Kitchen Advice

As it says on my profile, I’ve been cooking for a long time–long enough to learn some important lessons. Today, I would like to share some of those with you.

1. When straining any liquid you wish to save through a collander, put a bowl under it.

2. Do not squeeze the sprayer on the kitchen sink if it is pointed directly at you. (I was reminded of the wisdom of this advice once again today.)

3. Any idiot can remember to use a potholder when removing a hot dish from the oven. The trick is to remember to do it when you turn around to pick up the dish again.

4. This one I learned at a very early age: The phrase “stir by hand” should not be taken too literally. In most cases, a spoon is also involved.

5. You cannot substitute fruit juice for fruit in a pie.

Irony, Defined

My efforts yesterday to avoid the Bridge of Terror in my travels around and about Charleston, SC were an utter, complete failure. Looking at a map, I chose a route that circumvented the BOT and went over what appeared to be two relatively small river crossings.

How terribly, horribly wrong I was. I had to travel over not just one but two monstrosities on I-526. One of them, the Don Holt Bridge, was the site of an accident in which an SUV plunged over the side just three months ago. A tire blew, the vehicle flipped multiple times, and then went over the guardrail. This confirms my belief that your car CAN direct itself toward the edge of a large bridge and fling itself over the side. It’s also a sound testament to my decision to reduce my speed to about 45 mph, enter the middle lane, and turn on my hazard lights in hopes that a tanker truck wouldn’t rear-end my tiny Honda Civic and send it flying into oblivion.

Perhaps it’s just best to stay home with the cats.

If you’re at all interested, someone actually took a video of their drive over the Bridge of Terror. Maybe if I watch it multiple times I will be able to cross it one day without fear.

The Bridge of Terror

Today I’m in Charleston, South Carolina on business. Only those people who have never traveled for business will be jealous that I get to visit beautiful cities like Charleston as part of my job. As for food, I don’t get to pick the best restaurant in town and take our donors there–I go wherever I’m invited. (Today’s choice: Longhorn–no complaints, but it’s not quite unique to Charleston.)

And I have to face things like the Bridge of Terror, otherwise known as the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, which is, according to Wikipedia, “the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.” How do people face this monster every day, when their car might at any second direct itself toward the edge, fling itself over the flimsy concrete barrier, and plunge them 186 feet into the murky depths below? Why do they have to make it so TALL? And put such enormous cables on it? It’s like driving along one of those South American roads in a tiny bus with a cliff on both sides.

I hyperventilate just at the thought of going over this thing. Luckily for me my hotel this evening is at the absolute total last possible point it can be without actually taking me over it. And I’ll have to go out of my way only 10 miles to avoid it tomorrow. So I suppose I’m luckier than I realize.

We’re Back!!

We are back–back on the Internet, back on the blog, back in an apartment that we can call home for at least a little while, until the sub-prime poo that has constipated the housing market gets cleared out and our house . . . well . . . until our house sells.

Moving on, so to speak, from infantile metaphors, I’ll give you a brief update on what’s been going on. During that little holiday towards the end of last month, which raised its feeble hand from the rubble of the consumer-crazed train wreck we call Christmas, Fred and I a) moved and b) visited our respective families in an odyssey across the Southeast. Our journey culminated in a six-hour drive with four sullen, mewing creatures in the back of a rented SUV as we continued the transfer of our worldly goods from Atlanta to Durham. (Poor Louise’s bladder gave out about an hour from Durham, so her first experience in her new home was a bath. She has since recovered–as I look at her now, she is sprawled out on the living room floor, just waiting for one of her kitty friends to stroll by so she can give her a good swat.)

The first part of the transfer was effected by Jamie (no relation) and Chris of Two Men and a Truck. They began in Atlanta at 9:00 a.m. and arrived in Durham that evening. They then spent a heroic four hours lugging furniture, and boxes and boxes and boxes of books, and painting after painting after painting, across roughly one quarter mile and then up three flights of stairs, finishing at 1:30 a.m.

Since then, I’ve been unpacking books, hanging paintings, and generally reveling in the arboreal splendor of our new home of a large, impersonal apartment complex smack in the middle of Duke Forest. As I type this, I’m perched on the third floor, staring out of a large window across our screened-in porch at . . . trees. (And the outline of a nearby condo, but you really have to be looking to see it.) No buses. No earnest, fat-eschewing thirty-somethings jogging along as they push the baby stroller and walk the Golden Retrievers. No drunken, meth-addled neighbors knocking on our door to ask for “bus fare” or a chance to mow our lawn for five dollars. No construction workers ripping down the small house next door to put in a half-million dollar monstrosity that will only CLOG UP the housing market even more and keep our house from selling.

I am beginning to like it here. Now we just need to get the Fred to join me. He continues to live in a vegetable-free house with a futon, a couch, and a TV, with the buses, the earnest joggers, the meth addicts, and the construction workers just outside the door. If you are one of our Atlanta friends, please do invite him over for dinner, or take him out somewhere besides Twain’s.

Soupy Comfort, Take 2

And now to finish yesterday’s post interrupted by unknown forces of evil* living inside my computer:

Lately I dream of change. Last night, for instance, I was driving down the Red Hill Road. This is the road that runs just south of our farm, through other farms that don’t have the misfortune to be located on a major trucking route. My father used to take me on “driving lessons” there most Sunday mornings while I was a teenager (a happy journey for me, a heart-stopping, dry-mouthed ordeal of terror for him). And so the route reminds me of security and good conversations with my dad (as he clung helplesslessly to the armrest, his foot pressing futilely on the invisible, utterly useless passenger-side brake).

Anyway, in my dream the Red Hill Road was a scene of devastation brought about by “progress”–forested areas blackened from fire in preparation for housing developments that were coming in and bright new gas stations with inky, freshly paved parking lots. Everything we grew up with was gone–the old schoolhouse from my grandfather’s generation, the McKay farm, the little cemetary next to the tiny Methodist church. Naturally I was distressed, but I don’t remember much else except that I tried to turn around in one of the gas station parking lots to go back to a part of the road that had not changed. I don’t know if I got back or not.

Even the cats could interpret that one–fear of the change involved in moving, fear that change will be destructive, desire to go back to the way things were. But even in the dream it was obvious that the change wasn’t going to stop and that I had to accept it–and that at least there was a place to stop for gas on the Red Hill Road.

At 42, I might, just might, be starting to grow up. But not so much that I don’t love potato soup.

When I was a child, long before I terrified my poor father behind the wheel of a 1972 Ford Galaxy 500, potato soup was a favorite comfort food–Campbell’s potato soup, that is. My grandmother, a fabulous cook who grew, canned, and preserved nearly everything the family ate, was also possessed by a strange post-Depression fascination with highly processed, heavily marketed foods. Pouring through the local newspaper, Mammaw loved nothing better than to try a new recipe that involved mixing together multiple canned products or adding Cool Whip, even as milk from our cow sat curdling in the churn, waiting for her to make butter. (Anyone who’s ever churned butter or canned green beans or cut corn from a cob will understand the attraction of such a recipe.)

At any rate, Campbell’s soup, especially potato, was one of those foods, and I shared her love for it. I begged for it nearly every day, sometimes more than once. I loved the creamy texture and the tiny bits of potato-like substances that floated in a sea of milky glory. I wanted nothing more in life than to have Campbell’s potato soup every single day.

And then I hit a wall. One day Mammaw opened up the can and heated it up as usual. I cannot remember how many meals in a row had involved potato soup, but it was many. And when the bowl was put in front of me, it was suddenly transformed into a gluey, fake-tasting, disgusting mess. Such is the five-year-old appetite. I have not eaten Campbell’s potato soup since.

I have a vague memory that my disgust with Campbell’s was the result of Mammaw making homemade potato soup one day, which spoiled me for anything else. Whether that’s true or not, it’s definitely the case that Campbell’s fall from grace did not put me off potato soup altogether. Potato soup remains a favorite comfort food, one that reminds me of a time when someone was making homemade butter and Cool Whip-infused desserts just for me. And what better time to make it when you are traveling down a new road with blackened trees and new gas stations that nevertheless holds the promise of something just a bit better beyond the curve.

Potato Soup with Bacon

8 slices bacon, sliced into 1″ pieces
1 large onion, chopped
6 medium Yukon gold or russet potato
Water to cover potatoes
About 1/2 c half and half
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute bacon on medium heat in large pot, stirring frequently, until it just begins to crisp around the edges. Add onion and saute until translucent, stirring frequently. Add potatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and just enough water to cover. Cover pot and cook on medium heat for about 3o minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add half and half–more or less depending on how thick you would like the soup.

Variation: Add 1 – 2 cups chopped cabbage for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

*There was an article in the New York Times Magazine recently that claimed the word “evil” was dropping out of colloquial use. That person clearly does not use a computer.


Today the real source of my homesickness has dawned on me. Each new move, each big change, reminds me that there’s no chance of going home again.

This is probably because the home I imagine does not really exist. It’s a place where I’m sitting on the porch talking politics with my grandparents on a summer night. (“This war is all about getting oil for the Bush family,” said my grandfather about the 1990 Gulf War, so it’s probably best he isn’t alive to see today’s debacle.) It’s our farm, where we would pick blackberries in June and my grandmother would make them into pies and jams. It’s Christmas with all of my familiy together, everyone happy and stuffed with dressing and turkey.

All of that happened while I was growing up, but those events came only in transient moments. Home itself is transient. Whatever physical space or even relationship you create just won’t last. So you have to take whatever bits of it you can with you.

Home is where you make it. Home is here.

But I’m still homesick.