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Book Clubs, Ukuleles and other Chestertown Stuff

February 23, 2015

The book club that I’m in meets once each month at The Lemon Leaf Café. We call it a “slacker book club” because although there are no slackers in it, we’re not there to prove anything or to go down in history as the most profound thinkers in the town. It’s just a way to be encouraged to read books that we might not read otherwise, then meet together with women who are fun and nice. Pretty simple, right? (And the Lemon Leaf management has made it so easy for our group; they couldn’t have been any more welcoming! I can say with authority that they’re really doing more right there at the restaurant than just the food, which we locals really appreciate!)

Tonight’s selection is our second Fannie Flagg book, with the first being Redbird Christmas in December. Since it was the holidays, those attending the December meeting decided to make things easy and so just chose another Fannie Flagg for January, which was just fine by me. I like her. Only problem was that they chose a recent publication not yet available at the library, and I was too busy to request in time, so I just went to KCPL a couple of days ago and took one of her earlier books from the shelf. Not so hard getting a book written in 1987: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.

The book is the story of lots of people in Whistle Stop, Alabama, in the 20′s, mostly, told in the 80′s by an elderly woman in a nursing home to another resident’s visitor. (Getting to know Smokey in the story was where the ukulele – in the blog title – came in; I’ve come across several Woodie Guthrie songs with my uke and could picture Smokey and his buddies pretty easily). But playing a uke isn’t a prerequisite to reading this book. It’s an easy read, but is not fluff:

This morning, Smokey Phillips was on a mixed train from Georgia, headed for Florida. He had not eaten anything for two days and remembered that his friend Elmo Williams had told him that there were two women running a place right outside of Birmingham who were always good for a meal or two….

…’Excuse me, ma’am, I was wondering if you had an odd job, or something I might do. I’ve had a run of some bad luck, lately.’

Idgie looked at the man in the worn-out dirty jacket, frayed brown shirt, and cracked leather laceless shoes and knew he wasn’t lying.

She opened the door and said, ‘Come on in, fella. I think we can find something for you.’

…Idgie pointed to the men’s room. ‘Why don’t you go in there and freshen up, and then come have a bite to eat.’….

The bathroom was big and had a light bulb hanging down from the ceiling, and when he pulled it he saw that there was a big stand-up claw-foot tub over in the corner, with a black rubber stopper on a chain. On the sink, already laid out, was a razor and a dish of shaving soap with a brush.

As he looked at himself in the mirror, he felt ashamed that they had seen him so dirty, but he had not had more than a speaking acquaintance with soap for quite a while now….He had not had a drink in twenty-four hours, and his hands shook so bad he was not able to get a clean shave, but he did the best he could….

He sat down to a plate of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and iced tea.

He picked up his fork and tried to eat. His hands were still shaking and he was not able to get the food to his mouth. He spilled his tea all over his shirt.

He had been hoping they were not watching, but in a minute the blond woman said, ‘Smokey, come on, let’s take a walk outside.’

He got his hat and used his napkin, thinking he was being thrown out. ‘Yes’m.’

She walked him out behind the café, where there was a field.

‘You’re a pretty nervous fella, aren’t you?’

‘I’m sorry about spilling my food in there, ma’am, but to tell you the honest to God truth…well…I’ll just head on, but thank you anyway…’

Idgie reached in her apron pocket and pulled out a half-pint bottle of Old Joe Whiskey and handed it to him.

He was a mighty appreciative man. He said, ‘God bless you for a saint, ma’am.’ and they sat down on a log out by the shed…..

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Fannie Flagg, 1987,The Random House Publishing Group, pp. 17 – 19.

Told you it wasn’t fluff.

Emailing us……

January 15, 2015

Please note: we had to get a new email address last year (b/c we were hacked).

If you have ever tried to contact us without success – without receiving a response, we are soooo sorry! Apparently, those messages went into never-never land and we had no idea of knowing about them. Obviously, this was a real problem, but things should be fine now.

For reservations, and for any questions at all, please email us at simplybbctown@gmail.com or call us at 410 778-4359.  Thank you!

And thank you for your attention and patience!

~ Cheryl and David

Cookies, Change and Comfort

January 5, 2015

It’s part of the reason that I ask this question of our guests:  “What is your favorite cookie?”  I like people connections, so knowing that my offer of a warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie will set the stage for a relaxing stay for someone elevates the simple to the sublime.  You know, meaning and purpose in the mundane.  OK, it’s just a cookie, for crying out loud, but….well, they do say it’s the little things….

It’s January at the B&B so things are pretty quiet.  David’s business has begun to hop, but the home phone is often still and silent.  Christmas things are put away, the house is clean, and I have a little time on my hands.  Oh, I have a couple of special projects of my own that I’d like to work on (maybe putting together a little cookbook for our guests or perhaps sewing a t-shirt quilt), but if these don’t get done now, they’ll wait.  And there are always the “normal” routines to accomplish, including daily exercise and the things that everyone has to do to live.  We have our wonderful weekly Wednesday trips to Philadelphia to see our family, along with some other special activities, too.  We just finished a few days here of “Gram & Gramp Camp” with our 6 year old grandson – a real gift, and a super busy 4 days.  But since I love being busy, that was a terrific way to tuck in the loose ends of 2014 while continuing to weave this particular pattern of experiences with Adrian.  This coming second Saturday of 2015 will be spent in Gettysburg with our niece and 3 of our great-nephews, ages 10 – 14.  So characteristically, I need to get ready:  just as I need to know about cookie selections for our guests, and needed a list of scavenger hunt items for our grandson’s “camp,” I now need to do some back reading on Gettysburg.

In working my way through a couple of excellent kids’ history books on Gettysburg, I saw The Red Badge of Courage on a suggested bibliography and thought, “That one’s on our shelf downstairs.” Sure enough, it was, and I finished it last night.  It’s not one that I’ll use on Saturday, but I was struck by the passage below.  And in my mind, at least, there seemed to be a relation between the comfort of cookies and the change that occurred in Henry Fleming’s friend.

The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade since those days of camp life upon the river bank.  He seemed no more to be continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess.  He was not furious at small words that pricked his conceits.  He was no more a loud young soldier.  There was about him now a fine reliance.  He showed a quiet belief in his purposes and his abilities.  And this inward confidence evidently enabled him to be indifferent to little words of other men aimed at him.

The youth reflected.  He had been used to regarding his comrade as a blatant child with an audacity grown from his inexperience, thoughtless, headstrong, jealous, and filled with a tinsel courage.  A swaggering babe accustomed to strut in his own dooryard.  The youth wondered where had been born these new eyes….Apparently, the other had now climbed a peak of wisdom from which he could perceive himself as a very wee thing.  And the youth saw that ever after it would be easier to live in his friend’s neighborhood.

His comrade balanced his ebony coffee-cup on his knee.  ‘Well, Henry,’ he said, ‘what d’yeh think th’ chances are? D’yeh think we’ll wallop ‘em?’

The youth considered for a moment.  ‘Day-b’fore-yesterday,’ he finally replied, with boldness, ‘you would ‘a’ bet you’d lick the hull kit-an’-boodle all by yourself.’

His friend looked a trifle amazed.  ‘Would I?’ he asked.  He pondered.  ‘Well, perhaps I would,’ he decided at last.  He stared humbly .at the fire.       (pp.100-101, Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, 1895, Puffin Books).

 

Rudyard Kipling in Philadelphia

September 25, 2014

The Wednesday weather was perfect for us to go to Philadelphia to pick up our 6 year old grandson from school:  the crisp bit of the morning had eased into a sunny afternoon warmth that spread over us as we sat waiting on the bench on the blacktop where we would rendezvous with Adrian after his teacher, “Miss C,” passed him off to us.  After a fist bump with his teacher, and with his hand in mine, David, (aka, Grampy, at that point) joined us from the bench and we headed toward the gate.

Adrian was instantly all chatter:  “Do you celebrate Rosh Hoshana?”

“No,” I told him, “We’re not Jewish.”

“Well, you believe in God,”  he said, (which has been established by his daddy during a discussion one day).

“Yes, we celebrate different holidays.  Not all people who believe in God celebrate in the same ways,” I told him.  Then, eager to engage him in a new story for the walk back home, and sort of to establish the tone of the trip along the sidewalks, (before we got to the playground at the halfway point), and without missing a beat, I asked, “Do you want to know how the camel got his hump?  Well, it’s not actually the way; it’s pretend, but it’s a fun story.”  Seeing an open expression on his face, I charged right in by reading directly from his mom’s copy of the book which I’d picked off one of our shelves in the basement.  I knew that language would grab him so fast he’d never know what hit him, and that’s exactly what happened.  (And see for yourself:  read the excerpt aloud to get the full effect.)

In the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes.  He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel.  All the fishes he could find in all the sea he ate with his mouth–so!  Till at last there was only one small fish left in all the sea, and he was a small ‘Stute Fish, and he swam a little behind the Whale’s right ear, so as to be out of harm’s way.  Then the Whale stood up on his tail and said, ‘I’m hungry.’  And the small ‘Stute Fish said in a small ‘stute voice, ‘Noble and generous Cetacean, have you ever tasted Man?’

‘No,’ said the Whale.  ‘What is it like?’

‘Nice,’ said the small ‘Stute Fish.  “Nice but nubbly.’

‘Then fetch me some,’ said the Whale, and he made the sea froth up with his tail.           — (“How The Whale Got His Throat,” Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling)

Fearing I might fall over my feet, since we were continually walking along Lombard Avenue, (although he was safely holding onto David’s hand at that point), I only read the above section to him, and he said, “I know that story!  I have it in a book called “How The Camel Got His Hump and Other Just So Stories.”  Dr. Leslie gave it to me – for free – I got to keep it and now it’s mine – but the words are different.  I like mine better…..How could different people write the same story?  And after a short discussion about different versions of stories, the subject was changed.

It wasn’t till much later in our visit – while he was having his snack – that we returned to the story.  Not wanting to miss my chance to get back to the beauty and fun of the original language, I re-read that same passage.  This time, I really had him.  He wanted more.  And I knew at that point we could’ve read for an hour together, at least.  But there wasn’t time.  It was just about time for us to go back home.  But I promised I’d bring it back the next week.  In a conspiratorial tone, he said, “Maybe instead of playing on the playground, we can read.”  I told him we’d do both and that I wouldn’t forget.

The whole visit was like that yesterday.  He was a delight the whole way home and at the playground.  He gave us a ton of details about his day and we were captivated.  This is how we roll sometimes when we visit Philadelphia on Wednesdays.  :)

The Rubbing Method (British Scones)

July 23, 2014

Often, when I’m sitting with the guests at the breakfast table, I learn something new.  Monday was one of those days.

When I’d spoken with Susan on the phone a couple of days prior to their reservation date, of course, I’d noticed her British accent right away, but we’d been extra busy and I didn’t think about it again.  Yesterday afternoon when she and her husband arrived, we chatted for a time and she told me that when she moved here from England, she quickly learned that Americans just didn’t do the whole Tea Thing properly.  (I certainly don’t, so I knew what she meant.)  This morning at the breakfast table we continued that conversation, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’d completely forgotten the tea shop reference from the day before.  Continuing our chat, she went on to describe how she’d thought about the idea of opening up a tea shop for many years and at age 39, she did exactly that.  And she did it for 10 years.  She described how everything was homemade and how much guests always appreciated the experience.  During this chat, my mind began whirling and my heart started sinking – further and further into the stew pot, since in our busy-ness (complicated by the installment of a new hot water heater which necessitated an entire basement clean-up on the day of their arrival), I couldn’t seem to get my mind around making a brand new sweet treat for breakfast.  Occasionally, I’ll use a couple of homemade scones or muffins from the freezer that I keep for emergencies, and this situation seemed to fit because the homemade cinnamon bun dough wasn’t going to work either.  (With Yating, our Chinese guest being here for 3 weeks, the time obviously had gotten away from me and the dough from the freezer wasn’t going to rise.  So no emergency help there.)  I rarely use the frozen left-overs for guests’ breakfasts, but they’re still lovely and guests seem perfectly delighted by them.  (We always get easy-to-please guests).  Soooo…..I’d put two of these previously-frozen blueberry scones alongside 2 pieces of buttered toast from the homemade bread that was fresh on their breakfast table.  But as I sat there, listening to the rubbing method – the first mixing method introduced to Susan in her “cookery” class when she was in about the 7th grade, where she’d learned to put her thumbs and little fingers together to gently rub butter into the flour mixture of quick breads and pastries by sort of fanning the mix from thumbs an little fingers onto each of the other fingers then back into the bowl, I knew I had but one alternative.  I’d have to rub out my egregious error of serving frozen left-over scones to a Scone Queen who’d only served fresh scones her whole life by confessing.  There was no way around it.  So that’s what I did.  She laughed and smiled all at the same time, with her eyes too, and I knew I would live to serve yet another breakfast after their departure.  And then I begged her for her British Tea Shop scone recipe, which she graciously recited for me.  I made them yesterday for our guests, who loved them, but ohmygosh, there were left-overs, even after I sent some home with them, had David deliver a couple to Miss Phoebe and the saving of some for David’s lunch.  Oh dear.  Only one thing to do.  Yep. They’re in the freezer.  You just never know when you might rub against a real emergency and need a real British Tea Shop scone.

Susan’s British Tea Shop Buttermilk Scones

4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

pinch salt

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

Rub in (or cut in with a pastry blender like I learned to do it from my mother) 6 T butter.  Stir in 1/4 cup sugar.  Stir in add-ins, like fruit or chocolate chunks (which I used yesterday).  Stir in 1/2 quart buttermilk.  (Susan said that if you find yourself without enough buttermilk, you can add some lemon juice to regular milk).  Cut out in rounds.  Brush with milk, then sprinkle with sugar (which I forgot to do but which I’ll certainly do the next time).  425 degrees – 15 min’s.

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