Well. What a year right? I don’t even know where to begin. It’s been four weeks of isolation and working from home; Monday will start the beginning of the fifth week. Honestly… I can’t really comprehend everything yet. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday (which may be ‘today’ as you’re reading this) and while I am never able to be ‘home’ with family for Easter, this year seems especially hard. For the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to be on Spring Break around this time. Last year I was with my mom and brother in Greece (post here:https://girlmeetsturkey.blog/2020/03/18/dreaming-of-this-time-last-year-in-santorini/). This year… I’m at a loss.
We got the news about our ‘stay at home’ order Friday, March 20th. It’s now going into the third week of April and I am teaching my fifth grade students from my living room. It’s a lot. However, as much as I want to throw my computer across the room and scream when the internet connection freezes up, I am constantly humbled and reminded of the power of human connection by my students. Every day that I log on and see their faces light up with joy to see their friends and their teacher (me), I am overwhelmed with an almost heartbreaking sense of gratitude… for them, for my job, for my family who are all safe right now at this moment.
So how am I dealing with everything? It’s strange. It comes and goes. I can’t leave the country. That’s been hard to deal with- this constant panic that I can’t go ‘home’ in the event of an emergency. I try to stick to a routine as much as possible. On weekdays I wake up, have coffee, and start working. In the afternoons I give myself projects like writing, reading, painting, and baking. I love making bread actually… and … I never have the time for it. Well… now… I’ve got time. Baking calms me down and is a source of meditation. It’s also something that can provide a sense of accomplishment. I’m fortunate to have my roommate here with me too. He’s been my faithful taste-tester. I love cooking for someone and to spend all day making something and see how someone else enjoys it.
It’s only fitting that in talking about my love of bread and making it that I talk about my grandparents, my grandmother, ‘Big Mama’, specifically. When I was growing up, I would spend the summers with my grandparents in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. I’ve always had a strong sense of independence and I would fly by myself from Virginia down to spend the whole summer with my mom’s side of the family. My great-grandmother was still alive and I would spend the whole summer being spoiled rotten by all the grandparents but also getting to know my mother in a sense. I came to understand her childhood in hearing the stories of her growing up. My great-grandmother would tell me about adventures she and my mom had when my mom was my age. My mom’s sister would also come and pick me up for ‘sleepovers’ at her house with my younger cousin. My mom’s brother and his wife would drive over and we would stay up late talking for hours and sometimes their kids would come for visits too. Those summers deeply rooted my love of many things into being, strengthened my understanding of my mom, as well as created a bond with my grandparents that is incredibly special. It’s also where I would help my grandmother make biscuits(the southern bread kind…basically the best things you will ever eat…ever). It was my favorite thing to do. I would sometimes beg her to make them, to let me watch, and then let me cut them out. Today I can stand in my kitchen and make them because I know how the dough is supposed to look and feel. I can’t explain it to you. I can’t write it down for you in a recipe. But.. I know what they should feel and look like, and that’s how I can make them.
Over the years, my hobby for bread has evolved and grown and I love making ‘artsy twisty’ looking loaves. There have been many failures and many near oven fires…but.. just as I learned how to make biscuits through watching the process, I’ve learned about bread through my own errors and eventual small triumphs.
That first week sitting in the living room, I was thinking about my parents back home and about Big Mama and Big Pop. I sent a few panicked text messages to Big Mama who replied “We have a deep freeze with enough food to not leave the house for a year.” In other words ‘don’t fret about us’…but… I still had this restless anxious feeling and I decided to bake. I turned around and saw the hot pink ‘Porches Cookbook’ lying on my counter and decided to try the “Porches House Rolls’. It was like I was possessed. I couldn’t be stopped. I started dragging everything out of my cupboard. I didn’t have any of the ‘proper’ tools but it didn’t matter…I was making them!
Porches is a restaurant in Wesson, Mississippi, very close to my grandparents’ house, and quite possibly serves some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. The restaurant itself is inside a restored Victorian home, complete with that wide wrap-around-front porch that’s so indicative of southern architecture. Apparently, when it started out, the idea was for it to be a bed and breakfast but the restaurant just became so popular. It’s pure comfort food. They have fried catfish, pineapple casserole, sweet potato casserole, fried cabbage, turnip green casserole, chicken and dumplings, bread pudding, and peach cobbler…all just traditional southern dishes of heaven.
I love going to Porches because with every single bite, it’s like I’m 12 years old again, spending the summer out in Hazlehurst. It would be hot, the air so thick with humidity that you couldn’t even go outside. The afternoons would feel long and lazy…and quiet. Basically, the exact setting of a Faulkner novel. But the food. The food at Big Mama’s house was always the best, and STILL IS. Last summer my mom and dad and I flew down to spend a few days with my grandparents and after the first day my dad looked at my mom and said ‘Why haven’t you ever cooked this before? It’s amazing!’ My mother replied “I have!’ My dad responded “Well it didn’t taste like that.” Now, my mom is a really good cook (so is my dad truth be told), but Big Mama… she deserves her own restaurant.
The food at Porches is close to eating at Big Mama’s house. That’s high praise coming from me. In fact, when you look on the Porches website, their tagline is “Food that your grandmother cooked on Sunday’. That’s exactly what it is. There’s no better way to describe it. None of it is good for your waistline, but all of it is good enough to just cry over. They serve everything that I grew up eating, some of my all time favorite meals. I would give everything to be at one of those ‘dinners’ all together right now.
But… back to the bread… and these ‘House Rolls’ from Porches. I have to be completely honest, I had a bit of a hard time following the recipe. I just kept reading it over and over. I’ll include pictures of it here below but there were some things I just couldn’t figure out. It says ‘you don’t have to get your hands dirty’…was there no kneading? I decided to follow the recipe and just keep stirring it in the bowl and I didn’t get my hands dirty and I didn’t knead it. It also said it should be rolled out and cut in strips… then make squares with the strips… then put each square inside a muffin tin. Well. That lost me. I improvised a bit and in the end I realized that at Porches they do exactly as the recipe says. They place three squares side by side in the muffin tin. I rolled mine into balls. Oh well. I did one step too much. However, I have to say, mine still came out buttery, as fluffy as a cloud, and just GOOD. My roommate called them ‘pillows of butter’… and doesn’t that just sound perfect? We ate them with a big roast dinner and then I froze the rest of them for later (yes, they unfreeze and are just as perfect!). It wasn’t the same as being at Porches, or the same as being at Big Mama’s house, but it was something really comforting all the same. Sitting there, eating those rolls, being able to share them with my friend and explain the story behind them (why I wanted to make them), I was able to feel connected to my family during these uncertain times. Food does that. It brings us closer; it ties us to memories and traditions. Thank you Big Mama for letting me help you make biscuits all those years ago, love you and Big Pop.
**Tips to the rolls and pics of the process below:
**I got this recipe from the Porches Cookbook ‘Pineapple Days/ Bread Pudding Nights’ and I didn’t contact them to ask permission to share the recipe. It’s a basic ‘yeast roll’ recipe with melted butter incorporated into it. The trick is to not over-work it. Just stir everything together in a bowl and let it rest. It will double A LOT. Then you can work with it. Pictures below are of my process.