One major drawback to living in a place like Northern Michigan is that there are no hushpuppies. Oh sure, a handful of restaurants in the area claim to serve hushpuppies but, as it turns out, those things are not hushpuppies. I’m not sure what they are, but trust me when I tell you that they’re not hushpuppies. Hushpuppies — so named for their power to quiet the barking dogs of hunters and fishermen gathered around their campfires or of Confederate soldiers hoping to prevent Union scouts from discovering their campfires or of fugitive slave hunters attempting to thwart runaway slaves’ passage along the Underground Railroad or, well, nobody really knows for sure — have long been a staple of Southern cuisine. They’re hot, delicious little morsels of fried cornmeal dough, golden-crisp on the outside and densely bready on the inside. In the South, they’re a standard accompaniment to just about everything from barbecue sandwiches to crabcakes; in the Midwest, if you want a hushpuppy you’ll have to make it yourself.
My to-do list is kicking my ass. And not in the normal boy, am I busy way, either; it’s kicking my ass in more of a it’s 10:00 — do you mind if we just have pickles for dinner? way. My point here is that it’s been a busy week — the sort of week in which last week’s clean laundry languishes unfolded at the foot of the bed and dust bunnies gather in corners to plot their eventual takeover of the living room and minor concerns like eating and sleeping slip to the bottom of the priority list. After a week like that, a girl really deserves a cocktail. Or seven. Preferably in a warm, sandy spot near a large body of water, but the important thing is the cocktail.
On an unusually warm afternoon in the summer of 1980, my sister and I wandered into a little thicket of shade created by enormous ruffly leaves curving out from bright red stalks just tall enough for little girls to play beneath. Elated at such a discovery, we raced home to collect our buckets and shovels and then, for reasons intelligible only to little girls, spent the rest of the afternoon happily digging in the cool dirt amid those leafy stalks. I’m not sure if this memory has stuck with me for nearly thirty years because that patch of shade was such a lovely place in which to play or because of the boatload of trouble we got into when our favorite digging spot turned out to be the rhubarb patch of a neighbor lady whose Navy husband significantly outranked our father.