Saturday, November 27, 2010

First You Make a Roux

I love any occasion that encourages me to get together with those I love and spend the day cooking and eating.  Now it's 2 days later and in every home across the country, scrumptious leftovers are dwindling quickly.  Here in south Louisiana, turkey on Thanksgiving Day is just a preamble to deliciousness to come:  turkey gumbo.  And like so many good Louisiana recipes, it starts with a roux.

Here's my recipe:

turkey carcass with whatever leavings of meat are on it; I usually cut it into 4 pieces so they fit nicely in the pot
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive -- peanut is good because it can take high temperatures)
1 cup coarsely chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup coarsely chopped bell peppers
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (or a couple of tablespoons of dried if that's what you have)
water or broth to cover
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 to 1 pound andouille sausage (or other smoked sausage you like) cut into 1/4 inch rounds
cayenne pepper and salt to taste
1 bunch finely chopped green onions
file powder (ground sassafrass root)

First you make a roux:  In your soup pot, combine oil and flour over medium heat, stirring/scraping continuously until the flour cooks to a medium brown color.  Some like it really dark, but there's a fine line between dark and burned.  Once I crossed that bitter line and the house smelled dreadful for days. (Seemed like days.)  Now I stay on the safe side and stop when it's about the color of peanut butter.

Throw in onions, bell peppers, celery, and parsley and saute until the vegetables are wilted.

Add turkey pieces and sausage.

Add enough water or broth to cover all the ingredients by at least an inch.  Don't worry if you add too much -- you can always just cook it longer to reduce.  You just don't want to add too little.  Actually, if you add too little, you can still just add more as needed.

Add salt and cayenne to taste.

Cook for a couple of hours partially covered so that the liquid can reduce.  Stir every so often.  Or if you have a husband who cannot resist stirring, let him do it whenever he wanders into the kitchen.  I'm married to a stirrer.

It's done when the meat is falling off the bones and the broth is the consistency you like. (I like it pretty thick.)  Fish out the bare bones and icky bits (skin) at the very end -- they add flavor and texture to the soup while it's cooking.  I also skim off the oil, though some people like to leave it.

Serve over fluffy rice and throw a handful of green onions onto the top of each serving.  I let everyone add their own file at the table.  (Some like it, some don't.)

So good.  I like it with cornbread.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Smack in the Middle of Satsuma Season

For shame!  I walked into a local supermarket the other day and saw this display right at the front door:

Why are these clementines from 500 miles away taking up prime grocery real estate?
Nothing against clementines, but our local satsumas are a toothsome, fragrant mandarin orange that has been grown here for well over 100 years. 

This is what should be at the front of every supermarket in the Gulf South right now:

Satsumas may not be showy, but they're soooooooo good!
Okay, they're kinda ugly compared to the perfectly shaped and uniformly orange clementines.  They are all shades of orange, yellow, and green when ripe.  Their skin is lumpy and loose -- so easy to peel.  They are sweet, tender, juicy, and practically seedless.  Around our house, we just live for satsuma season.  

Thank you, Clementine, but while satsumas are in season we have no need for other citrus.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Katrinas' Blessings

Usually when people talk about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath of flooding and devastation for the Gulf South, particularly New Orleans, they emphasized the -- very real -- tragedy of it all.  I want to talk about the blessings, just as real, it has brought.

It was with a feeling of new possibilities that my family returned in late 2005 to our ruined city, confident that we would help to rebuild it better.  We desperately needed political, judicial, and educational reform.  I was bitterly disappointed as one after another old problem crept back in.  Crime and corruption seemed as rampant as ever and the bad old days seemed to be back to stay.

In the last year, though, I've come to realize that I was wrong.  Reform is taking hold; it just didn't happen as fast as I thought it would.  It takes years to turn around a system so broken, decades even, but it's already starting to show.

Moving Slide Into Place
Around the corner from our house is a school that was scary bad before the storm.  It was a middle school (grades 6 - 8) with poor discipline, failing students, a crumbling building.  Now it is an elementary school, grades K - 8. 

When it first reopened, it seemed to be more of the same.  During morning arrival and afternoon dismissal, slouching kids would loiter around the entrance.  Their dress was slovenly, they would litter on the street, and the way the boys talked to the girls -- so disrespectful.

In the last two years, there has been a change for the better.  In the mornings and afternoons, teachers are outside smiling and chatting with the children, parents, and bus drivers.  The kids are mannerly and pleasant to the neighbors.  Academics are measurably improved.  The principal doesn't crow about the achievement gains, though, because she's not satisfied with where they are -- yet.

Painting a Really Cool Hop Scotch Board

Yesterday, the neighborhood and school communities united to build a new playground and generally spruce up the place.  Two wealthy local families footed the bill and KaBoom! organized the almost 600 volunteers to turn barren concrete into a great place for children to play and learn.  

Starting to Look Like Something!
It was amazing to meet the teachers, parents, and kiddos and peek into some of the classrooms.  (kindergarten -- my fave!)  This school could not have existed 5 years ago.  And now it's only one of many.  If this trend holds, it's no exaggeration to say that even my dreams for a transformed city will be realized.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Every Day Beauties

I love to garden (despite the fact that I have been shamefully remiss in my current garden where I have lived for more than 2 years already).  I love all flowers and vegetables and growing things and the wildlife they bring:  bugs, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  My lush, showy roses and bougainvillea make my heart sing every time I look at them.

Some of my favorites, though, are quiet beauties that most passersby might not even notice.

Waiting for Me to Come Along
Most of my neighbors view obedient plant as a weed.
Angelle Was Here

This insignificant perennial lies on the ground waiting for me to come along.  When I do, I always touch the leaves.  They  obediently fold up.  How fun is that?

Spanish moss is very common;  but could never be mundane.  It has a gossamer beauty all its own.  I usually see it in live oaks or cypress trees, but here it is growing  right on my crape myrtles.

Soon I hope to start my gardening in earnest.  Really, where I live it's hard not to have a garden.  If something gets stuck in the ground, it pretty much grows like crazy.

One of my neighbors with a sense of humor got a garden upgrade when she recently redid the bathroom.

Now that's something you don't see every day.