As noted previously, i am in an emotional no-man’s land with a situation where it would be completely inappropriate for me to write about now. This is one of those times where i wish i were still working: driving ships, managing safety and environmental compliance for tugboats, business development for military contractors, team-building, quality management coordinator, nuclear agency consulting and editing, Naval ROTC instructor, sports writing, newspaper editing, disc jockey, grave digger, lawn mowing: anything i had to do to take my mind off what’s going on.
So as i bounced around the house attempting to divert my attention, i also was trying to figure out when okra season occurred. No, no, not back home. i know when okra season is in Tennessee. i was trying to figure out what the season is in the Southwest corner. You see, okra does not proliferate in grocery shelves out here like it does back home. i have yet to find even a Southern themed restaurant with okra — The marketeers at Cracker Barrel drew their line for their stores at the Arizona-California border, probably for good reason; so the Danny Evins’ created feels-like-Tennessee restaurants aren’t an option. Up until now, i had to find a local grocery or the Navy commissaries that might, might have okra, and that was spotty, just by luck, kind of shopping.
Nancy Toennies and i share a love for okra and if either of us stumble across a place selling okra, the phone and text lines between us light up like “all hands on deck.”
With all of this craziness going on right now, it is even more difficult to find fresh okra. My friend from Kansas, Marty Linville mentioned after golf last Friday, he had resorted to frying frozen okra. Later, Nancy also confessed to this tactic. i remained stubborn. That was most likely because i had gone down that trail about thirty years ago and the frozen product i got back then was pretty much pure slime when thawed.
But i was desperate. i was planning a shopping trip to the dry side of the Naval Station, one of the few places i had found okra before and my source for Tennessee Pride sausage. But first, i needed some things from Ralph’s, no, not Cramden, Ralph’s is Kroger’s Southwest. It’s a short drive down and then up the hill from our home. i had decided to get okra if they had it in the freezer section. If it wasn’t slimy like its predecessor and worked like it did for Nancy and Marty, then i might have year-round access to one of my favorite meals. As i entered Ralph’s, i took a right turn into the produce section. Maureen wanted some cilantro. i continued along the produce en route to the meat and seafood section in the back. i wanted to check out the salmon, another favorite about which i’m stubborn and stuff of another tale.
Just before i left produce, i just happened to look below the mushrooms, and there, there it was: a bin of fresh okra. i emptied it.
So last night was my night. Cleared the kitchen from the hall monitor chef-quality wife who actually reads directions — i do too but only for my mother’s recipes and this one is mine, all mine.
Martini in hand, i chopped the okra and the onions and the olives. The chef creature had gotten out the diced tomatoes. i fried the sausage and chopped it into small pieces so she wouldn’t know. i mixed the other ingredients in a big bowl and slowly dispensed them to the cast iron pot from near fifty years of my ownership. Would have used bacon grease but we don’t have such in cans for such in this house. Health, you know. i put the burner on low and added a few secret ingredients and forgot to add a couple of others. No matter. All of my cooking, even from my mother’s recipes is an adventure, an exploration.
As my concoction, not goulash, or some Cajun thing because this is mine all mine, cooked slowly, i turned to the corn bread. The chef of the house wanted muffins and wanted them in those paper cup cake thingies. i like it in a pan and cut and served, but i always defer to the chef…well, maybe not always. i mix it from my mother’s unwritten instructions and forty-leben different ideas of how cornbread should be made. NO SUGAR. EVER.
i finish the mixture as the oven preheats. i fill the muffin pan. There is a good bit too much for the paper muffin thingies. So i try again to make a piece of cornpone from what’s left. My mother made it rarely, yet it was one of my favorites. i have attempted to replicate this glorious piece of pastry about a half dozen times with absolutely no success. But this time, oh, this time, it was sublime according to my taste, which tends toward comfort food. i buttered the two small pieces and took one to my daughter. She loved it. i then dared to walk to the chef who had thus far been banned by my edict from the kitchen. She tasted it and…oh lord, she loved it.
Once allowed in the kitchen, she cooked the rice. Supper was served. It was, if i might be bold enough to judge, spectacular.
i was back home. Okra with sausage, tomatoes, and a whole bunch of other stuff with cornbread (and cornpone) with a nice zinfandel.
Take me home.
It did give me a respite from my worries, put me right back smack dab in the middle of Tennessee. And Maureen declared the next time corn meal was considered, i would make cornpone.
Oh, i forgot the mushrooms.