All right, all right, all right fellow readers – welcome back to the table! It has been a hot minute but I’m finally smoothing out a difficult transition and back on my reading, reviewing and recipie-ing game! This week I’m really excited about my Recipe and a Read. We’re bringing this one back to the good ol’ U-S-of-A with some traditional southern comfort. I’ll be reviewing Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and giving you all a recipe for fried shrimp, cheese grits, fried “okree” and fried green tomatoes! As I mentioned in a previous post, my little family isn’t big on frying food for many reasons – mainly because it’s not super healthy and it makes a giant mess. However! One must suffer for their art (also it’s been a dumpster fire the last few weeks so #TREATYOSELF). I read this one with the Traveling Sisters and we’ve all equally loved this story – it’s outside of what I’d normally pick up for myself but as I’ve said before, these ladies know how to pick them!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
When Kya Clark is 6 years old, she watches as her mother walks away from her, seemingly without a second thought. With the departure of their matriarch, the Clark family slowly but surely vanishes into the marsh that will become the only family Kya will ever know. Her siblings leave shortly after her mother, leaving Kya alone with her father who is negligent at best and abusive at worst. She is left to raise herself, care for her father and their home as she struggles with feelings of abandonment, a deep loneliness and fear that during one of her father’s absences social workers will come whisk her away to the dreaded group home.
She knew the years of isolation had altered her behavior until she was different from others, but it wasn’t her fault she’d been alone. Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored and protected her when no one else would.
It’s the 1950’s when we’re given the bulk of Kya’s story and upbringing. To say it was difficult is putting it in the absolute mildest terms. She has no education to speak of, she has no means to make money and she must rely on her whit and the lessons of the marsh and a few kind townspeople. For the most part, people avoid her, don’t let their children play with her, mock and marginalize her. As we see Kya grow, what really shows most brightly for me was her utter resilience. She is one of the strongest and most genuinely likable characters I’ve come across in a long time.
While Kya’s story is our main timeline, there is a dual timeline running in 1969 that starts off with the death of town legend and golden boy Chase Andrews. As rumors entrench the town about what could have happened to Chase, what might have happened in his past with Kya, things get sticky.
Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.
This, at it’s heart, is a deeply sad but moving story about a misunderstood girl, about abandonment and loss. However, there are uplifting moments and characters that come into Kya’s life that shed light into her dreary and lonely world – through friendships with a shop owner named Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel, through a boy named Tate who teaches Kya not just how to read but about acceptance and friendship and joy. These two timelines slowly begin to converge upon one another and as it does the true gem of this story becomes apparent: nature and all it’s wonders.
I really took my time reading this one, and while it did start off a little slow for me, what never wavered was the truly magnificent prose that Owen deals out with an incredibly deft hand. I’m not sure I’ve ever read something so empirically lovely, it’s the type of story that satisfies a need for a reader to love and appreciate language. One of my favorite things I’ve found in many historical fiction novels is the ability of an author to create secondary characters out of things like setting, the time period and in this case, the marsh itself.
Kya was bonded to her planet and its life in a way few people are. Rooted solid in this earth. Born of this mother.
I’m not sure I quite understood what the term atmospheric meant prior to reading this novel. The marsh, the insects, the birds, the mud and the sand permeate this entire story. It creates a heady need to immerse oneself fully in prose so elegant and indulgent that you can’t help but reflect in awe of the ability to weave such a vivid and emotional story in a way that becomes exceedingly difficult to do it justice with mere words that ultimately fall flat in comparison to what you have just read.
Long Story Short:
Suggested for: Fans of historical fiction, lovers of language and beautiful prose, those with an appreciation for nature in general.
Alrighty then, now that we’ve sufficiently fawned over this incredibly beautiful book lets get this dinner party started!!! I’m not doing serving sizes, calories or any of that stuff for this one because honestly this is not healthy, but it is delicious! This recipe is a little more involved than my average recipe but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for this one!
Carolina Fried Shrimp Ingredients:
- 1-2 pounds shrimp
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 egg whites
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
- 1 tablespoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Enough oil for frying (I’ll be doing all my frying in the same oil so I’ll fry the shrimp last to not add a seafood flavor to the other food)
Fried Okra Ingredients:
- 1 (ish) pound fresh okra, sliced ½ inch think
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons Lawry’s seasoned salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ cup buttermilk
Fried Green Tomatoes Ingredients:
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup all-purpose flour, divided
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 3 medium sized green tomatoes, cut into 1/3 inch slices
- Salt to taste
Cheese Grits Ingredients:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded
DIRECTIONS – Fried Shrimp:
- Peel and de-vein shrimp, combine flour and spices.
- Place corn starch, egg whites and flour in three separate small bowls
- Lightly coat shrimp in corn starch mixture and shake off excess, then coat in egg whites, then in flour mixture (dry, wet, dry) and then place on cookie sheet to side while oil pre-heats to 375 degrees.
- Only add 5-6 shrimp at a time and cook for 1 minute each – remove immediately after 1 minute or you will overcook! Sprinkle with salt and let rest while you finish the rest of the shrimp.
DIRECTIONS – Fried Okra:
- In medium sized bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, season salt and cayenne. Dip okra in buttermilk and then dredge in the cornmeal-flour mixture and coat well. Add okra to hot oil (350-375) until golden brown. Be sure you don’t crowd the pan – repeat if necessary until all okra is cooked.
- Remove to paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with salt.
DIRECTIONS – Fried Green Tomatoes:
- Combine egg and buttermilk – set to side.
- Combine ¼ cup flour, cornmeal salt and pepper in shallow bowl.
- Dredge tomato slices in remaining ¼ cup flour, dip in egg mixture then dredge in cornmeal (dry, wet, dry)
- The ideal for fried green tomatoes is to use a cast iron skillet and only fill with ¼ to ½ inch oil and fry at 375 for 2 minutes on each side. I drained off a bit of the oil from the okra and shrimp into a cast iron skillet and fried the tomatoes while I fried the shrimp in the remaining oil.
DIRECTIONS- Cheese Grits:
- Pour milk, water and salt into a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. *Breaking a cream sauce is super easy, I bring cream to room temperature and you want to go low and slow
- Once milk mixture comes to a boil, gradually add cornmeal while continually whisking. Once all the cornmeal has been incorporated, decrease the heat to low and cover.
- Remove lid and whisk frequently, every 3-4 minutes to prevent grits from sticking or forming lumps – make sure to get the corners of the pot when whisking.
- Cook for 20-25 minutes or until mixture is creamy.
- Remove from heat, add pepper and butter and stir to combine. Once butter is melted gradually add in cheese and serve immediately.
Quote: Pa motioned for her to sit at a small table overlooking the wharf. She couldn’t read the menu, but he told her most of it, and she ordered fried chicken, mashed potatoes, white acre peas and biscuits fluffy as fresh-picked cotton. He had fried shrimp, cheese grits, fried “okree”, and fried green tomatoes.
Music Mood: Miracle by Temper Trap
Now that, that southern whirlwind cooking extravaganza is over I’d love to know what meals you enjoy when you’re feeling like a special treat! Drop me a note in the comments and let me know!
Monday I’ll be back to my typical easier, weeknight friendly and healthy meals with a recipe and a read for Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan!