One Sunday last fall, Sherrin and I found ourselves, for the second time in recent months, facing down a display of inexpensive silk flowers at Dollar General. We were in Port St. Joe this time; the first time, we had been in a tiny town in South Carolina where many folks in our father’s family are buried, including our grandparents.
On both occasions, we needed flowers for a grave, but on a Sunday afternoon in small towns in the South, florists are closed, and there are no big-box retail store for miles, typically. When that happens, we all fall into the waiting arms of our local dollar store.
On that particular Sunday, we found and purchased a small arrangement of sunflowers, our Aunt Betty’s favorite, and a small ceramic cross with the word “Peace” inscribed on its front. That was perfect for our aunt’s grave, as she always wrote letters to us back when she taught school in Brazil, and each time, either her greeting or her salutation would be, “Peace and all good things.” Then she would stamp the stationery with a small dove ink stamp. Peace was important to her, and is a word I’ll always think of when I think of her.
We drove out to Holly Hill Cemetery, and found her small grave between those of our grandparents. We talked about our aunt, thanked her for her love, said a prayer, and cried. She would have loved the sunflowers and the peace cross, and we knew it. We left satisfied that she was represented well, if not extravagantly.
In South Carolina months prior, we had been searching an old cemetery for our paternal grandparents’ graves. We had faced the silk flowers at the dollar store already, and had found a small wreath, adorned with pink and white flowers. It was simple, inexpensive, and our only chance to place a remembrance on their graves on that Sunday evening as we passed through town. We were grateful that even in that tiny town, population 2,040, the Dollar General was at attention, ready to help. We placed the small wreath on their headstone, and I told Sherrin a few stories I remembered about those sweet grandparents who died when she was too young to know them.
As Sherrin and I bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico on the following morning, we pondered this. How many times have we all needed something and the local dollar store was there for us? We thought of many examples.
Sherrin was on a motorcycle ride with friends last fall, she recalled, and got cold along the way. They stopped in a one-streetlight town and found…you guessed it…the dollar store. She was able to buy a sweatshirt with a hood to keep herself warm for the rest of the day. It was camouflage and not her style at all, but it was warm and cheap, and that’s what she needed.
On those mornings when you find you’ve run out of eggs and don’t want to walk clear across Walmart with no make-up on and messed-up hair, you can slip into a dollar store nearly unnoticed to grab a dozen. No need to primp for this low-key place in a much smaller, more manageable space.
When a child surprises his parents on Sunday afternoon with a project he needs to do for Monday morning class, that faithful little store is ready to serve, with inexpensive school supplies and a small selection of arts and crafts materials. Isn’t that handy?
Or if, like me, you’ve found yourself short 1/2 cup of cooking oil for making a cake, and you don’t want to park in the giant parking lot of Walmart, if you even have one nearby, and trek 1/2 mile back to the baking aisle, what do you do? Well, what I do is jump in my car, drive 5 minutes to my local dollar store, and grab a bottle of cooking oil. I might even get a Diet Dr. Pepper while I’m there, who knows?
A dollar store is not fancy, it isn’t full of expensive things, and is by no means fancy. The better ones are clean and well-kept, but that varies from town to town. The important thing is, it’s there, it’s ready to help you in your time of retail need. It’s also interesting to note, both Dollar General and Family Dollar hail from the South, the former with roots in Kentucky, and the latter in North Carolina. The best Southerners have always been “Johnny on the Spot,” as my husband says; we are there when you need us.
Well, now that I’ve paid homage to our favorite local discount store, let me give you a luscious, delicious idea for fall baking, with ingredients that I assure you can be found there. You may already have all the ingredients in your pantry, but if not, you know where to go.
This delicious cake is deceptively easy to prepare. Enjoy it all fall and winter long, especially at holiday parties when you need something that comes together easily.
Chocolate-caramel sheet cake with toasted cinnamon walnuts
1 chocolate cake, baked in a 9x13-inch baking dish. (I used Betty's Original Recipe Chocolate Joy by Betty Crocker)
One recipe of Steph's caramel sauce
1 cup chopped walnuts (or substitute pecans)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1. Cool cake, then poke it with a fork to make holes all over the top. I didn't poke all the way to the bottom, but almost.
2. Make caramel sauce:
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/4 cup milk
1 cup packed brown sugar
Combine all three ingredients in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Whisk together over medium-high heat until it is completely combined and begins to boil. Boil for exactly three minutes while stirring. Take off heat and cool to warm temperature before serving.
3. Toast nuts: In a small non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Then add the nuts, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, Let the nuts toast while you continually stir. This takes only about one minute; the moment you smell the nuts, take them off the heat or they will quickly burn.
Pour the caramel sauce over the cake, starting at the center and working outward, allowing the warm sauce to flow into all the holes you poked in cake.
Sprinkle the toasted nuts over the top while the caramel is still hot and liquid. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat.