foodways in my free time

My 27-year-old self would’ve thought that, by now, I would not be startled when I have weeks like this. Weeks when the deadlines of my “other things” all crowd around into a single span, shoving my “real things” under the bed and into hampers. Yet here I am, startled to not finish yesterday’s post before it published itself, bemusedly scanning today to decide whether supper will be a viable activity or bunco-snacks at 9:00pm after I finish teaching will be my recipe for success. (Memorizing /zachar/: (he) remembered, /malach/ (he) reigned, /mal-chah/ (she) reigned? Psht. Fuggedaboutit.)

Speaking of recipes! Over my not-fully-re-heated/crisped lunch yesterday, I decided that there are foods of my heritage that it would behoove me to cook. And by “cook,” I mean “make often enough that I can be in the flow with it,” the way I make the Alexander-West-Lawrence tuna salad. (We make it with hard-boiled eggs alongside the tuna. Shush. You don’t see me rolling my eyes at your grandma’s ways!)

So far my list includes:

  1. Biscuits. Probably drop, but rolled would be OK.
    I decided on this one last Thanksgiving, when I saw that a local fine dining restaurant’s biscuits were going for $50 PER DOZEN. I mean! They make a good biscuit, but it’s still just a biscuit. T’wouldn’t cost me $4 a biscuit to make them at home, that’s for certain. (Maybe they’re paying off culinary-school tuition loans with those $4 biscuits. That would make sense… but I digress.)
  2. Hush puppies.
    This involves frying, which terrifies me. But I do so very much like a hush puppy, and I have specific ideas on what they should be like. When I start getting specific, that’s generally a sign that I need to start doing it for myself.
  3. Fried okra.
    My sweetie no doubt saw this coming, because for dinner last Friday we went to a homestyle place in town, and I had: fried catfish, hush puppies (ohhhh), and fried okra (aha!). And I like batter-dipped fried okra quite well, even cold when it doesn’t reheat right. But the best fried okra is (was?) my Aunt Bert’s. (My Aunt Bert was… a decade?… older than my grandfather Skipper. So she’s been dead for a while now.)
    This okra’s probably not as scary to make as the hush puppies, because — so I’m told — she merely rolled the cut okra in cornmeal, and then pan-fried it in a little bit of oil. (Bacon grease. I bet it was bacon grease.) The plain cornmeal absorbed the fluids of the okra, and the high heat seared everything into delightfulness.

One of the perqs of being the kitchen dilettante around here is that my list doesn’t need to include Actual Food, though the okra could serve that function in a pinch. Besides, this musing isn’t about eating per se. It’s more about tying a remembered past into the present, maybe even a present that can be shared. Like the now-proverbial Proustian madeline, a biscuit could serve as a ribbon-bow tethering, say, a light-filled Section 8 apartment in Athens, GA, to a wood-lined (though now no less light-filled!) great room in Austin, TX. Bon appétit!

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