Santa was very good to the foodie in the family this year. I tried not to make every single thing on my Christmas list a food-related item. In fact, I really only mentioned a few things in that category to the kind family members who asked, “What would you like for Christmas?” But I guess my family does know me pretty well, because there were some incredible surprises.
Christmas usually comes more than once a year for us, simply because our family is so spread out. This year, Christmas day was in North Carolina with Mrs. Santa’s branch and yes – we had lots of snow. We also had lots of simple, but great food. The highlight for me was the Christmas Eve meal, featuring a spiral-sliced ham. I quickly volunteered to carve the ham, so that I might invoke the official carver’s tasting privileges. (Okay, so it doesn’t take a lot of talent to carve a ham that has already been spirally sliced. But I got away with it.) And I personally managed to incorporate the ham into almost every other meal we ate there until we slid out of the driveway Sunday morning.
My stocking was a cornucopia of candy, most of which were varieties only available around the holidays. While I am confessing I will admit, too, that a list of these particular candies was delivered to Mrs. Santa along with the exact aisle and shelf placement in each grocery store. Mrs. Santa is busy, you know, and needs all the help she can get. Mrs. Santa and her elves reached out to the gadget junkie in me as well. The Starkville family elves stuffed my stocking with a new silicone potholder, some cool new measuring cups (you can never have too many of those), and a gift certificate from a local culinary shop. I was doubly impressed because the certificate was hand written on a real piece of paper – not a plastic gift card! Mrs. Santa gave me a large, personal ice cream bowl and a mini-sized ice cream scoop. I am still doing the math on that combination, but I’m thankful nonetheless.
Mrs. Santa also came through with what might be considered the Foodie’s Handbook: Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s book, The Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. That’s a mouthful, pun slightly intended. Written originally in France in 1825, it was translated by M.F.K. Fisher (another pioneer food writer) and is possibly the most oft-quoted food book I have ever come across. One chapter I am particularly interested in reading is “Theory of Frying,” which is followed a few chapters later by one called “Preventative or Curative Treatment of Obesity.” All bases covered, it seems. One of my favorite Brillat-Savarin quotes: “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star.” That’ll preach.
The chapter on frying may be put to good use in the near future. Santa’s brother delivered a deep frying cookbook. Here are some of the more interesting pages: Deep Fried Mashed Potatoes in Gravy Batter, Deep Fried Stuffing (now you know what to do with those leftovers), Fried Avocados, Deep Fried Meatloaf, and the real kicker, Deep Fried Cream Filled Yellow Sponge Cake. I guess that’s one way to get around copyright infringement. Little did I know that the big box on Ma and Pa Santa’s hearth was a genuine deep fryer. Bless their hearts, and bless my arteries. Little did they know that I had smiled, winked, pointed, and otherwise hinted about this very item to Mrs. Santa every time we had seen one on display. Nor did they know that Mrs. Santa had vetoed this idea in a variety of languages. I guess that’s New Year’s Resolution Number One: draw Mrs. Santa over to the Deep-Fried Side of the Force.
For those already there, let me suggest this deep-fried treat which, sadly, was not included in the cookbook – grits balls. Use leftover grits (or make a batch just for this – it’s worth it) and season to taste with salt and pepper, plus your choice of shredded cheese and/or bits of something from the pork pyramid. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and pour the grits into the pan. Refrigerate until virtually solid. Lift from the pan an cut into one-inch squares or use a melon baller if you have that tool and skill. Roll squares/balls in flour, dip in egg, roll in panko bread crumbs, and fry in hot oil until golden brown. These are great as a breakfast alternative, appetizer or side dish – dip in comeback sauce or your favorite. Merry Crisp-mas!
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .