“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

 

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