Sunday, May 14, 2017


REMEMBERING MAMA--one of kind, vastly entertaining, often disconcerting, always my Mama! 

May 3rd, would have been my mother's 84th birthday. It's hard to imagine my mother being over eighty years old. She's been gone for over ten years, and though she was very ill for the last decade of her life, her spirit prevailed. I don't think anyone who met Mama could ever forget her! She was unique, sly, witty, talented, charming, funny, and very pretty. Mama was an animal rights champion and a world-class wildlife care provider. As a young girl, running through the woods near her home, she would sometimes come across horrible steel-jaw traps. She would smash them with a big rock, which sprung the trap, and then she would throw the trap in the river. She loved to ride horseback, and she always said that horses were her favorite animals.

Mama was a true daughter of the South, both sassy and refined. I lost track of how many times we watched "Gone With the Wind". Mama was also talented, artistic, and very theatrical. She studied ballet and tap, and she played the piano "by ear". I used to get tickled when she played because she added extra notes throughout the music piece. I asked her about those little extras one time, and she just gave a grin and said that was the way it ought to be played. I couldn't afford to buy her a spinet piano, but I did get her a full-sized electronic keyboard with a stand. She loved it so much! She was like a kid experimenting with all the different sound effects. More than once when I returned home at the end of a work day I could hear Mama, aka "The Phantom", at the keyboard. When the house windows were open, you could hear her playing out through the neighborhood. We both loved "The Phantom of the Opera". Mama also loved to figure skate, and we spent many, many hours watching figure skating programs on the TV. She was very knowledgeable about the sport, and her comments were often more enlightening than those of the professional commentators.

Mama was a "selective cook". If she liked it, she cooked it, and she cooked it well. Cubed steak and gravy with peppers and onions over mashed potatoes. Baked beans and coleslaw. "Secret Recipe" salad dressing. Fried chicken cooked in real butter in a big old cast iron skillet--with gravy, of course. Yellow cake with caramel frosting. Stuffed peppers. Hot dogs loaded with everything but the kitchen sink. Everywhere we traveled on our road trips, we found a little place that sold hot dogs. A hot dog, chips, and a cold drink would always hit the spot. Mama taught me how to ride a bike, how to knit, and how to remain gracious in the face of disaster. She encouraged me to read as a child, and she started me off with a library of "Little Golden Books". She said they were for me, but I think she enjoyed them even more than I did! She also started my cookbook collection. Before I was born, she began collecting recipe booklets and little cookbooks, and she wrote the date and a little note in each book. When I was older, and really got into recipes and cooking, Mama used to tell people that I could prepare dishes that looked "just like the picture in the book". That was her way of complimenting my cooking.

I come from a long line of dramatic, intelligent, piercingly humorous Southern women. My all-time favorite movie is "Show Boat" (1951), with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson. When I was a kid, my mother, grandmother and I would sing along with the movies. Mom had the high voice, mine was lower, and Gran did the "silly singing". On a non-musical note, my mother was totally enamored of the film "Gone With the Wind". I have truly lost track of the number of times that we saw it in the theater, and then again when it started being shown on TV. She thought Leslie Howard, who portrayed Ashley Wilkes, was quite a hunk! My most vivid memory of our "Gone With the Wind" experience was when it was shown at our local theater during my senior year in high school. Mom and I had to go, and we ended up sitting on the front row with two friends of mine from my high school class. We three girls spent as much time watching Mom and her expressions and taking in her comments as we did watching the movie. Many times through the years, my friends have told me that Mom made the movie memorable for them! I can still see her face, lit with an almost childish delight, and illuminated by the images on the screen.

Do you have a favorite book that your mother read to you as a child? Is there a book that you have read as an adult that you associate with your mother? Have you ever read a book in which a character reminded you a lot of your mother? Do you have a favorite food from childhood--something that only your mother prepared the best? I'd love to hear your own memories and stories of your mother or someone who was like a mother in your life.


Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie

1 quart strawberries
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese
1 baked pastry shell, 9-inch
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
red food coloring
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Wash, drain, and hull strawberries. Beat cream cheese with a fork until smooth. Spread cream cheese over bottom of the cooled pie shell. Stand half of the whole strawberries in the shell with tips up. Puree remaining strawberries in a blender, adding enough water to make 1 1/2 cups of puree. In a saucepan, mix granulated sugar with cornstarch; gradually stir in the strawberry puree mixture and the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and clear, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in a few drops of red food coloring; remove from heat. Cool sauce for about 10 minutes, then pour over the strawberries in the shell. Chill for about 3 hours, or until firm. Beat cream with confectioners' sugar until mixture holds its shape. Spoon whipped cream in a ring around the edge of the pie. Store leftover pie in the refrigerator.

Westerner Beef and Beans

1 1/2 to 2 lbs ground chuck
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
salt & black pepper
one small pinch of red pepper flakes
1 can (16 oz) baked beans or pork & beans, undrained
1 can (16 oz) Great Northern beans, undrained
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1/2 cup barbeque sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
crumbled cooked bacon

In a large, deep skillet or Dutch Oven, brown ground chuck with onion, bell pepper, and celery. Season lightly with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spoon out grease from skillet. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until bubbly. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. To serve, top with crumbled cooked bacon. If there are any leftovers, this makes a great hot dog topping.

Tangy-Sweet Coleslaw

6 cups shredded fresh green cabbage
2 carrots, shredded
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 small bell pepper, chopped fine
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
salt & pepper to taste

Toss cabbage in a large bowl with carrots, onion, and bell pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the dressing over the slaw mix and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time. Stir well before serving.   


Cornbread Casserole 

1 box or pouch (approx 8.5 oz) corn muffin mix
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) creamed corn
1 can (15 ounces) whole corn kernels, drained
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cornbread mix, creamed corn, corn kernels, eggs, sour cream, and butter. Stir in cheese. Pour batter into a 13-x-9-inch greased baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until the center is firm, and bread is golden in color. Cut into squares to serve.

Easy Lemon Cookies

1 (18.25 ounce) package lemon cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Pour cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, and lemon extract until well blended. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into a bowl of confectioners' sugar. Roll them around until they're lightly covered. Once sugared, put them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 6 to 9 minutes in the preheated oven. The bottoms will be light brown, and the insides chewy. 

Butter-Fried Chicken

one whole chicken, cut into fryer pieces
one to two sticks real butter
salt & pepper
poultry seasoning

In a large ziploc bag, add about one cup flour with a good shake of salt & pepper and a pinch of poultry seasoning. Add chicken pieces a few at a time and shake in sealed bag to coat well. Repeat until all chicken pieces are well-coated. Save any leftover flour mixture to make pan gravy. In a large (10 inch), deep cast iron skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add chicken pieces and cook until crispy brown on bottom. Turn chicken pieces and cook until well-done and golden, crispy brown. Arrange chicken pieces on serving platter. While skillet is hot, brown leftover flour in grease (add extra flour if needed). Carefully add enough cold water (be careful of hot grease splatters) to make gravy. Stir gravy continuously until smooth and thick. If needed, add extra seasoning to taste.

Mama's Summer Salad

one red ripe tomato
one yellow ripe tomato
one cucumber
one bell pepper
one onion

1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light cooking oil
salt & pepper to taste

Cut vegetables into bite-sized chunks and mix together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar with vinegar. Blend in oil. Add salt & pepper to taste. Pour dressing over vegetables and stir well. Cover and chill. Flavor improves overnight. Stir salad well before serving.

Yellow Cake with Caramel Icing

one two-layer size butter-flavored yellow cake mix
Prepare cake mix as directed for two cake layers. Bake and allow to cool.

2 c. white granulated sugar
2 c. brown sugar
2 sticks butter
1 sm. can evaporated milk plus a small amount of milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk (pour evaporated milk in a measuring cup and fill to 1 cup with whole milk). Place in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook to the soft ball stage. Add vanilla extract. Cool and beat until creamy. Spread quickly over cooled cake.

If Mama ain't happy...ain't nobody happy...