Take Care of Yourself…

img_3870I’m gonna talk southern to you a minute before I get carried away here… Southerners will do or say almost anything rather than say ‘goodbye’. Do I hear a sigh of relief? Not so fast there, I’m not going anywhere, I’m just trying to tell you something you might not know. A lot of us, okay, most of us, have a superstitious streak and saying goodbye is just one of those unlucky things we try to avoid. For instance, I always end these missives with ‘Love y’all’ because it seems nicer than saying – ‘That’s all she wrote.‘ Though we do say that when it’s appropriate. Many of us say at the end of conversations- ‘Take care of yourself.’ Isn’t that a nice way to say goodbye? And that’s not all, southerners say- ‘Y’all come back now’ even if we hope you won’t- at least not very soon or for very long; it’s just the nicest thing we can think of, when you’re leaving. We also prolong the actual farewell… We do it by walking you to the door, on out to the car, truck or tractor, then we stand outside waving until you’re out of sight. (Even if you live less than a mile away.)

Southerners tend to drag out the process of letting you go… Uncle Grady, who wasn’t a big talker said, whenever anyone was leaving- (the long lost relative or his next door neighbor) Uncle Grady had this charming sing song- ‘Oh don’t go, we’ll miss you so!’ You knew it was coming…and the truth is- things just didn’t feel right when Uncle Grady wasn’t around anymore to say it. Unforgettable.

Now, don’t get me started on funerals. Let’s just say, we have an aversion to saying… ‘he died.’ No, instead we say – ‘she passed away.‘ or ‘we lost him.’‘now that Grandmama’s gone.’ Or… ‘Can you believe it’s been 10 years since Daddy left us?.’ It’s confusing, though please don’t ask ‘where did you lose him? or why did he leave? Because- these phrases, might provoke a sinking spell or worse. The phrases are just the most delicate ways of avoiding saying the actual word- ‘Death‘. There are many, maybe hundreds of ways southerners avoid saying ‘Goodbye.’ Whether going home or to the grave… It’s just so final, you know. Okay! Since that’s settled, we’ve got this Crisis going on and we don’t want you ‘falling out on us.’

So, it occurred to me while I was compiling this missive- that one of the kindest and sweetest ways we end conversations is to say… ‘Take care of yourself.‘  which is always important and never more important than now.

  • Take care of yourself.
  • It’s not selfish, it’s smart.
  • Keep your spirits up.
  • Find humor in everyday life, while taking precautions seriously.
  • Physical distancing doesn’t mean- you can’t be social in safe ways- technology, phone calls and more!
  • Our grandmothers and mothers believed in food as medicine. They said things like- ‘An Apple a Day, keeps the doctor away.’
  • It’s important to do whatever you can to build your Immunity.
  • These foods aren’t a cure, it’s an effort to strengthen your body against disease any time. Here’s a few of my favorites:

Beef– Alabama is a beef producing state. Beef is high in zinc and protein! I haven’t been able to find zinc supplements in over a month! Besides, sometimes I just want a good hamburger! Ok, maybe hold the fries!

img_3822

I’m thoroughly enjoying Tuna, canned is fine just get the best variety you can… with this nice spring weather we’ve loved a tuna salad! Also high in zinc, protein and those all important- Omega 3’s!img_3830

Almonds are a wonderful source of Iron, protein, a bit of A and Zinc!

img_3829I’d have to feel like something was wrong with you if you didn’t like Sweet Potatoes! a lifelong favorite- these are high in C,E and Beta Carotene! img_3831

Yogurt is a power source, high in protein, a bit of A and Zinc! Add berries and you’ve got your Vitamin C and more!img_3828

Broccoli is a favorite here…Kale is also good. Both are immunity building foods! And let’s face it- green vegetables are just good for you! Broccoli is high in Iron and A- lightly steamed with lemon butter- I think it’s delicious! A bonus with any ‘good for you’ food!img_3832

Oysters are an acquired taste! In the sea soaked coastal cities and states, most of us love our oysters any way we can get them! We love them so much- why, even driveways are paved with them! Now, that’s a lot of  Oysters! High in protein, iron and my oh my! That wrinkle fighting collagen! (which is for another day and time!)img_3838

Red Bell Peppers and Avocadoes are wonderful sources of immunity fighters too! And of course, there’s more…img_3870

Rather than regale you with a long and boring list, which you might not even be able to find in the grocery stores… I thought I’d first talk a little southern to you… Just remember –  these aren’t Cures! Merely, foods that will help build Immunity and it can’t hurt to add them to your diet.

I would add one more way we talk southern to you- ‘Keep your spirits up.’ A good state of mind, has been proven for better outcomes during any crisis, especially a health crisis. And, that’s exactly why we’ve written in a lighthearted way. Do whatever it takes to keep your spirits up. Practice this new thing we’re calling Social Distancing, Wash your hands every chance you get, Stay at Home, Save Lives, Stop the Spread and of course ‘Take Care of Yourself, darlin’.’

Love y’all, Camellia

Camellia’s Garden Party…

img_2706I’m never really sure who’s going to show up at our Garden Party here at Camellia’s Cottage…it’s such a fickle dance. Who’ll show up early or be fashionably late? Will they be effusive and bring extra guests or volunteers? Or stand around halfheartedly, even look bored. Perhaps they’ll chat like magpies or huddle together shivering and complaining. Spring is more like a house party that begins in fits and starts- gets rained out, stalls or lasts for weeks on end. img_3846

Even though I’ve gardened for years, I’m still an amateur. Though, I have tried to arrange things so that most years, everyone doesn’t show up all at once- rather more like a procession. Here in Alabama-

  • We always count on the Camellia Cotillion to kick things off early- since they always bloom when almost everything else isn’t. Camellias steal the show in late winter and very early Spring.
  • Back in those fickle February days, Flowering Quince showed up dress fit to kill, yet the Yellow Bells never rang out even once! We since found her in her brown house dress and she’s gone to the compost heap as we weep her passing.
  • The Daffodil Trumpets sounded early and to be honest, they’re almost played out; they’re exhausted really. The Tulips stayed completely out of sight, the Hyacinths barely bloomed- we suspect we’ll need to put in replacements. Those Wood Hyacinths are such nymphs! They came and went before we knew it- though we’ve always  been thankful for the sweet scent they bring. And the Snowdrops were weepy for a few weeks, though we all admit how charming they always are as guests.
  • The Judas Trees often make a poor show of themselves…they’ve shown up. Still. They’re weeping bloody tears on the driveway.
  • The roses had to be cut back severely, they shot up so high last year. And who knows if New Dawn will even stop by this year, I’ll have to remind them to send an RSVP.
  • Oh well, the Wood Violet Teas seem to be underway and underfoot! They’re sweet little things,quietly huddled in small groups for several weeks now, gathering strength and vigor, whispering among themselves. The purple hats seem to be outnumbering the more shy white ones.
  • Thankfully, the Bearded Iris showed up to chaperone, looking stiff and proper, though I must say they prefer to keep to themselves, at a safe distance and seem to multiply every year. I thought surely I could count on an array of Irises to keep things in check with their pale, piercing leafy stares. img_2712

Even though the Spring Dance started early this year, wouldn’t you know? It’s been taken over by the Azalea Ball! To be honest, the younger Azaleas are being shy about showing off- maybe it’s the influence of Iris and the Chaperones? In years past, the older Azaleas show up dressed in somber green with tiny pink polka dots- sitting and sulking on the sidelines, a few shrinking Violets at their feet. Not this year! Oh, ‘no sirree bobtail cat!’ They’re showing their bloomers this year!img_2707

I’ve decided Azaleas are subject to mood shifts- sometimes standoffish and almost rude. This year, they’re snickering and giggling like magpies- dressing in ruffled shocking pink! I’m half expecting to see’ dyed to match’ satin slippers beneath their outrageous gowns! Honestly, the mockingbirds are out in full force! I personally think they’re as shocked as I am at the Azaleas! Unpredictable. img_2708

Spring is always unpredictable, yet she’s always missed, greatly desired, wanted desperately, dearly loved and truly welcomed to the Cottage Garden Party! It must be said, usually Spring in the South is flawed- by weather, circumstances beyond our control- like when frowning Jack Frost appeared as uninvited guest who didn’t even call ahead! Why, he’s even been known to throw hailstones as big as golf balls- honestly we try to avoid him at all costs!

We try, we truly do- to schedule Spring Garden Parties…then find we have to scrap the actual outdoor human parties in favor of acting as bemused bystanders. Spring is anything but boring, like well planned parties- either the Guest of Honor doesn’t show up or an uninvited guest arrives. We lower our eyes at the overdressed Flamboyants or give the side eye to the underdressed- even the bedraggled and depressed. Now, that puts a damper on any party! Please, don’t tell- I actually prefer the Flamboyants, like this year’s Azaleas, with oversized personalities who offer our Garden Party endless amusement.img_2706

The Azalea Trails are legendary in Alabama! We celebrate the beauty and bounty of Spring with irrepressible joy! Okay. We’d like a little more notice than the nightly weather report. Honestly the Farmers’ Almanac, the Barometer and the definite twinges of the Arthritic Chips on our Shoulders are more reliable than the Weatherman.

But really, who am I to be judging the Natural World? Especially when I’m up on my High Horse sitting in a Climate Controlled Saddle? I’ve been late. I’ve been unpredictable. I’ve even been flamboyant a time or two. Okay- rarely… I’m just saying, maybe I’ve bloomed at the wrong time myself. After all, I’m a Camellia, I love me a good early Southern Spring-

  • Violets, Dogwoods,
  • Wood Hyacinths, Snowdrops, Bearded Iris,
  • Daffodils, prickly Quince and oh yes!
  • Azaleas

Especially those flamboyant old girls out there having the time of their lives! Really, y’all, those Azaleas are going crazy! Swaying and sashaying! Before we know it- those stuck up Peonies will be showing off the Ball Gowns they’ve kept secret all year long!img_3678

All of these and more…always throw a big case of Magnolia Fever on me… and I’ve decided I’m not quite ready to be thrown on that old compost pile. Thanks for stopping by our Garden Party!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously taken by me. ** Judas Trees are commonly known as Redbuds- many call these trees with tiny buds and heart shaped leaves Judas Trees- even that famous southern author- William Faulkner. I’ll let you research that yourself!

A message from Brenda- I wanted to write a bit of a lighthearted post because…It’s wonderful to have a garden, especially now in this current crisis. It’s hopeful to know that the seasons, especially Spring- can be counted on as we stay at home, waiting. And, also wonderful to be able to reach out to you virtually…sending great love to each of  you. Stay Home. Stop the Spread. Stay Hopeful. And! join me @brendawyatt_ on Instagram! We sharing posts or stories everyday! I’d love to see you there!img_2709

3 Simple Spring Projects…

As we do all we can to practice good health measures and shelter in place… I thought it might be good to have a few simple projects, easy enough to involve the children while they’re out of school and in need of a bit of fresh air.

The Green Onion Project is one I practice all year round, in our mild climate. Save the root ends of green onions…they will dry in a small bowl on the counter or you can put them in the ground right away, your choice. If you don’t have a garden space- a container filled with potting soil will do just fine.

They do better outside, though I suspect a very sunny spot indoors will do. Scoop out small holes and press the green onion root in firmly with no air pockets. Put as many as desired. An inch apart is just fine.

Water in well and without just a week or so you’ll begin to see green tops emerge! I generally cut the tops when I need them leaving the root end planted. An easy project to do with children!

Hint: you can thinly slice the root end of celery also, press firmly in the soil… you won’t get long stalks, yet before long, you’ll have the very flavor filled tops.

The Ice Cube Project. I love to make pretty ice cubes. Shamrocks might be my all time favorite. Find smallish shamrocks or clover (pesticide free) Fill ice cube trays 3/4 full with water. Top with a shamrock and freeze. Feel free to add more water during freezing process if the shamrock isn’t submerged

. Tiny wild strawberries work very well. Also, very thin slices of lemon or lime cut in quarters are beautiful in a glass of tea or lemonade.

Cranberries and Blueberries should work as well. Experiment with various fruits. This is a fun project, if your choice fails… try again! Staying hydrated is always important- making it pretty is always good incentive!

Spring Violet Tonic This project isn’t fool proof and it’s not for children to do alone. Pick a packed cup full of wood violets or violas. Flowers only, please and once again pesticide free. (The wood violets are coming into their own now in the South, violas work well too!) In a small saucepan, add one cup of cane sugar, one cup of water and one cup of wood violets.

Simmer until the flowers and sugar have dissolved (don’t be surprised- it will look like a green sludge) Allow to cool, refrigerate if not using right away. Add a tablespoon of the mixture to the bottom of a glass. squeeze about a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, ice and top with club soda. The result will be a pale violet color! Violets are full of Vitamin C, this Spring Tonic is actually good for you!

Here’s hoping you’re staying safe and well. We are all in this together, be kind and patient with one another and don’t forget to say your prayers.

Love y’all, Camellia

All photographs are obviously mine. *Always wash any produce and pat dry.

Cookbook Therapy…

img_3582Cookbook Therapy, I highly recommend it- all year round, though most especially when it’s cold and dreary. Most southerners put up with chilly days in a good natured way, some even going so far as to say- they love cold weather or that frost is a ‘good thing because it’ll kill off the bugs’. More than a few days? The novelty of wearing wool, goose down or cashmere has worn off- we put on Bermuda shorts with heavy socks and fake fur lined boots as if to defy the unwelcome visit of Jack Frost.

I admit it, I take cold weather as a personal insult, even blaming the Devil for a few days and for me that’s extreme. Okay, I said- ‘It’s as cold as the Devil’s Heart.’  Extreme weather calls for extreme blame. Fed up, I refuse to go out in it, settle down to soothe my nerves. Bundled up in socks, covered with a throw, I surround myself with highly prized books, especially southern ring bound cookbooks. You know the ones- that real folks in real communities have tested and written. I take perverse pleasure in finding the most difficult, unusual or even grotesque recipes with no intention of cooking any of it.  Well, maybe the sugar laden ones. Still. I need the therapy of reading cookbooks. Let me explain. These old cookbooks are story books to me. I’m a descendant of grandparents who loved crossword puzzles, folks who were readers and amazing story tellers- one was an amazing cook who clipped recipes from her beloved newspaper. Thus, I am a collector of words, sentences, phrases, stories and recipes. I want the cooks who tell a real story, these are my therapists!

img_3574Cookbooks give me a window into other kitchens, other times and in most regional cookbooks there are stories, methods, hints and tips that are priceless. I do not buy these cookbooks new, oh no, I want the recipes with stars beside favorites, a note to improve it- even the ones who say- ‘This one isn’t worth the time to make it’  There’s something therapeutic about reading those notes. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Mostly mathematicians are in the Baking Sections, the insistent precise folks.
  • Happy Socialites populate the Beverage and Appetizer Sections, though I do have to wonder about a non-alcoholic punch…the recipe called for a whole bottle of Almond Extract! Maybe she was in a 12 step program or belonged to a group of teetotalers and had found a way around it.
  • The Casserole Ladies are my favorites, they improvise, aren’t precise, give lots of options and also remind the reader that the recipe can be stretched to feed a crowd. Yes, they are a bighearted generous group. No doubt about it.

Hovering over the Soups and Stews Section- are southern cooks whom I fear share my disdain for cold weather.  When I find one of those cooks on a cold dreary day- Cookbook Therapy begins to kick in.

One fine example made me laugh, just at the title- NO PEEP STEW written in all caps. After a sketchy mixture of ingredients are put in a Dutch Oven, the recipe writer instructed- ‘Bake 5 hours at 250 degrees. DO NOT PEEP, REPEAT, DO NOT PEEP.’

  • I had to wonder, what would happen if some scalawag decided to go rogue and PEEP?
  • Who in the world wrote this recipe?
  • A former Drill Sargent?
  • Apparently, after that direction she decided to calm down and adds… ‘Serve with wedges of your favorite cornbread and a green salad.’

In another cookbook, there was a recipe for this same stew written by a real comedian- she had a fun and much nicer title for hers. It was called- ‘No Peekie Beef Stewie’ … you have to love her! Then there was another sweet lady who got a bit bossy about when to add egg yolk and vinegar to Pig Stew… yes, you read that right! She did regain her composure at the end and said- ‘My grandmother’s cook made this every Christmas and it was served on the sideboard with the Turkey and Dressing. It’s very rich and not too good in warm weather, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without it at my home in New Orleans.’  Bless. Her. Heart. * If this has made you hungry for a wonderful beef recipe, using leftover roast beef- we’ve got one you can peep at called- Boeuf en Daube…

Some recipes assume you know how to cook. One recipe I’m particularly fond of has simple instructions, yet no quantities-

  • Cook Chicken, cool and shred.
  • Save broth, Blanche Broccoli.
  • Make a White Sauce.  Add white wine and Grated Parmesan Cheese.
  • Brown Cracker Crumbs in Butter.
  • Assemble.
  • Bake at 350 until bubbly. Serve with Rice.

That’s it. I made one recently. Sometimes, I need no nonsense and no mathematics cluttering up my mind- just clear directions – especially when it’s cold weather.img_2584

Now, any recipe that starts with frying bacon can’t be bad, in fact- these are the recipes you know are winners! I found one recipe- no doubt submitted by a beautiful and fragile Southern Cook- it was so well written, I fell in love with her on the spot. img_2581

I’m not sure about her recipe, though her gentle ways soothed me. Her southern charm, her impeccable manners won me over. She started out the recipe in such a precise and charming way…

  • Fry bacon in a heavy cast iron Dutch Oven until crisp- set aside. Pour off almost all of the fat leaving just enough to leave a thin film on the bottom.  *Please note there are no upper case letters shouting at you- implied was this- ‘Now darling, you better save that bacon fat, you may need it later!’ Then..
  • She gets fired up… ‘Heat fat to smoking hot, brown meat a few pieces at a time… if needed, add a little more bacon fat.’
  • Later on, when she finally finishes browning all of that meat and has removed it to a platter, she goes on…’add butter to the pot…onions.. then says- ‘You may need more bacon fat.’  I’m calming down already.
  • Alright, now she wants us to add Beef Stock, Spices and Beer. Yep, it’s winter stew for sure. Listen to how nicely she writes the last suggestion…
  • Return browned meat to pot. There should be enough sauce to cover, but if you’re a little short, add beer.’  Do you not love this woman???

Please note how polite she is the whole way through! That alone settles my nerves. She says- ‘You may need more bacon fat… if you’re running a little short, you may need more beer!’  No unreasonable demands,  just reasonable suggestions. This lady may be almost as nice as the lady who is making Beef Roulade Sandwiches… who says from the outset.

‘Be nice to the butcher. Smile.’  

Both of these ladies put me in a better frame of mind, it’s like they’re saying- ‘Bon Appetit, y’all.’

img_3582Cookbook Therapy works! If you’re chilled, it’s dreary and damp- peruse the recipes in good Junior League or Church Ladies’ Cookbooks. What you’ll find are stories of real people making really good food. It’s the best therapy I know of…you don’t have to cook a single recipe- however, what’s better than a collection of stories that could end up as a feast on your very own table? The next time you need a lift- Read Cookbooks as Literature.

Love, y’all!  Camellia

*This is an updated and ‘not as long winded’ version as the first which was published in January 2018. All photographs are obviously mine.

*Bon Appetit, Y’all, also happens to be the title of one of my favorite cookbooks by a French trained Southern Chef! Virginia Willis.

Tips for Writers: I write best when I’m reading. My writing and cadence is better when I’m reading. Reading can relieve writer’s block. Pat Conroy had a goal of reading 200 pages per day and to write 5 legal pad pages per day! Now, that’s a lot of reading and writing yet no one can dispute his success!

Bevy of Beauties…

 

img_3484They still spring forth from twisted roots, thick marshes, stark rocky hillsides, rushing rivers, dark coal mines and the red clay soil of Alabama, a veritable Bevy of Beauties. Let us never forget that:

  • Stars Fell on Alabama,
  • Hank Williams wrote ‘Hey Good Lookin’ , What ya got cookin’  and-
  • F.Scott Fitzgerald found his Zelda right here in my Sweet Home, Alabama.

It’s no coincidence that Southern girls aren’t just cuter, they are stunning beauties. We know this from birth. They’re like Strands of Steel woven through Lace Christening Gowns, Ruffled Petticoats and Tulle Tutus. For southern girls, there’s an immediate affinity for Sparkle, Sequins and Crowns.

Their eyes flash with fury, the art of flirting comes naturally at an amazingly early age. Charmingly, disarmingly  and alarmingly they manage to get their own way, especially with their daddies, brothers and beaus, who are more than happy to go along with it.

Some prefer devastating hats, some wear Hollywood style sunglasses all year round, some prefer to wear their crowns- All. The. Time. Others insist on over-accessorizing. We allow it, we encourage it and just between me and you? It’s easier than arguing them down.

We crown our daughters for every conceivable Fruit, Flower or Nut- not to mention Cotton, Crisco® and Congeniality! And- Bo Weevils, too. For others, the Tutus and Dance costumes aren’t  reserved just for recitals but worn everyday. Recently, I saw a tiny girl with a running suit which had wide bands of sequins down each tiny arm and each tiny leg- her mother said the child loves it so much she has to wash it while the little girl is sleeping!

img_3500It must be said, that those who are born loving sparkles often get the crown– we have spawned more than one Miss America right here in Alabama. Southern Beauties win more often than any other region of the United States!   We may be the Land of Cotton but someone somewhere has made a killing off  the 1000’s of yards of tulle for years now! Ball Gowns, Prom dresses, Homecoming Courts, Beauty Pageants, Cotillions and every conceivable holiday including Alabama’s own Mardi Gras, in Mobile, Alabama.

Even Senior Centers have beauty contests- I have warned my family if the day ever comes when they think I need to be assisted in living ( even though I’ve never won a beauty contest in my life!)  It will cost them a fortune in sequined pageant dresses alone. Why? because Southern ladies nevah evah give up hope or stop flirting for that matter!

img_3484It would be a mistake to think these beauty queens are all fluff, many go on to become-

  • Lawyers,
  • Surgeons,
  • Executives,
  • Artists,
  • Teachers,
  • Engineers
  • Rocket Scientists.

If you research the Southern Bevy of Beauties, you will find articles have been written throughout the years- all asking and trying in vain to answer the question of why Southern women are so much prettier

  • Some say it’s the extra amount of Sunshine, others say it is the Humidity that makes their Skin Glow and their Hair so Full.
  • Some say it’s the Slower Pace or the Sweet Southern drawl, or maybe it’s growing Sugar Cane.
  • Some say it’s Handed Down from Generation to Generation from folks who have stayed in one place.
  • Some say it’s Training or other less desirable reasons- which, to be honest, hurts my feelings to read such nonsense.

To pigeonhole Southern Beauties would be a mistake- some are as soft and gentle as Wood Violets, some are livin’ as large as our Magnolia Grandiflora, some cover pain and heartache like the sweet scent of Jasmine.  Some are more like creamy Gardenias, you can’t miss ’em but they’re shy and bruise easily. Others are  late bloomers like the Glory Bower. Then there are those who simply bloom at the wrong time– like Camellias, our Winter Rose. We name them for-

  •  Our indigenous flowers,
  • Our ancestors
  •  Others are so precious we’ve named them Jewel, Ruby, Opal and Pearl.
  • Then there are some who are quicker than a lightning bug can blink- so we’ve nicknamed them,  Junebugs, Skeeters and Katydids.
  • They are as sparkling as our Rivers,
  • They giggle and babble like our warm Springs
  • They are as tough and spunky as Pig Iron, yet soft as Moonlight and twinkle like Stars.

There is an intoxicating mix of culture in the South- more Flags have flown over the Deep South than any other. The spice blend of Native American, Spanish, French, British,  African, Greek, Italian, German and Caribbean have influenced the very food we eat and also contribute to our sweet and spicy Bevy of Beauties!

Most of my ancestors were of European descent, yet I have an American Indian great grandmother aptly named Bama. Whole counties, rivers and towns bear names like Choctaw, Etowah, Tuscaloosa and Cherokee. In the county where I live, the will of a Cherokee Indian Princess is on record. Of course she was a Princess! No other region of America has been so ravaged by war and gone down a trail of bitter, blood, sweat and tears like the South. We’re still struggling with the aftermath. It is undeniable that Beauty is Born out of Trouble. So, is it any wonder that our Daughters are the Queen of our Hearts and a Bevy of Beauties?

img_3274We teach them that to be well received,

  • They must have good manners, high standards,
  • Be well dressed, get good grades,
  • Have a winning smile and be good citizens.

Secretly we know that beauty and brains is a devastating combination! So, from generation to generation- we revel in their beauty but admire good posture. We remind our daughters, they are born of backbone and courage! And that my friends, is the truth of where our bevy of beauties get their real good looks!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Photographs are the personal property of the community  of Camellia’s Cottage and should not be used without permission.

* Photograph of ‘Katydid’ was taken by Hollis Ellison a wonderful photographer!

*This post was originally written in 2017, in 2018, Z Publishing awarded Bevy of Beauties…  for Emerging Writers of Alabama. This post has been edited and updated from the original. It seemed fitting to redo this post since we have been blogging 4 years this month!

*Some of the vintage beauties are from Ash-Clairma 1961, the high school annual of Ashville, Alabama where surely some of the most beautiful ladies on earth were born.

* ‘Hey Good-Lookin’ was written by Alabama’s own Hank Williams.

* Zelda Fitzgerald was from Montgomery, Alabama.

*Alabama has had three winners of the Miss America Pageant®, over 20 were runners up and countless have been finalists and special award winners, including our very funny Award Winning Author- Fanny Flag.

Special Edition! Camellia’s Valentine’s Advice…

img_3382Valentine’s Day is a veritable mine field of a holiday. I’ve interviewed a good many women who report feelings of depression, unfulfilled expectations and outright anger after this day of love. Valentine’s Day is fraught with problems for Southern men. Why? Because the south is a matriarchal society. Southern mommas take care of all the gift buying, the decorating, the meal planning, the teacher gifts, cookies and cupcakes and all of that glitter strewn around from card making- even cellophane bags stocked in at least 3 different sizes, perfect for goodie bags for? Every. Single. Occasion known to mankind. We might let men think they’re in charge of… say, the Deep Fried Turkey for Thanksgiving but it’s a woman who has the back up roast turkey just in case his fryer catches on fire! img_3376

Valentine’s Day is that exceptional holiday– she may done everything for the children’s parties yet southern women don’t think it’s asking too much for Billy Bob to turn into a Sugar Daddy on Valentine’s Day. For just one day, is it too much to expect Billy Bob to turn into William Robert Smith IV, master of all things sweet and romantic on just one little bitty day of the year? Is it any wonder that Every. Single. Year- most men manage to blow it? They need help and she’s put her foot down she’s not giving him even a hint.

Knowing the average male attention span is short, this is the Short List.

  • Avoid anything fuzzy, helium filled or a good deal like boxes of chocolate you forgot to remove the sticker which says- ‘Buy one Get one Free’.
  • I’ll let you in on a big secret-  Victoria or Frederick’s are names southern women associate with Hurricanes- this is not a good message to send and- really, you don’t know her size or preferences.
  • Do not buy matching camouflage outfits and take her to the hunting camp, even if she’s bagged more quail or pheasants than you did. She wants it served under glass.
  • If you do take her out to eat, make sure the place has tablecloths and seating- not just bar stools if you get my drift!

Now that I have your attention gentlemen, remember this above all else- Valentine’s Day is for her, not you.  Please don’t go into a store, and buy lingerie- if you can’t pronounce it- you don’t need to be there! Listen to me- you’re gonna bomb on this one because just when the sales lady asks for her size- you’re going to fall into this trap by sayin’ ‘Well pretty lady, I reckon she’s just about your size!’ and boom! Too big or too little will not be forgiven any time soon! Now, if you’ve stayed with me this long… I can get into specifics-

  • Do not- I repeat- do not buy her a digital bathroom scale. Do not sign her up for a gym membership! Do not buy sugar free candy or a trial membership in a weight reduction program, even if your Valentine has been asking you since New Year’s if you think she needs to lose weight- that is a trap.
  • Dinner and a movie is generally a safe bet- unless dinner is fast food and the movie is ‘Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘Jaws‘ or ‘Walking Tall- Part 2′ . It just kills the mood. Believe me on this one.
  • Please don’t complain about the prices at dinner or at the movies.
  • Whatever you do- don’t have photo booth pictures blown up into framed 8×10’s, she may have thought they were adorable at the time… yet for her desk? Probably not so cute.
  • About that desk- you might want to check with the florist- ‘Are there multiple orders going to her workplace?’ You wouldn’t want her to be mortified if she’s the only one there with no flowers! (I have known women, who in desperation have called the local florists and had her own flowers sent to cover for your gross negligence in this matter! Believe me, you will never live this down.

Speaking of flowers, we do know the difference in florist flowers and those bought at the big box or grocery stores. Whatever you do, please do not buy a neon blue orchid. Now, those are the basics, are you ready for more?

  • Going to look at tractors, single wide trailers or pre-fab storage buildings are not exactly her idea of a romantic outing.
  • Neither is taking her car for an oil change, new brake shoes or having the tires rotated- even if they throw in the Valentine Special of hot pink fuzzy seat covers. Just  do your duty to see about her safety and welfare- not as a gift! Note one exception- *If you’re thinking automotive- buy her a new car! *

I know you’re thinking of buying her something for the household- this is another trap, believe me. Please don’t buy household appliances of any kind- a new vacuum, a toaster, a leaf blower or an electric drill. Let the kids buy her those things for Mother’s Day! Or better yet, hire someone to do all those chores that you’ve been putting off for…ages?

  • Do not buy her an apron, oven mitts or dish towels. In fact, do not even think of buying her a trinket of any kind- especially if you found them at a truck stop or country cookin’ gift shop.
  • Even if she’s the one who yells the loudest during football games- do not buy a 65 inch color TV and have it mounted in her absolutely gorgeous bedroom! In fact, don’t give her anything that is suitable for mounting on a wall- especially your latest ‘catch’ even if she’s won more tournaments than you have!
  • A shirt with an Arrow pointing your direction- that says- ‘I’m His’ might be funny to you- believe me it’s not! Matching Tshirts are to be avoided at all costs for Valentine’s Day- especially if you’re taking her out somewhere nice.

By now, you’re probably thinking that a card is a nice touch and it is. Unless you’ve neglected to actually read the inside of the card! It might look great on the outside with romantic wording like ‘You are so beautiful to me…‘ yet on the inside there’s a picture of an Orangutan sayin’ ‘A face only a mother could love.‘  Now, you may have howled when you read it and gotten a big kick out of it all; believe methis will not be well received, any more than :

  • Wrinkle, hair removal, anti-aging products or the perfect shade of nail polish which you think will save on all of the beauty parlor bills! Leave this to the professionals.
  • Handwritten coupons for anything will not spell Sugar Daddy- even if your handwriting is nice- this doesn’t read nice. It shouts- Cheapskate!
  • Candy is always a nice touch as long as it’s not a fun-size bag, a quarter pound chocolate heart that she’ll need a chainsaw to cut (see above) Or…a cheap grocery store brand with four pieces of chocolates – go for broke here and get the kind of candy sold in free standing stores with nice gold wrapping paper- even if you think the price is ridiculous!
  • And, if you’ve been dating a while, please don’t buy a hard candy diamond shaped plastic ring, a big old fake diamond keychain, a heavily over advertised open heart or a boxed set of jewelry on the sale aisle. She wants a diamond not a friendship ring!
  • Listen up! Regardless of the song… Diamonds are a Man’s best friend! And of course-dogs, it just depends on where you’d rather be.

img_3376Southern men need help on Valentines Day. According to my hotline results- no matter how hard you’ve worked that day- she’s expecting you to show the same energy and enthusiasm you had for SEC football games. When you pick her up, please don’t say-

  • ‘Are you wearing that?’  or ‘How much did that cost?‘ no matter what she has on.
  • If she asks you if her shoes look funny- please don’t say ‘Well honey, they aren’t hilarious.’
  • If she exclaims that her hair looks awful- refrain from saying ‘It doesn’t look any worse than usual.’

Some final advice- if she’s over the age of five- your valentine doesn’t want a bouquet of lollipops, a stuffed animal of any kind- no matter what size it is- and certainly not a bunch of helium filled balloons! Save that for birthdays or fun days. And remember above all else- Valentine’s Day is for your sweetheart, not you. If you can’t remember anything else, gentlemen, remember that. Or. Believe me, darlin’, she won’t let you forget it for a whole year or…maybe your own natural lifetime.

Love y’all, Camellia

*These helpful hints have been gleaned from an informal poll of southern ladies who have experienced some frankly disappointing Valentine’s days. The poll is non- scientific and based solely on the horror factor of it all. *Men, you have my full permission to reprint this article, IF you commit it to memory and can recite it in your sleep! Ladies, you have my full permission to reprint this article- as long as you promise to give it to your sweetheart, right before or after Valentine’s Day- depending on when you need it! It doesn’t worry me…much- I’m a fictional character.

*The wonderful free images are from @over including the cute videos!

Jambalaya!

img_3252I was peeling shrimp. Minding my own business, when out of this feeble brain of mine- I heard this song running around,

‘ Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo… me oh my oh! Gonna see ma cher amio…On the Bayou’.

Apparently Yvonne could either make a mean jambalaya or dance the night away in the lovin’ arms of Alabama born country legend Hank Williams, so you know I had to make a pan of Jambalaya. Since way before that song was written- we’ve all been trying our best to make sure Jambalaya isn’t just On the Bayou, but on our tables too!

img_3435Now, there might be dozens of recipes for Jambalaya and I’m sure I’d love them all! Still. If you’ve never made it, you might not realize, it’s a one iron skillet dish that’s easy to get on the table and can feed the multitudes. If you don’t need a big batch… Well, it’s even better the next day and also freezes well! And actually, most of the early Jambalaya recipes were from fishermen, so proportions aren’t exact. In fact, one very old recipe called for ‘clean Bay Water.‘ Okay, here’s something you need to know- they used exactly what they had on the boat and rarely gave proportions. Still. It’s that complex simplicity of a classic Jambalaya that still inspires.

img_3437Here’s my rendition of the Classic Jambalaya:

  • Allow one cup of uncooked, unwashed rice to a pound and half of peeled shrimp. (Leave the tails on for extra flavor)
  • In a large skillet, fry 3-4 pieces of Bacon. Remove and drain.
  • In hot bacon drippings, brown one large sliced onion, 1/2 cup chopped green pepper, 1/8 cup chopped celery. Quickly add chopped garlic- one or two cloves.
  • Add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust at the end if needed), 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoons of thyme,  1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika, salt, pepper and stir to combine working quickly.  *As Eugene Walter always admonished….use fresh ground pepper, not that powdery stuff that loses it’s flavor before it hits the food! *At this point, feel free to add chopped smoked sausage.
  • Add 1 cup raw rice, 1 1/2 pounds shrimp and stir until shrimp turns pink.
  • Add enough boiling water (Start with 2 cups) over mixture. Add one bay leaf.
  • The rice will thicken the liquid, yet isn’t done until the grains are tender.
  • Simmer , adding more boiling water if needed.
  • Add more spices until you’re afraid to add anymore!
  • When all liquid has been absorbed ….Jambalaya!

img_3436

  • To make it extra good, squeeze the juice of a lemon over the Jambalaya after it’s done. And to make it real pretty, top with chopped green onion tops and parsley, even cherry tomatoes. Folks won’t mind if you crumble that bacon top as well! Some have been known to top it with grated sharp cheddar cheese- though I think that’s gilding the lily a bit too much.  And don’t forget to remove that Bay Leaf! This recipe will feed 4-6.
  • Jambalaya is great with garlic bread and a green salad, though equally good with fresh cornbread, baked sweet potatoes and steamed cabbage. Jambalaya doesn’t have tomatoes in it, though I’ve added a few cherry tomatoes on top of this Jambalaya for her beauty shot! And yes, you can make it in something other than an iron skillet! img_3437

Easy and delicious, is it any wonder Hank Williams wrote, ‘On the Bayou’ in celebration of Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie…oh me, here I go again!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Eugene Walter was another famous Alabamian, known for his book ‘Hints and Pinches’.  *Shrimp and shrimp boats were photographed at Alabama’s own Bon Secour Bay, and were obviously taken by me!′img_3434