Thursday, September 16, 2010
It could just as easily have been Dumplings and Gefilte Fish. Or Cornbread and Challah. Or maybe Kraut and Wieners and Chopped Liver. But it was just before a brunch when I almost made the huge gaffe.
But, first, a little background:
I grew up in Carbon Hill, a very, very small town about 60 miles northwest of Birmingham. During my childhood, the population was approximately 4,000; currently it has dropped to 2,500. Many of the businesses that managed to survive over the years will likely have the final nail driven in their coffin by Corridor X.
Telling you that Carbon Hill is a country town is an understatement. To add that I am Southern, and confirm it every time I speak, is an even larger one. (On my first trip to NYC, someone advised me to speak as little as possible. He suggested New Yorkers might have a difficult time understanding me. Ouch!) I grew up on butter beans, cornbread, and turnip greens. Most everyone else in town was just like me; diversity was as scarce as hens' teeth.
Just after I moved to Birmingham in 1973, I met Debbie, my BFF long before BFF dropped into our alphabet-soup world. She and her family were a big part of my life for the next 25 years. By the way, Debbie's husband is Jewish, which you need to know now for later.
About a year after my 23-year marriage ended, Debbie and I were running errands.
"When you think you're better, and you're ready to go out, let me know," she slyly commented, the ever-present twinkle in her eye revved up faster than Road Runner on Saturday morning. "I think I can arrange a date for you with a nice Jewish boy."
I was deeply moved by her offer. Somewhat stunned, I replied, "I know we've been close all these years, but that you would let me go out with your husband is really above and beyond, don't you think?"
Silly me. She was referring to Alan, her brother-in-law. Over the years, I'd attended birthday parties and holiday events where Alan was also present. I didn't really see the two of us gee-hawing, if you know what I mean.
For every ounce of country in me, there are three ounces of city and culture in Alan. No dumplings, no southern accent, no small town background in his history. This is a man who grew up in Mountain Brook and is as polar opposite from me as Liberace is from Jack Bauer.
Thankfully, I was wrong about the gee-hawing. We actually found that we were the same but different, and our dating progressed to the point of me being invited to a Bar Mitzvah brunch at his mother's house. I was higher than a Georgia pine. Happier than a pig in the sunshine. Or is that happier than a pig in the mud? Oh, well, I'm sure you get the picture.
Anyway, just after the invitation, I called Debbie and was blabbering about what I would wear, what to do with my hair, and OMG, should I take something, of course I should, oh my, what do I take, do I bake something, special order something?
Just then, I remembered that I was the proud owner of the famous Hardee biscuit recipe and, if I did say so myself, made a pretty mean biscuit. I'm talking Cat Head here. And gravy? Take your pick: sawmill, red-eye, sausage. I had them all down pat.
"Debbie, Debbie, I know, I know! I've got it. I'll make homemade biscuits. I'll use the Hardee's recipe and even cut them out all nice and neat. They should really impress Alan's mom, don't you think?" I squealed.
"Uh, I don't think so, Beckster," she said. "You might want to re-think that one. This is a Bar Mitzvah brunch, girlfriend. One doesn't take BISCUITS to a Bar Mitzvah brunch. One takes BAGELS to a Bar Mitzvah brunch." She was laughing so hard, I'm sure she was crying.
After that, biscuits and bagels became a joke that made us all smile, especially after Debbie up and died, as Lewis Grizzard used to say. We've used the phrase many times over the years, and I've started, and stalled, a cookbook of my favorite recipes. It's called, you guessed it, "Biscuits and Bagels."
Today, my love of cooking has expanded beyond my beloved southern roots and I look forward to posting some of my favorite recipes here very soon. Of course, I continue to cook butter beans, cornbread and turnip greens. Unfortunately, Alan steadfastly refuses to eat kraut and wieners and chicken and dumplings, so those two have pretty much been put on the back burner, so to speak. I'm happy to report that just recently, he told me (and his mother!) that I've mastered chopped liver.
But I will forever draw the line at cooking gefilte fish. I just cannot tackle a recipe for balls of fish surrounded by congealed fish broth.
That just ain't right. Opps, I mean, that just isn't right.