The Pleather Labyrinth

This past Shabbat, a friend at church looked at my purse sitting on the table and said, “You’re quite an organized person, aren’t you?”

I pulled my beloved purse toward me, smiled proudly, and said, “Yes, yes I am.”

Allow me to explain. Two weeks ago I went on a day trip with two close friends. When I stepped away to powder my nose, fashionista friend said to mischievous friend, “Ugh… I really need to give her a new purse.”

I am not into purses the way the majority of women seem to be. I find a purse that meets my size requirements and compartment needs, and I carry that baby until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out. I loathe purse shopping. Besides, the stupid things are so freaking expensive for something that’s going to be chucked into the back seat of my car, flung into a shopping cart, and occasionally forgotten at Home Depot or a restaurant.

I actually do have a lovely, leather purse my mother brought me from Italy, but it’s only big enough to accommodate a whispered secret and a tissue. Not practical. I carry it to weddings, funerals, and really fancy lunch dates.

What probably tipped fashionista friend over the edge was my horror story of how I once stapled the broken strap of a favorite purse and went right on carrying it. No doubt this is what prompted her to ask me upon exiting the bathroom, “How do you feel about black and white herringbone?”

A moment of confusion overcame me until mischievous friend spilled the beans on fashionista friend’s disdain for my bedraggled purse.

“Are you embarrassed to be seen with me and my purse in public?” I asked, laughing.

“Yes,” fashionista friend replied emphatically. She descended to the Fashionista Cave where she stores a bin of spare purses. I believe said bin has a keypad lock (with a code known only by her), is wired with explosives, and is guarded by a German Shepherd. Upon her return, she said, “I chose this one for you because I knew you’d like all the compartments.”

“You want me to switch out purses before we leave, don’t you?”

From the look on her face, I’m pretty sure that was understood. I plopped down on her living room floor and began sorting stuff into all the wonderful compartments of my lovely new purse. It was amazing. Everything just fell into place as I separated the most important items from those used less frequently. I even cleaned out a bunch of garbage I’d been hauling around and tossed it into a plastic shopping bag for disposal. Fashionista friend granted me one pardon when she allowed me to cut the handy little license holder from the old purse and slip it into the new one. Then she threw my old purse away, and we left.

Skip ahead to the next day when my husband noticed the new purse. I swear purses are like magnets for men in the weirdest way. They spy your purse, and suddenly they need something out of it. Of course, I couldn’t have hubby rooting around in my new purse like a warthog grubbing for food. Men are notorious for turning purses into disheveled messes as if a bear pawed through it.

For a microsecond, I entertained the thought of explaining to him how the setup of the new purse really wasn’t that different from the old. Inside the main zippered section (always the largest) was a tiny zippered section where cash and credit cards are stored. That was the same as was the open portion where lipstick, Chapstick, cough drops, and tissues were tucked.

The new purse also had a middle section with a place for my cellphone, check book, and sunglasses. So, slight up grade. Actually, super, awesome terrific upgrade because there are two zippers to this compartment that only need to be opened halfway to reveal a particular side. Lovin’ it!

But wait, there’s more. The next level down is yet another zippered section with a metal zipper pull where I store my keys. Husband should be kissing the ground where fashionista friend walks because in the past two weeks, I haven’t misplaced my keys once since I’ve owned this purse all due to the special place in my purse for keys. “Why did she mention the metal zipper pull?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because my metal keys go in the section with the metal zipper pull. See how that works. Easy enough for any husband who needs to put gas in my car to remember in which section he can find my keys.

Oh, but that’s not all. The whole back of the purse is open, so incidentals like brochures from gourmet olive oil shops and the business cards of women trying to sell me Viking refrigerators land there. No zipper or snap ensures that they fall out which is actually my goal.

There’s a tiny pouch with a snap where my business cards live and another with a zipper where gift cards I have yet to use and restaurant rewards cards are tucked. Brilliant, isn’t it? A place for everything and everything in its place. Did I mention that my lovely, new purse has handles and a shoulder strap? What’s not to love?

But just try explaining why things are where they are to a man, and the whole system breaks down. A woman would look at my purse and know in seconds where to begin searching for whatever she needed. Not that a woman would rummage through my purse without asking. Oh, no—that’s the sort of criminal behavior only men would commit.

Now I know there are many jokes about how scary the inside of a woman’s purse is. There’s even a stupid song about it. I am here to tell you that’s no accident. If we could fit a Minotaur in our purses to keep men out—or at least deter, possibly maim them for tossing it like inexperienced burglars—we would. And don’t bother suggesting that we draw them a map or label the compartments. Our husbands would ask us to store the map in our purses, and it’s not as if we’re going to number the compartments with a black Sharpie.

So now you understand how the friend at church pegged me as an organized person. I like to think she was a little bit envious of my purse. I’m going to carry this one forever, and when I say forever what I mean is until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out.

When Georgia Gets the Blues

Pie baking is serious business, and you don’t want to get in the way of a young wife determined to climb up the church-pie-bake-off hierarchy to a first place win. Such was the case for newly-wed Shirley Tedesco when she found the outlet to express her skill with cooking. But Shirley’s baked wonders get up Claudia Romero’s nose. Claudia, who frequently holds the position of president of the Ladies Auxiliary, has held the coveted first place position for years. In Shirley, the woman has met her match.

The following recipe is just one of Shirley’s pies featured in my novel, The Tedescos. I’ve fallen in love with Georgia peaches, so if you can get them in your area, I strongly recommended using them. I’ve been most fortunate to purchase these luscious, little jewels from The Peach Truck once or twice a year. The addition of blueberries to this pie not only makes it taste divine, but the blended color of juices is beautiful to behold!

Deep Dish Blueberry Peach Pie

For the crust:

2 c all-purpose flour

2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼-inch cubes

⅓ c ice water

1 t sea salt

1 T sugar (I used raw)

 

For the filling:

2 T unsalted butter, cubed

6 large Georgia peaches, peeled and sliced

1 pint blueberries, washed and drained

½ c sugar (I used raw)

½ c dark brown sugar

½ t cinnamon

¼ t nutmeg

1 t vanilla

¼ c water

¼ c amaretto

2 T cornstarch

 

Parchment paper

Baking weights

Ten-inch cast iron skillet

 

In a large, metal mixing bowl that has been chilled, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the chilled butter. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender, two knives, or your hands. If you use your hands, take care to work quickly so as not to warm the butter. The mixture should look coarse with pea-sized pieces of flour and butter. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, mixing it in carefully until you can press the dough together and form a neat ball. Remove the dough ball from the bowl and flatten it into a disk on a lightly floured surface. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least fifteen minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375°. Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and cut it into two pieces approximately one-third and two-thirds. Rewrap the one-third piece for the lattice top and return to the refrigerator. Role the larger piece into a circle big enough to fit across the bottom and up the sides of a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the diameter of the skillet as well as up the sides (crumpling the parchment in your hands makes it more pliable for use). Place baking weights in the skillet. Bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until the crust is lightly golden. Set aside to cool.

In a separate skillet, melt the butter for the filling. Add the remaining filling ingredients except for the blueberries. Cook until the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency. Stir in the blueberries. Spoon the filling into the bottom crust with a slotted spoon. Ladle the thickened syrup over the fruit a little at a time so it doesn’t come up over the edge of the bottom crust. (Juicy peaches yield more liquid.)

Roll out the remaining dough to approximately ⅛-inch thick and cut into ½-wide pieces as long as the skillet.

For the truly talented: Lay eight strips across the pie. Fold back every other strip, and lay a horizontal strip across the center of the pie. Unfold the folded strips, and then fold back the remaining strips. Lay another horizontal strip across the pie. Repeat folding and unfolding the strips to weave a lattice pattern. Repeat on the remaining side.

For people like me: Lay your strips in one direction taking care to leave space between them. Lay the remaining strips in the other direction also leaving space between them. Voilà! Lattice on a pie so delicious that no one notices it’s not woven.

Sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake the pie for thirty minutes or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling. You may need a cookie sheet beneath the pie in the oven to catch drips. Allow the pie to stand for at least ten minutes, and then serve it warm with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Enjoy!

Side Note: Baking weights can be purchased at most cooking stores, but I find a bag of dry beans works just as well. They don’t impart flavor to your baked goods, and once they’ve cooled, you can store them in a sealed jar for future use.

Putting on the Ritz

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of family coming together in peace and thankfulness as they dine, watch football, and sleep off large amounts of consumed turkey. But in November of 1978, Shirley Tedesco has bitten off a bit more than she can chew when she decides that her family should spend the day with her wacky sister, Theresa.

Theresa almost ruins Thanksgiving dinner when she screws up Shirley’s instructions regarding the turkey. To keep Joe from noticing the shenanigans taking place in the kitchen, Shirley sets Joe up with snacks in front of the TV. One of those snacks is the well-known cracker, Ritz.

Ritz crackers have a humble history that began in 1801. John Bent, a retired sea captain, improved a recipe for hardtack biscuits (an English term used at that time) with the addition of leavening agents which produced a flat, crisp biscuit. The Bent family managed baking the new recipe while Bent traveled the countryside selling crackers from a wagon. The Kennedy Biscuit Works further refined the recipe by using sponge dough thus producing a lighter consistency.

In 1898, Bent, Kennedy Biscuit Works, and many other bakeries united to form the National Biscuit Company. In 1934, the recipe was perfected which resulted in a smooth, flaky cracker with a light, buttery flavor. Unlike the pale, square crackers widely sold at the time, this new cracker was round, golden, and had serrated edges.

The cracker received the name Ritz as a result of a company-wide naming contest. A legend exists that claims Ritzville, WA supplied the name of the cracker because the flour used in making them at the National Biscuit Company plant in Portland, OR came from Ritzville. This is pure fiction.

Mass production of Ritz crackers began in Nabisco’s North Philadelphia bakery, and the new product was introduced to the market in Philadelphia and Baltimore on November 21, 1934. Thanks to brilliant marketing that promised a taste of luxury during the Depression years, Ritz sold in the five-billion volume area during its first year of nationwide distribution in 1935. Also adding to the popularity of the mass-produced cracker was the low price of nineteen cents a box, a marketing practice made possible since Nabisco was the only baking manufacture with facilities capable of nationwide distribution at the time.

Sydney S. Stern, a Hungarian immigrant who turned personal tragedy into a prolific commercial art career, is responsible for the easily recognizable box of the world’s most famous cracker. Stern established himself as an independent commercial artist, but in 1928, after losing his wife to childbirth complications, Stern accepted a nine-to-four job with Nabisco to support his family. In one weekend, Stern, inspired by a circular label inside his hat, designed the blue circle with the word Ritz in yellow lettering. Although worried that Ritz crackers would rub Depression-era customers the wrong way, the tasty cracker and brilliant marketing had the opposite, positive effect.

Flash forward to the 1970s and the Ritz commercials where Andy Griffith quips, “Everything tastes great when it sits on a Ritz.” Griffith’s affable nature, reinforced by his television persona Sheriff Taylor, made the perfect accompaniment for a posh-tasting cracker meant to satisfy common folk. The catchy tunes sung by the handsome actor were memorable enough to keep housewives reaching for the delicious crackers when choosing hors d’oeuvres ingredients.

Unfortunately, Andy’s crooning wasn’t enough to keep Nabisco from adding high fructose corn syrup to the cracker recipe. I am unable to discover exactly when this happened, but when added to the fact that there is absolutely no fiber in a Ritz, I’m afraid the beloved cracker has been reduced to yet another processed food that has been eliminated from the Gibson family cupboards.

Southern Comfort Food

I couldn’t hold up this recipe for cornbread because a lovely wedge with melting butter is pictured with the southern fried cabbage I featured in a previous post. If you’re drooling right about now, imagine how Joe Tedesco feels when he spies this duo on the serving tables at the Mother’s Day celebration hosted by the Baptist church where his and Shirley’s friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, attend.

Naturally, Italian food tops the list of Joe’s favorites, but he’s willing to experience a little cross-cultural, culinary revolution if it means he gets to eat to his heart’s content.

Cast Iron Cornbread

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar (I use raw)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Cooking Spray

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, and butter.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together until there are no dry spots (the batter will still be lumpy). Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Allow it to stand for about five minutes to achieve a nice crown on the batter.

Bake until the top is golden brown and tester inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Side Note: This recipe can be doubled and baked in a twelve-inch cast iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes and additional five-minute increments until a tester inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean.

Order in the Court

One of my favorite peripheral characters in my novel, The Tedescos, is Officer Ted Conley. Lieutenant Conley first makes a casual appearance in a chapter where I mention him as a friend who is visiting Joe Tedesco’s bowling alley. Ted and Joe are high school football buddies who stayed in touch after graduation.

It’s probably because I grew up around cops—my dad served twenty five years as a police officer—that I subconsciously chose the profession. But then I realized how handy it was to have a cop on the scene especially with a family like the Tedescos whose escapades sometimes require the compassionate arm of the law. For this reason, Officer Ted Conley makes several more appearances in my novel as both friend and policeman.

I didn’t pin down exactly where the Tedescos live right off the bat because I want my readers to relate to them as members of their own family and/or as friends. Really, where they live isn’t as important as what goes on between them. But I mention their locale every now and then as well as drop in clues.

One such hint came from my own memories of visiting my dad at work. The police station where my dad worked is located next to the courthouse, and in front of the courthouse are two amazing lion sculptures. They are the stuff of childhood fantasy, and more than once I imagined them coming alive. They made such an impression on me as a kid that is seemed natural to have Officer Conley waiting in front of one of the lion statues to be picked up by Joe for poker night.

While the history of the courthouse is quite interesting, this blog post focuses on the lions. After the original courthouse was demolished in 1905, a new one was completed in 1908. The new building was designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style of architecture and included two male statues and two lion statues.

The two seated males, one with a scroll and the other with a sheathed sword, represent law and justice. The two carved male lions are symbols of the law’s majesty and are sculpted of Salem Limestone (commercially known as Indiana Limestone). The lions, mirror images of each other, flank the courthouse sidewalk with one facing northwest and the other facing southwest. The lions rest on their hind legs with their front legs outstretched and mouths open slightly to reveal their teeth. The pair has impressively large manes, and their tails curl around and up to rest on their backs. They are placed on limestone plinths which set on mortared sandstone bases.

The lion sculptures cost $1,160 in 1908 which, according to an inflation calculator, would be $32,127.49 in 2017. In order to position the lions without cracking the stone base blocks, large blocks of ice were placed between the lions and the stone bases. As the ice slowly melted, the lions gently came to rest on their stone bases.

The only information I could find about the sculptor was a snippet by someone commenting on another website. Supposedly, August Blepp, a master stonecutter, is responsible for the carved lions guarding the courthouse. I shall continue to search for any details regarding the sculptor and update this post as needed.

Perhaps you noticed that I still have not mentioned the location of the lions or the county in which they and the courthouse reside. I enjoy a little mystery, and I’d rather these details be revealed within my published novel. Until then, I’ve provided a picture clue of one of the lions.

Happy hunting!

Southern Fried Solution

Joe Tedesco has a big heart, and he can see that his wife, Shirley, could use some cheering up for Mother’s Day. So, he pulls out all the stops when planning Shirley’s Mother’s Day celebration. Joe also has a big appetite, and the lure of a home-cooked meal is more than he can ignore. This is why the Tedesco Family will be attending church with their friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, on Mother’s Day. The Baptist church where Smiley and Charlene are members is hosting a meal in honor of mothers, and the dishes the men will prepare are the recipes their wives and mothers use. For Joe, this translates into culinary heaven. But really, the day is all about Shirley.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene in my novel, The Tedescos. This recipe is a meal unto itself, but when paired with other Southern favorites, then Joe is right in believing it’s ecstasy for the taste buds.

Southern Fried Cabbage

6 – 10 bacon slices

4 T butter

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large head of cabbage, sliced or chopped

2 T Worchester sauce

3 T apple cider vinegar

2 T brown –OR– raw sugar

½ t hot Hungarian paprika –OR– ½ t Cajun seasoning

Sea salt

Black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

1 t crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Side Note: I used an 8-oz. package of Applegate uncured turkey bacon for this recipe which produced less fat. You will need to increase the butter to 6 T to take the place of the bacon drippings should you choose to do the same.

Slice or chop cabbage, taking care to remove any ribs and the core, and set aside.

Stack the bacon slices and cut them into strips across the width. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until brown and crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside and reserve 2 T of drippings.

Add the butter to the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion turns translucent. Add the Worchester sauce, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. Stir gently and allow the onions to caramelize slowly and the liquid to thicken as it cooks off. Return the bacon to the skillet and stir gently.

Add the cabbage and season with salt, pepper, and hot Hungarian paprika ­–OR– Cajun seasoning. Cover and allow the cabbage to cook down about half way. When the cabbage has begun to wilt, stir the mixture. Return the cover to the skillet and continue cooking until the cabbage is tender.

Remove the lid from the skillet to allow the excess liquid to cook off. Stir gently to coat the cabbage and keep it from burning. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if using. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy!

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