Things Southerners Can't Live Without

Iced tea
Forget those lists the glossy lifestyle magazines dish out – cocktails, a string of pearls, a hand-crafted hunting rifle – this is a list based on reality, not fantasy. Two things to keep in mind if you are not an American Southerner: the region extends from Virginia to Texas, which is 1962.5 miles from Washington DC to El Paso, Texas. The Upper South has the same climate as Pennsylvania and other Mid-Atlantic states. The Deep South and Florida have tropical, humid climates. Texas in the eastern half is similar to Louisiana, and in the western half to New Mexico- that is, arid desert. It is generally hot for 6-10 months of the year, especially in the Deep South. Once predominantly rural, our “sunbelt” cities are automobile-centric and now it would be difficult to figure out how to go back and add trains and subways (not always supported by the soil). I have a close childhood friend, himself a native Texan but moved to NYC long ago, who has forgotten what life is like here although he visits frequently. He is perpetually “surprised” by our clothes, our lifestyle, and our habits, but just like those of people who live in Helsinki or Tangiers, they have evolved from our climate.


Sure, we drink cocktails – gin and tonics, Sazeracs, margaritas, locally produced and imported beer and wine, just like anyone else. But even more important to our survival is non-alcoholic hydration. We must drink cold beverages with ice, all year long, just to survive. It is no coincidence that both Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper soft drinks originated in the south. We drink iced tea, “sweet” (with sugar) or “unsweet” (no sugar), all day long by the gallon. Just as with any of the ancient beverages of the world (Read The History of the World in Six Glasses, by Stoddard) tea evolved to deal with the uncertainty of clean water. We kept what had been introduced by our founding British colonists, but changed it to iced tea bc who wants to quaff a boiling cup of liquid when it’s 108F outside? Iced tea is even more refreshing than water on a hot day bc the tea acts as a mild diuretic, helping you sweat and your kidneys to function better.


Even though no one lives in the American south without electrical “air conditioning” (nothing at all like what they call “air conditioning” in Italy), sometimes even that powerful blast of frigid air is not enough. Our offices, shopping malls, hospitals and other public buildings will frequently be refrigerated to the point that you need a sweater to tolerate the temperatures. Our homes, however, aren’t run quite as cold bc it is too expensive. (I hope that someday cheap readily available solar power will eliminate this struggle.) So we add to the air conditioning of our homes with ceiling fans. My granny had ceiling fans in every room of her house, before air conditioning was invented. I have ceiling fans in every room of my house and some of the hallways. They run just about year-round bc for 10 months of the year I need them and for the other 2, even in the winter, I like to move the air around and keep it from getting stuffy and too hot in pockets. Additionally, I have small portable a/c units in the bedrooms upstairs bc my central a/c unit just can’t pump out enough cold. The reason the American “sunbelt” wasn’t settled until after WWII is bc no one had invented air conditioning yet.


I grew up learning to use hairspray as a very little girl, and it wasn’t to keep my giant bubble-head bouffant hairstyle in place all day. Most places in the American south have high humidity year- round, and our mamas teach us to control our errant strands, so we can be “lady-like” at all times, with the lacquer that comes from these cans. Note: Expensive, designer, salon or other high-end hairsprays never work very well. IDK why, they just don’t. Perhaps the level of control wanted by the designer’s clients in NYC and LA isn’t what we need here in the south. Generally speaking, the cheaper the hairspray, the better. You want it to glue your hair in place like invisible cement. Sure, it is painful to comb it out- you have to wash your hair every day. We do that anyway, bc it is so hot and humid we sweat in our scalps all the time.


Right along up there with hairspray is deodorant. Americans are notorious for being offended by their own bodily smells, and living in a climate where we sweat all the time, even in the winter, our smells are even worse. We all know that fresh sweat- like when you just finished exercising- isn’t all that bad for a few minutes. But when you dwell in a hot humid place all the time, that sweat quickly grows bacteria and results in a stale funkiness no one wants to experience. Even living and working in air-conditioned spaces, I work up a sweat just walking to my car in the parking lot, and can smell awful by the end of the day. The sort of human sweat stink you smell on the subway on a hot day where you feel like you are about to choke from all the human fumes is truly overwhelming. So yes, we bathe nearly every day. And we use a lot of deodorant. Be thankful we do.


One is found in nature, the other is man-made. They both serve the same purpose. We frequently get streaks of 100+F degree days in the summer, sometimes 40 or more days in a row with no rain. Just about the only thing that keeps us from killing each other is the ability to cool off and relax. You have seen old newspaper photos of cities such as Detroit or Chicago opening the fire hydrants and letting city kids run around in the streams of water produced. The only difference is, their hot streaks last a few days, and our last a few months. You have to have a plan to survive it. Every single year.

                                                              Gulf Shores, Alabama

                                                       The Outerbanks, North Carolina
                                                                Padre Island, Texas


We are fortunate in the American South that the ocean is never too far away. Beaches are everywhere. Thank god.

 Top: gumbo, a thick stew made with okra, chicken or seafood, spices, and served over rice
                                                     Bottom: chicken frying in a pan

People make fun of southerners for eating too much fried food, as if we do it bc we are ignorant and lazy. The real reason we eat fried food, as well as gumbo, potato or macaroni salad, and anything that can be cooked in a pot or skillet on top of the stove, is bc it is too hot to heat up the oven. A hot oven heats up the house, even with a/c. Think about that for a moment. I had a college roommate whose mom would mail her a big package of home-baked treats- cookies and stuff – as soon as the weather cooled down enough to bake, some time in the fall. My own mother loved to bake, and her cakes and pies and cinnamon rolls, all from scratch, were legendary. She only made these things for 4 or 5 months of the year. Never in the summer.

Top: This is a smoker. It is used to slow cook, via low heat and smoking, generally thick cuts of tough meat for 20+ hours. The fire is in the separate, smaller container.
Below: This is a grill : It is used to quick cook thin cuts of meat and vegetables, in 5-10 minutes. The fire is under the food.


We cook outdoors, too, for the same reason- we don’t want to heat up the kitchen (even with air conditioning). Grilling, or BBQing are our general terms for meat or anything else that is cooked outdoors on an open fire brazier or grill. In the Upper South, people will refer to BBQ as chicken, pork, hotdogs, burgers, corn or whatever, slow-cooked, quick-cooked, anything cooked outside. Some even use the term as an all-purpose word that means “picnic” or outdoor party. In Texas, BBQ always means one thing: smoked beef (brisket, ribs, or links) that has been slow-cooked, often 20+ hours or more, over low heat and smoke, in a special kind of grill, called a smoker. At my house, we grill almost year-round. We go out to eat BBQ at a restaurant, due to the time commitment involved. There was a rumor in the 1980’s that grilled meat caused cancer, but my only thought in response was, “humans have been cooking meat over fire since the dawn of time- why stop now?” Plus, I like the taste.

                                                                 Outdoor kitchens


Southerners like to cook outdoors so much, there’s been a hot new building trend the past 5-10 years: outdoors kitchens. Outdoor kitchens can be large or small, plain or fancy. This is in addition to having an indoor kitchen, and often the one built outside in the back yard will be far more luxurious and certainly larger, than the original indoor kitchen. Remember when having two bathrooms was a status symbol? Now it’s two kitchens. People like to have them near their swimming pools.


I was trolling through a catalog the other day, looking for some end-of-the-season sale items, and I noticed a bunch of tencel sheets. I thought to myself, “Who the hell sleeps on tencel sheets?” Why did they ever think that was a good idea? I can’t even imagine sleeping on such a thing up in yankeeville…. apparently no one else did, either, bc this catalog was full of them.  No one bought them. Tencel is what? Modal? Another word for rayon? Wood/bamboo pulp bathed in chemicals? Do you know how rayon is made? “The cellulose xanthate is bathed in caustic soda, resulting in a viscose solution…. rayon is a manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose.”  Thank god we have cotton (and linen, too). Thank you, ancient Egyptians/Indians/Persians or whoever figured out how to harvest and use these natural fabrics. My NYC friend (the one who grew up in Texas, and ought to know better) is constantly amazed that we wear sheer cotton and linen clothing, in light colors, in our hot climate. People around the globe who live in hot climates do , too, so I am not sure why he is perpetually surprised, but he is. My new luxury item is linen sheets- they wick away the sweat on a hot summer night.


It’s not just a fashion statement- it’s a necessity. My poor hubster is as bald as a billiard cue and never leaves the house without a hat. Even I, with a thick head of hair, wear a hat in the summers bc my dark head absorbs more heat from the sun.

                                                           Man sandals = mandals

Most folks wear these at least 9-10 months of the year. I once knew someone who wore them year round, but she was from Colorado and thought our winters were a joke.


Which brings us to pedicures, bc if you are going to wear sandals, you had better not have nasty rough feet with chipped polish or – heaven forbid! No polish at all. I have continuously worn nail polish on my toes since I was 12 years old. I don’t even paint my finger nails as often as I do my toes (weekly).


100 years ago, homes in the south had covered porches, often with ceiling fans. My grandmother’s house had porches that wrapped around nearly the entire house. Increasingly today, we want to be able to relax and entertain in the privacy of our back yards, and we leave the front porch, as a “public” space, alone. We might decorate it seasonally, but we don’t hang out there anymore. We hang out in the back of our homes. Even urban apartment dwellers will have a small back porch or balcony for plants and a grill.  Whether fancy or bare bones, creating a bit of shade is a must – especially if you live in one of those newer neighborhoods that have no trees (bc, you know, the developers mowed the trees down to build the houses….then planted new ones.)


Sure, NYC and Boston may have a few trees scattered here and there. LA will have palm trees. But in the south, we need trees, and we need nature. Even Dallas, a city dominated by freeway culture, built a double-deck freeway and used 80% of the top layer as a park, with trees. It changed the entire character of downtown…..people love it.

My Cousin Rachel

I recently watched the Burton/deHavilland as well as the 2017 film versions of the story, and give them both 4 stars (-1 for changes from the text). The recent release, starring Rachel Weisz, after a whopping 2 days in our local theaters, is finally on cable PPV. Gripping. There's a subtext in the story that's not quite so misogynistic : think of England, wild nature uncontrolled (Devonshire moors), Ambrose and Phillip, as "masculine" forces in society, and think of Italy, nature somewhat tamed (the courtyard), or certainly ancient and primal (herbalism, often associated w the female spiritual force), Rachel, and her BGF Rinaldi, as "feminine". Imagine yourself as a 19th century woman w no right to vote, own property, control your own financial destiny or even your own body. Then ask yourself : What do I do to survive? How do I do it? (Rachel is just an earlier more subtle version of Scarlett O'Hara.) The novel brings this idea clearly into focus at the end -Rachel is attempting to build an Italian style garden in the English landscape, which ultimately destroys her. Western capitalism dominates romanticized tropical culture. Male power wins over female.



Simply Oahu pt 1

                                                    Turtle Bay Resort, North Shore, Oahu
                              appetizer platter at Roy's Asian Fusion fine dining, Waikiki, Honolulu
                                                                 Waimea Falls

Hubster and I got away for a few days of R & R recently, and we chose Oahu. We both love the Caribbean and Europe, and I especially love Greece, but Oahu is so.....simple. Easy. Simply beautiful, simply relaxing, simply wonderful in every way. Easy to get to, easy to get around. (Rent a car if you plan to leave the city.) People love to say things like: "Oh, man, you should go to Kuai! It's the cool new place to go." Or, "I just got back from Maui and I am so over it. They have totally sold out. I can't stand it anymore. Everyone goes there. Next time, I'm going to the big island." Or even, "Hawaii is so cliche. I prefer Fiji." Hubster and I  go against the grain of fashionable opinion and return to Oahu (as well as the other Hawaiian islands) frequently, whenever we need a place for quiet peaceful pleasure. Great food, gorgeous inspiring nature, friendly locals, pleasant climate (cool temps by Texas standards) and never a worry that your bank will cut off your credit card even though you told them you were travelling overseas (which actually happened to us – at the start of a 3 day weekend, naturally- once in Italy.), no need to struggle in a foreign language, drive on the other side of the road, or make sure you have the right currency. The electrical outlets don't need chargers. If you know me at all, you know how I love exotic travel – Greece, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean are all places I have been and will return to. Give me a falafel and a beer in Tel Aviv anytime. But sometimes, life is overwhelming with responsibilities and you just need someplace to vacation that is easy- where you don’t have to worry about drug cartels, terrorist bombings, figuring out train schedules or airport terminals, avoiding hurricanes, where to find coca-cola, or avoiding those post-Ramaden jihads. There are always plenty of new things to see and do in a favorite place, no matter how many times you have visited, and Oahu is no exception. Here are a few from our latest journey:

                                                            the pool at Turtle Bay
                                                               Cheeseburger in paradise
                                                        Why not have one, or both? 

Turtle Bay Resort, North Shore Oahu
I have loved this place ever since my kids and I saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and decided we had to go there. Yes, it is pricey. I save all year so I can afford it. But it is worth it. One of the most beautiful places in the world, and a really pleasant 4 star hotel, too. Resort amenities such as a spa, restaurants, golf, tennis, as well as lessons for all kinds of things – scuba/padi cert, parasailing, whatever your pleasure. Day trips to tour various local sites. Not only is there the hotel, but there are beach cottages which you can rent if you want to bring the entire family. It used to be that TB was full of the usual honeymooners and old folks, but this trip it was over-run by young couples with babies. I just wish the resort could adapt to these changing trends and have two pools: one that is for little kids only, and one that is  12+ adults only. Somebody brought a toddler into that gorgeous pool, and the baby had a bowel movement in the water, which meant the pool was closed for 24 hours, afterwards. This is NOT what I paid a lot of money to come experience. Wasted two whole days of tanning time. However, still plenty of lovely other things to do on the North Shore.

North Shore Food Trucks
While I love fine dining, I also love mom-and-pop diners, dives, drive-ins, road food, and local comfort food. The best vacation for me balances both ends of the dining spectrum. To that end, sampling the North Shore food trucks is a fun adventure. Giovanni’s is purportedly the best; while many tourists seemed skeptical of the more exotic offerings, sticking with teriyaki chicken, husbster and I went full-on exotic taste adventure and ordered the spicy shrimp and some calamari and sushi appetizers. It did not disappoint. Important caveat: get there early before they run out of shrimp (before 6pm) or all items entirely (7-7:30pm). I mean really early, like 5-5:30pm. My snooty New York friends who make disparaging comments about dining before 8pm would find the food trucks shuttered and dark if they tried that here.

Hawaiian Shave Ice
Shave Ice – not shaved ice – is also incredible. I don’t know how they do it but it’s better than anything you’ve ever had in the mainland states that claims to be shaved ice. Available at multiple North Shore locations. Those wacky colors are exotic flavors like coconut, pineapple, and li hing mui, a Chinese salty-sweet plum flavor.

                                                      Ted's Bakery North Shore Oahu

                                   Chocolate haupia pie....it's like chocolate cream plus coconut cream
                       A typical plate lunch - this one with teriyaki chicken, fried fish, rice, and                                                                                    macaroni salad
Ted’s Bakery
I make a pilgrimage to Ted’s Bakery every time I am on Oahu. When I first started going there, it was “undiscovered” and relatively quiet. Now it has long lines, but is still worth it, for the pie alone if nothing else. That’s some damn fine pie ! The plate lunch – a common menu item at most local, mom and pop, food truck or small cafĂ© establishments, has a bargain price (for Hawaii) and the food quantity is tremendous. Two ladies or 3 or 4 children could easily eat their fill sharing one plate. This is not the time to go on a diet – these meals are carb heavy. Do your dieting 6 weeks before you go, and eat your fill while you are there. (Although, it must be noted, I hiked so much while in Hawaii that I ate all I wanted and still came back a few pounds less.) 

                                                                          Haleiwa Town

Haleiwa Town
Picture-book quaint, this is where you want to go for restaurants, shopping, bars and beautiful sunsets.

                                                                       Waimea Falls

Waimea Falls

This is a state park- you drive in, park, then hike in and up the hillside to the water falls. Along the way, you can see all sorts of tropical flora and fauna. A beautiful day spent in nature with an easy, paved hike. There is also a go-cart to take you up or down if you are disabled, old, or fat, like me. (I walked up, rode down-bad knees.) 

                                                                         Kawela Bay

North Shore Things to do -beaches
There is only one road, often only 2 lanes, that traverses east to west along the north shore region. It will have stop-and-go traffic, be mobbed with cars and people along the famous “Banzai Pipeline” section, but is generally uncrowded elsewhere. By all means, everyone should visit the Pipeline beach area at least once in a lifetime, and my teen sons had surfing lessons there years ago. If, like me, you prefer more secluded spots away from the crowds, you can find that too. Just note that many beaches, while free and open to the public, do not have lifeguards or restroom facilities. 

                                                              Banzai Pipeline beach
                                           Parking/Driving conditions near banzai pipeline