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LABOR DAY

August 30, 2014
rosie the riveter

“Dr. Kirk, tomorrow is the day!” the young woman exclaimed. A petite blue-eyed blond, she stood in line with her tall lanky husband at a local restaurant. I couldn’t help but notice that she was in a family way. The Biblical description is “great with child.” She had on a tee-shirt featuring Rosie the Riveter with the motto, “We can do it!” and she was very pregnant.

“And what is tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow is labor day,” answered the young husband.

“Yes! Tomorrow morning at six o’clock we have to be at Labor and Delivery at the hospital for the arrival of our first child.”

“Get some rest.” I advised. “There is a good reason they call it going into labor.” I spoke out of my experience of being with Clare for the births of each of our five children. I can attest to the fact that the labor of giving birth is hard work.

My dad, father of eight, used to say, “If men and women took turns having babies, no family would have more than three. There’s not a man on earth who would go through that twice.”

Labor Day as a holiday for workers was first proposed in May 1882 by a carpenter, Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor. After witnessing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada, McGuire thought such a celebration was needed in this country. Others say that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York.

Whether McGuire or Maguire, Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 when the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve the legislation. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. By that time thirty states already celebrated the day. South Carolina was not one of them.

When I was a boy it was never a holiday at the lumberyard. I remember it as the day the Southern 500 stock car race was run in Darlington, South Carolina.

Now Labor Day is a reminder of how I learned to work. Read more…

SMOKEY THE BEAR

August 24, 2014
smokey-bear-illustration

You have to admire a guy who goes to work every day in blue jeans to tackle one of the toughest jobs on Planet Earth. He accepts his assigned task without complaint, with a passion for his profession that is undiminished, and with a repetition for loyalty and faithfulness that is unblemished. The amazing thing is that he has been on the job, 24/7, for seventy years. Commendable in every way this is a fellow of few words. He utters only one sentence, but for seventy years his message has been loud and clear — “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Smokey Bear is an advertising mascot created in 1944 to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. During World War II, the Japanese Empire developed a wildfire strategy that met with little success to set ablaze coastal forests in southwest Oregon. Later in the war, in 1944 and 1945, the Japanese military launched approximately 9,000 fire balloons into the jet stream. As many as ten percent reached the West Coast of the United States. Elementary teacher Elsie Mitchell and five of her students were killed by one of the bombs near Bly, Oregon, on May 5, 1945.

Though the U.S. Forest Service fought fires long before World War II, the war brought a sense of urgency to the effort. Since most able-bodied men were already serving in the armed forces, none could be spared to fight forest fires. Fire prevention became the goal. The hope was that if Americans knew how wildfires would harm the war effort, they would better cooperate with the Forest Service to keep fires from starting in the first place.

A bear was chosen as the emblem of the fire prevention campaign. His name was inspired by Joe Martin, a New York City Fire Department hero who suffered burns and blindness during a bold 1922 rescue. Joe’s nickname, Smokey, was given to the bear.

Smokey’s debut poster was released on August 9, 1944. In the first poster illustrator Albert Staehle depicted Smokey wearing jeans and a campaign hat. The hat was like that worn by the National Park Service Rangers. Their hat was derived from the cavalry who protected the early national parks. In the poster Smokey is pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The message underneath read, “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” The more familiar slogan, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires”, was created in 1947 by The Advertising Council. Read more…

WATERMELONS GALORE

August 17, 2014
WATERMELON

Last week Clare and I took an afternoon to cruise the blue line highways of the Upstate. We made a special effort to find good homegrown tomatoes. We stopped at several roadside stands and found delicious heirloom tomatoes at several of our favorite places. We also found a few figs, an abundance of late summer peaches, and early fall apples. At every stand we saw watermelons galore.

My mother was allergic to watermelon. Even a small spill of the sticky pink juice on her kitchen counter caused her to break out in hives, so we never had watermelons in our home. You no doubt have heard the wise old saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” In our family that was the gospel truth.

As far as I know it is next to impossible to eat watermelon without the juice running down your chin and off your elbows. If we had watermelon at all it was in the backyard where everything contaminated by watermelon drippings could be washed away with the garden hose.

My brothers and sisters and I were, of course, exposed to watermelon in other circumstances. Most of our cousins enjoyed the summertime fruit and looked forward to a big wedge of watermelon with the same anticipation as a cone of homemade peach ice cream.

Elaine was one of my classmates at Cooperative Elementary School. Her birthday was right after the beginning of the new school year. She invited every student in Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter’s fourth-grade class to her party.

Even though I was scared of girls, Mama said I had to go to Elaine’s party. She was our neighbor. Not going to her party would be rude. Reluctantly, I went. There were thirteen girls there. I was the only boy who attended.

I guess Elaine’s daddy felt sorry for me. He told me I could help him cut the watermelon. That was just fine with me. I liked watermelon, and I didn’t like girls. Turns out the girls were too prissy to eat watermelon. Elaine’s daddy said I would have to eat the whole thing by myself. I ate as much as I could. I got as sick as a dog. I have never liked watermelon since that day. Read more…

A FLURRY OF HUMMINGBIRDS

August 9, 2014
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) - male at Bee Balm (Monarda)

This far into summer I notice that when I take a few minutes to sit quietly, I invariably become aware of a faint humming sound. It might be emanating from my car. The source may be my computer. The sound could come from a home appliance. Humming sounds can be natural occurrences. Whales and dolphins beneath the ocean, many varieties of insects, and even the pulsating of heavenly bodies can produce distinctive hums. Some people hear a constant hum caused by the flow of their own blood in the small vessels of their inner ear.

We might well ask, “What is that humming sound?” This time of year it could be a hummingbird.

The first week of August brought a few days of blessed relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of our dog day afternoons. On Monday of last week I enjoyed a second cup of coffee with Clare on our screened back porch overlooking the flower garden. Hummingbirds provided the entertainment while we read the newspaper. The tiny, feathered creatures put on quite an aerial display as they competed for the sweet nectar of the flowers and the sugar water in our feeders.

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, Clare and I again sat on our own back porch.  We were treated to an amazing air show.  As we enjoyed our supper, we witnessed an incredible display of aerobatics.  Agile flying machines were buzzing our yard, staging mid-air combat maneuvers that would impress even Air Force top guns. Late summer is the prime season for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are always interesting to watch. Their activity increases as the summer days grow shorter.  Their excited pace and almost perpetual motion are at once fascinating and wearying to the observer.  Read more…

KIRK’S SPICY FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

August 6, 2014
Fried Green Tomatoes

This is a classic Southern recipe. There are many variations. This is our favorite. Warning: This preparation is messy.

4 Large green tomatoes, (all green, no pink, hard as a rock)

2 Eggs

1 Cup buttermilk

1 Cup all-purpose flour

1 Cup cornmeal

Crushed red pepper flakes

Garlic powder

Coarsely ground salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper hummus

Jalapeño pimento cheese

Sour cream or goat cheese

Vegetable oil for frying

Dredging:

  • Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
  • You need to use four bowls.
  • Into the first bowl pour only half of the buttermilk, and dip tomato slices.
  • Into the second bowl put the flour only, and lightly dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • Into the third bowl whisk eggs and the rest of the buttermilk together, and dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • In the fourth bowl mix cornmeal with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, coarsely ground salt, and freshly ground pepper, and thoroughly coat tomato slices on both sides.

Cooking:

  • In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and bring to medium heat.
  • Place battered tomato slices into the frying pan in small batches, depending on the size of your skillet. Fry a few at a time.
  • Do not crowd the tomatoes. Give them plenty of room. They should not touch each other.
  • When the tomatoes are lightly brown, flip and fry them on the other side.
  • Drain them on paper towels.

Serving:

  • On individual plates, spoon a heaping tablespoon of roasted red pepper hummus.
  • Place the first fried green tomato in the hummus.
  • Stack the fried green tomatoes three or four high with a spoonful of jalapeño pimento cheese between slices.
  • Top with a dollop of sour cream.  Goat cheese is also good on top.
  • Enjoy!

KIRK’S SHRIMP AND GRITS WITH A LITTLE KICK

August 4, 2014
shrimp-and-grits

This is a recipe for shrimp and grits that has been tinkered with many times. It is a true Southern dish with a distinctive Lowcountry flavor. We recommend Miss Maude’s Stone-ground Grits as the base.

It takes me about 1 ½ hours to prepare the entire meal. The recipe will serve 4-6 people.

MISS MAUDE’S STONE-GROUND GRITS

Miss Maude lived in Barnwell County, South Carolina. She was my step-grandmother. She cooked on a wood-burning stove. Miss Maude taught my dad how to make grits. Dad passed this along to me. I use authentic South Carolina grits made from corn ground between stones the old-fashioned way. The process leaves bits and pieces of the outer germ layer and, as Dad use to say, “It puts a little grit in your craw.”

The simple truth is that stone-ground grits taste nothing like the kind you usually find in the grocery store. Stone-ground grits take longer to cook, but they are worth the trouble.

1 Cup stone-ground grits

2 Cups cool well water (tap water will do)

2 Cups whole milk

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Butter (not margarine)

  • Combine the water, milk, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of butter in a good sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the grits and cook slowly. Miss Maude used a wooden spoon, stirring frequently. Dad used a whisk, and so do I.
  • She cooked the grits for 1 hour or a little longer. It is important to stir often so that the grits do not stick to the bottom of the pan. If the grits absorb all of the water and milk, take the pan to the kitchen sink and add a little more water as needed to thin out the grits until they reach the desired consistency. Miss Maude spent about as much time stirring her grits over the sink as she did at the stove, moving back and forth between the two.
  • Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in more butter. Serve the grits immediately or set aside for a little while. Warm over very low heat when ready to serve.
  • Some prefer cheese grits. Simply add shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese and stir.

KIRK’S SHRIMP CONCOCTION

1 Pound of uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 Diced Andouille sausage

1 Pound of bacon

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Cayenne pepper

Olive oil

Butter

1 Medium sweet onion, chopped

Minced garlic

2 Fresh green onions, minced (Use both the white and the green parts.)

1 Can of Ro*Tel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies

½  Cup stock, chicken

Sour cream, all natural cultured

Tabasco Sauce

Here is a hint. This is a six part process. I find that when I follow the steps in this order, everything is ready at about the same time. (1) Put all of the ingredients within reach. (2) Pour a tall glass of something cold to drink. You will be busy over a hot stove for the next 1 ½ – 2 hours. (3) Cook the bacon. (4) Start the grits. (5) Cook the shrimp. (6) Enjoy!

  • Cook the bacon – except save for later use in the recipe that scrawny, crumpled piece at the bottom of the package.
  • I prefer to cook bacon on newspapers and paper towels in the microwave oven. It needs to be crispy. Set the cooked bacon aside to drain.
  • Start cooking the grits as in the recipe above.
  • Season the shrimp with freshly ground black pepper, salt, and a little cayenne pepper.
  • Combine the olive oil and the butter over medium heat in a large skillet.
  • Add the shrimp and sear for 1½ minutes per side, then transfer shrimp to a plate.
  • Add more butter to the pan. Let it melt. Add that scrawny piece of bacon. Let it sizzle, releasing the flavor. It will not get crisp but leave it in the pan.
  • Then add the Andouille sausage and cook, stirring often, until much of the fat has rendered and the Andouille is crisp, about 3 minutes. Keep the heat at medium.
  • Then add the onion to the pan and sauté, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and green onions, cooking for 1 minute.
  • Add the Ro*Tel, and cook for 1 minute, then raise the heat to high and add the stock.
  • Simmer, stirring frequently, until about half of the liquid has evaporated.
  •  Lower the heat.
  • Add sour cream to the pan and stir to make a creamy sauce.
  • Return the shrimp to the pan, gently folding them into the liquid. Heat just until the shrimp are nice and pink. It will only take seconds. Do not overcook the shrimp.
  • Spoon the Shrimp Concoction over Miss Maude’s Stone-ground Grits.
  • Break off the crispest half of each piece of bacon, and sprinkle broken bits on top.
  • Serve the shrimp and grits hot.
  • Add Tabasco Sauce to taste.

A BEACH VACATION

August 3, 2014
PAWLEYS SLAND CHAPEL

Last week we took our vacation at one of our favorite places, Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Not all of our family was with us, and we missed those who could not be there. But eight adults and six grandchildren made a full house.

As is usually the case, I started the week leading worship and preaching at Pawleys Island Chapel. We had a joyous time of worship with many local folks and beach visitors.

The week together with our family is a time to build lasting memories – singing and storytelling in the shade; gathering around a long trestle table to feast on cold boiled shrimp, dripping popsicles licked to the stick on the back porch; and children lining up for baths, brushing teeth and hair, pajama time. The settling down to bedtime stories and prayers brings a strange quietness to the house. Then the adults might enjoy a movie or pleasant conversation.  A week at the beach is a close encounter with people we love and hold dear. Read more…

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