Self-Reliance & Southern Fried Chicken.

My inability to cook anything more than rice and eggies-in-a-basket has been a running joke in my family since my brothers learned how to grill steak circa age eight.

I called it my feminist anti-domesticity clause. “I don’t cook because i don’t adhere to gender roles!” i’d stomp and snap. Meanwhile, all my self-prepared dinners consisted of frozen pizza or my tried-and-true favorite eggie snack.

So much for self-reliance.

I knew, in spite of my claim to anti-domesticity, that cooking is not inherently an anti-feminist thing. Obviously, all people have to eat. And i was growing older and pizza for dinner was getting to be repetitive and unhealthy. When i moved into my own flat for the first time on January 11th here in Edinburgh, i knew this was to be the semester of learning and growth abroad.

Fundamental to the growing pains? Learning how to make a balanced meal for myself.

It started slow, tortellinis cooked in slightly salted and oiled water. A few days in i was making sautéed spinach salad, and my first foray into baking chicken was an endeavor of it’s-still-pink-so-five-more-minutes? (For the record, it turned out pretty moist and edible and non-salmonella-filled). I then tried my father’s go-to: honey mustard chicken. A few rounds into those baked delights, i was feeling more assured of my own abilities.

The time had come. My friend Megan and i decided to undertake cooking what we Southern ladies missed the most: fried chicken.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

It was a semi-disaster. We knew, vaguely, that it was best to soak the chicken in some kind of egg-or-butter wash before slathering it in flour and bread crumbs. I always hated how warm the milk was after my mom had kept it beside her while frying up her famous Second-Helpin’ recipe, so i figured milk went in there somewhere.

With a decidedly eff-it-we’ll-make-it-work attitude, we threw all the ingredients together in one bowl. Which turned into dough.

Oops.

Half an hour of packing dough onto chicken legs ensued. Merlot was drunk. Potatoes began to boil. At last, dough dripping off those once-running legs, we threw our concoctions into a pan of oil and prayed to the Almighty Steal Magnolia that She would help us make our mothers proud.

Having no tongs, Megan expertly wielded chopsticks to flip the chicken over until, all but surrendered, we popped them into the microwave to ensure they were fully cooked.

In the pan floated the remains of our dough.

As we sat down to the table, we contemplated our creation. The mashed potatoes and corn, if nothing else, looked exquisite. Bravely, we took a bite of the chicken. Not bad, i thought. Not too bad at all, for making up the recipe on the fly. Sure, it was no Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ but it certainly was good enough for the bone to be licked clean. Megan and i exchanged smiles of victory.

Round 1.

Round 1.

When i told J, the other fried-chicken-master-maker of my life, how our endeavor had gone i think he actually wiped tears from his eyes he chortled so much. My pride mildly wounded, i emailed my mother for her Most Secret Recipe for Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Fried Chicken.

A Tesco trip later, i was armed for round two.

And this time, i must say, it went peach-pickin’ perfect. I’d had to improvise slightly, because Bisquik isn’t exactly available in Scotland (to my knowledge). But one sizzling pan later, i proffered the generously full plate to one of my flatmates, a hopeful grin tucked into the corner of my cheek.

2013-02-26 17.18.39

Round 2.

“Daaaa-aaaamn!” she exclaimed. There was a pronounced diphthong in her reply, even with a mouth full of chicken. Paula Dean would be downright green in the face.

I’m not sure which was more satisfying: the fact that i’d finally made something worth craving (and not just edible) or the chicken itself. As delicious as the food in Amsterdam was, nothing really compares to the warmth of my Southern Mama’s cuisine.

I’m sure there are immeasurable numbers of my peers who scoff at my simple pride in learning how to balance a budget, much less cook a meal (again, my brothers could grill sirloins before middle school). But i think growing up sometimes can be so taken for granted it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know what you know now.

So i’m taking time to appreciate the learning, even if it involves clumps of should-have-done dough and try-harder-next-time chicken. Because nothing tastes so sweet as knowing my own capability, domesticity and all.

current jam: ‘kiss you’ one direction (unashamed!)

best thing: self-reliance is the new sexy, ya’ll.

other cookery blogs: cheese buns & rice.

Making Rice, Making Do.

What i lack in Southern charm, my mother makes up for with every sultry ya’ll she smooths out of her mouth like butter. When she cooks, our table is swimming in vats of her fried miracle meat masterpiece she’s fondly named “Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Chicken.” A friend of hers recounted their initial introduction, enumerating specifically that she was wearing her perfect pearls strung around her neck. My roommate frequently remarks that my ability to curl anyone’s hair (no matter the thinness or resistance to hairspray) is my Southern Superpower. I’m always quick to share it’s a superpower i inherited from my South Carolinian mother.

But easily, one of the most Southern things i have inherited from my mother (particularities with hot curlers aside) is an abundant love for steamed white rice.

She is the master of rice. Nowhere else have i had rice that compares – not the kitchens of Mount Holyoke, not the restaurants in Uganda, nor the meals consumed at friends’ homes. My mother’s rice is the kind of food i cling to as a measure of perfection. While some rice dishes may rank on a scale of goodness, none have ever paralleled Hannah’s Second Helpin’ rice concoction.

Part of what makes her rice so delicious is the particularity with which she makes it. In the unending panicked phone calls i’ve made to her asking for cooking advice (including, once, from Uganda) she’s quick to reiterate: rice is very, very precise.

“Don’t be sloppy with your measuring cup,” she shows me in my umpteenth lesson, bending down to be on eye level with the red dashes marking ounces and liters. Often as she does this, there is a persistently misbehaving strand of brown hair (curled, of course) that she tucks primly behind an ear.”You have to make sure it is exactly 3 cups of water.”

Over the phone, she reminds me the name for the recipe: 3-2-1 Rice. Precision in name, precision in numbers. 3 cups of water, 2 cups of rice, 1 teaspoon of salt. For the longest time, i couldn’t remember whether the three was for the grains or the water. Naturally, a few pots have turned a delicate shade of brownish-black as a result of my imprecision.

Living in Massachusetts for two and a half years now has been brilliant. I’m even growing to like snow. Living there has also been a lesson in just how Southern i am – even if i’ve spent the better part of my early adulthood in denial. Sure, i don’t own anything Carhart and will never suggest a BBQ joint for lunch. But i have a strong affinity for pearl earrings and i brew my own sweet tea (à la my mother’s recipe). The longer i live in New England, the more i come to make peace with – and embrace – the roots i have in Carolina country. The salience of my differences among my peers has been a wonderful part of this path of discovery.

And in five days, i begin the next big cross-cultural expedition to Scotland.

As i frantically decide between which map of Durham, NC to bring and put on my wall, i can’t help but think about how much more i’m going to learn abroad. I intend to try Haggis, explore the bowels of Edinburgh castle, breakfast at the Elephant House Café. I hope to grow in my sense of a globalized identity and engage critically with my own assumptions.

Learning who you are while abroad is a messy process. There’s plenty of journaling and contemplating and weepy phone calls ahead. Nothing is precise about identity, i think. But that’s also the adventure of it; for every homesick day i’ll have, assuredly there will be wildly wonderful moments where i can scarcely believe the world unfolding around me. For me, the most important thing right now is to focus on making those moments meaningful by being present in the moment. 

And when the days are so messy and i feel so foreign and disembodied, i’ll go home by making a bowl of rice. In all the messiness, there is still the precision of her 3-2-1 Rice Recipe. (Hopefully, i can even find that calm without burning the pot.) And the thing is, rice is still rice even when you’re 3,700 miles away from the woman who makes it best in the whole world.

current jam: ‘toes’ zac brown band

best thing: hanging paintings.

 

 

Dualities: Hometowns.

By no stretch of the imagination am i what one would consider a quintessential Southerner.  And yet, i feel as though everywhere i go my identity – so intricately interlaced with growing up in North Carolina – is up for debate. I recognize already that this is the ultimate of white-girl-first-world-teenage-angst problems (waaah! no one understands meeee!) but the lack of a connection to a homeplace is a much broader identity crises i’ve wrangled with for, well, my whole life. Oh, God. I just said i’m having an identity crises. It really doesn’t get more teenage-ery and whinier than that, does it?

But, since i am, after all, still a teenager (if only for another mere six-ish months) and this little blog has grown to be my soapbox for venting and processing, i want to unpack my thoughts here. I beg of your forgiveness and indulgence while i embark on this mad-as-a-box-of-cats typing session.

As i attend an intentionally incredibly diverse college, one of the most frequently asked questions when first making the acquaintance of people is to inquire as to where they’re from. This past week, being the first week of classes, meant another round of these in every seminar and lecture (benefits of my largest class being only thirty people). Answers tend to range in everything from Brooklyn to Seattle to Seoul to Sri Lanka, reminders of why Mount Holyoke is such a beautiful and wide and wonderful place to be.

And yet.

Whenever the question comes to me, i panic a little. Not externally – well, i certainly hope it’s not externally obvious – but there’s always something of a fretting taste to my mouth before i declare myself to be “lizzie, sociologyandreligiondoublemajor, class of 2014, from North Carolina.”

This is always a stewing of worry in me for two reasons; the first being that i am not technically from North Carolina. In fact, i was technically born in Atlanta, Georgia; a lovely place, undoubtedly, but i only lived there for a few months (if that). From my birth onward, my family pilgrimaged far and wide across the United States.

By the time i was six-and-a-half years old, i had lived in seven states and had moved eight times.

Atlanta, therefore, is hardly where i would ultimately claim to be “from.” We lived a winter in Pennsylvania (a splendid season to move Northward), i can recall the lemon tree that gave fruit to our tiny hands in the backyard in California, there is a porch painted white in my memory that i’m told was part of the house in South Carolina, and i can still trace the carpet pattern of the first North Carolina house’s basement.

When compared to my friends who still live in the house their parents put a down payment on prior to their conceptions – people who have known neighbors and friends for their entire lives – i feel like such a liar. My “hometown” is not where i was born. It’s not where i took my first steps. It’s not where i learned to speak, or met my brothers for the first time, or learned to play hopscotch on the front driveway. Those all happened in different homes, different states, different parts of the country.

This motion, this mobility with which i was raised, is something i feel i am only now coming to terms with in a rip-roaring, open-wound kind of way. I hold no bitterness for my continent-spanning childhood; i like to think it made me stronger. More outgoing, more willing to make friends and more flexible in new situations. And most of my friends growing up where very like me in this regard – they were from all over, corporate brats and children of the dust. When i first began to get to know people at school, it baffled me that someone could have lived in the same house their whole life. It was just so different from what i knew, and in some ways, i’d never really realized how distinctive, then, my rearing had been.

I mean, i was born in Georgia, but i don’t particularly like peaches and i most definitely need a map to negotiate my way around the city of my origin. For this reason, i claimed North Carolina to be my home: i’m not a Tar Heel born, but i spent the better part of my life thus far living and breathing North Carolinian air and slurping down sweet tea by the gallon. Amidst the get-to-know-you-Bingo-games and those horrendously awkward first conversations, i was the peculiar southerner misplaced in New England.

And yet, when that question comes to me to answer, i still felt – and continue to feel – like a part of me is being completely inauthentic. A total fraud. In the same way i’m not born-and-raised from North Carolina, an inclination in my mind reminds me that the town in which i grew up in is by no means what the quintessential North Carolinian would consider to be truly, well, North Carolinian.

I’m from Chapel Hill, a college town home to the University of North Carolina; a town  encasing the smaller hippie borough (turned town) that is the once-commune now-granola-tree-loving Carrboro. It’s not precisely what i would call a posh place, but it certainly reeks of the Old South harmonizing – often dissonantly – with the burgeoning, Berkenstocks-wearing counterculturals that inhabit the organic groceries that pepper its winding streets.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as a unit, make for a pretty unique place to have lived; the town is pretty old, by American standards, and rich in a history reflective of much of what is perceived to be the “Southern heritage.” There are monuments dedicated to men who died in the Civil War a mere mile from a bookstore that hosts bi-monthly letter-writing campaigns to encourage political prisoners and to chastise the governments holding them hostage.  I’m a fan of frequenting the thrift stores and collecting homes for discarded shoulder-padded 80s nightmares, but there’s plenty of J. Crew wannabe boutiques in the plethora of strip malls dotted around town. In the summer, there are politically-driven puppet shows hewn with unimaginable artistry. Year-round you can find a  play or musical or opera or performance art piece just about every weekend (and when that isn’t enough, there are more intimate concert venues in the city limits than i could count on two hands).

Yet there are also neighborhoods with nothing but white picket fence houses, children going to manners classes, and debutante invitations. Every restaurant offers sweet tea, you can find fried chicken on almost any menu (save the vegetarian-only places), and liquor stores are legally-bound to decree themselves as alcohol-seling venues with signs that say “ABC Store.”

I guess what i’m trying to say is that my hometown defies any kind of regional label. When i say i’m from North Carolina i tend to get one of two reactions. The first; “But you don’t have an accent!” which i can’t help but feel is really meant to be “But you seem somewhat intelligent and not bigoted!” I know that’s an unfair assessment of what are assuredly occasional, perfectly innocent comments. Yet i often find myself defending “The South” in the same way i have to claim that having lived in Uganda for ten weeks does not make me an expert on the entire continent of Africa. No, not everyone is Republican (North Carolina has a Democrat for a governor! Who is a woman! And we voted blue in 2008!). No, i did not grow up on a farm. No, i’m not a Bible-thumping fundamentalist quoting Leviticus to justify homophobia while eating shellfish.

In response, i try to make light of the situation and the sometimes-subtext. I’ll make a joke about how my lack of an accent makes up for the amount of sweet tea i’ve consumed in my lifetime. When in a bad mood, though, i put it bluntly: “not everyone in the South sounds the same, you know. A Kentucky accent is about as far from a Piedmont-region North Carolina accent as a Cockney accent is from a Scottish one.” Or, better yet, i might go on a rampage, we’re all Heritage-Not-Haters with rebel flags and obesity problems. Those are rare, but i tend to feel pretty guilty for isolating people after said rampages.

However, herein enters the second reason why i feel inauthentic when i decree myself to be a North Carolinian. Yes, these stereotypes are broad generalizations that don’t account for everyone in the South. And yes, they’re frustrating when some of my closest friends in NC are from small towns in middle-of-nowhere country counties who deal with the “redneck” stigma in a real and incredibly classist way. I stick up for the South, because on some level it is where i’m from; my mom is a South Carolinian, born and bred. Again: sweet tea. Nectar of the deities.

But there’s a level of truth to the proverbial “But-you-don’t-have-an-accent!” comment. No, i really don’t. Only on certain words, and only when with other Carolinians.

This is because Chapel Hill/Carrboro is, by its own definition, not the “real” South. It’s a bedroom community for misplaced Michiganers commuting to Raleigh, it’s home to drifters and roamers and political activists in retirement – while simultaneously catering to the Chapel Hill elite who are Tar Heels born and bred. It’s a weird place, a place of dualities and convergences and ideas held in tension and tandem.

I don’t like BBQ, i couldn’t give a flying fizzing whizbee about football (but i heartily support the UNC Marching Band, for what’s it worth!), don’t spend my free time on ATVs, and i definitely would not be caught dead hunting. Stereotypes, yes, but every time i’m home at least once someone tells me i’m not really from North Carolina. But sometimes, the “redneck” label is one worn with pride – a celebration of identity with “North Carolina culture” (to appropriate). And Chapel Hill is, if anything, not a redneck-pride kind of place.

Sometimes i want to bite back, snap that just because i only use “ya’ll” with the most erratic infrequency and find pulled pork to be revolting doesn’t mean it’s not my home. By telling me i’m not from the real North Carolina, i feel like these people are claiming my childhood and adolescence were, by very nature of the surroundings they occurred in, unreal. Fake. Forever damning me to be suspended in between. Not Southern, not Yankee. I don’t sleep in the same room i was brought home from the hospital in, i don’t have any friend whom my parents knew from maternity classes, i haven’t been eating at the same restaurant for the whole of my life.

But i am from Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Elmo’s is the best restaurant on the face of this good green earth, i sport my Berks with pride, and i will never apologize for the people interpretive dancing on the green in front of Weaver street. I went to middle and high school in Chapel Hill, i made some of the best friends of my life at the playground in my neighborhood and at the summer spent at the North Carolina Governor’s School. There’s hardly a restaurant i haven’t tried or a block i don’t know. I learned to ride a bike, to drive a car on North Carolina roads. I left for Africa from a North Carolina airport, all three times.

And i am from North Carolina. I love bluegrass, i wear cowboy boots, i think the Avett Brothers are the best thing to have happened to folk music since Bob Dylan, and i say my “a”s like Scarlett O’Hara on occasion. Yeah, i’m having stereotypical growing pains in totally rejecting (and by rejecting, coming to accept as part of my own identity) the girls-in-pearls mentality so professed by so many in the white-picket-neighborhoods.

May i simply say, though, the title of this very website includes on key word: wandering. I have roots, they’re just spread far and wide across the country. I am from Anywhere, i am from nowhere, i am from North Carolina and i choose to be in New England and i love Uganda and have my sights set on Scotland for 2013. Where my childhood lacked in geographical consistency it flourished in curiosity and adventure. For that, i have no regrets at all. I learned to not let the dust settle, to pursue dreams, to be unhindered by location. I’m still learning. And learning is not always a clean and rant-free process independent of identity crises.

And yes, this has been a rant about identity crises. I know. I know. Here are some cats for your pains:

I just wanted to get that off my chest. Thanks for reading. Have some sweet tea or Maple View Ice Cream as a treat on me.

current jam: ‘hard to love’ old crow medicine show

best thing in my life right now: in a few weeks, wanderingwrites will be celebrating its one-year anniversary! PARTYLIKECRAZYANDSTUFF. as part of the revelry, there will be all kinds of fun things going on – including giveaways and a guest blogger. get pumped!

The NC House of Representatives has Voted for Legal Homophobia.

When I first created my Ten Things List as a blog theme, the listing of “voting in local North Carolina elections” held little significance to me. Well, perhaps that’s a bit of an understatement- allow me to clarify. Last year when elections first came around for this newly-legally-aged citizen, my absentee ballot arrived too late for me to actually vote. It was a bit of bummer, as I had marched all around campus declaring that my right to vote was one women had been imprisoned, tortured, marginalized, and otherwise harmed for me to have. Regardless of the fact that I was not particularly invested in last year’s candidates, my right to vote was a right I had fully intended to act upon. Snail mail and poor planning, however, prevented this.

Thus, when brainstorming activities appropriate for me to complete before the conclusion of 2011 it seemed only natural to include voting in the local NC elections. I had an elaborate post planned in my mind that entailed references to Susan B. Anthony and Iron Jawed Angels, a publication praising the road feminism has bravely trod thus far and what joy (even in the smallest and seemingly unimportant choices) I should take in using my political voice because of the sacrifices made by my foremothers. And while this all remains ringingly true, something occurred yesterday in the North Carolina House of Representatives that has both infuriated me as an active supporter of universal human rights and a legal, registered voter in North Carolina.

I am speaking, naturally, of the Referendum passed by the House actively banning the natural human right for same-sex couples to wed.

The first amendment in the North Carolina Constitution that would restrict, inhibit, and otherwise encroach upon human liberty. While state law already deems that marriage is defined as a legal union between a man and a woman, amending the founding legal document to the state utilizing this homophobic, irrational, and bigoted language to cement an already legalized violation of principle human rights is disgusting. The referendum, passed by an overwhelming majority in the Republican-dominated House, went on to the Senate today where the referendum was, yet again, overwhelmingly passed.

This means that, come May of 2012, North Carolina voters will choose on the ballots whether or not the state constitution should be amended to legally define marriage as a union between a heterosexual couple, thus banning gay marriage. North Carolina currently is the only state in the southeast of the United States to not have a legal ban on gay marriage.

I am repulsed. I understand that according to the laws of democracy, the majority vote is deemed the most important and applicable to the people. I get this. But when the majority stomps out the minority’s opinion an opinion not to be invalidated simply by the incomparable numbers the foundational principles of democracy itself are jeopardized. Democracy is meant to ensure liberty for all of its participants, and an amendment that deliberately seeks to undermine and exclude members of this legal social contract ensuring those very people’s right to freedom is an abhorrent disgrace and blatantly disregards the foundational principles of the government. And when these pillars of the fundamental social contract by which all American citizens abide begin to crumble, the government no longer is doing its job.

If you don’t like gay marriage, THEN DON’T GET ONE. The right to marry someone of the same sex whom one Loves does not encroach upon your liberty. Seriously. And to those who claim being gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, or otherwise identifying as something other than a Kinsey 0 on the spectrum of sexuality is something sinful ,I have three words: The Establishment Clause. Your beliefs of what defines the parameters of “sin” (which, by the way, aren’t we all sinners according to the Bible, ye fundamentalist Christians?) are religious, and the people who wrote the Constitution of the United States made it explicitly clear that religion and politics are to remain in separate spheres. I simply cannot fathom how you explain to yourself the legality of banning a human right.

And by the way, nowhere in the Constitution does it say that marriage is only for a man and a woman. In fact, it does not mention marriage at all. This is the document that governs our nation, not the Bible, or the Qur’an, or the Bhagavad Gita, or any other sacred text.

So needless to say, members of the House and Senate who voted to put this on the ballots of my home state, come May I will be voting against this amendment, and come your next run for office I will not be voting for you.

current jam: ‘fly’ rihanna & nicki minaj