A Thanksgiving Tradition

It is not often that you’ll find me talking about my experiences in the kitchen here on this blog. Well, you might find me talking about my experience in the kitchen but that is just what it is: talk. I do not go into my kitchen very often and, when I do, it is generally for something simple like coffee, milk or cereal.

It’s not that I’m uncomfortable in the kitchen, necessarily. It’s mostly a consequence of being a bachelor. Cooking for one is about the most unrewarding task I can imagine. It’s inefficient, given that you can produce a meal for three or four using the same amount of effort and the same number of dishes as you do when cooking for one. Sure, I know some singleton’s that really enjoy themselves in the kitchen and find it to be relaxing and enjoyable. I am just not one of those people.

Thanksgiving is typically the one time of year in which you might find me in the kitchen doing something more complex than scrambling an egg or frying up bacon (two things of which I am mightily capable.) The reason behind this is that there are typically an assortment of pot luck affairs to attend and I find myself shamed into doing something more than bringing some form of frozen desert.

But, also, I really enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, really enjoy it. If I can, I will enjoy it many times before and many times after the actual Thanksgiving holiday. In the past week, for example, I made a special trip to Boston Market for a turkey dinner with all the sides and I took advantage of the turkey luncheon at work. It’s like practicing for actual Thanksgiving.

In that vein, I have another practice session to attend tonight. A couple of my very good friends are hosting an early Thanksgiving potluck tonight and I’m preparing the one dish of which I’m capable: sweet potato casserole.

At least, sweet potato casserole is what my mother calls it. The rest of the family refers to the recipe as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”. The recipe entered Stafford family lore way back when I was in high school. High school was when the Stafford children began to invite various and sundry sweethearts to Thanksgiving dinner at Che Casa Stafford. Being steeped in Southern hospitality, these sweethearts would generally bring a dish to share.

This particular dish was brought to the table by Black Sheep’s high school girlfriend, Pat, using a recipe handed down to her from her mother. (Some of you know Black Sheep as “Frankenberry”. That’s another story for another time.) It was hugely popular and, for a number of years, thrust aside the simpler and more traditional sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Ever since that day, we’ve referred to the dish as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”.

And, ever since Black Sheep and Pat broke up, mom has been trying to get us all to stop calling it that, especially since Black Sheep’s wife is not named Pat. Mother doesn’t seem to understand that, once the tradition is set, it cannot be changed. That’s why they call it “tradition”.

Anyway, it is my favorite Thanksgiving dish and it’s the only one I learned to make on my very own. It’s like sweet potato crack and I’ve never known it to be unpopular. I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason I have things like measuring cups in the house. I know it’s the only reason I own a potato masher. It’s that good. I make it at least once a year but have been known to make it twice in a season. It’s good for Christmas potlucks too.

From my Mama’s cookbook: (I just noticed that my mother titled her cookbook, “Your Mama’s Cookbook”. It reminds me of endless “Your Mama” jokes. I snicker at my own wit.)

    “Sweet Potato Casserole” (a.k.a. “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”)

    I have served this casserole for several years at Thanksgiving and will likely continue as long as I am able, as no one will allow me to change the menu. Double the recipe for a large group.

    Boil sweet potatoes until they are easily speared with a fork (estimate 1 large potato per cup for recipe).

    Melt 2/3 cup of butter and divide it.

    Mix together the following:

    3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup evaporated milk (like Carnation or Pet)
    1 tbs.vanilla
    1/3 cup melted butter

    Pour this mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish and then mix the following:

    1/3 cup butter
    1 cup shredded coconut (I use the frozen kind)
    1 cup pecans
    1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
    1/3 cup flour

    Spread this mixture over the first and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Why Southerners Are Fat

Why are Southerners so fat?

I came across this article on Time.com today and thought I would share with all of you. The article covers a topic I’ve pondered once or twice, typically coincident with the Stafford family reunions in Mississippi. If you came to the Stafford family reunion, you might understand why the topic crossed my mind.

The Stafford family, while not uniformly obese, has quite a few specimens that tip the scale somewhere between 250 and 350 pounds. I have aunts and uncles that come in all shapes and sizes, as long as those shapes and sizes include squat and round. I have one cousin that had a heart attack and bypass surgery at 35 and one cousin that I thought was a garden shed when we were first introduced.

The other thing you notice when you’re in Mississippi for the family reunion is the fact that people in the deepest parts of the South will literally flour and fry anything. Fish, chicken, shrimp, tomatoes, okra, pickles…you name it. If you can eat it, chances are someone in Mississippi has tried it fried. I’m convinced people down there would fry the sweet tea if they could only figure out how. The state is awash in grease.

And there’s only one serving size for all that fried food. It’s called “all-you-can-eat”. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single restaurant I entered in Mississippi was a buffet. I cannot think of a single restaurant we patronized that was not a buffet. Not one. I once tried to count the number of buffet restaurants that we passed as we drove. You may as well try to count the grains of sand on a beach. It cannot be done.

But the reason I think Southerners are fat goes beyond both of those items. The reason I think Southerners are fat is the same reason I think my father is fat. It’s not that he’s lazy and doesn’t exercise. The man ran 1000 miles in his 40th year. He’s walked many times that distance since, much of it with bad hips and knees. At 75, he still tries to exercise with barbells.

The reason I think my father is fat, (or was for most of his life) is because he has a love affair with the food experience. For him, the food experience goes beyond just food. It is an infinitely social thing, a finding of joy in the breaking of bread with his family and friends.

The food experience for him is finding joy in an abundance that he did not know as a poor kid growing up in the poor South. It is a recreation of Granny Holloway’s Sunday dinner, the maybe once-a-week meal in which he found plenty as a child, the one meal a week from which he did not walk away wanting more. It is a purely emotional response to food, a happiness found in satiety.

The food experience is something Dad always wanted to share, too. As a friend of mine growing up, you could not come to my house without being offered a meal of some sort. “You boys want sammich?” still rings in my mind as the question most often asked of me and my buddies. My father has Parkinson’s and cannot drive but will still, to this day, ask us if we want him to get us a chicken biscuit from Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. In his retirement, his favorite way to pass the time is to enjoy a meal with one of his good buddies. The food experience is in his bones.

Couple that with the larger sense of Southern hospitality, a tradition that almost always involves sharing food with family, friends and neighbors, and I think you go a long way towards explaining the prevalence of obesity in the South. Southerners love food and they love the food experience. They love socializing over a meal and love the feeling of plenty when times are often lean. This keeps them coming back to the trough again and again and again, whatever the consequences to their appearance and their health.

Beer of the Night: Pauwel Kwak at The Porter

Just got in from The Porter where I had dinner with my buddies Jimmy and Elric.  This was my second trip to The Porter. I am beginning to really like the place and, if I ever open my own beer joint, it’s a place that will certainly serve as an inspiration, as will  Brick Store Pub. Both have great beer lists but The Porter, I think, has a slightly better atmosphere and is in a better location, at least if you live in Atlanta proper. If you’re just considering the beer list, Brick Store is probably the place to be.

The Pauwel Kawk pint glass, free with purchase
The Pauwel Kawk pint glass, free with purchase

Tonight was Pint Night and the pint in question was Bosteels’ Pauwel Kwak or, simply, Kwak. Kwak is a Belgian ale that comes with it’s own special glass. Part of the attraction of Pint Night at The Porter is that, while supplies last, the beer comes with a glass that you can take home with you. That was enough of a reason for Jimmy, Elric and me to visit The Porter on a Tuesday night.

The company, as always, was excellent. As brothers in Christ, we talked beer, Bible study and zombie movies, not necessarily in that order. We tend to cover a lot of ground when we get together, beer notwithstanding. It’s always a good time.

The beer was, to me, somewhat indifferent. The glass is unique and was a lot of fun but the beer itself was nothing to write home about. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t memorably good either. I remember it as fairly spicy but without distinguishing marks. I would drink it again but I wouldn’t go out of my way to order it again either. I followed it with a He’ brew Rejewvenator that was just as forgetable. Maybe I just wasn’t in the beer tasting mood.

Whatever the mood, I definitely enjoyed the Apple Bacon Hushpuppies and the Kraut and Brats.  As everyone knows, bacon makes everything better and you just can’t go wrong with ‘kraut and brats. Them’s good eatin’.

If you’re ever in Atlanta and you’re a big fan of beer, seek out The Porter. It’s newer and maybe not as well known as Taco Mac or Brick Store Pub but it’s got a great atmosphere, a good menu and an eclectic selection of beers from which to choose.

Of the three establishments, I think it may rapidly become my favorite. It doesn’t have the rare beers you’ll find at Brick Store but it’s not as crowded either. And Little Five Points is at least as hip as Decatur.  Maybe more so. The Porter might not have breadth of selection you’ll find at Taco Mac but, then again, you won’t find the beer list padded with crap either.

Anyway, it was a good evening. I enjoyed a few beers and some good company. And I got a free glass. Life, for a while at least, is good. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Happy Mother’s Day from the Baby Birds

It’s Mother’s Day and I’m here to fulfill the one request my mother made of me today: write something for the blog. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.  This one is just for you.

My intention for the Mother’s Day blog was to honor my mother by typing up one of her recipes in this space. Given that it’s two hours later than I’d hoped to get this done, that may have to wait until a time in which I’m not utterly exhausted.  I may be able to find a suitably short recipe if you’ll give me a moment.

Okay, the following is not short but it is a good story and mentions my great-grandmother, Granny Holloway. She is the woman responsible for raising my father and it seems appropriate to honor her and my mother on this Mother’s Day occasion. I hope you enjoy it.

***

Granny’s Recipe For Feeding Baby Birds

My Harris grandparents loved parakeets and they had more than one pair during the years I best remember them. One pair they had in the 1950’s were named Ike and Dick after President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon. (My grandparents were ardent Republicans during the years when most Alabama citizens were rabid Democrats.) My grandfather doted on them. He taught them to say “I like Ike” and “Dickie Bird” and they flew around the house freely or rode on his shoulders.

Granny Holloway loved birds as well. According to Sidney, she always kept a red bird (cardinal) in a cage and had an uncanny way of finding young birds that had “fallen from the nest.” Perhaps Granny helped some of them fall but, however she found them, she successfully raised them to adulthood and kept them for her pleasure.

When our children were small, we raised baby birds as well – once two blue jays we named Jack and Jill, and once several starlings. Sidney remembered Granny’s recipe for feeding baby birds and they did well. We kept them in a cardboard box until they began to perch on its sides and then we moved them to the back porch.

When they learned to fly, they enjoyed perching in the trees in the back yard but would come back to the porch to be fed. Later they perched on the telephone wires in front and flew down the street to greet Sidney as he walked home from the college. Unfortunately, they began to fly down to greet others who did not understand their friendly intentions. Our mailman and our neighbor were terrified when the birds began darting down from the sky and landing on their head and shoulders.

Unfortunately, Jack drowned one day, apparently while admiring his image in a tub of water. But Jill and the starlings lived to fly off into the trees and become independent. We suppose they did, that is. They came less and less often to be fed and eventually they didn’t come back at all. We hope they adapted themselves to the wild and lived long and happy lives.

Granny Holloway was half Indian (her mother was either full-blooded Creek or Choctaw) and she must have learned Indian ways. (Sidney was fascinated that, while she was working outdoors or in her garden, Granny would often pee while standing straight up and without removing any underwear. I have read that this was an Indian practice. Apparently she was wearing no underwear that required removal.) It may be that her joy in raising birds was one of her Indian ways. Her recipe for feeding them was simple:

Boil one small potato in its skin and cut it up fine. Hard boil one (or more) egg and mash it up very fine. Mix the egg with the potato. Feed the mixture to the birds with a pair of tweezers as often as they clamor for food (just stick it down their throats). Occasionally give them a drop or two of water from a clean eye dropper.

Keep the birds in a cardboard box with newspaper lining the bottom. Add small strips of newspaper to serve as nesting material. Change the papers often. When the birds become active and seem ready to leave the box, move the box outdoors but away from cats. Continue feeding them as needed until they fly away.

By the way, we don’t recommend caging wild birds.

***

Thanks, Ma, for the story and the recipe and for raising all of us and the baby birds. I know we’ve all flown away but it’s nice to know we can all fly back again when we need to be bed.

I love you and hope you’ve had a lovely Mother’s Day.

Next Stop: Points West

Back in the clubhouse checking email before heading out for points west. Going to try to visit Mamma and maybe my cousin’s family before heading to mom and dad’s. Life at the beach has been relatively uneventful. We’ve done a great deal of nothing, punctuated by long periods of more nothing. It’s been relaxing.

We did hit up Jockey’s Ridge yesterday afternoon after lunch at Stack ‘Em High and some window shopping. Tiger and I climbed the ridge and had a lot of fun sliding down the dune. We had so much fun we did it twice. I had sand drifting in every crevice the rest of the afternoon. Nothing like jumping and sliding down a fifty foot sand dune for shoveling sand into your underpants. It was good times.

Charlie on the slopes of Jockey's Ridge, before the pants-load of sand.
Charlie on the slopes of Jockey's Ridge, before the pants-load of sand.

Dinner last night was “Red Drum Grille and Taproom“. It was another disappointing experience. With a name like Red Drum, you expect some great southern sea food, complete with piles of hush puppies. It was not to be. We inquired about hush puppies but there were none to be had.

I am developing a theory that the ethanol-fueled shortage of corn is driving the price of corn meal so high that restaurants are no longer able to afford hush puppies. If this is indeed the case, I will immediately contact my representatives to have the ethanol subsidies revoked. I was find with the high price of corn as long as it was only affecting the price of tortillas but when it starts to affect my fried corn-meal products, it’s hitting too close to home.

My alternate theory is that the transplanted Yankees do not know the value of a good hush puppy and, therefore, they have been removed from hush puppy serving establishments. If this is the case, my poor opinion of your average transplanted Yankee will sink even further. As it is, I think this was just a case of poorly managed expectations. The Red Drum bills itself as a “Grille and Taproom” and that’s what it is.  Only the name led me to expect good southern seafood.

In actuality, I got decent pub food and that really seems to be the focus of the restaurant. They had a great beer selection (some Highland brews, Fat Tire on special and a smattering of other stuff) and the food, while not what I expected, was decent. I ordered the fried flounder, expecting something floured and pan-fried. What I got was fish and chips: battered and deep-fried flounder fillet served with vinegar and fries. In other words, I got pub food.

We seriously considered driving around looking for hush puppies after the meal. If it hadn’t been so late, we probably would’ve. Instead, we stopped into the Dairy Queen for ice cream. It quickly dissipated any lingering disappointment in the meal or the menu of our chosen dinner place. I got a vanilla blizzard with Butterfinger and Heath Bar.  Yum.

Anyway, seeing as how I’ve been accused by many on Facebook of being addicted to the internet, I should probably sign off and go enjoy the sun and sand whilst I’m able. I’m leaving here after lunch to go spend a few hours with my grandmother and then heading on to see my folks. The one negative about vacation in North Carolina is that I have to spend the greater portion of it driving the length of the state in order to see everyone I have to see. It’s a good thing I like driving.

It’s also a good thing that gas is relatively cheap. I didn’t tell this story earlier but I nearly ran out of gas on the way to the beach. I left Durham with about an eighth of a tank and made it somewhere near Rocky Mount before the low fuel indicator lit up. I didn’t feel led to gas at any of the stops in Rocky Mount, striving instead to reach the Raceway in Tarboro.

Did you know that there is a relatively unpopulated stretch of highway between Rocky Mount and Tarboro? It’s true. It stretches for what seems like 25 or 30 miles, especially when you’re low on fuel. I was so worried about running out at some point that I shut off the air conditioning and reduced speed to 55 (in a 70 m.p.h. zone).

As it turned out, I exited the highway at a relatively remote exit, hoping against hope that I could find some out-of-the-way gas station.  Little did I know that, had I continued, the Raceway would’ve been at the next exit. I prayed and kept my fingers crossed and managed to come up on the back side of the Raceway by an accident of turns and circumstances.

Once spotted, I even passed two more gas stations to get there. Raceway always has the cheapest gas and I’m cheap enough to risk running out of gas to save thirteen cents a gallon. Anyway, the half-a-tank remaining should get me back there. Hope so, anyway, as that’s my planned stop for fuel on the way home. For those on the other end of my travels, I’ll see you soon, barring unforeseen circumstances. Like running out of gas.

And Happy Birthday to the Romanian!

Burgers and Beer at Treehouse

Just got back in from dinner at Treehouse Restaurant and Pub with my buddy Jimminy. I love that place. I’ve only been twice but, I have to say, their burgers are leaps and bounds above those at Flip Burger Boutique.  They also have a great outdoor seating arrangement that is great on a warm Spring evening. It’s cool to see folks out dining with their dogs in tow.

It was also good to catch up with buddy Jim. Hopefully we’ll get to make the catch up burger a regular occurence. It’s good to have a buddy that is able to and appreciates talking about college basketball. Most of my friends around here are either ambivalent about it or are pro basketball fans.

I just don’t get it. Growing up in North Carolina, college basketball is life. Here in Atlanta, college basketball is something that happens in the background after the SEC football season is over and before the Braves begin their season. Thankfully, there is an AM radio station that carries UNC basketball every so often. When I really need my fix, I torture myself driving around looking for spots where the signal is strong enough to come through.

I really need to get cable, I think.

Anyway, Jimmy went to school in Ann Arbor and is a long-suffering Michigan fan. He prefers college football, but can still speak intelligently about the world of NCAA basketball.  Being a Michigan fan, and finding his team beaten by them in most years, he’s no admirer of Duke. I appreciate that in a friend. He who hates my enemy becomes my friend.

I also “discovered” a new beer. I know it’s been around and it’s really no secret, but I tried Grolsch for the first time, at least in my memory. I have to say, it is a great beer to accompany a burger. It’s flavorful, clean, refreshing and not intolerably heavy. Heavy is a no-no for a burger beer. I may like it more than I like Stella Artois. And I like Stella a great deal.  I’m happily impressed and foresee more Grolsch in my future.

If you’re in Atlanta and you need a good burger, a good beer and good buddy time, do yourself a favor. Check out Treehouse Restaurant and Pub, over in Peachtree Hills. It’s a good time.

Review: Flip Burger Boutique

Flip Burger Boutique
Flip Burger Boutique

Just got in from dinner with my buddy Jimminy (a.ka. “Jiminez“). He just got back from New York with the Missus and it’s been a while since we caught up so we decided to hit up the fashionable new burger place off Howell Mill, Flip Burger Boutique. I read about it a few weeks ago on Chow Down Atlanta and have been wanting to try it out ever since. A group of us tried to go weekend before last but we’re unable to brave the two hour wait to get a table.

My initial impression? As fads go, this too shall pass.  It’s a unique concept that is well done but …I expected to be knocked out by the burger and I was mildly underwhelmed. I’ll go again but won’t brave a huge crowd, even though the tables turned over pretty quickly.

Our wait tonight was about 20 to 30 minutes, if that tells you anything. Tuesday night at 8 o’clock and the place was hoppin’. We bellied up to the bar to have a beer before dinner. The first point of judgment came from there. I always judge a place on the selection of beers they have on offer.

I can’t say this place was Brick Store Pub or The Porter, but they had some notable beers. The beer list wasn’t huge but it was decently select.  They have one of my favorite beers, Three Philosophers, in a bottle. Good way to score points, that, but I’ve noticed Three Philosophers popping up in more and more places these days. God forbid, I think it’s becoming trendy. Ditto for Allagash White, the beer of the night. I forewent the Three Philosophers on the theory that a lighter, crisper beer would provide better accompaniment to a heavy burger.

As it turned out, by the time we were seated, we’d pretty much decided to move away from beer and over to the house milkshakes. Flavors run from “Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow” to “Pistachio and White Truffle” to, get this, Foie Gras. I kid you not. They have an actual Foie Gras milkshake. They swore up and down that it was surprisingly good. For $9 dollars, it should be. But I just couldn’t imagine drinking any kind of duck liver milk shake.

I can vouch for the Nutella and Marshmallow shake, however. I’m sure it was at least a thousand calories, but it was great.  Ditto for the “Krispy Kreme” milkshake.  I didn’t try it but have it on Jimmy’s good authority that it tasted like several Krispy Kreme glazed donuts in ice cream. In other words, it was no kind of bad.

What turned me lukewarm on the place was the burger. They had some really interesting burgers on the menu and they certainly are crafted with attention to detail. But they weren’t all that great, honestly. They were good, but not wait-thirty-minutes-on-a-Tuesday-night great.  The meat was fresh and of the choicest cuts. The ingredients were interesting and a good mix of the traditional and non-traditional. The sides were unique and everything was well presented but…the burger itself left me wanting a little more.  I guess the burger just didn’t live up to the hype.

That’s why I think the place will simmer down to normal crowds in a few more months. Trendy is great but people will soon move on to the next big thing. When that happens, I’ll go back again. It was a good atmosphere and there are several more burgers I’d like to try. And I just have to find out what that Foie Gras milkshake is all about.

How to Make Snow Cream

As keeper of a blog, I’m a little obsessive about how many people are reading what I write. I check several stat compilers several times a day to figure out who’s coming from where to read what. I don’t know why, exactly. I get maybe 20 people here a day. But it’s nice to know that people are reading what I write.

It makes me wish I had something more worthwhile to say, but what are you gonna’ do, right?

Anyway, I’ve been impressed with the number of international visitors. I had no idea. I apparently have a regular reader in Okinawa. (Konichiwa and thanks for stopping by.) I have readers come from England, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Israel…It’s weird. I truly feel I have so very little to say or, at least, have said very little so far. I suspect people knew me from my previous blog. They probably think I’m my brother, come to that.

I did have a visitor come from a Yahoo search on “how to make snowcrean“. Apparently neither they nor I know how to spell or how to type “snow cream”. I’ll have to correct that typo at some point, I suppose.

Seeing that coming to my site was going to get them no closer to making actual snow cream, I thought I’d help them out by asking Pop for his snow cream recipe. This is his answer:

Hey Choo.[One of my nicknames from Mom and Pop.] We have about three inches snow. Snow cream is probably best when made with condensed milk. Snow cream and cool aid and sugar and milk MAKES A GOOD ONE, Vanilla flavoring or chocalate is good with the condensed milk. I always experimented woth the portions=of milk, sugar and snow. Hope you make a good one, S** E**** and O**** were without heat for a few hours this morning. Goof luck with the snow cream.

I feel better now that I know poor typing is genetic and not something for which I am responsible. I also realize that the paragraph above gets your average searcher for snowcrean no closer to making it. Measuring, like typing, is not one of my father’s strong suits.

Because of this, I did a little searching of my own and found a few recipes for snow cream. One that sounds a bit like what Pop describes reads:

Sweetened Condensed Milk
Pure Vanilla Extract
Cut Mile with Real Milk or Water
Sugar
In a separate bowl, mix condensed milk, sugar and vanilla

Be forewarned. If you attempt to make snow cream, you too could lose your ability to type and spell.I assume that “Cut Mile” above means “Cut (Condensed) Milk”. It’s only an assumption, however.

BTW, I suspect the above recipe requires some amount of snow as well. Authentic snow cream usually does.

I remember that, on the rare occasions it snowed to any depth, we used to go out to the farthest reaches of the yard with a bucket to collect the freshest, most pristine snow we could find. We would do our best to keep our footprints out of the snow as long as possible, just so we’d have clean snow for snow cream. Inevitably one of my friends would come along and tramp through the yard to have us come out and play and, inevitably, we’d yell at them for messing up the yard.

They probably came down just for the snow cream. As far as I know, Pop was the only father in my circle of friends that made snow cream. One of these days, I hope to be able to pass the tradition along to my own kids.

Until then, If you find yourself snowed in and looking for snow cream recipes, I hope the recipes above come in handy. Just remember the one important piece of advice my father always passed along when it was time to make snow cream:

“Watch out for the yellow snow!”

I Made Butter

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night about the importance of setting goals in life. Setting goals and trying to reach them is how we grow in life and how we keep from stagnating. We talked about how important it is to continue to learn things just so we can keep moving forward.

One of my goals for this year is to learn how to make things. Mostly the things I want to learn to make are food or kitchen related.  I don’t know why, exactly. I’ve never been the picture of the domestic in the kitchen. I can cook if pressed and will do so if I have someone for whom I can cook. If it’s just me feeding myself, my philosophy has largely been to put it in a bowl, pour milk over it and consume. It’s quick, it’s easy and I’m perfectly happy with it. My roots in the kitchen run deep, though.

My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother have always been at home in the kitchen.  My family has never been rich but recipes and cooking skills have been handed down with pride from one generation to the next. To hear the stories told, the matriarch of the previous generation was always more accomplished when it came to cooking. I regret that I can’t have Grandmamma (that’s “grand maw maw”) Harris’ biscuits. Apparently they were heavenly. My grandmother, Mamma (“maw maw”), made great biscuits but always claimed her mother’s were better. She herself made great meringue pies that my mother claims she can’t duplicate. Mom makes things like peanut brittle and pear honey and has written a cookbook with all the “family” recipes. I think she’s gotten more active in the kitchen since her retirement.

My father also isn’t too bad in the kitchen. He tells stories of his Grandmother Holloway and her icebox rolls and talks of how he would compete with his cousin to see who could eat more of them in one sitting. His own cooking is always a bit of an experiment, however. You never really know what you are going to end up with when he fires up a burner.  We like to tell the tale of when my father took canned tuna and married it to canned fruit cocktail and presented it as a meal. I personally don’t remember it but the story is told on a fairly regular basis whenever the family gathers. Rumor has it that it was as gross as it sounds.

I do remember muffins made with pistachio pudding mix and a particularly patriotic red, white and blue cake.  There was fresh made snow cream and grape syrup made from melted Smuckers.  He made us milkshakes that were basically colored milk with a little sugar in it. Most of Pop’s magic was accomplished with a generous dash of food coloring, now that I think of it.  But he was always cooking up something new.

Given that history, I feel like I’ve been letting down the side when it comes to the kitchen. I feel that it’s incumbent upon me to learn what I can in the kitchen in order to preserve the heritage and so that I can leave the same to my own children one day, God willing that I ever have any of my own. So I set a goal to learn how to make things

Tonight, I made butter. I have always had an appreciation for homemade foods, whether it be beer or bread or whatever. They seem to satisfy the palette as well as the soul. There’s little better than real butter on a fresh piece of bread and I know my brother has made butter in the the past. I figured it couldn’t be too difficult. Certainly the instructions for making butter make it seem relatively straightforward. “Put whipping cream in a jar. Shake like mad.”

Shake like mad? This I can do.

I made a run to Trader Joe’s today in preparation for the assault on Mt. Butter. Two half-pints of whipping cream, a strainer and  a Mason jar. That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, there were no Mason jars to be had at either of the two locations I tried. I settled on a plastic bottle that doubles as a measuring cup and bore a “shaker” label.

This becomes a crucial piece of information a little later in the story. A plastic shaker is not the equivalent of a Mason jar.

Anyway, I get home and launch into a full scale cleaning of the kitchen. It seems improper to make anything in a disorganized kitchen. Maybe this was my OCD coming out or maybe it was just a delay tactic. I don’t know. I had to wait for the whipping cream to reach room temperature so I couldn’t get an immediate start anyway.

I cleaned my refrigerator, washing all the shelves and organizing my condiments by size and type.  I reorganized my pots and pans.  I unloaded the dishwasher. I took out the garbage. Twice.  I threw out no less then 7 two year-old bottles of salad dressing.

This last bit is odd as I do not eat salad, ever. Why I had 7 bottles of the stuff, I’ll never know. I think it’s because I’m a bachelor and bachelors are required, by law, to have a refrigerator full of condiments and beer.  I have three bottles of mayonnaise, six things of mustard (various types and flavors), two jars of pickles, four things of strawberry jam, four bottles of lime juice, three bottles of lemon juice, two unopened containers of maraschino cherries and two equally pristine containers of salsa. Somehow these things accumulate. I suspect them of multiplying through secret condiment carnality whenever the refrigerator door is closed.

I also have one metric ton of butter. Literally. The last thing I need is butter. The picture below is all the butter that was already in my fridge.

The butter that was already in my refrigerator.
The butter that was already in my refrigerator.

Why do I want to make butter, for crying out loud? I might as well make my own mustard.

***

Having appeased the obsessive compulsive voices in my head, I was ready to proceed. I poured the now lukewarm whipping cream into my shaker, pressed down the lid and started to shake. The instructions I’ve read called for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes of vigorous agitation and, being me, I assumed 45 was more appropriate than 15. I settled in for three-quarters of an hour of vicious and aggressive palsy.

45 minutes is a long time to shake anything. I quickly decided I was going to have to find something I could do with my unoccupied hand…k. Let me stop right there. I know some of you and I know where your minds are right now. Stop it. “Master butterer” jokes are just too easy at this point.

*Ahem*. As I was saying, I quickly decided I was going to have to find an alternate task I could accomplish whilst continuing to churn my butter. Updating my Facebook status happened to be the first thing that came to me,  as I felt it necessary for the entire world to know that, yes, I was following up on my promise to make butter.

This is when I took my eye off the ball. We’ve already established that a plastic shaker does not a Mason jar make. Whereas a Mason jar has a nicely threaded lid that can be screwed on tightly, a plastic shaker has a lid that snaps shut. Given this, it is possible for the lid to be removed by the simple application of repeated vertical force.

I found this out the hard way.

Five minutes later, carpets once again free of whipping cream and string of swear words fading into echos, I resumed my activity with one finger firmly atop the container. For the next half-an-hour, I churned.

Eventually, I began to feel the thumping of something more than whipping cream in the jar.  I opened the container and poured the whole mess into a strainer. I probably got two or three teaspoons of buttermilk but, by and large, the contents of the shaker were solid. I wanted to be sure, however, so I scooped it all back into the jar and shook it for another five minutes. Can’t be to sure about these things, right?

Straining the buttery goodness.
Straining the buttery goodness.

I also drank the buttermilk, by the way. It was a lot sweeter than the buttermilk from the store. The one time I remember being given buttermilk, it was really disgusting. This wasn’t bad at all. I kinda’ wish there’d been more.

Anyway, I strained it all out again, put it all back and started mixing in cold water to wash out the remaining cream. Leaving in the cream causes the butter to turn rancid faster, so I’ve read. Being a tad bit on the cautious side, I repeated this step for something like 15 minutes. There shall be no rancifying cream in my butter if I have anything to do about it.

Lastly, I strained out all the water, created a container from some aluminum foil, packed the butter in and dumped it in the fridge to solidify. I have to say, it turned out really well. I made myself some toast and eggs and the butter tasted really fresh. It actually tasted like butter too. This was something of a relief and a surprise to me. I was pretty sure I’d failed.

Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.
Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.

Except for the minor catastrophe involving the flying lid, it was a fairly satisfying endeavor. I’m sure I’ll repeat the experiment some time in the future. Hopefully this is just the beginning of my activity in the kitchen. One of these days, I’d like to make my own bread to go with the butter. If I ever make that happen, I’m sure you’ll read about it here.

Until then, I raise my glass to those that have gone before me. To my mother and father, to my grandmother and my great-grandmothers, I honor you for the legacy you have passed down to me and I will strive to keep it alive for the next generation of Staffords, Holloways, Harris’ and Wrights.  So help me God.