Mayonnaise Biscuits

Mayonnaise Biscuits with MarmaladeIf your first thought is “gross,” you are forgiven. But bear with me. I have periodically come across recipes for mayonnaise biscuits in little church cookbooks, or on hand written recipe cards and I have dismissed them as crazy talk. Why? Simple bias. My head thinks baking with mayonnaise is nuts. Yet, I’ve also seen a million recipes in these same cookbooks for chocolate mayonnaise cake. Even my grandma had a recipe for chocolate mayonnaise cake. But still, there is this lingering part of my mind that assumes that these things, must, based on that one ingredient, taste like a tuna fish sandwich. And this is ridiculous. Mayonnaise is nothing but eggs and oil, really. So some enterprising cooks in a jam were smart enough to give mayo a whirl just to see what might happen, I suppose. And the answer is, good things happen.

Then there is the self-rising flour part. I don’t buy it. I think there is a part of me that thinks it is cheating somehow…after all, it already has baking powder and salt mixed into it. Isn’t that cheating? No. It is not. Can’t I just use all-purpose flour and add the salt and baking powder? Yes, you can, but don’t if you can help it.

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Sweet Cornbread Muffins

Corn Muffins with ButterCorn bread and corn muffins, and biscuits for that matter, are much like barbecue. People are downright passionate about the art-form.  These are the most basic of recipes passed down from grandmother and great grandmothers, methods learned by listening and watching. They are soaked in cultural issues and history. It is a my-way-or-the-highway thing. For every family or region there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Some scoff at the notion of adding wheat flour to cornbread. Some are aghast at the notion of adding sugar. And I think that is completely wonderful. Because if we don’t latch on to the ways our people did things, we don’t have this tasty vehicle for remembering and learning.

If you want to get into the controversy between cornbread and biscuits…as opposed to just within each…you will have to read professor Elizabeth Engelhardt’s book A Mess of Greens. It is a fascinating tale of food history, part of which describes how years ago the biscuit team tried to persuade the cornbread team that they were…essentially…poor and stupid and that they needed to join the biscuit team. Paraphrasing, of course. But I’m making a quick bread here, so I’ve got to cut some corners. But there is more to cornbread’s story than you might imagine. And whether you grew up in a cornbread house or a biscuit house, or both, probably tells a story about your family that you have never thought about. This, however is not the topic of the day…onward…

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Apple and Sausage Cinnamon Toast

Photo of Cinnamon Toast with Apples and SausageWe’ve been a bit icy in Dallas. Usually this is not an event, and one stays off the roads merely to avoid the bad drivers, but not really the ice. But this ice was formidable enough to keep me happily in the house with the kiddos. Pitts isn’t put off by ice driving even a little bit so I had him run to the store and grab some goodies for me.

There should be a love song about “I gave my love a shopping list and he brought me a basket of Honeycrisp Apples and sausage,” because when I unpacked my gifts, these were the offerings that got my brain ginning with ideas. He also brought me a carton of eggs (the chicken with no bone…as the folk song goes) but that is for a later recipe. Anyone who is still with me at this point either loves Animal House or folk music. I like both. And the song has been stuck in my head since my ice hero showed up with the groceries.

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Cornbread Dressing with Sausage and Pecans

cornbread dressing for ThanksgivingTalk about a tectonic shift. I have never made cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving. Then, all of a sudden, it was essential to me to make cornbread dressing. Perhaps it was nostalgia. Someone would bring cornbread dressing to my Grandma’s Thanksgiving, and I was always standing there with a crappy look on my face, like only a 10 year old can properly do, wanting regular bread dressing. “I don’t like it,” I would utter, having never even tried it. Perhaps my Grandma Katie made it. Perhaps my Papaw Virgil made it. Would that I could have those moments back in life, when I scoffed at the unknown. I’m better now. I could cry at the thought of so glibly insulting the gifts of such dedicated people. I knew nothing of life, then.

This is a slightly different beast than their dressing. I relish the chunks of bread and the large textural components like the sausage and pecans. I think I once felt that stuffing and dressing needed to be somewhat homogenous, appropriately wet cement that could also be used for brick making.

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Jam Muffins

photograph of muffins

I have so much on my mind, so many balls in the air, that muffin recipes seem positively silly at the moment. But sometimes baking is just the thing you need to halt chaos momentarily. My chaos is all good, mind you. It is back to school time. I’m getting to know teachers, helping decorate lockers, getting routines sorted out, and generally having my mind blown away by how serious life can be in the 3rd and 5th grade now. There are so many advantages to growing up in this day and age…so many opportunities and such incredible technology…such possibility. But there is a negative balancing dose of anxiety, pressure, yuck, and too much grown up responsibility and expectations for such young people. And I’m not really getting into the content of the academics involved, though that is stunning too.

In many ways I prefer the slower pace of my youth. Or rather, while the fast pace of childhood was the same, back then the background, the context of my childhood, wasn’t moving so quickly and changing so rapidly as it does now. The earth was firm underfoot. Now they fly. Some days I miss my World Book Encyclopedias and a phone that was attached to the wall with a curly cord. This is compounded by a huge computer change in my office and the tectonic ramifications of switching computers…no matter how simple companies may imply that it is. And, I’m combating my first world, spoiled-rotten angst with muffins.

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