To one pound lean ground pork, work in a tablespoon cinnamon, a teaspoon of cayenne, and a teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Beat an egg with a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste, mix in a half cup of bread crumbs and a half cup of very finely chopped white onion. Mix eggs with meat, and refrigerate for an hour. Grease your hands, form mix into balls, and cook in a light oil (you can use olive oil, but it’s not necessary) until browned and firm. Serve over rice or couscous sprinkled with chopped parsley and sesame seeds. These are great with Jezebel sauce.
Rick Louvain is a charmer from New Orleans who puts on more airs than a mountain range. He loves going to little urban supermarkets “to see what the Great Unwashed are consuming,” and insists on dragging me to my little neighborhood store for a scathing inventory.
Finding the produce aisle nothing more than a compost heap, his withering assessment of the floral department brought a tall bald queen around the corner clicking his nails like a scorpion, so Rick bought a rose and gave it to him in a thankfully effective gesture of reconciliation.
After declaring every can in the store a ptomaine grenade, we hit the meat section. I was jittery because the butcher on duty was my buddy Charlie, who has the build of a Sumo wrestler and the disposition of a lamb. After a sweeping forensic analysis of the meat section as a whole, we came to the discount section where he grabbed a flat pack of cubed steak for two bucks and grinned. Big ole Charlie was right next to him, humming to himself and marking down hamburger. Rick slapped Charlie on the shoulder. “Hey! Is this round steak?”
I tried to die three times.
“It surely is,” Charlie said with the most bountiful smile in the known universe.
“Great!” Rick said. “Run three pounds fresh through the tenderizer for me. We’re gonna get some stuff in the deli, we’ll be back in a couple of minutes.” Charlie winked at me when we got the meat, and I think he was thanking me for the customer, but I’m not sure. He goes out of his way to cut me t-bones to order, and that’s a certain sign of affection, if you ask me.
Once out of the store, Rick said, “We’re going to make grillades. This is what my gammy uses. She breads it, fries it, makes a roux in that, throws in some garlic and onion, bell pepper and celery, diced tomato, cooks it down in a casserole in the oven, food of the gods, and you’re cooking.”
“You never let up on me, Rick. I’m gonna die in your harness.”
“You’re one lucky hoss, Jess.”
Smoked Oyster Spread
Soften cream cheese, season with black pepper, and blend with an equal amount of drained, mashed smoked oysters. Add about a tablespoon of oil from the can to kick up the smokiness. Diced green onions and/or mild chilies and black olives are a nice touch. Flavor with a smidgen of horseradish, lemon juice, and cayenne; no salt! Blend until smooth and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving. For a dip, thin with mayo.
As librarians in Tupelo, a colleague and I were in charge of taking books to those who couldn’t come to us. Every Wednesday we’d load up our trusty little station wagon and drive around the city dropping off new checkouts and picking up returns.
Our main destinations were nursing homes, and they were all, without exception, far from the dismal environments some people might imagine. As a matter of fact, those under care were often robust enough to elbow a neighbor out of the way to get the best Cartlands, Christies, or L’Amours, and if we didn’t have enough copies of the latest John Grisham potboiler, they’d fight over one. We even had to disarm a dame wielding a plastic knife. During one of these feeding frenzies, a blue stocking with pink hair sniffed and said to me, “They shouldn’t have been taught how to read.”
My partner Beverly, a seasoned veteran, rarely instructed me on nuances, so the assignment was full of pleasant surprises and lessons. We often picked up returns at the nurses’ stations, which are always a nexus of activity. I remember once early on reaching a station just as a produce man was dropping off three bushels peas in the pod. Being a fugitive kitchen grunt myself, I expected some surly person to appear, haul them in the back, and begin the tedium of shelling them, so I was astounded when at least a dozen ladies came out of the TV room, ripped a pea sack open in seconds, filled up their colanders, and retreated—just yakkin’ up a storm the whole time—back into the TV room.
I was trying to take it all in while Bev started packing up the returned books. Finally I tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Bev, are they in there shelling peas?”
She looked over at the TV room door and said, “Oh, yes. They love watching soap operas and shelling peas.”
Sure enough, a squadron of ladies had settled into their seats with peas and bowls in their laps and paper sacks on the floor at their sides. They didn’t even look at the peas as they shelled them; their eyes were glued to the drama unfolding before them. The nurse on duty told me that the shelled peas were collected before dinner (I had a vision of some old lady trying to stash HER colander of peas in a bottom drawer), bagged and kept in the refrigerator until cooked or offered to visitors, but “sometimes there’s so much in there, we just end up taking some home to keep them from being wasted.”
Bill Neale suspected that the Lord invented porches and television to make pea-shelling easier. My mother Barbara, as a young bride, was out on her porch one afternoon sweeping when she saw her husband’s Aunt Bess walking down the road with a sack and crying her eyes out, going to her sister Ethel’s, who was Barbara’s mother-in-law. Not being one to impose (at that point), mother assumed the worst and started cooking. After about an hour, with two casseroles and a cake in the oven, she called up Daddy and said, “Jess, your Aunt Bess just went over to Ethel’s just bawling her eyes out. I think Uncle Ed’s finally died.”
So Daddy ran up to Ethel’s house, assessed the situation, came out sweating and said: “Barbara, Ed didn’t die, Bess is just all wrung out over some soap character dying—her and Momma both.” Then Daddy handed her a bag of shelled peas. “Here,” he said. “I told them to come over for dinner tonight. You need to start watching ‘Days of Our Lives.’”