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WATERMELONS GALORE

August 17, 2014
WATERMELON

Last week Clare and I took an afternoon to cruise the blue line highways of the Upstate. We made a special effort to find good homegrown tomatoes. We stopped at several roadside stands and found delicious heirloom tomatoes at several of our favorite places. We also found a few figs, an abundance of late summer peaches, and early fall apples. At every stand we saw watermelons galore.

My mother was allergic to watermelon. Even a small spill of the sticky pink juice on her kitchen counter caused her to break out in hives, so we never had watermelons in our home. You no doubt have heard the wise old saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” In our family that was the gospel truth.

As far as I know it is next to impossible to eat watermelon without the juice running down your chin and off your elbows. If we had watermelon at all it was in the backyard where everything contaminated by watermelon drippings could be washed away with the garden hose.

My brothers and sisters and I were, of course, exposed to watermelon in other circumstances. Most of our cousins enjoyed the summertime fruit and looked forward to a big wedge of watermelon with the same anticipation as a cone of homemade peach ice cream.

Elaine was one of my classmates at Cooperative Elementary School. Her birthday was right after the beginning of the new school year. She invited every student in Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter’s fourth-grade class to her party.

Even though I was scared of girls, Mama said I had to go to Elaine’s party. She was our neighbor. Not going to her party would be rude. Reluctantly, I went. There were thirteen girls there. I was the only boy who attended.

I guess Elaine’s daddy felt sorry for me. He told me I could help him cut the watermelon. That was just fine with me. I liked watermelon, and I didn’t like girls. Turns out the girls were too prissy to eat watermelon. Elaine’s daddy said I would have to eat the whole thing by myself. I ate as much as I could. I got as sick as a dog. I have never liked watermelon since that day. Read more…

A FLURRY OF HUMMINGBIRDS

August 9, 2014
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) - male at Bee Balm (Monarda)

This far into summer I notice that when I take a few minutes to sit quietly, I invariably become aware of a faint humming sound. It might be emanating from my car. The source may be my computer. The sound could come from a home appliance. Humming sounds can be natural occurrences. Whales and dolphins beneath the ocean, many varieties of insects, and even the pulsating of heavenly bodies can produce distinctive hums. Some people hear a constant hum caused by the flow of their own blood in the small vessels of their inner ear.

We might well ask, “What is that humming sound?” This time of year it could be a hummingbird.

The first week of August brought a few days of blessed relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of our dog day afternoons. On Monday of last week I enjoyed a second cup of coffee with Clare on our screened back porch overlooking the flower garden. Hummingbirds provided the entertainment while we read the newspaper. The tiny, feathered creatures put on quite an aerial display as they competed for the sweet nectar of the flowers and the sugar water in our feeders.

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, Clare and I again sat on our own back porch.  We were treated to an amazing air show.  As we enjoyed our supper, we witnessed an incredible display of aerobatics.  Agile flying machines were buzzing our yard, staging mid-air combat maneuvers that would impress even Air Force top guns. Late summer is the prime season for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are always interesting to watch. Their activity increases as the summer days grow shorter.  Their excited pace and almost perpetual motion are at once fascinating and wearying to the observer.  Read more…

KIRK’S SPICY FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

August 6, 2014
Fried Green Tomatoes

This is a classic Southern recipe. There are many variations. This is our favorite. Warning: This preparation is messy.

4 Large green tomatoes, (all green, no pink, hard as a rock)

2 Eggs

1 Cup buttermilk

1 Cup all-purpose flour

1 Cup cornmeal

Crushed red pepper flakes

Garlic powder

Coarsely ground salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper hummus

Jalapeño pimento cheese

Sour cream or goat cheese

Vegetable oil for frying

Dredging:

  • Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
  • You need to use four bowls.
  • Into the first bowl pour only half of the buttermilk, and dip tomato slices.
  • Into the second bowl put the flour only, and lightly dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • Into the third bowl whisk eggs and the rest of the buttermilk together, and dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • In the fourth bowl mix cornmeal with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, coarsely ground salt, and freshly ground pepper, and thoroughly coat tomato slices on both sides.

Cooking:

  • In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and bring to medium heat.
  • Place battered tomato slices into the frying pan in small batches, depending on the size of your skillet. Fry a few at a time.
  • Do not crowd the tomatoes. Give them plenty of room. They should not touch each other.
  • When the tomatoes are lightly brown, flip and fry them on the other side.
  • Drain them on paper towels.

Serving:

  • On individual plates, spoon a heaping tablespoon of roasted red pepper hummus.
  • Place the first fried green tomato in the hummus.
  • Stack the fried green tomatoes three or four high with a spoonful of jalapeño pimento cheese between slices.
  • Top with a dollop of sour cream.  Goat cheese is also good on top.
  • Enjoy!

KIRK’S SHRIMP AND GRITS WITH A LITTLE KICK

August 4, 2014
shrimp-and-grits

This is a recipe for shrimp and grits that has been tinkered with many times. It is a true Southern dish with a distinctive Lowcountry flavor. We recommend Miss Maude’s Stone-ground Grits as the base.

It takes me about 1 ½ hours to prepare the entire meal. The recipe will serve 4-6 people.

MISS MAUDE’S STONE-GROUND GRITS

Miss Maude lived in Barnwell County, South Carolina. She was my step-grandmother. She cooked on a wood-burning stove. Miss Maude taught my dad how to make grits. Dad passed this along to me. I use authentic South Carolina grits made from corn ground between stones the old-fashioned way. The process leaves bits and pieces of the outer germ layer and, as Dad use to say, “It puts a little grit in your craw.”

The simple truth is that stone-ground grits taste nothing like the kind you usually find in the grocery store. Stone-ground grits take longer to cook, but they are worth the trouble.

1 Cup stone-ground grits

2 Cups cool well water (tap water will do)

2 Cups whole milk

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Butter (not margarine)

  • Combine the water, milk, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of butter in a good sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the grits and cook slowly. Miss Maude used a wooden spoon, stirring frequently. Dad used a whisk, and so do I.
  • She cooked the grits for 1 hour or a little longer. It is important to stir often so that the grits do not stick to the bottom of the pan. If the grits absorb all of the water and milk, take the pan to the kitchen sink and add a little more water as needed to thin out the grits until they reach the desired consistency. Miss Maude spent about as much time stirring her grits over the sink as she did at the stove, moving back and forth between the two.
  • Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in more butter. Serve the grits immediately or set aside for a little while. Warm over very low heat when ready to serve.
  • Some prefer cheese grits. Simply add shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese and stir.

KIRK’S SHRIMP CONCOCTION

1 Pound of uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 Diced Andouille sausage

1 Pound of bacon

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Cayenne pepper

Olive oil

Butter

1 Medium sweet onion, chopped

Minced garlic

2 Fresh green onions, minced (Use both the white and the green parts.)

1 Can of Ro*Tel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies

½  Cup stock, chicken

Sour cream, all natural cultured

Tabasco Sauce

Here is a hint. This is a six part process. I find that when I follow the steps in this order, everything is ready at about the same time. (1) Put all of the ingredients within reach. (2) Pour a tall glass of something cold to drink. You will be busy over a hot stove for the next 1 ½ – 2 hours. (3) Cook the bacon. (4) Start the grits. (5) Cook the shrimp. (6) Enjoy!

  • Cook the bacon – except save for later use in the recipe that scrawny, crumpled piece at the bottom of the package.
  • I prefer to cook bacon on newspapers and paper towels in the microwave oven. It needs to be crispy. Set the cooked bacon aside to drain.
  • Start cooking the grits as in the recipe above.
  • Season the shrimp with freshly ground black pepper, salt, and a little cayenne pepper.
  • Combine the olive oil and the butter over medium heat in a large skillet.
  • Add the shrimp and sear for 1½ minutes per side, then transfer shrimp to a plate.
  • Add more butter to the pan. Let it melt. Add that scrawny piece of bacon. Let it sizzle, releasing the flavor. It will not get crisp but leave it in the pan.
  • Then add the Andouille sausage and cook, stirring often, until much of the fat has rendered and the Andouille is crisp, about 3 minutes. Keep the heat at medium.
  • Then add the onion to the pan and sauté, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and green onions, cooking for 1 minute.
  • Add the Ro*Tel, and cook for 1 minute, then raise the heat to high and add the stock.
  • Simmer, stirring frequently, until about half of the liquid has evaporated.
  •  Lower the heat.
  • Add sour cream to the pan and stir to make a creamy sauce.
  • Return the shrimp to the pan, gently folding them into the liquid. Heat just until the shrimp are nice and pink. It will only take seconds. Do not overcook the shrimp.
  • Spoon the Shrimp Concoction over Miss Maude’s Stone-ground Grits.
  • Break off the crispest half of each piece of bacon, and sprinkle broken bits on top.
  • Serve the shrimp and grits hot.
  • Add Tabasco Sauce to taste.

A BEACH VACATION

August 3, 2014
PAWLEYS SLAND CHAPEL

Last week we took our vacation at one of our favorite places, Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Not all of our family was with us, and we missed those who could not be there. But eight adults and six grandchildren made a full house.

As is usually the case, I started the week leading worship and preaching at Pawleys Island Chapel. We had a joyous time of worship with many local folks and beach visitors.

The week together with our family is a time to build lasting memories – singing and storytelling in the shade; gathering around a long trestle table to feast on cold boiled shrimp, dripping popsicles licked to the stick on the back porch; and children lining up for baths, brushing teeth and hair, pajama time. The settling down to bedtime stories and prayers brings a strange quietness to the house. Then the adults might enjoy a movie or pleasant conversation.  A week at the beach is a close encounter with people we love and hold dear. Read more…

FREEDOM FROM FEAR

July 26, 2014
download (1)

In the State of the Union Address, delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enumerated four fundamental freedoms that should be the rights of human beings everywhere in the world:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom for every person to worship in his or her own way
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

“The Four Freedoms” speech inspired a set of four paintings by Norman Rockwell. They were printed in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, accompanied by essays on the Four Freedoms.

Every freedom carries with it certain responsibilities. Perhaps the Bill of Rights should include a companion Bill of Responsibility.

During the month of July, this column will feature the Four Freedoms and the responsibilities that accompany them. This is the fourth in the series:

Freedom from Fear

On the very day of Bill Drake’s funeral, while hundreds of friends and family were gathered at Memorial Auditorium to pay respects to Bill and to support his family, Bill’s radio studio was broken into and vandalized. It was an ordinary crime made more heinous by the occasion. Read more…

THE DESIDERATA

July 25, 2014
St. Paul Baltimore

I was ordained on April 1, 1970. That’s right! I was ordained on April Fools Day.

Perhaps you can imagine the jokes and the teasing that simple fact has prompted.

Clare and I were members of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I was two months away from graduation from Seminary. Dr. John Claypool was our pastor. He was also my professor of preaching at Southern Seminary. It was appropriate that John would chaire my ordination council and preach my ordination sermon. In the homily, he used a poem entitled “The Desiderata.”  The Latin word meaning desired things.

At the ordination service, the church presented a Bible to me. John had placed an abbreviated copy of the poem inside the Bible as a bookmark.

That copy indicates that the poem was written in 1692 at Old St. Paul’s Church, in Baltimore, Maryland. Read more…

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