Side Dish: Julia Reed makes merry

New Orleans resident and master storyteller Julia Reed offers a delightful look at the art of eating and drinking in her fourth book, “But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria! Adventures in Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry.”

As always, Reed adds Deep South flavor to this collection of essays about her culinary adventures from her hometown of Greenville, Miss., to Kabul, Afghanistan.

In the book’s opening essay, Reed writes that she has been trying “to think of something new to say about Southern food.” She says the “existence of the Delta tamale itself proves what I have long known, that Southern food is the Great Leveler. Hot tamales are beloved by rich and poor, black and white, and they are easily accessible at roadside stands, cafes and restaurants.”

Southern cuisine also reduces the difference between other cuisines introduced to the South, she contends. She wants her cornbread unsweetened, but she loves “Mexican” cornbread made with canned cream corn and marinaded cherry peppers.

She shows the reader how to make the best blackberry cobbler, cauliflower puré e with mint, Steak Diane and a potent holiday punch. She also shows how to entertain with style, recalls trekking in Spain, offers suggestions for what to do with the overabundance from the summer garden, and tells how she cancelled a wedding to a man she still cared about so agreed not to cancel their French honeymoon. “I thought I was doing the civilized thing,” she writes. She and her jilted groom spend their days separately; she shopping, dining with friends and having a Pimm’s Cup at the Ritz in Paris.

She also shares some of her favorite recipes from her culinary adventures. The reader will approve.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.

Whiskey Smash 2

Makes 1 drink. Recipe is from “But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria!: Adventures in Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry” by Julia Reed.

2 orange wheels

3 or 4 fresh mint leaves

1/2 oz. mint simple syrup

2 to 3 ozs. of the best bourbon you can find

1 sprig mint, for garnish

Fill a rocks glass with shaved or crushed ice and tuck orange slices inside so that they cover the sides of the glass. In the bottom of a shaker, stir mint leaves with mint syrup, tapping on the leaves to release their essence. Add bourbon and ice cubes and shake vigorously. Pour into the prepared glass and garnish with mint sprig.

Note: This cocktail is a wonderful and slightly more complex alternative to a mint julep. To make the mint syrup, simply boil 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water for a few minutes until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and throw in 1 bunch of mint. Let steep for about 30 minutes, strain through a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate.