A Sprig of Mint. A squeeze of Lemon. A Johnny Jump Up. A Change of Throw Pillows. Fresh Ground Black Pepper or Paprika. A few slices of Raisin Bread and a Cake Donut or two. A Simple Syrup. A Dozen Stuffed Eggs. A Single Bud in a Tiny Vase. Mysterious but Common Ingredients. A Relish Tray. A Flat of Bedding Plants. A Monogram on Anything! A Splash of Spirits. A Small Gift in Extravagant Wrappings. A bit of Moss or even an odd Stone. A Flavored Butter. A Handwritten Note. A Bundle of Herbs. The Zest of an Orange.
It’s the Little Things that add an unexpected flavor to life and cost next to nothing in time or money. In the South I grew up in- the Little Things were just what we did. It was a sign of hospitality to add the Little Things to a Meal, a Recipe or a Home. It was that subtle difference- Sheets hung out on a clothesline smell different than those run through a dryer. One perfect camellia floating in a crystal bowl, a monogrammed guest towel, or using the good china or silver just because you dropped by for a visit. The Small Things make a guest feel welcome and make house feel like a home.
With Spring in the air, I changed out the throw pillows in my living room, from the soft grays and creams, I enjoy so much in winter- I added the vintage shades of green linen pillows brought a bit of Springtime indoors.
I bought some Bedding Plants for the garden but since they were Begonias, I knew I could enjoy them inside for a while and plant them after Easter – with Good Friday being a day that many did their vegetable planting. For less than ten dollars and a bit of moss, I was able to fill several containers with fresh blooms, the little things made such a difference.
To keep meals interesting, Southerners have always added a little something to the table like relish trays of pickles, relishes, celery stuffed with pimento cheese, sliced tomatoes and the beloved Stuffed Eggs in a highly prized Egg Dish especially for them. And Southern ladies will monogram anything that will stay still long enough- Hand towels, pillows, linens- and aren’t these dishes pretty? I saw them when I was at Williams Sonoma recently. Monograms are a small thing but add a personal touch to almost anything.
We also perk up meals with spices and sauces- A favorite here is Parisienne Chicken which has a Paprika Sauce-
- Boneless chicken breasts are sprinkled liberally with paprika, then dredged in flour, a pinch of salt and even more paprika-
- Brown chicken in melted butter,
- Slice potatoes over the chicken and entire bunch of green onions are chopped over the potatoes,
- A rich chicken broth is poured about half way up the Dutch Oven and the whole thing is baked about an hour or so.
- The chicken and potatoes are removed to a platter with steamed broccoli. Reserve half of the rich red broth in another container.
- Mix together a carton of sour cream and a small softened package of cream cheese, the whisk into the hot broth.
This Paprika Sauce is so wonderful, you will want to smother everything except for the small Orange Rolls served alongside. Add a Lettuce Cup of Orange Sections, folks will think you’ve been trained at the Cordon Bleu when it is really just the Small Things which make this meal delicious.
*With the reserved rich red broth- there is another Paprika Sauce for Seafood–
- Warm the broth, add a pinch of dried thyme, the juice and zest of a lemon, a tablespoon of white wine or brandy and again whisk in a carton of sour cream you may also add a tablespoon of capers. This Paprika Sauce is amazing over broiled, baked or fried fish such as Red Snapper.
You will not believe the difference in flavor a Small Thing like chopped Italian meats will make in your favorite Italian Spaghetti Sauce, it almost melts away, it is one of those Mysterious but Common Ingredients! Baked Ham is a staple in the Southern Kitchen- and while we loved our spiced honey glaze, I recently pulled a spiral sliced ham from the freezer and made a Black Pepper Ham–
- I baked it according to directions (which is basically to heat a fully cooked ham all the through) covered in foil –
- Then I tossed away the glaze package, remove the Ham from the oven-open up the foil and instead mixed the ham juices with more than a cup of Black Pepper-
- I coated the outside of the ham and ran it back in the oven for 15 minutes
The Black Pepper Ham was so good with sliced tomatoes, potato salad, green beans and soft yeast rolls. For another meal, the sliced ham was just wonderful tucked inside homemade biscuits. Later in the week, I sautéed a whole head of cabbage in a bit of bacon drippings and added some of the chopped Black Pepper Ham- with Pinto Beans and Cornbread, it was delicious! The addition of Black Pepper was a Small Thing that made a world of difference.
A Raisin Bread Pudding is a Southern favorite, and here the addition of Small Things takes a Bread Pudding from just good to amazing. For this one, I had a half loaf of Cinnamon Raisin Bread, four large cinnamon and sugar Cake Donuts kept in the freezer instead of tossing!
- When thawed, the ‘breads’ were torn or broken into chunks. In a bowl I mixed 3-4 eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar and 3 cups of milk with a tablespoon of vanilla. In a larger bowl I soaked the mixture overnight. *There was no need to add cinnamon or salt to the raisin bread and donuts.
- The next day I baked off the Bread Pudding in a large greased baking pan. While the Bread Pudding was hot, I poured an Orange Hard Sauce made with a stick of melted Butter, the zest of an Orange and the juice, 3-4 tablespoons of Honey and a tablespoon of Bourbon which had been whisked together. The Sauce could have just been Butter and Honey- however the Little Things like orange zest and a splash of spirits elevated a humble Bread Pudding!
Fresh Mint is always on hand in the Southern garden- add it to simple flowers for a fresh scent, coat the leaves with dark chocolate and keep them in tight container in the refrigerator and add them to a dessert, a plate of cookies or top a bowl of fresh strawberries.
Even a plain Glass of Water can be elevated by adding Little Things like a tablespoon of simple Sugar Syrup, a sweet Johnny Jump Up and a Sprig of fresh Mint- why we had these at Ice Water Teas years ago! Mother Teresa famously said- ‘Do no great things, only small things with great love.‘ I hope you will be inspired to follow her advice!
Love y’all, Camellia
*all photographs are obviously mine.