Ramblings: Straight to the heart with a reluctant southerner


2020 UPDATE: As I attempt to resuscitate southbyse.com back to life I wanted (needed?) to repost something until I can get a 100% certified-fresh post ready. Reviewing them, the current world situation seemed to at once be at odds with this post from 2012 and then again, maybe, just maybe, it is perfect. Or as perfectly imperfect as any of my posts can be.

I feel that many of the staid, old and ugly ways of thinking/feeling/acting are hopefully (finally!) being cast aside. Its been a hellava long time of waiting (and for many dying) for people of color. My neighbors, my co-workers and my friends deserve the boost and the love, and my white privilege (yes, I’m a middle-aged white woman) needs to be checked at the door. 

I hope by promoting southern culture, food and characters I don’t alienate anyone, but at the same time I will be writing from my experience and my point of view, which is well, southern. Hey, I’m a work in progress – just like this blog. Yes, we all change but my hope (and prayer) is that we EVOLVE. More kindness, more understanding, more openness, more learning, more appreciation and more forgiveness.

So here we go! Betsy

I’ve been thinking about writing a short post about Southern culture here on southbyse.com. But before I begin, let me state the obvious; that what is written in this is my take on some aspects of Southern culture. If you would like an academic breakdown, I refer you to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture or the multi-volumes of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, all published by The University of NC Press. Another great resource is The Southern Foodways Alliance.

Personally I am happy about the recent surge in popularity of Southernism. Sure enough it seems to be fashionable now to cook Southern, write Southern and dare I say, talk and sound Southern. In the past, I think many Southerners, myself included, would often hide our upbringing especially under professional circumstances, specifically among “mixed company”, i.e. northerners, mid-westerners, Californians and the like.

It’s something I call the ‘reluctant Southerner” syndrome. While I adore most of what the South has to offer – food, art, music, architecture, literature and the like, I still feel somehow compelled to be just a little uncomfortable when confronted with my Southern roots, in certain situations. If I never see another episode of the “Beverly Hillbillies” it would be fine by me. Or hear Paula Deen say for the umpteenth time, “just add a stick of butter, ya’ll”,  for that matter. Believe me, I will be okay with it.

However, my hesitation in owning up to my upbringing has improved over the years and I no longer feel like I must bear the disgrace for all the rednecks, hypocrites and/or bigots, that have stereotyped my beloved South.

I feel pride when I’m asked about where I’m from, my family history and tell the story of my 3-time great-grandfather, Captain Tristram Thomas (later made General), who led a small band of patriots at the battle of Hunt’s Bluff, seizing a British flotilla in 1780 during the American Revolution. I feel pride discussing my late dad’s technique for whole hog barbeque (Williamsburg County style) with a certified BBQ judge and seeing him hang on my every word. I feel pride seeing my own daughter take an interest in growing a garden and witness the beginnings of a true love of the land take hold in her.

One of my great grandfathers was a real American Revolutionary War hero. I probably would have bragged more if I’d known when I was younger. But he was a hero not me, so I’m not sure if this means that much. Makes a nice story though… we Southerners do love stories.

Living for almost 20-years in a town that was (and is) mostly inhabited by non-Southerners, yet is located squarely in the South, gives one a unique viewpoint. Twenty years ago I was made fun of (occasionally) for my accent, but I will admit that a few men I dated along the way (the non-Southern ones) mentioned they found my accent alluring. Of course this could have been a load of bull.

I also know a good many non-Southerners (some who married into my family) who, I believe, truly wish they were born Southerners. To their credit they try very hard to fit in and do a pretty good job on the outside, at least. They will eat grits and cornbread and enjoy them. They’ll drink canned beer or sip bourbon drinks on occasion, learn about local flora and fauna and some will even take on a Southern-inspired hobby – like bass fishing, duck hunting, or NASCAR. But you know what? While all those things are great (well, I’m still deciding about NASCAR) – they aren’t what being Southern is really all about.

And I have no clear-cut answer to that effect, ya’ll. I’ve read that being Southern “is all about tradition” and being Southern “is about strong family ties – keeping in touch with your kin… whether you like them, or not.” Other humorous definitions include these gems:

  • You can correctly use “fix” as a verb.  As in, “I’m fixing to go to the store.”
  • You say “yes ma’am” or “no sir” to anyone 5 years older than you
  • You measure distance in time, not miles
  • All soft drinks are referred to as “coke”, no matter the brand
  • You use the term “bless her heart” to mean both pity and insult, usually at the same time
  • Southern babies are named after a family member, even those long gone (but not forgotten!)

I have read detractors state that Southerners are inexorably fake and “they’ll show you all kinds of friendliness to your face, but then turn around and talk about you behind your back.” I’ve certainly had that happen, but no wait, that was one of my college roommates from New England…Ha!

Still, I think the following quote from author Jan Norris sums it up quite nicely:

“Being Southern isn’t talking with an accent…or rocking on a porch while drinking sweet tea, or knowing how to tell a good story. It’s how you’re brought up — with Southerners, family (blood kin or not) is sacred; you respect others and are polite nearly to a fault; you always know your place but are fierce about your beliefs. And food along with college football — is darn near a religion.”

So true. I’ll add, that to me, being Southern is about being genuine, true to yourself and your family, and taking enough out of history to either learn to never repeat it if it was horrible, or remember and honor it, if it was wonderfully good. Whether you are Southern, or not, what does “Southern” mean to you?


Cool and crisp summer salad – Two Beans and a Little Peanut!

finished salad

Wow, this week has got away from me. Again. Before things get out hand I have a post today which will surely make any true southerner happy as it features an ingredient beloved most, the peanut. Of course, in the South we have a penchant for taking something ordinary and making it, if not extraordinary, then just plain ‘different’.

‘Different’ would probably be the word used to describe a boiled peanut by non-Southerners who take the leap of taste that is boiled peanuts. In my mind boiled peanuts are best when purchased green, boiled at home and chilled in my own refrigerator. Pop open a nice cold beer, grab a bowlful of peanuts and find yourself either:

1) a hammock, preferably near a sea breeze; or

2) a comfortable lounge chair on your favorite porch

Add in some good company who are of a similar disposition as yourself (or at least decent conversation) and you’re set for several hours of good times. Boiled peanuts also make fine company for a fishing trip, college football tailgating and an afternoon at the beach.

In my household, my daughter and myself are the boiled peanuts lovers – Dear Hubby can leave them, apparently. I still cannot quite figure that one out. But this leaves plenty for Girlie Girl and me, although she has not quite mastered opening them yet, so that task falls on me. I’ll give her one more summer and then she’ll need to step it up. Hey, she can open a steamed oyster, why not a peanut?

If you’re not familiar with preparing basic boiled peanuts please see my previous post, The Art of Peanut Perfection. My recipe today is one I thought about for a long time, since 3-bean salad is a summer time favorite of mine. I thought boiled peanuts would be a good replacement for kidney beans (not my favorite, anyway!) My biggest obstacle was shelling enough peanuts without me and others (who shall remain nameless) eating them all first. I finally got my chance after Girly Girl and I practically overdosed on them at Edisto Island. We had eaten enough, for that day at least.

Use fresh beans if you can – fresh wax beans are practically impossible to find here – so I used canned here. Fresh greens beans are bountiful now as are peanuts – no reason not make this pretty make-ahead side dish that gets better even after a day or two in the frig! The addition of the cayenne pepper gives it a bit of a kick too, but no worries… just relax back in that hammock and crack open another cold one!

Fresh green beans and raw 'green' peanuts - pretty!

Fresh green beans and raw ‘green’ peanuts – pretty!

"Other" ingredients include onion, bell pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, agave nectar, and spices.

“Other” ingredients include onion, bell pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, agave nectar, and spices.

Here are the boiled peanuts, shelled. Yum!

Here are the boiled peanuts, shelled. Yum!


Par boil the fresh green beans lightly, cool and snap into thirds. Mix the vinaigrette together and simply add to all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Mix gently, cover and refrigerate until it's eatin' time!

Par boil the fresh green beans lightly, cool and snap into thirds. Mix the vinaigrette together and simply add to all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Mix gently, cover and refrigerate until it’s eatin’ time!


2 Beans and a Little Peanut Salad

  • 2 cups cooked, shelled peanuts
  • 2 cups wax beans (fresh cooked or canned)
  • 2 cups fresh green beans, cooked and snapped into approx 2 inch pieces.
  • 1 medium size sweet Vidalia onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings
  • ½ cup sweet bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup agave nectar
  • ½ tsp celery seed
  • ½ tsp pepper plus extra to taste
  • ½ tsp garlic salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper mixed with 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a medium bowl mix the vinegar, oil, nectar and spices and salt. Wisk together well and set aside.

In a large bowl mix the peanuts, beans, onions and bell pepper gently. Pour approximately ½ the vinaigrette (above) over the vegetables and mix gently. Add a little more vinaigrette and mix again. Cover the salad and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Add a bit more vinaigrette before serving, mixing well to coat all the vegetables. Note that you probably will not use all the vinaigrette, however…

Leftover vinaigrette is great as a salad dressing base – just add in some citrus like lemon or orange juice and maybe some minced thyme or oregano.

To brag or not to brag – that is the question…

My advertorial appearing in the November Bon Appetite magazine (page 118 to be exact). It’s about biking and dining on Hilton Head Island, SC.

“Make him stop Mom! He took the lollipops and licked them both! He took mine!” I exclaimed, stomping out the room.

Another ‘fight’ among siblings, echoing many that took place in my childhood home between my brother and me. My younger brother and I were at constant battle for several years arguing over every thing from who got to watch what on television to who broke all of mother’s fancy beeswax candles. Funny thing was that on more than one occasion, even when I was most assuredly in the right, the episode ended with me bawling my eyes out over my brother receiving his stinging punishment.

Like a tiny Sybil I would go from telling my brother to “stop it!” and pleading for my parent’s intervention only to get it…and then cry even louder as my brother was marched out to choose his own punishment from the infamous “switches bush”. At the time I remember thinking, “Why am I crying?” and to this day I have no idea, but obviously it still sticks in my mind. I was relieved to no longer be “picked on” but curiously, not happy that my brother was being punished, either.

So when I was told that an advertorial I was writing as the Hilton Head Island Foodie Vibe Blog (one of my paying gigs) was going to be in Bon Appétit magazine, I was, needless to say, thrilled. I’ve been a BA fan for many years and to get my name in print in this, a national food magazine; it’s a big deal… I think.

But, and here’s where my “Sybil” personality steps in. Do I tell people? I mean my southbyse.com followers and fellow bloggers? My Facebook friends? Will I seem like a braggart? After all, it’s an advertorial, not an editorial, so is it really anything to be that excited about? Yes, I wrote the advertorial. Yes, I’ve enjoyed eating at the restaurants I mention. Yes, that is my name in print.

Maybe I care too much about what others think of me or question if I can live up to anything positive that (I hope) people think about my writing and my blog projects. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”, so I’ve got that taken care of for today, apparently.

But yes! I will be excited and try not to be scared of the critics out there in cyberspace. And while I did not break any of my mother’s candles and the switches bush has long been pruned away, I still argue with my brother – over which kind of cranberry sauce is better with Thanksgiving turkey or the correct temperature for smoking a pork butt.

Let’s just say the blogger in BON APPETITE wins – for now at least!

PS. In this issue there is also an excellent article on preparing a Thanksgiving turkey, including my preferred method – brining.  If you’d like to ‘practice’ this method before your big turkey day fête, try my tea brined chicken recipe.

Blog Award: One Lovely Blog Award

You like me! You really like me! Well, Anne at Uni Homemaker does, so thanks Anne for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Made my day, yes sir’ree.

As a recipient of this nomination, I am required to:

  1. Thank the person who honored me with this award and post their link(s)
  2. Nominate 15 other blogs for this honor
  3. Tell readers 7 things about myself

Here are the 15 other blogs that I nominate for this award, in no particular order:

  1. remcooks.com
  2. acorninmykitchen
  3. rantingchef.com
  4. wordsandimagesbycynthia.com
  5. putneyfarm.com
  6. onceuponarecipe.wordpress.com
  7. Bucket List Publications
  8. cookingwithcorinna.wordpress.com
  9. Canadian Hiking Photography
  10. Homemade with a mess
  11. A Wee Bit of Cooking
  12. Food Glorious Food
  13. The Oven Mitt
  14. Two Spoons
  15. Simple Provisions

And, because I know you’re on the edge of your seat, here are 7 “things” about moi:

1. I have 3 sisters, all older and 1 brother, who is younger.

2. My favorite pie is blueberry with a double-crust straight up – no funky additions or flavors needed.

3. My husband and I married on New Year’s Eve in lovely Savannah, GA.

4. I can catch a trout (fly or spin), clean it and make a delicious pecan-crusted trout meunière…over a camp fire.

5. When I was 17 years old, I won the blue ribbon at the SC State Fair in the adult category for my apple pie.

6. I had my daughter and only child when I was 43… proving it’s never to late for dreams to come true.

7. Besides working in marketing and advertising on and off for over 20 years, I was also a floral designer for two.

Field Trip: Feel the (Animal) Love at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Well, hello there fella! Mugging for the camera…what a gorgeous animal. Check out those eyelashes. And very sweet natured too.

Back in March my family took a trip to Riverbanks Zoo, which is located in my hometown of Columbia, SC. I’ve spent many a fun morning or afternoon at this wonderful park but I’ll admit it’s been awhile since my last visit – at least 12 years. And while I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, I hoped the experience would be as fun and educational for my 4-year old as it was for me when I was a kid. Needless to say my expectations were exceeded.

Hello Mr. Meerkat!

It should be known that I am an “animal person” in that I am enamored of most all-living creatures. My exceptions are parasites and snakes, although I appreciate them nonetheless. When my child was born I anticipated that she would carry on this trait but one never knows. While my husband does like animals, he does not share my fascination to the same extent, i.e. when I talk longingly of having a mini farm with chickens, a couple of Nubian goats and maybe a horse or two, he rolls his eyes and moves his head back and forth. Not a good sign.

Feeding the giraffes. I don’t know who was more excited my daughter, or me!

So we keep the peace with animal–centric field trips (while providing a learning experience for our daughter). From state-run petting zoos in Alabama to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the ‘ginormous’ Cleveland Zoo we’ve been fortunate to visit some outstanding parks and farms. Fairly close-in to our town are the South Carolina Aquarium and the Middleton Gardens (they have a wonderful colonial-era inspired farmstead), both located in Charleston, SC. Hope to arrange a visit to both this year.

Besides the giraffes, my daughter’s favorite of the day were the flamingos.

Getting back to Riverbanks… This park has grown substantially but is still considered mid-sized which is a great thing I believe, after my recent visit. We arrived early, right after opening time on a Saturday, strolling in straight away through the main gate, touring the exhibits at a leisurely pace, breaking for lunch and finishing up shortly thereafter. As we were leaving we noticed that a substantial line had formed under the warm Carolina sun. We were pleased not to be in that line (but happy the park was busy!)

Taking a decent shot of a penguin is tough. They are so very quick! I barely got a shot of this dude (or dudedress…not sure)

Since the zoo opened in 1974 care has been taken to not “over do it” as we say here in the South. This means that growth has been gradual with the science of caring for the animals and their wellbeing placed ahead of everything else.

I’ll pick the tortoise over the hare any day!

The park has expanded and now includes the Riverbanks Farm, Aquarium Reptile Complex and beautiful botanical gardens that are the envy – and the inspiration – of every master gardener from Greenville to Charleston. There are also a myriad of educational facilities including a 3-D Action Theater, Raptor Clinic and many, many activities geared toward children including camps and school programs.

This is Chaka, the oldest male gorilla. He was very active on this morning.

The park was one of the nation’s first to use realistic non-cage enclosure designs for its exhibits. It has won many awards for everything from its design and architecture to its breeding and conservation programs.

No shirt, no shoes, no problem…I think this is Mike. He looks, and acts, pretty happy to me:)

As you can tell, Riverbanks holds a special place in my heart and I am proud to say that my Mother (who lives in Columbia) has been a supporter and member of the zoo practically since its inception. So, I suppose I get my affinity for all creatures great and small honestly, and I would not want it any other way.

Maybe Hubby will go for the henhouse… if I ask for a Llama first? Insert yield sign here! My feeble attempt at reverse psychology in progress…now where’s that website for The Araucana Club of America?

Okay last shot…baby giraffe eating. I could not resist…my favorite animal-only pic of the day.

Things I’ve learned from my dog Jackson.

Our dog Jackson.

For over a year now I have been trying (eh… sort of) to get this project called “South by Southeast” started. I’ve told friends and family all about my big plans for a digital ride across the Southern food and culture landscape through the eyes of a native, albeit not a redneck hick, i.e.…. me.

I have tested recipes, taken pictures, designed header artwork, made numerous outlines, and done a lot of thinking. But for some reason, that apparently only a procrastinator would love, I just could not ‘start’. I thought about all the reasons why I could not ‘start’. The biggest hurdle being, what do I write in my first post? It must be creative, it must clever, and it must be perfect.

Then I took my dog Jackson out for a walk. It started as just a regular walk in our neighborhood. We walked down to get the mail, avoiding the shrubbery in front of the antique shop where all lifted doggie legs are met with a furrowed brow of disdain from the owner. We got the mail and quickly made it up through the main drag pee-free, only stopping after we reached the green clover under the biggest oak tree. The ground is a little soft and cool here under the shade of all that swaying Spanish moss. Clearly this is a popular spot and Jackson makes a beeline for it every time we are within leash length.

Usually he sniffs (Jackson sniffs a lot) and that’s it. But today, he plopped down and rolled over onto his back, paws up, gyrating in a sort of snow angel motion. I guess it was a clover angel. He did this once, snorted with happiness, got up and started walking. I thought, “Oh what has he just rolled in!” Then I did my own sniff. I perused the clover angel making area and discovered nothing discernibly smelly or otherwise.

Jackson then ambled on ahead to the next clover patch, plopped down and did his clover angel move again. I checked for any putridity and nothing. As we walked ahead to the big open, sunny area in front of our home, the breeze picked up some and I then I did smell something good, something sweet. Honeysuckle? No, maybe it was Carolina jessamine, I thought. Love that smell.

Jackson plopped down again and did his clover angel routine. But this time when he stopped he took a moment to just lay there sprawled out, staring up at the blue sky. Then he looked over at me with his (literally) puppy-dog eyes and scruffy face, all fluffed up from his angel making. He gave me, what can only be described as an exasperated and prolonged look, as if to say, “What are you waiting for woman, roll around in the clover. Life doesn’t get much better than this!”

No, I did not roll in the grass, but I did sit and give Jackson a tummy rub and breathed in that spring air for a bit. I watched some tiny ants scurry to and fro with a blade of grass for a bit, oblivious to everything around them. Then we both got up and headed back to the house where I sat down and started writing this post.

There is nothing to wait for. Today is as good as any day to ‘start’.