Grits *is* good.

When I was a kid, I remember seeing cans of Hominy in the grocery store.

The fact that it looked like alien bloated corn that had been exposed to gamma rays and gotten very sick (oh wait, that’s huitlacoche) didn’t do much for my desire to ever try it.

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I became more aware of its presence because I worked at  the Daitch Shopwell on 1st Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets in New York, and had to price cans with these stamps and purple ink:

Price Stamps 2

But time heals all things… or at the very least tends to change things, particularly one’s tastes. You can visit my Banquet from Hell, and see why I was awarded the honorary title of “Grand High Culinary Inquisitor” by Howard Tayler, author of Schlock Mercenary.

I am passionately fond of Menudo, a wonderful, hearty Mexican dish which includes both tripe and hominy, and later fell deeply in love with grits, a porridge made with ground hominy and very popular in the south. Again, I had heard of this as a kid and had no desire to try it because it sounded like eating finely crushed gravel. Fool that I was.

Grits is related to the Austrian Grieß, although the latter is made with semolina and makes wonderful dumplings. Nothing is more warming and comforting on a cold morning than a steaming bowl of buttery, peppered grits:

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You’ll notice that I use the singular when describing grits, and that’s because it’s not plural. Grits is singular, and grits is wonderful.

For authentic confirmation of this fact, I turn to a lovely oral essay by Kathryn Tucker Windham,¹ an American storyteller, author, photographer, folklorist, and journalist:

I never remember sitting down to breakfast in my childhood home in Thomasville without having grits. And it wasn’t the instant kind, either. My mother, before we went to bed at night, would put the grits on to soak, put the grits in the top of a double boiler, let the grits soak overnight, so it would be ready to cook in the morning. And oh, I guess it tasted… I was just accustomed to good grits.

And I will now stop a minute to carry on my campaign for trying to convince people that grits is a singular noun: you say “the grits is good, the grits is hot.” Just because it ends in an “s” doesn’t make it plural; it’s in the same category with “news” and “measles.” So bear that in mind.

But… on special occasions, sometimes for supper we’d have grits again. Cheese grits, sharp cheddar cheese, grated and stirred up and hot grits. Aah, it was marvelous. And if my brother had gone hunting and had come back with quail or dove we’d have grits with the dove and quail. There’s just no finer eating in the world than that on a cold weather’s day. And the baked sweet potatoes that were always better in the winter time. Just slathered with butter and baked until they were soft, and almost mushy inside. Slit ’em open and put butter that we got down at little Miz Anderson’s, bought butter from her, she had a good cow that had rich milk and wonderful butter.

And the soup that my mother used to make, vegetable soup, I’ve never had any as good as she made, and I don’t know how… I’m sure she didn’t have a recipe, she just used what was available – but sustaining, comfortable winter food and somebody would have a hog-killin’ and we’d get some of that fresh meat, the ribs and he pork chops, and the… oh, it was all so good, and that was … the hogs were killed only in the wintertime on a very cold day, and they were a treat to have, and I always looked forward to them. But it was the grits, that stuck to your ribs and was sustaining, comfort food. And if you want it really comforting, add cheddar cheese, sharp, and stir it up, and eat, and enjoy.

I heard this piece on NPR years ago, and you can still listen to it at WLRH in Huntsville. Add that beautiful, mellow southern accent and you can feel her joy in the memories of her childhood, and the rich goodness of the foods she relished… including grits.

Which is divine.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Many of Windham’s works, including audiobooks, are available over at Amazon.


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Jukmifgguggh

Jukmifgguggh

(Four servings)

Ingredients

  • 400 g tripe
  • 100 g crimini mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 C Chunky peanut butter
  • 50 g chocolate bark
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh Basil, a handful

Preparation

  1. Wash and pat tripes dry. Set aside.
  2. Sautee mushrooms, onions, basil leaves and crushed garlic in 2 Tbsp olive oil until the mushrooms are soft and the onions translucent.
  3. Add the tripes and a bit more oil if needed. Fry until golden brown.
  4. Remove tripes and on a cutting board, coat liberally with peanut butter.
  5. Grate chocolate bark onto tripes, and serve with sauteed vegetables.
  6. While eating, try to pronounce “Jabberwocky.”

Jukmifgguggh!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

 

Try Moxie, they said.

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My first introduction to Moxie came as I read Stuart Little in the 1950s. Stuart, on his journey to find his lost love Margalo, stopped at a gas station and asked about something to drink.

“Have you any sarsaparilla in your store?” asked Stuart. “I’ve got a ruinous thirst.”
“Certainly,” said the storekeeper. “Gallons of it. Sarsaparilla, root beer, birch beer, ginger ale, Moxie, lemon soda, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Dipsi Cola, Pipsi Cola, Popsi Cola, and raspberry cream tonic. Anything you want.”

At the time I had no idea what Moxie was, but was delighted to find out later that it was a real thing, unlike the Dipsi, Pipsi, and Popsi colas mentioned. And yes, it’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s reminiscent of root beer or sarsparilla, but the dominant flavoring is gentian root, which brings a bitterness to the drink not found in other soft drinks (unless you’re fond of Campari soda, not usually found outside of Italy.) God forbid anyone should make a soda version of Fernet-Branca!

But Moxie is different, and refreshing. The bitterness doesn’t bother me, in fact it makes the concoction more satisfying on a hot day than something that’s just overly sugary. I may like it for the same reason I like chestnut honey, which I discovered on a trip to Slovenia – wonderfully full-bodied, with that same distinctive bitterness which offsets the sweetness nicely.

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Originating around 1876 as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food,” Moxie is closely associated with the state of Maine and was designated the official soft drink of Maine on May 10, 2005. Its creator, Dr. Augustin Thompson, was born in Union, Maine. (Extracted from Wikipedia)

For the longest time, Frank Anicetti ran the Moxie Museum in Lisbon, Maine; this year saw the closure of the store, which was at the heart of Maine’s annual Moxie Festival since 1913.

FrankAnicetti

Frank Anicetti serves up Moxie ice cream

But even though the Kennebec Fruit Company store is gone, Moxie will stay close to the hearts and stomachs of Mainahs; there’s still the Matthews Museum in Union, which has an entire wing devoted to Moxie.

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The Moxie Wing at the Matthews Museum in Union, Maine

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Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’m still a Pepper, and always have been. In my years sojourning in Europe, I discovered that Europeans – while they find Coke and Pepsi palatable – generally look upon Root Beer and Dr Pepper as tasting like medicine. With that in mind, I suspect Moxie wouldn’t find much of a market in Vienna or Ljubljana… in fact, it might be just enough to turn even our best European friends into a torch-and-pitchfork waving mob.

But such is life. The poor souls probably wouldn’t appreciate nattō either. They have my sympathy. For the moment, I’m happy to be in Maine, where Moxie is readily available.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Whistleberries and hounds, a pair!

If you’ve ever heard that hollered by an overworked server to a harried cook at your local greasy spoon, you might have just ordered a pair of franks with baked beans.

beans-and-franks

Welcome to my stream of consciousness morning.

A recent article at the Sydney Morning Herald provided a fascinating insight into coded language used by healthcare professionals, flight attendants, butchers, and others. (For example, COPD can not only stand for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, but also “Chronic Old Person’s Disease.”) The article is a fascinating read.

That led me to think of diner slang, a subject lovingly researched by John Clarke, the husband of a dear friend of mine whom I knew for over 60 years and who recently left this world (far too soon, I might add.) I’m not sure where his research is at the moment, but I know John has dedicated a good bit of time to exploring the ins and outs of this fine art of colorful communication.

I reproduce below, entirely without permission and acknowledging copyright ©2003 by John Clarke, a diner slang quiz which appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Gastronomica, the Journal of Food and Culture, but which deserves much wider appreciation. Answers below: Don’t peek!

America’s original quick-bite places – the main-street soda fountain, the corner lunchionette, and the roadside diner – shared a special, often secret, culture of language. During the Golden Age of slinging slang from 1925 to 1945, waitstaff and kitchen workers communicated in colorful shorthand.

How good is your slang? See if you can match the twelve sassy term in Column A with the classic American home-style desserts in Column B.

Bonus Question: “Give me Eve with the roof on, a crow slab covered in spla, maiden and tar, plus a stretch with frost and sissy sticks!” What’s being ordered?

1. Ant Paste A. Apple pie
2. Bellyache B. Chocolate pudding
3. Chinese wedding cake C. Custard pie
4. Gold fish D. Cruller
5. House boat E. Banana Split
6. Matrimony knot F. Fudge
7. Magoo G. Bowl of strawberry gelatin
8. Ploughed field H. Ice cream sundae
9. Shivering Liz in the hay I. Sliced peaches
10. Slab of sin J. Rice pudding
11. Snow White on a stick K. Turnover
12. Windbag L. Vanilla ice cream cone

Answers:

1-B, 2-H. 3-J, 4-I, 5-E, 6-D, 7-C, 8-F. 9-G, 10-A, 11-L, 12-K

Bonus Question: Apple pie with a top crust, chocolate pie covered with whipped cream, cherry pie and a mug of coffee, and a large Coke™ with crushed ice and two straws!

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet which rarely forgets, here’s a list of diner slang assembled by Dave Hutchins over at Discuss Cooking – the list has been alphabetized and edited a bit for clarity:

A blond with sand: Coffee with cream and sugar
An MD: Dr Pepper
A spot with a twist: Cup of tea with lemon
Adam & Eve on a raft: Two poached eggs on toast
And cinnamon: Dropped in a bowl of milk
Angel: Sandwich man
Baled hay: Shredded wheat
Balloon juice: Seltzer or soda water
Belch water: Alka Seltzer
Billiard: Buttermilk
Bird seed: Breakfast
Black and white: Chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream
Blood hounds in the hay: Hot dogs and sauerkraut
Blow out patches: Pancakes
Blue plate special: a dish of meat, potato, vegetable also daily special
Boiled leaves: Tea
Bossy in a bowl: Beef stew
Bow Wow, Ground hog: A hot dog
Bowl of Red: Chili con carne
Break it and shake it: Add egg to a drink
Breath: Onion
Bridge Party: Four of any thing (from the bridge game)
Bubble dancer: Dish washer
Bullets or whistleberries: Baked beans (because of supposed flatulence)
Burn one: Fry a hamburger
Burn one, take it through the garden: Hamburger with lettuce tomato, onion
Burn the British: Toasted English muffin
Cackle fruit: Eggs
Canned cow: Evaporated milk
Chopper: Table knife
CJ: Boston Cream cheese and Jelly
Cowboy or western: A western omelet or sandwich
Cow paste, Skid grease, Axle grease: Butter
Creep: Draft beer
Crowd: Three of any thing (as in, “Two is company three is a crowd”)
Customer will take a chance: Hash
Dead eye: Poached eggs
Dough well done with cow: Buttered toast
Drag one through Georgia: Cola with Chocolate syrup
Draw one in the dark: A Black coffee
Draw one or a cup of mud: Cup of coffee
Eighty Six: The kitchen is out of the item ordered
Fifty-five: A glass of root beer
Flop two fry:  Two eggs any style
Frenchman’s delight: Pea soup
Frog sticks: French Fries
Fry two, let the sun shine: 2 eggs with unbroken yolks
GAC: Grilled American cheese sandwich
Gallery: Booth
Go for a walk or on wheels: it’s to go
Grave yard stew: Milk toast buttered toast sprinkled with sugar
Gravel train: Sugar bowl
Hail: Ice
Hemorrhage: Ketchup
High and dry: A plain sandwich with nothing on it
Hockey Puck: A hamburger well done
Hold the hail: No ice
Hot top: Hot Chocolate
Hug one or squeeze one: Orange juice
In the alley: Served as a side dish
Jack Benny: Cheese with bacon )Named after Jack Benny)
Java or Joe: Cup of coffee
Keep off the grass: No Lettuce
Lady Bug: Fountain man
Life preserver: Doughnut
Light House: Ketchup bottle
Looseners: Prunes
Lumber: tooth pick
Machine oil: Syrup
Mike & Ike or the twins: salt & pepper shakers
Million on a platter: Plate of baked beans
Mississippi mud or yellow paint: Mustard
Moo juice, Baby juice, Sweet Alice: Milk
Mystery in the alley: Side order of hash
No cow: without milk
Noah’s boy on bread: Ham sandwich
Noah’s son: Slice of ham (Noah’s second son)
One from the Alps: A Swiss cheese sandwich
Paint it Red: Put ketchup on it
Pair of drawers: two cups of coffee
Pin a rose on it: Add Onion to a order
Put out the lights and cry: Liver and onions
Rabbit food: Lettuce
Radio: Tuna salad sandwich
Sea Dust: Salt
Shake one in the hay: Strawberry milk shake
Shingle with a shimmy and a shake: Buttered toast with jam or jelly
Shoot from the south: Coca Cola™
Smear: Margarine
Soup Jockey: Waitress
Stack or short stack: Order of pancakes
Sun kiss or oh gee: Orange juice
Sweep the kitchen: Hash
Throw it in the mud: Add Chocolate syrup
Two cows, make them cry: two hamburgers with onion
Vermont: Maple syrup
Warts: Olives
Wax: American cheese
Whisky down: rye toast
Whisky: Rye bread
White cow: Vanilla milk shake
Wind mill, Adams ale, city juice, dog soup: A glass of water
Yum yum or sand: Sugar
Zeppelin: Sausage

I got a big kick out of “Put out the lights and cry” – I’m a big fan of liver and onions, but apparently many others are not.

These terms can be very regional and original, so there were likely to be many terms for the same item around the country. A more comprehensive list should be forthcoming when I have the time.

In the meantime, wreck two and make them cry.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

“He takes them to a pastry shop to eat some good cakes.”

For as long as I can remember – my very earliest reading days in the 50s – Babar was one of my favorite children’s books. I always loved this page, where Babar takes his two little cousins Arthur and Celeste to a patisserie… those pastries always looked so good to me, and my mother had already introduced me to the delights of brioches.

Babar

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and we spent the day doing a massive Yarn Hop around the local yarn stores of Salt Lake, but before heading home, we stopped in at “Gourmandise,” a French bakery/café that sits at 250 South 300 East, right where the original Ratskeller Pizza Shoppe used to be.

gourmandise

Photo from their website

That display of pastries and other goodies is Babar come to life for me, and the quality is every bit what I would expect. (No, they’e not paying me for this post.)

Here are two of the goodies we brought home last night, the other two were devoured before I thought of writing this, and they were absolutely divine.

Pastries

Yes, they’re pricey – but you don’t find stuff like this for a buck and a quarter at Smith’s. It’s probably a very good thing that I’m not wealthy enough or close enough to patronize these guys on a regular basis, or I’d look like Fat Albert.

The Old Wolf has *belch*  spoken.

Never eat chemicals! Uh, wait…

If you listen to the Food Babe Thermonuclear Idiot, that’s what you might come away believing.

But I exhort you to pay no attention to this unqualified attention harlot. Instead, feast your eyes on these chemical breakdowns of “natural” and “organic” foods.

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I have to stretch to pronounce some of the chemical compounds found in these wonderful foods, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. Chemicals are everywhere, they are what everything organic around us is made of.

Yes, we obviously want to avoid things that are known toxins and carcinogens; having a shaker full of hexavalent chromium on your table is probably not the best idea, but you get the picture.

Educate yourselves. Make sure your children educate themselves. Science is doing its collective best to provide accurate information to allow people to build a better world. Please pay no attention to those on the lunatic fringe who base their proclamations on innuendo and fear-mongering for the sake of attention, eyeballs, clicks, and ad revenue.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

No Hamburger Tuesday.

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I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. But during WW 1 and WW 2, Tuesday was a day of rationing. I originally thought this sign had something to do with Thimble Theatre, but it turns out it has more to do with the European and Pacific theaters.

During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for every Tuesday to be meatless and for one meatless meal to be observed every day, for a total of nine meatless meals each week. The United States Food Administration (USFA) urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to help the war effort. Conserving food would support U.S. troops as well as feed populations in Europe where food production and distribution had been disrupted by war. To encourage voluntary rationing, the USFA created the slogan “Food Will Win the War” and coined the terms “Meatless Tuesday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” to remind Americans to reduce intake of those products.

Herbert Hoover was the head of the Food Administration as well as the American Relief Association during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, and played a key role implementing the campaign, which was one of Hoover’s many attempts to encourage volunteerism and sacrifice among Americans during the war. The USFA provided a wide variety of materials in addition to advertising, including recipe books and menus found in magazines, newspapers and government-sponsored pamphlets.

The campaign returned with the onset of World War II, calling upon women on the home front to play a role in supporting the war effort. During this time, meat was being rationed, along with other commodities like sugar and gasoline.

This particular photo seems to have been taken in New York, where Nedicks was a big chain.

It does not escape me that the waitress is offering you a hot dog on meatless Tuesday. John Godfrey Saxe once said, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Which reminds me of the old joke about a customer who returned some hot dogs to his butcher, complaining that the middle section was filled with sawdust. The butcher replied, “Times are tough. It’s hard enough making both ends meat…”

The Old Wolf has spoken.