Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Tribute

Grandma Mayola and Mr, Man
Over the weekend my grandmother Mayola passed, her services were yesterday. After the drive to my home town I enjoyed the chance to spend some time with the family I grew up with. My mom, aunts, uncles and my cousins  (really by first best friends) spent the better part of the day together. I think that I have mentioned gatherings at grandma's house before, they always bring back the memories that everyone should have about childhood and summer. We reminisced about the rules we were given that were almost never followed... "OK you kids go out and play but stay out of the barn... oh don't go near the street... and whatever you do don't play in the neighbor's abandoned cement truck!" yes, really there was one, it was just on the other side of the neighbors two burnt out cars (could there be a better childhood playground?)

The memories of a bunch of bathing suit clad moppets pulling rhubarb out of the ground, wiping the bits of dirt off, then eating the stalks dipped in a Dixie cup of sugar then using the ample leaves as umbrellas as we ran through the sprinkler. Or picking a bucket full of mulberries then sprinkling the warm sun ripened berries on home made vanilla ice-cream, none of us (not even the grown-ups) making a fuss about the purple stains on our hands, arms and clothes. We would swing on the tire swing and one of my favorites is the five of us playing in the diminutive pool that was there for our enjoyment...

Mayola was a bit of a conundrum, she was one of the quietest people that I have ever known but she managed to be the matriarch that held our entire family together. Any argument that arose between adults or children was quickly and peacefully resolved in seconds. She proved to me time and time again that any problem could be solved over a jig-saw puzzle and a glass of iced tea. The home that she created was the magnet that drew us all together year after year. As we all visited before the acutal funeral I realised that all of us had similar feelings and memories. She was a strong yet quiet influence on everyone in the room and I will miss her.

As her health diminished over the past few years the family time diminished, visits becoming less frequent. It makes me a little sad that my youngest two didn’t have the chance to see how that family dynamic worked. You see as Miss Lu and Mr. Man came into the picture Mayola’s health was beginning to fail, the family get togethers lost their status as almost required. Yesterday was a day spent with the kids I grew up with; I just hope that we don’t become one of those “wedding and funeral” families Mr. Man and Miss Lu deserve to share some of those memories.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ham and Gravy

Thanks all for sticking with me!  I enjoyed the time that Kris and I got to hang together.  She starts her new job on Monday and me, I go back to the grind I have been at for 5 years.  That is good over all, She is starting on a new adventure (OK maybe calling work an adventure is a  bit much).  At least I have the familiar for now, I can live with that.

This weekend we are going to Kris' best friend's house for Easter, this is where I get to the good part(for me anyway).  What we are bringing, the three requests from her friend, they were...
Baked Ham and Ham Gravy
Green Bean Casserole
Kris' Scalloped Potatoes

This post is about the Ham and Gravy, Green Bean Casserole to follow in a bit, for the Scalloped Potatoes you will have to ask Kris.

Ham and Gravy have been in my basket for quite a few years, I made it for Christmas dinner this year just so I could post it a little before Easter.  It is one of those comforting dishes that even if you have never had it you will curl up like a baby when you do...

"Comforting, How much so?" you ask. Here is a true story, when my ex wife and I were getting to the end of our marriage both of us had found separate places to live, the court papers were about to be filed. She called her best friend and the following conversation took place:

Ex Wife R:
"Mrs. A, it is over... Bryan and I are getting a divorce, it is for real this time, there is no way to fix it."
The infamous Mrs. A:
"I don't believe it, you have ruined Easter!"

Ex Wife R: (not expecting that) "What?"
The infamous Mrs. A: "Who is going to make Ham and Gravy at Easter now? We might as well have bologna sandwiches."

I heard this story, more or less the same from both parties involved, I kind of always thought thought it funny that the conversation didn't go something like "Thank God... I don't know why you didn't leave that jerk years ago!" or "What, are you crazy? He is Mr. Wonderful." The conversation went right to my cooking... at least I do something well.

All that being said here is how it is made:

One ham, this time I used a bone in spiral sliced ham but whatever ham I have used the gravy has always rocked.

2 TBS Grey Poupon Mustard
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup Honey
Juice from 2 Oranges
3 cups Chicken Broth

Put the ham, open side down in a roasting pan, mix the next four ingredients together into a slimy mixture and pour/spread over the ham. Pour the chicken broth into the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with foil and cook, this was a nine pound ham so it was in a 300 degree oven for an hour then a 375 degree oven for another hour. I basted about every half hour. When it is all done take some of the drippings off the bottom of the roasting pan and put into a saucepan (I did about 2 cups) add a little bit of roux and bring to a simmer until thickened.

Taste... then just try to put the spoon back for your guests... it takes willpower but once they taste it you will be the cooking superhero that you always wanted to be.  I understand that you may not be familiar with this dish but once you try it... well just see what happens!

Have a great holiday my friends!

I know that it is kind of dorky... but here is a summer project for the kids that is a lot of fun with this weekend's leftovers, just give it a try!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where Have You Been?

I have been off line quite a bit lately, to be honest with you I have met someone, yes someone of the opposite sex and we have just been having a great time together.  Sometimes we lose track of time and talk for hours without even realizing it, sometimes we just sit together and quietly watch TV.  We talk about hopes and dreams and what we want to do, politics and religion, it is just wonderful getting to know her… Hold on I’m getting ahead of myself…

Rewind a couple of months, all of us excitedly watched families looking at the house across the street that was for sale.  We were counting kids, guessing the ages and hoping that whatever family decided to buy the house would contain children that were similar in ages and temperament to ours.  The people that chose the house turned out to be a great family, a woman separated from her husband and their three kids.  The kids have hit it off wonderfully!  Most days within minutes of getting Miss Lu and Mr. Man home from day care there are children at the door looking for playmates.  Some how our house went from being “those people, you know the ones with the messy yard” to the “Kool Aid House.”  The Kool Aid house, has some advantages kids wander through our house on their way to the back yard or skip the house altogether and ride bikes and scooters up and down the suburban streets.  Kris and I often find ourselves sitting on the sofa with *gasp* time to talk.  Turns out my wife is pretty cool and I am thinking that the feeling is mutual…  Ok ahead of myself again…

Rewind once more, about six years this time, Kris and I were both going through divorces.  We met on line at a parenting website actually, in the divorce forum (if you want to read about how a big nerd asks someone out click here).  Our choosing to get together was as much luck and intuition as it was anything that made sense.   In the whirlwind of a year from the time we met until we were married we had been alone together maybe three or four times.  In the five years since then about the same, so in some ways we are still... well almost newlyweds.  We have conversations often but most are interrupted by, life.  So we have spent the last couple of weeks relishing some time together getting to know each other, sometimes going as long as an hour without hearing, “I want a snack” or “Me want to watch an old Transformers” (the boy is still fascinated by what can only be called ‘vintage’ action television shows).

Kris was just offered a new job, I’ll throw my man card away again and say, making quite a bit more than me, she starts in a week.  I know she will have some later evenings than me so I will have some time to catch up here, just stick with me.  For now though I'm going to selfishly spend all the time I can with this woman I am getting to know...  I have mentioned her before,  my wife of five plus years.

As for things to come, I will try to be a little less dramatic but we have had a death in our house, the refrigerator just fizzled out on us so we have had a frenzy of "just cook it and eat it!  we don't have time to wait!"  I will tell you what that can bring soon ;~)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

A few days ago I was at my one of my regular haunts (you know the grocery store) and picked up some dandelion greens.  I am not sure why I got dandelion greens, they were there and looked all green and well... if you have a yard you know what they look like.  I have never eaten them before but am always ready to try something new.  So I tossed them in my cart and went on my way.  As I walked around the store I started to think of my grandmother on my dad's side, Grandma Tip, short for Gwendolyn (don't ask me how Southerners come up with nicknames).  I thought of her because I understand that she made her own dandelion wine and something the family called potato peel whiskey it involved rotting vegetable trimmings, a slow cooker and a hose (sorry to say both of those recipes are lost).

Anyway I started feeling all nostalgic and Southern and at the same time and picked up some grits. I used to hate grits, "Wow Dad, breakfast tastes exactly like wet sand, thanks" It is a wonder I wasn't slapped a little more often.  As an adult now I like them; bacon, eggs, grits with a little cheese can really do it  for a meal... my turn to force them on my kiddos right? I'll tell you all how that worked out.

Anyway, stories about grandma Tip are the things that family legends are made of I thought I would share one of the milder ones.  Most just don't seem appropriate for a family show like this blog but this one passes the PG test...

Grandma Tip was about five feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than 96 pounds she was sitting at the kitchen/dining room table in her trailer home chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes when Grandpa Jesse came home from work (he drove a truck and was gone for a few days at a time).    My Grandpa said something along the lines of, "Tip, I'm leavin' ya' I got another woman and we are moving in together."

Now mind you this would have been the mid 1950s in rural Kentucky, so it is hard to imagine a woman in Grandma Tip's position doing anything else...  She started screaming like a banshee then grabbed the razor strop off the kitchen wall (where else would you keep it?) and took it to Jesse then grabbed her shot gun and ran outside.  There are no actual witnesses to the rest of the story because she set Jesse's car on fire before running down the driveway on her way to the woman's house and sending her out of town...

A few months ago I was going through my picture box, yes I have a Tomato box filled with pictures.  They are in no order at all, pictures of my parents when they were dating are on top of my 12 year old's second birthday party, in the same pile as Mr. Man as a baby and my kindergarten class picture.  I pulled this one out of a stack of hundreds and Kris saw it and said, That's Grandma Tip isn't it?

"How did you know?"
Kris answered that she looks like the person in the stories that I have told.

On to a recipe... of sorts it is more in the honor of  Southern roots than anything the family made, like I said they were in rural Kentucky and didn't have things like shrimp available.

This is enough for two
Start with the grits
Bring two cups of water to a boil then add the grits, I just eyeball it but it is about a quarter of a cup plus two Tablespoons.  Stir it all together and let it cook for about 5-7 minutes.  You can set this aside and keep it warm while you do the rest.

The Shrimp
Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet
Add two of cloves of minced garlic cook until soft but not burned
Take your shrimp (peeled and deveined) enough for two; saute until done
When those guys are done set aside covered with foil

The Dandelion Greens
In the pan that you coked your shrimp add a little more butter (ok a couple of tablespoons) some salt and pepper and saute until done to your liking.  There are really no measurements here either, the rule of thumb with sauteed greens is to use twice as much as you think you need and you will get almost the amount you wanted.

To serve dish up your grits top with dandelion greens and then shrimp, feel free to salt and pepper as needed and, since this is southern cooking add a little butter.