A chilly day in Florida was almost always considered a treat when I was growing up on the beach. I remember seeing all the commercials made by the creative minds at Coca-Cola, Folgers, and Campbell’s Soup, showing people enjoying pristine, snowy holidays full of family, songs, and their tasty products, of course. The world outside my window looked nothing like that, of course, since our home was on St. Joe Beach, a place that was lovely in its own way, with silky white sand instead of fluffy white snow.


Even Florida kids dream about seeing snow and being able to hop on a sled to speed down a hill or build a friendly-looking snowman, complete with a carrot nose. We rarely had snow in Gulf County … in fact, it was so rare that the last time I recall it happening was when I was a fourth grader at Highland View Elementary School in the 1970s. We were dismissed early and went home to enjoy the rare treat of a snow flurry from above. It was so exciting that here I am, four decades later, still remembering it and feeling the excitement all over again.


While snow was rare, we did have the occasional cold front that caused us to need to bundle up to endure it. Since we were so accustomed to our lovely moderate climate, temperatures in the 40s seemed practically Arctic to us kids. On those cold nights, mom would make sure my little sister and I wore a soft flannel nightgown to bed to help us stay cozy. Then, in the morning, she would turn on the heater to begin warming the house up a bit before her little girls emerged from their warm cocoon of blankets.


Now, when we lived on Gulf Street, the house was warmed by an old gas heater. Mom would turn it up rather high so it could emanate into the living room and dining room, all one shared space. We’d stick our feet into our fuzzy slippers and shuffle into the living room to stand in front of the heater as its blue flames created a warm aura in the room with its cold, bare floors. The only way we could be coaxed over to the dining table and away from the heater was by the offering of the warm, yummy breakfast mom had prepared for us.


We lived in that house on Gulf Street, right behind Ms. Eells home, for two years, before moving to our permanent home on DeSoto Street. Suddenly we had central heat instead of a gas heater, and it was in every room, not just the living room! When mom turned the heat up before waking us up, the bathroom my sister and I shared became the warmest spot in our home, so she and I would run into the bathroom and take turns standing over the vent in the floor, our pretty little flannel gowns billowing up around us like sails on a boat when the heat cycled on.


Finally we’d be warm enough to shuffle into mom’s kitchen, where she’d have a nice warm bowl of something on the table for us to eat before school. She didn’t like to give us cold cereal on chilly mornings, so she would serve things to keep us warm. One thing she made frequently was cream of wheat, served with a pat of butter, a sprinkle of sugar, and a tiny drizzle of milk over it for creaminess. Other days she’d make grits and place some in a bowl for each of us with a slice of cheese to melt into it, plus a sprinkle of pepper over the top. But more often than either of those, she’d serve hearty oatmeal. She would buy a canister of quick-cooking oats and make a pot of the delicious, simple food for us with some additions for extra flavor, such as raisins, which got puffy and sweet when in the warm cereal, or a handful of blueberries. She kept a box of brown sugar in the kitchen so she could sprinkle some of it over our bowl of oatmeal, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a pat of butter to melt into it all to add creaminess and flavor. I can remember that taste so well; it takes me right back to mom’s table in my mind when I think of it.


These days I will occasionally take time to have something besides coffee for breakfast; during cool weather like we’re having this week, I will enjoy a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal, and I may go the brown sugar and cinnamon route, but I have another idea that is fabulous to add to it: my apple-cranberry bake. Not only does it taste amazing, it makes your home smell like the best candle in the world has been lit in your kitchen.


Apple-cranberry bake


6 baking apples (like Granny Smith or Gala), chopped into bite-sized pieces


1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans


cup dried cranberries (you can use raisins, if you’d rather)


1 tablespoon cinnamon


teaspoon allspice


1/2 cup brown sugar (or Splenda brown-sugar substitute)


Method:


Preheat oven to 350.


Core the apples, then chop them into bite sized chunks.


Place apples and all other ingredients into large mixing bowl, and toss until everything is coated. Pour into deep pie dish or an 8” x 8” baking dish that you’ve coated with butter, and bake for 20 minutes covered with foil, then 20 minutes uncovered. Best served warm over oatmeal, or as a dessert over vanilla ice cream.


Smoked Gouda & Cheddar Grits Casserole


1 1/4 cups uncooked regular grits (I used quick grits; DO NOT use instant! They’re awful.)


2 cups chicken broth (I make my own broth & store in the freezer; canned is ok, too. Water will do in a pinch.)


2 cups milk


1 teaspoon salt


1 teaspoon ground red pepper (plus extra to sprinkle on top before baking)


1/2 cup salted butter, cut into cubes


1 (10-oz.) block sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (I used 5oz Cabot Co-op sharp Cheddar & 5 oz. Cabot Co-op White Cheddar…their cheese is excellent! Farmer friendly, too.)


1 (4-oz.) smoked Gouda cheese round, grated


2 large eggs, lightly beaten


1. Bring grits, chicken broth, and next 3 ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in butter and cheeses until melted. Be careful not to let the grits scorch! Remove from heat.


2. Gradually stir about one-fourth of hot grits mixture into eggs; add egg mixture to remaining hot grits mixture, stirring constantly. Pour grits mixture into a lightly greased 2 1/2-qt. baking dish. (This egg-mixing step is important; it keeps you from having scrambled eggs in your grits!)


3. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly around edges. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


These are so easy to make, and as they bake, they are so fragrant and make you want to eat them as soon as they come out of the oven!


It’s good to let them sit on the counter five or ten minutes, though, so they can firm up for easier serving. Also, these are fine reheated. Pair them with bacon for breakfast one morning, and maybe the next day pair the leftovers, sliced and warmed in a skillet, with fish or meatloaf, etc.


I hope that as days get cooler you can find time to get in the kitchen to cook one of these for yourself or someone you love. Enjoy the cooler air, even if it’s short-lived, because there are cozy, warm memories to be made on these days! Enjoy.


Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph”. She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.


She is married and has three young adult sons who are significantly taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com or contact her at steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.