Cornering the Market on Mint in Montgomery

If anyone in Montgomery was looking for mint this weekend, they were out of luck.  Mr. NewYorker bought every last package to be found in Winn-Dixie, Publix and Fresh Market.

You need a lot of mint to make mojitos for a crowd.  Lifelongnewyorker should probably have surveyed the mint situation before she invited 20 people over for a night of Mojito Madness.

Back on Staten Island, the what-to-do-this-weekend dilemma had many possible solutions.  Go out to dinner at one of many many restaurants. Catch a local play in which friends were appearing.  Head into Manhattan for music or theater or dinner.  So many activities, to be done in the company of friends or in the company of strangers.

The pickings are slimmer here.  There are a half-dozen restaurants worth eating in.  The Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF) puts on excellent productions, but not that many.  After a few months here in the South we realized that, if we wanted to have a social life, we were going to have to entertain.

I now believe I’m on the road to becoming the Pearl Mesta of Montgomery.  Well, of  a certain slice of Montgomery’s population.

Our first foray into entertaining was in May when we held a housewarming.  We told people to come over around 7:30.  This was our first lesson in how people here are different from those in New York.  At 7:25, the doorbell rang and our first guest walked in.  By 7:35, there were twenty people in our living room.  The folks who rang the bell at 7:40 apologized for being late.

I like to entertain, but the 25-person party is work, and I could see that Mr. NewYorker didn’t feel like doing it once a month.  So the next foray was right out of Martha Stewart: we invited about five friends over for a Make Your Own Pizza night.

This idea came to me while sitting at work and I sent the invites out without quite doing my homework.  Our crop of basil was flourishing, so we’d have pesto.  Likewise, an abundance of ripe tomatoes meant slow-roasted tomatoes would be offered as a topping.  I checked via e-mail with my old hairdresser, Jimmy, that my recollection about making a nice light pizza sauce was right (it was: crushed tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and a little bit of dried oregano; cook for no more than 15-20 minutes).  To the two sauces we’d add three cheeses: goat, feta and mozzarella.  For toppings, we knew we could get pepperoni, olives, artichoke hearts, onions and red pepper.

Which left the issue of the crust.  Back in New York, I’d have visited either Johnny’s pizzeria or stopped at Moretti’s bakery and picked up pizza dough.  But that option is not available here.  So we went shopping on the Great Pizza Crust hunt.  I thought flatbreads would work nicely, but Mr. NewYorker was aghast at the idea of using pita as a pizza base.  We’ve been told that the Publix in Florida offers frozen pizza dough, so we carefully inventoried the contents of three frozen food aisles before confirming that the Publix in Alabama, alas, does not.

Near the gourmet cheeses we found a display of Mama Mary’s perfectly formed crusts, or bread disks as I came to think of them.  They were geometrically pure, and pocked at regular intervals with mysterious round indentations, clearly made by machine.  They were firm, like LPs.  But they were the right size and hey, what else were you gonna do?  But just as I moved to place them in the cart I saw the “use-by” date: December 27, 2010.

Pizza dough with a 7-month shelf life?  I put them back.

Finally, we found the Boboli, a pre-made crust we used often when the Abandoned One was small. We wanted the personal size, and visited several markets in search of it.  Finally I went online and entered my zip code.  Alas again, if I wanted personal size Boboli, I’d have to drive to Birmingham.  But the 12-inch would do.

Wanting to duplicate the crispness of New York pizza, I simply slid each pie laden with toppings directly onto oven racks, as the packaging suggested.  I then took one of my guests on a house tour, only to return to the kitchen in time to find smoke billowing from the oven.

The toppings had dripped.  A lot.  But the pies were fine, and the next day we simply put the oven into self-cleaning mode.  Four hours later, all that remained were five small ash piles on the oven floor.

Last week I decided it was time for another party.  Again, this thought happened at work.  I’ve become a disciple of spontaneity, so I dashed off an invite to a Mojito Party and asked my guests to bring some tapas.  I included Mr. NYer in the invite so he would know what to expect. Folks really liked the idea of mojitos.  A winner!

What neither of us expected was a shortage of mint.  The mint in people’s gardens? Bolted, burned and gone to seed.  Mr. NYer travelled from market to market in search of mint.  I came home on Thursday to find a few small plastic packages in the refrigerator.  I looked up recipes for mojitos by the pitcher.  According to these, I would need anywhere from six to ten cups of firmly packed mint leaves.

So, on Saturday morning I went out in search of mint. Perhaps Publix had a delivery.  It didn’t.  I went to the Curb Market, a farmer’s market downtown.  None.  I came home and pulled the mint out of the refrigerator, and stood there gazing at it.  Mr. NYer came in, “Do you want me to go out [in this 100-degree heat] to Fresh Market?” he asked.  “I’ll do it if you think we need more mint.”  Well I did think so, and he made yet another mint run.

You know the end of this story, don’t you?  I made about 16 quarts of mojitos Saturday night.  It was good.  And I have plenty of mint for my iced tea this week.

Embrace the Kudzu (via Mr. Write’s Page)

As Mr. NYer and I have been tooling around Alabama’s county highways these hot summer weekends, we’ve been noticing the kudzu. I love the way it resembles topiary. That spreads across acres and acres.

You don’t see it much from the Interstates–they’re too well-maintained. But hit those back roads and there it is, a lush green carpet that shows just how impermanent most of what we build can be.

So I was thrilled to find this post–and this southern writer.

Embrace the Kudzu In my part of the country, certain things define the culture. The heat, the humidity, the food. The music, the literature, the dialects. The kudzu. Kudzu is a climbing vine native to Japan. The word is a corruption of “kuzu,“ the Japanese name for the plant. The Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library says this about kudzu: ————— Scientific name: Pueraria montana; a subdivision of Phaseoleae, the group that includes pe … Read More

via Mr. Write's Page

Becoming Alabaman

According to a recent report, Alabama is #2 when it comes to obesity, outweighed only by our neighbor, Mississippi.  Nearly a third of my fellow residents are obese, and fully two-thirds are “overweight or obese.”

Perhaps this helps explain recent trends that have been registered on Lifelongnewyorker’s  bathroom scale.  Two members of our household have, to use a phrase my mother favored, “filled out.”  On the other hand, two other members have maintained their trim or perhaps even lost weight. For those of you puzzling over this — our household includes the two cats.

Harpo has always struggled with his weight.  He has a large frame, and generally wears it well.  But a couple of years ago, his vet suggested he would be better off shedding a few pounds.  Mr. NYer oversaw his diet and the big guy managed to lose a pound or two–he seemed to level off at 15 pounds and that was fine.  In Alabama, he has ballooned to 18 pounds.  We think it’s emotional eating.

Simon, the younger cat, maintains his youthful figure by collecting and chasing those little plastic plugs that come on containers of orange juice.  The sound alone of the refrigerator door opening in the morning can summon him, and if it’s a day to open a new container, he is on that nickel-sized cap with lightning speed.  A session or two of orange cap floor hockey every day keeps his boyish figure.

Likewise, ample time for exercise has resulted in Mr. NYer shedding what little body fat he had.  Shortly after Lifelongnewyorker leaves for work in the morning, and before the real heat of the day settles in, he takes off for an hour or two of bicycle riding.  On days he doesn’t ride, he goes to the pool and swims laps.

And that leaves Lifelongnewyorker, who is way too close to topping her own personal record.    Twelve more pounds and she’d match the weight when she was ten months pregnant and about to give birth to a nearly nine-pound Abandoned One.  Otherwise, she’s approaching the highest non-pregnant weight she’s ever seen.

Why? Oh, the usual.  Age and time of life.  Lack of exercise contributes.  In New York, the day began with a brisk walk to the bus stop and, on most mornings, a 15-minute walk in Manhattan from Worth St. to Spring St. Now, she rises from the kitchen chair, takes about ten steps into the garage, drives into her designated spot in the office garage, and takes the elevator up to the 4th floor.  There’s time in the evening to take a bike ride, true, but Lifelongnewyorker attracts mosquitoes and the OFF doesn’t seem to work down here.

And then there’s the companionable before-bedtime snacking.  Around 9 o’clock every evening, she and Mr. NYer settle down to watch some television together.  Two glasses of wine and a box of crackers later, we go to bed.  Mr. NYer exercises it off the next day.  Lifelongnewyorker adds it to her waistline.

It’s all part of becoming a real Alabaman.

Things I Like about Alabama

Lifelongnewyorker has lived in Alabama for nearly six months now, and finds there are many things to like.  In no particular order, here are a few:

1. Clean air.

2. Flowering trees, especially crape myrtles.

3. The city-supplied trash containers.

4. The price of gas (currently $2.57 per gallon).

5. The cleanliness of the supermarkets.

6. The abundant food choices in the supermarkets.

7. The short lines at the supermarkets.

8. The courtesy of supermarket employees.

9. The lack of potholes.

10. Being able  to pick ripe tomatoes from the garden by the end of June.

11. The foodies who live here.

12. The farmers’ markets.

13. The 10-minute commute to work.

14. Fried okra.

15. Great corn and watermelon.

16. Being able to buy wine in supermarkets.

17. Not needing to buy the local paper, because I don’t know any of the people in the obituaries anyway.

18. Live oaks, tulip trees, and towering southern pines.