Friday, April 4, 2014

Talking in Accents

My Alabama daddy was so disappointed in me.

For one thing, I had married and moved off to Richmond, Virginia, and lived there ten years.

Finally, when we moved back to Alabama, it was NORTH Alabama we moved back to, a four hour drive away from Daddy.

Worse still:  I had lost my South Alabama accent in places and had substituted the Virginia one as protective coloring.  A full blown South Alabama piedmont accent does not play well in Virginia, and besides, my husband spoke Virginian.  You live with "again" spoken as "a-gane" and "balcony" spoken as "ball-cony" and "river" spoken as "rivah" for a while, it just begins to rub off on you.

Daddy had lowered that cold judgmental blue-eyed stare at me.  "You don't sound like who you are."

But now that I have lived here in North Alabama long enough to raise my toddlers and see them graduate from college, I speak an almost perfect Northwest Alabama dialect.  Except for one detail: the public greeting between women.

In South Alabama, if a woman sees a female acquaintance from a distance in, say, a grocery store, she may nod acknowledgment from a distance, but she will then walk toward the woman until she is in close proximity, modulate her voice to a low sultry register, look the other woman dead in the eye and say something like "Why Elizabeth, so good to see you." before launching off into other polite inquiries regarding health, happiness, and comments about the blasted hot weather. A South Alabama woman speaks from the back of the throat, chewing and savoring the words. Her breath is controlled by the diaphragm.

Not so in Northwest Alabama.

I cannot describe how startling it is to be standing by the Tasti-Lee tomatoes, concentrating on picking out the heaviest, reddest ones, when suddenly not three feet behind me comes this high-pitched caterwaul of a greeting, this fake sincere little-girl register at PA system levels, all with that catastropic glissando. "How AAAAAAARRRRRRRRREEEEEEE you?"  She is speaking to a friend picking up a gallon jug of iced tea thirty feet away.

"Well, I WAS fine," I want to turn around and say.  "Now, not so much."

Apparently this high decibel high pitched greeting is a skill that must be learned early in life, like rolling the R perfectly in Spanish.

I have tried to mimic it. But I cannot. I guess I'll never be from North Alabama.

See, Daddy, I know who I am after all. 

Monday, November 18, 2013


You may remember that My One and Only convinced me in January of 2012 that we should go vegan. Being vegan has been as easy as falling off a log .... and ending up with a sprained wrist, a deep cut on the forehead, and a temporary leg cast.

There have been some temptations along the way that have ended in non-vegan products being consumed.  
But nothing has been as hard to give up as oysters in late fall.

Both our families have oyster lore. My husband grew up eating Chesapeake Bay oysters while I grew up eating Alabama Gulf Coast oysters, but we both crave oysters in multiple ways when the leaves have turned from orange to russet. When we travel to either coast in months with the letter R in the name, we always carry our own oyster knife.  Now that we live several hours farther inland than we once did doesn't mean that fresh oysters are not available locally if you know where to look. And believe me, we always made it a point to know where to look.

Only now that we are vegan we are not supposed to be looking.

Traditions run deep. One and Only had a rich great uncle who lived in Mobile and shipped every Christmas a gallon of freshly shucked oysters to One and Only's Deep South grandmother.  I have several oyster recipes in her wavy/curly handwriting. Oyster Dressing.  Oyster Loaf.  But growing up near the Chesapeake, One and Only usually gets a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes right before he rhapsodizes about oysters like this:

"I cannot remember if it was at Chincoteague or Assateague or maybe it was at the Boat Club, but I remember one year these oyster fritters made with whole oysters, just the right size, not too big and not too small..." These are fine memories complete with scenic marinas and crowds of friends with nice boats having a blast on either the James River or one of the other scenic rivers that empty into the Chesapeake.

My own memories are more like:  "I cannot remember if it was on Swamp Creek or Hatchet Creek, but I can remember someone had gone by Adie Waites's store and picked up all kinds of orange and grape drinks and Dr Peppers for the kids and had them iced down with the beer for the men, and for some reason I got to go along even though I was a 5 year old girl and all the other cousins were older and boys, and after I had been fishing with a red and white bobber for what seemed like an eternity with no luck, the men got hungry and put out a spread of Vienna sausages, sardines, crackers, a wedge of yellow hoop cheese my daddy cut into slices with a pocket knife, and a jar of raw oysters with a fork and a little bottle of Louisiana hot sauce. My daddy put one of the oysters on a cracker, squeezed some lemon on it, hit it with the hot sauce, and put the entire thing in his mouth, smiling and chewing at the same time. When I asked him to, he did the same for me.  Fished out an oyster with the fork, put the oyster on a cracker with a few drops of lemon juice but only one drop of hot sauce since he said I was too young for any more than that.  I pushed the whole thing into my mouth, just as I had seen him do.  The explosion of flavor is one I will never forget. Tart lemon, tangy hot pepper and vinegar, the salty crispness of the Saltine cracker, and the juicy oyster tasted just exactly like the salt air smelled when we went to the beach at Pensacola.  There was no way I was going to just swallow it as quickly as possible and wash it down with Coca Cola as the boy cousins had told me to do.  It was delicious, and I wanted another one!"

Friday--as if my car was taken over by spirits--I found myself driving the 20 miles to the one little seafood hole-in-the-wall on the river that gets in fresh shipments of Gulf oysters.  No fresh ones were available in shell, but I went into the back with them as they opened up the gallon of fresh shucked oysters that had just arrived that hour from the coast.  I kept them on ice until the very minute they went into the cracker crumb, yellow cornmeal mixture--a Chesapeake/ Gulf Coast compromise-- that I seasoned myself with cayenne.  While we waited for those to fry in the black cast iron skillet, we ate a few raw on Saltines with lemon and a few drops of Tabasco.

Suddenly I was five years old and on a creek bank.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Redux: Halfway Between Equality and Richville

I have never repeated a blog entry before, but yesterday I read in the BBC that there are 17 million children in the USA who daily face hunger.  What I felt in this blog entry is still the way I feel today.

Halfway Between Equality and Richville

There is hunger in Florence, Alabama.

You wouldn't think so to drive through this pretty little town with its thriving downtown and well-kept historic neighborhoods. At night when the restaurants are buzzing, it's hard to find a homeless person on the street.

Florence does not have the kind of grocery store where union labor stocks the shelves with freshly made sushi and baby watermelons straight from a Chilean summer. For the last two decades I have shopped at a neighborhood grocery store where snuff and chewing tobacco are prominently displayed and where the hourly-wage workers know nothing about 'bargaining power'. Organic milk--or organic anything, for that matter--is not available at this store.

The reason I have shopped here for the past twenty-three years is because it is close to where I live. I have never lived in a subdivision nor do I ever intend to. People from the "section 8 houses" (government subsidized) walk to this store daily for food and cigarettes. Because it is a small store-- easy to get to and easy to walk around in compared to the behometh Walmart located on the outskirts of town-- the elderly like to shop here. College students pop in for cases of the beverage du jour. But mainly it is the grocery store of the working poor. The featured items prominently displayed include a lot of saltines, white bread, cheap breakfast cereal, canned vegetables, and store-brand boxes of macaroni and cheese.

Through the years I have seen a lot of young mothers, usually with their babies in their grocery carts, sorting through envelopes of clipped coupons as they shop, working hard to save a dollar here or there. I have seen fast food workers still in their uniforms in the check-out line with a cart full of the makings for chili or spaghetti. Later in the afternoon, the construction guys come in for a six pack and something to throw on the grill. Very rarely have I been in line behind someone using food stamps or WIC cards.

This Tuesday I saw something at this store I had never before seen. It was around 4 pm and parents had just picked up children from school. This is a popular time for people to grab a few items before heading home to make dinner. I was there myself for toilet paper, some grapes and a bag of rice, not an entire cart of groceries. As I picked up a basket and headed down the first aisle, a kid, maybe 8 years old, in badly fitting glasses, pleaded with his mom to buy a jar of mayonnaise. "But we're out!" He had picked up the mayonnaise from the sale floor display and held it up to show her the product as he pleaded. "You said!" he accused. "It's on sale." He held the jar of mayonnaise like a sports trophy above his head before he shifted it down to cradle it in a 'baby-doll' position. Whatever the mother said was whispered, but the kid in the glasses put the mayo back on the display and they headed for the checkout, a loaf of sliced bread the only item in her hands.

I don't think the reason they did not buy that jar of mayonnaise was because it was not organic.

Then on my way to find the toilet paper, I strolled by the meat counter. A man and woman in their 30s with two kids under the age of five held court at the hamburger section. They looked serious. They had obviously been in the store for a while because their cart was already relatively full of bags of potatoes, cans of green beans and corn, some dried beans, and several packs of the brand of hot dogs on sale this week. The dad had bought a store-brand grape soda from the cold drink machine, took a big swig from the can, and then handed it to the little girl, telling her to share it with her brother. When the wife showed him a package of hamburger meat, it was time for a conference. You could tell that they were adding up the cost of what was already in their cart and trying to decide if they could afford the hamburger meat. But what killed me, really killed me, was the pleading look in her eyes as she asked her husband if they could buy it, as she tried to rationalize the expenditure, there at 4 pm on a Tuesday afternoon in Florence, Alabama. She would really like to have the hamburger meat for her family, but they must first consult the rest of their grocery list and see if there would be enough money to buy it and the rest of the necessities they would need that week.

My grandfather was an accomplished gardener. By the time I was old enough to ride the school bus to his farm in the afternoons, he had two gardens. One was to supply food for his family. The other was to give vegetables to anyone else who needed food. One of my aunts was outraged by the people who came by to fill up bags with tomatoes, green beans, corn, and onions, people she had labeled as 'sorry people'. "They're just using him," she would say. "Just too lazy to make a garden for themselves." My grandfather smiled at my aunt and never said a word as he kept on cutting lettuce and pulling onions and radishes out of the ground and putting them into the trunks or back seats of the cars of anyone who stopped by and asked. My grandfather's farm was--and this is God's truth--halfway between Equality and Richville. My brother found the road sign the state of Alabama bulldozed when they widened the intersection there at my grandfather's farm. To the left: Equality. To the right: Richville. We were located halfway between the two.

Coosa County is a great poor man's county. Halfway between the struggle for equality and whatever lay on the other end of the spectrum. When my ancestors gave up owning slaves and moved there, I am not sure they knew what the future held other than hoping it was something more fair. Happier times, if no longer Richville.

It worries me that we seem to be drifting more and more toward what Jimmy Santiago Baca described in 1977 as "only a few people got all the money in this world, the rest count their pennies to buy bread and butter". My father came back from WW2 and never told us anything at all except that he had seen a man shoot another man dead over a wheel of cheese. Later we found out that Daddy had been in several major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge, and that he had sat on a snow-covered 'bench' in Germany all winter as he ate his provisions only to find in the spring thaw that the 'bench' had been a frozen dead mule. We found out that he was wounded twice and one of only two people from his platoon to live through the entire war. But of all the horror he must have seen, of all the unspeakable horror there was in WW2, what he wanted me and my brother to know was this: given the right circumstances of hunger, people will do what they feel they have to do.

Butter or bullets is not a new dilemma, but in the meantime as our country figures out the latest round of this, maybe this is not the time to rub our gourmet acquisitions in the faces of others. As Julianna Baggott's recent FaceBook post read: "Dear food gloaters who upload pics of their (gorgeous) meals, as Sister Mary Bertha would say: Did you bring enough for everyone?"

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Weather Dreams: January 30, 2013

As a young woman my grandmother was struck by lightning--knocked out cold and quit breathing--during a Southern storm.  As a four-year-old, I had a recurring dream that the wind caused an airplane to crash into our house.  In real life I kept my little pink suitcase packed at the foot of my bed, sure that when the time came, the sound of the wind would wake me and I would hear the whine of the falling plane, giving me time to grab the suitcase and escape to my and my brother's large sand pile under a cedar tree in the back yard.

If you are from the Deep South, bad weather is part of your blood memory. 

My Southern colleague whose office is next door to mine has five weather apps on her smart phone.   She needs them.

This is not to say that people become visibly shaken or quit going about their daily business at the threat of what weather types like to call 'tornadic activity'.  People don't panic.  They keep right on brushing their teeth and putting on their shoes and appearing at the office as if it is a normal day.  Which it is not.

If you lived in the state of Alabama yesterday, there were periods of catatonic awareness, where concentration was limited and anything you attempted to do failed.  It was like someone from Louisiana had put a hex on us. The Weather Channel's Tor Con prediction number for our area was  moderately high at '5'.  Weather scientists can debate the legitimacy of the Tor Con Index all they want and make fun of it as wannabe science.  All I know is the Tor Con Index predicted the April 2011 tornado outbreak of 62 tornadoes that killed over 252 people in Alabama alone, according to the website that lists all the names as well as the locations where they died.

Those 62 tornadoes raked our entire state as if the claws of a giant paw had swooped down from the heavens.  They left big long parallel gashes of damage that cut diagonally across Alabama into Georgia.

Yesterday it began up in the northwest corner of the state at 3 AM with the fading wail of the tornado sirens and the wind whipping the bare trees around in fits and starts.  My husband--who grew up in another state--stayed in bed, but I wandered down to the TV to stream the latest radars.  He didn't sleep any better than I did.  And when he got up to drive to work, we noted on the TV screen where he might encounter wind and driving rain on the road.  From there, the day just unraveled.

By late morning the threat across our region had passed, but we were all dazed and marginal.  So far there were downed trees, blocked roads, lost power. If there was a black cat on the street, it was going to run right out in front of us, we knew.  I watched a female student slip down in a puddle in her cheerful rubber rain boots. Students and professors alike had the semi-dazed look of the hungover.

By noon, as the hit parade of counties under the gun had passed further and further south, I got an email from my friend down in the lower part of the state.

"Tornado warning on now – sirens blaring." she wrote."The sirens are quieting now, and then restarting.  They are eerie. Impossible to concentrate or to work in this."

By the time my husband arrived home from work, the threat of bad weather had passed our state and moved its killing powers into Georgia.  But the look on his face told the story of his day. Everything he and anyone else at work had tried to do was jinxed. Doomed. Out of sync. 

And then we started hearing the stories of damage and death. Adairsville, Georgia.  Coble, Tennessee. Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. We heard countless stories of damaged roofs and flying awnings but also of old houses we love that had escaped the giant claw once again.  Then the stories of travel horror.   Not one but TWO of our friends stranded in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.  One got home in the wee hours of the morning by taking a detour flight and driving the rest of the way in a rental car.  The next day he left his laptop in the returned rental car, and just about the time he realized it, he got stuck in an elevator. Checkmate. The other friend couldn't get out of Dallas.  Her mom and grandmother back home in Alabama had been taken to the same hospital, freakishly, with nothing storm-related--at least not directly. By the next night, though, Friend # 2 had made it home and tweeted "1 flight, 1 hotel, 3 delays, 1 more hotel + 1 more delay = it's good to be home & cooking dinner for the fam tonight."

Some people say it is sheer human folly to worry about tornadoes.  If it's your turn, brother, it's your turn.  

But I say that to go about one's normal business on a day when the Tor Con is over the level of 5 is to face life head on,  head down into the wind of turmoil, and at the end of the day--if the power is still on--you can retell the story.  You can even laugh about it over dinner. But forget about it?  Never.  It's our shared history we carry in our blood.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Embracing My Inner Redneck

For the past two weeks I have been driving a Jeep Wrangler dressed down for summer. No need to use the AC since the back of the passenger area is totally open, canvas straps flapping in the breeze.

Each morning I dress for work in nice shoes and a skirt and leave the house with a hairdo.  Five minutes later I arrive at work with no hairdo and slide off the driver's seat to hit the distant ground. It's so far down that I probably need the kind of emergency chute they use when evacuating passengers from an aircraft.

Why am I doing this? My son is putting together a mud truck, and I am helping.

Four years ago my son bought a perfectly respectable Jeep Wrangler with 4 wheel drive: a versatile ride.  Street-easy but light-mud-friendly for those casual forays into fly fishing territory or just scoping out timber land. In the meantime he has inherited from his friends a set of large tires plus sturdier wheels.  Time for a lift kit. And since he lives three hours away from the support group of local mechanics we know and trust, I got the job of Chief Lift Kit Coordinator.

The first week was the Acquisition of Lift Kit Parts phase.  Every day the brown UPS truck pulled up to my door to deliver yet another heavy box.  These boxes accumulated in my entrance foyer until it looked more like the staging area for a small company's outgoing shipments.

In the meantime--and for the last two weeks-- I have been climbing up into and sliding out of a dressed down Jeep Wrangler at two grocery stores, Target, and once at a gas station.  This is no small trick for a woman who cheats when she claims to be 5'1". The technique for this was taught to me by my husband who water starts from his windsurfing board (another feat that requires a human body to climb aboard an object shoulder high with no steps for assistance).  Lean into it.  Hug the seat with the top half of your body, then push off, pull up,  and hope for the best.

The rest of the time I have taken up residence at garages. We were already on friendly terms.  Now I am practically family.

One thing you need to realize about most garages in Southern small towns in August and September:  no air-conditioning.   To sit around these garages, you need to find a vacant cast-off office chair and a spot of shade.  Dress lightly.  In my opinion, the best time to go plead your case (won't shift into Reverse, Death Wobble starts at 37 mph, etc.) is early morning before all the business starts pouring in and it gets hectic.  Right after they've raised the bay doors and have poured their first cup of coffee, they're still focused.  Anytime after that....well it's hard to stay focused when three people are standing in line waiting to tell you their car woes and your hands are covered in grease.  See the mechanics early, and hand them a concise list.  That's what they want, not long drawn-out tales in which the tellers try to imitate the animal sounds their brakes made coming down Hawk Pride Mountain.

The second thing you need to realize is how much fun the 'reveal' is.  The reveal is the term used, I am told, at the end of pretend realism TV shows about home improvements.  It's when the owner gets to see the finished product while those who did the hard work stand around and appreciate their efforts. This is my second most favorite time to visit a garage. 

Yesterday my husband arrived home from work early--a quarter 'til six--and we headed down to the shop to take a peek at the finished product.  Earlier in the day I had already taken the Jeep from the garage over to the tire shop for mounting, balancing, and front end alignment and delivered it back to the shop again for some minor adjustments.  There is a celebratory mood at a garage at the end of the day.  Regardless of how the day has gone, it is now over and no one died. The owner and workers, smudged with grease, are quick to smile. Other men happy to be finished with the work day drop by to ask small questions over a handshake.  People like to linger a bit. Kind of like a cocktail party, but more upbeat.

There it sat.  The finished product.  The mud Jeep.  The mechanic/owner pulled out his cell phone and took a picture of my husband with the now transformed Jeep and sent it to my son.  The tires are big but not too big.  The new wheels look great.  The ride is smoother, although the wobble manifests itself now and then, which will call for a future trip to the garage for a new heavier-duty stabilizer shock.  The only thing missing from this picture:  a new coat of mud.

If the skies cooperate this weekend, the Jeep may get that final touch.  My son is coming home,  and he and his daddy are already plotting how to take care of that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Wettest Place in Dixie

My sweet husband recently took me on an anniversary vacation  to a property he first showed me on TripAdvisor.  Before I left on this adventure, I read about the place from previous tenants. "It is a shame they can't do something about the neighbors' dogs, maybe sue the neighbors for nuisance. The dogs bark at various times throughout the night; one starts and then there are dogs barking in the front, back, and side of the house. With the dogs, roosters, and frogs, it was hard to get much sleep; we tried closing the bedroom windows but then it was hot because there is no air conditioning."  Another reviewer referred to the "rednecks with the dogs"  in less than glowing terms.

Other highlights:  These folks eat a lot of pit-cooked pork, and when they get too overrun by chickens they hunt them down--maybe with all those hunting dogs--and smoke/grill the birds in an old oil drum.  They will sell you some if you stop and ask nicely.

We are vegans but they asked us if we wanted to buy some anyway.  We declined, but we did buy some tomatoes. They use the honor system.  They put the tomatoes out with a money jar.  You pick out some tomatoes and then put some money in the jar.

Those who know us and what we have considered our perfect vacation spots in the past will think we have probably returned to the Outer Banks.  We used to rent a great old two story frame house at Rodanthe and invite all our friends to come for supper. We especially wanted them to come if they'd  had any luck fishing that day.
For directions, we'd begin: "You know where that run down store is that sells bait and local backfin crabmeat?"

They always knew. 

 "Well slow down when you get there and start looking for some rusted out junk cars and roosters scratching in the dirt because that's where you'll turn left." 

They would ask "Well what's the name of the street? Isn't there a street sign?"

Silly people.  If there was a street sign, would my husband have rented the property?  Hardly.

For this special anniversary trip, he used the same criteria. Loose chickens running wild, junk cars, rough and winding roads barely one lane wide, houses identified by the number on the closest electric service pole:  some things just spell Home.

I was instructed to pack my hiking boots, plenty of DEET, and my mask and snorkle. Plus I was handed boarding passes for a very long plane ride. When we got off the plane in the Lihue airport, we knew we were in for a hassle renting a car because we had been through this song and dance before. The rental car people know you have just been through the Hadean realm of plane travel and with a dark sense of humor like to pull out their own versions of a cattle prod.

But there are worse fates than overcoming jet lag in a tropical paradise rain forest with your own private horseshoe beach just a short walk down the hill and the view you see from the deck and windows of every room is the 5,000 ft. tall mountains of Kaua'i.  We had been up in those mountains several years ago, hiking to  Mt. Waialeale, the wettest spot on earth, with its  average of over 39 feet of rain every year. Now we had the perfect view of its mists and double rainbows. 

And yes, the dogs sang. Every night right before sunset, the thirty or so hunting dogs we assume were visited by their owner because they set out on a wild multi-layered meet-and-greet chorus.  Mainly, that was just a loud advertisement for the main event.  The very first night we were there, the moon popped out after midnight, and the lead dog--a soprano!--lectured in song.  What notes she hit!  What stories she told!  The frogs had abandoned their long jack-hammer drone long before she stepped up to the challenge. Back in Alabama, this girl would be the virtuoso of Coon Dogs.  She would earn a prime spot in the Coon Dog Cemetery.  A hunter would have to be deaf not to hear what this woman was telling him.

Down the road at the National Tropical Botanical Garden (The Limahuli Garden and Preserve), we learned that all those roosters that started crowing every morning about 3 AM were in fact "jungle fowl". Yes indeed, Jungle Fowl.  We appreciated having that fact cleared up for us.

Here is how I know there is a direct link between outback Kaua'i and Dixie:  in Lihu'e or Kapa'a, Hanalei or Wainiha, you can buy Spam in any little store you come to.  

Now tell me you are a Southerner but have no idea what Spam is.

You may never have eaten Spam, but you know what it is, don't you?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Vegan, Southern Fried

Are you a sucker for those 'southern food group' jokes? ---the ones defining what constitutes a food group in the Southern diet? The groups vary according to what Southern state you are in at the moment. In Alabama, the four groups are pork lard, white flour, caffeine, and sugar. In Kentucky, you have to add bourbon. In North Carolina, the lard morphs into barbecue. In Virginia, it becomes Virginia ham.

My husband has convinced the house to go vegan for the next six weeks. And not any garden variety vegan. This is cold turkey, bite the bullet, cold sweats kind of whole grain/ real veggies/ no-processed-foods-or-oils kind of vegan. Except he still gets to drink all the coffee he wants. And he's not in love with the word 'vegan' and prefers to call it 'plant based' instead. After all, he is not taking a moral high road here. He's not ashamed of his lifelong addiction to bacon. He just wants to give his body a break is all. He is a charming man, laid back. He had us watch a documentary promoting this kind of diet. At the end, he smiled at us and said "Let's do it." He could sell a bald man a lifetime supply of haircuts.

That was four weeks ago, and for the last four weeks I have been hungry. Who knew what a role cheese played in my life? This food plan does not even allow the fake soybean created cheese. Not that I would consider eating it.

My day goes something like this. Arise and cook oatmeal. Make large food carrier of a variety of foods for husband's work day. Work hungry. Eat unsatisfying combinations of healthy foods that don't necessarily taste like anything I've ever eaten before. Work hungry some more. Shop for healthy raw plant food. Prepare healthy raw plant food from scratch. Eat something prepared in a blender and made of foods I have never before pronounced. Clean up kitchen. Go to bed hungry.

That's a good day.

At the two week mark, I was depressed. It was Friday night. I was tired of cooking. I was hungry but nothing seemed worth eating. My husband WENT INTO THE KITCHEN. He stuffed mushroom caps with mashed avocado and topped them off with two capers and a few drops of fresh lime juice. He offered me one.

Such a comedian.

What I have learned is this. He plans to continue this regimen indefinitely. I have learned to make red spaghetti sauce and red chili with TVP (textured vegetable protein) that tastes somewhat like the real stuff. If TVP suddenly gets crossed off the allowed food list, I am in deep trouble. Woman cannot live on vegetable soup and water alone. Southern girls love their veggies, but some of them also like their bacon, sugar, white flour, bourbon, barbecue, and Virginia ham.

Not to mention pizza, grilled grouper, real butter on baked potatoes, and crab cakes. And fried oyster salad. Oh my goodness, fried oyster salad.

And those incredible raw milk cheeses from the Virginia highlands, and that belle chevre from right up the road here in North Alabama.

What a woman will do for love.

The only thing that keeps me going in this bruised bleak beat-down February is the hope of fried green tomatoes, which I plan to blog about next.