Beef Shoulder Roast

Brown a  3 lb. blade-in beef shoulder with onion and garlic. Cover with water by half. Add a pound of potatoes and cup each of  chopped celery and carrots. Salt lightly, flavor with black pepper, thyme, and bay. Cover and cook in a slow oven (300) until meat is tender. Save some broth for gravy.

The Sun Rekindles

To confirm that the Charter of Christ embraces the profane cycle of life, the early Church adopted observances of the solar calendar from many different cultures. The most significant of these are obvious; Easter, on the spring equinox, and Christmas, on the winter solstice.

Others include All Saints’ Day, the mid-point between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice; Lammas Day, the mid-point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, while May Day, in between the spring equinox and the summer solstice (Beltane in the Celtic calendar) marks a celebration of the Virgin Mary in Christian culture.

February 1-2 falls between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, marking the middle of solar winter in the northern hemisphere. Called Imbolc in the Celtic calendar, Christians observe the date as Candlemas, but most of us know it as Groundhog Day.

Shrimp Creole: Back to Basics

What you’ll usually find served as shrimp Creole is a handful of mealy shrimp drenched in a cayenne-infused tomato gravy loaded with bell peppers and ladled over a gummy pile of Minute rice.

This commercial abomination has become so prevalent that many people have begun to replicate this horror in the home kitchen, but if you follow procedure and proceed apace, a good shrimp Creole is not at all difficult to make.

Make a roux with a quarter cup each of flour and oil—not butter, not olive oil, just a light vegetable oil will do fine. People from the boonies use a very dark roux for a Creole, but I prefer one two shades lighter than a Budweiser bottle.

They can talk about me if they want to.

To this, while still hot, add two cups finely chopped white onion, one cup finely chopped celery and a half cup finely diced bell pepper. Do not over-do the bell pepper! I firmly concur with Justin Wilson who said time and time again that bell pepper is “a taste killah”, and we both agree that you can never use too much onion. (Within reason.)

For a basic shrimp Creole to feed six people, sauté two pounds peeled shrimp–I recommend a 26-30 count–in a light oil with plenty of garlic, about four cloves crushed and minced, and a little pepper (do not salt). Add the shrimp (with the liquid) to the roux/vegetable mix, then immediately add two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes with juice. (In a perfect world, you’d use four cups of home-canned tomatoes, but I do not live in a perfect world, and I’ll bet you don’t, either.)

Add a little water to this if needed to give it the consistency of a thick soup, season with a two tablespoons dried basil, two teaspoons thyme and a teaspoon each of oregano and ground cumin. Understand please that these are relative ratios that you can adjust with neither guilt nor effort. When it comes to pepper, the best rule of thumb is to add just enough to make a statement and provide a good Louisiana hot sauce on the table.

Let this stew for at least an hour (I put it in a low oven uncovered and stir it two or three times), then adjust your seasonings, particularly the salt and pepper. Serve over cooked long-grain rice; let me recommend Zatarain’s, and no, I’m not getting paid for that.

Pizza Den’s Submarine Sandwich

Frank Bowen sent me this recipe, and here I reproduce his original mail with the reminder that Pizza Den is still open, and Bob’s family is carrying on the tradition of great local food in Oxford. Go see them the next time you’re there.

The following is a recipe that was posted on an Ole Miss Spirit message board several years ago. I made it several times and can attest that it is faithful to the original at the Pizza Den. It is not in standard recipe format, but it tells how to make the sandwich very well. I don’t know who made the post. He had a user name of Reblanta. I have found that the instructions of letting it rest on the counter for 15-20 minutes to simulate delivery is an important step.

Pizza Bob’s Famous Submarine Sandwich

In May, 1983, I had just bought a new car and decided that I would take it out on the road and drive up to Oxford for the afternoon, primarily to drop by Pizza Den and pick up some submarines to take back home and share with my Ole Miss friends that night. Things were slow late that afternoon when I got there but Pizza Bob was in good spirits. Since nobody else was there, I decided to broach the sacred subject on just how Bob made his famous submarine sandwich. Whether he was thinking of the good times he’d had in Nam, the money he had made off of me over the years, or perhaps he just felt sorry for me, I couldn’t tell, but this is what he told me. I watched him make the submarines and committed the process to memory.

Take your baguette, split it down the middle. Pour butter over the open slices of bread, sprinkle on a generous portion of both Parmesan and mozzarella cheese and place several thin slices of ham, salami, AND luncheon meat! Bob dusted all slices in between with the same cheese mixture, then in the middle of the meats he ladled in spaghetti sauce. Over the top of the meats he sprinkled more of the cheese mixture and then placed the other half of the bread on top. Finally, just as he was ready to seal up the sandwich in foil, he poured more melted butter over all. I cook mine about 20 minutes total in 350 degrees, turning it over about half way to disperse the butter evenly throughout. Finally, to make it authentic, take it out of the oven, and leave it on the counter top for about 15 to 20 minutes to simulate the delivery to Fraternity Row. Always remember to press the sandwich down as well.

I make it a point to make “Pizza Bobs” for every first televised football game of the year and I suggest that you do as well. I make mine exactly like he told me to except for that luncheon meat stuff. I hope that when you make your “Pizza Bob” sandwiches, you’ll think of Pizza Bob. I once heard this said and believe it now to be true: If food were a religion, Pizza Bob would be the High Priest.

Taps

“Taps” is a song you learn as a kid. It sounds simple, but it has to be perfect because everyone knows it.

The first time I executed it was prior to my joining the military. I was teaching in Louisville. A young Marine had died, and they called the high school, wanting one of the kids to come and play. The band director called me and said that he thought it required a little more finesse than a student would have, so I went and played. It wasn’t a month later that another young Marine was killed, and I played at his funeral as well.

You have to be calm and focused. At first, you want to execute it right because you want to play well. But the family will often come and speak to the bugler. And when you look into their eyes for the first time, you realize from that point on that it’s not about performance, it’s beyond that.

When I say that little prayer before I play it’s not for me. It’s for them.

Chief Warrant Officer Robin Crawford
Mississippi National Guard

Ars Voces: Eric Stracener – Playing for a Song

My dad and my brother played guitar, but I didn’t start playing until I was a senior at Millsaps, when I was doing an honors thesis that was driving me crazy. I was a huge music fan, but I’d never played anything. I was also writing things like any silly English major in college taking creative writing classes. I’d always liked music as much as or more than I did literature, and songs are easier to write than novels.

I grew up in Mobile, where my oldest and best friend, Will Kimbrough was a professional player, an original song-writing guy from the age of 16 on, an unbelievable record freak. And he was touring! He was our conduit for stuff like The Clash and The Jam; not as much punk as sort of punkish rock-and-roll. Not that I’d call The Clash punk; to me they’re the greatest rock-and-roll band ever. We were lucky there because one guy could change the field.

I’d been in a punk band in Mobile, “Joe Strange”, and I wrote songs then. We weren’t bad; we were okay. But I started playing on stage again when I was in school in Oxford. Law school was so boring, and I was around people who were so incredibly different from me. I was seven years older than most of them, for one thing, and they were all a bunch of Republican yuppies, who with a few exceptions just bored the shit out of me. So I hung out with the quirkier people in Oxford, and I think I wound up there for a reason.

I started writing songs because I knew I was never going to be a hot-shot guitar player; I couldn’t play “Stairway to Heaven”. I knew I was never going to be in a band because I was a great this or that, and I wasn’t going to be just another white dude playing in a blues band, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to play “Mustang Sally”. I didn’t want to be hustling money for playing stuff that I had no business playing, so I didn’t, and for better or worse, this is what I started doing.

When I turned 30 my good friend Eileen Wallace sent me a book she made: she’d made everything, the binding, the paper, the cover. I started writing things in that, and I’ve never stopped. And I’ll tell you, the voice memo function on an iPhone has changed the way I write songs. Now if I’m doing something else, something boring, just driving, or maybe watching a game, I can hit the voice memo, and mumble some stuff, and keep it to work on later. It helps. You know how this is as a writer; it comes, and you only catch a tiny portion of it in the net. My favorite songwriter, Richard Thompson, carries a notebook with him everywhere. It just ups the odds of not losing something important.

When I’m writing songs just for me, as opposed as to for a band or someone else, I always tell myself they have to be okay just to play on an acoustic in front of people. Maybe that’s folk music; I don’t know. If they work like that, it’s okay because a lot of the time when I’m playing, it’s solo. I like to perform; it’s thrilling to play solo, but it’s kind of scary. I mean, it’s just you out there on the tightrope. It’s easier for me to play in front of 100 people I’ve never met than in front of 10 people I know. Denny Burkes is the best musician I know, so if I’m playing in front of Denny, it’s different. It’s like reading some of your stuff at a writer’s workshop instead of reading to a bunch of students. But I like it.

I can’t sing too great, I’m an okay guitar player; nobody’s going to ask me to be a singer in their band. The reason I play and sing is so that I can do my songs. I think once you find the way you get stuff out, if you find it, whether it’s building model planes or whatever, you’re lucky. I’m lucky in that I can write for myself; I don’t have to please anybody else. I don’t have a record executive breathing down my neck, so I can write whatever I want whenever I want. I think music is moving more away from a business and more into an avocation because anyone can make a record now, and hardly anyone can make any money because it’s all free. In a weird way, it’s going back to what it was like for people in the early 20th century when on Saturday nights people played music and traded songs just for the art, for the fun of it. That’s why I do it; I’ve made hundreds of dollars!

I’ve put out two albums. Neilson Hubbard produced the first two; Will Kimbrough will produce the next one. When I get into conversations over what I’m going to do, I always have people who’ll tell me, ‘Well, you need to market yourself; you need to do this, you need to do that …’ and I keep thinking, ‘Okay, why? So I can do what?’ Right now it makes me incredibly happy that I have people covering my songs; I can’t get a bigger compliment. I’ve gotten weird reviews from places like Holland and Belgium, but I think most of that is people see you’re from Mississippi, and they’re like ‘Yeah, yeah, Mississippi!’

I have some songs I’ve been working on for years. “Her Grief is a Man” came easily, out of a difficult situation. Some songs are from personal experience, some are just flat-out, straight-up fiction. I don’t know how that happens. I’ll be on a run, say, and the cadence of the run determines the meter of the song; it just starts. A lot of them start on the guitar. Inspiration is fleeting, but you can up the odds by picking up the guitar and playing one every now and then. You’ve got to work a little bit. If someone covers one of my songs and sends me a bunch of money, great; I’ve had some calls about songs being placed on television, and that hasn’t happened yet, but if it does, it’s great. I do want to make records, and it’s driving me crazy that I’ve not put one out in five years. I love “Leaves of Tennessee” and I have a few more I like very much in this batch. By my standards, it’s going to be a very good record, but it costs money and takes time, and I’ve had things to happen in my life which have made finding the money and time to make a record a relatively low priority.

My daughter, who is the best critic I have. She’ll come in, and I’ll be playing something, and she’ll ask, ‘Is that yours?’ ‘Yes,’ I’ll say, and usually she’ll go something like, ‘Meh,’ but the other day, I’ve got a new one that I just finished, and I heard her humming the chorus. And that’s when you know that it’s a hit; a hit is a hit, whether it hits your house or hits the world. People respond to a good song. What I think is my best stuff, some people don’t. There’s a song of mine called “Levee” that I thought was pretty good; I was trying to write something different, a two-step, and I’ve heard a lot of people tell me that’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

What I hope that means is that the more I write, the higher the bar is raised and that my weaker songs in the next batch will be better on average. And that’s a great thing.

Reviving Salmagundi

Claiborne—and All Who Sailed in him—declared, “There is something about the word ‘salmagundi’ that has an unmistakable appeal for savants with a leaning toward gourmandism.” (Honestly. I can’t count number of times I’ve wanted to kick that pontifical old queen under the table).

I certainly have no ambition of being a savant, much less one learning towards gourmandism. Like many others, I simply find salmagundi—like pettifoggery, kittywampus, or hullabaloo—one of those words you want to just pick off the page, cuddle and tease with a string.

The dish is just as playful. Actually, salmagundi isn’t so much a dish as it is a presentation along the lines of an antipasto or a smorgasbord, of a selection of cold vegetables, pickles, meats, and fruit mounded on a tray.

By precedent, you want your meat, cold poached chicken atop salad greens ringed with pickles, cooked eggs, raw or blanched vegetables, citrus, nuts, sausages, and cold fish—anchovies are a classic addition, but I like smoked salmon, too. Pretty much anything goes with the notable exception of cheese, which isn’t included in any reliable historic recipe. The emphasis should be on piquancy set off by elements that are crisp and bland.

Mississippi Hill Country Stew

Brown lightly floured stew meat with chopped onions and a clove or so of minced garlic. Dust with a bit more flour, stir well, add coarsely diced potatoes, carrots, celery, and water to cover over by a half. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook–stirring occasionally–on low heat until meat and vegetables are tender. Reduce to consistency. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve with rice and/ or cornbread.

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Ginger Molasses

My recipe is a riff on that of fellow Calhoun Countian April McGregor, who knowingly writes that kneading makes biscuits heavy.

To 3 cups soft flour sifted with two teaspoons baking powder, cut in a cup of cold cooked sweet potatoes, one stick cold butter sliced into pats. You can add chopped pecans if you like. Combine and quickly mix by hand to a rice-like consistency. Add enough cold buttermilk to make a sticky dough.

Pat out on a floured surface, cut with a sharp edge, and place in a lightly oiled skillet. Don’t use a cake tin, or you’ll burn the bottoms. Place on an upper rack in a hot oven, and bake for about 15 minutes.

Mix a cup of molasses with a quarter cup water in a small saucepan; add a few slices of ginger and simmer until thickened.

The Cheese Straw Alternative

Admit it; making cheese straws is a pain in the butt.

Though they’re a must on your browsing buffets (if not, someone sniffy is bound to say, “Oh, I should have brought you MY WONDERFUL cheese straws!”), they still aren’t something you might feel like throwing together for a more casual gathering like a bowl game, backyard picnic, or that special moment when y’all decided to get married all of a sudden and your mother(s) held a reception.

Simply make a dough with one cup plain flour, one cup grated sharp cheddar and one stick of softened butter, add a little salt, a little white pepper, roll out, shape with a cookie cutter (which is quite easy to clean) and bake at 350 until nice and crisp. Dust with paprika and a little cayenne.