Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Family History in Recipes

I collect cook books. I've collected vintage recipes for more than 20 years. I scored a lot from my grandmother while she was alive and when she passed away, my dad gave me ALL of her cookbooks, recipe cards, newspaper clippings, etc. My Great-Aunt Gladys taught me how to cook and bake from the time I was 5. She started me on the vintage recipes. When Gladys passed, my mother bequeathed me with ALL of her recipes, cookbooks, etc.

I have boxes upon boxes of old cookbooks. My three favorites are Betty Crocker c. 1956, Good Housekeeping c. 1958, and Better Homes and Gardens c. 1953. I have some older than that, but I'm not sure of the exact copyrights. Two of the vintage recipes from my grandmother netted me blue ribbons from the Florida State Fair many years ago.

But the very best recipes that friends have begged me for over the years, I can't give them, because they're family recipes, handed down mother to daughter, absorbed by osmosis from working together in the kitchen, and there are no measurements to pass along. One of those was the recipe for sweet potato pie that I made by the dozen for several years, selling pies at Thanksgiving to earn extra money for Christmas. Many of my customers begged me for the recipe. I would have given it if I could have. But it’s one of those dishes that are made by feel, not by checklist.

Most of my best vintage dishes are made by feel and memory with no written recipe. That’s how I got them from my mother and my aunt. That is how they came to them from my great-grandmother who was an intuitive cook. That is how she learned how to cook them. Those are the dishes that I cook for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are the dishes that are part of my family tradition. They’re a family history in food, recipes without amounts, made by taste and feel. This year, Beth, my three-year-old daughter, is pulling up a chair and starting the process of learning them. Eventually, she will take her place in the family history by passing them down in the same fashion to her daughters, or her nieces in their turn. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Go on the NaNo

There is an old saying that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. This is unfortunately true.

I took on the challenge of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, with a plan and a schedule for writing. I had everything ready to go, complete with a semi-autobiographical account of my family dramas told with a touch of humor. Just as I was getting into the swing of things and two days ahead of schedule, two family tragedies hit within days of each other, and just as my husband learned he’d won the election to City Council. Our excitement about his election faded quickly in the loss of the newborn child of one of my nieces. Two days later, my daughter’s world fell apart. One by one, my young children still living at home came down with a terrible flu-like virus going around. By the time I was able to think, let alone write, I found myself hopelessly behind schedule with NaNoWriMo.

In this season of being thankful for what you have, it has been challenging to find reasons to be grateful, given the tragedies facing my loved ones. It seems trivial in the face of the losses suffered by both my daughter and my niece for me to whine and moan about not being able to finish a speculative novel that’s been percolating in my subconscious from the time I was eight-years-old. It’s just fiction. It can and will wait. People take precedence over projects. At somewhere around 25,000 words in two weeks, I can forgive myself for being human.

As my writer friends have reminded me, there’s always next year! That is something I am thankful for.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Power of Penguins

Penguins are silly looking birds. Flightless waterfowl often lampooned. A tuxedo has been called a “Penguin suit.” Nuns have been called “Penguins.” In “Mary Poppins,” Dick Van Dyke danced with them.

And who will ever forget Berkeley Breathed’s infamous Opus The Penguin from the Bloom County comic strip? He was an insecure, neurotic mess addicted to home shopping channels, 900 numbers and on an eternal quest to find his mother. Documentaries and musicals have starred them. In the animated Madagascar, they stole the show. There are even popular children’s television shows about them, The Penguins of Madagascar and 3-2-1 Penguins!

So when I was talking about the silliness of writers in facing both a deadline and blocked creativity, it only seemed natural for me use penguins to illustrate how to get past the block. Yes, when I reached a block on my NaNoWriMo, I used them.

At this point I have no earthly idea why Birdie is calling, but I really do think it’s time for some fish-slapping penguins to shimmy down a drainpipe. Three of the formally dressed, flightless waterfowl drop down unexpectedly, one is wearing a silly pointed had that looks like something a Catholic Bishop would wear to mass. The three little fellows break into a line dance.“Oh my,” thought Bittsy. “Can they really shake tail feathers? Do penguins even have tail feathers?” 
So the dancing penguins manage a jaunty sashay to the thumpin’ mix before the one in the middle (which inexplicably has a beard and moustache) breaks out what appears to be a herring. He (presumably it’s a he, it is rather difficult to tell, but the beard is rather suggestive of maleness) turns and begins slapping the herring on the floor, much to Bittsy’s dismay. “I’ve just had those floors cleaned,” she protested. “Now they’ll smell of fish for weeks!” 
The penguin merely winked at her and continued a rather lascivious dance with the herring before turning and slapping the penguin with the pointy hat in the face repeatedly. The hat wearing penguin doffed his odd cap and withdrew his own fish, a rainbow trout from the looks of it, and commenced to walloping his compadre with it. The third penguin, too preoccupied shaking his tail feathers to notice the antics of the other two (and yes, they do have tail feathers) did not see the catfish aimed at his face until too late. 
 With a naughty wink and a suggestive hip shimmy, the bearded penguin wielded the herring and the catfish like nunchucks, with surprising skill.
 “Hmm,” said Bittsy. “Ninja penguins. How odd.”

I had no idea that my silly suggestion of fish slapping Ninja Penguins would spark such a surge of equal silliness among my fellow writers. In the online writing group to which I belong, “Penguins!” has become the battle cry for pushing past blocks and finding the joy in writing again.

So I urge you, one and all, when life seems to have you stymied, consider Fish Slapping Ninja Penguins as an answer. A little insanity every now and then can be just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Great Barwick Land Swap

Small town politics have a way of getting murky very quickly.

In a move of questionable legality, (i.e. highly illegal) Barwick City Council has engineered a “land swap” with the Chamber of Commerce. Operating without advice from the city’s legal counsel, two officials from Barwick City Council have approved, signed, and filed a transfer of deed for City property, which houses a building known as the Community House to the Chamber of Commerce in exchange for the property known as the “Community Pool.” Unfortunately, the pool and bath house were bulldozed and filled in this past Summer.

So in an apparent “even exchange of property” the City surrendered a building and several acres of land to a private, civic organization in exchange for a much smaller, vacant lot, and a small check. All of this was done by executive mandate, without due process according to city charter and Georgia Code. The people of the town should have had a say and it should have gone before the Council. It did not.

Now, the Chamber has had a lease on the property for a number of years (of murky legality) and has been responsible for maintaining the Community House at its own expense. They have kept up the building and grounds as a labor of love and out of a sense of civic pride. I do not begrudge them ownership of the building. In fact, I am of the opinion that the Chamber should be the owners of record and should have purchased the building and land in question long before this. But they should have done it within the dictates of the law. They did not.

I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I am also a citizen of the town. I begrudge the Chamber the manner in which the property was acquired and the attitude with which certain parties have defended ramrodding this inequitable deal through.

Underhanded, back room dealings are shady, no matter how you cut them. This sale was pushed through without the appropriate measures as dictated by law and without the knowledge of the city’s legal counsel. But the Chamber member responsible, pleased with his back room deal (who wouldn’t be)  and arrogant over its success, commented after the meeting revealing the deal to the population that the deed is filed and if anyone has a problem with it, let them go to the expense of filing suit over it.

It all comes down to money, doesn’t it? People with a measure of power and influence engaging in questionable legal dealings, then defying the outraged citizens to “put their money where their mouth is.”

Right is right. Wrong is wrong. Either something is illegal or it is not. Regardless of the fact that this land deal has been completed and is incapable of being undone now that deeds have been filed, it remains that the two seated members of the City Council who signed the deeds and completed the deal violated a public trust, not to mention the law. When asked, the excuse given at the City Council meeting addressing the issue one official stated that he didn’t read what he was signing. The other refrained from comment. Sounds like grounds for a vote of no confidence for both of them – what do you think? Who wants someone representing the public interest who can’t be bothered to read what they sign? Or who cannot or will not justify his actions?

As for the Chamber of Commerce, most of the members are fine upstanding citizens of the community. Good and honorable men and women who have served on the Council, hold positions of authority and accountability in the community and their church. I’m afraid this deal has revealed a dark and seedy side of the community, blackening the Chamber’s collective eye and adversely affecting its standing in the community and bringing the integrity of its members into question.

As a member, it brings my integrity into question. I don’t know about my fellow Chamber members, but I am outraged by this, as it reflects poorly on all of us. If they are not equally outraged by the manner in which this deal was done, they should be. I have never seen a more stereotypical act of small-town Southern politics – the good ole boy network in action. Those involved should be ashamed of themselves and the citizens of Barwick should hold them accountable.