Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lawn Mower Wheel Wreath

Eric likes a wreath for the holidays.  I do, too.  But I've been thinking about a different kind of wreath. 

While at Mom and Dad's for Thanksgiving, I found an old lawn mower wheel that Dad had saved.  I asked if I could have it.  He said yes.  Eric manhandled the old tire off and I cleaned and primed it (many years of rust had accumulated).  A coat of gloss black and a shimmer of metallic silver.  Some garland, ornaments and ribbon.  A lawn mower wheel wreath.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gluten Free Cornbread Dressing

Update:  after making this recipe again yesterday, I discovered that the dressing turned out better when I added an additional cup of chicken stock (4 cups total, instead of 3), and when I had the oven on 400 degrees from the beginning of the cooking time and allowed the dressing to bake for a full 50 minutes (instead of starting off at 325 degrees for 40 minutes and then upping the temp to 425 degrees for five minutes).   This info may prove to be pretty important...

Eric and I get a Thanksgiving redo this year.  Our friends have been at the beach for the holiday, so tonight we plan to serve them turkey and dressing for Saturday Supper Club.  Since there are two gluten-intolerant individuals who will be dining at this dinner (myself and Kris), I will be making gluten free cornbread dressing.  I basically took my old cornbread recipe and my old dressing recipe and replaced or took out any ingredient that was glutenous.  So, for the sake of my gluten free friends, I thought I’d share the recipes.


2T. unsalted butter
1 ½ c. gluten free cornmeal
1t. kosher salt
¾ t. baking soda
2c. Buttermilk (or undiluted evaporated milk)
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Preaheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place butter in cast-iron skillet; put skillet into oven until butter is melted and bubbly.  Combine all of the dry ingredients.  Whisk in buttermilk (or milk) and eggs.  Pour melted butter into batter and whisk.  Pour batter into still-hot skillet.  Bake 25-30 minutes (until an inserted toothpick comes out clean).  Cool for 10 minuets before loosening from skillet.  Turn out onto plate.

Cornbread Dressing

1 pan of cornbread (see above)
8T. unsalted butter, plus some for dish
1 ¾ c. chopped celery (with some tops)
1 ¼ c. yellow onion, chopped
¾ kosher salt
1/4t. ground pepper
1T. oven-dried sage
3 eggs, beaten
3 c. hot chicken broth (Swanson's is safe...may need a little less, may need a little more)

Break cornbread into pieces (crumble).  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Melt 5T butter in skillet.  Cook onion, celery, salt and pepper in butter (about 10-15 minutes).  Do not brown.  Stir in sage; set aside to cool.  Once the onion mixture is cool, stir into cornbread.  Stir in beaten eggs and hot broth.  Melt remaining butter and stir in until everything is mixed well. Mixture will be soupy.  Pour into buttered baking dish.  Bake 40 minutes.  Increase heat to 425 degrees for 5 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes before dishing up.  Serves 12.

Happy two days after Thanksgiving, y'all!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Porch Presentation

With daytime temperatures in the seventies, there are flowers blooming again.  At the end of November, violets, azalea, and even spirea are blooming along side the nandina berries.  It is the nature of winter in Alabama.

There are children out playing in the neighborhood again, as well.  Even Tex, his shadow long absent from our doorstep because of a late-summer banning by his grandfather from our neighborhood (I believe the charge was insubordination) has been back, knocking for Flavor Ice and attention.

I've just finished giving an impromptu presentation to Tex and the McCall boys on paleontology and archaeology in Alabama, complete with artifacts, pictures and demonstrations.  There were histrionics and lots of “How much will you sell that to me for?”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Woodland Park II

Eric didn’t have to twist my arm to get me to walk that old road bed back through the trees, and as we walked, I began to recognize more and more of the landscape that had been so familiar to me so many years ago.  We passed a metal equipment shed that I couldn’t quite place, but then I began to talk as we walked, “Now there was an old house up there on that rise…and there should be pond out here to the right, and there would’ve been a field in front of it…”  My breath caught in my throat, for there it was, the pond, all choked around its edge with blackberry brambles and tall grasses.  And the field, yes, it was still there, only it was now edged with old bleachers, and looked as if it had been used (or unused, in this case) a long time ago as a practice field. 

As we walked into the openness of the field, I reoriented myself as to where our units were placed (fine units with straight walls and floors scraped so clean that you could easily photograph any features or post molds) and where our tents would have been set up by the pond, all the while, my eyes scanned the ground for evidence of fire cracked rock or debitage that should’ve been exposed over the years through natural erosion.  Although my eyes strained at every grass-free spot I saw, there was nothing that would indicate an excavation had ever taken place there.  And I was not about to dig anywhere to see what lay just beneath the surface.  I am a former contract archaeologist and that would be unethical, not to mention highly illegal in the state of Alabama.

Making our way around edge of the field, we saw the remnants of a small shed in the embrace of some saplings and some unidentifiable scrap metal. Not much else.  At that point we headed back towards a ditch that ran along the side of the equipment shed.  “I can’t believe there is nothing laying on top…no debitage, no nothing.  I just wish there was something…” And then I saw it sitting on top of a small mound of dirt, a small roughly knapped triangle.  “Got a bird point,” I said.  “We are probably the first people to hold this since its owner dropped it thousands of years ago…” Eric was incredulous, had to touch it to make sure it was real. We kept walking and looking.  Tiny bits of sand and grit tempered plain pottery, bits of sparkly quartz, some chert debris, a small slice of green stone.  Nothing that anyone else would’ve ever noticed, but something to an eye that was once trained to see such.  We were giddy.  I felt vindicated…why I needed that assurance, I’ll never know.  Eric rightly chalked it up to some form of existential validation.  We all need that sometimes.  Now, who to turn these things over to...

As the sun began its descent, we walked the old chert road back to the softball fields where our friends were warming up on the cyclocross course.   Strange to see so much of the modern world in such close proximity to the ancient.  I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed my old crew chief’s number to see if he and his wife Angie (a former archaeology crew mate) would like to join us for the evening (they live nearby).  He said they would love to, but they were in Mobile on a college visit for their daughter Jesse.  Could I believe she was old enough to be going to college?  No, I couldn’t.  Jessie was probably conceived on one of our last excavations as a crew together, the Dry Branch dig.  She shouldn’t be old enough for college.  Then Chris asked me if I had taken Eric back to the old dig site, and had we seen the blue hole…

Bird Point



( Upper L, in a circle) Quartz, green stone, bird point, debris, pottery.


And now for some photos from the 1991 dig:

Woodland Park Excavation 1991
The Pond
The Blue Hole
The Old Homestead.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Woodland Park Part I

Back in 1991, as a Jacksonville State University student, I helped excavate a Woodland Indian site near Anniston.  The area was doomed for modern recreation, to be turned into a sports complex.  It was only my second excavation, my first being the excavation of the old Davis Farm (now almost completely obscured by the boom of the Oxford area near I-20).  I was still learning what debitage and debris meant when it came to lithics, what naturally occurring tempers would have been used in ceramics of that area (sand, grit), and how to tell a mound from a regular old hill (I still struggle with that some times). 

For two full weeks that May, I spent Monday through Friday from eight in the morning till four in the late afternoon digging, sorting, and processing at that site which was located back through the woods in a field by a pond (the pond by which I camped for the first time in my life, waking up to the sound of my crew chief Chris Hill frying up his breakfast). There was an old two-story house with a barn close by, and a hauntingly beautiful blue hole within walking distance.  Two mischievous ponies with the names Timmy and Al (aka Evil) lived on the property and they made a point to behave sometimes in ways that would result in their being run off.

It was my first experience of digging a site that I knew was marked to fall under the bulldozer of progress.  Our field school represented the last chance to preserve the cultural artifacts that were left there upwards of three thousand years ago by prehistoric Native Americans.  In the end, the process of backfilling our meticulously excavated units was a painful closure.  We had removed as much as we could.  When we left at the end of June, I thought I’d never see the place again.  And I maybe wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for Bamacross.

Last weekend, Mellow Mushroom Racing hosted a two-day cyclocross race in Anniston.  It was part of the Bamacross series…and it was held at Woodland Park Softball Complex.  So, after going to my nephew’s skating party at Merry Go Round Skate (which is another story entirely, and involves me roller skating again for the first time in about thirty years), I headed over to Anniston.

Taking the old way that I used to drive back when I was a fledgling shovel bum, I was struck by how little had changed on those curvy county roads.  I could almost swear that the same skinny country boys were still driving the same late-model muscle cars just as fast as they did in the 90s, and the same old trailer park was still filled with the same washed out old trailers.  But the park…when I got to the entrance of Woodland Park, it was entirely different than it was when I last laid eyes on it.  Gone was the farm gate that I had to open, drive through, and then close to get onto the farm.  Gone was the chert drive that I had to drive real slow on lest I stirred up so much dust I couldn’t see where I was going nor from where I came.  In their place were beautifully landscaped grounds with a nicely paved road.   But, as Eric pointed out to me while I pouted, if I looked back behind the far left field, I could still see an old road bed that cut back into the trees…

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gluten Free Gumbo: An Experiment

I used to love cooking Cajun and Creole cuisine...etouffe, gumbo, jambalaya, blackened fish (or any other kind of meat that would hold still and let me blacken it)...cayenne toasts that guests could smear with just about anything (my favorite anything being a paste of feta, basil and olive oil that was pulverized within an inch of its life).  I even competed in a local Cajun Iron Chef match against my future partner, Eric (He made a legendary chicken and sausage gumbo. I made a crawfish etouffee.).  But then I discovered that I had an allergy to gluten, which meant that I could no longer make a flour-based roux for any of my New Orleans' favorites (or a beschamel sauce for my eggs and asparagus, or a sawmill gravy for the biscuit that I could no longer have).  I was, to quote Albert Goldman from The Birdcage, "betrayed, bewildered" by this terrible turn of events.  But, after two weeks or so of being completely gluten free, I no longer had the terrible stomach issues, the full-body rash, the like-clockwork-at-3PM-lethargy that made me think I was an undiagnosed narcoleptic.  I felt better than I had ever felt (I had a very hard time justifying and quantifying this to myself...it was hard to compare the now-self to the child-self in terms of how one felt from a gastrointestinal aspect.  Humans tend to adjust to whatever seems to be normal for themselves.  I thought that indigestion and bloating was something that everyone just lived with.).

Gluten free cooking is not very complicated once you learn which commercial brands of foods and condiments are safe.  If you are like me and many of my GF friends, keeping an online document of  resources as you find them makes it easier to navigate the isles of barbecue sauce, oats, and ice cream (thank the good Lord for Ben & Jerry).

Having said all that about GF cooking, gluten free baking is another animal altogether for me.  Most of the GF baking recipes appear to be an amalgamation of three different kinds of somewhat pricey potato/rice/corn/ or other non-glutenous flour, some xantham or guar gum, and tapioca or potato starch...mixed with some other more recognizable ingredients.  My talented GF friend Lora M., otherwise known as the Bamacross Beer Fairy (she sips on cider while giving beer hand-ups to the cyclists during races...all the while heckling them in the most creative and brutal fashion), has beautifully mastered the art of GF baking.  Her maple bacon cupcakes are absolutely to die for...

Wow, have I digressed, or what?!?  Let me get back to my original intent with this post, which was to describe in detail what I made last night for the first time in almost two years:  a gumbo.  Because of the fact that gumbos require a roux, and a roux is made with equal parts oil and flour, I have given gumbos a wide berth.  Never again.  Last night I tested a roux using Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour and it worked splendidly in a gumbo which we will be having for dinner tonight with friends who are for all intents and purposes, gluten free.

Gluten Free Chicken, Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo
Modified from The New Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson, which is an out of print softcover, but can be found used through Amazon, pg. 29):

1lb. Hillshire Farms Turkey Kielbasa, cut into bite-sized rounds
2 cups dark-cooked Cajun Roux (see recipe below and double it)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped
4 lg. stalks of celery with tops, chopped
4 med. cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried leaf thyme
1 tsp. dried leaf oregano
3 quarts (12 cups) of Swanson chicken broth
3 cups cooked chicken meat, shredded
1 lb. shelled raw shrimp
2 cups fresh okra
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.
Cooked white rice
Garnishes:  diced green onions and minced parsley (flat-leaf)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On a lipped cookie sheet, spread the turkey kielbasa.  Bake to render out the fat for about 25 minutes.  Drain fat off and set aside.  Bring the Swanson's chicken stock to a boil and keep hot.  In a large Dutch oven (needs to be big 'cause this recipe makes a lot), combine already cooked roux (still hot), onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, thyme & oregano.  Cook and stir constantly until veggies are wilted, about 25 minutes.  When the veggies are cooked, add the boiling stock to the roux/vegetable mixture, stirring constantly to blend.  Add the sausage, chicken and raw shrimp and stir.  If you are serving this immediately, add the okra.  If you are planning to serve it the next day, save the okra to add during the warm-up process (reheated okra is not a pretty sight).  Season to taste with salt, black pepper and cayenne (we prefer to use Nigerian cayenne because it has more heat to it).  Cook on low heat for about an hour.  Serve over rice.  Garnish with green onions and parsley.  8-10 servings.

Gluten Free Cajun Roux Recipe
Again, modified from The New Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson, pg. 12):

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour

Caveat:  Get any bathroom trips, iPod playlist changes, or beverage pouring over with before you start your roux.  You cannot leave it for ANY reason during the process unless you have a designated stand-in with you.  Turn your back on it and it will burn.

In a Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil on the upper side of medium temperature (5 or 6 if you have a numbered dial) until it is hot (NOT smoking or you'll burn your flour).  The oil will begin to quiver gently when it is ready.  Add ALL of your flour to the oil, whisking or stirring (a wooden spoon or wooden spatula works best).  Mash out any lumps with the back of your spoon.  Reduce heat to a medium-low.  Cook, stirring or whisking constantly, scrapping along the entire bottom of cooking vessel, until roux is either a dark peanut butter color or a dark mahogany color.  This will take time, so be prepared to spend 45 minutes with the cooking process.  Do not rush the process or leave the pot unattended.  If you see black specks in the roux, it has burned and will need to be discarded.  As with my stovetop, you may have to adjust your heat as you are cooking to either move the process forward, or slow the process down.  To stop the cooking process when you have achieved the desired color, either add the vegetables called for in the recipe you are making, or transfer the roux to an unheated metal bowl (will not hold heat).  Continue to whisk roux for the next 15 minutes to prevent separation.  Yields one cup.

So, that is it.  The roux is the trickiest part as you have to constantly work it while cooking it.  And although you may want to break out your Munsell chart to check, you will know when you have reached the desired brown color.  I went for dark peanut on this batch, but mahogany lends a nice rich flavor, if that is what you want.

Your house will smell intensely of gumbo for a couple of days after making this, but it is a small price to pay for home-cooked, gluten free comfort food that easily makes enough to serve about eight to ten people.