Posts tagged ‘advice’

February 21, 2014

Lessons from Mamaw Maggie: How to properly season and care for your cast iron pan

by Crystal Cook

Pan and Crisco

My Mamaw Maggie passed when I was only six months old. I didn’t get to create my own memories with her, but I felt as though I knew her as everyone I met had a fond memory of her and a story to share. One of the very few items I have of my Mamaw Maggie’s is her cast iron skillet. When I was younger I only really used it when I was feeling nostalgic, and would bake up some cornbread. When I was little my Mom always said cornbread, soup beans and buttermilk was her favorite meal. But as I got older, I began to discover the pan’s varied uses.

If you are not familiar with cast iron pans, they can seem intimidating. All that talk of properly seasoning it, how to wash it (or not wash) it, seems like too much work. But trust me, the benefits of the cast iron pan far out way any care concerns. When seasoned correctly, a cast iron skillet will work better than any non-stick pan in your cupboard. They heat evenly and beautifully, and when properly cared for, they will last a lifetime. In fact, Mamaw Maggie’s pan has lasted several lifetimes!

For Christmas, I received another vintage cast iron skillet from my boyfriend’s family. Since I need to season it, I thought that I would just share with you all the secrets I learned from my Mom – who just happened to learn from her mom- Mamaw Maggie!

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • If you have purchased a brand new pan, chances are it will contain a coating of wax. To remove the wax, you will want to thoroughly wash the inside of your skillet with warm soapy water to remove the coating, and rinse it extremely well. Please note that this will be the ONE and ONLY time that you will ever use soap on your pan. After you season it, you will only want to wash with hot water. Since my pan is vintage, and does not have a wax coating, I am just going to wash the pan under hot water for several minutes. It is imperative that you understand that a cast-iron skillet is not dishwasher safe, nor is it made for soaking. For best results, always rinse the pan with hot water immediately after cooking. If you have some stuck on food, try scrubbing with coarse salt or a nonmetal brush.


  • Be sure to dry your skillet thoroughly with paper towels, or if you want to dedicate a kitchen towel to your pan, you can. The main thing is to get it completely dry immediately. Never let it air dry or it will rust.

dry pan

  • Dampen a paper towel with a vegetable oil such as canola oil, lard, or a shortening such as Crisco, and wipe your skillet thoroughly. I always use Crisco, because that is what my Mamaw always did, and I rub the entire thing down with a nice even layer. Note: You don’t want the grease to pool up, but you will want to create a nice sheen or glisten to the pan.


all sides

  • Place the pan upside down on the top rack of a preheated 350° oven. Set a baking sheet, or spread a piece of heavy aluminum foil on the lower rack to catch any grease drippings.

best stove

  • Let the pan bake for 1 hour.
  • Cast iron skillets get very hot so use caution and oven mitts when removing and place on a safe surface for cooling. (In fact, another awesome present they got me was my Lodge Handle Mitt.  I love it!)  Cool for 30 minutes or more until the pan is cool to the touch.

cool with handle

cool for sotring

  • You will reinforce the nonstick coating every time you heat the Crisco in the skillet, so I like to repeat this process two or three times.
  • Rinse and dry skillet thoroughly like mentioned above (no soap).
  • Before putting your pan away, be sure to give it another light coating of oil or shortening to protect it from rust and corrosion. I also like to cover it with a paper towel to protect it from dust.

store with papertowel

Some other important things to note:

  • After you have seasoned your pan, you should avoid cooking anything acidic the first couple of times. In fact, you should try cooking up some bacon, or some other high-fat food, to help build up the surfaces high gloss.
  • Once you have achieved that ultimate gloss, you can cook up just about anything. The only thing you should never try is to boil water. That will cause your pan to rust.
  • Don’t let the cast iron sit too long without using it, if you do it may become a bit rancid. If this happens, clean and re-season the pan (no soap).
  • Always remember to give the pan a light coat of grease after cleaning the pan and storing.
March 23, 2012

Inside the Queen’s Studio with Tara Miko Grayless

by Crystal Cook

The Queens periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In this installment, we are excited to introduce you to Tara Miko Grayless. Sandy and I love meeting fellow entrepreneurs and hearing the personal stories on what motivates them to pursue certain career paths.  It was while we were out promoting our book that we met Tara Miko Grayless, owner of Happy Hemp!  Initially it may have been the name of the product that grabbed our attention, but we were equally intrigued by Tara’s story. After 10 years in the fashion industry, the stressful demands of the job were taking a toll on both Tara’s physical and mental well-being.   She was suffering from insomnia, indigestion and was generally feeling blue. After embarking on mission to put her health first, she was introduced to the benefits of hemp seeds. The passion she demonstrated over her product was infectious, and after months of being out on tour, it didn’t take much to convince us to give Happy Hemp a try!  Life on the go was simply not allowing us to make healthy eating decisions, so this was a perfect solution to balance out the airport junk and last minute grab-and go meals that consumed our diet! Just two tablespoons a day is all it took, and it truly did help with our general sense of well-being. Tara provides tons of inspiration and tasty ways to incorporate hemp seeds into your diet through her website and blog and we encourage you to check it out at: and

 The queens are proud supporters of Happy Hemp and we hope that you get inspired by her story as well.  Enjoy!

The Queens and Tara

Tell us a little about yourself and why you started your business.

After 10 years in the fashion industry, I came to a place where I did not like where my life was headed. Instead of continuing down that same path, I chose to create a passion project. Happy Hemp was born from me starting over and living a life that I choose to live, was proud of, and ultimately creates happiness for myself and others.

Happy Hemp is enlightening thousands of people to hemp seed, an ancient superfood with life-altering benefits. Often touted as “the most nutritionally complete food source in the world,” hemp seeds are vegan and gluten-free, and boast nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acid (more than flax or any other nut or seed oil), a perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6  essential fatty acids.

Happy Hemp should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet either as a satisfying snack on its own, a topping for yogurt or cereal, or incorporated into a healthy recipe.

Behold the power of Hemp Seeds!

What is your “recipe” for success?

I am not afraid to hear the word ‘NO.’ One of my greatest strengths is my persistence, and being a successful business owner means to love your company and believe in your company when NO one else does.

If your personality could be described as any casserole, what would it be?

I would say I am a quiche. You take common ingredients like eggs, ham and cheese and come up with a unique combination.

 If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

Failing to Give Up.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

Grilled cheese and tomato soup. No matter where I am in the world, this simple dish brings me comfort when I am far away.

Family is in town unexpectedly and coming over for dinner. Quick – what is your go to meal?

When I have an unexpected guest, my go to meal is lasagna, a large salad and garlic bread. And don’t forget beautiful full glasses of red wine. For dessert? Two scoops of laughter.

Tell us about a cooking disaster that you’ve had.

OMG… which one? I am the queen of getting distracted in the kitchen, a professional food burner.

What unique characteristic do you bring to the hemp seed?

Most people are surprised by the way I look. There is a preconceived image of what a hemp seed salesgirl is supposed to look like. Some customers who would have walked past are intrigued to stop, chat and learn about how great Happy Hemp is as a food source.

Tara Miko Grayless

What has been the most interesting dish you have ever tasted with hemp?

Ice cream! Yum. It’s nice to be eating such a rich and tasty dish, knowing that it’s still good for you in some ways.

Let us in on your favorite hemp pairings and how often do you work hemp into an “everyday” dish?
My blog keeps me testing and tasting new dishes weekly. I am personally a fan of simple and easy dishes. I love a fresh fruit smoothie to start my day.

Happy Hemp Takeout Noodles - Yum!

Happy Hemp Sesame Sauce with Kale

July 14, 2011

Ask Miss Vivian DuBois, Vintage Fashion Advice

by Crystal Cook

Miss Vivian, the Queens need your help! We are hosting a fabulous “Tiki” party, but we have no idea what to wear- any advice?

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Oh, Kittens- of course Miss Vivian has some advice for you; in fact, she is utterly delighted that you ask!

First, a little background: the Tiki phenomenon started with- oddly enough- a restaurant. A nice young man from Louisiana, with the improbable name of Ernest Beaumont-Gantt, opened his Polynesian themed “Don the Beachcomber” in Hollywood in 1934 after a stint as a sailor in the South Pacific. Mmmmm… sailors! Polynesia, as you will recall from freshman geography class, is a series of islands, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, and- my personal favorite- Easter.

Mr. Beaumont-Gantt served wonderfully exotic food and cocktails (in fact, Kittens, he is the man who is credited with single-handedly inventing the tropical drink; a tip of the mini-umbrella to you, Ernie!) in a delightfully novel setting that was rather loosely based on the Polynesian aesthetic. His restaurant was so popular with the cognoscenti and glitterati of Hollywood alike that he was soon imitated, first by Trader Vic’s, then by a growing cadre of others.

By the 1950’s, fueled by post-war consumer culture and the easy accessibility- for the first time in history- of travel to tropical paradises like Hawaii, Tiki culture spread across the county, where it reigned in all its growing and glorious kitschiness through the 1960’s.

So with that in mind, what to wear? Close your eyes, Kittens, and imagine a warm, tropical breeze caressing your silky skin. Smell the gaudy, gorgeous hibiscus blooms. Hear the gentle roar of the sea on clean white sand. Now, tighten your sarong a bit, and let’s get to work!

A few key phrases: Bright, perhaps clashing, colors. Big, tropical florals. Novelty Hawaiian prints. Sarongs. Batik. Tribal. Think the dark haired, flower bedecked beauties of Gauguin, the muumuu’d and lei’d Hawaiian princess, even the uber-Americanized pop culture tikiness of Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. You can dial up or dial down the kitsch factor to suit your needs, Kittens; Tiki style tended to grow further from true Polynesian culture and more bastardized and silly (nothing wrong with that, however- I love a silly bastard!) as time passed.

For the big night, why not check out those bastions of vintage goodness, eBay and Etsy? Search for terms like “tiki dress”, “sarong dress”, “Hawaiian dress”, or “kamehameha dress”. Genuine tropical splendor from the salad days of Tiki- the late 40’s and 50’s- won’t come cheap, but they are often absolutely stunning sartorial creations which, when combined with a bold bloom tucked behind one ear, have the power to turn any modern girl into an exotic pinup almost immediately! Look for halter-neck or strapless styles, distinctly Polynesian prints and colors, and a wiggle silhouette (although there are numerous nipped-waist, full-skirted dresses in fabulous Tiki fabric which might work brilliantly, if you prefer that shape). If budget presents a problem, there are a plethora of adorable 80s-does-40s/50s, Tiki-inspired little numbers on offer as I type, and newer means cheaper! (Oh, forgive me, Kittens- I meant to say “newer means more affordable”!)  If you prefer a more mod take on Tiki, look for tropical or tribal print shifts and minis from the 60s.

Whatever your shape, style, or budget, I guarantee there is a Tiki dress out there for you, Kittens! Once you find it, accessorize yourself like an island goddess, and enjoy your warm summer evening in all its tropical Polynesian-esque splendor!

December 21, 2010

Vintage Fashion: Ask Miss Vivian DuBois, Part II

by Crystal Cook

Dear Miss Vivian,

Vintage clothes can be lovely, but the sizes are confusing- and buying online is totally intimidating. What  is your secret for finding vintage clothes that fit as if they were made for you?

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Oh, Kittens- Miss Vivian feels your pain! Many’s the time she has pulled a frothily lovely vintage frock off the rack and squealed with delight to find it her size, only to face debilitating and demoralizing defeat when it barely fits over her head, to say nothing of her voluptuous curves. All part of the joy and heartbreak of loving and living vintage, Kittens! But never fear: armed with a bit of information and a measuring tape, this need never happen to you!

First, we simply must get one thing straight: garment sizing has changed significantly over the decades. Vintage clothing may run as much as six sizes smaller than a comparable modern garment. Six sizes! Why? I’m so glad you asked, Kittens! First of all, we are getting larger as a species. In the 1940s the average woman was 5’2”, 129 pounds. These days the average gal is 5’4” and weighs 145 pounds; not a huge difference, but it accounts for a size or two, at least. In addition, there is no standardization in US sizing, so similar garments in the same size from different stores or brands may fit completely differently. And just to confuse matters, clothing manufacturers realized they could sell more of their product if the tag had a smaller number, regardless of the actual dimensions of the garment. Voila- vanity sizing was born! Honestly Kittens, would you buy a pair of dungarees in a “size 10”, when you could get the identical pair in a “size 6”? Miss Vivian thought not!

What to do, what to do? Below, Miss Vivian bestows upon you her golden rules of shopping vintage for the perfect fit!

1.) If you can try it on, for Pete’s sake Kittens- try it on! This is Miss Vivian’s number one rule for vintage (or any other kind of) shopping. Granted, vintage and thrift stores are not known for their luxurious accommodations; their dressing rooms are often not for the faint of heart. But gird your loins and give a go, Kittens! You’ll save yourself tears in the long run.

2.) Know what styles work for you body, generally. For example, if you are blessed with a voluptuous hour glass figure (like your humble blogger), the 1950s is a treasure trove of nipped in waists and forgivingly full skirts. If you sport the slender, slim-hipped look, how lucky you are: the 20s and 60s offer sartorial splendor that only the gorgeously boyish can embrace! Experiment, and figure out what looks good on YOU.

3.) Don’t get hung up on the writing on the tags. Like age, size is just a number, Kittens! Approach vintage with an open mind, knowing full well that things were different in the way-back-when. Give it a whirl; if it doesn’t fit, blame the dress rather than your lovely body, and move on. (And for my sisters who were designed on a generous scale: a.) you “have qualities which littleness can never possess”, and b.) it can be a bit more difficult to find vintage in our size, but it is by no means impossible, as Miss Vivian’s positively bulging closets can attest!)

4.) Buy, and use, a measuring tape. Vintage stores can be pricy, and with the rise of the internet seller, it can be virtually impossible to find vintage in thrift stores these days. That leaves buying on-line. I know, Kittens, it’s a bit scary, and it directly contradicts Miss Vivian’s first rule of vintage shopping. But… if you know your measurements, you can buy with confidence. Here’s how: in the nude, (or a well-fitting bra), measure around the fullest part of your bust, your natural waist, and the biggest part of your hips. Keep the tape level and firm, but don’t pull; there should not be indentations in your fabulous form. Now, add at least two inches in the bust and hips, and at least one to one and a half inches in the waist; this wiggle room is critical for fit! These are the numbers you’re looking for when you surf for pretty things on-line. Miss Vivian finds it best not to negotiate with these numbers, no matter how divine the garment, unless you are- or know- an excellent seamstress (in which case you know these rules already).

5.) Understand how measurements are used in vintage selling. Most sellers will provide the three measurements we discussed above: bust (which may also be labeled “armpit to armpit”), waist, and hip. When skirts are voluminous rather than fitted, the hip measurement may be listed as “full.” Occasionally, sellers will add total length, or length from shoulder to waist; these can be important if you are particularly tall, or very long- or short-waisted. It is customary for sellers to measure a garment flat, in which case you will have to double the measurement given to find the actual size of the piece. If you aren’t certain or need additional information, it is well within accepted etiquette to contact the seller and ask.

So, Kittens, now you too can find the dress of your dreams or the frock of your fantasies! Miss Vivian would be lying if she claimed she has never splashed out on a lovely vintage piece, only to find, upon receiving the package, that it didn’t quite fit. However, the successes far outnumber the failures these days, and the pay-off is a completely unique, utterly fabulous wardrobe! Happy shopping, Kittens!

November 13, 2010

Inside the Queens Studio: Meet Miss Abigail!

by Casserole Queens

Drawing inspiration from James Lipton (or maybe Will Ferrell playing the part of James Lipton on SNL), we periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In our first installment, we talk to author and advice-giver Miss Abigail.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Abigail Grotke, aka Miss Abigail. I began collecting advice books back around 1985, and the collection has grown to over 1,000 books since then. I’ve scoured these books to glean wisdom from advice-givers of yesteryear, and have been doling out advice from classic advice books on the web since 1998. The best-of the website was turned into a book, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, and the book recently inspired a play, which is opening Off-Broadway on October 24 and is starring Eve Plumb (Jan Brady) as Miss Abigail!

I have an extensive background in print and digital publications and a keen interest in historical materials and pop culture, not to mention a love of crawling around dirty used bookstores to find the perfect book to add to my collection. During the day, I work on digital library projects for the Library of Congress (currently I help archive the Internet), and have previously worked in the publications office of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 2004, I was named one of 55 Library Journal “Movers and Shakers,” an annual feature which sets out to identify “emerging leaders in the library world.”

I live in an old house in Takoma Park, Maryland, with my talented musician husband Denis Malloy, and our terrier mutts Felix and Lulu.

What is your “recipe” for success?

Good friends, good wine, good food, good fun!

If you weren’t an expert advice-giver you would be…

Well, since it’s all a hobby, the expert advice-giver actually answers the question “if you weren’t a government employee what would you be”?

If your personality could be described as any casserole, what would it be?

A classic chicken pot pie. Warm, comforting, with a crust that is a bit flaky at times.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

Grilled cheese. It’s the only thing I ate for years, and I still get a lot of joy from them, particularly with a nice hot cup of tomato soup.

Best piece of advice you would give to a seventeen-year-old girl going on her first date to a fancy restaurant?

I’d have to stick with table etiquette advice, because manners are so important to making a good first impression. And the seventeen-year-old has probably not had much experience in fancy restaurants (she must have found a great date!).

I consulted with Betty Betz’s Your Manners are Showing: The Handbook of Teen-Age Know-How (1946). She says: “It’s not easy to make sparkling small talk if there’s a major conflict starring a knife and a fork whirling around your brain. Basic table strategy is simple, like all good manners. Once you learn the routine, your table manners will come naturally…”. In addition to the usual advice about where your drinking glass is and starting with the outer forks, knives and spoons, the author gives a few specific tips that might be helpful to our seventeen-year-old girl:

“Always remember to raise the food to your mouth — don’t duck your head over your plate like a hungry bird of prey. Don’t play games with your food, and never twiddle with the silverware. Habits like these make you appear ill at ease, so be smooth; remember to keep your hands on your lap when you’re not eating.

Be as attractive as you can at the table — this means not talking with your mouth fill, and avoiding unpleasant or off-color conversations. Don’t sprawl on the table or tilt back on the legs of your chair. Never comb your hair during a meal, and if you feel a sneeze coming on, turn your head away from the table. …

If you happen to make a mistake, brush it off lightly and don’t let it ruin your evening.”

This tip from Sophie C. Hadida, in her 1950’s book Manners for Millions, might also come in handy: “It is discourteous to order at a restaurant any food which through its odor may disturb others at the table. Such foods are strong cheese, onions, chives, garlic.”  Ms. Hadida also provides some advice for the boys – hopefully this girl’s date will pay attention to this one!

“I once heard a young man say, ‘I should care whether my girlfriend likes onions or not. If I want to eat onions, I eat them. If she doesn’t like it, she knows what she can do.’”

Such a person is the personification of selfishness. The poor girl may be helpless. She has no other boyfriend at the present time, and is forced to go out with Jack, who chooses to eat onions that evening. No one wants to be accused of having halitosis. Eating onions is courting a form of halitosis which is really more objectionable than the unavoidable kind, because the implied discourtesy irritates.

Elbows on the table…yes or no?

Oh, most definitely not. In an 1880 book called Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society, written by John A. Ruth, the author advises “Keep your elbows at your side, so that you may not inconvenience your neighbors.”

I’ve also got a book titled “Elbows Off the Table: Manners for Teen-Age Christians.” (1957) I checked that, as it seemed to be the perfect reference on this topic. This author’s advice – oh wait, a surprise!: “Don’t put your elbows on the table, except between courses. Don’t lean. In fact, don’t put your left hand anywhere on the table; put it on your lap.”

We’ve all been on those dates when the check comes and conversation instantly becomes strained…should the girl nicely get out her wallet to pay or is that the man’s responsibility?

While times have changed and sharing the tab is much more common, sensitivity may still be a concern if the boy and girl don’t know each other well (if it is early in the relationship). Back in 1950, Evelyn Milles Duvall in her Facts of Life and Love provided some advice that might still ring true: she mentions that Dutch-dating, “wherein the girl and boy share the cost, is not a common practice in most communities — perhaps because the boy’s pride is involved. A girl must be extremely tactful; boldly buying her own ticket or handing him the cash in public may be offensive and embarrassing to him. It is usually wise to have the arrangement definitely understood in advance and to give the boy the money before leaving the house. In some cities a girl dutch-dating with a boy at a restaurant can simply ask the waitress to give her a separate check.”

Your spouse called and his Aunt Edna is coming into town and coming over for dinner. Quick– what is your go-to meal?

Luckily my spouse does most of the cooking, so I’d help do the dishes! But if I were in charge of cooking, and I had anything in the kitchen, I’d do some steamed artichokes, mashed potatoes, and probably some baked salmon. Then I’d top it off with a flourless chocolate cake!

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

Romancing the Artichoke

To learn more about Miss Abigail, visit her website at .

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