It was New Year’s night, which is the tail end of New Year’s Day, which comes after New Year’s Eve, which is preceded by New Year’s Eve Eve. Any excuse for a party. But we had not been partying, unless you count the excellent venison stew with our cabin neighbors Roxanne and Jay. They’re great friends and we continue to celebrate Roxanne’s brand new Ph.D. in Nursing Education. Considering that she dropped out of school at age 15—that was normal in Louisiana, she tells me—to get married, it’s a special accomplishment. We joyfully toasted GED to Ph.D. We were home by 8:30. And I don’t mean 8:30 on New Year’s Day.
I digress. I had been thinking all day about New Year’s resolutions. I gave up on them a long time ago, as I have enough stuff to make me feel like a failure without imposing impossible goals like wear a bikini in June, stop swearing, finish that baby blanket I started crocheting for Miss Priss three years ago when she was born. You can make all yours. I’ll cue up for the treadmill, for a week or so, then you’ll be gone and I’ll be back to my regular not-quite-enough-exercise routine.
But this year, new decade and all, I decided to make a New Year’s resolution. It won’t change me or the world. And it won’t destroy me if I mess up. The resolution: Eat more grits.
Here at the cabin in Mountain Rest, we keep good old Red Mule grits, ground in Clarke County from corn grown by Tim Mills in Clarke County. Tim’s a character his own self, but his grits are divine. You will find them on the menu of some excellent restaurants as well as some just-good ones. Farm 255 (superb) and Hilltop Grill (solid, good food) come to mind in Athens. Our famed chef Hugh Acheson uses them at Five and Ten and The National. You will NOT find them at the Waffle House or IHOP or Denny’s. They are not that white slop that you order at 3 a.m. when you’re trying to sober up enough to go home. No, sirree. Red Mule grits are the real thing. Nothing bromated, nothing with preservative properties. Ingredients: corn. That’s what the label says. None of this instant crap, not for me. It’s been many years since I was trying to sober up enough to go home at 3 a.m. I can be particular about my grits now.
We eat locally a lot. Not exclusively—I’m not that virtuous—but tilted heavily to seasonal availability. Thank heaven—and Tim Mills—Red Mule grits are available year-round. “Let’s have grits and a hearty breakfast to start the New Year,” I said to Tom New Year’s morning, when we were both coffeed-up enough to think about food. Not hungover, mind you, just mountain-sleep fogged.
I pulled out the Red Mule grits—kept in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer—and cooked them “Old Post Office” style: half milk, half water. My son started calling them Old Post Office grits when he was about 12 and we were regular customers at the Old Post Office restaurant on Edisto Island, SC. For all I know, everybody called them that. Old Post Office grits take a while, but man, oh, man, are they worth it!
This morning, I cooked up a batch. My only complaint is that Tim says a half cup of grits and three cups of liquid will make grits in about a half hour. Not so. After 45 minutes, I added another half cup of grits. Then we had the real thing. I used my Lodge cast iron skillet to cook perfect fried eggs—low heat is the secret—and plopped them on top of a big plate of grits. (If you’re eating your grits from a bowl, you haven’t cooked them right.)
Band-fruit grapefruit and Masada Bakery (Decatur, GA) Harvest Bread toast topped it off. Mountain Rest Honey. A little salt and pepper. Mighty fine. The problem was that extra half-cup of grits I’d added. We had significant leftovers. I told Tom to keep them, and I’d think of something.
Dinner rolled around—we had developed fierce appetites sitting by the fire and reading books all day—and I pulled out some grass-fed pork chops from BPH farms in Morgan County. I had some spinach I hadn’t used for my show-off Christmas Day dinner salad. Eggs. Some good Pecorino Romano.
I guess Southern Living would call it grits soufflé, but that seems a mite fancy for what I did. To the leftover grits, I added a little milk, beat in two eggs, then stirred in a half bag of barely-cooked spinach. Grated Romano gave it some tang and I popped it in the oven.
In my trusty Lodge cast iron skillet, I sautéed these local pork chops in a little olive oil, then added some chopped shallots and a little white wine. They were done in no time. A fine meal: tasty, hearty, simple and not as much cholesterol as there could have been.
“What do you want me to do with this leftover grits thing?” my beloved asked as he cleaned up.
“Put it back in the storage thingee and I’ll use it for breakfast. Somehow.”
It took some plotting. I made little grits cakes, dredged in egg, dusted in a little Red Mule corm meal, sautéed in butter. Cooked up some Long Creek apples we got back in November. Fried a little bacon. Another damn good meal. Good old Red Mule grits. You can’t starve if you’ve got ‘em.
And to my dear, dear friend Hoppin’ John Martin Taylor, who also sells most excellent grits: One more resolution. I promise to learn to fry chicken this year. Really.
Top photo: Red Mule grits.
Bottom photo: Tim Mills pours corn to be ground into Red Mule grits.