A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: B is for BBQ #AtoZChallenge

healthy living-1


B is for BBQ


BBQ. Three tiny little letters that represent enormously fierce fightin’ words south of the M/D line.

BBQ, barbecue (barbeque if you’re prissy, a chef or a Yankee) or ‘cue (if you’re likely to be wearing a trucker hat at this moment), is more than grilled meat.  It’s a war between states, religions and generations over what it is exactly, who makes it best and how to get baked bean stains out of a white shirt.

It’s regional divides harking back to the Civil War over sauce (Memphis, North Carolina, North Alabama White. Tomato-based.  Mustard-based.  Vinegar-based. My apologies to you lovely people in the Heartlands, but Kansas City does not have a dog in this hunt), cooking times, ways to cook (dare I even utter, “Big Green Egg, sotto voce?”), coals (hickory, applewood, oak, mesquite) plus the whole whiny dichotomy of noun verses verb.


BBQ can be a simple pork sandwich slopped with Daddy’s sauce.  And again, I say simple: entire families have split asunder over over this gastronomical delicacy.  What kinda meat? Is it pork?  If so, chops, loin, babybacks, butt or the whole hawg? “Inside” meat, moist and juicy or “outside” meat, slightly charred?  Is it beef brisket (Texas style, the way my Mom makes it) or even chicken, smothered in “red” or “white”?

What’s it on?  A hamburger bun, thick-sliced and lightly toasted homemade bread, a Kaiser roll, a split chunk of cornbread or just a piece of Wonderbread straight off the loaf, served on the side to soak up the juice?

sandwich with sauce

Sauce.  Yeah, I mentioned it before in passing but let’s not even touch on what style of sauce.  That’s just a bit too personal, like your walk with the Lord or whether or not you got drawers on under them jeans. I mean how is your meat sauced?  Is it slathered on top?  Marinaded or dry rubbed?  All smoked and chopped and stirred up first in a pot with some extra spicy before loadin’ on the bread?

Pickles?  Go ahead, put ’em on, but be prepared for folks to start mutterin’ about the “slippery slope.”

Coleslaw?  That’s different.  Sure, you can serve it on the side, with the baked beans, corn on the cob and Brunswick stew, but you can also pile it high on top of the sandwich, right under the bun.  It’s so good that way!  And if you do a slaw stack (and your granny’s not flipping in her grave), is it Mayo-based (Duke’s of course, there is no other) or a vinegar-based cabbage salad?

My heavens, as a good Southerner, are you even allowed to eat those divinely yummy (but slightly heretical) pork BBQ Sundays? That’s “nouvelle” cuisine at its most controversial.


But BBQ doesn’t stop there, oh no, no, no.  We’re just scratchin’ that pig on its ears.

BBQ also means to grill: pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, sticks of veggies, Spanish mackerel…umm tuna steak? Never tofu.  Really.  Otherwise, if you can skewer it up or keep it from slippin’ through the grates, you can set a fire about it.

And a BBQ, “the BBQ” is also the instrument of the flames. The pit. The grill.  The Webber.

“Burton McNeely Hallsworth the third, you and your daddy fire up that there barbecue – we’ve got folks comin’ over and we need to smoke up a mess o’ ribs.”

The mechanism that delivers the meaty manna can range from a $9.99 K-mart Hibachi to a re-purposed oil drum.  Some are built-in brick fire pits that take up half the back yard.  Some of them are so huge you can tow ’em behind the truck on a trailer.


Honestly, in the Deep South, gas grills are considered by many to be a little “sissy,” but that doesn’t stop good ol’ boys (and gals) from investing tens of thousands of dollars in some chrome monstrosity with multiple levels, warming drawers and a steam tray.  Personally, I always feel those fellas are overcompensatin’ a mite but I’ll leave it at that.  In my family, they use a charcoal grill complete with an aluminum chimney to nurse the coals to the proper color and ash before spreading them with a practiced flourish to the exact micro-density required to perfectly cook the protein du jour.

But before I forget, there’s another BBQ entirely.


Creole BBQ.  It’s got nothing to do with grills or tomato-based sauces.  Creole BBQ is a heady blend of salt, black pepper and spices (rosemary, thyme, paprika) pan sauteed with fresh shrimp still with the heads, tails and shells, at least a pound of sweet butter, diced green chilies, minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon and a hearty dash of Tabasco, served in a bowl with a hunk of French bread for soppin.’

Despite the galaxy’s vast reaches of technology and ideology imbuing this culinary zeitgiest, in my mind  (arguably) the best inventions to come along in the entire history of barbecue?


I try to avoid barbecue potato chips. They’re my weakness.

 – Gwyneth Paltrow


A Hellacious Belle’s Pictorial Guide to the New South: F is for Frog’s Hair #AtoZChallenge


F is for Frog’s Hair

/frɒɡz hɛ-əh/

If you realize that you’ve never noticed hair on a frog before, that’s because it’s so very fine it can’t be seen.


Down South, we use this as a common measure of an extreme level of “fineness.”

“How y’all?”

“Fine as Frog’s Hair!”

This can be further expounded (for things of an amazing and exemplary fineness):

“How y’all?”

“Fine as Frog’s Hair, split 3 ways!

(Now that’s pretty fine.)

My daddy, a very positive and cheerful guy, takes it one step further.

“Hey Jim, how y’all been?”

“I been fine as Frog’s Hair, split 3 ways and sandpapered down the middle!

“What do the old folks say,
She’s finer than frog hair split four ways” – Shooter Jennings, “The Deed and the Dollar.”


A Hellacious Belle’s Pictorial Guide to the New South: C is for Crepe Murder #AtoZChallenge


C is for Crepe Murder

/crāp məd’ah/

Crepe Murder: the unspoken crime of the South.

Crepe Myrtle are beautiful flowering bushes and trees with lacy blooms that range in color, much like Azaleas, from snowy white to the deepest red.  They’re hardy, love warm weather and mild winters and tend to be very easy to grow, so they’re very commonly found in the Southern states – almost everyone I know has at least one Crepe Myrtle growing in their yard.


Crepe Myrtles in Spring


A wall of exquisite blossoms

Unlike Azaleas (which people tend to let run rogue), for some reason, it’s commonly believed that Crepe Myrtles must be pruned every year to insure full flowering.

And some people take to this with the twisted enthusiasm of a serial killer.

The result, ladies and gentlemen, is known as “Crepe Murder.”

Tragically, most horticulturists agree that it’s a purposeless crime. They say that pruning, especially severe, accomplishes nothing but wounding the plant. Crepe Myrtles will flower and grow just fine without any “helpful” human hacking.



“Maybe he murdered Myrtle; that would’ve done everyone a favor. . . .”
J.K. Rowling


A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: The Valuable Vidalia

It’s the state vegetable of Georgia.

“Vidalia onions aren’t just the most famous onions in the world; I think they may be the only famous onions in the world.”
Chef Bobby Flay


They are so mild, I’ve seen people eat them like apples.

They come from Vidalia, Georgia, and the sweetness is said to be a by-product of the low sulfur in the soil.

Slice them thick, bread them and fry them and they make the most delicious onion rings ever.


Vidalia Girl,
won’t you tell me why
Sweet Vidalia
You always gotta make me cry

Sammy Kershaw – Vidalia Lyrics | MetroLyrics


A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Under My Umbrella

The South may have four seasons but they are probably not the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter what you are used to.

Much of our weather revolves around Rain.

End of August, September and October – Rain. Muggy and Warm.

November, December, January and February – Rain. Cold and Chilly.

Of course to break it up, there’s the dreaded wilting, steamy, soul-sucking heat of June, July and August. With occasional Rain. After all, it’s hurricane season.

Ah, but there’s also the super-elusive, but mind-blowingly fabulous Spring that’s almost gone before you blink, but worth it all for sheer beauty. It happens for about five days, sometime in March, April or May (depending on latitude) and for that brief time the world explodes in brilliant floral life.

And then it Rains. And washes away the blooms.










25805_389694722560_6832388_nBut in that one swift, glorious moment, it Rains color.

Lazy days in mid July
Country Sunday mornin’
Dusty haze on summer highways
Sweet magnolia callin’
But now and then I find myself
Thinkin’ of the days
When we were walkin’ in the Alabama Rain
Jim Croce – Alabama Rain Lyrics | MetroLyrics


A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Total Immersion

I am in deep.  Way deep.


Deep in the heart of Dixie.

I am on vacation with my family, far south of Montgomery in Monroeville, “The Literary Capital of Alabama;” for the town’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The play is currently in its 26th season in Monroeville, which was the template for the fictional Maycomb in Harper Lee’s book.


We are staying in the Best Western, Monroeville.  It is the town’s luxury accommodation, yet we are still in a bit of a “technology-free zone” – I have painfully sporadic internet at the hotel and there seems to be no Sprint signal within miles, so you may not get this post until I’m able to finesse something with Dixie cups and string.


The entire citizenry of Monroeville has apparently jumped in to create the event, which includes a mint-julep VIP reception, the play itself, which is acted by “The Mockingbird Players,” and divided into two Acts: with the first half set outside the courthouse in a specially built amphitheater and stage, and the final scenes set in the actual city courthouse.

My folks, foster sister Wendy and my husband, David.

My folks, foster-sister Wendy and my husband, David.

Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a young white girl, Scout and her brother Jem, whose father, attorney Atticus Finch, has been appointed to defend a black man framed for a crime he claims he did not commit.

Courthouse set for Part One of

Courthouse set for Part One of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The play, like the book I read so many years ago, was touching and poignant, with its message of justice, courage and family.

Enjoying freshly made mint juleps just before the play began.

Enjoying freshly made mint juleps just before the play began.

The event was fabulously produced from start to finish.

Clocktower of the old courthouse

Clocktower of the old courthouse

The cast, crew and Courthouse personnel were kind and welcoming. The food, featuring crispy fried oysters, roast beef, pork tenderloin sandwiches, shrimp, chicken and cheesecake was abundant and delicious. The grounds were beautifully maintained and a riot of brightly colored flowers.

Post play catered dinner and cast party on the courthouse grounds

Post play catered dinner and cast party on the courthouse grounds

The post-event cast party featured live music and a chance to mingle with members of the Mockingbird Players, who are all volunteers from Monroeville and the surrounding counties and are comprised of teachers, business owners, contractors ministers, attorneys, retirees, students, judges, stay-at-home moms and morticians.

Wendy and me with

Wendy and I with “Atticus Finch,” Jeff Brock, by day the District Judge for nearby Conecuh County.


It was such an incredible experience, made even more special by the presence of my family and the opportunity so spend time with them in a world so far removed from where I live: at the heart of a small town, deep in South of my childhood and memories.

“Growing up Southern is a privilege, really. It’s more than where you’re born, it’s an idea and state of mind that seems imparted at birth. Its more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, football, beer, bourbon and country music. It’s being hospitable, devoted to front porches, magnolias, moon pies and coca-cola, and each other. We don’t become Southern, we’re born that way.” -Anonymous


A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: The Redneck Riviera

It’s the land of Jimmy Buffett, boat drinks and billionaires.

Tourists and trailer parks. Sailboats and sand dunes.

College kids tearing it up on Spring Break, families romping in the surf, seniors searching for sunny skies.

20141017_173237_resizedIt’s the paradise in our own backyard.

Family gathering in Florida

Ranging from coastal Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle, the beaches of the Deep South, or the “Redneck Riviera,” as even we (affectionately) refer to it, offer miles of sugar-spun sands and clear turquoise waters on beaches both jam-packed and serenely isolated.

Gulf Shores up through Apalachi-cola
They got beaches of the whitest sand
Nobody cares if gramma’s got a tattoo
Or Bubba’s got a hot wing in his hand

Redneck Riviera is where I wanna be
Down here on the Redneck Riviera by the sea
Tom T. Hall – Redneck Riviera

Every Southerner has “their” spot they visit, year after year.

Some seek the neon-bright nightlife of Daytona or Panama City Beach.

Some yearn for the European sophistication of Rosemary, Seaside or Alys, some choose the picturesque lifestyle found in waterside communities like Dauphin Island, Pensacola or Pass Christian.

At the Beach (5)Fishing, swimming, surfing, sailing, wining and dining, shopping or simply savoring the sultry breezes.

IMG_2764 Whatever sand spot suits the fancy, it’s our ultimate resort.

Rosemary Oct 2014 (5)“Life’s a Beach.”

– Unknown


A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: It’s All in the Quilting

Quilts are such a huge memory from my childhood.  They were bright and cheerful, warm and comforting and always smelled like sunshine from being line-dried in the back yard.

"Postage Stamp" pattern quilt made my my Grandmother, Norma Ferguson Pass and my Great Grandmother, Pearl James McCormick.

“Postage Stamp” pattern quilt made my my Grandmother, Norma Ferguson Pass and my Great-Grandmother, Pearl James McCormick.

My grandmother’s house was small but always overflowed with family and guests during the holidays. Us young’uns (grandkids) always slept on and under a pile of quilt “pallets” on the floor, leaving the real beds to the grown ups.

I have two quilts left as a legacy from my beloved Granny.  One was carefully preserved (read: kept packed away and not given to me until I was 40 and somewhat responsible) and the other I have had since I was 6 or 7 and allowed to “love” all to pieces.

This is my ragged and abused favorite quilt from childhood.  I adored it because it had bright flowers and pink fringe on one side and tiny cars on the other.

This is my ragged and abused favorite quilt from childhood. I adored it because it had bright flowers and pink fringe on one side and tiny cars on the other.

I couldn’t find any pictures of the really beautiful quilts I know that my family owned, but in a moment of inspiration, I emailed my Aunt Shirley Roland Ferguson (who is actually our “famous” family author and ad hoc keeper of lore, legend and passed down goodies.)

My darling Auntie was quick to respond with some lovely photos, but dashed my hazy memories of Granny whipping up artistic quilts in her spare time.

“I don’t think Granny ever did much quilting. Her energies were in cleaning and keeping a pretty home, cooking her fabulous meals and working in the yard.”

A quilt made by Granny Roland

A quilt made by Nell Roland

Aunt Shirley went on to reminisce about her own Mom, Nell Roland.

“My mom was allergic to manual labor I think. Her food was just adequate and she never had leftovers. But she loved being creative with her hands. She and my Granny crocheted doilies and tablecloths in the evenings while they listed to programs on the radio during WWII. My dad worked long hours at a defense job at the Birmingham airport repairing radios in bombers. And mother made all our clothes, stopping through town for material after working all day as a nurse.  She rode three buses to get home.
Aunt Shirley's family quilt

One of Aunt Shirley’s family quilts

As children we played under her quilting frames while she and the church ladies quilted. She tried to teach me but I was impatient. And when she asked my aunt if she would like to learn, Aunt Ina said,”‘Nell, I’d rather try to pick out hickory nuts with a toothpick!'”

Another of Granny Roland's quilts

Another of Granny Roland’s quilts

Reading Aunt Shirley’s words, I  drifted back a moment in time, to my earliest memories of my Granny’s quilts, a long-ago Christmas eve.  I was maybe 4-years old or so, tucked into a pallet next to my parent’s bed, snuggled like a bug in a mountain of rugs, fighting sleep, straining so hard to hear above the talk and laughter of the adults in the next room, the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof that my older cousins swore meant Santa was on his way.

And just like the brightly hued quilts I once cuddled around my younger body, I happily gather my Aunt’s words around me now while I write, for a moment enveloped, once again, in my Granny’s love.

“Blankets wrap you in warmth, quilts wrap you in love.”
– unknown


A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Pretty is as Pretty Does

Things Southern Mamas say to their little girls:

“I’m gonna jerk a knot on you.”
“Just wait ’til I tell your Daddy what you’ve done.”
“Get that hair out of your eyes.”
“Wipe that look off of your face.”
“Missy, we don’t talk that way.”
“Don’t make me come over there.”
“Get ‘cher tail over here right this minute.”
“You are getting mighty big for your britches.”
“You are walkin’ a fine line, young lady.”
“Stand up straight.”
“Pretty is as pretty does.”
“Hush your mouth.”
“You think you’re real cute, don’t you?”
“I brought you in to this world, and I can take you out of it.”
“Sister, you sass me again and I’ll knock you into next week.”
“If you keep making that face, it’s gonna freeze that way.”
“Don’t you act ugly now.”
“Clean that plate. There are children starving in Africa.”
“Go out in that yard right now and pick me a switch.”
“If you eat your bread crusts, it will make your hair curly.”
“You’d be so pretty if you just smiled.”


“Whuppins were like kid taxes we paid with our behinds.”
― Terris McMahan Grimes, Smelling Herself: A Novel


A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Okra

Okra (US /ˈoʊkrə/ or UK /ˈɒkrə/; Abelmoschus esculentus Moench), known in many English-speaking countries as ladies’ fingers, bhindi, bamia, ochro or gumbo, is a flowering plant in the mallow family.

It is valued for its edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian, and South Asian origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world. – Wikipedia


When served up boiled, it is the despair of Southern children everywhere.


So few people eat okra (more radishes are grown in this country) that it never even makes it onto the lists of Top 10 hated foods.
-Julia Reed

Oh, it does in the South.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Boiled, it has the consistency of seedy, hairy slugs.  Eating boiled okra will make you mean.

should you slice it, dip it in egg and milk, roll it in cornmeal (with just a ‘tech  of flour) and fry it up all crispy in high temped peanut oil…

it transcends the ordinary,

and becomes something truly, heavenly glorious.

“I hate milk. Coats your throat as bad as okra. Something just downright disgusting about it.”
Marsha Norman, ‘night, Mother