Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chips, Grits, and Mother Wit

So-called “Reality TV shows” (real? Oh, really?) are considered a guilty pleasure by many of those who watch. Personally I find them cheap and tawdry, and an insult to participants and watchers alike. (Tromp the Donald! Too much American Idol makes idle Americans! Housewives, househusbands, re-unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains… and cable!)

Born of a Hollywood writers’ strike as I recall, they have now grown like a topsy-turvy set of Tribbles, and beneath all the interactive ballyhoo and brief celebrityhood lie a different sort of cheapening, and the cutting of work staff, and a domestic sort of outsourcing--a crafty thumbing of the nose at unions: “No need for all those expensive writers and theatrical directors and set builders; we’ll save a boatload by just paying the fools we
follow around.”

But I have my own guilty pleasure these days… the fictional, scripted, actual-actors weekly TV series called Hart of Dixie, about a darn-Yankee dame named Zoe Hart--a cute, too-clever-by-half doctor; a surgeon, even--who takes up residence in some near-Gulf Coast town between New Orleans and Mobile (approximately), eager to “fit in,” but too opinionated to accept the Southern characters as they are. (Zoe seems not to have learned the lessons of Reconstruction!)

That’s enough about the show. It’s intermittently funny and vaguely scenic (the cutaway shots, that is; the bulk of each episode is likely taped on a Hollywood set). I watch mostly because it reminds me of my mother and her rural Georgia family and upbringing; her occasional Southern-belle ways, too. Mom was vivacious and
beautiful, a heartbreaker no doubt, and she could be gracious or imperious, friendly or snippy, generous or mean--sometimes all of that in the course of a half hour in her usually charming company! She was moody, subject to migraine vapors, more Conservative than our Dad, the Illinois-born Air Force officer.

My sisters and I learned Emily Post manners and military deference, to show proper respect and to say “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am” and “Thank you,”and mean it. Home Ec. major Mom told us often that people in India were starving, so we cleared our plates, at the table and off to the sink afterwards. But the parents also raised us to think for ourselves, and then regretted it when all three children grew up to be Left radicals at college and forever after… They loved us, but weren't sure what to make of us.

But before that, we lived for a few years in parts of Texas, and we learned about border Mexican food long before mass immigration and excited tastebuds made "Cinco de Mayo" celebrants out of regular meat-and-potatoes Yankees. We
learned to eat all sorts of root vegetables and a good-for-you mess o’ greens too, spicy New Orleans cooking (“Where’s that dang Tabasco bottle?”) and both high and low on the hog, with special attention to fried okra and--of course--grits.

Crispy crawdads, better known as “Cajun popcorn”? Pshaw. Like mother’s milk to a budding Louisianan. Pecan pralines from some branded and candied pit-stop en route from Here’bouts to Over Yonder? As reg’lar as pees in a pot, and twice as salient. But grits…? Now, that’s the foodstuff that separates Rebs from Yanks, and cows from corn. In years
gone by, every restaurant across the South offered not bacon but ham and grits, usually with ham gravy called “red-eye” (I think), any time day or night.

You can still order the ham, but these days you might have to ask for the grits. In fact, North or South, I’m the only person I know who actually likes grits and eats them regularly--but at breakfast as a hot cereal, with butter, salt and pepper, Tabasco, and sometimes melting cheese. I guess the tiny soft core bit in a kernel of corn constitutes a single grit, but they make for a bowl of grits if you collect and steam enough of them. Grits have nothing to do with gumption or some other definition of “true grit,” of course, but newcomers still might have to grit their teeth
to consume a bowl!

Reading Black literature during college, I came on an expression in Ralph Ellison’s great and astonishing novel Invisible Man that instantly became part of my less polite vocabulary: a clever, no-account, shrewdly elusive survivor type was reckoned to be full of “shit, grit, and mother wit”—a tough, fast-talkin’ attitude buttressed by sharp native intelligence, and partly learned from one’s dear old mother, or a stand-in Mama like Dilsey in Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury, who doesn’t just survive, but endures. (The Ellison and Albert Murray dust jacket photo relates in this way: “trading twelves” equals “doin’ the
[dirty] dozens”--that is, swapping elaborate crude insults, a verbal throw-down among streetwise hustlers full of sg&mw.)

One food fact our Mom claimed was that poor people worldwide, who couldn’t afford to eat meat much, have via accumulative wisdom learned to eat foods that combine to deliver protein to the body--beans and rice, beans and corn, other vegie combos. So as I was eating grits for breakfast the other morning, I had a vision for a means by which to enlighten the world to the pleasures of corn bits. Some flashy
high-end New Orleans or Tex-Mex restaurants should introduce the opening-salvo appetizer dish I’m calling “Chips, Grits, and Mother Wit.”

The recipe, should anyone care to experiment, requires a shallow casserole of grits, water, butter, salt, chopped onion and peppers (both the colorful sweet and gourmet varietal hot), topped by a mix of shredded cheddar and Mexican cojiba cheese, baked in the oven until bubbling and crusting
slightly, served straight from the stove with, not ordinary corn chips, but those dark, speckled-grain chips made more from Mexican beans than corn.

And that’s it, folks: good vegie protein--bringin’ the heat and the sweet corn grits, straight to your gullet and pleasure center. ("Grits ain't groceries"? Little Milton knew better.) Go on, take a dip!


Anonymous said...

pees or peas?

Anonymous said...

--How do you really feel about reality shows?
--Writing in robot test is difficult to read and not because I am a robot.

I Witness said...

To whom am I addressing these robotic responses? Anonymous twice, or two Anonymi? (Or would that be spelled "A nonny mouse"? "Any moose"? "Anon EMI"?) (The last would be a Capitol offense, the others merely missed demeaners.) First, pleese, the spelling was intensional. Second, I spake my peace. Third, this robot does not test well; to engage, you must define your terms. Thank you, that is all.