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The late, great guitar player Jody Payne, of Willie Nelson Family fame, once told me a story of being in the mess hall during Army Basic Training and overhearing two yankee kids, barely old enough to join the service, complaining about the food. “This is the worst shortcake I’ve ever eaten.” It would seem the young soldier had a scoop of strawberries on his yellow cornbread.
Of course, that was unintentional, but the thought of sweet cornbread turns my taste buds. I know some of you like it sweet enough to call it cake, but not me. I want it in my soup. I want it to become dressing. I want white cornmeal with a little grease in the batter and in the cast iron cooking it.
Leading into the holiday season (which I count from Oct. 31 through Mardi Gras), there is a lot of eating going on. Some of you eat weird things. I’ve seen you do it. I’m fascinated by it. And it didn’t take long to cobble together a list of things you weirdos enjoy. I’m not talking about scorpions on a stick, bat wings or guinea pigs. I’m speaking domestically. This selfish article was strictly for my entertainment. I’ll bet you’ve tried some of these. Don’t be ashamed. Flaunt your culinary eccentricities with pride. Oh, we won’t judge you, at least not harshly, unless you put sugar in your grits.
Back to the cornbread thing. My grandmother used to dunk hers in buttermilk. Using buttermilk to MAKE the cornbread is fine, but to dunk it? She was a bigger man than I.
By now you shouldn’t be shocked by mayonnaise on a peanut butter and banana sandwich. But a lot of you are put off by other “recipes” that include mayo. It’s polarizing. I loved the pear halves with mayo, cheese and a cherry on top. My friend Kirk Bruister tells me he puts a dollop of mayonnaise on his black-eyed peas, and I can’t wait to try it. As odd as those ideas sound, I admit I was freaked out the first time I read the recipe for carrot and raisin salad. Carrots, pineapple, raisins, sugar and mayonnaise? What? Turned out I loved it.
My buddy Jef had a grandfather who made it. His routine is what made the odd recipe odder. Gramps would place his shredded carrots in a zippered cheesecloth bag and toss it into the washing machine, set to “spin” cycle, just to remove the excess moisture. He was flabbergasted when the family got him a salad spinner that Christmas. His grandmother was also fond of the odd practice of cutting the ends off her roast before cooking. Finally Jef asked, “Why are you doing that, Grandma?” “So it’ll fit in the pan,” she replied.
Yes, condiments can make normal foods odd. Karl from “Sling Blade” gave us mustard and biscuits. A little mustard in some Kraft Dinner never hurt anyone. But ketchup on a salad? Who does that? One of you out there reading this does. Ketchup on eggs, ketchup on hot dogs, mashed potatoes, whatever … you ketchup freaks worry me. But you aren’t as bad as the ranchmongers.
All-the-way ranch people take it way too far. Pizza with ranch, cheese sticks, fries, potato chips, the list goes on and on. Those of you who suffer from this affliction know deep down the only way we can get you to eat a vegetable is by serving it with ranch. You can get a redneck girl to eat anything. Just put some ranch on it. Anything.
While you’re dipping your Domino’s in Hidden Valley, know that the original pizza and salad dressing craze was French dressing, and it may have originated in Biloxi. That’s right, a small Italian joint on the Coast was serving French with its pizza long before the ranch takeover. I promise it’s better.
Cottage cheese on tacos is pretty good. Peanut butter on a hamburger isn’t bad with a dash of soy sauce. The weirdest combo craze might be pickles dipped in orange juice. Why?!?! It sounds like a way to screw up a drink. Other drink oddities are red wine and Coke, peanuts in Coke or the winning milkshake with French fries.
Balsamic vinegar with strawberries is wonderful. It’s even good in ice cream. Popcorn is good in ice cream, too, but better with black pepper, crappy grated parmesan or Tabasco. I’ll take Tabasco on almost anything, but luthier/fiddler Eldon Bryson used to put three drops in his coffee back when he was around.
Spicy stuff can liven up any boring dish … or make it odd. Throw some spicy Doritos crumbled into a powder on instant mashed potatoes. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos go with microwave mac and cheese. The Vienna sausages are best if you get the spicy ones, but avoid the barbecue flavor. I know you’re thinking prison food may be better than this, but after three decades of playing live music coast to coast, you learn how to eat out of a gas station. What a glorious life I’ve led.
I haven’t even mentioned chitlins from Mississippi or the stuff coming out of Louisiana that scare the bejeezus out of my Left Coast friends. We’ve accepted turtle soup and the ridiculous things we now put in our crawfish boils the way Kentuckians embrace burgoo.
I want to hear the weird things you eat, like the pink stuff at the church picnic or the greens, beans and sardines casserole on which you were raised. It’s the normal stuff in odd combinations that really pique my interest, like hot dogs and honey. If you swear by it, and I can watch you eat it, I’d like to try it, too. I’m betting it won’t be worse than sweet, yellow cornbread.
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