My favorite meal of all-time: it’s about more than just food

If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

For me, it’s easy: fried chicken, mac & cheese, a green of some sort (usually either mustard greens, zucchini or okra), cornbread, peach cobbler and red Kool-Aid (yes, red is a flavor. If you know you know.)

love in food form

I’m a Southern girl through and through, and my flavor palette reflects that. I learned how to cook from my mom and grandmother, who make nearly everything from scratch. No Kraft Mac & Cheese or Pillsbury Biscuits over here.

This meal was (and still is) a staple at home. Nothing brings me joy more than a homecooked meal made with love. When I moved away, getting my hands busy in the kitchen would ease homesickness. It connects me with my bloodline, even when we are miles apart.

My maternal grandmother is 86. She has slowed down quite a bit the past few years, and her memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. Last year, she experienced a health issue that made it difficult for her to walk. Because of this, she was unable to cook for nearly six months.

It was jarring not to see her milling around the kitchen, rolling out dough, canning vegetables, or bringing in a harvest from the small garden my grandparents tend in the backyard.

Not too long ago, after a series of in-home physical therapy sessions, she was back to walking (though she has grown quite fond of her wheelchair and will use it any chance she gets.)

In her old age, she is different. Sometimes she can be fussy and demanding. She may forget what she was going to do within minutes. She can’t be left alone for more than a few hours, so if my grandpa needs to leave the house for an extended period of time, another family member will come by to look after her.

But when she’s in that kitchen, cutting vegetables or mixing up cornbread batter (without measurements, of course), she is the grandmother I remember from childhood. She is in her element, drawing from decades of muscle memory and family recipes passed down through generations. I truly believe exercising those skills keeps her sharp and present, and I will be forever grateful for how a seemingly simple task gives us more time with her.

Cooking is a part of my identity. I take pride in possessing a gift shared with me by those I love the most, and look forward to Sunday dinners and holiday gatherings where my family expresses our love for one another through our edible creations. It may take longer to get dinner on the table, but the feeling cooking gives me is worth every second.

If you’re interested in making my favorite meal for yourself, I’ve shared some of my must-have ingredients and favorite recipes below.

  • Chicken – I personally prefer drumettes (or wingettes/wing sections) over large pieces of meat for frying. It takes less time to cook and tastes better. You can buy these in the meat or frozen section of your local grocery store (see if you can snag a frozen bag of wingettes for the best value.)
  • Breader – I’m from North Carolina, and we are very proud of anything that is NC made (think Pepsi, Krispy Kreme, and Bojangles.) This breader is made in Four Oaks, which is about 40 minutes southeast of Raleigh. My family swears by it. You probably won’t find it in stores outside of the state and surrounding areas, but you can order it online.
  • Hot sauce (optional) – A lot of people like to add a few dabs of hot sauce to their fried chicken (I only recently hopped on the bandwagon.) Texas Pete is the brand of choice in my household, but if you’re a spice snob, you may stick your nose up at this one because it’s not particularly hot. It’s another one of those NC things (Texas Pete is made in Winston-Salem.)
  • Cornmeal – I typically make my cornbread with a mix of two different cornmeals: Jiffy and Joy Brand or Yelton’s Best (the last two are made at Lakeside Mills, which is in my hometown!) I mix the two because Jiffy is a sweeter meal and gives the cornbread a nice hint of sweetness without it tasting like straight up cake.
  • Mac & cheese – You can’t go wrong with a good baked mac & cheese. Everyone has their own unique way of making it their own. My favorite mac recipe right now is this one.
  • Greens – When most people think of greens, collards come to mind. But there are actually lots of different kinds out there. I grew up mainly eating a mix of mustard and turnip greens (I won’t even pretend to know how they differ.) You can absolutely buy them in store, but they are better when you can pick them fresh. There are several gardens back home that are filled with greens, which we’ll pick and cook in large quantities (they freeze really well.)

Here is a picture of my grandma picking greens in the backyard when I was home for Thanksgving a few years ago.

my wonderful granny

This is what cooking means to me: family, hard work, patience, and tender love.

What is your favorite meal? Let me know! Bonus points if you have a recipe to share: I’m always looking to try new things!

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