Where I work, we have a Breakfast Club, like so many other offices across the nation. And every Friday morning we are subjected to the unrepentant and unfailing cycle of bagels, donuts, bagels, donuts, bagels, breakfast tacos and more donuts. I don’t know why I used the word “subjected,” since we’ve all undertaken this breakfast mission voluntarily, but I definitely get the feeling that most people participate due to either peer pressure or the knowledge that by spending $10 on a box of Shipley’s, they can get free breakfasts on Fridays for the next twelve weeks (I mean, it’s a pretty good trade if you think about it).
This morning it was my turn to bring breakfast. Little-known fact time: my mother is a chef and has instilled in (or rather, beaten into) me a deep respect for food. While I have clearly not inherited her culinary talents, I do at least have a strong appreciation for good, nutritious, quality food and the ability to make home-cooked Southern meals (who needs that fancy French shit anyway?). And, with a very few exceptions, bagels and donuts do not fall under that appreciation. With that in mind, I was definitely excited to bring a real breakfast for my co-workers this morning.
I went to the grocery store last night — being a vocal proponent of the idea that one should shop in the short-term, for what you need in order to fix your meal, not the monthly shopping binges to Costco that result in unnecessary junk food and waste — and bought some cream, high-quality butter, grits, hot sausage, strawberries, blueberries, peaches and low-fat vanilla yogurt. The grits — God bless them — cost $0.55 for an entire box and were the centerpiece of the meal. This is just one of the many, many reasons I love grits.
This morning, I got up around 6am and started on the breakfast. The sausage took about five minutes in a hot skillet before it was done and then onto some paper towels to be drained. In the meantime, I set some water (and a cup of cream) to boil in a large, stainless steel Dutch oven (this is important — you can’t cook grits with just water, or else they’ll be runny and tasteless; you need heavy whipping cream or at the very least, some whole milk). While the water was coming to a boil, I cut up the strawberries and peaches and tossed them together in a bowl with the blueberries. By the time that was done, the water in the Dutch oven was rolling quite fiercely.
I added the entire box of grits along with a few teaspoons of Kosher salt and half a stick of butter. With grits, I know it says that you can simmer them “covered, stirring occasionally.” That’s a lie, and I don’t recommend it unless you want to eat wallpaper paste for breakfast. You need to stir them constantly, continually adding small licks of cream and butter here and there for taste. When the grits finally started to thicken (which only takes about five minutes, by the by), I added the sausage and stirred it in. And that’s pretty much it for the grits — plain and simple and delicious, if a little calorie-laden by the addition of the butter and cream.
Turning my attention back to my side dish, I poured the vanilla yogurt on top of the small, glistening pieces of fruit and smoothed it with a spoon. Garnish the top with a few stray blueberries and you’re ready to go.
Getting the food to the car was easy enough with Richard helping, but actually getting it up into the building was another story. I’m sure I looked like a crazy woman in the lobby — wet hair from a hurried shower, purse on one shoulder, bag full of fruit & yogurt one the other, briefcase shoved under one arm and a giant Dutch oven held out in front of me, with bright red potholders covering my hands. And, as I’ve already addressed, I don’t exactly look the part where I work on a normal basis anyway.
I finally made it up to my floor, after almost dropping the Dutch oven twice, cursing loudly at the weight of everything on my tiny frame and the deepening crevasses on my shoulder from the fruit-laden bag (fruit & yogurt are deceptively heavy). As I laid everything out in the common area for my co-workers, I could hear plaintive whispers of “What is that?” and “Please say we’re not having donuts again.” When everything was finally assembled — butter on plate, salt in bowl, spoons and forks laid out, napkins at the ready — I stood back and admired my work. It wasn’t the most beautiful thing to behold (grits aren’t exactly visually appealing food), but it was real and unprocessed and warm and breakfast.
And they loved it.
That was the best part of all. Only two people on my entire floor had ever had grits before, and only one of them actually liked the damn things. With odds like that, I wasn’t expecting a very good reception to my Southern cooking. But the mighty hominy kernel triumphed over all expectations. I got request after request for the recipe (what recipe?) and probably — hopefully — changed the course of the breakfast mission at least for a while.