Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How to set the table

Does this task strike you as simple? meaningless? unimportant? Well, take a second look. This chore is a key example of the well-run household where I grew up and learned so keenly from my mother.

One of the most striking parts of our routine for setting the table was that we did it the night BEFORE! This preparation made breakfast time go more smoothly. My mother had two sets of flatware and dinnerware, so that, if one set was in the dishwasher, there would be no excuse for not setting the table for the next meal. In short, part of cleaning up after dinner was setting the table for breakfast the next day.

Each place was set completely with three pieces of flatware: knife, fork, and spoon. We used paper napkins when we were very young, but it was not long before she graduated us to cloth napkins held in place with a personalized ring. Juice cups were turned upside down and plates were placed in the warmer.

There was an intricate schedule that we all understood and operated under. Division of labor and the laws of supply and demand were demonstrated clearly in our little eco-system. There is no need to record the minute details, but we six children knew what was expected of us and there were consequences when one's obligation was not completed properly.

This is home economics at its finest.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Biscuit Story

Recipe follows. I actually posted that first and then remembered I was supposed to be telling stories about things my mother taught me. Well, my mother taught me how to cook. Her method was simple.

See one. Do one. Teach one.

It started early when I was very young. I watched her cook. She tells me I always wanted to help her stir (stirrl, I said). When she let me stir the oatmeal and I didnt place the spoon all the way to the bottom of the saucepan, and some of it burned, she sighed. I watched our maid cook, too. Before she left for the day, dinner was sitting on the hottray ready to serve at six o'clock sharp. I have fond memories of her, fixing a pot of homemade hot chocolate as an after school snack on a cold winter day. Down the street, I watched my friend's mother (a Yankee!) cook, tasting sweet and sour pork for the first time ever.

I first remember baking brownies at age eight. I think there is a good picture of me and my older brother working together at the kitchen counter. In sixth grade social studies, we studied world geography and had to prepare a report on each country. I always chose *Cooking*. My written report was always accompanied by an authentic dish which I shared with the class. For example, for France: chocolate mouse Russia: it was an iced pastry item with raspberry filling Italy: homemade stuffed manicotti with both red and white sauces. By the time I finished with that meal, I think I was too tired to eat. But you get the point.

By age twelve, I could bake a yellow, three-layer all alone and ice it with chocolate buttercream frosting. This recipe continues to be a favorite birthday cake in our family.

For the next five years came lots of watching and helping. In our family of six children, we rotated kitchen duty which not only included the after-meal cleanup, but also started early in the day with meal prep. If your turn fell on a holiday or Sunday, you could count on devoting the better part of your day to the kitchen.

Long about age 18, I took a cooking class from Nathalie Dupree when she was Director of Rich's Cooking School. When I lived at home for four months after college, I cooked for the family in exchange for room and board.

In short, my mother continues to be an example of an excellent cook and hostess. She was always there to show me what to do next or answer a question about why something didnt turn out right. She read and collected cookbooks. She kept several recipe boxes well organized. She prepared a variety of menus, in fact making a list of vegetables in order to make sure we had tried ALL of them. You never know where you will eat one day, she would say. To this day she states that cooking is not one of her favorite tasks, but because she had a family to feed, she chose to do it well.

Thanks, Moma!

Friday, May 26, 2006

How to fix biscuits

I think I have posted my recipe before. No matter. I will post it again. For any cooks out there, you know that recipes evolve, and this one is no different. When I first learned to prepare biscuits, I was using white flour and Crisco shortening. Furthermore, each cook puts her own *stamp* on her biscuit recipe. So, be ready to own up to your style of this Southern quickbread.

Dry Ingredients:
2 Cups whole wheat flour
2 Cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder (optional, but it will lighten your biscuit)

Wet Ingredients:
1 Cup Oil (I use safflower)
2 1/2 Cups buttermilk

Combine five dry ingredients in large mixing bowl. In a one quart pyrex mixing cup, blend wet ingredients with a wire wisk. Pour over dry. Stir with wooden spoon until all is combined without overworking batter. It should form into a loose ball of dough. Dump onto floured surface. I dust again with flour, before rolling out to 1" thickness. Cut into 2 1/4" rounds and place on large baking sheet. Do not allow edges of biscuits to touch. Bake 20-25 minutes in 425 degree PREHEATED oven or until browned.

Serves 8 adults.

Enjoy plain, buttered, jammed, honeyed, sorghumed, or stuffed with a sausage patty. I NEVER throw these out. Leftovers are *planned* and stored in ziplock freezer bag. If they are not used up on soup night, or crumbed for use in meatloaf or squash casserole, they are a prized ingredient for my Cornbread Dressing at Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How to be mean

Better tell this story quickly or one might get the wrong impression. She doesnt look mean, does she?

The whole concept ties into Bobbie Pingaro's 1967 essay/poem entitled The Meanest Mother in the World and strikes at the heart of my parenting style.

When I was a child, did I really believe my mother was mean? No, but she implemented a lot of the tactics described in this essay and I am the better for it. So, when another mother-friend of mine regaled me with the story of how she made an executive decision based on *I'll bet Mrs. Jago wont let her children see that movie,* I knew I had learned well.

Obviously, the use of the word *mean* was an attention-getter. I sometimes joke with my own children about *meanness* being a positive trait in a mother. Take Kipling's poem Female of the Species, for example.

Some of my favorite parenting books are The Bible, Proverbs for Parenting, Withhold Not Correction by Bruce Ray, Grist from Adams' Mill by Jay Adams, Six Points for Raising Happy, Healthy Children by John Rosemond, and Shepherding a Child's Heart by Ted Tripp. My parents havent written a book, but if they had it would be on the list becasue they were and continue to be models of excellent parenting.

What parenting book has most influenced your style?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Five Things My Mother Taught Me

1. How to use a blackboard.
2. How to set the table.
3. How to be mean.
4. How to make a Southern Belle costume.
5. How to fix biscuits.

Self Portrait

Since last Friday's Five I have been pondering what my mother taught me.

She taught me lots of things and she continues to teach me, but I have come up with a short list identifying five very specific tasks.

Stories to follow.

Inspiration from Quiet Life .

Friday, May 19, 2006

Orange Chicken with Avocado

What a treat to have someone else prepare dinner!! DD#2 has outdone herself. Not only did this food taste deliciously but the presentation was down right artistic!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Summer Dinners

There are six around the dinnertable now. When I had only two children, I still cooked for 6-8 and invited the neighbors over. I suppose in larger families there is no such thing as leftovers. But I rely on leftovers. I plan for them and market them :)

The collegians have been home for almost a week and we're trying to settle into a routine. I'm thinking out loud about meal prep, grocery shopping, laundry days, and general housekeeping. Transportation is a big issue because we have six drivers and three vehicles.

But back to the issue at hand....food. We love to grill and eat cold salads when the weather is hot. There's no time like the present to give everyone a chance to be chef for the day.

What's your favorite summer meal?

Friday, May 12, 2006


Dear Reader,
I like you to meet my faithful hairdresser of 40 plus years, Mr Paul Hensler. I cant say enough good things about him, but let me try.

First, note that he is still working at age 75! What a testimony to his industrious nature. Although he no longer owns his own shop, after retiring and recouperating from some knee surgery, he just missed *hair* too much.

I first met him when he trimmed my hair at age 7, right before the beginning of second grade. He styled my hair on my wedding day, gave me a perm after the birth of my first daughter, and has kept me feeling young and beautiful with highlights and up-to-date hairdoos.

While I'm not entirely sure who gave this advice, it has worked well for me: If you have to choose between getting your hair done (cut, styled, whatever) or buying a new dress (for a special occasion), choose *hair*

Which is where I'm headed right now. When was the last time you had your hair *done*?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Alice Frances Cheeseman

Happy Birthday to someone who made a big impression on me when I was young.

Several weeks ago, in the Friday Five, Donna asked us to name a funny teacher we had had. I couldnt really name one, but I do have very fond memories of Miss Cheeseman, who taught me well. She was my teacher not only in the fifth grade, but also in the seventh. I think I even had her for one class as a fourth grader.

She had beautiful handwriting, taught us three different ways to write the date, offered bonus points for vocabulary words, like prestidigitation. She taught me how to diagram sentences, how to outline a history lesson, and made me work hard! She gave me the opportunity to plan all the chapel services for the middle school, gave me my favorite cookbook as a wedding present, Joy of Cooking, and was an example of an overall good person.

Why I remember birthdays, I will never understand. Some things/facts just dont stick in my brain, and then others never fade.....like this birthday....and even tho' she's deceased, I just wanted to highlight her enduring influences.

Do you have someone you want to talk about today?

Friday, May 05, 2006


Cindy has tagged me to reveal six interesting things about myself.

1) I left high school after my junior year and headed off the college, where I graduated summa cum laude in three years with a BA, major: History with minors: French and German. I wanted to be an international business woman (ie, executive assistant).
2) I married at age 22 after *dating* my husband for over four years. We met in college, so we have known one another over 31 years! We have four daughters aged 21, 19, 18, and 16.
3) I was born and reared in Atlanta along with my five siblings, who are now scattered, but we have given our folks 29 grands. We gather for a family reunion at Callaway Gardens each July.
4) In addition to serving my husband at home, I have for ten years now assisted him by managing his private family practice. We have a passion for keeping medicine free from governmental control and independent of insurance companies.
5) I enjoy lots of things: reading, cooking, organizing, most things Southern, politics, theology, and economics.
6) I had the privilege of knowing and working for Congressman Larry McDonald who was killed along with 168 others by the Soviets in 1983.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Carolina Wren

This bird is one of my favorites because s/he sings so loudly and so lovely. S/he perches on the railing of my desk and his whole body warbles as the song travels out of his mouth. I like the different shades of the brown and white markings on this bird.

Do you have a favorite bird in your backyard?

Photo credit www.aviary.owls.com/carolinawren

Monday, May 01, 2006

National Day of Prayer

Thursday marks a special day set aside to pray for the concerns of our nation. Use this page to figure out what's going on in your neighborhood. Elisabeth Eliot's devotion today mentions some good guidelines for prayer, as does the National Day website.

In other news, today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of DH's private practice :)

Lots to pray/praise about.