Grinch Crinkle Cookies

Mix together one box vanilla cake mix—I use the French vanilla—two eggs, one stick softened butter (NOT margarine) a tablespoon of vegetable oil (NOT olive oil; can you believe I feel I have to say that?) and a little bottle of green food coloring: all of it. In another bowl, mix one cup corn starch with 1 cup powdered sugar. Using a large spoon, scoop up a lump of the (very stiff green) dough, shape it into a (ping-pong ball and roll it around in the starch/sugar mixture until coated. Place on a cookie sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment paper and bake at 375 for about 8-10 minutes. Take care that they bake through without any browning. Once done, remove from oven and let sit 2 minutes before placing on wire rack to cool completely.

For the hearts, mix a half cup each of flour, corn starch and powdered sugar mixed with a half stick soft butter, just enough cold water to make a stiff dough and plenty of red food coloring (eyeball it, but you want them really red, not pink) cut into heart shapes and bake on an oiled cookie sheet at 350 until crisp. Glue to the cookies with icing.

Oysters Johnny Reb

Cover the bottom of a 10-in. gratin with finely-crumbed saltines mixed with pepper, paprika, chopped shallots, and parsley. Add a layer of oysters that have been rolled in the crumb mixture, then top with another layer of crumbs and grated parmesan. Drizzle with only enough melted butter to moisten, then slowly pour heavy cream into the edge of the dish until oysters are just covered. Place in a very hot oven until bubbling and browned.

Christmas at Rowan Oak

This is an excerpt from Malcolm Franklin’s Bitterweeds:  Life with William Faulkner at Rowan Oak (1977) Born in Shanghai in 1923, Franklin was the son of Cornell and Lida Estelle Franklin. After what’s most often described as a “cordial” divorce, Estelle married William Faulkner in 1929, and he began living in Oxford, Mississippi. Franklin served as a medic during World War II, studied medicine and herpetology. He died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1977.

Of all the holidays at Rowan Oak, Christmas was the most festive. An air of great excitement prevailed everywhere, even in Chrissie’s and Andrew’s little cabin.

I recall one cold, crisp December mid-afternoon, when the various members of the family gathered in the library in preparation for the expedition to get the Christmas Tree. This was the very beginning of Christmas, when the tree was found and cut.

Each was bundled up against the cold. This year there was Jill, Pappy, Victoria’s husband Bill Fielden, myself, Mama, and Andrew bearing the axe. It was Pappy who chose the tree-a cedar that had less of a chance to become a large tree. In making his choice he was also careful to thin out the woods properly, leaving extra growing space for the ones not cut, for our Christmas Tree always came from Bailey’s woods on Rowan Oak’s grounds.

After the tree was felled, Andrew and Pappy spread the khaki-colored tarp smoothly on the ground. Then the tree was carefully wrapped in the tarp, leaving an area at the base free so that Pappy and Andrew and all of us could take turns pulling it through the woods to Rowan Oak. This was done to protect the branches as the tree was pulled along, for it was far too heavy to carry.

The tedious chore of getting the tree up and ready for trimming was then completed. By then it was late afternoon and a cold sharp light came in through the living room windows. The trimming was left to the ladies with the men offering a suggestion now and then. Boxes of ornaments lay open on the floor. Tinsel lay heaped on the parlor table. When the decorations had found their way onto the delicate outer branches and the tinsel, sparkling and clear, reached to the very top ornament, the tree was a beautiful sight to behold. Across the hall the library door stood open. A roaring fire crackled in the fireplace. A bourbon bottle stood open on a silver tray. Cut glass waiting to be filled caught the reflection of the fire. (Christmas was preceded by trips for Christmas cheer to Memphis, seventy-odd miles away, the nearest place offering a wide selection of bourbon, wine, and of course champagne for the New Year.)

There were other trips to the woods for greens and decorations, all to be gathered before Christmas Eve. The gathering of the holly and mistletoe was quite a task. We had to drive almost eight miles out into the country to the place where it grew. This was an old Chickasaw Indian Boundary line, where the holly trees were used to mark the line running east and west. In the trees high above these hollies grew the mistletoe. So high up were they, that it was necessary to shoot the mistletoe out with a .22 rifle. Only a few berries were lost as the branches fell.

It was Christmas Eve morning. Pappy had taken Mama to Oxford in the old touring car to do last minute shopping. She had left instructions with Chrissie that if any packages or boxes should arrive while she was out, to just have them left in the house or on the verandah. Where I was at the time no one was sure. After all, it was Christmas Eve.

Toward the middle of the afternoon Chrissie was summoned by a sharp rap on the front door. It was the driver of the Railway Express van, with several large boxes for Mr. Franklin. Upon Chrissie’s instructions he and his crew neatly lined up three boxes on the verandah and drove off.

As the afternoon became colder and a grey sky brought early darkness, Mama and Pappy turned into the driveway, headed for the open fire and a drink. When Mama reached the top step on the verandah and saw those long boxes, all three of them, she was astounded. “Billy,” she called out, “What on earth do you suppose Malcolm’s receiving in these boxes?” As Faulkner reached the verandah he took one look at the boxes and called out loudly for me. **Buddy,” he said, “What on earth are these things? Come here!”

I had just come in by the back door and had not seen the boxes. I hurried through to the front verandah, took one quick look and knew. Dear God! They had sent out to me three cadavers meant for the Anatomy Department of the University!

When Mama found out what they were she took off for the library saying “Get rid of them! Get rid of them!”

I turned to Faulkner and explained. “Pappy,” I said, “I told Dr. Hogg that if anything was sent to the Anatomy Department during the holidays, the Express Company could call me and I would go over to the Department and let them in! I didn’t tell them to deliver cadavers here!”

“Well,” said Pappy. “We cannot have an array of cadavers gracing the verandah on Christmas Eve! You’d better phone Railway Express to pick these up immediately.”

Heading towards the telephone, shaken by the array of cadavers, I called back to Pappy. Please pour me a stiff drink while I make the call!

As the number was ringing the thought flashed through my mind that, as it was late Christmas Eve afternoon, there just might not be anyone there. But We had barely finished our drinks when the Railway Express van drove up again to the front Verandah. Faulkner then volunteered to drive me to the science building where I unlocked the door and made room for the Railway Expressmen to deliver the cadavers. As they emerged from the building Faulkner pulled from his pocket a pint bottle and passed it to each man.

When we arrived back, Rowan Oak was brightly lighted, and the glitter of the tree could be seen as the car came down the driveway and pulled up under the porte-cochere. Entering the library we headed toward the fire to warm up again. The aroma of various hot dishes drifted into the foyer from the dining room, where a buffet was being placed on the table. Norfleet appeared carrying a water pitcher. He bowed to Faulkner as he set the pitcher in place on the tray next to the bourbon decanter and glasses. For many friends would find their way up the cedar-lined driveway of Rowan Oak on Christmas Eve, leaving gifts or stopping by to say “Merry Christmas,” and perhaps sampling one of the hot dishes on the way to replenish a glass. This evening there were Dr. and Mrs. John Cully, Colonel and Mrs. Evans of ‘Minmagary” fame, Colonel Baker and his charmingly vivacious wife Kate, and many, many more.

The hour was a little past eleven, and younger members of the family were preparing to leave for the midnight service at St. Peter’s. A great flurry of activity could be glimpsed beyond the parlor door as coats were being held, gloves pulled on, and scarves flung across shoulders with an occasional impatient “Hurry or we’ll be late.” Older guests also began to disperse, leaving Pappy and Mama to go upstairs, where the stockings lay waiting in Mama’s room to be filled. Christmas Eve had suddenly become very quiet as Rowan Oak waited for the arrival of Santa. Even the dogs seemed somewhat subdued.

Daylight had hardly crept across the east lawn and touched the great cedars before young couples were astir in Rowan Oak. Jill’s and her young cousin Vicky’s were the first voices to be heard. Then there would be Pappy’s voice, trying to subdue the exuberant chatter as the girls headed for Mama’s room where the Christmas stockings hung waiting. Chrissie had already brought “Miss Estelle’s coffee tray up, and was peeping from behind the door and saying “Christmas Gif,” and flashing her brilliant, warm smile. She caught Pappy on the stairs, tipping down to fix his own breakfast. Chrissie knew that Mr. Bill would be the only one to eat a proper breakfast: eggs, bacon, and grits covered with melted butter, topped off with hot coffee.

On Christmas Faulkner was always a fastidious dresser. To start the stocking-opening ritual in Mama’s room, he wore an elegant and ornate silk Chinese robe. In this he would have his breakfast. Even for the early part of the ceremony of the tree he would be so dressed, for by nine-thirty the young people were there beside the tree in the parlor. It was at this time that Mama would make her appearance wearing a lovely Chinese wrapper in soft, muted pastel shades.

The younger members of the family, including the colored servants, Broadus, Norfleet, Estelle, and others, gathered around the tree. Pappy in his colorful dressing gown officiated. He offered a prayer first. Then he picked up a package and called a name. That person stepped forward and received it. This continued until all the packages were passed out, amid a flurry of paper and ribbon the boxes were opened.

The time had now come for Faulkner to receive his gifts. These consisted of little bundles of pipe cleaners, some in assorted colors, others snow-white. There were all kinds of pipe cleaners in various bundles clinging precariously to the branches of the tree, each with its little tag. There was one package of Dill pipe cleaners, which Faulkner liked particularly. The tag on this read: “To Pappy, Love Buddy.” The next, a gaily colored mixture, said “To Pappy, Love Jill.”

For Faulkner would accept only pipe cleaners from the family with the exception of an occasional handkerchief from Mama. If he received any other gift, he would carefully take it to his office and there it would remain unopened.

Colored members of the family went merrily off to the kitchen to open their gifts. There were pints of bourbon for our colored friends: Henry Jones, Wade Ward, and Wallace, who hunted with Faulkner, and of course Andrew.

The dining room table had been made ready early that morning. The Christmas punch bowl glistened ruby red, the flowers were gracefully arranged. Punch cups were placed about the ornate lace table cover. The bowl could be glimpsed by members of the family as they made their way upstairs to dress for the day. This was a Christmas punch created by Faulkner for the holidays. It consisted of apples, bourbon, dry burgundy and soda water, chilled by a generous portion of ice chunks.

During the morning and through the day frequent knocks at the kitchen door were followed by shouts of “Christmas Gif!” and various folks that had worked for us during the year received in return a Christmas drink and cheerful word. This was the custom in Oxford and throughout Mississippi. Wallace, at the request of Faulkner, stood ready with a wagon to drive to their homes those who could no longer navigate.

During the early afternoon members of my mother’s family began to arrive. There was my mother’s sister Aunt Dot, and my grandmother Oldham, this time without my grandfather. He had passed away during the war. Then there was Mary Jenkins, Dr. John Cully’s surgical nurse, who lived at the Oldhams’, and had for years been almost a member of the family. She had on numerous occasions taken care of Faulkner during serious drinking bouts.

Miss Maud, Faulkner’s mother, never went out on Christmas, or attended dinner at the homes of any of her children. She preferred to have her sons and grandchildren drop in and visit her. After her husband, Mr. Murry, passed away in the early 1930’s Miss Maud never had a Christmas Tree. Instead, there were bouquets of holly, Christmas greens, and a holly wreath at the front door. About mid-afternoon Faulkner would leave for a visit with Miss Maud, usually staying an hour. Then he would return to dress for dinner.

The afternoon grew late. Faulkner, who had returned to Rowan Oak and dressed in the white tie and tails which he considered appropriate for the occasion, made his appearance in the parlor, suggesting as he did so that drinks were in order. He then headed for the library fire and a bourbon, soon to be followed by members of the family. Conversations over drinks rose and fell with merry outbursts of laughter. Ice clicked against chilled glasses as new toasts came up. Mama came gaily into the library, saying, “Billy, will you do the honors?” Those who were seated before the fire arose, and we all placed empty glasses on the tray as we passed the library table on the way to the dining room.

Faulkner was already standing at the head of the table as the members of the family reached the dining room. The long table was draped with its elegant linen cloth, and the lighted candelabra cast uneven shadows on the polished silver. Holly and Christmas greens in a low cut-glass vase formed the centerpiece. Silver goblets with crisp white linen napkins marked each place.

There were two small tables placed at graceful angles near the dining table. These were for the younger members of the family, for there were too many to be seated at one table. Small gumdrop trees were placed in the centers of these tables. Their dainty linen and lace tablecloths swept close to the floor.

Chairs were held for the ladies as Faulkner graciously designated where each was to be seated. Norfleet’s white coat flicked through the pantry as he made a smiling entrance carrying the huge serving platter and turkey. After Pappy said the blessing, the turkey was carved. Each plate was bountifully served as Norfleet held it for Faulkner. Boojack re-set Faulkner’s place as Norfleet removed the well-carved turkey, placing it on the long narrow serving table on Faulkner’s left just in front of the fireplace.

Faulkner, lifting a crystal wine glass, poured a small portion in the glass and tasted it. Then each glass was filled by Faulkner as he walked around the table. When every glass was filled, Fau toast appropriate to the occasion. Boojack entered carrying a heaping dish of rice. Just behind, Broadus appeared bearing a large bowl of giblet gravy. There was always a tremendous amount of giblet gravy prepared, for it was a favorite with rice on Christmas. Then came the broccoli with a cheese sauce, followed by a shallow dish of sliced buttered sweet potatoes. The ham was passed, and a final platter of broiled quail. The long serving table had very little room left as the dishes were placed on it.

It was Boojack who, sometime later, swung open the door carrying a large empty tray. She, with the help of Broadus, removed the dinner plates and placed the dessert plates beside Mama.

Norfleet appeared almost immediately bearing a large cut glass bowl of ambrosia, which he placed in front of Mama. Seeing the ambrosia reminded Faulkner of a story a good friend had told him. Faulkner repeated the story as the ambrosia was passed. This friend had a cook, and when she was asked if she would like to go to heaven when she died, she stood silent for a few minutes. Then, smiling broadly, she replied: “No Sir, I don’t believe I wants to go to heaven, cause all I’d be doing up there every day for Eternity is grittin’ up coconut for the white folks’ ambrosia.”

Boojack returned carrying fruitcake and a silver urn of after-dinner coffee and the cups. Norfleet placed in front of Faulkner a bottle of cognac and delicately patterned small brandy glasses. By the time the last refill of cognac had been offered and conversation become somewhat scattered it was time to leave the table. The sky was a deep black and night had come. Christmas was over.

Swedish Tea Ring

This pastry is what most of us would call a coffeecake. In Swedish, that’s kaffebröd, but Swedes call this pastry fikabröd. Fika means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea) and a little something to eat. Many Swedes consider it essential to make time for fika every day. This ritual has become institutionalized; even Volvo plants stop for fika. As companions to such warm conviviality, tea rings find their way onto many tables on Christmas mornings. This recipe is quite basic. Adding candied fruits, maraschino cherries, and nuts along with the glaze is a nice touch.

In a large bowl, dissolve 2 packets of yeast in a cup of warm milk mixed with a quarter cup each sugar and melted butter. Add 2 eggs, lightly beaten, a teaspoon salt, and a cup of AP flour. Beat until smooth. Gradually add additional flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour or so. Mix a half cup each chopped walnuts and raisins—with a half cup packed brown sugar and a heaping tablespoon of cinnamon, and enough melted butter to moisten. Punch the dough down, roll into an 18×12 inch rectangle, and sprinkle with the nut/raisin mixture to within about a half an inch of the edges. Starting with the long side, roll up, and pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on an oiled cookie sheet or pizza pan, and pinch ends together to form a ring. With scissors, cut from outside edge two-thirds of the way toward center of ring at 1 in. intervals. Separate strips slightly, and twist lightly. Cover and let rise until doubled, at least an hour. Bake at 350 until golden brown, about 30 mins. Cool on a wire rack, and drizzle with a glaze made from powdered sugar and enough milk to make a thick syrup.

Charcuterie 101

When assembling a charcuterie board, bear in mind that it’s more about making the right impression than feeding people; otherwise, why not just throw some baloney and cheese on a plate with a jar of mayo and a loaf of Wonder bread on the side and set it on a card table near the keg? It’s all about appearance, and the very fact that you accessed this article in the first place is solid evidence that you’re trying to rise above your raising. Well, never let it be said that I shirk at the opportunity to give fellow aspirants a leg up. These tips can help you put together a charcuterie that will impress those frozen hairdo harpies in the Junior League.

First, choose your board. My rule for this is that is should be wood; plastic is just out of the question, glass is rather chintzy, and metal inappropriate. A “butcher board” (which, in the most literal terms, is what a charcuterie is) should be quite sturdy, unwaxed and unvarnished. I prefer a dark color. Patterns tend to get lost, though I did have a friend who once used a ouija board for Halloween. (Nobody touched it. NOBODY.) If you don’t have a good board, go to Home Depot and have them cut you one, any size (or shape) you like. Always wash your board and wipe with culinary oil before setting up.

In addition to the board itself, you’ll need some small dishes for plating and serving. Chances are, you probably have a lot of fussy little plates and saucers around the house you can use, or go to the local thrift shop and pick up a selection. You can also find all kinds of cool little cheese knives, picks, and other serving do-dads there. Go shopping on the cheap, and do what you can to avoid having to buy plastic serving utensils. Keep it simple: white or glass dishes, a little color, try to avoid anything busy.

Nice cheeses and meats are generally on the pricier side. That being said, the charcuterie board is where you should feel comfortable splurging, since the board itself makes a display on the buffet table, and it feeds a lot of people who are just grazing. Again, this is your board, so choose your favorite varieties of cheese. Some good selections include firm cheeses such as chunks of parmesan, aged/smoked gouda, asiago, gruyere, colby, sharp cheddar; semi soft: havarti, muenster; soft: triple-cream brie, burrata, mascarpone; blues: gorgonzola, Dunbarton blue, marbled blue jack, Maytag; and crumbly cheese: feta, goat cheese. Use at least three types of cheese, about 2 ounces of cheese per person, and provide knives for each type. Take the cheese from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. Choose among a variety of dried meats and sausages: dry salami, prosciutto, mortadella, sopressata, Spanish chorizo, ahle wurscht, and coppa or capicola. Keep your meats in groups. (NO JERKY!)

For fruit, use whole berries and grapes. I always use halves of pomegranates for color. Do not use fruits that will discolor like apples, bananas, or pears or juice fruits like citrus. Keep a separate bowl of whole fruits—apples, bananas, pears, citrus—nearby; this also serves as décor. Add dried fruit: pineapple and apricot, figs and dates. Serve marinated olives, artichoke hearts, cucumbers, beans, and other vegetables in bowls. Use slivers of sweet peppers and nuts—pecans, pistachios, smoked almonds—fill in gaps. Include cornichons and gherkins (cornichons are dilled gherkins, not sweet gherkins; all cornichons are gherkins, not all gherkins are cornichons).

Add breads, crackers, and nuts at the end to fill in spaces. Choose breads and crackers of different shapes, flavors and colors: rounds, rectangles, wheat, white, rye, whatever; arrange some on their side, some flat and fanned. Provide a bowl of honey with a dipper for fruit, cheese, and soft bread. You’ll also need an herbal butter and mustards such as a Dijon-style, spicy stone-ground, and horseradish. Yellow mustard is far from verboten, and provides a nice splash of color. Use fresh rosemary and thyme for greenery and aroma.

Cheese Balls: A Political History

In any given holiday season, cheese balls are unavoidable. Slapped atop one of those cutesy little carving boards that have a little two-pronged knive on a chain and surrounded by captain’s wafers, Ritz crackers or—at the New Year’s keg party—saltines, the cheese ball has become an entrenched feature of the American holiday buffet table. While it’s a certainty that cheese balls in the form of their predecessor, cheese spreads, predate the discovery of the New World—examples include the Slovakian Liptauer, the Bavarian Obatzda and Hungarian Körözött—cheese balls in their primitive state (solid cheese) first became manifest in the White House. Do try not to be too surprised.

The first executive cheese ball was crafted by Elder John Leland of Cheshire, Massachusetts in 1801. Purportedly the Baptist community of Cheshire donated milk from over 900 cows to make a 1,235 pound ball known as “The Mammoth Cheese.” Preaching all the way to Washington (some things never change), he transported the ball by wagon and then rolled it across the White House lawn to serve it to President Thomas Jefferson. Rumor has it that this ball of cheese lasted for two years until Jefferson finally had the remains thrown into the Potomac. Then in 1835 dairy farmer Colonel Thomas S. Meacham of Sandy Creek, NY, crafted a titanic cheddar four feet in diameter, two feet thick and weighing nearly 1,400 pounds for then-president Andrew Jackson wrapped in a colossal belt bearing patriotic inscriptions. This cheese lasted so long that Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Beuren, had to rip out the curtains in the “cheese room” and have the walls sanded and whitewashed.

Cheese balls as we know them first appeared in 1944 when women threw modest wartime parties. A columnist for the The Minneapolis Star, Virginia Safford—who aspired to “eat her way around the world”—profiled women in Minneapolis for her book, Food of My Friends, and described a cheese ball made by a Mrs. Selmber E. Ellertson. Stafford’s follow-up book, Friends and their Food (1969), features recipes for “Cheese in the Round” and “Cheese Rolls”. The cheese ball really found its place in the 1970s, but like disco and lava lamps, eventually developed a bad rap. Writing in 2003, New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser wrote, “Cheese balls tend to be associated with shag rugs and tinsel, symbols of the middle-class middlebrow.”

But what with all the artisan cheeses flooding the market nowadays, cheese balls are making somewhat of a comeback. Cheese balls are made of soft cheese often combined with grated hard cheese, molded into a ball shape, and coated with seeds, nuts, or dried fruit. Options are endless, but most cheese balls are savory rather than sweet. Here is a classic recipe from Standing Room Only, a cookbook for entertaining published by New Stage Theatre in 1983.

1 pound cream cheese, softened,
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 4-oz. jar chopped mushrooms, drained
1 4-oz. jar chopped pimento, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped ripe olives
1/4 cup chopped green olives
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/4 cup Worcestershire
Finely chopped nuts for coating

Mix all ingredients, chill overnight, then shape into a ball and roll in finely chopped nuts. Wrap and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Pondering Divinity

God bless Uncle Daniel! If anyone can be generous to a fault it’s him, though Grandpa called it an open disposition and claimed that within the realm of reason there were people who would take advantage of such, which is how Uncle Daniel, attracting love and friendship with the best will and the lightest heart in the world, ended up with Grandpa in his new Studebaker sitting with old Judge Tip Calahan driving through the country on his way to the asylum in Jackson. From the word go Uncle Daniel got more vacations than anyone because they couldn’t find a thing in the world wrong with him, and he was so precious all he had to do was ask and he’d be on the branch-line train headed back to Clay County. Everybody missed Uncle Daniel so bad when he was gone that they spent all their time at the post office sending him things to eat. Divinity travels perfectly, if you ever need to know.

Pecan Divinity

It’s important to know that divinity, as with all recipes using whipped egg whites, is best made when the weather is dry. Having said that, boil three cups of sugar, one-half cup of Karo corn syrup, three-fourths cup of water to the hard ball stage. Beat the whites of two eggs  with a teaspoon each salt and vanilla until stiff. Pour the warm syrup over the whites and blend in chopped pecans. When it begins to harden drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper or spread in a  oiled pan and cut to shape.

Red Currant Thumb Cookies

When working with the dough, use powdered sugar on your hands and the wax paper instead of flour; these cookies are floury enough. The longer you chill the dough, the better it holds its shape. Use unsalted butter, and almost anything other than red currant jelly is too sweet. Breaking the jelly up makes it less likely to bubble up and spill over the cookie.

Take 3/4 cup softened butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg yolk, and 1 1/2 cups cake flour. Cream butter and sugar with egg yolk. Fold in flour, knead a little bit, wrap in wax paper, and chill. Roll into 1/2 inch balls, make a small depression in the middle, and fill with jelly. Bake at 325 until golden.

White Chili

Though not as robust and lacking the rugged mystique of Texas red, white chili is a great any cold night.

If chili were an authentic Mexican dish, then white chili would be fraught with as much ethnic tension white American cheese. But as any Mexican will tell you, chili is an American concoction, more specifically Texan. And any Texan will not only tell you that chili is a Texas dish, but he’ll also elaborate at length and in considerable detail on the proper way to make a great bowl of red. He’ll also likely denounce white chili as the grotesque brainchild of some East Coast chef manqué, though it’s more likely a dish from the Nebraska State Fair that somehow made it into Ladies’ Home Journal and from there to bourgeoisie kitchens across the country.

Many people don’t even consider white chili to be chili in the first place, saying it’s nothing more than chicken and bean soup with cumin and oregano, peppers (albeit chili peppers), white beans and chicken, but I’d be one to argue that white chili is indeed chili because of the cumin. While cumin has varied uses all around the globe, in my part of the world, using cumin invariably involves a chili recipe. And yes, chicken. Let’s settle this once and for all: pork is not “the other white meat”.

For six generous servings, cube about a pound of boneless chicken or (better) turkey breasts, and sear in a skillet until done through with one large white onion chopped, a couple of cloves of garlic, minced (or to taste), two thin-skinned mild peppers (I use poblanos) diced. Add an 8 oz. can diced green peppers, two 15 oz. cans of great northern or navy beans and two cups chicken broth. Season with about a tablespoon ground cumin, a teaspoon dried oregano and white pepper to taste. Some people add basil, but don’t. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until you get a heavy consistency. You shouldn’t have to add any thickener; the starch from the beans should do the job. And for Pete’s sake, DO NOT add any dairy. Serve with bread: not rice, not pasta, but bread, warm and crusty. Cornbread is fine, yes.

Wilted Greens

Contrary to popular belief, Southerners don’t always “cook vegetables to death”. Here in the South, we have always enjoyed a wide variety of vegetables either raw or lightly cooked as in this recipe, which has been prepared in Dixie kitchens long before the word “Dixie” came into use, and is a signature dish not only of our region, but in variations across the globe.

Use the freshest mustards, turnips, kale/collards, or spinach. Wash thoroughly, shake well, strip stems, shred, and drain. For a half-gallon of greens, fry six to eight slices of bacon until very crisp. Remove bacon, add another quarter cup of corn oil, reheat the oil, add about a half cup of vinegar, and a tablespoon or so of a thin red pepper sauce. I like Crystal. Add a teaspoon of sugar, and let this cook down by about a third. Place drained greens in a large bowl or pan, pour the hot oil/vinegar mixture over the greens, and toss vigorously with plenty of salt and black pepper. Top with thinly sliced white onions, crumbled bacon, and chopped boiled egg. Sprinkle with more black pepper; serve with a bowl of pintos.