“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

From First to Hifalutin


It has finally happened. The South’s sometimes famous, sometimes notorious, always dependable, comfort food has gone upscale. I suppose it was bound to happen. After all, grits probably saved our country.


Glorious Grits, a new book by Susan McEwen McIntosh and presented by Southern Living, raises our comfort food to a new level for a new generation, with the gorgeous and scrumptious recipes from enlightened and creative American chefs. 

It took more than 200 years to go from Indian Pudding to Asparagus-Grits Strata, Huevos Rancheros on Cilantro-Grits Cakes, French Onion Soup with Gruyère Grits Croutons, Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping (made with blue cornmeal), Burgundy Beef Stew with Cornmeal-Thyme Dumplings, Chutney Salmon with Almond-Raisin Grits, Anson Mills’ Black Truffle Grits, and many more. 


above, Asparagus-Grits Strata

But here we are. Just in time for Thanksgiving.


First Food

You may recall from Spittin’ Grits’ May 4 post, America probably owes its historical existence to Capt. John Smith, who knew enough about wilderness survival to be saved by Pocahontas and then to save that original handful of people who settled in Jamestown. In the fall of 1608, only 45 people of the original 144 who set sail for Virginia were alive. By the following spring and summer 1609, everyone would likely have been dead if Smith had not bargained with the native Indians for corn. Americans are nothing if not ingenious, so with corn in hand, could meal, hominy, and grits be far behind?

[225pxT_Jefferson_by_Charles_Willson_[2].jpg]The July 2 post reminded readers that Thomas Jefferson served grits, according to Craig Claiborne. Even before that, however, only twenty years after the American Revolution, a culinary cultural event took place in 1796, when a young orphan lady named Amelia Simmons published a cookbook, America’s first one.


AmericanCookery-MSUAMERICAN COOKERY or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves, and all Kinds of Cakes from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake Adapted to the Country and All Grades of Life – the first cookbook aimed democratically at the masses and slanted towards women; it is the first cookbook to show corn meal as a primary ingredient.  It includes the first recipes for Indian Slapjacks and Johnny Cake, as well as “A Nice Indian Pudding,” all of which became staples in the following centuries.

 Uptown Food

McInstosh, born and raised in the South, a registered dietitian and author of Southern Living magazine’s Cooking Light Cookbook, traveled and interviewed far and wide to bring these glorious grits, meal, and polenta recipes together. As a bonus, she also reawakens awareness for using real, stone-ground grits. Glorious Grits includes a grits trail map and addresses for gristmills from where stone-ground meal, grits and polenta may be ordered, as well as tips for cooking stone-ground grits.


above,  Lime –Marinated Shrimp with Bean and Mango Salsa over Grilled Grits Cakes

Book chapters run the culinary gamut from a good old bowl of grits, quick polenta, and cornbread to breakfast, appetizers, breads, main courses, and desserts. Yes, desserts, including Pecan Grits Pie, Cornbread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce, and Coconut-Crusted Polenta Cakes with Triple Berry Sauce.


above, appetizer Grits Bruschetta with Tomato Salsa

below, Cornmeal Focaccia with Rosemary


My neighbor and friend Nancy is going to Chicago for Thanksgiving and wants to take a Southern dish. I’m going to suggest the Grits Bruschetta with Tomato Salsa as an appetizer, the Cornmeal Focaccia with Rosemary, Lime-Marinated Shrimp with Bean and Mango Salsa over Grilled Grits Cakes, and the Pecan Grits Pie (shown below).


Bon appétit, grits!

At Home, Not Alone

One of the worst effects of sappy, sentimental, maudlin takes on life -- like Beaver Cleaver’s family -- is how this kind of baloney makes us feel so alone with our real lives and relationships. Think how daring it was to put Archie Bunker’s flawed family center stage.

One of the most sensitive relationships subject to being presented as sugary nonsense is being a grandmother. Truth is, I have often felt alone in my role as a parenting grandmother. Making this subject the centerpiece of Spittin’ Grits was one way I could ward off feeling so alone in my reality.

So, how daring would it be to offer real portrayals about being a grandmother? Is that possible? Or are we destined to feel alone in this special, but often real, role as grandmother?


Editor and writer Barbara Graham has taken the daring approach in Eye of My Heart. She and 27 top-notch, award-winning women writers reveal the good, the sad, and the real about being a grandmother, and they are all from the heart. These prolific writers took the time to look at the special, even archetypal, relationship between a grandmother and grandchild and to share their always touching and tender stories that capture the reader's heart. It’s the real thing.

The book looks at what Graham notes is “the gap between this purest of loves and the realities of complex human entanglements.”

One pervasive theme runs through these essays by writers like Beverly Donofrio, Marcie Fitzgerald, Ellen Gilchrist, Marita Golden, Judith Guest, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Sallie Tisdale, Judith Viorst and others: The unbounded love grandmothers can feel for their grandchildren, despite whatever thorny or unhappy conditions make up the context.

The writers look at stressful family relationships, grandparents looking at their own parenting in a new way, watching your own daughter giving birth, grandparenting your children's step children from previous marriages, parenting your own grandchildren, living far away from the grandchildren, dealing with distance from grandchildren because of the emotional distance from your own children, fearing loss, fearing ineptness, having to be seen and not heard, and so many real situations.

An added bonus is how the essays throw the subject of parenthood into relief: Looking honestly at being a grandmother more clearly defines the outlines of being a mother, which can include a sense of failure or guilt or disappointment, along with the good feelings. Says Sharon Shreve,

“What a grandparent knows that a parent does not know are the years of small failures, of wishing you had been this kind of parent instead of that kind, of decisions made and revisions tried, then the slow, inevitable, terrible, wonderful breaking away.”

I agree with Mary Pipher in the introduction: “I am not the same person as a grandparent that I was a parent. I have different roles, different responsibilities, and a different perspective.”

Eye of My Heart also reminds me that being a parenting grandmother is different from being simply a grandmother. As Marcie Fitzgerald points out as a parenting grandparent, “It’s impossible to parent both my daughter and her son – and probably crazy to even try.”

I have to choose, which disallows my having some of the luxuries of being just a grandmother – total acceptance with abandon, being the easy pushover, loving with no real responsibility. It’s just my reality. Marita Golden offers a most useful reminder to me as a parent, woman, and grandmother:

“I’ve discovered that you become a woman the way you become human – over and over again – and both processes are rooted in surrendering to the reality of more pain than you may feel is fair, but pain woven into our earthly existence.”

Life is simply too real to be portrayed through Hearts-and-Flowers glasses. Sugar coating reality or offering solutions flown in by the Bluebird of Happiness offend sensibilities. Happiness-a-Day calendars inspire satire. Sappy e-mails deserve e-shredding.

So I’ll be giving my grandmothering friends a gift of Eye of My Heart during Holidays or birthdays or births of grandchildren.

Eye of My Heart is available through on-line book sellers like Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Eye-My-Heart-Pleasures-Grandmother/dp/0061474150/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258229175&sr=1-1) and at local book retailers.


De Facto Parenting, Part II: Thrice Removed



At two-and-a-half, my granddaughter runs a lot faster than I can run. The last time I remember running was in an intra-office softball game in 1991. After running around the bases a few times, I spent the next two or three days with a heating pad on my calves. Now I find myself having to run again, and I avoid a mental image of that scene at all costs. As the last post explained, parenting a grandchild has become extremely real lately.

Agile and athletic, Joanna Leigh can really run. She runs up and down the driveway just for sport. She also runs toward the street or from between cars in a parking lot for sport. So, when she heads that way, I scream.

Getting hit by an oncoming car is one of the many fears – some irrational, some not -- that I have as a parenting grandparent. Parenting a grandchild is about a far removed from being a grandmother as your fourth cousin thrice removed is from you.

Halloween Butterfly Fairy - 2

After putting her butterfly-fairy Halloween costume on her and handing her the wand that came with it, she headed straight for the wall socket that I had once covered with the plastic gizmo that keeps children from sticking things into the electrical outlet. She had taken the gizmo out.

I shouted. Then I screamed.

Later, I read on one of the many parenting articles, books, web sites, and blogs I look at that shouting has become the new spanking for disciplining children, and like spanking, it is under fire. (Read Hilary Stout’s October 21 New York Times article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/fashion/22yell.html ).


Now what? Do I stand there and reason with her about being run over? Or electrocuted?

“I’ve worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking,” Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, which teaches parenting skills, told the reporter.

Furthermore, according to Stout, “psychologists and psychiatrists generally say yelling should be avoided. It’s at best ineffective (the more you do it the more the child tunes it out) and at worse damaging to a child’s sense of well-being and self-esteem.”

Well this is just hunky-dory.

Not surprisingly, the article didn’t deal with any alternatives.

Next I read that both bribery and time-outs are no-no. Yeh, no time-outs. No more “clean your room and we’ll go to the zoo.” Or “if you run out in the street, you go to time-out.” Only “punishing children with love,” whatever that is. (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/24/punishing-children-with-love/ ).

But, he says in the original essay for the New York Times Magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/health/15mind.html?_r=2&em ), he backed up his article’s thesis with a study. Two Israeli researchers and experts asked more than 100 college students “whether the love they had received from their parents had seemed to depend on whether they had succeeded in school, practiced hard for sports, been considerate toward others or suppressed emotions like anger and fear.”

College students. Aka, teenagers. Probably in the middle of finals or in a bar. Why not ask them at age 28 or 30, when they’ve gotten a decent job with health benefits, if they appreciate what their parents shoved into their heads?

A Get-Real Study

So, I conducted my own study. Joanna Leigh is captivated by time-outs, which she rarely gets sent to at her day-care preschool. At home, we say, “Ok, you want to go to time out?”

She says, “Yes.”

Teddy in time out

Comforting friend Teddy in time out


But she puts Teddy, her stuffed -- and not-so-fluffy-anymore -- bear friend and comfort, in time out a lot. She points her finger and says, “Go to time out, Teddy.” The she sits him down in a chair or a corner, until she needs him. She looks back at him, reminding him he is in time out.

I asked her, like a researcher, “Does Teddy like time out?”

She answered, “Yes.”

She once tried to put our lab Maggie into time out. That didn’t work out.

She knows time out better than any 19-year-old college student. That’s real. That’s settled.


De Facto Parenting, Part I: The Swine Flu

H1N1 Logo_addsite

I’ve been sitting at my computer staring at the dreaded Blank Page for the past week or so. Being the de facto parent of a 2-½ -year-old has been especially real lately. When it’s this real, I’m hyper-aware that being a parenting grandparent is nothing like being a grandparent in a love relationship which carries certain luxuries. You know, like appreciating that you can hug, kiss, read, dance, and sing, but you don’t have the responsibility of sculpting an emotionally resilient, morally upright, educated, and competent human.


 The Swine Flu Virus





Image and information available at: http://www.cdc.gov/H1n1flu/

Last week Joanna Leigh had an appointment to get the first phase of the H1N1 flu shot. Like jillions of people, I had been waiting and worrying, anxious to get her inoculated, as she is for the regular seasonal flu. I picked her up at her pre-school early and headed for the doctor’s office. It was raining. A parking place was some distance from the entrance. I stopped. Looked at the distance. Looked for the umbrella. Looked for the diaper bag. Looked for her snack. Looked at her. Looked at myself.

I said to myself, “Ok, self, get your 66-year-old self in gear and get going. No one else is going to do it.”

I got her and all the stuff and started running for the entrance. Chronic back trouble aside, I’ll stop here to be grateful my knees still work.

The entrance seemed to be miles and miles away, as in a dream, when you’re running and running and getting nowhere.

Finally we were in. We headed to the waiting room with all the other kids, several of them looking feverish and sick, where you worry about all the germs on the chairs, toys, tables, everything.

The nurse called for Joanna Leigh. Relief set in. They weighed her. She’s still a pipsqueak at 25 pounds, in the 10th percentile, but compact and healthy. She opened the computer to record everything. She looked up at me with a weird look.

“We are out of vaccine.”

“What?” I said, mouth hanging open. “You’re kidding, right?”

“I am so sorry. We ran out 15 minutes ago. There’s no more in the building, because pediatrics was the last section to have it.”

We left. I was nearly in tears. It would be another two-plus weeks before University Medical Center would get replenished. I called my husband. He said we could all go out for supper.

On the way, I spotted the Doc-in-a-Box where I had walked in for my seasonal flu shot. “Pull in there,” I said. I ran in. They didn’t have any. We went on to supper. Afterwards, on the way home a different route, there it was – another Doc-in-a-Box I had forgotten was there in that spot. “Pull in there,” I said.

I ran in. Yes! They had it. I motioned for my husband to get Joanna Leigh and bring her in. It was moments before closing, and there was literally no one else waiting. Bingo, the elixir spray up her nose.

“We did it!” I said back in the car.

“We did it!” Joanna Leigh repeated, clapping. She sang her version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” all the way home.

I was exhausted from all that real stuff. The next few posts will deal with all that real stuff.





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