GAS STATION CORNBREAD
For the past three or four years, I’ve been on a pretty intense health regime not only to keep my second boob fat at bay (some ladies have a muffin top, I have second boob fat. Look it up, it’s a medical phenomenon I’m sure) but mainly because I’ve realized dairy, gluten and sugar make me a mean, hormonal sassy bitch who wants to throw heavy objects. Therefore, what I eat in a day usually consists of kale, onions, peppers, black beans, egg whites, walnuts, salmon (wild caught of course) and tree bark. But, there are a few things that I will beast on guilt free. I don’t even call them cheat days. I hate that term. What am I cheating on? A test? My boyfriend? My fucked up crazy diet? Why should we feel guilty about what we eat? If your body is like mine, which it probably isn’t, it will make you pay for those crap-ass foods later anyways. So, enjoy them full throttle in the moment. The things I enjoy full throttle (yes, let’s make “full throttle” a thing) are delicacies from my motherland of the Dirty South including but not limited to cobbler, doberge cake and cornbread. More about cobbler and doberge cake in a later blog. Aren’t y’all lucky? Brownie points to those of you who can pronounce doberge correctly. And, not cake brownie points but fudgy brownie points cause fudgy brownie wins the consistency war any day.
I know y’all are dying to read about my odes to cobbler and doberge cake.
But, today we are talking about cornbread. In south Louisiana, once you are of age to eat baby food, you are eating red beans (and rice) and always on Mondays. Rather than take time to explain that to my Yankee pals, why don’t I plug my other blog here. And, nothing goes better with red beans and rice (or barbeque, for that matter) so they say, than cornbread. But, see, I think there are two kinds of people. Those who like to eat cornbread with something and those who celebrate cornbread on its own as the golden superstar that it really is.
My momma and dad, now divorced, may have disagreed on a lot of stuff, clearly, but they always agreed that cornbread is a delicacy that should be enjoyed solo. So, for the Hoover’s of 19526 Creekround Avenue (don’t Google map the house now. It looks sad and unkempt. I mean who plants a sago palm in the yard of an Acadian style home? It just doesn’t GO!), cornbread was served up as breakfast, dessert or any damn time we pleased.
We never NEVER let it play second fiddle to red beans and rice (on a Monday or a Fat Tuesday or any other damn day) and we especially never let it play second fiddle to BBQ. (I DO love my BBQ. But, honestly growing up, we at BBQ with Texas toast like normal people. NOT with cornbread. Cornbread with BBQ is something I’ve been noticing more and more up here in Yankee land.)
In a healthy fat nutshell, growing up, cornbread was king and queen and court jester to me. It was a treat. It was like yellow cake with chocolate icing (another one of my part time lovers) except that it was just yellow corncake without chocolate icing.
Let’s talk recipe. If you search the internets, you’re going to find a plethora of cornbread and cornbread variations but in my humble southern Cajun now living in in New York (okay, you got me, New Jersey) who avoids carbs like the plague (most of the time) opinion there is nothing that compares to this recipe:
Get a box of JIF Cornbread
Bake it as the recipe says
Add a packet or two of your favorite sweetener. Of course I’m a stevia girl but back in the day all we had was Sweet N Low so I’m putting white light on myself right now just thinking about all the potentially toxic shit that that pink stuff contains
Go crazy and add REGULAR sugar if you shall
Bake that shit.
In a cast iron skillet, of course
Take it out when it looks 88% done. If you cook it to perfection or burn it, you’re done. NO GOOD.
Grab a big ass thing of butter and put it on top.
Y’all, I have tried making several cornbread from scratch in a variety of variations including Bobby Flay’s jalapeno cornbread and nothing compares to this $1 a box “hack”. HACK” isn’t the right word. Pure genius is. And, I should let y’all know because if I don’t, my momma and my dad will, there used to be a time when you could buy the JIF cornbread mix for 10 cents a box or 10 for a dollar.
I think what makes this Hooverized JIF just so fabulous is that it’s more like a cake, slightly sweet and moist as a mofo. Yeah, I just said moist.
Let’s talk now about how I do not like cornbread. If you read my red bean Mondays blog, you’ll learn I don’t like the cornbread from the cafeteria of Episcopal High School of Baton Rouge, Louisiana because it just tastes like ugly beach sand, sadness and money embezzlement. All high school bitterness aside, there are MANY cornbreads that have a very grainy, almost sandy consistency. I don’t know what it is that makes for this consistency. I’m not a chef or a Mensa person. Maybe it is because they are made with lard or just the simple fact that they’re not from the JIF box that throws me off. Cornbread of this kind is almost as satisfying as dollar store brand body wash.
To me, brownies should be fudgy, pecan should be pronounced PUH CAWN and cornbread should be cake-like and moist not crumbly and oily. THAT is what it is. The other cornbread variations are almost as if oil and bits of sand had a baby who they didn’t want to hug. And gave the baby no flavor. And just continued to rub him in store brand baby oil all day. Or, it’s like a fried polenta cake. Which are great when they are fried polenta cakes but NOT when it is cornbread masquerading as a fried polenta cake. And, besides, I prefer grits anyways because I’m supposed to. (Polenta, I prefer you actually. Don’t tell Grits.)
Now, I shall tell y’all a tale about a very deep cornbread craving I had whilst driving through Hudson County, New Jersey recently. That is, if you care to go on the journey with me.
I’m driving along River Road in Edgewater, New Jersey, a lovely town comprised of mainly condos with all the tax-free corporate America shopping and Canada geese a girl could ask for. As I drive past Mitsuwa Marketplace, I start having this HUGE hankering for cornbread. Luckily, I’m not far from Whole Foods which, side bar, the one in Morristown and Vauxhall can THROW down some great barbeque (the one in Edgewater needs to step up to the plate, but I’m talking extreme first world problems here). I also know that Whole Foods sells lovely fresh made bricks of cornbread wrapped up in their non eco-friendly Saran Wrap goodness. So, problem solved. Craving fed. Or, so I thought.
I go to the bakery and I plough through it like a hippie in a health food store. Well, a hippie on a mission. I know sometimes people think hippies are aimless so that’s why I felt I had to throw that in there but see, my goal in life is to be more like a hippie. I’m halfway there by not shaving my legs since August. I digress.
I see some packaged small cornbread loaves on a petit table among other pre-packaged baked goods ready to sell. But, do I really want a half dozen baby cornbreads? No. Will the consistency be the same as their golden bricks of cornbread? Doubtful. I want ONE piece of it with the PERFECT consistency. Maybe two pieces TOPS to bring one home to my momma.
Then, I see some cornbread muffin tops on the other side of the table. They sell those like twelve to a container. NO. I do NOT need that many. AND I doubt that they’re as fresh as the yellow bricks in Saran Wrap that I am now dead set on getting. I pace up by the Allegro coffee area. I pace by the mochi fridge. I pace by the Kombuchas and look to see if they’re on sale. I can NOT find the damn cornbread bricks I am searching for.
I look by the soup. That’s usually where they keep them, I think. NOTHING. I see an employee on the bakery floor (I mean, not literally ON the floor but I think that is a retail term, “floor” meaning she is in that general vicinity. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!) She is tidying up a bit. I say to her, “Excuse me, I LOVE your cornbread. Can you please tell me where it is?” I think compliments and politeness will help me find what I am looking for and because I was raised right. She helps me look around. She doesn’t know where it is either. She doesn’t understand my love of cornbread so I try to explain how important it is to me. “I’m from the South. And, y’all are the only place I know of up here where I can get something close to it.” I explain to her that my oven has broken and I’m waiting on the new one that I got 40% off so I can’t just go home and make the bread o’ corn myself. I tell her I’m sure they have some lovely non-GMO cornbread baking kits but that there’s nothing like JIF. I’m not winning her over.
She points to the pre-packaged muffin tops and the pre-packaged little breads. I take a deep, conscious breath because I really want to scream. I tell her that those won’t work. I apologize. And, I then feel the need to explain why those packaged cornbreads won’t work. She nods. I start to feel guilty because I am becoming my worst nightmare: I’m that middle aged white woman in Whole Foods getting incredibly specific about over-priced food. I try to make up for it by telling her how cheap the JIF packets are and how that would normally be my MO because that is really how low key I am when I’m not a ravenous cornbread craving beast. I’m still not winning her over.
She brings me over to the bakery counter itself where all the magic happens. (I mean have you SEEN their tarts and cakes at Whole Foods?) She’s done with me. I talk to the lady at the bakery counter. I explain my situation. She tells me where the cornbread usually “lives”. Right by the soup. Where I already looked. To placate her (and myself…and because I was raised right) I go look over again where I have, at this point, already looked about five times. I come back to the bakery and I meekly and apologetically tell her that it’s not there. She says they must be sold out. I ask her if they happen to have any little pieces in the back. Or, even, at this point, crumbs or the crusty burnt part from the sides. She apologizes and tells me it is her first day. She wants me to stop annoying her, I’m sure. I tell her, “best of luck on your first day. I love this store. I love your cornbread.” Meanwhile, I just want to sit on the bakery floor (the actual floor, not the area) and throw a tantrum like the two year old with the Melissa and Doug rattle in aisle three.
I head to the checkout while stopping by the hot food buffet to grab some chana masala (Indian chick peas that I love so much I would marry them if I wasn’t already in love with an Indian man who I love so much I would marry if he would ever freaking propose). I also grab a Kombucha which isn’t on sale. After this ordeal, I need to treat myself. At the check out, I make sure to whip out my Whole Foods Amazon Prime app just for peace of mind of maybe getting a measly 10% off on food that is way too overpriced. Whole Paycheck, am I right?
I look across the checkout and see a couple checking out, too. I see something yellow and magical in the lady’s hand. It is a brick of golden cornbread wrapped in Saran Wrap. (Saran Wrap, y’all want to sponsor a girl? I am giving y’all SO many plugs here.) I ask the cashier, “Please can you hold on one second?” (Don’t worry. There is no one in line behind me. I PROMISE I do NOT want to be that chick at Whole Foods.) I run over to the couple and I say, “Excuse me. I LOVE the cornbread here. Could you please tell me where you found it?” They tell me over by the soup. The cashier agrees with them and suggests I go grab some quickly. I nod, fixing to go over yet again to check by the soup for the eleventh time. But, then the couple tells me what I already know…
They got the last piece of cornbread.
I have two gut instincts, if that is at all possible. First, I want to ask them if they’ll upsell it to me. Secondly, I want to ask them how the hell long they were shopping because I was in that baked goods area for a good thirty eight minutes and I would’ve noticed them. Instead of going with my gut, I tell them thank you and then I feel the need to add, “I’m from the South with a capital S. I love my cornbread. You two crazy cats enjoy!” I apologize to the cashier. She informs me that they have the pre-packaged muffin tops and breads in bulk. I explain to her why that won’t work for me. She smiles and nods in first world privilege agreement.
I leave Whole Foods with my Indian food, Kombucha and a bunch of farts waiting to happen. I head south on River Road to go home. Not to be confused with “back home” as in south Louisiana. I am hoping I can find some cornbread on my way. I pull up at the Exxon On the Run which has a little food mart inside. I run in, already decided that I’m going to just settle on pre-wrapped, packaged, processed, probably two day old (who am I kidding? 2 week old) gas station cornbread. I rummage through the plastic trapped baked good and see a piece of cornbread wrapped up. The wrapper warns “this product may contain genetically altered ingredients.” It is like the antithesis of the green NON GMO label plastered all over Whole Foods products.
I mean I know if I’m buying food at a gas station, I’m going to be consuming genetically modified organisms and toxic chemicals. I just don’t want the package to remind me of said sacrilege. I appreciate the manufacturer’s transparency but like that friend who’s a little too honest (which is usually me) I just CAN’T right now. I JUST CAN’T. I have to fulfill this cornbread craving of mine but I don’t want it to mean I have to ingest food that comes with a damn warning label.
I put my thinking cap on which is hard to do when you have an intense food craving (and for me actually extremely difficult after I eat carbs. Which is the main reason I avoid them. This Bitch has lines to memorize, rescue dogs to entertain and things to think about, okay?) So, I call up my Momma with a capital M in my fit of cornbread craving craziness. I ask her if the little bodega near her has cornbread that may or may not have GMO’s in it but doesn’t have a label warning us of those GMO’s.
Momma says, “What are you talking about, baby? GMO’S? What the hell is that? You ate Sweet n Low in the 80’s and are still alive today. And, no, they don’t have cornbread. But, the guy who works there must know I’m a Momma because he always calls me Mami.” Oh, Momma.
I realize I’m going to be passing by ACME supermarket and I remember that Mr. Tim who runs the deli and bakery department there is from Alabama. So, he knows how to turn out some good food. I call up ACME (not to be confused with that of the Looney Tunes), get the deli department after holding for ten minutes (and almost being bombed by a Roadrunner) Actually, by the time a live person picks up at the grocery store deli, I’m just like two minutes away. I realize I could have just run inside. But, I’m just too busy and I’m on a mission to get this damn cornbread like a helicopter mom looking for a Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday in 1996.
I scream into my phone, which is lodged in my bra strap and on speaker, “Hey! I have a crazy question. But, do y’all make cornbread in house and sell it by the slice or brick or whatever I should be calling it?” Deli employee says yes they do. I say, “Yay! Do you have any left?” No. Of course they don’t. I’m getting frustrated but also I’m proud and honored at the same time. These Yankee folk like cornbread so much the grocery store bakeries are selling out of it!
Just when I’m thinking to myself, “Screw it. I’m just going to go home,” Momma calls me and says, “Baby, why don’t you just go to Sunoco? They have great baked goods there.” I’m like, “Momma. Sunoco. Good baked goods? You sure? I really don’t want gas station cornbread.” Momma says, “Yes, Baby. That’s where I get my black and white cookies and my whoopee pies.” I roll my eyes and sigh. I have told Momma many tales about how she should avoid gluten and sugar especially since she has asthma. “Brooke Anne, don’t even start your judgin’. You are NOT a damn medical professional.” Momma knows how I am.
So, I pull up at Sunoco, which is like our version of Cheers. Momma has always loved gas station convenience stores and since 1980 something has always established one as her local home base and makes friends with all the employees. Going there every morning is her ritual. They all know our names at Sunoco because Momma goes there for her Diet Cokes and clearly now her black and white cookies and whoopee pies.
So, I go into Sunoco and tell our pal Danny hi. He asks how my Momma is doing. I say, “Danny, I’ve been running around like a Southern girl in Hudson county with my head cut off looking for some cornbread and Momma told me y’all have some good cornbread.”
He looks shocked. Maybe there is a look of warning on his face, even. I disregard it. Danny asks me why don’t I just go home and make some from scratch. He says that since I’m from the South, he knows I can make some good cornbread. I tell him about the Hooverized JIF secret. He seems intrigued but also slightly hurt that I would ever think of making cornbread from a box kit, kind of like a kid learning that Santa actually only exists in our hearts.
Danny points to the baked goods area. I march over and notice the logo is a yellow, white and green daisy, which appropriately says Daisy’s Bakery. It doesn’t tell me that it may contain GMO’s. It looks as appealing as any gas station cornbread is going to get. Instead of being golden, it is more yellow as in yellow dye #26, red dye #40’s cousin. I buy it and thank Danny. And, I promise him when I get my new oven up and running that I will bring him some semi-homemade Hooverized JIF cornbread.
Finally, three hours from when I first set out, I get home. I tell the rescue fluffs, Annie and Archer, that I love them but that I just need a moment to myself with my cornbread. (This is one reason why I don’t have kids. Dogs understand things of this nature. Kids want to breastfeed till they’re twelve and then they hate you for six years.) I put the gas station cornbread on the table and get out this little purple plate because, shit, now I need to take a picture of the cornbread and make it Instagram worthy.
I open up the Daisy’s package and some of the cornbread bits stick to the top of the plastic wrapper. Okay. That means it’s moist not dry. Which is good. Oh, yeah. Okay. Let’s get over the fact that I just said “it’s moist not dry.” I wipe a little of the crumbs stuck to the plastic off with my finger. I debate licking my finger. Who’s going to judge me? I look down at Annie and Archer and they are smiling up at me like I’m the best thing since sliced cornbread.
Then I debate some more because should the first taste of the cornbread come from a finger lick or from an actual bite? Screw it. I lick my finger. The moist cornbread crumbs taste like tears of joy (and pain) and a plastic Barbie doll (don’t ask). But, I worked so hard for this cornbread. And, I don’t like to waste food. And, Annie and Archer are Paleo so I can’t give it to them. I sit down and bite into the cornbread. The bread itself tastes a little bit better than tears and Barbies. It tastes like sadness and Entemann’s cake (which, I’m sorry to those of you who love Entenmann’s. I just think packaged cakes should be used as door steps. Says the girl who’s fixing to eat packaged cake from a gas station). But, hey it’s still good enough for me.
It’s the PERFECT texture though. A great “crumb” as they always say on shows like Holiday Baking Challenge. GMO’s y’all could even win over the ever so cold Chef Lorraine Pascale!
I enjoy it as much as anyone can enjoy eating gas station cornbread.
However, several hours later, I start to have this weird headache. I worry it may be an aneurysm because my dad had one and says it is the worst headache in the world. This isn’t the worst headache in the world. I’m tough. I’m part Cajun. I can handle it. Then, I start getting stomach pains. I become nauseous and woozy for the next seven hours. I feel as if I am being punished by the Gods of the Southern Wild and all the Grannies, Nanas, Ma Maws, Maw Maws, Mee Maws and my African grey parrot Wofat up in heaven are royally pissed at me.
I start cursing the gas station cornbread. I fear that it has given my food poisoning much like the Wal-Mart celery a few weeks ago. (Don’t ask.)
Then, like a demon leaving my body, the headache and nausea leave as seamlessly as they came on.
I curse the cornbread some more for good measure. Then, I apologize to God for cursing so much for fear that I’ll be punished and get sick again. Then, I remember, aside from the cornbread I also had that chana masala and Kombucha from Whole Foods. But, there’s no way spicy Indian food and a drink high in probiotics could be the culprit of my stomach woes.
I think the moral of the story is if you see muffin tops at Whole Foods, just buy them. Don’t worry about having to buy a pack of a dozen muffin tops contributing to your second boob fat or your own muffin top. Just freeze the ones that you don’t eat. Sometimes you have to go with the second best option because otherwise, you’ll be eating gas station cornbread.