If you ever are lucky enough to take a trip to the South, you have to make a pit stop at Paula Deen's. Her Lady & Sons restaurant is located in Savannah, Georgia but the sassy entrepreneur smartly opened a second location at the Harrah's Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. Fortunatly, Tunica is not far from my old stomping grounds!
You can't go to Paula's without trying the hoe cakes! Hoe cakes are fried gruel made from yellow or white cornmeal that is mixed with salt and hot water or milk, and sometimes sweetened...I think up here y'all call them Johnnycakes. Hoe cakes in the South come by their name honestly. Field hands often cooked them on a shovel or hoe held to an open flame. Hoes designed for cotton fields were large and flat with a hole for the long handle to slide through; the blade would be removed and placed over a fire much like a griddle.
Before we left Mississippi to move to New York, my girlfriend made us 'hoe cake' kits. She put together all the ingredients in a Mason Jar and attached instructions on how to assemble the goodness. When I'm feeling really homesick, I whip up a batch and I'm good to go.
Here's Paula's recipe if you'd like to try it:
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup self-rising cornmeal, or from a mix (recommended: Aunt Jemima's)
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
Oil, butter, or clarified margarine, for frying
Mix well all ingredients, except for the frying oil. Heat the frying oil or butter in a medium or large skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter, by full tablespoons, into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake. Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp; turn each hoecake with a spatula, and then brown the other side. With a slotted spoon, remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Leftover batter will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days.
The holidays are a great time to get together with friends and family...and eat like you've never eaten before!
My mom has never been much of a cook, but she does crank up her skills twice a year, for Christmas and Thanksgiving. We always have the traditional turkey and all the fixings that go along with it. Guests who come to our house for the holidays always like to bring something and we never say no. So, when Grandma Flanigan showed up with her 'crockpot dressing' we were just tickled pink!
We're spending Thanksgiving with Brett's family in Charlotte, North Carolina, where his mother rules the kitchen! I've learned when you're pregnant, people tend to just give you what you want (what a perk!) and Grandma Flanigan's crockpot dressing is on the menu this year...here's the recipe if you're interested:
Grandma Flanigan's Crockpot Dressing
8" pan of cornbread
8 slices of toasted bread
Onion - 1 cup
Celery - 1 cup
2 tablespoons sage
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
2 cans chicken broth
2 cups cooked chicken
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
Stir ingredients together and put in buttered crock pot. Cook 3 hours on high or 170 degrees. You can also fill muffin pans with dressing and place in a 350 degree oven to brown up the edges.
Having recently hit a huge sale at the Baby Gap outlet in Manchester, Vermont, Brett & I decided to see if lightening could strike twice. The upside to living in upstate New York is that there are several retail outlets within close proximity to our place. A few months ago, while killing time, Brett stumbled upon a Gap outlet nestled inside a regular mall. We're not sure why it's there, but we're not going to argue...plus it's less than 30 minutes from our house!
I'm guessing the Rotterdam Square Mall in Schenectady has seen better days, but offers Macy's, TJ Maxx, Sears and K-Mart as it's anchor stores. The Gap outlet proved to be another bargain bin and we walked away with some really good deals. But when we started heading back to the car, we didn't realize was that we walked out the wrong door.
And y'all will never believe what we saw:
Look closely, that's a graveyard! At first I thought it might have been leftover Halloween decorations, but upon closer inspection, nope, it was the real thing.
After a little internet digging, I found out more about the mall's history. Turns out, the mall sits on a site once owned by the Vedder family. Harman Albertse Vedder bought the land back in 1672 and built a house on it. Around 1832, Harmens' great grandson Johannes sold the property to Colonel Daniel David Schermerhorn Campbell (that's a mouthful). Col. Campbell promptly built a 26 bedroom mansion on the land...no word on if that was the original structure of the mall or not though!
Ya know...the folks in the South get a bad rap for burying their dead in the backyard (think Elvis) but at least we don't dig our graves right outside the food court!
As a kid, I completely idolized my cousin Kari! Only three years older, Kari and I would spend summers together at our grandmother's house in Piggott, Arkansas, gobbling down Sonic burgers after a day at the public pool. Kari was always so much fun and thankfully, never minded playing with her younger, geeky and completely envious cousin.
Kari was sort of a nomad growing up...she's lived in Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Ohio and New York! Over the years, we've managed to keep up, no matter what the zip code or the time zone.
All that traveling must have stuck with Kari because she had no trouble landing a job as a professional jet setter. Working as a flight attendant for Continental Express Airlines, she met her husband, pilot Michael Panebianco...who hails from Chittenango Falls, NY! Kari's since retired from slinging drinks in the friendly skies and now lives in Ponce Inlet, Florida with Mikey and their two sons, Anthony and Jack.
Since summer in the South is such a sizzling scorcher (like the alliteration?) Kari spends most of her summer with her in-laws up here in New York. We managed to rendezvous this year on Lake George in Bolton Landing, NY at the beautiful Sagamore Resort...y'all have to check it out sometime, it's amazing!
It was a reunion almost nine years coming! With lives in different time zones, it's been hard to see each other over the years. But keeping up has never been an issue thanks to long phone calls, emails and Facebook.
It's just been a while since we've had a chance to pose for a picture together!
Which is a tragedy, especially for a family that's as photogenic as this...
Back home in the South, beauty pageants are a pretty big deal and I can't say I've really noticed many going on since we've lived in New York. But, if you've caught TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras then you might know what I'm talking about. Us Southern girls love our big hair, sparkly dresses and flashy smiles! Growing up, I competed in beauty pageants pretty much every weekend until I left for college, and even then I still did a couple here and there. I competed in my first pageant at only four months old!
For the record, the child beauty pageants I competed in were nothing like the ones showcased on T&T. My mother wasn't overweight, she wasn't forcing me to live out her unfulfilled fantasy and she certainly wasn't doing dance routines behind the judge's table.
I also worked in the television industry for nearly a decade and can attest to the tricks of clever editing. To put it simply, don't believe everything you see on tv, folks. I know several people that have appeared on the Toddler & Tiaras series who are normal, excellent parents and many of the pageants featured on the show were in towns close by, or where I've lived before. I also have pageant mom friends who have turned down the opportunity to be followed by TLC's camera crews because of the negative publicity associated with the show.
Pageants may get a bad rap, but they're something I would never change about my childhood. They taught me confidence, poise and how to put on liquid eyeliner! I loved getting my hair and makeup done, putting on a pretty dress and sometimes, winning a crown and trophy! I started competing at four months old, but I never took home a crown until I was 11! I don't have any pictures from my early days as a beauty queen up here in New York, but I did find a couple from my teenage years to share.
Crowned Miss Piggott 1997
I didn't always win and that certainly made me a good sport. Learning how to lose gracefully is one of the best lessons in life. I never cried over not getting queen or placing as an alternate. Truthfully, my favorite part was spending the one-on-one time with my mother.
Pageants run in the family too...while we were in Missouri/Arkansas for the 4th of July, I had the chance to help my cousin Kayla get ready for the Miss Pollard beauty pageant. I actually won the title back in 1994 and it's also been a pageant several women in my family have competed in over the years.
There's just something fun about getting all fixed up!
Plus, it's a fun excuse to drag out the old crowns...
But the real beauty was Kayla! We were bummed she didn't make it into the Top 10, but she was our top pick anyway!
As newbie New Yorkers this time last year, we tried our hand at several different things. When we came across an ad in the Times-Union for the Troy Pig Out BBQ Festival, we knew we had to see just what Yankees considered BBQ.
This year, we wen't back for seconds!
We were a little better prepared for the pig roast and arrived early enough to snag rib tickets. For only $1 a ticket, you could swap the paper for the pork and vote in the People's Choice rib tasting. Money raised benefited the National Kidney Foundation.
We recruited some friends and headed down early to the Hudson River waterfront so we could get ready for some super test tasting. Professional and semi-professional BBQ teams from across the country competed in the two day competition. The rib eating rilvary was a Kansas City BBQ sanctioned People's Choice St. Louis rib competition. Personally, I thought it was nice to know that Missouri was the one calling the shots!
It was a bit warm (temperatures in the mid 90's plus a parking lot full of BBQ cookers) but no worse than anything we'd seen before. Our Northern counterparts were melting though!
Our sophisticated palates were so overwhelmed by the amazing BBQ rib samples that we actually forgot to cast our vote for our top choice! Of course, our hands and faces were also dripping in sauce, so our ballot might have been a little messy too. In our opinions, there were certainly no losers!
Finally had a day to enjoy at my apartment complex's pool! Seems like it's just starting to feel like summer around here. Now I completely understand why New Yorker's flee to the outdoors as soon as the snow starts melting...you have to absorb sunshine up here!
What sort of self-respecting Southerner-turned-Yankee would be caught dead at the pool without an issue of Southern Living? Not me y'all!
Spring in the South is a beautiful time! There's really nothing prettier than all of the trees turning, the flowers blooming and the birds chirping. But over the last few days, folks down in our neck of the woods have been having a hell of a time. If you've missed the national news, the country has been under fire from Mother Nature...and it sure ain't pretty.
My home town is Qulin, Missouri which is about 13 miles south of Poplar Bluff. The two towns are separated by the Black River. The river couldn't hold the record amounts of rainfall the area has received over the last week and to say it mildly, Southeast Missouri is soggy! The overflowing river has covered vital transportation routes, shutting down schools and closing businesses. More than 1,000 residents have been evacuated! My parents don't live close to the river but have had trouble getting to Poplar Bluff for work after the roadways were closed for flooding.
Butler County, Missouri
Just up the road from Poplar Bluff is the Wappapello Lake. Water toppled over the spillway this week once the water crested at 400 feet. This is what it looks like now...
It's weird how Mother Nature's fury can take course...seems like everywhere we've lived in the last fews years has gotten hit.
Just miles from our home in Tupelo, Mississippi, the town of Smithville was literally wiped off the map by a EF5 tornado. When it comes to tornadoes, this is as bad as it gets folks! With winds recorded at more than 205 mph, the first EF5 tornado in the world since 2008 killed 15 people and injured 40.
Tornadoes and flooding have also ravaged the Jonesboro, Arkansas area, where Brett and I met while working at KAIT. The entire Region 8 viewing area has been under multiple warnings and watches while waiting for the sun to shine again. Jonesboro just received the dubious honor of being ranked #2 by the New York Times as highest risk of natural disaster!
I-40 bridge going into Arkansas
It's tough being away from our friends and family and watching events unfold on Facebook and Twitter. We're hoping everyone comes out OK through all this mess! Please keep the South in your thoughts and prayers!
When Heather Flanigan and her husband Brett Garrett packed
their bags and moved 1500 miles from Tupelo, Mississippi to upstate New York, they really had no idea what they
were in for! The newlyweds met in an Arkansas television newsroom before deciding to check out
things on this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Since then, they've cashed in their Southern
hoe cakes for some Yankee cannoli. Now in a land far, far away from their friends and family, these two are navigating
the waters of new opportunities, bracing for winter and still trying to figure
out the Yankee version of BBQ.
Albany.com's I Heart NY Y'all is written by Emmy winning former news reporter
Heather Flanigan and is based off of her personal blog. If you've got any
survival tips for these Southerners, pass 'em on to