Garden Talk

I just want to talk about gardening.

I enjoy listening to people talk about their gardens. Even the hippies. The new age hippies that think the government won’t know where they live if they quit paying the power bill and live out of a converted horse trailer. They will talk on and on about non-GMO milk, free-range green beans and raw, unpasteurized chickens. I am not quite a hippie but I have been using organic toothpaste since the Bush administration. I can appreciate their enthusiasm though. Especially on social media.

I can appreciate anyone’s garden enthusiasm on social media. I genuinely enjoy seeing someone share a picture of their garden. The people that care about gardens, really care. When someone shares a garden picture what I see is a lot of forethought, patience, and hard work.

Who I really like to listen to talk about gardens are the people who have had gardens for fifty or so years.

“Did you get any lids yet? I got enough for 75 quarts of green beans, and 105 quarts of vegetable soup base.”

“If you run that heavy tractor tire between them rows it’ll pack that dirt down hard and won’t no weeds grow in it.”

“I like to put some of that field-kicker on it.”

“I only plant Rattlesnake Pole Beans. Them’s the ones you like.”

I think the retired people have the best looking gardens. They have the kind of time it takes to keep rows neat and tidy. I see these kind of garden’s out in the country while I’m riding my bicycle. It’s as if they are expecting the Garden Inspector General to swing by unannounced and grade their work.

The last two years I’ve had Bro. Art come over and plow up a garden plot that is way too big for me to manage. It usually gets out of hand around mid-July and I feel guilty for letting the weeds overtake it. I don’t want that to happen again this year so I had Bro. Paul come over and plow up a garden plot that is way too big for me to manage.

In an effort to keep our garden as low-maintenance as possible, I didn’t plant any pole beans this year. I think I’ll just plant two crops bunch beans staggered by a couple of week. Sarah did plant one lonely tomato plant, although neither of us eat tomatoes. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Hollynn likes tomatoes though.

I do chuckle a bit when people say they are planting “non-GMO” crops, as if people for thousands of years haven’t been crossbreeding plants to arrive at what we have today. The Native Americans from the Maya all the way up to the Iroquois planted the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. None of these crops are found in the wild, they have to be cultivated. The Three Sisters grow well together; the beans will climb the corn stalk. Meso-Americans were so good at developing this kind of agriculture that the pre-Columbian population could have been as high as 112 million. I don’t plan to grow on that scale anytime soon, but it is fascinating to me. This is the kind of stuff I think about when I look at a garden.

It would be difficult for most of us to pick a favorite vegetable. Except for the potato people. Potatoes is the only vegetable that they even eat. I think I would have to choose green beans, but I would make sure that all the other vegetables knew that I loved them too. My favorite way to eat green beans is sauteed in oil and garlic. Or cooked to death in bacon grease; I’m not particular.

Earlier this week my beans started sprouting. I was so excited. I told my brother thinking he’d be just as excited.

“I feel like I’m talking to my Dad.” He said laughingly.

It is a wonderful feeling to see something shoot up out of the ground from a seed. It is a spiritual experience. One that never gets old. I hope that you all grow record tomatoes this summer and that your beans don’t quit producing until it frosts.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and not shall not cease. Genesis 8:22

Mind Your Manners

One of my favorite things about a being a parent is having someone to listen to my accumulated trivia. Lately, I have reached the point in parenthood where my children are beginning to pose questions that sometimes stress my intellect. For instance, “Dad, what is manners?”

I usually try to give a clear and concise definitions.

“Well, manners are the principles that govern proper social behavior.” I replied.

I sat back in my chair and smiled, feeling satisfied with my quick thinking without consulting the dictionary.

A moment later the child asked, “Dad, what’s principles?”

This is what I mean by testing my intellect. I’m afraid their curiosity is about to outpace me. At any rate, I am going to attempt a more thorough answer to the original question, because some things require not only clarity, but elaboration.

Manners, best-beloved, are what my Mom and Dad taught me little by little and day by day about how to act around folks.

– Keep your elbows off the table

– Say ma’am and sir

– Keep your feet off the table

– Don’t talk with your mouth full

– Don’t interrupt someone

– Hold the door open for a lady

– Stand up and let a lady or an elder take your chair

– Don’t invite yourself anywhere

– Don’t cuss

– Use your blinker

– Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze, or yawn

– Don’t smack (chewing with mouth open)

– Don’t ask someone how much money they make

– Don’t ask someone how much they paid for something

– Wipe your feet

– Don’t wear a hat indoors, unless you are a lady and the hat is classy

– Don’t yell inside

– Answer when someone speaks to you

– Don’t stare

– Don’t pick your nose

– Don’t take the last piece of chicken

– Don’t scratch

– Don’t spit

– Don’t reach over someone’s plate

– Don’t grab or snatch

– Don’t talk about gross things at the dinner table

– Don’t tell dirty jokes

– Don’t laugh at dirty jokes

Now this is not an exhaustive list, best-beloved, and we’ll add things as we come to them, but we have to start somewhere. If you follow these guidelines, when you come something you are unsure about you’ll probably make the right decision. Just do what your Mother would do and you’ll be ok.

The Google Reviews I Haven’t Left

Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

I only leave five star Google reviews. If a restaurant or business isn’t worth a five star review they certainly aren’t worth my time to give them a lower rating. While some people might “Cause a scene” as my Dad would say, I try to avoid confrontation. If service or the experience is bad, I just won’t go back. Which is part of the reason why I only really like to go eat at about three places, Hamburger Heaven, Taquiera Las Cebollitas, and you guessed it, Chick Fil A.

Hamburger Heaven, my favorite restaurant.

But sometimes I get worked up enough to want to say something. Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

Three Star Grocery Store

At best this place is a compromise. People don’t shop here because this is a great grocery store, but rather to avoid going to town. Unless you are getting a rotisserie chicken-which are pretty good- or it is an absolute emergency I would avoid trying to shop here. They also picked the worst possible music to play too loud, which always puts me in a foul mood. How am I supposed to find the pectin while some grown man is whining and mumbling-I’ll not call it singing-about his feelings?

Two Star Home Improvement

The only thing this place has going for it is that there is no other competition in town. Which is a shame, because our town would benefit from having options. In theory having competition would make the current store sure up their customer service. More than likely though all these workers would just jump ship to the new store because they look pretty miserable now.

Two Star Home Cooking Restaurant

The pandemic has not been kind to this restaurant. The problem with chain restaurants is many decisions that should be made locally are made in some corporate office a thousand miles away, or in this case 167 miles away. The last time I ate here I’m glad we had a gift card, because I would have been mad if I would have had to pay for rock hard mashed potatoes.

Four Star Italian Restaurant

I really wanted to leave a five star review because my food was excellent. But there is more to a restaurant than good food, and unfortunately the service fell short. The teenage waiter was friendly enough, but frankly he forgot about us and we waited a long time for our check. Which made me wonder why we waited a long time to be seated.

Perhaps I’m turning into a cranky old man who fusses about paying first class money for second class service. Kind of like my dad. As a kid I remember thinking he was making a big deal about something trivial, but now I begin to understand his frustration.

We perpetuate the decline of quality when we continue to accept lesser quality at the same price. If I have a bad service experience at a restaurant but still go back, I’m likely to have another bad service experience the next time and the restaurant will think that I’m ok with it. Or I could just start leaving bad reviews.

Sweet Tea

We never called it sweet tea at the house, merely “tea”. It was probably the first recipe I learned to make after cheese crackers, which involves folding a piece of American Cheese into quarters, placing them on saltine crackers, and microwaving them for ten seconds. They are still one of my favorite snacks, although I have graduated to Ritz crackers and cheese you have to cut with your knife. My sister once microwaved some cheese crackers for about ten minutes. They didn’t taste all that good since she had deviated to far from the original recipe. Mom taught me to make tea when I was a little kid and still didn’t mind letting her cut my hair. We consumed a lot of tea at home, and it was supposed to be your responsibility to make a new pitcher if you finished off the last of it. Woe to the person who finished the tea and placed the empty pitcher back into the refrigerator.

I’ll teach you how to make tea, it’s a critical skill. You need a pot, not a kettle. You’ll need someone else to teach you to make tea if you want to use a kettle. If you’re learning from me you’ll need a pot, like a Johnny Appleseed hat type pot that you might also use for making green beans. It helps if the handle is slightly loose. Of course you will need some tea, preferably Sure-Fine brand, which is the Piggly-Wiggly store brand. If you get Red Diamond or any name brand people will think that you are snooty. Besides, those fancy name brands do not taste as good. And make sure you get black tea, nobody cares about how healthy green tea is and you’re going to destroy any of those nutritional benefits when you add the sugar anyway. Three tea bags should do it, but don’t get the kind with the strings, cause after you place the tea bags in the pot you’re going to fill it up with water and bring it to a boil on the stove. You can also nuke it in the microwave like Nonna does, but I don’t recommend this, it’s way to easy to mess up a recipe in the microwave. Once your tea has come to a boil for a bit, turn off the heat and let it set on the stove while you pour anywhere from one and a half to two and a half cups of sugar in your pitcher. My sister always did three. Pour the scalding hot tea straight onto the sugar (this is my favorite part). Stir it around with a spoon until you feel the sugar dissolve, it’s therapeutic. You won’t have enough tea in the pot to make a whole gallon-which is the only acceptable amount of tea to make- so you’ll need to leave the tea bags in the pot while as you fill it up with water to dump into the pitcher. You’ll have to do this a few times and while it may feel unnecessary those last couple of times, there are some things you do in the kitchen that don’t have to make sense.

It’s not hard to make tea, the only way you can mess it up is to not put sugar in it. My Dad once put brown sugar in the tea and didn’t tell anyone. I guess he was being resourceful since we were out of sugar. We found out though. My Dad grinned sheepishly like a child that had been caught.

You may be wondering what tea pairs well with if you are new to tea, which is hard for me to imagine. Tea pairs well with breakfast, dinner, and supper.

Sometimes for breakfast, there wouldn’t be enough tea to go around because someone the night before left just enough left in the pitcher to justify not making more tea. Mom would ration out the cold tea into three separate tumblers. I always liked cold tea better than iced tea. Those mornings you would savor it. It probably tasted best then. Sometimes my sister would run late and she would let me have hers, along with her fried weenie and scrambled eggs.

A few months after I got married, I developed an unbearable pain in my lower back. There was nothing I could do to get comfortable. Laying still hurt, walking hurt, using the heat pad hurt, not using the heat pad hurt. I had to call in sick for work. I told my wife that I think I may have a kidney stone. “You would know if had a kidney stone” she said, and told me that I was being dramatic.

The pain lasted for the longest February that I have ever lived through. I’m not sure if tea was what caused my kidney stone, but it’s what I blamed, so I quit drinking tea in an effort to make a plea bargain with this kidney stone.  Finally my suspicions were confirmed when I passed the kidney stone at work. It was immediate relief. It sat in the bottom of the toilet, big enough for me to see clearly. I stooped down closer to get a better look and triggered automatic flush sensor on the toilet, which flushed right in my face.

By the time I finally passed the kidney stone I had broken a twenty year old habit and I decided to see how long I could go without tea or Coke-which is what Southerners call all carbonated soft drinks. That was ten years ago. It’s not that I think other people are bad for drinking tea or Coke, but I just don’t crave it anymore. It would probably be ok if I took it back up again, but I’m going for the world record. If I close my eyes on a morning when I’m running a bit late, I can picture myself at the kitchen table looking at three glasses each filled about a third of the way, and I can still taste that cold tea.

Catfish

There was a restaurant in Childersburg, AL called Whiskers. They named their business after the grossest part of the catfish. To some, everything about the catfish is gross: catfish is a polarizing dish. People generally love it, or are grossed out by it. Although there is only one way to cook catfish, that is battered in cornmeal and fried in a skillet or fish fryer (I am thoroughly resolved on this matter), there is division on how it should be dressed before frying: whole or filleted. When you dress them whole, or bone in, you gut them, skin them, and cut their heads off, leaving the tail that crunches up like a potato chip after it comes out of the skillet. You have to be careful when you eat whole catfish because the bones are sharp. When you eat one properly you’ll be left with a perfect fish skeleton just like the kind in the comics. When you filet a catfish, you slice him right behind the pectoral fin all the way to the spine, then turn your knife and slice him all the way to the tail. Once you reach the tail you flip the slice away from the body and cut the skin away. Once you get real good at it, it looks like one fluid motion. “You waste a lot of meat when you fillet them.” You hear these kind of complaints from people who aren’t cleaning fish at all. I grew up eating fish, not just catfish, filleted. But I’m not so stuck up that I won’t eat a whole one tail and all.

I remember a conversation my dad had with John Smith. John was giving Dad directions to somewhere near Rockford, AL. “Bro. Perry, You know where that Catfish restaurant is on the right?”

“I know where that is. I’ve always wanted to stop and see if they have some good catfish in there.” My Dad asked.

“Brother Perry. Man do they have some catfish! You talking ’bout some good eating.” John began to get excited as he described the catfish in a little more detail.

“Are they good?” Dad asked, now more interested in the catfish than wherever John had been directing him in the first place.

John got a real sheepish grin on his face.

“I don’t know.” he said. “I had a cheeseburger.”