Birthday Butter Shake: A Sequel



You may remember when I visited Pennsylvania last month we made butter the old-fashioned way, my mother, sister and I shaking cream in a 2-quart jar. This week my Southern friend Carolyn threw a birthday bash that included friends making butter together. We did just that – working in pairs, taking turns shaking, and doing it all to music of the 1950s and 60s.

Here is Carolyn explaining how it’s done. Now girls, “Shake the cream until it curdles into butter. Add a pinch of salt. And then to spice it up a notch, choose a combination of honey, cinnamon, mixed herbs, or garlic salt to give your butter some personality . . . .”


Next the ten of us pair off with pint jars of cream, handing off the jar to our mate when our arms are about to fall off . . .

butter team

And away we go!

To the tunes of Let’s Have a Party and All Shook Up, we Shake, Rattle, and Roll, way past curds and whey. Finally, with our butter balls all molded and labeled we sit down to a fancy feast, enhanced by the fruits of our labors.

molded butter

In the 1960s, you could eat anything you wanted, and of course . . . there was no talk about fat and anything like that, and butter and cream were rife. Those were lovely days for gastronomy, I must say.         Julia Child

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Have you attended a memorable party, birthday or otherwise? Tell us about it. We’re curious.

Maybe we’ll copy-cat it. You know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Coming Saturday: The R-Word and You


Divas of Downton Abbey: Southern Style

Watching episodes of Downton Abbey is like scarfing down balls of caramel corn while swilling champagne.                   The New Yorker

I encountered Julian Fellowes, writer and creator of the Downton Abbey series, when he played Kilwillie, a distillery-owning character in the British drama series Monarch of the Glen. As an actor, he never succeeded in winning the hand of Molly, the land-rich, but beleaguered widow, the girl of his dreams. But as master mind of an award-winning PBS series set in post-Edwardian England, Oscar-winning Fellowes is surrounded by drama and divas galore.

Presented in an Upstairs, Downstairs format, Downton Abbey, now in its 4th season, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and the servants who work for them. If you are a devotee, you know that jealousy, revenge, and closely guarded secrets power the plot portrayed by glittering, gossipy, and beguiling men and women against a backdrop of history, politics, and the march of technology.

The series Downton Abbey, a Masterpiece Theatre classic, is now a flourishing brand and there is merchandising to match:


Tuesday evening, my Southern friends and I, escorted by husband Cliff, brave the mild wintry weather to attend a premiere of the 4th season at WJCT, Jacksonville’s PBS station. Period costumes are encouraged and attendees do their best to comply with apparel from the Edwardian period to the flapper age.

We begin with an appetizer at our house:

Mincemeat tarts from Scotland
Mincemeat tarts from Scotland

Tickets and a programme:


Then oohs and aahs over wardrobe choices!


And there is a flapper in our midst, heralding the coming decade!

The lovely Susan Smathers

Finally, the new episode begins!



After the screening, inquiring minds want to know:

What zingers did Lady Violet fire off?

After her period of mourning, who will be Lady Mary’s next love interest?

What new technology is introduced?

Who is in Carson’s arms at the end of the episode?

The mysteries of Downton Abbey are made all the more fascinating by the true story of the castle in which the series is filmed, Highclerc Castle, whose history is recounted narrative-style by its current owner, the Countess of Carnarvon, in her book Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclerc Castle by the Castle of Carnarvon.

Are you a Downton Abbeyite? We are dying to know why. Or why not. Add your bit to the conversation!

There is still time to read and respond to my entry in the My Gutsy Story Contest posted on the website of award-winning author Sonia Marsh:

Rising Above the Pettiness to Focus on the Positive


Southern Friends Meet PA Dutch Dish


Plan A

The sweet aroma of ham-loaf baking wafts through the house as I hurry to welcome my Southern friends at the front door. They are in for a real treat: ham-loaf from Wenger’s Fine Meats in Elizabethtown, PA brought shrink-wrapped in my suitcase on the plane,


My menu will replicate my mother’s, a superb Lancaster County Mennonite cook if there ever was one. Even at 95, she still makes some family meals:


  • Melon balls with citrus mint
  • Ham-loaf
  • Dinner rolls
  • Bread and butter pickles
  • Buttered peas & carrots
  • Mashed potatoes with fresh chives
  • Frozen lemon cream pie
  • Coffee

The table is set with formal elegance: wedding china and crystal with a lemony centerpiece:


My friends are genuine Southern belles: Not a gray hair among them, their diamonds are real, their speech soft: “How y’all doin’? and “Bless yah heart!” is part of their verbal repertoire. They have given me an education in southern emBELLishments, so this evening I plan to guide the conversation by asking questions. Growing up, did you meet Mennonites? What was your impression? Do you know what Mennonites believe?

But my plans dissolve as I am greeted by friends with party hats, balloons, and sparkly gift bags, gleeful that they have surprised me royally. My birthday is five days away, but—bless their hearts!—they know it’s never too early to party.  They produce smart-phones and iPads to capture the moment as I embrace Plan B:

4 friends party hars


Table conversation takes a different track from the one planned, and how glad I am that it does. We dish about vacation plans, family, embarrassing moments, dreams. We don’t weigh words! Then we enjoy dessert after I open presents and read more about Plan B from the memo pad gift:

Plan A is always my first choice  . . .

the one where everything works out.

But more often than not, I find myself dealing with

the upside-down version

where nothing goes as it should.

It’s at this point the real test

of my character comes in. . .

Do I sink or do I swim?

Do I wallow in self-pity

or do I simply shift gears and

make the best of the situation?

The choice is mine.

Life really is all about

how you handle Plan B.

— Suzy Toronto

Each one of us around the table has had our taste of Plan B. We have all have had our share of heart-ache, disappointment, and loss. But all of us have learned to put a high priority on our faith, family, and friends. After all, “life really is all about how you handle Plan B.”

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!                                         – Robert Burns

Does your life experience resemble Plan A or Plan B?

How has your Plan B turned out for the better or worse? Share your story.

Secrets of My Southern Friends


I grew up north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in Lancaster County, PA, to be sure, but my current friends are from the South. And they have secrets to go along with their charming accents:

They . . .

1. Never, ever leave the house without makeup.

2. At pot-luck dinners, whisk away food-carrying bags the second you enter the house.  (House must be picture-perfect for guests!)

3. Have a saying, “My hair color may be fake, but my diamonds are real.”

4. May have a passport showing California (?!?) as birthplace but still able to go places.

5. Have glittery, pink stun guns for self-defense.

6. Are familiar with the address of a classy target practice – for serious weapons.

7. Call mere acquaintances either “darling” or “sweetheart” especially if they can’t remember their names.

8. Adhere to the motto: Faith, family, apple pie and Chevrolet—well, maybe a Lexus.

9. Say “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am” politely even when they’re mad.

10. Remember the Civil War a different way: God bless America!


Recipe for Peach Cobbler, approved by a Georgia “Peach” friend:PeachCobbler

 Peach Cobbler Prepare first: 3 cups sliced peaches and 1 cup sugar (Mix)1 stick butter½ cup sugar3/4 cup self-rising flour

¾ cup milk

Put 1 stick of butter in a 1 ½ qt. dish and melt.Mix ½ cup sugar, ¾ cup self-rising flour and ¾ cup milk together and then pour over the melted butter.Do  Not  Stir!Pour fruit on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour

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