Sunday, October 30, 2011


The first week after I moved to Nashville, I was without a phone for a few days.( For back then ,the hills were innocent of cell-phone towers.) When I finally did get hooked up and could call my mother, she informed me she had called the hospital I was working at. To see if I had arrived safe.

"My God, "she said of the natives who had answered the phone, "I could not understand a word those people said". She exaggerated, for Southerners do speak English most of the time, but for my first year in Nashville ,I sometimes needed a translator. And not just for unfamiliar pronunciation. Many figures of speech also eluded me.

"You All" and its short form "Y'all" were easy and expected. But never had I heard one syllable words given so much credit and so much license to expand. "Sir, you can not get out of the bay-ed", I heard the nurses who worked with me say to confused old patients trying to crawl out over the bed siderails. And what did those confused old men want to get out of bed for? " I want some aahz", they would shout back at me, the nurse who did not know what they were asking for-"Aahz, Aahz. Don't you know what aahz is?.

I was caring for a patient fresh out of the open heart OR one night, and that patient was bleeding. He needed to go back to surgery. His doctor was the late Dr. George B., one of the few gentleman surgeons I have ever met. "Well," said the doctor,"He's bleedin' and I'm just going to have to carry him back to the OR." This was a novel use for "carry", but I did understand. Far better than a Californian I worked with whose patient's brother told her he had "carried " his sister all the way into the city from Cookeville. " I thought he picked her up and walked all the way", said this embarrassed Westerner.

And how can I ever forget the young nurse from up on the Cumberland Plateau, who reveled in her country-isms. "Yun's-, are y'all going to order out tonight?", she would ask, trying to get the pizza ball rolling. "Yun's" meant all the rest of us. And I suppose her parents, who ran a tree farm and nursery out in the country. This young woman immortalized herself one night in our ICU with her reaction to receiving defective automatic blood pressure cuffs from our ward secretary.

The cuff in the room did not work. Country nurse called for another. It did not work. She called for a third. It was a lemon too. And when the fourth cuff was tried and found wanting, it and the motor it was attached to, came flying out of the room. It smashed all over the floor in front of the ward secretary and some Vanderbilt medical residents making rounds. The evening supervisor reported this to our head nurse, who pulled in Country nurse for a reprimand.

"What am I supposed to tell the Director of Nursing when she asked me how this happened ?", our head nurse asked the girl.

"Tell her I dun it," said our heroine, "I dun it. I dun it." And of course, she was eventually punished by getting into Nurse Anesthetist School and facing a life time of six figure per annum salaries. And she married a neurosurgeon.

And though I have never called any people I worked with "yun's", I do use "y'all" often. Everyone uses it. I drive past a store called "'Ual and Shop Ual" every time I drive to work.

I find it is better to warn patients not to try to get out of bay-ed, and to assure their families that we know "Y'all don't want him to break a hip", than it is to parade my Brooklyn born, New England raised Yankee-ness out in public. Not that there is much of that left after thirty years-

And so goodnight. Y'all.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pictures of the Guilty Beagle

I am happy to say that no cupboards were broken into last night. Thomas asked for pictures of the "offending beagle". Here he is. His name is Dippetty Dog. He can stand on his hind legs like a meerkat for minutes at a time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Guilty Beagle

When I arrived home this morning from working all night, I saw my beagle and Shih Tzu sitting in the apartment window, waiting. The beagle had a pensive, nervous look that told me some overnight crime had been committed. He had either messed the floor or gotten into the cupboards again.

It was the latter.

I have learned to leave no trash under the counter, unless I want to find coffee grounds everywhere. To see butter wrappers smeared into the rug. But his last two raids have been into my baking cupboard. His first victim was a bag of Mexican natural sugar. What he ate of that must have tasted better going down than staying down since he vomited it all back up. (Another reason why I need my own carpet steam cleaner.)

Last night's raid was more ambitious. He could not figure out how to open a Tupperware container full of House Of Autrey seafood breading. He left it lying. But the cornstarch and cornmeal in plastic bags were broken open. I do not think he ate much. Straight cornstarch must not be too palatable . He did not care for the dried up bottle of lentils I used for blind baking either, but that did not stop him from scattering them all over the kitchen floor.

He ran and hid when I walked in, as well as he should have. And I must now move flour up and cookware down. Since I must work tonight and have no time for kitchen relocation's today, I will barricade King Arthur's flour with a ladder up against the cabinet door.

One must really love dogs to own them. To let them live in the house. To become their maid . I remember a Mrs Southern Living type I once worked with who bought her daughter a miniature schnauzer. In three days the dog  was gone.

"He made the house filthy", Mrs Southern Living wailed, "I have to follow him around with a broom".

No one with such housekeeping standards should ever own a dog.  For a dog owner wears his dog's coat to work. He smells the dog in the rug. The dog  is ever present.

I try to understand dogdom. I brought home the Shih Tzu as much for the beagle as for myself. I read "How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend", by the Monks of New Skete over and over. ( The  monks bred German Shepherds). I feed my dogs twice a day. They are not starving.

Yet the beagle will not stop foraging. No lower cupboards are safe. And if he can stretch enough he can steal a dozen peeled shrimp I dried in a paper towel and left on the counter. I know. He is sneaky.

And the reason none of the vacuum cleaners I picked up for free at the apartment dumpster are adequate. No- I was forced to buy a $600 Dyson Animal to clean up after my animals.

I repeat. One must really love dogs to own them.

I wonder what the beagle is planning tonight.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Radio Classique

Nothing will induce my 83 year old mother to look at a computer screen, or the Internet. When asked, she quotes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who once said that the Internet was a "sewer". To my mother, this is the last word. There is no discussion.

She is wrong, of course. The Internet may have its murky sloughs and fetid, evil pools, but it also will let you read Yeat's poetry, identify a wildflower, re-connect with school mates one has not seen in thirty years, learn  about Armenian cooking, and read the New York Times-

And it plays music from radio stations all over the world. I turned to it a few years back when our local Nashville Public radio station went to an all jabber all the time format, relegating classical music to the hours between midnight and four am. And I am going to come out and say it- I want less talk, not more.( If I want to hear politicians lie I can go to CNN.)

I can remember my mother listening to Public Radio many years and many mornings ago. Vermont Public Radio broadcast Robert J. Lurtsema's show. It  began each day with the sound of birdsong from New England fields and woods. The Veery, the chipping sparrow, the drumming of a woodpecker, and then, Mozart.

And WGBH in Boston still plays the birds singing , but only on weekend mornings at six. Yet now it plays to everyone. Everywhere. All over the world via the Internet.

And WQXR in New York does as well. How pleasing it is to hear of a 70 degree day in Central Park, when one is sweltering in Nashville. To pretend one is in the world's greatest city -

Or consider Sky-FM and their free Piano Jazz channel. Music to cook dinner by, indeed.

Or- my favorite. Radio Classique, from Paris. Mono-lingual barbarian that I am ,I understand not a word its announcers and program hosts are saying. But just now I listened to Edith Piaf, and then to Sinatra. I understood them perfectly. I imagine a blue evening in Paris.

I wish my mother had a more open mind.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My own Private Tea Room

Do you see the beagle lurking in two places?

To paraphrase an old wittiscism- Work is the curse of the reading classes. How I wish I could stay home tonight. But someone has to support that beagle. And the Shih Tzu. Ah, but I think I see a stay at home vacation on the horizon! It is only three free days and two work days away-

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Estate Sale Diaries- Holly Golightly's Barkeep

If Holly Golightly owned anything other than her little black dress, this would be it- a vintage Waring Blender. Remember her cocktail party, with her guests crammed into her apartment like anchovies in a can? She had to have help keeping everyone well-lubricated- I do not think that crowd would have been content with Boodles straight from the bottle.

I bought this yesterday at a moving sale over at River Plantation, a favorite neighborhood for the over 70s. I also bought a Cuisinart food processor with pasta attachments and slicing discs galore for $24. The blender cost me $5.

What else did I find? Two fine lamps. A fancy yellow damask tablecloth. Four Lennox mugs decorated with goldfinches and cardinals and cedar waxwings. A little crockpot. A sackful of paperback mysteries- Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, Josephine Tey- for $5. And best of all-

A Panama hat, made in Ecuador. $3. Too late to wear it now, but there is always next summer-

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kitchen Orphans.

A woman I work with, a true home cook, confessed to me two nights ago that she has a KitchenAid mixer she has never used. It sits on her counter looking expensive and purposeful, but is really unemployed. And I wondered when I heard this how many appliances spend their time holding down the counter tops.
Or taking up space in kitchen cabinets. I will wager some of them- the bread makers and the waffle presses and the rice cookers - came from wedding well-wishers or from a new apartment christening. Perhaps they are used once or twice. Until the waffles stick. Until one decides one prefers Pepperidge Farm to home made bread. "Too much work", someone sighs, trying to scrape off yesterday's dried on batter. And then the lazy put them back into their box. Under the cupboard they go again or into a closet. People with more energy pack them up and send them to Goodwill, so they can go and live forgotten in someone else's house.

Does a $300.00 mixer deserve this? I admit that mine sat for ten years, untouched. Until I found James Beard's "Bread" at an estate sale and began to make my own loaves. Until I started to make batter for breading poblanos for Chiles Rellenos and for frying oysters. How I love to beat eggs until they are yellow and foamy and can be folded into a puree of avocados and tomatoes to make a Guacamole Puff- my version of a semi-souffle made with egg yolks. I am not such a culinary purist that I feel I need to strain my elbows beating away at a job a machine can do-

And can do better. Imagine the work if we did not have food processors to julienne zucchini. People blessed enough to be able to stay home all day may not mind doing this. But I work twelve hour shifts three nights a week. That twelve stretches when I count time lost hitting every red light on West End Avenue on my way in and the horrors of ten mile an hour school zones and the gridlock near Aquinas College and The Overbrook School on my way home. There are any number of ways we helplessly fritter away our time. It behooves us to grab that time back with some friendly, helpful machine. Especially if it is a kitchen aristocrat such as a KitchenAid mixer.
Let us get our money's worth.

But one question remains- my rice cooker is wasting prime kitchen space. I need that space.

What to do do? Well, the bowl comes out. A nice little metal bowl. It would make a good water dish for Popette and Dippitty Dog. Problem solved. And now I am free to get ready to go over to River Plantation to a moving sale to buy and bring something else home I don't need.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In the Spirit of the Season

A week or so back I posted photos taken at the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens here in Nashville. The photos were of the perennial borders and of the herb garden. Now, I am putting up pictures of the Halloween display of scarecrows. For those unfamiliar with Nashville, Cheekwood is a mansion built with money from the Maxwell House Coffee fortune. It houses an art museum as well as display gardens.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Forgotten Nashville-The Mystery in the Woods at Hidden Lake

How many adventures have been ruined by guide books? How many mysteries are still-born because we insist on knowing too much at the beginning? Why, when we set off down an old road in the woods, do we need to know where it ends? Or what we will find.

I say it is better not to know, for even the most mundane, though pleasurable walk through predictable terrain, can lead to the unexpected as one follows the red brick road-

A friend and I set off Sunday morning on a walk into the Harpeth River State Park at Hidden Lake. The park is off Highway 70 in Pegram. Highway 70 was once known as the Nashville-Memphis Highway.( It ceded its title to Interstate 40 many years ago.)

Neither my friend nor I had been to this park before, and when we arrived my concern was whether my dogs were welcome. They were, but on a leash. So said the park rules, which warned us against making away with any artifacts we might find. I assumed this meant arrowheads or pottery left by the Mound Builders, the Native Americans who once lived along the Harpeth. Had we walked around the kiosk, seen the map of the park and the park's history our adventure would have dwindled to just another walk into the expected. But we did not.

I have learned through experience that anyplace with "hidden" in its name is usually not. The more hidden it is, the more well trodden. Yet this park seemed sparsely visited. We walked down to the predictable Harpeth, walked through predictable bottomland and old fields now shaded by cedar stands. We went by an old iron gate, and soon came to a fork in the road-

A few hundred feet up the road we found a duck weed covered pond. Was this Hidden Lake? We hardly thought so, so we pressed on. And to our right rose great limestone cliffs.

And then the lake, which I thought at first was just a bend in the Harpeth-

"That sign we saw back there said swimming was allowed", said my friend, but I wondered. Where were the signs warning us to do so at our own risk? We turned back, and at the fork of the road, we decided to walk a bit up the ridge trail. Here we met two humans and four dogs. Three of the dogs were aggressive, and the fourth was a Pekinese carried by its owner. They retreated off the road so we could pass. And once again I had the chance to ruin our adventure by knowing too much. "Is there anything up there?" I almost asked.

And here is what we found next, though the real surprise was on up the trail-

If I was a child again and found this, it would be my treasure. My fort. My secret place. I would build a campfire ring with the rubble. Make chairs of stones. Tell ghost stories to my little brother-

But the trail went on-

My friend and I left the road and headed up a path along the cliff top. On the edge of the cliff, the blue heart-leaved aster was blooming, and far below we saw Hidden Lake. My friend was not sure we should go on. I protested that we were almost at the top-

Where we found something we could neither fathom, nor explain.

I thought I knew what this was. The Middle Tennessee Veterans" Cemetery was over and down, along the Harpeth. Perhaps some veterans did not want to be buried. Perhaps they wanted their ashes to drift away on the wind out over this valley-

"I don't think so ", said my less fanciful friend," There's no place for the bereaved to sit- And this is a state park".

Befuddled, we went on back down the hill, through the bottomlands and a field of nothing but wild blackberry bushes. Back to our cars.

But first- to the kiosk. Where the mystery was solved. I will let you read for yourself.

Imagine then, a summer evening, out in countryside where suburbs have yet to be. The Volstead Act is still law of the land, but the friendly folks down the dirt road will fill your flask, with no questions asked. You smell the pork barbecue, hear Jimmy Gallagher's band playing "Minnie the Moocher", hear the screams of a girl who has just broken off a heel trying to get up the trail- And the moon shines on.

Postscript: It is likely that Jimmie Gallagher was Jimmy Gallagher, formerly of Francis Craig's Nashville high society orchestra of the late twenties and early thirties. Francis Craig wrote "Near You", the first great Nashville hit. He also wrote Vanderbilt's "Dynamite" fight song. Craig's orchestra played on WSMV radio, at The Hermitage Hotel, and at Belle Meade parties and debuts.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Olive and Tomato Muffins

I have baked savory muffins using corn kernels and green chiles and zucchini. But the other evening it occurred to me that adding the basic ingredients of a bruschetta topping might make a delicious lunch or brunch muffin. A muffin to complement cream soup and salad. A muffin one might see on the menu of a tearoom here in Tennessee-

I have said before that for me there is only one basic muffin recipe, and that is Irma Rombauer's in her Joy Of Cooking. I find it simple. I find it foolproof. And as long as one resists stuffing too much into the batter, it will make a dozen small , but excellent muffins.

Here are Rombauer's basics;

1 3/4 cups sifted all- purpose flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp double-acting baking powder

2 eggs- beaten apart from the dry ingredients

2-4 tablespoons melted butter- added to the eggs

3/4 cup milk, added to the eggs and butter

1 medium tomato, vine scar sliced off. Unpeeled as well.

A dozen pitted olives- I used 6 kalamatas and 6 pimento stuffed Manzanillas. I used them because they were what I had left over in the refrigerator.

One teaspoon Herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning. I used Z'atar, a Middle Eastern seasoning of thyme and sumac. Use it if you can find it and if you dare.

Mix the sifted flour and dry ingredients. Then add the egg batter and mix. Then puree the tomato and the olives in a food processor. Add the puree to the batter.

Take out two 6 cup muffin tins and coat them with cooking spray. Spoon in the muffin batter, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake 20-30 minutes.

Serve hot or reheated with a dab of butter.

And imagine that you are out on a road trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway to stay at a bed and breakfast in Natchez , Mississippi. You want breakfast, but the Saturday crowds at the Loveless Motel and Restaurant in Nashville at the Trace's northern terminus are too much , no matter how you long for their peach preserves- So you decide to wait. Down the Trace you go, stopping at the overview of the Tennessee Valley Divide and the Duck River to look out over farmland unending, serene in the early October mist. And at the next exit- mythical of course- You find Miss Ellie's Tearoom at the Muscadine Inn. There is still room for you and for the four cardiologists in spandex bicycling the Trace, and for the Hell's Harley Club from Evansville, and a bevy of little blue haired towns women , and the Mormon couple who arrived in their Escalade with five handsome and suitably silent children.

And here come the muffins and the bacon and the grits flavored with maple syrup.

Yes, Maple Syrup. For there is no Miss Ellie, or if there is- she is a couple who fled east from Santa Barbara to re-invent their life. And what better place to do that then along the Trace-

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

I have been in the market for a big roasting pan with a lid. I had hoped to pick one up at an estate sale, or possibly buy one new. But today, at the Bellevue Antique Mall, I found one. It is white and green and of indeterminate age, with an enameled surface. It could hold a six pound leg of lamb, or a whole duck. And I am certain it has, for it looks like a pan with a history.It is not unmarred. There are burns and dents that prove that someone used it often. It is a pan that will not die. It has just been waiting for a new home.

And see the photo of the flour sifter. It says "Made in the USA". Could you buy an American made sifter now? I think you know the answer. I used my crank handled sifter the other night. Flour flew. But this one has a squeeze handle, and will be more mannerly. I do not need more help making a mess in the kitchen.

And with the addition of two more rooster salt shakers, I enlarge my ceramic country barnyard.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Memory of Jimmy Kelly's

Jimmy Kelly's was the first Nashville restaurant I walked into. I had flown to the city in the spring of 1981 for a job interview. My sister Bopsie and my good friend Kathy Wilder came with me, and we stayed at the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt on West  End Avenue. Not one of my friends, and no one in my family, thought Nashville was a good idea. My father, a New England chauvinist, was appalled. "Why would you want to move to Dogpatch?" he asked. When he came to visit for the first time he was incredulous. "Where did all this money come from?" he wondered. My father read a lot of Faulkner.

Thirty years have proved my friends and family wrong. I came. I stayed. And Jimmy Kelly's- open since 1934- is still here.

Though not  at the same address. These days it is over on Louise Avenue. Then it was on Harding Road, just south of St. Thomas Hospital. It was a small stone building later razed for a gas station. Its specialty was steaks and corn cakes. Steaks I knew, but never corn cakes. And never had we seen anything like the waiters.

Years later, the Nashville Scene(back when it was worth reading) gave Jimmy Kelly's one of its joke awards for "employing the deceased". It was making fun of the white-coated, grizzled old black waiters who worked there. But the waiters have always had the last snicker- for they were actors. And Jimmy Kelly's was theater.

That day in 1981 we saw this first hand. A table of well-fed businessmen, one wearing a Stetson, sat across from us. They were already eating. And their waiter shuffled up to check on them.

"Is it cooks to perfection, Sir?", he asked, "Just the way you likes it?" I did not hear what they said, but Kathy Wilder could not control herself. "He just got himself a fifty dollar tip", she said. And I am sure she was right. Those cagey waiters knew how to grovel in style. For them, it was the Show.

I do not know if  this still goes on. I have not been to Jimmy Kelly's in 20 years. But by now all those old waiters are deceased. And have they been replaced by more actors, just as clever, and getting even bigger tips? Perhaps not. Times have changed. But this is always the way I will remember my meal there, and my first taste of this city.

Herb Gardens at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens- Nashville, Tennessee