Arts & Culture
The G&G Guide to Staying Home
We’ve rounded up the best Southern-inflected books, movies, podcasts, recipes, albums, outdoor activities, and more to get you through social distancing
photo: Adobe Stock Images
The novel coronavirus is impacting life in unprecedented ways: schools and workplaces closed, sporting events postponed, festivals and celebrations canceled. Health experts are telling us to practice good “social distancing” and avoid large public gatherings. So what to do with all this time spent alone…at home? G&G’s editors assembled this list to help you pass the time, safely within the confines of your own home (or the local woods).
What to Read
If you’ve held on to a tattered copy of a book through the years because the memory of reading it was a good one, revisit it. Bask in the quiet comfort of a familiar story, whether it’s a tale by William Faulkner or Barbara Kingsolver, or the required reading you wanted to skim through in high school but ended up loving, such as To Kill a Mockingbird. Books to return to again and again include Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and Stephen King’s essential read for writers On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Re-reading a favorite cookbook is especially wonderful (and might inspire you to get up and put something in the oven). Take time with the classics, including Edna Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking and a newer bestseller-for-good-reason, Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
The Fresh Arrivals
Got a stack of guilt books? Ones you’ve been meaning to start, or that someone gave you over the holidays? Instead of feeling like you have to read the entire thing, decide now if you even want to read it. Open up to somewhere in the middle and see if the writing engages you. If it doesn’t, drop the guilt and make a pile to donate. There are too many good books out there to waste time. Newer highlights include Amy Bonnaffon’s hilarious and irreverent sorta-love-story about a ghost, The Regrets, and Lee Durkee’s dark romp The Last Taxi Driver. Make room on the nightstand for forthcoming spring titles from Southern titans: James Lee Burke’s next in the Dave Robicheaux series, out in May, and John Grisham’s latest, Camino Winds, out this April. Also consider downloading books, and if you’re a member of your local library, see if they use the check-out app Libby, which rents out favorites such as David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. The audiobook version is read by the North Carolina–raised humor writer himself, in his unmistakable voice.
What to Watch
The Pharmacist (2020)
If you haven’t already binged on this captivating documentary series set in New Orleans, do. It’s a gripping account, not only of a bereaved father’s attempt to fight the drug crisis that claimed his only son, but of the rise of the opioid epidemic in this country. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
Miss Americana (2020)
Nashville star turned pop hitmaker Taylor Swift (who recently donated $1 million to the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund, post tornadoes) lifts the veil on her life and career as a singer-songwriter in this candid, illuminating documentary. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
Man Made (2018)
While this critically acclaimed documentary, directed by T Cooper and cowritten with him by G&G contributing editor Allison Glock, was released in 2018, it only became available to stream late last year. The film follows four trans men as they prepare for the only all-transgender bodybuilding competition in the world, held in Atlanta. You’ll be moved and inspired. (Available to rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and more.)
It Happened One Night (1934)
In this five-time Oscar winner helmed by Frank Capra, an heiress (Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable) take a bus (and famously, hitchhike) from Miami to New York, to escape the heiress’s overbearing father and doomed marriage. Colbert and Gable sizzle, a lively chemistry that sparked the screwball comedy genre. Among the film’s other influences: Warner Bros. animation director Bob Clampett once attributed Bugs Bunny’s signature carrot to the scene above. (Available to rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and more.)
Dreamboats Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean, in a love triangle, all rocking denim on a ranch outside of Marfa, Texas—need we say more? That should be enough, but the Oscar winner’s themes—generational divides, racial prejudice and acceptance, working conditions and healthcare for laborers, uncertainty in a changing society—feel just as relevant today as they did nearly sixty-five years ago. (Available to rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and more.)
The Firm (1993)
G&G once rounded up the Georgia native Holly Hunter’s best roles, including The Firm, in which she (albeit briefly) snaps, crackles, and pops as secretary-to-a-private-eye Tamara “Tammy” Hemphill. But even beyond her scene-stealing turn, The Firm—about a corrupt Memphis law firm, adapted from a thriller by John Grisham—still rivets enough to relieve your mind for the moment from the news of the day. (Available to rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and more.)
A Virtual Concert
Though going to a live concert may be out for the foreseeable future, you can still watch this brand-new concert video of the Grammy-winning, Gullah-influenced group Ranky Tanky performing a hometown show with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in honor of the city’s 350th anniversary. Quiana Parler’s voice is just the thing to transport you for a little while.
What to Cook
Chicken a la Everything
There’s a reason roast chicken is a go-to across cultures. It’s a fantastic dinner day-of, and provides days of leftovers for dishes like chicken salad. Buy a couple of birds and make some chicken bog or chicken mull for the freezer, too. Either is hearty and soul-satisfying no matter the season. And save the innards packets (hearts, gizzards, livers). Freeze them til you have several, then chop them up finely and use in a recipe like dirty rice. If you make extra, you can enjoy fried rice dishes, such as this Ginger and Collard Green Fried Rice, a day or two later. (Fried rice works better with day-old rice.) If you don’t have collards, don’t worry about it—just use any combination of vegetables you like.
Grits are another grain that can go a long way. Double or triple your breakfast grits. Eat some now, and use the leftovers for dishes like Cheesy Grits Casserole or Cheese Grits Cakes, both of which should freeze just fine til you’re ready to bake them. Top the cakes with anything you like…perhaps that leftover roast chicken?
Natchitoches Meat Pies freeze well, are easy to reheat, and will provide some welcome reprieve from sandwiches. Make some sweet hand pies, too, like Applejacks. One dough ought to do fine for both if you want to scale the recipes down for a smaller household.
Speaking of sweet: Keep some cookie dough on hand. It’s a twenty-minute investment that will pay big dividends. For instance, you can make these molasses cookies, but only bake half—put the rest of the dough in the fridge and bake another batch a few days later. They’ll be every bit as good the second time, and a warm cookie always makes everything seem better.
What to Listen to
Brandy Clark | Your Life Is a Record
This new album from the six-time Grammy nominee Brandy Clark catalogs the phases of love gone wrong, from poetic meditations on heartbreak (“I’ll Be the Sad Song”) to fiery kiss-off anthems (“Long Walk”), and an up-tempo post-mortem on a lost relationship (“Who Broke Whose Heart”). The album’s freewheeling lead single, “Who You Thought I Was,” even finds a silver lining—listen to it here.
Swamp Dogg | Sorry You Couldn’t Make It
Swamp Dogg became a cult favorite in the ’70s for his soul music, but his biggest commercial hit had some twang—he wrote “(Don’t Take Her) She’s All I Got,” a song recorded by Johnny Paycheck, Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Tanya Tucker. His new album, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It, draws on those influences. Recorded in Nashville, the album features guest appearances from a genre-blind cast of top talent, from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver to the acclaimed singer-songwriter and former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis. He even teams up with John Prine for the album-standout “Memories.”
Hailey Whitters | The Dream
“Ten Year Town,” the first track on The Dream, makes for an apt primer to this terrific new album from one of Nashville’s most promising voices. The song’s self-deprecating humor and ultimately hopeful message follow through on the album’s overall themes of both chasing dreams and finding the joy in life’s smaller moments. Hear the album track “Happy People” and learn more about Whitters here.
John Prine | John Prine, 1971
The debut album from the Americana legend John Prine has gone on to inspire many, from up-and-comer Kelsey Waldon (who’s partial to opening track “Illegal Smile”) to fellow trailblazer Swamp Dogg (who covered “Sam Stone” on his 1972 album, Cuffed, Collared, and Tagged). But you don’t have to be a musician to find solace in Prine’s words. Like most of his catalog, these songs feature layers of meaning and flashes of humor that reveal themselves differently upon each listen—the perfect fodder for long drives or pensive days stuck inside.
Etta James | Tell Mama, 1968
Between James’s otherworldly vocals and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, this Alabama-born classic is a calming balm for these chaotic times. Album B-side “I’d Rather Go Blind” has gotten plenty of love from modern artists recently, too—Lily Hiatt name-checks the song in her new single “Candy Lunch,” and Chris Stapleton famously fused its iconic opening notes into his blockbuster cover of “Tennessee Whiskey.”
Filmed in Beaufort, South Carolina, this ’80s classic may best be known for its soundtrack of ’60s hits—and for good reason. Essential tracks from the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, and more make this the perfect plug-and-play record for any audience.
You Must Remember This
This podcast about the forgotten moments and lost scandals of old Hollywood holds nearly six years of archives, so there’s plenty of lore to binge on. Late last year, YMRT released a six-part series on the making—and ramifications—of Song of the South, a long-buried Disney film (and the only one with a black main character until 2009’s Princess and the Frog) that whitewashes crucial elements of history and perpetuates harmful stereotypes.
Cocaine & Rhinestones
“You don’t need to ‘be country’ to hear the truth about country,” says Tyler Mahan Coe, the host of Cocaine & Rhinestones (and the son of David Allan Coe). The podcast dissects particular moments in country music history—“what the exact hell” Merle Haggard was doing when he wrote “Okie from Muskogee,” or why Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill” was banned from country radio—in intimate detail, including essential background information and historical context.
Dolly Parton’s America
Beyond the music, the movies, or the façade (and Parton’s catalog of jokes about it), what is it about Dolly Parton that makes her almost universally beloved by young and old, men and women, left and right? The acclaimed radio producer Jad Abumrad attempts to answer that and more with this outstanding and informative deep dive into the life of one of the South’s most revered figures. MORE: Read an interview with Jad Abumrad about the podcast
How to Get Outside
Start a garden, even if it’s a tiny one that begins with one pot of herbs, suggests Aaron Bertelsen in his new and delightful book, Grow Fruit & Vegetables in Pots. “The message of this book is that everyone can grow something,” Bertelsen told G&G recently. “I’m not telling you to go out there and get six hundred pots—start slowly.” He also suggests ordering affordable and low-stakes fabric growing bags because they’re easy to move and they drain well. Get lost in a seed catalog and consider planting salad greens that can be grown throughout the year in most parts of the South. Two beloved catalogs, which include tons of rare heirloom plants and writeups about the stories behind them, are Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Baker Creek.
Hunt for Sheds
Go for a walkabout in the (uncrowded) woods and search for shed antlers. To up your chances of finding sheds, follow a grid pattern rather than just wandering, and bring along a pair of binoculars. Here are more tips for tracking down sheds in the South.
Pull Out a Whetstone
There are all kinds of knife-sharpening gadgets these days, but nothing beats the satisfaction of honing a blade with a good old-fashioned stone. This is a handy guide to the basics of sharpening freehand, but really, it’s mostly a matter of practice, practice, practice.
Revisit a Fishing Classic
The Walker’s Cay Chronicles debuted in 1992, and there’s still never been another fishing show quite like it. Mostly because of its sage-like host, Flip Pallot, and the endless sense of wonder he brought to exploring the outdoors. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, all those great episodes are available to watch (for free) at the Hell’s Bay Boatworks site. Sure they might be a little grainy, but once that opening voiceover starts, you won’t even notice.
Written by Haskell Harris, Amanda Heckert, CJ Lotz, Dave Mezz, Phillip Rhodes, and Dacey Orr Sivewright
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