Month: February 2019

Dry Counties and Boa Constrictors

What a fascinating world we live in! We all grow up with our own unique perspective, and that perspective is so ingrained in us that we think everyone else thinks exactly like we do.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but sometimes things happen that remind us how different we can be.

I write about small towns because I spent all of my teenage years in a small Mississippi town. Both of my parents, my grandparents, and, if my genealogy research is correct, generations before them came from the same area. With such strong roots in that one place, I forget that things that seem normal to me can seem unbelievable to someone else.

My editor lives in Toronto. She just finished reviewing my latest book, All Bets Are Off, which is set in the same fictional small town as all of my other books. She made margin notes about two things that were, to me, non-issues.

The first had to do with the concept of dry counties. To this day, the county where my family is from is completely dry—beer, wine, and liquor sales are banned. I understand they recently opened up beer and wine sales in the city limits of the county seat (except on Sunday), but that’s a fairly new development. When I was growing up, alcohol was illegal throughout the county. Actually, a lot of the state is still dry. My daughter lives in central Mississippi now, and if she wants a bottle of wine, she has to drive to the next county to get it.

My editor thought my story must be set in Utah, because she couldn’t imagine any other place where you can’t go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of wine. When she realized the story was set in Alabama, she looked it up and was shocked to see that dry counties are actually a thing.

Oh, yes ma’am, they are.

There’s another part of the book, without giving too much away, where a character mentions releasing a snake into a barn to catch mice. My editor’s question: “Is that legal?” I laughed out loud at that. Legal? Have you ever met an Alabama farmer? Trust me, those guys don’t go to the Sheriff to ask permission for anything. Their farm, their rules.

Besides, depending on where you are, county sheriffs have been known to turn a blind eye to a lot of things. People still make moonshine down here (ironic, isn’t it?). I’ve had occasion to try some before--it tastes a lot like lighter fluid. People still make it, though. Do you want to guess how those folks keep the Sheriff off their back? They give him a bottle. No lie. Just like in the movies.

That means setting a snake loose in a barn isn’t something people around here would even think twice about. Apparently, in other parts of the world, that would raise a few eyebrows. Who’d have thought?

Welcome to the South, y’all.

With that in mind, today I’ve decided to post a recipe that’s uniquely Southern. You might be able to get this north of The Line, but I bet it won’t taste nearly as good.

Shrimp and grits

Shrimp and Cheese Grits

For the shrimp:

2 sticks butter (softened)

1 tsp. black pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

¾ tsp. paprika

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. dried rosemary

2 T. minced garlic

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. hot sauce

1 tsp. water

1 lb. shrimp (cleaned, peeled, and deveined)

½ cup chopped country ham

1 ½ T olive oil

½ cup dry white wine

For the grits:

4 cups milk

1 cup quick cooking grits

1/2 tsp salt (don't skimp on the salt--in my humble opinion, unsalted grits are gross)

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup cream cheese

2 T butter

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

 

Combine first 10 ingredients (butter through water) in blender, and whip until smooth. Set aside. Wash shrimp four or five times and drain well (this removes most of the fishy taste). Set aside.

Bring milk, and remaining salt and pepper to a slight boil on medium high heat. Whisk in grits slowly, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until thick or until desired tenderness and consistency (about 5 minutes).  Remove from heat. Cut cream cheese into chunks and add into grits with cheese and butter.  Stir until well blended and all cheese has melted.

While grits are cooking, pour olive oil into a large skillet and heat to medium-high. Add ham to skillet and sauté until brown. Remove ham from pan. Add shrimp and cook 1 to 2 minutes (you can add a little more oil if you need to), turn, then cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Return ham to pan, add white wine and cook until reduced by half. Add butter mixture from step one, reduce heat to low, then simmer until shrimp are done.

Serve shrimp mixture on top of grits.

Pistachio Salad

It’s the end of an era. At least for me. I recently said goodbye to my last living grandparent. Goodbyes are never easy, especially those that come when someone dies. And when I headed out to the hospital to see her, I told my husband on the way that I knew I was going to see her for the last time. There’s no good way to do that.

I’m nearing fifty, and you don’t get here without losing your share of people you care about. My first major loss was a daughter—she was there one moment and gone the next. You tell yourself over and over that if you’d just had time to prepare, if you’d only known you’d never see them again, maybe it would be easier.

The older you get, the more you realize that’s a fallacy. Since that first horrible experience with mortality, I’ve nursed my share of loved ones through mortal illnesses that lasted months, even years. It’s not any easier. Watching someone suffer, lose their dignity, and deal with the inevitable reality of their coming death is every bit as bad as the gut punch of losing someone who you thought would be with you for the rest of your life.

Which is why I hope you’ll understand why the way she passed was a blessing, in a way. Grandma was 93. She lived alone in her home of nearly seventy years, without the aid of a healthcare worker, until three days before she died. She went into the hospital on a Friday and died peacefully in her sleep early Tuesday morning. We all gathered at her house the next day, and on a calendar in her kitchen, I could see where she had been crossing off each day until two days before she went to the hospital. She was doing fine until she wasn’t, and when it finally came time for her to go home, it happened mercifully fast.

Grandma was born in 1925 in McKenzie, Tennessee. The land she lived on, and the house she was born in, had been in her family since the early 1800s, when a Revolutionary War officer gave his son and his son’s new bride land to build a home. That home had a lot of history, but my grandma’s life in it wasn’t an easy one. Her mother died when she was eight. I wrote about that in another of my blogs--they were farmers, and grandma’s older sister preferred the kitchen to the fields. When their mother died, my great aunt took over cooking duties and refused to teach her younger sisters how to cook, for fear of having to take her turn in the fields.

That meant grandma was not the best cook in the world. Mom wasn’t either, and so neither was I. Mom and I both worked at it, though, and we were able to recover from generations of bad meals by putting in some effort. Grandma never really had time for that. She went from the cotton fields to the munitions factory, where she worked during World War II. While she was there, she met a young soldier at a USO dance. He married her and took her home to Mississippi after the war. And there she stayed until she died. Since her mother had died when she was so young, Grandma didn’t expect to live to see three more generations. But she did. By the time she died, she had three children, seven grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren. In fact, she lived to see her oldest great-grandchild (my daughter) marry and graduate from medical school.

What a life, huh? In her honor, today’s recipe comes from her. She might not have had that many skills in the kitchen, but I got two recipes from her that I love. I posted one last year. This family favorite is the other. I’ll never be able to make it without thinking of her.

We’ll miss you grandma.

Pistachio Salad

Pistachio salad

can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
pkg. (3.4 oz.) Pistachio Flavor Instant Pudding
cup miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1-1/2 cups thawed Cool Whip

 

In a medium mixing bowl, add everything except Cool Whip and marshmallows and stir until well blended. Add Cool whip and stir again, then add marshmallows and blend. Chill for an hour and serve.

© 2019 Shawna Lynn Brooks

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