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Monday, January 31, 2011

Grits & Glitz

contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

I was born and raised in the south, where grits appeared regularly on our table. Grits are inexpensive, easy to prepare and versatile. Not only that, they're a corn product, so they're good for you. What's not to love about this southern staple?

In recent months, grits have been a popular topic in the food world. Much has been said and written about this old comfort food.

In New York, trendy restaurants such as Jane, Greenwich Village's The Pink Tea Cup, Lower Manhattan's Peels, and Brooklyn's Seersucker are serving grits for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Paired with everything from goat cheese and shellfish to mushrooms, hot peppers and catfish, it seems that grits have become the city's new "it" cuisine. One writer described grits as "sophisticated comfort food." Southern Cuisine expert and cookbook author Nathalie Dupree even published a book last year titled, Nathalie Dupree's Shrimp & Grits Cookbook.

Who knew the simple food of common folk would become so trendy?

The origin of grits in the United States can be traced to Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Early settlers reported being served prepared corn products by the inhabitants they found in this country. The Native Americans then taught them to grind and prepare corn so it could be eaten year-round.

Grits are traditionally thought of as a southern food. Linda Stradley's website, What's Cooking America ( says the State of South Carolina went so far as to proclaim grits "the official state food" in 1976:

"Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State of South Carolina used to be the site of a grist mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, grits has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as, The Charleston News and Courier proclaimed in 1952: 'An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, (grits) should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of (grits) is a man of peace.' "

So whether they're served with milk and butter, or shrimp, goat cheese and vegetables, grits are a versatile and satisfying food. Following is my favorite grits recipe. It can be served as a side dish, but I enjoy it as a main dish:

Hot Tomato Grits

2 bacon slices, chopped
2 (14 1/2-oz.) cans chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Quaker Quick-Cooking Grits
1 (10-oz.) can Ro-Tel Original Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilis
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Colby or Cheddar cheese
Optional garnishes: additional cooked, chopped bacon, grated cheese, finely-chopped tomato

Cook the bacon in a saucepan until crisp. Save the drippings in the pan. Gradually add the chicken broth and salt. Bring to a boil.
Stir in the grits and tomatoes & chilis. Return to a boil; stir. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, for 15-20 minutes.
Stir in the cheese. Cover the pan and let stand for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve with garnishes, if desired.
Yield: 6 side-dish servings
(To reduce calories and fat, drain the bacon and discard the drippings. Use reduced-fat cheese.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chase Away Those Winter Blues

A thick blanket of snow covers my yard. The steel-gray sky and single-digit temperatures make me wonder if I'll ever again feel warm breezes or see blossoms overflowing the planter boxes.
On bleak winter days, when the only outdoor color comes from a cardinal at the bird feeder, I enjoy grabbing a cup of tea and curling up with a garden catalog. This is a never-fail recipe for curing my winter doldrums.

As I flip through the pages filled with photographs and vivid descriptions of flowers, herbs, vegetables, vines and trees, my creative juices begin to flow. I think about the warm-weather months ahead, and plan what I will grow in my garden this year.

Dad introduced me to "catalog gardening" many years ago. Although he was born and raised on a farm in rural Tennessee, he moved to the city as soon as he could afford it. He hated most aspects of farm life, but he never lost his interest in coaxing tiny seeds into sturdy, productive plants.

Each winter he perused catalogs from Stark Bro.'s Nurseries & Orchards, Burpee Seed Co., and Wayside Gardens, as well as The Old Farmer's Almanac, dog-earring pages and circling items. He'd place his orders, and then anxiously await the arrival of the seeds and plants. Dad was a tomato connoisseur, and loved ordering seeds to grow the latest tomato varieties. Soon his dirt-filled containers appeared around the house near windows with lots of sun exposure.

When my husband I moved to our home many years ago, the yard was nothing but dirt -- no trees, shrubs, plants, or flowers. And when it rained, it looked like a giant mud pool. At that time, I had no knowledge of or interest in plants or things that grew in a yard -- but that was about to change. Unless we wanted to continue to live with muddy feet and dog paws, we needed to learn about plants and landscaping.

Dad's Christmas gift to me that year was a variety of gardening tools. It seemed like an unusual gift at the time, but I soon learned to appreciate them. Today they are among my most prized possessions.

I quickly learned that there's something very satisfying and rewarding about planting and waiting for things to grow. I began studying Dad's catalogs, placing orders, and finally working those seeds and plants into the soil.

The catalog companies mentioned above have long histories. They've been in business since 1816, 1916 and 1881 respectively, meeting the gardening needs of generations of Americans. And while they still publish and mail catalogs each year, they also offer online catalogs. That way people can peruse their many plant and seed offerings, but bypass another catalog in the mail box.
We've still got a lot of winter ahead, but be optimistic. The next time the gray days of winter get you down, take a few moments to plan for those warm-weather days. To see the online catalogs, go to,, or

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Collecting and Crafting

I love antique shops and everything about them from the musty, dusty smells to the feel of hand rubbed wood. I drool over brightly colored vintage postcards and wonder at sadly faded photographs. It’s the irresistible adventure of being both treasure hunter and historian.

When I was younger I filled my house with solid oak dressers and bent wood rockers. But now the house is furnished and I collect smaller objects and items I can transform through crafting. Some of my favorites are candy tins, valentines and bits of broken jewelry.

I use the tins to store my treasures. It is forces me to limit what I buy. If I can’t store it in a candy tin, it’s too big and I don’t need it. Fortunately I have found some pretty big candy tins!

Sometimes I just like to pull out my treasures and play with them. Other times I fill the tins and leave them on my shelves for company to explore and enjoy. And all the time I try to think of new and creative ways to use the bits of history and scraps of ephemera.

On Saturday, I think I will go with my girlfriends to an antique store. I’m sure there is a new surprise waiting for me there!


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Crafty Containers

Winter brings out the crafter in me.  My garden is hiding under drifts of white and I can’t stand to watch another television show about dieters, dancers, or divas.  It’s time to challenge my brain cells to a little creativity. 

This is a craft project that fulfills all the needs of my hibernating self.  It uses recycled materials.  (I’m being nice to the planet!) It’s cheap. (I’m being nice to my pocketbook.) And I’m making something useful. (I’m being nice to my husband who hates knick–knacks.)

To make these crafty containers you will need:
An empty box or can. 

(Used hot chocolate containers are great!  And it gives me a good excuse to drink hot chocolate. Like I really need an excuse.)

Brown paper bag
Rubber cement
Mod Podge
Copies of your favorite paper ephemera and/or scrapbook stickers


1. Cover the outside of your container with the brown paper.  It works best to glue it down with rubber cement.  Less wrinkles!

2. User rubber cement to attach your favorite pictures and quotes.

3. Coat the whole can with Mod Podge and let it dry.

Viola! You have cute containers to help you organize your work space.  And your creativity has come out to play.