Food Should Taste Like the Past

“Ours is a region whose food carries with it the burdens of our past — a history of slavery and racism, long-lasting, outdated stereotypes of our people, and a tenuous political landscape.” -www.thrilist.com  The New Southern Cuisine: Don’t Call It Fusion

Our past IS fraught with burdens when it comes to race…even our present.  Somehow our food rises above it all.  Don’t believe me? Go to a Baptist Church covered dish dinner or a hole in the wall diner named “Momma Ester’s Café”.  European, West African and Native American foodways merge into a superhighway that became known in the Seventies as soul food…one of the few positives of the Columbian Exchange.  It was Southern fusion before the word was cool. 

Over a year ago, before our lives changed with the “corona”, my bride and I sat down at a restaurant for a Sunday brunch to celebrate our wedding anniversary and contemplated our dish selections.  This was before the need for masks, social distancing or arguments over rights and vaccines.

At the urging of my bride, we decided to sit outside in the shade and enjoy the warm breezes along with a Bloody Mary or two.  It was late June.  Even mountain breezes in late June sometimes feel like the blast from a Bessemer furnace.

This was one of those “sometimes”.  Winter had gone straight to full on summer.  The “bacon infused” Bloody Mary with the okra pod garnish had just enough bite to increase the perspiration forming across my nose and to a greater extent, settling into my underwear.   For some reason the hot wind reminded me of the past before air conditioning was cool, when a window fan was an ineffective defense against the hot and humid air.

The restaurant was one of those neo-Southern cookin’ places boasting traditional Southern dishes with a “twist.”  Judging from the prices I worried it might be a nouveau-riche Southern cookin’ place although no one would accuse me of being a member of the nouveau-riche…not near Beverly Hillbillies nouveau-riche but it was my anniversary, and my bride was worth any price.

I was hopeful as I perused their menu.  There were plenty of selections featuring biscuits and deeply fried anything.  There were collards cooked to death with ham and bacon grease, cornbread battered fried green tomatoes, and dishes featuring cracklins’…bacon bits…not the real ones, pig skin fried crisp.

Fried chicken with an acceptable twist, waffles.  Sounded tasty with maple syrup drizzled over it.  What worried me were dishes including fried cauliflower bites or smashed avocado on toast points.  I don’t remember many dishes from the past including cauliflower in any form but right there in the menu was a picture of a vegan taco with both fried cauliflower and avocado wedges.  I figured it looked better than it might taste. I like cauliflower and avocado but I had decided today was not a day to eat healthy.

I saw one immediate positive. No dishes involving kale.

One appetizer piqued my interest.  Deep fried BBQ stuffed egg rolls.  Recipe must be from Southern China.  Didn’t matter where it came from, it was good, but didn’t speak to the ghosts of my past.  Not sure I ate an egg roll until I was out of college.  Now BBQ? That is something else entirely.

Some of  this neo-Southern cuisine is described as fusion cookin’ but it seems to me, the food I consumed as a child was fusion.  We ate what became known as soul food.  Food heavily seasoned with salt pork and bacon grease, the heavy use of starches and cornmeal. We ate soul food before it was cool and before we could be accused of racial appropriation. We ate soul food until our arteries seized up.

I grew up in an area where no one of any race really ate “high on the hog.”  We didn’t know we were poor, and in most ways that counted, we weren’t.  Money was not one of the ways that counted.  Even the “landed rich” didn’t have an extra two nickels to rub together until after harvest season, so most of us ate like we were poor.  Sometimes the poor knew better how to eat than the rich.

Chicken, pork, and fresh caught fish seemed to be staples.  Not much expensive beef unless it was from the “butt end of the cow”, cubed round steak dusted with flour and fried crisp or chicken fried and smothered in milk gravy.  I didn’t know you could order steak anyway but done to death until I graduated from college. That doesn’t mean we didn’t eat well; we just didn’t eat a lot of steak.  Catfish fried with a cornbread batter heavy with black pepper, chicken battered and fried in lard.  The skin crisp and the inside moist and tender. Pork chops fried and smothered with milk gravy, the renderings spooned over biscuits.

Green beans, butter beans, peas, and collard greens cooked forever plus one day, cooked with fat back or bacon  Maybe some unrecognizable pork bits in and amongst it.  Seasoned with a bit of salt and sugar, a finely chopped hot pepper to add a bit of heat and cider vinegar for a little tartness.   Pinto beans simmered all day with hog jowls, ham hocks or neck bones until the meat fell off the bone. Chopped onion and a pone of cornbread to go with it.  Sweet potatoes made sweeter with butter and sugar or syrup. All seasoning guided by the hands of the ghosts of women long dead. 

Simple food seasoned well and prepared in cast iron pots and pans dating from before the First World War and cut up with a knife that had to be seventy years old.  Soul food can’t help but taste of the past.

My grandmother and mother were not known for their culinary abilities.  They did okay, I didn’t starve. My grandmother was more concerned about the great outdoors and growing the food although there were memorable dishes. Her creamed corn, chicken pot pie, “cooter” soup and peanut butter cookies.  

My mother was a textile shift worker and I remember dining on Birdseye TV Dinners and fried bologna sandwiches often.  Mom did cook on weekends, spaghetti on Saturday nights and her own trinity, BBQ chicken, pot roast, or fried chicken on Sunday. 

My grandmother’s sisters and my mother’s sister can put on a spread.  So could their in-laws.

I am reminded of a late summer feast put on by my Uncle James’ wife, Aunt Mary Hannah and their two daughters. She was a slight woman crippled by polio. Braces and crutches did not affect her abilities in her kitchen.  It always amazed me how happy she could be.  Her freckled face always had a smile.

The summer season was drawing to an end, the hayin’ was done and in the barn, corn pulled and stored in the cribs, the tomatoes, squash, and beans almost played out.  Those huge John Deere tractors safely tucked and serviced in their garage.  I was headed back to school and football practice as were my cousins who, with me, provided the summer labor.  We sat under a shade tree in slat backed chairs we moved from her dining room and ate off rough boards set on sawhorses covered with linen tablecloths.

Part of my daily pay was a midday meal which usually consisted of Vienna sausages or deviled ham, maybe sardines and saltine crackers, a “dope”, and a Moon Pie.  But one late summer day, the midday meal was worth the hell of those hay and corn fields.

Pan fried chicken, butter beans cooked with chopped up ham, creamed corn running with home churned butter, corn bread battered okra fried crisp, squash casserole, deviled eggs to die for, potato salad, and biscuits.  All seasoned well, with a smidge of this, a pinch of that, a tad of something else, until it tasted right and the voices from our past whispered, “That will do.”

Every vegetable or starch grown in their garden. The chicken, ham, and eggs from their coop or sty.  The only dishes or ingredients foreign were the sweet tea we washed it down with and the bananas and vanilla wafers in the banana pudding we finished it with.  We could have stayed local and washed it down with buttermilk from their cow and eaten watermelon from their field. It was food fit for fieldworkers or a king. That one meal encompassing all of the different foodways.

Soul food…food with a soul.  Food with a past going back centuries brought from lands far away and land close by, somehow merged in a way the people who brought them should fuse. 

Food should unite us all. Food prepared by hands who were taught by ghostly hands from the past in implements passed down by generations.  Food should taste like the past.

May be an image of text that says 'DON'S DAILY DOSE CONO "Neither sugar nor salt tastes particularly good by itself. Each is at its best when used to season other things. Love is the same way. Use it to "season" people." Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration'

***

For more Musings, https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B018IT38GM

If It Feels Illegal, It Must Be Tater Tots

Oh Cassie, Cassie, Cassie!  Cassie posed the question on a media post, “What feels illegal but isn’t” and my mind immediately went to tater tots.  Tater tots?  Anything that feels illegal but isn’t…probably involves food but tater tots?  Where did that thought come from?  Why is my mind a runaway train derailing because of thoughts of tater tots?

“All the good things in life are immoral, illegal, or fattening.”  There are many variations of the saying originally attributed to Frank Rand but tater tots?  I don’t know the last time I’ve had tater tots.  It has literally been years.  A side order at a local restaurant…with a southern pimento and cheese dip to go with it.?

Oh pooh!  I want them now, with or without the pimento and cheese, and in copious amounts.  The power of suggestion is strong and I am so weak.

I’ve reached that GPS location on my pathway of life that suggests immoral or illegal probably…probably aren’t going to happen.  Illegal is possible I guess, immoral?  I should look up the definition for immorality just to make sure.  Wickedness, evil, debauchery, perversion…okay…fattening as in gluttony, I got that one, but tater tots won’t be illegal or immoral unless I steal them.

Is there some way I can steal the tater tots and combine it with debauchery?  That would be the trifecta.  An orgy of debauchery involving stolen, fried tater tots.

“Our naked bodies dripped with Crisco and stolen tater tot crumbs as the light danced across our distended bellies. We were fat and finally satiated in our prison cell, joyously burping from our tater tot stoked revelry.”  An incarcerated, naked, Rubenesque crowd dripping in oil is not the mental picture I need this morning, yet, there it is.

I admit, there is something about crispy fried, perfectly salted tater tots that makes me feel like I might be getting away with something illegal…but done right, they are tasty. Tasty but a killer.  My arteries are closing just contemplating them.  Oh nooooo!  Now I’m visualizing them smothered in sawmill gravy.

I don’t know when to quit so it is easier not to begin.  I lied, I do know when to quit…”You mean that’s all of them?  I’VE EATEN THEM ALL!!!  OH, THE HUMANITY.”  I truly have no willpower.

I’m the same way about ice cream, specifically milkshakes.  Something else that feels illegal.  I keep my addiction controlled by not keeping ice cream in the house.  I’m a thirty-minute drive from the nearest emporium of gluttony, an ice cream parlor, so if I don’t have it in my freezer, I’m pretty safe.  I admit to opening the freezer door and gazing longingly at the empty space reserved for butter pecan or chocolate chip mint…peach?  Vanilla? STOP IT!

When I break down and buy a half-gallon…it calls to me.  I can literally hear its seductive Marilyn Monroe voice calling from the fridge, “Eat me…eat me…ARE YOU DEAF!  COME EAT ME!”  That’s while I’m already eating a thick, chocolate chip mint milkshake and as you can tell, it starts out like a siren’s call, but it finishes as a screaming banshee.

Left to my own devices, I will eat the entire half-gallon at one sitting.  My wife is now tying me to my recliner and looking for beeswax.  She knows I’ll end up on that “Rock Candy Mountain” quicker than you can say, Odysseus.

Good food is my “What feels illegal but is not” Achilles heel.  Who am I kidding, it doesn’t have to be “good” food.  I’m sorry Linda, I did eat the last…fill in the blank.

I hate to admit it, but Cassie’s media post has old Paris of Greek Mythology limbering up his bow and arrow…I just don’t know why instead of an arrowhead there is an old fashioned, red and white checkerboard, paper boat filled with tater tots covered with sawmill gravy.

No sense walking to the fridge, there are no tater tots or ice cream…but tomorrow is a shopping day.  I just have to figure out some type of Trojan Horse to sneak them past my bride in.

Americans consume nearly four billion tater tots yearly.  That’s thirty-five thousand tons of tater tots.  The average may go up if I have my way.  Thank you Ore-Ida.

***

For more of Don Miller’s meanderings, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0veH8Qsf0rEMd5TiBmn6Zd0vMtZABIY8cRxLHaDbc5yLMSzy4PNFCDl-g

Cravins’ of the Worst Kind

 

Biscuits and sawmill gravy…biscuits and sawmill gravy…biscuits and sawmill gravy.

BISCUITS AND SAWMILL GRAVY!

It’s four in the AM and I’m thinking about biscuits and sawmill gravy.  My nearly fifteen-year-old puppy dog can’t decide if she wants to go to the potty or not and is keeping me from going back to sleep.  Did I mention she’s blind and on a drug regimen too?  I’m thinking about drugs, but my drug thoughts involve food.  Might as well write about it, the chance of returning to dreamland is nil.

Someone posted a recipe about two weeks ago and accompanied it with a photo of biscuits ‘runnin’’ in the heavenly manna called sawmill gravy.  I have been craving this staple from my childhood every day since.

Big ole tall biscuits split and dripping butter in a puddle of creamy white gravy with bits of pork sausage and black pepper flakes doing the backstroke as if in an Olympic pool.  I could hear the plaque swelling in my veins and have been fighting the urge like a pregnant woman craving vanilla ice cream smothered in sardines at three AM in the morning.

I reckin’ there are worse urges, but it is not the healthiest dish in the world, and I’m concerned about health.  I’ve been having a lot of unhealthy urges, most of them involving pork, beef or chicken parts deep-fried or slow-cooked and if not smothered in gravy, running in fat…oh man, bacon fat.

I tend to run off the rails when it concerns my diet.  I don’t do anything by half measures.  I’m planning lunch and supper while I’m eating breakfast.  A day of excess turns into a month of penance and metaphorical self-flagellation.  Why eat a cup of ice cream when a half-gallon is available.

I can hear the half-gallon calling to me from the fridge, “Eattttt me, EATttttt me, EATTTT ME!”  The call starts with a soft, ethereal, childlike voice…and ends in a scream from a horror film.  It begins as a suggestion and ends with a demand.  A demand I will pay for in my head.

Food is my drug of choice.  I will have a liquor drink or a light amber pilsner beer on occasion, but Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniels doesn’t scream at me in a gruff, Tennessee accent from the liquor cabinet, “Y’ALL DRINKKKK ME!” 

“This little piggy” who should have gone to market is rooting around in my head instead.  Pulled pork BBQ, bacon, country-fried pork chops…yum!

I have waged a battle with my weight for the best part of six decades.  I was a picky eater until my tonsils and adenoids were removed in the late Fifties.  It was as if my taste buds suddenly activated.  Active taste buds and low willpower are a deadly mix when weight is involved.

Now the memory of my grandmother’s peanut butter cookies is calling to me.  “EATTTT ME!”  She died twenty years ago and took her cookie and biscuit recipe with her.  If not, I might be makin’ biscuits with a side of sawmill gravy and a dessert of peanut butter cookies at five AM this morning instead of writing this.

My grandmother is one of the reasons I’ve tried every fad weight loss regimen known to man with only short-term successes.  She had a bad habit of showing her love through food.   “Good boy, Donnie.  I love you, have a cookie…” or five.

Lost seventy pounds on the Atkins diet, tried and failed going vegan with the MacDougal Diet, counted fat grams, the beer diet…no not really.  I finally stumbled on to something that worked in the mid-2000s.  A heart attack.

Exercise with a low fat, taste at a minimum, plant-based diet to stay alive so I could meet my grandchildren.  Heavy doses of running and walking.  Meat and fried foods…once in a blue moon….  I’m sorry, I grew up Southern with food deep or pan-fried, highly seasoned by the spirits of my ancestors, “That’ll do honey chile.  Ease back on that salt but put in another dash of those Cajun seasonings.”

Because I tend to run off the rails, I worry about giving in to my urges.  Biscuits and sawmill gravy now, fried livermush and onions later, fried catfish filets with grilled cheese and onion grits forever…all covered in pan drippings that probably involve bacon.

I’m not sure grilled salmon on a bed of greens with a simple vinaigrette is going to satiate me.

A still, small voice calls to me, “Eattttt me, EATttttt me, EATTTT ME!”  Damn it!  I did.

***

Historical-  “The legend of biscuits and sawmill gravy is that, prior to the Civil War, the gravy was created in logging camps or sawmills to give lumberjacks extra energy for a long day of chopping down trees.”

“The dish started with cooking sausages in a pan and then making a roux by tossing flour and/or cornmeal into the pan and cooking to a light blonde color. Cooks deglazed the pan with milk and scraped off the sausage bits stuck to the pan, called fondly by the French, “fond”. If the gravy was served too thick and chunky, lumberjacks were said to accuse the cooks of adding sawdust to the recipe. The original recipe most likely consisted of only breakfast sausage, pan drippings, milk, and black pepper.”

From AmazingRibs.com, Classic Southern Biscuits And Gravy (Sawmill Gravy) Recipe By Meathead Goldwyn

As Easy as Pie…

 

I’m sitting when I should be doing…but I’m thinking…is that doing?

It’s Pi Day.  The celebration of 3.14159265359, originally the ratio of a circle’s ratio to diameter. It now has various equivalent definitions and appears in many formulas in all areas of mathematics and physics.  Pi is also known as Archimedes’ constant.  But then you didn’t need a mathematics lesson and it is not the pie I’m thinking of.

For some reason or another, my mind goes to food by default and one of my favorite foods is pie.  Pizza Pie…”When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”  I don’t know Dean, more like when it hits my taste buds that’s amore.  I could eat pizza every day and twice on Sunday…even Hawaiian Pizza which is not even Hawaiian.  Extra pineapple, please.

Not just pizza, Shepard’s pie, my grandmother’s chicken pot pie, my bride’s tomato pie, “Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye, Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.”  Ah, no, but just about any savory pie will do.

Or sweet pie.  Key lime even if it’s Mrs. Edward’s, my momma’s cherry cheesecake which is more a pie than cake to me…and her butterscotch pie.  Bourbon Pecan pie with Jack Daniels.  Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie is my way of introducing more vegetables into my diet.  Sweet potatoes are not vegetables you say?  Drat…okay a way to introduce more starches into my diet then.

I don’t know where the colloquial idiom “as easy as pie” came from, it’s first use is traced back to a yarn written by a teenaged Zane Grey in 1886.  That would have made him fourteen at the time.  Writing must have been “easy as pie” for the young writer.

What I do know is, eating pie is easy, making pie is not…if it involves a crust.  Making a flaky crust seems to be an exercise in futility…for me.

I’ve tried to bake pies and have had some successes.  Outdoor grilled pizza pie and a grits pie I tried because it sounded interesting and well, I’m a Southerner who loves grits.  I’ll attach a recipe at the end, but it cheats.  It uses a prebaked crust.  As easy as pie doesn’t work for a homemade pie crust.  I know, I tried.  It wasn’t easy as pie, it was awful.

How awful?  My puppy dogs wouldn’t eat it and they ate just about anything including cat poop.  Who knew you just couldn’t add sugar to a biscuit batter and roll it out thin?  The damn pie swelled and swelled forcing blackberries out onto the baking dish I had thankfully placed under it.  Who knew you had to work the batter when it was very, very cold?  Who knew I should use all-purpose flour instead of self-rising?  I know now and it is useless information.  I’ll cheat and get a prebaked crust if I ever feel the motivation again.

I feel the need to celebrate Pi Day with a pie…but then I’ll celebrate anything with a pie.  I’m not sure which pie only that it will be bought not homemade.  Why go to the trouble when Mrs. Edwards or Patti LaBelle can do the cooking.  Maybe an “all-everything thin crust pizza” pie topped off by a slice of key lime or buttermilk pie.  As easy as pie.  Just climb in your car and go get one.

A Paula Dean Grits Pie recipe https://www.pauladeenmagazine.com/grits-pie/

“When the moon hits your eyes….” is from the 1953 song, That’s Amore, sung by Dean Martin and written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks.  For some reason, I heard it a lot and I’m not Italian. 

Don Miller writes of a variety of topics.  You can find him at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM   

The image of the key lime pie is from https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/key-lime-pie-recipe/

“Forgive me Father….”

 

While discussing our health and eating habits, I lamented to my best friend during our weekly early morning walk together, “I’ve got to get ah hold of my diet.”  Six months ago, I needed to lose five pounds…I now need to lose five additional….  My friend’s weight hasn’t varied a pound in the last decade.  I hate him just a little.

I know I could have said “get hold of” but I’m Southern and “get ah hold of” is perfectly acceptable.  I could have said, “get ah holt to” too, also perfectly acceptable from a man who was born, reared and has lived his entire life south of the Mason Dixon.

The point, I actually have one…oatmeal.  Oatmeal is one of the ways I get “ah holt” of my diet despite the fact I don’t like cooked breakfast oatmeal ah tall (at all).  I realize it is good for me.  I know this because of the red heart on the round tubed package with the smiling Quaker on the label.  Oatmeal seems to go well with the concept of diet and exercise…or as I think of it, starvation and torture.

Be clear!  I don’t hate oatmeal, I hate cooked breakfast oatmeal.  I’m a grits guy and all the unhealthy additions used to make it palatable…extra-sharp cheese, butter…maybe some sausage crumbles.  All my non-Southern friends roll their eyes and remark, “I don’t know how you eat grits, they’re so bland.”  Oatmeals not? And a painter’s canvas is white until the paint is applied.  Grits are the same way.  Grits are a blank canvas for the chef’s art.

I told my friend, hoping by saying it out loud I would follow through, “I’m waiting until the first frost and changing over to oatmeal again.”  For some reason, oatmeal seems better suited for the cold, barren, bland, and dark days of winter.  Well, we had our first frost a few days ago and I’ve had my first bowl of steaming hot Quaker Steel-cut Oats.  Yum…not.

I also converted from beer to Jack.  Jack seems better suited to help me through those cold, barren, bland, and dark days of winter.  Oats with a shot of Jack?  It’s five o’clock somewhere.

There is something about the mouthfeel of cooked oatmeal…is that something?  Mouthfeel?  I heard the term on one of those cooking shows that I noticed never cooks oatmeal.  Consistency?  Sometimes it seems the more I chew, the bigger the wad of oatmeal gets.  Sometimes I swallow without chewing.  I like the mouthfeel of grits and I never swallow without chewing because of the added accoutrements.  I used the French pronunciation in my head to make it sound better.  I guess I used the French spelling too.  I just can’t do that with oatmeal with a straight face.

I try to disguise the oatmeal, using it like a gray, chef’s canvas, I guess.  Almonds, yogurt, and frozen blueberries, or cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter, sometimes molasses and walnuts, maybe chocolate chips…okay, I seem to be making it less healthy as I go, and it doesn’t change the mouthfeel.  Oatmeal gets worse as you compare it to the mouthfeel of what you are putting in it.  Kind of like the feel of a silky negligee as opposed to a knobby wool nightshirt.

I like oatmeal’s mouthfeel fine in Missouri cookies or granola…I won’t turn down a raisin oatmeal cookie.  That’s pronounced Missour…rah cookies.  Raw oats, cocoa, butter, sugar, milk, and peanut butter…it has peanut butter, what’s not to like?  No-bake, easy, tasty but probably not very heart-healthy.  Granola is toasted but is pretty calorie-dense with all the honey and nuts.  Sometimes I add it to my yogurt and leave the cooked oats out.

Choices, choices and all are bad.  My bud suggested, “Why don’t you eat multi-grain Cheerios or Kashi?  They stand up well in milk, high in protein.  I eat them with fruit.”  Yeah, a good mouthfeel I guess and they have the little red heart symbol on their package.

Good idea but I think I now realize, eating boiled oats is my own form of self-flagellation for previous nutritional choices leading to my heart attack.  I am paying for my sinful eating habits.  Too much pizza, too much red meat, and fried chicken…drinking eggnog while eating sausage cheese balls at Christmastime, cut in lard cathead biscuits running with butter and King syrup, fried everything….too many sins to enumerate.

I need absolution.  I should be confessing to a food priest…”Forgive me, father, for I have sinned, I ate a fried hamburger last week…with mayo…and cheese.”  My penance would probably be another bowl of breakfast oatmeal served sans anything.  I may be sick.  “Hail Oatmeal, full of grace….”

The featured image came from UrbanDaddy https://www.urbandaddy.com/articles/37513/chicago/the-state-of-chicago-burgers-10-beautiful-burgers-one-beautiful-slideshow   Please forgive me for showing a Yankee hamburger but somethings transcend region.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

King of Syrups, All Hail King

 

I have a sweet tooth I must guard as tenaciously as we should be guarding our nuclear launch codes…not a good analogy because I slip up and let my guard down.  While letting my sweet tooth guard down might equate to an increase of a pound or five on my bathroom scales, letting your guard down concerning the launch codes could equate to increases in radiation levels and nuclear ash swirling about.  I’ve seen too many end of the world movies.  This morning my end of the world scenario involves my sugar and fat cravings.

I awoke with a hankering.  I flat out fancy something sweet.  To avoid such scenarios, I have made my fridge and pantry a post-apocalyptic, barren wasteland of sweet treats.  If not, I would be chin deep licking the container from a former half-gallon of Breyer’s Chocolate Chip Mint ice cream or reaching into the bottom of a bag of Hersey’s Dark Chocolate minis I had just opened.

Absolutely…No…Willpower.  Twice I’ve walked over to the freezer to see if there was something sweet hiding behind those frozen Lean Cuisines.  This is despite knowing, “There ain’t nothing there!”  Wait…I wonder if Linda has something stashed in her purse…“F@#$ Me!”

My cravings have taken me down one of Alice’s rabbit holes.  Instead of enjoying a cup of tea with the Mad Hatter I’m thinking about thick, lard infused, buttermilk biscuits, “runnin’” in butter, topped with King Brand Golden Syrup.  Even those cravins’ are for naught.  No lard, no freshly churned butter, and no King Syrup.

As I mentally toast the Mad Hatter’s similar insanity, I regale him with stories of peanut butter and Missouri cookies served by my grandmother.  They too are favorites from my youth, but for some reason, this morning it’s biscuits and King Brand Golden Syrup.

Biscuits and honey, you say Mad Hatter?  I would not turn it down…it’s just that in the memories of my youth it wasn’t honey, it was Golden Syrup…or maybe molasses…”Wait! I have molasses…a little toast drizzled in blackstrap molasses!”  Nope!  It ain’t what I want.

Growing up in a Southern rural area one might think I would crave honey…or sorghum.  One would be wrong.  I found sticky, sweet heaven in a large, red labeled metal can featuring a lion’s head and a pry-off lid.  Made in Maryland, somehow the syrupy ambrosia found its way South to the shelves of Pettus’s Store.  From there the contents had found their way onto the cathead biscuits my grandmother had made and placed before me.   A dessert fit for a King…or made by a King…All Hail!

Some people don’t consider biscuits and sawmill gravy a meal.  My guess…those same people would not consider butter covered biscuits drowning in a King Syrup a dessert.  Their loss…and mine cuz I ain’t got none.

Well, Mad Hatter…I’ve no biscuits and no King Syrup.  All I have are the memories of a small kitchen and the narrow dining area that went with it.  The warm biscuits on a chipped china plate with freshly churned butter. and the red labeled tin waiting at the ready.

My heart is thankful for the memories and much “heart” healthier because the memories are all I have…until I get myself to a grocery store.

For further trips down a rabbit hole, Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

In Praise of Corn

 

Most of the people here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge have a love affair with the first tomato sandwich of the season.  That would be the ones they make with homegrown or at least local tomatoes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love them too.  A Cherokee Purple running with Duke’s Mayonnaise on white bread, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper…no it doesn’t get better than that…unless you are a corn lover.  Now, in all honesty, I am waiting patiently for my Cherokee Purples to start showing color but last summer I ate or drank corn every day it was available.

There is something about the first roastin’ ear of the season…or first half dozen…at least for me.  Dripping in butter, or not.  Seasoned with salt and pepper, or not.  I don’t care, the first corn of the season is truly a reason to celebrate.  I’m celebratin’ today!

I grew up on a farm that grew copious amounts of corn.  Corn for boiling, creaming, soup mix, or chowder.  It was one of the main ingredients in my grandmother’s chicken pot pies or the occasional “cooter stew.”  Her creamed corn is still the best I’ve ever eaten and I miss it.

Dried, it was ground into cornmeal and grits to enjoy when fresh corn wasn’t available.  Cornbread, cheese and butter grits, corn pone, corn dodgers, and hush puppies.  Yellow, white or bicolor, it didn’t matter.

Corn fed our livestock, even the cobs were ground into a powder mixed with water to serve to our pigs.  The feed bags they were stored in would later become dresses sown from patterns by and for my grandmother, the scraps turned into patchwork quilts.  “Nothing wasted!”

Some might have been allowed to ferment with yeast and barley grain.  Later it would be distilled, stored in light blue gallon Ball mason jars with a few peaches or cherries thrown in for good measure.  Some…if the wrong person asks I’m denying it.

I admit I’ve even eaten it raw, once.  Later, after I recovered, I read an account of the Battle of Camden where it seems the defeat of the Patriot forces might have been aided by the raw corn they consumed along the way.  I guess it is hard to fight with your pants hanging around your ankles.

Well, today is the day.  I got the call from my local “corn monger” and went by and picked up a dozen ears of bicolor.  I used to grow my own until the raccoons discovered it.  Little bastards keep coming back.  They like it about as much as I do.

Um, um, um.  I’m torturing myself and waiting just a bit longer…okay, that’s long enough, my stomach is growling.  Bring enough water to cover the corn to a rolling boil, put in your husked corn, cover and wait until the water has returned to a boil and turn it off.  It is done…don’t you dare overcook it.  Today I will roll it in butter and lightly salt it.

In my best Bugs Bunny voice, “Bon Appétit, you maroons.”

bugs

Image by https://www.eatbydate.com/how-long-to-boil-corn/

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

 

Steak Chips….

 

I never know what will trigger a memory.  They just occur…a benefit from age?  Great, I’m glad there is one benefit from age…wisdom certainly isn’t.

Recently it was an unlikely trigger…Dr. Oz of daytime tv fame.  I walked in to find him prancing from my tv screen discussing how to make hamburgers moist despite overcooking…as in cooking to well done.  Well done and then some…something my grandmother would have done to hamburger or steak.  The young man being interviewed was using a “panade.”  Being as country as a fresh cow patty I looked the word up. Suddenly I was back in a small kitchen watching her making her most special, well done, yet moist hamburgers.

My grandmother grew up in a time when meat was slaughtered and processed on the farm…in not the most sterile conditions.  There was a disease, trichinosis, caused by a roundworm that could be transferred from undercooked meat to humans.  This led me to believe that all steaks were…well…cracker like…dry and tending to make snapping sounds when cut…like a potato chip.

Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.  We weren’t eating premium cuts of meat either.  We were the ones who made “eating high on the hog” or in this case, cow, possible.  Generally, we ate variations of round steak, cubed and then turned into a cracker, may be covered in a milk gravy or covered in a beading and then turned into a cracker before being covered in a milk gravy.  Yes, she overcooked them and taught my mother to overcook them as well.

I didn’t know any better until I went off to college.  I didn’t know steak came anyway other than chip like…and cubed.  A young lady I was dating suggested that I might want to try my filet mignon cooked less than well done.  During those days if a young lady I was dating had suggested I might try a dead cow’s hoof raw, I probably would have eaten it with a smile on my face.  The things you might do for love I guess…or lust.  Despite thinking it was just heated past raw, I found it to be moist, tender, quite tasty and not the least bit cracker-like.  I also didn’t pronounce it correctly either, “fill-it-mig-non.”

As bad as Nannie’s steaks were, her hamburgers were heavenly…despite having every bit of pink cooked right out of them.  They were moist because she added her own version of a “panade.”  A French word, it is a paste made from stale bread and milk or a word that means, “A state or experience of misery or poverty.”  I know my grandmother and grandfather experienced poverty, even before the Great Depression.  Just not sure about the misery but I doubt it.  Gee, the things you learn if you just pay attention.

She didn’t use bread as I remember, she used oatmeal or crushed up crackers.  Nannie also added sautéed onions and used a spice list I’ve never been able to recreate.  I’ve tried, repeatedly with different variations, and have only created my own version of a fried meatloaf…not bad, but not the same at all.  Boo, hoo, hoo.

My grandmother was a good cook, but it usually involved chicken, fried or in a pot pie.  Maybe wildlife like cooter soup or squirrel dumplings and for clarification, in those days a cooter was a turtle.  I know today’s word usage might cast some shade on that dish, but turtle soup was quite tasty…much tastier than her steak chips.

Thank you, Dr. Oz.  You have reinvigorated my efforts and brought back memories of the sound of beef patties landing in a greased, hot cast iron pan, moist and tasty hamburgers on white bread, a small kitchen and the woman who toiled there.  Ummmm, ummmm…wait, you mean I’ll probably use ground turkey instead of beef?  Roasted not fried?  No lard?  Oh well, thanks for the memories anyway.

Don Miller’s writer’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

GREEN RIVER…UM, UM, GOOD…

Good food, good times and good friends you didn’t know you knew.

I sat with my beloved at a raised bar done in corrugated metal and salvaged wood.  We sat on tall, padded, metal bar stools and sipped Narragansett.  It had been a while since we had partaken of the ambrosia of the gods… pulled pork BBQ, slaw and fried okra.  We were sipping beer and watching the big screen as we waited.  Narragansett is a Yankee beer.  Despite its Northern birthplace, I like it as much as the beers from more Southern climes.  I like good beer where ever it is brewed…I know, sometimes I wouldn’t know a good beer if it bit me on the ass, but “Gansett” goes well with the BBQ…and it’s cheap enough to have two…or three.

I’m reminded a bit of Cheers, “where everyone knows your name.”  Well, here at Green River, they may have forgotten our names, but they do recognize us…and it’s been a while.  Melanie and Tammie noticed us immediately and despite being covered up with other diners took time to check in and reconnect.  There was a third little girl whose name I’ve forgotten.  I feel terrible.  That’s Cheers-like, isn’t it?  She checked in too.

In addition to my love affair with great BBQ, I have had a love affair with hole-in-the-wall establishments dating to when I first ventured into a bar named The Cellar in the very late Sixties.  Dim, smoky places…

” Meeting… in smoky places,

Hiding… in shadowy corners,

Dancing… where no one knows our faces,

sharing love stolen in the night,

in smoky places.”

 

Thank you, Corsairs, all though I’m not talking about THAT kind of smoky place.  My first real date with the love of my life was in a dim, bluesy, smoke-filled, hole in the wall and no we weren’t hiding from anyone at The Casablanca.  Just listening to the Blues sung by Ronnie Godfrey, a friend of my love who would eventually sing at our wedding.  Later, at different times, we would celebrate a significant anniversary, a New Year’s celebration and Mardi Gras at the Cypress Cellar, a hole-in-the-wall that became less and less hole-in-the-wall like until it finally changed into a bright Mexican restaurant with a different name.  I do miss the Cajun cuisine…and its “hole-in-the-wallness” although the Mexican restaurant is very good…just too bright to be a hole-in-the-wall.

We first wandered into Green River BBQ thirty years ago.  It was an accident, like a lot of the good discoveries in our lives…one might say discovering each other was an accident that worked out well too.   Late in the day on a cool and foggy, fall evening, it was our first trip to the small town of Saluda in North Carolina.  Deciding we wanted to eat, there were three restaurants to choose from.  We picked the correct one…for us.  We watched a football game on a not so big screen TV and met Melanie, the owner, and her husband.  The husband hasn’t been in the picture for a while and I admit that I really haven’t missed him.  I doubt Melanie has either.  We sat in the small, rustic dining area reading the quaint and rusting metal signs of pigs adorning walls finished from old salvaged boards.  A screened in porch led us to the dining area and the sound of the slamming screen door reminded me a bit of home.

Waiters and waitresses have changed over the years as has Green River.  Melanie has expanded the dining room, now done in corrugated metal along with the unfinished boards.  True big screen TVs are available to watch sporting events if you so desire.  Joining the rusting signs, garden rake heads are attached to the walls and utilized to hold wine glasses.  Yep, a wine list has joined its beer list.  The screened porch is now enclosed to increase year-round seating, but the screen door still has that pleasant bang and a bit of the parking lot has been confiscated for outdoor seating.  Most importantly, while the people and objects have changed, the attitude hasn’t.  It still feels like a welcoming hole-in-the-wall…and a bit like home.

This past Sunday, we met new friends.  Steve from Wilmington, spending a few weeks helping a friend clean up his home’s lot and searching for information on how to get rid of groundhogs without shooting them.  Deshi, from the small town of “Somewhere,” India, teaches at the local community college and is quite the football fan.  We nodded at an old friend, John, the chubby, red-faced, dark headed guy that always comes in alone and sits quietly working the Sunday crossword.  There were other regulars I recognized, they greeted us even if they didn’t know our names.  My kind of place.

One might surmise food is not the primary reason I go to Green River.  That would be untrue.  I opened with good friends, good times and good food.  My only complaint about the food is…I don’t have any complaints about their food.  They have great entrees, some that don’t even involve BBQ, but I do remind you, you probably shouldn’t order fish in a restaurant advertising pulled pork, slow cooked ribs, and barbeque chicken.  When asked to name your side dish, do try the fried okra with a little Ranch dressing on the side.

Yes, good friends, good times and good food.  There are other restaurants in Saluda and they too are good, friendly and have their own “hole-in-the-wall” ambiance…they just don’t serve BBQ.

For more of Don Miller’s “a bubble off plumb” outlook on life please visit his author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501

HOSPITAL FOOD

Freaking A…fib!  What’s next?  Sciatica then shingles, now afib?  This aging sh!t is for the birds.  My childlike brain encapsulated within this bag of crumbling organs.  I feel like a blivit…never heard of a blivit…rhymes with ‘live it’?  It is ten pounds of pooh in a five-pound bag.

It was to be a simple, three-hour process…just a little shock to put the ole ticker back into rhythm…so simple.  Like Gilligan’s three-hour cruise, it didn’t turn out like it was supposed to.  Four hospital days later, my heart is back in rhythm but I’m taking a cure that may be worse than the disease, have seen four different doctors and am waiting to see if I need a pacemaker.  My choices bother me but not nearly as much as four days of hospital food…especially hospital food concocted for a cardiac patient.  Um, yum.  Gilligan and his merry crew of castaways ate much better.

I have attempted to reach a happy medium between doing the things necessary to extend my life, providing I don’t step out in front of a beer truck while enjoying my life.  I did have that heart attack thing.  Eating healthy, smart exercises six or seven times a week, reducing stress…most of the time, although there are those days I walk with Hawk.  Cigarsssssss!  Only once in a blue moon.  Speaking of Blue Moon, less than a six pack a week.  Most days eating food with the consistency of wet cardboard and the taste of unseasoned butcher paper so that once a month I can trip the light fandango…or is it skip the light fantastic?  I’m reminded of a question, “How is the best way to prepare carp?  Easy! Nail the carp to an old barn board. Cover it in moist cow manure and bake until done.  Allow the board and carp to cool until you can handle it.  Throw the carp away and eat the board.”  A lot of the healthier food choices I eat seem to taste the way I imagine a manure covered board might taste.

I’m just not going to eat that way…every day.  There must be a certain joy to life or it is not worth living.  For instance, I have reduced my salt intake but not on grits and eggs…I also don’t eat eggs and grits every day…or even every week.  Occasionally I’m going to eat eggs and grits covered in cheddar cheese and running in butter…real butter…just to remind me of what life has to offer.  I’m going to eat it with salt…and a side of bacon or sausage.  But not every day.  Some days, I’m going to eat slow cooked pork that has been marinated in a brine mixture and then covered in a special rub…but, not every day.  I am never going to eat tofu…ever.

The hospital food reminded me of the good things I was missing…because it was so terrible.  Honestly, it was good hospital food, which is like saying Mississippi River mud taste better than Colorado River mud.  Well, I’m home now.  No pacemaker, no flutter in my atrium and no hospital food.  Also, no cigar, no beer…today…may be tomorrow…and tomorrow, I’ll probably eat oatmeal for breakfast…with no salt…and no taste.