Southern Feast

Baked okra, lima beans & rice, steamed chard, grilled corn

Maybe it’s because I’ve been eating a whole lot of cornbread or maybe it’s because I’m reading The Help, but I’ve been feeling particularly southern as of late. Though I’ve been in the Carolinas for eight years now, I’ve never felt a particularly strong sense of place here.

Make no mistake, I am southern by blood and that blood runs thick. I was born in Kentucky and educated in South Carolina. My mom and siblings are original Kentuckians, too, and my dad was born in Georgia. We have accents and cast iron skillets and ties to the Confederate Army. Though we moved to Illinois in 1988, my parents made a point of raising us on sweet tea and grits and beaten biscuits right there in the Chicago suburbs.

Living as a southerner in suburban Chicago has, I believe, made me somewhat bicultural. After all, they are two very different worlds, these regions of the country. And while I appreciate having an insider view and understanding of each, the dichotomy of my upbringing has always left me feeling a little… lost? Too liberal for the South, too conservative for the North, I’m not sure I ever quite fell into my groove, if you will, in either place.

Baked-not-fried okra

So this week celebrating the Carolinas through local food has been really interesting in that it has me feeling more connected to (or at least more respect for) my southern heritage, which, no doubt, has my parents flipping cartwheels of joy through the cornfields of Illinois. They still live up there, you see.

Food is a powerful thing. At its most basic level, food fuels our bodies. It keeps us alive. But food is also a lot more than sustenance; it’s emotion and history and culture and love, definitely love. One of the hardest things about my move and subsequent breakup has been adjusting to cooking for myself and eating alone. Food is definitely something to be shared.

So I’ll share with you, dear Internet.

Last night I made a straight up feast of Southern proportions. I had baked-not-fried okra, grilled corn, lima beans and rice and steamed chard. The people of the South are a notoriously deep-fried-loving demographic. They’re also heavy-handed with the butter… and the mayonnaise… and the lard… and the… fat back. But it’s easy to make minor adjustments to traditional Southern cuisine to make it a little less, uh, heart attack-inducing.

For me this involved battering and baking my okra, spritzing my corn with olive oil rather than drowning it in butter and steaming my greens rather than simmering them for hours in bacon fat. It’s the little things, y’all.

Yes, please and thank you.

The South, like any other region, has it’s problems. Obesity and poverty and illiteracy run rampant. Sometimes it’s so hot you can’t move and so humid you could practically swim down the sidewalk. We have bugs the size of squirrels. But I’ve learned (and felt) this week that there’s so much more to the area. There’s a gentleness about the South. It’s a little bit slower and a little bit calmer and a whole lot nicer than other places I’ve been in the world. Also… biscuits. Biscuits like you would not believe.

You can make and eat Southern-style food anywhere in the world, but I think it takes total immersion to really get it. And, finally, after 26 years, I think I get it.

Y’all come visit, ya hear? (I don’t talk like that.)

Yogurt Bowl

New Terra Farms yogurt, sweet potato, blueberries

Since I pretty much threw down my weight in brownies last night, I wasn’t feeling too hungry this morning. I think a light, little bowl of yogurt pre-yoga and then an early, brownie-free lunch are just what the doctor ordered.

I’m having New Terra Farms Greek yogurt (best I’ve ever had; I predict it’s probably full fat, duh), sweet potato and blueberries.

I meant to put peanut butter and pecans in it, too. Alas, now that I’m out on the porch I’m too lazy to go back in and get them. It’s the brownies weighing me down.

Quick & Easy Tomato Sauce

Homemade tomato basil sauce over spaghetti squash

I’m a big user of jarred tomato sauce. I can’t help myself. It’s just so… easy. Dump it on quinoa… on noodles… on rice… on pizza crust… on anything and you’ve got a meal. Well guess what else is easy? Making your own damn tomato sauce, lazypants.

It’s true. All you need is:

  • tomato
  • onion
  • garlic
  • oregano and basil
  • a knife

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Am I gonna have to wash that knife?” And the answer is yes. But you also get to eat this sauce so quit yer bitchin, Sandra Lee.

Suck it, Sandra Lee

I had my homemade tomato sauce over spaghetti squash but you could have it any way your little heart desires.

Here’s how to do it:

Quick & Easy Tomato Sauce
Recipe type: Sauce

  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 Tbsp fresh basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat
  2. Add the onion and saute until translucent
  3. Add the tomato and garlic and let simmer about 8-10 minutes until tomato cooks down. You can crush the tomatoes into smaller pieces.
  4. Add your spices and let simmer 5 more minutes so flavors meld

Tah dah.

Chard Roll Ups

Chard roll up with rice, radishes, egg whites, basil

Man, I hope this lunch is as good as I want it to be.

I made these chard roll ups bright and early this morning to take to work for lunch and/or dinner (I have funny hours today that span two meal times so we shall see).

To make them I removed the hard stems from three leaves of chard and then filled each with prepared rice, sliced radishes, basil and some egg white strips I prepared with two eggs.

I rolled them up and packed them into my trusty little tupperware. I hope they are awesome.

If nothing else, they are pretty.

Berry Basil Smoothie

Strawberry blueberry basil smoothie

I’ve done a pretty good job sticking to my local food challenge. Aside from having a mental breakdown yesterday and drowning my sorrows in a vat of brownie batter made from sugar, oil, flour and cocoa powder from who-knows-where, my food has been decidedly Carolinian.

I had nothing much to report from yesterday since I’ve been working my way through leftovers but…

Breakfast was sweet potato cornbread muffins with pecan milk peanut butter sauce.

Sweet potato cornbread muffins with PB sauce

Lunch was more harvest soup with rice, pecans and goat cheese. And dinner was stewed black-eyed peas with rice. And maybe, like, half a pan of brownies.

I wanted to clear out my produce from my first shopping trip so nothing would spoil and to make room for new goodies from Atherton Mill Market, which I visited yesterday.

Atherton Mill Market

I got so much good stuff:

  • Spaghetti squash (!)
  • Basil
  • Okra
  • Chard
  • Blueberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Yogurt

Atherton is an urban farmers market in South End Charlotte so it’s a bit on the uppity side, which means prices are higher than they need to be. But that’s because people in this area are willing to pay them. Don’t get me wrong, the produce is great quality and the vendors are wonderful; I’m just cheap.

For breakfast today I’m having a strawberry blueberry basil smoothie made with strawberries from Miller’s Farm that I froze back in May, blueberries and basil from the market yesterday and New Terra Farms Greek yogurt.


Yogurt is one of those things that can really make me queasy at times but I found myself dipping blueberry after blueberry into the tub to “sample” more. It’s definitely the best yogurt I’ve ever had.

And with that… I’m off to pack up brownies to take to work so they can burden someone else.