Thursday, December 30, 2010


I moved a comfortable old armchair into the dining room so I could be near all my cookbooks, as well as have a view of Edwin Warner Park. I planned to sit there a few minutes ago only to find a squatter. I haven't the heart to make him leave!

The Secret Life of Cell-phones

Pity our poor slaves. The appliances and electricals chained to our walls and outlets day after day. Stolid and uncomplaining are our refrigerators, which last 20 years, and which we remember only because of the dust-bombs and mouse droppings left behind when someone finally carts their carcasses away. And our televisions- doomed to an early discard when we fall in love with newer models. Do you doubt that their tribe will someday go extinct when every man, woman, and child has a TV chip in their brain and is no more than a blink away from the next episode of "Dog- The Bounty Hunter"?

The price of sharing our tedious lives must wear on them. Of hearing the banalities we squeak at each other across time and space. Is it any wonder out TV remotes try to run away, though they make it no farther than under the couch cushions? Do you really think you misplaced the remote when you went to the bathroom during half-time? Of course not. The remote is sick of you. It has tried to get away from switching between the Titans game, the all day "Burn Notice" marathon, and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider". Alas the poor remote never escapes the house, unless by some miracle it falls into the wastebasket.

Luckier is the peripatetic cell-phone, though some might question who is master and who the slave in its relations with humans. It has truly seen the worst of us as we speed the interstate at 70mph text messaging all the way despite the infant strapped in back in a car seat. It has heard every trivial word we utter. Every non-thought.

Ask any woman with a pocketbook how many times she has had to drag out her wallet, tampons, Ibuprofen, address book,cosmetic case, just to get to her cell-phone, now gone to ground at the very bottom of her baggage. All it wants is peace, and it is willing to pay the ultimate price of a dead battery to get it."Oh will she never shut up!", it cries.

But sometimes- there is the Great Escape. Out of the pocketbook, out of the pocket- onto the ground. I had a cellphone run away when I was on jury duty at the temporary courthouse out at the Metro-Center. I do not know if the outcome of the case offended it. Maybe it thought we should have gone for the plaintiff- In any case, it did not get far. A police man found it in the parking lot. I was loyal to it after that. I tried not to try its patience. It rewarded me with long life before it finally returned to the Great Verizon in the sky.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cat colony

For several months now I have been feeding at least four cats from the colony of ferals that have adopted these apartments. And I am not the only one feeding them- I see empty cans and little plates left around under the parking sheds.

At first I thought these cats were refugees from the flood. Some of them may be, though I think these cats may be second generation. They want nothing to do with people. Even the people who put out bowls of half and half and Meow Mix.

I worried about them all through our past few weeks of frigid weather. Where would they go at night? I put a puppy carrier covered by a fleece blanket on my porch. They never used it. Yet no matter how much ice, no matter how much snow, the tabby I see most often came every day. He was here an hour ago.

Last night, as I took the hounds out for a walk, I solved the mystery of where the cats sheltered. They did not live in tree holes or under rotten logs.

They live in the storm drains and drainage pipes. I saw my tabby sitting on the curb above a drainage grate. As soon as the dogs and I came too close ,he ran into his labyrinth. How smart of these cats! Dog-proof. Coyote-proof, and always near the handouts. And if there are no handouts, close to chipmunks and meadow mice.

A friend and her husband, who live in Santa Fe, Tennessee with 30 cats they have rescued, told me that the City of New Orleans rounds up its feral cats, neuters them ,then sends them back onto the streets. For cat colonies are everywhere. There was one on St George Island a few years back. I fed 2 or 3 of them for the two weeks I vacationed there. Yet a year or two later when I took a house in the east end there I never saw one. Earlier I asked someone on the island how the cats got there.

"People dump them here", she said, "They know they can't get back across the causeway".

And now- for anyone who wants to see a cat colony- I can direct you down the Natchez Trace to a rest stop just north of Jackson, Mississippi. Multiple cats, mostly white, living on handouts whilst dodging the alligators in the Pearl River and the coyotes in the woods. I saw an SUV pull in once while I was there, and its owners unloaded bags of food. The cats came, as though greeting old friends. They seemed less wary than the cats I live near.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who are you?

I was walking my dogs through the apartment parking lot the other afternoon when I saw a young man carrying a guitar- a large one- to his car. He had swaddled it in a blanket. There was another guitar, also wrapped in a blanket, waiting on the roof of his not-of-this decade elongated blue sedan with California license plates. The young gentleman had a minor beard,and was wearing a pork-pie hat. A musician, of course, and not a rara avis in this city. Was he just a hopeful? Or was he an employed hopeful. I say this since these apartments are not cheap. Perhaps he was a studio musician. Maybe his girlfriend paid the rent. Or maybe his boyfriend- Possibly he was a respiratory therapist by day, and a frequenter of stages by night. This is Nashville. Who knows.

Being something of a hermit, I would rather speculate about my neighbors than meet them. I love to look for clues. My interest grew greater last summer when I counted license plates from 31 states in the parking lots of these apartments. 31 states. If I lived in an apartment in Detroit would I have noticed so many roving neighbors?

Of course not, since Detroit is an unraveling, dying Rust-Belt city ,and Nashville is in the shiny Sun-belt. Shall I tell you how many of the out of state cars I saw were from Michigan? In fact there is a young woman at my work who is a refugee from that sad state. She has a bachelor of science in nursing, newly minted, and she could not find a job. She had trouble finding one here. The Sun-Belt is rusting a bit itself.

But back to my neighbors . Who are you?

The girl, who until recently, lived above me was a songwriter. Another neighbor told me that this girl lived on residuals from one hit song. She was a one hit wonder. Until I moved in they had trouble renting my apartment, as this woman ran her washer and her water without respite. This did not bother me. I never met her. Whether the water or the residuals ran out first did not matter. She was gone. "Too many fall from great and good for you to doubt the likelihood", wrote Robert Frost.

One of my neighbors is a Frenchman. He is a chef. He is so lean that I knew immediately that he was no American. He drives a big GM sedan. Another neighbor is a retired businessman from Louisiana. He is elderly , and from his words and deeds I have deduced that he is looking for female companionship. When I see him I duck. And run.

But back to the question. Why would someone leave New Mexico, or Pennsylvania, or Ohio, or Georgia to come here? Why are they in Nashville? Did their corporation transfer them? Are they interns or medical residents at Vanderbilt or Meharry? Do they work for Gaylord Entertainment, or AT and T, or are they musicians for the Nashville Symphony? Families who have lost their homes to foreclosure? Or are they like me. A woman who thirty years ago made a random decision to get out of small town New England, and picked Nashville on a whim?

Perhaps most of us came here because we wanted something new and better. Perhaps we immigrated to safety, like the 11,000 Kurdish refugees who now live here. Perhaps we were smothered and stifled in small southern towns where the biggest building in town was the Church of Christ. City air makes you free goes the ancient saying.

Though not for some unlucky dreamers. This summer, down on West End, near Vanderbilt and PF Chan's and the Loew's, I would see a young man wandering the sidewalk. At first he just wandered, but later I saw him trying to sell the homeless newspaper to walkers and commuters. He was tall. He wore a checkered shirt, narrow blue jeans, and a big black cowboy hat. Then I did not see him anymore. Maybe he caught a bus home. Maybe he did not. I will never know. I never saw him carrying a guitar. Perhaps he had to sell it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Winter evening spent reading John Buchan's "Huntingtower".

Though the Blue Jays are comforted by peanuts, we inside are trapped inside by cold and black ice. I fear for us if this weather persists. The roads and trails at the Warner Parks will be unusable, and our walking world will shrink to the apartment parking lots. Then again- I have seen winter days in the 60s, and barred owls catching snakes sunning on warm rocks.

I do have an interesting visitor- a Brewer's blackbird -who turned up yesterday. He is alone. At first glance I thought he was a grackle. But there was something off about the tail. It is short. He is also unwary, walking around under the holly hedge where the feral cats hide.

Weather like this leads to cabin fever, unless we can read or watch a good story. Yesterday I watched "The Nun's Story" on Turner Classics, and it was most satisfying. Then I turned off the television, and turned to John Buchan to get me through the evening. I have read his "The 39 Steps" and his Richard Hannay novels over and over. But last evening I picked up "Huntingtower"(one of his earlier novels) for the first time. In it a middle-aged Scottish business man sells his company and goes off on a walking adventure across moors and open country. He meets his fellow man across the table at country inns, and before long there is high adventure with political intrigue, a White Russian girl in distress, and hidden royal jewels. Here is Buchan describing his first hopes for his holiday:

"He would meet and talk with all sorts of folk; an exhilarating prospect, for McCunn loved his kind.There would be the evening hour before he reached his inn, when,pleasantly tired, he would top some ridge and see the welcoming lights of a little town. There would be the lamp-lit after -supper time when he would read and reflect, and the start in the gay morning, when tobacco tastes sweetest and even fifty-five seems young".

And here is more-

"A passerby would have remarked on an elderly shopkeeper bent apparently on a day in the country, a common little man on a prosaic errand. But the passerby would have been wrong, for he could not see into the heart. The plump citizen was the eternal pilgrim; he was Jason, Ulysses, Eric the Red,Albuquerque, Cortez- starting out to discover new worlds".

I am happy to say that "Huntingtower" can be read on-line at And anyone interested in the colorful author- a diplomat, a politician, the First Baron of Tweedsmuir and Commander of the Dominion of Canada, can read more about him at

Thursday, December 9, 2010

French Onion Casserole with Gruyere cheese

I am calling this dish a casserole, though it could also be called a crustless quiche. It was an experiment to see if I could capture the flavor of French onion soup and Gruyere cheese in an easy egg dish. It worked. The hardest part of the recipe was sauteeing the onions in butter until they were soft, brown, and sweet without being charred. This saute needs a large deepish skillet or sauteuse pan. These give the diced onions enough room to brown in butter. You need:

6 eggs

6-8 oz of grated Gruyere cheese

4 strips of crispy bacon, cut into small pieces.

3-4 small yellow onions, diced

1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar

1 tsp sea salt

Saute the diced onions in 1/2 stick of melted butter.Sprinkle with the sea salt. As the onions begin to take on color, add the vinegar and mix well. Saute the onions on medium heat until they are soft and brown. Be careful not to burn them. This may take 20 minutes. When they are done, spoon them onto the bottom of a non-greased 9 inch round glass pie dish or a casserole dish. Spread them out evenly to cover the bottom of the dish. Next cover them with the grated Gruyere. In a bowl, whisk the six eggs, then pour over the onions and cheese. Top with the bacon bits. Bake 45 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven or until a skewer or knife inserted into the very center of the casserole comes out clean.

This is a party dish I invented for our Christmas pot luck, and I am very pleased with its savory French onion soup flavor.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hominy, chilies, and cheese casserole

I brought this casserole to our Thanksgiving potluck at work, and did not have to bring any leftovers home. If you have an aversion to canned goods this recipe might not appeal, but I know of no way of getting hominy unless it is canned. Unless you have a farm, a vat of lye, and fresh ears of corn. The chilies too are canned, and one can find them in the Hispanic food section in any grocery store. This dish is fast and easily assembled. I see no reason its appeal should be strictly southern. Many at the potluck wanted the recipe. It requires:

2 15 oz cans of hominy, either yellow or white, though I used white.

1 4oz can of mild, diced green chilies

1-2 teaspoons cumin

1 pound of Monterey Jack cheese, grated

Drain the hominy in a colander. Shake it well to get rid of the liquid. Combine it in a bowl with the chilies, the cheese, and the cumin. Mix well, then spoon into a 9 inch un-greased pie dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then-carefully- turn on the broiler and broil for a minute or three until the top is golden. Watch it closely or you run the risk of incinerating it. This is not the time to load the washer.

For those interested in food folkways, I would direct you to Edna Lewis and her "The Taste of Country Cooking". She writes about hominy making on page 20. The immortal "Charleston Receipts", a Junior League cookbook that has been around since 1950, has several hominy recipes.