Saturday, April 30, 2011

Please Pass the Grits!

 My mother is a wonderful cook and has taken up Southern cooking since she moved to Florida. During my most recent visit, she made Shrimp and Grits for supper one night. I loved it. I've made it several times now. Sometimes I use asparagus instead of shrimp. It's delicious.

 I've also started making Grits and Blackberries. So good. Mmm. I could eat Grits and Blackberries daily. Actually, for the past few days, I have.

Grits are my new favorite comfort food. And they're not bad for you. A one cup serving has 143 calories, less than one gram of fat, three grams of protein, 31 grams of carbs, and you control the sodium completely when you decide how much salt to use when cooking them. They are high in folate, and are a good source of iron, niacin, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, and vitamin A. I don't recommend quick grits, or even following the directions on a box of regular grits. I think the slower method described in the recipe below, including the sitting and reheating time, makes a big difference. So worth the wait!

Shrimp (or Asparagus) and Grits

1 cup stone ground white grits (I've used yellow grits, too)
5 cups water
 salt and freshly ground pepper
2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 T. butter

2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 of a medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 of a bell pepper, finely chopped (I like red or orange)
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (or however much asparagus you want)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 T. flour
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 T. fresh lemon juice

Place grits in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in five cups of water and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer, whisking until it begins to thicken. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom and sides with a wooden spoon, for 45 minutes. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 30 minutes (or up to an hour).

Heat 2 T. olive oil in a pan. Saute garlic, onion, and bell pepper over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Season shrimp (or asparagus) on both sides with salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium high. Push vegetables to side of pan. Add the extra 1T. olive oil if necessary. Sear shrimp (or asparagus) in a single layer for two minutes. Flip and sear for one minute. Push shrimp to edge of pan. Sprinkle flour in center of pan. Cook, stirring flour into vegetable/shrimp mixture, for two minutes. Add chicken stock. Simmer until sauce thickens, about two minutes. Add lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, reheat grits over medium-low heat. Stir in cheese and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Serve shrimp (or asparagus) over grits. Don't go too heavy on the sauce. In the asparagus picture above, I went a little heavy on the sauce. You don't need that much.

Grits and Blackberries

Follow directions for grits in the above recipe, omitting the cheese and the pepper. Sprinkle blackberries with sugar (you can use an artificial sweetener) and heat in microwave until berries are juicy and hot. Put reheated grits in a bowl. Add a dab of butter if you want. Pour berries and juice over grits.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Coloring Books

It's Easter time and Easter always makes me think of (among other obviously much more important things) coloring books. When we were little girls, our mother always bought my sister and me new coloring books in the weeks leading up to Easter. They were filled with the outlines of spring flowers, baby animals, and plenty of Easter eggs. We would bring them to life using our box of 64 Crayola Crayons.

I remember the year I learned how to color like a big girl. My sister taught me how to outline. She is eighteen months older than I am and had probably picked up the outlining method at school. I have a memory of the two of us: we're stretched out on our stomachs on the hardwood floor of our upstairs bedroom in our house on Standish Way, each of us with a coloring book in front of us, the big box of crayons in the middle. My concentration level is high as I carefully trace just inside of the black line with my crayon, pressing down to get a nice dark outline. Then I shade lightly to fill in the space. I am so thrilled to know the secret and am proud of my work.

Last weekend my husband was asked to speak at our young niece's baptism. (L.D.S. children are usually baptized at age eight.) He wanted to use a coloring book as an aid in an object lesson.

And it's Easter time! I thought.

We went to Walmart to pick out a coloring book. I chose one with beautiful spring flowers, baby animals, and plenty of Easter eggs.

Kent needed two facing pictures: one colored like an older child would do it, and one like a toddler might do it. As soon as we got home, I went right to work. I got out my 64 Crayola crayons and selected the pictures I would color. I did the toddler picture first. I just scribbled across the page with two colors. ( I have actually seen coloring book pages scribbled in this manner hanging in the MoMA. Really. I think they were from a Winnie the Pooh coloring book.) Then I began the real masterpiece. I carefully selected my colors. I outlined meticulously. I shaded everything in.


I love to color. Especially in Easter coloring books. I could have filled up the whole book, but I didn't. We gave it to Lora after her baptism, along with some new crayons. I hope she's enjoyed it.

Maybe she's even taught her little sister how to outline.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Old Slippers - New Slippers

I got some new slippers recently. I ordered them from Avon. Who knew that Avon sold slippers? Anyway, it really was time for a new pair. My husband was threatening to burn my old ones.

“What exactly is it that you hate so much about them?” I asked him one day after my slippers had received a particularly scalding barrage of verbal abuse from him.

“You really want to know?” he asked me.

I assured him rather defensively that I did.

“They look like something an old housewife from back in the day would have worn, along with a bathrobe and hair curlers, when she went out to the mailbox to get the mail.”

I considered this.

“Well, I don’t wear curlers.”

They did look pretty bad. If slippers have lives, theirs were definitely expired. I’m sure I’d been wearing dead slippers for some time.

The problem is that I’m very particular about slippers. My feet are always cold. My slippers have to be very warm. I like polar fleece, and I like the bootie style.





Hard to find?


I finally decided I’d better give up and settle for something else. My new slippers are polar fleece, and they have memory foam in them. They are not the bootie style. They are very shoe-like. They have a pretty thick rubber sole (great for going outside to check the mail) and they feel like shoes when you walk. So much so that one day I got all the way to school and half way across the parking lot before I realized I was wearing them.

I showed my new slippers to my fashion-forward daughter tonight.

“They’re unisex,” I told her.

“Are you sure? They look one-sex to me.”

She didn’t mean women’s.

Well, I like them. They’re warm and comfortable. I’ll probably wear them for a long time - way beyond their natural lives.

I think I’m ready to let go of the old pair.

I’ll tell Kent to go round up some kindling.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Knitting and Crocheting 101

Anyone out there remember granny square vests? You have to have lived through the late sixties, early seventies to have experienced them.

They were hideous.

I never had one.

Almost all the other little girls back in the day wore them regularly. Big girls, too, I suspect. It seemed like they had one for every day of the week. Did they actually like them? I always thought their mothers must have forced them to wear them so that the grandmothers wouldn’t have hurt feelings. I'm pretty sure it was the grandmothers who crocheted them. I remember discussing granny square vests with my sister when we got a little older. We were both so glad we’d never had a grandmother who crocheted.

Which is why I was so surprised when, back in the early nineties, my sister took up knitting.* She made me a pair of slippers for my birthday.

They were hideous.

Only she didn’t realize it. As soon as I got the wrapping paper off (I hadn’t even identified what they were), I held them up and started laughing uproariously. Hey, I thought it was one of those sisterly gag gifts and that we were going to laugh ourselves silly over it.

“What are they?” I asked, at the same time noticing that I was the only one uproariously laughing.

“They’re slippers,” she answered, very seriously. “I knitted them for you.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, immediately stifling the laughter.

“They’re Cougar blue,” I observed. I couldn’t think of what else to say. They weren’t shaped the same. As slippers, you ask? Right. Or as each other.

But this didn’t stop me. I pulled them on and stood up in them.

“I love them!” I exclaimed, probably overdoing the enthusiasm a little in an attempt to cover my previous social blunder.

They were kind of hard to keep on my feet, but I made sure I wore them for the rest of our visit.

A few weeks ago, I learned how to crochet. I’m an Activity Day leader over the ten and eleven year old girls from church. (See February 2011 post Hershey Kiss Roses.) A neighbor of mine, Kathie, is my partner. We thought it would be a good idea to teach the girls how to crochet. Of course Kathie would have to head this up since I didn’t know how to do it. Kathie would quickly show me first, and then I’d be able to help the girls. She taught us how to chain the first day. The second time we met, we reviewed the chain, and then she taught us how to go back up the chain and make another row. And then another one. And another one. I thought I picked it up quite easily and I managed to help some of the girls to catch on.

At the end of the hour, I had a skinny rectangle. I took my little project home and continued to work on it. It was kind of fun. And it was very satisfying somehow. I loved seeing and feeling the yarn build up and come together in a pattern, simple though it was. I was creating something. Maybe a Barbie blanket. Of course I’d have to get a Barbie. I sat and worked at it for quite a while. It was very therapeutic. It was relaxing and I just wanted to keep going. I could get hooked on this, I thought. (Sorry about the pun.) (Crochet hook?) Only I noticed that the further along I got, the stranger my rectangle was getting. In fact, it was no longer a rectangle. I now had a perfect trapezoid. My row was getting shorter each time I got to the end and turned around to go back. Hmm. So much for Barbie's blanket.

I learned two things from my crocheting experience. I learned that the reason those little girls back in the day had all those granny square vests was because the grandmothers found crocheting therapeutic and satisfying. They just kept making them. I also learned to appreciate the work my sister put into knitting those slippers for me. My Barbie blanket had turned into a Barbie trapezoid. Her slippers had turned into… well, I’m not sure what. But I bet making them was very therapeutic for her. And satisfying.

Maybe I’ll ask Kathie to teach me how to make granny squares. I could make vests for all the little girls in our Activity Day group.

* I called my sister to ask her if she minded if I wrote about her less-than-successful knitting experience. She claims to have no recollection of ever knitting me a pair of slippers. She does remember trying to learn to knit a coat hanger cover at a church group activity when she was a young girl. She says that was the only attempt to knit that she has ever made. But I have a home video that shows the two of us, with me wearing the Cougar blue slippers. Well, that doesn't prove she made them, she says. I think I humiliated her so badly when I laughed that she has blocked the whole experience. I feel terrible. Maybe I should make her a granny square vest to make up for it!