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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Preaching to the Choir at "Southern Baptist Sissies"

I'm glad I saw the play Southern Baptist Sissies last night, presented by Queen City Theatre Company at Spirit Square. But I can't help feeling it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "preaching to the choir."

The show is by Del Shores, who also wrote the campy Sordid Lives. But while Sordid Lives felt more intentionally outlandish and over the top, for me this play hit a little closer to home. These weren't just characters. They were the people I grew up with.

Set in a Texas church, Southern Baptist Sissies is the tale of four "sissy" boys who sing together in the choir. Early on, they all realize something makes them different. And, as the narrator, Mark, points out, in a congregation of about 40 youth, "statistically, it worked out just about right."

Mark struggles with the way  his heartfelt desires conflict with what he hears at church about sin, temptation and repentance. Andrew is the first one to "get saved." T.J. fights his urges and ends up "happily married" to a Baylor belle. Benny is the most flamboyant of the four, a future drag queen whose sexuality was never in question:

Yeah, precious, with me you took one look and you knew! I would make even Jerry Falwell question that "choice" shit. That is, if he cared enough to really get to know me. If he did, his whole world would come tumblin' down like the walls of fuckin' Jericho. Then he'd have to deal with his own true nature, if you know what I mean. Ever hear, "thee protests too much, Tinky Winky?!!!"

It's an in-your-face show from the moment it opens with the boys singing the chorus of that Baptist classic, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I'll Be There. Narrator Mark bursts forth to finish the hymn: "Unless you're a fag!"

The play's dialogue--particularly Mark's lines--underlines the hypocrisy of their preacher's insistence that "these urges" are something to be surmounted, not succumbed to.

Preacher: God gave us the freedom of choice!"
Mark: Really? Well I choose to go to hell! I choose to gnash my teeth! Wouldn't you? I mean, it's so logical.

My favorite scene came at the end of the first act, when a drag queen angel sings a country song asking how something can be so wrong but feel so right. As one of the characters kneels in prayer, the preacher in his black suit stands over one shoulder, the flamboyant angel in white on the other. The ironic message about good and evil was clear. But the relative subtlety of that scene was appealing compared to the too-long second act, with its overwrought ending that, unfortunately, left some inconsiderate members of the audience snickering, not sniffling.

To be sure, much of the play is meant to draw laughs, and it does. But as a Christian, I couldn't help watching it and feeling really sad about the truths it so harshly depicts. I thought of some of my dearest friends who would relate all too well to this play, people whose acceptance of their homosexuality coincided with their departure from organized religion. And my heart hurt to realize that for too many people in this world, church is a place of judgment, criticism and pain.

When it comes down to it, I really don't care what it says in Leviticus or Romans or anywhere else, the simple truth for me is this: God is love. And God's plan for all of us is about loving others, accepting ourselves as He made us, and letting our light shine. It's a plan of goodness and wholeness, not a plan of sadness and brokenness.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Although the show was sold out, I wondered how many of us were there to experience something we didn't already know. I'm pretty sure the people who really need to hear the show's message weren't in the audience last night. But I think you could find most of them on their pews this morning.

P.S. If you're curious, you can actually read some more chunks from the play here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mama Prospero's Meatballs and Marinara

What a perfect recipe for a cold, rainy evening! I'd been wanting to make this since I saw it in the Charlotte Observer before the holidays because (a) I LOVE spaghetti and meatballs and had never made it and (b) this version uses the microwave?! Intriguing.

This recipe was part of a feature about cooking food that you can freeze and give as a gift for the holidays, a concept I heartily endorse. Mama Prospero, I don't know who you are, but bless you and your meatballs!

1 large onion, peeled and cut in chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in chunks
1 giant handful of fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano)
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can tomato puree (This is apparently not the same thing as tomato sauce? Hmm. Suspect they are the same, but I followed instructions, although puree came only in a 28-ounce can.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup red wine

Pulse onion and garlic in food processor until finely chopped. Heat oil in large Dutch oven, then saute onion, garlic and red pepper flakes until softened, about 5 minutes.
While you are doing that, pulse herbs until finely chopped.
Add herbs to onion and garlic, stir and cook about 5 minutes. Remove 1/3 cup of mixture from pan and reserve for meatballs.
Pulse whole tomatoes in food processor until finely chopped. (I must say, one thing I like about this recipe is that you use your food processor multiple times.)
Add to pan along with tomato puree. Add salt, pepper, sugar and wine. Simmer on low heat while you make the meatballs.
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
3 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine egg, milk and bread crumbs in a large bowl and stir until liquids are absorbed. Add reserved 1/3 cup onion-herb mixture and stir.
Add ground beef, salt and pepper and mix gently until well blended.
Using a tablespoon and your hands, form meatballs about the size of ping pong balls. Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray. Place as many meatballs as will fit in a single layer in dish.
Microwave on high for 8 minutes. Remove meatballs with slotted spoon and add to sauce. Pour off juices given off by meatballs in cooking, and repeat with remaining meatballs. (I must confess, I at first thought this meant to pour off the juices into the sauce, but since it called for a slotted spoon, I realized that meant to discard the microwaved meat juices -- those tomato cans came in handy for this part!)
Some of the meatballs in the center were still too pink for me, so I removed the ones from the edges and microwaved the center ones for a few more minutes.
(I also used two 9x13 pans to microwave the meatballs so I could pat out the second batch while the first batch was cooking.) 
Simmer meatballs and sauce together about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Remove from heat, cool and then package for freezer. Or, cook spaghetti and enjoy if you are making this for yourself!

Yield: about 42 meatballs, and lots of sauce, or 5 (2 1/2 cup) containers for freezing.

I had fun making this and thought it was pretty easy for what it is. I'm excited to freeze some of this for an easy weeknight dinner when I need something yummy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower

I didn't grocery shop before the snow fell on Sunday (couldn't stand the idea of fighting the crowd), so I have been cleaning out the fridge and pantry while trapped at home these past two days.

Fortunately, I made a pot of bean soup for Sunday lunch, and Leigh Ann made a pot of potato soup, so those have been great to have. Today I pulled out a bag of cauliflower and a recipe my friend Page gave me last fall.
 Roasted Cauliflower
  1. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place cauliflower florets on top.
  2. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and marjoram.  
  3. Roast at 400 for 10 minutes.
  4. Take out, turn, pour balsamic vinegar over to coat. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  5. Roast 10 more minutes.
  6. Turn again. Add more yummy stuff, if you think it needs it.
  7. Roast for 10 more minutes, maybe less. Watch it closely.
I was marjoramless and still thought it turned out great! Definitely an easy veggie to add to your winter rotation. Lord knows we can all use a creative way to prepare cauliflower.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Makin' Pilau

Pur-what? Pur-who? Pur-low, y'all!

Growing up in Quincy, one dish always heralded the arrival of cold weather: pilau. A simple dish of chicken and rice that's pronounced "pur-low," we sold it for school fundraisers. For the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. or the senior trip to Colorado, we'd hit the phones to pay our way selling plates of pilau.

Under the faithful direction of Mr. Bo Chason, men would spend hours outside in the Methodist church parking lot, boiling broth and stirring enormous pots with paddles. Inside, the students and mothers would form an assembly line to fill styrofoam boxes with the meals: a generous portion of pilau, cole slaw from Chandler's Restaurant, sweet pickles, saltines, and -- tucked in a plastic bag -- a brownie.

The tradition continues in the Q, but I've never seen anything like it in Charlotte. When my sister and I got involved at our big-city church, we couldn't believe having a fundraiser actually involved hiring a caterer. Where were the all dads with their paddles and giant pots?

A few years ago, Leigh Ann and I grew nostalgic for the familiar flavor of pilau. Our aunt Tillie agreed; it had been ages since she'd had any. We asked our friend, Suzanne, to get the recipe from her dad, Mr. Ed (the same Eddie Boo of the Brunswick stew).

I'm not sure I want to let this recipe get too far from home, so I'll just tell you it involves boiling and deboning massive amounts of chicken.
You add some chopped vegetables and simmer it until the rice is ready. Leave the skin on when you cook the chicken, and the more dark meat, the better! The first time I made it, I couldn't believe it: the flavor was just as I remembered.
Since then, I've made it a few times for parties. What better dish to serve a crowd than something you make by the gallon? The leftovers freeze well and are easy to share. I'm still mastering the seasoning, but now, thanks to my mother, I have inherited my own heavy-duty pilau pot.
Everyone in Charlotte who's eaten the pilau asks about the origin of the word. Curious myself, I found this article on, which says pilau is most popular in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana:

The word comes from the Turkish pilaw, from the Persian pilaw, and from the Osmanli pilav, "rice porridge." Pronunciation is just as varied, as in PER-lo, PEELaf, or per-LO. According to Bill Neal, Charlestonians, no matter how they spell it, all pronounce it PER-low.
I think this paragraph describes it well:
"...We pronounce the word "pur-loo." It is any dish of meat and rice cooked together. No Florida church supper, no large rural gathering, is without it. It is blessed among dishes for such a purpose, or for a large family, for meat goes farther in a pilau than prepared in any other way."
-- From "Cross Creek Cookery," by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

A warm dish for cold weather, full of happy memories. Blessed among dishes indeed!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January Supper Club

Tonight's menu: Vegetarian Cassoulet (Anne), Scalloped Potatoes (Kathy), Citrus Salad (Lynsley), Rum Raisin Tiramisu (Amy).

My citrus salad was inspired by a recipe in theWilliams Sonoma Seasons cookbook. It was supposed to have blood oranges and kumquats, in addition to oranges, grapefruit and pomegranate, but I just improvised a bit with the fruits I found at Trader Joe's.

So, I cut up 3 oranges and 2 grapefruits (one pink, but I think they were both about the same). Instead of the kumquats, I thinly sliced a couple of apricots. I seeded a pomegranate but used only about half for this. A whole pomegranate was about $2, and a prepared container of pomegranate seeds was $4 for half as many seeds. Sometimes cost wins, sometimes convenience wins. (Coming soon: how to seed a pomegranate, if you don't know this trick.)

I added some chopped mint and very thinly sliced red onion, drizzled it with olive oil and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. It was really tasty!
Anne made a vegetarian cassoulet she'd been saving from Gourmet since 2008. It had great flavor with a yummy herbed breadcrumb garnish for texture.
Kathy made scalloped potatoes with onions -- simple and delicous!
For dessert, Amy made a rum raisin tiramisu from her new Barefoot Contessa cookbook. This was a funny was yummy (and looked beautiful), but it had a very strong rum flavor. We practically pulled out matches to see if our breath would light them! Turns out she used light rum instead of dark rum...the recipe called for a full cup, so we think that may have made a difference. Anyway, Anne said it cleared up her cold, so there is something to be said for those old-fashioned cures.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Butternut Squash Risotto with Bacon and Scallops

I had two great meals over the holidays. One was when my aunt treated the family to dinner at Carpe Diem; the other was when our Quincy friends Karen and Judy visited and took Leigh Ann and me to Good Food. Both amazing meals included a similar dish, a risotto or orzo with citrus and butternut squash and bacon.

So, I decided to recreate this in my kitchen. Step 1: BACON. I found an extra-thick version I will likely be buying from now on, Oscar Mayer's Bacon Lover's Super Thick Cut Applewood Smoked Bacon. "That is some gooood bacon," my sister said. 
Step 2: Peel, cube and cook the butternut squash. I chose to boil it, but it could also be roasted.
Step 3: I cleaned and chopped two large leeks and sauteed them in some of the reserved bacon fat.
Step 4: Make the risotto. I just tweaked a basic risotto recipe I found online, so I added 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice to the leeks and sauteed the grains in the mixture until they were coated. Then I added 1/2 cup good white wine and let it bubble until it was absorbed by the rice. I heated 5 cups of chicken broth in a separate pot and started ladling the hot stock into the pot, bit by bit, stirring the rice constantly as the liquid was absorbed.
Step 5: Once the risotto was ready, I added the butternut squash (not quite as soft as I would have liked it...I really wanted it to sort of mash into the risotto) and a generous 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan, along with the zest of one orange (might have gone a little too heavy on that).
Step 6: I sauteed the scallops in the cast iron skillet in which I'd cooked the bacon. Scallops are something I haven't really mastered. I think you're supposed to really dry them and use a non-stick pan in order to get that fabulous crisp crust on them? I need to experiment a little more, but when you have bacon grease on hand, you have to put it to good use!
And this was the finished dish!
It was very good, but not quite as fabulous as what I enjoyed in the restaurants...guess that means I'll have to return.
Leigh Ann and I were both feeling creative that night, so we had the risotto as a small first course, and then she made some lobster tails with asparagus. She baked them in foil with butter and lemon and added some asparagus. Delicious!