As a rule, I don’t get too excited about holiday food. There are no real traditions in my family surrounding Christmas and New Years the way there are at Thanksgiving; we eat what we’re inspired to cook. One year that might be a leg of lamb, while the next it might be a whole pig or simply a roast chicken. You never know until you show up for dinner.
This year, however, new bars were set. My father turned 50 not long ago and his mid-life crisis has manifested itself in his culinary veins. While some men might have bought a fancy car or started working out, my dad installed a grill station. Set on the downstairs porch of our North Carolina house, the set-up allows my father to grill four sides of brisket while admiring the Appalachian mountains.
The set-up wasn’t entirely complete when we arrived here last week, but a guy came over on New Year’s Eve to install the grill so we could cook dinner. As soon as the last screw was turned, my dad was out there with Boston butts, pork shoulders and brisket. He cooked meat for eight hours, basting, rubbing and tasting all day and into the evening. The results were tremendous, though my dad has decided that his grill is too small. He wants a full-size smoker.
We had 36 for dinner and with our guests came a symphony of sides. Green bean casserole, carrot casserole, sausage and grit casserole, roasted squash and salad. This is one thing I love about the south. People here take pride in their cooking, passing recipes from one generation to the next, and on to one another at cocktail parties or just about any place else- remember that scene in Steel Magnolias where Truvy recites the cupa-cupa recipe in the beauty parlor?
As I prepare for my return north, I’m making a list of what southern delights to take back north with me. Stone ground grits, smoked pork jowls, bacon ends, maybe a smoked trout or some cheese straws if I can find ‘em. I’m also returning with a few recipes gleaned from some of the south’s better cooks: oyster pie, squash casserole, Russian tea, and some kind of dip made from corn and cream cheese.
I find Russian tea hilarious- I mean, really? Tang? I’d scoff at it if I hadn’t tried it and found it rather delicious.
2 cups powdered Tang (or other orange-flavored drink mix)
2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup instant tea powder
3/4 cup lemon-flavored instant tea powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
In a large bowl, combine orange drink mix, sugar, tea powder, cinnamon and cloves. Mix well and store in an airtight container. To serve, put 3 teaspoons of mix in a mug. Stir in 1 cup boiling water. Adjust to taste.