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East Coast USA, United States
Lowcountry porch sitter. Appalachian Mountain lover. Finger Lakes dreamer.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Leisure Settings and Sipping

One of my greatest pleasures in life was to spend some work related time in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The experience so grand that I ventured back to Holland in my personal travel, spending a great deal of time in Utrecht with friends.

The people, food, and lifestyle of the country simply relaxing, green (literally and figuratively), filled with water recreation, artistic and cultural diversity and divinely blessed with beautiful citizens inside and out.  Much of what one "likes" when visiting a place is for what one can find to do there, but I would also add "for what one can NOT do there."  That is, the art of living a moment unencumbered. A moment enjoyed just long enough to have escaped a routine or relished briefly as an interlude far and away from more taxing times of the day.

I found ample space in my itinerary among the Dutch for ventures to the cafes to sip on hot beverages~and consume an inordinate amount of stroopwaffles.  To this day, one of my all time favorite simple pleasures in life is to enjoy leisure moments sipping. That simple act, sipping, may transpire alone, with a good read or a friend in deep conversation.  Cold or hot, sipping is my leisure habit of choice.

There was a point in my coastal life when "cafe time" was a simple two block walk away from my home office.  During that time I found a place to collect my thoughts, share space with others and become an active participant in a subset of my local community. Sadly that local coffee house closed and has yet to be replaced (there are two delightful coffee shops~City Java and Common Ground available in nearby Beaufort, but require a little more effort than a stroll down the block). Thus, from there grew my house made adventures in concoctions of all sorts.

House made Chai or more descriptively spiced milk tea has become my afternoon escape in the absence of my local coffee shop. I have experimented with a wide variety of recipes (and trust me when I say many abound across the internet~varying slightly in the components, i.e., the type of tea, the spice inclusions and/or the choice of sweetener). But my preferred version at this time continues to be an Epicurious version of Masala Chai that includes white peppercorns and fennel seeds.

Travel to escape or visit other climes continues to appeal, but sipping never goes asunder at home in a locale that abounds with many an unencumbered moment.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just a Little Writing Prompt

Fall brings cooler temperatures and a host of festivals sure to appeal to a great many people near and far. One rarely needs to spend time in their Lowcountry kitchens with all that transpires in our back yard this time of year (I am the proverbial broken record year after year in this regard so what you gain here is my reaffirmation that we continue to ebb and flow here in the Lowcountry).

It was a busy weekend with Short Story America's (SSA) first annual conference and festival, Hilton Head Island's annual Italian Festival , the Town of Port Royal's last street music concert of the season and my psuedo brother Andrew's band Black Tusk's 7-inch release in Savannah. In other words, little time was spent in the kitchen. So I'm throwing a curve ball of sorts from my usual story wrapped around food to post an exercise from one of the writing workshops I attended during my SSA experience this past weekend.  Beaufort author Katherine Tandy Brown in her workshop "Plant a Seed Start a Story" enabled many of us to understand that a healthy stream of consciousness, given the opportunity to flow, is fertile ground for content.

Five minutes with a writing prompt, no corrections, no strikeouts, pen and/or key strokes in constant motion and certainly never ever any self doubt.

The writing prompt "Looking through the key hole..."

Through the keyhole I was shocked to see my neighbor embracing  the stranger we'd seen earlier in the day. The one who kept to himself at the gallery, that dined alone in the cafe and then spied later catching the afternoon bus.  What mattered more in this instance was the manner in which my neighbor's tears flowed forward while wrapped in the arms of this stranger. She never let on to her grief, not to her neighbors, not even her priest. Yet here she was utterly weeping and allowing the stranger to comfort her, caress her cheek. What is the relationship they share? By the looks of things they aren't complete strangers.  We all know the volley of emotion that erupts when the right words spoken by the right person brings us quickly to a moment of recognition.  The recognition of our fragility in the face of what is real.  And this moment was real. Who is this person that held the key to my neighbor's grief?

I know that when my romance novelist friend Karen Hawkins reads this post she will be amused that given the key hole prompt that I lassoed my thoughts rather close to her genre of writing. But trust me I fell back on my usual trend of humor when given the writing prompt of "sweaty palms."

The forum was set in a university setting where many a politician was expected to appear.  The topic dear to my heart, but greater was my interest in meeting U.S. Representative Claude Pepper. I never expected to get close enough to shake hands with the man, but I did.  He was everything in an instant that I expected him to be. Kind, charismatic, thoughtful, the consummate politician with a flare for engaging his public. And with that opportunity standing next to him was the young politician from Tennessee, Al Gore. Protocol necessitated that I also reach out to shake the hand of the man from my home state. So I plastered on a continuous smile and reached out my hand and that is when I met my first sweaty palm hand shake. Squeamish ick would be the best way to describe it and sliding away from it none too easy.  The nicest of men from my home state had clasped my hand with both his hands. Oh no I thought to myself, less concerned now about the hand shake and more about what my face would reveal during this momentary panic of being embraced by a sweaty palm hand shake. Then out of the corner of my eye I see the elder statesman reach in his pocket and pull out a handkerchief....

This one I might have to finish.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dining on the lane in White City

Step back in time or look around in your own backyard today and one finds that which was true then (in the past) very much resembles where the world seems to reside today.  A time when vibrant communities were synonymous with many people persevering through hard times, but living on the cusp of brighter futures to come.

A time when a large house at the end of a road served as the flagship to a visibly thriving community while at the same time offering a place to gather, dine and live.  My great grandmother's boarding house at the end of Yadkin Street (known as the The Lodge in White City) in what was then referred to as Model City may, for some onlookers today, simply resemble a group of white houses situated consecutively along several blocks in Kingsport, Tennessee.  However, in reality the neighborhood is a living testament to what really counts among people living in communion.

I had the opportunity to join the residents of Yadkin Street for a modern day "White City Reunion." There were children playing in a grassy green common area, adults congregating along driveways to chat and house tours for the merely curious.  Clearly an interloper walking into this scene would immediately understand that the aspect of living that this neighborly environment had retained over the years is the ability for the residents (in this two-block radius) to celebrate themselves and those that once resided there. In attendance at the occasion were several generations of families, neighbors who had moved away, boarders who had lived at The Lodge and my father and I connected by family affiliation. The stories that dominated the day were about the boarding house.  Who lived there, when they lived there, what they would find to eat there, what happened there at a specific point in time, and the old lady who ruled the property with an iron fist (my great grandmother).

Imagine if you will a woman and her family lured to a town revolving around the business acumen of George Eastman to operate a boarding house where the company's young single executives would live. And that property just happened to be part of a development that was characterized as "designed for the workman with the idea that every worker in the city could own their own home." There's no imagination needed to garner the fact that my great grandmother was a woman wise to the opportunistic fortune with which she found herself ~at least that's what I'm led to believe. And believe it or not this post is about the food one finds in such a quaint little collective of Americana.

This was a reunion.  A reunion with a central activity of dining in the midst of the fun and frolic planned for the day, but no pot luck and given the familial nature no alcohol~save the adult beverages that may have been sipped in the privacy of some homes or cleverly disguised in a solo cup.  I really can't say that with great certainty, but that's how I would have consumed something not offered for general consumption.

The meal of barbecue and side dishes was spread out along a buffet line. And though that may sound rather ordinary it was not, because of the very nature of the gathering, but also because of one specific food dish (and maybe the banana pudding). What stood out along this long smorgasbord of options was a delightfully layered dish of Cornbread Salad. Something new to me, but apparently rather common to those in attendance as many were amused at my glee to eat this dish.  There are a ton of recipes offered online with only subtle differences in the ingredients that are used to prepare the dish.

It's those subtle differences that bring me back around to my point in telling this story of a neighborhood.  That is, a physical place may shift and bend with the changing times and trends, but the essence of what makes it wholly a place to return to remains the same~a place one can always call home even after being pulled away by life.

Life Enrichment is like a travel and learn program...offering infusions that make every day life thereafter far more interesting! ~ Ann-Marie Adams, Reflections on a Meaningful Life