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?

Goodmotherdiet Charleston Classics Collage

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 – Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Lime Sauce

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“Remember if people talk behind your back, it only means you are two steps ahead.”
Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Spring was early and hot in Northern California this year, so I took a risk and planted about a dozen tomato plants.  I have been enjoying an abundance of early red, vine-ripened tomatoes but then a chilly late spring set some of my plants back a bit.  They don’t like cold nights and foggy mornings.  So even though many of the ailing plants still had fruit clinging to them, I opted to pull them out and replace them with healthy plants since it’s still early in the season.  Of course, that meant harvesting quite a few still green tomatoes too.

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If I place green tomatoes in a sunny window sill, often they will get ripe but having just enjoyed ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ in Charleston a couple of weeks ago, I decided to give it a whirl.  Yum! I can see why it’s such a popular dish!  I usually end up with quite a few green tomatoes in the late fall, when it’s time to pull up the old and wizened tomato plants that still have green tomatoes hanging off of them before the nights get too cold.  Now, I will be looking forward to my green tomato harvest in October so I can make this again.  Winner!

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When I was deciding which recipe to use for this dish, I decided to go straight to the source that made ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ famous around the whole country and not just in the South.  I’m talking about Fanny Flagg and her novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe”, which was beloved and made into a popular movie.  Fannie Flagg started by writing a novel about the little cafe her great- aunt Bess owned in Irondale, Alabama. After the success of her novel and movie, she received thousands of requests from all over the world asking for recipes from the little cafe of her Alabama childhood. So she put together, Fannie Flagg’s Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook ,  which is a compilation of traditional Southern dishes, including the Fried Green Tomato recipe which I followed below (although I halved the batter recipe and added suggestions on making it vegan and/or more nutritious).

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Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Fannie Flagg’s Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook Reviews:
“If you liked her novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and if you liked the movie they made from that novel, you’ll like this cookbook….It’s funny, just like Flagg.”
–Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Recommended…All the traditional dishes are here, along with the author’s irreverent, irresistible commentary on Southern cooking and culture.”
–Library Journal

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I tend to like a dipping sauce or dressing to drizzle over the top of battered and fried foods, so came up with a Buttermilk Lime Sauce since I already had buttermilk left over from making the batter.  I mixed it with plain yogurt to thicken it up, fresh lime juice, garlic and fresh herbs.  You could always substitute mayo or sour cream to suit your own tastes.  If you don’t want to make a sauce, there are many good aioli’s and remoulades available to top off your tomatoes.

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TIPS: October is the best time to get green tomatoes from your garden as we don’t often see them in markets, but maybe you will get lucky.  The best tomatoes for frying are firm and green, that haven’t begun to change color and without any red spots. For a more nutritious batter, substitute a light whole grain flour, like coconut or oat flour for the flour.  Vegan milk and yogurt can be used if desired.  I would recommend a high quality vegetable oil like avocado, coconut or olive oil.

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Fried Green Tomatoes
3-4 green tomatoes
3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp salt & pepper
1 cup +milk or buttermilk (or vegan milk)
vegetable oil

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  • Wash and slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick slices- about 3- 5 slices per tomato.

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  • Mix together flour, cornmeal, salt & pepper. Add enough milk to create a thick batter.

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  • Heat 2 inches of oil in a large skillet. Batter each tomato slice, and wipe off excess.

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  • Carefully place in hot oil, browning on both sides. (may or may not need turning, depending on the amount of oil)

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  • To cool, drain in a colander (or on a cooling rack with paper towels) to keep tomatoes from becoming soggy. Salt to taste.

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Buttermilk-Lime Dressing

Makes about a cup

1/4 cup whole or lowfat buttermilk (or vegan milk)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2-3 Tbsn fresh lime juice (to taste)
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsn honey (0r more to taste)
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onion, roughly sliced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt

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  • Place garlic, green onion, basil and parsley in a food processor or blender and process until finely minced.

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  • Add buttermilk, yogurt, honey and salt and process until smooth. If it seems too sour, add a drizzle more of honey.

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Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Lime Sauce

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

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Fried Green Tomatoes
3-4 green tomatoes
3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp salt & pepper
1 cup+  buttermilk (milk or vegan milk)
vegetable oil

  • Wash and slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick slices- about 3- 5 slices per tomato.
  • Mix together flour, cornmeal, salt & pepper. Add enough milk to create a thick batter.
  • Heat 2 inches of oil in a large skillet. Batter each tomato slice, and wipe off excess.
  • Carefully place in hot oil, browning on both sides. (may or may not need turning, depending on the amount of oil)
  • To cool, drain in a colander (or on a cooling rack with paper towels) to keep tomatoes from becoming soggy. Salt to taste.

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing

Makes about a cup

1/4 cup whole or lowfat buttermilk (milk or vegan milk)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2-3 Tbsn fresh lime juice (to taste)
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsn honey
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onion, roughly sliced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt

  • Place garlic, green onion, basil and parsley in a food processor or blender and process until finely minced.
  • Add buttermilk, yogurt, honey and salt and process until smooth. If it seems too sour, add a drizzle more of honey.

 

 

Wheatless Wednesday – Grilled Shrimp and Cheesy Grits2

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Spoiler Alert!  I warned that my recent trip to Charleston would spill over into my kitchen.  Monday’s Charred Okra with Tomatoes should have been your first clue.  Shrimp and Grits is about as Southern a dish as you can find.  It is found on almost every menu in Charleston and is especially loved for breakfast. Many of the recipes call for ham, sausage, bacon, bacon fat or lard so this recipe may not be completely traditional but I found that every restaurant (and cook) has their own recipe, so anything goes.  The two important ingredients are fresh shrimp and ground corn (grits), not instant.

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As I was about to head back to California, I was gifted two bags of grits, both white and yellow, from Geechie Boy Mill, a local family owned farm that prides itself on  growing the best produce and milling the finest grits and cornmeal. Geechie Boy products are all authentic. Heirloom corn, heralding back to the early Native Americans, is used in the antique gristmills (photo below), which preserve the natural oils and flavors of the corn resulting in the most flavorful grits. The farm is home to four working mills, including a 1945 model on display in the on-site market and an 1847 mill, one of the earliest American-made mills. If you are in the Charleston area, you can stop by The Geechie Boy Market at the farm on Edisto Island and purchase grits and other seasonal produce.  If you aren’t in the area, you can purchase online by clicking HERE and they will ship directly to you.  I have never made grits before but they were creamy and delicious and very easy to make!  I love supporting small local farmers that create quality products and I hope you do too.  Fun Fact:  So what does Geechie mean?  Their website defines it as ‘Someone whose family has been in the South Carolina Lowcountry since forever”.

There are many ways to cook grits, and I’m sure everyone has their favorite method, but as a first timer, I chose the simple technique of cooking the grits in water and then stirring in butter and cheeses at the end, rather than messing with heating milk or cream. I loved the result which was creamy and flavorful.  I used sharp white cheddar and parmesan but you can use any cheeses you have on hand.  The shrimp was tasty, grilled with a honey, black pepper glaze and topped with loads of fresh herbs and lemon zest. The shrimp recipe was adapted from Summer Herbed Grilled Shrimp Recipe from Cooking Light July, 2015
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CHEESY GRITS

1 cup white grits
4 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsn unsalted butter
2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
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GRILLED SHRIMP

1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Cooking spray
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

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  • Combine the grits, water, salt and half of the butter in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.

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  • Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 30 minutes. If the grits become too thick, add more water.

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  • Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the cheeses.

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  • While the grits are cooking, prepare the shrimp: Rinse and pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Put the shrimp in a bowl with 1 Tbsn oil, honey, pepper and salt and toss to coat.

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  • Combine parsley, onion, lemon zest, oregano and garlic in a small bowl. Add remaining oil and vinegar and set aside.

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  • Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Arrange shrimp on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until done. Remove shrimp from grill to a serving platter.

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  • Top shrimp with herb mixture.

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  • Serve shrimp over cheesy grits.

Grilled Shrimp and Cheesy Grits

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

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CHEESY GRITS

1 cup white grits
4 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsn unsalted butter
2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated

GRILLED SHRIMP

1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Cooking spray
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

    • Combine the grits, water, salt and half of the butter in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
    • Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 30 minutes. If the grits become too thick, add more water.
    • Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the cheeses.
    • While the grits are cooking, prepare the shrimp: Rinse and pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Put the shrimp in a bowl with 1 Tbsn oil, honey, pepper and salt and toss to coat.
    • Combine parsley, onion, lemon zest, oregano and garlic in a small bowl. Add remaining oil and vinegar and set aside.
    • Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
    • Arrange shrimp on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until done. Remove shrimp from gril to a serving platterl.
    • Top shrimp with herb mixture.
    • Serve shrimp over cheesy grits.