Thug Kitchen: Redux

One Saturday in June, Jon and Roxy got up at 4 a.m. to catch a plane to camp.

Rather, Jon accompanied Roxy to the Midwest, handed her to the very nice camp employees who would transport her (and a busload of others) to their bucolic Ozark paradise, and then turned around and flew home. I stayed in L.A., slept fitfully and felt that odd stomach whirling sensation of excitement battling it out with worry.

Father’s Day morning we woke up—groggy and discombobulated—and pondered the breakfast possibilities. Since Roxy wasn’t there, we could skip pancakes, eggs and toast (what a giddy thought!). In fact, we could make something gourmet with a challenging ingredient or two—sumac or perhaps spelt. I stumbled out of bed, threw on some shorts and headed to the kitchen to investigate.

I leafed through The Lemonade Cookbook, but sadly there was no breakfast section or even a breakfast stand-in section filled with baked goods one can eat before noon without guilt. My new cookbook would have to wait.

Jon, meanwhile, opened Thug Kitchen and found a little family of breakfast items under the banner “Carpe Fucking Diem.” While many sounded yummy, as usual, we based our decision on the ingredients we had in the pantry. Enter the Maple Berry Grits.

Five years ago, if my former self could’ve seen my future self pulling out pots and pans to make some grits, she (former) would’ve shaken her head, barked a dismissive laugh, and said “Wrong Erin.”

But somewhere in my late 30s/early 40s, things changed. My horror of grits—stemming from childhood travels in the South and Midwest where every laminated breakfast menu features photos of the bubbling bright-white pools with a small disk of butter smack dab in the middle like a bellybutton—started to dissipate. I had a subscription to Bon Appétit and occasionally it published savory grits recipes that sounded, shockingly, kind of ok. Finally, last year, in a fit of experimentation, I even made one of these recipes and it was good—cheesy, creamy, a terrific side for grilled salmon.

So, grits for breakfast? Sure, I was ready; I even had leftover grits in the pantry from that BA-inspired foray. And as TK’s intro to the recipe says, “You’ve had enough oatmeal, it’s about damn time to try something new.”

While I got the coffee going, Jon boiled 2 cups of water and 2 cups of rice milk in a saucepan and then whisked in 1 cup of grits, along with ¼ teaspoon salt. TK makes a big loud point about these not being the instant kind; we had “quick,” which probably wasn’t that much better. Once the mixture was lump-free, Jon brought it back to a boil before slapping a lid on top and letting it simmer for about 20 minutes.

When the grits had absorbed pretty much all of the liquid, Jon stirred in a teaspoon of maple syrup, which did just about nothing flavor-wise. Many teaspoons later, plus a tad more salt, the recipe tasted right—richly maple without being overly sweet. To finish, he took some frozen raspberries he’d warmed in the microwave and spooned them over individual servings of the grits. It was time to eat.

The results: We grabbed our bowls and some coffee and parked ourselves at the long everything table in the middle of our living room/kitchen/dining room/art space. I blew on a spoonful of the red-dabbed grits and then popped it in.

Even though the grits were lava hot, and it took a few bites before I could actually taste anything, the dish was really good: toothy, without being obnoxiously tough. And it was pleasantly mellow, like a polenta. The round, rich warmth of the maple syrup was a perfect foil to the tangy-sweet earthiness of the raspberries. And – note to self – the whole presentation looked cookbook cover-ready: pale grits rimmed with gold from the syrup and topped with a jewel-rich red.

You could take this in any number of directions—topping it with fruit compote, jam, even chopped fresh apples in cinnamon and lemon. All would play nicely with the grits, which are essentially a substrate for whatever sweet or savory flavors you feel like packing on top.

I’ll make this again. It’s fairly healthy, simple and delectable.

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