Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chicken Noodle Soup

Yesterday was cold, raw, and cloudy; the perfect day for chicken noodle soup.  Some of you asked how I made it, so here goes:

Boil four large chicken thighs until tender and shred them.  Use enough seasoned water to have at least eight cups of broth. There is no rule saying you have to use thighs, it was just what I had.  Any chicken will do.

Add about a cup of celery and carrots, chopped fine.  They don't have to be this fine, but chopping veggies is a stress reliever for me, so I just keep chopping.  I used purple onion here because I had some left over from another dish.  I usually use yellow onions, but I'm all about using what's in the frig.  There was about 1/2 cup of the onion; you can use more or less.  As you can see, this recipe can be adjusted very easily.

Half a stick of butter.  Butter, only!  Don't be using that other stuff.

Melt it the bottom of a heavy pot on medium heat.

Add the veggies and sauté until tender, about five minutes or so.

I added a teaspoon of chicken seasoning.  We like it; it's up to you.

Add about eight cups of broth here; the noodles absorb a lot of it.
Cook until the noodles are done; twenty minutes or so. Add more broth if you want a thin soup.

I like the small noodles.  I used about half, or eight ounces, of these. You can use any kind, but the larger ones kind of take over.

I added a tablespoon of dried basil because I really like it, but not everyone does.  You could use thyme or another herb or nothing here, whatever you like.

It is yummy.  It in no way resembles that salty stuff that comes in a can, which my sons loved when they were little.  After you make the broth and shred the chicken, it could be cooked in a crock pot.
We like ours with saltine crackers.  And, there are wonderful leftovers for another day!

Monday, December 30, 2013

McKay Books

One day several years ago, I had my head down in a basket of old books at Loaves and Fishes when I heard someone call my name.  It was my friend, Janet, there to look for books, too.  I met Janet when we both did the Alabama Master's Gardening Program in 1999.

We visited for a while, and Janet told me about this wonderful book store she had found in Chattanooga named McKay Books.  I couldn't wait until the next time we would be in Chattanooga to check it out.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that we love the Smoky Mountains and go there every time we can.  Now, we have to stop at McKay's when we go through Chattanooga; it is just part of the trip.  When we finish reading a book, unless it is a keeper, it goes into the "McKay's" bag and we take them to trade for other books.

For some strange reason, it takes a little longer for me to look for books that it does for Hub.  Last time we were there, he went upstairs and shot these photos while I was still looking.

You can find them here.  They also have stores in Nashville and Knoxville.

It is a book lover's heaven.  Happy, happy, happy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Scripture: Blessed

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. ~Matthew 5:4

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Coca-Cola Palace

If you are rambling just over the Alabama line to Loretta, Tennessee, you might want to stop and get some lunch at the Coca-Cola Palace.

Meat and three, cornbread, and drink for $7.00.  Yes, mac and cheese is a vegetable here.
Nothing fancy, but a beautiful old building I think you will enjoy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ruling Days/ Kingdomtide

Ruling Days is the traditional idea that the twelve days of Christmas are predictors for the twelve months coming up in the new year.  According to Google, this time is also called Kingdomtide, although I have never heard it called that around here.

The first day of Christmas here was sunny but cold, which will probably be what we get in January.  Today has started the same way, too cold for me, but it could very well be what our February will be like. 

It has been more than half a century, but I can clearly remember my Grandma Gean standing in front of her big wall calendar, the one that Rexall Drug Store gave her for free, and recording the weather conditions for each day during the twelve days of Christmas.  I can remember her referring back to it: "Well, June is supposed to be extra rainy, according to the Ruling Days."

I wish Grandma was here to scoff at our weather satellites and the latest digital radar.  Her ruling days predictions worked for her, and I cannot say our modern weather reporting technology works any better.

In the meantime, I am really looking forward to a couple of summer days next week.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Hardscrabble Christmas

Today's blog is a Christmas story written by Renea Winchester.  Renea graciously shared this story as her Christmas gift to us.  Enjoy, and please check out Renea's website and books.

A Hardscrabble Christmas
Stories from a Georgia Sharecropper
As told by: Billy Albertson
Written by: Renea Winchester

In the late 1930s, strip malls didn’t exist in rural America. There were no Secret Santa’s, no Elf on a Shelf, no white elephant gift exchanges; but Christmas came nonetheless.

Born to Egbert Tabor Albertson and Ola Belle Etris Albertson on March 31, 1932, Billy Albertson knew about hard work and hard times. Christmas trees weren’t purchased from a commercial grower. Finding a tree was a family affair. “Momma and Poppa and us kids lit out in search of a tree. After everyone decided on the right one, Poppa chopped it down with an axe and we drug it home. Didn’t cut one till the week before Christmas, lest the pine needles dried out and fell off. Poppa nailed the tree to a stand, one that was made from planks he fashioned together in the shape of an x. Back then we had us a big old field of corn, had plenty. We popped that corn and strung it on the tree. That’s all we had for ornaments. Weren’t no lights on our ole pine tree, didn’t have ‘leck-tricity.”

The Albertson home of the late 30s and early 40s was what most would call a shack. Sharecroppers moved often and lived in whatever building was located on the land they farmed. When Billy was almost eight-years-old, his family lived with Mr. Lee Pitchford who owned a dairy farm in North Georgia. Later, Billy’s Poppa found Guy Staton who owned a larger farm in the Clairmont Community. Billy remembers that “Poppa sharecropped for thirty years,” before ultimately settling down in what Billy still calls the “Birmingham Community,” (present-day Milton, Georgia).
Regardless of where the Albertson’s lived, the homes were usually the same. Ramshackle, rickety shelters held together with gumption, hard work, and a whole lotta love.

According to Billy, “There weren’t no insulation . . . our houses weren’t tight. The old farmhouse wasn’t much. Lotsa times it wasn’t even sealed on the inside. You could see daylight coming in through cracks in the wall, look down at the floor and see the chickens scratching under the porch. Landowners supplied the tools and the mule, then took half of what we made except what we growed in our garden spot.”

Back when winters were cold, snow fell so deep that Billy’s Poppa hitched the mule to a terracing drag and cut a path to the woodshed, to the privy, to the barn. (A terracing drag is a v-shaped plow that is used to keep rainwater from flooding the garden, and in this case, cleared a walkway to outbuildings). Chores required attention regardless of weather. Kids hurried to complete their assigned duties while hoping the snow would yield a tasty treat known as snow cream.
“We’d make snowmans but didn’t own no sled. They cost money, if you could even get one back then. We looked forward to snow. Sometimes Momma scooped it up and added vaniller flavoring and some sugar. That made the first ice cream I ever ate. Boy, it shore was good. Of course we hunted Mistletoe,” Billy continued. “It was hard to find, but Poppa would shoot it down then we’d hang it in the house. The girls would walk under it and we’d kiss ‘em. I believe that was the way it went.” Billy’s laughter bounced off the tiny walls of his living room.

Christmas Eve found the young Albertson children peeling socks from their feet to hang by the chimney with care. Out of eleven children, Billy was number ten. Each of the seven siblings who were still at home used a single sock as a stocking; the others were married, starting a family of their own.

“We’d hang a sock on the fireboard, most folk these days call it a mantle, but we called it a fireboard.
Come morning, if we had an orange, or an apple, and a piece of peppermint in our sock, we knowed old Santa Claus had been there.”

There were no other gifts. No X-Box360 or iPhones. No battery-operated toys that would be broken and discarded the next day; only a single piece of fruit and peppermint candy. Christmas feasts at the Albertson home were sparse when compared to the gluttony of today. There were no cookie exchanges, no pesky fruit cakes, no tins filled with aromatic rum balls, and certainly no roast beast, but the tradition of fruit in stockings continued even when Billy became a father.

As one might expect, peanuts were as common for Billy as chocolate is for us today. “Momma always had peanuts roasting by the fireplace. She made peanut brittle for Christmas. Poppa would take any excess from our garden, like beans or peas, and he’d swap them for pinto beans, maybe a hundred pound bag if we were lucky. We also ate a lot of kraut and hominy. You use dried corn to make hominy. See, the kernels of Silver King is real big. We’d take the wash pot outside and gather all the sticks and twigs we could find to build up a fire. Momma’d get the ashes from the fireplace and pour them in the water. You boil that with the corn. The ashes helped the husks slide off, can’t make hominy without them.”

I didn’t ask, but I suspect with eleven children to raise Momma Albertson found it easier to cook most large meals outside. However, pintos were cooked over the fireplace.
“Momma cooked the pinto beans in a cast-iron pot with three legs on the bottom. She put the pot in the fireplace where it was good and hot then heaped coals on top so all the beans inside would cook.”
By age six, Billy Albertson was wishing for a pocketknife something fierce; one with a chain attached so he could clip the knife to his belt loop or overalls. But the knife cost twenty-five cents, and twenty-five cents was hard to come by back then. He’d wished for a knife the previous year only to receive another orange and a stick of peppermint. Billy was almost eight-years-old when Santa granted his wish. “I was so happy. I thought the world of that knife,” Billy said. “And I took care of it.”

As the Albertson family became more self-sufficient, clothes became Christmas presents. “Momma made all of our clothes. She’d make the girls’ dresses for Christmas, made us boys little shirts and pants. One year she sewed me some short pants. I despised them.” Billy laughed. “I did. I despised them. I didn’t like them at-tall. She made the girls’ dresses from chicken feed sacks or dairy sacks and made Poppa’s work shirts out of fertilizer sacks. Back then, fertilizer came in cloth bags with 6-8-6 printed on the outside of the bag. The material was heavy and the numbers 6-8-6 was the analysis of the fertilizer. Momma’d wash the sacks out real good and sew Poppa’s shirt. When he wore it you could see real plain the 6-8-6 in red letters across the back of the shirt.”

“Did you ever remember your Momma getting a present?” I asked.

“No,” he said with tears in his eyes. “No. I don’t. Poppa, he got work shirts.”

Churches had sprung up in the Birmingham community. Billy attended Christmas services in 1945 at the Liberty Grove Baptist Church in Alpharetta where the sound of a piano and old-timey gospel music filled the air. Members put on a play complete with shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and a Baby Jesus. The church still stands today, alive and active as a testament that some things won’t change.

In the 60s, life was still rural. Billy and his wife Marjorie were settled down on Hardscrabble Road. They’d broken ground on their own homestead and were living in the house even though it wasn’t finished. “Now we didn’t have no mortgage,” Billy said. “Just worked on the place a little bit at a time, you know, as we could afford it.”

Developers hadn’t discovered this part of farm country, hadn’t begun building gated communities and a drugstore on every corner. At night, one could sit outside and look up at the stars that were too numerous to count. After moving around most of his life, Billy made a promise to The Man Upstairs.
“I says, ‘Lord, if you give me a good place to live I promise I’ll stay put.’”

He kept that promise. After fifty years of living on Hardscrabble Road he has no plans on breaking his promise to The Man Upstairs.

Time slipped through Billy’s fingers just as it does for each of us. Today, at age eighty-one, fond memories of Christmases past fill his simple home located on Hardscrabble Road.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Elk in Cataloochee

 It was a cold, cold day when we started over the mountains week before last, but the sun was bright, a sharp contrast to the three previous days of dark and rain.  Our plan was to drive to Cataloochee, a mountain community that is now an elk reserve.  Just past the Oconaluftee  Visitor  Center, we saw sixteen female elk in a meadow right beside the road.

They didn't seem to fear us, but just kept calmly grazing, although there were several of us who had stopped to admire them.  Later, we drove through Cherokee and Maggie Valley on winding roads to get to Cataloochee.  It took us about an hour from Cherokee, and some of the roads were one lane with two-way traffic, which means if you meet someone, one of you has to back up until there is room to pass. Fortunately, it was a cold day in December and there was very little traffic.  I wondered if it would be worth it when we got there.

  It was.

It was their space, not ours, so when we saw some elk coming toward us, Hub just stopped the car and we watched.  They found our car very interesting, and came right up to us and started licking the side of that nasty car.

We had driven on roads that had been salted that morning, and Hub thinks they were attracted to the salt on the car.  He had to nudge the car just a little so they would move on; he was afraid they were going to scratch up the paint with those antlers.

This elk, #17, had the biggest rack of antlers I've ever seen on an animal. I think he may have been the boss.


I don't know how many we saw; they were not all in the same place.  This was the first time we had been there, so I don't know if this is average or if we just had a good day.

There are some houses, a church, a school house, and some other buildings in this community, but it is very different from Cades Cove.  Definitely worth the trip.