well after the first documented evidence of sweet tea in American culinary history.  So, without further ado, I present to you the History of Sweet Tea as gleaned from the What’s Cooking in America website.  I credit them and their sources with all of the history presented in this post.  It’s a bit of a lengthy read, but that’s what makes a great Research Road post.

History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea

There are two traditional iced teas in the United States – Iced Tea and Sweet Tea.  The only variation between them is sugar.  Southerners swear by their traditional sweet iced tea and drink it by the gallons.  In the South, iced tea is not just a summertime drink, and it is served year round with most meals.  When people order tea in a Southern restaurant, chances are they will get sweet iced tea.  Outside of the southern states, iced tea is served unsweetened or “black,” and most people have never even heard of sweet tea.

18th Century

1795 – South Carolina is the first place in the United States where tea was grown and is the only state to ever have produced tea commercially.  Most historians agree that the first tea plant arrived in this country in the late 1700s when French explorer and botanist, Andre Michaux (1746-1802), imported it as well as other beautiful and showy varieties of camellias, gardenias, and azaleas to suit the aesthetic and acquisitive desires of wealthy Charleston planters.  He planted tea near Charleston at Middleton Barony, now known as Middleton Place Gardens.

19th Century

1800s – English and American cookbooks shows us that tea has been served cold at least since the early nineteenth century when cold green tea punches, that were heavily spiked with liquor, were popularized.  The oldest recipes in print are made with green tea and not black tea and were called punches.  The tea punches went by names such as Regent’s Punch, named after George IV, the English prince regent between 1811 until 1820 and king from 1820 to 1830.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, American versions of this punch begin to acquire regional and even patriotic names, such as Charleston’s St. Cecilia Punch (named for the musical society whose annual ball it graced), and Savannah’s potent version, Chatham Artillery Punch.

Iced tea’s popularity parallels the development of refrigeration:  The ice house, the icebox (refrigerator), and the commercial manufacture of pure ice, which were in place by the middle of the nineteenth century.  The term refrigerator was used for the first patented ice box in 1803 and were common in the mid-19th century in the United States.

1839 – The 1839 cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, by Mrs. Lettice Bryanon, was typical of the American tea punch recipes:

“Tea Punch – Make a pint and a half of very strong tea in the usual manner; strain it, and pour it boiling (hot) on one pound and a quarter of loaf sugar. (That’s 2 1/2 cups white sugar) Add half a pint of rich sweet cream, and then stir in gradually a bottle of claret or of champaign (sic). You may heat it to the boiling point, and serve it so, or you may send it round entirely cold, in glass cups.”

1879 – The oldest sweet tea recipe (iced tea) in print comes from a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree, published in 1879:

“Ice Tea – After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea.  If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast.  At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea strainer into a pitcher.  Let it stand till tea time and pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher.  Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar.  A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.”

1884 – This may be the first printed recipe using black tea, which has become so universal today, and could also be the earliest version of pre-sweetened iced tea, the usual way of making it in the South today.  Mrs. D. A. (Mary) Lincoln, director of the Boston Cooking School, published Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking in 1884.  On page 112, there it is: iced tea, proving that the drink was not just a Southern drink.

“Ice Tea or Russian Tea – Make the tea by the first receipt, strain it from the grounds, and keep it cool. When ready to serve, put two cubes of block sugar in a glass, half fill with broken ice, add a slice of lemon, and fill the glass with cold tea.”

1890 – Professor Lyndon N. Irwin, of Southwest Missouri State University and a member of the St. Louis World’s Fair Society, found an article from the September 28, 1890, issue of the Nevada Noticer newspaper regarding the 1890 Missouri State Reunion of Ex-Confederate Veterans.  This article clearly states that iced tea had been around prior to1890.  The article states the following:

“The following figures will convey some idea of the amount of provision used at Camp Jackson during the recent encampment. There were 4,800 pounds of bread, 11,705 pounds of beef, 407 pounds of ham, 21 sheep, 600 pounds of sugar, 6 bushels of beans, 60 gallon of pickles, and a wagonload of potatoes. It was all washed down with 2,220 gallons of coffee and 880 gallons of iced tea. The committee expended $3,000, a little in excess of the amount subscribed, for the entertainment of the old soldiers.”

1893 – The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also called the Columbian Exposition, had a concessionaire that grossed over $2,000 selling iced tea and lemonade.

The Home Queen World’s Fair Souvenir Cookbook – Two Thousand Valuable Recipes on Cookery and Household Economy, Menus, Table Etiquette, Toilet, Etc.  Contributed by Two Hundred World’s Fair Lady Managers, Wives of Governors, and Other Ladies of Position and Influence, compiled by Miss Juliet Corson includes a recipe for variations on serving iced tea.

1895 – The Enterprising Manufacturing Co. of Pennsylvania distributed its popular recipe booklet called The Enterprising Housekeeper by Helen Louise Johnson. In the recipe booklet, they advertise their popular ice shredders and its many uses. One use was “for your iced tea.”

20th Century

1900s – After 1900, iced tea became commonplace in cookbooks, and black tea began replacing green as the preferred tea for serving cold.  The preference for black over green tea in an iced beverage came with of import of inexpensive black tea exports from India, Ceylon, South America, and Africa.

1904 – It was at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis that iced tea was popularized and commercialized (not invented).  Due to the hot summer of 1904, people ignored any hot drinks and went in search of cold drinks, including iced tea.  Because of this, it changed the way the rest of Americans thought of tea, thus popularizing iced tea.

Most historians mistakenly give credit to Richard Blechynden, India Tea Commissioner and Director of the East Indian Pavilion, as being the creator of ice tea at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  In the East Indian Pavilion at the Fair, Blechynden was offering free hot tea to everyone.  Because of the intense heat, it was soon realized that the heat prevented the crowd from drinking his hot tea.  Blechynden and his team took the brewed India tea, filled several large bottles, and placed them on stands upside down – thus allowing the tea to flow through iced lead pipes.  This free iced tea was very much welcomed by the thirsty fair goers.  After the fair, Blechynden took his lead pipe apparatus to New York City, offering free iced tea to shoppers at Bloomingdale Brothers Department Store, demonstrating iced tea is a desirable summertime drink.

According to the book Beyond The Ice Cream Cone – The Whole Scoop on Food at the 1904 World’s Fair by Pamela J. Vaccaro:

“Both hot tea and iced tea appeared on most restaurant menus at the Fair – at the Barbecue, Fair Japan, the Old Irish Parliament House, the Louisiana and Texas Rice Kitchen, Mrs. Rorer’s East Pavilioin Cafe, and so on. It is highly unlikely that all these restaurants jumped on the bandwagon of Blechynden’s “new idea,” and scurried to the print shops to have their menus reprinted!

What really “stirs the pot” is that “Richard Blechynden” was listed as an official concessionaire (No. 325) “to serve tea in cups and packages” at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 – 11 years before the one in St. Louis. The financial records from the exposition do not list any ledger entries for Blechynden – which raises the question of whether he actually showed up or was just late with his report. But, if he had been there, it would have been odd that he would not have realized that his product was already being sold in hot and cold versions. It would likewise be odd that, in the 11 intervening years, he would have been totally oblivious to the drink’s inclusion in cookbooks and on menus.”

1917 – By World War I, Americans were buying special tall iced tea glasses, long spoons, and lemon forks.  By the 1930s, people were commonly referring to the tall goblet in crystal sets as an “iced tea” glass.

1920 to 1933 – The American Prohibition (1920-1933) helped boost the popularity of iced tea because average Americans were forced to find alternatives to illegal beer, wine, and alcohol.  Iced tea recipes begin appearing routinely in most southern cookbooks during this time.

1928 – In the southern cookbook, Southern Cooking, by Henrietta Stanley Dull (Mrs. S.R. Dull), Home Ecomonics Editor for the Atlanta Journal, gives the recipe that remained standard in the South for decades thereafter.  It is a regional book that very much resembles the many “church” or “ladies society” cookbooks of that era.

“TEA – Freshly brewed tea, after three to five minutes infusion, is essential if a good quality is desired. The water, as for coffee, should be freshly boiled and poured over the tea for this short time . . . The tea leaves may be removed when the desired strength is obtained . . . Tea, when it is to be iced, should be made much stronger, to allow for the ice used in chilling. A medium strength tea is usually liked. A good blend and grade of black tea is most popular for iced tea, while green and black are used for hot . . . To sweeten tea for an iced drink, less sugar is required if put in while tea is hot, but often too much is made and sweetened, so in the end there is more often a waste than saving . . . Iced tea should be served with or without lemon, with a sprig of mint, a strawberry, a cherry, a slice of orange, or pineapple. This may be fresh or canned fruit. Milk is not used in iced tea.”

1941 – During World War II, the major sources of green tea were cut off from the United States, leaving us with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India, which produces black tea. Americans came out of the war drinking nearly 99 percent black tea.

1995 – South Carolina’s grown tea was officially adopted as the Official Hospitality Beverage by State Bill 3487, Act No. 31 of the 111th Session of the South Carolina General Assembly on April 10, 1995.

21st Century

2003 – Georgia State Representative, John Noel, and four co-sponsors, apparently as an April Fools’ Day joke, introduced House Bill 819, proposing to require all Georgia restaurants that serve tea to serve sweet tea.  Representative John Noel, one of the sponsors, is said to have acknowledged that the bill was an attempt to bring humor to the Legislature, but wouldn’t mind if it became law. The text of the bill proposes:

(a)  As used in this Code section, the term ‘sweet tea’ means iced tea which is sweetened with sugar at the time that it is brewed.

(b)  Any food service establishment which served iced tea must serve sweet tea. Such an establishment may serve unsweetened tea but in such case must also serve sweet tea.

(c)  Any person who violates this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.

SOURCES:

1904 St. Louis World’s Fair – The Iced Tea Question, by Lyndon N. Irwin.

Beyond the Ice Cream Cone – The Whole Scoop on food at the 1904 World’s Fair, by Pamela J. Vaccaro, Enid Press, St. Louis, 2004.

Boston Cooking School Cook Book, by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1996 Reprint.

GA: Food Establishments Must Serve Sweet Tea!, Political State Report, Tuesday, April 1, 2003.

Georgia General Assembly, House Bill 819.

I’ll Have What They’re Having – Legendary Local Cuisine, by Linda Stradley, Globe Pequot Press, 2002.

Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC, Features Works by Pierre-Joseph Redout April Issue 2002, from Carolina Arts Magazine, by Shoestring Publishing Company, Bonneau, SC.

South Carolina General Assembly, 111th Session, 1995-1996.

Steeped in Tradition – Sweetened or Not, Iced tea is Southerners’ drink of choice, by Linda Dailey Paulson, writer for Atlanta-Journal Constitution newspaper.

Taste of Luzianne, Luzianne Tea.

A Day in the Life

img_20160922_0851090761So the top portion of my uniform is back from the laundry. I sure hope they removed all the cat hair this time. I adore my cats, Henry and Simon, but let’s face it, they leave quite a bit of hair in places they shouldn’t. Like my couch and my uniform. It’s a good thing they’re light-colored cats or it would really show up! But I hear the laundress is an amazing woman. I believe she’s a writer, too.

a-day-in-the-life-2Anyhow, I have to don the bottom part of my uniform because I have to stop working for a few moments to take the kiddo to school. For some reason, he doesn’t appreciate my choice of uniform pants. I tell him he has no sense of style. He rolls his eyes. What can you expect from a teenager? He comes home from school, wipes out the food in our cupboards like a ravenous locust, and has the gall to look at me in my uniform and say, “You haven’t showered yet?” The ingrate. Does he think all this writing happens by magic? And what does the kid have against the Autobots?

a-day-in-the-lifeAt least I can stop by the refueling station for some gas after dropping him off. I know some people prefer that pricey fuel with the fancy green mermaid on the cup, but I find my favorite establishment brews a tasty cup of java juice. Besides, I don’t require all that frou frou stuff to keep me going. The grittier the brew, the better the writing I always say. And depending on how good they did with mixing the perfect balance of coffee and cream will determine if I visit my other favorite libation in the evening to keep the writing going.

Now the really hard part starts: tending one’s social media without getting sucked in to cute kitten videos and all the political garbage flying around. Ten minutes is what I usually allow myself which means I’ll be on Facebook and Twitter at least an hour. My punishment is to stare at a blank screen for the rest of the day as I try to come up with blog posts, short fiction, and another chapter in my current WIP. One of the benefits of being a writer is that you get to use cool acronyms like WIP, POV, and MSWL.

img_20160812_185540197So here I sit. Instead of fascinating storylines that will keep my readers riveted, all I can think about is the ten years’ worth of scrapbooking I need to do in time for my kid’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. See how I worked a little shameless bragging in there? Another cool part of being a writer. Then there’s the weeding I need to do in the flowerbeds all the while knowing I won’t get to it until next spring when I plan on tearing them out anyhow, all the folding I need to accomplish because I was ill this past week and chores stacked up, decisions about what to make for dinner, wondering who will show up to Critique Group tonight, and my book club selection I need to finish reading. I need a nap.

img_20160906_081749882Time to throw some glitter at the screen and hope the writing fairies show up. Or I could text my mother to see if she’s up. There’s a good chance that making contact with her early in the day will result in an invitation to breakfast. The best part is that I can wear my uniform over to her condominium association because no one over there cares what I look like when I arrive. Got to love the elderly and their screwy sense of fashion! Of course, Mom’s place is the black hole of comfy-ness, and I’ll waste the entire morning over there, accomplishing jack squat toward my writing. Perhaps I’ll just raid the kitchen for some cashews and press on.

Being a writer may sound like an easy job. After all, the uniform alone is a major plus. But imagine giving yourself really hard homework for the rest of your life. Not only do you have to create the task, you have to provide the solution. There are days you love it and days you wish someone would have hit you in the head with a ball bat or at least warned you what it would be like. It’s an addiction, and no matter how long a break you give yourself, you always come back to it. It is a vicious cycle, and the doubts and fears can pop up at any time even when you thought you’d vanquished them two years ago.

And yet, you can’t help but create, and when you remember that you’re part of an amazing group of people known as The Creatives, which also includes artists, musicians, photographers, etc., it helps you get through the long, dry spells of no ideas and rejection letters. Take comfort in the fact that unlike many people who only wished they had taken up the pen, you actually did. When querying feels like you’ve placed your beautiful baby in the public view and begged for someone to tell you everything that’s wrong with it, remember that you had the guts to query in the first place. You rock. I rock. Heck, we’re all pretty amazing when you get right down to it. If me telling you that isn’t enough, take it from people who have been where we’re all hoping to end up. (Writing Inspiration)

Now, go forth and create. I have to get back to staring at my blinking cursor.

No Bad Apples

no-bad-applesToday’s post falls into the category of Research Road, however, the information I discovered didn’t make it into my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, or more correctly, it was removed. The reason for this underscores my admonition to always check your facts. Whether you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy with factual details familiar to the known world, it’s important to present the particulars accurately.

In an effort to entice potential readers once my novel is published, I have familiarized them with characters and situations through the food I featured in the story. Recipes for these meals can be found in Edible Fiction. Last week, I wrote a post for an apple pie eaten in a scene relaying Dr. Welles’s first trip into the town where he decided to spend his later years. For this particular pie, I chose to use Paula Red apples. They are among my favorite pie apples because they have an old fashioned flavor and become sauce-like when baked. I thought a little history on the heirloom apple would make for an interesting blog post, and that’s when I learned my mistake.

According to several websites devoted to antique apples, Paula Reds were discovered as a seedling in Sparta, Michigan in 1960 by Lewis Arrends. The apple, named for Arrends’s wife Pauline, was a happy accident that appears to have descended from the humble McIntosh. Why is this important you ask? Because the scene in which a Paula Red apple pie is eaten by Dr. Welles took place in 1958, two years before their discovery and ten years before they hit the market. Perhaps my favorite apple wasn’t as vintage as I first believed.

There are those, my mother among them, who will argue that this is a minor detail, one that wouldn’t be discovered by the casual reader. But as I’ve stated before, I’m not a casual reader or writer, and these details are important. How can I expect my readers to have faith in what I say if I don’t conduct thorough research? (Who is in Your Details?)

I know readers are expected to suspend some belief at times and trust their favorite writers, yet I can’t allow that one person who could nail me on the facts to be disappointed any more than I could tell blatant lies. Obsessed with the facts? I think so! In closing, I hope that another writer will benefit from the information presented about Paula Red apples. At the very least, I hope I’ve prompted writers to check their facts.

By the way, if you want a great recipe for an apple pie, check out the post All-American Goodbye.

Bean There, Done That

bean-there-done-thatI probably have as many memories of my mother telling me how she ate brown beans and cornbread as a child as she does instances of eating them. From what I understand, the humble meal was a staple among those living in West Virginia who were not financially well-off. Sometimes, they only had sliced white bread with their beans. To hear her tell it, though, you’d think she had eaten a meal fit for a queen such was her childhood love of brown beans and cornbread. Even her cousin, Ellen, and my Great Aunt Edie, also a former resident of West Virginia, speak of the meal as if it was manna from Heaven.

I grew up eating brown beans and cornbread though not with as much enthusiasm as my mother. They were okay, but as a child of the seventies, hotdogs, grilled cheese, and Kraft macaroni and cheese rounded out much of my diet. Besides, I was a somewhat finicky eater as a kid, and my appreciation for brown beans and cornbread didn’t develop until I was an adult. Now when Mom makes a pot of brown beans and a skillet of cornbread, you can bet my family, her cousin, Aunt Edie, and other relatives will trail in throughout the dinner hour to dine on the simple fare.

With all that being said, it just made sense to have Bea Turner serve brown beans and cornbread at the diner she owned. My protagonist, John Welles, had to eat them at least once during his sojourn in West Virginia. Even though the meal is mentioned only once in my novel, I suspect Dr. Welles developed a love for brown beans and cornbread and probably ate them quite often.

The recipe for brown beans is kind of like those for apple pie, meatloaf, or macaroni and cheese. Every family has their version of how the old familiar dish should taste. Often, finances dictated what went into the pot. At its most basic, brown beans were cooked in water with either a piece of salt pork or dollop of bacon grease, salt and pepper. I’m going to provide a recipe that is a little more elegant but not alter it so much that connoisseurs of the dish won’t recognize it.

Bea Turner’s Brown Beans

1 – 2 lb. bag of brown beans

2 – 14.5 oz. cans beef broth

2 – 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth

1 large carrot, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

1 – 2 stalks celery, diced

1 t thyme

1 T parsley

Dash of garlic powder

Couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

½ stick butter

⅛ c olive oil

Cover the beans with enough cold water to allow for absorption and soak overnight. Drain and wash the next day. Place the beans in a Dutch oven with all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Test for doneness at this point, and cook in thirty minute increments until the beans are tender, probably no more than 2 – 2 ½ hours total cooking time.

Ladle the beans over slabs of cornbread and serve.

Enjoy!

Spin to Win

spin-to-winIn December of 1927, Claude Willoughby has been left behind in Maryland as his father, sister, and step-mother return to Kentucky for Christmas. The cruel abandonment is Claude’s punishment for disobeying his father’s directive. Sam Feldman comes to Claude’s rescue by inviting him and their friend, John Welles, over for an after-the-fact Hanukkah celebration. After a meal of brisket and latkes, the boys play dreidel with Sam’s mother, Gladys.

Although the game is meant for children, I know quite a few adults, myself included, who get caught up in playing dreidel every Hanukkah. In fact, we have a tradition that last year’s winner must return to defend his or her title the following year.

The Hebrew word sevivon or s’vivon means to turn around. Dreidel is the Yiddish word for a spinning top. All dreidels have four Hebrew letters on them which stand for the saying Nes gadol haya sham, meaning a great miracle occurred there. In Israel, instead of the fourth letter shin, there is a peh which changes the saying to Nes gadol haya po, a great miracle occurred here.

Playing with the dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah game played in Jewish homes all over the world, and rules may vary. Here’s how to play the basic dreidel game:

  1. Any number of people can take part.
  2. Each player begins the game with an equal number of game pieces (about 10-15) such as pennies, nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, matchsticks, etc. (Our family uses Hershey’s Nuggets which makes winning or losing fun as many of the playing pieces are enjoyed during the game.)
  3. At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the center pot. In addition, every time the pot is empty or has only one game piece left, every player should put one in the pot.
  4. Every time it’s your turn, spin the dreidel once. Depending on the outcome, you give or get game pieces from the pot:
  5. Nun means nisht or nothing. The player does nothing.
  6. Gimmel means gantz or everything. The player gets everything in the pot.
  7. Hey means halb or half. The player gets half of the pot. (If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one.)
  8. Shin (outside of Israel) means shtel or put in.  Peh (in Israel) also means put in. The player adds a game piece to the pot. (Our family puts two pieces in.)
  9. If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either out or may ask a fellow player for a loan. (We’re pretty ruthless for the Dreidel Champion title; once you’re out, you’re out!)
  10. When one person has won everything, that round of the game is over!

For non-Jewish players, we came up with a way to remember what do to for each Hebrew letter:

Nun you get none – don’t do anything

Gimme gimmel – you get the entire pot

Hey means half – you get half the pot plus one if there’s an odd number of pieces

Shin two in – put two game pieces in the pot

A First Good Day

Some of the new swings are seen. A total of 11 new swings have been installed. SWINGPARK - The new swing park near the corner of East Brady and North Water Streets beneath the N. Holton St. Bridge on Wendesday, July 23, 2014, included newly designed swings that are a collaboration between the City of Milwaukee, the Brady Street BID #11, and the grassroots organization beintween (Òin betweenÓ). Beintween installed swings at the site in Fall 2012. When the swings fell into disrepair, they were removed by DPW in Fall 2013 as a safety precaution. The agencies worked together to redesign and rebuild the swings using recycled materials including rubber tires, metals and wood. A total of 11 new swings have been installed, including a set of baby swings and a metal swing that is ADA accessible. The cushioned ground beneath the swings has also been replaced with shredded rubber tires, and new lighting has been installed for a safer experience. Photo by Mike De Sisti / MDESISTI@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

Angie sits on a swing, swaying gently and trying not to catch her skirt in the chains. Her flats are placed firmly on the shredded rubber mulch, the new favorite material to cushion falls at the playground. All around her children laugh and squeal, running from swings to slides, rock wall to climbing rope, sand box to wooden fort. Mothers cluster on benches in the shade of meager trees, some pushing a stroller with a drowsy baby back and forth, back and forth. A trickle of sweat slides between Angie’s shoulder blades.

She’s not sure where she fits in. Part of her identifies with the little girls playing house, carrying their baby dolls by the neck in the crook of their arms. They sequester themselves in the tower of the fort until the little boys invade wielding invisible lights sabers and threats of feeding the dolls to the Sarlacc. Angie has experience disrupting homes. As for the prom princess mall mavens, the only thing they have in common with Angie is the fact that they, too, have given birth.  She is smart enough to know that this alone does not make her a mother. There’s more to it. A lot more. Probably what these women sitting around the perimeter are doing. But she cannot tell what that something is.

Her eyes burn and drop to the toes of her scuffed black flats. Heat reddens her face as she imagines what these women would think if they knew how many miles she walked to wear the soles of her shoes thin, or how short her skirts were in comparison to her long navy blue one sweeping the surface of the playground. Fireworks of yellow, red, and orange flash behind Angie’s closed eyes. Sunlight caresses her cheeks with the warmth of a mother’s hands as she tilts her face upward. A woodpecker’s tap on her shoulder interrupts her solitude.

“Angie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Gloria Freshley stands to Angie’s right, clasping a briefcase handle in both hands. The social worker nods and gives her a head-to-toe once over.

“Very good. Remember what the judge said, okay?”

“This is not a reward for my good behavior, and the Mendenhalls are being generous by letting me see Chloe.”

“Exactly. Keep that in mind, and this will go smoothly.”

No mincing words with Gloria. Angie takes a breath to speak. Questions contort her face, but Gloria blinks slowly once in lieu of shaking her head. All the queries, arguments, and debates drift toward the thick clouds stacked across the sky.

“Here they come.”

Angie watches her three year-old daughter toddle between a man and a woman, her chubby hands held in one of their own. Their approach slows when the little girl navigates the concrete curb surrounding the playground, stops to watch the children play, and grabs a handful of sand to work between her palms. Mr. Mendenhall shares a smile with Chloe as he wipes her tiny hands with a handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. There’s something reassuring to Angie that her daughter lives with a man who still uses handkerchiefs. From beneath locks of long, brown hair, Mrs. Mendenhall’s eyes scan the playground. She’s a soldier on point acknowledging the enemy without giving herself away.

Indecision about the next twenty minutes muddles Angie’s thoughts. All she knows is that she doesn’t want to waste time thinking about her feelings. Analyzation comes later. For the next twenty minutes, earned by nineteen cocaine-free months, she will talk to Chloe and watch her play without touching her. She must remember to thank the Mendenhalls for taking care of Chloe and allowing this meeting. She must also remember to leave first. The last is her own stipulation, an old habit from her days on the streets to hide her true emotions.

Chloe staggers toward Angie who smiles at her daughter’s defiance to hold the Mendenhalls’ hands the last few yards. There are no words or expressions when Chloe totters past to explore the swings behind her mother. A bitten lip brings the taste of salt and rust; Angie’s mind scrambles to pin down a reaction to her daughter’s lack of recognition.

“Swings are her favorite,” Ted Mendenhall says to soften the blow.

“I should know that,” Angie replies.

“You do now,” Karen Mendenhall says.

The four adults sit at a picnic table. Their conversation contains praise for Chloe. No promises are given, no condemnation expressed. The offer to meet again in six months lightens the tension etched in the lines around everyone’s eyes except Chloe’s. She blows kisses over Ted Mendenhall’s shoulder as he carries her back to the car; his free hand holds his wife’s.

“That went well,” Gloria says. “I’ll call you a week before the next meeting to see where we are.”

Angie stands in the center of the playground trembling, unable to contain the smile aching her face. Suddenly, she realizes that she is the last to leave . Laughter and tears flow freely from the eighteen year-old as she enjoys the first good day she’s had in a long, long time.

Recipe for Disaster

Recipe for DisasterOne of the worst secrets young John Welles will keep reaches its peak by late 1928. Only John isn’t aware of it yet. The secret involves one of his best friends, Claude Willoughby, and the ruthless gangster by whom he is employed, Leo Jenkins.

Leo goes out of his way to make sure Claude suffers at every turn. He does so as a means of getting back at Claude’s father, the true object of Jenkin’s scorn. Bad business dealings put Claude’s father, J.D., at odds with Jenkins, but instead of bearing the brunt of the gangster’s wrath, J.D. offers up Claude as compensation by suggesting his son work for the man. Claude’s loathing of Leo cannot be suppressed during one of their encounters as the gangster eats a meal of sausage and potatoes, and it costs him dearly.

When I wrote the scene, I pictured kielbasa-style sausage and fried potatoes. I don’t have the kitchen equipment required to make sausage, but I’m sure there are many delicious recipes on the Internet. Also, you could consider kielbasa from a local butcher or even a well-known brand. Sliced fried potatoes are easy and delicious, and they complement the sausage. Add some grainy brown mustard, and you have a meal fit for a man as coarse as Leo Jenkins.

Fried Potatoes

Russet potatoes (about 3 inches long)

Peanut oil (Whoever made the potatoes for Leo Jenkins probably would have used lard or butter, but I’m suggesting peanut oil because I love the way it crisps whatever you fry in it.)

Sea salt

I recommend about three potatoes per person. Scrub the potato skins under water with a soft brush to remove excess dirt and eyes. Place the potatoes in a large pot and fill with enough cold water to cover your quantity of potatoes. Bring the water to a boil. Time the potatoes for five minutes and test for doneness with a sharp knife. You should be able to pierce them without resistance, but do not cook them to a soft or mushy state. Boil for another five minutes only if necessary.

Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool on a cutting board. After cooling, you can refrigerate them for use within two days or you can slice them to fry immediately.

Heat the peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over a medium-high to high heat. The surface will ripple and the oil pop. Drop in one potato to test. If the oil sizzles, it’s ready. Place the sliced potatoes in one layer in the skillet and cook until golden brown. You will need to cover them while they cook. Flip and repeat on the other side.

Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined platter. Keep the platter in a warmed oven as you cook. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Season the potatoes with salt in between the layers. Serve hot with the kielbasa and brown mustard.

Enjoy!

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Just the Facts, Ma'amI recently discovered a misconception regarding members of the Grammar Police that I feel compelled to correct. The Grammar Police are people who are passionate about grammar. They are not snarky, snippy know-it-alls who want to make you look bad in front of other people. I point this out for members of the Grammar Police as well. If you’re not showing tact when correcting people’s grammar, you might want to step back and reassess why you became a Grammar Policeperson in the first place.

First of all, it’s because of a love of grammar. Second, it’s based on a love for the person speaking or writing. In the event that you don’t have good feelings toward the person whose grammar is in need of correction, refer back to the first point or keep your mouth shut. Remember: there is a time and a place to correct grammar. Choose both wisely.

For those not of the Grammar Police, keep in mind that our passion for grammar does not mean that we are above correction ourselves. Any Grammar Policeperson who believes this to be so needs to turn in his or her badge immediately. Correction is where learning takes place, and who doesn’t want to learn correct grammar?

Two of my favorite grammar websites are Grammarist and Grammar Girl. Between these two, I keep quite a few mistakes out of my speech and writing. Of course, that’s not to say I haven’t made some doozies in both. No, you don’t get to know the details.

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