Sunday, July 24, 2011

High School Football in the South

High School Football is a huge part of living in the South. In fact, it’s almost a southern religion. Every year, football season is eagerly anticipated by a large portion of the community. It usually starts with spring practice, when the local team is sized up by the community, and scrimmages are held.

High school football is a big deal with southern living. How big? I’ll give you an example. Our state-of-the-art football stadium holds 10,000 people, even though the population of our small town is only around 15,000 or so, according to the 2000 census. At big games, the stadium is filled, too.

Attending Friday night football games is sort of a ritual in the Deep South, especially in small, close-knit communities, where most people know the players and the coaches. Before the most important games, community pep rallies are often held, and they might include bonfires, bands, guest speakers, and more. And if the team makes it to the playoffs, the pep rallies get even bigger, and more community events are held. The last time our team made it to the state semi-finals, hordes of people lined the highway leading out of town to cheer the buses as the boys left. Many fans were holding up signs.

If you’re not accustomed to high school football games in the Deep South, allow me to describe one for you. You buy your ticket the day before or at the gate, unless you hold season passes for reserved seating. You find your seat immediately, or you stop first for some snacks: boiled peanuts, roasted peanuts, cotton candy, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, nachos, candy apples, popcorn, candy bars, and soft drinks. The atmosphere is very festive, and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie among the fans. You visit with friends and neighbors while you wait for the game to start.
At starting time, the United States flag is raised, and the high school band plays the Star Spangled Banner. Sometimes there’s a vocalist, too. The home team’s and the visiting team’s cheerleaders have made huge paper banners beforehand. When the teams exit the field house, they crash through these banners as they enter the field, while the band plays the school’s fight song. At our stadium, we have the added effect of smoke billowing from the field house. And then the action starts.

Many southern teams do something special every time they score. For example, a cannon is fired at our stadium when the home team scores points in the game, and the cheering from the home side is even louder than the cannon blast.

At halftime, the home band and the visiting band entertain the crowd with some pretty impressive shows that include marching, configurations, flags, and in some schools, baton twirling. Also during the halftime break, the cheerleaders toss small footballs to the crowd, and just about every fan tries to catch one. All in all, attending a high school football game in the South is a great way to spend an evening, and it's a wonderful part of southern living!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Camping in Florida

One of the great things about living in the South is the availability of numerous outdoor activities. If you’re into the camping life, you’ll love this part of southern living. There are plenty of great camping spots around the Deep South, including many in Florida. As you might already know, there’s a significant difference in the climates of the Sunshine State. In South Florida, the weather is pretty warm all year. At the other end of the spectrum, North Florida has weather that’s more like Georgia, with cooler falls, winters, and springs.

We’ve done a lot of camping in North Florida. If you have a camper with air conditioning, July and August are good times to go camping, especially if you’re planning on swimming and other water activities. Actually, we prefer to go Florida camping in September. The weather isn’t quite as hot then, but it’s still warm enough to swim in the ocean. And yes, many Florida campgrounds are either on the beach or very near the beach.

The absolute worst time to go camping in Florida is in April or May, at least from our experiences. You’ll most likely be attacked relentlessly by sand gnats, and they bite. After one late spring camping trip to Florida, my children had so many bites on their bodies that their teachers thought they had chicken pox and sent them home from school. Hubby had to go up to the school and show them his bites before we could convince the school officials that the girls didn’t have chicken pox.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Southern Beaches: Anna Maria Island

One thing I love about living in the South is that I’m near some great beaches and islands. Southern living just doesn’t get much better than that. One of our favorite vacation destinations is located on Florida’s gulf coast, just south of Tampa. The name of this small island is Anna Maria, and it’s truly awesome for families. When we go, we take the daughters, the sons-in-law, the grandkids, and friends with us. Everyone has a blast!

If you’re used to the fast pace of Orlando and other tourist meccas, Anna Maria Island will be a wonderful change. It’s totally laid back. In fact, when we go, we’re sometimes convinced that all the clocks on the island run slower. We call it “island time.” You’ll also enjoy the friendly natives, the perfect weather, and the tropical flowers and foliage.
Like most islands, the biggest attraction here is the beach, and Anna Maria has several top-notch beaches, ranging from busy and somewhat crowded to practically deserted. Choose your poison! You can also choose what type of surf you want. Some of the beaches have no waves at all, while others have some gentle waves. No matter which beach you visit on the island, you’ll find clear water and super soft white sand.

Anna Maria Island doesn’t have high-rise hotels and condominiums, but you will find plenty of vacation lodgings. Choose an inn, a private home, a hotel, or a condo. Many accommodations are right on the Gulf or the bay, but no matter where you stay on the island, you won’t be far from a gorgeous beach.

Spend your days swimming, skimboarding, body surfing, crabbing, kayaking, fishing, building sand castles, bird watching, or just relaxing in the sun. The grandkids love snorkeling at the nothern tip of the island, where they find starfish and sand dollars. Rent a boat or a jet ski at a local marina and do some exploring. You can even swim with horses! If you need more entertainment, cross the bridge to Bradenton or drive a few miles to Sarasota for aquariums, museums, tons of restaurants, kids’ activities, and tons of restaurants. You won’t have to leave the island to enjoy some great meals, however. Forget the national chains and opt for a locally owned island restaurant. Choose from fresh gulf seafood, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, crepes, southern barbecue, bakery items, frozen treats, and much more. Believe me, pals – this is southern living at its best!

Living in the South: Fall Foliage

If you’ve lived in the North and are now living in the South, you might think you’re going to miss the brilliant fall foliage to which you’re accustomed, now that you’re enjoying southern living. In some areas of the Deep South, you’re right – you won’t see a lot of autumn color in Florida, South Georgia, South Alabama, South Louisiana, or South Mississippi. You’ll see splotches here and there, but that’s about it. Don’t give up completely on southern fall foliage, however!

The mountains of North Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, and Western North Carolina erupt in a kaleidoscope of bright colors every fall! The hillsides and valleys are literally covered with scarlet, crimson, orange, gold, yellow, ochre, and rust. In fact, I think this area would rival any in the United States when it comes to colorful autumn leaves.

A couple of the best places to take in the fall foliage in the South are in North Georgia and in the Great Smoky Mountains. In North Georgia, check out the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway, just north of Helen, GA. This is a beautiful drive that takes you past some of the highest elevations in the state. You’ll pass by country churches, small farms, historic homes, and verdant valleys. The road is winding, with some hairpin turns, so drive carefully, especially when you’re in a cloud.

Another breathtakingly beautiful drive is the one between Cherokee, North Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This drive is all landscape, with no houses and no businesses to adulterate your experience. There are numerous places to pull over and soak up the amazing scenery. Along the way, you might even see black bears, deer, or wild turkeys. Be warned – at the height of the season, the traffic can be bumper-to-bumper, especially on the weekends.

The peak foliage time for these regions is usually around the middle of October, but it changes slightly from year to year, depending on weather conditions. You can keep abreast of the leaf change via the internet.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

BBQ Cooking and Southern Etiquette

Okay, Southerners – you know how important good manners and proper etiquette are to most of us living in the South. With the popularity and prevalence of BBQ cooking here, it’s important to practice correct behavior at a barbecue or pig pickin’. If you need some BBQ cooking recipes, just click! Below are some do’s and don’ts for ladies and gentlemen:

BBQ Do’s

DO offer to bring a dish when you’re invited to an event.

DO bring a dish, even if the hostess says you don’t have to, unless the affair is catered. In that case, a nice bottle of wine would be appropriate.

DO include a travel pack of handi-wipes or wet wipes in your purse. BBQ sauce is messy.

DO wear sunscreen and a fashionable hat to a summer afternoon barbecue. If it’s very casual, like most barbecues are, a nice visor will suffice.

DO compliment others on the dishes they’ve prepared – especially the hostess.

DO include a tag or piece of tape displaying your name on any containers you take.

DO thank the host/hostess for having you as a guest, and call the next day to say what a great time you had…even if you didn’t.

DO reciprocate by having the host and hostess over for a meal soon.

BBQ Don’ts

DON’T insist on helping with the BBQ cooking. It’s polite to ask if there’s anything you can do to help, but there’s sometimes a fine line between being helpful and taking over the grill because you think you’re a better cook than the host.

DON’T wipe BBQ sauce on the hostess’s curtains or bathroom towels.

DON’T ask to take leftover BBQ home with you. If the hostess has more barbecue left over than she knows what to do with, and she asks you to take some, it’s okay to take some. Don’t be a pig, though. Others would probably like some leftovers, too.

DON’T try to eat barbecue ribs with a knife and fork. God invented the rib bones to be used as handles.

DON’T wear heavy makeup to a barbecue. The wet wipes will take it off when it removes the barbecue sauce from your face.

DON’T force folks to try your super-duper-extra-special homemade barbecue sauce. If you just have to take your own sauce, you can mention it to others, and if they want to try it, they will.

DON’T overdress! Find out beforehand about the dress code from the hostess.

DON’T take the kids unless they’re invited.

DON’T discuss politics if any Yankees are at the BBQ. Most of them are FAR left of the average Southerner.

DON’T argue about college or high school football, especially if the entire group is from the South. We all know that the UGA Bulldogs are the best, so just let those Gator fans, Auburn fans, Gamecock fans, and Alabama fans think what they like. You know the truth!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Awesome Awsomosity and Awesomeness of Southern Food

By reading this title, I’m assuming you understand how I feel about Southern food. Yes, I do love me some Southern food! Actually, I like just about all kinds of food, but there’s really something special about living in the South, the history of Southern food, Southern dishes, Southern recipes, and Southern cooking to me. Gee…do you think that’s because I was born and reared in the Deep South? I was, and so was the long line of Southern cooks before me – my mom, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my great-great-grandmother…

My family hails from the Low Country, and I grew up hearing tales about Charleston and Savannah. Cooking and serving food to family and friends has always been a big deal in my family. I don’t remember much about my great-grandmother, but I remember that my grandmother and my mom always had some homemade treat on hand to serve any unexpected guests who might stop by. In Mom’s case, this was usually a pound cake. My grandmother usually kept a supply of her teacakes on the alert.

I think most traditional Southern ladies of generations past, including my mother, would have been mortified if the minister or someone else stopped by the house and she didn’t have some refreshment to offer. I remember on such occasions, the visitor could barely get in the door before Mom was pressing him with a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, along with a slice of pound cake. That’s just the way it was. I think this is a symbolic gesture in the South. Offering and providing food is Southern hospitality, and when it’s done for family members, it’s a form of nurturing.

I firmly believe the importance of food in the South really began in the plantation era. Plantation owners often held huge food events like barbecues, to which they’d invite neighbors and dignitaries. Most plantations were sprawling affairs, and the closest neighbors might have been miles away. When the owners paid a visit to each other, they might spend several days as a guest. Of course, there was always a running friendly competition about which one served the best food and the best libations.

Food was an important form of entertainment, and practically any gathering revolved around it. The plantation owners and their wives even made a spectacle at times of feeding their slaves. The slaves might get only the barest essentials on a day-today basis, perhaps barely enough to survive, but on special occasions many owners would lavish their slaves with large quantities of special foods. This was especially true at Christmas, when most slave owners provided whole smoked hogs as a special treat. The slaves, of course, reveled in this bounty, and the owner and his wife usually sat back and watched the festivities of the blacks while patting themselves on the back for being such kind masters.

The slave culture itself had a huge impact on the way food was thought of, too. As you can imagine, the slaves had very little. Their diets consisted mostly of rice, beans, cornbread, and seasonal vegetables. Some of the slaves had their own garden plots, maybe along with a few chickens and/or a pig. Whenever they could, they supplemented their diets by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild fruits from wooded areas. Whatever they had, they shared with their fellow slaves. Food was extremely important – it meant survival.

After the Civil War, the South was devastated. Many whites and former slaves were hungry, with some near starvation. Food became more important than ever. The act of sharing one’s meager food supplies with another was an act of love and concern, often in a self-sacrificing way.

When you consider the history of the South and of Southern food, it’s easy to see how food is so important to us Southerners. Even though few of us go hungry these days, the memories of our ancestors must be ingrained within us somehow. I think that’s why we celebrate food so much.

And celebrate food we do! Preparing food is almost a ritual with many Southern cooks. We love getting together and cooking as much as we love getting together and eating. Take, for example, when an entire pig is cooked. People enjoy the cooking process as much as they enjoy the finished product. They’ll often stay up all night tending the fire and mopping the meat, and the process becomes somewhat of a party in itself.

I’ve found that most Southerners are generous to a fault when it comes to sharing food. When an older Southern cook, along with some younger Southern cook, prepares a meal for you, it’s done with pride and often with love. We love feeding the body, but even more so, we love nurturing the soul.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Tea Party

When I was a kid living in the South in the sixties, traditional afternoon teas or tea parties were very popular here. My mom, aunts, and grandmother were always hosting or attending a tea for a bride-to-be, a special guest, a retiree, or as a birthday celebration.

The events were usually held in the home of one of the hostesses. They usually took place on a Saturday, at around three or four o'clock in the afternoon. These were formal events, and the ladies all wore their Sunday best. The hostesses also wore corsages, and so did the guest of honor. Men were not allowed at the tea.

If the event was for a bride, the hostesses pooled their money and presented the guest of honor with a fairly expensive gift. Guests didn't bring gifts to the tea. That would have been considered "tacky" - a favorite word of these genteel ladies.

Guests served themselves from the dining room table, using fine china, crystal, and sterling silver. Paper or plastic was avoided like the plague! Why? Because it would have been tacky, of course!

The foods were presented on sterling, china, or crystal plates and platters, often with doilies underneath. Hot foods were kept in silver chafing dishes. Vases of fresh flowers and cuttings of ivy also adorned the table, and of course, underneath everything was a beautiful white linen tablecloth - the hostess's best.

What kinds of party food were served? Finger sandwiches, toasted pecans, fancy little cakes, round cucumber sandwiches with shrimp, pastel ribbon sandwiches, homemade butter mints, divinity, meatballs, cheese straws, tiny tartlets, and other wonderful, dainty party foods. It seemed that the women were always competing to see which one could make the prettiest, tastiest morsels.

Someone was delegated to serve iced tea, hot tea, and punch to guests. Iced tea was served in crystal stemware, hot tea was served in china teacups, and punch was served in crystal punch cups. The hot tea was always poured from a silver or china teapot.

The teas were always a "calling" event. They usually lasted for two hours, and guests could drop in at any time. They mingled, ate, and left after offering their best wishes to the special guest.

I loved these tea parties! I hated attending them, but the leftovers Mom brought home after these soirees were always eagerly anticipated by my dad, my brother, and me!

People still host afternoon teas, but they're not nearly as prevalent today. I guess this Southern tradition is just too much trouble for most working women. What a shame...