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Mittie Cumbie Wade’s Sour Cream Pound Cake

Mittie Cumbie Wade's Sour Cream Pound Cake RecipeI’ve received some of the nicest, most touching notes this week from people who are in the middle of reading–or just finished–A Place at the Table. I’ve also received some really nice reviews from book lovers and book bloggers. I am so grateful for the word of mouth support this book is getting! Thank you.

I’ve also been getting some requests for recipes! I wish I could have everyone over and cook for them (to me heaven would be a dinner party with no one getting drunk and belligerent and people from all walks of life reunited), but in lieu of my hosting folks at my house I want to share a recipe with you from the book. This is the recipe for Bobby’s grandmother’s poundcake. Except Bobby doesn’t call her “Grandmother;” he calls her “Meemaw.”  Meemaw’s pound cake is so good she sells 10 a week out the back door of her kitchen in Decatur, GA. I had to try a lot of recipes before I found one that I thought warranted Meemaw’s seal of approval. The one I chose is the recipe of my good friend Greg Johnson, whose own grandmother was famous for her pound cake. Her name was Mittie Cumbie Wade and Greg says folks would line up for her pound cake when she served it at family gatherings. You’ll also find this recipe in the back of the hardcover edition of A Place at the Table. Remember to bring all cold ingredients (eggs, butter, sour cream) to room temperature before cooking. And this cake really works best cooked in a bundt or tube pan–it doesn’t translate well to loaf pans. Also, if you have the chance, topping this with a glaze made of melted butter, lemon juice, confectioner’s sugar and lemon zest takes things to a whole new level.

Here’s the recipe:

Mittie Cumbie Wade Sour Cream Pound Cake

Atlanta Community Food Bank: A Tale of Two “A Place at the Tables”

I just read this opinion piece by Mark Bittman on the 2013 Farm Bill that is currently being debated in Congress. Needless to say, the proposed bill breaks my heart. Just breaks it. Basically it’s a plan that punishes those who suffer the most in our society and rewards those who really don’t need a government hand-out. I encourage you to read this article, and if moved check out the environmental working group for ways to take action. Bittman’s piece also really resonates with a guest-blog I did this week for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, in which I discuss A Place at the Table the documentary, which not only shares a title with my new book, but is a real must-see and eye-opener. Seriously, I think you should download the film right now. But first read the blog I wrote for the Food Bank, then download the movie. And if moved, contact your Senators and Representatives about revising the farm bill so it is one of equity and compassion. And, hey, did you know that for every $1 you give to the Food Bank they can donate $8.47 worth of grocery products to the community?

Also, at the end of my ACFB guest-blog there are three options of simple things you can do to win a hardback of A Place at the Table the novel. You only have to choose one!

http://www.acfb.org/sharing-stories/tale-two-place-tables

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This squirrel thinks you should donate to the Food Bank.

Becoming Amelia, a Guest Post from Katharine Powell

Katharine Powell and Susan Rebecca White

College roommates Katharine Powell (Roman) and Susan Rebecca White

I was so excited when I found out that Katharine Powell, my best friend from college, was cast to read for the role of Amelia Brighton for the audiobook of A Place at the Table. Katharine and I both transferred to Brown our junior year. We, along with one other housemate, were assigned to live in a ramshackle off-campus house with five bedrooms. Why only three women in a five bedroom house? Because in the city of Providence there was an antiquated brothel law on the books: no more than three unrelated females were allowed to live under one roof.

My memory of the house is that it had only two lamps in the entire two-story space, and the only overhead lights were in the bathrooms and the kitchen. Its furnishings were sparse: three single beds, three dressers with drawers that stuck, three desks, three wastepaper baskets. I arrived first and had to fight back tears as I walked from one desolate room to another.

And then a U-Haul arrived and out jumped Katharine, a tiny, beautiful bundle of optimism, along with her laid-back boyfriend from New York City. They both seemed incredibly cosmopolitan to me in their skinny jeans and black t-shirts.  Immediately they began carting in furniture: sofas, lamps, dressers, beds, which had all been in storage at Katharine’s childhood home. Katharine spent that first week nesting, making our ramshackle house into a home. She even deep-cleaned the 100-year-old oven in our kitchen. Then she took a shower, put on nice clothes and a killer pair of boots, and went and auditioned for the first play the Brown theatre group was putting on that fall. Does it come as any surprise that Katharine was cast as the lead?

I asked Katharine if she would reflect on the experience of reading for Amelia Brighton for the audiobook of A Place at the Table. Here is her response:

Susan and I were roommates at Brown and have been close ever since. The summer she was going through her divorce, Susan rented an apartment blocks from me on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. That summer, we walked a lot in the park, met at the Corner Bakery on 3rd and 93rd, or just sat on the floor of my apartment and talked while my son played. It was special, to get that kind of face time with my college roommate, all these years later.

When Susan first asked me to read for her audiobook, I was thrilled. My agent mailed me the manuscript and I could not put it down. I am a huge fan of Susan’s writing, and I think A Place At The Table is her finest work to date. After I read the manuscript, I started to get nervous. I hadn’t recorded an audiobook in years and wanted to do Susan’s writing justice. I took the train to New York (we live in Philly now) and bought a pair of shoes right before the session started. They were gold flats and felt like something my character, Amelia, might wear. I got to the studio and found that once I started reading the words aloud, it all felt incredibly organic.

Amelia for me was an amalgamation: part me, part Susan, part modern-day Katharine Hepburn, part Vivienne Benesch (a theater actress I know and respect a great deal), and part Alexandra Styron, based on her powerful memoir about her father.

Katharine Powell Headshot

Actress Katharine Powell reads the part of Amelia in A Place at the Table.

Susan has a gift for the truth, and anytime that happens, it makes an actor’s job feel somewhat effortless. I trusted her writing to do most of work for me. Everything had been going along smoothly that first session, I was having a lot of fun bringing her characters to life (particularly the Southern ones as my family of origin is from the South). Then, about three pages from the end of Part 3, out of nowhere, I just lost it! I was overcome with emotion, sadness really, and could not read another word. The producer was lovely about it. I took a moment to have a good cry, recompose myself, and then was fine to continue. But, I think the accumulative effect of reading my dear friend’s most personal voice, her deepest imagination, and the rewards of her grief finally caught up with me. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced as an actor before, knowing the writer on such a personal level. It was an amazing experience for me, and I am so glad to have had it!

Buy the audiobook to hear Katharine’s pitch-perfect embodiment of Amelia. And while Katharine’s reading of Amelia is not in this audio clip from Simon & Schuster audio, you can get an idea of the quality of the production by listening to an excerpt of the prologue read by the brilliant Robin Miles, who plays Alice.

Publication Day for A Place at the Table

A Place on the Table On SaleToday is the day! A Place at the Table is now available for purchase.

Pub date is a funny thing. There’s such expectation around it, such anticipation and bated breath. It’s kind of like Christmas day finally arriving when I was little, and I couldn’t believe the actual day had come, because it was just so fabulous to have prettily wrapped presents under the tree and then to unwrap them only to find a new Barbie! A science kit with a real frog (preserved in formaldehyde) to dissect! Lindt chocolate bars! A Nintendo!

Except pub date isn’t exactly like that. It’s pretty much a day like any other. For example, I cleaned cat puke off the front porch today, which sadly  is not an unusual occurrence at the Reid/White household. (Thanks a lot, Peanut.) And tonight Sam and I will watch the News Hour on PBS (I adore Gwynn Ifill) and then eat a big salad from veggies purchased at the Morningside market last Saturday, then finish up the leftover cobbler.  We could go out to dinner, but I don’t like to do that when there’s good food in the fridge (when did I turn into my Depression era grandma?) We’ll probably go on a walk around the neighborhood once things cool off a bit, and I might even do some gardening to distract me from nerves. There are two hydrangea bushes that need transferring and two tomato plants that need staking. I’ll definitely be checking my email more maniacally, and trying not to look atAmazon to see where the book ranks, but then looking anyway. But mostly, it will be a normal day, and when I reflect over the fact that a normal day means walking and eating good food and spending time with Sam Reid, then I have to give thanks for the new normal.

But also, today is special. Because while there will not be presents under the tree, nor, I assume, the second coming of Christ (if He does come, do like the bumper sticker advises and “Look Busy!) a quieter miracle has occurred.  The miracle of taking all of the bits of my life, my interests, my obsessions, my past, my tastes, my grief and my joy, and filtering all of those experiences and synapse fires into a fictitious story that somehow says something true about me, the way my brain works, and the way I see the world. And then getting to share that story not just with friends and family, but with people I will never meet in person, yet whom I will have this intimate exchange with.

I’m lucky.

I’m also lucky that this past Sunday, more than 200 people showed up to support the new book at a launch party hosted by Georgia Center for the Book. You can view the A Place at the Table Launch Party Photos here. It was a lovely, lovely evening. So many people from my past were there, wishing me well, celebrating the book, relating to the things Susan Puckett and I discussed, namely that food is a powerful carrier of our DNA. (We are what we eat, or as the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man says, “I yam what I yam.”

I’m incredibly grateful to live among a community of family and friends.

Now I must go check Amazon. Then dig some holes in the ground.

Interview for Busking at the Seams

I’ve been blessed with some great students over the years. One of those was Caroline Huftalen who was one of my grad students when I was writer-in-residence at SCAD. Last week Caroline asked if she could interview me for her blog about arts and literature, titled  Busking at the Seams. (Great name, huh?) Hope you’ll mosey over and read the post: Susan Rebecca White launches latest Novel: A Place at the Table.

Just Married! Congrats Sam and Susan!

Sam and Susan Wedding Portrait
Congratulations to newlyweds Sam and Susan who are now on a short honeymoon. Don’t worry. They’ll be back in time for Susan’s big launch for A Place at the Table. Hope to see you at the Decatur Library on Sunday, June 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Matzoh ball soup, or what I am taking from my first marriage into my next:

Perhaps I have mentioned that I’m marring Sam Redburn Reid this upcoming Tuesday? In preparation for the world’s smallest wedding ceremony I got my brows and, ahem, lip waxed today (which brings me to a quick digression. I once walked into a waxing salon and told the man behind the counter that I needed to get my mustache waxed, to which he replied, “your lip, sweetheart. Say your lip.”) Tonight I’m having dinner with one of my closest friends in Atlanta—which I guess counts as a bachelorette party, if by bachelorette party you mean eat pizza and drink some good red wine. Tomorrow I’ll go to the Grant Park farmers market and buy some strawberries to make ice cream for the wedding cake and some flowers to have in the house during the ceremony. I also need to write some words to Sam to share with him during the ceremony. Those I will not share here, but I will say that I am deeply, deeply in love with this man. So in love that when he and I first started dating I could not get the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s song All I Want out of my head, particularly these lines: “I want to knit you a sweater. I want to write you a love letter. I want to make you feel better. I want to make you feel free.”

with Sam in Highlands

Sam and me

 

Despite the fact that Sam and I have the most egalitarian relationship I’ve ever been a part of (I feel partnered), I have all of these retro yearnings with him. Or maybe I should say sweet, old-fashioned yearnings. I do want to knit him a sweater! I also really wanted to take his last name and was planning to do so until my pragmatic / lazy side got the best of me and I realized that legally changing my name while publishing under Susan Rebecca White would be a massive and confusing pain in the ass. I’ll have moments when we are hanging out when I just think to myself, “God, do I love this man.”  He is kind and true, solid in his sense of self, super capable, goofy and funny. And children and animals love him–which is about the world’s best indicator of someone’s benevolent nature.

Lucy, Ben, Sam & me

We are only playing parents in this pic. Those are not our children. Kind of like the actor on TV who plays a doctor.

Sam with Peanut

Sam with our cat Peanut.

 

Enough about Sam, because what I’ve already written will probably embarrass him to death. Or rather enough about Sam’s nature and onto his cold!  (Heh. Sorry, babe.) He’s got one and I hope it will be gone by Tuesday. My solution to a cold? Homemade chicken soup with matzoh balls. This is definitely a trick I’m carrying over from my first marriage. My ex-husband is Jewish and with him I learned to cook all sorts of awesome Ashkenazi foods. I’ve read medical studies that say that chicken soup really does help get rid of a cold. There’s some curative effect from the chicken bones. I also load my broth with vegetables. I put in about 10 carrots, 10 celery stalks, two onions, parsley, and whatever else I have in the bin. I cook the stock–with the bones of a whole chicken–for about four hours, then strain it. The essence of the vegetables remains. Served with matzoh balls (I make mine with duck fat!), a squeeze of lemon and some parsley, it is healing.

veggies for stock

prepped veggies waiting to be stewed

Though really, whether or not Sam has a cold on our wedding day is not critical.  What’s critical are the vows we are making to each other.

Why not get married two weeks before your novel launches?

I’m not a glutton for punishment, I swear. It’s just that Sam and I are both second-timers with this marriage thing and what seems important to focus on is the relationship, not the bridesmaids. (If I tried to focus on the bridesmaids I’d be squinting at the air cause I ain’t having em.) In fact I am having the world’s smallest (home) wedding. It’s just the minister, Sam, me, and two witnesses. And our cats. The cats will be there to witness it all. Perhaps Peanut will bring a live chipmunk in through the cat door just as we are saying “I do.”

I’m sort of picturing my June 2 book launch as our wedding reception because so many of our family and friends will be there. But I know I shouldn’t get the two events confused, right? I mean the wedding is a tax write-off while the launch is not. (Just jokin’ IRS! Seriously. Just joking.)

Back to the wedding: Yes, it’s crazy to be doing this right before launching a book, but the thing is, Sam and I aren’t getting any younger. I mean, I’m not ancient or anything but the other day my back hurt after playing frisbee. Frisbee. Which is all to say that time is ticking and when you find the person you want to build a life with you want to do it now. (Pretty sure I just stole that line from some famous Hollywood rom-com. Sorry bout that!)

This is also the world’s cheapest wedding. DIY, baby. Well, I didn’t make the dress or anything, but I bought a simple white sundress off the rack and ordered a birdcage bridal veil from Etsy. I’m wearing a pair of blue strappy high-heeled sandals I already own, and my friend is making me a bouquet  of blue hydrangeas from her garden. She’s also making me a cake. We’re trying to decide between chocolate with white frosting or lemon with cream cheese frosting. I think I’m leaning toward lemon. Sam’s brother made us the most beautiful wooden box to symbolize the merging of our lives. The box is made of two different woods, combined and polished till the whole is better than the parts. I think we’ll put our wedding photos in there.

On advice of our pre-marital counselor, tonight Sam and I are supposed to go off by ourselves and say goodbye to our single lives, which makes me think  of my favorite Joan Didion essay ever, “Goodbye to All That,” in which she bids farewell to being young in Manhattan. I can’t think of much that makes me sad as I join my life with Sam’s, but I do think it’s a good idea to be conscious of how utterly huge this commitment is that we are about to make to each other. The first time I went around the wedding block I was more casual in my approach, more cavalier. My thought process was pretty much, “well, let’s see if this works!” This time the vows feel very, very profound. How much more real does it get than “till death do you part?” Just saying those words is acknowledging a truth that I (at least) am always running from: That we will die.

But there’s so much good stuff to experience before we do. For me, right now, it’s a white dress, blue shoes, hydrangeas, a lemon cake and a beautiful wooden box. And a book that I wrote that is about to be born into the world.

 

 

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darling alone

 

with Sam in Highlands

but better together

 

Will you fill out a comment card?

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This giraffe likes me. Do you? (And can you spy Joshilyn Jackson in the background?)

 

Hi! Welcome to my new website! I really like it but I’d love to know what you think. Click around, enjoy the photos, have a glass of wine, enjoy! And please leave a comment letting me know what you dig and what you’d like more of (or, ahem, less of.) Anyone who enters a comment will be automatically entered into a drawing to win a free signed copy of A Place at the Table–my first hardcover evah!

One thing to think about: I blog a lot about food but I have a feeling I could do it better. Any suggestions? More pics? More confessions of kitchen failures? More explanation of how I tweak recipes to get em how I like em?

Thanks so much.

The Fragments Left Over

Susan's Sexy Legs Carrot

A farmers market find: the sexy carrot doing a demure little knee cross.

A Place at the Table begins with an epigraph taken from John 6:12. “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” In many ways this book is about lost souls finding home and so of course the words from the New Testament are fitting. But I often think of this quote when I’m cooking, as it fits well with my kitchen philosophy: “try not to throw stuff away.”

According to a piece in the Atlantic Wire, on average forty percent of the U.S. food system goes straight to the dump. I’m trying to cut that number in half when it comes to my own eating and cooking habits, and only throw out twenty percent. In other words, I’m aiming for a B-. (After all, I’m always telling my students that a B is a good grade.)

I had a fun time “gathering the fragments left over” today. I woke up around 6:30 and could not go back to sleep. At seven I decided I might as well get up and go to the Morningside Farmers’ Market, which sells organic produce and meats raised in Georgia. Naively I thought I’d have the market to myself at such an ungodly hour. But apparently lots of people are up and at ‘em at 7:30 in the morning. (Who knew?) The two most popular stalls, Crystal Organics and Woodland Gardens, each had long lines. I waited until it was my turn to pick out my carrots, beets, asparagus, strawberries, various lettuces and arugula. Then I headed over to the stand operated by Riverview, a family farm that raises pigs and cows on pasture. I bought some ground beef and some perfectly rendered lard, and listened to the woes of getting meat from a small farm approved by the USDA. (More on farm bill issues here: http://www.ewg.org/farmbill2013)

Back at home I cleaned out the fridge before unpacking my loot. The vegetable bin contained tons of old beet greens, leftover from the beet roots I’ve been obsessively roasting this spring. There was also some limp celery and an old bag of carrots from Trader Joe’s, as well as a large bag of mint on the verge of wilting. Instead of throwing this stuff out I piled it onto my kitchen counter, along with a bowl containing four egg yolks leftover from when I made meringues the other day.

I was hungering for a bright orange carrot soup with ginger—made from the carrots I had bought that day at the market. I had chicken stock in the freezer, but I thought it would be nice to make the soup 100 percent vegetarian. So I made a vegetable stock with some of the leftover beet greens, the Trader Joe’s carrots and celery, two onions, a little garlic, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. While that was simmering I made a simple syrup and flavored it with the bag of mint. (I use a recipe found in Alana Chernila’s wonderful cookbook, The Homemade Pantry). The simple syrup makes a nice soda when added to water fizzed in the “Soda Stream Soda Maker.” It also makes a nice vodka cocktail.

The last thing I prepared was vanilla custard, using the leftover egg yolks. I had a pound cake in the freezer, cut into small chunks. I toasted the chunks in the oven while I made the custard. I also cut up a quart of strawberries, added a tablespoon of sugar, and let the berries get good and juicy while the custard and toasted pound cake came together. When all three ingredients were ready I layered them, basing the concept on southern banana puddin’, but with strawberries instead. If I were British I would call it a trifle. The trifle / strawberry puddin’ is in the fridge right now, marinating. I’ll either top it with whipped cream or meringue. It is pretty much all I want to eat for dinner tonight, but I think first I’ll grill the asparagus I bought today, toss it in a vinaigrette, and top it with bacon pieces and a poached egg.

I realize it’s a little odd to be so consumed by thoughts of forthcoming meals. And it’s almost embarrassing what a thrill I get from making delicious things out of foods I might have otherwise thrown away. But it’s so satisfying! You take the dregs and the remains and the nearly rotten, and after some manipulation and some time, you create nourishment. It’s such a great metaphor—for life as well as for writing. And it saves you money, too.