So there really is something magical about the South. The culture, the music, of course the food, but also the people here can leave a lasting impression on a gal from the west. Take, for example, the accent – it’s fantastically infectious. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself rolling words like “mama” and “y’all” off my tongue like they were vernacular I grew up hearing, let alone saying. It gives me a feeling of fitting in and being one with the locals. Silly, I know. I’m not usually one to conform. But have you ever had a conversation with a lovely Southerner? If so, you know what I mean.
However, there is one thing that I am missing in my budding southern lingo, and that is the cheeky, snazzy, completely amazing phrases that are used down here to describe anything from ripe fruit to an extraordinarily humid day. For example, I would say:
“O.M.G. It’s. So. SO. Hot.” With a big, yucky sigh.
But a local’s tone would ring more like, “It’s hotter than a billy goat’s butt in a pepper patch,” with a sweet-as-Tupelo-honey smile.
Now really, which one more effectively, and creatively, gets the point across?
The problem is, I’m not originally from ‘round here, and my natural inclination to witty –isms are left to the likings of literature, art, and (my favorite) food descriptions. So rather than wallow in the tall grasses of being an outsider, I figured if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em.
So I’ve been making up my own.
Walking across the black, cast-iron asphalt that is called the Target parking lot, I found myself mumbling, “It’s hotter than Crisco in a frying pan.” To get my students’ attention, I’ve been telling them things are as “Serious as pie.” My favorite was when I told a co-worker that I would “chase a hog through a turd field” for a piece of chocolate. Hmm. All my made-up –isms naturally run to food.
Kind of like me.
Part of what spurred on this wave of concocting cheeky phrases to replace mundane meaning has been the unbearable heat we’ve had. I guess to many native northern Floridians, the 102-degree heat index – WITH humidity – is what they call, “normal.” I see nothing normal about it, and both Rob and I have suffered bouts of heat stroke until we realized that any sort of electrolyte drink was a new best friend. On the plus side, we’ve also taken to paddleboarding like crazy, hanging out in the water with sand sharks, pods of dolphins, sting rays, and alligators. Yes, we are in Gator country, folks.
So, while the heat continues, and my tan gets better, my new creative crush for finding witty -isms has only grown. As has my cooking repertoire.
Years ago, when I was a pretty strict vegetarian, I learned how to cook using local and seasonal ingredients, matching my taste buds to that of the day’s farmers market. Opposed to some classical points of view, my foundation in cooking was not based on veal stock and beef rafts, but on figuring out ways to bring out the genuine, complimentary flavors of foods without the natural flavor imparted by fat. Jump forward a few years, more cooking techniques, a great Thanksgiving turkey, bacon broiling at my mom’s house, yada yada yada, and now I’m cooking a very flexitarian diet, full of grains, greens, with all the foundational vegetarian cooking I love, as well as using simple animal proteins. And bacon. Yes, bacon. Mmm, bacon.
Tonight’s dinner took the hog for the most flavorful bacon accompaniment. Was bacon the main ingredient? Hardly. Did it overwhelm? Not in the least. Did it add a smoky goodness to my Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes? Absolutely.
The weather has just started to cool down, enough that, when combined with the continual rise and fall of the start-to-football-season-on-the-tv hum in the background, it has hinted to fall at times. So this dinner was perfect for our kind-of-cool Monday Night Football casual evening. The applewood-smoked bacon added just enough fat, smokiness, and salt that rounded the veg-stuffed tomatoes so well, it would be a shooting match with a BLT. As a two-pot meal consisting of a huge vegetable serving, and healthy grains, these stuffed tomatoes are sure to delight even the meatiest of meat-eaters. I mean, the meal was slap my ass and call me Sally – good.
(Ok, I may have stolen that last little –ism, but it totally applies).
So make these as soon as you read this. They are easy and so good. Do it before the fresh, summer veg runs out. Your health buds and taste buds will thank you. Really. I’m being as serious as pie.
Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes
- 4 beefsteak tomatoes, tops cut off, and insides (ribs and pulp) removed (a serrated knife works best for this)
- 1 ear corn (grilled preferably, but fine raw also)
- 1 medium sized zucchini, diced
- ½ small red onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 strips of bacon, sliced into lardon (1/2-inch width) pieces
- 2 tbsp good quality mayo
- ¼ tsp dried oregano
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 package frozen brown rice medley, or any sort of barley/rice grain mixture (found nowadays in most grocery stores)
- 3 big sprigs of fresh dill, leaves finely chopped
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon. When almost fully browned, add the onion and zucchini. Let the veg soften, stirring occasionally, then add the corn, oregano, and red pepper flakes. After the corn has warmed through, transfer mixture to a mixing bowl, and add the mayo. Taste for seasoning (maybe pepper is needed, but the bacon and mayo are fairly salty).
Put the tomatoes into a baking dish (I used a round cake plate), and spoon the bacon and veg mixture generously into the tomatoes. Bake in the oven until the tomatoes just start to loose their sturdy, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat/cook the rice mixture. When done, add the dill, apple cider vinegar, and s&p.
When the tomatoes are done, spoon a bit of the rice onto a plate, and nestle the tomato on top. Pour a yummy, light, Tuesday-night wine, and serve warm (but also great as a cold salad the next day).