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February 2013

Fixing grits

Home fries, grits, or hashbrowns?  For me, it’s always grits and always will be – even though I like home fries a little better.  The reason for this came home to me a few months ago when I was ordering breakfast with my brother.  We both chose grits and then surprised each other by admitting that we ordered them due to love, not taste. Dad loved grits.

He was a mid-20th century boy, raised in the South (about 45 miles from Gainesville). My best early memory of grits is at the yellow laminate kitchen table of his parents’ kitchen, the smell of Nettles sausage vying with the reek of chewing tobacco, the deep yellow, scrambled eggs cooked barely solid, butter melting over the speckled grits, and the country music station playing on the radio on the shelf above the fridge.

If your grits don’t have speckles and don’t take 20-30 minutes to cook, they are processed “quick grits.” Lawdy, don’t do that if you can help it. Real grits have more of the “stick-to-your-ribs" quality,and are worth the wait. My dad’s childhood took place during the heyday of grits, and all over the South people could carry their own dent corn to the local mill to have it ground for cheap.  The fine grounds became cornmeal and went into cornbread, another staple. The grittier grounds were… grits. Hardy grits got many southern families through the Civil War and the Depression, and were a staple for native people long before Europeans arrived.

Their long history and the fact that they haven’t really caught on in the rest of the country renders them even more precious to Southerners. You can get  organically-grown, local grits - the kind my grandmother bought - from Greenway Farms in Alachua. 

HOW TO FIX SOME GRITS:  To prepare them the traditional way, simply pour one cup of grits and ½ teaspoon salt into  to 4 cups of boiling water. Whisk as the water returns to a boil, to keep them from lumping together.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes (this makes enough for a grits-loving family of four).

If you are new to grits, and want to make them a little richer and fancier, substitute milk for half, or even all, the water.  These are creamy and delicious even to neophytes.

IMPORTANT: However you cook them, a visible dollop of butter melting on the top is a must. 

Curried Beans and Greens

Oh, greens, we were beginning to tire of you. We had two giant bins of collards donated this week from our friends the Grahams and from Paul, a dear friend who organizes a local middle school garden. They were fresh and pest- and sand-free, but I kind of hated to see them. This has been an unusually good year for greens. They're beginning to feel like okra in September. Enough already.

Fortunately, our morning café food prep volunteers have become extremely adept greens-prep artists. They got it all lunch- (and freezer) ready in no time. In the last couple weeks we’ve served trusty Beans and Greens, Sweet Potato Fritattas with greens, a variation of this soup with greens floating in it, and Quiche - with greens. Today it was back to beans and greens with a little twist: a little more garlic, a lot more onion, copious curry, and garbanzos – served on rice. I know you can figure out a recipe on your own, but here’s one to get you started. They were good, and people loved them as usual, and by the end of the day, I liked them again too. Good ol' greens. 

Curried Greens and Beans

1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 bunches of collard greens (or mustard or turnip)
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas)

Chop and rinse greens and set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven-type pan. When onion is translucent, mix in curry powder. Add greens gradually, preferable still dripping with rinse water. Add a little water if necessary to keep from sticking. As greens wilt, slowly add the rest while turning with a spatula so new greens are on the bottom. When all the greens are in, sprinkle with soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos. When liquid begins to sizzle, cover and turn to low. Steam greens until tender, turning frequently. When tender (20-30 minutes), gently add garbanzo beans to pan and reheat. Serve on rice with pepper sauce, or the Graham's Hot Pepper Jelly

Gainesville Bucket List

Thomas center dogwoods
Over the last couple years, several graduating students have asked me for a "bucket list" of things to do in Gainesville before they leave. There are a few of these floating around - most very University of Florida specific. Here's mine - with a couple additions from this year. I tried to capture a variety of things peculiar to our region that I've really enjoyed over the years. What would your bucket list include? 

  1. Tube down the Ichetucknee - and be able to spell it.  
  2. Rent a canoe at Canoe Outpost and paddle by Lily Springs. Wave hello to Naked Ed
  3. Hike out to Bolen's Bluff on Paynes Prairie, or go a little further down the road to the newly opened Barr Hammock Preserve
  4. Bicycle the 14-mile Hawthorne Trail
  5. Visit the farm and feed the animals at Morningside Nature Center
  6. Go on a wildlower walk at Morningside or one led by herbalist Susan Marynowski
  7. Go to a movie and a play at the Hippodrome State Theater
  8. Contra Dance at the Thelma Boltin Center. 
  9. Do something in "Meeting Room A" at the Downtown Public Library - one of the most beautiful places in Gainesville. There's free yoga on Thusday evenings at 5:30. 
  10. Buy a mock tuna sandwich at Citizen's Co-op and eat it on their back patio. 
  11. Breakfast at The Jones, lunch at Café C, dinner at Civilization
  12. Share tapas at Emiliano's
  13. Order a great coffee at Volta
  14. Picnic on the lawn at the Thomas Center - preferably soon while the azaleas are blooming. 
  15. Get some of your picnic food at Uppercrust Bakery
  16. Watch the bats fly out of the UF Bat House at dusk. 
  17. Walk barefoot around the labrynth at Kanapaha Botanical Center, then continue walking in wonder through this beautiful place. 
  18. Read in the Quiet Room at the Millhopper branch library
  19. Take a hike at San Felasco Hammock - blue or yellow loop. 
  20. Count the alligators on La Chua trail
  21. Drive out to the Alachua County Famers Market on 441 (near the highway patrol) and buy some local oranges from the Henderson's, some incredible hot pepper jelly from the Grahams, and a bag of beautiful, flower-studded salad greens from Mrs. Carlisle. 
  22. Buy an interesting bottle of wine or unusual beer from Wards.  

Additions from Katherine Vickers Edison, Gainesville naturalist and photographer: 

  1. Pizza, music, and fun gift shopping at Satchels Pizza
  2. Museum of Natural History and Butterfly Rainforest
  3. Harn Museum of Art with lunch the café. 
  4. Take advantage of your cheap student tickets to see a great performance at the Phillips Center for Performing Arts
  5. Visit Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' house, just a few miles down the road. 
  6. Eat corn nuggets at The Top
  7. Go for a swim at Manatee Springs

{image: taken at one of our Thomas Center picnics}

Side of fries

French fries
Last week's café served up black-eyed peas and rice with greens and a side of fries. We have roasted veggies before, cutting them in the traditional french fry shape that disguised (maybe) the fact that it was actually a turnip or rutabaga. As there was no disguising the unique romanescu, we sweetened the pot with a little ranch dressing on the side. We tossed sliced turnips and pieces of romanescu with some olive oil and salt before roasting them in a baking pan at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, till tender. 

Here's the recipe for the the last minute ranch dressing, which consisted of whatever white stuff we could find in the fridge, with a little seasoning - approximately: 

1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
enough buttermilk to thin to dressing consistency
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried dill
salt to taste.

Whisk or shake together in a mason jar. Not a bit healthy, but something familiar for folks who are a little afraid of the romanescu, and very tasty.  Moderation.  

It was another delicious way to enjoy the beautiful romanescu, and the pink-centered turnips (thank you Grahams!) were beautiful alongside.  Our guests approved!