Cornbread: a Labor of Love

I’ve sat myself down and tried to write this post no fewer than twenty times.

Each time, I end up throwing my hands in the air and saying “Who the hell started chopping onions in here? I can’t see my laptop!” And then I decide to put it off for another day and go eat a snack. In all fairness I do that with a lot of things. This just happens to be one where it’s worth pushing through.

I’m not a religious gal, but I do believe that there are people you come across in life that you meet for a reason. These are the people that you will remember. Acquaintances, shitty boyfriends; they come and go. In twenty years, I won’t remember that spineless idiot that told me he “really liked me but couldn’t deal with the pressure from [his] friends.” *Cue massive fucking eye roll* 

In twenty years, and for the rest of the life I am lucky to live, I will remember Nancy.

Nancy was our neighbor for years. She was exactly the kind of person that a young girl should know growing up. She was incredibly strong, whip-smart, and independent. Nancy was a true roll model; the definition of a strong woman. If Nancy felt like it, she could move mountains.

Most importantly, Nancy loved fiercely. From her wonderful husband Ted and their silly snow-white labradoodle Friday to those of us lucky to call ourselves her friends, Nancy would do anything for those she loved. With every big hug and smile, she made us all feel special.

Once, my freshman year of high school I left my keys on the bus because you know, I suck. I was walking up to the front porch, cursing myself for forgetting and having to sit in the Florida wet-blanket summer heat, when Nancy came out to let Friday play in the yard. After seeing me and hearing about my mistake, Nancy insisted I come in and have a snack while I waited.

I swear to y’all, that woman had the head of county transit on the phone and had located my keys before I could finish a glass of water. She was amazing. I don’t think there was (or could be) a problem Nancy couldn’t solve.

We lost Nancy to cancer while I was in college. I miss her all the time, even more so in the last few months at home. When we have neighborhood gatherings, we remember Nancy and the way she touched our lives. She may not be with us physically, but never, not even for a moment, has she been gone. She will always be with us in our memories.

One of my favorite memories of Nancy was just a normal night. She and Ted came for dinner and she brought this INCREDIBLE corn bread. Seriously, I think I can still taste it. I remember laughing hysterically at her stories about being a pig calling champion in Arkansas where she grew up (oh yes, that’s a for real thing), and I remember pulling apart steaming bites of that corn bread. Now every time I see a recipe, I think of Nancy. Finally, I decided to channel my inner southerner and develop a recipe of my own.

Ingredients:

  •  1 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1/2 cup Cup 4 Cup gluten-free flour
  • 1.5 tbsp baking powder
  • Hefty pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I didn’t have this, so I mixed plain greek yogurt and regular milk in a 1:2 ratio. It’s probably better if you actually follow directions..)
  • 1.5 cups frozen sweet corn
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeds removed and diced
  • 3 strips thick-cut bacon, diced

The Breakdown:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425°F.
  2. Put the bacon in the cold cast-iron skillet and place over medium heat. Let it slowly come to temperature to render the fat, and when it’s all nice and crispy remove and set aside. At this point, swirl the bacon fat all over the pan to get it nice and lubricated (no one likes stuck on cornbread). You can pour off the excess tablespoon or so or just love yourself and leave it in there, I won’t tell.
  3. Mix egg, milk, and yogurt in a small bowl, whisk until homogenous.
  4. Add the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder to a large bowl and stir to combine.
  5. Add the wet mixture and stir well. Toss in the bacon, frozen corn, and poblano at the end and stir just enough to incorporate. The resulting mixture should have a texture like slightly thicker pancake batter. Pourable, but sludgy. I apologize for not having a more appetizing word to use than sludgy. I had to add a little more milk (just a few tablespoons) because it was super thick.
  6. Pour your batter into that cast iron skillet (because you are nothing if not authentic) and lovingly tuck it into the oven for 20-25 minutes. To check for doneness, I just poked a tiny little hole in the center with my knife and made sure it wasn’t soupy in the center.
  7. Let your beautiful bread baby rest on the counter for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

cornbread 2

I’ll be honest with you, this is not a recipe that I have perfect. I’m going to force my poor family to sit through a few more trials before I’ll be declaring cornbread conquered. It was good though, passable to those that aren’t blessed with a sweet southern lady that makes it right.

I spoke to a good friend of mine’s mother, another awesomely strong southern woman, and she told me that the real key is the buttermilk. I guess I’m going to have to get over my resistance to buying buttermilk that just sits and gets sad in my fridge. Better yet, I’ll have to come up with some other delicious uses for it. When I get it right, I’ll let y’all know. Until then, this was a pretty dang good gluten-free stand-in.

It wasn’t as good as Nancy’s, of course, but I like to think she would have been proud of my attempt. I wish that I could bring her some and have her laugh and show me how to do it right. I wish that I could tell her I got into medical school. I wish most of all that I could thank her for the part she played in making me a strong woman.

When I doubt myself, I remember how fearless Nancy was. I remember that she had faith in me. I can only hope that one day my children have a role model like our Nancy and I hope that somewhere, somehow, she knows. I love you, Nancy, thank you.

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