That would be Southern comfort food.
Food has always called to me as a fascination, a joy, an art, and a way to express love and a little magic between friends and loved ones.
There's something wonderful and timeless about the scent of smoked meat and trinity simmering on the stove, perfuming the house and seeming to say "All is well". It's a huge comfort to me and warms my heart.
I didn't grow up with this. I grew up in sub-Southern Florida. No grits, no sweet tea, no accents.
More beach and boating than buckles or BBQ.
My roots connection and love for Southern/Acadian/ Creole food and manners came from mothers and grandmothers of my first loves, and my own roots.
Maumus' Grandmother Mimi, was a wonderful cook and a true Southern Lady of the New Orleans Garden District. This family taught me the joys of neighborhoods gathering, visiting, and sharing in the rich tapestry of New Orleanian food culture.
Stopping in for king cake at this house, and sharing stories of that family and a glass of tea to go, as we strolled to the next house, exchanging wit and wisdom with beautiful, badass women, getting ready for debutant balls. Small bites and small plates of magical, decadent tidbits as we went from house to house, celebrating the festivities with the magic that is 'Uptown'.
This is where I had my first taste of New Years good luck ham, black eyed peas and cabbage. I can still see that beautiful, luxe kitchen in that Lake Charles waterside home, and remember my eyes lighting up at that first taste, sharing the delight of that meal with strangers who made me feel like I'd always be welcome.
Meals around Mimi's kitchen table were iconic, old-world delicacies, that included tomato aspics, smothered dove, shrimp croquettes, stuffed cauliflower.....all made by her delicate, arthritic hands. Her recipes were written on index cards in flowing, graceful script. A living heirloom archive, in that box of true New Orleans History. Her handwriting was as beautiful as she was. She could also calmly put down her knitting and blast a few doves out of a crystal, Autumn sky, from her rocking chair, that had been brought to the field, feminine as you please, then pick up her knitting again, as the dogs went retrieving. She taught me to clean those doves then oven roast them in a pot. Still one of the best meals I've ever had. Those doves came with kitchen magic, and love.
Another old beau's mother owned a beautiful, quaint, cottage restaurant. Rose Hill. Alabama elegant is a bit different than Uptown, but just as gracious and warm hearted.
His father made the best country ham I've ever had, from a secret purveyor that he, smugly, wouldn't divulge to a soul. That food was much more down home.
So good, so new to me, and they all made me feel so welcome. That ham soaked for three days, then cooked for a day and a half...filling that suburban ranch house surrounded by cottonwoods, with smokey, meaty goodness, and anticipation. They all teased him throughout the day, about the nefarious ways he might have got that ham. His dad took in all in stride, stoic, silent satisfaction emanating from him....eyes half closed in his lazy boy, waiting patient as a monk, for it to be done. It was both hilarious, and consternating.
That ham taught me the real magic of low and slow, and the reward of good ingredients.
Going to sleep, then waking up with that same, smokey, ephemeral promise on the air made the days a little lost in time, and gave us all a sense of comfort, knowing everyone was gathered and together to share a meal they'd waited all year for.
Once, back in grade school, I was laid-up with a big neck injury. Leola, the cook in the cafe at our campground, heard I wasn't feeling well. Think: Jack Palance as a short, dark haired, wizened woman; in coke bottle glasses, with beaded chain, and a constant inch of Pal Mall ash, magically suspended from the cigarette, ever-affixed to her lip. Bless her beautiful heart. She made a pot of beef vegetable soup, and had mom bring me a bowl in bed. I'll never forget that amazing bowl of soup, and the heart swell of gratefulness that made me feel so much better, on that cold, winter day. That soup was magic. I've tried, but never been able to recreate it. That makes the nostalgia sweeter.
At home in Florida, that kind of cooking came from me, so I never got that feeling of being given that gift of food comfort.
For me, it's something I never forget. Memories of a meal given, are like snapshots of love in a bowl, or a plate, or a living room blanket picnic.
I gladly and lovingly gave that gift, but it's a different feeling. One I love and cherished every time I went home and cooked for everyone, but it wasn't the same as it being given. And in these households, it was given with such heartfelt hospitality and gentle joy.
So there's just something about a house filled with smokey simmering goodness from the stove, that says comfort, and good tidings, and the quiet happy of the new beginnings of the New Year.....
Cheers, my dears....come on over. You're welcome to a bowl or two. January 2015