Saturday, November 26, 2005

Christmas Trees, Railroads, Cornbread and an Endorsement

The Christmas tree went up yesterday. I’m back in the railroad business, running a line in which featherbedding is not only allowed, but encouraged! I love lying by the tree, watching the engine navigate the tracks, pulling cars from lines that no longer exist, at least not independently: the Burlington, the Maine Central, Erie Lackawanna, B&O, the Santa Fe, the Western Pacific. Add a fire in the hearth and I can lay there for hours.

My daughter shares in the excitement of Christmas and is willing to forgo most anything in order to haul the boxes out of the attic. After getting the tree and sitting it in the living room, I make her wait while I string lights. She didn’t even ask about using multi-colored light this year. She’s either old enough to understand the magical appeal of miniature white lights, or she’s learned there are some things for which I’m pig-headed and she better not go there. After getting the lights strung, we pause for dinner.

One of the benefits of mooching off of friends for Thanksgiving is that you don’t have to worry about leftovers. Because I was going to be close to home all day, I figured it was the perfect time to make a pot of beans (of the pinto variety). When you use dry beans, they need to cook for a good while. I threw in a ham bone I’d saved and let it boil gently until the beans were tender. I also fixed cornbread (check out my recipe below) and diced up some onions. Dinner consisted of a bowl of pinto beans topped off with diced onions, a chunk of cornbread, washed down with a bottle of Southwick Irish Ale. Sometime I’ll have to post about my favorite restaurant in Bastian, Virginia, right by I-77 and the Appalachian Trail, where you use to be able to get a bowl of pinto beans with onions on top and a slice of cornbread for a buck twenty-five.

After dinner, we put ornaments on the tree. This always brings back memories. Most of my ornaments have either been gifts or have been picked up while traveling or living in various places. My favorite is a hand-carved boot sent to me by some guy down in Florida the year I completed hiking the Appalachian Trail. Then there is the one from the Chateau Lake Louise and numerous other National Parks and lodges, all which have special memories. Of course, having grown up on the Carolina coast, there is a collection of North Carolina lighthouses. I had to pause this year when putting up a collection of Boy Scout ornaments, all which came from National Capital Council, where a friend of mine was Scout Executive. Ron died this past year from a brain tumor. They’ll be no more of those ornaments, but I’m thankful for the memories they bring back. The tree is finished by bedtime; clean-up can wait till tomorrow.

Sage’s Cornbread (remember—ingredients are approximate)

Preheat oven to around 425 degrees F.
Mix together:
1 cup of yellow cornmeal
1 cup of white flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of baking soda
Dash of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar

Add one beaten egg (make sure it’s black and blue) and a cup of buttermilk (pour yourself a second cup to enjoy while baking). Mix until all the dry ingredients are wet.

Put approximately ¼ cup of Crisco (or use bacon fat if you can spare the cholesterol—it’ll taste heavenly and if you eat of it, you’ll find yourself heavenly bound) into a cast iron frying pan. Melt the fat/shortening. Add the mix into the frying pan and bake somewhere around 20 minutes (or until your toothpick comes out clean).

Now before you Southerners get all upset about me putting sugar in cornbread—as if I’m a Yankee—let me suggest you try it. They may not always be right up here, but sometimes they do have good ideas.

On other news, Lauire, over at Slowly She Turned, gave this endorsement of my blog: “I like smart-ass pie-baking dark beer drinking desert rats.” THANKS! That’s the best compliment I’ve had since my mother called me Sonny. Lauire and friends publish a web-journal titled “Tar Heel Tavern. Check it out!


  1. Hi Sage. Memories are indeed powerful things: Ron's memory lives on in you. Thanks for sharing this. It was a warm trip indeed.

    Dropped in from Michele. You always inspire in your writing.

  2. But it's still november???

    Michelle sent me

  3. I will have to try to make the Sage's Cornbread...I will let you know how it turns out.

  4. Ok, I have you to know...been putting sugar in my cornbread a very long time. Your one I know so well....nothing like it, esp when it has been awhile. Yummy!! Missing NC?

    Putting up the tree sounds so nice...esp w/your fireplace and snow out the window...perfect.

    Our ornaments are a mixture of things that make it very old back to when the children were very small. It always brings up memories unwrapping each and everyone. (smiling)

  5. Carni, thanks for your comments about the inspiration.

    Aginoth, yes, it's November, but tomorrow is the first day of Advent and I'm going to be gone a lot during and after Christmas, so wanted to get it up and enjoy it.

    Dawn, good luck with your baking and congratulations on your recent marriage--you can make the cornbread in a glass pie pan, but well-seasoned cast iron can't be beat.

    Suzie, I thought the reason southern women didn't use sugar in their cornbread is that they were sweet enough already! I thought for sure you'd not need any extra sugar. (another reason may be they put to much sugar in tea, but that's for another post). You know, if I'd had a bowl of greens (prefer turnips--with lots of hot pepper infused vinegar), I'd been dining pretty high on the hog.

  6. Wow-- I LOVE cornbread, and I'm a vegetarian, so I'm going to have to try the pinto beans and Sage's corn bread meal! Do you do anything special with the pinto beans while simmering them? Any spices, etc?

    oh-I'm going to make this tomorrow!
    Thanks for the recipe, Sage! You rock!

  7. Bhakti, I cook the pinto beans with a ham bone or ham hock (which isn't kosher if you're vegetarian). I don't generally use any spices, but often add hot sauce or ketchup. let me know how it turns out.

  8. That's a classic line from Laurie. Here from Michele's... congrads on getting your Christmas festivities underway in good time!

  9. [coughs gently]

    It's November, Sage.....



  10. beans and cornbread... stop it, you're making me hungry!! :)

    thanks for the visit to my new blog!

  11. Sage, At our house the tree always goes up the first day of deer season because the kids had no school. The first year after my daughter died was so difficult for my other daughter Jn and me but the memories are always so positive when we open that box. Monday is offical put up the tree day here and Jn just left for college again. We had the tree debate- big problem this year- two new kitties so we are not sure what to do but it will not include those extra special ornaments this year. Be Blessed Sage

  12. Got to have that bacon grease in the cornbread or it just ain't right. I'll give up some cholesterol somewhere else :)

  13. Oh you are REALLY making me hungry now...WE ARE SWEET...AS SUGAR!! (smiling)

    Sidenote: Voting day in Hondurus...I posted about it on Which candidate did you want to win?

  14. Glad you're enjoying your weekend, can't wait to get the Christmas stuff out!!

    :* Princess

  15. that cornbread sounds delicious! I'm making it... but with crisco. I can stand the cholesterol, but I am grossed out by the fat!

    But I like the idea of the sugar. Corn bread should be just sweet, not overtly sweet... and a little bit of sugar can make that happen.

  16. For all you who seem to be concerned about the tree going up too early, there are reasons. 1. I'm not going to be hear around Christmas so I can enjoy it earlier. 2. I like it. 3. This is the only time I get to play with trains, so I make the most of it.

    Red Queen, if I put the tree up on first day of deer hunting, it'd gone up the middle of November!

    Glad all of you like my cornbread. But I don't think I'd get in a contest with poopie's. Using bacon greast really makes good cornbread-

    Suzie--I'm rooting for Mel for President in Honduras. If you look back at my pics from earlier this month, you'll see me holding Mel's dog when I was in Honduras.

    MB & Suzie, thanks for supporting me concerning sugar in cornbread. Too many southerners think sugar in cornbread is crazy (but then, I don't put sugar in my tea, either).

    Have a good Sunday evening everyone!

  17. I put my tree up this weekend too, so don't feel bad about all of the hazing going on in here ;-) It sounds like you are amazing in the kitchen, with all of those recipes...did I mention that I hate to cook? Maybe we could set up one of those meals by mail things and you could start sending them my way. I promise to give rave reviews.

  18. Are there other ways to make cornbread?

    I have gone to house with perfectly coordinated fir Christmas trees. Here in rural SE Iowa, I cut down a small red cedar which grow in abundance and are free and decorate it with an eclectic assortment of ornaments for the same reasons you described. They bring back memories. Cheers.

  19. Sage--first of all, thanks for the Sweet Potato Casserole recipe: cant wait to make that one!

    I made the corn bread last night: oh my gosh! it was delicious!!! I also made kidney bean vegetarian chile and a spinach salad on the side. I felt like it was a holiday!

    Keep the recipes coming!

    Cheers, Bhakti

  20. Christa, that's an interesting idea--a mail order catering... What would you like to order? I'll give you a discount for your support of an early Christmas season.

    Ed--You're right about the cornbread, but I've seen attempts to make it in glass pans with premix stuff... I can still remember my grandparents Red Cedar tree--with white lights and red bulbs (nothing fancy) and lots of icicles--back when I was 9 years old. My granddaddy would die a few weeks later--and I always associate a cedar tree with him.

    Bhakti-sounds like you had a feast? Are you taking reservations for the next time?

  21. Oh my gosh--I actually took a picture of the corn bread to post here, but my photo-hosting site is down. I'll see what I can do!

    By the case you are interested, here's how I cooked the beans:

    Put 2 tblsp olive oil in a frying pan..medium heat...add 1 teaspoon of garlic...1/4 diced onions...chile pepper flakes to taste (about 20)...1 teaspoon chile powder...1 teaspoon black pepper. Heat up until garlic and onions are cooked up nice and brown--but not burnt! Add in 2 cans of (rinsed) kidney beans...1 can of diced tomatoes. Let simmer for 1/2 hour. (I suppose if you're not vegetarian you could add some meat...chopped meat, or cut up steak or something. Just don't add hotdogs or I'm taking my recipe back!)

    While the chile is simmering, whip up a batch of Sage's corn bread, and have a feast fit for a King and Queen!

  22. My cornbread is made with white meal and only 1/2 tsp. of sugar. If you use 2 tsps., you are almost a Yankee, Sage!!

    You do make my mouth water for pintos, slow cooked with onions on top, and cornbread slathered with butter and grape jam. HEAVEN!

  23. Kenju--I can't understand why in the land of sweet tea, they can't take a little sugar in their cornbread. Almost a yankee, no way.

  24. I love good cornbread. Good cornbread with tons of butter! Real healthy, huh?

    I've always had the mini white lights, but I would love to get the huge retro colored lights. My husband is nixing the idea, but I want them!

  25. In Service, Corn Bread with Sugar was called Yankee Corn Bread. I have to admitt I like it.

  26. Murf, in my very humbled opinion, they're tacky! (I'm now going to duck, for their may be all kinds of objects thrown at me).

  27. Are we talking about ALL colored lights or those big bulbed ones circa 1980's?

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