Eking out a living on the streets of Paris

Searching for my daily dose of French culture, I stumbled across this story about early 20th century les petits métiers. Striking and sad at the same time, the images capture the essence of “eking out a living.”

Parisian Fields

Paris has a reputation as a city of glitz and glamour. But in the early 20th century, beneath the glamour, many barely survived from day to day. In London, journalist and reformer Henry Mayhew had written a multi-volume study, London Labour and the London Poor in 1851, a fascinating but depressing study of people living on the margins in that city. Mayhew, who had earlier lived in Paris, said of the self-employed poor: they “don’t find a living, it’s only another way of starving.” He could have been speaking about those in Paris who eked out a meagre existence through “Les petits métiers.”

The term referred to those who made their way in the world without the stable structure of apprenticeships, journeyman status, and achievement of mastery. Some were talented at what they did; others did jobs that required only perseverance. They may have worked hard, put in…

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Garden & Gun’s Summer Reading List

Each issue of Garden & Gun has at least 20 things worth sharing here, but this little tidbit is one of my favorites. Whether sitting low in a beach chair pushing my toes into the cool, dark sand, or cramped in an airport lounge hoping my flight is not delayed again, the summer brings some “downtime” moments that make me long for a really good read. And when that gorgeous new favorite book is purchased from an independent bookseller (all too uncommon these days), well…it is that much better still! Enjoy! And feel free to leave your own suggestions. One can never know of too many bookstores!

 

From Garden & Gun

Summer Reading List

We canvassed some of our favorite bookstores around the South to see what summer books have their customers staying up all night. Whether it’s a mystery or a memoir, written by a debut author or a Southern great, set in the Texas oilfields or the streets of Zambia, there’s enough here to satisfy readers of all stripes—and get you through the dog days of summer.

Flyleaf Books
Chapel Hill, NC

Between Wrecks by George Singleton
“If your criteria for a passel of great short stories include blue-collar characters with mouths like sailors and irreverent prose that’ll make you chuckle out loud and then curse under your breath, George Singleton’s your fellow. Read these on a beach with a tumbler of whiskey and an appreciation for the impossibly weird, kudzu-laden South that Singleton evokes with a painter’s precision.”
–Recommended by Linnie Greene, marketing coordinator

BookPeople
Austin, TX

Monday, Monday by Elizabeth Crook
“This is a moving, vividly imagined novel around the tragic tower shooting at the University of Texas in August, 1966, and how it changes the course of three lives. The characters, three students, are entangled that day and reunited decades later when they must confront what changed them and what is most meaningful in their lives.”

Beating Goliath by Art Briles
“A memoir about overcoming loss and keeping faith by the innovative head coach of the highly ranked Baylor football team. Filled with dramatic football stories and lessons learned, this book will inspire and entertain.”
–Recommended by Steve Bercu, owner

Blue Bicycle Books
Charleston, SC

Abroad by Katie Crouch
“Taking the flattened-out, scattered-to-rumor-and-madness story of the Amanda Knox trial, Charleston native Katie Crouch cleans out the guts and inserts her own. She imbues it with completely new and fictional stuffing: wine and Campari, mozzarella and pancetta, cocaine and designer drugs, Ovid and Patricia Highsmith, blood and cigarettes, and mud and clay.”

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
“One of the few outsiders to be let into the reclusive world of Harper Lee, Marja Mills chronicles what started as a professional relationship with the author and evolved by 2004 into doing laundry side-by-side.”

Echo’s Bones by Samuel Beckett
“Published for the first time this July, Beckett’s story was originally rejected by his editors for narrative inconsistencies, ironically one of the trademarks of his work.”
–Recommended by Sara Peck, manager, and Jonathan Sanchez, owner

Malaprop’s Bookstore
Asheville, NC

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal
“McNeal has written a moving coming-of-age story nestled against the vivid backdrop of New Orleans during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Brimming with thought-provoking commentary on the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, family secrets, and the unfair judgments we sometimes make about the people in our lives. I couldn’t put it down—a powerful debut!”
–Recommended by Laura Donohoe, children’s book buyer/receiving manager

The Witch of Belladonna Bay by Suzanne Palmieri
“This is a magical mystery set deep in the heart of the South with characters you’ll care about from page one.”

The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry
“A book that keeps the reader riveted. This mystery is set in a lush and decadent Savannah, and unfolds with an ending that’ll stay with you for weeks.”
–Recommended by Cindy Norris, bookseller

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean
“Quirky, strange, funny, tragic, and delightful. Made me laugh and appreciate how far medical science has come! SO much better than a television episode and a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon learning and laughing.”
–Recommended by Erin Makara, bookseller

Square Books
Oxford, MS

2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
“Madeleine is a singer, has an impressively profane vocabulary, is recently motherless, and is nine years old. Determined to fulfill her dream of singing, her story collides with others when she goes to the Cat’s Pajamas and meets up with her teacher, her principal, and the jazz club owner.”
–Recommended by Lyn Roberts, manager

The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker
“A debut mystery novel by the Washington Post journalist and Mississippian. Based on the 1990 Princeton murders, this is a taut thriller.”
–Recommended by Cody Morrison, buyer

Factory Man by Beth Macy
“Third-generation Virginia furniture company owner John Bassett defies globalization and saves a town by keeping it local—a brilliant story we should all take notice of.”
–Recommended by Richard Howorth, owner

That Bookstore in Blytheville
Blytheville, AR

The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison
“Thrillingly suspenseful, romantic, and lyrically told, this book is set largely in Zambia, where human rights attorney Zoe Fleming searches for justice for a young rape victim with Down syndrome, only to uncover a disturbing link between the girl and a powerful and ruthless Zambian family. This one will tear your heart out and make you want to do something to change the world.”
–Recommended by Chris Crawley, owner

Jackson Street Books, Inc.
Athens, GA

Children of the Levee by Lafcadio Hearn
Hearn lived an extraordinary life as a Greek-born writer who explored both the city of New Orleans and Japanese ghost stories in his travels. Co-owner Tony Arnold says, “This is a long-unavailable collection by this historic Louisiana icon and an early writer on Japan.”
–Recommended by Tony Arnold, co-owner

TurnRow Book Co.
Greenwood, MS

Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke
“Working outside of his usual detective series, Burke may well have delivered his masterpiece with this novel about two war heroes who start their own business in the oilfields of Louisiana and Texas during the 1940s.”
–Recommended by Jamie Kornegay, owner

For more recommendations, TurnRow’s top 20 list can be found here.

Parnassus Books
Nashville, TN

Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth
“Not exactly a crime novel, this is a story of a particular time and place in the South, with a cast of colorful characters, plenty of humor to balance the darkness, and an acute sense of history.”

The Vacationers by Emma Straub
“We’re huge fans of Emma Straub’s The Vacationers and she lived in Nashville and taught at Vanderbilt this spring, so we consider her an honorary Southerner. Expect to see this one sticking out of everyone’s beach bags, for good reason.”

Rural Studio at Twenty: Designing and Building in Hale County, Alabama by Andrew Freear, Elena Barthel, Andrea Oppenheimer Dean, and Timothy Hursley (photographer)
“Here’s a book that looks good, reads well, and leaves you with a warm feeling in your soul. The follow-up to the bestselling Rural Studio (2002) checks in on this amazing project as it reaches its twenty-year anniversary. Architects, community advocates, professors, and students will love it.”
–Recommended by Karen Hayes, co-owner

 

Keeping Christmas

Sometimes it is fun to give you something beautiful for your day. I love this poem by Henry van Dyke (1852-1933). No matter what you believe the holiday is about, it is hard to argue with van Dyke’s take.

Keeping Christmas

by Henry van Dyke

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;
  • to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;
  • to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;
  • to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;
  • to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;
  • to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;
  • to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;
  • to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough;
  • to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;
  • to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;
  • to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;
  • to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open—

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—
  • stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—
  • and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone. 

Enjoy the day! MS


Finally figured out the Southern Buttermilk Biscuits my grandmother made!

I love to cook, and southern food is especially important to me because it is “how” I learned to cook. One could even say southern food truly developed my desire TO cook. My grandmother, Eden, was a gracious lady who believed in God, loved her family, worked hard every day, did not cotton to silliness in any form, and could cook with no recipe at all. In fact, in the 23 years I had her in my life, I don’t believe I ever saw her with a recipe card or cookbook. I know she had them, because I inherited them, but I don’t think she ever used them. Which makes life rather difficult when one is trying to recreate certain things.

I completely understand and love why she didn’t use a recipe. There’s a certain creative process and sense of pride involved. Knowing you are making something that comes completely from your own head is a powerful thing for a cook, especially when it turns out well. Eden’s always did. Mine, on the other hand, did not.

Don’t get me wrong. My own concoctions, from soups to spice rubs to cookies to cocktails, tend to turn out fine. But it has taken me ages to perfect her recipes. After all, I only ever watched her make them; she never let me actually help, except to stir. So trying to recreate the measurements was a challenge, considering I was always just told or shown “a pinch of” or “just enough and then a smidge more.” My measuring cups and spoons don’t have a “smidge” line, though I think they should.

I mastered cornbread early, then hopping john and corn casserole, even dressing for Thanksgiving (through MUCH trial and error), but one thing always kept giving me the same trouble – buttermilk biscuits. All the recipes I found in southern cookbooks rendered these big fluffy biscuits that were delicious, but were simply NOT the small, dense biscuits I loved from my grandmother’s kitchen. When I moved to Colorado, I even tried several of them again, thinking the altitude might make them so. All I ended up with was golden hockey pucks. They didn’t rise at all. So where was the balance? I was looking for the right amount of lift, but with a very solid center, to stand up to sawmill gravy or simmered strawberries. Those were Eden’s biscuits. But try as I might to remember every single step, they never turned out. Until this weekend!

I finally resorted to one of her cookbooks, and then played with the recipe a bit, as I knew she would have (if she had ever read the thing!) A little more of this, a little less of that, and it all worked!! Perfect size, thickness and density:

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I think Eden would be so proud of me! True, I used a cookbook, but I made it my own. I made some sawmill gravy and grits while hubbo made some bacon and eggs. Yes, that’s right! We actually sat down to breakfast!

I thought perhaps I should record what actually worked, so the recipe is here. If I move back to Colorado one day, perhaps I’ll have to up the soda, but for now, these work just fine!!

Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from Martha Meade’s Recipes from the Old South, 1961).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. soda (1/2 if milk is very sour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk (about)
2 tbsp shortening (the recipe calls for lard or animal fat, but this actually contributes to the softness I was trying to minimize. Shortening is a good substitute for added density.)

Sift dry ingredients together and blend with shortening.

Add milk slowly (may not need entire amount) to make a soft dough.

Knead and roll out on a floured surface to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with biscuit cutter (I use a glass dipped in flour like my grandmother did, but be sure to flour it well).

Place in biscuit pan (or baking sheet) and bake in 350-degree oven about 10 minutes.

Brush tops with butter and continue baking until brown but still soft when top pressed.

Now we can all have biscuits any time! Hmmm…maybe I’ll post the gravy recipe next. Enjoy!

Reminiscing about my old neighborhood

I get homesick – and often. I recently moved from Denver, and while I am certainly not reminiscing about snowy drives to work and 12 degree days, I have lately been thinking about spring days in my old neighborhood. Capitol Hill is a wonderful place to live – or to visit. On foot, or by car, there is wonderful, eclectic mix of vintage shops, record stores, dusty book shops…oh, and people! If live music is your thing, as it is mine, there is something to satisfy every night of the week.

I started thinking about the perfect day, and night, in my old stomping ground. If you have the occasion to visit, perhaps this map will help a bit.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve. Amateur Night. Ole Year’s.

My friends all have different names for this particular evening. What do you call it? Over the years, I have rung in the New Year in a variety of ways: on the water, at the beach, dancing, evening dress, on the street in West Palm, in the mountains of Colorado, driving down I-75, sitting quietly at home, an elegant champagne party with my lovely friends, in a fleabag motel in Nowhere, NM. I have my own opinion, based on experience, that the best years have been preceded by the least amount of celebration. Perhaps it is just me; maybe you blow it out every year and every year keeps getting better. For me, the years I’ve had the craziest nights have been the worst years (worst is relative here…not all terrible, but in comparison to others, not at all great). When I have taken the simple, low-key approach, those years have turned out pretty well. Is there a true correlation? Probably not; but for this superstitious Southern girl, I’ll take a quiet evening.

Wanting to start this year off on the best possible footing (because Lord knows I need it!) I went for a simple elegant evening at home. Dinner with my lovely man and a couple of friends. True…I’m recently back in Birmingham and don’t really know anyone, but that’s just fine. We had a wonderful meal, great champagne, good music, and fabulous company. What better way to start 2013?

The best part about it was, I got to flex my Southern girl muscle. Dinner party? That means only one thing to us entertainers: linens, china, silver, flowers, music, LBD, pearls…wait, I guess it means many things. In any event, it was time to do it right. So Emily Post and I set the table:

There is something so great about crystal, silver and white linens! Very classic…I hope.

Then of course: the music was Miles, the menu was filet medallions with a bearnaise sauce, creamed spinach and roasted potatoes. Oh…and I found my pearls!

It was simple, elegant and warm. The perfect way to start off what I hope is a fantastic year! Cheers y’all!

The little things…

One of my favorite blogs, My French Corner, has a post that really hit home for me, and I thought I might share. Having recently moved back to the South from Denver, CO, summer hit me full force. Denver is known for wonderful, warm – not hot – DRY summers. Not something you can even daydream about in the muggy South. However, there are a few things about summer here that I had forgotten. Sounds…

My French corner recalls a couple of those, and makes me excited about those humidity-soaked porch evenings. Hello firefly; hello cicada!