Friday, July 9, 2010
There is no such thing as too much butter.
My mama knew her way around a kitchen the way I know my way around the prepared foods section of the Harris Teeter deli. She was, without a doubt, the epitome of a Southern Cook. I loved the way she would whip up a batch of buttermilk biscuits from scratch in less time than it would take me to figure out how to crack open a tube of the refrigerated Pillsbury variety. Every meal was rife with girth-inducing comfort food that would never fail to leave you feeling fat and happy. I certainly can’t say the same for my own culinary exploits. It’s fairly common to hear my husband say, “Hmmm, I want something, but I’m not sure what” after finishing one of my meticulously prepared (not) meals. Sadly, I didn’t inherit the Sweet Potato Pie gene from my mom’s side of the family.
Now that summer is in full swing, I have been thinking about my mama more than usual. It was two summers ago that she lost a quick and painful battle with cancer. I find myself remembering where I was each day of that summer, how I felt and the sights and smells that went along with it. I have flashbacks of the faces belonging to the mostly forgotten elderly patients, sitting in their wheelchairs that dotted the hallways of the nursing home. I recall the aroma of freshly-baked cookies that the hospice nurse offered us daily during the last week of my mama's life and the sickly-sweet scent of the flowers that littered the entire first floor of my house after her funeral. I can still plainly see the fear and pain in her eyes as I left her each evening to return home. I wonder how many summers I will commemorate those gut-wrenching days.
I have made an uncharacteristically optimistic decision to use my energy to remember one thing about my mama that always made me feel better: her cooking. Yes, long-term exposure to her cooking would put you at a much higher risk for heart disease, but the downward spiral toward plaque-filled arteries was a delicious ride, a ride that included chocolate-covered peanut butter balls, fried okra and buttery, homemade, mashed potatoes. That being said, I have created a "Greatest Hits" list of my favorite tasty Southern dishes prepared by my mama. These calorie-laden concoctions forced my rapidly expanding rear-end onto a treadmill and a strict diet at the age of twenty-two:
Cornbread Dressing: It’s my all-time favorite green food at Thanksgiving and Christmas. What? You say that you have never seen green dressing? Then my mama could have taught your mama a thing or two about the proper use of sage. There is no such thing as “too much”. And if your dressing comes out of the bird itself, then you just may be a Yankee.
Potato Salad: There are just so many wannabe’s and imposters out there. First of all, potato salad should NEVER be white. If your salad isn’t sunshine yellow, then you are missing a very important ingredient: mustard. I still have never tasted potato salad that was exactly like my mama’s, ever so slightly creamy, a tad bit tangy and always delicious.
Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese: Her mac and cheese was, simply put, nectar from the Gods. It was gooey and luscious and you were willing to risk third degree burns to the roof of your mouth because you didn’t want to wait for it to cool. I would even make a cold macaroni and cheese sandwich with the leftovers. (On white bread, of course) This manna from heaven was scrumptious hot or cold.
Fried Chicken: I was lucky enough to be a kid whose mother came home from a full time job and made fried chicken from scratch instead of dragging that red box of Banquet “Severely Breaded Mystery Chicken Pieces” to the oven. It was one hell of a mess to clean up afterward (a job my brother and I unfortunately shared), but the smell of it cooking would make you woozy with delight. To top it off, we always had home-made, hot, baked buttermilk biscuits on the side.
Chicken and Dumplings: Ah, yes, the coup de gras, if you will. It is my all-time favorite. If her chicken-fried steak didn’t send you to the doctor for a blood pressure check, then this amazing dish would certainly finish you off. Let me just say for the record to all of you folks who think you know how to make chicken and dumplings that the use of refrigerator biscuits is strictly forbidden. Likewise, if you use canned chicken instead of carefully boiling a whole chicken and lovingly taking it off the bone, then you have just cheapened the World’s Most Perfect Food. This is not a dish that can be perfected by taking shortcuts, people. If you can’t find the time to make biscuit dough from scratch, roll it out and plop those baby dumplings into the fresh chicken stock to blossom, then you just need to take your double boiler and go home.
Even though my mama was a strong Christian woman, there is no doubt she would have made it into heaven on the merits of her cooking alone. She seemed to enjoy watching us devour her goodies, and many times after I became a staunch believer in “less fat equals skinny”, she did her best to goad me into a piece of fudge here or a helping of pumpkin pie there. My mother may not have discovered a new planet or a cure for cancer, but her lasting legacy of mouth-watering Southern vittles is one I can really sink my teeth into.