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Hoppy Easter!

For our Easter celebration, Landon and I headed to my grandparents' house in Florence for the day. We had a great day eating yummy food, having some chocolate and playing Easter Bunny to my 20-month-old niece.
Phoebe the Easter Dog!

Here comes Peter Cottontail...er, Ambie!

The yummy cake Amber made for dinner

And a few cute ones of Kayla, my little cousin!

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits

Growing up, my mom refused to learn how to cook biscuits--we all love bread so much that it was too much of a temptation to have too much of it in the house! So, biscuit making was left out of my Southern girl training (other things I learned: always wear clean, non-raggedy undies in case you get in an accident, Duke's mayonnaise is the only kind of mayo, and call everyone "ma'am" or "sir" unless they ask you not to).

I set out to remedy this oversight in my education last week. I found an easy recipe that seemed pretty foolproof. I'd been told that biscuits could be tricky little buggers, so I wanted something that would make my learning an encouraging experience.

This recipe did just that: it's easy and can be modified indefinitely. It also produces tender, fluffy biscuits in about 12 minutes with absolutely no rising time. Perfection!

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits

2.5 cups of self-rising flour (this is very important! regular flour will not work here)
1.5 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup cheddar cheese (or to taste)
1/4 stick butter
garlic powder to taste (~1 teaspoon)

Sift flour, reserving about 1/4 cup. When sifted, make a hole in the flour with the back of your fist and pour the cream in the middle. Combine the flour into the cream with circular motions, using a spatula (or your hands, if you don't mind getting dirty). You'll know it's ready when the dough is fully combined and there isn't any flour left in the bowl. If there is flour on the sides or the bottom, add more cream, one tablespoon at a time, until all flour is incorporated. Your ball of dough should be sticky and puffy. You don't want runny dough!

Flour a portion of your countertop with the reserved flour. You will also want to coat your hands with more flour to keep them from sticking to the dough. Flatten out the dough onto the flour, adding more flour to the top or bottom of the dough if it begins to stick to anything. When the dough is about 1/2" thick, sprinkle the cheese on top of the dough. Then, fold the dough in half (trapping the cheese inside) and flatten dough out again to 1/2".

Carefully cut biscuits to desired size. I use a tiny 2" cookie cutter, but anything will work as long as you flour the edges and inside well (cookie cutters, an inverted drinking glass, a canning jar, etc.). Cut biscuits closely together and move to a buttered (or Pam-ed) tray for cooking. You can use a cookie sheet, pizza stone, cake pan, etc. Put the biscuits close together (like smooshed together close) if you want soft sided biscuits. Put the biscuits further apart if you want crispier biscuits.
**I don't recommend re-rolling the leftover dough. While this can be done, it makes for a tougher second batch of biscuits.**

Put the biscuits on the top rack of the oven on 450 degrees for 6 minutes. At this time, check to make sure the bottoms aren't browning too fast (if they are, just stick a cookie sheet under the pan--this will keep the bottoms from burning). Rotate the pan so that the front biscuits are now in the back. Cook for another 4-8 minutes, or until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown.

While biscuits are cooking, combine melted butter and approximately 1 teaspoon of garlic powder (to taste).

Immediately after pulling the biscuits out of the oven, add your garlic butter mixture to the tops, either brushing on with a baster, or drizzling with a spoon. Serve immediately (though these are delicious for about a day afterwards if you refrigerate them and then reheat when ready to serve).

Landon votes YUM!

Finding my family

This past weekend was quite the foray into my mom's family history. My grandma (Ruth)--my mom's mom--has never, ever talked about her mother (my great-grandmother) because my great-grandma's death so profoundly affected my grandma. We didn't even know Great-grandma's name until just recently: Mattie Simpson Smith.

So, why all the secrecy?

Well, it was less about keeping secrets and more about my grandma just not wanting to uncover painful memories. Grandma Mattie died at the age of 39 when my Grandma Ruth was only 11; being one of the older children, the task fell to my grandma to help nurse Mattie as she suffered from ovarian cancer. This being 1930, there was little that could be done in tiny Florence, South Carolina for someone with cancer--and even if there was, my grandfather Smith was already having a difficult time making ends meet as he raised six children and cared for a dying wife while working for the railroad.

I never knew my great-grandfather Smith, but from what I have been told, he didn't--or couldn't--help his children with their grief when Mattie passed away. There was little talk of her, and he remarried quickly to his second wife, who then had seven additional children (my grandma's half-siblings) in rapid succession. My Grandma Ruth was too young to keep ties with my biological great-grandma's family, and by the time she was old enough to reconnect, she found that she just wanted to distance herself from the pain associated with her mom.

Growing up, I never saw Ruth wear purple--the color she wore to Mattie's funeral--and she never spoke of her. Ruth keeps one picture of her in her bedroom, and the woman in that photograph looks exactly like my mom, Ruth's younger daughter. I had to ask my mom who the woman was because my grandma would always change the subject. That was the status quo for the first 25 years of my life.

Then, one day, when I was riding the car with Grandma, my sister and my mom, Grandma suddenly said, "I had another sister named Ethel. She died when I was little." My mom about swerved off of the road. For my mom's entire life (50+ years at this point), she thought Grandma had always had three biological siblings from Mattie and J.L: my great-aunt Thelma, great-uncle Mendel and great-uncle Earnest (who died in Germany in WWII). The revelation of another full-blooded great-aunt was a lot to swallow. It was in that moment that we started talking--very tentatively, in case we upset Grandma--about tracking down Mattie...and now, Ethel. At that point in our search, we didn't even know Mattie's maiden name, or even her date of death.

After much time on the internet, my mom tracked down an incredible amount of information about Mattie: she was born in Acquadale, NC; she had SIX children (including ANOTHER son that Grandma had blacked out. He, J.L. Jr, died as an infant when my grandma was about 9 or so); and she was laid to rest in her family's plot in Hartsville, SC. So, this weekend, we went on a genealogical treasure hunt of sorts, to see the places where Great-grandma Mattie had lived and died.

On this trip to Hartsville, Grandma and Great-aunt Thelma in tow, we located the farmhouse where four generations of Simpsons had lived (and come to find out, still do).

We were welcomed with open arms by Grandma and Aunt Thelma's first cousin, Albert, whom they hadn't seen or spoken to in fifty years.
Albert's mom, Amanda (affectionally called "Aunt Tinesy" by Grandma) was Mattie's sister. Mattie and Amanda had one brother, Clarence, who hung himself in the barn behind Albert's house when Clarence was in his twenties. Amanda, Mattie and Clarence's parents built the house that Albert now lives in, which makes the farmhouse over 200 years old. It was so neat to see Aunt Thelma and Grandma describe their visits to the house with their mom. It was as if all of these bottled up memories just came spilling out.

After visiting with Albert, we drove down the road to see the two houses that Mattie left to Ruth and Thelma. Neither owns the houses anymore, as their father sold the entire tract after Mattie died.

After the land had been sold, roads were put in; this street was named in honor of my grandma (who had gotten married to a Gibson between the land being sold and the streets being put in).

Next, we headed to the cemetery where Mattie is buried. After much searching, we realized that she doesn't have a headstone; according to Aunt Thelma and Grandma, their father was a notorious skinflint and didn't see the use in putting in a headstone at the time Mattie was buried.
We found the family plot, though, and Mama is going to call the church to see the master plat of the cemetary. Perhaps that way, we can see exactly where she is and finally--eighty years later--give Grandma Mattie a headstone.

Grandma was so brave the entire day, and never shed a tear. She had a private moment at the cemetery--a place she hadn't visited since the day Mattie was buried--but I think that a moment remembering her mom is only appropriate given the entire situation.

I never knew my grandma Mattie, but I believe that she would be proud of her daughters for having the strength to face something that was difficult for them. Grandma Mattie only had a few decades here on earth, but she left behind something that could never been erased: her family's love for her and for her memory.

All of which goes to show you: genealogy isn't just about ruffling through dusty letters and empty cemeteries. At the heart of it are people just like me--the family that I never had the chance to know, but who still live on in the people I love.

Yard Warriors

This weekend, my mom, my sister and I tackled the front yard, which was looking ROUGH. As I've mentioned earlier, the townhouse we bought was a foreclosure, so the yard was basically dirt. That's what ignoring your plants for over a year will do.

So, we decided to breathe some much needed life back into the yard. After three trips to Lowe's we had it looking like this:

I didn't take a before picture, but just imagine a lot of dirt...and not much else.

Check out the cute planters on the stairs:
Each set me back five dollars (at Walmart)--a small amount to pay for some needed color on our front porch!

On Sunday, I worked on the backyard. Landon put out some grass seed, and I planted some bougainvillea and a tomato plant.

And my favorite plant that we got Sunday? A strawberry plant! I've secretly been wanting to learn how to can my own jam for a while now, so I love the thought of growing my own berries for some strawberry jam!

Yard Makeover 2011 is far from done, but this weekend was a great step in the right direction. :)

A Beach Adventure on Isle of Palms

It was gorgeous here yesterday, so Landon and I took Phoebe to the beach after dinner--her first time out of the house ever! Our new house is only about five minutes from one of the local beaches, and Landon and I really want to take advantage of that treat. I sometimes find that I'm jaded since I grew up here (in Charleston), but then I have to remind myself that I live in a place that other people vacation to--and that I should appreciate the gorgeous things we have here!

Anyway, Phoebe loved the beach, but wasn't such a huge fan of the ocean. The water was kind of cold (it is only early April after all), so we'll re-introduce her to the water when the weather warms up a bit.

We had a fantastic walk on Isle of Palms, and timed our arrival back at the car with the very last of the sunlight. It was then (as we approached the car) that Landon discovered that his car key, which he'd put in the pocket of his exercise shorts, had somehow fallen out onto the beach. He went back to look, but with the wind constantly shifting the sand around and the almost-darkness, he came back empty handed.

Luckily, my dad and sister have a key to our house, so they were nice enough to go get the spare car key we had at the house. Yay for having family nearby!

Even with the snafu at the end, the three of us had a fun evening. Here's to many more beach visits in 2011!