Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hunger Pangs

My phone rang around 10 tonight. I would've put money on it that it was my mom. Nine out of ten times if my phone rings after 10 pm it's my mom, which is noteworthy mainly because she's three hours ahead of me. She's never been much for sleep. You'll often hear her say things like "I'm too busy to sleep" or "I'll rest when I'm dead." My father on the other hand is all about sleeping. He goes to bed early, sleeps late and loves to take a nice long "retirement nap" each day. I somehow inherited both of their sleeping genes. I can function at a very high level on remarkably little sleep, but would also love to take a nap each day (which in my book is not a 15 minute cat nap like some people claim to take and feel entirely refreshed after but rather something along the lines of a few hours). Anyway, my mom was up packing. They're driving from Beaufort, SC to Tampa tomorrow to celebrate my brother's 40th birthday. It made me feel a little homesick and also a little left out. Despite the fact that I love living in Santa Barbara, if I had super powers I would squish the US so that Santa Barbara was no more than a 5-hour drive from any of my relatives. 

My mom always makes such an effort to make your birthday special. And that usually means celebrating it together. I know for some people the best birthday present your parents could give you would be to not visit, but not me. And when they can't be there physically, they always call and leave the absolutely worst rendition of "Happy Birthday" you've ever heard on your answering machine. Singing talent definitely does not run in the family but it ranks very high on the entertainment and endearment scale (think American Idol flunky William Hung's "She Bangs").

I had the amazing opportunity to spend my birthday this year in Vietnam while on a two-week vacation with my parents. We chose Vietnam because my father had served there two tours and said it was one of the most beautiful countries he'd ever visited--the place and the people--and always wanted to return. My mom made arrangements for us to stay in Paradise, and it is not a birthday that I'll forgot anytime soon. In fact, I think my family should start a new tradition where we celebrate all our birthdays there each year. I promise you'd never tire of it. How could eating cake and drinking champagne at 5 o'clock everyday while you watch the sunset over the water ever get old? 

I started thinking about how they might celebrate my brother's milestone and it basically just made me hungry. Since most of our gatherings revolve around food, I thought of all the dishes my brother would request to commemorate the occasion: oyster stew, chicken and dumplings, fried oysters, Dad's steak, Monk's biscuits . . . . Since I can't be there in person, I've decided to bake my own birthday dish for my brother and eat it in his honor. I think he would really like this. 

Shrimp and Grits

Recipe by Martha Nesbit for Food Network 

4 cups water
Salt and pepper
1 cup stone-ground grits
3 Tbsp butter
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 slices bacon, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 large clove garlic, minced

Bring water to a boil. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned; drain well. Add shrimp to the skillet with bacon grease. Cook until shrimp turn pink (about 3 minutes). Add lemon juice, chopped bacon, parsley, scallions and garlic. Saute for a few minutes until heated. Spoon grits into serving bowl and top with shrimp. Serve immediately. Yields 4 servings. 

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