Southern Biscuits Will Rise Again

 
 

Here's a trick with turbulence on an airplane: you pretend those jostles and bumps mid-air are not the result of wind gusts at an altitude of 36,000 feet (and that one big bump will send you and the other passengers catapulting to earth in a fiery blaze; don't think about that)—you pretend you're on bus. That's right. You're on a bus, and those bumps are potholes. You're not on an airplane. The luggage above your head is being throttled around because of bumpy roads. What's with this town? Why don't they pave their potholes? 

I swear, it works. Thinking of poorly-paved roads is the opiate to my high anxiety when traveling. Did they fill up on gas before takeoff? Did I pack deodorant? What's the snack situation at LAX? You do what you can when you fly several times a year and don't take sedatives (because who wants to be zonked-out for the fun "here's how you inflate the life jacket!" gag?). And when I fly home, to Alabama, it's typically an all-day affair filled with an abundance of sky-potholes. 

But I did it for the biscuits.

You see, dear reader, there's a sordid butter-and-fried-chicken-filled-bucked of reasons I used to be a fat kid/fat adult, and I won't blame any one thing. But I will admit that a contributing factor was love in the form of southern cooking that only grandma can deliver—and I mean grandma Clink Clink and her unicorn-like ability to perform culinary magic.

Let me tell you about grandma Clink Clink.

 
 

She started cooking entire meals for her family when she was a kid—we're talking too-short-to-reach-the-counter-age here—and she worked in cotton fields as a teenager, saving her money to buy herself a red coat (so she could "feel like Little Red Riding Hood"). She met my grandpa when he was working in a grocery store, and they "dated" through letters until sneaking away to get married. They started a family and now, even in her 80s, she always has a plate of something sitting in the oven, ready to share.

 
 

We're talking biscuits, cornbread served up in a mug of buttermilk (trust me), homemade meatballs and spaghetti, BBQ chicken, cabbage stewed in what I will only describe as "cornbeef in a can that can only be opened with a 'key'," greens soaked in butter, spicy sausage and fried eggs—and don't even get me started on desserts. Pound cake with lemon frosting, something called a Mustang Chocolate Cake, tea cookies... let's just say, my grandma was doing culinary mic-drops before Paula Dean opened her first tub of butter. 

And she has a killer garden.

 
 

I recently flew home with the general purpose of marinating in humidity for a few days, eating a bunch of cheap BBQ and fried chicken, trying all the new coffee shops in town, and spending some quality time with my grandparents. Really, I just wanted to hear my grandpa's stories about WWII, hear some cicadas in the woods, and con Clink Clink into teaching me how to make biscuits. 

I accomplished all of these things, though no con-artistry was necessary. I made my first batch of biscuits at the tender age of 30, but it still might take me a few years to make them quite the same way Clink Clink can (a pinch of this, a pinch of that..."nothin' to it, shug', you don't need to measure," she says). I'm not sure about California grandmas, but southern grandmas just want to teach you how to not suck at cooking. They also think you should be married by now, but that's another story.

The point is—never take your family traditions for granted. Ask your grandpa to tell you about the war or how he met your grandma and "stole her away." Get your grandma to teach you how to make biscuits or tell you about those weird-ass flowers growing on the side of the house. Because one day you'll be curious about all those things, and by then you might live across the country, and a roundtrip plane ticket home will cost approximately $235,549.

Plus, you get to be the friend in California that knows how to make southern buttermilk biscuits from scratch, when no one else seems to be able to nail it, and you can institute biscuit party nights. BYO-Jam. 

Oprah Inspired This Post About Bread

 
 

There's a commercial that keeps looping on Hulu. It's been driving me absolutely insane—and if you're familiar with Hulu, you are aware that they play the same commercials over and over. As though we didn't already feel guilty about marathon-watching an entire season of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Hulu has to rub their marketing tactics in our sweet, innocent faces.

Enter: Oprah. 

"I. Love. Bread. I eat bread every day." She eats it every day, yet magically she still loses weight. She loves bread. Did you know that Oprah loves bread? She loves it. She eats bread. Every. Day.

"I eat bread every day."

Next to Dolly Parton and Girl Scout Cookies, "Oprah" is synonymous with "America." I have to give it to her; she's been publicly applauded and equally shamed for her lifelong struggle with weight. She tells us what to read, what to wear, how to live, and may or may not have her own cult. People care about what she has to say.

"I eat bread every day. And I lost weight."

I laughed the first time I saw this  commercial, because I thought it was a joke. She says the word "bread" approximately 9,348,320 times. Not really—but the sentiment is there. Then I realized that it was no joke: the writers of the commercial clearly didn't bring their "A" game to the conference room that day. Or it was a Pavlovian-type experiment: Oprah's carb-fueled weight loss was the bell and we were her dog. Either way—it was annoying. 

After the tenth viewing of this commercial during my Sabrina, the Teenage Witch marathon, I had an epiphany.

I love pastries. 

We're talking next-level love. I love savory scones more than I love most people, and almost as much as I love Twin Peaks. I'd rather have a perfect bagel than a perfect steak. I could write epic poems about the "Rebel Within" from Craftsman and Wolves in San Francisco. I shed a tear the first time I tasted a chai tea scone from Old Soul, one of my favorite Sacramento spots. My heart was eternally broken when I tried the cinnamon toast at the Mill SF. I dream about Sunday morning waffles at the Mill in Sacramento

I eat pastries and I still lose weight.

Here's the thing. I accidentally became a gym rat last summer. I wanted to "get in shape enough to learn how to climb," and in the course of that I managed to lose 30 pounds. I didn't realize I had it to lose (when you're a size 12 and you used to be a size 28, you still consider yourself pretty darn OK), but as I pedaled away to a couple of angry German industrial playlists on Spotify and lifted weights alongside lovable Crossfit bad-asses at my quirky little (giant) climbing gym, I realized that I didn't care what size I was whittling down to. Because I felt amazing. Working out unlocked this bizarre sense of euphoria for me, which I never had during the time I actually joined Weight Watchers (in their defense, it was pre-internet 2000s, when their meetings were strictly inside the basements of local churches). 

I recently read an article in a fitness magazine (because apparently I read those now, too) about the art of "becoming picky." There's nothing wrong with indulging in good things: a slice of cherry pie, a donut, a cheeseburger—but you should be picky. If you want that slice of pie, make it the best damn piece of pie you can find in town. Make it your ritual, your little present to yourself every now and then.

I love pastries.

I didn't realize that over the past 9 months I'd adopted Oprah's philosophy that I can have my smaller pants and eat pastries, too. But they were going to be good pastries. I don't know what kind of bread Oprah is claiming to eat every day, but I have devoted my Saturday/Sunday mornings to finding the perfect pastry. Just like my coffee rituals, I have found another small joy to look forward to.

I may or may not have just celebrated my 30th birthday—the actual day of which I lovingly, longingly, and simply refer to as The Pastry Tour of 2016. Is it a coincidence, dear reader, that the Oprah Winfrey Show also celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year? I think not. 

Is it the year of bread? 

I think so. There's suddenly an abundance of gorgeous bakeries in this darn city overwhelming me with their enticing social media posts that make me want to cry fat, bready Mollie tears. But it's true what they say about finding a balance with indulgent treats—they taste better when you work for them. I know my favorite spin bike is always waiting for me at the end of these pastries: squeaky, slightly out of alignment, and frustratingly lovable, just like Oprah.

 
 

Good Country People...in California?

Every now and then I am reminded by outside forces that I am Southern. At any given point in my daily routine, the chances of being called simply "Alabama" or "Auburn" are pretty high. I find it endearing—because it's better than being called "Dummy" or "Hey You, Gooberl!". I can take a good ribbing, but lately I've gotten a lot of greetings along the lines of, "Mollie, what is wrong with your state?!" 

"Oh, lord, what did we do now?" Has become my new catchphrase.

Let's be real. Alabama hasn't exactly been a beacon of shining light in the news lately, but damn if I haven't been craving some humidity and a decent pulled pork BBQ sandwich for less than $5 (with chips...and a drink). I've also been missing the people; there's something to be said of Southern hospitality, politeness, and the all-around-genuine-warmth that comes from a land of people that bake you pie/biscuits/fried chicken for no reason. Frankly, I was convinced that these were things indigenous to the South. 

But it's not entirely true. "The country" can be found on the West Coast. You just have to find it—and when you do, it is surprising and delightful. And a little weird, because the people do not have accents.

I recently found myself transported back to the South—only I was technically in Elverta, California. And that, dear reader, is when I had my epiphany, as I gazed and marveled at the splendor of the chandelier trees in the yard of a house where I'd just eaten some homemade apple pie; the South—and all its Southern Hospitality—is alive where you need it to be. "Southern hospitality" is only as genuine as your host. And if you've ever driven through Elverta, then you've seen rural Alabama: country roads flanked with sporadic houses that were built before your parents were born, and there's probably an old truck/tractor parked in the yard with overgrown weeds clinging to its rusted frame. 

Beyond those trucks and inside those houses are people that might give you apple pie. And while the cicadas may not signal the summer nights on the West Coast like they do in Alabama, there are other ways that these Californians remind me of home: they have their deeply-rooted traditions, just like the South. You know what I mean—these endearingly quirky things that make a place home—I'm thinking things like bathtubs-as-flower-pots next to the mailbox shaped like a John Deere tractor, keeping cornbread on the table with as much frequency as the salt and pepper shakers, Sunday iced tea on a porch, etc. These things are just trickier to seek out in California, but I'm getting closer. A few months ago I discovered that a chandelier tree is exactly what it sounds like. And I want to see so many more things like this, dear reader. I know it it's here, and I'm ready.

I know what you're thinking: if you miss the South so much, dum dum, why not just go back? Because... there's so much to see on this side of the world. California is beautiful, and I still need to learn how to do things like pick out a wine and learn how to ski. And sometimes I forget that I am not the only stranger here. Sometimes, when I'm least expecting it (like on an elliptical machine at the gym, as I sweat into my obnoxiously pink workout gear), I'll meet someone that says something in passing like, "Oh—I'm not from here, either. I'm from Georgia." And once again I fall hard, on my face, for California. 

Baseball, a Reflection: Or, How to End Up On the Jumbotron

 
 

If you've ever read a Haruki Murakami novel (and why wouldn't you?!), then you know that there's a certain magic to be found in things like creepy wells, spaghetti, Cutty Sark, talking cats, loneliness, and most importantly: baseball. Actually, Murakami credits a baseball game with jumpstarting his career as a writer. Since he was 30 years old when he started writing books, I figured it was appropriate for me to go to my first baseball game at almost-30. 

When you're from Alabama, the only thing that matters is college football (the NFL? Baseball? Soccer? What are those things?). It's a lifestyle. "Hey Bob, how you doing today? Roll Tide," is a common greeting. College football is a religion—and it's insane—it's all about that old rivalry: Alabama vs. Auburn. I mean, Lucky Peach wrote a cover story about it just called "Insane". And while I'm now enjoying the freedom of being able to wear red/white or orange/blue on any given day in California without having it be some kind of indicator of fandom, I have to admit that I may now have a little crush on baseball. Murakami had the right idea.

Here's what I learned from going to a real-life sporting event.

Go with a fan.

They'll know where to park, where to get cheap(er)/better beer before the game, when to go to the bathroom. And they'll walk you directly to guest services at AT&T Park so you can snag a certificate indicating your First Baseball Game—nevermind that the other recipients were small children. Certificates are cool. Depending on how much the fan likes you, they may or may not want to move a few seats down from you when things like this happen: 

Don't accidentally wear the colors of the opposing team.

I was so proud of myself for finally remembering to bring layers to San Francisco. After a sweaty stream of 100+ degree days in Sacramento (yes, it's still summer in September/October), I was looking forward to the "hoodie weather" promises of the bay area. As soon as we get to the stadium, I throw on a hoodie under my pleather jacket, which elicits a look of disgust from my company: "you can't wear that," he says.  "What?" I look around.

My red hoodie was a bad choice, as the Giants were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose primary colors (if you didn't know, dum-dum, jeez) are black and....red. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the evening trying to bury as much red underneath my top layer coat as possible. Which was all fine and good until I ended up on the Jumbotron. 

If you want/don't want to end up on the Jumbotron...

 
 

 

Do/don't sit behind a really cute baby. Not only did the camera guys film this Cute Baby once, they were instructed via the voices in their earpieces (who are those people?) to keep coming back for the inevitable nap time frames. That's ample opportunities to be awkward on a big screen. I quickly learned:

  1. I'm even paler on the big screen. Sorry, San Francisco/at-home-viewers. This face wasn't meant for the camera.
  2. When a camera guy is in your vicinity, you start to worry about the faces you're making. Do I look like the Joker right now? Am I smiling like a serial killer? Do I have boogers? (Probably).

Master the heckle.

Perhaps my favorite discovery in this whole baseball business is the sheer Mean Girls aspect of the whole thing; it's all one big head game. People hoot and holler and heckle the opposing team. Every time the team practiced throws, there was a persistent WOOP! ... WOOoo with every toss. For some reason I found this fascinating and hilarious, laughing like a hyena and nearly falling out of my chair every time. Again, sorry, San Francisco. This is why I can't go nice places.

Heckling is a thing. In fact, I did a little digging and found a website called the Heckle Depot devoted entirely to baseball heckles; I'm working on my game for next season (unfortunately our SF Giants didn't have the best year). 

Eat the food.

But sparingly, for real. Those Cracker Jacks cost me $7.50, and the prize was a bad sticker. Eat the hot dog, don't drink the $10+ beer, and bring your own snacks, lest you feel less and less guilty over wanting to steal the Cute Baby's Cheerios stash. At least that didn't happen on the Jumbotron (this time).