Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Fried Chicken

Every respectable Southern cook knows how to make fried chicken. I have found that my family's preference is chicken nuggets. I usually buy boneless chicken breasts and cut them into pieces.

Then I let them sit in a mixture of egg and milk for a few minutes. I take them from their milk bath and coat them with a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. I like to put mine in a bowl with a lid and shake them up for a minute, and I can't help but think of that annoying little girl who used to say "It's shake and bake and I helped."

For extra crispy chicken, drop the pieces back in the milk bath and do it all over again. Once the chicken is thoroughly coated drop them in a skillet of hot oil. I usually cook mine on medium high. Be sure to cover with a lid (this keeps the chicken moist). Cook until golden brown and then serve.

My kids always tease me saying I make the best chicken for somebody who doesn't eat it. I've tried, but I just don't like it. I don't know why. And while we're on the subject of picky eaters, my niece and nephew (ages 12 and 10) politely stuck their noses up at it and asked for the frozen chicken nuggets I keep on hand just in case they don't like the entree.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Write Now: Twitter

I must confess that in the beginning the thought of being limited to 140 characters was constricting. How can you say what you want to say in 140 characters? And keep in mind that spaces and punctuation are considered characters. And what is a hashtag? Who really reads these messages?

I joined Twitter and sent out a few tweets, but I really didn't know what I was doing or understand the possibilities until I took a class. Hub City was offering a class on social networking and I joined the crowd of novices. I didn't feel too bad since everyone looked as confused as I was.

But I went home with all my notes and got to work. I started following my friends and family first. Then I started following authors I admire whose work I enjoy. I follow a variety of people and companies now. Last week I retweeted Penguin for the opportunity to win Catherine Coulter's latest book Back Fire. Later that day I received a DM (direct message) from Penguin saying that I had won. WooHoo.

I've also connected with some really fabulous authors: Kimberly Brock, Wiley Cash, MaryBeth Whalen, Jennifer Weiner, Emily Griffin, and Beth Revis just to name a few. Trust me there are many more.

I saw where Wiley Cash was not impressed with the hotdog he was served while traveling so I hope next time he gets to Spartanburg that he will check out Ike's, a local establishment my grandparents opened many years ago. They still serve chili made with my Grandmother's recipe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Widow's Walk: Lion's Roar

I feel that after three years, I'm emerging from the depths of grief. To me grieving has always reminded me of the waves of the ocean - sometimes gentle and not overwhelming, sometimes a little choppy, or rough and turbulent, and then sometimes like the surge of a hurricane. And there is no weather report - you never quite know what to expect. 

Mostly, I think the hurricane waters have passed. I still miss him. I know I always will. And I value the short time we had together. I learned so much about life, relationships, loving, and living. I had the opportunity to watch a man, who was a believer, but with his diagnosis - he became fully engaged - in me, his family, his friends, the time he had left, and most of all with God. He spent hours praying, studying, and seeking. He sought counsel from wise men.

And yet he always stopped to savor the moments. Dinner wasn't just a meal, he tasted every bite. It didn't matter if it was a hamburger or a steak - he enjoyed it. 

When we went to the beach, my brothers asked him to play volleyball. They were being nice and taking it easy on him until he began diving for the ball and taking over the court. Just the month before, he could barely hold his head up, two months before that the doctors had given him ten days to live and he was running around on the sand playing volleyball, and a good game at that.

Afterwards he sat in his chair, basking in all the compliments of his prowess on the court. Only I knew that he had to take two pain pills and how much the walk back to the house hurt him. But for him, the discomfort was minor compared to that moment on the court when he spiked the ball and won the game.

Randy Paush said, "Even a wounded lion needs to roar." And Mike roared that day. Later as the cancer ravaged his body, that volleyball game was one of the memories he clung to. He loved to tell that story and laugh. My brothers still tell that story. Of course they've added to it by saying. "Here we were carrying his chair down to the beach because he just finished chemo and there he is flying around the court, diving, spiking, and beating us."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Pinto Beans

The typical way to cook beans is simmering them all day long. When I was growing up, Mama had a pressure cooker she often used. In my kitchen, I have a limited amount of space and I'm just not adding any more cookware. I make pinto beans in the crockpot. I love to use my crockpot. It is so wonderful to come home in the evening after a long day at work to find supper ready.

To make pinto beans in the crockpot:

Sort the beans, removing any of the small stones you often find in a bag of dried beans.

Soak the beans overnight. Rinse the beans. Do not use the water they have been soaking in. (If you don't have time for soaking overnight, you can cover the beans in water, bring to a boil, and then let the beans sit in the water for an hour. Rinse the beans. Do not use the water they have been sitting in.)

Place the beans in a crockpot. Add fresh water. The water level should be 2 to 3 inches above the beans. Add a small piece of fatback. (Yeah, I know it sounds yucky, but they taste better with it. I usually only buy fatback once a year. I keep it stored in the freezer.) 

Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. The beans should be soft, not hard.

I like to have my beans with a piece of cornbread and a couple of slices of tomato. My brother prefers a slice of onion. Many people I know like chow chow (the relish, not the dog) with their beans. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Write Now: Books to Read

Last week I attended the Hub City Writer's Workshop. As always, it was a great experience. I think that each year the conference is better than the year before. I am always amazed at the writers they bring in for the weekend and of course the staff at Hub City are so knowledgeable and helpful. I came away from the conference with a list of more books to read.

My brother likes to tease that I have the longest list of books to read than anyone else he knows. The library, my nightstand, and my iPad I'm sure agree with his assessment. So here are the books I've added to my reading list.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

The River Witch by Kimberly Brock
Kimberly Brock and Anna Kline & The Soul Grits Band will be at the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC this Saturday so if you're in the area, come join us.

Please come back on Sunday to find out what we'll be having for dinner.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Widow's Walk: Get Over It

My first thought when I saw the title of this article was to be offended. I was really expecting some quick-fix peppy way of dealing with things, but that was not the case.

This is a lovely and insightful article meant to help those dealing with intense pain.

Sometimes the best way to deal with pain is to truly experience it. After my husband died, I often found myself watching the movies Nights in Rodanthe and P.S. I Love You. Spoiler alert, but each is about a woman dealing with the death of a man. It helped me to go experience it with them - I was not alone. I understood their pain, frustration, fear, and loss. I cried when they cried.

When you lose your husband, people are very helpful at first, but eventually they return to their reality while the widow is facing a new normal - he's not there after work, at bedtime, on Saturday mornings. Nothing is the same and you have to learn how to navigate own your own.

And as I've said before, don't give yourself a time limit. You'll have good days and bad days. It has been three years and I still have difficult moments. Accept this as a reality.

I don't think that time really heals, but rather allow you to accept the reality of your situation. Don't rush the grieving process and understand that it never truly ends.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Southern Grown Tomatoes

I am at a writer's conference this weekend so I will not be cooking Sunday dinner.

A friend brought me some tomatoes the other day and I immediately thought of this scene with Ouiser from Steel Magnolias on why she grows tomatoes. "Because I'm an old Southern woman and we're supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don't ask me those questions. I don't know why, I don't make the rules!"

My grandmother didn't wear funny looking hats. Like most of the women in the family, she was very petite and she always said that hats made her look like a little girl dressing up in her Mama's clothes.

Grandmother did grow vegetables. Every year, she would add potting soil to the bricked off square, which was once part of the foundation for the old coal house. The mill village houses used to heat their homes with small coal fireplaces.

Grandmother would plant tomatoes (maters), okra, peppers, and cucumbers in her small plot of a garden. Other neighbors grew corn, green beans, and such. They were always exchanging vegetables with one another.

My grandmother used to tell me about how when she was a little girl, for lunch they would each go pick a fresh vegetable from her Mama's garden and eat it with a biscuit leftover from breakfast. This was their lunch most summer days. She said her Mama grew such delicious tomatoes that you could eat them just like an apple. Her favorite lunch was a tomato sandwich, bread lightly toasted, with just a little bit of mayonnaise. She said it reminded her of her Mama.

During the summer for Sunday dinner, there was always a small plate of sliced tomatoes put out. Grandmother would always take a slice or two, add a little salt and pepper and then eat it with her lunch. I didn't appreciate tomatoes back then. I thought that they were only for pasta sauce or ketchup, but I do enjoy them now. And as I taste a fresh tomato, I can't help but think of my petite grandmother, glasses resting on the tip of her nose, gray hair brushed back with just a little wave to it, and her brown eyes that seemed to be able to look into your very soul.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Write Now: Writing in Place

I am going to a writer's conference this weekend offered by the Hub City Writers Project. The faculty includes Ruta Septys, George Singleton, Anna Jean Mayhew, Ray McManus and Joni Tevis.

My professor, Susan Tekulve from Converse will also be teaching a workshop. She just won the SC First Novel Prize and her book will be published by Hub City Press next year.

We are so fortunate here in Spartanburg, SC to have such wonderful opportunities through the Hub City Writers Project.

I am looking forward to meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends.

If you can't make it to the conference. The keynote speaker, Ruta Septys will also be at the Spartanburg County Public Library on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys is a novel about 15 year-old Linia, who is a typical Lithuanian girl in 1941. She is preparing for art school until the Soviet police barge into the family home and deport them to a Siberian work camp. She secretly documents the experience with her artistic talents. The family is separated from the father. Food and water are scarce. Linia and her mother and brother are forced to work hard and endure horrific conditions, but there are moments when the prison cannot contain their spirit. Will their love and hope survive?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Widow's Walk: What Will Make You Feel Better?

Many years ago, my son had his first broken heart. His girlfriend had been seeing someone else and they broke up. He knew the relationship was over because the trust was gone. My brother was talking to him and I thought trying to console him.

"Do you know what will make you feel better?" my brother said.

"What?" my son replied with hope in his voice.

"Nothing," said my brother.

And of course I went into full protective Mama mode and almost intervened. But then my brother told my son about his own first broken heart and how devestated he was. Everything he once enjoyed now carried a stigma with it, some reference to her - the one who broke his heart. But slowly things changed. He could laugh again, listen to music, watch movies, hang out with his friends, and all the things that teenage boys do. It just took time.

You can't rush it. Finding someone else immediately only dulls your pain. It is still there. Sure you may forget for a little while, but it comes back. You're not helping yourself by not giving your emotions the proper time to adjust.

After Mike died, I waited for that magical day. Everyone said a year and a day. Well, it came and went and I felt just as bad as I did before. Grief does not have a timeline.

So if you're hurting, do you know what will make you feel better?

Nothing. At least not immediately.

Take care of yourself.

Do the things you are supposed to.

Find little things to keep you busy - not major obsessions. Sometimes in the evenings, in the quiet house, I would turn on the television for background noise, brew a pot of coffee (to remember Mike by - coffee was his favorite, he drank it all day long, I prefer tea or Diet Coke), and I would work jigsaw puzzles. I'm not saying this will work for you, but it did for me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Fresh Corn

Fresh Corn
My Mom loved to make fresh corn. She would shuck the corn removing all the silks. With a knife, she would cut the kernels from the cob and then scrape the cob with the blade to get the juices left behind. She would then cook a piece or two of bacon in a seasoned cast iron skillet. She would remove the bacon, and add the corn to the skillet. She would add a little salt, pepper, butter, and about a half cup of milk for 5 to 6 ears of corn. The corn would simmer while she worked on the rest of Sunday lunch.

The first time I tried to make it for my family, it was frustrating. Mom always made the corn and she made it look so easy. I had to rely on all those years of watching her. The first time I tried to cut the corn from the cob, I was terrified that I would lose a finger or two. Mom had been cooking corn for over forty years, so of course she was extremely skilled at it. Hopefully one day I will be too.
Ready to Eat
* If you wanted creamier corn, you can use heavy cream or more milk.
* Some like to add a little sugar and flour as well.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Write Now: Kindred Spirit

I first heard about the Kindred Spirit in a devotion from Proverbs 31. It spoke of a mailbox nestled in the sand dunes of Bird Island on Sunset Beach. Certain places call to us when we're going through difficult times. My Mom was in the midst of cancer treatments and the doctors had given her little hope. Bird watching was one of her passions and I read her the devotion.

Earlier that year, my brothers and I had taken Mom, Grandmother, and our families to the Edisto for vacation - it was our first family vacation in over twenty years. Mom was so happy, she had not been diagnosed yet.

After Mom died, we went to Sunset as a family. We were grieving. There is just something about the ocean air that speaks to your soul.

This year as I walked to the mailbox, I was thinking about what I would write. The mailbox is full of journals and pens. You're free to write anything you want to share.

This year, I am a grandmother. Daniel is five months old and I understand now why they are called grandchildren.

We saw a proposal on the beach via an airplane sign. He dropped to one knee and proposed in front of family, friends, and the entire beach. She said yes. They kissed while everyone whooped and cheered. In 2008, my son proposed to his girlfriend. It was hard to keep it a secret, but she was surprised.

Sunset Beach is a special place to me.

Widow's Walk: The Song

There is a song that when I hear the first notes, I immediately change the radio station. It is Mercy Me's I Can Only Imagine. The strange thing is that there was a time in my life when this song warmed my heart and made me feel better about whatever was going wrong in my life.

But now all I can think of when I hear those first notes is the death of my husband. It was his favorite song. The only request he made for his funeral.

Mike always said he wasn't afraid of dying, he was secure in his faith. He was concerned about the possible physical pain. Our prayer was always for God to give him as many good days as possible, but when it was over, to please take him swiftly. Mike went into hospice care on Friday afternoon and passed away quietly in his sleep early Sunday morning.

As I was on my way to work one morning last week, the first few notes played. Instinctively I changed the station, but then I had this sense that I needed to change it back. I listened to the words. Now instead of thinking of my husband's death, I saw him bathed in light.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Book Birthday to Marybeth Whalen's The Guest Book

Happy Book Birthday to Marybeth Whalen's The Guest Book. I have read her previous novels, The Mailbox and She Makes It Look Easy. I enjoyed both so much. I have been following MaryBeth since her days at Proverbs 31 Women's Ministry.

The Guest Book is the featured novel of the month at, where Mary Beth is part of the lead team with Ariel Lawhon. I have read many of the novels they have suggested and I have not been disappointed. If you're looking for a good book, it is a great place to start.

As for me, I am at Sunset Beach this week and I will be popping into the Pelican Bookstore to get my copy. The rest of the day, weather willing, I will be sitting on the beach, my toes in the sand and a cold Diet Coke nearby enjoying the story of The Guest Book.