Thursday, June 25, 2015

Grilling Out and Dining In

It's that time of year, when we all break out the charcoal or the gas grill and toss everything we want to eat on those hot narrow slats to cook. GRILLIN' (yes, all caps!) Just the thought is enough to get the oral juices flowing and the mind thinking of ribs, steak or barbequed anything! One of my most favorite parts of living in the south is that, because of the weather, we can almost grill year round.  (Ok, so not this last year, too much snow, but there have been years when we were able to grill out at least once or twice a month during the winter!)

But it's not the winter alone that is the problem. It's also this hot, humid summer.  When the temp goes up and the humidity goes up with it, stepping outside is like having someone hit you with a hot sponge (wrapped around a tire iron!)  Then you add to that the mosquitoes, wasps, barking dogs, the 'wrong neighbors' (if you know what I mean) and that whole "standing in front of a flaming hot grill on a hot day" thing and you've got the makings for a very bad afternoon.  That's not even considering the time you then sit down and eat and (hopefully) have a lovely time bonding with whomever you've invited for the Barbie Queue. (Get in line there, and get ya' some of that hot meat!) You're chasing away the flies with one hand and wondering why your burger smells like bug spray.

So, what does a good ol' former Colorado boy (ok, MAN) do to grill out when it's too hot to stand over the flame and too cold to stand without the flame?  Well , you do what I do.  I call it "Grillin' Out and Dining In."

First, I make sure that Neighbor Bubba, Lord of the Bar-Be-Que and Grillmaster Supreme, doesn't see me when I go out to heat up the grill and back inside while the grill prepares itself. Second, I take the plate of raw goodies out to the grill and place them on to cook. I close the grill and head back to the A/C (or heat, depending) checking my watch as I go.  In just a few minutes, I'm back out to the grill (Bubba glancing over from his back yard? No? ...good...) and turn the cooking goodies on the grill.  Check the watch, back to the house.  I continue this until everything is done, and I turn off the grill as I head back into the house where waits the plates, silverware and most importantly, no mosquitoes, barking dogs or problematic weather.  

Grilling out, Eating in.  

It's a Southern thing. Well, it's a Marvinatorsplace thing.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thirst Quenching!

Summer is here and with it of comes those long hot days and long hot nights. And hot days mean a hot and thirsty family. My wife and I use those big thirst quenching quart jars and make up handy grab n go beverages. But if you're having s few friends over, you can go through a pitcher of your favorite beverage in seconds.  

A couple of weeks ago I attended the graduation of not one, but TWO daughters who graduated from the same college at the same time (and both with honors! - Oh but I do digress.)  Afterward there was a party where the beverages were kept, not in a pitcher in the fridge, but in one of these big glass dispensers. Each holds about 3-4 gallons of cool refreshment and can be kept cold by sitting them in a shallow pan of ice.  Perfect. I refilled my glass of Peach (or was it mango) Sangria more times than I care to admit.  (ok, 4 times.  I didn't say I didn't know how many, I said I didn't want to admit how many.)

I found this display the following week and gave considerable thought to picking one up for the fridge.  They appear to be hand made with cork or plastic seals so it would be easy to keep things fresh.  Perfect for those long hot Southern summer days when the light goes on and on and the kids can't be kept indoors.  Yeah, good times.

I wonder if brother Bubba (the retired school teacher) has made any wine lately.  It's good wine for Sangria or for removing varnish from old furniture. (and again, I digress. ) 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

You Can't Eat Them D*mn Grits!

There are fewer foods more iconic to the south than grits.  Oh there's also Southern Fried Chicken and Chicken and Waffles, but when it really comes down to it, grits is the one that everyone says is only found in the south.  Yeah, I hear ya, you CAN find it elsewhere, but only in the south is grits added to your breakfast when you didn't order it.

Now, the non-southerner in me thinks back on a routine that George Carlin did about how to make grits. It was a long, quickly intoned set of instructions of how to flip, fry, mash, cook and otherwise prepare the grits, ending with "Throw them out, cuz you can't eat them d*mn grits!"  (Cue laughter.) 

All my life I've had that in me. When I got to the south all I could think was that in order to eat grits, real grits, it was going to take considerable fortitude to get past my palate, much like Scottish Haggis* (and I've never had Haggis.)  You can imagine my surprise when I learned that grits is made of corn. Corn? Ok, says I, I love corn.  Why wouldn't I love Grits?  So, I decided to try them.  

The first time I saw grits on my plate, I thought it was some mistake. We had gone out for breakfast and the menu said 'grits' with every meal. When the dish came, I thought again: "You can't eat them d*mn grits!" There was this strange mess in one corner, an off-white color, with the consistency of mealy pudding. 'This is corn? Some sort of Southern Breakfast Corn Mush?' (Oh yeah, maybe Carlin was right.) But I had endeavored to be a good Southerner and try them, so I quickly put a forkful in my mouth and reached for a glass of milk to wash it down.  

And then the flavor hit me.  

Corn.  Delicious, flavorful corn.  A bit bland, but most definitely there. No need to wash this down quickly. It was there to savor.  I glanced around to see others in the restaurant adding such things as butter and sugar (yes, sugar!) to their grits. (Even salt and pepper, if you've a mind...)   I considered how I like my corn on the cob, with butter and salt, but this seemed something different, something new, something special.  I went with a touch of butter and a touch of sugar. Again, a forkful.

More flavor. Was it possible?  
Yes.  I finished them off that day and make them a  breakfast staple whenever possible.

Over the years, I've found the exact amount of sugar (half teaspoon) to the exact amount of butter (about a whole teaspoon) and although I don't have grits much these days, it's no longer the scary "You can't eat them d*mn grits!" affair it was when I first arrived.  In addition, I've found more than one restaurant that serves grits in new and exciting savory dishes for both lunch and dinner.  

Grits gets its name from 'grist.'   In the South Carolina Low-country, the uncooked ground corn is known as "grist", and the cooked dish is "hominy." (Hominy?  I dunno, thirty or forty, I expect. Yes, I joke. Keep reading.) This is distinct from the usual use of the term hominy. Grits are either yellow or white, depending on the color of corn.

Originally cooked with a weak lye solution to separate the corn from the hulls, you can cook your own grits at home with just a bit of practice - and that's no lye.  (Yes, that's another joke.  Feel free to share it with anyone who is a groan adult. Oh look another joke, I could do this all day, but let's move on.) There are literally hundreds of recipes on the Internet (what did people do before the Internet?) but I find using the directions on the side of a package of store bought grits to be the best.  (Yes, store bought. Don't look at me like that!  I'm doing the best I can here!)

It's simply grits, water and a touch of salt, stir as you bring to a boil and set aside to thicken, much like cooking oatmeal.  You can have it with breakfast or as a meal in itself.  In fact, I read recently of a wedding with a Grits Bar.  (I. Kid. You. Not. Grits served in a  martini glass with many different things with which to top or add.) And, no, you don't have to ask, it was a very Southern Wedding. 

I won't go into how to cook Haggis*. 
You're welcome.  

*Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach for cooking and serving.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Grass Grows

Grass grows.  Not much else you can say about that, but that it grows.  Every year at this time, we drag out the weapons of grass destruction and fight a seemingly unending, non-winnable war with the lawn. Cut, Water, Growth, Cut. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. It's exhausting. Here in the South, grass grows incredibly fast.  In fact everything grows incredibly fast. It must be the moisture in the ground coupled with the moisture in the air coupled with just a touch of sadism. I end up mowing my lawn once a week just to keep ahead of it.  (And there are some weeks I feel it needs be cut more than once!) 

But then again, my lawn is mostly weeds and weeds grow faster than grass. The only time it actually looks good is when it's freshly mowed.  Then, at least I can stand back and see how nice it looks...or at least appears to look.  Once the weeds grow a bit, it's obvious they are not grass. Even my crab grass is mostly weeds.  (Just another reason to keep it mowed.) They poke their heads up and look at me like "Yeah, we're back!"  

There was a time when I used a weed and feed type fertilizer and weed killer on it.  I was out there two times a year with a broadcast spreader, just like it said on the label, making sure that every inch got covered.  Result? Greenest weeds in these parts. I expected to come out one morning and find weed experts with blue ribbons waiting for me.

The frustrating part is that the lawns around me all look so much better. They all look so flat and green, the way grass is supposed to look.  Although, I haven't been over to check, but  I'm pretty sure theirs are also nothing but weeds, too.  The "grass is always greener" effect has me also too green.

I think my neighbors all feel the same way about this war as I do, though.  When I'm out there, sweating like a pig and pushing that mower around and one of them drives by, we make eye contact and there's that nearly imperceptible nod which says they understand. "Been there, done that!" it says. "Take No Prisoners!" and off they drive.  It gives me just a bit more strength to press on.

It's rained this week. This time of year, it rains a lot. I guess I had better get out there and mow the ...lawn.
Yeah, let's call it a lawn.  My Southern Lawn (full of weeds.)