Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pimiento Cheese, Mama's Way

It never fails to amaze me which of my Facebook posts gets a whole lot of attention, although by now I sense a theme that runs through them all: home/hearth/nostalgia.

Or maybe it's just food.

Last night I posted a picture of the ingredients for a bowl of pimiento cheese I was making as a surprise for my husband. See, my Mama used to be able to get him do her bidding by promising him a making of it. I was sometimes allowed to carry it to my house from hers -- but she would always call to double check that he had actually received it.

He loved my Mama so,and the feeling was more than mutual. They were thick as thieves, the two of them. I think being the only two folks at family gatherings who actually knew what rabbit tobacco was might have had something to do with it. I've told the story before of how I actually brought him home to meet my Mama as the fellow I chose to be my escort for my debutante ball, thinking she would be so put off by his lack of polish that she'd let me get out of following through with it.

It didn't work out quite that way. She fell in love with him right then and there, and in the months that followed, I did, too.
Phantom Host Ball, February 1979

Wedding Day, December 1979

I have gotten off track again.

So. We've made it through nearly a year of missing Mama at all the "firsts." It's usually me who gets quiet and pensive, and needs to take a deep breath, but July 4th it was Henry's turn. They always had a deal about ribs, and Mama'd slip him "a little extra folding money" to make sure he had enough to buy her a good slab of them to throw in his smoker. It wasn't enough that she'd pay for the ribs, there was always a little container of pimiento cheese that would find its way here within a week or two.

This year, my husband really missed my Mama hard. There were no ribs, and there was no pimiento cheese.

Until last night, when I decided to make him some. Yes, it's ridiculously easy, but he never wanted me to make it because that was something he and Mama stayed in cahoots about. I posted the picture on my timeline, and folks seemed to enjoy the picture and the conversation, and one even asked me for the recipe, so heck. Why not?

Mama's No Frills Pimiento Cheese

There are so many fancy versions of this, but my Mama was not given to fancy. What you see up there is everything you need.

An 8 ounce block of sharp cheddar.  (If you buy this preshredded, you will be shot at dawn.)
A good glop of mayonnaise. (That would be between 1/3  - 1/2 cup, depending on the state of your arteries.)
A little jar of diced pimientos (.4 oz is sufficient)
Cayenne pepper

Shred the cheese. Glop the glop of mayo in there and give it a good stir. Always start with a little - you can add, but you can't subtract mayo. If that looks about right toss in the pimientos (DRAIN FIRST!), and just a dash of the cayenne. Again, you can always add more, but once a dish has been over-cayenned there is no going back. 

That's it. The mystery of the South's finest pimiento cheese, revealed.  

Every Southern family has their own variations, so you should feel free to take this basic recipe and change it up, or put Sunday clothes on it, or whatever. Just do not go all low-fat on me. Some things just need what they need, and if you can't eat it that way you oughtn't bother. 

Henry says this was almost as good as Mama's, but I should probably make it again every week or so, just to get it perfect. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An exercise in kindness.

When I go out walking/wogging/jalking (a new term I am swiping from somebody else) in the mornings I have a couple things I am sort of obsessive about having with me: my phone and a big handkerchief or bandana.  I have a neat belt into which my phone slides and stays put, and I slip the handkerchief/bandana through it, at my right hip.

I started doing this some time ago when allergies were plaguing me. While that's not a problem right now, I continue to do so because I think it makes me a little more visible to passing motorists. More than once I've yanked it out and waved it when it was obvious a driver was distracted, just as a way to catch their eye.

I have an assortment from which to choose each morning:  blue, pink, or red bandanas, and a large white linen handkerchief that is reserved for special occasions.  (I carried it with me when I participated in the 2011 half-marathon, in honor of my mother who had been diagnosed two days earlier with late stage small cell lung cancer. White is the "color" for lung diseases.)

But, in regular fashion, I digress.

This morning I took a longer jalk than I often do on weekday mornings. It was horribly humid during the last mile when I turned onto Fernway from Greenpark. There's a really nice shady span there and I needed it. I pulled my bandana from my belt, wiped my face -- sweat was getting in my eyes! -- and stuck it back in the belt, then proceeded to jog past a couple houses. (I noticed a couple people were fixing to pull out of their driveways, and I'd rather get out of their way so they don't have to wait for me.)

As I jogged past the second house, I realized my handkerchief had slipped off my belt. Had it been earlier in the walk I might have circled back, but I've had some issues with dizziness lately, and bending over sometimes brings on bouts of it that I'd rather avoid, particularly in public. Mostly, it's like having my own private roller coaster in my head. Free thrills!

Anyway, almost a block down the road from where I had lost my companion I noticed an SUV coming up on me, and slowing, and when I turned my head to figure out what the deal was, the woman in it waved my red bandana at me, and said, "You dropped this!"

I do not know this woman. I have no reason to suspect she knows me. She had to have pulled over, gotten out of her SUV, picked up a sweat-drenched bandana, gotten back in her SUV, and then bothered to return it to me.

I'm part of an online community of women who have gathered together daily for almost 8 years now, in a virtual neighborhood, and one of our rituals for the past few years has been setting Thursdays apart to highlight Three Beautiful Things we each have witnessed or experienced in the past week. Some days the lists folks come up with are trivial (which does not make them less important) and sometimes not.  I had listed my own before I headed out the door for my exercise this morning, in fact.

So to those, I add one more beautiful thing:  the kindness of people, particularly when there is nothing to be gained by their having exercised the art of it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Her Monument

Statue of children reading in the Bowling Green town square.

Mama was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and although she didn't spend much of her life there we had a running joke about the monument to her that surely must be there.   Until just over a week ago, the closest I had ever been to Bowling Green was passing its exit sign on the interstate in a bus loaded with teenagers, when I was a chaperone on a youth choir trip.

My husband and I took a road trip to Columbus, Ohio late in June, to see our son who's been there for nearly a year working with Habitat for Humanity. He'll be coming home in a few weeks, but we were eager to see this place he'd called home for so long before he left. It was a great trip: we toured all the pertinent places in Columbus, met the co-workers and friends he's enjoyed, and took in a whole lot of local color in general.

On our return trip, with a little time to spare and legs in need of some good stretching, we stopped in Bowling Green. I had been unable to find any documentation before we left that might have provided an address to the home her parents lived in when she was born, so we just decided to follow the signs leading to "historic downtown."

It was a charming town square, reminiscent of so many with a common park around which were built the primary businesses. The park featured a fountain of Hebe, which was a surprise. The Court Square Fountain here in Montgomery is also of Hebe. (Turns out, a little research when I got home revealed she was pretty popular in the late 19th and early 20th century for fountain sculptures.)

I decided that since I had no idea where she and her parents had lived when they were there, I could at least be reasonably sure that they had passed through this square a time or two, so I focused my attentions there.

Fountain featuring the goddess Hebe in the Bowling Green town square.

Fountain lilies

 I like to think that maybe my Nannaw and Grandpappy
might have seen a show or two here. 
So, that was it. All the years of joking with her about a monument that we both knew didn't exist - done. As we pulled out of our parking place I let the tears come - I don't try to hold them back when they come since each one is a gift -- and after I'd regained my composure and imagined the conversation Mama and I might have had when I got home and showed her these pictures I began to chuckle to myself.  See? Mama never talked about living in Bowling Green, only about that being where her folks lived when she was born. I'm not sure she would have any memory of any of the buildings I photographed, or any stories to tell about anything or anyone there. If I'd brought these back to show her, I could see her in my mind's eye saying, "Huh. I don't remember any of this."

After we got home, and I began to dig through the family records again for any information about her time there, I stumbled across story after story she had recorded in the database my father compiled (to which she added notes). I recalled stories of Oogie Pringle and Luigi Capone (the greatest dog who ever lived), and chinaberry trees, and Jeanie Beanie Bad Egg and her prissy cousin who was famous for saying, "I don't caaarrre for any," and the particular way Mama always told us about that prissy cousin. Stories about rabbit tobacco and getting tossed out of a movie theatre when she was in college for crying so loudly it disturbed the other patrons.

A few days later I was babysitting my granddaughter, and I sang "My Sweetheart's a Mule in the Mine" to her, and she and I played "Great Big Buzzard" which always gets the giggles going, exactly the way I remember Mama doing those things with me when I was little, and with each of her grandchildren in their day.

I will tell her stories. I will sing her songs. One day, maybe Rosemary will share them with her children and grandchildren.

That will be the monument to Mama.