Love, Loss and Southern Food

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Sometimes life seems to come at you all at once.  Ups and downs are a constant of life but sometimes we get gobsmacked by both of them at the same time. Last weekend I had the absolute pleasure of welcoming a daughter into the family as my oldest son (and frequent GMD guest chef), Eric, got married in Charleston, SC.  I was filled with such joy that I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Only another parent could understand the pride and pleasure that my husband and I derived from watching our son and his lovely new wife exchange their vows in an old 1706 stone church, and seal their union with the traditional breaking of the glass followed by the birdseed ‘gauntlet’ to the get away car. We danced all night in celebration and witnessed the bride and groom depart late at night through an incredible tunnel of Sparklers!   I have three wonderful sons but I knew if I waited long enough I would finally get a daughter (hopefully eventually there will be three).  Eric could not have made a better choice.  Hannah Grace is beautiful inside and out.  My heart was full.

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The following day, my Mother passed away in Seattle just shy of her 88th birthday.  I had been planning on taking the new bride up to Seattle right after the honeymoon to meet Mom, Dad and my rather large family and celebrate their new marriage.  As one of eleven children, I realize that this would be intimidating for anyone under the best of circumstances. Now, instead we will be going to say goodbye.  I am deeply sad that my Mom won’t get to meet Hannah Grace, a fellow educator and advocate for children and those in need, but even more so that HG won’t get to meet the person that had such an influence on who I am today and who also helped to shape the man with whom she chose to spend the rest of her life.  I have to remind myself that I am lucky that I got to know Mom for part of her life. She was fearless and selfless in so many ways and not afraid to get her hands dirty. She and my Dad took in dozens of foster children, including an entire family that escaped from Cuba in the 60’s.  She raised chickens and had an organic garden before they were trendy.  She was definitely ahead of her time, although she was incredibly humble and would be the last to call herself beautiful or a leader, yet she was both. It is from my Mom that I have the passion for gardening and experimenting with healthy food. Most likely without her wealth of knowledge and hands on experience, there would be no goodmotherdiet.  It’s hard to believe she is gone; that I can’t pick up the phone to chat about what to plant next to my kale this Fall or how to make her famous Oatmeal Waffles with Strawberry Goop.

My friend, Del, sent me a card that poses the idea; “Perhaps they are not Stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the Love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are Happy“. I find a small measure of comfort in this theory.  Although I bounce between sorrow and joy and back again, I am grateful that I am blessed with a loving family and I hope Mom is watching from her opening in Heaven as the newlyweds begin their life together. I know I will forevermore smile at the stars.

So what does this have to do with Southern Food?

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Alas, I realize that this is actually a food blog, so steer myself away from Memory Lane for a bit to think about food and how it might relate. It is known that food can make us happy.  You have no doubt heard of comfort food which is often food that reminds us of our childhood or happier times, or at least makes our bellies feel happy and satisfied. I tend to go for a big bowl of buttered (non-GMO of course) popcorn cooked on the stovetop just like Mom used to make.  For Southerners, like my new daughter in law, Cheesy Grits might be your go to dish.  As I continue to bask in the glow of the Charleston wedding, with thoughts of my Mom tucked safely away in my heart, I have compiled several blog posts of delicious Southern specialties that I made after my pre-wedding trip to Charleston last spring, like Charred Okra and Tomatoes, Shrimp and Cheesy Grits, Fried Catfish and the famous Fried Green Tomatoes (which could be the perfect solution for those unripe tomatoes still on the vine when the weather gets cold).  There is a reason why some of these are classic dishes! Click through the links below for the full recipes. I will get back to cooking soon, but I’m taking a bit of a break right now to spend time with my family.  Thanks for reading…Joyce

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Charred Okra with Tomatoes – Even those who are not fans of okra may change their minds with this one which combines smokey okra, charred onion and garlic, along with sweet wilted tomato and a sprinkling of fresh herbs and lemon zest.  You just may be pleasantly surprised!

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Grilled Shrimp and Cheesy Grits – Need I say more?  Creamy grits with sharp white cheddar and parmesan topped with grilled shrimp with a honey, black pepper glaze and topped with loads of fresh herbs and lemon zest.

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Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Lime Sauce – This is the recipe from Fanny Flagg and her novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe”,that made ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ famous around the whole country and not just in the South.  Yum!  This is the perfect answer for what to do with the last green tomatoes of the season as the cold weather sets in…

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Fried Catfish Over Napa Corn Slaw-We’re talking Southern style fried fish (wheat and gluten free) over a light and spicy slaw.  Delicious!

 

 

Meatless Monday – Charred Okra with Tomatoes

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OKRA, Love it or Leave it?  Where do you come down on this divisive vegetable? There doesn’t seem to be room for ambivalence here. People seem to love it or hate it.  Okra happens to be my husband’s absolute favorite vegetable, and unfortunately for him, it has always been my least favorite, so I have avoided it as much as possible, until now.  I have always found okra to be gluey and sticky so when I ran across a recipe which chars the okra in a ‘screaming hot pan’ to cook off the mucilage that makes okra slimy slippery, I was hoping for a winner.  Well I was not disappointed.  Thank you Keith at Mad Delicious for the excellent recipe!  You have made me an okra believer! Even those who are not fans of okra may change their minds with this one which combines smokey okra, charred onion and garlic, along with sweet wilted tomato and a sprinkling of fresh herbs and lemon zest.  You just may be pleasantly surprised!

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What is okra anyway?  Okra, which is also called ladies’ fingers, bhindi, bamia, ochro or gumbo depending on where you are in the world, is a flowering plant in the mallow family which makes it related to cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus.  I couldn’t really see the connection between these seemingly dis-similar plants until I ran across the following photo of an okra flower in bloom which actually looks kind of like a hibiscus flower – mystery solved.

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Okra Flower Photo Credit: Wikipedia

In spite of it’s reputation for being a somewhat unpopular vegetable (unless you are in the South where it is well loved), Okra is considered a nutrient dense food, which means it supplies a lot of nutrients for a relatively low number of calories. Okra is a good source of calcium, fiber, vitamin C, protein, folate, manganese and magnesium plus phytonutrients;  beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin (for those keeping track).  These are some pretty good reasons to give okra another try.  It might just win you over too…

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TIPS:  The original recipe called for peeling the tomatoes with a serrated peeler before cooking.  I don’t have a serrated peeler (my potato peeler didn’t work) and I didn’t want to go to the trouble to blanch and shock the tomatoes in ice water to remove the peels, so I left the skins on with very good results.  When selecting okra at the market, choose smaller pods which are less likely to get slippery when cooked.  Food gets done pretty quickly when cooked on high heat, so I would recommend having everything chopped and measured before  you start cooking.

Recipe adapted from Keith Schroeder,Mad Delicious-Cooking Light July 2015  He’s also got a new cookbook coming out for Cooking Light, “Mad Delicious“, which looks like it might be a good one!

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CHARRED OKRA WITH TOMATOES

1-2 Tbsn high heat oil (avocado, olive or coconut are good choices)
1/2 lb fresh okra
1 small or 1/2 large onion
3-5 cloves garlic
2-3 plum tomatoes
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsn butter
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

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  • Prepare the vegetables.  Slice okra in half lengthwise.  Halve and slice the onion into thin wedges.  Seed and julienne the tomatoes.

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  • Measure out the sugar, red pepper, butter chopped thyme, lemon zest and salt.

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  • Heat a large skillet (cast iron if possible) over high heat.  Add oil to pan and allow to get hot.  Add okra in a single layer, seed side down, and cook without stirring for about 3 minutes or until charred.  Stir. (Do in batches if necessary and then stir to combine).

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  • Add onion and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes or until lightly charred.

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  • Add tomato, sugar and pepper and cook about a minute, or just to soften the tomatoes.

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  • Remove from heat and stir in butter, thyme, zest and salt.

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  • Serve over red or brown rice, if desired.

Charred Okra with Tomatoes

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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1-2 Tbsn high heat oil (avocado, olive or coconut are good choices)
1/2 lb fresh okra
1 small or 1/2 large onion
3-5 cloves garlic
2-3 plum tomatoes
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsn butter
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

  • Prepare the vegetables.  Slice okra in half lengthwise.  Halve and slice the onion into thin wedges.  Seed and julienne the tomatoes.
  • Measure out the sugar, red pepper, butter chopped thyme, lemon zest and salt.
  • Heat a large skillet (cast iron if possible) over high heat.  Add oil to pan and allow to get hot.  Add okra in a single layer, seed side down, and cook without stirring for about 3 minutes or until charred.  Stir. (Do in batches if necessary and then stir to combine).
  • Ad onion and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes or until lightly charred.
  • Add tomato, sugar and pepper and cook about a minute, or just to soften the tomatoes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in butter, thyme, zest and salt.
  • Serve over red or brown rice, if desired.