True Grit(s)

Our friend Susie had true grit. She was feisty, headstrong, determined and firm; she had moxie. She was simultaneously gracious, elegant, funny, generous, thoughtful and caring. She was beautiful inside and out. A mutual friend said, "She lit up a room when she entered." It was true.

She died in late May, just about two months prior to her 90th birthday. A couple of days before she passed, invitations for her 90th birthday fête arrived in the mail, and we made reservations immediately to attend the soirée in Austin, Texas.

Even though the party never happened, Mark and I, along with our friend Barbara, decided to go to Austin anyway to have our own celebration of her life. We had never been to Austin and had heard good things about it. Although it was a bittersweet trip, we had a nice visit... and we had an opportunity to say goodbye and and raise a glass to her (almost) 90 fabulous years.

Barbara found a great deal on rooms at the Mansion at Judges' Hill, a beautiful boutique hotel about 19 blocks up the from Austin's bustling downtown. We were early for our arrival time, yet were greeted with open arms ... open arms that also held warm, freshly-baked cookies.

The room was large and very nicely furnished. At first glance I could tell the sheets were of excellent quality and, while I don't like millions of useless decorative pillows on a bed (where are you supposed to put them?), this bed’s multiples were real bed pillows of different densities and thicknesses, so that even Goldilocks could find one that worked. The other thing I loved about our room was its whisper-quiet central air conditioning, not one of those horrifically noisy in-room machines.

After checking in, we made reservations to eat at the hotel restaurant that evening. In the meantime, we had several hours to enjoy Austin. We started at the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of UT Austin. The museum has a really nice study collection running the gamut from antiquities through contemporary art, with a few very nice installation pieces and a temporary exhibition on paintings of the Southwest.

Following our museum visit, we caught up with UA Honors College alumna Kate Payne, author of the book The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking and blog of the same name. We met her and her photographer partner, Jo Ann Santangelo, at the Dog and Duck - a well-known Irish-style pub, for a couple of beers. I am very excited for Kate as she has just signed a contract for her second Hip Girls book, this time on being hip in the kitchen. Also, anyone in Arizona - especially Phoenicians - should keep an eye out for Jo Ann's photo exhibit at ASU this fall.

When, you must be wondering, is this going to get to food? ... Right now! Dinner at Judges' Hill.

We started with cocktails - white cosmopolitans: a combination of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, vodka, lime and white cranberry juice. Nice, but a bit too sweet due to the St. Germain. An extra squeeze of lime did the trick. We simultaneously ordered a bottle of Fess Parker Chardonnay to go with dinner. Susie would have approved; we think she might have met Fess Parker, among the many movie stars and public figures she’d met in her colorful life.

While sipping our cosmos, we perused the menu. All three of us, at once, saw the dish that would be our meal. In honor of Susie, we would have the shrimp and grits. What better way to honor a woman who taught us so much about having true grit? She showed us how to live our lives as happily as possible, how not to let every ache and pain get in the way of having fun, and how to laugh and see the humor in every situation. These are lessons we will remember always...

Goodbye, dear Susie. John Wayne had nothing on you in the grit(s) department.

~ David

Shrimp and Grits for Susie

The grits at Judge's Hill were creamy and cheesy. Unlike most versions of shrimp and grits, the shrimp were not in a gravy, but grilled. They were paired with roasted poblanos then wrapped in what was said to be pancetta but, in reality, was smoked American bacon. Don't get me wrong - that isn't a complaint! The smokiness of the bacon with the spicy poblano, sweet shrimp and cheesy grits was amazing. Today, I have wrapped them in prosciutto to try something different. We also opted for some vermouth-sautéed peas over the wilted spinach in the original dish.

10 extra large shrimp (about 1/2 pound)
1 large poblano chile, roasted, peeled and seeded *
5 slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise
2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup stone ground grits
1/2 cup light cream
4 ounces grated Manchego or Monterey Jack cheese
1 teaspoon salt
generous grinding of black pepper

Peel and devein shrimp leaving tails intact. Cut ten 1/4-inch slices from the roasted chile. Put one slice of poblano chile in the cavity of each shrimp (created by deveining). Take one of the half slices of prosciutto and wrap each shrimp. Set on a platter and set aside.

Bring the water to a boil and slowly add the grits, stirring all the while. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring often. When ready, add the cheese, light cream, salt and pepper - mix well. Keep warm.

Preheat broiled to highest setting. Place wrapped shrimp on a greased broiling pan. Broil for 3 minutes per side.

Divide grits among two serving plates and top each plate with five grilled shrimp.Top with additional coarsely ground black pepper.

Serve immediately.

Serves 2, but can easily be doubled.


  1. David, where do you get your grits? Note: this is a question about *sourcing*, not about personality.

  2. Michael - I was thrilled to find them at Trader Joe's, and they were quite good!

  3. What a lovely dedication. The Mansion at Judges Hill looks gorgeous and oh-so-posh and a white cosmo seems very appropriate for such a venue.
    I've never had grits and am intrigued by it. Love that you added Manchego, one of my favourite cheeses.

  4. Thanks, John. Susie was an amazing lady - we were lucky to have known her.

    As for the grits, I did wonder if my friends Down Under would have access to them. Some say they are similar to polenta but the process of making them is very different and so are the results. They are ground hominy, which has been processed with lye to preserve it. They are delicious and pure comfort food!

  5. I hope that Susie is looking down from heaven as I am certain your heartfelt tribute would make her smile.

    I, like John, have never had grits but, like so many meals, you make them sound and look so very appealing!

    What a lovely post.

  6. Thanks, Susan. I wish she had been here to share them with! Now I have to wonder if they can get grits in France! Hope you are having a wonderful time in Lourmarin and, if you see any grits, let me know!

  7. This post reminded me of my grandmother, who also died a month short of her 90th bday and had her share of true grit and personality (she was a car racer in the 1960´s, when it was unheard for a woman to be one). I would´ve liked to know your friend Susie, and is a joy to see this tribute to her. I wonder what grits are really? white polenta? Could never figure what to buy here. The addition of manchego should be outstanding; such a flavorful cheese. I love it. Have a great week David!

  8. Paula - I would have loved to have met your grandmother! She sounds amazing - maybe she and Susie are having a cocktail now...

    After John asked about them, I searched on the web and found this:

    "At www.grits.com, we learned the difference between corn grits, which include the hull and the germ of the grain, and "true" hominy grits. To make hominy, you start with field corn. These traditional grits are produced by soaking dried corn kernels in a solution of baking soda, lime, or wood ash ("lye water") for a day or two. The kernel's shell pops off, and the kernel swells to twice its size. Kernels are rinsed more than once, then dried, and finally ground into grits. The grind can be coarse, medium, or fine."

    I used a coarse grind, as it gives the dish more texture. And, I imagine you could make this dish simply using polenta - it would be fantastic!

  9. What a lovely tribute to your friend. Shrimp and grits is high on my list of "must eats" when I go to the USA, though I am not sure I will find a dish this well presented!

  10. Anna - Maybe I should send a package of grits for your and John to share! I have to warn you - my version (inspired by the hotel) is very different from the standard. Either way, I know you will love them!

  11. David, I just discovered your blog by way of Paula at Vintage Kitchen Notes. What a lovely tribute to your friend - and something we should all aspire to.

    This is a terrific recipe & I'm sure my Southern Gentleman of a husband would love it!

  12. Susan - welcome to Cocoa and Lavender! Glad you found me through Paula. Isn't her food wonderful???

    Glad you enjoyed my tribute to our friend Susie. We miss her a lot. And I do hope your husband enjoys some shrimp and grits soon!

  13. I was lucky to have met Susie on our trip to Tucson in the spring of 2011. She was a firecracker! I am so sorry to hear about her death. David, this is a lovely tribute, and looks like a fantastic recipe. Lots of love to you from Ann Arbor!

  14. Glad you got to meet her, too, Liz - she was a very special woman! Hope you both are doing well, and getting ready for the long winter! Love, d


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