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Lacy's Lit

Black Women Pioneers Teach Important Lessons

I walked out of the theater feeling a little taller after watching Hidden Figures, the movie about the army of black women mathematicians who worked at NASA's headquarters in Hampton, Va. The film primarily focuses on three pioneering women, Katherine Goble Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan.


These sisters handled their business with smarts and grace. The film is set in 1961, the year I was born when racial segregation was a fact. These highly-educated women refused to be limited by their co-workers inability to recognize their skills and talent.


Here are the lessons I glean from the movie:


Don't be apologetic for investing in your skills. When Dorothy Vaughan heard her "West Area Computing" unit, a group of black women mathematicians would be replaced by the new I.B.M. mainframe, she learned the FORTRAN computer language. She could see new technology was coming. She figured out how to be essential instead of obsolete.


Be bold about demonstrating your competency. In the movie, Katherine Goble Johnson is always adding her name to reports. Her co-worker keeps telling her not to include it. She ignores him as she continues to outperform most of the men in the room. Take credit for your work. Why let someone else claim your hard work and contributions?


Be fearless when breaking down barriers. Mary Jackson, a mathematician, initially couldn't become an engineer because of segregation. Jackson received an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the 4-foot by 4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. He encouraged Jackson to get her engineering degree.


Ask people to use their power on your behalf. Jackson asked a judge to partner in her success.  Jackson needed a graduate level math and physics in after-work courses managed by the University of Virginia. She had to go to a judge to get permission to the classes. She asked the judge to give her the same opportunities he had been given to succeed. Jackson became NASA's first black female engineer.


When you have opportunity to pull yourself up, take other people with you. The beauty of Hidden Figures is that the women were a sisterhood, helping each other navigate the struggle as well as celebrate each other's accomplishments. Their stories inspire me to keep reaching higher.

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New Year, New Focus

Happy New Year everyone. Okay, I know it’s time for resolutions. Here’s what I’m working on this year. I want to be more resourceful. I’ve always been enterprising but I have a feeling being even more strategic will come in handy this year. I plan on blogging about how to save money, manage energy and completing goals. Are you with me? A friend of mine recently shared with me Adventist Health System’s eight principles of wellness.

They are: Choice, Rest, Environment, Activity, Trust, Interpersonal Relationships, Outlook, and Nutrition.

Here’s the breakdown:  Read More 
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Holiday Books for Foodies

Okay, here are a few of my favorite books for gift ideas this holiday season.

“North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints,” written by D.G. Martin. (UNC Press; $16) The affable D.G. Martin, who grew up in Davidson, N.C., developed a kinship for these types of places as a high school football player. It started at the annual Mallard Creek Church barbecue, he recalls. Martin, a retired attorney and college administrator, noticed that “friendly people make a meal into something memorable.” This guide is organized by interstates and features more than 100 notable local roadway haunts that serve not only as eateries but also as fixtures of their communities. This is kind of culinary roadmap you must keep in the car for those trips throughout NC. I think this book should be paired with a gift card from one of the local eateries.

“The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food,” edited by award-winning author and foodie Randall Kenan. (Eno Publishers, $17.95) This collection offers food-related stories and poems set in North Carolina, though geography is sometimes secondary to the main theme, which is food in any form: meals and manners, cooking and ingredients, recipes and recollections. These mouthwatering stories are the perfect gift for any food lover. This book would be nicely paired with a gorgeous apron or tea towels.

“Chicken,” by award-winning cookbook author Cynthia Graubart. Chicken is one of the latest SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbooks. It was listed as one of the best cookbooks of 2016 by The Washington Post. This slim volume features recipes for the whole chicken and chicken parts. Recipes range from Southern classics such as Country Captain to more contemporary takes on yard bird like Chicken and Parslied Dumplings. Every home cook could probably use a new way to prepare the convenient and versatile chicken.

“Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share,” by Kathy Gunst. (Chronicle Books, $24.95) This gorgeous cookbook features more than 60 soup recipes ranging from vegetables soups to seafood chowders. Gunst gives lots of tips on making the most flavorful soup. She covers canned beans versus cooking your own. In addition, she includes recipes for yummy sides, salads and croutons to serve with your bowl of comfort. This book would go perfect in a basket with gorgeous tea towels and some homemade bread.

Happy Holidays.

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Clear the Clutter

Okay it’s that time of year to get rid of unwanted items around the house. I plan on inviting guests over this holiday season. So it’s time to clear the clutter especially from the dining room. Some of the items that accumulate in my house are too many magazines, books, worn out shoes, and cute store bags. Unfortunately, they all seem to be stuck downstairs between the living room and kitchen.  Read More 
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Giving thanks in a difficult season

Happy Thanksgiving. I am extremely grateful to all of you who have supported me this year. You came out to bookstores, libraries and book festivals to buy a copy of Sunday Dinner. This year has been one filled with joy of completing goals and finding an audience. It’s an honor for any writer, when your message, resonates with readers. So I wanted to share the story of Thanksgiving 1999, when I was dealing with the aftermath of a brain tumor. That experience made this year’s feast, a real triumph. See the link in the left sidebar in red to read.  Read More 
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Staying Cool in the Summer Kitchen

As I’ve gotten older, I realize I have to manage my energy not my time. So in the summer, I like to prep for the dinner meal in the mornings. That’s the perfect time to wash and chop produce: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, etc. I also make a pitcher of tea for the day. I like mixing marinades and dressings.

Here are few tips to keeping a cool head during the hot and humid evenings of summer.
1. Keep an assortment of breads, cheeses and deli meats handy along with olives, pickles and interesting spreads to create flavorful sandwiches.
2. Make a large pitcher of spa water and tea in the morning so you have something cool to sip on all day.
3. Use small appliances. Most cooks use their slow cooker during the fall and winter but it’s perfect for cooking in the summer. It doesn’t heat your kitchen like a big oven.
4. Take advantage of all the great inexpensive produce and fruits such as corn, tomatoes, lettuces, strawberries, blackberries and mangoes. Mix veggies and fruits in your salads. Add lean proteins such as salmon, chicken breasts and shrimp.
5. Invite folks over for a potluck supper. Summer is the perfect time to catch up with friends over cool salads and grilled meats.

If you are looking for some interesting summer recipes, check out:
“The Summer Shack Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Shore Food,” by Jasper White
“Crab & Oysters,” a Savor the South cookbook by Bill Smith
“Comfort Foods of the South,” by Barry Moody

Here's one of my favorite recipes for summer, Chef Barry Moody’s Spice Delight Oven-Roasted Baby Back Ribs. You can stay cool and comfortable as these cook on in the oven. I like cooking them early in the morning before the heat of the day. After they are cooked, slice into 1-rib portions. That makes them easier to warm in the microwave for dinner.

2 slabs baby back ribs
1 cup Spice Delight BBQ Rub
2 cups apple juice
2 cups Spice Delight Sweet and Zesty BBQ Sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse ribs and pat dry. Season both sides of the ribs with Spice Delight BBQ Rub. Marinate overnight.

When ready to cook, place ribs on the rack. Sprinkle additional rub on the bottom of the roaster. Pour apple juice in the pan to ensure the ribs are completely infused with the seasoning.

Place ribs on the rack in the roaster and cover pan with lid. Cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours until ribs are tender. If the ribs yield a lot of grease, pour it in an oil separator and return the apple juice mixture to the roaster.

Brush ribs on both sides with Spice Delight Sweet and Zesty BBQ Sauce. To brown, return the ribs to the oven for 20 minutes without the top on the roaster. Place ribs in serving dish. Pour the roasting pan juices over the ribs to add flavor and to keep the ribs moist.

Spice Delight products are sold at Fresh Market
Recipe courtesy of Chef Barry Moody, www.spicedelight.com

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Happy Father’s Day

I’m thinking about the men in my family this Father’s Day Sunday. Some of the best memories of them involve cooking. Papa, my maternal grandfather, was easily one of the best cooks in the family. We spent so much quality time together in the garden, picking strawberries and green beans. I love watching him make his yeast rolls, cakes and pies.

My father loved to make stuffed pork chops or his version of an Egg McMuffin sandwich. He liked buying cooking gadgets and appliances. He would make juicy burgers with his Presto Burger maker and toasty grill cheese sandwiches on the waffle iron and grill.

My Uncle Moco would always make me what we called a Moco burger on his hibachi grill he kept on his back porch. That small charcoal grilled was a burger making machine. Uncle Moco would mix his mayonnaise and mustard together to slather on the toasted bun. That burger was layered with crisp Iceburg lettuce, a ripe tomatoes and onions.

For me, the actual meal and the memories were both gifts. I don’t think I understood then like I do now, how important those sweet and savory moments meant. I hope you and the men in your life are making memories today too.

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Life’s Little Lessons from the Kitchen

I’ve been thinking a lot about how many lessons I learned in the kitchen from my family. Many of them apply beyond the confines of the hearth of most homes. As I get older and busier, I am reminded of those guiding principles that served them so well.

Here they are:

My maternal grandfather, my beloved Papa, taught me the first bite is with the eye. He garnished his dishes with spices and herbs. He served them nice and neat on the plate or in the bowl. Papa’s food was so appetizing I often ate things I thought I didn’t like. When I was a child, potato salad seemed like to many flavors blended together for my simple palette. But I had to taste it because it was so pretty with paprika and sliced eggs decorating the dish. Plate well, you deserve it.

Grandma would always tell me, don’t peel away the potato. I love peeling potatoes as a child. But often I cut more than the skin off. I would waste some of the potato. My grandmother was a thrifty woman and I am too. Use your food and resources wisely.

Cook enough for several meals. My grandparents and mother always cooked a pot of greens, a roast or ham, something that could be eaten on several days. In the winter, I love cooking a big pot of collards to build meals around during the week. At least once a week if not more, make a homemade soup, a big pot of beans, something that you can eat now and store some in the freezer for later. Make one dish but many meals.

Wash dishes as you prepare the meal. My mother is so good at this. She keeps a sink of sudsy water so she can soak and wash utensils, pots and pans while she’s completing the cooking the meal. I like to keep a clean, dish towel handy to wash and dry cutting board, knives and things I used to get the meal ready as well. Clean as you go.

My Aunt Barbara likes to clear the table after you eat. Go ahead, scrape the plates and place them in the dishwasher. Put away the leftovers. Wipe the counter tops. It’s easier to keep up then catch up.

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Friday Prep for Sunday Dinner

I have a busy weekend coming up, so I shopped for Sunday Dinner today at the state farmers market. I love seasonal produce especially straight from the men and women who grow it. So many great finds to choose from ranging from juicy peaches to crisp lettuces.

I saw bouquets of lettuces. They were so gorgeous, full heads with lots of color. Every type I could want in a salad: Boston, red leaf, green leaf and romaine.

Of course, I had to get a few tomatoes, just the basic ones are out now. The standard slicing tomatoes, nothing fancy yet. You have to wait until later in the season to get the cherished German Johnsons and Purple Cherokees.

I outdid myself with a small pickling cucumber, it was only .50 cents. You can never get them in the grocery store at that price. I’m thinking a big garden salad along with my Green Beans with Fingerling Potatoes, the recipe is featured in my cookbook Sunday Dinner.

For dessert, I’m going to make some type of fruit crisp with these yummy peaches. I was pleasantly surprised at the sweetness of the Rich May, a yellow-fleshed peach with some of the best flavor so early in the season.

So glad, my shopping is done for Sunday Dinner. Now I just have to prepare it. Bon Appétit.

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The Taste of Friendship

My friend, Mary loves a spread. She uses it to elevate a piece of toast, to jack up a cheese or to enhance the flavor of a meat. You may find an interesting homemade pepper jelly in her kitchen, some type of bizarre relish, or a seasonal preserves just waiting to be smoothed on something.

So for her birthday, I gave her a jar of Tart Cherry and White Tea preserves made by Quince and Apple.

A day or so later, I get an email with the subject line reading: The Taste of Our Friendship with a picture. She slathered the tart cherries in a delicate jelly of jasmine flowers and white tea onto a piece of toast and served it with a link sausage.

The email read: Good morning! Can’t wait to taste it!

Do you have a friend, who could use a spread today? I love the simple joy that comes from a jar.

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