"Nowadays, people are so jeezled up. If they took some chamomile tea and spent more time rocking on the porch in the evening, listening to the liquid song of the hermit thrush, they might enjoy life more." - Tasha Tudor
There is something right about a porch on a house. It doesn’t even matter what kind of house; whether it’s a mansion or a mobile home, a shotgun shack or a log cabin, if you put a front porch on it, it becomes the best house on the block.
My family has always had a thing for porches. We have always had at least a small one, from my earliest days. Mama had a wooden bench that in the ‘70s had an American bald eagle decal centered on the top of its back rail. I remember sitting on it when we lived in a little neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C. during the first few years of my life. My friend Angie and I played out many a Barbie doll adventure on that porch and sitting on its bench. Those were the days…you may recall them…when we kids went outside to play with other kids and used our imagination. We dreamed up adventures and acted them out in three-dimensional reality. Those were the best days. But I digress.
When our family went to visit my dad’s father, whom we called Papa, he was always on his screened front porch when we arrived. Always. He’d be wearing his brown trousers and his suspenders, sitting on his metal glider with his wooden cane beside him, or in his hands, using it to propel the glider’s motion. He had his spittoon within arm’s reach. It was an empty coffee can, most times.
Papa would see us pull up in front of the house and he’d be so happy. He’d call out to us as soon as we got out of the station wagon. “Bobbie, y’all come on in here and let me see those babies.” We’d walk the short walk to the screen door, which creaked open in such a welcoming manner, and step onto the little wooden porch where Papa held court. No one got in that house without stopping to hug his neck and receive his kiss on the cheek.
“Bobbie, go get that baby a Coke,” he’d say to my dad, referring to me. Daddy would take me through the house to the back porch, used mostly for storage, and there would be a wooden Coca-cola crate, full of small green-tinted glass bottles of Coke. I always looked forward to that exotic way of drinking a Coke. We never bought the small bottles at our house. That made it even more special to me at the time. Then we’d head back to the front porch to sit and visit with Papa.
My sister and I continue to love porches, gravitating toward them wherever we go. When we visited the circa-1859 lighthouse in Pensacola, there was a porch with a gracious plenty of rocking chairs on it at the old keeper’s house museum beside the lighthouse, and we immediately took a seat after we’d finished the 177-step climb to the top of the lighthouse. We had the best view in Pensacola at the top of that lighthouse, and the best seats in Pensacola on the porch of the museum.
Last weekend, I visited my sister in Frisco and we went to a new eatery there called The Heritage Table. It’s inside a beautifully converted 1917 Victorian home. We enjoyed our meal immensely, and as we left, we stepped back onto the front porch of the lovely old house. Immediately, our eyes spotted the swing to our right, and we both instinctively went to it, sat down, and then the magic began. There’s something about the movement of a swing or rocking chair on a porch that gently shakes loose the thoughts you’d been pondering, the memories you’d been forgetting, or the songs you’d been humming in your subconscious. They all came spilling out, as we sat there swinging, holding our bags on our lap, for the next hour or so.
As we reluctantly got up to leave, our stomachs still satiated by our delicious meal, I thought about how that has long been the way many people have spent warm Southern evenings. Enjoying a home-cooked meal, then sitting for a spell on the porch, talking about the day with family or with friends who happened by. I think it is one of the best things about the South, don’t you? Maybe we're a little out of practice. Let's invite the neighbors over and build that "porch-sittin'" community up again, just like Papa used to do.
If you’re planning to do any porch sitting soon, bake up a plate of these cookie bars, and share them with your co-sitters. It’ll make the experience all the better. They’re deliciously chewy and studded with chocolate chips, which are perfectly complemented by the light flavor of cinnamon.
Steph’s Cinnamon-Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
• 1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
• 1 stick butter, melted
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 10 ounces chocolate chips (semisweet or special dark work well)
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350, and spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray, or coat with butter. (See tip below)2. Melt butter in a bowl in the microwave, and allow it to cool slightly while you assemble other ingredients.
3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and whisk to combine.
4. Combine butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a larger mixing bowl, stirring briskly until smooth.
5. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring until no more flour is visible in the batter.
6. Stir in chocolate chips, then spread the batter in the prepared pan. (It will be very thick, so I use an offset spatula)
7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.
• Tip: Line the pan with aluminum foil, leaving extra length on each end as “handles” to assist in lifting the bars out of pan when cool. Spray the foil with cooking spray, then proceed as usual. Lift bars out when cool, and place on cutting board. Remove foil and cut bars with serrated knife.
It’s much easier cutting into nice, straight squares with this method, as well as easier cleanup.
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.