Devan Schwartz, Contributing Writer, Posted by rocketpoetry on 09/23/2011
Recently released by Changing Lives Press, “Mailbox Muffins” is a cookbook unlike other cookbooks. Its recipes are written by the homeless. Six featured chefs provide their favorite recipes, many prepared while living out-of-doors in Gulfport, Miss. Some of these recipes highlight quintessential local fare — jambalaya, shrimp, hot sauce, Vietnamese cuisine. Others emphasize food bank and camping trip staples like tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, canned vegetables and meats. Even with some of the offerings as mundane as tuna noodle salad, readers begin getting to know the chefs’ personalities.
Each chef’s recipes are framed by personal narratives about how they became homeless and what their experiences were of Hurricane Katrina. (Gulfport is about eighty miles from New Orleans.) For the most part they describe the hurricane itself as a peripheral event since they had limited access to media, though it did entail lots of MREs (meals ready to eat). More poignant, however, are challenges they faced with their families, their employment, and their emotional well-being. For those who’ve experienced homelessness themselves, there may not be anything particularly revelatory here; and yet, narratives about conditions leading to homelessness are always important, especially in the surprising context of a cookbook.
The chefs bring an array of cooking experiences, from John’s work at the Gulfport Yacht Club to Bobby’s development of a mailbox oven, to Julie’s meal preparation for her son. Certain recipes accommodate rudimentary cooking supplies while others are meant for the trappings of an indoor kitchen. This spectrum represents a transition for each chef, from unhoused to housed, and now living in the Oregon Place Apartments.
A project of local philanthropists and Mississippi Cares International, Inc., the 56-unit building was purchased from Fannie Mae, and recieves various government grants. The mission of Oregon Place is “to provide transitional workforce housing for homeless people so they can live in a safe and secure place while learning basic skills and/or a trade that can be used to re-enter the work place and regain their place in society.”
Though not a homeless shelter, residents may earn no more than 50 percent of the area’s median income and are expected to take part in education or job re-training. Book proceeds go to support Oregon Place, the roof over the heads (and the kitchens) of chefs-in-residence Bobby, Crystal, Charles, Julie, John and Howard.
Ingredients: 1 box of cornbread mix, water (according to directions on box), empty 1-inch deep tuna fish cans
Directions: Heat mailbox oven (described at length in the book). Combine cornbread mix and water and mix well. Fill tuna fish cans with mixture and bake for 45 minutes. Remove mailbox from fire and allow to cool. Eat cornbread straight from cans.