on the path of healing: manchego cheese grits

One week ago, I wrote about my father’s hospitalization. In the days since, the outpouring of well-wishes and prayers for my dad — and for me and my mom — has been overwhelming. I may not have responded to each and every comment or message, but please know that I read them all at least once, and often more than a few times. Each message meant so much to me.

Thank you all so very much for being there for us.

My dad’s surgery on Monday went well. While my mom and I waited patiently – and sometimes not so patiently – a team of neurosurgeons removed a benign tumor from my dad’s brain. The tumor had bled, causing acute swelling of that area, which led to all of his symptoms and inability to walk without falling over. After spending three nights in the intensive care unit and another two nights on the regular neurosurgical floor, he was discharged to a rehabilitation hospital yesterday. Because the cranial nerve controlling balance on the left was destroyed, he will undergo intensive physical therapy to learn to be able to walk by himself, without falling. He is definitely on the path of healing.

I’ve spent a lot of time sitting by my dad’s hospital bed this past week. Much of that time he dozes on and off, occasionally rousing to ask a question about my kids or about my husband. Or about college sports. Or to complain about the hospital food. Even though I’m not physically doing much to care for him — the very patient and kind hospital staff are doing all the heavy work — I go to bed each night completely wiped out. My brain and body have hit their limit this week.

Stress makes me crave my kitchen, and comfort food is what I want to make under those conditions. For some reason, maybe because I live in the south or maybe because I’ve seen two recent blog posts that had me inspired (this one by Kelly and this one by Tami), I wanted to make grits. I wanted to eat grits.

Today my desire for grits was fulfilled. I generally use whatever brand of stone ground grits I can find in my specialty grocery. Nine times out of ten, it’s Charleston Favorites. I always rinse the grits first, pouring off any sediment that rises to the top. Some combination of milk and water – and of course, butter – makes these grits creamy and smooth.

I am not a fan of cheese grits, but I think it’s because most cheese grits are made with cheddar cheese. I’m not particularly fond of cheddar, or any yellow cheese for that matter. I added just a touch of finely grated Manchego cheese to this dish, and it gave it a nice subtle flavor that upped the power of these grits.

For lunch today, I topped the Manchego cheese grits with a sauté of chicken sausage and cherry tomatoes. I may or may not have had two servings. My cat, Mitzi, licked the dish when I was done. She highly approves of these grits.

I feel better already.

Yield: 8 side dish servings

Manchego Cheese Grits

I always rinse stone-ground grits to remove any sediment. To rinse them, put the grits into a bowl and cover with water. Any loose sediment will rise to the top. Pour off as much of the water (with sediment) as possible, and you're done. These grits are good at any time of the day - for breakfast, lunch or dinner.


2 cups water
1 cup milk (at least 2%)
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning to taste
1 cup white stone-ground grits, rinsed
2 ounces Manchego cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper


In a heavy bottom saucepan, bring water, milk, and half-and-half to a boil over medium-high heat. Slowly whisk in the rinsed grits. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Turn heat down to medium-low and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Simmer, stirring often, until grits have reached the desired thickness, 20-30 minutes. Add the Manchego cheese and stir well until the cheese has been fully incorporated. Turn off heat and stir in butter. Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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21 Responses to “a spirit-lifting banana bread”

  1. Elizabeth — October 12, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about your husband, and hope he’s on the mend soon. A sudden, dramatic change like that can affect so many things in the workings of a family, and it’s no wonder it had you feeling so off. This banana bread, looks completely amazing. It clearly has some serious powers, and I can’t wait to harness them in my own kitchen.

  2. Frances — October 12, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

    That banana bread looks wonderful. Wish I could smell it!

    So sorry to hear about your husband’s injury. For your peace of mind re the epidural injection he received, the CDC has information by state of the facilities that received the lots of Methylprednisolone Acetate (PF) recalled from New England Compounding Center on September 26, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/hai/outbreaks/meningitis-facilities-map.html

    Wishing him the best,

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — October 13th, 2012 @ 8:17 am

      Thank you, Frances! Luckily, the facility that he went to was not on that list. We’re very, very thankful.

  3. Sheri — October 13, 2012 @ 1:28 am

    Baking is a great comfort – I feel so bad for Sam! Back injuries are frustrating and painful! I tore a disc four years ago. Two years of Pilates and physical therapy and three epidurals, I still have to be very careful with my back. I hope he feels better soon.

  4. Km — October 13, 2012 @ 2:33 am

    Love banana bread! You should trythe one from Cooking Light sometime. I think it is coconut banana bread with lime glaze or something of that nature. Dark rum in the glaze and bread…it never lasts long around here and my kids gobble it up!!

  5. Km — October 13, 2012 @ 2:36 am

    Oh, and tell Sam I was in his shoes over last Christmas. I feel his pain and agree it sucks to be in pain but even more to have limitations we aren’t used to! All I can say is Cortisone rocks!! I go in for another shot at the end of the month.

  6. cathy @ Noble Pig — October 13, 2012 @ 10:48 am

    Nothing like a loaf to pick you right up! Yummy!

  7. Chloe — October 13, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

    My husband had back surgery 3 years ago -it was the only answer, he had broken disc pieces which pinched a nerve causing excruciating pain. His immediate problem was solved by the surgery but the circumstances surrounding such an event are ongoing. In his case it was age related. He’s in his late 60’s. It does change your outlook. I feel very sympathetic to your husband and truly hope that he will become pain- free with proper treatment. Baking is a wonderful solace. I’m glad you have that as it will probably help your whole family. And I want to try your banana bread. I love sour cream!

  8. Kathryn — October 14, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    I’m so sorry that the two of you have had to miss so many things that you were looking forward to; life has a way of throwing us these curveballs doesn’t it?

    I hope he will soon be on the mend and, in the meantime, you can find some peace in the kitchen.

  9. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen — October 14, 2012 @ 11:00 pm

    I am so sorry to hear about these tough times your little family is going through.. Wishing your husband a speedy recovery. Wonderful banana bread comfort here!!

  10. Deb — October 15, 2012 @ 11:51 am

    When I am restless, sad or filled with anxiety I find that when I busy my hands creating (just the act of getting started) my mind usually follows and the pattern is broken. I suppose that is why baking is commonly mentioned as therapy. And your Banana Bread certainly is a delicious way to ease into a place of comfort!

  11. girlnapurpledress@gmail.com — October 15, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

    I simply adore banana cake and must say due to the milk, egg, wheat & soy free type baking that I try to do, I have never tried banana cake with sour cream.. mmm, sounds delicious

  12. Katie (The Muffin Myth) — October 15, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

    Back injuries are the worst! I’ve had my fair share of back problems over the years, and my mom has now had three reconstructive surgeries on her spine. I know what you mean about how frustrating it is to watch someone in pain and missing out on things they love.

    Glad this banana bread lifted your spirits! It looks great, I especially like that it doesn’t have too much fat or sugar in it, compared to many banana bread recipes. I’ve bookmarked it to give it a try.

  13. Sheila — October 15, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

    So sorry to hear about your husband. I wish him a speedy recovery. I can relate to how you feel my son had back surgery in February. They put in a prodisc to replace his bad disc
    The banana bread looks wonderful

  14. Sue Riedl — October 16, 2012 @ 11:37 am

    Thanks for such a heartfelt and candid post. I am going to make your banana bread right now (RIGHT NOW), but the post itself was as inspiring as the recipe. You guys are certainly going through some rough times, I wish you all the best and hope the road back to health is smooth and paved with wonderful cooking.

  15. autumn — October 17, 2012 @ 6:25 am

    A perfect loaf of banana bread is an important thing! For both culinary and spiritual reasons. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  16. Gwen @SimplyHealthyFamily — October 22, 2012 @ 10:04 pm

    I’m sorry to hear that I know it’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love suffer.
    If he does have to have surgery I can tell you that it helps quite a bit with the pain (I assist in those surgeries all the time).
    Banana bread is one of my all time fav things, nuts and all 😉

  17. Kellie G — November 10, 2012 @ 10:13 pm

    Sorry to hear about your husband! Hope he’s doing better now. I have the bread baking in the oven now, though I “veganized” the recipe. Can’t wait til it’s done. The batter alone smells amazing! 🙂

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