Gumbo Wasn’t Easy

This will be a long post. If you are just reading for the method and ingredients just scroll down. It’s ok, I won’t be offended.


I have been asked by Kristian (psst check his blog out for some mystery short stories that will have you scratching your head trying to figure them out before the reveal) for my Gumbo recipe and it’s a great opportunity to share my story of how I came to learn to make it. A little back history: I am a born and raised Texas girl where southern hospitality is extended in my northern home (moved here for…ok that’s another post for another time) and my pride in my upbringing is something that cannot be taken away. My children, all born in the south, still receive ridicule for accents, manners, having a strict upbringing or just being born south of the Mason-Dixon line but we all find comfort in my cooking. Southern women take pride in our cooking and it’s how we show our love and other emotions. Lost a loved one? We are showing up with a casserole and time. It’s hot outside but we want to visit? Sweet tea, some sort of cookie, and a front porch are in order. Sunday dinner? Fried chicken. It’s your turn to feed an oil field’s worth of workers? Crawfish boil. Crowd to feed, Christmas gathering (not eve or the day just during the month) or it’s cold outside? GUMBO!

Before I jump into the list of ingredients and method of cooking there is a difference between Cajun Gumbo and Creole Gumbo. I found a lovely article that explains in simple detail about the two. Now, every house has its own version of a gumbo recipe just like fried chicken (yup I have my own) but it’s not really the recipe that matters so much but rather the method in which it’s cooked. Believe it or not my grandmother didn’t teach me to make gumbo, and old Cajun woman that was friends with my grandmother taught me. We would leave Texas and drive a few hours over into Louisianna and sit and visit for a spell and this is what allowed me to learn so much in that kitchen. From here on out there was NEVER a recipe written down and passed to me. It was a method taught and a few scribbles that I managed on my hand with a horribly, ‘close to drying up pen’ decades ago that I have people ask for all the time (the recipe that is, but no one is will to sit in the kitchen with me to learn).

It was a cold fall day and I was only a 12-year-old girl that loved to be in the kitchen with the older women. That’s when I also learned what it meant to have an old soul which that’s what they told me all the time. The subject came up about how the temperature was going to drop down into the 50’s (yup, I’m cold when it’s 70° out) and the debate over what type of soup to serve everyone came about. Sissy was going to teach me how to make HER gumbo recipe. The baton is being passed and it’s a great responsibility and not to be taken lightly. My young-self thought I was going to be handed a recipe card and just watch. Boy, was I wrong! I’m not going to have you go and slaughter your own chicken or use your grandpa’s meat grinder to make your own Cajun sausage so some things are substituted. Sissy said, ‘I’m not going to give you a card.’ In a Cajun accent, I could barely understand, ‘I’m going to teach you the secrets of my gumbo. You’re not going to watch you’re going to cook. I’ll show and help you ONE time.’ I learned that it literally is about taste, sight, feels, and love.

I was amazed at all the different ingredients she had on her counter and thought, ‘This SO isn’t worth the time.’ and wanted to give up there. This is an ALL day affair too, so be prepared to become one with your kitchen. But here is my updated list of ingredients that you’ll need:

Mess and Scants of Ingredients

  • One Whole Chicken – Boil until done and pick your chicken and set aside. KEEP YOUR BROTH! You will need that and water (enough to give you about 8 cups total liquid). If you cheat this step, Sissy can tell (I tried one time and she spat it out and said she could taste the can). But if you’re on a time crunch 8 cups of good chicken stock and a rotisserie chicken picked clean will work.
  • Yellow Onions-Dice your onions. How much you ask? Sometimes I dice up 1 sometimes 2. For this, I’ll say 2 smallish to medium onions or 1 large onion.
  • Celery-diced. Sissy used an entire bunch but I’ve been known to do as little as 6 stalks. Secret time: PEEL the celery before dicing. I know it sounds weird but I’ve learned that it’s just better when peeled-IN ANYTHING really.
  • Green onions! Trust me, an entire bunch of these beauties needs to be diced for this dish.
  • 1 super large bell or 2 smallish bells-Bell peppers that is. Take out the seeds and white veiny parts. Slice and dice.
  • Garlic-Peeled and finely diced. Don’t be afraid to use this! I normally do about 5-6 cloves worth but since it’s your first time start with 4.
  • Cajun or Creole seasoning. I’m heavy handed with the seasoning but start with 1 1/2 tbsps. You can always add but you can’t take out. ‘Slap Ya Mama’ is good and so is ‘Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning’. I personally use Tony’s when I’m feeling lazy and want to cut a corner but you can follow any seasoning recipe online. I still adjust the premixed seasoning but it’s a good start. It took many years to get it how I like it but start with a basic seasoning.
  • Okra-This is where it gets a little tricky with the thickening. If you can’t get fresh okra frozen will be ok to add but will add more liquid and no thickening. If you are able to get fresh okra it will thicken nicely and not as much roux will be needed.
  • Fresh Shrimp or crab or both- If not available frozen will do but more liquid will be added. Account for this with the thickening agents. About a pound will do of the seafood.
  • Boudin Sausage-This is a cajun sausage and is hard to come by. I do order it specially when my family isn’t able to bring some from back home when visiting. If neither of those options will work, Andouille sausage is good to use and if that’s not available, another cajun spiced sausage will work. IF neither of those is available a smoked sausage such as Hillshire brand will work. Slice the sausage and brown on both sides. Trust me, the level of flavor goes up a notch and the added texture breaks through the stew. Oh, about a pound will do.
  • Roux makings-In reality this is eyeing and adding a little more of this and a little more of that. I use butter but vegetable oil will work and All Purpose flour.
    To make your roux you’re going to want to with a 1 part butter/oil to two parts flour. On a medium-low heat stir and cook until it’s a beautiful chocolate brown. This works double duty giving your gumbo a nutty flavor while thickening. Remember the tricky parts and possible extra liquid additions? This is where you are going to want to make a little extra roux to add to thicken the stew. You can make the roux in advance or the day of. I do it the day of because cooking for me is therapeutic and get’s me back to a time when things weren’t complicated or when I was…well, me.
    THIS IS WHERE I DEVIATE-SISSY PROBABLY ISN’T HAPPY
  • 1 small can of tomato sauce (this helps when you are feeding little ones or you can’t handle as much spice).

Sissy’s Method (I tried my best giving measurements but again I still cook it the way I was shown)

Imagine you’ve already slaughtered your chicken and have it boiling in a pot (add enough water to cover your chicken and boil until the chicken is done). Sissy: You ready for some chicken-pickin’? When your chicken is done just pick the meat off the bones and set both the ‘chicken water’ and meat aside. Peel and chop the veggies. Sissy: These came from the garden and the herbs from the neighbor when we are done we’ll have a mess that we can take to the neighbors. Girl, add some of that chicken water to the pan and scrape up them flavor bits and add to the pot of chicken water. You can do this OR (which I do) is saute the veggies in the sausage drippings for a little more flavor then add a little broth to deglaze the yumminess and add to my ‘chicken water.’ In the same pan add ingredients for the roux. When you have your roux at the right color and consistency (thick like frosting and a chocolate color). In the chicken water add veggies, sausage, chicken, seasoning, and roux. If you can’t get fresh okra, more roux. If you can’t get fresh seafood and need to use frozen, more roux. At this point, you’re probably wondering how much roux is needed. Always make too much roux. You can save leftovers for about a while in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. The only time I’ve thrown it away is when the oil separates. You want to obtain a thick stew consistency. I usually cook on low heat for about 4-5 hours stirring here and there. Don’t let it stick. After a while, take a taste out of the bowl of magic. Does it need more spices? Add a scant, stir, cook for a few minutes and repeat until you have faith in its healing powers. Is it too spicy? Don’t toss it. Add the tomato sauce, stir, cook and taste again. If it’s still too spicy and more tomato sauce. Still to spicy? I don’t know what to tell you other than, ‘Why did you add so much seasoning if you knew you couldn’t handle it?’ But I do have one more trick that will help. When you are satisfied with the level of spice, add the seafood and cook until the seafood is done.

When your pot of soul touching goodness is ready, serve over white rice or dump the rice on top. Whichever you choose. For the, ‘It’s still to spicy crowd,’ add some cold butter to your rice and pour the gumbo on top. The butter will help cut the spice and have some milk on hand.

It took me cooking this method of Sissy’s for 4 years until she deemed it as good as her mama’s. Every time we visited I bought the necessary ingredients and would slave over her stove (both summer and winter) for hours just for her to tell me, ‘No, close but you’re missing the soul. Where’s the love?’ I think what she really wanted was for me to have pride in my gumbo and serve it with love to the people I love. Give it a try and if you get stuck or have any questions send them my way. I won’t be harsh like Sissy but can help. Take pride in the tradition of gumbo creation and serving hospitality to strangers and loved ones.

Kristian, please let me know how it turns out or anyone else that tries for that matter. ENJOY!

Cypress’ Forest

‘Shh….listen to the rustling.’ I whispered to my brother. He knew that I firmly believed in the legend of Cypress. The story goes something like, ‘Cypress was a woman that was possessed by demons and her body was found in this forest. Now she haunts them looking for a new body to possess.’ The thicket of woods that we were trespassing through to cut our walking time in half belonged to Cypress. But damned if he didn’t want to take the shortcut to get to the movies.

‘The rustling is just the wind through the leaves. The wind blows in no specific direction, you moron. You’re being paranoid over nothing,’ He said waving me off. Did he not hear the silence of the leaves when he was talking or feel like something was watching and eavesdropping on us? I walked faster to catch up to him. My feet felt like lead but I was shaky all over from fear and excitement. We kicked ground debris around making it out of the woods. When I turned to look back it seems that the branches were reaching for me and wanting me to come back.

The movie was great although my brother thought himself to be a badass said, ‘That was for babies. Next time let’s go see Halloween.’ I just rolled my eyes. It was dusk out now and he wanted to cut back through the Cypress’ woods. I pleaded for us to take the road but called me a baby and said, It’s all a story the adults tell the kids to keep them from having fun out here.’ I started walking a little closer to him. The wind felt like it was following us. The leaves were just blowing where we were at not anywhere else.

‘OUCH! Quit it, ‘ my brother said harshly rubbing the back of his head.’
‘I..I didn’t do anything Thomas. I was walking right beside you.’ I stuttered. I could feel my facial expression of fear becoming somewhat permanent. My eyes widened thinking it would help me see whatever could be coming for us.
‘Well, Cliff-ord, who else slapped me in the back of the head? What did you use a switch or the whole damn limb?’ I was stunned. He kept walking and I ran to catch up to him.
‘Keep it up Clifford, I’ll leave you here for Cypress.’ Thomas warned. I put my hands in my pockets knowing he could see that I wasn’t reaching for anything. I was in tears from fear and feeling helpless.

I could finally see the streetlights through the thicket of trees and almost broke out into a sprint. I was way ahead of my brother and would have made it out before him but I froze in sheer panic. ‘Shh…can’t you hear me?’ was whispered in my ear. The cold breeze of breath on my neck stopped me dead in my tracks. Thomas ran right into the back of me almost knocking us both down.
‘Cliff, what the hell?’ Thomas shoved me forward but like a stubborn mule, I wasn’t moving. The leaves cycloned around me, ‘The stories are wrong.’ came the voice. It sounded like a young girl. ‘Cypress?’ I asked.
‘Yes, tell my parents to come here. I miss them and the witch made it to where I can’t leave these woods but I can fly through the leaves.’
‘Your just a little girl aren’t you?’ I said reaching out to one of the leaves. ‘What happened to you?’ I asked as a little red leaf skimmed my fingertips. It was Cypress’ way of having human contact. Who knows how long it has been.
‘The witch asked if I wanted to see something magical. She lied. There is nothing magical about her taking my soul in these woods. Tell my parents that Aunt Rebecca did it. She has the yellow ribbons that I wore in my hair that day. On those ribbons is the bloody proof of her crime. My mom’s sister is the witch.’ and just like that the cyclonic ease of leaves encompassing me stopped.

‘CLIFFORD! Are you ok?’ Thomas yelled at me. It looked like he had seen a ghost. ‘Yeah, I’m fine. Why?’ I asked grinning.
‘You were in a tornado of leaves and I was yelling at you to get out and each time I tried to grab you I was whipped with a skinny stick.’ Thomas blurted the words out so fast I could barely understand.
‘So, you didn’t hear anything did you?’ I asked suspiciously.
‘All I heard was wind and leaves crinkling together. You were just standing there. Not moving. You were really freaking me out. Not even cool!’ he grabbed my hand and we marched home. I thought it better to not tell him what happened. It was more for me to get back at him and not listening to me. It worked because now he listens when I speak up about not having a good feeling. I also decided that I would write a letter to Cypress’ parents.

Two weeks later my mom was in the kitchen listening to the radio when her vocal rendition of ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ was interrupted. ‘Cypress Walker’s killer has been apprehended thanks to an anonymous tip. Early this morning a search warrant for Rebecca Putnam’s residence was executed…’ I walked out of the kitchen with my glass of milk when I smiled looking out the window. In the yard danced a small cyclone of leaves and flower petals. Cypress was free from her forest.


I got a little carried away with this. After the drama that just unfolded here at work, I thought it would be best if I put myself in time out. The fight or flight moment almost became a fight moment where assault charger could’ve been filed. Writing this calmed me enough that I’m going to write a lengthy, professionally worded email about the situation. Yes, it’s long but I fell in love with my characters. Thank you for the prompt Discover.

Random Cat

I don’t own cats but this one’s personality seems to fit mine. The time that I have slotted for this is during my 10-minute (but I will and do take the extra 5 to finish a doodle if need be) break at work. I’m not walking outside to smoke so why not fill this time doodling. Taking time to do this during my work day helps my anxiety.

Random Word: Cat

6 Word Story: 2/4

Shelter can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people all of which have moments that remind them of what ‘shelter’ is to and for them. I have many forms of shelter but how do I condense that to a 6-word story? This took a little time, two cups of coffee and a LOT of edits. Then it hit me, music is one of my shelters. I turn to music when I’m depressed, in a panicked state, to get happy, to remember, and to feel safe. I can’t hear other people if my headphones are in.  Have you thought about how many you have?


Prompt Word: Shelter

Her shelter sang through her headphones.

Four Walls and Four Paws

Another poetry exercise, this time rhyming. I thought something a little more up beat but it ended up being something childish. I don’t think I’ll be the next Frost our Poe but I’m learning. Practice, practice, practice…right? But I’m not liking the rhyming to much ugh! I’ll try again later.

 


 

Home is what I call four walls holding within four paws.
Her unconditional love makes me feel protected,
her excitement is evident and to her, I’m not a lost cause.
I never have to worry about being used or rejected.
She is my home base when I feel anxious or fear,
her patients is appreciated through nightmares and depression.
I never have to hide behind my four walls because my four paws is always near.

Frying Catfish Through Stormy Weather

Stormy weather is an understatement. After the week that my family experienced last week we all were looking for some comfort food that you can only get when cooking at home. As I wrote before, I am forcing my family to try Blue Apron. I had a delivery almost two weeks ago and didn’t get a chance to cook ANY of the meals but the food is holding up pretty well. I do have to replace some turnips but no problem. There’s an Amish store not to far from where I live so I will still be able to adhere to Blue Apron’s standard of food.

I left work (and if you would like to know how my day went at my job my journal entry May 15th, third to last paragraph summarizes my shit day pretty well with a small petty victory), to head to the school to pick up my children and stopped by the house and found my husband sitting outside on the porch. Pulling over and rolling down the window I asked him if he wanted to go with to fetch the kids hesitantly he agreed but asked me to see what he did. I was a bit worried. I asked him to do 2 things, one was to clean up and rearrange our room a bit because it’s getting close to putting the AC in the window (living up north, it can be hard to find central AC so we have window units), and to repair the sink. He didn’t repair the sink and is quite irritated with it right now but our room, our room looks AMAZING! I would take a picture to post but it’s my corner of the world that no one has invaded and set off any of my triggers. Let’s just say, he’s made room on my side of the bed for a painting area and a writing area. It feels wonderful to literally have my own space. And the fact that he gives me time to myself to write (even this) is so encouraging.

Dinner Time

 

Yes the picture looks yummy, but mine didn’t look like that. I didn’t have time to stage my food because I had hungry tummies running around nor did I have natural lighting because of a storm coming in. Yes, we are having a ‘Weather Aware’ evening according to our local news. I’m from the south and desperately miss the afternoon to evening thunderstorms. The smell of the sulfur in the air before the storm is in full swing, the sound of the thunder promising the relief from the humidity and heat with droplets of water. This is something that we do not get to experience all that often here in the north.

Growing up in the south allowed me to experience not all that good for your heart home cooking with trays of fried foods, gravies, sauces, cheeses, bacon (If there wasn’t any bacon on the table you can bet that there was an item cooked in bacon fat retrieved from one of the many jars in the fridge. Yes, I’m even guilty of that to this day.) and some type of starch. When the storms were moving daddy would go fishing and come back with tons of catfish. He swore that the best catfish was caught on stormy days. Now, frying catfish and crawdad boils would put ANY northern Friday fish fry to shame. Where I grew up, fish was an any day of the week meal, not just on Fridays (a concept I still can’t wrap my head around this concept here in the north). Blue Apron really came through for me with a menu of pan fried catfish, sauteed spinach with lemon, sweet tater fries and homemade tarter sauce. I didn’t screw this meal up by opening the wrong bag of ingredients, skipping a step, or not thawing meat out for the planned meal. I am happy to announce even my husband ate it without complaint and he’s not a catfish type of guy. All the stress of the dinner slipped away as I slipped the fish into the three-step breading process. Plus, I actually felt so accomplished and full, I decided to write.

Cooking dinner through the storms passing through also helped me through another storm that is definitely brewing between my mother and I. Now, understand, there is ugly history between us two. So much so, that I have gone over a decade without talking to her the first time and 5 years the second time. The reasons behind this is for another time. The storm, well, my mother and I are extremely busy with jobs and we cannot get together as much as I would like and the fact that she has a new boyfriend doesn’t help matters either. She’s the type of woman that can’t be alone (opposite of me), and just a couple of weeks after her husband and her separated (yes, separated) she was going on dates with just about anyone that would pay attention to her. That sounds bad but her now ex-husband was a real douche bag. Back on track, I asked if she wanted to go to brunch with her grandchildren, son-in-law, and myself and she said no. Bewildered, I asked why. Her new boyfriend was making her breakfast in bed. ‘Um, ok’ is all I could say because if I rattled out what I was really thinking it would probably be another decade of not talking to her. I quickly hung up and vented to my husband. She later asked if I wanted to come by but I explained that I was exhausted and we just got back from the movies and needed to figure something out for dinner. Told her I would come by on Monday (now today) but I was able to tell her I’m in the middle of cooking dinner and she said that she had homework to do. She is creating the weather and when she stands in her rain screaming it’s raining, then I’ll let her know. I just need to calm down and cooking catfish through the storm has fended off another storm for now.

Again, I’m better off not being around certain individuals, including my mother. Can’t wait to cook tomorrow.

P.S. I still have 5 free deliveries to give away from Blue Apron. If you would like to try it out, shoot me a message and I’ll send one your way.

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