Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Yorktown Virginia

On Sunday, after our museum day, Wesley and I drove to Yorktown Va.  I am so glad we ventured out looking for a waterfront on this trip. I had to merchandise one of the stores for the company I worked for a few years ago in this town and it was without a doubt the worst store in the company, so that was my impression of Yorktown. We discovered the historic part of Yorktown and it was charming!!

Our hotel's dining area was closed due to covid like everything these days, so we stopped by Starbucks for Chai and coffee and found a nice spot on the water for a bagel and some pepper jelly I brought along. We always bring peanut butter and dried fruits for snacks, so we were good to go.  

The breeze coming off of the bay was chilly and bracing and soothed every fiber in my body. Wesley brought her sketch book and inked in some of the sights,  I just settled in for the scenery and the intoxication of the air and water!

There is truly a way to travel these days without too much effort if you are careful and plan ahead. Yes, it is a bit stressful, but what family trip doesn't include some stress?! Just be prepared and try to stay flexible and it's worth the effort.

Historic Yorktown is absolutely a gem and we saw very few people where we were. It is part of the National Park Service and the informational signs and the visitors center were incredibly educational and I came away knowing so much more about our nation's history, that I obviously missed while daydreaming in school or doodling in a notebook!

The park has a great motor tour you can take that is well marked and has boards all along the way indicating battlegrounds and encampments and George Washington's headquarters.  This is a great way to social distance on a trip and still have a good experience. The pullouts are easy and the information signs are really well done. You could also bike and we even saw a family on horseback which I was super jealous of. Its a beautiful drive and incredibly interesting!  

Yorktown is most famous as the site of the siege and surrender of General Cornwallis to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The British defeat at Yorktown effectively ended the war, one of the roads in the park is even named Surrender Rd. Yorktown also served in the Civil War as a major port to  supply both northern and southern towns, depending upon who held Yorktown at the time. Tobacco was big business here, coming from the local plantations around Richmond. My ancestors were seamen and merchant mariners so the ancestral memory was quite strong here for me. 


After the car tour, we went back to the little town for a snack and some tea. The weather was so perfect and it was great to be outside. The Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters offered lunch, fresh roasted coffees on site and a great selection of teas. They also were super diligent with covid guidelines, lots of hand sanitizer available, spotlessly clean, all wearing masks, and a great little spot outside with tables.

Down the hill from the coffee shop is the waterfront, more crowded, not bad, but we didn't hang around there too long. We walked along the quaint cobblestone sidewalks, avoiding contact, checked out a couple of the shops, bought a few souvenirs  and stayed away from the restaurants, where we were astonished to see no one in the outdoor dining areas wearing masks except the waiters, even on the day after trump created a super spreader event in the rose garden and was admitted to the hospital. I  still can't figure out why so many people have not yet heard of the Corona Virus!!!

I did, however, love the social distancing going on here with these folks and especially the older lady with the cigarette and fur coat! Brilliant!!  The local bookshop was also great, although cluttered, with a madman running the place, but there were treasures to be found. Lots of history antiques and books about wars and our country's beginnings, mariner books and old classics. Just what a bookshop by the sea should be. Bonus, there was no one there when we arrived, and only a couple of people by the time we left. 

This was a fun trip, quick and easy and now I am 60 and have survived two outings during a global pandemic.  My daughter is a superstar and kept us safe many times when I was starting to get slack and bored with this whole new way of life. She is so aware of every surface and every necessary precaution and the easiest person in the world to travel with as long as she is fed, gets some sleep and has something beautiful or interesting to look at. She doesn't ask for much! I am a very blessed mom, THANK YOU WESLEY for a great birthday! xo

Monday, October 5, 2020

Turning 60 during the Coronavirus


For my 60th birthday, Wesley suggested we go to the Peninsula Art Museum in Newport News to see the Wyeth exhibit. This is an exhibit of NC, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, three of my all time favorite artists.  My love of the Wyeth's art began in high school when one of my best friends invited me to go with her and her dad to the opening of an Andrew Wyeth exhibit in Greenville SC. I knew very little about the art world then, but that exhibit opened a window for me that I have never forgotten. 

When we went to Maine during Wesley's last year of high school, we went to the Farnsworth museum in Rockland Maine, where they have an extensive collection of the Wyeth's work. I literally stood in on of the rooms and cried, I was so overcome with emotion from these works of art. 

My birthday was September 23rd, but we were delayed traveling, so this past weekend we finally got out of town. A belayed celebration, but no less wonderful. This was Wesley's first trip anywhere since March of this year when the COVID pandemic began, and only my second trip out of town. We are both  still very apprehensive about travel and social visits, so this was a challenge for us both.

We brought most of our own food to avoid restaurants and fast food places. We packed hand sanitizer,  wipes and masks and a blanket for outdoor eating, water bottles, books, sketch pads and off we went. The trip was only three hours to Newport News, we arrived at noon and had a really nice picnic on the lawn of the museum. 

We had perfect weather and the museum was empty, so this was a great first trip out for two people that have been mostly isolated from the world for seven months. I do get out for groceries and brief shopping, but I don't do normal things like this anymore, sad to say.  The exhibit was great, breathtaking work by all three artists, and curated in a way that showed their growth and process and offered a peak into their lives as working artists. 

I enjoyed this show so much and it was a wonderful way to celebrate my 60th year of life. Wesley and I both came away feeling inspired and in awe of these brilliant artists and our hearts were lighter after a rather awful week in the news cycle. 

Travel during COVID is not for the faint of heart. You can't just hop out of the car and go do a thing anymore. Got your mask? check. Hand sanitizer? check. Take the elevator? no. 
Stand next to people? no. Try out the local restaurant? no. Get take out? yes.  
It is an effort, I'm telling you!

We tried to do as much as we could in outdoor spaces, and if a place had a crowd, we didn't go in. We ordered takeout from a local Indian restaurant for dinner and set up a little mini buffet in our room..... after we wiped down the TV remote and the door handles and the counter tops and the lamp switches and wall switches and ..... OMG!  the most challenging was having to use public restrooms. You really start to obsess over other people's germs once you have to pee!

I feel like we did things as right as we could, followed the CDC guidelines to the letter, and then some. I wouldn't want to do this often, it was a lot of work, but this trip was well worth the effort. It was good to get away for a few days. I am still not ready to meet with friends, oddly enough. The thought of conversation with these damn masks on is more than I want to deal with. It is so hard to not see people's faces. I never realized how important that is in communicating with others. It is so hard and it wears me out to talk through these stupid things. No hugging for a greeting. No smiles to be seen or frowns from a sympathetic ear. I don't know why, but I cannot get my head around visits with people right now, but I can go out of town and wander unknown streets..... baby steps I suppose..... 

On Sunday, we went to Yorktown. That is a whole other post for later...... until then, here is Jamie Wyeth's Pumpkin Head to enjoy on this beautiful fall day!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Southern Food, African Food

My southern heritage has given me a love for okra, squash, sweet potatoes, rice, tomatoes, corn, watermelon. These foods grow well in the south, grow well in our garden. I have been dealing with vegetables nonstop on a daily basis, I have also been piling up cookbooks around me, searching for recipes to prepare and preserve all of this food coming in to my kitchen. I have a huge collection of cookbooks from the South, church cookbooks, Junior League cookbooks, cookbooks from restaurants in S.C and New Orleans, etc. 

One thing I have noticed as a repeating theme in many of my old cookbooks is how "White" they are. White women discussing recipes and food preparation that mostly originated from slave owners that learned these recipes from their Black cooks. Many of the foods I love and the way they are prepared came to us through the slave trade, they are gifts from Africa.  Michael Twitty writes so eloquently in his book about the origins of the foods I love and reading this book gives me an even greater appreciation for these foods and how they came to us from Africa. 
For instance, yams (sweet potatoes) were found to be a good food to nourish people that were just hunted and captured and put on boats for the long voyage to the United States. The enslaved could not eat the food that was initially prepared for them, it did not sustain them, but the sweet potato did.  Before these humans were loaded on ships, the ships were stocked with yams and these yams ultimately found their way into our culture. My grandmother and Gerry's dad make the best sweet potato pies, both of them knowing how much I love a sweet potato pie, almost always had one for me when I came to visit. Knowing the history of this vegetable gives it an even deeper and more profound meaning...... we  really should think more about these origins of our food instead of just picking up a package at the local grocery. Food is the most important thing for our survival and yet we take it for granted like we do the air we breathe. 

I treasure my cookbooks and read them like most people read a good novel. I take them to bed at night, I read them in the afternoon, sometimes in the morning to get an idea of food planning for supper. They would be the thing I would want to save from fire.

My mom gave me this Colored Wo-Men's cookbook for Christmas one year. It was produced as a fundraiser for the Colored School museum. Many of the women featured were mothers or grandmothers of girls I went to school with. Myrtle Beach did not have a school for Black children in 1930. This first colored school was created for them. In 1973, our school system became integrated, and I was bussed to Carver Elementary, which was the replacement for this first school. As they moved white children in, they changed the name to Central. It was a big deal in this community for everyone. I first met these women at that school. This cookbook is filled with all the foods I love and I am grateful for their knowledge of good food.

This cookbook is probably the one that has had the most use over the years. My mom gave it to me when Gerry and I got married, it is how I learned to cook. Mrs. Frances was well known in the community, Prince's Place was a tiny restaurant near the school I mentioned, and was in the "colored part of town" as folks would say back in the 1970's (seriously!) Since I went to school in the "colored part of town" I had no issues with also eating there. I worked for Belk Dept store in the '70's and every day for lunch, we would go to Mrs. Frances' to eat. Her beef stew and collard greens were like none I have ever had since.

I can still vividly remember every single thing about this place.  Gerry and I ate at Fearrington one year for an anniversary and I'm sure the bill was over $200.  I can't recall what I ate, but I can still taste that beef stew at Prince's Place. Mrs. Frances and the restaurant are gone now, but will live forever in my memory.

One of my favorite foods to cook in summer is okra. It is coming in like crazy right now and we are picking it twice a day. It literally grows that fast! It is to me, what southern food is about. Michael Twiity has a good post as a guest blogger here about the origins of okra and a recipe for okra soup.

It had not occurred to me until the BLM movement, how many of my cookbooks are from Black food culture. Even my very White church cookbooks have their origins in African cooking. We are all so connected by food and yet we are so separated by judgement of race. It is such a shame that we cannot come together and celebrate each others differences rather than judge and hate because of those differences. How would we have good food if not for the contribution of Black culture!? What the hell would I eat!!!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Mrs. Duke's Pound Cake

 I don't really remember any of my birthdays as a kid. Probably lots of reasons why, but there is one thing I do remember. Mrs. Dukes pound cake. Every year she would bring me one for my birthday. It was the best pound cake I have ever tasted and I remember it fondly, as I do her. Before she passed, I asked for the recipe and this is what she sent me.

As you can see, there are not a lot of details! I have never been baker, I can cook, but I am still learning to bake. I had to teach myself to cook when we got married, my mom did not cook and I had more experience eating in restaurants than boiling water.

Back when I first attempted this recipe, my skills were no where near where they needed to be to follow a recipe like this. The cake was a disaster and I never tried again...... Until today.

I have been cooking every day since March 15, watching the Great British Baking show with Wesley, reading all of my old cookbooks, and my baking skills are improving. What else am I going to do in COVID isolation!?
So today, I dug out this recipe and tried again. For some reason this pound cake has been on my mind and I wanted it.

Can I just say..... it tasted exactly like I remember it!!  Right down to the chewy parts of the crust. It was moist, flavorful and just perfect. It even came out of the bundt pan with only one tiny chunk sticking. I have felt pretty pleased with myself today!

Since I was on a roll with the cake success, I decided to try this tomato soup recipe I came across in a book I have, Dinner at Mrs. Lady's. This is an absurd book, I can't remember why I have it, but it does have some interesting recipes.  

I have been on a quest for years to duplicate my mom's tomato soup that she only made when I was sick and home from school. I don't know why one of the only things I ever liked that she made was a soup she only made when I was getting over a stomach bug..... I have asked her several times to tell me how to make it, never really got an answer that was helpful, so I have tried on my own. I did find one recipe that was very close, but couldn't find it again. This one is not it, but it is very good and very close. My mom put cream in hers and Wesley doesn't like the cream part so I left it out and it didn't matter, it was still a great soup, if you like tomato soup. The trick is, the tomatoes have to be good. Ours are very good!


 This coronavirus has been a terrible thing, it is a terrible thing. But I must say, it has given me precious time that I am very grateful for. Time to slow down, time to do things I never took time to do before, I get to spend more time with Wesley instead of her moving to Charlotte. We have the best garden we have ever had. I finally learned to can food properly, I can bake insane bread, and now I can bake Mrs. Dukes pound cake!

The three of us have dinner together every night, something that has not happened since Gerry and I met in 1980. We all have had crazy schedules and have worked around it for years. Now its almost normal around here.... almost. Gerry still missed Father's Day for a golf tournament assignment.

I don't know what life is going to be like on the other side of this thing, but life right now is calm and quiet and we are all learning new things and life is slow. The pantry is full of pickled cucumbers, beans of all sorts, carrots, vegetable soup, salsas, tomatoes, jellies and more.

I just stand there sometimes and stare at all the jars. They are so pretty and it has been so much fun producing all of that food, and eating it! We have to make more banana pepper jelly, I can tell already it will not last long, it is that good. Sean Brock's recipe for bread and butter pickles are quickly disappearing and the pickled okra is amazing. The garden is waning and there won't be much more to can, except tomatoes and peppers for freezing, but we have a lot. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts....

Why I waited so long to do this, I do not know. Except I was working, traveling, being a mom, being an artist, being an AP photographer's wife, etc. There was just never time for everything. Now, there is time for lots of  things. But mostly, it seems, time for eating!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Kitchen Medicine

The smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen is the first thing that greets me in the mornings, I pour a cup, wake up my brain and my day begins.... in the kitchen. That's pretty much where you will find me most of the day, or outside in the gardens bringing in more things for the kitchen. I have two looms that sit quietly, a sewing machine that is neglected in the corner, a pottery wheel in the shed, art projects for "someday" and shelves of books that want to be read. I used to have a job I liked a lot. Until "the virus". 

Now, it is all about the gardens. We are bringing baskets and baskets of vegetables in every evening and in the morning I find useful things to do with all we are growing this year. Flowers need pruning, herbs need drying, there are chickens to feed, a dog to walk, family to be with. This is my new full time job. Growing and preparing for winter and a possible worse second wave of the Coronavirus. 

This year we stepped it up, we did not grow hemp or flowers, instead we decided to grow as much as we could for our food supply. We prepped the soil with compost, sowed an early cover crop, we laid down Lumite fabric for weed control, we decided to let the grass grow in the paths and we mow them, (a great decision after last year's muddy paths in the flower rows).  We spend very little time dealing with weeds, we are growing organically and have super healthy plants. We just go out in the mornings and evenings and pick beautiful vegetables. Early on we patrolled for pests, found just a few, controlled them with organic methods and have been successful keeping them in check.

In addition to all of our vegetables, I have herbs growing in beds around the house. I planted 5 varieties of basil and we have 4 varieties of mint coming back from last year as well as hyssop that really wants to take over everything. I am loving all of them for teas and flavor additions to our meals. I made this tea today from the Herbalist Kitchen cookbook. It is described as a tea to stay focused and centered during times of relative high stress.... Yup.

Centered and Focused tea:
1 tsp linden leaf  ( I still have herbs left from our store's apothecary)
2 tsp dry or fresh basil (I used a mix of cinnamon and lemon basil)
2 tsp dry or fresh mint (I used peppermint)
1 tsp fresh or dry rosemary
1 tsp fennel seed
boiling water

We have our large utilitarian garden out in the field now, but I also like a pretty garden. Wesley and I planted a small kitchen garden behind the house, which used to be our main garden. We grew kale, onions, garlic, spinach and lettuces in the early spring and have switched it over now to herbs, peas and beans. We also have a fig tree that has finally decided it will produce and I will be canning figs for days pretty soon. We harvest and eat blackberries every morning from a bush we gave Gerry three years ago for Father's Day and blueberries are just coming in. We also planted two pineapple ground cherry plants that are coming along nicely. I love these little ground cherries for snacks in the late summer. The pineapple variety is new for us.

When I was a kid, my favorite summer past time was reading. I loved going to the library and getting arm loads of books to take home. I would read under the covers at night with a flashlight, read in the backseat of the car on trips, read on the beach. Always a book with me....

 These are my go to books right now. So many great summer recipes. I search them every day for new ways to prepare squash, zucchini and cucumbers. Why we planted a 100 ft row of these plants is something I ask myself every day now! These are my current favorites and we have had some really great meals from them.

I'm glad I started collecting cookbooks years ago, I have such a great resource library now and I finally have time to sit and read them and prepare meals from them! My mom used to lay on the sofa in the afternoons and read cookbooks. She didn't do much cooking, lol, but she read the books. 

I have been harvesting and canning and pickling and freezing and baking and cooking and eating. That's it. That is what my life has become. Tracey's Diner. Funny how a scary thing like this pandemic has given me better cooking skills, given us time as a family to eat dinner together, something we never got to do in the past with all of our crazy schedules and given us time to grow healthy food. In so many ways, I am very grateful for this time. I hate it and I have constant anxiety, but growing our food and preparing it is the medicine we need for this pandemic right now.

For me, summer is a porch railing with tomatoes ripening in the sun. I love to pick a warm tomato off the porch and make myself a tomato sandwich. I will eat tomato sandwiches this summer until the last one comes off the vine. I dream about them all winter. We planted around 10 varieties of tomatoes this year so I am clearly in heaven!

I continue to stay home, only going out for necessary groceries. Our one quick trip to the mountains was great, but stressful and I am beginning to think I am developing a nice case of social anxiety, just the thought of going to visit someone or having a conversation with someone totally freaks me out and causes me great stress. I am happy at home, happy alone, happy in the kitchen, happy in the garden. This is all I need right now. I wonder often what I will be like a year from now when hopefully this virus is under control and life can begin again at some level of "normal". 
Who will I be? I wonder.....