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 an unhappy citizenry. Other cities can usually trace these difficulties to such mundane matters as confused politicians, inept and municipal bureaucracies or social strife, and while Jacksonians suffer with these in abundance, some point to a deeper element: a vent to the netherworld.

An extinct volcano squats some three thousand feet beneath Mississippi’s capital city. If it ever blows (a supposedly remote possibility, since it’s been dormant since T. rex roamed 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 of existence.

So when I’m beset with muddy bathwater, dodging exploding sewers, or dealing with the entrenched incompetence municipal administration, I just blame it on the volcano. Somehow it makes me feel better.

 

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.

 

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.

Lost Bread

Every family has a picky eater; in mine it was my brother, Tom. His hamburgers were “mayonnaise only”, his salads “honeymoon” (lettuce alone), and steaks not medium well, but well. Breakfasts were a particular trial; the merest fleck of white in a serving of scrambled eggs would send him into a sour sulk, complete with crossed arms, a lowered head, and a puckered brow. Bacon had to be evenly cooked, but not crisp, and his biscuits had to come from the center of the pan. I wish I’d asked him why.

These specifications presented a challenge to our mother, whose patience was as limited as Tom’s stubbornness was infinite. Fortunately, she hit upon a dish that Tom adored so much that it was all he ate for breakfast until he entered high school. She’d still make it for his breakfast when he’d come to visit twenty years later.

We called it French toast, but this simple recipe of bread dipped in beaten eggs and milk then fried, is very old and is known by many names, most notably pain perdu, “lost bread”. French toast is most often served as a sweet dish much like pancakes or waffles with powdered sugar, syrup and fruit, but Tom—and I, among others—prefer it savory, simply seasoned with salt and pepper. We usually made it with white sandwich bread, but it makes a much more substantial dish with a thick cut wheat or sourdough.

Beat three eggs in a cup of milk or—even better—half-and-half. Season with a little salt and pepper; you can add a little vanilla if you plan to serve it with sugar or syrup. Sop dried bread slices cut to about a half an inch in egg/milk mixture and pan-fry in butter until nicely browned.

Blackberry Ice Cream

Macerate 4 cups of fresh or frozen blackberries with 1 cup sugar; mash and strain. This will yield about 3 cups of syrup. Make a custard with 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, a dash of salt, 4 cups half-and-half, 2 cups whipping cream, 2 eggs well beaten and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Stir in half-and-half, bring to a simmer, cool, and slowly stir in beaten eggs. Bring to low heat and thicken for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add whipping cream, blackberry syrup and a tablespoon vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth. Refrigerate before processing in the ice cream freezer. This recipe works well with berries and stone fruit.