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June 2011

White acre peas and cheese grits

Field peas
White-acre peas are about as as southern as you can get; I've never seen them sold outside the region. Here, you can buy them at the market in their "shells," or you can buy large bags of them, already shelled, at Wards for blanching and freezing. They're one of the few legumes that grow really well here, so they're worth preserving for the future. 

I love shelling them myself, for old times sake, but the pre-shelled ones are handy. They're quick to cook - about 20 minutes - and, while traditionally cooked with bacon or ham hocks, we usually just salt the water a little. Decorated with fresh tomatoes  and the Graham's heavenly hot pepper jelly, they are just so good.

I ate them on rice as a kid or just as a side, alone. But you can make a meal of them on polenta or yellow grits. It's quick easy, and pretty to look at. 

4 cups shelled peas
Lightly salted water to cover
A pint of cherry tomatoes or two large tomatotes, chopped, salted and peppered
3 tablespoons chopped chives
5 basil leaves, slivered

Wash peas and cover with salted water in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, then turn down to simmer for 20 minutes. Meantime, quarter cherry tomatoes or chop large tomatoes. Salt and pepper them. Mix with 3  tablespoons chopped, fresh chives, and five (or so) basil leaves, slivered. When peas are tender, mix with tomatoes and herbs. Serve warm.  

2 cups grits (the yellow ones are prettier)
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar (optional, of course, if you just want "grits")

Slowly pour the grits into rapidly boiling, salted water. Whisk a little to break up any clumps. Turn to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes till soft. Stir in cheese and add salt and pepper to taste. Voila! Or rather now ain't that something?

Peas and grits

Pray for Peace

- Ellen Bass

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or marble or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent down to kiss you,
Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekinah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, Record Keeper
of time before, time now, time ahead, pray. Bow down
to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Pray to the bus driver who takes you to work,
pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus
and for everyone riding buses all over the world.
If you haven't been on a bus in a long time,
climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, ever strand its own voice
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course is already a prayer.
Skin and open mouths worshiping that skin,
the fragile case we are poured into,
each caress a season of peace.

If you're hungry, pray. If you're tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
Pray to the angels and the ghost of your grandfather.

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else's legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer that as the earth revolves
we will do less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail,
or delivering soda, or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas, pray for peace.

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feel the birds for peace, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your Visa card. Gnaw your crust
of prayer, scoop your prayer water from the gutter.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

Blueberry Cobbler

Blueberry cobbler 1
They're still rolling in, and I am so grateful. We are getting a handful of blueberries each week from our own new blueberry bushes, and we are buying them from local growers through the markets and Wards. They go on and in everything we can think of - from cereal and pancakes to salads to desserts. My oldest daughter remembers making "blueberry surprise" when she was little - frozen blueberries sprinkled with a tiny bit of sugar and with just enough milk poured over to freeze around the berries - a very berry-heavy ice cream. 

This week we made cobbler. Personally, I like making pies. I am just so proud of my hard-earned piecrust skills with their fancy lattice tops. Ta dah! But, in a pinch, the "rustic" adaptation has its charms - especially if you're short of time or your piecrust isn't rolling out right.  Cobbler is another step down - "crust" just plopped right on top of the blueberries. John likes it best of all and got one for Father's Day. 

This recipe is a slight adaptation of the one in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything - my new go-to for basic cooking. I always found my mother's Joy of Cooking a little overwhelming and preferred my grandmother's checkered (and tattered) Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (1953). But lately, it's Bittman. I appreciate the more contemporary take, even if it doesn't offer the campy 1950s photos and artwork.


4-6 cups blueberries, washed
1 cup sugar (or less if blueberries are very sweet), divided
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter, grated
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt (if butter is unsalted)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375. Toss fruit with 1/2 sugar and place in buttered pie pan. Combine flour, baking powder and salt, then blend in butter with either a pastry cutter or your fingers. Then mix in beaten egg and vanilla with a fork. Drop flour mixutre onto blueberries by tablespoons without spreading out. Bake until golden, just starting to brown - 35 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately. John likes whipped cream with it; I like ice cream. My grandmother would have used sour cream. 

Grilled cheese for grown-ups

Grown up grilled cheese
I can't say enough about the Black Krim heirloom tomatoes we're growing (thank you for the plants, Marvin and Kathy!). I love them so much that yesterday, when John told me had allowed a man in a wheelchair to pick some green ones so he could make his favorite fried green tomatoes, I noticed I got a little lump in my throat. For myself. I am literally crazy about these.

They taste like I remember homegrown tomatoes tasting when I was a child, and they've been very prolific this year in our bone-dry climate – no viruses, few pests. I decided to make a childhood favorite with them – grilled cheese and tomatoes – but with some luscious local ingredients. Quick, easy, beautiful, delicious.


  • one slice of whole wheat bread (ours is "pain au céréale" from wonderful Uppercrust Bakery)
  • goat cheese  (thank you Kelley!)
  • a few basil leaves
  • slices of fresh tomato
  • a little shredded parmesan if you have some

Layer the goat cheese, tomatoes, and basil on a piece of hearty bread. Sprinkle with parmesan. Broil until parmesan is melted. Sprinkle with slivers of basil. Serve.

I heart tomatoesI ♥ homegrown tomatoes -black krim on left


Attention is vitality


Vassar College Commencement Address - 2003:

Despise violence. Despise national vanity and self-love. Protect the territory of conscience.

Try to imagine at least once a day that you are not an American. Go even further: try to imagine at least once a day that you belong to the vast, the overwhelming majority of people on this planet who don't have passports, don't live in dwellings equipped with both refrigerators and telephones, who have never even once flown in a plane.

Be extremely skeptical of all claims made by your government. Remember, it may not be the best thing for America or for the world for the President of the United States to be the president of the planet. Be just as skeptical of other governments, too.

It's hard not to be afraid. Be less afraid. 

It's good to laugh a lot, as long as it doesn't mean you're trying to kill your feelings.

Don't allow yourself to be patronized, condescended to—which, if you are a woman, happens, and will continue to happen, all the time.

Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. It's all about taking in as much of what's out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you'll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.

You'll notice that I haven't talked about love. Or about happiness. I've talked about becoming — or remaining — the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it's all about. It's not. It's about becoming the largest, the most inclusive, most responsive person you can be.

- Susan Sontag

{photo: by Annie Leibovitz}


Sidewalk blossoms 2
As you awaken, before you leave your bed,
talk with yourself, say
All you must do this day
is face what comes
calmly, curiously
with wonder.

    The squabbling children
    A sudden illness
    The lost dog
    Misplaced keys
    The dripping faucet
    The possibility of death

Widen your eyes
brush off sleep
scan, focus, notice
nod assent.

    The fledgling mockingbird flapping at the edge of the garden
    Its mother on the post
    The cheerful wandering of portulaca seeking sun
    An anonymous thumbs-up
    Crepe myrtle petals drifted along a sidewalk crack
    A car radio blasting a line of your song
    Your short shadow at noon
    The slanting sun through the blinds at five, dust changing to glitter

Ask then what will sustain you
What to swallow
how to move
what to seek
with whom to stand 
to face this day.

Ask your god
the universe,
a neighbor  
or your children
for mercy.

Now arise


It's producing like crazy in our garden right now. Staggering the planting didn't help at all; it needs to be picked every day from ever single plant.

Okra is a relative of hibiscus (and cotton), which is obvious when it is flowering.  It apparently still grows wild in Ethiopa and Sudan as it has been doing since prehistoric times. Like so many other "traditionally southern" foods it came to the southern USA with the enslaved Africans. One of my grandmothers loved to fry it. She would slice it about ¼ " thick, dip it in beaten egg, roll it in yellow cornmeal (not flour!) and fry it in a cast iron skillet.  I don't fry much, and usually do it my other grandmother's way:


1 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil; my grandmother used bacon grease)
1 medium sweet onion
about 1/2 pound of okra, sliced 1/4-1/2" thick
1 can of tomatoes, broken up (my grandmother used canned "stewed tomatoes")
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in oil till clear, add tomatoes and okra. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat till okra is tender - about 15 minutes. Traditionally served over white rice. 

Something else good to do with okra in the summer: Vegetable Gumbo

{photo: those little ants on the flower were harbingers of a major aphid infestation (ants actually "farm" aphids because they produce a sweet liquid ants like to eat - kind of like us and cows). A good dousing with soapy water took care of the problem.}