Lake Pontchartrain

There is a lot to be said about Resilience. Over the course of human history, we have worked so hard to change our environment to suit our needs – we have blasted tall mountains and rerouted wide rivers. We have mined the depths of the earth for minerals and metal ores, and tapped the vast blue oceans for oil. We have dammed and conversely drained large lakes, and have bred new animal and plant species to give us sustenance. We have large bridges that span valleys and seas, and we have conquered the skies to enable faster transportation. And when we ran out of land, we built upward until we reached the clouds. We have tamed the beast that is Mother Nature. And yet, every so often when she fights back to reclaim what is hers, we are shocked. Her resilience caused those restricted and rerouted rivers to flood in India. Her resilience knocked over the oil rigs in the Gulf. And her resilience broke the Pontchartrain levees, freeing the estuary flood waters and reclaiming the historic alluvial plains.

Anyone know a photo restorationist?
momdadA Pontchartrain date.

Pontchartrain holds a special place in my heart. Somewhere near its banks, my parents met in the early 1980s at Delgado Community College – both new immigrants and young adults with eyes that shown heartache and hunger for their ravaged motherland but also twinkled with gratitude and awe of their new lives. With nothing but the clothes on their bodies, they embarked on a risky endeavor to start a new life, far way from their families, bombs and gunfire, but still heavily ladened with tribulations and hurdles. With stiff tongues they practiced their new language and mastered the ESL courses, and acclimated to the ironically “Big Easy” life. By night, they were wiping tables and clearing dishes at the Bourbon Street restaurants, only seeing and smelling the foods they served – and never daring to dream that one day they could afford it. On weekends, a simple walk along Lake Pontchartrain made for a sufficient date. Resilience gave them the courage to abandon their motherland on tiny fishing boats to cross the treacherous Pacific Ocean in search of a new life. Resilience taught them to start over, learn a new language, begin again. Resilience drove them to work 20 hour days, at multiple part time jobs. Resilience showed them how to work hard and still love and live in face of adversity. But life in the Big Easy, just wasn’t that easy.

MaqChoo

Over 30 years, my parents have managed to carve out their own version of the American Dream. They now have a closet full of clothing, not just the one on their backs. They have moved to California and enjoy In-n-Out burgers and animal style fries, lols. From wiping down tables to now being able to afford some of the restaurants they once worked in. They’ve come quite a ways, but everyday is still a daunting battle of resilience as they continue to face adversity. I will spare you the dirty details, but no matter how dark the skies above their heads become, they still keep powering through. Each day they build anew – brick by brick, stone by stone – no matter how many times the stones are kicked over, or the brick is knocked down. But like Lake Pontchartrain’s restrained waters reclaiming her space on the Mississippi alluvial plains, so to my resilient parents have fought again and again for their spot in the world. And for that, they deserve a break. So if you were here mommy and daddy, this one’s for you – right from your own New Orleans roots.

Gumbo


Gumbo
Source: Adapted from Paula Deen
This is a really simple gumbo recipe – a bit time consuming due to the roux, but it’s Gumbo! It’s got to be! For a roux making video, here’s a quick clip. You are looking for a nice dark brown – it creates that really intense, dark Gumbo flavor. I was in a rush and was only able to cook my gumbo for 1.75 hours, which really wasn’t enough to give it the color and flavor. Surprisingly, the gumbo was still delicious! So can’t wait to try it again without the time constraints. The quantities listed below are estimates – feel free to change as you need. My version of this recipe serves 4, with rice.

Ingredients
1 large boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 tbs garlic powder
1/4 c vegetable oil
2 Andouille sausage links, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tbs butter (half stick)
1 sweet onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce [or Maggi Seasoning]
1/2 cup flat leaf parsely, roughly chopped
2 stalks green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
4 cups hot water
2-3 tbs Better Than Bouillon or Beef Stock Powder or 2-3 cubes beef Boullion
8 oz can tomatoes and juice
2 tsp Gumbo file
2 cups frozen sliced okra
1/2 lb small shrimp, cooked, peeled, de-veined
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Salt, pepper, sugar, to taste

Directions
Season the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic and chili powder and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot (what I had) or Dutch oven (more traditional) over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned (but NOT fully cooked), and remove. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add half butter and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to thicken, until deep brown, about 10-20 minutes. Do not let the roux burn. Remove from heat and allow to cool and slightly congeal.
Chicken

Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining butter. Add all vegetables and cook until translucent and soft. Add Worcestershire sauce (I used Maggi + sugar + some lemon), salt and pepper to taste, and the 1/4 cup bunch chopped parsley (adds great lemony, brightness). Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon, constantly whisking. Return chicken and sausage to pot and bring to a boil.

Okra

Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for at least 45 minutes until thick and flavors have melded. Add tomatoes and okra. Add Gumbo file and whisk to mix evenly, cover again and simmer for another hour. Before serving add cooked shrimp and allow to warm through. Serve with rice and garnish with green onions and a smattering of parsley and hit it with several splashes of Tabasco sauce – and you’ve got yourself a mean gumbo.
Gumbo


Maque Choux
Source: Loosely based on Emeril’s recipe
So while that gumbo is taking its sweet time cooking, go ahead and make a deliciously simple side dish – Maque Choux. Not too sure what the name means, but booooy – I’ve never had such a good vegetables dish in my life – then again, nothing ever tastes bad when it’s doused in heavy cream! My version of Maque Choux is sweet and spicey, packed with bold flavors, textures and fun colors. Just note that the veggies will cook more evenly if approx cut the same size/thickness.

MaqueChoux

Ingredients
4 tbs butter (1/2 stick)
1 lb frozen corn kernels (canned or fresh ok too)
1 sweet onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diff colors, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
3 stalks celery, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
cayenne pepper, to taste (some love it HOT)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 c heavy cream

Directions
In a large frying pan or skillet, melt butter on medium heat (don’t burn the butter!). Add the onions and celery and allow to sweat and cook until soft. These take the longest to cook, so add them first. Then add onions, bell peppers, jalepeno pepper, corn, and all spices and dried herbs. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and cook, constantly stirring, until soft – about 10 minutes. Add heavy cream, distribute evenly, and cook for 4 minutes, until slightly thick. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serve hot and garnish with some flat leaf parsley (left over from the gumbo).

MaqCho

This is such a satisfying veggie dish – sometimes when I’m lazy, I will just make this for dinner and eat it straight out of the pan. The heavy cream enhances the veggies natural sweetness and mellows out the hot chili powder. There is crunch from the celery and carrots, and bursts of juice from the sweet corn kernels. The bell peppers add aroma and such pretty color.

HalfEaten Usually eat it from the pan, but thought I’d be polite…

Of course I realize this story isn’t unique. Everyone’s parents have their own story to tell. But this is my personal thank you to them. I’m forever indebted to all they’ve done – and the only way to thank them properly is to spoil them silly until the end of their days. And it all started, right here, on Lake Pontchartrain.

Happy Earth Day,
AnhD

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This entry was posted in Rants, Thoughts, Musings, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lake Pontchartrain

  1. Vivian says:

    hey anh,

    i’d be down to try to restore that photo if you can send me more pics of your parents

  2. Pingback: The Game Plan « Confessions from the Cookie Jar

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