Friday, October 17, 2008

Time marches on but some things never change

Some of my earliest memories are of pleasant times spent at my grandmother's house in Headland, Alabama. We knew that when we walked through that door there was no one else on earth more important to her. For the duration of our stay Nana treated us like royalty. Nana was a wonderful cook and she fed us well. She was famous for her daily breakfasts. Bacon, eggs, biscuits with homemade jams, jellies and preserves. Orange juice brought to a froth in the blender. But her signature dish was grits. Nana's are divine. There would usually be a write-up in the Headland paper about our visit and countless relatives and other town residents would amke the effort to come by and 'speak to us' while we were there. Those were wonderful, happy, safe times that were gone almost before I realized it.

My grandmother turned 89 years old in September. She no longer cooks much and while she still makes us feel like the most important people in the world when we visit - those visits are few and far between.

During a phone conversation this summer Nana expressed an interest in going to Paula Deen's restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. I told her that my sisters and I would take her to celebrate her birthday. She felt like a trip to Savannah was too ambitious but suggested that we come to Headland and make Paula Deen recipies. So our Paula Deen Weekend was born.

My sister Julie lives in Elkmont, Alabama (almost at the Tennessee line). She and her husband Larry have four children (three are in Utah attending school and/or working and one is in Uruguay on a church mission). She has a full-time job at Athens hospital, visits home health care paitents and teaches a class at a local college. Amanda lives in Montgomery. Her husband, Jeff, is a radiologist and they have three children (ranging in age from 10-17). She is a stay-at-home mom (I use that term loosely, she runs marathons, plays tennis, collects money for charity, supports candidates for political office and plans luncheons for 700 people - so she never stays in one spot for long).

Nana's birthday was September 22nd - so we cleared our calendars for the last weekend of September and we drove down to Headland. It was the first time the sisters had been together without husbands or children since I got married almost 30 years ago and it was heaven getting to talk and laugh and visit with each other.

When we arrived in Headland we picked up Nana and ate lunch at a nice little cafe on the Headland town square. We each ordered something different so we could share and taste. I got chicken salad. Nana got quiche, Julie and Amanda got little flatbread sandwiches Then we split 2 slices of chocolate chip pecan (as Paula would say PEE-can) pie for desert.

Then we went back to Nana's house and made Paula's peach cobbler. Once it was done we went grocery shopping for the ingredients we needed to make the other dishes. We were able to get everything in Headland's Piggly Wiggly except Chilli Cheese Fritos, Easy Off Oven Cleaner (the cobbler leaked a little on to Nana's oven), leeks and shrimp. From the moment we arrived in Headland Amanda had been running into people she knew. So when I saw her chatting with the meat man at the Piggly Wiggly (when she was supposed to be locating shrimp) I thought she had been diverted from her task by yet another old acquaintance. Then I found out that she was asking the meat man about the shrimp! She told him we needed shrimp but it didn't have to be fresh (meaning it could be frozen). He asked why in the world we would want shrimp that wasn't fresh. Anyway, it turns out they don't have shrimp of any kind available in Headland, so Amanda and Julie dropped me off at Nana's to continue cooking while they went in search of the missing items.

By the time my sisters got back (with FRESH, Cajun seasoned, steamed shrimp) we were ready to cook in earnest. Nana told us that at Paula Deen's restaurant they walk around with biscuits on a tray offering them to the people waiting in line. So when some visitors arrived (Nana's sister Mary Owens, her husband Lee and Nana's youngest brother Jim), we hurried to make the biscuits so we could walk in and serve them on a tray like Paula Deen. But our guests had to leave before we got the biscuits ready and we didn't get to serve them Paula Deen style. That was the weekend's only disappointment.

Our menu consisted of - Shrimp and Grits, Corn Salad, Cheese Biscuits, and Peach Cobbler for dessert. The recipies are all available on Paula Deen's official website ( but I've listed them below for your convenience.

Everything was delicious. After eating we watched the Alabama/Georgia game. Then we stayed up half the night visiting and watching Amanda give Nana a pedicure. On Sunday morning for breakfast we reheated biscuits and ate them along with fresh cantaloupe and some of the pound cake that Nana's brother Sam had sent over. We washed the sheets on our beds (against Nana's strict instructions) and visited until lunchtime. Then we reheated our dinner from the night before and ate it one last time. It was just as good the second time around (thanks to a trick Julie taught us which I'll share in the corn salad recipe). Then we sadly packed up, said our farewells and headed home (after a brief stop to see Uncle Sam - Nana's brother who is 93).

It was a perfect weekend and I hope we get to do it again sometime (my grandfather suggested that we come back every weekend). I feel like after spending time with these three incredible women that I am somehow improved. I've felt like a better wife and mother and person in general all week (maybe I DO need to do this every weekend). I appreciate my sisters for making the necessary adjustments in their lives to make room for a Paula Deen Weekend in Headland. I'm also thankful to their husbands and children for sharing them with me. Life is short, time passes quickly, but some things never change.

Cheese Biscuits

2 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening3
/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 stick butter, melted
Directions:Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together using a fork; cut in shortening until it resembles cornmeal. Add cheese. Stir in buttermilk all at 1 time just until blended. Do not over stir. Drop by tablespoonfuls, or use an ice cream scoop, onto a well greased baking sheet. Brush dough with melted butter. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes Difficulty: Easy Yield: 16-20 biscuits

Shrimp and Grits

4 servings cooked grits
4 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced tasso ham* (we used bacon)
4 tablespoons diced leeks
4 tablespoons diced onion
4 tablespoons diced green peppers
20 medium to large shrimp, peeled and de-veined, with tails on
1 tablespoon white wine (we used cooking sherry)
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Cajun Seasoning to tasteDirectionsCook grits according to package directions; set aside and keep warm.Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tasso (bacon) and saute until crisp. Add diced vegetables and saute until onions are translucent. Add shrimp and saute for 30 to 45 seconds, or until pink. Remove from the pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with cooking sherry. Slowly add the cream and let reduce until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and Cajun seasonings, to taste. (Paula suggests a more attractive presentation - but we opted for what was easy). Pour grits into a casserole dish. Put shrimp and vegetables on top. Pour sauce over everything.

Corn Salad

2 (15 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained (I prefer shoepeg)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 (10 1/2 ounce) bag coarsely crushed Fritos chili cheese corn chips (we used regular and it worked fine)DirectionsMix first 5 ingredients and chill. Stir in crushed corn chips just before serving (if you expect to have leftovers, reserve about a cup of chips and mix them in the next day to provide new crunch)

Peach Cobbler
1 stick of butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 large can sliced peaches
1 small can sliced peaches
Melt butter in 9 X 13 dish in 350 degree oven until golden brown around edges. In bowl mix sugar, self-rising flour and milk. Pour batter mixture over hot butter in the 9 X 13 baking dish. Spoon the peaches into the batter. Gently pour juice from large can of peaches over the top.Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees (or until golden brown). (One of Julie's patients suggested doubling the 'crust' portion of the recipe and topping the cobbler with cinnamon sugar - so that's what we did.) It's great alone or with cool whip or ice cream on top!


Cheri J. Crane said...

Betsy, your Paula Deen weekend sounds like it was a rousing success. My mother would love something like this. Food for thought, so to speak. ;)And thank you for the recipes. I collect things like this. Yep, they're all going into my book of treasured recipes. =)

Kerry Blair said...

I am so making corn salad and peach cobbler tonight! Chili Fritos are a cinch to come up with in Arizona. In fact, I'm surprised to hear they make another variety. :)

Your fabulous weekend brought tears to my eyes. I miss my grandmothers so very much! I'm calling my cousin right this minute and planning a weekend in San Diego. (She's the closest thing I ever had to a sister growing up.) Thanks, Betsy!

Jeri Gilchrist said...

Aw Betsy, what a wonderful, thoughtful, thing to do. My dad's brother is coming this weekend from out of town. His brother's and sister never get together. I think I'll check with him to see if I can get them all together for a Sunday dinner. I'll use these fabulous recipes.
Thank you for this sweet post!

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

This is so incredible, Betsy. What a wonderful weekend, and so great that you took the time to do it. Awesome memories.

And I'm now very hungry.:-)

Michele Ashman Bell said...

I felt like I was there with you as I read this wonderful post about your weekend. Made me want to be part of your family and expereince that rich combination of love and food. Loved it!