Sunday, December 26, 2010

White Christmas 2010
My Lamp Post, Early Morning
Snow on Christmas Day in the South is a big deal with a capital "B".  Surprised, and inspired by the beauty, I spent the afternoon visiting some of Lincoln County's oldest and most beautiful historic properties for a glimpse of them in the snow.
Vesuvius Vineyards, Circa 1792
Beautifully restored by the long time owners as a venue for wonderful events, this is one of Lincoln County's oldest residences.  I remember playing on the front lawn of Vesuvius as a small child.
Ingleside Farm, Circa 1817
One of North Carolina's finest five-bay Federal mansions, Ingleside is attributed to Benjamin Latrobe, the famed architect of the United States Capitol building.  Lovingly maintained and restored, and on the National Register of Historic Places, it is today a working horse farm.
Shadow Lawn, Circa 1826
Gracing the historic Main Street of our town, Shadow Lawn is also on the National Register of Historic Places.  For many years it was the home of six-term Congressman Charles R. Jonas.
Boyd Residence, Mid-Twentieth Century
Not as historic, but every bit as beautiful, this stately Southern Colonial sits on the site of a former resort, Lithia Springs Inn, whose therapeutic waters attracted visitors from all over the world at the turn of the century.

What a beautiful way to wind down the holidays.  Now back at home in front of the fire, a bowl of my sister's Shrimp Gumbo is calling my name.

Countdown Friday Was Lost in the Christmas Eve Rush
But just for the record, the Count was 281

Wishing you all Blessings, Peace
Love, Health and Prosperity in 2011  



Friday, December 17, 2010

Tangled in Holly

House decorated...check.  Outdoor illumination up and running...check.  House cleaned...I'm working on it.  Shopping done...well...no.  Christmas Eve party plans under control...not even remotely.  As my friend Mitzi the Duck is fond of saying, "Tangled in holly and fresh out of jolly".

Today is Countdown Friday
A good time to remember that
JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
It isn't about me, and it isn't about you.
It's about HIM
Today's Count is 288
 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Barbecue Primer

To be clear, the word "barbecue" in the South is not a verb.  It is a noun, defined as a dish of smoked meat as tender as melted butter, smothered in a sauce so good it makes grown men cry.
We Southerners are funny about our barbecue.  We'll lock arms against an outsider who casts aspersions on it, but when we begin to discuss the same subject among ourselves, all the wheels fall off the wagon.
We disagree on everything connected to the word - from the type of wood required for smoking it to the best way of cooking it, not to mention the proper way to remove the meat from the bone and serve it.  And on the question of whose sauce is best - well - you might fare better slapping your mama than you would throwing that topic out into the middle of a Southern gathering - and we all know not to slap our mamas.
Since this is a blog and not a book, I'm limited for space, so I'll narrow my perspective and talk a bit about North Carolina barbecue.  And, really, is there any other kind?  Don't misunderstand.  Even within the confines of the state line, the variety of barbecues and sauces is vast.  Seeking to identify a clear winner has been known to cause fist fights, protracted court cases, family estrangements and even the occasional divorce.
About the only thing North Carolinians will attest to is that there are two general cagtegories of barbecue around here - Eastern and Western - and we'll grudgingly agree that the line of demarcation seems to fall somewhere between Raleigh and Charlotte - and we'll give it to you that smoking a pig over hickory wood is generally a good idea.  However, there is no road sign that says "You Are Now Entering The Eastern NC Barbecue Zone", no line on a map that says "Western NC Barbecue Continental Divide".  So stop looking.
Way down east (past Raleigh sort of) they smoke their pigs and baste them in a sauce made from vinegar and red pepper and not much else.  Then, coming back toward Charlotte (but well before you get there) the sauce begins to take on a little color.  Right about Lexington you reach a sort of barbecue equilibrium - a near perfect balance between Eastern and Western styles that has resulted in the famous "Lexington-Style Barbecue" - a delicious happy medium that seems to cause the least amount of friction among us all.  We're even content to let the rest of the world come to Lexington and leave thinking they've tasted the real NC BBQ deal.  They have...until they cross over into the next county.
West of Lexington (for the most part) all bets are once again off.  We still love our hickory smoke, but the sauces are thick, brick-red, sweet, spicy, hot, sour and savory - all at the same time.  The recipes vary from county to county, even family to family.
I know a set of brothers who won't let their wives know the secret to the family recipe.  I have tasted their sauce, too, and I fully understand why.  I once saw it served for lunch in a corporate board room in New York City.  The prospective client held a multi-million-dollar advertising account in his hands.  Going in, the odds were against the sales team trying to land that account, a sales team that was headed by my sister.  She knew it was do or die, so she called me from New York and had me buy a plane ticket for several pounds of barbecue with fixings, plus a pint or two of that sauce.  We flew it into Newark, she had it couriered into the city, and she served it all on a red check tablecloth.  After lunch, the account was hers - won by a little bit of pluck and a Mason jar full of barbecue magic.
You notice, too that I'm only talking about smoking pigs - for good reason.  Here in the Carolinas, we aren't real impressed with that whole Texas business of barbecued beef - well - except for the beef served by the famous Mr. Sims in Dudley Shoals, NC - but, see there - I'm proving my own point.  As my husband would say, boiling us down to one style or flavor is about as easy as nailing jello to a fencepost.
And just when I find myself declaring that there is no such single thing as NC Barbecue, a timely trip below the state line into South Carolina jolts me back to reality.  Down there, they tragically fill their sauce full of mustard and don't know any better than to brag about it.  All of a sudden, the North Carolina picture once again comes into focus.  It's like an Impressionist painting that makes perfect sense from a distance but loses all capacity for definition when viewed at close range.
And, of course, the people in South Carolina get just as worked up over the obvious ignorance of the people in Georgia who claim a special dispensation from the barbecue gods.  And the people in Georgia laugh out loud at the people in Alabama who pride themselves on how to pick a pig.


My best advice?  Come see us and enjoy it all.  But if you don't agree at the end of the day that North Carolina barbecue in all of its many forms wins the trophy - well - you'd be wise not to let that out until you're at least ten miles across the state line into either Virginia or Tennessee.

Tomorrow is Countdown Friday, by the way...
The count will be 295 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Breakfast with Junior

Before sunrise this morning I walked into a garage shop in Yadkin County, NC and discovered one of my favorite living legends in a kitchenette in the corner of the shop, calmly tending to a pan of sizzling bacon.  He was cooking my breakfast.

Junior Johnson is one of a small group of men who actually helped invent a professional sport.  We know it today as NASCAR.  As a driver, he won 50 races.  As a team owner, his drivers won 139 races.  Two of his drivers, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough, brought him a combined 6 Winston Cup Championships.  The list of drivers who worked for him could fill the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and undoubtedy will - one of these days.  The names are Waltrip, Yarborough, Foyt, Pearson, Allison, Bonnett, Labonte, Elliott, and many more.  Junior personally invented the technique known as "drafting" on a race track.  His life was the subject of a movie.  When they opened the Hall of Fame, his name was in the first class.

And there he stood, scrambling eggs and frying sausage and tending to a pan of hot biscuits.  He stopped long enough to extend his hand to me with a big smile.  "Thank y'all for stoppin' by this mornin'."  We moved around the shop, talking to the other dozen or so visitors for the next few minutes, and then Junior gestured to the pair of long tables set up for us and said "Food's ready.  Y'all find a place and dig in."

Junior and two or three helpers laid on a breakfast that would put any Cracker Barrel to shame.  I counted at least 18 different items.  They passed around platters of fresh cantaloupe, sliced fresh tomatoes, bowls of hot grits, scrambled eggs with sausage, scrambled eggs with salmon, hash brown potatoes and fried livermush.  A big steaming bowl of sausage gravy made the rounds, followed by a bowl of stewed apples smothered in apple butter.  I asked Junior if he does this very often.  "Five days a week" he said.  They passed a platter of pork chops, country ham, bacon and three different varieties of sausage - and hog jowls - and streak-o-lean.  And the platter of hot biscuits never stopped moving until it was empty.

As soon as everyone had been served, Junior sat down across from us.  "Junior, are you not eating this morning?" I asked.  "Naw - once you've cooked it, you ain't real hungry.  I don't eat a lot these days anyway."  The rest of us more than made up for his good behavior, eating like we had never seen food before.  And all the while, Junior sat back in his chair and kept us company.

He is a reserved man - soft spoken and to the point.  Having grown up in these parts, I have known men like him my whole life - smarter than ten other men combined and also smart enough not to let it show.  For the next hour we relaxed, we laughed, and we talked about everything from the birth of NASCAR to the merits of white corn grits over yellow.  He prefers the yellow, and buys his from a local grist mill.

He spoke of the early days in NASCAR when he and Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett would stick around and sign autographs until the last fan had exited the gate.  When I asked if that didn't get tiring, he grinned.  Ever the innovator, Junior had a crew member who looked a lot like him - a crew member who sometimes got pressed into the duty of signing autographs, posing for photos and shaking hands.  Nobody ever caught on.

We heard first-hand how the sport was born.  He explained how you couldn't fill the back of a 1940 Ford with a load of bootleg liquor and take the curves on those mountain roads, so they started tinkering with the cars.  If something broke, they decided they'd better not build it that way next time.  Full-floating rear suspensions, reinforced wheels, hubs and spindles were all brought into the world on the back roads of North Carolina.  He said they had no choice but to figure it out.

Over the years, he remained way out in front of everyone else in "figuring it out".  Darlington was his favorite track.  He said you never raced the other cars at Darlington - you raced the track and hoped that you beat it.  He got tired of wrecking down there and decided he needed to figure out a way to hit the wall without tearing up his car.  So he came up with the idea of springs inside his rear fenders.  Every time he hit the wall after that, the springs kept the fenders from shredding his tires.  It worked like a charm.  Soon, the rest of the sport came begging for his secret.  He was using carbon fiber for years before most in NASCAR even knew what it was - a little trick he picked up from the aviation industry.

We spoke of other things - things like the difference between California wines and fledgling wines being produced in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley.  Someone asked if Darrell Waltrip should have been nominated for this year's class in the Hall of Fame.  He said yes.  My husband asked if there shouldn't be a "Run What You Brung" series in NASCAR - a back-to-the-roots series that might happen on Friday nights when the Cup Series is in town.  Absolutely, he said.  He'd love to see it, but doesn't hold out much hope.
 
And then we began to disperse.  We posed for a picture.  I tried to put Junior in the middle, between the two of us.  He would have none of that.  "No - you get in the middle", he said, and we all smiled for the camera.
We thanked his business partner, Tim, who had read my previous blog post about Junior, which is what prompted the invitation to breakfast.  The name of this blog, "Sweet Tea Gazette", caught his eye.  I had no idea that Junior is also in the Sweet Tea business until Tim told me.  Small world.  You can buy Junior Johnson Sweet Tea at any Lowes Foods store.
You can also buy Junior Johnson Morning Rolls, Country Ham Biscuits, Sausage Biscuits.  And then there is Junior Johnson Country Ham, and, of course, Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon, a totally legal version of the brew that started it all - if you're able to handle the stuff.

At age 78, he's a busy man yet.  You might ask why anyone with as many accomplishments as Junior wouldn't just want to sit back and rest on his laurels and enjoy being a legend in his own time.  Well, there is that.  But people like Junior who are born with the gift of figuring it out, never stop racing and most always find their way to the top, no matter what the arena.  I do know this:  If his other ventures ever go south on him, he can always go into the breakfast-cooking business.  I'll be his best customer.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving

And with my whole heart, I am Thankful!
I hope that your Thanksgiving Day was filled with every good thing life has to offer.
Happy Countdown Friday
Today's Count is 309
  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Villas

The last time I headed out into the countryside to buy stone-ground grits, I rounded a curve and ran up on several dozen hot air balloons floating across the sky.  This time, it was a curious combination of transplanted Italians and a Southern good-old-boy that derailed the grits train.  What IS it about these grits?
This being autumn in North Carolina (I know I said that a month ago as well but we have long autumns around here) I decided to turn right and wander north toward the mountains after leaving the Amish store.  There are more than a few vineyards and wineries in the area, and Raffaldini was a name I had heard recently that caught my interest.  Most of our wineries have names like Shelton, RayLen and Rag Apple Lassie.  
Having a vague idea of the location, I began looking for a pair of stone pillars that would denote the entry to Villa Raffaldini.  And sure enough, just after crossing Highway 421 and making a left turn, there were my pillars, and there was the beautiful villa - off in the distance across a pristine meadow full of grazing cattle.
"Gorgeous", I said out loud as I slowed to make the turn into the entrance.  Then I slammed on the brakes.  The stone pillars bore a stylized logo made from the initials "JJ".
Oops.  Wrong villa.  But how many villas can there BE around here?  The Yadkin Valley of North Carolina is known more for bucolic charm than for an abundance of grand estates.  Then it dawned on me.  "JJ" is Junior Johnson, aka "The Last American Hero", as the author Tom Wolfe christened him in a 1967 Esquire magazine article about his life.

  Junior is a moonshiner turned race-car-driver, automotive genius turned chicken farmer, and without question a world-famous-living-legend.  When they opened the NASCAR Hall of Fame this past May, Junior was there as one of the inaugural inductees.  They made a movie about his life.  Jeff Bridges played the part.
 And I had very nearly just thrown on the blinker and blissfully sailed up his driveway in search of a good bottle of wine.  From what I know of Junior, he would graciously have tried to oblige me. But more about Junior in a minute.


Disaster averted, I did find Villa Raffaldini about five minutes later, and it didn't disappoint.
 The Raffaldini family have been making wine in Italy since the 1300's.  A few years ago they decided to bring their vines and their Old World techniques to America, and a spectacular hillside in North Carolina is where they landed. 
 I spent the rest of the day enjoying the vineyards and the vistas, finally turning toward home with a bottle of Raffaldini Pinot Grigio and some of their hand-crafted Sangiovese Marinara Sauce under my arm.  

On the way back, I enjoyed the view of Junior's front yard as I remembered one of my favorite Junior Johnson stories, told by the writer Tom Higgins.  There was a press conference, and an upstart reporter dismissively asked Junior, since he was in the racing business, if he was in the habit of going to the automotive engineers in Detroit for advice on building his racing engines.  Junior didn't blink an eye.  "No", he said, "but they come to me..."

 I have never tasted any of Junior's brew.  He's back in the moonshine business but I don't know why in the world.  Between the racing and the chickens, he's done all right.  So I can't say for sure which product is better - the hooch or the wine.  But I do know that mixed with a little bit of "let's see where this road goes" and a nice dose of sunshine, they both make for a fine Saturday afternoon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Simple Thanks


Thanksgiving is rolling our way, but this was a week for a different kind of "thank you".  Yesterday was Veterans Day.  I have found myself laughing and crying as my various Facebook and email friends and I have celebrated the lives of the veterans we know and love - and those that we lost too soon.  One of the sweetest guys I ever knew - my friend Spencer Sigmon - never made it home from Vietnam.  He only had a month left.  My friend Paul Lawing never made it home from there, either.  My first husband - Ronnie Williams - did make it home - with three Purple Hearts.  We remembered all of these and I laughed and I cried.  Laughed when I remembered the time in high school when the cheerleaders were all at the beach together, and in the middle of the night we heard someone rattling our window screen.  It was Spencer.  We sneaked him in through the window and he crawled into bed with ALL OF US - such a flirt.  He never made a wrong move.  We all hung out together until daylight - drifting in and out of sleep - until we sneaked him back out the window and on his way.  The chaperones were oblivious.  So I cried for Spencer, who gave us his life, and for Paul, who would probably have been elected governor, had he lived, and for Ronnie, who gave me a son, even though our lives took separate paths after that.  Each in their own way, they gave me a portion of the days that I enjoy in my own life - the freedom that I have to go to the polls on Election Day and vote, the blessings of being able to lay my head down on the pillow at night without worry of danger, the freedom to complain about my packed schedule, my deadlines, the onslaught of cold weather which I do not love, the license to complain about the fleeting nature of the clock and the calendar.  So silly and selfish of me.  Honor is their due - and laughter and tears are my offerings of thanks to them.


HAPPY COUNTDOWN FRIDAY
Today's Count is 323   

Friday, November 5, 2010

Trading Paint

Dang those deadlines.  I have been under one this week, trying to finish several images for a new calendar.  I've been sitting here waiting for creative inspiration to strike - that little pixie-dust-sprinkled lightning bolt that pops you in the head and causes you to see stars and hear Aretha Franklin singing at full throttle.  Not happening.  Then my friend Teresa Kogut posts on Facebook that she has set herself a little goal of one painting every day this week, and all of a sudden the green flag drops.  I'm not exactly hearing Aretha, but I AM hearing a voice in my ear saying "green green green".  (For you non-NASCAR fans, it's a racing term for GO).  That was all I needed.  With a quick "you're on" to Teresa on FB, I was off and running.  Four days later, I have four new images (one of which is above) - and so does Teresa.  You go, girl - and thanks for the kick in the pants!
Happy Countdown Friday
Today's count is 330
A year from now you will wish you had started today.
KAREN LAMB  
 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Time Flies

...when you're having fun!

Where in the Sam Hill did October go?  Here in the studio it was a happy blur of pumpkins and autumn leaves and ocean sunrises and hot air balloons, with a couple of tornadoes thrown in for good measure.  Thankfully, we survived.  Our prayers go with our neighbors here in Lincoln County who weren't as fortunate.

Happy Countdown Friday.
Today's Count stands at 337
Please remember to go to the polls and vote on November 2!

Next stop...turkey and tinsel***

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Serendipity

The word "serendipity" is loosely defined as the art of discovering something wonderful while searching for something else.
I was on my way home from Hamptonville, NC yesterday afternoon, having made a run to the Shiloh General Store for Amish butter and stone ground grits.  Yes, I can find those things closer to home, and I can order online, but this is October in North Carolina and the sun was shining.
Coming through Statesville, NC, I decided to skip I-40 in favor of Highway 70, and five minutes later found myself in the mother of all traffic jams.  We did not MOVE, and there was very little opportunity for turning around.  I did what I could to make the time pass.  Checked my emails on the Blackberry.  Ate a Pumpkin Whoopie Pie that I had told myself I was buying for Joe.  Listened to my favorite Beach Music CD three times while singing along at the top of my lungs until I noticed the guy in the car up ahead surveying me in his rear-view-mirror like he was considering calling the authorities. I had no clue what the holdup was - but they had my curiosity piqued, so I stuck around.
An HOUR LATER (no joke), we had inched along enough for me to see that everyone was heading for the Statesville Airport and this year's Hot Air Balloon Rally - the second largest in the US.  Realizing that this wasn't some kind of a disaster, but not about to pay the $10 admission fee, and feeling a little queasy from the Whoopie Pie, I elected not to turn in to the airport and gratefully waved goodbye to my guy up ahead (who was probably more grateful to be rid of me and Solomon Burke), and picked up speed toward home.
However, around several more curves and over a couple of hills, I came upon a little clump of cars that had pulled into a tiny side road that provided a great view of the horizon.  With no $10 ticket-taker in sight, I decided to park the car and see what might happen.  None of us knew if we were going to be in the flight path because balloons are prisoners of the wind, and it blows where it will.  But we waited. 

Then, silently, just beyond a nearby tree line, the balloons began rising like giant bubbles blown from one of those bubble-makers we all used to love as kids.  And one by one, they flew right past us on their way into the evening sky.  The only sound was the occasional hiss of their burners.  We counted somewhere in the vicinity of 50 balloons. 

October in North Carolina.  You just never know...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Making Lemonade

When life hands you lemons...
Most pessimists who hear that old saying look at you like they'd just as soon slap your face as hear it againMost of the year, I don't get where they're coming from - but in the fall, with days getting darker and shorter, cold winds beginning to blow, and the prospect of at least a few months between me and the next scent of jasmine on my back porch - I have to say I feel their pain.
Looking at the oak leaves in this photo, however, I gained a fresh perspective.  If you love the chore of raking all those leaves in the fall, raise your hand.  Yeah, that's what I thought.  (You can lower your hand now, sir.  The other twenty thousand of us don't share your joy.)  But here's the thing - my humble artistic effort in the middle of the shot can't hold a candle to what God did in my oak trees outside with just one breath.  And if He loves Autumn that much, who am I to complain?
Happy Countdown Friday
Today's Count is 344

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stealing Summer

We found a last, sweet slice of summer this weekend on our favorite beach in South Carolina.  There were two days of completely cloudless, deep clear blue skies with calm ocean, warm sunshine and white sand.
The view from the balcony.  Who says summer is over on Labor Day?  Not me!  The tidal inlet that you see in the foreground is shown at high tide.  The bridge that crosses it leads to the ocean.

Very early Sunday morning.  You can see the sun beginning to color the horizon over the ocean.  The air was warm and completely still.  Even the gulls were still sleeping.
Then, just a few seconds before sunrise, the whole sky caught fire.  
Followed in less than a minute by the sun.  How can one witness something like this and not understand that there is a God who loves us outrageously, and who intricately designed the earth with us in mind?  If any of you are fans of the big bang theory, you have my love (and my sympathy!).

Not five minutes later, there they all were, standing in clumps at the waters edge, stretching and yawning and waiting for breakfast.  We never heard a sound.  They just appeared - little tiny congregations of churchgoers at a Sunrise Service they enjoy every single day.  We should all be so lucky.

The rest of the day we spent right here, watching the tides, baking in the sun, and doing a lot of smiling.  Monday would find us back at work, but on this last stolen day of summer, we were a million miles away.
October Who?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Taking Flight

The bad news is time flies.
The good news is you're the pilot.
Michael Altshuler
Happy Countdown Friday
Today's Count is 351
Enjoy your weekend.  Make it count for something.
  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Foot in the Mouth

A few years ago, my sister called me one evening in a bit of a panic.  She was at a literary conference in Highlands, NC and had just come from dinner with friends and a few new acquaintances - among them the novelist Pat Conroy and his literary agent.  Not realizing that his agent was New York through-and-through, my sister had brightly offered what she considered a couple of humorous lines about people who aren't from "around here".  Even though the entire table laughed graciously, a good friend later pulled her aside with the "OMG-do-you-realize-what-you-just-said" speech.  What is a girl to do in this situation?  Trying to cheer her up, I sent her a message the next morning before breakfast.  "Sis, if you should happen to stick your foot in your mouth again before the conference disbands, just apologize by way of explaining that you're from North Carolina and all we ever really learned to do was make barbecue and make babies - the rest has been sort of hit and miss."  She loved it - and read it to the great amusement of the entire breakfast table (including Mr. Conroy) shortly thereafter.   
 
The following Christmas, I unwrapped my gift from her.  Beautifully framed, it was my written message to her, signed at the bottom with the following inscription:  "To Beth...Tell me about the babies part...Pat Conroy"
 
Among his many wonderful literary works is The Pat Conroy Cookbook, an outstanding love-song to Southern Cooking.  Below is his recipe for Shrimp and Grits, condensed by me for this blog.  I would encourage you to go buy the book and devour it from cover to cover.

Breakfast Shrimp and Grits
1 cup coarse white grits
2 thick slices of country bacon
1 small shallot
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice
Coarse or kosher salt
2 to 3 drops Tabasco Sauce

Slow cook the grits according to package directions - about 60 minutes - and set aside.  Slice the bacon into matchsticks and cook until crisp.  Remove the bacon, keep the fat in the pan.  Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until soft.  Add butter.  When butter melts, add shrimp, cooking until just pink, about 5 minutes.  Add lemon juice and a pinch of salt and toss to coat.  Place a serving of grits into bowl.  Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon from pan and place a few shrimp on top of grits.  Add the crisp bacon and Tabasco to the remaining pan juices, swirling the skillet to blend into a sauce.  Pour over the shrimp and grits.

Enjoy, y'all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grits 101

So here's a secret for you non-Southerners.  That polenta you've been eating for years and drooling over in restaurants?  Grits in chic clothing.  So you might as well open your minds and your hearts to a dish we can't live without down here.

We eat grits for breakfast, sometimes for lunch, and very often for dinner.  They are made from dried corn.  They are referred to in the plural.  There probably is such a thing as "a grit" - but not in our vocabulary.  The best grits are milled the old fashioned way - stone ground.  The purists - especially the chefs - wouldn't think of offering anything but stone ground grits on their menus.  Stone ground grits have more texture than commercial brands such as Quaker Quick Grits.  But here's another secret - most of us aren't that discriminating.  In fact, I prefer Quaker Quick Grits, straight off the grocery store shelf - much in the same way any of you will gladly settle for a Hershey Bar if you get a chocolate craving and don't happen to be near the Godiva counter.  So if you decide to try this recipe, go buy a bag of Quaker Grits (not to be confused with Quaker Instant Grits, which you should avoid) and hold your head high.

Grits are not only delicious, they are versatile.  They are fabulous with nothing more than a knob of butter stirred in - but you can also finish them with a little heavy cream and grated cheddar cheese - or - heavy cream and Parmigiano Reggiano (my personal favorite) - or - red eye gravy, made from country ham drippings and black coffee (another post for another day, that country ham...) - or - cooked and baked with garlic and cheese - or smothered with spicy shrimp in a rich sauce for dinner.  So now that your mouth is watering, the basic recipe is below.  Once you master Grits 101, if you would like a Grits PhD, follow this link to the website of Anson Mills, purveyors of the real deal and a favorite of chefs everywhere.  http://www.ansonmills.com/about-us-page.htm.

Basic Grits
3 cups cold water
1 cup Quaker Quick Grits
1/2 teaspoon salt
Bring water to a boil.  Stir in the grits slowly.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover with a lid once the boiling is reduced to a simmer. Add any or all of the following to your taste - butter, heavy cream, grated cheddar or parmesan cheese.
(Stone Ground grits require a little more cooking time, but the results are the same.  Follow the package directions.)

Enjoy, y'all!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pumpkin "Time"

Don't you think God put pumpkins on the earth just so He could watch us smile?
Happy "Countdown Friday"
(Today's count is 358)
"Time is free, but it's priceless.  You can't own it, but you can use it.  You can't keep it, but you can spend it.  Once you've lost it, you can never get it back."
Harvey MacKay
Enjoy your weekend.  Go hug a pumpkin and lift a smile to God. 
  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Countdown Friday

Welcome to Countdown Friday!  Each Friday for the next year, I hope to take a moment and consider the subject of time.  How do we use it?  How do we waste it?  Does it control us?  Do we control it?  Is it a gift?  Is it a curse?  Does that all depend?  Anyway, counting backwards until next October 1, our number stands today at 365.  Enjoy your day!  Enjoy your year!
"There is only one you for all time.  Fearlessly be yourself."
Anthony Rapp

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Fall, Y'all


Remember the big tomato?  One of you (Valerie Greely?) suggested at the time that it was more the size of a pumpkin.  So check this out.  Our little crop of sugar pumpkins yielded this cutie, and I decided to try a side-by-side comparison. Can't decide which pic I like the best.  Nothing says summer like a tomato, nothing says autumn like a pumpkin - so take your pick.  
And speaking of pumpkins, a couple of my little bear buddies wanted in on the act.  Sending smiles your way.  Happy Fall, y'all.
 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

End of Summer

We've been telling people for years that our dog, Maggie, swims to the deep end of the pool and climbs out the ladder, just like any normal "person" would do.  Here is the photographic evidence, snapped this afternoon while we were stealing the last hot day for a long afternoon swim.  Our weather is supposed to cool down into the 70's by tomorrow and I'm sad to say goodbye to Summer 2010.  What a remarkable five months we have had - filled with sunshine, bright flowers, shade trees and sweet tea, giant vegetables from the garden, long weekends at the beach, travels to wonderful places, country roads every evening at sunset with Ben E. King and The Drifters keeping us company on the car stereo, long conversations with faithful friends, lots of hard, rewarding work, prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God every chance we got, hilarious memories made with our family - and the best news of all - we're welcoming our first grandchild in March 2011.  So we look forward to Autumn and Winter - knowing that Spring will bring new life (in more ways than one) - and Summer 2011 will find us right back in the pool - teaching the baby how to swim!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Courtyard

Here's a news flash.  I have a weakness for pink and white impatiens.  Who knew, right?  Actually, my motivation is laziness.  These little beauties ask only that you plant them in Miracle Gro Potting Soil and keep the water coming - a simple request, really - and right up my lazy alley.  In return, they spread their beautiful little wings and stretch and grow and live happily ever after, all the way to Halloween and beyond if Jack Frost cooperates.  You saw them at the potting shed, and here they are in my little hidden brick courtyard.  It is tucked behind a high brick wall, hidden from view of the street, and shaded all year long by a big oak tree.  In March, Solomon's Seal is the first to appear, followed by the hostas and elephants ears in April, the pink hydrangeas in May and the Stargazer Lilies in June.  By that time, the Boston and Kimberly ferns have fully fluffed and these little beauties are coming into their own and spilling over the edges of their containers.  The ones that you see in the foreground actually measure 3 feet across right now.  Of course, you-know-who insisted on being included in this post.  He thinks I plant all these flowers just for him.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Birthday at the Beach

I can't think of a better way to spend a birthday - especially when it is mine!  The whole family migrated to our favorite spot in South Carolina this past weekend in honor of the occasion.  When it comes to the beach, however, any old occasion will do - birthdays, anniversaries, National Postage Stamp Day - "gosh, guess we'll have to go to the beach and celebrate..."  We can't help ourselves.  The big fish is in Murrells Inlet, SC on Restaurant Row - home of  SERIOUSLY GOOD SEAFOOD.  The other pic shows a small portion of the boardwalk behind the restaurants that looks out over the inlet toward the ocean.  You might as well stay tuned for more posts from the coast.  There is the matter of beach music and a dance that was born before most of us were, inlets and waterways, live oaks with spanish moss, a shabby little island with a historic district and a ghost who goes door to door warning people of impending hurricanes, the matter of Lowcountry dishes such as shrimp and grits and how to properly cook a hush puppy (which isn't a baby dog, by the way) and much more.  And you wondered why I paint all those palm trees.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Makeover

Meet "The Little Potting Shed that Could".  When we bought our house five years ago, we inherited this little potting shed.  It didn't look like this.  It was hidden behind a tall fence.  The barn doors were trimmed out in ugly brick red.  The two windows you see here didn't exist.  In their place stood two metal "camper trailer windows" which were original to the building.  After my initial "I don't THINK so" reaction to seeing it for the first time, I doubled back with my artist's hat on.  "Hmmm...what if?  What if I send those trailer windows to the dump? (done in two shakes)  What if we replace them with some vintage wooden windows from the salvage yard?  (five bucks apiece) What if we build window boxes and fill them with pink and white impatiens?  (they are SO HAPPY there)  And what if I just move the whole fence forty feet THAT way?"  (well okay hubby moved the fence...)  The two posts with pineapple finials had been gathering dust for a few years, and we painted them white and planted them on either side of the entry.  The end result looks "right nice" as we like to say in these parts.  And we do keep pots in the potting shed - along with an old lawnmower, and seat cushions I haven't used in four years, and an old wheelbarrow, and you get the drift.  But to quote Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias, "Well I don't know how you're doin' on the inside, honey, but your hair's holdin' up real well".  Here in the South, it's pretty much always about the hair...and the trailer windows.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jingle Bells and Hot Spells

Close your eyes.  Channel your inner "winter evening", hum a few bars of Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song", sip on that imaginary cup of hot wassail, enjoy the crackling fire, finish picking the okra and tomatoes, swat a few gnats...WHAT??  Welcome to the world of art licensing.  Because of advance production schedules for the companies who license my work, the subject matter in my design studio very rarely lines up with the season out my window.  More often than not, I am in the midst of creating new holiday artwork for clients while the air outside hums with the sounds of crickets, tree frogs and night bugs.  But wait - there is more.  This winter, while the snow piles up outside my door, I'll be hard at work on the latest designs for your garden and your summertime table - designs that are slated for the retail shelves for the Summer of 2012!  Crazy as it seems, and as much as I don't want chestnuts roasting on an open fire in August, that is how it works.  All of you kindred-spirit artists out there are feeling my pain, I know.  Such adversity!  Actually - what joy to be blessed with the ability to share my talent, no matter what the season or circumstance.  For the rest of you, next time you buy a Christmas flag that makes your heart sing, or deck the halls with the most adorable ornaments ever made, or sit down to address that box of Christmas cards like the ones recently produced by my friends at CR Gibson, above, be sure to thank the artist to conjured it up in their sun-baked, humidity-dazed, mosquito-bite-crazed brain.  Happy Holidays, y'all, and pass the citronella...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Simple Joys

I can't seem to get away from the concept of simplicity these past few weeks, so here goes another post on the subject.  A couple of months ago we shot this photo on a pure, glorious Saturday morning in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  This, of course, is an Amish farm - one of hundreds just like it that grace this spectacular section of the country.  We try to visit this area at least once a year if not more, and I never come away without having my artistic batteries recharged and my inspiration renewed.  My friend and fellow artist, Teresa Kogut (check out her blog at www.teresakogut.blogspot.com) just returned from her own annual road trip into the heartland.  As artists, we take inspiration from the simple joy of life that these farms and small towns so beautifully portray.  And, an added bonus in Pennsylvania for this Southern girl is the fact that those people up there have the good manners and presence of mind to serve grits for breakfast.

Monday, August 9, 2010

If Clouds Could Sing

...these would be singing the Hallelujah Chorus.  We were enjoying a sweet August afternoon, floating in the pool, when we happened to look up and see this spectacular sight.  The little camera did its best to capture this thing that God made just for us, and just for that brief moment.  A breeze or two later, it was gone.
What a stunning, simple reminder that beauty is anywhere you care to behold it.