Three of us, our personalities as diverse as the meal we shared, sat around the table laughing and celebrating food, company and, each in her own way, a commitment to spiritual life.
“Will you give the blessing?”
The meal was at my home and, when I thought about it later, the host usually offers the blessing. In recent years, however, I’d fallen into a habit of silent blessings ─ or no blessing at all ─ over meals with friends.
We closed our eyes. I opened one eye to peek at Sandra. She was the one, after all, who had asked for the blessing. She was — waiting.
I am not unfamiliar with saying grace. Praying before eating was a three-times-a-day practice in my childhood. Not a crumb would pass our lips before prayer. To attempt to sneak a bite was, at the very least, foolhardy. A spoon or fork could be sent flying if a child did not wait for the Lord’s blessing.
I remember my grandfather saying grace. He was a deacon and a very devout man who would repeat a prayer before every meal. The morning grace was the hardest. We’d listen patiently as he spoke the familiar lines before beginning his improvisation. His improvising, it should be known, was the place where hot food went to die — to become cold. But here’s the thing: his purity of heart and love for God was on that table. We could feel protection covering the food. His power was that palpable. Even as, in our minds eye, we could see the melted butter hardening again, we also knew that no malevolent force would dare approach our food. Granddaddy had a spiritual power that drew God’s protection for his family.
Saying grace is not a mystery. The willingness to be present and grateful for the present moment draws the power.
With Sandra’s request, I tried to remember the grace my parents used to say.
“Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this food to nourish the body though not the soul…” And that was all I could remember. It felt too far in the past.
When I was diagnosed with Guillain Barré syndrome (GBS) in 2012, the disease took away my ability to use my hands. I love cooking and sharing my meals with others. It’s a joyful task. But with GBS, I could not comb my hair, let alone knead dough, chop vegetables, or make a soup.
That too is now in the past. Today, I can make biscuits, roast a turkey, and or juice apples. And I can look back on 2018 and see blessings in everything, large and small: my physical healing; my mothers’ death and reconnecting with estranged family; new friends and neighbors; the ever expanding awareness of love in the world even as citizens panic in and recoil from the vortex of Trumpism; and still, the wonder of being grateful.
The instant I connected with gratitude, self-consciousness dropped away.
“Thank you, father/mother God, for this meal to which we have all contributed. Thank you for this glorious abundance of friendship that we are about to share. And thank you, most of all, for that which has brought us together in gratitude on this day. Amen.”
Sandra was pleased.
Just Pass the Grits. Okay?
It happened last week. A neighbor uttered two words that don’t go together: “cauliflower grits.”
Nooo. Cauliflower is not grits and never will be.
I understand concerns about diet and health. Lord knows it’s been a daily struggle for me, especially since living with complications from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Sixteen months in a wheelchair can pack on pounds.
I’m a gal with strong southern roots. I would not trade a bowl of stewed tomatoes and grits, cheese grits or grits with liver and gravy for cauliflower “grits.”
As my nieces would say, “That’s just wrong.”
For anyone without southern roots, I can forgive the confusion. My neighbor is a woman of solid culinary tastes. She eats at fancy Italian restaurants and thrills over Vietnamese cuisine. She is also a cauliflower devotee.
“You will love it,” she gushes.
No. I will not love it because I have never loved cauliflower, a vegetable that I choose to call white broccoli. Seriously, I’d walk barefoot over hot rocks before subbing cauliflower for grits.
I don’t just cook for nourishment. I cook for joy, otherwise what’s the point? Love of food and the kitchen makes me happy.
My mother died this month. When I was asked to write some words for her obituary, I wrote about her love for God and how she instilled that love in each of her children. But really, I could have written about her prowess as a home chef with exemplary imagination and culinary skill. Everything we learned about food came from her southern roots: her kitchen, our grandmothers’ kitchens, and our aunts’ kitchens. Food and kitchens make me happy.
There were childhood breakfasts with bowls of hot grits, fried chicken livers and onions, and hot biscuits. If for no other reason than the legacy of southern cooking, I take full affront to the idea of replacing grits, rice or potatoes with a ground-up vegetable.
This morning, I sautéed onions, kale (in homage to the green veggie craze), garlic, and mock sausage. I mixed all the veggies into a creamy pot of grits and added cheese. As I watched it all come together with a kind of brown gravy tint, I felt sorry for folks who will never enjoy the warm belly comfort of real grits or rice.
“Cauliflower tastes just like rice” says my neighbor.
No. It doesn’t taste just like rice.
There are real reasons that some folks are choosing cauliflower instead of starchy grains. Recently, concerns have been expressed about rice. Where is it grown? Does the soil have arsenic? Is it from the southern United States or Vietnam? White rice is high on the glycemic index and can contribute to blood sugar level spikes. I acknowledge these concerns, but a good rice pudding or cream of potato soup ain’t the same with cauliflower.
When I was a child, foods like grits, kale, and collards were standard southern fare. However things have changed, and with change I find myself in a world where organic collards, once almost free for the picking, are three dollars a bunch and grits are nouvelle cuisine. With change comes a cultural temptation to make things “better,” healthier, to explore new tastes.
“Have you tried the cauliflower pizza crust?”
No. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The more my friend yammered on about cauliflower rice, the stronger was my pull for a dish of rice covered with a rich chicken stew. So, I followed the urge and─
“Cauliflower would have been good in that stew!”
Posted in Creative Non-Fiction, Essay, Family memories, Food, Humor, Memoir, Writing. Loving.
Tagged Commentary, Creative Non-Fiction, essay, food and humor, food and memory, Humor, Life Stories, memoir, Opinions, Reflections