The locksmith eyed this birdfeeder and mentioned it might attract more bears than birds...oops.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hickory House

Last night I was driving around north Atlanta trying to decide where I wanted to 'sup' and while I was tempted by a Buckheady organic, creative and artsy chef-owned establishment, it was the woo of the familiar which won out.

Anyone who spent his childhood in Decatur will remember the Old Hickory House over on Ponce, near Suburban Plaza. My old Pediatrician was in the eggnog-colored brick building right behind it, and while I have pleasant memories of old Dr. Brannon, it was he who told mama not to let me swim in Medlock pool with black children because "there were scabs on their bottoms where their tails fell off'.

And yes, I am serious. It was the only ugly prejudiced thing I ever heard growing up in the south and it apparently didn't keep me from choosing a dear black child named Portland Price as my best friend in kindergarten.

God rest Dr. Brannon's soul and no doubt if and when he faced the Almighty, Jesus had a big ol' afro.

Anyway, back to more pleasant things such as smoky, delicious BBQ at Hickory House.

When I was pregnant with my son, I craved a baked sweet potato and a soft, steamed bun filled with sauce-covered outside cuts that could only come from Hickory House. Oh, how I loved those sandwiches! If only they would have added the word 'barbeque' on the sign the debate over 'barbecue' vs. 'barbeque' would have been put to rest, because Hickory House had and has the final word when it comes to BBQ!

Last night, I ordered a hickory chick, which is a large portion of chopped smoky chicken mixed with sauce and served alongside beans and stew. I was so happy and enjoying my supper immensely, when I looked up and noticed the elderly gentleman across the way. With shaking hands, he was crumbling corn bread into a tall glass of thick buttermilk. He then took a spoon and stirred it all together and took his sweet time eating spoonful after spoonful of his lumpy, tangy creamy supper.

I was thinking how folks today might scrunch their noses and say 'ew, yuck' at the thought of buttermilk and cornbread. Where's the creativity? The nutrition? The color, the variety?

We've become so complex with our food. We pride ourselves on eating fair-trade, organic, locally-farmed, sustainable, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, GMO-free food crafted by chefs who strive to outdo one another in their unqiue creations. I used to laugh at the hoopla a local chef created by serving buttermilk fried chicken cooked in a black iron skillet on Tuesday nights in his Decatur eatery.

It seems to me we're trying to go back to our roots, to the kinds of food our forefathers ate before the advent of processed foods. My parents grew up during The Great Depression in the thirties. Daddy said they often only had buttermilk, cornbread, dried beans and cole slaw for supper. Dried beans were a staple on early southern tables, as were collard greens.

I could tell this fella across the way was enjoying his supper, one spoonful at a time. I wondered if he was remembering sharing a table with his many siblings and most likely a grandparent or two, as all households had a grandmama or granddaddy living down the hall. All the kids were most likely barefoot or wearing passed down shoes with cardboard giving life to the well-worn soles. They were happy to eat whatever was on their plate, and blessed God for what food they had. Simple food in a simple life.

More and more people are buying locally grown garden produce and learning to eat simple foods. I hope folks also learn to grow their own produce and can the harvest in quart-sized mason jars.

I'll offer up a suggestion for one way to embrace the past...homemade buttermilk.

You'll need a quart (or larger) mason jar, some fresh cultured buttermilk and fresh milk, whole or 2%....enough to do a one part buttermilk to 4 parts milk. 1 to 3 parts if your buttermilk isn't as fresh. Mix 6 or 8 ounces of the buttermilk to 3 cups of milk. Screw on the lid and sit it out in a slightly warm place for one day. The lactic acid in the cultures will cause the milk proteins to clabber and you'll find it has turned thick and tangy in about 24 hours. Now put it in the frig. Voila! (see Anna, I do pay attention sometimes) you now have homemade buttermilk.

It has a very long shelf life in the refrigerator, several weeks actually. When you see it getting low, repeat the process and you'll find you never need to buy buttermilk again. My mama used to keep a big silver pitcher of buttermilk in the refrigerator and she'd drink a small glass every day. Cornbread, buttermilk pie, pancakes, biscuits..the possibilities are endless! Enjoy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pirate Treasure on the Beach for Kids!

Oh how I miss having young kids so I can buy arts and crafts at Michaels (using the Sunday paper coupon of course!) and make neato fun things! One of my favorite summer projects, when a trip to the beach is forthcoming, is to make a treasure map for buried treasure. The kids (and me) are beside themselves with glee as soon as a bottle is seen floating in the ocean. Here's how I arrange this covert pirate ploy:

Buy a tall, brown bottle that will hold a rolled up paper. That means it needs to be over 9 inches tall. The first time I did this, I had to buy a tall bottle of Schlitz at the corner gas station. I could tell the cashier was thinking, 'A big bottle of Schlitz? She looks more like the wine cooler type' as she wrapped it in a brown paper bag.

Side note - why is alcohol always hidden in brown paper bags? My husband said when he was growing up, folks he knew who did the local garbage said they could always tell who was baptist by the alcohol bottles in the trash wrapped up in paper bags. I mean if you're gonna drink, just go ahead and do it where God and everybody can see you. Don't go hiding it in brown paper bags like we don't know what's in there anyway.

Okay, so you've got your bottle. ( I got my current bottle at the local brewery but beware! There are many distractions and I almost came away with a kit to brew my own honey liquor.)

Get a silver or gold paint pen and draw your best skull and crossbones. And don't forget a nice tight cork!

Now, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and wet down a family size tea bag. Rub the surface area of a long sheet of paper, if you have it. The long sheets are better as you'll see in a couple of steps. The wet tea will stain the paper and give it a nice antique look.

Now put the tea bag in a cup and have yourself a nice cuppa tea. Oh wait...that sounds kind of gross with the bag rubbed all over stuff and in your hands. Never mind, scratch that. Put the bag in a cup and give your husband a nice cuppa tea.

Place the sheet on a pan and bake it for approximately five minutes. It will be crisp and slightly yellow.
Now here's where you have to be very careful. You'll want to burn the outer edges of the paper so the treasure map looks like it survived the huge fire in Port au Prince, Haiti in 1784. If you have an electric stove, it's much easier and safer. Just heat up a burner and carefully hold the edges near the coils. They'll heat up and slightly burn. Have a fire-putter-outer cloth nearby.

If you don't have an electric stove, take a box of matches outside, pull back your hair and carefully light the edges. They'll burn for a second, then snuff it out. Do this around the whole paper. The size of the paper will shrink due to a few unfortunate incidents so you'll be glad you used the 8 X 14 size paper. Be prepared to Stop, Drop and Roll if necessary.

Now take your parchment and tightly roll it around a thin wooden spoon handle. You'll want it small so the string and knot will all fit down the neck of the bottle.

Snugly knot the paper in two places.

This next step is where I discovered there is an apparent learning curve. I didn't tie the rolled parchment first, but dropped it down into the bottle where it promptly unrolled and filled the bottle, never to be extracted again. So use the string and drop it down into the bottle, leaving one longer end of string so you can easily pull it out later.
Once you get to the beach, survey the lay of the land and using a black marker, make a map of landmarks using piles of seaweed, shells in the shape of an X, ten steps here, twenty steps there, include a chant of 'Yo HO HO and a bottle of Rum!', have them walking hither and yon, but make sure the map ends up right where you have discreetly buried your awesome Hobby Lobby treasure chest (purchased using the Sunday paper coupon of course), and filled with gold coins, pirate eye patches, rubber spiders, quarters, nickels, dimes, pearls and gemstones and fun toys
Put the map back in the bottle and place the cork TIGHT. Wait until everyone is out on the beach, make sure a camera ready, and toss the bottle in a wave just as the kids aren't looking and let the fun begin!