Monday, January 31, 2011

They Even Greet You

Did you know that you can camp at Wal-Mart?  My daughter made me aware of this fact a few years ago.  We would frequently see RV's in the parking lot of our local Wal-Mart and wondered if they were just squatting for the night.  When Laura was researching a drive across country from South Carolina to Nevada, she discovered that these RV'ers were actually embraced by the folks at Wally World.  That opened my eyes.  

Now, when I travel, I look for the Wal-Mart Campers, as I call them.  I've seen them in the South Carolina towns of Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Myrtle Beach and even Florence.  They have also been spotted in North Carolina and Virginia in Wal-Marts along Interstate 95.  I'm fascinated by the RV culture and yearn to belong to their club, but this new aspect has me really excited.  Especially when I see them set up in our local Wal-Mart with awnings out, tiki lights illuminated, putt putt carpet and lawn chairs in place.  All as if to say, "We're home!  Stop by for a visit." 

Home for the Night ~ Florence, South Carolina

Research on the internet garnered these facts:

1.  You may stay at most Wal-Marts and it is entirely free. (A few states disallow this camping experience.) 

2.  Please check in with the store manager upon arrival as a courtesy.  They will even make sure to alert security to keep an eye out for you and your camper.

3.  It's best to stay at the 24 hour Wal-Marts (aren't they all?). 

4.  The greeters might even come out and welcome you. 

5. Wal-Mart has finally figured out a way to make use of the far reaches of their parking lot.

6.  Truckers like to see the RV's because they feel as if they aren't all alone when delivering in the middle of the night.  

Who Lives in this Tent? ~ Behind the Wall in Florence, SC

It's not always fun and games though.  Lately, in addition to the travelers in their sleek expensive motor homes, I've seen people down on their luck sleeping in the Wal-Mart parking lots.  It's a sobering reflection on today's economy, but I'm thankful they have a safe place to be. 

Keep your eyes open and see how many of these wayfarers you come across.  Give them a smile and a wave.  One day, you just might see me.  ~Hopefully, I'll be the one with the pink flamingo tiki lights with a cocktail in hand waving right back!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Definition of a Lady…

I read a little tidbit somewhere and decided to do some research on the subject.   Did you know that the definition of a lady is one who brings cake?   It is.

According to my Joy Of Cooking, circa 1953,

“The old definition of “lady” is “cake-giver.”  “Whether you bake a cake as an attention for a friend, send a box of cookies to a homesick child or hand a pan of gingerbread over a back fence, the gesture is one of fellowship that adds to your stature and enriched your life.  Besides, it fun to be a “lady.” 

The modern encyclopedia, Wikipedia, suggests that the term “lady” came from Old English and means bread kneader.  Which can be construed to mean cake baker.

Black Forest Gateau

My parents, grandparents and teachers drilled into my head many dos and don’ts of ladyship…  don’t cross your legs when you sit, sit on the front part of a chair so your back doesn’t touch, don’t put on lipstick in public, do send cards to the sick, do remember to make proper introductions.  I wasn’t specifically taught to make and share cakes in order to be a lady.. But you know what?  My Mother had me baking at the age of 5, sending cookies to my brother in college at the age of 11, at the age of 15 there was a summer of peach pie lessons (which resulted in a marriage proposal), and baking cream puffs for the sickly at the age of 16. 

To this day, I’m still baking and still sharing.  Cookies to my neighbors, cakes to Eva Mae’s caregivers, cookies sent out to loved ones, and pies to the sickly.   I guess I learned that life lesson directly and indirectly.  Mom knew what she was doing all along.  I’m proud to come from a legacy of “bread kneaders” and I’m proud to call myself a “cake-giver.”

Sugar Cookies

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Making Baklava

When I was 14, my parents put me on a Greyhound Bus to travel 200 miles away to spend a weekend with my sister in college.  To this day, I don't know WHAT they were thinking.  There was no precedence in my family for trips on Greyhound buses.. or for them allowing their precious baby (of 6 kids) to travel alone. Much less to travel straight into a den of sin! Once arrived, I found myself immersed in the college party culture.

Frat parties, drinking beer at the local hole in the wall, staying up late.. these are the things I can mention.  There was one highlight of the trip that has stayed with me all these years.  A trip to a local drive in, The Spice.  The girls at Marjorie's college were forbidden from going there for some reason... so even this adventure was illicit.  I don't remember what we ate for lunch that day.  I do remember when we paid there was a glass domed cake stand filled with the most intriguing dessert.  My sister told me it was baklava and we HAD to share a piece.  It was the closest to heaven I had ever been.  Sweet with honey, filled with nuts, cinnamon, cloves and that pastry... what was it?

I asked the gentleman behind the counter if he could tell me how to make it.  "No, it's a family recipe."  Where could I get the unusual dough, I asked. "Family sends it from New York," I was told.  I was heartbroken to learn that making this dessert would be beyond my grasp. Baklava must have been gaining in popularity at that time, because soon afterwards there was a recipe for it in the Charleston News and Courier.  There was also a note that you could purchase the Filo dough at the Piggly Wiggly on Meeting Street.  Fortunately, my brother was in Med school in Charleston and drove by the Pig on his way home.  He became my hero when he presented me with a package of  Filo (which means leaves).

 My first attempt had filo and butter from one end of the kitchen to the other.  There are definitely some tricks to assembling it.  Cutting the filo pan size was once the biggest obstacle, but it is now pre-packaged in sheets cut to fit a 13X9X2 pan.   Through the years, I have made more pans of baklava than I can count.  With practice my technique has improved.  I enjoy layering the sugared, spiced pecans with filo.  Brushing each leaf with butter along the way.  More than making and eating baklava, is the pleasure I derive from sharing it with friends.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cracks in My Heart

At night, when I'm at my quietest
I can feel the cracks in my heart.
Every crack has a name and in my silence
I take role call.

There's a crack for every loved one I've lost..
My Mother, my Father, my nephew.. my Grandparents.
There are cracks for every heartbreak I've suffered but
I don't linger too long on those.

Every day, more cracks appear.
For the pregnant friend who just lost her job
for the struggling friend who lost her father.
Tonight, I'll count the crack left
by the kitten I saw on the side of the road.

PS.. so my friends don't despair.. kitty cat hugs, daffodils and baking go along way towards mending the cracks in my heart. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Year's Resolutions: More Caches

That was the theme of the Geo Meeting I hosted Saturday night in Myrtle Beach (GC2K29A).  For some time, I had toyed with the idea of a "make and take" workshop for geocachers. After much consideration,  I decided to have a meeting and just ask everyone to bring a cache for the door prize table.  Geocachers LOVE door prizes.. and new caches to put out!  More caches to hide and more caches to be found.

I began scouring hardware stores and flea markets for cache containers weeks before the meeting.  My daughter came home for a visit and was enlisted to make a stencil for my ammo cans.  I must say, I assembled an impressive amount of caches.  Ammo cans, magnetic key holders, electrical plates, pinecones with attached bison tubes, and a bird house with the hole plugged with a pill bottle.  I also pulled some of my unactivated geocoins for the prize table... one of my personals, a TNLN, a Signal, and a Travel Bug Tag. I was ready!

My sense of readiness hit a wall, though, when I got an email from the South Carolina Reviewer that he would be in town and would like to come to my meeting.  Really?  I mean, REALLY???   Our Reviewer is the man behind the mirror, a mythical person everyone knows but few have met.  I don't know of any meetings in my caching area (Columbia, Camden, Florence, Charleston and Myrtle Beach) that he has attended. I was more than happy to honor his request to not tell anyone he would be there.  But, the pressure was on.  The bar had just been raised on my event.

Monday before the meeting, I had 40 people signed up for the meeting.  The banquet room at Sticky Fingers only held 25.  "No problem", my laid back restaurant manager said.  "You can have the whole left side of the restaurant."  I pulled a few more coins and a few more lock n locks, and a couple of flare tubes for the prize table.  A gift for our honored guest sounded in order.  I grabbed a stenciled ammo can and began stuffing it with coins, pathtags, and a Starbucks gift card.  Now, I was ready. 

Camo Gift Can

The day before the meeting, I was up to 55 people planning on attending.  A rare coastal snow storm was being called for.  I baked a pan of baklava to add to the prize table, pulled even more coins from my collection and wrote my "speech" to the crowd.  What was I going to do with 55 people?  Secretly, I hoped that the snow would keep most of the people away.  Friday night, my reviewer noted on my event page that he would be there.  Eight more people responded that they would attend.  Don't they know it's going to snow?

Snow flurries and bitterly cold weather didn't stop 63 cachers from coming.  My first cachers, a group of friends from Florence, arrived an hour ahead of time.  We filled up one side of the restaurant and were a routy, happy group.  Cachers caught up with friends they had not seen in awhile, made new friends and swapped stories.  We applauded one another and sang Happy Birthday at the top of our lungs. Our SC Reviewer was greeted warmly and enthusiastically.  Everyone left with a door prize, a full belly and a smile.  My meeting was a success!

Cachers From Near and Far Attended

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cat Head Biscuits

Recently I heard about Cat Head biscuits.  So named because they are as big as a cat's head.  Imagine my surprise when I found a magazine in the grocery store full of "must try" recipes, including one for Cat Head Biscuits.  The magazine is "The Best of America's Test Kitchen",and had a hefty price of  $9.95. Feeling adventurous, I grabbed the magazine a quart of buttermilk and a box of cake flour and considered myself armed to "make biscuit", as we say in the South.

 Would My Biscuits Look Like This?
Suze ~ One of My Resident Cats

No stranger to making biscuit, I wondered how these would turn out as they are so big.  Would they cook in the middle or leave me with a soggy mess?  I'm not a big fan of "dumped" biscuits, preferring to roll them out and cut them with a biscuit cutter. My upbringing was such that the only people who pinch, pat or dump biscuits are those who can't use a rolling pin.  Never mind my apprehensions.  The people at the Test Kitchens must know more than me, right?  I would bake these anomalies, just as the recipe directed. 

Cat Head Biscuits 

1 1/2 c flour 
1 1/2 c cake flour
1 tbls baking powder 
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda 
8 tbls butter 
4 tbls solid shortening 
1 1/4 c buttermilk

Combine the dry ingredients.  Cut in the butter and shortening. Stir in the buttermilk.  Grease a 1/2 cup measure and dump the dough by 1/2 cup-fulls into a greased 9 inch cake pan.  One biscuit in the middle and 5 around the edge (daisy style).  Bake at 425* for 20 to 25 minutes.

I must say, the biscuits came out delicious.  Those people in America's Test Kitchens are on to something. The Cat Head biscuits were very light because of the cake flour with a crispy top and bottom.  They were a tad sweet because of the buttermilk and had me wondering when do you cross the line between biscuits and cake. Just short of heavenly,  these biscuits are not well suited for slicing to slip in a piece of sausage and they broke apart while dabbing on jelly. This could be the ultimate biscuit recipe, but the next time I'll be using my rolling pin. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In Defense of Park and Grabs

In the Geocaching world, we have Park and Grabs.  It's a geocache wherein you can pull your car up close, step out, grab the cache, sign the log and replace the cache in a matter of minutes.  Some people just don't like them.  I'm hearing a lot of grumbling (or is it whining?) about park and grabs.  Somehow they "diminish the game."  It's almost as if they shouldn't count because they are so easy, people imply.   I disagree.  They happen to be my favorite type of geocache!

I live 20 minutes away from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina... the land of geocaches.  People come here to do a "numbers run."  That is, they can find a lot of geocaches in a small area quickly and boost their geo stats.  For people living in the frozen White North or big cities, it's a great thing.  For those trying to reach a milestone, like 1000 finds, it's also a good thing.  A good number of the caches in  Myrtle Beach AKA the Grand Strand area are park and grabs.  There are also a lot of creative hides in the area.  There are hides in parks, the back of golf courses and on nature trails.  If you want to spend 20 minutes walking to a cache, you can. 

Not Under the Skirt  This Time!

Park and Grabs follow a predictable format, making them an easy cache to find.  They aren't meant to be difficult.  Most are magnetic keyholders hidden under lampskirts (lovingly called, "skirtlifters").  There are a series of these in North Carolina called Anti-Micros and the CO (cache owner) has used all tins (Altoids, Sucretes & holiday gift card tins) for the cache containers.  I've hidden a series of magnetic keyholders in my area called, "Caching Through the Holidays."  Pill bottles and 35 MM film containers are other popular Park and Grab cache containers.  Palm trees (I dread these) seem to be popular hiding spots for these caches, as are billboards, electric boxes and the rare Southern Belle telephone kiosk.  On a recent trip to Charleston, I found two P&G's that were different from any that I had previously found.  So, yes! , you can even have a creative Park and Grab that will leave the geocacher scratching her head.  

When I go caching, I like to plan my day with a number of "walking caches" balanced with some sweet park and grabs.  In 104* heat, there's only so much time I can spend walking through the woods, fighting mosquitoes, and frisking wax myrtles all while keeping an eye out for snakes.  When I emerge from the woods with sticks in my hair, leaves down the back of my pants, and legs scratched and bleeding... then, I'm ready for my glass of sweet tea and some easy finds.  If I couldn't find the cache in the woods.. well then, not only am I in a state of disrepair, but I'm really frustrated AND doubting my skills as a cacher. To you Park and Grab haters out there I say this....  let us have our P&G's.. you just don't know what kind of a day we are having.  In teaching, we say that you need to make sure the student "meets with success" on occasion, or they get frustrated with learning and give up.  So, my skirt lifters are my "meet with success" moment.   If it's near a McDonald's or Starbucks.. all the sweeter.

Another Creative Park and Grab

Monday, January 17, 2011

Geocaching and Wee Folk

Geocaching is a hobby that my daughter, Laura, introduced me to.  Boy, did she create a monster.  Geocachers use handheld GPS units to find things hidden in the woods, in parking lots, on billboards...  basically everywhere.  You will hear a lot about geocaching through my blogs as it consumes me.  Ha!  So, I won't dwell on the basics at this time.

I've learned that geocachers are a creative group of people.  This creativity shines through in different aspects of the hobby.  Some cachers mint beautiful coins, others host over the top gatherings and then some go all out with their hides (the caches they hide).  It's the discovery of a unique cache that keeps me, and most cachers, on the trail looking for the next cache.

Last week, I went in search of a cache on a back road in Conway, South Carolina that had been on my list for 2 years.  The delay was in part to the remote location of the cache.  Now, I wish I had gone sooner.  Moreover, I wish this cache were more readily accessible so I could visit more often.

Let the Blogging Begin!

Blogging...  It isn't new to me.  I've been reading blogs for as long as they have been around.  Before the blog, was the diary.  Only diaries were private.  Or so young girls thought. Remember the diaries with the little gold locks and keys which girls wore around their necks?  Ha!  They were lulled into false sense of security that their mothers and little sisters wouldn't be able to read their diaries while they were at school.  I knew to HIDE my diary.   

I kept a diary from the tender age of 9 when my Grandmother insisted that I "write." I wrote letters, thank you notes, and diaries.  My mother, God rest her soul, would smoke carton upon carton of Virginia Slims to get me the end of the year bonus of a long slender bound calendar which I would use as my diary.  In her sunset years she told me that it was because of my need to write that she developed the COPD that was taking her life.  (My Mother was the Queen of Guilt.. God bless her.)

When I grew up and gave up foolish things, I began 'journaling.'  I wrote daily and kept expansive notes on books I read.  During a five year period I searched for "the Buddha Within,"  read every book available on relationships, took notes on trips to India and Pakistan, communicated with others about Goddess culture   and explored the psychic pathway.

So, here I am...  ready to learn the ins and outs of blogging.  I have a lot to tell and hope you will listen and leave me comments.    I've come a long way baby!