The persistence of memory: boiled seafood and family

boiled seafood

I’m headed to visit extended family in my hometown in Louisiana this weekend, and I admit, with no shame, that one of my top priorities is sitting down to a table heaped with hot boiled crawfish and crabs, corn, potatoes, and sausage. My mouth waters for a year in advance between each trip south, especially as I peruse Facebook photos of the ongoing crawfish boils starting in the spring. It’s like looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner, but this is a Cajun supper of which I feel I can never get enough.

I don’t remember the first time I tasted boiled seafood, but I know it was probably before I could walk or even talk. To that end, I can’t remember when I first would have truly enjoyed, or looked forward to sitting down to a seafood boil, an essential element to family gatherings back home. I only know how much I’ve craved it and relished it in the years since.

But there is one particular image that sticks in my head and won’t go away: I was a little girl, perhaps about seven or eight, and my parents and I had already moved from Louisiana, so we were in on a visit, probably at Christmas. We are at my grandparents’ house, in their avocado-colored kitchen and avocado dining room (The chairs, the buffet, the bar, the table, the cushions, the carpet, the cabinets, the countertops! All avocado.). My grandfather, Richard, obtained a few dozen crabs, and probably as many pounds of shrimp, and it was all laid out on newspapers. I recall my mother drinking a beer, and at that young age, it seemed surprising. “I like a beer with seafood,” she told me. I wouldn’t understand that until I was of drinking age myself years later.

This is a Cajun supper of which I feel I can never get enough.

There was no music and no commotion; I think it was only a handful of us eating. I remember PawPaw cracking crab claws in a way that produced the most amount of meat, and saving the good ones for me. I remember my tongue and lips burning, and the juice squirting onto my shirt and down my forearms. I hear the small talk at the table, my mom and MawMaw catching up, and PawPaw chiming in here and there, in between crabs. I already knew how to use a butter knife to crack crabs and clean out the meat, and that I dared not to waste any of it, or someone would call me out. I knew to pinch, twist, and pull the tail off the shrimp, and that it’s best dipped in cocktail sauce. I knew the potatoes were a great way to take a break from the spicy meat, but if you didn’t let them cool enough, they too, would burn your tongue.

That evening eating a favorite meal with my grandparents was uneventful, yet momentous. It was simple, yet delicious. And it was fleeting, yet ever-lasting in my mind. Perhaps that was the first time that I truly appreciated the deliciousness of boiled seafood – and the delight in a family tradition. While I have eaten crabs and crawfish and shrimp many times since, and will in the future, that early enduring memory provides nourishment to this day, to my belly, and to my soul.

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Coffee Time Musings

I’ve been drinking out of this coffee cup for years now when staying with my parents. Of course I’ve read the words, but until now, I’m not sure I’ve stopped to figure out if I’m living them. So why not now?

Risk more than others think is safe: I’d say the last few months fulfills this one. Quitting a great job, leaving a great city, and not having a real plan in mind? Yeah, that was risky, and some people didn’t think it was safe or smart, either. I think the rewards will be worth the risk in the end, though.

Care more than others think is wise: Probably one of my most prominent behaviors. It’s both a strength and a weakness. When I care about something or someone – a job, an idea, friends/family/lovers, I’m all in. I’m invested, I’m emotional, and I’m absolutely vulnerable.

Dream more than others think is practical: I’m probably not dreaming enough right now. That was a big reason I moved to California to take this break, and my dad reminded me just the other day to think bigger and farther — and to remove the word “if” from my vocabulary. Dreams are the first step to making something reality.

Expect more than others think is possible: I have high expectations, for myself and for others, and sometimes it means I get hurt. I can be a perfectionist at work because I aim to impress and please, and for my own pride. And I often expect more from my relationships with people than they realize, or that they can or want to give. But I’m a firm believer that setting a high bar for yourself and for the people you care about and who care about you is ultimately a good thing.

What about you? Do you live these words (from a cadet maxim) often enough? Do you even believe they’re worth following?

Food, Culture, & Youth: Culicurious Blogger Shares Her Story

Culicurious-My-South-La-Food-CultureHi everyone, I’m Addie K Martin of Culicurious. I live in New Orleans, and I’m originally from a very small town called Golden Meadow, in the heart of Cajun Country in South Louisiana. Food is a big part of the culture and daily life in my hometown. And also here in New Orleans. When we’re eating lunch we’re usually talking about what we’ll have for dinner. Here in South Louisiana, we don’t eat to live, we live to eat. Everything we do is focused around food. And that’s pretty awesome.

I had the good fortune to grow up in a household where home cooked meals abounded. My mother was and is a very active home cook who had a very wide cooking repertoire. We grew up eating Cajun classics like gumbo, shrimp stew, crawfish (or shrimp) étouffée, redfish court bouillon, jambalaya (both red and brown), and boat loads of beans (red or white) and rice. We also had a wide assortment of fried foods: shrimp, oysters and many types of fish. Of course, special treats included crawfish, crab and shrimp boils, but my dad was usually the one doing all that heavy lifting in that arena.

White beans and riceMy mom also cooked great American dishes like spaghetti and meat sauce, baked chicken and curried rice, spinach pie (aka quiche), fried chicken, stuffed breads (homemade bread stuffed with a ground meat and cheese mixture), roasted meats (pork, chicken or beef), and the best spread of Mexican food I ever have seen. While we ate primarily South Louisiana foods, we still also ate these American foods quite often. We rarely ever ate out at restaurants. That was mostly unheard of. Nearly all of our meals were prepared by my mom at home. And we ate very well, as you can see.

So now that you’re hungry from me setting my childhood home food background, I want to dive into how all this fits into and influences what I do now in my own life for cooking and food. The first thing I can say is that having a mom who cooked nearly all of my meals helped me to know that food is primarily cooked at home. Even when I was in college before I knew how to cook, I was buying foods to cook and prepare at home. It seemed natural to me to cook at home. I would even make things like roasts and spaghetti. I always remember knowing how to do that stuff.

chicken & okra gumboGrowing up in a food-centric culture also heavily influenced my decision to attend culinary school. I had the fortune of attending a public university that also houses a culinary school so I was able to go to culinary school and get my degree all within about 5 total years. Thankfully many of the classes I took switched over and helped me fulfill those requirements. I loved culinary school so much. I loved learning how to prepare food and really think about it from a scientific and technical stand point (I’m pretty left-brain oriented). We even had a Creole and Cajun Cuisine class which was pretty amazing. I learned even more about my native cuisine than I’d ever known.

And now, some 10+ years after earning my college degree and some 15+ years since living at home, I feel like I am finally growing into my own with cooking. I cook primarily with seasonal ingredients, buying local wherever I can. I also use very little processed food in my kitchen, much like my mom used to cook for us when we were growing up. While we do eat out about once per week, I am the primary cook in our house (which makes sense since I am a full-time blogger working from home), and I take that job very seriously.

Boiled crabs with fixinsToday I take those values my parents instilled in me at an early age and apply them to my every day cooking. There’s still nothing better than a huge pot of gumbo to feed friends on a Sunday afternoon while watching a Saints game. My sister and her family along with me and Jeremy (my husband) still hold several crawfish, shrimp or crab boils each year. The seafood is still very affordable overall so we love to indulge as often as we can. Golden fried shrimp po’ boys are still one of my favorite things on the planet. Period.

In an age where traditions are being shoved by the wayside, I aim to keep mine alive and well. I seek to help preserve the cooking and food traditions of my South Louisiana culture. It’s actually very easy for me to do since I still live in New Orleans, only 50 miles from my hometown. But I do try. Because I must. The only way our cuisine can continue is to keep making the dishes and teaching the younger generations how to do it, too.

What about you? Do you come from strong food culture background? How does it affect your life today?

And finally, since you’re one of Jenna’s readers, check out her food culture post on my site today.

If you’d like to connect on social media, follow me at @culicurious on Twitter, and you can also like my page on Facebook.

Love of food runs in the family

The other day I came across this photo uploaded to the Facebook page for my hometown in Louisiana, but one of my mom’s cousins. As the note says, it’s from the LSU Cooperative Extension, and pictures my grandfather with his brothers and fellow farmers, selling their bounty in 1950. I immediately asked my mom if we had a copy somewhere in a box that I could frame.

I have bits and pieces of the stories of my grandfather and his family as young farmers. I’ve tasted his cooking (and miss it dearly), and have heard my mom and her brothers and sisters tell tales of many early mornings in the fields to pick peppers, onions, corn, and other fruit and vegetables. It makes me wish that when I was younger and first started writing stories, that I had written it all down then, and that I had interviewed my grandfather about it before he got sick and passed away from cancer in 1994 when I was 11.

Today, much of my cooking is a tribute to him and the joy he got out of it. He cooked for festivals and fairs, weddings and fundraisers, birthday parties and work events. I love discovering more tidbits year after year and putting together a more complete picture of this beloved man and talented cook. I just wish I had been able to spend more time with him to hear it from his mouth.

Do you have any fun relics related to cooking like this that give you a peek at your family’s past?

(Thanks to Laddie for posting this photo!)

Everything’s better in a box: food delivery experiment

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ScratchDC meal

Since I love to cook, I’m always on the lookout for new recipes and options to make meals easier, more tasty, and fun. And although I don’t mind spending an hour putting dinner together, there are some days when I just won’t have gotten to the store to get everything I need, or I come home not wanting to start from scratch.

But these days, food delivery services of all kinds have been popping up to help both seasoned cooks and amateurs pull together something fabulous in just half an hour or so. I remember when I was younger and the idea of home grocery delivery was a novelty still, and now I regularly order from Peapod Giant when I need a bunch of stuff at once. Then when CSAs started to catch people’s attention and the slow, local, and organic food movements became trendy, businesses like Washington’s Green Grocer have become easier than ever to find. (Thank you, WGG, for recently adding a “single” size box to your inventory – it’s a lot of produce otherwise for one person!)

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Chicken curry and naan from Plated

But in addition to being able to order a whole fridge full of produce and meat, there are now a  few other options out there take it one step further – entire meals prepped and delivered to your door, ready for you to cook. I first tried ScratchDC about a month ago – and loved everything from the personal delivery to my office to the adorable packaging and the bonus cookies ready to bake inside. Here’s how it works: each week, ScratchDC posts their meals for the week, and you can go on each day and order what you want, where you want it delivered, and when, up to 20 or 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook. I tried a chicken lemon basil fettuccine with peas that made enough for three meals. All of the ingredients were fresh, local, and individually packaged in the simple brown box, and the recipe sheet had exact instructions, and told you where the food was sourced from.

ScratchDC even followed up and asked for my feedback on the dish…and of course, you get to keep the recipe to try again or tweak.

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Mole chili and quesadilla from Plated

Next up, I checked out Plated, which serves on the East Coast. To order from Plated, you again check out each week’s dishes, but then you must pick a minimim of four plates – two of one dish, or one of each kind, or even more. The delivery comes all at once – so I got mine on a Tuesday, all packaged up in one of those space bags with ice packs. I had two plates of a chicken curry, and two of a mole chicken. Again, great recipe cards, and the instructions are precise. The only complaint I had was that the chicken was bone in, so it was a bit annoying to eat it that way for a curry. Other than that, the dishes turned out fabulously. My coworker ordered from Plated as well, and loved her meals. Moreover, their use of referral links gets you and friends free plates when ordering.

Lastly, I tried Graze box, a fun little weekly snack pack for $5 with a variety of healthy (with some treats thrown in) treats like nuts, trail mixes, granola bars, and more. Three of us in the office get it now, and love it. Graze is perfect to throw in your bag for travel, conferences, or to head out on a hike or picnic.

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Graze boxes

The great thing about all of these services is that they’re customizable to your needs, taste buds, and schedule. You don’t have to order every week, and you can swap things out, or have leftovers for days if you want. All of the businesses have also had great customer service so far – especially on social media.

Have you tried any of these food delivery services, or others? What do you think?