Southern Girl at Heart and Two For Tuesday!

Heart on a Tree
No doubt to those who know me best, my heart lives in the south, even if my body resides in the Midwest.

Welcome Or could I get away with a “Howdy, y’all?”  Probably not, but I’m going to talk a little bit today about having the heart of a southern girl and what exactly that means.  And I’m going to state, right here at the very beginning, there are no political undertones meant in this post whatsoever!  I’m not waving any flags or trying to offer subtle persuasions to any beliefs.  Today, I’m talking about southern charm and hospitality, and how some places just feel like home to us.  And I can’t talk about being a southern girl at heart without offering two traditional southern recipes…Chicken Fried Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy and some Classic Southern Sweet Tea.  Note-I may receive a small compensation from advertisements and affiliate links found in this post.  I am not affiliated with Southern Living or its publishing group or the Lodge Cast Iron company.  For further information, please see my terms and disclosure page.

Food for Thought  Every region of the country has icons it is well-known for, even stereotypes, whether true or not.  And people who choose to live and reside in those areas have a strong sense of pride for their home and the symbols for which they have become known.  I have this strong sense of pride and belonging to the south, even though I do not technically reside there.  I looked at several maps recently to see if I could actually consider myself a “southerner.”  And wouldn’t you know, I live in a state that is included in the south on some maps!  But honestly, my home state is excluded from the south more often than not.  But it’s no wonder I have such a strong identity with this region, seeing that I grew up on the south end of this “border” state.  In doing so, the mannerisms, culture, life style, and of course, food, are reflected more in my life style.  Additionally, I chose to go to college in the “south,” where I lived for 4 years, and while I met people from all over the world while attending, the majority of my friends and acquaintances were also from the south part of the country.  I loved it and my plan was to reside in the south after graduation.

magnolia flower in spring
I remember a huge magnolia tree right outside my dorm in college.

I think I first fell in love with the south when I had my first trip to Nashville.  That’s a great city!  I visited a few times during my teenage years and actually considered a couple universities there, before divine intervention led me to a Christian university in Arkansas.  I loved everything about living in Arkansas-the people, the natural environment, the weather, the hospitality, the general lifestyle-everything but teachers’ pay!  Although I had hoped to stay in the area after graduation and teach, it became a concern that I would not be able to manage my bills and student loans on what teachers were making at that time in the state.  There have been times I felt like I “settled” by taking a higher paying job for an inner-city school district north of my dream home, and even north of my childhood home.  But then I remind myself that God led me on that path so that I could meet and marry my husband and we could have our amazing daughter.  So, where I reside now is considered the “Midwest.”  Don’t get me wrong, we live in a nice area.  Our town is a suburb, just shy of being rural.  It’s just the right size and we have access to great opportunities for our family.  But my heart doesn’t really live here.  My husband and I feel the pull of the south’s natural beauty, warmer climate, laid-back lifestyle, and general charm and hospitality.  Anytime we visit any of these southern states, we have a different feel, almost automatically.  We can shift our attitudes and behaviors quite quickly once we cross that state line, because it feels so natural for us, like this is who we really are.

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
No southern kitchen is complete without at least one cast iron skillet.

This idea of southern hospitality is so intriguing, there have even been surveys conducted to ask people about their perceptions of this concept.  Southern Living magazine published a survey done by Twiddy asking what the key components of southern hospitality might include.  These six points showed up most frequently in the survey: politeness, good home cookin’, kindness, helpfulness, charm, and charity (out of courtesy, not obligation.)  If I could add, I would say genuine.  No matter who I am visiting, they open their homes with warm hospitality, they let you see their real homes, without pretention, and they are kind and helpful to their last breath.  I love listening to their children say “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” and always remembering their please’s and thank you’s.  So what do I love so much about the south?  I love it for its food, its faith, its rich history, its natural beauty, its slower and more relaxed pace of life, and I love it for its hospitality.  I found this quote from author Shirley Abbott in one of my Southern Living cookbooks, that gives a feel for this idea of southern hospitality, “People just showed up and were always welcome.  To stay less than an hour was an insult, and there was always a meal…and nobody was ever let out of the house without the goodbye ritual…”

Every place, north or south, east or west, or smack in the middle, has its own special charms and special people.  That’s why travel is so beneficial to the human spirit.  We can experience these things for ourselves and make discoveries about what makes each region special.  I can appreciate a tall snowy peak in Colorado, the salty spray off Cape Cod, or the clear turquoise blue waters of the Florida keys.  But in the end, we want to plant our roots where they will be most comfortable nurtured in an environment that is best for us.  For me, that’s going to be in the south, and when God sees that it’s the best time, our family will feel at home there, not just in heart, but in body, as well.

Stack of Plates
“Let me fix you a plate,” are words heard often in southern homes.

Today’s Scriptures  Hospitality is actually one of the behaviors we should exhibit as Christian people following God’s directions.  In Romans, Paul is providing a lot of direction, not only for these new Christians, but for us as well.  In chapter 12, verse 13, it states “Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.”  The explicit instruction for hospitality is found right between providing for those in need (charity) and blessing those who persecute you.  Hospitality is part of a more comprehensive list that includes directions for joy, patience, and faith, so it must be something God considers important for His people.  Let’s look at a few more verses regarding hospitality:

Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

3 John 8: “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.”

Today’s Recipes  Bless my southern heart!  My cooking style often reflects my love for both my real and imagined southern roots.  A favorite southern meal for my husband is Chicken Fried Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, so of course, he said this recipe had to be included for this post.  And, it has been said that sweet tea is the “house wine of the south,” so I have a quick recipe to give you that perfect southern-style beverage to accompany your supper.

Chicken Fried Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy (serves 4)

  • 1 lb. cube steaks (or 1 lb. top round beef steak cut into four portions and pounded thin with meat tenderizer)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. EACH black pepper and salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3/4cup vegetable or peanut oil
  • 6 medium all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups milk (1 or 2%)
  • 1 tsp. EACH black pepper and salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Place potatoes in heavy pot with salted water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook another 20 minutes.  Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place a cooling rack on top of the towels.   Heat oil in cast iron skillet at 350 degrees.  In shallow bowl combine buttermilk and egg.  In second bowl combine flour, salt, and peppers.  Dredge each cube steak in buttermilk mixture first, then flour mixture, coating both sides.  Carefully place in skillet, cooking 4-5 minutes per side, until golden brown.  Remove to wire cooling rack to drain and cool.  Carefully remove all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from skillet (I use hot mitts to tip up skillet into an old vegetable or bean can, and often ask my husband to help me in this task.)  Add 1/4 cup flour to remaining drippings in skillet and whisk quickly until a roux has formed.  Add milk, 1 cup at a time, to the skillet and continue to whisk until thick and bubbly, about 8-10 minutes total.  Drain cooked potatoes, add 1/4 cup butter and 3/4 cup buttermilk.  Mash with a potato masher or electric mixer.  If potatoes are too stiff, add a little more buttermilk and continue to mash until desired consistency is achieved.  Serve steaks with a generous helping of mashed potatoes and ladle some gravy over both.

Southern Sweet Tea (makes 8 cups)

  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda (this is the “trick” that southerners use for their perfect tea)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 family-size tea bags (most southerners stick to Luzianne, but I like Lipton just fine)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (fresh is best)
  • 4 cups cold water
  • ice and lemon wedges for serving
  • In 2 quart pitcher, place the baking soda, sugar, and tea bags.  Pour in boiling water, cover and let stand for 15 minutes.  Remove tea bags and add lemon juice and cold water, stirring to blend.  Serve over ice with a lemon wedge, mason jars optional 😉

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