Monthly Archives: March 2011

English Food

I had this idea that it would be nice to make Miss Pearl some English food the other day and so I headed off to the international section of the grocery store. And now I know what’s wrong with the so-called ‘Special Relationship’.

For my British readers, I have to tell you it is pretty embarrassing. All across America, shoppers are pausing briefly at your food section and thinking: ‘YUK’! Here’s a summary of what they think you live on:

Paxo Sage and Onion Stuffing Mix
John West Kipper Fillets in Sunflower Oil
HP Sauce
Salad Cream
Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup
Bird’s Custard Powder
Bisto Gravy Granules

Commentators on the BBC have got it wrong. The Foreign Office is mistaken. The dons of Oxbridge don’t have a clue. The problem with US-UK relations doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you build a raft and call it an ‘air craft carrier’ or that you have been reduced to collaborating with the French Army. We know that you have funny accents and no written constitution, that the heir to your throne is still living in the eighteenth century, and that you can’t heat your homes adequately even though it rarely drops below freezing. Never mind all that. Americans just have a problem respecting a nation that thinks baked beans on toast constitutes an acceptable supper dish.

So, in the spirit of the Transatlantic Alliance, I am going to try to help out my American readers. God help me, because Miss Pearl might never have the courage to eat a meal with me again.

Heinz baked beans are the staple item of every British pantry. You can try getting another brand but the kids will know the difference. Heat them up and pour them on top of plain white toast after a long day at work and, ta-da, dinner is ready. At the weekend, baked beans are a staple breakfast food. Yes, you heard me, breakfast food. A cooked breakfast, or ‘fry up’ consists of fried eggs, thick non-streaky bacon, bland sausages, half a medium tomato fried in grease from the bacon, bread fried in the same with extra oil, and baked beans. You can add black pudding (sausage made out of curdled pig’s blood) and fried mushrooms if you want to get fancy.  Yum!

Ok, working from left to right: 1. original HP sauce is what you have with your fry-up instead of Ketchup. 2. No one I have ever met has ever tried fruity HP sauce. 3. Salad Cream is a sort of runny sweet cloying mayonnaise that you pour on a salad made of limp iceberg lettuce with a slice of grainy unripe tomato and a couple of slices of cucumber. 4. Sarson’s vinegar is for chips (french fries). 5. Branston pickle is only ever used  to make sandwiches with sliced sharp cheddar cheese. That’s it, just cheese and pickle on bread, but it is better than it sounds. The ‘small chunks’ version on the left is easier to spread.

1. Don’t even consider trying the Ambrosia creamed rice. 2. Bisto gravy granules make an instant gravy for whatever roast meat you throw in the oven on Sunday when you are still trying to digest the fry-up. It comes in different flavours and the red one here is meant for beef. You can just about get away with using Bisto if you add plenty of red wine and pan juices. 3. Birds custard powder makes an instant custard that you can put in a jug and pour on top of cake or fruit compote, but its primary use is to make a trifle, which consists of stale cake, cut up fruit, jello (yes, really) whipped cream, and instant custard, with sprinkles on top. The kids will love it, and your guests will be so plastered by dessert that they won’t know any better. 4. The curry sauces are not here by accident: most British citizens gave up on their own food a long time ago and eat this instead. I actually made Junior a pretty decent chicken jalfrezi last night using the one on the left.

Smarties are like m&ms but with Cadbury’s chocolate instead of Hersheys and the colors are different.

1. You can’t really go wrong with the Rich Tea biscuits, provided that you eat them with the PG tips tea on the bottom right. Remember that you must only drink the tea with milk and sugar, never lemon. You also have to have the biscuits and tea on hand at all times in case you need a plumber or an electrician, because they need to take  thirty minutes to have tea and biscuits before they will consider repairing anything in your house. In my personal experience, however, you get better service if you use the chocolate covered digestive biscuits over there on the far right. 2. The three flavors of Robinson’s and the Ribena are what English people call ‘squash’, which you are supposed to dilute to taste and put in your child’s sippy cup so that their teeth will rot. 3. The three drinks on the lower right beginning with the IRN BRU are made for Scottish people to drink in the morning so that they can go to work hungover.


© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction



Filed under Food

Cupcake Queen

When I bought this house three years ago, there was a sign on the front of one of my neighbor’s homes that said

‘Bakery coming soon!’

I asked around and was told that although they hadn’t opened yet, if I knocked on the front door and asked for Mignon, she would be happy to sell me some cupcakes, and that they were good. And that’s how I met my remarkable friend, Mignon Francois.

Mignon and A.E. Francois had moved to Nashville from New Orleans a few years earlier, into a house that had been condemned. With six kids, the economy tanking, and no money coming in, things were pretty desperate for them. Mignon started trying to think of ways to make enough money to keep the children fed. One of her daughters, Brittany, was a pretty good little baker. And so Mignon, who claims to be a bad cook herself, figured that they could have a bake sale every day.

Along with other neighbors and people in the know, we started placing orders with her. It took awhile before she went public with the business, because she kept it debt free and saved the money from the baking she did with her daughters. Her husband used those savings to turn their living room into a bakery.

Within months of opening The Cupcake Collection, the place was packed, often with lines of people spilling out the door and along the sidewalk. Today she is employing something like twenty happy people, and operating out of two locations. Her mom, Linda, from whom she gets her smarts, drives up from Huntsville, Alabama and stays during the week to do the books.



It is an amazing story, and she does a good job explaining it herself. This is one you have to watch:

Last night I went with the family and friends to see their 18-year-old son, Dillon, be presented at the Children of the King L’Elegance Cotillion, sponsored by the Riverside Chapel Seventh Day Adventist Church.

It was a special night. Along with around thirty other young people, Dillon had worked all year, raising money for his college education, doing volunteer work, and suffering through classes in things like ‘dining etiquette.’ Phew! We all got up and cheered when Dillon won the Congeniality Award. It was a no-brainer, he’s the family charmer:

What a difference three years can make. Here’s the happy Francois family: A.E. and Mignon, with her mother Linda, their children Alex, Lauren, Jacques, Dillon, Brittany, and little Xavier, with assorted girlfriends and boyfriends.

Mignon Francois, I salute you. You have taught me, along with many other people: Yes we can!

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction


Filed under Food

Long Hot Summer

It got up to 80 degrees yesterday, and the weatherwoman on TV described it as the ‘first springlike weather of the year’. Everyone was outdoors working in their gardens and enjoying the balmy temperature.

Except Junior.

If you have been following my blog, you will know that we have moved back here from London (that’s London, England, in Yroop). Junior was raised in the East End of that fair city, and has no trace of American about him except for his passport, so that the officials at the border are forced to narrow their eyes at his subversive appearance and let him through against their better judgement. It was very brave of him to agree to move back to Nashville to help me look after Mother and Big Daddy, and in my opinion he would have skedaddled back to London a long time ago if it weren’t for the considerable charms of his girlfriend, Miss Pearl.

Now normally, he would have been with her, but she had to go up to Kentucky to fetch a hearse,  and so I asked him to help me out with some gardening.  After an hour of hedge trimming in the front, he came out back where I was weeding.

‘I can’t take this heat, mum’. And then he went inside, took a cold shower and had to lie down for awhile.

Uh oh.

At least the hedge looks good...

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction

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Filed under Family

Nashville Girls

I had a revelation today, and finally figured out why women in Nashville typically live to be one hundred and fifty years old. It’s the hairspray. Out at the nursing home there is a beauty parlor that is always packed with ladies in curlers sitting under the drier. Girlfriend, you’d better believe that you might be 98 and in a wheelchair with dementia and one whole side of your body paralyzed, but your hairdo is going to be permed and teased until the day you go to Glory. And yes, those nails are going to be manicured too! I’m telling you, in many cases, the hairspray is literally the only thing holding these women together. And it doesn’t end there; Miss Pearl tells me that you have to have an advanced hair styling qualification before you can even be considered for a place at the local School of Mortuary Science.

My friend and neighbor, Gretchen Peters, wrote a song about it with Matraca Berg. It’s called ‘Nashville Girls’, and the chorus goes like this:

Nashville girls, they got big hair for a reason.
Nashville girls, they don’t go out of style.
So tease them curls, jack ’em up to Jesus.
God love you, we need more of you Nashville girls.

The song’s been recorded by Terri Clark, with Reba McEntire, Sarah Evans and Martina McBride, but no one does it like Gretchen and Matraca. They performed it recently at a Planned Parenthood benefit here in town, and you can see them singing it here, at about 20.28 on the video. In fact, you can watch the whole show. I didn’t have time to get there because I was looking after Big Daddy, but I watched the show this afternoon and it was awesome. They both played new material and it is worth making some time to enjoy it. And if you do, please consider making a donation to Planned Parenthood.

God knows, we are all too busy around here looking after elderly women to have to worry about more children.

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction



Filed under Style

The Reenactors

When I was growing up, it was considered impolite to discuss the Civil War. My grandmother gave me a talk about Yankees before I left for high school in Connecticut when I was thirteen, but that was about it. People tried to focus instead on earlier, less distasteful, periods of our history. Think Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.

I can remember making a reconstruction of Fort Nashboro, the original pioneer settlement established on the west bank of the Cumberland River in 1780, out of popsicle sticks, and I can remember learning all about Native Americans in elementary school. Within the family, we were careful to venerate the ancestors who came to Tennessee at the end of the eighteenth century. But our history curriculum left a big hole where the Civil War should be.

This situation has changed considerably in the decades that I lived abroad. Although my parents’ generation isn’t particularly comfortable with it, there is an increasing popular interest in the War, and reenactment has become a popular hobby for amateur historians.

I am going to be perfectly honest with you. I have always found this to be a bit bizarre, and I assumed that these people were just trying to find an excuse to wrap themselves in the Confederate flag. Until, that is, I met my new friend Gary Burke this weekend.

Gary, along with other reenactors, was out at Fort Negley as part of an ongoing series of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the War. Besides being on the Board of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society, he is a leading member of  the 13th United States Colored Troops Living History Association.

When Nashville was occupied by the Union Army in 1862, thousands of slaves fled to the city, where they were housed in contraband refugee camps and used as (largely unpaid) laborers during the construction of a series of fortifications, of which Fort Negley was the largest. At the same time, many, mostly free African American men volunteered to form regiments of the newly established United States Colored Troops division of the army.

The men of the 13th were among the several African American regiments who fought in the Battle of Nashville in December 1864. The battle destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General John Bell Hood, who at the time was staying in my great-great grandparents’ house and using it as his headquarters. Most of the 387 Union fatalities in the Battle were African American; 229 of them, including five color bearers, were men of the 13th, who died on the 16th of December attacking my ancestral home. I don’t know whether any of those men were runaway slaves from the plantation, but Gary explained that one of his fellow reenactors is indeed descended from men and women enslaved by my forebears.

So you can imagine that we had an interesting conversation.

‘Gary, I am imagining that reenactors tend to dress up as the characters that they sympathize with the most. Doesn’t this lead to, well, some tense situations?’

‘Yes. President Lincoln, for example, really has to watch his back. He gets people all the time who won’t shake his hand because their great-great-great-grandaddy was killed fighting for the Confederacy.’

‘I am guessing that this can be kind of an uncomfortable hobby.’

‘Uh-huh. A lot of my friends think I’m crazy. I was a little nervous about it at first, but then I started to see bumper stickers on Confederate reenactors’ cars that said things like, “Not Hate but Heritage”, and I began to realise that people are just trying to find ways to preserve their family stories. The majority of people are fine about it.’

Gary invited me to attend the Civil War Roundtable that meets regularly out at the Visitors Center, and then introduced me to one of his friends.

Welcome to the New South, it’s not anything like what you thought it would be.

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction


Filed under Family

Miracle on Jefferson Street

In the decades following Our Recent Unpleasantness, Jefferson Street in North Nashville was established as the heart of our African American community, and by the 1940s it was a great place to be, as the historical marker here tells us. This all ended in the 1960s though, because desegregation meant that the city, thankfully, had no more need for separate shops and movie theatres. More than a hundred local businesses shut down along the street, and what was left were basically the places that specifically serve African American consumers: hair and nail salons, barber shops, soul food, barbecue, hot chicken, religion, and Fisk University.

In spite of the efforts of our local neighborhood business association, it has been hard to bring prosperity back to the area. But Jefferson Street nonetheless has a character and personality that has vanished from most other more homogenous parts of town. Junior and I live in a gentrified neighborhood off the east end of Jefferson Street, and we love it here.

So, can you guess who’s moving in?

That’s right! It’s my new pals, Greg Sanford and Mario Hambrick from Free At Last Bail Bonding. The boys have begun to acquire property on the Street as part of their rapidly expanding business empire. They presented their plans to the community the other night and Greg invited us to come along, so I brought Junior and Miss Pearl.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that the revitalization of Jefferson Street is going to be in their hands, instead of Burger King or McDonald’s, because I know that Greg and Mario are going to help keep us really weird. So welcome to the neighborhood, guys! I’ll bring brownies to the ribbon cutting ceremony.

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction


Filed under Shopping

The Cookie Jar

‘And there are three things you musn’t run out of or it will upset your father. First, you need to make sure that there is grapefruit in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator.’ Mother had a list of things I need to take responsibility for while she is in California this week.

‘Grapefruit. Right, got that. Second?’

‘Olives. His olive jar needs to be clearly visible in the center of the top shelf.’

‘Ok, I can handle that too. What’s the third thing?’

‘Do you see the ceramic jar next to the bread box? Keep it filled with Uncle Ben’s Chocolate Chip Cookies.’

‘Huh? I didn’t know that Uncle Ben made chocolate chip cookies, Mom.’

‘Yes he does, and it is absolutely essential that the jar is filled to the top.’

I looked in the jar, which was empty. ‘There’s a new box in the pantry,’ she told me. So I went to fetch them.

Oh dear.

Gentlemen, there’s not really much I can say, except that I hope you can accept my apologies. And furthermore, in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, I do feel that we need a little factual information here. So, for Mother and anyone else who can’t tell the difference between their African American branding stereotypes…

Wally Amos (b.1936) became famous as the William Morris Agency’s first African American talent agent, representing among others, Diana Ross and Simon and Garfunkel. He rather charmingly used to send his homemade chocolate chip cookies to his clients and they were so popular that in 1975 he opened a cookie store out in LA with some seed money from Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy. Wally doesn’t own the brand any more but he is still in the food business, is an important national advocate for adult and children’s literacy, has written a series of self-help books, and is a successful motivational speaker. He currently divides his time between homes in Long Island and Hawaii.

It is probably best to keep all this from Big Daddy, who has an irrational prejudice against people from California, and might decide to switch brands if he finds out that Famous Amos is some sort of ‘do-good hippie yankee deal’.

By contrast, Uncle Ben is undisputedly the most successful African American fictional character in the nation’s history. Rising from humble origins and hired to promote rice during the second world war, he was appointed chairman of the board of the Mars Food Corporation in 2007. Under his leadership, the company has expanded internationally into whole new areas of global racial stereotyping.

Uncle Ben’s office at the Mars Global Headquarters building makes Barack Obama’s Oval Office look like the waiting room of our local Greyhound Bus Station. Seriously, check it out, there is a virtual reconstruction of his actual office online. You can read his diary, examine his sentimental bow tie collection, read selections from his library and everything.

It is my new favourite place on the internet.

Be sure and go all the way around the room, don’t limit yourself to snooping around his desk. If you’re anything like me, the experience will literally move you to tears.

© Copyright 2011, Southern Dysfunction







Filed under Food