Sunday, April 12, 2015


Amanda's Aint Ruby was JUBUS of things---she was jubus of anybody in politics; she was jubus of a new preacher til he proved hisself, and she was WAY jubus of the new hymnbooks when her church replaced the sung-out Broadmans, because Rock of Ages was not on page 103 anymore, and she could remember it because 103 was the reddio station where Preacher Agar could be heard at seven every Friday Night and nine on Sunday, when all good folks oughta be home, anyhow.

She and her family would come and visit with her sister Miss Floy ‘n’ ‘em in Paxton perhaps once a month, spending a weekend as the hosts and their family counted the minutes til three o’clock on Sunday, when they always departed, so as to “be home by dark.” That the hour of departure remained rigid even in the plentiful sunlight of Summer days was a Seasonal Grace granted to those who suffered her visits.

Miss Ruby and her family HAD things---a really big house, a huge Oldsmobile, land and a pond and every appliance and electronic device known to man. She dressed beautifully, even in her ‘duster” for First Cup every morning---it was always accessorized with exactly-matching little scuffs, and sometimes a co-ordinated headband in her wiry hair. She wore Capris often, with a shirt-tail-out blouse, either sleeveless, or with the sleeve cuffs ironed into starched creases sharp as the pages of a book. And she smoked. Nobody had any say in her smoking in the house---her reply was always, “Get used to it,” as she swung the umpteenth big old kitchen match through the air and blew little silvery dragon-snorts from her nostrils.

Everybody in the family was sorta afraid of her---her two older sisters and even her parents.  Amanda, Miss Floy’s oldest and quite a kitchen-whiz herself, helped her Mama all she could, letting her go relax on the porch with the company, while she did the dishes or cooked the next meal or baked a cake.   She left the chatting and socializing with Aint Ruby to her Mama and Grandma, letting them “get their visit out,” and keeping up with the chores because her Mama was absolutely wore plumb out just being with Aint Ruby for the weekend.

As they gathered at the dining table one Winter night, they sat down to a good hot hearty pot roast supper, with that big old silvery Magnalite roaster plumb full of tender chunks of beef and potatoes and carrots in a savory onion gravy, and side dishes of tee-ninecy English peas and three-bean salad.   Amanda was already a “dab-hand” with the biscuit-making, doing them just like Grandma Foshee always had, with a well in the middle of flour in the big pan, a BIG three-finger scoop of Crisco worked in with her fingers, and then the buttermilk, likewise.   Those were some of the best biscuits in the history of baking, and a big plate of them always sat on the table, supper or breakfast, if there was gravy involved.

Amanda and her sister set the table real pretty, and that night she’d put pickles and preserves and jelly into pretty little dishes, and poured the sorghum (a MUST for their Daddy,  when there were biscuits on the table) into a heavy little pitcher.

As the syrup pitcher reached Aint Ruby, she poured a generous pool over her biscuit, then, noticing an errant drop on the pour-lip of the pitcher, she raised it to her mouth, lapped out her tongue, and took a big old sidewise lolling slurp all the way around the pitcher-lip. looking impishly around the table as she went. She passed it on with a hearty, raucous laugh, as they all looked on in amazement and disgust.   On and on it went round the table with no takers---apparently nobody else really had a taste for syrup that evening, anyway. And Amanda made sure the remains got poured down the sink before she washed the pitcher.

From all the stress and work and dread of the visits, two of the things everybody remembers most about Aint Ruby concerned her cooking---she didn’t ever, as the saying went, “turn her hand” when it came to clearing the table or washing up, but would “help out” in the kitchen only when it struck her to barge in and insist on preparing a dish or two “the way EYE make ‘em.” 

She always insisted on making the devilled eggs, and in addition to a big spoonful of pickle relish, she added several tablespoons of sugar into the mix, so that every bite went crunch. And a cup of sugar into the Cheese and Macaroni, cause that’s how her husband’s Mama made it, and that’s how HE liked it. Good thing---that made ONE who would eat it.

And all the rest of the family were mightily jubus of that macaroni, so Amanda always wrapped it up nicely in Tupperware for Aint Ruby,  “. . .for your supper when you get home, cause I KNOW you’ll be too tired to cook.”

Sunday, April 5, 2015



Oven 350.  Prepare 2 8” pans:  Lay a sheet of waxed paper a little bigger than width of pan on cutting board.  Set pan on paper and trace all the way around bottom of pan, close as you can get, with the tip of a paring knife.   Cut out pattern with scissors and drop into bottom of pan.

No greasing or flouring necessary; in the words of the nice lady who taught Amanda the trick:  “Run a knife around the edges and it can’t do nothing but fall out.”   Peel off paper and flip right-side up on rack to cool.

This 8” cake will serve twelve nicely---six if they’re your brothers, and hide it if you want a taste yourself.   This recipe is mighty tasty, like a buttery orange velvet cake, despite its weird ingredients.  It came about one midnight baking when she found herself clean out of Orange flavoring, Orange Oil, and not even a box of Orange Jello in the house.   She did find a jar of TANG, and the seven-miles-to-town said, "AW, give it a try---what can it hurt?"


Mix dry ingredients, then beat all with mixer for 4 minutes.  Divide between pans.

Bake 25-30 minutes; cool 10, then peel off paper and flip right-side up on rack to cool.   Flat-trim layers by sliding perfectly level serrated knife across top with a little sawing motion.   If layers rise above pan, you can do the leveling slice before taking them out.


1 stick softened butter OR 1/2 c. Crisco
1 box powdered sugar, sifted
2 or 3 t. Pet Milk
1 t. white vanilla
½ t. butter flavoring (NOT butter-nut).

Cream butter and add half of powdered sugar.   Beat until incorporated, then add other ingredients and whip 8 minutes, til like marshmallow.   You can do two recipes at once, with a heavy- duty mixer such as Kitchen-Aid.

Amanda knows that this cake recipe makes two eight-inch layers, which exactly fill the pans when baked.  She follows the Wilton “how many cups of batter per size of pan” for all the tiered cakes---some will hold one, and some 12.   She measured out a whole making of batter once, a cup at a time, and wrote it all down, so it’s just a matter of multiplying.

She does NOT, however, follow their mingy measurements for cutting a cake. 

24 servings out of an eight-inch cake, indeed!   And 56 out of a 12”!   No Mama in five counties would be able to hold up her head if she served such tight-fisted lil'ol' portions.  Why, for such diddly-squat hospitality as that to pass muster, there would have to be a great big dessert bar with banana pudding in punchbowls, along with cobblers, pies, three chocolate fountains, and a Krispy Kreme truck arriving at midnight with the HOT NOW light on.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


THEE-ater. Pronounce it to yourself before you start; say it out loud. Not like the THEE in My Country ‘Tis . . ., but like you’d yell, “THIEF!!” when he was running off with your purse---only leave off the “f.” THEE-a-ter---now you’ve got it.

Paxton's was on “Main Street” and was a one-aisle little affair, with maybe a dozen rows down, six-on-each-side, with the far side chairs butted right up against the wall. When you got in a row, you were in. The whole place seems narrow now, with the ticket-lady facing you through her big window in that glass room out front. She sat behind the glass with the round hole and the scallop in the bottom for our hands to make the exchanges. We slid in the dime, she tore a flimsy bit of numbered cardboard off a big spindled-roll, and slid it back through the gap.

If we’d been lucky, our parents would have parted with a quarter, and so the quarter-in, dime-and-nickel out was a wonderful exchange. An about-face took us a few steps to the bigger window, with its big glass pull-down, through which the crackly little slick bag of popcorn and cups of Co-Cola were passed. Another dime bought one of each, and with your hands full, you waited at the double-door for someone to pull the heavy handle.

And walking into that dim cave, that flickery, same-air-as-last-week darkness, with the sound blasting and the flitter of action on the screen---next to Heaven on a Saturday afternoon. If you held the door for a moment, perhaps with your hip, so others could pass, the upsurge of dust motes in the dark glittered in the glare-path of the sun. Goodness knows what we breathed in there---and at one theater in a nearby town, the smoke in the place practically obscured the screen before the last THE END.

Sometimes we'd pick a lull in the action, somebody would count to three, and we’d all BLOW with all our might, sending the swoops and ribbons of Camel and Lucky smoke into great billows like Mr. West-Wind's breath, floating down toward the screen.

We settled down, chatter at a minimum (Mr Redding had a BIG flashlight, and when he said SHHH, from the back, you'd better, or you'd be picked out in the beam like a spotlight while everybody laughed). The usual Saturday rustle of fifty lively kids accompanied newsreel, serial, cartoon, previews, and whatever cowboy black-and-white was the choice of the week. We were on friendly terms with Roy and Dale and Trigger, with Hoppy and Gabby and Rex Allen (my, wasn’t he handsome, and could SING!!) and Whip and Lash and Johnny Mack Brown, as well as Gene Autry and Frog Milhouse and his alter-ego Smiley Burnette.

We cheered Tarzan and Boy and Sheena, booed the Leopard Woman and anybody who gave any indication of being an owlhoot, drygulcher or double-crossin’ double-dealin’ scallywag.

And then . . .And THEN:  Dorothy's Door!

Sunday afternoon was a technicolor singing, dancing free-for-all, of wonderful costumes and elaborate show numbers. There were the extravaganzas: The Ten Commandments and The Robe and The Silver Chalice, and anything featuring Charlton Heston, Richard Burton, or Anthony Quinn was usually a three-hour epic that left us breathless.

We’d stay all afternoon, as the huge square cone of light came magically out of that little window in the back, just going and going, with a smooth segue from newsreel to cartoon to serial to feature. Then we’d stagger out into the bright heat or the coming darkness, drunk with action and sound, our ears ringing from the audio assault and our chests swelled with great swashbuckling and riding and shooting ambitions that took us swaggering home and up trees and onto rooftops in all our young energy.

Those WERE the days; those days of free time and things to do and see and run after. We went home to our suppers around the family table, woke to churchbells and another small-town day.

Our modern generations are accustomed to the bright, garish-tiled new PLEXES with sixteen vast theaters, with the lights coming on between movies and the uniformed crew ready to man the little brooms to dispose of every grain of popcorn before another crowd is allowed into the empty, ventilated  room.

I know they’ve all probably heard the phrase, but those generations who have never twice sat through a continuous run of a movie and all its attendant extras, welcome to stay on in their seats til the final lights went on to signal That's All Folks---I wonder how many of them know the real origin of, “This is where I came in.”


Amanda Bridger enjoys looking in on several baking sites, and is amazed at the beautiful and complicated creations on some, the colorful swoops and swags and layers tottery-tall like Dr. Seuss’ sweetest dreams. She loves seeing the work of people’s hands, and admires all the different aspects of the work and the imagination and skill of the bakers. She especially likes a site called “Cake Wrecks,” and is doubly amazed at the awful and funny and sadly optimistic pieces of other folks’ baking craft, and is extremely awed every Sunday by the intricate and complicated and perfectly-done work of baking artists in their own shops around the world.

Amanda dropped the top of a wedding cake once, flipped upside down in the trunk of the clean-sheet-lined car, and had to run back in and get out all the icing and tips and bags and refurbish the luckily-unbroken tier. And once as she turned a corner in the long delivery wagon, she heard an ominous, heart-lurching thump from the back. A BIG can of pineapple juice intended for the punch had jumped from the top of the bag with its fellows, and landed neatly between Tier 2 and Tier 3 of a Wedding Cake, all set out separately for the delivery, and not a scratch or dent on either one. The can was rolling gently back and forth, bumping the cakeboards, never touching the cakes, but it could have had the devastating effect of a Richter 5 on all those tender layers.

And she cannot imagine presenting anything less than a well-made cake to any client.

Way back when she was first getting started in her home kitchen, she had taken an order for one birthday cake, decorated as a baseball diamond. Normally, she did not take orders during the week, as she had another full time job as well. But she was friends with the lady who asked, and liked the little boy who was celebrating his birthday.

But one birthday cake can involve as much mess and confusion and sifting and frosting as would a dozen, especially in a home kitchen with the children doing homework in the breakfast area and helping cook supper, besides. Not to mention a neighbor's child, a forlorn young girl who magically appeared at the door at suppertime, about three days a week, for her Mama was a nurse, and went straight to bed for a long nap right after her 7-3 shift ended every day.

So the layers were baked, the frosting made, the supper cooked and eaten, and the homework finished. The four teenagers settled at the table for a rousing game of Yahtzee while the frosting and decorating were going on. When the cake was finished, in order to clean the LOOONNNG kitchen counter properly, and to guard the safety of the finished cake from flying mists of antibacterial sprays, and since the table was occupied, the cake was removed to the living room, to the safety of the coffee table.

Had there been a family dog, never would she have put the cake in such a vulnerable spot. Since there was just the one old fat-as-mud ladycat, which seldom emerged from beneath the bed to blink warily in the daylight, and since cats are known for hating sugar, anyway, no thought was given to any danger from that quarter.

During the final counterwipe, a fresh pot of decaf brewing and an easy chair and a nice cozy mystery for resting mind and body in the offing, there was heard in the house an odd sound. Even over the raucous cheers and jeers of the four Yahtzee-heads, came the sounds of "smick-smick-smick" from the living room. All peeked in to see the cat, roused from her hibernation and magically levitated onto the coffeetable, energetically licking second base clean off the field. And a couple of the outfielders hadn't fared too well either, like they'd taken a frantic slide and buried face-deep in mud.

Wide, wary eyes turned toward Amanda. "You ARE going to scrape that off and fix it, aren't you?" the kids chorused, as if rehearsed.

"No, I am NOT!!" was the emphatic answer, as rattling of cupboards, melting of butter, sifting of flour began afresh at 9 p.m. The table of players erupted in joyous yells, as they scrambled for plates, forks, the jug of cold milk. They incised that yukky section away as skillfully as a surgeon cutting a wart, and shared out great soft slices of the cake---and right at bedtime.

Second Cake was baked, cooled, frosted and decorated, finished about 1 a.m., with a thorough sanitizing cycle in the dishwasher for all the little plastic nine.

Amanda’s children have told her for years how much they appreciated that she did start over, not just for the unexpected snack, of course, but that she had standards far above foisting damaged goods onto trusting clients. And the kids are the reason that she spends so much time on other people’s parties, sweeping up the midnight rice from weddings not her own.