Up Nawth

Perfect timing that this postcard from Will arrived in my Brooklyn mailbox just as I was out the door to head south for a sojourn among the seagrasses, diamondwater, and, yes, kudzu ravines of my homeland. Sorry, Nawth, I’m outta here.

 

ps. that charming pre-war kudzu shack is roughly the footprint/size of my brownstone apartment (but with attic space and an, um, garden) what do you think they’re asking for it? $1800 a month? $2500? $74 confederate dollars? Let me know if pets are ok and we’ll talk.

Garden Party

Sweetheart and I just returned from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s amazing annual plant sale with this little red wagon load of delectable goodies for the backyard! Early Girls and Kirby Cukes, Packman Broccoli and Medusa Peppers, Rosemary, Thyme, and Lavande de Provence… like all gardeners at the beginning of the season, out wagon brims almost more with hope than with bounty. Luckily my ever-lovin-horticultural Mama is coming next week for any course correction if we city mice have bitten off more strawberries than we can chew.

ps. I always love the Botanic Garden, every time you go it’s different depending on the weather and the season. Today, the bluebell wood was in bloom. After last night’s hard rain, the trees were silent except for the occasional drop of water and the flowers were like a quiet sea. It was truly beautiful.

New Traditions

Our family has always valued tradition. Our Virginia roots stretch down deep in the clay loam of Tidewater back farther than the Whiskey Rebellion. For me, anyway, I’ve never felt as tied to my home as I do at Christmas. We chopped down our own Christmas tree every year (including the year where Daddy had suspect access to an old tree farm out in Charles City County that had been on the market for a few years and he and I went in the old pick-up truck with the Flatt and Scruggs cassette stuck in the tape player and cut a spindly ole tree down with dubious permission and had to skedaddle out of there with a banjo soundtrack when some overseers came out of the trailer on the edge of the property like enraged overalled hornets). We had fires in our fireplace that I would keep going til the last minute until it was time to put it out for the safety of potential Christmas Eve visitors. We had embroidered stockings with our initials on them that, for me, always contained a can of olives (my greatest desire) and a new toothbrush (a two-pronged attack on hygiene maintained by both Santa and the Easter Bunny). Then, when we were older, we had long Christmas day brunches, just us, for hours at the dining room table, totally content, entirely self contained. Our traditions built us up and kept us together.Though the past made us many things, I have learned that this is not what makes us family. So, this Christmas we tried a few new things, new to us but still rooted deep somewhere. Instead of the pink poinsettias that have been on our kitchen table at home every December for my birthday, this year Mama brought up the pink camellias above- cut from our Virginia garden. My grandfather brought her the plant, started from cuttings from the original- growing at my Great Grandmother’s house- he called them Sophie Davis Camellias after her. Instead of a long boozy brunch of hash browns and hominy, we went to Pell Street in Chinatown with Sweetheart’s family- in from Rockaway- for the long standing New York Jewish tradition of chinese food (in this case, vegetarian dim sum) on Christmas Day. Instead of the boxwood roping, magnolia leaves, and fresh cut trees of our old roots, we had the entire New York City skyline glittering and bejeweled, new to us but rooting us here just the same.

Hornsby Family Egg Nog

For me, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without making a large batch of celebrated Hornsby Family Egg Nog (made from scratch, served with love, fresh nutmeg, and ideally tons of fried chicken and warm biscuits with Smithfield Ham). This year the batch was perhaps the best it’s ever been- which is in no small part due to by the glorious gift of Araucana Blue eggs straight from Jay and Katie Rose’s chickens. Araucanas are a South American breed that lay thick-skinned eggs with yolks the color of setting suns. The shells of their eggs come in a range of beautiful delicate colors: pale aquamarine and celadon, eau de nil, sky, and light dappled ochre. See above. The fact that these chickens have beards, are named after lady blues singers, and are presided over by the Grand Plumed Rooster Alicia Jr. just makes the funfetti toned eggs all the more party ready. Which is a good thing since the nog calls for 30 of them (we triple the recipe for our holiday party, soooo, yeah). Talking about the eggs brings up the antipathy that many people have for egg nog- maybe you’ve only ever had store bought (oof), maybe you went to a party where some poor fool made it with gin (travesty), maybe raw eggs give you the willies (no help or hope for you, my friend), but this version, with its hand-written recipe and various and copious brown liquors is surprisingly, almost unbelievably light and fresh, sweet and smooth, spicy, silky, and secretly very strong. Here’s the recipe, straight out of the Hornsby family cookbook, “From the Kitchen at the Hornsby House”, written out by my Great Aunt Marian.Our family is one of barrel chested watermen-turned-oilmen-turned-land men, consummate entertainers, gentlemen raconteurs, merry pranksters, bon vivants, music makers and songstresses, and long time intimates of the marvelous stiff southern drink… when it would be Christmas at the Big House, laughter would shake the chandeliers, and instruments would be played until the wee hours. I always hope to have done them proud.

recipe notes:
– I use Benedictine and Brandy (B&B) instead of Brandy and Southern Comfort
– Tripled, the bourbon comes out to a handle, Jim Beam is more than satisfactory (though Maker’s Mark is sweeter).
– You’re left with the whites of the eggs, make a frittata!

Goodbye South… for a bit.

I’ve just gotten back from marvelous adventures back down South… whenever I go home all of its specialness seems to hit me right in the mouth with the force of humidity and biscuits. It’s starting to feel like cool plaid fall in New York, which might be the bittersweetest loveliness that a city girl can ask for, but the joyful heartache that is the autumn city is right up there with the effortless still warm evenings of southern indian summer, the kind where the air is as full as the moon. So, I’ll be back soon.

Sweet Autumn Clem

New this year: Sweet Autumn Clematis has set up residence in the bush/bustled in the hedgerow that is right up against the outdoor shower house at the beach house (a.k.a.: the only place with power in all of Virginia after Irene). These gorgeous, simple, and— yes sweet— white flowers smell like honeysuckle crossed with jasmine and maybe just a bit of earthy beet pollen (is this what Jitterbug Perfume actually smells like??). There might not be anything more divine than showering in the dark on a full moon night with a bit of honey on the breeze. Seriously.

“Irene Blows”- church sign on Virginia’s Eastern Shore

As I fled Irene-frenzied-New-York like a wine drunk carpetbagger, my hometown was getting thoroughly pummeled. Trees as big around as sewing circles crashed through living rooms and flipped Volvos, taking out power and phone lines like so many cobwebs. My family (much like we did when we heard the Civil War was coming) retreated. To meet them in exile, I found myself cruising down the verdant Eastern Shore down to the Southside via the bay bridge tunnel (drive: recommended). To give succor in times of trouble, I turned to the bounty of my fair Virginia, via a sweet farmstand with a handsome farmer, fresh sweet corn, luscious peaches, and (ohmygodohmygodohmygod) just caught Virginia Blue Crabs.

And, of course, if you’re going to have Chesapeake Bay Blue crabs you also must have Old Bay, a big peppery pot, and plenty of old newspaper.

Noxzema: the bees knees!

A few months ago I stood at an important crossroads. I was experiencing a fun  new grown-up joy of my skin being both broken out (still?) and incredibly dry (really??). I looked like something out of Mad Magazine. (Sidenote: This underlies the import of the book Ann Marie’s been talking about writing for many years: “What’s Happening to My Body NOW!?: A guide for twenty-somethings who are freaking out”, but I digress). This capitol fugliness also happened to coincide with some life events making a re-up on the Laura Mercier face routine nigh on monetarily impossible. Woe! Rending of clothing! Epic Bummer! But wait… surely there must be something in the humble drugstore aisle to soothe my broken spirit and comfort my broke face?

Deliverance from Duane Reade: Noxzema. $5 (in New York, $3 in VA!) for a gargantuan tub of the miracle cream, and I am fresh and clean as a whistle, smooth as a baby’s little forearm, and I smell delectably old fashioned, like seaside resorts from the 30’s and dressing rooms with beveled mirrors and your grandmother’s jewelry to play with. Perfection!

Now: one thing I did not know. Noxzema was originally conceived in Maryland as a salve for sunburn. Why hadn’t I seen this olde ad or done my research on the possibilities when I was on the business end of this sunburn in June? Man, oh, Man I am their target demographic or what?!

Cold Brew: Brewhaha!

It started in 2007. Ann Marie and I had moved to E.7th street in the winter and it was our first warm weather in our 6th floor walkup. And by warm weather I mean it was hot as blue blazes. She worked from home (inexplicably, marvelously, and exclusively by fax), I was bartending and it was an amazing time of long, jort filled days. We had taken to drinking whole pots of espresso in highly sugared three-quarter-tasse cups during our first New York Februaries but now that the clothes were coming off and the air conditioners had not yet been delivered to deliver us from July evils we needed something different. Enter New Orleans Cold Brew Coffee. The superbly easy, utterly delicious, and super cheap wiles of coffee concentrate suited us like ugly on a monkey. Deep, dark and smooth, not at all bitter, inky and mellow, a little milk, lots of ice, it was perfect. One by one, like bad girls, we got everyone we knew hooked on it. Our mothers bought toddys and perfected the 8’oclock cheap brew, Molly downed it by the mason jar, Andrew drinks it hand over tervis-tumbler-fist, it put Sara back on caffeine, and McKay discovered it abroad (and sent back the picture above).

A Missive from the West Coast: Stumptown has started selling Cold Brew Shorties:The Verdict? From Ann Marie:  Not as good as ours. Its the chicory. Chicory= crucial.

The Recipe that Started it All:

1 pound dark roast coffee and chicory, medium ground

10 cups cold water

Ice

Milk.

1. Put coffee in a nonreactive container, like a stainless-steel stockpot. Add 2 cups water, stirring gently to wet the grounds, then add remaining 8 cups water, agitating the grounds as little as possible. Cover and let steep at room temperature for 12 hours.

2. Strain coffee concentrate through a medium sieve, then again through a fine-mesh sieve.

3. To make iced coffee, fill a glass with ice, add ¼ cup coffee concentrate and 3/4 to 1 cup milk, then stir. (Concentrate will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.)

Summer Joy: Gardenias

You know you are in a good place when it is time to go to sleep and someone has put a gardenia next to your bed. Just one, in the tiniest bit of water, depression glass or old fiestaware. You know it’s a marvelous confluence of events that has led you to lay your head down in a place where June is warm enough for blooms and the sheets are still cool to the touch.

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