Mar 31, 2010

Ode to Ovella

So many of y'all, like myself, have devoured The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  Earlier this week, I was reading an interesting article in the New York Times regarding the book's success, and criticism of the book.  Apparently, The Help has received a fair amount of flack for being racist, which is possibly due to the fraught situation of a white woman writing in the voice of African-American woman in the 1960's.  However, this irritates me to no end!  Does anyone criticize the legions of male authors who write in a female voice? Hmmph.

The Help was especially poignant to me because of my own special relationship with my "fake grandmother" Ovella.  Y'all, I was composing this post in my head last night before I went to sleep, and became so emotional.  I'm glad Hubs was in Columbia for work- he would have thought I was a crazy person when he glanced over at me and saw tears streaming down my face. He already thinks I'm pretty nutty actually, so it might not make too much  of a difference, I suppose.

Ovella came into my family's life when Mama was three, and cute as a button (though probably no less trouble than her two older sisters and older brother)-
It was about 1954 and Ovella  had recently moved to Knoxville from working in a house in Buckhead.  She grew up on a farm in Georgia on a farm with 15 brothers and sisters- including 2 sets of twins.  Ovella had a twin named Rosella, who died when she was born.  The other set of girl twins were named Novella and Osella.  I can't remember them now, but as a child I loved to reel off the names of all sixteen, memorized like a nursery rhyme. Many of the siblings died, so there were eight children growing up, with Ovella as the baby.  This was baffling to me as a child since the youngest was my baby brother- hard to imagine a seventy year old woman being the baby when you're five.

I love this picture- I look so content in Vella's arms.
Ovella did not have children of her own, as she married David later in life.  David had worked on the railroad and lost a leg in the process.  He had a wooden leg which was fascinating to my brother and I.  He was also a preacher, and they were very involved in their church.  At her funeral many words were spoken about Deaconess Wilmer, and what a godly woman she was.  Every time I make a bed, I think of Ovella singing hymns under her breath, and teaching me to "smooth out the wrinkles."
Aunt Becca, cousin Amanda, Aunt Rachel, Ovella, Me, Aunt Mary, and Brother

Ovella saved my Aunt Becca's life. Two more little girls had followed my mama (they don't call it the baby boom for nothing).  Aunt Becca had somehow found a box of matches which she was delightedly against all instructions was playing with- this was the 60's when everyone smoked, or if they did not, like my grandparents, provided the accouterments to do so for their guests.  Ovella was going about her work, when she heard screams.  She dashed into the room where Becca was engulfed in flames.  With quick thinking and disregard for her own safety, Ovella grabbed Becca and rolled her up in a rug, dousing the fire.  Both went to the hospital, but my aunt's life was saved.

This is my brother returned from a four-wheeling adventure, muddy as he can be, much to Vella's bemusement. 
Ovella taught me so much, from bed-making and dusting, to living life with grace, humility and faith (a lesson which I will always be struggling to learn).  As I grew older, I simply introduced her to people as my grandmother, preferring that designation of the longer explanation of how she was part of our family.  Although, we shared no blood, she was in fact my grandmother through love. 

My family still uses Ovella's words of praise whenever there is an achievement whether small or great- "You're so smmaaah-art!" It was great praise indeed.

Oh law, I had so much more to say, but now I'm tearing up again thinking of her funeral and the minister calling us her "white family", hee.   So discussion time readers- did you think The Help was racist?  Was there an Ovella in your or your parents' lives?

Mar 30, 2010

Basketball, Babies, and Booze

So Friday was a big basketball game for UT, with Tennessee beating Ohio State for their first appearance in the Elite Eight.  Y'all, I am from Knoxville and went Georgia.  Unlike our neighbors to the north, I really could give two figs about basketball, but I do like a party!

As does MOH of course.
So we all went to Peg and Hunter's and drank and ate (except for the profusion of pregnant people who longingly looked at my wine).  As per the course with game watching events, about 25 males populated the basement, while us ladies watched the upstairs television.  I don't know why we are in middle school dance formation circa sixth grade, but that's how it goes round these parts sometimes. 

I became a little bored with basketball, and entertained myself with Miss MC, who was in full Vols regalia, including tiny little patent leather orange driving loafers.  She was in good spirits and even amenable to being licked by our hosts' pup- the handsome Cooper.

Peg's neighbor, and my Sunday School student, little Miss Clara showed up- she was being very shy.  Her mom, who attended Auburn, thought she was confused by the level of female cheering and shouting for a sporting event.  Her shyness dissipated by Sunday, and she waved her palm with abandon when we said "Hosanna!".  

A lovely evening, capped off by seeing some old friends, a having a couple of icepicks at our local favorite watering hole.

Unfortunately, Sunday's game was not so kind to the Vols, and Hubs was too depressed to go see Hot Tub Time Machine with me and some friends.  Not sure it would have cheered him too much- a little too stupid for me, btu an excellent Sunday post-nap and walk diversion.

Have y'all seen it?  Did you watch any good games this weekend?

Mar 29, 2010

Now I Feel Like a Grownup

So to ease the pain of not being able to run the half marathon yesterday- (my shin splints are killing me every time I run more than eight miles), I had a little family dinner party Saturday that's been a long time coming.  Our dear family friends, the Smiths, who had not seen the condo since it looked like this-

Oh, the absolutely disgusting bachelor pad.  There was carpet everywhere else, which had never been cleaned.

Thank goodness it now looks like this-

I have tons of recipes for y'all today!  First up is an extremely simple appetizer which I created on the fly.  They might not look very pretty, but they are super tasty.

Fig-Gorgonzola Nibbles-
Take one sheet of thawed puff pastry
Lay in on a lightly floured surface, and brush with melted butter
Cut the puff pastry into squares
Spread with a fig jam or spread (if you nuke the jar for about 20 seconds it makes it far easier to spread)
Top the square with Gorgonzola crumbles
Bake at 350 for about 20- 30 minutes, until puffed and toasty.

Some Parrano, nuts, and nibbles on the coffee table.

My brother and his lovely lady, Em, both of who had just returned from Barcelona Friday evening.  Brother did run the half marathon (finishing at 1:56 with jet lag in the rain!).

Everyone eating and listening to a story my brother is telling  about his tacky neighbors.  It was a good one.

Mama and Brother.

Em, Daddy, and David

So, I forgot to take pics of our food- but you can see it on people's plates.  I have been waiting to use this recipe for a while, but I always get nervous trying a recipe for the first time with a big group. 

Chicken Marbella ( recipe and notes from the Silver Palate cookbook)
This was the first main-course dish to be offered at The Silver Palate, and the distinctive colors and flavors of the prunes, olives and capers have kept it a favorite for years. It's good hot or at room temperature. When prepared with small drumsticks and wings, it makes a delicious hors d'oeuvre. The overnight marinating is essential to the moistness of the finished product: the chicken keeps and even improves over several days of refrigeration; it travels well and makes excellent picnic fare. Since Chicken Marbella is such a spectacular party dish, we give quantities to serve 10 to 12, but the recipe can be divided to make smaller amounts if you wish.

Servings: 10-12 servings

4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives (I added another 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice (I added another 1/2 cup)
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.
At this point I removed the chicken and took off the bone, because I HATE eating chicken on the bone (unless it's fried) at dinner parties.  I think it's difficult to cut and eat in front of others. Yes, I realize that I am a touch neurotic.  I mixed the chicken pieces back in the sauce, covered it and put back in the oven until we were ready to eat at 300 degrees.

With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauce boat.
I served with cous cous and had my guest spoon the chicken and sauce over the cous cous to soak up all the delicious sauce.  Yum!

Leftovers are even better, so you could easily make this the day before and have a completely relaxing dinner party day, beautifying yourself and your home in anticipation of your guests.

Mar 26, 2010

My Secret Love

Well, not so secret since I just told the interwebs about it.  And all my friends in real life know this (I think).

I am a huge Grateful Dead fan, especially the Pigpen years.   I  jam out to my Dead channel on Sirius all of the time, all thanks to my Jordan Catalano freshman year of high school who was a big fan.  I had to impress him, so I started listening.  The Dead's a band I always come back to, and never really get sick of.  Love them.

Much to my surprise, so does Tory Burch!  Check out this on her website

She may be preppy, but Miz Burch is a deadhead.  This makes me inordinately happy for some reason.   As does the BLT with avocado I had for dinner last night.  It's the little things, y'all.

What's your secret music love?  Don't be embarrassed- I listen to everything, and adore guilty pleasures (such as the Spice Girls and vast amount of J. Lo which reside on my ipod).

Mar 25, 2010

Girls in White Dresses With Blue Satin Sashes

A few of my favorite things-
1) Forsythia

Spring keeps creeping up on me- the warm weather induced me to throw out all my ratty torn-up tights and hose, leaving me barelegged during the inevitable return of winter weather.  However, many of my favorite things are out in abundance.  Like forsythia!
There is tons of forsythia bushes outside the condo.  Unfortunately they are pruned and clipped (but still make me joyous).  When I was little I used to hide in a forsythia bush and read by book, tucked under the blooms.  Such a pretty name too- Forsythia.  Hubs, maybe we can name a daughter Forsythia?  Forsythia Faye?

2) A big stack of cheap fun books! 

Do y'all have a good used bookstore?  We have McKay's and it is heavenly! I've been in a light mood lately, so I finished off "LoveHampton" (cute), and am now reading "Notting Hell".  Buying books I read in a matter of hours is not quite so guilt ridden when they cost a dollar.  Also, I am very excited about Sophie Dahl and Dominick Dunne's "Too Much Money", which was just released.  Some cookbooks and Ruth Reichl round out the mix, along with some historical fiction in Emma Donoghue's "The Sealed Letter".  I read her novel "Slammerkin" which was engrossing yet a bit depressing.

3) Folk Art

My lion by Crystal King.

The Red Fox by Cornbread Anderson
Kids Flying Kites by Woodie Long- we bought this on our honeymoon, and Woodie passed away this fall.  Hubs at first was very unsure about art choices (he's more of a print of your college stadium on game-day type of guy), especially my love of folk art, and my plans to fill our home with all sorts of folk art.  I think he's come around though.  He is a fan of our newest piece, which I dreamed about for a week this cold, long winter. . .

Day Lilies by me.  Maybe I could begin a new career-  painting in the tear down house sitting on our property, wearing big old shirts of Hubs', and puttering about a vegetable garden?   I need a folk artist name though.  . .

Forsythia Faye? Done and done!

Mar 24, 2010

Mzungu in Africa

I started wearing the kerchief to try to disguise my blonde hair- it did help.  My hair drew some unwanted attention due to the arrival of internet cafés to my town.  As embarrassedly explained by my boss Frieda, "Your yellow hair is bad because of the sexy on the internet."  That one took me a while, but boiled down to the fact that the majority of women in porn have blonde hair.  Therefore, Tanzanian men, who don't see blondes on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, except on the rare occasion they use the internet, assume that all women with blonde hair are big ole slut buckets.  Exactly the image I want to project while completely alone in a third world country with a high rate of AIDS.

Coupled with the fact that all Americans are rich (a just perception considering the circumstances which most residents of Arusha see Americans- on luxury safari), I was the perfect wife- rich and promiscuous!  The marriage proposals came left and right- my "mama" would retort "My daughter is here to teach school, not to get married!"

Ha- you can see how I stand out in this picture- also, in the foreground is the dreaded dala dala which I refused to ride, preferring to walk 4 miles home. I didn't realize until I had been walking to work at dawn for a couple of months that I was strolling through the worst part of town that mzungus were never supposed to visit.  Oops.

Also, the background shows the mountains which surrounded us- on a clear day you could see Mt. Kilimanjaro from our kitchen window.
I loved this sign for a school near my home.  The little students would walk by wearing the exact same uniform as the statutes on the sign.

When Mama came to visit, we spent a couple days living my volunteer lifestyle, then went on safari where I had a shower for the first time in many months.  Have I told y'all about my bathing situation? Taking a bucket, as I referred to it?  I (or Anna the sweet house girl who did not like me tackling chores in her domain) would heat water on the stove.  I would drag the bucket into the washroom area, which had a sort of shower stall. I added cool water to the hot, dipped a cup in bucket, and dumped its contents on my head.  I have very thick hair and tromped around in ten feet and ten miles of mud everyday.  It was time for an actual shower.

I love this picture of Mama in the tree.

My favorite thing on safari was the big cats, more specifically the lions.
Maybe because I'm a Leo, maybe because we have the same coloring, but I have always loved lions.  Feels a but childish to have a favorite animal, but there it is.  Lions and golden retrievers. Love them.

If we could afford it, and if Hubs would have been into it, I think an East African safari would be the most amazing honeymoon ever. Dream trip- maybe someday.  What is your dream trip?

Mar 23, 2010

Someone's In the Kitchen With Samma Faye

Spinach Artichoke Dip is one of my go to recipes- it's easy, accessible, and perfect for a crowd.  I love looking at cookbooks which I use frequently and seeing the splatters and stains on the pages from my cooking.  Is that weird?  Probably.

Anyway, this recipe is from Cooks Illustrated's The Best Make Ahead Recipe.  I highly recommend any of their cookbooks, especially if you are a nerd like myself and enjoy all the scientific testing that goes in to determine the best recipe possible.  Maybe that should be my career- the Spice and Sass Test Kitchen.  Hmmm, my hair does skew rather mad scientist at times, especially after sleeping with it wet.

First toss a pack of frozen artichokes with a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Pop those babies in a 450 degree oven and roast for about 25-30 minutes, until the chokes are a touch crispy. Try to only pick off and eat the ones stuck to the aluminum foil, or toss an extra package on there for munching if you love artichokes like me.

While those are roasting, sauté a chopped onion and a couple of chopped cloves of garlic (or more- I am a fan of keeping any vampires at bay- if you're making this planning on making out with someone, maybe should keep it to 2).  If your married, or your potential make-out partner is a garlic fan- have at 3-4 cloves!

 Add one frozen box of chopped spinach- SQUEEZE all of the water of this in a colander with (several) dishcloths.  You can use paper towels, but you will use a goodly amount of the roll. Add the spinach to the onions and garlic and sauté away!

Let the artichokes cool a bit, then roughly chop them.

In a bowl, mix mayo, cream cheese at room temperature, Parmesan, lemon juice, thyme and red pepper together.  If you forget your lemons, like I have a tendency to do, you can sub a little white wine.  The acidity brings out the flavors of the spinach and chokes.  Add the spinach mixture and artichokes- I like to do this while they are warm because it helps soften the cream cheese, which I never remember to bring to room temperature.

Put in a baking dish- this pictured here is a triple recipe because it's for eighty people.  Cook at 350 for about 30 minutes.  Yum!  You can use reduced fat cream cheese and reduce the amount of mayo, or add some extra spinach if trying to be waist conscious.

Moving on to green beans.  I did a couple pounds of fresh, but they aren't really in season yet, and my desire to string enough beans for 70-80 people was rather nonexistent.  Allens to the rescue!
Here's the recipe, from Paula Deen.  I leave out the taters, because. . .I don't know, just not a fan.
Hubs was excited to have bacon Saturday morning- I just needed the grease to sauté the fatback in!

After the beans cook for a bit add the onion.
Then cook until delicious disintegration- but as Paula instructs "Don't drown the beans in chicken broth!"
Mine are drowning a bit here, but it all cooked off.

Also, in response to inquiries- I picked up my scarf when I lived in Africa in Zanzibar, so it's very special to me.  The floors in my parents' kitchen go through the foyer and hallways is Crab Orchard Stone (which is similar to flagstone).  I definitely want to put this in the dream house, because it's perfect for high traffic areas.  It doesn't show dirt (perfect for when my brother and I were small and we had four golden retrievers), it's easy to clean and it wears well. Oh, and it's really pretty!