anatomy lessons, a sinkhole, and shrimp and sausage with creamy grits

I’m coming down from a three-day weekend high today. The last couple of weeks have been short work-weeks, due to the holiday a week ago and a teacher workday last Friday. It’s rare for me to take a full day off to spend with the kids on teacher workdays – I’m usually buried several projects deep, and it’s hard to justify not working those days. Last week was different, though. I’m ahead of schedule on several deadlines I’ve set for myself. A couple of projects are moving forward, carried by their own momentum, and I’ve wrapped up a couple of other writing assignments. So, I treated myself – and my kids – to a Mommy Stay Home Day on Friday.

After a lazy morning at home, we had lunch at one of my latest favorite restaurants. Blue Gill is close to my work, and in keeping with my dogma of maintaining a separate work and home life, both mentally and physically, I’ve usually avoided the place on my days off. On Friday, though, my craving for their cucumber and tomato salad with pickled red onions was too powerful to resist.

Surrounded by doctors in light blue scrubs and hospital administrators in dark suits, the kids and I snacked on fried green tomatoes, and they insisted I share the cornbread that accompanied my salad. We discussed our upcoming trip to the circus – an event neither of them seemed terribly excited about, so mostly I spent the time talking up the lions! and clowns! and other fun stuff! – and since Oliver’s fried chicken dish came with a crispy wing and thigh, we reviewed chicken anatomy.

Have I mentioned how much I love talking anatomy with my kids? They love learning names of body parts, whether it’s on a chicken or on themselves. Madeline used the word “wiener” this weekend after noticing a special little part on a male squirrel we happened to see in a photo. I was shocked at the use of slang and promptly corrected her.

The children’s teachers are going to just love me, I just know it.

We finished the day with a nature walk at a local state park. Devil’s Millhopper, described on the Florida State Park’s website as a “bowl shaped cavity 120 feet deep,” is really just a big sinkhole. My parents used to take us there when my brother and I were kids, especially when we had out of town guests. My guess is that, to keep the out-of-towners from getting bored with the flat, monotonous landscape that is north Florida, my parents drove guests around to the handful of unusual places this part of the country is known for. Like sinkholes.

The kids and I trekked down the wooden stairs into the bottom of the Devil’s Millhopper, stopping to look at old limestone rock formations and pretty red leaves and tiny waterfalls along the way. On the way down, that sinkhole only seemed a fraction of the size I recalled it being from my childhood. I was puzzled as to how it could have seemed so huge back then. And then I started climbing up, the kids quickly leaving me behind as they raced to the top. They laughed and yelled down for me to hurry up. I trudged up those wooden stairs, trying to catch my breath, hiding the pain of my burning lungs with a pained smile on my face when I passed other visitors headed downward.

So, okay. It’s a big sinkhole.

The upcoming weeks are going to be a bit more hectic than these last ones have been. I’m headed out of town for the next two weekends, and the work weeks are full, with no holidays left for some time. When life gets crazy, it’s time for comfort food, and the first dish that comes to my mind (besides take-out Chinese, of course) is shrimp and grits.

I’ve been on an eternal quest to find the best recipe for shrimp and grits, and while my mission is still ongoing, I’ve finally got a recipe that comes closest to what I seek.  This other version of shrimp and grits was good, but right now, this is the recipe that I’m going to stick with.

I like my shrimp and grits to have a sauce with some kick to it, plenty of sauce, enough that I can mix it in with the grits or mop it up with some crusty bread after all the shrimp have been devoured. This recipe has the perfect amount of sauce, and the addition of crumbled sausage adds some depth to the flavor. A dash or two of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon gives the piquant dish just what it needs to send you and your guests back for seconds.

Shrimp and Sausage with Creamy Grits

I use sausage for additional flavoring in this recipe. To make it more healthful, replace the pork sausage with chicken sausage. The heat in the recipe can be increased by upping the amount of hot sauce to your liking. Also, if you're pushed for time and still want to enjoy shrimp and grits, just use quick-cooking grits (follow the instructions on the package) in place of the stone ground grits.


For Grits:
2 cups water
2 cups whole milk
1 cup white stone ground grits
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For Shrimp:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled & deveined
8 ounces mild Italian sausage, casings removed & chopped or crumbled into pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice, drained & juice reserved
1/2 teaspoon (or more) hot sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sliced green onions (optional)


For Grits:
1. Bring water and milk to a simmer in a 2-3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. In a large bowl, cover grits with water and whisk vigorously. Let stand for 30 seconds, then skim off any bits that have floated to the top with a fine mesh strainer or a spoon. Drain grits well in a fine-meshed strainer and whisk into simmering milk.

2. Reduce heat to low and simmer grits, partially covered, stirring often until grits are tender and thickened (they should be like loose oatmeal) - approximately 45-50 minutes. If the grits become too thick before they are tender & creamy, thin with hot water (1/4 to 1/2 cup).

3. When grits are creamy and tender, stir in cream, butter, and salt. Remove from heat and keep warm, covered, up to 20 minutes.

For Shrimp:
1. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for one minute, until garlic is fragrant. Add shrimp and sauté 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove shrimp to a large bowl.

2. Add sausage to skillet and sauté until sausage is cooked through, approximately 5 minutes. Add white wine to skillet, scrape up any browned bits, and boil until wine has reduced some, about 5 minutes. Add drained diced tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the cooked shrimp and simmer until shrimp are warmed through. Thin sauce with the reserved tomato juice if desired. Add hot sauce, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

Spoon grits into shallow bowls and top each with the shrimp and sausage mixture. Garnish with sliced green onions and serve.

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17 Responses to “she took her name off the list”

  1. Gail — December 18, 2014 @ 6:00 pm


    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — December 18th, 2014 @ 6:36 pm

      xoxo right back to you, Gail.

  2. MJ – I am so sorry to hear about this but glad your mum is on the road to recovery. She’s so lucky to have a daughter like you (and I bet she loves being known as the Doctor’s mum!) XOX

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — December 18th, 2014 @ 6:36 pm

      Thank you so much, Mardi. xo

  3. Cheryl — December 18, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

    Too often the diagnosis is broken heart. But they can mend and she is showing that. You are a daughter she can be proud of too.

  4. Janis — December 18, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

    I believe that your mom is wonderful. Look at who she raised ;–)

  5. Paula Kelly-Bourque — December 18, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

    I have read so many of your posts about you, your father, your family with such a lump in my throat that it was hard to swallow. This one just plain made me tear up. My heart goes out to your Mother, truly it does and I shall remember her and your family in my prayers. God bless all of you.

  6. Liren — December 19, 2014 @ 1:41 am

    Mothers always think of themselves last, why is it so? MJ, this post touched the deepest part of my heart, and I’m glad she has you there as she remembers herself and how important she is. Sending love to you as you stay strong for your family, too.

  7. Leigh — December 19, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    Beautifully written. I’m sending so much love to you both. xo

  8. Flavia — December 19, 2014 @ 11:47 am

    Thank you for sharing such a beautifully written post, MJ. You are blessed to have a mother like yours; not everyone is so fortunate. I can relate to your mom in some ways after being a caregiver for my great-aunt at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. Unlike your mom who dedicated years to caregiving, I only took on the responsibility for five months, but I know what it was like to take myself completely “off the list”, and I know the feelings of sadness and grief that settle into your heart when caregiving responsibilities were over. There is so much that stays with you and so much to “process”. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was often frustrating and heartbreaking. But it was also a blessing and a privilege.

    My prayers are with your mom for a full recovery and a journey back to putting herself not just back on the list, but right at the top. Merry Christmas my friend. So happy to know you. xo

  9. Sharon — December 19, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

    This made me cry. I so empathize. I hope she takes time to have fun. I have been going through poor health,knee replacement and anxiety wasn’t able to eat for a month I was so shaky and anxious. I hope your Mom feels better soon. I finally started to eat and making energy drinks. I just blend peanut butter, milk, ice, half banana and little chocolate syrup. Seemed to help…at least mentally 🙂

  10. Alicia K. — December 19, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing your mom’s story. I’m guessing many of us can relate and empathize in some way. I’ve printed your recipe and shall rename it Mrs. George’s Daughter’s Butter Cookies to remind me whenever I look at it of this story about your strong and beautiful mom who put herself back on the list. I cheer for her!

  11. Cherie — December 19, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

    This touched me so – I’m so glad your mother has put herself back on the list 🙂

    I am going through a divorce, and things for so long have been about taking care of everyone else and keeping all the balls in the air. As things progress I am realizing that for a long time I’ve taken myself off the list. I am trying very hard to find a way back to myself, to get myself on the list, to put my oxygen mask on so I can help those around me do the same.

    My prayers for your mother’s mental and physical health – and for you as you find a new balance caring for her and supporting HER as she cares for your brother.

  12. Vanessa @frenchfoodiemom — December 20, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

    MJ, thank you for gifting us your mother’s beautiful story. Such a lovely tribute and an important reminder to all of us in the middle place, busy taking care of both children and parents, to not forget our own needs. I hope your mom returns to her dominoes and books soon. She is lucky to have your love and support.

    Your cookie recipe will be our first baked item in our new stove later today.

  13. Katie Fiore — December 20, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

    Such a touching and moving story. You’ve put it into words beautifully as well.

  14. Colleen — December 22, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    Condolences on the loss of your father. What a beautiful tribute to your mother. I have tears on so many levels. But hope, too. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Mallory @forkvsspoon — December 29, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

    So touching – you have a story telling gift, especially with stories that are hard to write but they are often the ones that hit a chord with so many. Thanks for sharing and much love to you and your mom!

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