Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sunday Peas

 Mother love takes many forms.  One of the more common ones is cooking for the family.  Although it seems that, nowadays, as many dads as mothers serve as primary meal preparers, back when I was a child, that job, along with most others having to do with hearth and home, fell to the woman.  And that woman, at least in my neighborhood, proudly saw cooking as central to her identity and vocation.

Not so much my mother.

At Mama's funeral in 2003, my brother lovingly began his eulogy with “There wasn’t a can our mother wouldn’t open to feed her family.”

Mama was a modern woman, an Army lieutenant  who served as a physical therapist in Australia during WWII.  And, being a modern woman, Mama loved new technology, including those newfangled aluminum containers called cans.  If food could sit on a shelf for months or even years without going bad, it had to be good.

 Although Mama maintained that anyone who could read could cook, she was the living embodiment of that untruth. She was a smart and interesting woman but her genius didn't run to the culinary arts. 

Mama just wasn’t interested in cooking.  She was interested in fishing and crabbing and painting, and sewing and knitting and refinishing furniture, and whatever else took her fancy, like learning to play (badly) the small organ she set up in the breakfast room.  This alternative use of a space designed for enjoying meals  provides insight as to the place food held in her psyche.  Mama was one of those “eat to live” as opposed to “live to eat” people.

My mother was also an outsider.  After all, she wasn’t from Georgia.  She was from Arizona of all places.  Folks knew she wasn't a yankee but they couldn’t quite figure out what she was.  Because of her legacy, Mama wasn’t a southern cook.  She didn’t know about fatback or collards and she wasn’t going to waste any time finding out. She did blame Daddy for not telling her that grits should be salted during cooking to make them anywhere near palatable, but she couldn't blame him for her Sunday Peas.

Every Sunday, if I remember correctly, we gathered around our big oak table in the dining room, eating either oven fried chicken coated with Bisquick or chuck roast in aluminum foil.  And with those enticing entrees, we typically had Sunday Peas, which consisted of LeSueur peas heated up with a pat of margarine.

Other days of the week, we had supper in the kitchen at our red formica table, enjoying Salisbury Steak, which was, in our reality, one giant hamburger patty. Mama gave us each a wedge after she sliced it in the frying pan. We also had Chop Suey, which was made with pork chop pieces and canned bean sprouts.  We, of course, also enjoyed that 1950s staple, canned peaches, pears, or fruit cocktail with the requisite dollop of mayonnaise topped with a scattering of grated American cheese.

I remember that our mother always made my brother and me a Boston Cream Pie for our birthdays.  From a Betty Crocker mix.  We called it Boston Cream Pie Cake because it actually was a cake, and we loved it, especially that instant pudding part in the middle.   Mama’s sour cream pound cake, never much of a hit but something she continued to bake throughout her life, should have been called a three-pound cake.

A childhood friend recently reminded me of the time Mama baked  marbles in the oven.  This was a project for our Brownie troop.  The baking of the marbles caused them to crack in an attractive way and we Brownies were then to glue the marbles to fittings in order to make bracelets.  I can't imagine how she found that idea without Pinterest. 

Recalling Mama's bad cooking reminds me of what a wonderful mother she was.   She was kind and creative and loving and brave, and she was a great role model for a little girl (and a grown women).

I think about my mother when I sew or paint or write or think about taking piano lessons, grateful that I had her as a role model.  

Not so gratefully, I also think about her when I cook.

In case any of you would like my mother's recipe for Sunday Peas, please see below.

Sunday Peas
1 can LeSueur peas
pat of margarine

open can
pour peas in pan
turn on the burner
add margarine
serves 4

You might want to add a dash of salt, although Mama never did.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Three Hundred Bucks at Bacchanalia

When Joe asked me where I wanted to go to celebrate my sixty-fifth birthday, I think he was hoping for Free Beer Glass Night at Taco Mac, but I picked Bacchanalia.  Bacchanalia has been on my radar since I first moved to Atlanta and saw it at the top of every list of best restaurants in the metro area.  I became even more interested the first time I happened upon Star Provisions with my friend, Nancy.  Star Provisions is owned by the Bacchanalia folks and it is made up of a darling set of small shops where you can buy wine, cheese, meats, and gifts for any foodie or foodie wanna-be.  You can even grab a deli sandwich and a pickle there and eat on the premises, which is what Nancy and I did.  

However, the most interesting part of the Star Provisions Bacchanalia connection, to me, is that you must walk through Star Provisions to get to Bacchanalia, kind of like a high-end Cracker Barrel. 

So I chose Bacchanalia and sweet Joe agreed, even though he knew it was pricy.  They have a prix-fixe menu, which means that, once they get you in there, you aren’t getting out without some pain to your pocket book or an attempt to sell one of your grandkids.  They also have wine pairings for each of their five courses, glasses of which they will be happy for you to purchase in addition to the five courses for which you are already paying an astronomical amount.

I must say I was nervous.  Joe and I had worried over the wine part since we aren’t exactly wine enthusiasts.  We kept hearing that the wine with each course is part of the experience and that we should immerse ourselves in the experience.  However, we also needed to immerse ourselves in paying our February bills and survive the drive home.   

In addition to worries about the wine and the bank we were going to have to rob to pay for our outing, we also couldn’t quite figure out what to wear.  We didn’t want to look like Bacchanalia virgins so I nixed my evening gown and rented tux idea.  

We eventually decided to dress somewhat up but not way up, hoping not to stand out, and arrived a few minutes early for the first seating.  But even as early as it was, it looked like the lights were out in Star Provisions.  Had they closed early in honor of my birthday?  

Perhaps because of the darkened demeanor of the Star Provisions entry,  and instead of listening to logical birthday-girl me and trying the door, Joe decided to take it upon himself to see if there was an alternative entrance.  Before I knew it he was jiggling the back door of Bacchanalia of all places, where the entire waitstaff was collectively hiding, trying to enjoy their last sane moment before the wild rumpus began.

To their credit, the waiting/hiding waiters were kind about our faux pas and assured us that they would escort us to the front door, and that we weren’t the only ones ever to arrive through the service door. So there we went, in our middle-best clothes, the only people not dressed in white toques and starched jackets, being guided like little lost lambs to the front, to the place we were supposed to be.

Because we were early and a bit unraveled, we opted to sit at the bar and have a drink before being seated at our table.  The first thing I noticed was that the décor wasn’t at all what I had expected,  based on the name of the establishment.  When I think of bacchanalia, I think of Rubinesque opulence.  This Bacchanalia was minimalist, with sand-colored ceramic-tiled walls and simple shades instead of heavy draperies.  Aside from the large window giving us a view of the kitchen with prep underway, the only other decorative touches were two large paintings.  The one closest to us was of a woman who was working in the field (perhaps picking our second course?) with a tiny unformed head  and  her body large and square - Picasso-esque at the top and Diego Rivera-ish at the bottom.  And, as Joe pointed out, she wasn't wearing any panties. 

After we finished at the bar, we were led to our small table, and that’s where the coddling began.  Reams of people kept stopping by and offering us delectable things.  This gifting reminded me of the times my cat brought dead or dying rodents to my door, lovingly placing them on the mat for me to enjoy.   

Water?, bread?, another drink?, an amuse bouche?, more bread?, more water?  Then, as our heads were beginning to swim what with all the water, the main attraction lady came by with the menu, the dreaded menu with five choices for each of five courses along with the wine pairings!  She quickly put us at ease, however, explaining how it all worked and how we didn’t have to have wine if we didn’t want it, sweetly indicating that they wouldn’t be laughing their asses off at us back in the kitchen, with our firstly not knowing where the door was and secondly refusing their perfectly-paired wine.

The meal was lovely, with each of us ordering different dishes for each course and tasting the others choice.  And, because it is what they call a "tasting menu" we were able to enjoy each delectable bite without puking.

They even brought me a tiny cake with Happy Birthday written in perfect chocolate penmanship on the plate because Big Mouth told them the occasion.  And they didn't make me stand up while the entire staff marched out singing and clapping like they do at Golden Corral.

After Joe paid the three hundred dollar bill (including tip)  and we were leaving through Star Provisions like we were supposed to do, I noticed  a group of people sitting at a farm table, eating bread and cheese from the cute bread and cheese shops and sharing a bottle of wine from the wine shop.  At first I felt a tad duped in that I was pretty sure their meal wasn't costing them as much as ours did Joe.  

But, then again, they didn’t get to see the lady with the tiny head and no panties.

Monday, February 9, 2015

When I'm 64 (I mean 5)

Darn it!   I'm too old  even to use the Beatles song as a title for my birthday blog posting.  The one we laughed about in 1967 when it was released because we would never, ever be that age.  Never.

How could this possibly happen?  I sometimes look at someone I know to be in her 50s and I think, yes, I'm old just like her.  And then I remember and realize that I am, indeed, a whole different kind of old.  And that realization sucks.

So, on my 65th birthday, here are 10 things I'm rather pissed about:

  1. Medicare - really? How embarrassing.
  2. I can’t drive at night and nobody needs me changing lanes at any time.
  3. My feet hurt.
  4. I have bruise that looks like Abraham Lincoln on my shin.  Just from barely hitting my leg while getting into the tub.  Joe says it might be Jesus, and that, if I can maintain it, perhaps I will become rich and famous.
  5. I have the hands of a 100 year old farm worker.  I swear, my Aunt Madge, who is 97 and lives at Baptist Village in Waycross, is revolted by how old my hands look.
  6. I have wrinkled everything. 
  7. Eyebrows.  What eyebrows?
  8. I can’t see in the dark or the light.  Joe and I went to an avant-garde play at the Actors Express and I was trying to get to the bathroom but ended up heading backstage, at which point Joe started hollering "Marcia! Marcia!  The other way!  The bathroom is the other way!"  I do believe some of the members of the audience thought I was part of the play.
  9. Small print and mumblers.
  10. Words and names.  I can't remember any of them. Especially under duress.

 But, come to think of it, the Beatles, just like the rest of us, did age.  Except for John and George, who never had the privilege.   Just like some of us.

Therefore, I guess I need to also include 10 things that are pretty rad about being 65.

  1. Medicare - I'm happy to have it but I must say that I'm worried about my card.  It's just paper, no lamination.  What the hell?  I've had it just a couple of months (they send it early) and it's already looking worn.  I would laminate it myself but I'm afraid I'll be put in prison or something.  Old people's prison.  All the old people who laminated their Medicare cards.
  2. My grown children and their children. Humans I hadn't met or even conjured up in my heart yet back in 1967.
  3. Joe - what a surprise he was (and still is) to me, especially at my advanced age and level of disrepair.
  4. Joe’s family - they're mostly Yankees but I'm able to overlook that.
  5. Old friends who still love me and young friends who help me navigate this new world.
  6. Teacher retirement.  One of the last things my daddy told me before he died was not to cash in my teacher retirement.  I didn't and now I'm very very very glad.
  7. Only having to shave my legs about once a year.  My yearly shaving is when I noticed the bruise that looks like Abe/Jesus.
  8. Enjoying Atlanta while most of the population is at work or school.  The Waffle House is much more relaxing without all the hungover weekenders. 
  9. Old people's classes at Emory and the senior fares on Marta we learned about at the old people's classes at Emory.  I do have to add that old people can be really annoying.
  10. Not having to worry about a tan.  Who would notice it through all the wrinkles?
 So, here's to 65, I guess.  From someone somewhat pissed but very happy to still be here.








Friday, February 6, 2015

Dinner at the Colonnade

Joe had never been, so we went.  I had been before, but I went again. 

We had recently read that the Colonnade is one of those iconic Atlanta restaurants every Atlantan should visit at least once, so we did.  We took the scenic route, from I-85, down Cheshire Bridge Road, past the Tara Theater, the Original Pancake House, the sex-toy shops and strip clubs, and an apparel store called Fresh 2 Def, arriving in record time. 

We knew that the Colonnade is a favored dinner destination for both the Gays and the Grays.  We also knew that the Gays don’t arrive until later and the Grays go early.  Since we aren’t gay, we went early.  However, we miscalculated our time and got there at 4:40, which is early even for the Colonnade.  So, although it wasn’t officially Happy Hour in our time zone, we decided to stop at the bar and have a drink.  The bar, itself, wasn’t added to the Colonnade until 1982 and that must have been the last time it was decorated.  The walls are covered with book shelf motif wallpaper for that fake library look, whereas the restaurant, itself, is more hunt clubbish.

  Joe was sad that there was no draft beer to be found in the Colonnade bar but he made do with an Alagash Black from a bottle.  I, however, already knew that they had Jack Daniels and Diet Coke, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to go.  Joe picked up a basket of chips from the bar, along with our drinks, and brought it all to the table.  I do believe the chips must have been part of the original décor for the grand opening in 1982, and there may or may not have been a synthetic, polyester-like, onion flavor languishing in their aged carcasses.  As stale as they were, we managed, with minor chewing and major complaining, to put them out of their misery before we finished our drinks and retired to the dining room.

The host who seated us at our cloth-covered table was friendly, as was our waiter, Eric, a courtly black gentleman who knew his way around the dining room AND the Early Bird Dinner menu.  Other than Eric, there wasn’t a single person there under 60, with white heads shining like beacons and bald pates adding additional luster to the surroundings.  According to Eric, Early Bird Dinner is Monday through Thursday from 5 to 6:30, and we could see it was quite the deal.  No wonder there were so many liver-embellished hands gripping the daily insert and rheumy eyes reading the large print, ours included.  

Sitting near us was an unusual looking duo, even for the Colonnade: two men, most likely not gay as it was too early, both sporting longish white hair combed back, one with a robust beard and the other wearing faded overalls.  At first glance, I took them as OTP (Outside the Perimeter of Atlanta for those of you who are OTP).  At second glance, I thought they had to be way OTP, maybe from Barrow or Effingham County.  However, at first eavesdropping, I realized that, at the very least,  one of them, the one I could hear, the one in the overalls, had the language and cadence of someone learned, perhaps a retired professor, now free-range turkey farmer,  or an oddball poet.

When Eric was ready with his pad and pencil, I ordered the Early Bird chicken-fried chicken, along with mashed potatoes and pepper gravy, and green been casserole.  Joe, taking umbrage at the lack of dark meat in the chicken-fried chicken option, decided on the NON Early Bird (and more expensive) normal fried chicken, along with mashed potatoes and pepper gravy, and pole beans.  As Eric was finishing up our order, I couldn’t help but show my disdain that Joe, the Yankee, was ordering such an old-fashioned Southern side dish as the pole beans.

“Who orders pole beans?”, I asked incredulously?  “Do you even like pole beans?”

To which Joe said, “I don’t know what pole beans are.” 

And Eric offered, wryly and ruefully rolling his eyes, “Oh, we sell a BUNCH of pole beans!”

Dinner turned out to be just great in spite of our rocky start with the aged chips.  Both the chicken and the chicken-fried chicken were superb, with just the right amount of lard and salt, and the mashed potatoes were real potatoes with a few lumps thrown in to make us believers.  Furthermore, the green bean casserole was cheesy and Joe ate all of his pole beans.

But the biggest surprise came at the end when Eric told me I got a dessert with my Early Bird dinner and the evening’s offering was apple cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream!  I was nice enough to share my Early Bird dessert with Joe even though he didn't really deserve it since he hadn't ordered from the Early Bird menu.

As we were leaving, I overheard the professor/turkey farmer/oddball poet say this to his dining partner as they were finishing up their dinner:

“The worst thing that ever happened to the South was not the Civil War.  It was the death of the chestnut tree.”

As Joe paid the bill, I took five mints from the dish next to the cash register, using the tiny spoon.   One white, one green, one yellow, and two pink, I ate them all.

When we returned home, I googled “death of the chestnut tree.” 

Yep.  It died.

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