Should I Pray for Power?

crosswordWe saw some storms blow through late Friday afternoon knocking out the power just before five. Our landline went down as well, so I loaded up Thistle (who is FREAKED OUT by power issues) and drove about a mile and a half to where I can get a cell phone signal.

Called it in. Of course, they’d had about 400 other people call it in by then, but hey, it’s something to do. Word was that 1,700+ folks were without power in our outage and crews were assessing. They’d text me once they had news.

Well, good luck with that. I went on home where I:

  • Listened to a battery-powered radio,
  • Read a book,
  • Wrote a thousand words or so of my new book (laptop was charged),
  • Worked on a crossword puzzle, and
  • Pondered what I could eat that wasn’t refrigerated.

Then, around 7 p.m., the power blinked back on and I proceeded to cook the chicken breasts marinating in the fridge. No problem-o.

And honestly, other than not having access to the internet, that wasn’t much different from what I would have been doing anyway.

Neighbors called at 8 p.m. to see if the power was back on. They’d gone out to eat after the electricity had been off for about an hour and were faced with crowds of other people doing the same thing.

I told them we’d had power since seven and they asked if I’d said a prayer for restoration. Which kind of took me by surprise. Well, no. I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me to pray about the power being out. And while I don’t think God would have minded a chat about electricity in the least, I’m pretty sure he and I can come up with better stuff to talk about.

Sure, power outages can be scary. For people who depend on electric medical equipment. For hospitals and nursing homes. For people living in extreme heat or cold. But for me on a cool, rainy Friday evening? It was a minor inconvenience at most.

We talk about taking a “break” from things like Facebook or our cell phones. We take vacations from work and sometimes give up food or drink like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, or wheat when we’ve been overindulging. Maybe we should start taking breaks from electricity. Eat peanut butter crackers, go for a walk, play cards, read books, and talk to each other.

Hmmm. Maybe the power should go out more often . . . I think I know where the breaker is.

 

The Great British Baking Show

cake 033

I got inspired with the last season I watched.

I don’t watch that much TV (cuts into reading/writing time). I like HGTV, a few Food TV shows, have a weakness for Jeopardy, and sometimes catch the news. But the one show I will actually rearrange my schedule to watch is on once again.

I ADORE the Great British Baking Show. And after a brief (failed) attempt to mix it up with new judges and hosts, they’ve gone back to the original. Ahhh. Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Sue, and Mel.

Friday was a double header. And yes, I stayed up until 11 p.m. without dozing off. I don’t even do that on New Year’s Eve.

So what makes this show must-watch for me? It’s no single thing–the sum being greater than the parts–but I think the main thing is . . . it’s nice.

Sure, it’s a competition, but the competitors seem to support each other. Maybe even like each other. They’re just regular folks who all enjoy baking. And while Paul can be pretty direct in his critiques, he’s never mean or cruel. And Mary is usually right there saying something like, “the flavors are good,” or “the texture is lovely.”

So much of “reality TV” these days focuses on people behaving badly. It’s bachelors or bachelorettes pushing the relationship envelope as close to an R-rating as they can. It’s family’s airing their dirty laundry. It’s competitions where the goal is to undermine everyone else.

The Great British Baking Show feels supportive and friendly while also pushing amateur bakers to show what they can do. Of course, it also looks delicious. Towering cakes, cream fillings, fresh-baked breads, sweets, savories, scones! It’s dangerous to watch so late, when I know snacking is a bad idea.

Plus, everyone has a British accent. I mean, really, what’s not to love?

Appalachian Thursday – 155 Candles for WV

wv-10-14-026.jpgYesterday was West Virginia Day. That would be the 155th birthday of my home state. Often, I celebrate the day by subjecting my readers to the history of how West Virginia became a state (and was almost called Kanawha, which I think would have been nice!), but this year I’m giving you a break. Instead of a history lesson, I thought I’d give you some fun facts about the incredibly unique southernmost northern state/northernmost southern state.

FUN FIRSTS – some more dubious than others . . .

  • On July 1, 1921, West Virginia was the first state to institute a sales tax.
  • Mother’s Day was first observed in Grafton, WV, in 1908. You can visit the Mother’s Day Shrine there today.
  • The first brick street in the world was laid in Charleston, WV, in 1870.
  • It was the first (and only) state created by presidential proclamation. Thanks Abraham Lincoln!
  • Jackson’s Mill is the site of the first 4-H camp in the United States. And I went to camp there!
  • The first US prison exclusively for women was opened in the state in 1926.
  • Minnie Buckingham Harper, a member of the House of Delegates by appointment in 1928, was the first African American woman to become a member of a legislative body in the United States.

FAMOUS WEST VIRGINIANS

  • Stonewall Jackson – Civil War general
  • Pearl Buck – author
  • Chuck Yeager – test pilot
  • Jerry West – basketball player and coach
  • Don Knotts – actor (Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show)
  • Brad Paisley – country singer
  • Jennifer Garner – actress

STATE SYMBOLS

  • Bird – Cardinal
  • Flower – Rhododendron
  • Tree – Sugar Maple
  • Animal – Black Bear
  • Fish – Brook Trout
  • Food – pepperoni roll

State Motto – Montani semper liberi – Mountaineers are always free!

So how about you? What fun facts do you know about your state?

When did food get so complicated?

sink

Those are cherry tomato plants in the back.

I remember the first time I heard of free-range chicken. Having grown up on a farm, I couldn’t think what that meant. What other kind of chicken could there be?

Then I found out about tiny cages, cut off beaks, and other abominations. And I learned that “free-range” didn’t mean chickens actually went outside–it simply meant they could if they happened to find that little door in the side of the massive chicken house.

Eating seemed relatively simple when I was growing up on the farm. We raised a fair amount of what we ate–garden stuff, fruit, dairy products, domesticated and wild meat. And when we bought things at the grocery store we were generally looking for the best quality at the lowest price.

That was that.

In college, it was all about the cost. My goal was to get the most of the foods I liked for the least amount of money which I also needed for education, car expenses, entertainment, clothing, and so on.

Then I started focusing on things like fat and calories. “Healthy” eating. Food became the sum of its parts–fiber, protein, sodium, saturated fat, vitamins, etc. I started paying more attention to those nutrition panels on the sides of packages.

And now. Now I’ve read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Palin and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. I’ve become aware of the atrocities happening daily in our food system. I’ve become aware that a fair amount of what’s sold in the average grocery store isn’t even food. It’s a man-made approximation of food. Now I’m reading ingredient lists or even better, buying things without a label. You know, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread from the baker, or a fresh chicken at the farmer’s market.

Which brings me full circle to what my grandparents ate. They grew it or made it. If they didn’t have it or couldn’t get it locally, they did without. No tomatoes in January. No strawberries in December. No shrimp or crab in central West Virginia at all.

But there was fresh-caught trout rolled in meal from their own corn. There were Sunday pork roasts from the hog butchered on Thanksgiving Day. There were cakes made with milk from the cow and eggs from the chicken. There was hot cornbread with apple butter.

I think a big part of the problem with our food system today is that we no longer eat to fuel our bodies. Food has become a form of entertainment. We don’t eat so that our bodies and minds have the strength they need–we eat to titillate our taste buds. We eat to satisfy cravings and delight our senses.

And, I would argue, this is not a bad thing in and of itself. God made food GOOD. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We all know the delight of tasting something good.

But when I’m willing to sacrifice the well-being of animals, the land, and the environment just because I crave a feedlot beef cheeseburger followed by chocolate dipped strawberries out of season–that’s when I’m in trouble.

Food shouldn’t be so complicated.

So here are a few things I’m doing to try and reset the natural balance:

  1. Buying local food. At the farmer’s market it’s easy. In the store I’m checking to see just how far those peaches were trucked. From South Carolina? Good. From South America? Not so good.
  2. Making things from scratch. Okay, I did buy donuts for an event at work the other day. But the goal is to make more things from scratch. Homemade pancakes are actually not much trickier than from a mix.
  3. Composting. A huge amount of our landfill waste is FOOD. A compost pile at the far end of the driveway doesn’t even smell bad.
  4. Growing a few consumables. My husband will tell you I have a black thumb. Even so, I can keep a pot of herbs going. And I have a tomato plant in the flower bed that’s currently loaded with wee fruit. Here’s hoping I can harvest some soon!

How about you? What are you willing to do to simplify your food?

Appalachian Thursday – Kilt Lettuce

farm market

A Farmer’s Market haul from late June last year. The spring onions were give out, but there was still good leaf lettuce.

I made my first trip to the local farmer’s market last week. There was an ABUNDANCE of spring greens available along with green onions, garlic scapes, and a few of last seasons potatoes.

Which means it’s time for kilt lettuce!

I don’t know for sure, but I assume the name comes from the fact that the lettuce is pretty much killed (kilt in Appalachia) by pouring hot bacon grease over it. Regardless, it’s a delicious way to take a perfectly healthy spring green and make it decadent!

KILT LETTUCE

8 big handfuls of spring lettuces, washed and torn
2-4 spring onions, sliced
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsps sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 hard boiled eggs

Fry the bacon and set it aside to cool, then crumble it. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the hot bacon drippings in the skillet and stir until the sugar dissolves. Toss the lettuce and onions with the still warm dressing and then top with the crumbled bacon. Serve with hard boiled eggs cut in pieces.

Man, who’s ready for lunch?!?

Vinegar & Char

vinegarThis seems to be my year for collections. While I don’t have a full-length novel coming out in 2018, I do get to be part of two collections releasing on October 1st and 2nd.

I’ve already written about The Christmas Heirloom novella collection releasing 10.2.18, but Vinegar and Char is something else altogether.

When it comes to writing, my first love has always been poetry. I’ve published a few poems here and there–in magazines like Appalachian Heritage and Now & Then, but my very first poetry publication was in a 2004 book titled Cornbread Nation 2: The Best of Southern Food Writing compiled by the Southern Foodways Alliance. It was a proud moment.

That first poem about fried catfish, bourbon, and cotton gins in Mississippi still reads well to my ear. Cornbread Nation 5 (2010) included my all-time favorite poem about funeral food.

So I was absolutely delighted when I was contacted by Sandra Beasley about submitting a poem for the Southern Foodways Alliance’s new poetry anthology. While I don’t write poetry as regularly as I used to, I still enjoy stringing words together in that succinct way that makes a poem. So I submitted a piece called, “The Sacred and the Bread,” that was accepted for publication.

I’d love to share it with you now . . . but no. You’ll just have to wait for October.

Revisiting My First Love – Poetry

Sarah & Ann

I also got to hang out with one of my favorite authors–Ann Gabhart!

I had a wonderful time at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest this past weekend. I had a chance to teach a class, sit on a panel, and interact with readers (and writers!). Some of my favorite things to do!

On Friday I sat in on a poetry workshop with former Wisconsin poet laureate and Kentucky native Max Garland. It took me back to my first love–poetry. It’s such fun to sit with a group of other folks who are passionate about stringing words together in a meaningful way.

Which made me realize I’ve never shared my favorite poem (of mine) with you. So here you go–one of my earliest published poems that appeared in Appalachian Heritage way back in 2006.

SAD STREAKS AND WEEPY MERINGUES

Illness, death, disease and even divorce
bring out the mixing bowls, the spoons,
the flour, the sugar and the speckled brown eggs.
Good women converge in kitchens on far
sides of town, all for the expression
of love and sorrow, sadness and hope.
They consult stained cookbooks, faded cards
and memories sharpened with use to concoct
something that will stave off the hunger for
knowing what comes next—what comes
after we get through this . . .

And when the pound cake isn’t quite done,
with a soft, moist middle that invites us
to sink down and find an almost peace—
When the sugar in the meringue doesn’t
quite melt, and caramel drops bloom like
smoky topaz tears—That’s when love
and sadness meet the perfect measure,
filling our sorrowing hearts,
if only for a mouthful.