From the Potter’s Hand: Mississippi Potters

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Mississippi Magazine
July / August 2013

Pottery is one of the oldest art forms in the world.  Mississippi has a long lineage of skilled potters dating back to prehistoric Native Americans who formed the most basic artifacts from our state’s rich, red clay.  Later, notable Mississippians such as George Ohr and Walter Anderson would pave the way for the skilled artisans that today draw inspiration from all over – the rolling hills of North Mississippi, the flatlands of the Delta, the Mississippi River, and the beaches of the Gulf Coast.

 

McCarty’s Pottery
Merigold, MS

The elegantly muted colors of McCarty’s Pottery have become as synonymous with Mississippi as the rolling fields of the Delta and the muddy waters of the Mississippi River.  The story of how Lee and Pup McCarty embarked on a career as artisans 1954 is not only an interesting tale, but a demonstration in perseverance.

Shortly after the couple married, Lee and Pup attended Ole Miss where Lee studied chemistry and physics and planned to become a teacher.  Pottery became a creative outlet the couple enjoyed working on together and would later foster a relationship with American writer and Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner, who allowed the couple to source the clay for their first pieces from the ravine behind his home – Rowan Oaks.

In the early 1950’s, Lee and Pup returned to Lee’s hometown of Merigold with a small kiln and a kickwheel.  A family friend offered to let them set up shop in an old mule barn – the same barn the studio still operates in today – and the legendary and award-winning McCarty Pottery was born.  It wasn’t always easy in the beginning.  Lee and Pup lived in a converted apartment upstairs and fired pottery downstairs.  The old barn wasn’t insulated and obviously in those days they did not have central heat and air, so they endured the elements as best they could.  Lee taught high school to make ends meet while Pup kept shop.  By the 1960’s, dedication to their art began to pay off and McCarty’s Pottery was being shown in museums across the country.  In 1996, they were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.  In 2012, they received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts by the Mississippi Arts Commission.

In 1998, the business came full circle when Lee and Pup’s godsons, Jamie and Stephen Smith – who also happen to be the great nephews of the original owners of the mule barn – returned to Merigold to help Lee and Pup carry on the legacy.  The old mule barn has evolved over the decades to include a lush and elaborate garden, which was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens in 2013.

Today, McCarty pieces can be found in collections around the world.  Each piece is fired using one of three distinct glazes developed by Lee himself – jade, cobalt blue, or nutmeg.  Most pieces can instantly be recognized by the trademark black wavy line, which represents the Mississippi River, and Lee McCarty’s familiar signature on the bottom.

“McCarty pottery has endured for so many years because it is more than just art, it is a connection to the Mississippi Delta and the State of Mississippi,” said godson Stephen Smith. “That connection has spanned generations and it is wonderful and humbling to experience.”

Gail Pittman
Ridgeland, MS

Gail Pittman also began her career as a school teacher, teaching for five years in the Jackson Public School System before leaving education to raise her two children.  She began painting pottery at her kitchen table, using a spice rack as her wheel to make her first piece.  Once orders from friends and family members began rolling in, she realized she had discovered a way to make money while still being able to stay home with her kids.

During those early days while her children were small, she got up in the wee hours of the morning to paint before her kids awoke and stayed up late at night to continue her painting after they were in bed.  She remembers being ecstatic the day she found out she had landed a booth at the Canton Flea Market.  Soon after, Carol Puckett Daily, the original owner and founder of The Everyday Gourmet, asked Pittman if she would be interested in selling her pieces in the store.

Over thirty years later, the self-taught artist and entrepreneur has become a household name.  Celebrities such as Mississippi natives Oprah Winfrey and Faith Hill consider themselves fans of her work, in addition to other notable names including Gene Hackman, Katie Couric, Donald Trump, and Paula Dean.  In 2010, Pittman entered into a licensing agreement with Sidco Worldwide in Nashville, which handles the manufacturing and distribution of her designs.  This gives her more time to focus on the aspect of the business that she loves the most – creating and designing.  The relationship has even allowed Pittman to branch out into designing other products such as tote bags, glassware, and home décor items.

In late 2012, Pittman merged her retail store with one of the first places to give her a start – The Everyday Gourmet.

“It was a great homecoming for me,” Pittman said.  “The Everyday Gourmet is one of the premier bridal registry stores in Mississippi. I am delighted to have the Gail Pittman line back in the store where it started.”  The Gail Pittman line is still sold through various retail stores through Mississippi and across the country, in addition to her online retail store.

As for the future, Pittman says, “I pray it will be ‘colorful’ and busy!  There is always something out there waiting to be designed!  Life is good and I love what I do.  I feel very blessed that God has given me the ‘work of my hands.’”

Dana Whitman Designs
Long Beach, MS

Dana Whitman is a native of Long Beach who worked for WAOY, a Christian radio station, before Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 26, 2005.  Whitman’s family was spared from much of the devastation that other endured and within a year they were back on their feet.  However, being surrounded by such devastation can leave a profound and lasting effect on one’s spirit.

“Enduring many hurricanes before, I had never been afraid of them but after seeing the damage and watching so many suffer, now I have an entirely different opinion,” Whitman said.     “After coming so close to losing everyone and everything, the realization how short life is always lingers. This led me to think long and hard about doing something I had never done but always wanted to do. ”

Growing up, Whitman’s mother encouraged her daughter to express herself through art.  She says her business began with just one plate.  At the urging of a close friend, Whitman entered her work in a large art show.  The response was overwhelmingly positive and from there her business grew.  Eventually she was unable to keep up with the growing demand on her own, so she teamed up with Caffco International in Montgomery, Alabama, to help with the manufacturing and distribution.  Nearly eight years after Hurricane Katrina, Whitman’s designs are now sold at art shows on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle and in over 475 stores in the United States including the Virgin Islands.

Whitman’s bright, vibrant designs depict scenes inspired by coastal life with a little New Orleans influence thrown in here and there.

“When I sit down to paint, the designs just come naturally with my color schemes. I don’t pre-plan a design; I just sit and start painting,” Whitman adds.  “God has graciously blessed me with the talent to design.”

Because her faith plays such an important role in her work, each piece of pottery is marked by a cross, which is Whitman’s way of thanking God for the talent he bestowed upon her.  In addition to her pottery business, Whitman also runs New Beginnings Mission, a faith-based non-profit organization that helps those in need on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Moving forward, Whitman is looking into branching out into other various types of art and incorporating different materials into the finished product.  I hopes to continue to create a diverse collection that will be well-received by current and future collectors.

Good Earth Pottery
Starkville, MS

Richie Watts has always been an avid pottery enthusiast and collector.  Prior launching Good Earth Pottery in 2000, he specialized in low-fire glazed earthenware pottery.  When a sales rep approached him about designing a line of high-fire stoneware, Watts agreed to give it a try.  However, the end result – which would later become the popular Mockingbird pattern – wasn’t exactly what the sales rep was looking for.

“She [the sales rep] didn’t like it,” Watts admitted.  “But I collect pottery and I thought it was pretty good.  So I sat on it for a while and then finally decided to show it to three shops and see what they thought.  All three shops placed an order and it just took off overnight.”

When Watts and his business partner Carlos Caballero officially launched the Good Earth line in 2001, they started with four patterns.  Today their collection includes almost 40 patterns in a wide variety of colors that were created to be mixed and matched.  While Mockingbird has consistently remained a top seller over the years, other popular patterns include Bluebird, Bird of Paradise, Blue Heron, and Sparrow.

Watts’s pottery possesses two distinct characteristics.  First, the colors in each piece are not achieved through paint, but through experimenting with various shades of glaze and firing temperatures.  He keeps meticulous notes throughout the entire design process so that when a finished piece comes out of the kiln that meets his expectations, he is able to recreate the process.

“I go in knowing what I want to achieve, it’s just a question of ‘How do I get there?’” reveals Watts.  “I keep playing with the glazes and the temperature until I get something that looks unique.  I’m not afraid to experiment or learn from my mistakes.”

Second, all of Watts’s pieces are considered high-fired, meaning that they are fired in a kiln to a temperature over 2200° F.  A typical piece can stay in the kiln anywhere from 8-14 hours, depending on how high the temperature was used to fire it.  This extremely high temperature produces ware that is very strong and durable and resistant to chipping, making it suitable for daily use.

Lately, Watts has been experimenting with metallic glazes and hopes to be able to introduce several new patterns to the market in the near future.  Until then, he says he will continue to do what he loves.

“When I pulled that first plate out of the kiln, I had no idea that would be my equivalent to winning the lottery,” he adds.  “When I open the kiln and pull out a piece that’s just right, it’s so exciting to be the first one to see it.  I get so much personal satisfaction from it and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Eating Al Fresco

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eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2013
Article, photos, and cover

Spring is upon us, which means now is the time to get out and enjoy the outdoors before summer heat and mosquitos drive us back inside.  One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is a picnic.  Picnics can come in every form and fashion, from a romantic date for two, a fun-filled outing with the kids, or a time to catch up the relatives at a family get together.

To ensure a successful picnic, keep things simple.  Bring foods that can be eaten with your fingers and can tolerate warmer temperatures.  Remember, everything you bring to the picnic area you have to bring back with you, so opt for disposable items that can be thrown away afterwards.  After a hectic work week, combining delicious food with fresh air and sunshine is the perfect way to unwind.

Looking for a prime spot to picnic?  Mississippi has many to choose from.  In fact, Reserve America included several of Mississippi’s state parks in its “Top 100 Campground Awards.”

The listing below is just few of our peaceful and serene parks.  Each one has something different to offer and we invite you to explore all of them.

High White State Park
Grenada, MS

Located halfway between Memphis and Jackson, Hugh White State Park is home to Grenada Lake – Mississippi largest body of water.  The park’s 135 picnic sites are strategically located in various areas around the lake and each offers its own recreational amenities that are sure to please every outdoorsman.

The obvious attraction is Grenada Lake itself and there is no shortage of picnic tables and pavilions providing scenic views of the lake and its six beaches.  But if you’re looking for a way to work up an appetite, there are also four playgrounds located in three day-use areas in addition to tennis courts, ball fields, and a fitness trail.  Grenada Lake’s nature trail and four hiking paths are the perfect setting for doing a little bird watching.  The lake is also known for its crappie fishing as well as bass, bream and catfish.

Paul B. Johnson State Park
Hattiesburg, MS

Paul B. Johnson State Park is located on Geiger Lake in Mississippi’s Pine Belt Region.  The park is surrounded by long-leaf and loblolly pines, dogwoods, and ancient oak trees, creating the perfect setting for a family picnic.

Fifty picnic areas dot the shores of Geiger Lake along with six large picnic pavilions available by reservation for large groups.  Outdoor amenities include playground equipment, a 27 basket disc golf course, and a 5,000 square-foot splash pad where kids, and even their parents, can cool off on a hot summer day.  Fishermen can fish for largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker, crappie, and channel catfish

LeFleur’s Bluff State Park
Jackson, MS

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Jackson lies the serene LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.  The 305 acres that make up the park are located on the banks of the Pearl River.  An abundance of amenities means there is plenty to do before and after a picnic.

In addition to five nature trails that lead hikers through wooded bluffs and river bottoms and beside lakes scenic swamplands, the park also features a nine-hole golf course, driving range, and children’s playground.  Fishing in Mayes Lake offers bass, bream, catfish and crappie.  The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is also located on the outskirts of the park.

Legion State Park
Louisville MS

History abounds in Legion State Park, which was originally inhabited by the Choctaw Indians.  It is one of four original state parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  In fact, the park’s visitor’s center, also known as Legion Lodge, is an impressive hand-hewn log structure that has remained unchanged since its construction in the 1930s.

The park’s 440 acres features a 1.6 mile nature trail around Lake Toppasha in addition to two miles of trails through the Red Hills Archery Range.  A children’s playground, swimming beach, and fishing are also available.  Legion State Park’s picnic area features tables, grills and picnic shelters as well as a large picnic pavilion, for large groups.

Holmes County State Park
Durant, MS

If you are making a road trip this summer on I-55, Holmes County State Park is conveniently located for a quick pit stop to stretch your legs and enjoy a bite to eat in the shade.  The 88-acre park is built around two bodies of water – English Lake and Odom Lake and has a variety of recreational amenities.

The park features three picnic areas equipped with tables and grills along with relaxing views of the water.  It also has three large picnic pavilions available for reservation for large groups.  Four miles of nature trails are good for working up an appetite or taking a relaxing stroll through the woods.  Along with playing fields, boat launch, fishing, and disc golf course, one of the park’s most unique features is a roller skating rink.

Sample recipe included with the article.  Other recipes included homemade cherry limeade, mini muffaletta sandwiches, and butterscotch pudding.

Spinach and Penne Pasta Salad

  • 1 package (16 ounces) uncooked penne pasta

 For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

 For the salad:

  • 1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced blacked olives
  • 1 package (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain pasta and rinse in cold water.  Set aside.

While pasta is cooking, combine the vinaigrette ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, onions, olives, and spinach.  Pour the vinaigrette over the mixture and toss until coated evenly.  Serve immediately.

Leftover can be store in an airtight container in the refridgerator for up to two days.

Serves 10

Healthy Father’s Day Favorites

Town & Gown cover June 2013Town & Gown
June 2013
Recipes and pictures

Sample recipe below.  Spread also included oven baked fries.  To view the entire issue online, visit the Town & Gown website.

 

 

 

 

Southwestern Turkey and Black Bean Burgers

Serves 4

  • 1 pound 90% lean ground turkey
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread, torn into smaller pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 4 slices pepper jack cheese
  • 4 whole wheat hamburger buns

Come on In, Stay Awhile: Entertaining Southern-style by chef and cookbook author Regina Charboneau

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Portico Jackson
June 2013

Natchez-native Regina Charboneau is a pro at Southern entertaining.  She should be – during any given week, the award-winning chef and author of Regina’s Table at Twin Oaks may play hostess to hundreds of visitors.  Everyone from friends and family, visitors with the Natchez Pilgrimage, cruisers on the American Queen Steamboat, Roman Catholic nuns, and British nobility have been welcomed to Twin Oaks, Charboneau’s Natchez residence.

One sunny, but unseasonably cool afternoon in late March, a bus full of approximately thirty river boat cruisers pulls up to the curb in front of Twin Oaks.  Charboneau is dressed casually in an oversized shirt, black leggings, flats, and her signature cat-eye glasses.  As cruisers begin to disembark and make their way up the front walk, she throws open the huge wooden front door to Twin Oaks, steps out onto the front porch, and greets everyone with a warm, “Hello!  Please come inside.”

The first guests step over the threshold into the front hall and a woman wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat is the first to exclaim, “Wow!”  Soon, the room is buzzing with awe and amazement as everyone takes in the grand staircase leading up to the second floor, the ornate antique furniture, and large paintings on the wall.  Everyone is instructed to make themselves comfortable in two adjoining rooms to the left of the main hallway.

In today’s world of celebrity chefs, cut-throat reality cooking shows, and cable networks devoted entirely to food, one might assume that that Charboneau, after having lived all over the world, overseen two very successful business ventures, and mixed company with some of the biggest names on the planet, would be difficult to relate to.  But to be a fly on the wall during one of her riverboat demonstrations or as she gives guided tours of her home during the Natchez pilgrimage, it becomes very apparent that Charboneau hasn’t lost sight of what Southern hospitality has always meant.

She begins by laying down the ground rules to her guests.  “The first rule of thumb in my house,” she says, “is that there are no rules.  Sit on the furniture, open closet doors, go wherever you like.  Nothing is off limits.”

She then goes into the history of Twin Oaks, built in 1832 by Pierce Connelly, an Episcopal priest, and his wife Cornelia.  Pierce and Cornelia would later convert to Catholicism, Pierce going on to become an ordained Catholic priest in Rome while Cornelia would later establish her own order of Roman Catholic nuns.  To this day, Charboneau will occasionally receive a knock at the door from nuns of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus looking to catch a glimpse of the former home of their founder.

But what all these travelers, some from as far away as California, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, really came to hear about is Charboneau herself – the culinary director for the American Queen Steamboat Company and whose cookbook they just purchased in the boat’s gift shop.  A seventh-generation Southerner, Charboneau credits her mother for her ability to throw a good party.  However, she admits that while her mother was the entertainer, her father was the cook.  It was her father that would influence her career path later in life.  Charboneau attended several universities throughout the South, before traveling to the bush of Alaska with a group of friends.  While there, she landed her first culinary job, working as a cook at a construction camp.

Not surprisingly, Charboneau’s mother was less than thrilled by the news that her daughter had taken a job thousands of miles away in a remote area only accessible by aircraft or snowmobile.   “This was the late 1970’s,” explained Charboneau.  “I called my mother from a pay phone with my exciting news, and since there were no cell phones and no internet, there was nothing she could do at that point to talk me out of it.”

Despite her mother’s misgivings, Charboneau’s life would likely have taken a completely different direction had she not taken that job.  While in Alaska, she met her husband Doug and also saved enough money to put herself through Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France, one of the first accredited professional cooking schools in France to offer instruction in both French and English. Afterwards, she returned to Alaska and accepted the position of executive chef at the Tower Club in Anchorage.

In 1985, she opened her first restaurant, Regina’s at the Regis, located in the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco’s SOMA district.  It was during this time that the SOMA district was undergoing an artistic and cultural boom and Regina’s at the Regis was situated right in the middle of the theater district.  It soon became known for its opening night parties and theater goers could expect to rub elbows with celebrities such as Shirley Maclain, Danny Glover, Patti LaBelle, and Lily Tomlin.

In 1995, Charboneau drew inspiration from her Southern roots when she opened Biscuits and Blues, a restaurant that serves award-winning Southern cuisine while showcasing nightly acts by popular blues artists.   It was awarded a WC Handy award in 1999 as the “Best Blues Club in America. “

Despite the success of two restaurants, the Mighty Mississippi still ran through Charboneau’s veins and Natchez was never far from her mind.  She is often quoted as saying, “I spent my first 23 years trying to get away from Natchez and spent the next 23 trying to get home again.”

In 2000, she did just that.  Charboneau and her husband purchased Twin Oaks and began raising their two sons, Jean-Luc and Martin, according to the deep seated traditions and simple lifestyle that Southerners are so famous for.  In addition to running a six-bedroom guest house on the property, she oversees menu and recipe development for the American Queen Steamboat Company.  Frequently, she opens her home up to riverboat cruisers, allowing them a glimpse into Southern life and a taste of the cuisine.

Charboneau gives her riverboat guests a moment to explore her house and the grounds.  Mixed in among the beautiful antiques are glimpses into her life.  The hallway leading to the kitchen is covered in framed crayon sketches of various celebrities once used for opening night parties at Regina’s at the Regis.  Down the hall, novels line the bookshelves and cover the top of the baby grand piano in the library.  Tucked among the books are photos such as a black and white of Charboneau and actor Danny Glover and little trinkets like a set of Japanese maneki-neko figurines.  Outside in the garden, the snow white blossoms of the dogwoods are in full bloom and delicate paper lanterns strung from tree branches blow in the breeze.

Charboneau knows she wouldn’t be a very good hostess if she let her guests leave hungry.  In the adjoining formal dining room, she’s brought out the white tablecloths and glass serving platters full of treats are spread from one end to the other.  An impressive decanter filled with clementine-infused vodka waits to be mixed with cranberry juice.  There are delicate sandwiches topped with basil mayonnaise, tomato slices, and bacon; mini butter biscuits stuffed with turkey and cranberry chutney; and an absolutely sinful blackberry crème brulee trifle.  A punch bowl of refreshing almond iced tea is situated between two friendly pineapples, the symbol of Southern hospitality.

The two-hour excursion has gone by in a flash, and before long the tour bus once again pulls up to the front curb.  Guests scurry to make sure Charboneau signs their cookbooks.  Several hug her neck as if they have always been dear friends.  As the bus pulls away to take them back to their cabins aboard the American Queen, Charboneau stands on the front porch and waves goodbye until the bus is out of sight.  Another successful party has come to an end.

You don’t have to be a professional chef to throw a memorable party.  In fact, Charboneau says by keeping a few rules of thumb in mind, throwing a party that everyone will remember but still allow you to keep your sanity it easier than you think.

Regina Charboneau’s Tips for Southern Entertaining:

  1. Don’t try to be a martyr.  It is not necessary to make everything you serve from scratch.  Your party should not only be enjoyable to your guests, but you as well.
  2. Plan your menu around items that can be made ahead of time and frozen.  Regina’s famous butter biscuits can be frozen just before baking.  Remove them from the freezer a few hours before the party to thaw, then bake as normal.
  3. Pick a time during the year that works for your house.  Do you have a green thumb and love to garden?  Throw a dinner party during the spring when your flowers are in bloom.  Does your house look particularly lovely during the holidays?  Host a Christmas party.
  4. Use fun condiments to enhance a meal.  It’s okay to use store bought or something you already have on hand in your pantry.  Set it out in an attractive dish and no one will question whether it’s homemade or not.
  5. Set up stations where guests can serve themselves.  Charboneau frequently sets up empty drinking glasses beforehand.  A few minutes before guests arrive, she sets out a bucket of ice cubes so guests can grab their drinks and go.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Madison County Chamber’s Dragon Boat Regatta Inspires Teamwork, Community Involvement

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Mississippi Magazine
May / June 2013Imagine yourself standing on the banks of the Ross Barnett Reservoir.  In the distance, flashes of red, yellow, and green appear.  You watch as the colors get closer and suddenly take on shape – a leering grin, gnashing white teeth, a long scaly body.  It’s not a dream and it’s not the Loch Ness monster.  It’s the Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Dragon Boat Regatta.Dragon Boat racing is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing water sports in the world.  However, the tradition dates back centuries.  In China, dragons are believed to be the rulers of water.  During ancient times, Chinese farmers would hold festivals that coincided with the summer solstice as a way to honor the dragon and the sun in an effort to ensure a healthy growing season.  Dragon boat racing began making its way across the globe in 1976, when The Hong Kong Tourism Board organized international races in London and Germany.  The sport was first introduced to North American in 1986 during the world exposition held in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Since then, the tradition has spread across both Canada and the United States.  Worldwide, over 60 countries participate in some sort of organized dragon boat competition.

In 2008, the Madison County Chamber of Commerce decided to launch the Dragon Boat Regatta as a fun and unique way to promote camaraderie and team-building within the community.  While the economy prevented the chamber from hosting the race again in 2009, they brought it back in 2010 with great enthusiasm.  Five years later, it continues to grow.  In 2012, 47 teams participated, up from just a little over a dozen teams when the event first began.

“The Madison County Chamber likes to do things differently from other chambers of commerce.  We wanted to bring in something unique and we did a lot of research on other activities before deciding to do dragon boat racing,” said Jodi Maughon, Director of Projects and Special Events for the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

For the last five years, The Chamber has worked with Great White North Dragon Boat out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to bring the impressive 40-foot long vessels to Mississippi.  Area police and fire departments, as well as medical personnel, are also on hand to ensure the safety of each participant.

“The event is very professionally done,” added Maughon.  “The regatta is the only event like it in the state and it’s something you don’t see every day, so it opens people up to a culturally diverse experience.”

Each boat manned by a crew of 20 – 25 people.  Every team member has an important role – drummer, paddler, or the sweep.  The drummer sits at the bow of the boat and controls the frequency and synchronization of the paddlers by keeping rhythm on a drum or through calls or hand signals.  The sweep sits at the stern, controls the udder, and determines the direction of the ship.  The rest of the crew serves as paddlers.  Every member of the team must work together in order to propel the ship forward.

“It is incredibly challenging physically,” said James M. Jeter, chief development officer and foundation executive director for St. Dominic Health Services.  “I have played sports on a collegiate level, run marathons, and played recreational sports for years, but the last 50 yards of the race were the biggest gut check I have ever endured. However, it doesn’t matter how strong you are.  If you are not in sync as a team you are not going to win.  It’s all about timing.”

While it might sound like a lot of work, the friendly rivalry between competing teams and the fun, family atmosphere ensures that past participants of the race are always anxious to sign up for the next year.  The weekend kicks off on Thursday with the Paddler’s Party at the Jackson Yacht Club.  Each team is given a paddle beforehand to decorate according to their theme or business.  A panel of judges award first, second, and third place prizes during the kick-off festivities.  On the day of the race, some participants even dress up in costumes to show their support.

“To say that our team had fun would be a massive understatement,” said Derek Bell, who was captain of the Mint Julep team last year.  “Every person on my team was ready to sign up for this year at the end of last year. I have been counting down the days for 12 months.”

Shaun Moody, Sergeant/Paramedic with the City of Ridgeland Fire Department wholeheartedly agreed.  “This is an awesome team building event and as well as networking event,” he said.  “There is a fun and competitive edge to it and it provides for a very entertaining Saturday.”

If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, Maughon still encourages spectators to come and watch the race and enjoy the festival, which features life music, food, and a kids zone.  Says Maughon, “On shore, there is definitely a tailgating atmosphere.  It’s very family friendly.”

A Harmony of Colors: Kim Duease, Notable Accents Inc.

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Mississippi Magazine
May / June 2013

Interior designer Kim Duease, owner of Notable Accents Inc. in Canton, is a pro at creating the perfect space for her clients – from a remodel or new construction – regardless of the age of the home or phase of construction. Duease recently had the opportunity to put her talents to the test when a longtime client contacted her about a potential home for sale in the Eastover neighborhood in Jackson.  Originally, the couple planned to build a home to suit their family of six.  In fact, Duease had already begun sourcing items for the new construction.  However, the client knew that with Duease’s help, they would be able to transform this French-style dwelling into the home of their dreams.

Constructed in the late 1980’s, the original home had a look that was reminiscent of the era it was built.  Duease got right to work combining modern day with Old World European.  As soon as visitors enter the front door, they are greeted by four antique wooden pillars sourced from an estate in Lille, France.  The homeowners fell in love with the four cherub faces depicted on each pillar as a representation of their four children.  Instantly, the gaze is drawn into to formal living room, which features two separate and distinct sitting areas.

Two French antique armchairs are situated on either side of an antique dressing table in front of the home’s large front picture windows.  Both chairs were repainted and reupholstered in Hazleton House fabric with a classic English chinois design featuring colorful Chinese vignettes.  Matching pewter silk velvet couches are flanked on either side by antique French end tables and frame the showcase item of the room – a beautiful antique alter.  Colorful floral wallpaper, with hues of silver, gold and turquoise, compliment the dominant color scheme in the room.

The living room provides the perfect spot for guests to mingle before being served dinner in the formal dining room.  Duease loves to repeat accents throughout  a design, which is evident in the large powder blue chairs situated at either end of the dining room table that pick up the blue from the living room.  The rest of the room is decorated in a palette of purple and bright lime green.  Eight side chairs upholstered in purple and lime green striped fabric complement the purple and silver geometric wallpaper and the lime green accent on the open buffet and hutch.    A custom 9-foot-long dining table and mirrored buffet create elegant signature touches.

Just a few steps from the dining room is the heart of the home – the kitchen.  The original kitchen featured a small island and breakfast nook, which was not functional for the family’s needs.  Duease decided to revamp the entire space, by combining cozy with modern elegance.  Neutral colored limestone tile is strong and durable, low maintenance, and provides an elegant look.  Overhead, exposed wood beams and reclaimed wooden planks in the ceiling – sourced from Scott Gideon of Plantation Millworks – are reminiscent of a warm and inviting country cottage.

To prevent the large center island from overpowering the flow of the kitchen, Duease utilized three different countertop materials – walnut, granite, and green onyx – to break up the expanse of counter and avoid a uniform look.  The most stunning feature, however, are the LED lights hidden under the green onyx that can be illuminated by a switch hidden in a kitchen cabinet.  Modern colorful Venetian glass pendant lights overhead provide an additional light source.

The tiled backsplash also features a mixture of shapes, colors and textures.  Staggered concave and convex antique tile give a unique basket weave effect and coordinate with the granite perimeter countertops.  Stacked slate borders either side of the stainless steel gas range.  The blue and gold hue of the faux finish in the slate complements the deep colors in the custom hand painted tile used behind the range.

Other great features in the kitchen include the “hidden refrigerator” masked by double mirrored doors that match the wet bar at the opposite end of the room.  Bright printed fabric depicting whimsical chickens and wine bottles is aptly named “ro-coq-au-vin” and used in the gathered valance over the kitchen window and the long panels in the breakfast nook.

Just off the kitchen, the back hallway reveals a half bath and laundry room.  Gold and aqua velvet wallpaper and a custom chandelier made from antique rosaries demonstrates that even the smallest touches in an otherwise inconspicuous space can have a huge impact.  The hallway opens into a more casual living area towards the back of the house.  Originally, the room featured built in open shelves along the wall.  Duease didn’t want to eliminate the storage capacity that the shelving offered, so she opted to once again enroll the help of Gideon to create wooden panels that give the illusion of a solid wall, but allow the family access to items stored within.  Gideon also found the wooden beam used as the mantle for the fireplace.  Duease chose to use the same custom hand painted tile used in the kitchen as an accent around the hearth.  Instead of traditional gas-burning logs, ceramic fire balls create a bold, artistic and distinctly attractive finishing touch.

A separate hallway off the formal living room leads to a suite of rooms on the first floor. Duease added a creative touch to the arts and crafts room by creating a custom chandelier from soft cast molded scissors, ribbon, and refurbished light bulbs.  Down the hall in the library, a cozy daybed is an inviting spot to curl up with a good book on a rainy afternoon.

Serene light blue walls and muted colors create a relaxing solace in the master bedroom.  A modern four poster bed with distressed white finish serves as an impressive focal point for the room.  The elegant bed is outfitted with delicate hand-crocheted sheets and bed clothes accented in Venetian lace.  The adjoining master bathroom features his and her vanities.  Handmade iron sconces with removable glass plates allow the homeowners to preserve inspirational mementoes such as artwork or handwritten notes.  The floor is inlaid with limestone tile and an intricate mosaic rug design.   A separate shower area is outfitted with an open shower tiled in marble and cut glass subway tiles and accented by coordinating matchstick tile flooring.  A porcelain soaking tub is the perfect spot for a relaxing hot bubble bath.

Duease also made sure that each of the homeowners’ four children had a place of their own that reflected each child’s personality.  The upstairs bedroom, decorated with leopard print and pink accents is perfect for a little princess.  Downstairs, Duease used bold patterns and colors for the three boys’ rooms.

Duease was able to complete the renovation just in time for the family to enjoy Christmas in their new home.  Her talent for blending vintage with modern and traditional with eclectic works seamlessly, giving the homeowners a functional yet stylish space they can call their own.

 Five Tips for Renovating a House by Kim Duease

  1. Know your house.  Have either a qualified inspector, architect or structural engineer check out your plans before you begin any renovation of structural components. You must consider load bearing walls and how the weight of your house is distributed. Any structural changes could compromise the integrity of the homes structure and cause problems down the road. Better safe than sorry!
  2. Some renovation projects are fine for DIYers( do it yourself).   But when it comes to electrical and plumbing, please leave it to the professionals!  Take on some priming, painting even drywall and tile, but do not tackle the electricity and plumbing.
  3. Have a plan and make sure everyone in the house is on the “same page” as to what your needs are and the changes to be made. Consider how you live in your space and what would improve that experience for everyone. Expect to run into surprises along the way.  As much as you plan and streamline those plans, there will still be bumps along the way.  However, good planning makes them less painful and less time consuming.
  4. Have a budget and expect to spend more than you planned on. On average one will spend 10-20 percent more than budgeted.  If you cannot afford to do all the renovations you would like to see done then get your priorities in line and tackle it in phases. But do it right the first time.
  5. Hire a great contractor and get referrals.  The best names will come from family and friends. Have clear communication with your contractor about your expectations on everything from working hours and duration of the project. The contractor can inform you of anticipated time that your kitchen and or baths may be inaccessible. At this time you may plan to stay elsewhere for a few days.

Enjoy Mississippi’s Fresh Fruit All Year Long: Basic Canning 101

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Town & Gown
May 2013
Article and photos

Spring is our reward for surviving the wet, cold, grey weather that comes with winter.  When green buds start forming on the tree branches, it’s like a glimmer of hope has arrived.  However, when fresh produce starts showing up at the local farmer’s market, it’s time to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Currently, strawberry season is in full swing in Mississippi.  Unfortunately, it won’t last for long.  Canning is a great way to take advantage of the plentiful fruit that is in our backyard right now so you can enjoy it all year along.  Preserving and canning food isn’t just for grandmas anymore.  The art has seen a resurgence in recent years due to the increase in the price of food and concerns over the use of artificial ingredients and preservatives.

One advantage to canning your own fruit is the quality and freshness of the fruit.  Fruit begins to lose nutrients as soon as it is harvested, so the sooner you eat it, the better.  Fruit purchased from a local farmer’s market has typically been picked within the last 24 hours.  Fruit purchased from a major grocery store chain may have been picked up to a week prior.  Sometimes the fruit has been picked before its ripe, in anticipation of the long lead time needed to get it to its final destination, preventing it from fully developing all its nutrients.

Canning works by boiling food to kill any bacteria and sealing the can (or jar), creating a completely sterile environment.  Because there is no bacteria present, the food does not spoil, allowing home canners to store unopened food for an extended period of time.

If you are new to preserving and canning fruits and vegetables, strawberries are a good place to start.  Strawberries are naturally high in acid, meaning they can be processed using the water bath canning method and do not require the use of a pressure cooker, as is required when canning vegetables and meat.  The only tools you need are a stockpot deep enough to cover your jars with at least two inches of water, glass mason jars with lids and rings, a jar rack, and a basic utensil kit.  Most of these items you may already have on hand or can be purchased at your local grocery store.

Because the goal is to create a sterile environment for the food, it makes sense to thoroughly clean and sanitize your jars.  Check jars to make sure they are not chipped or cracked.  Wash jars, rings, and lids in warm soapy water, then sterilize the jars only in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Once sterilized, remove the pot from the heat, but allow your jars to stay in the hot water to keep warm.  Pouring hot jam into a cold glass jar can cause the jar to shatter.

Place jar lids in hot, but not boiling, water.  Hot water softens the gummy material on the lid that seals the jar.  However, boiling water will activate the lids and render them useless before you even get started.  While jars and lids can be reused, lids can only be used once.

One term you may come across in canning is “headspace.”  Headspace is the space from the top of the jar to the food or liquid in the jar. Too little headspace, and the food may boil over and prevent the lid from sealing. Too much headspace and the jar may not seal properly because the processing time is not long enough to drive the air out of the jar. Food at the top of the jar may also discolor.  Most recipes will instruct you on how much headspace to leave.  Many basic kits come with a ruler to help you measure headspace.

Once the jars have been processed and allowed to cool, check the lids to make sure they do not flex up and down.  Occasionally, a jar will not seal.  The contents are safe to eat, but the jar needs to be refrigerated and eaten immediately.  According to the The National Center for Home Food Preservation, properly sealed jars have a shelf life of at least one year.  Once opened, your strawberries should be kept refrigerated and consumed within one month.

Taking that first taste of real homemade jam made with fresh strawberries is like nothing you can buy in a store.  Once you’ve made your first successful batch, you may find the process extremely rewarding and completely addictive.

Sample recipe below.  To view the entire spread and recipes, visit the Town & Gown website.

Small Batch Homemade Strawberry Preserves

  • 2-1/2 cups sliced strawberries (about 3 pints)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoon pectin (I used Sure Jell)
  • 3-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 (12 ounce) glass preserving jars with lids and bands

 

On the Menu: The James Beard Foundation comes to Jackson

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI April / May 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
April / May 2013

Even though almost three decades have passed since the death of American chef and food writer James Beard, “The Father of American Gastronomy” still plays a significant role in molding and influencing the
food culture in America. Whether through the twenty cookbooks he published during his lifetime, the cooking school where he taught, or the work his foundation has done to inspire and support future generations of cooks, James Beard’s legacy has left a mark on the world that will not be forgotten.

The James Beard Foundation was established in 1986 after Beard’s longtime friend Julia Child approached several of his friends and colleagues with an idea to preserve the Greenwich Village, NY, brownstone where Beard lived and frequently entertained students, authors, chefs, and other industry professionals. Today, the Foundation mentors future generations of chefs through scholarships, educational programs, lectures, special events, and its prestigious awards program.

Earlier this year, Jackson had the privilege of hosting “Southern Comfort Redux,” its first Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner. Seven of Mississippi’s best chefs came together to prepare a multi-course
meal complete with carefully selected wine pairings to raise money for the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Fund. Since 1991, the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program has awarded over $4.2
million in financial aid to students and working culinary professionals.

While this was the first time this event has been held in Jackson, the state of Mississippi is not a
newcomer to the scene.

“Mississippi has a really rich tradition of James Beard dinners,” revealed Chef Tom Ramsey, who hosted
and helped orchestrate the event at his restaurant Underground 119 in Jackson. “They started back in
the nineties in the Delta with KC’s Restaurant [in Cleveland, MS]. Mississippi also has a rich history of James Beard nominees. Derrick Emerson [Walker’s Drive In] was a James Beard nominee. Taylor Bowen
Ricketts [Delta Bistro] in Greenwood is also a James Beard nominee.”

Ramsey was joined by fellow chefs Dan Blumenthal of Mangia Bene Catering, which owns Bravo!, Broad
Street Baking Company & Café, and Sal and Mookies; Jeremy Enfinger, executive chef of Ruth’s Chris
Steakhouse in Ridgeland; Jesse Houston, chef de cuisine of City Grocery in Oxford; Mitchell Moore,
owner of Campbell’s Bakery in Fondren; Mike Roemhild, executive chef of Table 100 in Flowood; and
Nick Wallace, executive chef at the Hilton Garden Inn (formerly known as the historic King Edward
Hotel) in downtown Jackson.

The sold-out meal featured seven courses of the finest local cuisine Mississippi has to offer such as
Mississippi farm-raised catfish, Louisiana bowfin roe, red wine and butter poached rabbit, Gulf fresh
seafood, and Louisiana crawfish. Five sommeliers were on hand to recommend one wine and one regional beer to complement each dish. The meal stood out from other James Beard scholarship dinners in that it was served family-style, something Ramsey says has particular significance.

“James Beard was more about the process of sharing a meal not feeding someone. There is a big difference,” Ramsey explains. “We did this meal family style expressly for that purpose. We had people
who didn’t know each other sitting at the same table and instead of all of the conversation being centered around, ‘What is it that is going to be put in front of me? Here is my little plate and my little universe and I’m going to eat this,’ it was passing platters around and it was a lot more interaction.”

The meal was so successful that the group has been invited to recreate the dinner at the James Beard
House in New York City. An invitation to cook at the James Beard House is highly coveted and has been extended to other noteworthy chefs such Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jacques
Pépin, and Charlie Trotter. Plans to set a date are currently in the works.

Overall, Ramsey could not be more pleased with the way the meal came together. “It was fantastic,”
he said. “Seven great chefs – all with different influences and different talents – that kind of share
this passion for creating really wonderful things and the interaction you get from feeding someone.
Jackson is really developing its culinary scene and this was a great way to move the ball forward for the chefs of Jackson. It’s a great validation of what we’re doing here.”

For more information about the James Beard Foundation, visit http://www.jamesbeard.org.

Neck Ties to Chef’s Knives: Tom Ramsey

April / May 2013
Article and photos

Vicksburg native and chef Tom Ramsey began his career in an unlikely place.  He didn’t start out bussing tables as a teenager or prepping ingredients and taking orders as a young chef fresh out of culinary school.  In fact, up until three years ago, Tom Ramsey worked as an investment banker.  So how to you make the leap from carrying a briefcase to wielding a chef’s knife?

“My passion is cooking.  I was always looking for the opportunity to make a really dramatic career change, but it never really made sense to do it,” Ramsey said.

The pivotal moment came one night as Ramsey and his wife were watching the Food Network.  Ramey’s wife asked if he would rather be cooking to which Ramsey revealed that he would.

“We talked about the financial hardships we might face with moving from a professional career to just
starting over as a cook in my forties,” he recalls.  “We made a decision together to do it and we haven’t looked back since.”

Ramsey worked as a caterer for a short period of time before becoming the chef and sommelier at Underground 119, a modern and stylish jazz club and restaurant which opened in 2009 in the basement
of the Old Elks Club Building at 119 South President Street in downtown Jackson.  The venue frequently hosts live jazz, bluegrass, and rock & roll acts while the menu features a selection of tapas and fresh Gulf seafood.  Ramsey admits his career move came with obvious changes.

“In investment banking we might do four deals in a year.  For three months at a time, you eat, drink, and sleep that deal.  You go to bed with it at night; you wake up with it in the morning.  It’s constantly on your mind.  You work it out in little increments and you work on this one project for forever,” Ramsey explains.  “In the restaurant business, it’s very volatile.  There is a lot less finesse and a lot more making decisions in the moment and then dealing with the consequences.  But at the end of the night, it’s done and you walk away from it and go home.  It starts all over again the next day, but it doesn’t carry over.”

Taking such a huge leap in his career was challenging in the beginning.  “It was really baptism by fire running my own kitchen at first,” he admits.  However, he credits his fellow chefs as his inspiration and motivation for diving headfirst into Jackson’s restaurant scene.  “ I’ve learned more from friends of mine who are chefs than anywhere else.  Guys like Dan Blumenthal, Derrick Emerson, Jesse Houston, Mike Wallace, and the late Craig Noone.  Guys who are really good friends of mine and they’ve put up with me working with them on different projects. ”

Ramsey’s passion for cooking has led to both radio and television appearances.  Most recently he hosted “Southern Comfort Redux,” Jackson’s first dinner held to benefit the James Beard Foundation, with six other chefs from Mississippi.  He has also been invited to participate in Beard on Books, a monthly literary series held at the James Beard House in New York City that features readings and discussions by chefs and authors all over the world.  Ramsey plans to share some of his own writing and discuss the food culture in Mississippi.

Underground 119
119 S. President Street
Jackson, Mississippi 39201
(601) 352-2322
http://www.underground119.com

Hours:
Tuesday 5 p.m.-11p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Friday 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturday 6 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Ya’ll Come Back, Now! The origins of Mississippi’s favorite condiment

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI April / May 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
April /May 2013
Article and photos

There are a few ways to tell when someone is not from Mississippi. If they don’t speak with a drawl, if they are in too much of a hurry, or when presented with a Mason jar of comeback sauce, they look at
you and ask, “What is it?” That last one is a dead giveaway.

Very few condiments are as versatile as comeback sauce. Mississippi-native, chef and food writer Robert St. John refers to the spicy sauce with an orange-pink hue as “ . . .the Queen Mother of all Mississippi condiments.” A combination of Thousand Island dressing and remoulade sauce, comeback sauce was named because it’s so good that you’ll “come back” for more. It’s more than just a way to dress up a bowl of salad greens – comeback sauce is slathered over po’ boy sandwiches, used as a dip for French fries, or spread over saltines for an afternoon snack.

Other Southern towns may try to lay their claim as being “The home of . . .” But the city of Jackson is the only town that can lay claim to the origins of comeback sauce. The exact details of how it got its start are a little sketchy, but most local food historians agree that comeback sauce originated in the 1920’s or 1930’s at The Rotisserie, Jackson’s first Greek restaurant. It began as the restaurant’s house salad dressing and quickly spread to other restaurants across the state.

Today local Jackson eateries such as the Mayflower, the Elite, the Cherokee, Crechale’s, Primos, C. S.’s, Hal & Mal’s, and Walker’s Drive-In all serve their own version. Across the state, you’ll find comeback sauce served in Robert St. John’s restaurants in Hattiesburg, Ajax Diner in Oxford, or Giardina’s in Greenwood. But truthfully, if you walk into just about any mom-and-pop establishment in Mississippi, chances are they’ll have their own version.

Several local food purveyors – such as Bullshed out of Pelahatchie, MS; Oxford Falls in Starkville; and
Thames Food in Oxford – now sell their own commercially bottled blend of comeback sauce. That’s
great news for homesick natives living elsewhere or non-natives who are curious as to what all the fuss
is about.

If you really want to make homemade, you can bet just about every family has their own version. The
basic ingredients are always the same, but some recipes include a dash of this or that to suit different
tastes. You may have a little trouble getting some people to share what makes their comeback sauce so
special. Many recipes have been passed down over the years and are considered a well-guarded family
secret. However, we were able to snag a copy of what the original Rotisserie restaurant served so many
years ago.

Rotisserie Come-Back Dressing

  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup chili sauce or ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 cup Wesson oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Dash of Tabasco
  • Salt to taste

Measure out all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until everything is well-combined.

Store in an airtight container. Refrigerate any unused dressing.

Makes approximately 1 quart of sauce.