i can't cook. this is no big secret. it is, however, a big joke with lots of my friends and family. of course the verb "cook" in and of itself is somewhat subjective. after all, anyone can follow a recipe, right? and i am perfectly capable of making basic (read: less than five ingredients) meals. you know: spaghetti; taco salad; grilled chicken (a staple in my home). seriously. there are so many options for grilled breasts of chicken. i've also developed some pretty mad skills when it comes to party foods, mostly due to my affinity for all things pampered chef and tastefully simple, but also due to my affinity for things that are quick, easy and yet, still pleasing to the eyes and appetite. oh, and parties. (if you haven't tried tastefully simple, put it on your list - a to the sap).
i grew up in a home where my mother cooked two meals a day. for as long as i can remember. even though she worked full time. and we lived in the boon docks. how dinner was on the table at six after her 60 mile round trip commute each day, i know not. how i missed out on learning how to cook even one good "country-home-cooked" meal, i also know not. although, admittedly i spent way more time in my room than i did in the kitchen. i also joined weight watchers my junior year of high school and somehow, struggling with my weight so early on in life didn't make me too overly eager to learn exactly how to fry okra or batter chicken. i see this as an easy out on the cooking. if i'd spent half as much time in the kitchen as i did, oh, say thinking about boys, i would likely be a fanastic, morbidly obese cook.
i was well into adulthood before i asked either of my parents for any of their recipes. although my mom did most of the cooking, my stepfather, bill, was a fantastic cook. in 2001, we were living in atlanta and when the weather turned cooler, i wanted chili. not just any chili. bill's chili. and bill's mexican cornbread. becaused i missed it. and i missed my parents. he emailed me the recipe and i broke out my cast iron skillet (probably for the first time ever) and made my first batch. it took a few batches to get it *just right*, but after a few phone calls with bill regarding quantity of milk and such [this was all very amusing to him], it wasn't long before i was churning out the most beautiful cornbread you've ever seen.
on december 13th, 2002, my mom and i headed out for our annual last minute christmas shopathon. we shopped all day long and all over town. bill was going to run some errands and that evening, we'd all have dinner at their house. bill's chili and cornbread. it was cold and rainy that day and that was just what we needed to warm us up after a day out in and out of the cold.
it was late in the afternoon, we were standing in the gap, i was holding a stack of denim in one arm, shopping bags in the other and mom holding two armfuls of bags. christmas music was blaring over the speakers so loud that it was still audible, even in the midst of the crowd. my cell phone was ringing. the voice on the other end was coming out in fragments, words drowning in the music and voices: everyone had been trying to reach us; mom's cell phone was off; there had been an accident; we needed to come home. and then, deafening silence. and heart wrenching agony. i looked at my mom. i was standing right next to her, but we were suddenly in different worlds, separated by the knowledge of life-changing tragedy. knowledge that i would have to share with her. i dropped the stack of denim. "we have to go home."
the next few hours would be the most agonizing of my entire life. nothing in childhood or adulthood even comes close. it would also be the moments when any doubts i ever had about who God was would be completely diminished forever by a sufficiency that could only be supernatural in its source. we walked into their home. everything looked so different. everything felt so different. and eerily empty. there was already a crowd of people: loving friends; the sheriff's officers; the sheriff's chaplain; my parents' pastor. i stood in the kitchen to allow room for them to gather around my mom. and there on the table - sat all of the ingredients for bill's chili and cornbread. he had come home from the grocery store in between errands and left out the items he had planned to use for dinner. i hurriedly put them away.
bill and i had a [very] strained relationship throughout my childhood and adolescence. this was not his fault. i was a spoiled brat at age 7 when he entered the picture and he was quick to dethrone me as reigning princess. he was such a quiet and peaceful man and i, well, i was always the opposite of quiet and peaceful. i've always considered it a testament to how much he loved my mother to have put up with all of my antics the first decade of their marriage. but, as i entered adulthood, something strange happened: we began talking. we started liking each other. i started dating chris and we started spending time with my parents. not out of obligation, but because we enjoyed it. i am so thankful and so very grateful that i grew to know him and to love him so dearly before his death. i praise God that i do not have to live with the constant regret that would have plagued my heart otherwise.
all of this to say, i am also so thankful and so grateful that he taught me his delicious cornbread recipe. this has to be reason the term 'soul food' was derived. it's more than just good for your soul; the smells and tastes that derive a tangible link to something or someone you deeply miss.
so ya'll break out your cast iron skillets and make some cornbread! in loving memory of bill, for those of you who knew him - and just because it's *delicious* for those of you who didn't:
ingredients: 1.5c yellow corn meal; 1c flour; 1 small onion; 2 jalapeno peppers; 1 egg; 1 8oz. can creamed corn; milk; 1/2 pound smoked sausage; olive oil.
directions: preheat oven to 450. mix first six ingredients in mixing bowl adding enough milk to make batter. slice sausage into 1/4 in. thick slices and add to batter. pour in skillet coated with olive oil. bake about 30 min. or until golden brown on top.