Recipe: Garlicky Baked Cheese Grits

Cheese grits are awesome. This is my adaptation of Paula Deen’s Baked Cheese Grits recipe. They’re great brunch food. I like to serve them with kale. But then again, what don’t I like to serve with kale?

Baked Cheese Grits (Serves 6):

Splash of olive oil
3-10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. light-colored beer, dry white wine or dry cider
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 c. regular grits or polenta
8 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
1/4 c. milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) butter, cut into pieces
4 oz grated sharp white cheddar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8 or 9 inch pie tin, or other oven-safe vessel of similar volume.
  3. Heat the garlic and olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat, until the garlic is soft.
  4. Add the broth, beer, and Worcestershire sauce to the saucepan and bring it to a boil.
  5. Stir in the grits and whisk until combined.
  6. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grits are thick. The grits have a tendency to spit while they’re thickening, so a splatter guard might be a nice thing to cover the pan with.
  7.  Add 8 oz of shredded cheddar to the grits, and stir until melted.
  8. Beat the eggs and the milk together until thoroughly combined.
  9. Now, here you can either temper the eggs and milk to forestall any potential pre-cooking of the eggs, or you can just dump the eggs and milk into the pan with the grits and cheese and stir. If you want to temper the eggs: add a tablespoon of the hot grits/cheese mixture to the egg/milk mixture. Stir to combine. Repeat until you’ve added 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of the grits mixture to the egg/milk mixture. Then add the tempered mix of eggs, milk, and grits to the rest of the grits mixture.
  10.  Add the butter to the grits mixture, and stir until melted.
  11. Pour into the oven-safe vessel you prepared in step 2! Top with the remaining grated sharp white cheddar!
  12. Bake 35-40 minutes until set.

Notes: If you’re of a mind for something spicy, you can chop a jalapeno or serrano pepper and stir it into the grits in step 10. Or, if you want to make them half spicy/half regular, pour the grits into the pan and then carefully stir the diced pepper into half of the pan.

If you’re mostly a fan of the crusty cheese part, reduce the cheese that’s stirred into the grits from 8 oz to 4 oz, and bake the grits in a wider, flatter vessel (I have used a baking sheet with a rim to good effect). Then increase the cheese you sprinkle on top from 4 oz to 8 oz. This will provide you with flatter, more cheese-crusty grits.

If you want more solid grits, leave out the butter in step 10. Including the butter gives a more spoonable texture: leaving it out gives you something more sliceable.

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When the Cherries Come

In the dark days of winter
–not quite the shortest, but close–
I fell into the couch and dreamed
of a cherry tree
heavy with fruit
firm and dark like blood.
The sky behind it boiled
the green gray of tornadoes
The fruit skin stretched taut
snapped under my teeth
My fingers dripped crimson.
I woke in December,
confused.

But in June, when the cherries come
firm and dark like blood,
or golden and blushing,
Pickle some.

Then, when you wake in winter,
confused in the dark days,
spread a silly cheese,
like a triple cream cheese,
on sturdy crackers.

Pry open that jar from June
and fish out the cherries with your fingers.
Place a cherry
one
per
cracker
on the spread of creamy, silly cheese

eat;
delight

(Editors note: I used Triscuits, and the Bloomy cheese from Jacobs Creamery. The cheese might be life-changing.)

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Meal Plan Dec 22-28, 2013

It’s been a long time since I posted a meal plan.

I am pleased at the inclusion of two vegan nights (Friday and Saturday, unless the black bean skillet is topped with yogurt). There would be four vegetarian nights instead of three, but I will probably end up adding bacon to the black eyed peas and kale. I will probably have to move the black bean skillet up in the week, as the avocados that came with the grocery order are ready to be eaten basically immediately.

 

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December Farmer’s Market in Portland

Twenty-five degrees.
That’s -4 to everyone else.
And yet, unreasonably sunny.
Isn’t it supposed to rain here?
I wore jeans (I do own one pair).
Actually zipped my coat (Blue leather instead of shabby gold corduroy)
Surely, it’s not cold enough for scarf and gloves.
It’s only a few blocks. To jaywalk or not?
I watch the jaywalkers and second-guess my decisions.
Sign two petitions–global warming (against) and gay marriage (for)
A sample cup of hot cider makes my cold teeth hurt.
My bacon dealer is missing. Missing!
An empty space where their stand is always.
I walk one loop–no vegetables I need, just eggs.
The egg vendor gently scolds me for not bringing cartons
She talks me into bloomy cheese
And butter she churned herself yesterday.
I like to buy butter from her because
once, in the green of summer,
she let me feel her churning bicep.

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Unknown Unknowns

Rarely do I see eye-to-eye with Donald Rumsfeld, but there is something he said once that resonates with me. In a press conference over the Iraq war, he said:

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

Now, this has been called an abuse of language, but to me it is a piece of great genius and wisdom. In my experience, especially my recent experience, it is the unknown unknowns that cause the problems. Those are the ones that will sneak up and chomp you on the ass.

Many of the unknown unknowns I have recently encountered have involved adventures. Like when Shanna and I followed Google’s directions to Bagby Hot Springs, only to find ourselves 10 miles up a logging road with no civilization in sight1. Or when Zack and I signed up for a “Moonlight Kayak Tour of Ross Island”, advertised as a no-experience required glide along the river, only to find ourselves locked into a five-mile slog, paddling desperately to keep up with the guide and our more experienced tour-mates.

The unknown unknown that I have been grappling with most recently is that of my kitchen floor. Thursday evening, as I was tidying up the kitchen in my new apartment, I decided to be extra thorough so as to be properly warm for my evening swim. I swept the floor, and pulled out the steam mop to take care of a stubborn sticky place or two. Things were going well until I got to the stubbornest sticky spot, which required longer than I expected to clean.

After a few seconds, I noticed something weird. The floor was actually getting stickier.

There must be some kind of dried-on film of dirt, I thought. So I continued mopping away.

Then, the film of dirt started to pill up, like a jersey-knit skirt that’s been worn a few too many times. This, I decided, was not normal floor behavior. So I switched off the mop and headed off to ask the Internet.

Unfortunately, the internet held no wisdom for me, beyond a thorough scolding for using a steam mop on a wood floor. Since it was too late to undo that part, I returned to more closely inspect the floor. Maybe I could just widen the area I was mopping and everything would be fine.

Upon lifting the mop, however, I met with another unpleasant surprise. The area under the mop had turned a ghostly white. I touched it, and it separated from the floor. It, and the surrounding area, peeled off the floor like dried glue on the hand of a fourth grader, like a bad sunburn.

I didn’t know what to do, so naturally I kept peeling the whatever-it-is off my floor, hoping that I could just remove it from the whole floor and everything would be dandy. After all, the wood underneath the plastic-y film looked just fine! Soon, though, as the difficulty in peeling an entire floor became apparent, I returned to asking the Internet, terrified that I had already damaged this apartment after only three weeks of residence.

The internet’s best guess seemed to be that this was an acrylic floor wax, but I lacked ammonia to test this hypothesis for sure. So Friday afternoon I gathered up a few peels of floor skin and made a pilgrimage to Home Depot. Surely, someone there could solve my mystery. Surely, someone could identify this substance and tell me how to remove it safely.

No such luck. I had hoped to live a long time without stumping my local home improvement folks, but alas, that dream was shattered. The gentleman in flooring had no idea what it was, or why anyone would apply it to their floor. His best guest–my worst nightmare in this scenario–was that I had actually melted the top layer off of a laminate floor. He gave me samples of both laminate and hardwood flooring, and instructed me to go home and check.

At home again, I compared the edge of the flooring to the samples, determining–to my great relief–that I did not have a laminate floor. (This determination was made after spending at least half an hour on my belly in the kitchen, searching for repeating patterns in the woodgrain, like a madwoman or a particularly blessed individual from the later books in the Ender’s Game series). Further, the floor in the hall, made of the same wood, was not coated in the… whatever it is. Unfortunately, I forgot to buy ammonia, so I still have not conclusively determined the provenance of the weird floor skin. Doubly unfortunate, the building’s annual maintenance inspections happen tomorrow, so I may be putting down a throw rug over the section of my kitchen that looks like a computer scientist’s back a week after a trip to the Bahamas.

At least, however, my unknown unknown is now a known unknown. Known unknowns are much less troublesome. You can ask questions about them. You can find people who have more information who may be able to help you. You can read and search and maybe–hopefully–make your known unknowns a known known.

As for the unknown unknowns–I guess the only antidote to those is experience. Hopefully other people’s experience, but, failing that, your own. Well, good time or good story, right?

[1]Other unknown unknowns about Bagby that made our trip there more on the good story side of the good time/good story continuum: the hot springs is a 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot; you have to carry 5 gallon buckets of cold water across the slippery decks to mix with the hot springs water in order to not boil yourself alive; and the corks that hold water in the tubs often leak, so after you’ve hiked a mile and a half through the rain and schlepped 30 gallons of cold water into your tub, you may be stuck in a tub that will only fill to your ankles.

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Come Back, Baby

I wrote this waaay back in mid October. But here it is now!

The past few weeks have been the kind of glorious fall weather that I have dreamed of my entire life. The mornings were cool, with just enough chill to make that cup of tea seem extra nice. The clouds hung low over the city in the early hours, enticing you to stay in bed, to stay wrapped up in your own white comforter, but once you crossed the hills west of Portland the blue sky opened up overhead. Demure velvety carpets of fog hovered over the fields in Hillsboro, leaving the foot or so above the golden ground strangely clear. The morning chill would eventually give way to glorious afternoons: just warm enough to draw you outside, and just cool enough to make you appreciate the sunshine. It was perfect for sitting in the courtyard in a sunbeam. The treas, at first unsure, started changing their dressings a few leaves at a time. First one branch would turn, slowly, tentatively shifting from green to red and gold and orange. Then its neighbors, perhaps inspired by the first branch’s boldness, or maybe just envious of its finery, would join in.

The fallen leaves crunched under foot, and swirled behind the cars like a beautifully mastered but not particularly creative car commercial.

It was gorgeous.

And then, suddenly, it was gone.

I didn’t know it would be leaving so soon. “The good weather lasts from July 4th through October”, the locals told me. I thought that included October! But here it is, not even half-way through October, and the forecast shows only rain for the foreseeable future.

This came as a shock to me, as I am not in the habit of checking the forecast. Tomorrow, I kept telling myself. Tomorrow I will remember to bring my camera, and capture all the glorious leaves and astounding blue sky. Tomorrow, I will pack a picnic lunch, and eat outside. Tomorrow, I will bring a jacket and eat in the courtyard.

I did not realize that hypothetical tomorrow would not be coming. I did not realize that once the rains start here, they don’t stop for six months. I did not realize that the sunshine was so, so precious.

Now that it’s gone, my desperation is clawing its way out of my chest. The end of any relationship is painful, of course, but I am taking this breakup particularly badly. I am that ex that makes you cringe.

Come back, baby, I say to the sunshine. If you just come back, I’ll be better. I’ll do it right this time–I’ll do right by you, I promise. I will eat dinner on the roof garden every night, even though it’s a hassle to bring the dishes down. I will eat every lunch in the courtyard at work, tossing crumbs to the scrub jay. I’ll drive to the beach every weekend! I’ll go kayaking, I’ll go hiking, I’ll go swimming; I’ll do all of the things I wanted to do but put off in favor of stupid things like cleaning and watching trashy supernatural dramas. I will go out even when I think it’s too hot, even though I hate wearing sunscreen, even though I am tired.

I cling desperately to the hope that this is just a trial separation. I believe–I know we can still work out our problems. I didn’t appreciate the sunshine when it was here–that’s on me, and I’m so sorry. I’m going to do better! We can make this work, if only the sunshine would give me another chance.

But deep down, I know. I know that it’s over. The sunshine took her toothbrush, and her record collection, and that stupid cat throw pillow. I even hear someone saw her out in New Mexico, drinking a beer and throwing darts with someone new.

Well, fine, if that’s the way it’s going to be. Two people can play that game. I can find someone new, too. In fact, I think I might even have met someone today. He’s different, certainly. A little less ostentatious, a little more reserved. He’d just as soon stay in as go to the beach with your friends. He says he likes warm soups and long baths, candlelight and reading, board games and crafts. He’s coming over this weekend. And, you know? I think I might even like him a little.

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Driving in Portland: A Southerner’s Terror

Driving in Portland is unlike any driving experience I’ve had previously. Downtown is particularly bad (most downtowns are, I suppose.) It stars out all right enough. You cross a bridge over the river, heading into downtown proper. You’re just cruising along, minding your own business, when suddenly the lane you are in becomes turn only. Not having sufficient warning to change lanes, you are forced to turn and are now going 90 degrees away from your intended course of travel.

Then you realize that you’re in a bus-only lane.

Then you realize that the bus-only lane is demarked, on both sides, by the solid white line that indicates that you are not supposed to change lanes here.

You are now faced with the dilemma–break the law by driving in a bus-only lane (and really piss off any bus driver who happens to be behind you), or break the law by changing lanes illegally? Oh, and you need to make this decision and execute it in the next 50 feet.

Fortunately, those problems decrease with experience. For the first time in my life, learning a route doesn’t just require learning which streets to use–it requires learning which *lanes* in those streets to use. I’ve learned to avoid 5th and 6th street entirely, which have two whole lanes devoted to the bus, and off of which you can only turn in one direction (as you can’t cross in front of the bus-only lanes).

It’s the bicyclists and pedestrians who are the problematic bit.

I’ve never lived in a city where there were bike lanes along every road, much less bike lanes that are actually used. Unfortunately, no one stops you as you’re entering the city to hand you a primer on sharing the road with bicyclists. Thus, early in my Portland driving, I was faced with the difficulty: what happens when you need to turn right and the bicyclists (in the bike lane to your right) want to go straight? My reaction was to panic. “What do I do? What do I do? There are a thousand bicyclists and I need to turn right and I can’t judge how fast they are going in relationship to how fast I can turn and what do I do what do I do?!” Zack, ever the calm one, said dryly, “Don’t get hit things is generally a good guideline.” I amended that to the situation, which was really more of a “Don’t get hit” scenario. I yielded to the bicyclists. Crisis averted… that time, anyway. More recently, I found myself needing to turn across a bike lane. I thought the bicyclist was turning right, as I was. No such luck–the poor guy braked hard and shouted obscenities. I apologized profusely, but that probably wouldn’t have mattered to him even if he could have heard. Zack soothed my conscience by telling me that I probably gave him the best indignation boner. He probably spent all day telling everyone he encountered about how the horrible gas guzzler nearly killed him, and wouldn’t it just be better if everyone who drove cars died? Etc. etc.

So whereas the bicyclists are fast, angry, and unpredictable, the pedestrians in Portland are slow, oblivious, and unpredictable. All over downtown, there are special white-striped pedestrian crosswalks. In the UK, they call them Pelican crosswalks. Of course, in the UK, they also put nice little flashing lights on them, so you know when a pedestrian has stepped into the crosswalk. But this is America, and we can’t have nice things, so our stripey crosswalks are unlit.

That doesn’t deter the pedestrians from stepping into the street with impunity, without regard to the speed or proximity of the massive steel death dealers hurtling towards them. They step off the sidewalk with the innocence of babes, utterly assured in their belief that no harm will come to them, seemingly unaware of the possibility that one of the people operating the hurtling steel death-dealer might be a visitor in Portland. That that visitor might be from suburban Texas, where pedestrians are rare, and confident pedestrians even rarer. That the visitor might never have encountered a crosswalk where it is legal for a pedestrian to cross at any time. That the visitor might therefore be unaware that pedestrians are even something they need to be on the alert for. No, no, the pedestrians in Portland walk with the confidence of an animal that evolved in an environment without predators, In Portland, pedestrians are the top of the food chain. And they will step in front of your grill and amble, ever so slowly, across the street, not even looking at you apologetically for causing you to come screeching to a halt in order to avoid squishing their sorry patchouli-scented ass.

In other cities, pedestrians will at least acknowledge your existence. Even in Athens, where the pedestrians know that you have to step boldly into the street in order to cross it at all, those street-crossers pay careful attention to the traffic. You wait, you watch, and you choose the moment when you know that your boldness will impress the traffic to a standstill for your passage. In the American South, pedestrians have a nervous, prey-animal air about them. Even when they have a walk sign, they dart across the street, looking around, waiting for that one driver (it seems like there’s always one) who is going to come flying around the corner and cream you just as you’re about to reach the safety of the sidewalk. When a Southern pedestrian walks in front of you when they don’t have the right-of-way, they have the good decency to look apologetic. They give you grateful, doe-y eyes, a look that says, “Thank you, fossil-fueled death dealer! Thank you for not squishing me!”

Southern pedestrians get it. Southern pedestrians understand. They know their place, and, all philosophical questions aside, it isn’t the top of the food chain. It’s a simple question of physics:force equals mass times acceleration. Even if the car were moving very slowly, as slowly even as the pedestrian walked, it would still have a couple of tons of mass to translate into force. The pedestrian will not win that one. You can’t fight physics.

It took me a while to lose my Southern pedestrian sensibilities. Even in the pelican crosswalks, where I ostensibly had the right-of-way all the time, I would wait for a break in traffic. Sometimes, a driver would see me there, waiting for a safe time to cross, and stop to let me across. I would smile graciously at them, and hurry out of their way. I had taken to coaching myself across these crosswalks, “Act confident. Act confident. They’re not going to hit you. They’re not going to hit you. Don’t look at them. Pretend to be a local. Act confident. Keep walking.” I suspect I did not fool anyone. I suspect they could sense my anxiety.

But now, four months in to my life in Portland, my inner anxious Southern pedestrian has relaxed. Sure, I look when we cross the street–that’s just good sense–but I’ll also step into the pelican crosswalk when there are lots of cars in the road, instead of waiting until the road is empty. Sometimes, if I feel like it, I’ll smile at the cars that have stopped for me, but just as often now, I won’t pay them a passing glance, keeping my eyes instead on the path ahead of me. The cars have become a strange background object, like lions behind the glass at the zoo. It’s pleasant. It’s peaceful.

Well, until someone new to town plasters my sorry kale-carrying ass across their grill.

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