How to be a Mobile Bay Lady
In these parts, women are like a long strand of fine pearls. We are classic. We are strong. Collectively, we are precious gems gracefully knotted together to showcase Southern beauty and womanhood at its finest.
illustrations by Kelan Wright Mercer
China Cabinet Essentials
Every proper Mobile Bay hostess ought to own a set of pearls and a fully stocked china hutch. Here’s what local ladies declare should be inside.
• A full service for 12 of your great-grandmother’s china Like fine wine, family porcelain can only be considered better with age. Treat your dishes right, and great-aunt Waldine’s famous ambrosia will likely be served up on them at your great-grand-niece’s bridal luncheon. If you weren’t so privileged as to have been heir to a family china pattern, consider scouting local antiques shops to find full (and fully aged) sets. It should also be top priority on every bride’s registry. Select something timeless that can be mixed and matched with complementary pieces for holidays.
• A formal gravy boat Quintessential 19th-century Mobile socialite Madame Octavia LeVert would never have set a casual serving piece amongst her tabletop pretties, and neither should you.
• A deviled egg plate (preferably crystal) The rich Deep South delicacy is a staple at many a family gathering. For small get-togethers, a 12-divot version should suffice, but for larger parties, a 24-cavity style is ideal.
• Silver goblets and mint julep cups The best kinds are the inherited ones. But, if yours came directly from the friendly, neighborhood jewelry store, they should be engraved with your last initial – all the more reason for your daughter-in-law to cozy up to you.
• Sterling silver service for 12 and five-piece tea set Use it, and use it often – especially if you aim to impress the most proper of ladies at prayer group. Because sterling is made up of 92.5 percent pure silver, it lasts a lifetime – and beyond. Remember that the guests at your funeral after-party will be eating congealed salad with these forks so see opposite for tips on how to keep it polished. (Heaven forbid you pass unexpectedly, leaving family members with one more chore on that lengthy to-do list.)
• Fine linens You’d never, in a million years, think of attending the Queen’s Luncheon without a proper, outfit-coordinating headpiece. Likewise, an elegant tablecloth and napkins are requisite formal entertaining items. Though they do not have to match exactly, they should at least complement each other.
• Wine glasses, wine glasses and more wine glasses At any given time, be sure to have plenty of adult beverages on hand with which to fill them for impromtu gatherings. An accompanying side dish of gossip pairs perfectly.
• A tiny sterling silver or crystal bell (with which to ring the butler you wish you had) Or, if he does answer, just go ahead and pass go, collect $200, and skip the aforementioned silver polishing tutorial.
How to Polish Silver
What an honor it is to inherit great-great aunt Mabeline’s King George silver. What a chore it is to polish it! Here’s how to make the daunting task a little more bearable.
Store it with a bit of aluminum foil or chalk. “My Aunt Peggy passed along a trick to avoid spending hours polishing,” Devon Walsh says. “She puts a piece of aluminum foil in each level of her case. It prevents the silver from tarnishing at all!” Just make sure that each piece touches the foil. A stick or two of white chalk in the case is said to do the same thing. These simple tricks also work for keeping ornaments and jewelry sparkling.
Pick good polish. Hagerty Flatware Silver Dip, Wright’s Silver Polish, Twinkle polish, and even toothpaste are favorites. Add warm water and elbow grease.
Turn it into something fun. “Put on a pot of coffee, start your favorite play-list, slip on those white cotton gloves you save for just this task and have at it,” suggests one seasoned hostess.
Get help. It’s not beyond the call of duty for bridesmaids, godmothers or a cohostess to share the task before a shower or party. Children, up until age 10 or so, often find it enjoyable to be helpful and play house. If there are absolutely no volunteers forthcoming, there is nothing wrong with paying someone else to polish your pieces (it beats deadheading shrimp and other loathsome work) or just letting them age with grace, reserving shining sessions for only the most special of occasions.
How to Cure Common Ailments
Sometimes the best remedies are the ones that have been passed down for generations
• A dab of toothpaste for a bee sting These insects may keep our local crops abuzz, but they can also become a nuisance at alfresco parties. Once the stinger has been removed, apply a thin layer of mint toothpaste (not gel) over the sting to cool the burning and dull the pain. Reapply as needed.
• A swig of Jack Daniels, honey and lemon juice for a sore throat Remember this one the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when Iron Bowl game day recovery is at its height. Honey coats the throat, lemon juice reduces mucus, and the whiskey, well, helps you forget about the pain.
• Vick’s Vapor Rub for a bruise In the ’50s and ’60s, many a Mobile Bay teenage boy would have appreciated this tip from his girl the morning after a big parking lot fight at any one of the legendary Government Street hangouts. Menthol reduces the pain and inflammation, increasing blood flow to a shiner.
• Tums for a hangover For when you’ve had one too many bushwhackers (keep reading for recipe), pop a couple Tums. They’ll neutralize the acid in your stomach and quell queasiness.
• Vinegar for a sunburn A compress of half-water, half-vinegar should relieve the singe.
• A couple of drops of warm onion juice for swimmer’s ear Antiseptic compounds in onion fight infection and reduce inflammation. The odor may be terrible, but the pain should be gone in just a matter of minutes.
How to Catch a Mobile Bay Man
The Bay area’s most eligible bachelor, Joachim Iberville Bienville “Jib” MacMobile V, lends the following pointers:
Tip 1: There’s truth in the saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – especially when it comes to entertaining him and his buddies. “She should know how to put together a good game day spread – all but the grilling.”
Tip 2: Be able to carry on a coherent conversation about SEC football – or at least perfect the “I’m following you” face while he talks. (See below and opposite for cheat sheets.)
Tip 3: Learn to be a good first mate. (See page 67 for the complete rules.)
Tip 4: Understand the meaning of “catch and release.” “When you’re dating, go to the hunting or fishing camp with him. Once you get married, stop.”
Tip 5: Know how to dress to impress him. Know how to dress to impress his mama. Most importantly, know the difference between the two.
Note: You may remember Jib’s father from January 2009’s “Are You Olde Mobile?” quiz fame. So if you’re dating his son and land a meet-and-greet with Mama and Daddy, be sure to brush up on your local history beforehand.
True Bay ladies never share their man-catching strategies – at least not openly. Under strict orders that they remain anonymous, our happily settled sources swear by these tactics:
“Catch his mother first.”
Or better yet. “Just be a knock-off of his mother.”“Know how to throw a rod, shoot a rifle and drink bourbon.”
It’s sad but true. “NOT being from Mobile sure does help. You know you’re not going to find out you’re related!”
“We don’t ‘do the catchin.’ Mobile Bay men are fishermen, and rightfully so. Mobile Bay ladies are the catch!”
POLL: We asked readers, “What’s the best place to find a man?” Survey says: Church
Open any Mobile child’s closet, and you will surely find dainty, smocked dresses, bonnets and any other garment her mother or grandmother could get her hands on.
The embroidery technique, which has been around since the Middle Ages, is fairly easy to master once you pick up a few classic stitches. The craft is so popular in the Bay area that even middle schools have been known to offer classes as electives.
Margaret Hillard has been smocking ever since her great-grandmother taught her on gingham fabric before the invention of transfer dots and pleating machines created guides on plain material. “It’s not complicated unless you get complicated patterns,” she says.
The Outline Stitch
Insert the needle on the left side of the first pleat through the underside of the fabric. Pick up the next pleat to the right, bringing thread all the way through. Keep needle slanting down and thread above the needle, creating an up stitch.
The Cable Stitch
This basic technique is similar to the Outline Stitch, except it is a mix of up and down stitches. Instead of slightly slanting the needle, keep it horizontal and alternate moving the thread above and below the needle with each.
The Trellis Stitch
Starting on the gathering thread (the threads that pleat the fabric), make an up stitch over pleats 1 and 2. With the next stitch, slightly slant the needle down and keep the thread above it, inserting it through the third pleat.
Repeat until you have reached the desired number of steps that you want on one side of your trellis. When you get to your last step (which should be halfway between two gathering threads), make the stitch with your needle horizontal and the thread below it.
Make step-like stitches with the needle slanting upwards and the thread below it, until you have the same number of stitches as on the first side of your trellis. Check to be sure the last and first stitches of your trellis are the same height.
Marie Katz, owner of stationery boutique The Paper Menu, shares the essential initial rules.
• If all three letters are the same size, they should be ordered first, middle, last names. If the center letter is larger, they should be arranged first, last, middle.
• The prefix “mono” means one: Use one person’s initials in a monogram, not a couple’s together. It is customary for the barware in a home to showcase the husband’s initials, while everything else should use the wife’s letters. For example, Katz recommends going with his for cocktail napkins, but for any other table linens, use hers. If, on the off chance, he has strong opinions about not using a bath towel with his wife’s initials, a single letter, the first of the last name, is a good option.
• In the Bay area, it is not uncommon for a belle or beau to have four names, particularly if a lady with a double name chooses to keep her maiden name after she marries. In this case, there are a few options. 1) All four letters may be used the same size straight across. 2) A custom monogram may be created to use the double name initials together in the place of the first initial. 3) She may simply opt to drop her maiden name initial altogether.
• You would never refer to a bride as Mrs. Smith before her wedding. Likewise, the married monogram should only be used after the nuptials; stationery used during an engagement should still display the bride’s maiden name initials. The one exception is a monogram used on a wedding invitation, which should showcase the mother of the bride’s letters.
• On occasion, men opt to monogram their dress shirts. This practice dates back to when men first sent their clothes out to dry cleaners. The most common style and location is a small, inconspicuous display, no larger than 1/4 of an inch, either on the top center of the pocket or along the left cuff.
Talk the Lingo
Since Southerners are natural-born storytellers, it’s no surprise that we women have a tendency toward gossiping. But, a true-blue one would never spitefully talk about another behind her back without lending some justification as to why she is such-and-such-a way.
Top 5 Mobile Jargon Phrases That Negate an Insult:
5) “Nobody ever accused her of being smart.”
4) “What do you expect, she’s a (insert family name here)?”
3) “What do you expect, she went to (insert school here)?”
2) “God love her, as only He can.”
1) “Bless her heart!”
5 Steps to Writing a Proper Thank-You Note
One of the most telling signs of a true Mobile Bay lady is her devotion to thank-you note writing. She is always gracious and would never send a thank-you email in lieu of a handwritten, postmarked note. You only thought Emily Post was a stickler; MB women are even stricter!
Step 1: Gather the appropriate materials, and keep them at the ready. Always write on heavy stationery (preferably monogrammed, see opposite) using black ink. Never use stationery with “Thank You” printed on the front flap.
Step 2: In neat, cursive handwriting, greet the giver. If the present is from a couple, always pen the salutation to the woman, but it’s nice to mention the husband in the body text.
Step 3: The body of the letter should
be at least five sentences. Always cite the gift or event in detail, explaining how it will be used. If you were treated to a meal, be sure to comment on how delicious the food was. But, take care not to begin with the trite sentiment, “Thank you for the …”
“We really like it when our grandchildren tell us why they like specific gifts rather than the generic, Mama-made-me-do-it ‘Thanks for the gifts,’” says one Fairhope lady.
Step 4: Be sincere and gracious. “Slow down. Write with meaning and patience,” says Susan Steber Kangal. Another anonymous MB belle suggests, “If you can include a mention of the family history, it adds a bit of class.” For example: “I always get a kick out of hearing about the wonderful times you and Aunt Gwen shared at the Club.”
Step 5: According to one lifelong Mobilian, it is necessity that one always, always sign off with “Fondly,” followed by the signature.
Step 6: Address the envelope to Mrs. Henry Smith, using a husband’s name, if she is married.
The Golden Rule
Be prompt. A thank-you note should be sent as timely as possible after the gift is received, preferably within two weeks. But, in Mobile Bay time, that’s being generous. “In Point Clear, you better get it to the post office the next day,” says Judy Culbreth. “Sissy will make sure it gets in the correct P.O. box right away. One time, I caught someone putting a thank-you note in my box the next morning. My husband, Walter, even says we should just carry the cards with us to parties and post the note on the way home.” But, even if you are tardy writing, you should still send it. Late is much better than not at all. Open with something clever like, “How I wish every minute of the last four weeks had been as lovely as my dinner with you in March!”
Ellis Metz's Football Basics
SEC Mount Rushmore
Bear Bryant (Alabama): After winning six national championships, Bryant could be more deserving than some of the leaders on the actual Rushmore.
Gen. Robert Neyland (Tennessee): “The General” served in WWI before taking the Vols to the mountaintop four times.
Steve Spurrier (Florida, South Carolina): After winning the Heisman at Florida, he instituted a juggernaut offense at his alma mater that changed the game.
Johnny Vaught (Ole Miss): Outside of Faulkner, few have done more to put Oxford, Miss., on the map.
Honorable Mention: Nick Saban (LSU, Alabama): Love him or loathe him, he’s won three national championships. The scariest part: He may not be done.
Out-of-State SEC School Cheat Sheet
(and the easiest ways to make fun of them)
Arkansas (fanbase from Arkansas)
Florida (player crime rate; jean shorts)
Georgia (player crime rate; perennial letdown from player touted “The Next Herschel Walker”)
Kentucky (basketball school stuck in the SEC)
LSU (head coach with the IQ of a third-grader)
Mississippi State (cowbells, really?)
Missouri (pretending you don’t know they’re in the SEC; voicing disapproval that they are)
Ole Miss (some of the worst teams in modern SEC history; mascot identity crisis)
South Carolina (most anything, starting with their unlawful mascot)
Tennessee (deep desperation to be relevant; hideous school color choice)
Texas A&M (cultish, agricultural fanbase; the new kid on the block)
Vanderbilt (fanbase that frequents Star Trek conventions and recently discovered football)
How to Toss a Mullet
The legendary Flora-Bama Lounge, Package and Oyster Bar is a place every Bay-area woman should visit at least once – if for no other reason than to take notes on the pitfalls of unfortunate tattoos. While there, she should remain a proper Lower Alabama lady and never, ever, under any circumstances, remove her shoes or her undergarments (no matter how dreamy the rock star performing on the main stage). She should, however, make a valiant effort at heaving a
sordid Mugil cephalus, or grey mullet, across the state line.
Each spring, the Flora-Bama’s annual Interstate Mullet Toss event draws crowds of all ages from around the world to partake in the friendly shot-put-style contest, which features fish as the projectile of choice. Some participants have been perfecting their form for years. One Mobile Bay lady, who wishes to remain nameless, suggests covering your hand with cornmeal pre-toss to ensure a better grasp. A popular method, advises Paige Largue, is to execute the throw “underhanded with the right hand and a bushwhacker in the left.”
Karin Wilson, of Fairhope, recommends tossing underhanded by the tail. And, try to avoid stage fright. “I’ve never been able to really throw it down at the Flora-Bama. Last time, it landed in a woman’s lap.”
Local news anchor, Devon Walsh, shares her experience with fin flinging:
“When I was an 18-year-old intern at WKRG News 5, my first assignment was to cover the Mullet Toss at the Flora-Bama. It took some convincing from my news photographer, but I eventually decided to join in the fun. I am not one who likes to touch slimy things, but there are just some things you have to do for the sake of television! Since it was so slippery, I picked up the fish right below the gills and pitched it underhanded. Sometimes, when the participants threw overhanded, like in baseball, the mullet actually went backwards. They couldn’t hold onto it. My grip worked! I slung that thing across the Alabama-Florida line! I even got a round of applause and a pat on the back from our news director. So, if you ever participate in the Mullet Toss, hold that fish tightly. Then, let it fly! Oh, and try not to let the smelly fish juice drip on you.”
April 27 - 30
Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party
17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola. 980-5118.
How to Be a Good Hunter's / Fisherman’s Widow
Once you've caught that Mobile Bay man hook, line and sinker, odds are those hunting and fishing weekends may become a bit more frequent. Don't take it personally. MB men have an innate need for male bonding time in the great outdoors, and it only multiplies proportionately with number of years he's been married. Take advantage of the free time, and embrace the life of a hunting and/or fishing widow to the fullest.
Step 1: According to 95.5 percent of MB wives surveyed, this is the most imperative principle of all: Make sure that he leaves plenty of cash for retail therapy. Spend your Saturday shopping till you drop. And, if you still have a couple hours to kill, squeeze in a mani-pedi.
Step 2: Saturday night, invite your chapter of the hunters’/fishermen’s wives club over for wine and whine time. “Turn up the music. Share bad jokes and good stories. Eat if you must,” says one veteran outdoorsman’s widow. Another suggests taking the time to add a little culture to your calendar. “Indulge your creative interests and travel.” Consider a girls’ night out at the Saenger Theatre or a jaunt to New Orleans or the casinos just up the road.
“It’s non-hunters’ wives I feels sorry for during hunting season because so many weekend activities are ‘girls only.’”
Step 3: By Sunday afternoon, have all ingredients on hand to prepare a delicious meal with his fresh catch or kill. Then, get gussied up so when he returns, he’s reminded of all he was missing back at home. Prepare aforementioned dinner (see below for recipes) and enjoy as a couple.
How to Be a Good First Mate
Are you in shipshape? Dede Castronova, whose mother taught her how to launch a boat before she had a driver’s license, shares her tips for getting high marks on the high seas.
Tip 1: Learn to get to the water like an expert. To back a trailer toting a boat, put your left hand on the bottom of the truck’s steering wheel, look over your right shoulder, move your left hand in the direction you want the trailer to go and back it up. Simple enough.
Tip 2: Know what to do if he’s the one launching the boat. Usually the captain (in my case Noel Nelson) drives the vehicle. It’s first mate’s job to guide the boat as it slips off the trailer and secure it at the dock so it won’t get away. This is where she shows competence (or looks like a complete idiot). Here’s a trick I learned from my brother, but it only works if there’s not a rushing current – and if you can keep “helpful” men at the dock from messing with your ropes. Once a boat is off the trailer and you’re holding it by the front rope, sometimes the back end takes off away from the dock. Be bold. Pull the front of the boat towards you, then give it a little shove away from the dock with your foot. The back end should ease toward you right up to the dock.
Tip 3: Bring enough food to feed a fleet of starving boaters. The morning you decide to go out for a short fishing trip, with no more than a pack of peanut butter crackers on board, will be the day a huge tarpon drags you around the Bay past sunset. Our favorite lunch is chicken salad sandwiches, double-wrapped in paper towels, then double-bagged in plastic bags and stored on top of the ice in the ice chest. (Fellow first mate Jennifer Boykin suggests bringing fruit as a snack. But, don’t pack bananas; they’re considered bad luck.)
Tip 4: Keep carry-ons to the bare essentials. Captains don’t want your stuff in the way. If you show up at the dock with lots of cargo, he’ll tell you to leave all but the food in your car. (For the few exceptions, see right.)
Tip 5: Don’t reveal your sources! When you return to the landing with your catch, beware of the other fishermen at the dock. They may casually ask, “Catch anything?” or “Where’d you see that school of redfish?” While they appear to be friendly or interested in your bikini, they are really trying to uncover proprietary secrets. Don’t fall for it. Revealing his fishing hole or favorite bait will ensure a flogging from the captain.
How to Cook What He Killed or Caught
He caught it; he cleaned it. Now he wants to eat it. If it’s cooked outdoors using any sort of pyrotechnics, he’s likely game for serving it up himself. But, there are only so many ways to grill a fillet. Thus, every MB lady should know how to prepare her outdoorsman’s yield in the comfort of her kitchen. Deer meat spaghetti is an easy staple. Bacon-wrapped doves are another excellent go-to. But, here are a few more impressive options.
The Roussos name has long been synonymous with tasty seafood. Zenia and George Roussos’ longtime establishment was a legendary favorite. “Running a restaurant for them was not work, it was entertaining friends,” says daughter and caterer Georgia Roussos. Here, she shares her family’s techniques for preparing fishing bounties.
Baked Stuffed Flounder
“As a child, I would fish and crab with my family off our Dauphin Island pier. We’d bring home the crabs, boil them, spread out newspapers on picnic tables and clean them. What we didn’t eat, mother used in her crabmeat stuffing for the flounders that we had caught. We still stuff flounders the way we did back then in my present business, Georgia Roussos Catering,” says Georgia. It’s also a great way to put leftover cornbread to use.
1 cup white onion, minced
1/2 cup green onions, minced
1 1/2 cups celery, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 pound butter
2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
2 cups cornbread, crumbled
1/2 pound white crabmeat, picked over for shells
salt and pepper, to taste
8 (1 - 1 1/2 pound) flounders
16 whole shrimp
1. To prepare dressing, sauté white onions, green onions, celery, garlic and parsley in butter. Gradually stir in 1/2 breadcrumbs and 1/2 cornbread, cooking until thickened. Add crabmeat,
remaining breadcrumbs and cornbread. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Split each flounder and fill with dressing. Garnish each fish with 2 whole shrimp. Then cook under broiler, about 15 - 25 minutes, or until fish is done. Makes 8 flounders.
Donna Rodriguez, of Little House Bistro, gives her gourmet twist on a home-style wild game classic. She comes from a long line of hunters and says that this recipe is always a hit.
3 tablespoons cooking oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 pounds venison, cubed
1 large onion
1 large bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 can ranch-style beans
1 1/2 cup beef stock
1 1/2 cup dry red wine
salt and pepper
3 large jalapeño peppers, deseeded and chopped finely
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1. Heat a large pot (preferably cast iron) over medium heat and add oil and butter. Add venison and cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from pot; set aside.
2. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic. Sauté over medium-low until tender.
3. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, beef stock and wine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and
venison. Simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, or until sauce is very thick.
5. Remove bay leaves and serve. Feeds
6 - 8 hungry hunters.
Roussos’ Doves with Mushroom and White Wine Gravy
Approximately 30 doves
1 to 2 sticks of butter
1 onion chopped
salt & pepper to taste
2 – 16 oz. jars sliced mushrooms – do not drain
Clean and rinse doves well. Allow to drain. While doves are draining fry some bacon in a large 14-16 inch iron skillet. (The bacon is for collard greens that go really well with your doves.) Remove bacon from skillet and sauté onion in drippings till transparent. Remove onions from skillet and melt 1 stick butter in same skillet.
While butter is melting, salt and pepper doves. Flour well. After flouring, brown doves in butter adding more butter as needed. As doves brown, place in large Dutch oven. After all doves have been browned, add flour and butter browning flour to make roux for gravy – do this in same skillet that you browned the doves in.
After roux is brown add 2 jars of mushrooms (do not drain), 1 cup of wine and enough chicken broth to fill skillet. Using wire whisk, stir till thickened on medium heat. After gravy has thickened pour on top of doves and cook in pre-heated 350 degree oven for one to two hours until doves are tender. Serve over rice.