Monday, July 21, 2008

The Find: A Pot of Memories

I have admired this brown-lidded bean pot from my parents’ home since I was a kid. I don’t specifically remember eating any beans prepared in it, but I do remember savoring one of my mom’s specialties from it, bubbling to perfection: green rice casserole.

That’s one of those 1970s dishes that involves mixing white rice with frozen broccoli, adding a can or two of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and then topping it off with a handful or two of crushed Saltine crackers. My mom only made this dish on special occasions, but when she did, I can honestly say that every last creamy drop was scraped out of this bean pot, whose color and texture is inspired by the skin of a cooked pinto bean.

A few years back I admired the old bean pot that had been retired to an upper shelf in Mom’s kitchen cabinets. I told her that if she ever decided to get rid of it, I would like to have it. I never really thought she would actually send it to me, but then one day a cardboard box arrived at my apartment building. I recognized the return address from my Independence, Mo., childhood home. When I cut off the tape, opened the box and pulled out the wrappings, the old bean pot was unveiled. (It’s a wonder it made it all in one piece, considering that the box was practically crushed, and it was lightly surrounded in paper towels and a sheet of bubble wrap!)

When I turned the pot over, Mom had written in black marker,” Wedding Present, July 1, 1962.” That was the year my parents married in Mansfield, Mo. Reading those words endeared me even more to this old bean pot.

I do, on the special occasion, serve baked beans in the old bean pot, but I rarely put it in the oven for fear that because of its age, it might break. For the most part, it sits in a safe corner of my kitchen atop a crocheted trivet my garage-sale shopping pal Ruth Handel discovered on one of her treasure hunts.

I missed my Mom and Dad’s anniversary this year. (It was July 1, and for some reason my brain was all discombobulated, confusing anniversaries with birthdays, confusing several momentous dates not only by days, but by months! Just ask Ruth who got an anniversary card near her birthday.) But every day I think of Mom and Dad, and am reminded of their special day 46 years ago by this lovely, old bean pot.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Easy Entertaining: Here She Comes Again!

Sometimes just zeroing in on a theme can make the difference between a drive-by party and one that you have to literally shut off the lights to get guests to go back home!

Back in March, I celebrated the launch of Dolly Parton’s Backwoods Barbie album and had to look no farther than the CD cover, oh, and my three decades worth of memorabilia, for inspiration.

I knew I wanted a distinctive tabletop, so I first tapped into 1970s and found a heartwarming motif in Dolly’s song, “Coat of Many Colors.” My mom and I started out by gathering scraps of pastel gingham and butterfly prints, cutting them out in randomly sized squares and sewing them together for what resulted in our “Tablecloth of Many Colors,” paying homage to Dolly’s classic. (Isn't my mom cute holding up our creation?)

From there, everything else seemed to fall in place. Three vintage gold-trimmed pieces of china I bought for a few dollars at Lutecia Clementine’s in Independence, MO, easily mixed into my own white dining plates for a touch of Grandma chic. (When I finally met Dolly a few years back, I stuttered, "I feel like a two-year-old kid meeting Santa Claus for the first time.” Dolly placed her porcelain hand on my arm and giggled, “Why you just calm down. I’m just Granny Claus!”).

I further expanded on the homespun tabletop with an old metal picnic basket I found at a thrift store in Memphis. I loaded it up with fried chicken and cornpone, which is something I’d never tasted before but found the recipe in the Dollywood cookbook. I found mix-and-match napkins for a few dollars at Housing Works in New York and at Kansas City’s River Market Antique Mall. Some already had butterflies on them, but for the one’s that didn’t, I ironed on appliqu├ęs of the fluttery creatures.

For unique decorations, I rummaged through my own collection of Dolly souvenirs that has consistently grown over the years. The large cutout standing behind the table came from a book promotion of one of Dolly’s books.
I keep it stashed behind the headboard in my bedroom to make a surprise appearance when people gather in my home. The small cutout above the table is another promotion from the early ‘80s touting Dolly’s album, Nine To Five…And Odd Jobs.

We sang Dolly songs, drank “Jolenes” (a shaken concoction of RC Cola, Vodka and a splash of lemonade), and nibbled pink cupcakes decorated and butterfly sugar cookies until the wee hours of the morning. The only thing missing was our singing diva in the flesh. But for a few fleeting hours, it seemed like she was actually there.