Slice of Life

We had a fancy dinner party last night. Lots of silver, crystal and china. Linen on the table. Fully stocked bar. Fussy (but delicious) little canapes. Lots of wine followed by tawny port.

About two hours before the guests arrived I was peeling potatoes. Midway through the second one I managed to peel off part of the nail of the little finger of my right hand. I would like to say that the blood spurted across the room, decorating the shiny fridge with artful splatter.

But instead it just welled up and out in a steady stream. For a couple of seconds I just looked at the blood dripping in the sink. I was hoping that there was just a bit of skin missing and not part of the nail. I held it under running water. It hurt like the devil and I was afraid to look.

You see, losing a nail is one of those things I’ve always dreaded. The thought of that exposed skin just makes my toes curl up under my feet. I have this image of exposed nerves just dangling there…waving in the breeze. Ready to latch onto whatever germ comes its way.

It didn’t stop bleeding for a while and I went through several bandages before my company came.

I managed to finish cooking. I was telling my guests about the mishap and explained that because of the accident their potatoes would be served with the skins.

“Whose skin?” one asked.

I’ll never tell.

 

 

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New Year’s Day Black-Eyed Peas

One New Year’s tradition in the South is eating black-eyed peas for good luck.

Many decades ago I vacationed in San Antonio with my parents and younger sister. Our family vacations were all about food. I remember going to New Orleans for upscale seafood–we dined at Antoine’s one evening with a family friend who had his own waiter there. The gulf coast was for shrimp. And Texas was for then-exotic Mexican food.

One night at the Little Rhein Steakhhouse in San Antonio we were served an amuse-bouche of black-eyed peas. The whole family loved them and they were the highlight of the night. After we returned to Franklin, my mother wrote to the steakhouse for the recipe.

They responded with the following:

5 lb dried black-eyed peas

1.5 gallons water

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1 lb butter

1/2 cup Lowery’s seasonall

2 1/2 tablespoon salt

3/4 tablespoon garlic

1 tablespoon pepper

Soak peas for two hours. Place in ovenproof dish with all other ingredients. Cook at 325  for 2 hours.

So–you probably don’t want to cook five pounds of peas. I cook one or two and cut the recipe accordingly. Be warned–sometimes two hours isn’t enough.And I add a country ham hock.

My parents used to make this for New Year’s–they’d have an open house-type party where people could come have a drink, some peas and watch some football. Cumin was a foreign commodity and had to be purchased in Nashville.

So–if you’re in the mood for a New Year’s good luck charm, try the black-eyed peas.

And best to you in 2012.

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Carol of the Bells

Most people I know go to church on Christmas Eve. Our tiny historic church has 3 services–each guaranteed to be overflowing. Instead of physically going to church on December 24, we listen to the Lessons and Carols broadcast by BBC from Kings College in Cambridge.

Tonight I took a walk around the neighborhood. “Carol of the Bells” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came on the iPod. I put it on repeat and listened for the entire walk. I don’t know the first thing about music, but I directed the choir on my walk. I’m sure my gesticulations would’ve made no sense to the choir, but they felt good to me.

A few days ago, an atheist friend told me that she was sorry that Christmas had been taken over by Christians. I had nothing to say to that.

Christmas morning is when we go to church. There’s not nearly as many people. Instead of tired children, everyone will be filled with the joy of the season. It’s a happy service.

Then we’ll make the family rounds…home by 3 or 4 to relax and read by the fire.

Merry Christmas to you all. Thanks for reading and best wishes for an extraordinary new year.

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The 2011 Kindle Reading List

I got my Kindle in September 2010. Since then, I’ve read more–and spent more on books–than in the previous¬† 4 or 5 years put together.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the electronic goodness–you see, it delivers instant gratification, via Whispernet, in mere seconds. I can sit in my favorite blue club chair by the window in the bedroom upstairs and have a new book at my fingertips in an instant.

This past year I’ve read best sellers and old favorites. My Kindle has been across the Atlantic twice–to England in January and to Switzerland in May. It will go to the Keys next month and to France in April.

What I realized tonight is that I have a perfect record of everything I’ve read in the last year. In case you’re wondering why I’ve been reading instead of blogging, just check out these books–they were all fabulous. This isn’t the complete list–I’ve left out the chick lit and mass market pablum.

1. Swamplandia–a mystical tale of alligator wrestling, faux Indians and Florida swamps.

2. A Season of Darkness–true crime story about a famous murder mystery in Nashville

3. All That Is Bitter and Sweet–Ashley Judd’s surprisingly moving memoir

4. Winter’s Bone–My work pal Seth and I often trade book recommendations. This tale of a family in the Ozarks was great.

5. Heidi–Downloaded this on a train in the Alps. What else could you read in Switzerland?

6. Eiger Dreams–Another Swiss inspired purchase. Jon Krackaeur is the master of real-life adventure stories. Please read Into This Air if you don’t believe me.

7. The Swinger–a thinly disguised story about the downfall of Tiger Woods by a Sports Illustrated reporter. Great fun.

8. In the Garden of Beasts–the only nonfiction. It’s about the U.S. ambassador in Berlin in the years leading up to WWII. It’s by Erik Larson who also wrote the terrific Devil in the White City about a murder during the Chicago World’s Fair a century ago.

9. The Women’s Room–an oldie I first read in college. Just one of those books that sticks with you.

10. The Hunger Games trilogy–I had been resisting these books for a couple of years, much like the Twilight offerings. But once I read the first one, I was completely hooked.¬† I loved all three–read them in two weeks.

11. English murder mysteries–I went on a little English murder mystery spree courtesy of G.M. Malliet. Personally, I think that heaven may just be an English village with a cozy pub at one end and a Norman church at the other.

12. Death Comes to Pemberly–P.D. James meets Jane Austen. The queen of English murder mysteries writes a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Love, love, love.

13. Rules of Civility–the story of a girl with no family connections and no money making her way through high society in New York in the last days of the Depression. A great read.

14. The Marriage Plot–I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s hard to go wrong with anything by Jeffrey Eugenidies.

So that’s my self-indulgent list. If you can only read one or two, please make it Swamplandia and Rules of Civility.

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Making the Dressing

For the past several years, I’ve had my family over for Thanksgiving. I love having Thanksgiving at my house. Thanksgiving is at the beginning of the eating, drinking, dressing up extravaganza known as “the holidays.” At Thanksgiving, people aren’t burned out with parties.

Expectations are still possible.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. But Christmas comes with lots of baggage–all wrapped up with bows and ribbons–but baggage, nonetheless.

I’ve been shopping for the big day for a while now. I thought I was done after my first grocery store visit today. But I forgot a couple of needed items and now I can say that my dinner came from 6 different purveyors of food and drink.

And I’m only making three items–the turkey, dressing and a green veg: asparagus with saffron aioli.

Which all brings me to tomorrow. It’s dressing day.

I love making dressing.

Not stuffing. I don’t put anything in my turkey except herbs, onion and lemon.

I make dressing.

Cornbread. Toasted white bread. Sausage. Sauteed onion and celery. Pecans. Chicken stock. Herbs.

People say they like it. I hope so.

I only make it once a year, but it’s my favorite thing to make, ever.

So on Thursday 17 people will gather at my house. They’ll bring green beans, squash, hummingbird cake and apple pie, cranberry salad, rolls and wine.

My sister is in charge of gravy and everyone will help along the way.

The table still needs to be set and the silver needs to be polished.

But first, I have to make the dressing.

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Backyard History

With all my travels to ancient places, I sometimes forget about the ancient history here in Middle Tennessee. While we don’t have any Medieval cathedrals or Romanesque ruins, we do have the remnants of a Native American culture called the Mississippians.

The Mississippians started somewhere around 800 AD in the Mississippi and spread west into Missouri and south and east into Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, among other states. They were mound builders, and today those mounds dot the area. No doubt that thousands have been lost due to erosion and cultivation, but the ones that remain are protected and preserved.

One of the best examples of a Mississippi settlement near here is called Mound Bottom along the Harpeth River. In this area, the Harpeth snakes along bluffs and meadows, curling almost back on itself in places. Mound Bottom–which is maybe 20-30 acres–is in a horseshoe bend and is encircleled by the river except for one thin neck of land that leads out and up onto the ridge behind it. It was easy to defend and because the land is so close to the river, it’s very fertile.

What’s left today is one very large mound and several smaller ones around it.

We hiked out to the mounds a couple of weeks ago with a guide from the state park that oversees them. The area is not usually accessible, so we were happy to see it.

From the top of the largest mound, you can see several others around it.

(I am fighting with WordPress today–this photo really isn’t this blurry.)

So, from the top of the mound, you can see others around it. Most of these mounds were ceremonial, not used for burials. Each of these smaller mounds would’ve been part of a plaza where a family lived–probably in homes built of logs and mud. Additionally, a large fence, or palisade was erected along the border.

Mound Bottom was probably built around 950 and it is thought that it’s original purpose was as a meeting place. It evolved into quite a city and was then abandoned about 400 years later.

It wasn’t until 1823 that the site was rediscovered and about a hundred years after that archaeologists from the Smithsonian conducted extensive research here. Lots of artifacts were unearthed and much was learned about this early culture.

People often decry the lack of historical culture and significance of the United States. History snobs should remember though that our patch of land is exactly the same age as the patches where Druids roamed, where Alexander the Great battled and where caves were painted. You don’t have to travel far to see ancient history. It’s in your own backyard.

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Blame it on Technology

Earlier this year my laptop started acting hinkier and hinkier. Pages would take forever to load. Simple commands like cut, paste and enter were ignored. It was petulant and pouty and I finally bit the bullet and started shopping for a new one.

I settled on an inexpensive HP with Windows 7 and Explorer 9. I love Macs–my very first computer was a tiny little Mac with an external hard drive that crashed if you looked at it wrong–but I just can’t justify the $$.

So I brought my new HP home and within an hour I was all hooked up to the wifi and the email was working perfectly.

I am technology goddess.

For a day.

Then I went to the New York Times, as I do every day, to work the crossword puzzle.

Of course, this being a new computer, all my saved passwords and settings are gone. No sweat, I thought. I’ll just log in manually and take it from there.

First log in attempt failed.

So did the second one.

By the fifth failed attempt, I got a message that I had tried too many times and to come back later.

Thus began several weeks of frustration and futility. Emails and phone calls only served to reinforce every bad stereotype you’ve ever held about IT geeks. They talked to me like I was 12 in accents I couldn’t fathom. (Probably a good thing, because I’m sure that if I had understood everything they said I would’ve been even madder.)

After a while, I just gave up and for several weeks worked the puzzle at work.

Until yesterday.

I ditched Explorer and downloaded Firefox.

The sun came out. Rainbows arched across my roof. Unicorns and bunnies frolicked in my yard.

Thank you, Mozilla. Wish we’d met sooner.

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