World’s Best Slutty Brownies

Preheat oven to 350. Cream two sticks softened butter with a cup of granulated sugar and 3/4 cup light brown sugar until well-blended. Beat in 2 large eggs and a tablespoon vanilla extract. Separately, add a teaspoon baking soda and a teaspoon salt to 2 ½ cups flour. Thoroughly blend this dry mix into the creamed butter mix, along with 2 cups chocolate chips. Line a 9×13 baking dish with foil and coat generously with cooking spray. Mash the cookie dough into the bottom. Add a layer of Double Stuffed Oreos. Top with a brownie batter made with a family size box of brownie mix. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for an additional 15-25 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. And yes, slacker, you can use commercial refrigerated cookie dough.

A History of Jackson, 1865-1950

“When were Jackson’s historic neighborhoods developed?” “How did the city grow during different historic periods?” “What did Jackson look like as it evolved from the nineteenth to the twentieth century?” The answers to these (and thousands of other) questions are found here, in From Frontier Capital to Modern City: A History of Jackson, Mississippi’s 1 Built Environment, 1865-1950. While the document is not dated, it was likely published sometime in 2000. This project must have taken several years, drawing upon the resources of the Mississippi State Archives, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH); the Records Management Division of the City of Jackson; and private collections of photographs from local citizens. A key player in this effort was Helene Ascher Rotwein—whose job in Jackson’s Department of Planning and Development was no doubt instrumental—and other members of the LeFleur’s Bluff Historic Foundation. While there is no index, the table of contents is incredibly detailed, as are the references cited, and the voluminous footnotes are incredibly precise. Click on the annexation map below to access the work.

Shrimp Eggplant Curry

Once as a very young man, I walked into a health food store that was run by one of those formidable New Age types whose moral superiority in the realm of nutrition–which she considered an extension of her deep-seated beliefs in The Great Mother and Her Bosom of Beneficence–was further exaggerated by just being an asshole herself. When I asked her where she kept the curry, she literally sniffed, tilted her nose towards the tie-dyed bed sheets covering the ceiling and said, “I’m sure you mean to make your own. If you’ll give me your recipe, I’ll show you where you can find the ingredients.”

So I fumbled in my pockets and mumbled something about leaving the recipe my friend Rupta had given me at home before beating a retreat and hitting the books only to discover that curry is indeed not a singular spice or seasoning, but a combination of any given number of ingredients with endless variations. Still, that experience cooled my already tenuous relationship with curries, and though I have read Madhur Jaffre’s pontificates on the subject, I’ve never reached the degree of sophistication peers have by actually making my own blend. Granted, curry isn’t a spice mixture I use very often, either, but I really do love a pungent curried roast chicken, particularly cold with sour cream. Like most people, I find curry most useful for vegetables, particularly cauliflower and eggplant.

Peel and halve (or cut into thick slices, depending on the size) six small or two large eggplants, brush liberally with oil (I don’t recommend olive oil for this recipe, nor ghee or what passes for it in your world; if you’re picky about it–and God help you if you are–use peanut oil), dust with pepper and place in a very hot oven until browned and soft. For this recipe you’ll need about three cups of cooked eggplant.

Saute about two pounds 26-30 count shrimp with a chopped a small onion and 2 small mild peppers. Don’t use a bell if you can help it; even a poblano is better. Saute with  two cloves of garlic until shrimp are cooked, then add eggplant. Season with a quarter cup of your favorite curry. Blend with a cup to two of weak stock to the consistency of a thick gumbo . Bake in a medium (350) oven until reduced by half. Seasoned rice is a great side.

Bobbie Gentry’s Cherry Cookie Bars

This recipe appeared in Bayou Cuisine (1970) and was credited to Edith Streetner of Greenwood. Bobbie Gentry was born Bobbie Lee Streeter July 27, 1944, on her paternal grandparents’ farm near Mantee, Mississippi. Her father, Robert H. Streeter, lived in Greenwood, Mississippi. Bobbi Lee Gentry moved to Arcadia, California at age thirteen to live with her mother and stepfather. They relocated to Palm Springs two years later, where Bobbie graduated from Palm Springs High School. She changed her name to Gentry after seeing the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, starring Jennifer Jones and Charlton Heston. Likely Edith is Gentry’s stepmother, who writes, “Bobbie’s favorite recipe that she has loved since she was a little girl, and I always made them for her when she came home.”

These are two-in one cookie bars. They have a rich, buttery cream-colored layer below and scarlet cherries, coconut, and nuts in the layer on top.

Sift together 1 cup plain flour and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar. Cut in 1/2 c. butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture firmly into the bottom of an ungreased 11×7 or 9×9 inch pan. Bake in a moderate (350) oven for 10 minutes. Sift together 1/4 c. plain flour 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 c. sugar. Add 2 eggs lightly beaten, then fold in 1/2 c. maraschino cherries, finely cut, 1/2 c. grated coconut, and 1/2 c. chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds). Spread over partially baked dough and bake in a moderate (350) oven 30-40 minutes. Cool and cut into bars or squares. Makes about 3 dozen.

This also makes a delicious main dessert. Cut into larger servings and top with whipped cream or ice cream.

Letter to Jackson

Dear Reuben,

Now that I’m safely in Virginia, I’ll give you the impressions of Jackson you wanted. I should say first that when I moved to the city eight months ago my life and experiences provided my only perspective, but nothing prepared me for Jackson, Mississippi. I’m still not sure if it’s because that is as far South as I’ve ever been (or want to be again, to be honest) or because Jackson itself is so sullen and isolated.

The city is frozen; those capable of formulating effective fixes for the neighborhoods of row upon row of abandoned/half-demolished houses simply ignore the problem. The economic riptide washing away businesses from the city are bound and gagged by their racial, familial, and petty political connections. Even compared to the rest of Mississippi, Jackson seems narrow-minded, racially divided, and culturally backwards. Jackson reminds me a once-thriving outpost of a decaying empire that has eroded, leaving an indifferent government, an inefficient bureaucracy, and castellated churches blind to suffering and deaf to prayers.

I found that there is literally a black side of the street and a white side of the street, and folks of both complexions will gawp at you if you are on the wrong sidewalk. A city councilman who patronizes three-star eateries demands that his constituency throw bricks at police cars from neighboring towns and counties when they pursue thieves and drug dealers into his ward. The waitress filling your cup at a coffee shop will complain about the racist environment permeating Jackson and in the next breath whisper some platitude concerning the unfitness of black people for civilized society.

Jackson is a nest  of grasping, insular people huddled together for safety on the banks of a dirty river, and nothing is safe. Children are shot in their homes while sleeping, and thugs roam affluent neighborhoods. What should be a shining stage for vision and concord is instead a fetid wallow of greed and dissent. When change comes to Jackson, it will not come from within but from without, and from far away.

Yours,

Timothy

Cucumber Sandwiches

Dear Ones,

Summer has come, and with it wedding season, so you must brush up on cucumber sandwiches. These exclusively summer dainties come our way from England, where they are mandated for those incredibly fussy and rapacious high teas you read about in Edwardian novels. Similarly, we serve cucumber sandwiches for gatherings where decorum rules (however ostensibly), at social luncheons, cocktail (i.e. happy) hour on the patio, and of course those inevitable wedding rehearsals and receptions. Offering cucumber sandwiches at a kegger is the epitome of gauche.

Do not use those elongated green zeppelins you’ll find in the local grocery; your sandwiches will become soggy before making it to the table. Go to the farmers’ market and select the larger cukes, even if they’re a bit yellow, as long as they’re firm. These should be partially peeled and sliced as thinly as possible; use a mandolin. Refrigerate and drain.

When it comes to cucumber sandwiches, cast your concern for your colon to the winds and concentrate instead upon looks. Use the best white bread you can find, and trim the crusts. Some prefer cutting into squares, some triangles. While the Brits use a butter spread, our warmer climate requires a more stable blend of cream cheese and mayonnaise (3:1). Season with dill, a little lime or lemon, white pepper, and fine salt.