I've been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately -- maybe because I've been cooking in an old cast-iron frying pan that belonged to her, or maybe because what I've been cooking reminds me of her. Before dementia and old age stole her senses, she loved cornbread, fried chicken, summer tomatoes in oil and vinegar, stewed squash with onion; peach ice cream made in the freezer on the porch, fresh sliced strawberries, the smell of bacon and coffee in the morning. She loved it all.
When I'm poised in front of this frying pan, wooden tongs in hand, I think of her and her own stance at the stove. I think of summers spent running in from the front yard with my cousins, all filthy feet and sand-behind-the-ears and bug bites, to help set the table for supper. The rule was that if you set the table, you didn't have to help with the dishes, and I hate doing the dishes. We trotted back and forth between the kitchen and dining table, setting out the ugly blue flowered dishes, the pot of crab stew, the platters of fried fish and skillet cornbread. My grandfather took his place at the head of the table by the china cabinet, and she took hers at the end, next to the bookshelf that held her cookbooks. We all scrambled for a place in between, angling to not have to sit on the creaky wooden kitchen stool. With five daughters and multitudes of grandchildren, friends and guests, there were never enough chairs. But there was always enough food.
Maybe I've been thinking about her because, through all this wedding nonsense, I wish she were here. I wish she could meet Michael. I think she'd like him; she would like how funny he is, and respectful to others, and uncompromising. She would roll her eyes at his jokes, if she could hear them. She would show him how to clean shrimp, and find some fault with his table manners and gently tease him about it, and she would feed him. And she would pull me back to her sewing room and show me bits of the lace she used for my mother's wedding dress, and she would say, "He seems like a nice boy." I wish she could know that I, like her, met my husband in New York -- a girl moved up from the south, looking for her way in unfamiliar territory, and finding a home in someone's arms. I wish she knew that.
At my grandmother's funeral three years ago, my mother's aunt looked at me and said, "My lord, you favor Catherine." It was the only time I saw my mother choke up; we are not criers, my mother and me, or not in front of others, and not even in front of each other. Yes, I do favor her. I am thankful for that, for her name and wicked grin and round apple cheeks.
I am grateful for her love of food, too -- her Scottish thrift about it, and her willingness to try anything. I think she would like what I've got for you today: a bacon and brown rice salad, tart with white wine vinegar and Dijon mustard and sweetened up with dill, cooked in her iron skillet. Yes, indeed. She would have liked that.
Brown Rice and Bacon Salad
Adapted from Alton Brown
2 cups cooked brown rice
6 slices good bacon (we use Applegate Farms Sunday Bacon around here)
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
about 2 tsp. Dijon mustard (depends on how tart you want the dressing; I use 2 tsp. on the nose)
1/2 cup chicken broth (if you don't have that, just use water)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
black pepper to taste
1 tsp. dill
In a heavy-bottomed skillet, cook the bacon until crispy and crumbly. Drain on a paper towel, and remove all but about a tablespoon of the grease from the pan. In the remaining bacon fat (a little bit won't hurt you) saute the onion until translucent. In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, broth, sugar, salt and pepper, and pour the mixture over the onion. Stir around and cook for a few minutes. Then add the cooked brown rice and crumbled bacon to the pan, and cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Remove from the heat and stir in the dill. Let cool, and eat at will.