Cooking, Fall Recipes, Recipes, Virginia

Virginia Skillet Cornbread

I never know how to address complicated and potentially emotionally charged issues.

Political garbage happens. Living just outside D.C., I feel like while we’re not at the epicenter, we’re definitely on a fault line for all the garbage infesting the news lately. I spend most of my day mired in it and trying to influence just enough policy to keep it at bay. So it makes zero sense to ignore it or pretend it’s not happening.

At the same time, this blog is my escape. It, like my home, is my sanctuary. As far as my home goes, I feel beyond fortunate that I can leave the muck and the mire of policy and politics at work, get on the Metro, rattle back to my car, pick up my son, and drive out here to the woods, to a place where I can put up my feet, cuddle my baby, and put it out of my mind for a little while. Getting out of the mess of politics is both a luxury and a necessity for my own mental health.

That’s a major reason I blog about baking and not what I do for a living.

When I hop online to write, I could be discussing strategy. I could be delving into the moral and ethical questions we all are faced with when we look at the news. Or I could be doing what I usually do, writing about home and hearth and entertaining and food in what seems like a frivolous escape, but at the same time feels like a well constructed personal barrier between my peace of mind and the emotional turmoil outside.

But when I think about it, these things, at their very heart, aren’t so frivolous. The large amount of traveling I’ve done in my life has taught me that. Because when you travel, the truest way to learn about another place, another people, another culture, is to see how they live and the things they surround themselves with, and to spend time with them in the places where they laugh and cook and eat.

And my borderline obsession with fine wines has taught me more. That we are none of us beings in isolation, but composites of the people and the traditions and the ambiance we choose to keep around us. Whatever we might be, be it cabernet franc or viognier or chardonnay, different soils and weather and sunlight and care can touch that core and tease out different nuances. Whatever we might be ourselves, our environment is a massive part of how we express that.

And baking has taught me just how nuanced we can be. So much of baking is flour, salt, leaveners, and butter, but just look at the difference you can get when you just change the ratios a little. One small change, and what was bread becomes pound cake. That has a magic in itself, just like the magic that travel, a shared experience, or a change in environment can work on you.

Maybe it’s okay to eschew politics. Everyone gets beat over the head with it so many other places. I think the lessons you can learn from traveling, tasting, sharing, hosting, and simply caring for your home and family and working with your own two hands can be much more valuable than a treatise on the current issue of the day.

So even though the political environment I find myself in has me alternating between fury, stress, frustration, and a mild sense of hopelessness, railing about it will get me nowhere. If anything, public rants about politics and politicians would be more likely to lose me the position I’ve worked hard to be in, a position where I can actually impact policy far better than I could using other means. So let me just acknowledge it, and that it sucks, and move on.

And if you’ve got plenty in your pantry, opening your door and setting your table for friends and colleagues who might benefit from some good company and some good and hearty comfort food can be the best thing you can do. In good times and in bad, I’ve never seen it do anything but good to set a couple more places at the table. And we’ve got a nice long table for this holiday season.

This little cornbread recipe will be gracing our table tomorrow, both by itself and as part of my favorite cornbread stuffing recipe, which I’ll share with you eventually. In the meantime, I hope you give it a try and it brings you the comfort it brings me. And I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Virginia Skillet Cornbread

Makes 8 very hearty pieces.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups buttermilk {I sub 1 1/2 cups milk and 1/3 cup sour cream}
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted

How to make it:

1. Preheat your oven to 450F.

2. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil over low heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, beat the egg until slightly fluffy, and then whisk in the buttermilk. Pour the mixture into the cornmeal mix and stir to combine. Melt the butter and stir in to combine.

4. Pour the batter into the skillet. Don’t stir in the oil – it will keep the bread from sticking to your skillet. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Serve hot with butter and local honey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

2 thoughts on “Virginia Skillet Cornbread”

  1. Well said. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about what’s going on in this country and about politics but it’s just not something I feel like I should be yelling about on the internet. There’s a lot of other people doing that already.

    I’m also so, so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel and explore the world. It’s taught me so much.

    1. Exactly! And I think people have gotten to the point where they think if you’re not screaming about your opinion on the Internet that you don’t care. We care…just not here!

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