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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

 

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.

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

 

Vanity Fair. Butter.

A photo of a photo.

A photo of a photo.

I want to talk about making homemade butter–and I am going to talk about making homemade butter–but first I have to share something really exciting: I’m in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine, along with eight other (amazing) Atlanta authors. The VF people flew down from New York a couple of months ago, dolled us up, and shot hundreds of pics in front of the Swan Coach House, which is a gorgeous 1920′s mansion that is part of Atlanta’s History Center. The photographer’s name was Iris Brosch. She was amazing. She had such a light spirit she seemed almost ethereal, and yet she was absolutely focused and determined. The shoot was so much fun. I mean, how could it not have been? I was with author buddies of mine, dressed in this gorgeous frock I could have worn to my wedding, being photographed by a really smart creative woman. What’s not to love?

And what better snack goes with some juicy Vanity Fair reading than a nice cup of tea and a piece of buttered toast? (Hmm…me thinks that may have been the world’s worst segue.) What I am trying to get at is that butter is delicious and I have recently discovered how to make it homemade. Not that you need to make homemade butter, in fact butter is the last thing anyone needs to make, but if you are interested in doing it, I made it for the first time ever this weekend and I’m here to tell you it’s a snap. (Actually, I first made butter in kindergarten, when the headmaster of my elementary school dressed up like a pilgrim and we churned butter and ate corn muffins in honor of Thanksgiving break.)

The only ingredient is heavy cream. You take the cream, put it in a big glass bowl, and let it come to room temperature. Meanwhile take the butter paddles you have ordered off Amazon for $6.00 and soak them in ice water. Take an electric beater and whip the cream. First it will turn into soft whipped cream, then stiff whiped cream. Then it will turn lumpy and finally it will look like scrambled eggs. Keep beating. The amazing part is yet to come. You just keep letting those beaters spin, and suddenly your cream curds kind of burst and water (buttermilk, actually) starts sloshing around in the bowl. It’s kind of like a pregnant woman’s water breaking. Wait–scratch that–not very appetizing. It’s kind of like water bursting forth from a stone. Yes, that’s it. Water bursting from a stone. A miracle! Yes, it’s kind of like a miracle, that’s what it is!

After the buttermilk starts sloshing around in the bowl you strain the liquid from the solid (I used a Chemex coffee maker to do so), then squeeze the butter with your hands to get out every last bit of buttermilk. Wash the butter in a couple of rounds of cold clean water, kneading it with each round. Your hands need to be cold while you are doing all of this. Now take the cold butter paddles and shape the butter into a log or a roll or a little circle and voila, you are ready to spread the stuff on toast. Not including the time it takes for the cream to come to room temperature, the whole process takes maybe 20 minutes. Try it! It is so neat.

Here’s a pictorial guide:

Start with heavy cream:

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Whip it like crazy thru soft peaks, hard peaks, and the “scrambled egg stage:”

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See the buttermilk?

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Tons of buttermilk:

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Straining the buttermilk from the solids, via the Chemex coffee maker…
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Don’t be afraid to squeeze that butter:

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Knead and shape with the butter paddles

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And voila. Butta!
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I used an old cookie press for this little pat. See the donkey? See what a good little Democrat I am?

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Restaurant Eugene thing is one week away.

In anticipation for the dinner at Eugene’s I’m doing next Tuesday, I’m thinking about the traditions behind indigenous southern cooking. Now I have a feeling we will be eating fairly high on the hog at the Eugene’s dinner, but am wondering if any of y’all have ever eaten the following “real country” foods:

  • squirrel:
  • rabbit:
  • venison:
  • quail:
  • raccoon:
  • possum:

I’ve only eaten three of them: rabbit, venison and quail. There was a study that came out a few years ago that said that raccoon is actually a lean and healthful meat. Who knew? I wish that squirrel tasted delicious, because I have a major vendetta against the little things after they ate half of the bounty of my summer garden…

Maybe if you brine the squirrel for a good long time and then braise it? Any recipes?

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photo documentation

I am bad about blogging with any sort of regularity. The problem, me thinks, is that I feel I have to write lengthy and edited things, and instead of doing such a thing I suffer from performance anxiety and decide just to check my facebook account instead. So I’ve decided to keep tonight’s bloggity blog short and simple in the hopes that writing short will encourage me to write more frequently.

So. Lots has been going on. A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Decatur Book Festival, which is the world’s best book festival, or so thinks this Georgia girl who has actually only attended 4 other festivals, but I’m telling ya, Decatur’s is THE BEST. At the festival I picked up the following bumper sticker, which I then put on my husband’s car (I have a new VW that I am obsessed with and have to hold myself back from cleaning all of the time and no bumper sticker is going on it, ever, not even during an election year, and you know we Yellow Dogs are big on bumper stickers…)

Anyhoo, here’s the new sticker that is on our Honda. Clearly I have reached a new level of dorkiness:

There are many kinds of activism.

Okay, next up: I am the inaugural author for Resturant Eugene‘s author dinner series! So, so, cool. Chef Linton Hopkins and I will be talking about growing up in Atlanta, and our food memories around that, and then Chef will serve a four course wine-paired dinner that is in part inspired by the foods in Soft Place to Land. I am so freaking excited. There are a few tix left–but not many! They’ve already sold 60 seats! Contact Restaurant Eugene if interested. And here’s a little thing that Intown Atlanta wrote about it.

Speaking of food, I’ve been cooking as if it’s fall, even though it’s still super hot in Atlanta. To hell with Indian summer, me says. I’m braising chicken legs with apples in a mustard cider sauce, and finishing it with cream. And I’m serving it with sauted brussels sprouts and apples, plus mashed potatoes loaded with butter. Here’s some pics of the braise as it came together:

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You start by browning the chicken legs. You want a deep, caramel-y brown. Preferably you don’t burn your hand when a bit of hot oil splashes you as you turn the chicken…but, you know, shhh-it happens.

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After the chicken is browned and you are burned (or, hopefully, not) you take the chicken pieces out of the pan and cook some apple slices in the rendered schmaltz. Then you take out the apple pieces and deglaze the pan with some hard (i.e. alcoholic cider). Then add 1/4 cup of dijon mustard and some sage leaves. Then add the chicken back to the pot, cover the thing, and cook for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven, at which point you take it out and add the apples. Then you put the pot back in the oven for another 40 minutes or so until the chicken meat is fork tender. You finish by taking the chicken and apples out of the pot once again, and cooking the sauce down a bit before whisking in some heavy whipping cream. Serve it all over mashed potatoes, with a side of brussels sprouts.

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(These sprouts are actually not done cooking. I started by browning them in olive oil, then sort of poached them in hard cider and chicken stock to soften them up. As a certain perky TV cook might say: Yummo.)

And it all started with these ingredients: 

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Okay, this entry wasn’t very short, was it?