Tag Archives: food and memory

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.

Still.

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.

Just sayin’.

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─

  • Seasoned and braised two chicken backs in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Chopped onion, carrots, celery, fresh ginger, six or seven cloves of garlic, red bell peppers, and some young spinach leaves. I added the vegetables to the braised chicken.
  • Cooked a cup of white rice.
  • Added salt, pepper, turmeric, red chilis, and red bell peppers to the mix.
  • Threw in three cups of homemade veggie broth.
  • Let it all cook down to a thicker broth and added heavy cream. When it was thickened to my liking, I ladled this amazing goodness over a steaming plate of rice.

“Cauliflower would have been good in that stew!”

Sheesh.

 

Bring Me a Cup

““Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  Marcel Proust, 1871 – 1922

On the Web and in social media, you can’t throw a tomato in any direction without hitting a food writer. There are gazillions. A zillion more of us are wannabes. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to be a good food writer. What does a great food writer have that makes me want to live the culinary good life? I once thought it was about the food. Now, I know better. It’s about relationships.

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                      Grandmother Mahoney WordPress_0018

 

 

“Bring me a cup of water.”

It was both a request and a command. At 11, I understood that “please” was not a  part of my grandmother’s vocabulary. But I did not need a “please.” I adored her.

I studied her steady movements in the kitchen. She moved with intention. Every muscle and tendon had a purpose; there was no wasted energy.  She’d place a hook into the rim of the metal plate on the stove, lift the plate, shove a log in, start the fire, and replace the plate. When the fire was at its peak, she’d place a coffee pot on the stove. The heat from the fire was fierce, and the small kitchen became too hot in too short of a time. It was summer. Rivulets of perspiration bathed Grandmother’s ebony face. A cool drink of water was the remedy.

“Bring me a cup of water.” That’s all she needed to say as she wiped the sweat away with the tip of her apron. Outside, the sounds of squealing pigs, mooing cows, clucking chickens, and crowing roosters blended with the sound of crackling firewood. One of those animals could be on the table by dinnertime if Granddaddy had his way. A rank scent of manure and dew-soaked fields made my heart beat fast. And there was a slab of bacon on the table, testimony to the alchemy about to take place.

Dipping the long-handled aluminum cup into a bucket of well water–I’d proudly pumped that water myself–I asked a question.

“Can I have a glass of water, Grandmother?”

She nodded and I grabbed one of the jelly glasses we often used for drinking. I still remember the taste of that water. I watched her in silence, sipping my water as she sipped hers. I wondered what she was thinking as she prepared to make breakfast. Standing away from the stove and staring at the kitchen table, she may have been creating the breakfast menu and counting the slices of bacon she would need for the 11 mouths that would soon be around the table.

Breakfast would be simple: homemade biscuits slathered with butter and homemade jam, eggs we had gathered together, creamy grits, and, of course, bacon.

As people began to move around, chamber pots were taken out and emptied, faces and hands washed in basins, and teeth brushed outside. Around the table, we were a Rockwell painting in black: Grandmother, Granddaddy, my parents, my brothers and sister, cousins, aunt and uncle. As we basked in the warmth and fragrance of the meal, Granddaddy offered a prayer of thanks to the God that kept us together.

Over the years, as I traveled around the country trying to “find myself,” I missed my grandmother’s funeral. Decades later, I’ve found that elusive “self.” But it’s  not as I imagined. It’s in memory and lessons learned from being around a wood-burning stove and a woman with pure intention.

I’m back to the beginning. It’s not about the food itself. It’s about relationships.