Life’s Playlist….. Teach Me Tonight performed by Phoebe Snow

Today is my Day 9 of the Jeff Goins – 31 Day Writing Challenge, 500 words per day.

My assignment today is to “teach you something.”

Quite a broad topic at hand and my thoughts on what to teach are all over the place.  I could teach how to ride  bike, but doesn’t everyone know how to ride a bike?

I could teach how to print a design on a direct to garment t-shirt, but I have enough competition for that, I don’t need to give away anymore secrets!

Maybe I could teach you to hula hoop, if only my stomach didn’t get in the way.  Or I could give an awesome demonstration on how to take a selfie, nope not good with that.  Swim the length of Lake Burton, no one wants to see me without a shirt and it is WAY too cold.

So I guess I will fall back on something I know and I’m actually pretty good at, something from the kitchen, one of my favorite dishes a simple banana pudding.

Banana pudding is a southern delicacy, some people eat it as dessert, I eat it as a side with my main course.

My mama used to make a real banana pudding with real meringue and it would be devoured as soon as it hit the table.

Several years ago my cousin gave me a recipe for a simple banana pudding that I have now made consistently and gotten the same results as the one my mama used to labor over, so here goes……

Simple Banana Pudding:

The ingredients needed for a simple banana pudding are short.

1 – 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

1 1/2 cups of water

1 small box of vanilla instant pudding

1 cup of whipping cream

1 cup of sour cream (this is the surprise ingredient and definitely makes it!)

6 – 8 bananas

1 box of vanilla wafers

One of the most important things you can do is your first stop in making this dish.  About an hour before you are ready to prepare the dish, put a large bowl and the beaters from your mixer in the freezer.  Just let them stay in the freezer, it will be important that they are super cold when it is time to bring them into the mix.

Now that all the preliminaries are done… it’s time to put this dish together.

In a large bowl, combine the condensed milk, and water.  Mix these ingredients well.

Mix in the pudding and whisk until there are no lumps.

Once these ingredients are mixed, put the bowl containing them in the refrigerator to sit.

Now, remember that bowl and beaters you put in the freezer to chill?  It’s their turn, take them out, if you left them in for at least an hour, they should be nicely chilled.

In the bowl, pour in one cup of whipping cream and with the mixer, beat until it is thick and starts to peak.  Warning…. don’t beat it too much, you will know when it is right.

Once the whipped cream is ready, fold in the sour cream and then combine your two mixtures, the pudding and cream bowls.  Mix them together.

Now you are ready to put this masterpiece together.

Cut the bananas into thin rounds and break up the Nilla Wafers, not too broken, you will want some chunks but broken enough so that they are easy to eat.

In a clear bowl, you will layer the different ingredients.

Layer one, pudding mix.

Layer two, vanilla wafers.

Layer three, bananas.

Repeat and then save a few of the Nilla Wafers for topping.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, the longer the better so that everything can set up.

And now….. eat!

Dished

These dishes were my grandmothers.  She called them her “evaday” dishes, not everyday, but “evaday”.

When my grandmother passed away my mother took them.

They have been in my parents kitchen since the day my mom took them home.

Last Friday my niece called to tell me she was redoing her kitchen, she said, “do you want these,” before the final word was out of her mouth I said YES!

It’s not that I need the dishes, I have my own.  I have my own “evaday” dishes, two sets in fact, I have my grandmother’s china, I have Christmas dishes, I have more dishes than any one person needs.

I didn’t need the dishes, I needed THOSE dishes.

You see, those dishes represent much more to me than a plate to put food on.  Those dishes represent memories of the two women I loved most in this world, my mother and my grandmother.

The set isn’t perfect, there are some chips and there are six sets of some, four of others and seven or eight of others, but to me, this is a perfect set.

I remember sitting with my grandmother at her kitchen table, mornings when it was just the two of us.  She would drink her coffee and in a matching cup cover the bottom with a few drops of that decaf and fill the rest with Pet milk for me. Over our morning coffee we would talk.

These same plates served our family countless Sunday dinner’s as we crowded around my grandmother’s dining room table.

Fried chicken, chicken casserole, ham, turkey, fresh vegetables from my grandfather’s garden and dessert, my grandmother always made dessert!  But it wasn’t so much about the food, it was more about the family time we shared there.

When my mother took the plates I had already left home, but for years mama would set the table with these plates.

Over the years we have eaten everything on these plates, but the plates really don’t matter, it is about the memories that were created at the tables where they were used.

Memories of family times, times that included laughter, tears, arguments, debates, deep conversation and lots of love.  Like the simple design featured on the plates, we bloomed at those tables where we came together to eat, we grew strong and in our own ways beautiful.

I’ve now washed the plates and will put them in a cabinet in my kitchen.  I don’t plan on using them, it is just comforting to know they are here.

I have a feeling on one of those days when I am desperately missing my mom or craving one of those conversations with my grandmother I will pull one out.

I’ll place my meal on the plate and I will remember and I’ll feel closer to the two women who helped to shape my life and made me appreciate the simplicity of a plate and the incredible gift of the memories they represent.

Family Reunion – We’re Going to the Elk’s Lodge

Next weekend my extended family on my mother’s side will gather together for a long planned reunion.

Cousins that I haven’t seen in many years will gather from around the country.

Unfortunately due to other commitments many of us will not be able to attend, but when I think about these events, my mind is taken back to the “Elks Lodge” in Elberton, GA where we gathered many times in the past.

Today, I hope you will enjoy a remembrance of those days that I wrote back in 2009.

For my family that will gather and those of us who can’t, I love you all and send prayers and blessings your way.

We’re Going to the Elk’s Lodge

My family is big on tradition. We follow the same routine for Christmas, birthdays were always a big deal, Thanksgiving dinner has been the same since I was a child and today I cook the same meal in my own home. I love the traditions that were set forth by my parents and in many cases their parents before them.

One such tradition was the Clark Family Reunion in Elberton each summer. Elberton is about an hour from God’s Country, but it is where ma-ma and her brothers and sisters grew up. Known for its granite businesses, Elberton is a big producer of tomb stones. (Somebody has to do it!)

Ma-ma came from a big family and each year the descendants would descend on Elberton, The Elk’s Lodge to be exact and reunion.

Going into reunions I was never excited. As the youngest of the grand-children I didn’t have a lot in common with my cousins. More precisely I was closer in age to many of the second cousins, which kept me in limbo. I was too young to hang with my peers and the younger kids were too young to do much, which left me clinging to ma-ma and mama most of the day.

Reunion would begin early in the morning. These gatherings were pot luck, so mama would get up early and start putting together her contribution for the meal. With mama’s penchant for extreme cooking, she would usually prepare enough for a small army, when it comes to cooking for groups she has never understood the concept of everyone bringing something, she always wants to make sure there is enough just in case someone isn’t able to bring their share.

Daddy wasn’t much into these family reunions, but he would always go and put on a happy face. By the end of the day, daddy would be in full spirit and entertaining the masses with his stories.

By the time mama was finished preparing her dishes the four of us would load up the car and start our trek to ma-ma and gramps house, about 30 miles away. Like mama, ma-ma would over indulge in the cooking department as well. There was always homemade chocolate cake, usually fried chicken, okra, corn from the garden and peas. Ma-ma would prepare for days for the reunions, these events were what she lived for. Getting together with her brothers and sisters and showing off their families.

Sam and I would always get a lecture in the car. No fighting and be on your best behavior, we were NOT to embarrass ma-ma in front of her family.

Off we would go, gramps, daddy and me in the front seat, ma-ma, mama and Sam in the back. Dressed in our new reunion clothes, a Bonneville filled with enough food for a third world nation and two kids threatened within an inch of our lives to behave.

Elberton is about 30 minutes from ma-ma and gramps house, not a far journey, but when it is made in a car that is over packed and over stuffed by six people in dress clothes on a summer day with the sun beating through the glass it isn’t always a pleasant trip. By the time we reached Elberton, we were all ready to get out of the car and stretch our legs.

Family reunions were held at the Elk’s Lodge, a rustic old building just off the main road. Without fail, the first person we would always see standing out waiting for the family would be Uncle Chester. If gramps would have had a twin it would have been Uncle Chester, although they were only related by marriage the two men were the mirror image of each other. Tall, lanky, distinguished southern gentlemen of few words, impeccably dressed with a sly smile and twinkle in their eyes. Gramps and Uncle Chester were the kind of men people gravitated to, not to be entertained but to learn from.

After the parking lot greeting, Uncle Chester would help us unload and move into the Elk’s Lodge. The interior of the lodge was exactly what you would imagine, one big open room with a kitchen in the back, a large rock fireplace, linoleum floors and dark stained panelling.

Aunt Laura Bea would be busily working when we came in. Setting up the buffet with her load of food big enough to feed an army, she would stop the pace of activity just long enough to greet us all with a hug and kiss, always stating what fine young boys Sam and I were.

Like ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea was short in stature but big in personality. Like ma-ma, immaculately dressed and with a quick catch up story of where all her family was, what time they would arrive and who was bring what. Between ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea and mama, the buffet was arranged and in place before anyone else could arrive to help.

Throughout the late morning and early afternoon, the other families would arrive. Our glamorous Aunt Frances and her family from South Carolina, the Virginia Clark’s and the Maxwell’s.

As the families arrived and the buffet grew to embarrassing proportions the sounds of laughter would echo through the Elk’s Lodge. Cheeks were pinched, kisses exchanged, hugs enveloped us all and the Clark Family Reunion would be in full swing.

Like other traditions passed down from generation to generation, Uncle Chester would round everyone up when it was time for the feast. Families would encircle the room, all holding hands and Uncle Chester would bless the meal.

Mealtime would find one big family, all mixed together around long tables in fold up chairs, enjoying the foods of our ancestors and recipes from the current Southern Living magazine. Laughing, joking, catching up and reminiscing about the years past and ancestors lost.

After grazing for what seemed like hours, the families would then move to the front lawn, games were played, conversations took place and pictures were taken. Instamatic cameras would be pulled from every purse in the crowd and every configuration of family was photographed. First cousins, second cousins, immediate family, family with grand parents, grandparents with children, grandparents with grandchildren…. pictures, pictures and more pictures. Creating memories that would carry us through to the next year’s reunion.

After a long day, after the last picture was taken, the lodge was cleaned and the last hug exchanged we would once again pile into the Bonneville. Stuffed bellies and empty dishes but most importantly complete, filled with shared moments, family traditions and the love of extended family.

Life is Like Spaghetti

I woke up craving spaghetti.  Probably not the best choice on a day when the temperatures will push 90 degrees, but that’s how cravings go.

After Church I made my way to the grocery to pull together all the ingredients I would need.

As I wandered through the produce aisle getting mushrooms and onions and peppers, I began to ponder,  life is a lot like spaghetti.

If you think about it, we are the noodles.  The part of the dish that pulls everything else together, and as noodles, we attract all the good, the vibrant colors, the bad and the ugly in our lives and allow them to stick to us like the sauce of a good dish.

The vegetables in the dish are the moments and seasons of life that make the taste explode in our mouths, those small moments that make life what it is.

Like the onions and mushrooms, these everyday ingredients fill our life with the perfectly needed chunks that blend together with our “sauce.”  Not always perfectly sliced or diced, but needed to make a quality serving.

I enjoy a combo of garlic, green, yellow and red peppers in my spaghetti.  Like the little pops of life that sometimes catch us off guard with levels of punch.  Like the garlic and peppers, our lives are filled with moments and situations that sneak up on us, but when we accept those moments will come and incorporate them into the other flavors we experience on a daily basis, the pepper moments give us the opportunity to learn and grow.

I don’t make a homemade sauce.  In my mind those sauces in a jar are as good and less time-consuming than pealing tomatoes and adding the perfect blend of spices.  Like life, we can sometimes find easier ways of doing things that enrich us and allow us to use what’s available instead of going through the arduous task of making life happen.

The final ingredient in any good spaghetti is the meat.  I use turkey, not always the popular choice, but for me it works.  In my own life, I have not always followed the way of others, I lead an independent life that others may look at and think it to be out of the norm, but again, it works for me, it’s the life I was given.

After all the ingredients are prepped and put into a large pot they start to cook, just like life.   There are moments when the sauce boils and others when it slows to a simmer, needed moments in life to give us a perfect blend.

Sometimes the smell of garlic may be overpowering or the big chunks of mushrooms may not be very pretty, but as the ingredients all mold together and work with each other to create a perfect sauce, magic happens.

Just like life.  Sometimes life is messy, sometimes it is ugly, but most of the time it is a glorious gift and when you dig in and taste the wonders built on planning, preparation, simmers, boils and all the delicious ingredients pulled together, not much can beat it, even on a day when the temperature is approaching 90.

The good, the bad, the ugly and the vibrant colors all come together for the perfect dish and then you add the noodles, allowing everything to cling together, just like life.

So today, I decided to make a pot of spaghetti, a dish that reminds me of life.

Georgia Mountain Laurel Magazine Column for July, 2017

My monthly column in Georgia Mountain Laurel Magazine is now online and in stores.

This month, I reminisce about summer gatherings of family, friends, awesome foods with pickin’ and singin’!

Yes, you should read the entire magazine, however if you only have time for one article, you may enjoy the one on page 92.

Check it out.  gmlaurel.com