The Story of Gumbo and a bit more

The name of this blog is Gumbo Ya Ya. For years, I wrote under a similar name, the Honduras Gumbo. That changed when I left Honduras over 5 years ago.

In parts of Africa, the word, gombo, means okra. And in Angola, specifically, okra, was known as ngumbo. Is gumbo, then, an African dish? Well, yes and no. The slaves who came to Louisiana brought okra with them. They were known to eat a dish of okra and rice. But, we know that the French brought bouillabaisse with them to the New Orleans area. Then, there is the filé, which is dried and ground sassafras leaves, which is used to thicken gumbo. Filé came from the Native Americans who lived in this area.

Where do we get gumbo from exactly? Hard to tell. I would say all these cultures had a part in the dish. It’s a composite dish.

In the same way, we as a multi-ethnic nation. We live in a diverse culture. White, Black, Native American, Latino, Asian, and much more make this a culture that’s dynamic and ever-changing.

At this moment in our nation, I couldn’t write under the title gumbo, which is itself a fusion dish without mentioning our national diversity. I also must mention the ongoing protests in the nation and in some parts of the world, too. I believe these protests are a good sign that white people in particular are being awakened to the plight of our black brothers and sisters.

It is tempting to be cynical, to say that the protests are not going to change anything. It’s tempting to say that the media is capitalizing on the sensational of the moment. Or, we can acknowledge that racism exists, and that we, especially white Americans, can and must change.

What can I do besides post a social media post about race or write a few words on a blog read by a small audience? One thing I will do is be part of the conversation on race. Starting Tuesday evening, I am taking part in a book club that will discuss White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J DiAngelo.

I refuse to be a cynic. I believe my small efforts can make a difference. If you are interested in being part of a book club with me, let me know. We can start another group using Zoom.

I can’t share a gumbo with you via Zoom, but I can and will invite you to the table of humanity where we all have a seat. We can make a difference. It doesn’t have to end with just a few more days of people in the streets.

An Elegy to a Disappearing Bayou

mosquite supper clubThere’s nothing quite like the comfort of a beautiful book, especially when one needs a respite from the world’s events. Who couldn’t use an escape right now from the world around us? We’re in a worldwide pandemic. Americans are in the grip of unrest and riots as racial tensions rise.

In the midst of trying times, I found the perfect antidote in the book, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou, by Melissa Martin. The author is a native of Chauvin, Louisiana, along Bayou Petit Caillou, a community just a bayou away from my birthplace, Bourg, on Bayou Terrebonne. Like me, she grew up in a Cajun community.

Melissa Martin has a degree in English from Loyola University of New Orleans. Her cooking education was in Michelin rated restaurants in California. She melded her two talents of writing and cooking to produce an enchanting volume about Cajun cooking and culture. The rich photography adds another layer of beauty to this book.

The author and I are both from the southernmost part of Louisiana, a different place altogether from the South as defined as being below the Mason Dixon Line. Here’s her words to which I can personally witness: To me, everything above Baton Rouge was the north. I grew up with leftover gumbo in the fridge and an oil rig drilling just outside my window. I didn’t know it was special to eat cold crabs for breakfast and be surrounded by water and bayous, ibis and pelicans, receding land and dying cypress trees. 

Here’s more examples of her beautiful writing. From the chapter on crabs: Crabs are the crabssummer sun held together by shell and seawater. To introduce the section on gumbo, she writes: Gumbo is the tie that binds in South Louisiana. It symbolizes family, a shared table, local ingredients, patience, and the subtleties of culture and tradition.

The book is an elegy to a disappearing bayou and culture. As she cites in her introduction, Louisiana loses a football’s field’s worth of land every hundred minutes-that’s sixteen miles of lost barrier islands, swamps, and ground each year. I know what it’s like personally to see the land loss in my lifetime. It’s incredibly sad to watch my hometown, my region, my way of life become one step closer each day to extinction as the water swallows up our communities.

This book will one day, maybe very soon, serve as a history book to what was lost in a few generations in Louisiana. If you want to know more about Melissa Martin or the Mosquito Supper Club, her restaurant, I added a few links below. However, the best way to appreciate this volume is to buy it.

Link for her restaurant: Mosquito Supper Club

Link to an article detailing information about Melissa Martin and her legacy: Bayou Benediction: A Taste of Chef Melissa Martin’s Mosquito Supper Club. 

Link to Amazon: Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou by Melissa Martin

 

 

 

Good Gumbo

Good GumboMy sister fixed a gumbo this past weekend. She gifted me with a quart container that was brimming with shrimp, oysters, crabmeat, tomatoes and roux. Good golly, but it was a delicious surprise. My sister, Jan, lives just a few miles from me. She’s a great cook, so when she offered to leave a quart of gumbo at the bottom of her stairs, I leapt at the opportunity for gumbo.

She also gave me a generous serving of rice: 1/2 white rice, 1/2 cauliflower rice. My sister is following a keto diet lately. She’s lost over 20 pounds on the low carb plan. She prepared white rice for her husband, and cauliflower rice for herself. This was my first experience with cauliflower rice. It was good with gumbo, but, honestly, anything is good with gumbo.

This morning, I woke to temperatures in the 40s again. I opened the windows, and because of a strong breeze, the house has quickly cooled down. I needed something warm to eat. Rarely do we have cool mornings like this in April, so I skipped my usual breakfast of a protein shake blended with frozen bananas and blueberries. Nothing cold for breakfast today. It was hot seafood gumbo and coffee for breakfast.

Blessings Box2After a gumbo breakfast, I drove a few blocks to the Women’s Center in downtown Abita Springs. There’s a blessing box in front of the Center that is modeled after the little library design. Instead of books, it holds non-perishable foods for those in need. Since the Women’s Center is closed, a few of us are filling the box as needed. I added apples, pancake mix and coffee.

Not everyone can afford to fix a pot of gumbo, I suppose, with so many jobs lost in this present time. I can’t fix gumbo for anyone who wants it. I can offer an assortment, a gumbo of sorts, of what’s in my pantry.  The blessings box reminds me of the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 with a loaf of bread, a few fish, and his Father’s blessing. If we just give what we have – a loaf of bread and few fish, or even good gumbo – then God can multiply our resources.

 

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One Day at a Time

This morning I began my day as most days since the stay at home order for Louisiana started. I rise at 5:30, get the coffee brewing, take the dog out for a short walk, and then settle down at 6 am for a 30 minutes session with Facebook live streaming. The broadcast from my church features worship songs, a short devotional, and a group prayer time.

Then, I check the news online as well as skim Facebook for a short time. After that it’s time to take the dog out again, since she’s generally refuses to do her business outside without repeated coaxing on my part. When I get back inside, I drink the rest of my coffee and eat a bowl of oatmeal.

Everything I had been doing before this crisis has been cancelled, so I need a new routine. No more tutoring, ESL classes, nor food bank. There’s more time for reading, blogging, and cooking.

I confess that through the years since I returned from Honduras, my cooking skills have atrophied. When I lived there, I cooked occasionally for our kids’ project as well as doing most of my own cooking at home. There were few places in Honduras that had high hygiene practices in Honduras, and I seldom had a dining partner for the few nicer restaurants in town that earned my confidence.

I am doing basic cooking here now in the age of Covid-19. I have prepared, among other things, jambalaya, grilled chicken, saffron rice and steamed veggies. Thus far, I haven’t fixed a gumbo, but my mother has prepared gumbo twice in recent weeks; a seafood and okra gumbo and a chicken and sausage gumbo. I ate some of the seafood gumbo at her house.

I have mixed feelings about visiting with my mother. She is almost 87 years old. She lives alone. She doesn’t drive. I have picked up groceries for her last week, and we visited most of the day. However, I found it really tough to keep social distancing in the house. I totally failed at it actually. I suppose I will head to her house later this week, despite my misgivings.

I am debating whether to keep the foster dog at my house. Today is day eight for Daisy. She’s not responding well to my attempts to housebreak her. Most days she has at least one accident in the house. I don’t think accident is the right word, since it all seems quite natural for her to do her business on my wood floors. We’ll see how the day progresses today. I’ll make a decision soon if she can stay or not. I didn’t want this to be a forever dog, anyway. She’s too big to stay with me forever, since I don’t have a fenced yard. I can’t imagine walking her as often as she needs walking each day.

This afternoon I will take the dog out again a few times to encourage bathroom breaks. I will read a bit more on my Kindle. Right now I am reading The Great Influenza: The Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History.  The choice was quite incidental, as I had already started the book before the present pandemic became the big news story. One thing I should do is do some gardening. Spring came early to Louisiana, and the weather is now almost summer like. That means the glower beds need constant attention.

How has your life changed with the coronavirus changes? How has your life routine changed? What are you cooking in the kitchen?

 

An Update from the Gumbo Writer

honduras gumboMy blog life has been hanging on life support. In the past, I wrote regularly as Madame Gumbeaux or simply, Laurie, at Honduras Gumbo, which is now offline. I quit paying the yearly fee to keep the Honduras Gumbo alive. Most of my inspiration came from living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. When I moved stateside five years ago, I assumed I wouldn’t want to write posts regularly anymore.

Now, I am living in the North Country. North fits my viewpoint. I live about 30 miles north of New Orleans, Louisiana, my former home before Honduras. Today, it feels like North Country to be sure. The city of New Orleans started cool in the mid 40s this morning. Here? It was just a tad above freezing. It was cold in my house, even with central heat. I had to wear slippers to walk on my wooden floors this morning. Outrageously cold. No frost or ice, but still too cold.

Aside from fretting about the cold, I am keeping busy in Louisiana. I tutor most afternoons with Sylvan Learning Center. I teach English as a Second Language for adults, too. In my English class, I have students from Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. Also, I volunteer once a week at a local food bank.

Occasionally, I take trips to Honduras or other countries. Since I don’t have a husband or children, my time is my own. I can come and go as I please, which I do.

My last trip to Honduras was in August of this year. I went for a very short stay, just a few days in order to close bank accounts. For years I kept my accounts open with Ficohsa, a Honduran bank, because it was cheaper to keep offerings available to folks by using my account to send money for people there. Ficohsa Bank has two branches in the New Orleans area, so I could easily make transfers there or even online with minimal fees.

However as time passed, I saw little need to keep it open. In fact, every year, the IRS wanted information about those pesky little accounts. So I went southward to close them. The bank would not let me close them in the US. Two saving accounts were closed readily. However, the third account, a certificate of deposit account, is still in limbo. A lawyer in Tegucigalpa is working on it. Hopefully, that last account will be closed before the year 2020.

In contrast to the frustrating banking business, I was very pleased with the state of my former ministry in Honduras. My former assistant, Maria, manages the children’s project under the supervision of another ministry, His Eyes. They built a two story building for the children. There, the children are fed five days a week, with lessons and recreational activities, too.

In addition, the new overseers have adopted a holistic approach, helping the poorer families with improving their housing and daily living. All children receive shoes and school supplies. His Eyes expanded the children’s ministry to another town, too. I am happy with the progress. Thanks to all who encouraged me or even sent donations while I was working there. It’s good to see things moving along five years later.

I hope to write weekly blog posts. I enjoy writing, even if I am not in Honduras anymore. In the past, I had readers who regularly stopped by for a serving of the Gumbo. As far as readership goes now, a few stalwart readers are dropping by the blog when I post. Aside from a few family and friends who see my links on Facebook, the majority of my small readership comes by way of Steve Cotton’s blog from Mexico. He lists my blog on this blog roll at Mexpatriate in the Key of Steve. Thanks, Steve!

52 Places to Go in 2018

st charles grocery (1)Earlier this week, I mentioned Fodor’s list of places to avoid in 2018. Almost as soon as the ink dried on that post ( or digital imprint made), I heard on local radio that the New York Times listed 52 places to go in 2018.

What’s number one on the list? New Orleans, Louisiana. I almost laughed out loud. I will never forget the naysayers in the days, weeks, and months after Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the city.  I won’t easily forget the stinging words of the people who sheltered me in Baton Rouge for a few days after the storm. I heard other remarks through the months afterwards, too.

“New Orleans deserves it.”

“God sent Katrina to punish the city’s inhabitants.”

“It’s never coming back.”

I love New Orleans. I lived there for many years, and now, I live just a few miles north of the city.

No one deserves a hurricane. Or a fire. Or an earthquake. Check your New Testament, please. Jesus said rain falls on the just and the unjust.

I laugh because New Orleans refuses to die. It’s come back different. It’s smaller, more versatile, and in my opinion, better than before.

2018 marks  the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans. She’s moving on quite nicely these days. Many old venues are stronger than ever, like the Saenger Theatre, Preservation Hall, and even the once-ravaged Super Dome. The food is still better than almost any other place in the nation. Neighborhoods in many places are quietly gentrifying and getting a new lease on life with new blood who like our unique culture.

New Orleans has always been a gumbo pot of a city. Every group that settled here left a mark on her to separate her from rivals. The natives, the slaves, the free Creoles of the Carribean, the French, the Spanish and even Yanks are part of the DNA of a city that no one can quite define.

Come on and see for yourself why it’s Number One for 2018. There’s no place quite like New Orleans.

“We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.” – Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic, 2006

Gumbo and Grace

mama dearest
Gumbo Queen

Finally! It’s gumbo weather in Louisiana.  Temperatures are mild, and the humidity is low.  Time to stir up a roux in a cast iron pot and get cooking. Even better, it’s a good time to ask my mama to make a gumbo.  When it comes to gumbo, I can’t think of any I have had that compares to her gumbo. Especially her seafood gumbo.

The roux is turned into dark brown.* The holy trinity is added. ** Stir in a tad of finely chopped tomatoes,  and lastly fresh shrimp and crab.

 

And best of all, okra. I love okra. Just the name, okra, makes me smile. It sounds southern and exotic at the same time. It’s a weird-looking vegetable, spindly and green on the outside. On the inside, it’s full of muokra and rouxcilage and seeds.

 

My mama is the Gumbo Queen in my mind. I didn’t know, until recently, that she feels she has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect gumbo, and after 85 years on this earth, she hasn’t gotten it right yet. She’s always comparing it to her mother’s gumbo. She feels insecure mainly about her chicken and sausage gumbo.We figured it out maybe. Her mama used fresh chickens from the yard, killed the same day as the gumbo is fixed, as well as using her own lard, not oil in the base. The okra would have come from my grandfather’s garden, picked by one of her seven children.

I think she should allow herself a bit of grace. A store-bought young fryer chicken never will taste like a large hen from the chicken coop. Nor will frozen okra compare to the pods one can pick from the garden. I scarcely expect her to find fresh pig fat either.

Maybe her roux isn’t as good as my mother’s mom did it, but it’s good, no doubt. For me I consider it a success to not burn the roux.  There’s a trick to it, after all. Only the best cooks can get a smoky, dark roux just perfect without burning the oil and flour mixture. Too little cooking, and a light brown watery broth makes for a tepid bowl of gumbo.

My Cajun mama needs to give herself permission to have an excellent gumbo even if her mama had a better one. I need grace, too. Not just with gumbo. But with myself, with my family, and everyone else, for that matter.

Smiing Adele.jpg
Grandma Adele in the 1950s.

 

*A roux is made from equal parts of flour and fat/oil heated over a low flame, turned constantly until the mix becomes dark brown.

**The holy trinity of most Cajun dishes are these three: celery, onions, and bell peppers.