Thursday, July 23, 2015


When I was in California a few weeks ago, my son-in-law talked with me about a possible business venture he wanted to launch—a food truck. However, he cited obstacles like food and vendor licenses, health codes to maintain, and he couldn't decide on a specialty he wanted to offer beyond barbecue, a la Cajun style, which he cooked for us while we were in Palmdale.

In talking with him, I realized that I had little knowledge of the food truck industry, but after a bit of research, I was surprised to find that food trucks serve 2.5 billion people in the U.S. every day. They serve food on college campuses, at farmer's markets, military bases, sports events, carnivals, and even at construction sites—any place where customers want a quick, tasty meal for a reasonable price.

The food truck's present popularity stems from an economic crisis in which experienced chefs lost their jobs and found that preparing and selling specialties from a small truck could be done with low overhead. The demand for these food wagons burgeoned, and today they can be found on the streets of large cities like New York City and Los Angeles, and in small towns throughout the country. Many of them offer gourmet dishes where folks can taste exotic food, reasonably priced, during a rushed lunch hour.

Here on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, the Crescent Cafe food truck has gained popularity among vegans and food enthusiasts who just want to taste appetizing, healthy fare. The Crescent sells food from a small window of a refurbished, flower-and-bird painted, 1960's RV from Thursday - Sunday every week from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. and offers a menu of smoothies, wraps, salads, vegan meals, and other specialties. Joan Thomas, who is proprietor of Mooney's Emporium, owns this food truck. Mooney's is a shop in front of the Crescent that stocks organic products, fresh local produce, gardening and knitting supplies, antiques, and art. The chef for the Crescent Cafe, Carole Manganaro, bases her menus on food that is available and in season.

We ate lunch there today and enjoyed a variation of Manganaro's Coconut Carrot Ginger Soup, described as "a sweet and mildly spicy blend of pureed California carrots, hand-peeled ginger with a touch of coconut milk." Curry and other Eastern seasonings had been added to the mix. Add a spinach tortilla wrap filled with Japanese-Inspired Tempeh Salad, and I couldn't eat it all, but I did drink the lagniappe of Buddha Berry Bliss made of organic strawberries, organic bananas, almond milk, organic dates, protein powder, and organic lemon.

Chef Manganaro

Chef Manganaro, a native of Wisconsin who says she has been cooking all of her life, has a background in Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation, and has lived in Marin, California, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Belize where she was Clinic Manager for a wildlife bird rehab center before moving to Monteagle six years ago. She was a chef at St. Mary's Conference Center for four years and just celebrated her first year at the Crescent Cafe. "My philosophy is that we can go around the world with food," she says. "We don't have to stick to one genre to have good cuisine." After tasting her fare, we agree that she has eclectic taste in food and plan to return soon for one of her exotic smoothies—maybe the Cocoa Loco made with cocoa, organic peanut butter, organic banana, organic dates and almond milk!  

Hikers of the Mt. Goat Trail enjoy the varied menu at the Crescent, and one reviewer especially praises the juice named after Jane Goodall, the "Goodall," which contains a "sweet and bold blend of kale/apple/parsley/ginger/lemon." Another juice item is the "Beet-rix Potter," a blend of apple/beet/carrot/celery/lemon/mint.

Hikers also enjoy the special misting station Joan has installed at Mooney's—a place for them to cool off after making the round trip trek from Mooney's to the trailhead at Sewanee or the shorter distance between Mooney's and St. Andrews Episcopal School. Following the misting, hikers can enjoy a juice or meal at the Crescent Cafe.

Besides being a colorful landmark, the Crescent Cafe is a food truck that should inspire any chef to join in the current movement to sell good food via truck, mobile or otherwise. Patrons can eat at outdoor picnic tables, or in case of rain, on the screened back porch of Mooney's, which is where we settled because of the inclement weather. Manganaro also prepares "take-outs."

Note: The Crescent Cafe rated five stars on YELP. And I'd give it even one more!

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

Monday, July 13, 2015


Photo of dill plant chewed off at base by rabbit
Clipped off dill
What a joy it is to plant a herb garden and harvest the herbs to season fresh, home-cooked food! And what a bummer it is to find some of the herbs with their necks broken or the plants neatly clipped off at the base. And the culprit? A Roving Rabbit!

Illustration of rabbit by Diane M. Moore
Satisfied Rabbit 
What a good idea my mother had when she cooked rabbit stew in a big black pot in an open fireplace! What better use could one find for these critters that rabbit lovers claim love basil, dill, cilantro, mint, oregano, parley, rosemary, sage, and thyme—all of the plants that we selected for our small herb garden. I'm just sorry that we didn't plant chives because those fat brown bunnies that steal into our garden at dawn and dusk dislike this particular herb. Rabbit lovers tout that melons, apples, peaches, strawberries, and plums are delicious desserts for Peter Cottontail, so I'm thankful we don't have any fruit trees in the yard.

I've read that Hollywood gives these critters the names of stars; e.g., for females: Madonna, Scarlett, and Drew; and for males: Ozzy, Leonardo, and Brad. And for those "rabbitsieurs" who adopt the bunnies and think they're adorable pets: Sweet Pea, Peony, Jasmine, and Buttercup suffice as cutesy names. Frankly, I prefer the more apt moniker of Munchkin.

Of course, these creatures have been immortalized in literature by writers of books for children like Thornton Burgess who placed Peter Cottontail roaming in green meadows and green forests (one of my mother's favorite bedtime readings to us) and Peter Rabbit whose father had an accident and was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor in the Tale of Peter Rabbit. The latter bunny gained everlasting fame with 45 million readers, and his story was translated into 36 languages (do you think it had anything to do with the mention of rabbit pie?).

Maybe people love these little animals because the appearance of a rabbit in the yard or in a dream foretells a favorable turn of events. However, Jung says that if you dream about rabbits, you're experiencing a threat to certain freedoms—he didn't name the freedoms, but I'd venture to say that one of those freedoms is the freedom to plant a herb garden that will thrive without Munchkin nibbling away at those delicious seasonings for stews, soups, salads, and vegetables.

The only consolation I have about Munchkin destroying our dill is that rabbit lovers warn against the bunnies developing digestive upsets when they first taste their paradisiacal fruit. In that case, I hope the dill did its dirty work. I've read that hay is good for overweight rabbits, and I'm thinking of buying a bale of hay to spread on the perimeter of the yard and around the herb beds.

My good friend, Janet Faulk-Gonzales, believes that rabbits live on the moon, a story that exists in many cultures, including the Aztec one to which she is attracted, and I'm wondering if I could entice a crew from NASA to come to the Mountain and capture Munchkin to take on one of their moon voyages. ("The Rabbit in the Moon" is a story Janet wrote in a book she and I co-authored entitled Porch Posts).

Or, better still, I think that my mother's recipe for rabbit stew may be somewhere in my trove of cookbooks. Think of how delicious this stew would be with all those ingested seasonings bubbling in the pot!

Thursday, July 9, 2015


In the "olden times," as my children used to say when I spoke of the 1930's and 40's (and they envisioned me crossing the prairie in a covered wagon), people in this country spent a lot of time canning, preserving, baking.... and pickling food. My Grandfather Paul, who had serious digestive problems, favored a supper of clabber and cornbread with a pickle alongside, the latter of which he said made his digestion better. He wasn't far off course because recent studies praise the pickle for its place in digestive health and as a food that fights cancer.

We're not talking about pickles made with vinegar or sugared up to please consumers' taste buds. We're speaking of fermented pickles that have been eaten for hundreds of years in Russia, Germany, Poland, and New York City—the ones that have good bacteria. It seems that when cucumbers are fermented, lactic acid is made, and this acid lowers fat in the bloodstream, lowers high blood pressure, and improves circulation. And, as my grandfather discovered, real pickles that are fermented in a gallon crock and later refrigerated encourage a healthy digestive system as they re-introduce Lactobacillus acidophilus in the system. Add spices like dill and you have flavonoids, which are healing. If your recipe includes mustard seed, this ingredient also aids digestion.

The first cucumbers appeared in Mesopotamia and were cultivated in India, and the Romans introduced them to European countries that began pickling them. Cleopatra is reputed to have enhanced her beauty by eating a number of pickles daily, and Christopher Columbus fed his crew pickles to ward off scurvy. During the 17th century, Dutch farmers in Brooklyn grew cucumbers and sold them to dealers who processed them in barrels and produced pickles. Pickle vendors, who sold the kosher variety for a penny a pickle during the 19th and 20th centuries, abounded on the East Side in New York City.

I'd been reading about kosher dill pickles and their contribution to digestive health when I remembered Grandfather Paul's nightly supper and decided to buy a jar of the fermented kind at Mooney's here in Sewanee, Tennessee. Digestive disorders are rife in my family, and I'm one who tries to stay out of pharmacies and doctor's offices, so the idea of eating something tasty to treat my ailing digestive system had real appeal for me. For several weeks now, I've been getting my dose of probiotics via the kosher dill pickle at two meals a day. And perhaps some would say that I'm playing with placebos, but my digestion has improved.

If you've read this far and like pickles, be sure that you get the real thing—the kind that are kept in the refrigerated section of a store and the labels on containers list only a few simple ingredients: cucumbers, water, salt, garlic, and spices. No vinegar!

Further claims made by the picklers in this country: fermented pickles heal skin problems, lessen asthma and auto-immune disorders, and the turmeric powder used in some fermenting recipes lowers the rates of Alzheimer's disease. A good kosher dill pickle will also cure the hiccups!

And just for fun, we retirees recommend the antics of Earl and Opal Pickles, a couple in their seventies, who are always "in a pickle" (a phrase Shakespeare coined) in the comic strip entitled "Pickles."

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Print of painting by Walter Anderson

On this rainy day in Sewanee, Tennessee that seems to be the way the weather will be for nigh on a week, I go on and see a picture of my grandson Martin teaching my great-grandson Alex how to golf (my great-grandson is four years old!). They're staying at the Villa of Hickory Hills in Mississippi where his godmother and I took Martin at age five, and for many years after, to enjoy golfing and the nearby Gulf. It's there at Gauthier, Mississippi that I first learned about the artist Walter Anderson whose home was in Ocean Springs on the Mississippi Coast, only a few miles away from Gauthier.

When we owned the timeshare at Gauthier, I always visited the Walter Anderson Museum where I became enchanted with the murals of Anderson's "Walls of Light" at the Shearwater Cottage. Today, as rain falls in heavy sheets from a gray sky, I think of Anderson's walls of light and stand before a print showing part of the cottage mural that hangs in my living room here at Sewanee, the flaming colors lighting up an otherwise dull day. Anderson, who saw color everywhere, captured the light of the sky, trees, and grass and wrote: "the dawn was magnificent. Sky was vermilion and blue and all the tree trunks turned pink and the grass peach color. Then I heard the cranes for the first time...metallic and in perfect keeping with the setting..."

Anderson was a brilliant New Orleans-born painter, a southern artist who was both mystic and madman. He trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later painted radiant pictures of the surrounding Mississippi landscape and its wildlife, often working under a makeshift shelter on Horn Island in the Mississippi Gulf. He painted the murals in the Ocean Springs Community Center and created designs for pottery, pictures of animal life, hundreds of hand-colored linoleum block prints, and after he died, when family members went into the cottage where he lived, alone, beside their home, they discovered hundreds of watercolors he had never shown. In a wooden chamber he called "the little room," Anderson had painted the ceiling and walls with birds that burst into flame, plants that became butterflies, a sun on the ceiling, and cats stalking prey in tall grass.

I admire Anderson's work as that of a great artist who worked in all mediums and mastered all of them, but it is his paintings of nature and the mystic quality evident in his murals that enchant me. Anne King describes him as a "paradox in life, torn between the responsibilities of the concentric, a term he used to denote the social order of the workaday world, and the bliss of the eccentric, a state of oneness with nature as the artist-creator..." (Walls of Light,The Murals of Walter Anderson).

Anderson developed his love of nature and the arts at a young age when he accompanied his father and brothers hunting and fishing on Lake Pontchartrain and in the marshes of Louisiana, and he also spent time observing nature while vacationing at his mother's family home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In all these places, he developed his vision of nature that would become realized in his art.

Beneath the copy of the mural painting in my living room are his words about the melding of nature and art: "The Third poetry is sometimes never written but when it is, it's by those who have brought nature and art together in one thing."

I envy Martin and his little family as they enjoy the Villas of Hickory Hills...mostly because I miss my favorite art show in the Walter Anderson Museum of Art where Anderson created a rich vision of the natural world.

Note: Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan, a botanist, describes the flora and fauna in all of Anderson's murals in an article entitled "Plant Life 'Realizations' in the Murals of Walter Anderson," published in Interdisciplinary Humanities, 2004-2005. One of my poems entitled "On First Looking Into Anderson's Refuge," was published in the same issue.  

Friday, July 3, 2015


Painting by Paul Marquart
Several years ago, I published a blog about the loss of civility in the U.S. This morning, at the risk of this essay being dubbed "a rant," I feel compelled to again pen a few lines about the careless use of language. I suppose that, as a writer, sarcastic critiques about books I've written, or critical responses to blogs, etc. easily get under my skin...and when I read ugly diatribes about other people's good books, I also feel righteous indignation roiling in my stomach.

A few days ago when a friend submitted the book she had written to the editor of a site that handled books about the particular subject she had written, she received one of the most inappropriate rants I've read in a long time. In fact, not since the 70's when I wrote a column called Cherchez la femme and debunked the excess use of four letter words in contemporary literature and was attacked by a caller who began to use all the four letter words he knew during our conversation, have I felt the urge to write a few lines about inappropriate language. I'm no Pollyanna, but I detected a bit of misogyny going on in the reviewer's reply to the submission of a good book by an unsuspecting woman.

The writer/reviewer of the inappropriate e-mail didn't bother to read the author's book—he only read the biography on the back cover before exploding like a 4th of July firecracker (maybe he was anticipating tomorrow's celebration?). When the author mentioned she was married to a successful professional person, he wrote: "The book is what is important not who you are sleeping with." When she said she had a PhD, he chided her for mentioning this, as if her rightfully earned degree was some kind of sacrilege that shouldn't be mentioned, calling her "unprofessional" for citing this in her bio ("hope you aren't one of those silly academics that use their PhD all the time...I have a PhD in literature from an Ivy League college but don't embarrass myself by putting it on e-mails," he wrote).  He then immediately went into a brag about his literary credits, his professional experience, his credits with a government organization. Further, he attacked her publisher's comment about the book being reminiscent of essays by a famous author and told her that "this was a stretch"—if that comparison was made, the reader would expect prose equal to the famous author (threat, threat!). More was said, but most of it was inflated verbiage about the reviewer's qualifications, rather than any positive comments about a book he hadn't even read.

I think that authors expect rejections, and they know they should have a high capacity for enduring it, but I don't think that personal attacks (this guy doesn't even know the author) are way out of line. When I read the e-mail, I told my author friend that it had the earmarks of either an alcoholic or someone mentally deranged and for her to erase the e-mail from her computer and to move on with marketing her book.

However, I have difficulty refraining from commenting here about "book reviewers" who attack writers personally. What's wrong with "sorry, but I can't review your book." Constructive criticism, please, not destructive diatribes about a blurb on the back cover!

This guy represents one of the warm, fuzzy organizations in our country, and his diatribe, as I said in the beginning of this blog, makes me know that civility is losing ground every day. Some critics think that freedom of speech allows them to write mean-spirited, insulting things about fellow authors. Several of the seven deadly sins come to my mind, the tantamount one being Envy, and this particular reviewer seems to have succumbed to a serious case of it, followed by an infection of Arrogance. This blog will probably never be read by the particular reviewer of whom I write, but maybe it'll give some in the crowd of reviewers out there second thoughts before attacking a writer without even opening the first page of a book!

Care should be taken in emailing such inappropriate comments in this day and age of social media. Many people and corporations, large and small, have suffered when such mindless comments have gone viral, as I hope this blog will illustrate.

I only hope that my author friend eventually blows this critic off as just another 4th of July firecracker that exploded... in the wrong place!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Painting of Martyrs of Memphis
During the eight years that I've been living part of the year on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, I spend my "worship time" at St. Mary's Convent and have become an Associate of the Order of St. Mary. St. Mary's is a Benedictine Order, and the Sisters, Oblates, and Associates live according to a Rule that is a model of spiritual development—a Rule that, as writer Joan Chittister says, "is more wisdom than law...a way of life." (If readers want to know more about the Benedictine way of life, I refer you to the works of Joan Chittister and Esther de Waal, both of whom are scholars and members of the Order of St. Benedict).

Although I knew that the Order of St. Mary was not confined to The Mountain here at Sewanee, I didn't appreciate its far-reaching influence until I attended the annual Associates Retreat a week ago and joined in the celebration of fifteen decades of their history. At that gathering, speakers presented programs highlighting the ministry and hospitality of Sisters of St. Mary in the Philippines, New York, and Malawi, as well as that of our Order of St. Mary on The Mountain. Other speakers included women who attend historic St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis, near which the Martyrs of Memphis—Constance and her companions of the Order of St. Mary—served during the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic.

When one of the retreat speakers talked about her correspondence with the Order of the Sisters of St. Mary in Malawi, Africa and her plans for a trip there this year, I suddenly recognized that her description of the installation of an Episcopal Bishop in Malawi was similar to one that my good friend, Jane Bonin of Washington, D.C., a former Peace Corps worker, published in The Color Of A Lion's Eye a few weeks ago.

Bishop Biggers of Mississippi whom the speaker mentioned was the same bishop whose installation Jane had attended while stationed in Malawi. What Jane didn't know is that The Rt. Rev. Biggers later established an Order of St. Mary in Malawi that is still active. The speaker who will soon be going to Malawi wrote down the particulars for ordering Jane's book, and I called Jane in Washington to tell her about the Order of St. Mary that was established on her old work turf. I felt as though I had helped "connect the dots" for the work of the Sisters.

I had often heard about Constance and her companions from readings in the Episcopal Church's Calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts on September 9 each year, but I was moved by a reading the last day of our retreat that featured volunteer "players" who dramatized the work of Sisters Constance, Thecla, and other devoted Sisters of St. Mary. Sisters Constance and Thecla had come down from Peekskill, New York to Tennessee when they received word that Yellow Fever had struck in Memphis. The two Sisters were vacationing in the mountains of New York when they heard about the epidemic and immediately left their retreat to minister in St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis. Prior to their Yellow Fever mission, they had managed St. Mary's School for Girls and the Church Home (both still operating) in Memphis. They began ministering in the middle of the infected section of Memphis and were on 24-hour call at St. Mary's Cathedral. They were joined by Sisters Ruth, Frances, and Hughetta, who exposed themselves to the disease while providing the Sacraments, working as nurses, taking in orphans, burying the dead, and feeding hungry people.

The Sisters were joined by The Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons, rector of St. Lazarus and Grace Churches in Memphis, The Rev. W. T. Dickenson Dalzell of St. Mark's Church, Shreveport, Louisiana, and the Rev. Louis S. Schuyler, a priest from Holy Innocents Church, Hoboken, New Jersey. The only survivor in this group of clergymen was the Rev. W. T. Dalzell who had become immune to the disease because he had suffered from the fever while serving military duty. Sr. Hughetta Snowden was the only Sister to survive the plague. During the epidemic, half the city's population of over 50,000 fled, and 5,000 died, and the Sisters of St. Mary's struggles at that time are documented in letters and diary entries that were pieced together to form a narrative for the reading that I heard at the retreat.

The speakers at this retreat gave me a wider lens with which to view the work of the Order of St. Mary's—i.e., the evangelization aspects of an Order whose Sisters practice solitude and contemplation but who are also involved in social justice and in extending charity to the neighborhood of the entire human community.

Note: For those readers interested in the history of the communities of the Sisters of St. Mary, Ten Decades of Praise by Sister Mary Hilary, CSM, is available at