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TALKING TO MYSELF - December, 2015 - Christmas Columns Past #2 - "World Peace Grits"
World Peace Grits
The Dalai Lama loves cheese grits casserole. I read this in an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution so it must be true. The reporter goes on to conclude that the Dalai Lama’s fondness for this old potluck favorite may have been a factor in his establishing the Drepung Loseling Institute in Atlanta, an inter-cultural learning center affiliated with Emory University. Apparently the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was first introduced to cheese grits in 1995 at Atlanta’s Mary Mac’s tearoom and couldn’t get over them (so to speak.)
Marian Mims waited on him back in ’95, but admits that his flowing colorful robes confused her.
“ ‘I thought he was a lady Dalai Lama at first. Because somebody said the name Dolly, you know? I didn’t know he was a big-time church man,’ ” the waitress recalled in a recent newspaper account of the encounter.
“`He loved it [cheese grits]’ Mims remembered. `He blessed us and everything.’”
Personally, I’m not surprised that cheese grits casserole has played a significant role in breaching the cultural barriers that separate us. Our son-in-law, Tim, is a Yankee, a native flat-lander from northern Indiana. Smitten with our daughter, he made the obligatory holiday visit to our home during the early phase of their courtship. But when I pressed a heaping ladle of the hot concoction onto his plate, he politely balked.
“GRITS?” he shrieked. “You’ve got to be kidding! No one actually eats grits, do they? They’re a myth, right?”
I gave him a look that said if you expect us to pay for your wedding you’d better stop talking and start eating.
To make a long story short, Tim now loves cheese grits casserole as much as the Dalai Lama does. It just goes to show how a little open mindedness can bridge the divisions between us (although I’m still struggling with Tim’s Midwestern enthusiasm for piling noodles on top of mashed potatoes.)
Once you get north of the Ohio River, however, the secret ingredient in cheese grits casserole becomes as elusive as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. My cousin, Pam, who lives in northern Cincinnati, was determined to add a touch of her native Kentucky to her Christmas menu last year. Armed with our family recipe, she whizzed down to her local Kroger to pick up what she needed for the dish. Sixteen supermarkets later, she still had not found the essential pasteurized processed garlic cheese rolls. Finally, wandering in one of those upscale, gourmet markets with the fancy deli cases and exotic breads, she spotted fifteen of the cellophane wrapped cheese logs in another shopper’s cart. When she asked him where he’d found them, his face took on the look of a spy caught in the act of espionage.
In a whisper, he confided that he was a South Carolina transplant. Since he could not find the garlic cheese rolls needed to make his grits casserole anywhere in Cincinnati, his mother had been mailing the cheese product to him from “back home” for the past five years. It was rumored, he said, that the cheese product was processed only by cousins of the Keebler elves, the southern branch of the family who could survive only in magnolia trees. Now, happening upon the cheese rolls in this unlikely place, he had seized his opportunity to corner the Cincinnati market.
Slyly, he asked, “What would one roll be worth to you?”
So here’s my plan (which could go a ways towards solving the trade imbalance as well as promoting world peace.) First, in each quadrant of the United States, we set up large factories devoted only to the manufacture of pasteurized processed garlic cheese rolls. We solve the shortage by producing more. This may have the undesired effect of driving the price down in the cheese roll market, but world peace should be affordable in my opinion (as opposed to war which costs trillions.)
Then we whip up huge cheese grits casseroles and airdrop them all over the earth. If the Dalai Lama’s reaction is an indicator, I predict that when everyone has had a chance to sample the grits, it should be a simple matter to set up inter-cultural learning centers all over the place. The divisions between us could become as easy to bridge as the Ohio River.
Addendum: Since I wrote “World Peace Grits” a decade ago, Kraft Foods has inexplicably stopped manufacturing pasteurized processed garlic cheese rolls. Any fool can see what the result has been – we’re on the brink of WWIII. So I have adapted the old recipe and share it here with you. One grits casserole at a time, multiplied by millions -- and I think it’s possible for the likes of you and me to turn this situation around.
©COPYRIGHT GEORGIA GREEN STAMPER - excerpt from YOU CAN GO ANYWHERE (Wind Publications, 2008)
Recipe for World Peace Grits
6 cups chicken broth 1 – 2 teaspoons of salt (depending on whether you use salted or unsalted butter)
¼ teaspoon pepper (optional) OR a dash of Cayenne pepper (also optional)
¼ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
2 cups regular grits (however, I often use the Quick-Cook Grits in a box and they work fine too. You just can’t use “instant” grits.)
1 – 3 cloves garlic, minced ( I use the minced garlic in a jar --follow your own taste buds here.)
16 ounces/about 4 cups/of sharp cheddar cheese. (I use packaged shredded cheese because it melts quickly and saves time.)
½ cup milk
4 large eggs, beaten until frothy (I whisk them with a fork)
1 stick butter (I recommend using real butter and not margarine)
Crushed corn flakes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease casserole dish (s). This makes a lot, enough for two mid-sized Pyrex dishes (no I don’t know the size :-) or one of those great big 13 x 11 inch casseroles. I also often cook this in the deep/large pyrex dish that fits into my chafing dish (cook longer is using a deep dish.)
Bring the broth, salt, pepper and garlic powder to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the grits and whisk until completely combined. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the grits are thick, about 8 – 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat.
Stir in butter bit by bit until melted. Carefully add the cheddar cheese, garlic and milk. Stir until combined and the cheese has melted.
Then FOLD IN the frothy beaten eggs. I think this step is key to getting a lighter, fluffier consistency to the casserole. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. It cooks better if not deep. Sprinkle the top of the mixture until covered with crushed corn flake crumbs. Bake until set. In my oven it takes about an hour + for the middle to be “set” i.e. firm, not runny.