Sunday, May 27, 2012

Assumptions and Mockingbirds

“Which is your favorite season?” I am always undecided how to respond when someone asks me to choose just one season as a favorite since each offers a wealth of unique attributes to savor. Springtime is my favorite right now since I can grab a basket and head out to Papa’s garden to pick fresh dinner ingredients. In late May a variety of fresh lettuces, spinach, broccoli, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, squashes, scallions and asparagus are available. If I snip fresh herbs to integrate into a salad dressing, dinner plans are squared away entirely and for precious little money at that.

Just a few evenings ago as I cut vegetables for a salad, I stumbled down a figurative rabbit hole. As I hovered from one plant to the next, I pondered how we all savor life differently. After working his garden and watching it grow, Papa likes to tuck into a plate of thoroughly cooked vegetables for dinner while I enjoy them best either raw in a salad or lightly steamed . I was reminded of the scene from the movie made from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird where Scout angrily voices her bewilderment when Walter Cunningham pours syrup all over the meal prepared for them by Calpurnia. Scout was aghast that Walter would “spoil” his meal in such a fashion while assuming that everyone reserved syrup for breakfast meals. She mightily embarrassed Walter in the process of upbraiding him for what she perceived as an ignorant use of syrup. After all, Walter may not have had syrup available on his own dinner table. Or maybe Walter simply preferred syrup to gravy! I was immediately ashamed when admitting to myself that I have also made such judgmental assumptions over, of all things, the prolific use of buttermilk “ranch” dressing – I’ve literally witnessed gallons of the stuff consumed whether I found myself dining in local restaurants or in the homes of friends who graciously invited me to share a meal. I’ve often wondered why seemingly so many people default to ranch dressing as a condiment when there are dozens of options available, some certainly better suited to the salad served. But personal favorites are simply that – personal.

So it doesn’t matter a whit what I think of someone else’s preferences. Even if you don’t have your own garden from which to harvest vegetables on a whim, you’ll certainly find the fresh ingredients at more affordable prices in your local grocery now. Enjoy the season’s bounty – with syrup if you prefer!

 Buttermilk Salad Dressing 

1 cup crème fraiche*
1 chopped, trimmed scallion
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 minced, peeled garlic clove
4 sprigs parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill weed
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Mix all ingredients together and season to taste with salt and pepper (white pepper if you prefer no black flecks of ground black pepper in the dressing). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to four days before serving. Make approximately 1 cup of dressing.

*if you can’t find crème fraiche readily available in your local grocery, a quick substitute can be made by mixing one tablespoon of buttermilk into one cup of heavy whipping cream. Mix, seal in an air-tight container and let sit at room temperature for 12-20 hours or for 5-7 days in your refrigerator.

While you enjoy your salad, munch on a haiku and enjoy the season!

moonlight on aster
i take
the long way home

tiny wordsIssue 11.3/23 December 2011

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Little Blessings

I enjoy taking my daughter, Alana, to school in the mornings. I’ve noticed that the drive usually assumes one of at least three moods or tones. There are mornings when she wants to listen to the radio or one of her CDs; some mornings we forego music and talk to each other; and then there are mornings when we’re quiet, together in the truck, alone with our thoughts. We had such a morning recently.

I had just turned onto Bethany Road, that long winding stretch of road that would take us to Alana’s school when, after several miles of silent contemplation, she spoke-up and said, “I miss that patch of honeysuckle that grows near the garden where we used to live.”

I was surprised at where her thoughts had taken her and asked, “Why is that, little girl?”

“I miss the smell of honeysuckle. I miss plucking a blossom and tasting its sweetness.”

For a moment, I wondered if she had read the haibun from my Frugal Poet post of two weeks ago, but then it occurred to me that she had seen a patch of honeysuckle alongside the road and the memory of me having shown her how to taste the plant’s sweet nectar prompted her comment.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “We’ll find a patch of honeysuckle soon.”

Alana (most folks call her Lainy) and I enjoy riding our bikes in the evening. Our current route has been to follow 9th Avenue north until it ends at Monroe Street, which is about three blocks from Poet’s Cottage. We turn left onto Monroe, then turn left onto 10th Avenue, where we coast down a gradual hill toward Main Street. We then turn east onto Main Street and back onto 9th Avenue.

We were in the process of taking a second turn around our route later that day when I happened to notice a patch of honeysuckle on 9th Avenue, in a vacant lot just up the street from Poet’s Cottage. I stopped at the honeysuckle patch and pointed so Lainy would see the blossom of her longing earlier in the day. She smiled, slid off her bike and said, “Do you think we’ll get in trouble?”

I smiled, “I don’t think the folks who own this vacant lot will miss a couple of honeysuckle blossoms.”

She plucked a honeysuckle blossom, then one for me and waited. I then realized that tasting a honeysuckle's nectar is something that she wanted to share with her dad.

My daughter and I have been residents of Poet’s Cottage for eight months now. I could not ask for a better daughter and friend to have as a roommate. Our circumstances have not been without hardships, but we are blessed and thankful to be where we are today.

We ain't all about biscuits and gravy here in the south. This week’s Frugal Poet offering is the perfect side for a spring or summer meal. Thank you Beth Pulliam for sharing this delicious recipe!

Marinated Veggie Salad

Drain and combine:

1 can shoepeg corn
1 can french style green beans
1 can bean sprouts
1 can lima beans
1 can peas
1 2 oz jar pimentos
1 can water chestnuts
1 cup chopped celery
1 thinly sliced onion


1 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
dissolve 1 T salt in 1 T water
1 t basil
1 t oregano
1 t garlic powder

Whisk marinade together and pour over veggies. Refrigerate overnight.

Continuing with this week’s theme of vegetables and plants that sustain us, I offer this haiku:

recession —
poke salad growing
in a sidewalk crack

The Heron’s Nest: Volume XIII, Number 4: December, 2011

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Squeezing Turnips

Most of us have heard the cliche “You can’t get blood from a turnip.”  The adage is usually quoted to remark on some state of financial duress or when we’ve been asked for something we deem as far beyond our means to provide.  A lot of us see the precept as inarguable.  I, however, do not and here’s why.  If blood is life’s force and it’s something you can’t get from a turnip, then it would logically follow that a turnip should sustain nothing at all.  Well I’ve watched three seasons move across my father’s humble turnip patch and have been repeatedly amazed at how so many species take their sustenance from what that garden provides.  And those turnips have given far past what was asked of them.

Papa initially planted the turnips for his beloved honeybees.  Last summer, autumn and winter here were warm and dry - he worried they’d not have lush enough foraging territory in spring so he planted the turnips with the intention of letting them run berserk.  When the turnips were at their peak in early autumn, my uncle would stroll over for a visit, pull a turnip and eat it raw while chatting with and generally catching up on life with his brother.  My oldest daughter would harvest a sackful to take home with her to roast or boil.  Neighbors reaped some of the turnips’ green foliage to boil and sauté - a true southern delicacy when teamed with a hot pan of cornbread.

As autumn’s brilliance faded into winter, the turnips began heaving themselves to the soil’s surface.  Their remaining greenery grew thick and wildly upward into leggy stalks.  Deer and at least one groundhog feasted themselves silly as I found half-eaten purplish orbs scattered helter-skelter around the garden.  Either they came back for leftovers the next day or yet more wild creatures dined on the castoffs - fresh bites had been taken from a few such turnips over several days.

With spring’s arrival, the patch flowered into an explosion of delicate yellow blooms.  The garden literally hummed as Papa’s honeybees nursed en masse, carrying pollen back to their hives to provide sustenance for not only themselves but the countless family dinner tables and restaurants our apiary supplies with honey.  Several kinds of birds now reside in the turnip patch and feed from the scattering seed now that the blossoms are spent.  That groundhog now fairly waddles in and out of the thicket, having developed a taste for aging but easily accessible turnips which lie entirely exposed.  I now detect the tiny green shoots emerging from the turnip patch floor which signal their readiness to provide yet again.  No blood from a turnip?  I invite you to rethink that one.

This week’s recipe repeatedly nourishes and satisfies too.  Thanks to my friend, Norman Darlington of Darlington Richards Press and Bunclody, Wexford, Ireland for validating that this version is the real deal!

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Sift together flour, salt and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, work butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Add beaten egg and buttermilk to well and mix it with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir.  Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf. Transfer dough to a  lightly greased 8” or 10” cast iron skillet.  Using a serrated knife score the top of the dough about ½” deep in an “X” shape to let the devil out!  Transfer to oven and bake until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife - about 40 minutes.  Transfer bread to a rack and let cool briefly.  Serve warm, at room temperature or sliced and toasted.

Finally, a haiku to finish your meal.

full-bellied moon -
catfish lurking
beneath my line

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Poetry and Rum Cake

I’ve never asked for payment to read a few of my poems to an audience. As long as I have gas money (which is becoming increasingly difficult these days), I’m willing and ready to share my love of poetry and my poems to anyone who will listen. The way I look at it, the more I promote poetry, the better the likelihood that someone will pick up a pen and pad and share their own poems.

Why? It’s simple. I am of the opinion that the world would be a better place if everyone wrote poetry. There certainly would be more people in touch with their feelings; empathy would be a common trait for everyone. Dialogue, whether in the form of a poem, prose or spoken word, would be less muddled. Maybe poetry receives a bum rap because of our tendency to mask our feelings. Maybe we’d understand and recognize each other more easily, as human beings who share a remarkable world, if we’d write or read an occasional poem.

Do I think poetry can fix the world’s problems? No. But I firmly believe it could be a tool to work toward that goal.

I recently had the pleasure of reading a few poems to an English class at the college where I work. The class was small but receptive to my poems. I enjoyed the smiles and the laughs that the more humorous poems brought from the audience. After reading my Southern Legitimacy Statement #5, a student spoke-up and said, “I like that”, and I could tell that something in that poem was relatable to him.

Now that’s payment that’s better than money. :)

Cissy Murphy, the instructor for the class, gifted me after the reading with a very nice card, money (she really shouldn’t have!) and a gem of a family cookbook. She’s given me permission to share a few of the recipes here, on The Frugal Poet web site.

And so, without further ado, let me share the first recipe I prepared from her family cookbook:

Bacardi Rum Cake

1 box or package of yellow cake mix
1 (3 ½ ounce) package instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
½ cup cold water
½ cup Bacardi Dark Rum
½ cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour (I used Baker’s Joy cooking spray and did not flour) a 10 inch tube pan. Mix ingredients. Pour into a pan. Bake for one hour. Cool the pan for 25 minutes then invert onto a serving plate. Prick top (I used a fork). Spoon and brush rum glaze over cake.

Rum Glaze

¼ lb butter
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
½ cup dark rum

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil for five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rum.

One note: prior to pouring the mix into the tube pan, I added brown sugar and pecans to the pan, right on top of the Baker’s Joy that I’d just sprayed. Once inverted, this gave me a topping of brown sugar and pecans.

I’ll close with an untitled haibun I penned recently. Have a great week!

for the second time this week, i pluck a honeysuckle blossom, pinch the bottom, pull the stem through, exposing a tiny droplet of nectar at the base of the blossom. i extend my tongue, savor its sweetness like a fine wine.

haiku poets are more attune and appreciative of the seasons. it is a bonus gift for having chosen haikai no michi, or the Way of Haiku. i’d go so far as to say that we become one with the natural world and the seasons and are keenly aware that we are transient beings existing only for a moment in time...

solar flares...
a new sunspot
on my skin