Years ago, I traded salt-caked roads and the sound of snowplows passing by for camellia trees and magnolia wreaths. I traded quilts of snow for blankets of rain, and tricked my body into thinking that 40 degrees was frigid.
After moving to Georgia, I didn’t go back North—back home—for my first holiday. I wept over the thought of not seeing the creamy velvet snow draped over the trees and hood of my car. I laid awake at night wondering when, if ever, I would hear the muffled rumbling of those swishing snowplows. I remember how comforted— how safe—I felt when I’d see their lights, broken into a thousand pieces, through the frost of my bedroom window.
Some days later as I walked up to my front door, fumbling with keys in the rain, I spotted a wink of pink out of the corner of my eye. In a shade of wild magenta like I had never before seen, the season’s first camellia blossom greeted me a very merry “welcome home.”
I dropped everything I had in tow and ducked under the mildewed wooden banister. As I stared at the tree’s lone bloom, I began to laugh and cry. Needless to say, I slept fine that night, the comfort of a velvety camellia flower just outside my window.
“The South is one hell of a glorious and beautiful place, if you ask me.”
Yes, I’m aware of my seemingly permanent state of nostalgia and sentimentality. To wit: I believed in Santa Claus for a (very) long time. My mother will gladly tell you about how, even into my twenties, I insisted that gifts not be put under the tree until after I was in bed. If we spent the holidays together now, I would still insist on the very same thing.
So when I say that I found my sense of belonging in the face of a flower, trust that my belief is real.
As real as a Southerner’s belief in the literature of biscuits and the power of pimento cheese. As real as how sausage balls and bricks of cream cheese smothered in pepper jelly are as good a partner to champagne as any. As real as the fact that fried chicken and grits will soothe whatever hunger ails your belly—or your heart.
A better writer than I put it best when he wrote, “There is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.”
The South is one hell of a glorious and beautiful place, if you ask me. With food and flowers as poetic as a carol or a prayer, with a faith in the ability to heal and move forward year after year, I believe in the culture of the South to sustain magic.
And you can bet that I believe it is there for us, should we only choose to see—or eat—it.
I had never had these sausage balls until my first holiday spent in Georgia and boy, was I skeptical. Now I can’t imagine a December without them. Excellent with cocktails, excellent the next morning, excellent with just about anything.
1 lb. ground sausage* (if you make your own or know someone who does, by all means)
2 cups Bisquick
3-4 cups shredded cheese (I like to mix sharp cheddar and swiss, but use whatever you have on hand)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4-1/2 cup chopped green onion
*If using unseasoned sausage, I like to add a teaspoon or so of mixed dried sage, rosemary and thyme)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Mix all ingredients together by hand until well combined. Roll sausage mixture into balls about the size of a walnut and place on baking sheet. Bake about 20 minutes or until slightly browned and sizzling at bottoms.
Allow to cool slightly before serving, preferably alongside mustard sauce.
1/4 cup each of dijon, whole grain and spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt or sour cream
3 tablespoons Duke mayonaise
few dashes of hot sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, tarragon or mix of both
Mix all ingredients together in bowl and serve alongside sausage balls, crudité, cheese, smoked meats and fish— or just about anything you can ever imagine.