About Susan

Author Archive | Susan

Upcoming births

So I’m really, really pregnant. I guess I was just as pregnant the day the ept stick revealed a faint blue plus sign, but now I LOOK really pregnant. Actually, who am I kidding? I’ve looked really pregnant for a while now. Or as one super helpful stranger commented to me, during a book event no less, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you’re carrying REALLY, REALLY big.”

So yes. I  have the classic “there is a fully inflated basketball underneath my shirt” look, and I’m carrying high, which I think is typical if you’re carrying a boy, which I am. It’s all really weird and cool at the same time. Coolest is when he stretches or kicks against me and I can *see* the shape of whatever body part he’s using: a knee, an elbow, a spine! It’s kind of like a tactile version of the children’s game 20 Questions. (He is not bigger than a bread box.)

The baby is due in eight weeks, though Lord knows he could come early or late. Pregnancy, I am finding, is a long lesson in letting go of expectations, and I suppose that crescendos in the delivery room. The advice I’ve been given again and again, by wise women who have gone through it before, is to let go of all expectations. Be curious about the experience, have wishes for how it might go, prepare as best you can, but don’t lock onto any one way your baby must come into the world. As long as you and he are healthy at the end of the delivery, it’s all good. And even if there are complications, it’s okay.

In non-baby news: The paper book of A Place at the Table launches on March 4 of this year, almost one month (exactly!) before the baby is due. It seems I have a way of cramming major life events into short amounts of time. It was only last May 21 that Sam and I got married, and then the hardcover of A Place at the Table was published that June 4. I got knocked up that July, and now we’re entering another cycle of Very Big Events Happening All At Once.

Thinking about all of this it occurs to me that the same advice that women have given me about childbirth could be applied to the publication of one’s book. You do all you can to prepare in advance, and you certainly have hopes and anticipations, but really, you have no control over how the book lands in the world, or how many readers are willing to catch it. And the more you can accept that fact, the more sane you’ll be around the launch. Which is, of course, easier said than done.

Births! Births! Lots of births! I cannot yet show you the baby (in fact I might not show the baby till he’s 18!) but here’s what the paperback is going to look like:
APATTpaperback cover

 

Winter Squash Soup

So my friend / media consultant / lifesaver, Alison Law, made this video of me (bottom of the page) preparing butternut squash soup. Alison put the whole clip together, cutting it down, adding music, adding a cameo by my cat Peanut, complete with his bird bib, which makes him look like Mr. Pitiful, but saves the lives of lots of little birdies.

Alison and I chose to highlight this soup recipe because it’s the one I fix most often. It’s really versatile; if you make it you can see that there’s lots of room for improvisation. It starts, as many soups do, with onions slow cooked in a flavorful fat. Borrowing from Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis’s suggestion, I start with bacon, about four slices of it, cut into 1-inch squares. The day I made this soup for the video, Whole Paycheck Foods had some wonderful bacon from a small Georgia farm that treats its pigs right and makes about the best damn pig products you’ve ever tasted. This stuff was rolled in curry seasonings, and it was incredible. (In fact, there is a moment when I go a little nuts tasting it in the film. Reader, I was about 13 weeks pregnant when we were making this, and that bacon tasted DAMN GOOD.)

The thing is, if you’re vegetarian you can start your onions in butter. If you’re vegan, you can start them in olive oil. It all tastes good. You let the onions cook till soft and translucent, about five minutes minimum. Keep the heat low so they don’t brown; indeed, the lower and slower you cook them, the more sweet and delicious the final soup will be. When you’ve cooked them for as long as you have the patience for, add a clove or two of chopped garlic and a uniformly sliced and peeled Granny Smith apple. (Or don’t! The apple is optional–see, versatile!) Let the apple cook with the onion for about 5-10 minutes, then add the flesh of the root vegetables you have already roasted.

About those roasted vegetables: I usually roast a large butternut squash (sliced in half longwise, seeds scooped out, rubbed in olive oil, then roasted till tender at 350 degrees, which usually takes about an hour and fifteen minutes) and a large sweet potato (also rubbed in olive oil and roasted in same pan as the squash, at 350.) You can also roast any other kind of edible winter squash. If you don’t have time to roast your own veggies–no problem. Trader Joe’s sells cubes of already peeled butternut squash. You can just use a bag of that. It’s delicious.

Once you’ve added your root vegetables (either roasted or bagged from Trader Joe’s), stir everything around so all of the flavors get mixed up. Add a bay leaf, some grated nutmeg, some grinds of pepper, and about 1 to 1 and ½ teaspoons kosher salt. You’ll probably end up needing more, but if using bacon, remember it is naturally salty. Let the vegetables cook together for about 10 minutes. If using uncooked squash from Trader Joe’s, let all of the vegetables cook together for about 20 minutes, till squash has a little give when pierced with a knife.

After veggies have all cooked together, add about 4-6 cups stock, chicken or veggie, depending on whether or not you want the meal to be vegetarian. I prefer homemade stock—which is easy to make!—but store bought is absolutely fine. Let soup come to a light boil, then lower to simmer and cook another 20 minutes.

Take off stove and let cool for just a minute. Blend in batches till soup is a thick puree. (If you have a hand immersion blender–lucky you!) If you need to add more stock to thin, do it. I sometimes like to thin with a little bit of apple juice. Once blended, return the soup to the pot and taste for seasoning. Does it need more salt, more nutmeg, more pepper? If serving right away, I like to add about 1-2 T. heavy cream, but if you are going to refrigerate or freeze soup for later, don’t add dairy till you plan to heat it up to serve.

This soup is delicious poured over a wedge or triple cream cheese such as Brillat Savarin or St. Andre (also a Scott Lewis and Edna Peacock suggestion.) It is also delightful with a few pieces of crumbled bacon on top. It makes a great fall meal with a simple salad (I like arugula, apple chunks, and toasted walnuts) and it goes great with cheese biscuits.

One note on the cheese biscuit recipe I linked to: It’s delish, but I always add a little more salt to it. Like maybe 1/4 teaspoon more than what’s called for. I’m southern, see, and we like things salty.

Here’s the vid of me making soup!

 

The tea cake has been replaced with Prince’s hot chicken

It used to be that any time I drove through Nashville I would make sure to stop at Ham n’ Goodys in the West End, a very southern bakery that sold…wait for it…ham sandwiches and goodies, i.e. cookies and cakes. My favorite thing there was the glazed tea cake, a round cookie about the size of a child’s head, dunked in a sweet glaze that I presume was made of confectioners sugar and cream. The tea cake itself was tender, soft, and tasted mostly of butter, sugar, and vanilla. The first time I had one, on the insistence of a friend who lived in Nashville, I thought, “yeah, it’s good. But not amazing.” But an hour later I wanted another. The tea cakes were quietly, subtly addictive. Luckily I had bought a dozen, so I could indulge, and indulge, and indulge…

I started developing a Pavlovian craving for tea cakes every time I got near Music City. I would always buy a dozen, plus some of their lemon cookies, and eat one every few hours while on the road. And then, a few years ago while passing through, I tried to go to Ham n’ Goody’s and discovered the Nashville location had been closed. (There is still one in Knoxville, thank God.)

Nashville lost its appeal after that.

But that’s because I didn’t know enough about it! My editor is from Nashville, so when she heard that I was going to her hometown over the weekend of Oct. 12 and 13th, to participate in the Southern Festival of Books, she had two recommendations: I should eat at the Loveless Cafe, and I should see the puppets at the downtown public library. I had one other item on my Nashville bucket list: Eat hot chicken at Prince’s.

I first heard about Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack from an article I read in the Oxford American, about a man who dared to order the stuff, “VERY HOT,” something that is advised against even by those who cook it. Prince’s, you see, comes in four flavors–mild, medium, hot, and very hot–and the mild is spicy enough to get your endorphins going. Legend has it that eating the “very hot” could require medical intervention.

I didn’t need to show my chutzpah by eating the chicken very hot, I just wanted to eat the chicken. Because in addition to being spicy, Prince’s chicken was supposed to be damn good. I didn’t really think we’d get a chance to go though, because usually at book festivals you tend to stay around the area of the events, and schmooze with others, and go hear people’s panels, and not really explore the city all that much. And then a friend of mine, Kelly Alexander, emailed to say she’d be in town for the festival, and did I want to get dinner? Kelly is a food writer, and a cookbook author, and a foodie, and she thinks about food a lot, so, when I suggested Prince’s she immediately jumped on it, saying she’d been wanting to go there for years.

We went after the author party on Saturday night. Kelly’s friend Miriam, also a food writer, went with us, along with Sam. Prince’s is only a few miles away from downtown Nashville, in what is probably a bit of a rough area, at least judging by the fellow standing in front of the restaurant wearing a gun. (I think he was restaurant security, but I’m not positive.) The restaurant itself was packed with families with children, couples, and friends. The lady who takes orders helped us figure out what we were doing, as there is a system in place at Prince’s, and we didn’t yet know it. (You don’t get your soda till they bring you your chicken, for example, and you have to wait on the chicken for about 30 minutes after ordering it. They are busy, after all, and I think they fry the birds to order.)

We sat and waited and talked and I got to know Kelly and Miriam better. They are both delightful. Miriam once cooked for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York which just impressed the hell out of me. Finally our order number was called, 88, and Kelly let out an audible cheer. Sam went to get the chicken. What he placed before me was a sight to behold. I had ordered the breast, mild. It sat upon a slice of white bread with a dusting of red pepper (cayenne?) and salt on the bread itself. The breast included the wing, and the whole thing was topped with two dill pickles. (What is it that makes pickles go so well with fried chicken?) The crust was thick, substantial, and a deep, dark brown. I cut into the chicken, put the piece in my mouth, and oh my Lord. It was the best fried chicken I have ever eaten.

Listen, I grew up in Georgia, and have eaten A LOT of fried chicken. I make it myself, following Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s recipe, brining it first in salt water then buttermilk, and it is delicious, really, really good, but not as good as Prince’s. Prince’s chicken was moist, juicy, and flavorful, but even better was the crust. It was so salty and spicy and crispy. All I wanted to do was eat the crust, and I’m one of those annoying southern lady eaters who usually only allows myself half the crust on a piece of fried chicken for fear of fat and calories. Not this time, man. I ate everything on my plate other than the bones. All the skin, all the meat, all the bread soaked with meat juices and spices, all the pickles. When I finished, I wanted to order another plate–but refrained. I turned to Sam, “If they’re open tomorrow, let’s go back before we head home.” Sam readily agreed. But we looked at the hours of operation, and Prince’s is closed Sundays and Mondays. Turned out by going on a Saturday night, we’d made it just in the knick of time.

I used to go to Nashville for the tea cakes, but they have nothing on the addictive nature of Prince’s. Because listen, I’m getting hungry for their fried chicken just from writing this entry. And the terrible thing is, I live four hours away from the restaurant! I’m going to have to figure out a way to fix the stuff myself, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever make anything as good as the real thing. And oh my God, if their anti-gay corporate policies didn’t already do it for them, Chick-fil-A would really be put to shame by Prince’s.

I forgot to go see the puppets that my editor told me about. And we couldn’t get to the Lonesome Cafe in time before my event. So I guess I need to go back to Nashville to do those things, huh? Like, soon. I’ll just make sure not to go on a Sunday or a Monday. Nashville, I hear you calling my name.

Prince's hot chicken

mea culpa, plus cornbread croutons featured in Atlanta magazine!

I am a turrible blogger. Just terrible. It’s not that I don’t have stuff to say–I do! I do!–it’s just that I like to let things tumble around in my brain a bit before speaking. And that doesn’t really work for blogging, does it? I’ve also been a little obsessed by the current government shutdown, and how pig-headed and wrong it is, and how many people who are barely getting by are going to be hurt by this, and what a terrible thing it is for national security, and how the American economy in general is going to be hurt, and I’ll feel my heart rate increasing (seriously!) and I’ll realize I need to WALK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER, THE NEWSPAPER, THE TELEVISION NEWS. Ultimately I am going to trust that the Constitution and cooler heads will prevail, and that for me to get emotionally sick over all of this is probably a waste of precious energy. But before walking away,  here is what I did:

1) Wrote Speaker Boehner to urge him to end the shutdown.

2) Made a contribution to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Georgia runs out of money for WIC (women, infants, and children) soon, and food stamps are on the butcher block once again, so places like the Food Bank really need our help. They are a fantastic organization. Ninety-four percent of donations made to them go straight to providing food for those in need. They are great stewards of their donator’s dollars.

I find that when I get upset about politics, the best thing I can do is take a walk, do yoga breathing, and cook delicious food. I’ve been cooking some great stuff lately, if I do say so myself. I think it’s because I’ve been so happy about fall produce. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but by the end of summer I was so sick of tomatoes and summer squash that I was happy three seasons would go by before I had to eat them again. (I won’t be feeling that way in about a month.) Now I’m obsessed with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, kale, crispy sweet apples, and crunchy, juicy grapes. I’ve made a lot of butternut squash soup, plus a pie made with roasted butternut squash instead of canned pumpkin, plus oatmeal cookies (got a strong craving), plus an apple-cider brined pork loin wrapped in pancetta with cipollini onions. Oh! And I made “egg n greens” that was featured in the October issue of  Atlanta magazine, which was so exciting I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. Check out the online version here.

One last note: If you happen to be reading this, and you disagree with me politically, please don’t get ugly. I tweeted something about healthcare the other day and someone–who I’ve never met before in my life–tweeted back that I was a “libtard.” Now that’s offensive on about a million different levels, and represents an ugly place that we’ve reached when it comes to discourse about politics. There are people in my life who I love who would be happy with a truly collectivist government (that is not my worldview.) There are people in my life who would be happy if the government was shrunk to the size of a tiny piece of poop that could then be flushed down the toilet. (That is *really* not my worldview.) And the thing is, neither of these extreme views are held by evil people, though I do believe that the talking heads who rally the masses to demonize the other have some work to do, um, spiritually speaking. And I think the vitriol in politics, and the current intransigence in government, is probably a symptom of deeper feelings of isolation, hurt, misunderstanding, untended childhood wounds, fear of death, etc. etc., than it is a mark of our true difference. I realize I sound a little Dr. Freud-y saying all this, but there you have it.

Now I’m off to smoke a cigar! (Heh.)

Amelia uncensored

Anyone want to hear more from Amelia Brighton from A Place at the Table? This is a piece I wrote that has never been published before. It goes deep into Amelia’s head. It’s told in the second person, as she was trying, in some ways, to gain some distance from her pain, even as she was feeling it intimately. The awesome online literary journal Necessary Fiction published it today. Go here to read!

Anniston Star review

This is one of the lovelier reviews we’ve received of  A Place at the Table. So thoughtful and smartly articulated!

 

Paula Deen and Edna Lewis: Two Different Visions of the South

Look, I don’t think Paula Deen is evil. That said, I think she’s got a lot of work to do, and I think she’s lived for a long time in a fantasy world that is sugar-coated to the point of toxicity, both in how she approaches food and how she approaches the subject of race in America. When the news first broke of her fall from grace, I couldn’t stop thinking about her and all of the implications of her downfall. I wondered whether her family would circle the wagon or throw her under the bus. I knew, implicitly, that the dominant narrative would be that Paula Deen is a racist and so we should chuck her in the garbage to rid ourselves of racism. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s how it works. I don’t think racism lives in just a few bad apples. I think the roots of racism run deeper than that and have seeped into our collective soil.

I’m not sure what the answer is to all of this, but I know that we need role models to guide us and I’m pretty sure that Paula Deen is not one of them. (And as a friend pointed out, it’s not as if we were looking to her for our moral guidance. We were looking to her to show us how to make a cobbler.) Still, there are cobbler makers out there who also approach the world with moral clarity and grace. Edna Lewis, who was the inspiration for the character of Alice in A Place at the Table, was one of them. It seems to me that we should pay more attention to her and less to Paula Deen. And so I wrote a piece that the Huffington Post published today that says just that.

 

 

 

Joshilyn Jackson is the bomb

for so many reasons, like, she’s a fiercely good writer, and a fabulous speaker, and has a very, very, very fine editorial eye. But also, she’s a great supporter of her writer friends. Case in point: She posted this blog piece about me yesterday. Check it out for a chance to win a hardcover first edition of A Place at the Table.

 

Dad’s day

My parents are on their way to NYC right now. They’re going up there so they can attend my reading Wednesday night at Book Court in Brooklyn. That’s the kind of parents they are. Sam and I had an early father’s day dinner with them on Wednesday night. They came over to our house before dinner and my dad noticed a stamped and addressed envelope to him, waiting on the table by the front door, ready for me to put in the mail the next day. It contained his father’s day card.

“Can I take it now?” he asked.

“Yeah, but it’s already stamped,” I said.

“I know. But if I take it now I can use the stamp. That can count as your present to me.”

Let me explain: my father will remove the card from the envelope, put an adhesive white label over his name and address–covering it–and use the stamped envelope, now with a blank mailing label on it, to mail something to someone else.

I love this about him.

Here’s a picture of us together. I am the one without hair:

photo(11)

 

I also have a new father-in-law, Ron Reid. Ronnie loves banana pudding, so I made him this. Can you tell I really like the guy? He and my mother-in-law Barbara are also coming up to NY for my reading. Pretty amazing to feel so connected to this new family of mine as well as to my own parents. I’m lucky. Oh! And adding to the luck, Ms. Bagby, who used to teach at my high school and made up fabulous and specific metaphors for all of her students, now lives in NYC. She is coming to the reading, too, and she is bringing pimento cheese for all! Like, a big ol’ homemade tub of it. I hope the New Yorkers realize what they’re getting.

banana pudding

The fragments leftover, part deux

I’m heading for book tour soon, and I figure I should get the fridge cleaned out for the nice housesitter who is coming to stay with Peanut and Henry. Which means I’m trying to use up everything that’s in there, or as my friend Augusta Ridley says, “Operation Clean Out The Fridge By Cooking Shit is going better than expected!” That was a post of hers on fb, to which very immature people made various comments about cooking poop. Very, very immature people. Not me of course! (Deleting my comments on Augusta’s page now!)

Peanut on the porch

This is Peanut on my front porch. He hung out with me while I ate lunch, but I haven’t gotten to the lunch part of this post yet.

 

Okay, so I was doing the usual make-sure-I eat-everything-that-might-go-bad-in-the-fridge-stuff, cooking eggs for breakfast, making pimento cheese with a half a block of cheddar, when someone (um, probably me) left the freezer door ajar overnight and Sam and I woke up to a freezer full of slushy, half-frozen things. I had a bag of wild caught shrimp in the freezer, along with 1/2 a pound of ground beef from Georgia’s own Riverview Farms, where the cows live happy, happy lives (um, until the end. But look, we all have an end date.) The shrimp defrosted in the freezer as did the beef so I figured I should cook both today. Gathering up the fragments leftover and all. I’ll make spaghetti sauce with ground beef for dinner tonight, easy-peasy and delicious. I was going to make shrimp paste from The Gift of Southern Cooking for lunch, but as I contemplated the stick of butter that begins the recipe, I decided to try something a little lighter. I peeled and deveined the shrimp, then poached them in Old Bay seasoning, kosher salt, and apple cider vinegar (adapated from The Gift of Southern Cooking). While the shrimp cooled I chopped up artichoke hearts from Your Dekalb Farmer’s market, and used up the leftover celery and parsley in the veggie bin. I tossed all ingredients together along with a healthy squeeze of lemon, the merest hint of mayonnaise, and a little Cholula sauce. I decided to go all “lady who lunches” and served myself the shrimp salad on some Baby Gem lettuce leaves, topping the whole thing with another squeeze of lemon and some sliced avocado.

shrimp & artichoke salad

 

I sat on the front porch of my house while eating the shrimp salad. Peanut hung out with me and many, many people walked by as there is yet another festival going on in the city park nearby. These festivals happen about every two months and our streets get quite jammed. My 78-year old neighbor, a devoted Quaker, calls the festivals “the fucking festivals,” but I would never refer to them as that. (Erasing this mornings facebook post right now.)