Pimiento Cheese, Barbecue, Lobster Raviolis and AMAZING GRACE

originally e-mailed on March 10, 2009

Recipe Testers,

We ignored our pre-made plan and I went to the funeral with Jason. Logic and practicality work on paper when you are making plans, but then reality happens and intuition and emotion far outweigh logic and practicality. My mom came and watched the girls.

Jason spoke very well. I cried for him as he spoke because the words were so hard to say. But after some painful pauses he finished and gave a beautiful tribute. There were 20 people at the funeral, plus 8 church members who help with all the funerals. Without going into long detail, this will kind of sum up the fighting and challenges in the family: There were two memorials. The first at 11:00 and other at 3:00. Jason’s biological grandmother is bi-polar and her moods and emotions contribute to the further understanding of Judy and the problems she faced. We all have to cope with a few curve balls in our lives that affect everyone. The grandmother has a disease and a weakness she cannot help and I’m certain she never intentionally planned to hurt her daughter. Jason’s only purpose in this entire memorial was to make everyone happy. He tried to choose a time to accommodate the variety of schedules including considering the minister’s schedule. But when someone has a mental illness, making everyone happy is pretty much impossible. The minister was wonderful and was such a huge comfort to Jason and said “I’ve known your grandmother a long time.” With those simple words came an enormous volume of understanding. And he said, “If it’s alright with you, I think we’re just going to have to have two services.” The 8 church members went to both of them, including the woman who sang the beautiful hymns at both services who also said to us with complete understanding “We all know your grandmother.” It was such a kindness that these people from the church just smoothed everything over and went forward like having two services was completely normal. Truly, it was so kind and generous of them.

There was a woman from the church named Sunshine Spivey. When the minister first called on Sunshine to come and speak, I thought it was her nickname. But Sunshine is her real name. And she came up and spoke and said something true and sweet about Judy. It’s important to say true things. When you say things that are insincere just to say them, they have no meaning. But Sunshine spoke sweetly and honestly. I adored this woman for her kindness and compassion. She fit her name.

After the memorial we went into the reception hall and the ladies from the church had made punch, pimiento cheese sandwiches and cookies. The pimento cheese sandwiches are comfort food in the South for those of you who haven’t heard of them. And this was homemade pimiento cheese. Someone had grated the cheese by hand and made the mixture and had handmade all the sandwiches. Someone else bought cookies from the store and someone else made oatmeal cookies. The oatmeal cookies that were homemade didn’t look particularly appealing, but when you tasted them they were wonderful. I’ll take taste over looks any day of the week.

I wrote in an earlier e-mail how food is interwoven through all of our lives. It is part of birth and death, weddings, birthdays and celebrations. It is the common part of our daily lives and part of moments we will never forget. So if you think it is odd that I’m writing about food and a funeral at the same time, it is because I see life through “food-colored glasses” instead of “rose-colored glasses.” It is all interlaced for me. And food is comforting in times of sorrow. It is a way of being in communion with the other people who are feeling similarly to you.

After the memorial service Jason wanted to eat somewhere local. He didn’t want to go to a chain restaurant. So we went with some of the relatives to look for a place to eat. We drove up to this building that must have formerly been a small bank in the 1960’s. Nothing had been done to change the outside of the bank. The drive-through teller lanes were still there and it looked like the only outside remodeling that had been done was to hang up a sign that said Valentino’s Italian Café. In fact, from the outside appearance I would have thought it was an empty building. The only give-away that it was open was that there were cars outside.

So we walked in and it smelled wonderful. Two ladies from the church were there. I could see big pots on the stove. Someone was definitely making something from scratch. It looked like a pizza place, but when we got the menu they had veal and lobster and some terrific choices. So I ordered the Lobster Ravioli. Texas is known for their seafood in Houston and Dallas, specifically the incredible fried oysters, but Jason wasn’t so sure about lobster in Kerrville. I thought I’d take a gamble because I could see the kitchen from where I sat and everything coming up in the window looked great. Jason ordered the veal piccata, I ordered the lobster raviolis, his dad had the baked ziti, the other relatives ordered calzone’s, lasagna, and pizza. The restaurant had great bread and rolls and salad with fresh tomato vinaigrette. The lobster raviolis came out and it was indeed lobster in them and it was real lobster sauce. The lobster sauce had a lot of clams in it, but I love clams and thought they added to the sauce. (I know clams are a cheap substitute instead of putting the lobster meat in the sauce, but truly the clams in it were delicious.) So D- on appearance, but a solid B+ on the food. Again, the cliché “you can’t always judge a book by its cover” rings true again. We thought of Judy and talked about family and life as we ate together and visited in a local restaurant from her town.

Then I don’t know if I should write the next part because it might not sound right in writing. It may be better to explain verbally, but I’m going to try my best. You know how laughing and crying are related to each other? For instance when you laugh so hard sometimes you start crying. Or the opposite of if you cry so hard that and are so emotional that almost anything can make you laugh? So this is one of those times. Not really something to laugh at, but it was such an emotional day that it unintentionally ended up being funny. We had Judy’s ashes with us the whole time we were in Texas. It wasn’t uncomfortable. It did seem surreal at times, but at other times it seemed nice that she was with us. In fact, the aunt took Judy’s ashes with her to the yard-sales because she said Judy loved yard sales. So it wasn’t awkward, just not the kind of thing you commonly carry around with you in the car. We had the box of ashes propped up in the trunk so they wouldn’t fall. But then we went to the hotel and took our suitcases out and went to go through all the paperwork in the hotel room. (A sweet thing I will mention at this point was that when we were going through all the paperwork it turned out she had saved every card Jason had ever written to her.) So after all the paperwork we got in the car and forgot temporarily that Judy’s ashes were in the trunk. We were driving to dinner and turned a corner and we heard this big thud. And both of us looked at each other and thought the ashes had just fallen over and spilled all over the trunk. So Jason pulled over and checked and fortunately the ashes were still in the box with the lid on and it was the computer that had fallen over. We were relieved, but after we knew they didn’t actually spill, it was funny in that sad/happy emotional way.

We went down to San Antonio and ate dinner on the River Walk. We ate fabulous Texas barbecue and had a loaf of freshly baked bread with honey butter, brisket, ribs, beans, the works. It was just Jason and I. Then we walked along the River Walk after dinner and talked about Judy and the ups and downs of her life and again kept saying how we were glad that she found peace and happiness at the end.

So to honor the kind and giving women of the church and to honor Judy, I’m including a recipe for Pimento Cheese. I wasn’t able to get the homemade version of the recipe from the church, but from tasting it, I think it is very similar to this one from my favorite Southern Chef, Frank Stitt. You can eat it on saltine crackers or you can make sandwiches.

Miss Verba’s Pimiento Cheese

Whenever Verba has the urge, she will make a huge bowl of the best pimiento cheese you have ever tasted. Little drugstore lunch counters throughout the South inevitably include pimiento cheese sandwiches on their menus as an economical option. But the cheese is usually the commercially prepared variety, of indifferent quality. Making your own, as Verba does, with lots of charred roasted peppers, gives the spread a whole new life. It is perfect for a light sandwich or as a down-home dip for crudités and crackers.

1 pound sharp yellow cheddar
1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 large bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sugar
Splash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholula
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Grate the cheddar cheese in a food processor fitted with the grating disk or grate with a hand grater. Transfer the grated cheese to a bowl, add the cream cheese, pepper, bell peppers, mayonnaise, sugar, hot sauce and cayenne. Blend all together thoroughly. Refrigerate and serve chilled. (This spread will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but it usually disappears long before that.)

Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, pg. 32.

I’ll end with the hymn that Judy chose for the memorial that truly fits her and her life.

And amazing grace, peace and understanding to all of you. Maili

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me....I once was lost but now am found,Was blind, but now, I see.T'was Grace that taught...my heart to fear.And Grace, my fears relieved.How precious did that Grace appear...the hour I first believed.Through many dangers, toils and snares...we have already come.T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...and Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me...His word my hope secures.He will my shield and portion be...as long as life endures.When we've been here ten thousand years...bright shining as the sun.We've no less days to sing God's praise...then when we've first begun."Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me....I once was lost but now am found,Was blind, but now, I see."


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