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Original watercolor painting depicts bag of grits, pile of grits and bowl of grits.

Grits. 12″ x 12: watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

My pal Lisa, who has taught you (or tried to teach you) how to make cornbread, caramel cake and shrimp and grits, kindly sent me a care package of Southern specialties to enhance Work With What You Got month here at The Kale Chronicles: now I’ve got two pounds of stone-ground grits from Charleston, South Carolina, a bag of whole pecans, and a bag of pecan pieces, straight from Georgia.

I have my eye on a pecan pie and a batch of pecan rolls as soon as we remember to replenish our supply of yeast, but I thought I would start out by making grits for breakfast so that I could really taste the stone-ground goodness of these particular grits. The lovely cloth bag they came in said I would need to cook the grits for twenty-five or thirty minutes. No problem. What it didn’t say was to allow ten minutes to get the plastic gizmo off the top of the bag so that I could get to the grits inside: ten minutes with two knives is what it took — I’ll have to ask Lisa how she pries hers off.

Anyway, there were two recipes printed right there on the bag. One said I could cook my grits in water. The other said I could cook them in a mixture of milk, water and cream. Since I knew it was obligatory to eat them with butter I took the middle way, rinsed them with water, as instructed, and then cooked 1/3 cup grits in one cup of milk with a little salt. It probably did take twenty-five minutes to cook them: they got nice and thick and creamy, smelling faintly of corn.

Now, I ate grits when I lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Kroger there had at least half an aisle devoted to grits: instant grits, quick grits, big boxes of grits, little boxes of grits. I had never seen so many grits in my life and I had never eaten them before. While I lived there we made a field trip to Columbia, South Carolina, and saw a film about grits. The filmmakers asked people what they ate on their grits. Most people said they ate them with butter, salt, salt and pepper. A few ate them with Tabasco sauce, but one memorable woman said she ate hers with peanut butter and chow-chow. I’ll leave it to Lisa to explain what chow-chow is — that I have never eaten — it’s some kind of Southern pickle.

My stay in Chapel Hill branded me as a Yankee, even though I am a Westerner. I did not know that the Civil War or The War Between the States was called “The War of Northern Aggression” until my roommate informed me otherwise. People used to ask test questions at gatherings. One of the questions was, “Do you want biscuits with your eggs, or grits?” Yankees choose biscuits, toast, anything but the mild, creamy pile of grits on the breakfast plate.

Anyway, all I added to my hot, creamy bowl of stone-ground grits was the traditional pat of butter. With butter, salt and the milk they were cooked in the grits were faintly sweet, tasting slightly of corn. I found them to be a thoroughly unobjectionable breakfast cereal. They have more character than Cream of Wheat and not the heft of oatmeal. I’ll fix them again soon for Johnny because he likes them and then I will branch out into cheese grits or start throwing contraband ingredients in, such as dried apples. I have a mind to make Lisa’s Shrimp and Grits, too, as soon as I can find Gulf shrimp or something wild-caught here: we don’t like to think about farmed shrimp coming from Thailand when we live right here on the coast.

Stay tuned for pecan pastries and desserts.

Sharyn’s Stone-ground Carolina Grits

Measure 1/3 cup stone-ground grits.

Film a saucepan with water.

Put the grits in the saucepan until just covered with water* and then carefully pour the water off without pouring the grits down the sink.

Add to the grits pan 1 cup of milk (I used 1%) and salt to taste.

Bring the grits and milk to a full boil and then reduce the heat enough to keep them at a simmer. Stir periodically with a wooden spoon until the grits are thick and creamy.

Transfer the grits to a cereal bowl, add a pat of butter, stir and dig in. This recipe serves one, for the grits fan in your house. If you make it for two, each person gets his or her own pat of butter.

Food Notes: the better quality grits you start with the better this breakfast is going to be. Lisa sent me the good stuff. I don’t vouch for what you will get if you use instant grits or quick grits, but I am not a fan of instant oatmeal or quick oats as a breakfast cereal either: usually the texture is better in the old-fashioned, less-processed forms of grains and cereals.

Back when I wrote my tagline, local ingredients, transformation and creativity, I couldn’t see how transformative and creative life was going to get: what I knew was that I was committed to the practice of eating foods in their seasons and that I was nearly incapable of following a recipe without making some change based on making it healthier or using ingredients we had in the house. When I started The Kale Chronicles I had lost my day job but I could draw unemployment compensation for awhile and had some savings. I put my energy into nurturing the blog, hoping I might sell a few paintings and find a few writing students as my writing gained wider exposure.

Fast forward to 2012. I made a trip to France and acquired a guitar-player, coincidentally the love of my life. I took care of my teeth, which needed a few small repairs, and suddenly I was without funds — without savings, without much in my checking accounts, with retirement funds that it is too early to touch.

Now it is October, 2012. I dubbed it “Work With What You Got” month on The Kale Chronicles. Halfway through the month, I have not starved. Saturday the 13th I was down to $2.75 in my wallet, but I picked up $40.00 by having a garage sale on Sunday, Mom sprang for two tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market on Saturday and half a pound of shelled walnuts and we are, indeed, cooking with things we have in the house. Two tomatoes plus some lettuce and bread, some sliced dill pickles, mustard (for me), mayo (for Mom) and some turkey bacon gave us turkey BLTs for lunch. Mom cooked wheat berries for breakfast. Mixing them with dried cranberries, a tablespoon each of coconut oil and peanut butter plus a cup of milk gave me a filling breakfast.

After which I went to play music in the downtown Berkeley BART station this morning, trying my hand at the old trade called busking. Yes, that silver-haired woman singing with a beat-up Harmony guitar was me. I left my house at dawn to secure a good spot for the day and I sang for two hours, garnering five dollars above and beyond my bus fare, plus one $1.75 BART ticket. The first person I saw come down the escalator threw me some change, which felt like good luck to me.

Five dollars a day net may not be much, but if I make that everyday it will add up to a hundred and fifty a month. Besides, it was fun: I can honestly say I liked it better than any day job that I have ever had. I felt comfortable playing for two hours, except when I needed to stop and drink water. I felt grateful to anyone who threw change my way and to the three people who placed single dollar bills in my guitar case. One woman inquired about a CD, took the time to pick it up and turn it over in her hand and to ask me the price. I have ideas for things to play later (I’d love to learn the “Java Jive” and “One More Cup of Coffee for the Road” to take advantage of my position near the Peet’s kiosk) and I am sure I am going to learn more everyday.

Original painting shows shaved Brussels sprouts salad and ingredients.

Brussels Sprouts Salad. 8″ x 10″ gouache and watercolor pencil on canvas. Sharyn Dimmick.

All this is to say why I didn’t get a blog post out on Sunday as usual — I was busy earning money, just as I was busy this morning. Before I got so enterprising I did cook something new though, a shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette, inspired by Shira’s recipe on In Pursuit of More.

I was dubious about eating raw Brussels sprouts and thought I might blanch them instead, but I gamely tasted a tiny raw shaving. It was okay, actually, a bit stronger than raw cabbage. So I shaved fifteen Brussels sprouts (Trader Joe’s sells big stalks of them for three dollars apiece), added a quarter cup of  dried cranberries, forgot to use nuts (Shira used toasted pecans) and started concocting dressing.

I’m always appalled by large quantities of oil and I like my salad dressings sharp and tart, so I started with Shira’s 1/4 cup of apple cider (from the pantry, remember?) and 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, but I couldn’t bring myself to use 1/2 cup of olive oil. Instead I used 1/4 cup, plus about 2 Tbsp brown mustard and perhaps 1 tsp of honey. I ground some black pepper over the sprouts and cranberries, poured some dressing on and dug in.

I liked this salad so much that, having made it at lunch time, I was back eating it at dinner, having added 1/4 cup of shelled, toasted hazelnuts. The nuts may have made it even better, playing off the deep fall flavors of apple and mustard and greens. The dressing makes way more than you will need for a single salad and I have at least a cup of it waiting in the refrigerator to see what else I will eat it on: I plan to try making this salad with regular cabbage, shredded finely, while the dried cranberry supply holds out. Shira likes the dressing on cooked sweet potatoes, which sounds good to me, although we are currently a sweet-potato-less household.

Meanwhile, I have started experimenting with the coconut oil that Tropical Traditions so kindly sent me. First I put a tablespoon in a cup of hot cocoa, as suggested in one of their recipes, and then I tried adding a tablespoon of it to my oat-rye-granola cereal cooked in milk. I added a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, too, hoping to capture the elusive flavor of the coconut and peanut candy the Chick-O-Stick. I found that adding just one teaspoon of raw sugar brought the flavors together beautifully and that the coconut oil and peanut butter combo give my morning cereal some serious lasting ability — about four hours worth of activity later I finally got hungry again.

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