I’m reading My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg right now. Well, actually, I’m listening to it on Audibles. Rick Bragg reads it himself, and he has this fine Southern voice and it’s like listening to a story teller rocking back and forth on his front porch talking all about Southern cookin’. Because two hours into the book and every single story has been about food.
Today, driving to work my mouth watered as I listened to Rick Bragg’s deliciously Southern accent discuss oysters and cole slaw, fried chicken and pork cracklins, then grouper sandwiches. The man has an obsession with food, and his book has succeeded in making me thoroughly and completely hungry. He’s also reminded me of the good cooking I grew up with. My poor children have not had the same experience, because butter, fat, and Crisco oil all clog arteries and organic is in these days–even in the deep South. Plus, I care about my waistline and I want to make sure I’m healthy so I can live a long life. Everything kills you these days, but I’d at least like to try to lengthen my life by eating healthy and exercising. And then there’s the time it takes to cook good, Southern, home cooked meals. In our fast paced world, I simply don’t have the time to cook. My husband does most of the cooking, and he grew up with an Italian grandmother so you can imagine what we eat: pasta and pizza.
I was raised in Montgomery, Alabama. Not born there. As a kid, I used to love to brag that I was born in San Francisco, California. It gave me credit as something other than a Southerner. I rarely told people I’d lived there for less than a year, then moved on to New Orleans and lived in Montgomery by the time I was two. Why expound when one could brag about their non-provincial roots? Touting that I came from California made me special or different, at least in my eyes, and I’d always prided myself on both.
Montgomery is not a small town, but it has a small town feel. There is plenty of gossip. There are plenty of ways for stories to get back to your mother and father. Everywhere I went, growing up, someone knew my parents. And in my house there was plenty of good Southern food. Plates of comfort served hot.
My mom learned most of her cooking in New Orleans it seems. Her specialties were cajun in nature: seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, barbecue shrimp (which is just shrimp drenched in butter with slices of lemon–or so it seems). When my mom made red beans and rice, she always set out the oil and vinegar for us to add plus scallions. I still like it that way, soaked with yellow olive oil and so vinegary it almost taste tart. I’d eat the red beans and rice, but my taste buds relished the sausage which were always tender from being soaked in the juices of the soup. To this day, this is my favorite recipe of my mother’s but she doesn’t make it anymore because she and my dad are now vegetarian.
Today after I listened to Rick Bragg drone on and on about Southern food I decided I just had to have some fried chicken. I went with a coworker to Martin’s. Martin’s Restaurant is a Montgomery staple and has been around forever. When I was a kid, Patrick Swayze (RIP) even stopped by one day to get some fried chicken. I was heartbroken we didn’t eat there that night, because I had a thing for Swayze after seeming him gyrate his hips in Dirty Dancing. Martin’s has the best fried chicken in town. Since I’m still not running (tomorrow, hopefully), I just had one breast accompanied by cornbread, collard greens, and of course, fried green tomatoes. You should stop by and have a meat and three one day. And don’t forget the sweet tea.
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