Monday, April 19, 2010

Blog Birthday Giveaway Day 1: Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen

About two years ago when we were halfway through our four year tour with the Navy, and returning home to New Orleans seemed like something completely out of reach, I found myself constantly longing for a connection to New Orleans. One day a package arrived (don't you love an unexpected box waiting at your doorstep), and inside I found a book called Gumbo Tales... Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen. My dad sent it because he knew I would love its main characters - food, New Orleans, and the people who define both.

In each chapter, whose titles bear the names of some of New Orleans most famous culinary signatures, Sara beautifully describes the relationship between the people of New Orleans and the food that makes it famous. Food that storied cannot be born of anything but love, and she perfectly captures the passion that New Orleanians have for their home, their cooking, and the good folks they share these things with.

Each night I would fall asleep to the description of a food group so appetizing that I would dream about it's ingredients - mirliton stuffing: shrimp, ham, onions, breadcrumbs. I could almost here them sizzling away in the cast iron skillet in my sleep. And each night, I would fall asleep a bit hungry, but peaceful and at home. In a review about the book one writer said that "those familiar with the city will smile and nod along; readers who've never had the pleasure may find themselves making travel arrangements long before the last page."

To enter to win a copy of Gumbo Tales and some delicious New Orleans culinary treasures (King Cake mix, Italian cookies, etc):
  1. Follow my blog (leave a comment letting me know you are)
  2. Comment on this post telling me the one thing you think every home cook should keep in their kitchen
  3. Leave a comment letting me know you're posting about my Blog Birthday Giveaway week

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Sara a few questions. I hope you enjoy:
1. As a new mom, I imagine you have less time to cook than you used to. What are some of your go to meals when you're low on time? I always seem to be low on time these days, but I do prioritize cooking over other household tasks (which is why, after three months fully back in the house we own, we still aren’t unpacked). My son, Tibo, is eight months old now, so he’s self-sufficient enough to play in his exersaucer in the kitchen just long enough for me to get a pot of beans on—the other day I lectured him about the Louisiana holy trinity (onion, celery, green bell pepper) and its slightly-less-holy trinity (garlic, parsley, green onions) while I chopped my seasonings for a pot of red beans. Also, he’s in bed at 7 pm, which gives me some time to unwind at the stove and even, once in awhile, entertain a bit. I’ve settled on a New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp recipe/technique that takes only about 30 minutes for last-minute preparation—perfect for serving guests.

2. What is the one ingredient that every good home cook should have in their refrigerator, in their freezer, and in their pantry? Really, that answer depends on the cook, but for me it’s Parmesan cheese in the fridge, walnuts in the freezer*, and an onion in the pantry. These are the three things that always make it on the list when I do a big grocery shopping trip. A caramelized—or even just browned—onion can turn rice or pasta or toast or broth or a fried egg into a multi-dimensional meal. When we’re homesteading (trying to make much from virtually nothing), a caramelized onion plus loads of toasted walnuts turns pasta or a rice bowl into a weighty meal. And Parmesan is the perfect sharp, salty accent for any thrown-together pasta. Thrown-together pastas are dinner for us at least once a week, and sometimes they consist merely of onion, toasted walnuts, Parmesan, lemon zest, and olive oil. If I may add two more staples that always make it on the list, they are a lemon and fancy olive oil. * We keep out nuts in the freezer because they go rancid quickly in the heat down here.

3. Since this is for my blog, I thought I'd bring up the person who made the term blogging a common verb, Julie Powell. If you had been in Julie's shoes writing her blog, who would have been your Julia? Ten years ago it would have been Rick Bayless. Before moving to New Orleans I lived in New Mexico, California, and Wyoming—all places with large Mexican populations. I find much joy in cooking and eating Mexican food, especially the moles and chile sauces. Rick Bayless’ cookbooks are endlessly exciting to me. After a couple of years living here, however, I drifted away from Mexican cooking, primarily because the quality of the chiles available here is pretty poor. There are exceptions, and I have mail-ordered chiles on occasion, but it just makes more sense to cook with raw materials that are more readily available. So now I would say that my Julia is probably Paul Prudhomme. He’s not even necessarily a traditional Louisiana cook, but his early cookbooks always seem to contain the recipes I’m looking for. I don’t always follow them exactly, but I always take into account his ingredients methodology. He has taught me more about this state’s cooking practices than anyone else. And I’ve never even met the guy.

4. In your book, you accurately describe how New Orleanians separate their lives into two halves: pre-Katrina and post-Katrina. What is the biggest positive change you have seen in the food landscape of post-Katrina New Orleans? Two things have happened; they seem to be in opposition to one another, and they are both positive. For one, there are more good restaurants serving high-quality non-Louisiana dishes—we could call them ethnic, or international, restaurants. Two well-known New Orleans natives, John Besh and Adolfo Garcia, have opened Italian restaurants, for example. There’s a Spanish restaurant, Rambla, in the International House Hotel. Pupuseria La Macarena moved from Kenner/Metairie into the city. These are just a few high-profile examples, but there are many others, including an abundance of taquerias. I think that the influx of new blood (contractors, Teach For America types, volunteers who stayed) created a solid clientele base for such places, and the natives are following along. Secondly, I’ve sensed a stronger—or perhaps it’s just a more deliberate—embrace of more localized cooking traditions, especially among the younger generation of chefs. One of Adolfo Garcia’s sous-chefs from RioMar opened what to my palate is the best po-boy shop currently operating in Uptown (Mahony’s). The roast beef po-boy there is no-frills and completely delicious. Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski are making traditional Louisiana hogshead cheese and Cajun boudin and jambalaya-stuffed chickens and smoked venison sausage at Cochon Butcher. For example.

5. As a Sicilian girl from Lakeview, I was so appreciative of your chapter "Red Gravy." In it, you told the story of what seems like a dying art - the creation of St. Joseph's altars. What do you think lovers of New Orleans and its many unique food traditions can do to preserve them? They should support what altars go up on St. Joseph’s Day by visiting them, and/or they could build their own. This woman will teach you how:

6. I get this question all the time, so I thought I'd defer to the master. If you were in town for one day and were planning your trip around breakfast, lunch, and dinner, where would you go and what would you order? I were alone and basing my menu simply upon cravings, and assuming it was a day when all restaurants were open, I would start with beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde (crossing my fingers that I would choose a day when the beignets were hot and the coffee strong—I think it’s gotten weaker lately). For lunch I would have a fried shrimp po-boy, dressed with extra pickles, either at Mahony’s or Guy’s or Parkway. And for dinner I would hunt down gumbo and fried catfish. I might have to visit more than one restaurant for this. Like Brigtsen’s for rabbit-andouille gumbo and then Middendorf’s for catfish. These are all the things I missed most when I lived in Philadelphia post-Katrina.

7. Lastly, how would you describe your perfect New Orleans day? Every day that I’m lucky enough to still be living here.
Cheers to that!  Thanks so much to Sara for answering my questions.  I have not been as excited as I was when she said she'd particiate since the Saints won the Superbowl!  And you know how excited I was for that!


  1. Fun giveaway! I'm a follower!=)

  2. Oh FUN FUN FUN! I want that BOOK! Umm. I am posting about your blog giveaway, I already follow you because i love ya and think your the bomb and I think every girl needs a cast iron skillet in their kitchen! XOXO Jessica

  3. I'm a follower! Also all cooks should invest in one of those cuisinart smart sticks, they are amazing for making soups, pureeing mashed potatoes, and it comes with a mini food processor. It will change your life in the kitchen!!

  4. One thing? Well techinically three, but I'm going with the Holy Trinity, myself: Bell Pepper, Onion and Celery - together it can make a can of tomatoes and rice a great dish, apart it can become snacks and then used in so many other things. Its the three gua-ran-teed vegetables in our kitchen.

    On a side note- this is an incredible post. Well done.

  5. I'm a follower, and I must confess, I am a huge fan of your blog, since I'm a New Orleans gal myself! The one thing everyone needs in their kitchen is red wine vinegar - I use it often to give just the right kick to my veggies in the summertime! Going to post about your giveaway today, but man, I really want this book all to myself!

  6. What a fun, great post! And I didn't even know this book was out there- but if I don't win it, then I will definitely have to check it out!

    I'm already a follower and I ALWAYS have Tony Chachere's in my kitchen. ALWAYS. LOL

    I will probably put a blurb about your giveaway over at my blog one day this week. I'll stop by and let you know when I do it! :)

  7. Looks like an amazing book, I'm a follower!

  8. How cool that you were able to ask the author some questions. I need to add that book to my queue! Sounds wonderful. I love books about the food of a region, especially the recipes/food are the center of the story about the region.

    My answer to the question is that everyone home cook should have garlic cloves in the cupboard! Seems like every recipe calls for garlic!!

  9. Good morning! I would love to win this giveaway! I'm a Louisiana girl currently living in Charleston, SC and am in desperate need of a good book like this! :o)

    1. I'm a follower.

    2. I think every home cook needs a bottle of Tony Chachere's and Lea and Perrins in their kitchen!

    3. I will be blogging about this giveaway this afternoon!! :o)

  10. Of course I'm a follower & ever so jealous that your' in NO when I'm... well, not. And trust me, although we're living in the de-licious deep South, the food is just not the same{not that I have to tell you}!

  11. Oh, and my comment about the one thing I think every cook should have in their kitchen... That would be an old cast iron pan/pot. One that's been used & properly seasoned for the last 50 years will do. I begged my Grandmama for one of hers :-)

    A few of my favorite uses for it are: sweet & crispy cornbread to serve alongside my red beans & rice (seasoned w/ham hock) on Monday nights and properly searing a big, juicy beef or pork roast for Sunday suppers. If I have time, I'll usually inject the meat with all kinds of seasonings before searing or roasting - it's SO delish!!!

    Crossing my fingers for this one ;-)

  12. Oh that looks like a great book!!!! :)

    I am a follower and I think everyone needs to have extra virgin olive oil!! Yummy for cooking or to dip bread in or for salad dressings. Thanks so much for doing this giveaway!! Have a great day!

  13. Love this giveaway! Of course I'm already a follower. I could think of sooo many things that are "must haves" in my kitchen. Holy Trinity ingredients, Tabasco sauce, Old Bay seasoning (I use this in a lot of recipes), Zatarains crab boil, fresh garlic, Stick butter.....
    Great interview, I really enjoyed it! :-) XOXO

  14. Fun! Fun! I follow your blog and love your posts, but I think I've told you that before. Every cook needs a good olive oil and garlic, you can do a lot with both!

  15. I've heard about this book, how amazing that you were able to ask the author those questions! I follow your blog and I'd never be without onions and tabasco in my kitchen! As a fellow Nola girl now living away from home since we graduate from MCA, I can definitely relate to that home-sick feeling. I just wish there was a place around here to find a decent bowl of gumbo that I didn't have to slave over, alas my standard are too high..we've been spoiled by our wonderful city!

  16. You've been blogged, my fellow food-loving friend!

  17. This post is brilliant in every way, shape, and form. You had me on my knees begging for mercy at mirliton stuffing!

    You know I am a loyal follower of your darling blog!

    I believe must have ingredients at all times include: holy trinity ingredients, fresh garlic, EVOO, Tabasco, and agreed with Jessica, a good seasoned cast iron skillet!

    Happy Blog Anniversary celebration week! XOXO

  18. This is soo fun...I am a follower and your #1 fan....every cook should have a can opener in the kitchen:)...but i am still loving my herb scissors that I bought my husband for christmas..I hope I win, this cookbook sounds wonderful, and i need all the help i get in the kitchen:)

  19. Love this entry.....nice work and SO exciting!! I always have fresh garlic, lemons and parmesan in the kitchen. And of course EVOO, which always makes me think of our food tour!

  20. I follow, I follow!!!! Great giveaway...I'm excited! Wish me luck...

  21. And I am, by NO means, a wonderful cook. Although I enjoy cooking. Some people will probably pass out from this....but, I think everyone should have some good ole fashioned BUTTER!!!!!!!

  22. I'm a follower.
    I think every cook should have a few can of Rotels in their kitchen!

  23. What a great giveaway! I'm a Louisiana girl as well, living in Alabama.
    I think everyone should have some Tony's in their pantry and the holy trinity of spices :)

  24. I love this giveaway! I am already a follower. The one thing you must have in your kitchen is one good knife.

  25. Hi Jen! I just posted a link to this giveaway on my blog! :o)

  26. I'm a follower.

    I think you should have Old Bay, but then I was reading everyone's comments and completely agree on the cast iron skillet. Love it!

    P.S. Just a heads up, I'm tagging you in a post tomorrow. :)

  27. I'm a follower!

    I think every cook needs a Kitchen Aid mixer in their kitchen arsenal.

    Happy Blogiversary! I just celebrated my one year today! Yay for us!

  28. How exciting you got to interview the author!!! Writers are like celebrities to me!! I'm a follower btw ;)!

  29. What every cook/baker should have in their kitchen? Well it's kind of an odd thing to come up with, but I don't know how I ever moved around cakes without a cake lifter! It was one of the first things I bought when I came to the US and now, I can't live without it!!

  30. Of course I'm a follower and I have been waiting on what this week would be like. I can't wait to read this book so if i don't win, I am ordering it asap!!

    I think every kitchen needs a tv to watch food network!

  31. I love your blog, so of course I follow. Every southern gal needs a cast iron skillet, and some hot sauce! If I don't win I am going to have to order this one.. I will blog about it tomorrow!

  32. Hey there- ok, so I am now a follower :) This book sounds awesome, I LOVE to cook... something you should always have in the kitchen is a fire extinguisher :) ha ha, yes, i have used it... other than that- fresh garlic and lots of butter!!!



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