Preface: an introduction to an introduction
Sometimes when you meet someone for the first time you just know you'll be good friends. Probably because the initial reaction when you meet isn't with stupid, fake or extra bubbly pleasantries. It's just "hey, nice to meet you." and you go about your way. You just know when a sarcastic comment is heard in the first ten minutes, they're your kind of people. Nothing fake about them.
That's how it was when I met my friend Jody Thornton-Powell. She wasn't like "oh my god, it's totally so nice to meet you! I love your outfit; you look so pretty, and can we be BFFs?" (Channel your inner valley girl)
Our friendship grew over several years working closely together with the
girls' basketball team where she was coach, and I was booster president. Our tenures there are both over and still we've remained very close friends.
I've gotten to know her extended family through her many family functions and her family's support when she coached at the local high school.
So, I thought it most fitting to have Jody introduce her sister, CarolOfMoon's newest contributing writer, Deb Willig.
Although I've known Deb through the years, I don't know her all that well. At parties she's talking with family or doting over her grandkids. And she makes wonderful desserts for every occasion. At functions, like pink out games or fundraisers, she's always won multiple raffle baskets or 50-50. (How in the hell does she do it??). She supports her family well and who would know her better than her "baby" sister, Jody.
By the way, Jody is also a great cook and even better friend and game partner you may ever find-- cause she's competitive as hell!! She makes cupcakes weekly for her husband's football players and she whips up one helluva jalapeño ham dip. Just don't mix it with Pinot Grigio and stool dancing at a birthday party. (Apparently, I can't hold my liquor as well as I once thought.) Nightmares are real!!
by Jody Thornton Powell
I grew up in the Mount Oliver section of Pittsburgh steeped in its tradition of pierogies and St Patty's Day celebrations. I was the youngest of seven and although some may balk at being the "baby" of the family I reveled in it. With four brothers there was no shortage of rough housing and never any tears. My two sisters were 9 and 10 years older than me, respectively so although I was too young to hang with them, they were no less instrumental in shaping the person I have become.
My eldest sister, Deb, was the one that kept our household alive with decorations for every occasion. My mom was always so busy keeping us in line and my dad took care of the church and the school that we all remember as being so expansive and beautiful. So, Debbie was always available to read to me, teach me how to bake and even found the time to be my first CYO basketball coach when I reached third grade! Some say there was bias involved with my selection to the sixth-grade team as a third grader, but I call B.S. on that!
My fondest memories with Deb have less to do with homework and basketball however, instead they are warm hot chocolate and taffy apples to welcome Fall. Having the crap scared out of me on Halloween when she would hide in the closet then jump out with eyelids flipped up while holding a flashlight under her chin! (What is wrong with some people?!?) Being covered in flour and powdered sugar as I "helped" her make Christmas cookies with Karen Carpenter singing in the background. To this day hearing the Carpenter's music makes me feel so warm inside.
Deb inherited her love of music, parties and sharing good food from our parents. The Thornton house was located next door to our church (and the place where Dad worked) and with an always open door, became a regular stop for many, many parishioners on their way out of midnight mass for a warm drink and a Christmas carol or two.
Deb adopted that love for hosting family and friends and became the go to party planner of the bunch. She continued her love for denoting the change of seasons and celebrating each holiday after starting her own family.
I became the go to babysitter during my teenage years and essentially got to feel what it was like to be the oldest of the clan instead of the youngest. The age differences between me and my nieces and nephews are similar to those of me and my own siblings. I was there to witness her strength as she worked inside and outside of the home while she raised her five children right down the road in Carrick. She was always on the go and it wasn't unlike her to stay up until wee hours of the morning after a long day of work to make sure that her house was the one the neighborhood kids were just a little leery of when approaching for a true trick or treat experience!
In addition to work and motherhood she found time to become an expert baker and has created magnificent cakes for special occasions such as weddings, graduations, retirements and many others.
Deb has since retired from her career with the Pittsburgh public schools and spends her days enjoying her family, especially her grandchildren.
She still never misses a chance to spread love and spark nostalgia with amazing aromas from favorite dishes or desserts from our childhood.
With much love,
-Joann "Jody" Thornton-Powell
Corn Meal Mush
By Deb Willig
I recently attended the Elton John Yellow Brick Road Farewell concert in Pittsburgh and met up with my sister, nephew and her friend Carol at Tupelo Honey for dinner before the concert.
As we ordered from the Southern Cuisine menu the conversation turned to the difference between grits and mush. I’ll be honest, I don’t like grits, but I love cornmeal mush. Of the other three, none had ever tried mush, but loved grits.
Mush is easy to make from scratch or can be conveniently purchased already made at the grocery store. Part of the reason I think I like it so much is it is one of those comfort foods that brings back memories of my childhood and my dad, the person who introduced me to fried mush.
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, my mom (who is a great cook) made lots of dishes that would feed a family of nine on a limited budget, like macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, Hungarian goulash, mushroom chicken, roast and orange potatoes and so many more. The latter two were passed down from her father to her.
A few years ago, we gathered lots of her recipes and made a recipe book that she gave to her children and grandchildren as a Christmas gift. I’m so glad that we did because as she nears 90 her memory is slipping and these recipes would have been lost forever, but that’s another story.
My memories come from the things my dad would eat, like fried bologna sandwiches with ketchup, mayonnaise sandwiches, stick pepperoni and a hunk of good Italian bread (the ends), and of course, fried cornmeal mush, dipped in flour, fried in butter and covered with syrup.
My dad will be gone 20 years this coming May, but anytime I make fried mush memories of my dad come flooding back. Not many people have a taste for cornmeal mush, but one of my granddaughters loves it as much as me, so teaching her how to make it is like keeping my dad’s memories alive for generations to come.
1 1⁄4 Cups Cornmeal, fine grain
2 1⁄2 Cups Water
1⁄2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons butter, plus more for garnish
What to Do
1 Mix together cornmeal, water and salt and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens (about 5-7 minutes)
2. Pour mixture into a loaf pan and cover with plastic wrap Refrigerate overnight
Fried Cornmeal Mush
Remove from refrigerator
Slice mush (I like mine thin)
Dip both sides to lightly cover with flour
Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a medium frying pan
Fry mush turning once during cooking
Place on a plate and pour syrup on top (or your favorite topping).
For easy removal ***Line loaf pan with plastic wrap then add mush and refrigerate overnight. It will make it easier to dislodge from the pan to slice.