Thursday, July 30, 2015

Animals Animals Everywhere

The other day as I was leaving for work at about 0h-dark-thirty and I was forced to stop on my porch in terror.  Not a second out of the door and I smelled the unmistakable odor of skunk wafting across my neighborhood.  Not wanting to get doused with a skunk bath first thing in the morning I am always careful to check the shadows and under the car and along the gully in front of the house before I sprint to the car.

No skunk, thank goodness.  Once before I came out my back door in the early morning no-light and my flashlight caught a couple of beedy eyes in the back of the carport.  Thinking it was just our outside cat, I began to call it as I bent to put out some food.  I stopped because there by my foot was the cat.  As I looked more into the carport, I noticed movement and out moseyed a skunk.  Me and the cat both departed hastily.

Both times I was lucky, and the skunk was lucky, too.  Once a few years ago, a skunk got in under our house and the smell in the house was unbearable. We had to get an exterminator to take care of it.  (Not so lucky for the skunk that time.)

It's days like these that only enforce the fact that here in the south and in my suburban neighborhood, there are animals aplenty.  Not just the odd skunk or passels of squirrels.  I've had a raccoon spend the night in my shed, possums lurking along the road in the early morning and of course, the odd skunk (lucky or not.) My neighbors tell stories of deer in their back yard, and I've seen odd eyes staring out under bushes as my car lights hit them at night.

The South is full of animals and not just out in the country areas. Most of us learn to live with them.  I point to the Southerners living in Louisiana who deal with 'gaters on a regular basis.  They are both a consternation and a unique addition to our days (the 'gaters, not the Southerners!)

As man encroaches on the wilderness more and more, we find animals in our back yards more and more.  It's not a Southern exclusive by any means.  But my Southern Neighbors treat it like an other slight annoyance, they turn it into advantage.  This means turning them wild things into food.  

I watch a southern show about alligator hunting.  The 'gaters are hunted yearly to keep the numbers from becoming too high.  On one episode, a couple of the hunters went out into the swamp and hunted squirrels for a stew for dinner. They did not kill for sport, and used all the meat that day.  

It's this close proximity that makes this seem like a trip to the grocery store and southerners use it easily.  They don't hunt for sport, and you'll find that most proud southern hunters wouldn't be caught dead hunting big game, nor  putting their heads on the walls. 

I don't hunt, unless you count hunting for bargains at the local thrift store.  But I sure appreciate those who do.  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Boats and Southern Waters.

Nashville is almost a major port. No, I don't mean to the gulf, check the map. Nashville seems all but surrounded by water.  There are two major bodies of water, Percy Priest Reservoir and Old Hickory Lake.  Percy Priest Reservoir is an incredible 47 miles long and has over 14,000 acres of water (with over 18,000 acres of public land surrounding it.) Old Hickory Lake is even longer at 97 miles long and contains over 22,000 acres of water. It's no wonder, then, that one of the big things for a Good Ol' Southern Boy to own would be a boat.

And no, I don't own a boat.

I've known a lot of folks here in the South that own boats.  Bubba owns a boat, my friend James owns three boats which he keeps at three different locations so he doesn't have to tow them.  Me? No boat.  As much as it seems fun to own a boat, I don't. I can imagine having one for zipping along the water, pulling water skiers, or perhaps getting into those back areas for that all important fishing that I don't do, or maybe since the Cumberland river is less than a mile away, I could forgo the 58 foot limo (read: city bus) to get me to work and take a boat right  on down town along the river!  No.  No boat. 

Someone once told me that the definition of a boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money.  Yeah, that makes me want to own one.  Another friend said that Boat is really an acronym for Break Out Another Thousand. Oh, my, I really need one of these now!  Money seems to be the defining feature for most former boat owners.  Or rather the boat's need for more money.  Insurance, towing trailer, licenses, fees and assorted maintenance, which I probably couldn't do myself, all take too much money.  That's right, break out another thousand.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I've found myself many times wondering what it would be like to have a boat, out on the water, cooler temps and smooth sailing.  I've even perused the local boat dealerships and online photos of great boats.  I do not, of course, look at the price tags.  But beyond the acronyms and jokes, I've never really understood the need for a boat if you don't fish (I don't) or water ski (I don't) or own a trailer hitch (I don't.)

Yes, yes, yes, I know, all that would come with the ownership of a boat,  but I just can't see the real need for something that, for me, would just sit in my driveway and cause arguments with the wife. Who am I kidding, it's probably just my non southern DNA proving once again I don't belong in the honored and storied group known as Good Ol' Boys.  It's the Not so Southern Cross I must bare. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sign of the Times - Times Two!

Ok, Boys and Girls, normally I don't repost blog posts and try to come up with new and interesting stuff about my ongoing struggles in the Southern World, but this is just too coincidental to ignore.  You see, last week I posted this post. Actually, less than a week, for it was just last Thursday, July 9.  Then, just after I posted it, things changed.  Read on.

Original post: For several weeks, there's been this sign that I pass every day on my walk to work.  Oddly, it's covered in cardboard.  I took a picture of both sides just to prove it.  A couple of curious folks have torn the cardboard just enough to see inside and you can tell it's one of those signs that every great city has.  "Something important blah blah blah happened on this spot on this date blah blah blah." Sort of like this one a couple of blocks away.  

I've been waiting for the day that they take the cardboard off and we can read the entire sign. It seemed apparent (to me anyway) that they were waiting for the right 'date' to reveal this auspicious sign. The first time I felt would have been Memorial Day, but that came and went and the cardboard was then replaced with this nifty blue tarp.  Then I thought maybe July 4, Independence Day!  Nope.  Still blue. 
I'm not really sure what's going on here, but I can only sit back and wait (and wonder why I didn't pull that cardboard open and read that sign a few months ago.) 

So, here it is Monday, July 13 and I'm headed to work and what's this? The blue tarp is gone! The sign is REVEALED!  In all its informative glory - and it IS important! The sign dates and deals with the "Nashville Sit-ins" of the 1960s which spurred the desegregation of the lunch counters here in Nashville, one of the most important steps in the civil rights movement of that time.  

Here are the two sides of the sign: 

I'd like to think my post about hidden signs spurred someone to reveal the sign, but I will probably never know.  I'm glad to see it revealed and hope people take the time to stop and read it.  

Thanks for reading...twice!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Lego my Logo

For the last 6 years (yeah, that's right; 6 years!) I've tried to share my love of the South with those (few) of you who chose to stop by and read all about it.  From Moon Pies to street musicians, the South is a wonderful land in and of itself.  I've also gently (hopefully) chastised those things in the South which bother me such as the humidity, the heat and the humidity.  (Did I mention the humidity?)  It has been my efforts to blame myself for not fitting in rather than the inability of the South to please.  Not this week.  

Today, for your vilification, I bring you the new Tennessee State Logo as seen above.  I'm not going to assassinate the incredibly simplistic design which could easily have been created by an average 5th grader, but I will take to task the way in which the state went about obtaining this drawing. (Yes, drawing. To call it a design is an insult to professional logo designers everywhere.)

You see, the State of Tennessee paid $46,000 for this logo. That's right, $46,000.  Never mind the fact that any designer worth his stylus would have charged considerable less (yeah, I asked around) the politicians of this great state took it upon themselves to spend an incredible amount of money on a simplistic design to represent the state. Now, for those not in the know, the state already had/has a very nice and recognizable logo, which you can see here:

This logo was designed with professional thought, combining the three areas of Tennessee into one with each area (East, West and Central) represented by a single star on a circular field of blue. It's known, it's good and it's solid as a design.  It means someone to the people.  Why replace it?

Now, from what the governor's office says, this New logo is only for a limited use on the Governor's website. (Which, again, begs the question, "46,000.00 for limited use??) So at least a lot of businesses, government offices or public signage won't need to be changed.  But that still leaves the question of...well... you know....($46,000.00 for a finite use logo??)

It is no secret that here in Tennessee there is a history of corrupt politicians and back room deals such as the now infamous 'Tennessee Waltz Sting' operation which resulted in the indictment of over a dozen politicians and aids just a few years ago. I can't help but wonder who made some back room deal to profit from this erroneous and expensive decision.  When the Governor could easily have opened a contest for this "limited use" logo and asked for submissions from professionals, non-professionals, state employees or even grade schoolers with a prize of say, a couple grand, they could have had a much better logo and better acceptance from the public in general.

Ok, so now at least you know the history of the 'new' logo as well as the general "acceptance" thereof. Yes, I'm pretty sure you can see that I'm more than a little upset. And to be sure, I'm upset at both the simplistic design and the price paid.  Let's face it, even if it had been a great design, $46,000.00 for a simple logo is way too much.  Ok, done proselytizing.

Next week, back to the fun stuff.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Grilling Out and Dining In

It's that time of year, when we all break out the charcoal or the gas grill and toss everything we want to eat on those hot narrow slats to cook. GRILLIN' (yes, all caps!) Just the thought is enough to get the oral juices flowing and the mind thinking of ribs, steak or barbequed anything! One of my most favorite parts of living in the south is that, because of the weather, we can almost grill year round.  (Ok, so not this last year, too much snow, but there have been years when we were able to grill out at least once or twice a month during the winter!)

But it's not the winter alone that is the problem. It's also this hot, humid summer.  When the temp goes up and the humidity goes up with it, stepping outside is like having someone hit you with a hot sponge (wrapped around a tire iron!)  Then you add to that the mosquitoes, wasps, barking dogs, the 'wrong neighbors' (if you know what I mean) and that whole "standing in front of a flaming hot grill on a hot day" thing and you've got the makings for a very bad afternoon.  That's not even considering the time you then sit down and eat and (hopefully) have a lovely time bonding with whomever you've invited for the Barbie Queue. (Get in line there, and get ya' some of that hot meat!) You're chasing away the flies with one hand and wondering why your burger smells like bug spray.

So, what does a good ol' former Colorado boy (ok, MAN) do to grill out when it's too hot to stand over the flame and too cold to stand without the flame?  Well , you do what I do.  I call it "Grillin' Out and Dining In."

First, I make sure that Neighbor Bubba, Lord of the Bar-Be-Que and Grillmaster Supreme, doesn't see me when I go out to heat up the grill and back inside while the grill prepares itself. Second, I take the plate of raw goodies out to the grill and place them on to cook. I close the grill and head back to the A/C (or heat, depending) checking my watch as I go.  In just a few minutes, I'm back out to the grill (Bubba glancing over from his back yard? No? ...good...) and turn the cooking goodies on the grill.  Check the watch, back to the house.  I continue this until everything is done, and I turn off the grill as I head back into the house where waits the plates, silverware and most importantly, no mosquitoes, barking dogs or problematic weather.  

Grilling out, Eating in.  

It's a Southern thing. Well, it's a Marvinatorsplace thing.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thirst Quenching!

Summer is here and with it of comes those long hot days and long hot nights. And hot days mean a hot and thirsty family. My wife and I use those big thirst quenching quart jars and make up handy grab n go beverages. But if you're having s few friends over, you can go through a pitcher of your favorite beverage in seconds.  

A couple of weeks ago I attended the graduation of not one, but TWO daughters who graduated from the same college at the same time (and both with honors! - Oh but I do digress.)  Afterward there was a party where the beverages were kept, not in a pitcher in the fridge, but in one of these big glass dispensers. Each holds about 3-4 gallons of cool refreshment and can be kept cold by sitting them in a shallow pan of ice.  Perfect. I refilled my glass of Peach (or was it mango) Sangria more times than I care to admit.  (ok, 4 times.  I didn't say I didn't know how many, I said I didn't want to admit how many.)

I found this display the following week and gave considerable thought to picking one up for the fridge.  They appear to be hand made with cork or plastic seals so it would be easy to keep things fresh.  Perfect for those long hot Southern summer days when the light goes on and on and the kids can't be kept indoors.  Yeah, good times.

I wonder if brother Bubba (the retired school teacher) has made any wine lately.  It's good wine for Sangria or for removing varnish from old furniture. (and again, I digress. ) 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

You Can't Eat Them D*mn Grits!

There are fewer foods more iconic to the south than grits.  Oh there's also Southern Fried Chicken and Chicken and Waffles, but when it really comes down to it, grits is the one that everyone says is only found in the south.  Yeah, I hear ya, you CAN find it elsewhere, but only in the south is grits added to your breakfast when you didn't order it.

Now, the non-southerner in me thinks back on a routine that George Carlin did about how to make grits. It was a long, quickly intoned set of instructions of how to flip, fry, mash, cook and otherwise prepare the grits, ending with "Throw them out, cuz you can't eat them d*mn grits!"  (Cue laughter.) 

All my life I've had that in me. When I got to the south all I could think was that in order to eat grits, real grits, it was going to take considerable fortitude to get past my palate, much like Scottish Haggis* (and I've never had Haggis.)  You can imagine my surprise when I learned that grits is made of corn. Corn? Ok, says I, I love corn.  Why wouldn't I love Grits?  So, I decided to try them.  

The first time I saw grits on my plate, I thought it was some mistake. We had gone out for breakfast and the menu said 'grits' with every meal. When the dish came, I thought again: "You can't eat them d*mn grits!" There was this strange mess in one corner, an off-white color, with the consistency of mealy pudding. 'This is corn? Some sort of Southern Breakfast Corn Mush?' (Oh yeah, maybe Carlin was right.) But I had endeavored to be a good Southerner and try them, so I quickly put a forkful in my mouth and reached for a glass of milk to wash it down.  

And then the flavor hit me.  

Corn.  Delicious, flavorful corn.  A bit bland, but most definitely there. No need to wash this down quickly. It was there to savor.  I glanced around to see others in the restaurant adding such things as butter and sugar (yes, sugar!) to their grits. (Even salt and pepper, if you've a mind...)   I considered how I like my corn on the cob, with butter and salt, but this seemed something different, something new, something special.  I went with a touch of butter and a touch of sugar. Again, a forkful.

More flavor. Was it possible?  
Yes.  I finished them off that day and make them a  breakfast staple whenever possible.

Over the years, I've found the exact amount of sugar (half teaspoon) to the exact amount of butter (about a whole teaspoon) and although I don't have grits much these days, it's no longer the scary "You can't eat them d*mn grits!" affair it was when I first arrived.  In addition, I've found more than one restaurant that serves grits in new and exciting savory dishes for both lunch and dinner.  

Grits gets its name from 'grist.'   In the South Carolina Low-country, the uncooked ground corn is known as "grist", and the cooked dish is "hominy." (Hominy?  I dunno, thirty or forty, I expect. Yes, I joke. Keep reading.) This is distinct from the usual use of the term hominy. Grits are either yellow or white, depending on the color of corn.

Originally cooked with a weak lye solution to separate the corn from the hulls, you can cook your own grits at home with just a bit of practice - and that's no lye.  (Yes, that's another joke.  Feel free to share it with anyone who is a groan adult. Oh look another joke, I could do this all day, but let's move on.) There are literally hundreds of recipes on the Internet (what did people do before the Internet?) but I find using the directions on the side of a package of store bought grits to be the best.  (Yes, store bought. Don't look at me like that!  I'm doing the best I can here!)

It's simply grits, water and a touch of salt, stir as you bring to a boil and set aside to thicken, much like cooking oatmeal.  You can have it with breakfast or as a meal in itself.  In fact, I read recently of a wedding with a Grits Bar.  (I. Kid. You. Not. Grits served in a  martini glass with many different things with which to top or add.) And, no, you don't have to ask, it was a very Southern Wedding. 

I won't go into how to cook Haggis*. 
You're welcome.  

*Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach for cooking and serving.