Monday, March 2, 2015

My Simple Bowl of Red
A Tale of Texas Independence


As rough and tumble as I thought I was, as maverick a spirit as I thought I possessed, the move was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life and there were moments a-plenty that I wanted to pack it up and scurry back to the comfort of the familiar, however crazy it was. Starting over can be a terrifying adventure.
Texas celebrates its independence on March 2.  I celebrate it 'most every day.  This is the story of my Texas independence.

I Am a Texan

I hitched my wagon to a star and moved to Texas fifteen almost 18 years ago with a rough and tumble ten year old tomboy and me, her mother, who thought she was also a rough and tumble thirty-something. I mean I was pretty headstrong. And I thought I could do just about anything I put my mind to, with ease. A move to Texas put an end to that notion.

It was with grudging respect that I considered Texas as a place to start over.  Having only lived in the state a few years as a young child, I never understood what I thought of as the 'arrogance of the Texan'.  You know what I'm talking about. They seemed awfully proud of their Texas, these people. They seemed to speak louder than other any other region's residents about how vastly superior Texas was in the battle of the states. I had not seen all this wonder. I had lived in Beaumont.  Well, I'm just going to leave it at that.

You ever need to start over? Throw out the white flag and admit surrender? Without going into the gory details (we'll save that for another day, maybe. A long day, maybe), the handwriting was on the proverbial wall--or billboard as it were.

I sat in my car at a particularly long red light, dizzy from the drama that was my life. I had exhausted my seemingly endless supply of Pollyanna optimism.  I recognized that there was no longer much of a bright side, a flip of a coin would find, alternately, just dim, or shady, and I really had no idea how I was going to right the ship and get back in the flow. I was swimming, upstream, getting nowhere.

That was when, looking around, that day, at that light (is this light EVER going to change?!?)  I saw a huge sign. Really. Not just a metaphorical sign.  It was a real sign and it said, with letters taller than myself:

Move to Austin.

Now. How are you going to argue against that? The billboard would absolutely SWAMP a burning bush, the sign I previously sought to confirm my plan. In reality, that was an advertisement for a now-defunct cigarette brand, but I took that sign as MY sign. I'm a sucker for signs.

Mine, of course, is not the only story of starting over in Texas; The state enjoys a long history of people just like me, who packed up everything they had, and lit out for Texas. The starry skies, wide open spaces, and independent spirit beckon to many--in fact a popular bumper sticker puts it best:  I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.

And after only a short time, I came to realize that those 'arrogant Texans' had much for which to be arrogant. Texas is like a small country, where if one gets tired of the scenery, she can pack up and head a hundred miles in any direction, and find a whole new world to explore.


The move was not without it's hiccups. Moving an entire life is not an easy thing to do. The culture shock from laid-back laissez les bon temps rouler, to boisterous gitty-up & git-er-done was greater than I expected, and nearly did me in. Knowing no more than a few, all family, things were touch and go for a while. I was terribly homesick, and I spent hours upon hours writing letters to friends I'd left. Their letters in return were my lifeline. As rough and tumble as I thought I was, as maverick a spirit as I thought I possessed, the move was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life and there were moments a-plenty that I wanted to pack it up and scurry back to the comfort of the familiar, however crazy it was. Starting over can be a terrifying adventure.

Fifteen Almost 18 years later, I'm glad I stuck it out. I dug down deep and discovered a well of resolve, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, as Texans are wont to do, and set out to discover a new life, in a new land. I explored music festivals, and quirky coffee shops, and bookstores, and museums, and slowly began to fall in love. With Texas.

A friend recently discovered our correspondence from these years, and shared them with me. Reading along with my lonely letter, all those first melancholy days in beautiful Texas came flooding back. I can look back with awe at the girl who thought she was so tough, and found herself to be, in reality, pretty tender. I'm more comfortable with the complexities of that younger woman-- they've settled in, like I've settled into Texas.

There is breathtaking beauty in this state, the type of which brought tears to my eyes one day, a few months after I arrived, as I sat on the shores of  Lake Travis with my lunch, writing a letter to those beloved friends I'd left behind.
I miss you all so very much. And I miss Baton Rouge.  I miss magnolias and azaleas and levees and crawfish boils and charmingly obnoxious Tiger fans.  My heart aches with missing.  But as I sit on this shore, the sunshine on my face reflected from the water, below sandwiched between parenthetical craggy cliffs, I can't help but feel that I've found a new home. I am now, it seems, a Texan.
And as no mere afterthought:
COME VISIT!
 

My Simple Bowl of Red

In 1977, the Texas legislature officially proclaimed chili the official state food of Texas "in recognition of the fact that the only real 'bowl of red' is that prepared by Texans." I hope they'll give this transplant a pass.

This recipe makes one big pot of chili.  How many servings that is, of course, varies among the type of Texan you have around the table. For normal folks, I'd say around 8 servings, with leftovers.


3 lb chuck roast, boneless, trimmed (reserve trimmings)
1 cup masa harina (or corn flour, or fine ground cornmeal to substitute)
3 large onions
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle of beer (I could list some fancy brand here, but really?  Use one of that six pack you bought with which to wash this down.)
one pint beef stock, low sodium.  (I use home-canned stock, but you may substitute with low sodium stock from the grocery, which comes in 14.5 ounce cans, or 32 oz. boxes.  I would use the boxed, in a pinch, and save what I don't use to warm and drink, like my granny did.)
1 T minced fresh oregano
1t dried oregano
1 T cumin (I love cumin.  If you're not a fan, adjust this accordingly.)
Up to 1/4 cup chili powder.  (Chili powders are wildly different in terms of taste, and heat.  I make my own, by roasting and grinding my favorite chiles, but there are plenty of good store-bought alternatives.  Experiment to find your favorite, and begin by using 2 T, and adjusting to suit your taste.)
1 T cider vinegar
2t (or more) black pepper, and
kosher salt, as needed

Render fat from beef trimmings by slowly pan-roasting. Remove trimmings and add lard, bacon or other meat drippings, or cooking oil to equal 4 tablespoons.

Cut roast into 1/2 to 1 inch cube.  Alternatively, pulse in food processor to desired grind.  (don't over grind.  We're going for texture here.)  Toss to coat with masa harina.  In one tablespoon of fat, brown meat (in batches, adding fat when necessary) in a single layer in heavy-bottomed dutch oven (cast iron is our preference).  Remove and reserve each batch of meat.

Brown onions in remaining fat until translucent.  Add 1/2 cup of beer to the pot to deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan (cause this is just so much gooooooodness.).  Return beef to the pot, add beef stock, remaining beer, vinegar, and seasonings.  (caution:  beef stock, even low sodium, can become salty when reduced, so I reserve salting this until the very end.)  Bring to a low boil, and maintain, stirring often, for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes. 

I like to refrigerate chili overnight before serving.  The seasonings are intensified, and it gives me the opportunity to skim the hardened fat that inevitably accumulates. 

Some folks are chili purists.  They top their chili with nothing, and they eat there chili with a fork.  Nothing else.  Some folks, primarily in Southeast Texas where the culinary borders are blurred with South Louisiana, eat their chili over rice.  Some folks think that's sacrilege.  Some folks eat their chili with cornbread.  Some, tortillas, some, totopos, some, saltines, some, Texas toast.  Seems each region has it's own set of 'chili rules'.  Some have no issues with garnishing, and, in fact, will provide many bowls of choice.  It's your chili--I say you get to decide.  Some garnishes may include:
cheddar cheese, queso fresca, crumbled goat, or any, cheese!
sour cream, or crema
green or yellow or white onion, chopped
cilantro, chopped
pico de gallo
salsa
sliced serrano or jalapeno peppers
lime wedges
avocado, sliced
and more.

+++++++
So where's the BEANS you ask? Oh, please, keep your voice down. You'll rile the Texans. They might tell you to feel free to add beans.Just don't call it Texas chili if you do.Them's fighting words.

While rules have become a bit more flexible, and lengthy on the first weekend of November in Terlingua, there used to be but two-- "Have Fun and No Beans". Check out the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff, and the competing Chili Appreciation Society International, both now in their 49th year and slated for November 5-7, 2015. It's a big ole party and a special kind of Texas-crazy.
"But as dinner now made its appearance, I had no leisure for further cogitation. I had made the plunge, and sink or swim, live or die, came back to me from school-boy days. Our frontier meal of beef, sauced with appetite and the grease of fried pork, and seasoned to scalding heat with red pepper, with milk to neutralize its blistering effects upon our throats, and thin Mexican cakes, called Tortillas, was brought in by the Col.'s Mexican woman."
Adventures on the Frontiers of Texas and Mexico. [The American Whig review. / Volume 2, Issue 4, October 1845]



Friday, February 27, 2015

The Season's Best series
Market Chef Maggie Perkins



Well, I've got a new gig, y'all.

Beginning in March, I'm wearing the hat, or cloche if you will, of Market Chef for Texas Farmers' Markets. I'm pretty psyched! I'll be cooking up a storm of seasonal eats twice a month at the Cedar Park Farmers' Market, and the Mueller Farmers' Market, with another possible market on the horizon. Please consider following the Facebook pages for each market, and my own Facebook blog page, for notifications about upcoming appearances.

If you find yourself in the area, I'd love to see your shining smiles!

Is fresh, wholesome, seasonal farm-style fare your kind of gnoshing?  You might enjoy some of the previous recipes I've shared at the market, including











So what am I making this weekend at the market?  Well heck, that remains to be seen. Because...and this is the FUN PART...I will arrive at the market with NO PLANS in place and NO RECIPE in hand. I'll shop the market just like any market-goer would, selecting the best of the season from the market to prepare and sample. And you can best you'll find the results on this blog, shortly thereafter.

I'm pretty excited. I hope you'll follow along!  And if you can't get yourself to these farmers' markets, I do hope you'll hunt one down in your neck of the woods and support your local farmers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday
In the Attitude of Silence



In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.  Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, February 22, 2015

UPDATE: Let's Go to the Movies with Oscar!
Reflections and Reviews


UPDATE: It's the big day!! We're hours away! As soon as I press update, I'm off to Karen and Jean's house to eat, eat, eat and admire/criticize the red carpet. 

And, in preparation, I saw everything I hoped to see! I saw every Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actor and Actresses. I even yawned through Into the Woods. I've updated this post, in red, with my thoughts on each category. What/Who were your favorites? May The Grand Budapest Hotel the BEST movie win!

Sometimes, I do things other than cook, eat, garden, and photograph.  Though you wouldn't know it from this blog.

Sometimes I watch sports. Sometimes I travel. Sometimes I play with makeup. Sometimes I observe (from a middle-aged distance) fashion. One day, I'll share all of the non-food related topics over on this developing blog right HERE. It's a hot mess of construction right now.

Today is not that day. TODAY, I'm itching to talk about my favorite winter season--not post-season football, not basketball, not hockey-- AWARDS SEASON.

And the granddaddy of all of the awards, Oscar himself, has announced his nominations for 2015 JUST THIS MORNING!  I've got to get a move on. The 87th Academy Awards will be televised on February 22, 2015. I have a long list of catching up to do!

Below, find the trailers for all of this year's Best Picture nominees. The Academy chose to nominate only eight films for the ten category slot, leaving out a few that probably ought to have made the cut. But my ballot was lost in the mail, it seems.

For a complete list of nominees, see the list, following.

Below, find the full list of nominees. I've seen the ones scored through, and look forward to 4 weeks plus change of rushing through viewings of those remaining. What have you seen? What is your early favorite? Let's DISCUSS!


BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

UPDATE: Well I've seen them all now. And while I can only guess which way the award will go, I CAN give my opinion. But that opinion is subjective, and informed by personal experience. For example, 

American Sniper, the highest-grossing war film in North America, and Eastwood's most successful film to datewas not my favorite. It was a good movie about the war experience of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, My eyes were glued to the screen, save for when I covered them, from opening to credits. Certainly earned it's action/adventure cred. Seems like there's a blockbuster war movie each award season. It's just a little fresh, and maybe a little much for me. This was the movie I most dreaded seeing. Don't get me wrong. I'm a red, white, and blue patriot, and I admire most of Eastwood's catalogue. I'm not up for sniper fire, I guess. And that fake baby.  No.

American Sniper


Birdman, the dark comedy/drama written and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárrituon, on the other hand, appealed to me because of the story within the story. Set around a play based on my favorite modern poet, Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Michael Keaton, gave a thoughtful and compelling performance as a fading celluloid super hero, seeking a career renaissance, in an ironic life follows fiction twist. Strong ensemble cast performances by members including Keaton, along with Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts,and Edward Norton all made impressive contributions. Yet the fantastical elements featuring Birdman, the alter ego of Riggan Thomson (played by Keaton) threw me off. I like my realism to stay real, and my fantasy to stay fantasy. That's how I'm wired. I tried to suspend belief, but ultimately failed. I'm almost unanimously in agreement with zero film critics. Guess that's why I'm no film critic. Film lover? Yes. Film critic? Hardly.

Birdman



Boyhood. Boy was this one polarizing. Admittedly, my objectivity was near nil. I live in the city and state which was featured and portrayed so lovingly, I've followed the project for many years, I completely related to the kid-from-divorce angle as well as the divorced mother angle, the music was spot-on ( I'm a big fan of the Black Keys, among the other artists featured) and the darn it if the movie didn't end up in Big Bend. My love for Big Bend, where I spent a meaningful and memorable bit of solo time recently, borders on the spiritual. There were too many commonalities in the movie for me to remain unbiased. Those who aren't loyal Austinites were less impressed. A friend whose opinion I respect reported that he hated it so vehemently, he refused to finish viewing. I loved it. It vies for my favorite. Go figure.

Boyhood


The Grand Budapest Hotel, a Wes Anderson comedy, was GORGEOUS. I was captivated by the scenery and setting from the opening credits, and I'm a sucker for pretty. Ralph Fiennes, the Hotel's devoted concierge and lothariowas witty and delightfully restrained in his role, and the interplay between Fiennes character, Monsieur Gustave H, and the young Zero Moustafa, lobby boy (played by Tony Revolori), while understated, is nothing short of hilarious. The cast (THE CAST, OMG!) includes performances and cameo appearances by F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Owen Wilson. I'm a big fan of Anderson's films, and this one is one of his best. I can't imagine why Fiennes was overlooked for Best Actor, and why this film isn't garnering the buzz and accolades it deserves. I think I'll boldy go on record as saying it's my favorite of the group.

The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Imitation Game, a historic thriller chronicling the contributions of Alan Turing, widely considered the father of computer science, loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. Turing, played skillfully by newlywed Benedict Cumberbatch was the British cryptanalyst who helped solve the Enigma code during the Second World War, professionally and was later prosecuted for homosexuality, personally. I found the story gripping, with edge-of-the-seat action, and you can bet I'll be watching it again when it is released in video. I'm a bit of an anglophile, and the time period is also of great interest to me, making the combination of setting and story irresistible. Actors all gave their best, and Cumberbatch, deservedly, has been mentioned frequently in award prediction discussions. 

The Imitation Game


Selma, the historical drama directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb and DuVernay, is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James Bevel, Hosea Williams, and Martin Luther King, Jr. of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC. Perhaps as a result of attending schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, the scene of a nationally-significant school desegregation battle in 1957, I developed a passion for the civil rights movement, and a hunger for knowledge that followed me to college, where I studied the movement under the tutelage of a similarly-impassioned professor. I've seen Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, I've walked the halls of Little Rock Central High School, I've visited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and wept for 4 innocent little girls, and I've driven over that bridge in Selma, featured so prominently in the film. I admit all bias. Selma has been criticized for it's portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson, however I found it accurate. And I join those who question it's exclusion in every other award category other than Best Picture. I was moved by the film and performances of its cast, watching with handkerchief in hand throughout. Perhaps like my discomfort with American Sniper, the painful honesty of this dark chapter in our country's history is difficult to confront yet again on the big screen. Imagine how difficult it must be, then, to live in the shadow of its legacy.

Selma


The Theory of Everything gave us a rare, if polished, peek into the life of a younger Stephen Hawking. The British biographical romantic drama directed by James Marsh , was adapted by Anthony McCarten from the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking, which chronicles her life with ex-husband, theoretical physicist Hawking, his diagnosis of motor neuron disease, and his success in physics. While the film gives us rare and brief unflinchingly honest observations about the complexity of Hawking and the effects of the disease on his personal life and relationships, it misses many opportunities to delve deeper than the surface of the story, instead falling back on a tidied-up, glossed over narrative. It started out so promisingly, but by the end of the movie, I was resentful of its unwillingness to really go there. No disparage intended for the award-worthy performances of Eddie Redmayne, as Hawking, and Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde, who admirably wrung as much from the script as they could. What talent there is between those two actors. Don't get me wrong-- it's not a dud, however of the list of nominees, moves to the bottom of my favorites.

The Theory of Everything


Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle and loosely based upon his experience in Princeton High School's studio band, is likely the darkest horse in this list of nominees, and I LOVED IT! The story follows the dreams of young and promising drummer Andrew, played by Miles Teller, and the near-brutal challenge of the musical instructor who can make or break them. With brief exception, the movie truly belongs to Chazelle and Simmons, with the occasional easy relief Paul Reiser, who plays Andrew's father, Jim Neimann. I appreciate music just as much as I appreciate food (seriously!), so, here again, I'm biased. I'm not certain those who have no interest at all in music, generally, or jazz, specifically, will appreciate this movie as much, but I encourage you to give it a go. I'll bet anyone who studied theater or band under one of those famously brusque and slightly unhinged teacher/mentors would agree that the depiction of J.K. Simmons' Fletcher is right on point. Not one sour note there. (see what I did there?)

Whiplash



There's really not a bad movie in the bunch. I enjoyed watching every one of them. But according to Academy politics, this could go any way. They may try to avoid it all by crowning The Grand Budapest Hotel. I'd be good with that. But it's a longshot. Vegas says Birdman or Boyhood. 

BEST DIRECTOR
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

UPDATE: I'm in agreement with many others that it would seem that a picture that earns Best Picture nominee status, should also land its director in the Best category. If Selma truly is one of the best 8 pictures of the year, Ava DuVernay belongs here. If Bennett Miller truly is one of the five best directors, Foxcatcher belongs in the best picture category (and it was very dark, but very good, incidently). I expect the award to go to Linklater, for his ground-breaking 12 year-long labor of love.

BEST ACTOR
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

UPDATE: Y'all, there were all great. Cumberbatch was my favorite. Redmayne has the most challenging role to portray. I hope to see Carell in a dramatic role again. I know I'll see Cooper everywhere. I expect Keaton to win.

BEST ACTRESS
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Marion Cotillard, 2 Days, 1 Night

UPDATE: Jeeze this category was full of stellar performances. I'm sorry to see that Witherspoon won't get the nod this year, because in any other year, her performance as a flawed-but-courageous grieving daughter and determined hiker would win her another statue. Pike was compelling, Jones showed more complexity than her on-screen husband, and Cotillard was plucky and believable in the French language 2 Days, 1 Night.  
This year, it's going to Moore. And it should.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

UPDATE: J.K. Simmons.  Bank on it.

Edward Norton for an upset. Ruffalo was a light touch among intense characters. Duvall played Duvall in a made-for-tv quality movie, and I cringed when Ethan Hawke entered the scene in Boyhood. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Laura Dern, Wild

UPDATE: Great actresses every one of them. But no one warmed a movie more than the realistic portrayal of alternately devoted and flawed mother, Patricia Arquette. (How could she have ever slept with that smarmy Ethan Hawke character?)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

UPDATE: I MISSED ONE!  In all fairness to Inherent Vice, I won't even attempt a guess.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler

UPDATE:  WHERE THE HECK DID NIGHTCRAWLER PLAY??

++++++++++++

The second batch of categories, for me, is not as much must-see viewing as it is like-to-see. Documentary, Foreign Film, and Animated Features often are seen at home, but keep an eye open for local theaters that run special showings. In Austin for instance, Violet Crown Cinema is advertising, coming soon, a viewing of all nominated animated shorts, and action shorts.


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Agua

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
The Liberator (Venezuela)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Everything is Awesome," The Lego Movie
"Glory," Selma
"Grateful," Beyond the Lights
"Not Gonna Miss You," Glen Campbell...I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars," Begin Again

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Citizenfour
Last Days of Vietnam
Finding Vivien Maier
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

BEST EDITING
American Sniper
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
Unbroken

BEST SOUND EDITING
American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

BEST SOUND MIXING
American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Maleficent
Mr. Turner

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Aya
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)
Parvaneh
The Phone Call

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Joanna
Our Curse
The Reaper (La Parka)
White Earth

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Feast
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

So tell me about your movie life. Are you a fan? Do you wait for video? Do you have a favorite movie, actor, director, this year?  Did it/he/she/they get snubbed? And does this mean no PittJolies on the red carpet this year? (I'll bet not.)



I can't even imagine.....

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Gumbo: A Love Story
Gumbo Z' Herbes (Green Gumbo)


Well hello there and Happy Mardi Gras!  Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Beginning on this day before, and continuing through the Lenten season, we'll be visiting the history of, including my own personal history with, gumbo. Just typing the word makes my heart flutter.

Though I'm a Texas girl now, and have been for 17 lively years, my culinary heart belongs to Louisiana, where I learned to cook beyond the nachos and ramen that served to fortify me as a teenager.

I spend a little time back in the area, and I'll be sharing some of those sojourns over the next few weeks, but still, today I'm homesick. Homesick for the big party of JOY that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. For it was in New Orleans that I fell in love with a city, fell in love with its cuisine, and simply fell in love.

Today, I celebrate along with the Big Easy, with a non-traditional recipe for traditional Gumbo Z'herbes.

Customarily, Gumbo Z'herbes, also called Green Gumbo, or Greens Gumbo, is served meatless-- prepared on Holy Thursday for Good Friday. From that custom, it has grown to be served any time of the year, with or without meat, with one or all three members of the Holy Creole Trinity, with or without roux. I've tested recipes using all of the variations listed, and even a few more over the years (white wine used in the stock was a unique, and tasty version, but the one that added tomatoes? That was just wrong.).

This particular gumbo was made of, clockwise from upper left, Flat Leaf Parsley, Cabbage, Scallions-- green tops only, Collard Greens, Arugula, Turnip Greens, Dandelion Greens, Pea Shoots, and Lacinato Kale, center.

One of the fortuitous characteristics of this seasonal gumbo is that its season and greens season occur simultaneously. Greens, which can be grown all year long with success in Central Texas and most of the country, for that matter, are especially 'sweet' and at their very most prime in the colder months. As the temperatures in the field climb, the sometimes bitter, sometimes pungent greens become more so. Winter shows them off at their finest. Home cooks vary in the quantity of greens varieties to add, sometimes regulated by culinary lore and superstition, but usually agree on no less than 6, and as many as 15. Greens can include beet, turnip, radish, and carrot top greens, mustard greens, collard greens, any variety of lettuce including escarole, endive, spinach, or arugula, and any variety of cabbage, including tatsoi, bok choy, head cabbage and more,

Collect as many greens as suits you, but remember that variety in texture and pungency is your aim. For a large stockpot of gumbo, I used one bunch of each of the greens labeled above.

As is the case with so much culinary folklore, recipes are inexact, and quantities are more often measured in bunches, pinches, and handfuls, than exactly, so I will share this recipe in much the same way. It is an amalgamation of the many bowls of greens gumbo I've enjoyed over the years, and this particular version, the big crowd pleaser, has become the pot I stir most frequently. In fact I prepared it for the local farmers' market this weekend, and was pleasantly surprised by its reception by the young market-goers. One enthusiastic fella wrote down the name of my blog on his forearm with his Dad's pen, and approval. Those are the kind of votes of confidence that surprise and delight a chef or home cook, alike.

So where's the roux, you ask?  Well, as mentioned above, this dish is frequently made with, or without roux. There are three methods used for thickening a gumbo-- Roux, (golden, nutty-brown, or dark chocolate brown), Okra (currently not in season), and File' powder. We're using the file' powder here, for simplicity. Just this once.


Hint: I use trimmings and stems to fortify vegetable stocks, add to pesto, or even up the nutritional ante of a morning smoothie.

I'll share a little secret with you, while we're here. I never liked greens. They made me wretch. They were strong and slimy and YUCK. Until I learned how to prepare fresh greens, that is. Until I learned that I liked them smoky (with pork stock), a little salty, a little peppery, a little garlicky, and chopped very fine. Others have their own sworn-by methods, but for me and my gumbo pot, these are the rules. If there is among you those who also have turned up their nose at the mere mention of greens, this may be your gateway greens dish. Those kids at the market seem to think so.

So gather up all your greens, and get to work! To begin.....

Chop greens in bite-sized pieces or smaller, depending upon preference. Reserve in separate piles. Collect additional ingredients, below. (Refer to ingredient notes, after, for options, additions, and substitutions.)



  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T lard 
  • 1 bunch each of an assortment of 6 or more edible wild or cultivated greens in varying tastes and textures (see photo, above)
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • Additional liquid (see notes)
  • 1 large smoked ham hock
  • 1 small bunch (about 6 twigs) of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups prepared long grain white rice
  • Optional--Gumbo File' Powder

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, cook onion in lard until wilted and transparent. Add minced garlic and cook, stirring, one minute longer. Transfer to a large stock pot. 

Over medium heat, stir in greens in batches (using tougher greens like cabbage and kale, first), and allow to wilt slightly before adding the next batch. Greens wilt quickly, and you'll find that bushel of greens you had to very efficiently dress itself down to a soup pot in short order.

Add ham hock or other optional seasoning meat. Skip this step for a meat-free gumbo, natch.

Cover with chicken stock, adding additional liquid as necessary to cover greens by a few inches. Add fresh thyme and bay leaf, and season with cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper, to taste.

Bring to a full boil, skimming any foam released by ham bone, then reduce to a low, rolling boil, for 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve over cooked rice, optionally adding file' powder to individual dishes.



Ingredient Notes: 
  • Lard can be substituted for butter, bacon drippings, or neutral-flavored cooking oils, if you're opting for a meat-free version.
  • Greens can include anything you can get your hands on, keeping in mind a variety of textures and flavors. Pepper Grass, a type of wild edible weed found in the region, was a traditional addition, however it has become difficult to find-- I use arugula, and often scallion tops, to duplicate its flavor as closely as possible.
  • Chicken stock can be substituted by, or used in conjunction with filtered water, vegetable stock, or even a little white wine. I begin with chicken stock, and add filtered water as needed to maintain the desired level of broth. 
  • I love the smoky pork flavor that informs this particular version, and frequently use smoked ham hocks, smoked turkey necks, or when I'm feeling fancy a smoked, cured ham steak. You may also omit the meat altogether, for Lenten Friday's and vegetarian and vegan diners.
  • I prefer to serve this gumbo over a separately prepared bowl of rice, however you may add the cooked rice to the finished gumbo, adding more liquid and warming through as necessary. 
  • Gumbo File' powder is used as a thickener in place of the traditional roux, or okra, which is not in season. It is added to the individual serving, and stirred in. It should not be added to the pot, as boiling the file' will cause it to become ropey-- and yuck. (the technical term.)
Additional reading: 

Green Gumbo-- Saveur
Gumbo Z'herbes-- Gumbo Pages
Leah Chase's Gumbo Z'herbes-- NOLA Times-Picayune
Hank Shaw's Green Gumbo-- Simply Recipes
A short history of gumbo--Southern Foodways Alliance

Stop back by later this week for Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, a perfect choice for warming the tummy, and the heart, on Notes from Maggie's Farm.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...