August 10, 2010

Holy Grits

The summer after fifth grade, my parents moved my brother and I from the small, picturesque Northern Idaho town where I'd grown up and my brother had been born, to San Antonio, Texas. It was, you might say, something of a shock. We moved there at the beginning of August, and I still remember stepping off the plane and into the sweltering humidity of a Texas summer. I thought I was going to die. I thought my parents were crazy. But no, they were just ready for a change.

My father was starting his Master's Degree at the University of Texas and so for the next two and a half years he was home with us, studying, instead of spending his days in a crowded and noisy newsroom. I loved having him home more. We had two fantastic summers that involved lots of trips to the Alamo (my brother was obsessed, REALLY obsessed, with Davy Crockett) boat rides along the river walk, day trips to the missions, hot afternoons at the Texas Folk Life Festival, and jalapeno grits.

My dad had started a garden the first spring that we lived there. Nothing new about that, we'd had a large garden in Idaho brimming over with potatoes, beans, tomatoes, onions and peas. But in San Antonio, the things we normally planted didn't grow as well. I'm probably remembering this wrong, seeing it in my mind as I did at eleven, but I think the only things that really grew in that garden were peppers and okra. And I hated both. Okra I disliked on principle. They were slimy and ugly and even the name sounded bad to me. I turned my nose up at them without even tasting them, and admittedly to this day, I'm not sure I've ever tried okra, which is probably something I should remedy. Peppers, however, I lived in mortal fear of.

On one of our first nights in San Antonio, we'd gone to eat at the Alamo Cafe. I was fascinated at the tortilla makers behind the glass partition and couldn't wait to try them out, crisp and hot, straight out of the pan. When a basket of chips arrived at our table I picked one up and dug it into the bowl of chopped tomatoes, loading up my chip and shoving it in my mouth only to find that my head felt like it was on fire. I'd never tasted Salsa in my life and I sat there, tears running down my cheeks from the pan on my tongue, wondering what I had done to deserve this horrible fate.

So when my dad's garden produced a bumper crop of pepper and he tried to introduce us to Jalapeno Grits, there was no way I was going to try them. I didn't do peppers thank-you-very-much! I didn't do spicy at all. And somehow, grits, in my mind, became just another part of the "No Thank You!" that the peppers had caused.

And I've spent the last twenty odd years no eating grits because of it. Until a few weeks ago when my friend Stephanie invited us over for Pulled Pork and Grits. Now I still had my fear-o-grits, but a few things convinced me to give it a try. First, Stephanie is a great cook, so how bad could they be? I've never eaten anything at her house that wasn't stellar. Second, poor Will loves grits. He's a Texan for goodness sakes. They give them Dr. Pepper, steak and grits as soon as they pop out! And in all the years we've been together, it's probably the one thing I've always refused to make for him. Also, the older I've gotten, the more open I am to trying things at least one. So I tried. And guess what. Yep. I LOVED them.

This wasn't just "humm, that's pretty good" love either. This was have two giant bowls full, holy cow what have I been thinking my whole life, dream about it at night love. I LOVE grits. I also, incidentally, tried Sriracha hot sauce that night. Yeah I know, everyone and their dog is talking about sriracha, but I hadn't ever tried it because, well, I'm still a wimp when it comes to spicy things (see salsa story above) Ya know what, pretty darn delicious too.

So now I'm a grits freak. It's my new go-to meal. Will thinks he's died and gone to Texas heaven. It's like the day halfway through my pregnancy with Briton when I went from vegetarian to "I WANT RIBS!" I thought he was going to cry with joy.

Stephanie used the WIlliams Sonoma Cheese Grits recipe which, as I said, is really good, but has a lot of butter and extra cheese and is slightly more time consuming than I'm willing to go for when I want grits. So instead I've been using this very simple recipe, which is fantastic with a few shrimp tossed on top. Excuse me while I go stuff my face.

1/2 cup stone ground yellow grits
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cups cubed cheddar cheese

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and slowly stir in the grits. Cook on medium low for 10 minutes. Stir in half the milk and stir until absorbed. Add cheese and remaining milk stirring as you go, and dribble in water as needed. Season to taste.