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{comfort foods}

let's talk about comfort foods.

i have a brilliant memory of the way my grandma's house smelled. the overpowering aromatique room spray, the lingering acrid cigarette smoke and always something warm from the oven or simmering away on the stove. my grandma was not an apron-wearing, pie-baking, cookie-scooping type grandma. she cooked real food that filled your belly and left a mark on your soul.

there are a few things my grandma cooked that i will never be able to recreate. one of those dishes was something she called poor man spaghetti. it was a creamy tomato based soup with onions and spaghetti noodles floating around in it. i asked her one day why she called it poor man spaghetti. when she was a child in the 30s it was what her mother (mama parker) made when they didn't have any meat.

if i ever figure out how to make it i think i will change its moniker to rich soul spaghetti. grandma and i shared many conversations over a bowl of poor man spaghetti where she shared stories of mama parker making 2 dozen biscuits every day on a hoosier cabinet and how she used to run around the yard, chasing a chicken to cook for sunday dinner. that particular meal enriched my soul and validated my heritage more than it reminded me of how poor my grandma might have been in money.

another dish my grandmother mastered was rice with mushroom gravy. grandma would make a spread for dinner... meatloaf with tomato gravy, cabbage, fried okra (oh wow she made the best homemade fried okra) mashed potatoes, green beans, rice and mushroom gravy would burden the mauve formica countertops in her kitchen. a stack of plates and spoonfuls of hearty food would disappear one by one as people meandered through the line. i would always go last. i always bypassed the meat, cabbage, potatoes, green beans and even the okra sometimes, and head straight for the rice and mushroom gravy. my mom always berated me for not having protein or a green vegetable on my plate. but i wasn't about to waste space in my belly for those things when i could have rich, brown, salty mushroom gravy floating in the cracks between the steaming hot, perfectly plump rice. that was the ticket to full-belly-pleasure-town for me.

two things my grandmother was sure to pass on to me go hand in hand. one was a method; the other was a recipe. grandma taught me how to make no fail, never-stick-to-the-pan cornbread and the recipe for her cornbread dressing. it took several years of holidays before she trusted me to do it on my own. it started when i was around 14 and she would let me help chop the vegetables on the wednesday before thanksgiving after school let out. she showed me how to let the cast iron skillet preheat in the oven and taught me that a pat of butter melted and swirled in the skillet just before the cornbread batter went in made for a perfect brown crust that would release perfectly every time.

she showed me how to pick a fat hen at the grocery store for good broth and how to season it while it was bubbling away on the stove. she reminded me to always get the giblets out if there were any. she always gave the wishbone to me and my grandpa and we would break it over a chocolate chip cookie on the back porch when it was time for a break. somehow i always got the bigger piece. we crumbled cornbread and using our hands mixed together all the chopped vegetables and shredded chicken. she guided me through adding the stock, a little at a time, and stirring between each addition to make sure it wasn't too wet or too dry. together we loaded a full roasting pan of dressing into the oven.

finally, she showed me how to throw the giblets away and call luby's or picadilly's to order giblet gravy a couple days ahead of time.

every year my family demands that my grandma's dressing get made. since i am the only one in the family that knows the secret behind her magical dressing i am always happy to oblige. i remember the first year i made it without her. i was at the duplex, alone, chopping vegetables and simmering the chicken. tears slid silently down my face as i remembered each of the steps in my grandma's voice. all of a sudden my dog, rebel, burst through the doggie door whining a little and limping severely. this was a huge concern for me since he regularly jumped over the eight-foot privacy fence that adjoined my side of the duplex with mimi's.

i dropped the knife in the sink and ran in the living room just in time to see rebel running into walls and sliding around on the floor. the waterworks were full force now because rebel was, and still is, my baby and his usual agile demeanor was nowhere to be seen. i hovered around him and finally got him to lie down while i called my mom. the urgency in my voice caused her frantic-mom-vibe to go into overdrive and she decided to hop in the car and come help. when she showed up with my brother in tow i was confused.

my brother was quick to inform me that he would help take rebel to the emergency vet and i was to stay put. and work on the dressing. it was a welcome relief of laughter through tears and exactly what i needed.

and rebel turned out to be fine. by the time i explained what happened he was up and walking around again with no signs of trauma. we deduced that he jumped the fence and pinched a nerve or landed wrong and went a little numb on one side of his body. he recovered just fine and actually joined us, uninvited, at mimi's for thanksgiving dinner the next day.

unlike typical "comfort foods" like macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup, my grandma's cooking always brings a queer sense of loss and comfort. the loss of a grandma but the comfort of a lifetime of her kitchen-know-how. the loss of a mentor but the comfort of a family heirloom recipe. the loss of her voice across the table but the comfort of her eternal presence in my heart. she will always be alive to me as long as i continue to pour her love into the meals i prepare in her honor. and that is comfort food to me.

{p.s. it should be noted that i have never, not once, had one smidgen, iota or taste of my grandma's dressing. i decided at a young age that it looked like cat vomit and refused to eat it. so how it ends up tasting exactly like hers every time i make it is a marvel left for the divine. i believe it is simply her presence when i prepare it that makes it happen that way.}

{p.p.s. for the love of all things holy and dear to my heart, don't google poor man's spaghetti. none of the recipes fit the bill}

linking up:
Gussy

4 comments:

  1. It sounds like your grandma's kitchen was the place to be. My mouth was watering reading this post and I could all but picture being in the kitchen with ya'll during this cooking process.

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  2. What a cool story. I am also the one who knows how to make all of my nanny's recipes, even though she is still with us. This year she is reminding me how to make *her* stuffing which is a German-style bread pudding stuffed inside a turkey. Yum.

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  3. Wow, great post. Stopping by from Gussy's.

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  4. Grandma's just have that touch, don't they!? =) Came from Gussy!

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