Let the good times roll with a Mardi Gras menu!

In our family, we laissez les bons temps rouler on Mardi Gras! Our day begins with beignets and cafe au lait as we listen to New Orleans jazz . . . then for dinner, we pull out all the stops: gumbo and mock choux corn, with King cake and praline sundaes for dessert. YUM!

Want to know how we do it? I’ll share a couple of recipes . . .

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (from Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, courtesy of his book The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American)

  • 1 pound sausage (any kind, though we prefer andouille)
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 3 pounds of bone-in chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2.5 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tbs poultry seasoning
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of allspice
  • 1.5 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Tabasco
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the sausage in a large pot with just a little oil. Remove and set aside. Add the remaining oil to the pot and fry the chicken until brown. Remove and set aside.

Add flour to the pan and cook until you have a dark, rich roux, about the color of peanut butter. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to get up all the goodness. Add the vegetables and the garlic and saute until limp. Add the stock and stir constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings and simmer, cover, for at least one hour.

Add the chicken and sausage, and cook until the chicken is tender, usually about an hour . . . I simmer it all day.

Serve over hot, fresh rice. The proper way to dish it up is to put the gumbo into the bowl first and then add the rice.

 

Praline Sundae Sauce (from The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, my favorite place to eat in the Quarter–best after Mass at St. Louis Cathedral)

  • 1 pound granulated sugar
  • 2 cups dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup double-strength black coffee
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups roasted pecan halves or pieces

Place the sugar in a large, heavy pot and set it over medium heat. Stirring often, slowly let the sugar melt and caramelize until dark brown, being careful not to let it burn. Add 2 cups of dark corn syrup. Add 1 cup of water along with the coffee and butter. Bring the pot to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water.

Add the roasted pecans shortly before serving so they will maintain their crispness. Without the pecans added, the sauce will keep for several weeks in a covered container. If you choose to refrigerate it, which is unnecessary, be sure to let it get back to room temperature before serving.

Happy Winnie The Pooh Day!

Did you even know there was such a thing as Winnie The Pooh Day? I did not until it was upon us today!

Here’s my Pooh history:

I don’t remember being particularly enamored with WTP in my early years, but perhaps I was, because on our very first trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, in 1972, my grandparents apparently offered to buy me something, and it was Pooh I chose.

(Incidentally, I must have been a fan of larger animals and dolls; I also had a HUGE Snoopy, courtesy of my uncle Mitch, and a big, nearly life-sized doll called Blue Boy who had belonged to my dad.)

So Pooh came home with me and took up a permanent spot on my bed, as the guardian of my pillows. He was comfy; as a small child, I used him almost as a bolster pillow, leaning against him as a read.

But my most vivid memory of Pooh is that my dad hated him. I have no idea why Daddy despised WTP; perhaps the voice, slow and somewhat measured and sometimes a bit daft, irritated him. Whatever the cause, he did.

When I was about four, I began having nosebleeds, particularly at night. It was alarming to me, and I would become very frightened. Daddy decided to blame Pooh for the nosebleeds, and he would give the bear a soft punch to make me giggle and take my mind off my fear.

Pooh is still with me. Many of my childhood favorites have gone by the wayside; I don’t know what happened to the supersized Snoopy or Blue Boy or some of my most beloved dolls (I know where my Barbies are, but that is another story) , but Pooh remains–he’s outlived Daddy, something that I think would make my father chuckle ruefully.

What is it that we love about this silly old bear? Well, for me, it’s more than just Pooh himself; it’s the community about him, Piglet and Eeyore and Owl and Kanga and Roo and Rabbit and TIGGER!! It’s the relationships between all them and of course Christopher Robin, too.

The other day, I introduced Delia to one of my favorite Pooh story–the one where Pooh visits Rabbit, eats too much honey and gets stuck in the hole trying to exit. We both giggled, and then I showed her Tigger and sang her the song (The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers!). I hope she’ll enjoy those old tales as much as I have and as much as her mother did.

Today, I’m going to give my silly old bear an extra cuddle and listen to Kenny Loggins sing about Pooh Corner. I’m going to think about a time when the world was kinder and imagine that if we all took a lesson from Pooh and friends, we might be better off.

Happy Winnie the Pooh Day! <3

Lessons from a garage sale

Over the past three years, since my husband’s ministry launched, we’ve had a lot of garage sales. Honestly, we’ve always been a family who did sales about twice a year, but when having one can mean the difference between eating and not, they tend to take on a different meaning.

I have often been guilty of just dragging out the stuff we’re selling and determining price when someone’s interested, but for today’s sale, I actually spent time organizing it, pricing it and having everything set up on tables so that I could just open the doors at 8 AM. I posted an advertisement on Craig’s List, listing a bit of what we were selling.

This morning at 7:30, I went out to finish up the last few things before opening the garage door. When my husband came in from a quick grocery store trip to get coffee, he told me there were three cars parked outside, and someone had asked him if we were opening at 8 on the dot.

That isn’t entirely unusual; particularly if you advertise certain items, early birds will show up. Still, I decided that since I was all set, I’d go ahead and start opening the door a bit early, at about 7:50.

I was not prepared for what met me. People standing outside the door began pushing in, all of them yelling and asking me where the jewelry was. I had had the foresight to keep the more valuable pieces inside, so no one could get to it, even as they attempted to begin combing through items on the tables, as my husband and I tried to move things out.

It was bedlam. Once I’d moved the tables into place, I brought out the pricier jewelry. And then things really got interesting.

People yelled. They grabbed. I was scratched on the arms as each one tried to snatch up his or her fair share–or more. They fought with each other. They were nasty, mean-spirited.

In the end, while I sold all of the pieces save one, I’m sure I was taken advantage of in terms of price, because I was completely overwhelmed and almost sickened by the entire process.

In all of my years of hosting sales, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve met quirky people; I’ve certainly met pushy customers who have tried to get me to lower the price on things that they knew were valuable. I’ve met those who bordered on rude. But most people who frequent sales are kind, generous, friendly and interesting. We’ve been especially impressed by how many people are supportive of the ministry and eager to help us keep it going, or at least want to know more about our mission.

Today was beyond the pale.

It wasn’t long before all of the ravenous gold buyers had left, and one man who’d arrived later lingered. He’d seen the tail-end of the feeding frenzy and asked me about it. I told him a bit of the bedlam, and then I offered to let him look at the one remaining ring I had, the piece that had been at the center of much of the contention.

He examined it and handed it back to me. “Your price is right on,” he told me. “Don’t let them talk you down.” A few minutes later, he left and then came back with an official gold scale, weighed the ring for me and showed me the value, proving that what I’d been asking for wasn’t unreasonable.

In the face of so much greed and nastiness, he was kind and generous with his time and information.

A little while later, a lady who’s been at my past sales came by. We chatted briefly about the jewelry vulture experience, and then she said, “Well, hopefully you made enough to make your rent.”

I sighed and told her that we hadn’t yet. She nodded.

“I’m not a religious person,” she began. “I don’t really believe in anything. I don’t go to church. But I was here before, and I heard you telling someone that everything works out. You said that God had taken care of you before. I remember you saying that. If he did then, I think he will now, too.”

My breath caught because this woman was saying precisely what I needed to hear, at the moment I needed to hear it. She didn’t buy anything, but she actually gave me more than anyone else did today.

As I sit tonight, considering how the day went, I could focus on the people who swarmed me early in the morning. I could be sad that we didn’t sell more, that my porch is filled with unsold items that will be donated later this week.

Or I could be grateful for the man who reassured me that I hadn’t held out too long on the price of the ring. I could focus on the woman who reminded me that it’s going to be okay, who reminded me of my own words. I could appreciate that we did make something toward the amount we need.

You don’t have to be religious or even spiritual to choose your point of focus. You just have to shift perspective . . . make the choice to see what is positive. I’m not preaching here. I know how hard life can be. Trust me.

But I’m going to do my best to look at the sunny side whenever can. Won’t you join me?

 

Love stories for our era

In the late autumn, I was exhausted after back-to-back-to-back travel, and I spent a few days hiding in bed with only my phone and the remote to my Fire stick. As I surfed Prime, Hulu and Netflix, I spied a promo for a show I’d been seeing for a while and decided to give it a shot.

Modern Love reminds me vaguely of the old Love, American Style show that I watched in the Dark Ages, except that this version is more serious, less fun and frolics than it is a study of the intricacies and pitfalls of love in the twenty-first century. There are eight episodes, each with a different couple and a different set of complications. The couples vary in ages and situations, but all of them live in New York City–which makes sense, as the show is based on the weekly column of the same name published by The New York Times.

I watched four episodes that first day, I think, and then I’ve enjoyed the rest of them over the past couple of weeks, finishing the last two today–and I’m not ashamed to say that I sniffled through the last one.

These romances are not painted with a rosy, unrealistic hue. The characters are real and flawed, and some of them are somewhat unlikable . . . and yet the stories themselves are all appealing and enduring. They are most of all real.

My favorites were episodes one, three, seven and eight–but I really loved them all. I recommend this series and suggest that if you can, watch all eight together. It will make the ending that much sweeter.

I’d love to hear what you think about Modern Love!

Yes, I am a Nana!

I’m thrilled to announce that our first grandchild, Delia Joy, was born on Sunday, January 13th. She weighed in 8 pounds and is gorgeous!

A few pictures of her being welcomed to the family . . .