Comfort Coma

Here I am again in Northern Virginia.  Just up for a week visiting my sis while Rocket-man works to bring home kibble for The Poodle …and what’s left pays the bills.  It’s frigid cold and there is a light dusting of snow still on the ground from just a few days back.  It brings home memories of more than twelve years ago when home was here and not middle-earth-land Alabama…back when I ceremoniously threw my snow shovel in the dumpster as my last act before getting in the car and heading to the real La-La Land…. Los Angeles.

It’s been less than two weeks since our last hugs but once again sis and I are standing in her cozy kitchen wondering what to prepare for dinner.  Sis is always quick on her feet about menu ideas.

“What about grits?” She asks.

How that came to her I have no idea.  Remember, Italian blood runs through our veins.

Still, I am quick to say “Sounds perfectly yummy.”

“I think there is a recipe in The Pioneer Woman’s cookbook,” she says.

Sure enough there is.  Ree Drummond’s Cheese Grits looks to be the perfect comfort food on a cold winter’s night.  I look over the recipe trying not to choke on the fact that its got tons of butter and even more cheese.

Oh hells bells.  It’s 12 degrees outside! Besides….How many times do I make a recipe like this?  Once in a blue moon.  Scouts honor.  

While I prepared the grits with all the butter and twice the cheese, sis rustled up polpette (a version of Italian meatballs) made of ground veal, because well….the cat got into the sausage necessitating plan “b”.   Aromas of garlic, olive oil, freshly grated cheeses, nutmeg, and minced parsley filled the kitchen in short order.  Wine flowed as sis fried the meatballs while simultaneously helping her eight year-old son with a poster project.

I marveled at that for a moment. What a great mom my sis is.

And with that,  flashbacks of my own.   It seems like a lifetime ago that I was doing much the same: stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove while trying to get my kids to start…or finish… homework.  Where have the years gone?

My lament is brief.  It must be….

I sip on my robust red while pulling tother the cheese grits.  Four eggs. Check.  Four cloves of garlic? Wow…OK!  And,  uncharacteristic for me, I don’t even bother to measure out the cheeses: sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack….I throw it all in straight from their bags.  I grate a bowlful of gruyere and throw that in too. And then there is the  butter.  I close my eyes as I add it to the pot of grits.  Wow.  A stick and a half.  It’s A LOT of BUTTER.  Cayenne pepper?  Hmm.  It’s supposed to be half a teaspoon but my bro-in-law, after a taste test says it needs more.  So, I eye-ball that too.  Oh boy. Yes, the final product had a pleasant kick.


It’s cold outside but Oh baby its delightfully warm on this January night in my sis’s kitchen. Our cheeks are rosy from laughter –or is it from the wine–and our bellies are happy-full  with southern grits and Italian meatballs.  A wacky combination you say?  Judge not.  This comfort coma was pure bliss.

Fortunately, there is always tomorrow to walk off some of that butter.


It’s “All the Fat and Twice the Sugar” Time!

‘Tis the season…the most difficult season of all….

to control calories, that is.  Thanksgiving….Christmas…New Year’s Eve….but before it all, my husband’s birthday.

Yes…It was hubby’s birthday this week.  “I’m no longer a cougar,” I playfully tell him.  There’s only six weeks that separate our ages.  Still as silly as it seems, being six weeks older sometimes messes with my head.

So….Hmm….What to do special for hubby on his birthday?

He’s a hard man to buy gifts for.  First of all he is a PhD  Physicist-engineer.  “Rocket-man” has, unlike moi, few real wants.  He’s got simple tastes and is happy as a clam wearing worn sweats and mis-matched outfits (don’t get me started on his fashion sense…er…I mean lack of fashion sense).  Rocket-man doesn’t want fancy-schmanzy clothes or accessories although he does like his car to be luxurious and he prefers 18 year-old scotch.  I think that all of those years of bachelorhood before we met made it easy for him to just get whatever it was that he wanted, not sharing that information with anyone because he really didn’t have to.

I’ve asked him for weeks now:  “What would you like for your birthday? And, while we are at it…how about Christmas?”  “Hmm”….he starts….then his voice trails off and in a blink we’re on to another subject.  Pretty crafty, my hubby is!

Well I may as well prepare him a nice meal then… I think to myself.  He’d probably like a pasta dish.

So, we’re in Costco last week and while perusing the book and DVD section a book catches my eye.  The Pioneer Woman Cooks.”  It’s a cookbook by Ree Drummond who became an award-winning blogger back in 2009 and now has a Food Network show.   I’m actually just now reading her memoir of how she, a city girl, came to fall head-over-black-high-heels for a cowboy.  It’s a funny (and incredibly romantic) read.  I picked up the cookbook and started leafing through it while trying to keep my cart out-of-the-way from other shoppers in the rather narrow aisle.

Ree Drummond

Ree Drummond

Oh my….these photos are beautiful!  

I’m engrossed in the cookbook in an instant.  Page after page there are gorgeous photos of her prepared recipes as well as adorable family photos and shots of the homestead that make you just want to grab a duffel bag of clothes, hop in the car and head straight to Oklahoma hoping you’ll be allowed to camp out somewhere on her 200,000-acre working cattle ranch.  OK….well…almost.  From what I hear the nearest large city with a Starbucks is six hours away and it’s a two-hour drive to the nearest grocery store.  And I think I live in “middle earth?”

I stop on a page that has a photo of Chicken Pot Pie.  Oh God….I’m positively drooling.  I look at the recipe and immediately think to myself  This looks easy. I can do this.  I know.  There’s that little voice in my head that screams “This country cooking stuff is bad for your health.”  Oh DO SHUT-UP voice in my head!  ‘Tis the season!”

I place the book in the cart on top of the twelve bottles of red-wine we’re purchasing (though we have to wonder around the store, dragging our feet for another half-hour until the clock strikes noon before we can checkout.  Why, pray tell?  Because it’s Sunday and it’s the freaking Bible Belt!).

I find my Rocket-man hubster.  He looks in the cart and picks up the cookbook.  “The Pioneer Woman Cooks,” he says, with an understandably quizzical look on his face.   This is not my usual pick;  I’m normally the Italian or Mediterranean Cookbook type.

“I know,” say I….But oh Lord…you should see these recipes.  They look incredibly yummy…and the photos….they’re stunning.”

“Uh-huh,” he says.

I nod to his raised eyebrow.  “Yes…I know….all the fat and twice the sugar,” I say as I plop the book back down into the cart.

The next day I’m in the kitchen and I’ve got the cookbook open to the Chicken Pot Pie recipe.  I’ll confess that I’ve made a pie crust a total of five times in my thirty-some years in the kitchen.  All five times produced less-than-desirable results.  I’m cracking myself up here.  The truth is: All five times were complete disasters and entailed a lot of swearing, some tears, and way too much flour.  Actually, I think it’s God way of saving me from myself.  If I had been able to make a decent pie crust through the years I’d have been churning out pies weekly and eating them with unbridled delight. I would also have been as big as a barn by now.  Whew.  It’s a good thing this pie business doesn’t come easy to me.

So, what made me think that this time would be any different?  I’ve not a clue. Perhaps it was because Ms. Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, made it look incredibly easy.  After all there were detailed step-by-step instructions as well as lovely photos of each step in the recipe process.

Again…what was I thinking?

3 Cups of flour…check….
1 1/2 cups of shortening….hmm…..

Wow…seems like a lot of shortening… but I didn’t bat an eyelash because–

Oh dear….here it comes (forgive me, hubby of mine)…

Truth be told…this pot pie was for ME!  Yes indeed!  With all the drama going on in my life, not to mention in the world… and all the angst and calamity of Obama Care (Grrrrrr), yadda- yadda, etc., etc. I simply wanted to go face down in comfort food and it was going to include PIE CRUST damn it!

Except for one minor problem of course.  I’ve never had one that turned out quite right!   What was I thinking?  In a flash of a second I think of my Northern Virginia friend (a.k.a. “evil twin”) who is the Pie Queen extraordinaire.  How does she do it?  I think of calling her but I am knee-deep in flour and shortening.

Come on Cristina….you can do this.

Sauteing the veggies....

Sauteing the veggies….

Naturally, in short order I am spitting bullets as flour is flying all over the place and I’m working up a sweat trying to work the shortening into the flour with the pastry blender.

My iPhone is on the counter and my ever-so-funny “Asian Sister Calling” ringtone announces that my sis is calling.    With shortening-covered hands I put her on speaker phone getting flour on my phone in the process.  I’m huffing and puffing as I continue to work the shortening into the flour.  I tell sis what I am attempting to do for hubby’s birthday and she is mighty impressed. She loves pot pie too.

“It doesn’t look like Pioneer Woman’s photo,” I say in total exasperation.  “The shortening is supposed to be worked in until the mixture resembles little peas.  I’ve got a big glob of mess going on here,” I all but cry.  “I think the shortening measurement is off…as in it’s too much.”  As I’m talking to my sis I keep adding spoonfuls of flour in an attempt to get to the “pea” part as referenced in the recipe’s photo.  My sis (who admits to zero experience in the pie-making department) tells me that probably my shortening wasn’t cold enough.  “The Pioneer Woman wouldn’t have gotten the measurements wrong,” she wisely added.

AH. Sis is so right.

I look at the mess before me.  My shortening wasn’t chilled enough. Great.  “Well it’s too late now…it is what it is,” I say.  “Besides, I’ve almost exhausted my flour inventory!  I’m just going to deal with what I have.  It’ll probably taste on the heavy side (and, indeed it did) but I’m going to go with what I have and next time I’ll know better….

As in: Cristina, go to the grocery store and buy Pillsbury ready-made pie crusts!

Next time its Pillsbury to the rescue!

Next time its Pillsbury to the rescue!

White Wine not optional!

White Wine not optional!

Delicious, despite the heavy crust.

Delicious, despite the heavy crust.

OK…so how about the filling?  You’re dying to know, right?  In a word….


Oh yes!  I got something right.   I even tweaked the recipe adding a couple of minced fresh garlic cloves and chopped zucchini because I didn’t have the correct amount of frozen peas.  Oh…and the addition of white wine was not optional!   I got lucky!   I’m usually not good at the “tweaking” part of a recipe; my sis is tops in that department.  She puts in a pinch of this and a dollop of that, right off the fly, and achieves delicious results.

Hubby, my Rocket-man of simple tastes., was positively happier than a pig rolling in the mud.  He had two helpings of my chicken pot pie.

And so did I.

Next up?

Hmm….that meat loaf recipe looks wonderful….it’s wrapped in six slices of bacon!

Yes sir-ree.  It’s that time of year again.

All the fat and twice the sugar.

And… long walks, punch bag classes and more sessions on the spin bike.

Total bliss.