Easy Chicken Enchiladas

Poach boneless breasts of chicken in lightly salted water until tender. Shred, add green chilies (with juice; about four ounces to two cups meat), juice of one lime juice and enough sour cream to bind. You can add a little grated jack cheese to this if you like. Season with equal parts cumin, chili powder and granulated garlic, salt to taste. Keep warm, roll in 6-in. flour heated tortillas brushed with corn oil. Top with a white queso made with corn oil roux and jack cheese (pepper jack is good) seasoned with the same spice mixture. Pintos and red rice are good with these as is fresh chunky guacamole.

Jackson’s Hellmouth

Jackson, Mississippi shares the problems of many municipalities: urban decay, a shrinking tax base, rampant crime and a citizenry plagued with indifference. Other cities can usually trace these difficulties to such mundane matters as confused politicians, inept and municipal bureaucracies or social strife, and while Jacksonians deal with in these issues, some blame a deeper element: a volcano.

An extinct volcano squats some three thousand feet beneath Mississippi’s capital city. If it ever blows (a purportedly remote likelihood since it hasn’t been active since T. rex ruled the earth) the Mississippi Coliseum would be ground zero. The volcano’s dense core is a prominent structural abnormality in gravitational and magnetic surveys. Bernadette Cahill, in her book Over the Volcano: An Inquiry into the Occult History of Jackson, Mississippi (Aardvark Global Publishing: 2010) maintains that the volcano’s dense core affects not only physical aspects of the locale such as gravity and magnetism, but it also generates a negative well of psychic energy that continually saps the city – its spirit of place as well as the spirits of its citizens – of positive and essential life forces. She also hints at even more malevolent aspects, tagging the volcano as a portal for evil from another plane.

When I’m beset with muddy bathwater, exploding sewers, or dim-witted politicians, instead of trying to call anyone and griping about it, I just blame it on the volcano. It’ll saves me a lot of frustration.

 

Banana Pudding Cookies

Banana pudding is an iconic Southern summer dessert, and these cookies are a fun alternative for a family outing. For the best flavor, you must use ripe bananas that are soft, aromatic, and with a light freckling. The vanilla wafers should just be broken up into small pieces, not reduced to crumbs. Some people top these with whipped cream and a banana slice, but that’s just over the top, and it makes them soggy.

1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ripe banana mashed
1 package banana cream instant pudding mix
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup smashed vanilla wafers

Preheat oven to 350, and line baking pans with lightly oiled parchment paper. Combine flour and baking soda, then set aside. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly, add the banana, pudding mix, and eggs. Mix until smooth and slowly stir in the dry ingredients, then blend in the chips and wafers. Use about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Bake until lightly browned, about ten minutes. Cool before transferring to a rack.

Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet: A Review

Oral histories are a portal for understanding not only a time and a place, but the character of its people. With Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet: Same-Sex Couples in Mississippi, John Marszalek III examines the lives of gay couples in Mississippi at a watershed in the history of gay activism: the Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which guarantees the fundamental right of marriage to same-sex couples. Marszalek serves on the faculty of the online mental health counseling program at Southern New Hampshire University; in this volume, his stated purpose it to provide, “a glimpse into the world of gay couples in Mississippi. How did we meet? What is it like to be gay in our communities? What type of reaction do we receive from our neighbors, families, and churches? Why do we live in Mississippi? Do we plan to stay or find a home elsewhere?”

 Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet is structured around interviews of gay and lesbian couples living in each of the five regions of the state (Hills, Delta, Pines, Capital/River, and Coastal), in rural, small town, and metropolitan settings. Marszalek spoke with fifty couples: fifteen of those recorded conversations, “which best represented themes I heard from all the lesbian and gay couples I met,” are included in this book. Marszalek is meticulous in his procedure and is careful to preserve the anonymity of his subjects.

Marszalek’s selection of couples for his interviews were drawn from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the 2000 Census, which estimates 3,500 same-sex couples living in Mississippi. While his sample is limited, Marszalek worked to ensure it was representative by seeking diversity in gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, and length of relationship. He spoke to an equal number of male and female couples in ages from twenty-five to sixty-five, who had been in their relationships from seven to thirty years. Furthermore, the sample embraces professional, self-employed and blue-collar work settings.

The couples’ stories are at the heart of Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet. They discuss their places in the communities they call home, their relationships with family, and their experiences with church and religion. These voices are often poignant; they speak of tolerance rather than acceptance, of a tacit understanding that tolerance itself is achieved by keeping a low profile, and to avoid acting “too gay,” particularly in regard to public displays of affection. What emerges is the sense of a “social compact of silence” that John Howard mentions in Men Like That (1999), a monumental work on gay culture in Mississippi, and one that Marszalek frequently references.

Marszalek is not only a sympathetic listener—he includes his own narrative as a coupled gay man—but an accomplished scholar who provides the reader with a generous survey of his research and a review of the literature related to the content of each chapter. His sources encompass documents from history, sociology, psychology, and other disciplines.

There is still no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity, and gay couples in Mississippi fear being fired from a job or refused service at a business because they are in a same-sex relationship. Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet should be a guide for others to understanding that we are all in this life together, facing the same fears, sharing the same hopes, and that bias and prejudice toward others imposes a burden both ways.

Basic Beer Bread

This recipe is breathtakingly fundamental, and the results are spectacular. The bread is light, even-textured, slightly sour, fragrant, and a bit crumbly with a nice crust. Lightly mix three cups of self-rising flour, two tablespoons of sugar and a 12-ounce can of beer (I recommend a light Pilsner, but you can experiment with any beer you like). The dough should be a little lumpy and sticky. Pour into a well-greased loaf pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 in a pre-heated oven for 90 minutes. Brush with melted butter while warm.

 

Poppy Seed Pound Cake

Regionalism is kaput. If I speak of chicken and dumplings as a Southern American dish, some Southern foodways pundit—you can’t toss a rock without hitting one, and the bigger the rock the better—will tell me it’s served in dim sum by expatriated Alabamans living in Hong Kong. On a  national scale (not that nationalism exists, of course) it’s no longer safe for me to assume that pound cake is a New England recipe because it’s so simple and practical. A friend from Texas—east Texas, mind you—now living in Maine said that their neighbors considered pound cake a particularly Southern recipe. Apparently, what I consider simple and practical Mainers think is broke and stupid. Balderdash; Americans have made this cake well before Burr shot Hamilton, so it all boils down to perspective if not quibbling over terms. This recipe and variations are luxurious with fruit, with ice cream a mortal sin.

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 (trust me, this is a crucial step). Grease, line and set aside a 10-inch loaf pan or Bundt. Combine sugar and butter, beat until creamy. Add poppy seeds, buttermilk, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla, mix well, add remaining ingredients and beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until thoroughly blended and moist. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake one hour. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in the cooling oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for at least an hour before slicing.

A Cherry Coke

Unless you have a home bar and know people who drink Manhattans, Old Fashioneds or Tom Collins(es), it’s unlikely that you’re going to have any maraschino cherries on hand. Oh, you’ll buy a jar during the holidays or if you’re having a kid’s birthday party, but otherwise maraschinos aren’t a standard kitchen item at all. On the other hand, bartenders have been stocking maraschino cherries next to the stuffed olives since before Prohibition, and in their heyday soda jerks routinely placed them atop sundaes and in sodas, most notably Coca-Cola. In 1985 they came out with Coca-Cola Cherry, but it’s wretched.

Don’t be sloppy and just throw a cherry in an iced Coke; that’s just trashy. First and foremost, you should use Coke from a glass bottle. You should also use crushed ice, the compelling reason for this being that you’re going to mix the ice with chopped (unstemmed) cherries to eat with a spoon after you’ve finished the soda. Dribble some of the cherry syrup over the ice before you pour in the Coca-Cola, and if you don’t serve it with a soda straw you’re going to hell sure as Sunday.

Cocktail Melon

For each quart cubed melon, add one cup sliced strawberries or pineapple, lime juice to taste), 12 ounces light rum, 1 tablespoon sugar and a light sprinkling of salt. Stir and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. No bridal luncheon should be without these.

Tomatoes Before the Bench

That the tomato came under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court underscores its vital importance not only as a culinary staple and a cultural icon, but also as a commodity. This 19th century decision defines the status of the tomato in the American legal system, a ruling that brings the court at odds with science, but in concord with commerce.

Botanically, a tomato is a fruit, a berry. In 1887, tariff laws imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits. Some smart lawyer (we find occasional evidence of these fabled creatures) representing commercial interests and Mother Nature Herself filed a case for the tomato as a fruit.

Alas, on May 10, 1893, in Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled–unanimously–that based use and popular perception, under customs regulations the tomato is a vegetable. The holding applies only to the legal interpretation; the justices affirmed the court’s limitations by not purporting to reclassify the tomato for other purposes.

Squash Pizza Crust

This recipe from Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook has a wonderful texture and flavor. Though the original recipe called for just zucchini, any squash will do. The crust can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen. You can either line a pizza pan or casserole with the crust or bake the mixture on a cookie sheet before topping.

Use 2 cups grated squash to one egg (the original calls for a 1:1 squash/egg ratio, but that’s a little much). Squeeze the liquid out of the squash; add the eggs and mix well with a good slug of olive oil and ½ cup each grated mozzarella and Parmesan and a little grated onion along with enough plain flour to make sticky dough. I like to use a little more Parmesan for a somewhat drier mix and add chopped peppers. Season with, salt, pepper, a little basil and thyme; I do not recommend using rosemary as in the original recipe. Roll out and shape with a twisted edge. Bake in a medium hot oven (375-400) for about 40 minutes, or until nicely browned. Brush with olive oil before cooling.

As to the toppings, you can use those you usually like on your pizza, but I forego meats out of respect for the original recipe as well as for Molly herself. Go lightly on the tomato sauce, since too much will make the crust soggy. Bake pizza in a hot oven as you would any other.