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.

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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!)

My 30 day commitment…to myself

soup
Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

When my trainer Grant first asked me to join a 30 day transformation challenge on the Whole 30/Paleo diet, I was skeptical at first. Despite having done some background reading when I first began training with Grant a year ago, and testing the waters a little here and there, I wasn’t sure I could dive into a month-long departure from dairy, grains, legumes, and alcohol. But after the reality of my holiday binging had set in, and knowing I had some big races to start training for, I signed up to begin the challenge on January 2.

Committing to anything for 30 days can seem daunting at first — heck, I haven’t been able to commit to running daily for a month, or doing pushups, much less giving up some major food groups. But as I saw throughout the process, it got easier with time, and now that it’s over, I kind of want to press that “Easy” button in my colleague’s office. So how was it, really? Here are some of the finer points of my 30 day challenge…and the not so great ones:

Bison Meatballs
Bison Meatballs

Why It Was Awesome

  • I cook a lot already, but this challenge forced me to be even more creative and come up with even more recipes. I made more meals with meat in one month than I usually do in six months, I baked paleo muffins, made a delicious brisket in my oven, and tried different snacks.
  • At restaurants, I tried new things because I couldn’t order sandwiches or items with cheese or beans. It also made me value vegetable dishes more.
  • I felt empowered ordering water, tea, or coffee at bars, despite the weird looks the servers gave me. And I still had fun at happy hour.
  • I lost weight — over 7 pounds. Weight loss was just one of the goals in this process, and my skinny jeans are now loose, and some dresses fit better than ever.
  • I was held accountable by others, and I could hold others accountable. The entire group of us recruited by Grant shared recipes and tips and words of support in a Facebook group. I could text my friend Tammy to remind me not to have wine after a bad day, and I could send off quick pointers to someone who wasn’t sure what to order at a restaurant.
  • There’s nothing like the pride I felt after saying “no” to cookies and cakes on the office counter, or for having water and salad at a sports bar on the night of the college football championship. Huzzah for willpower.

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Cooking Lessons as Life Lessons

Yesterday I had the chance to attend the DC Metropolitan Cooking Show with my friend Julia. She loves being in the kitchen and cooking beloved family Italian recipes as much as I love my Cajun food.

As we sat and listened to Giada De Laurentiis and then Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio, we noticed that their tips for the kitchen could also be applied as life lessons…and we both were waxing nostalgic about our years growing up at the stove hanging on every word of our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. As traditional family cooking goes, Julia and I have it covered. So many of my best memories are of watching my grandfather make pralines, my uncle cook a big pot of gumbo, or my mom making her shrimp and corn soup.

I was just in Louisiana for a family wedding, and I loved sitting around hearing stories (again) from my aunts and uncles about growing up on a farm, and how my grandfather would make sure that any guy that wanted to date his daughters had to also show up at the crack of dawn to pick peppers and corn. And then there was the story about my grandmother, who cooked so many things so well, had no idea how to do a pot roast right until she visited one of her daughters’ homes years later.

For me, one of the very first things I learned was how to make a roux. Equal parts flour and oil go into the pot, and the cardinal rule is to keep stirring, and to never, ever walk away. If you turn your back for a second, you could burn it and you have to start over. The golden brown roux is a foundation for a great Cajun meal, whether it’s gumbo or red beans and rice. I’ve written before about how making a gumbo can be like making your life — you have the foundation (family, work, friends), then you add the Holy Trinity (hobbies, activities), and then you add in meat and seasoning and all the other elements to make a delicious meal…or the life that tastes just right. I wanted to know what other pieces of wisdom and advice people heard in the kitchen over the years — some were strictly about cooking, some were funny, and others could be applied to life if you think about it in a certain way. Have others? Add them in the comments.

When cooking meat, take it off the heat few minutes early to let it rest and finish cooking. – Giada De Laurentiis

When I travel, I go to the local grocery stores. Travel is the best way to get out of yourself. – Gail Simmons

A pint’s a pound the world around. 

How to tell when oil is ready – tilt/rock the pan gently back and forth so the light reflects off the oil…it should start to shimmer when it’s the right temperature.

Always wear an apron. Especially if you’re not wearing clothes. 

A recipe is just a suggestion.

Per my Grandma: Baking is like chemistry. Don’t fudge the measurements.

Don’t cook with wine/liqueur/beer you wouldn’t want to drink on it’s own.

The more you spill, the less cookies they’re gonna be.

The safest knife is the one that’s most comfortable in your hand, not necessarily the most expensive.

Wrap cake pans with damp towel.. It will help it rise. And don’t play with matches.

One potato for each person, and an extra for the pot.

Clean as you go.

It’s not a diet…it’s a lifestyle.

Photo credit: Nickshell.com

In 26 years, I’ve never done a diet, until the last two weeks. I never tried Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, Atkins, fasting, you name it. Although at times I’ve wanted to lose a few pounds or tone up to fit some pants more comfortably, dieting hasn’t just been my style — I prefer eating more healthfully and working out.

But when a friend on my Costa Rica trip told me about how South Beach had worked for her, another friend and I decided to test it out when we got home. No carbs, no sweets, no fruit, no alcohol…how hard could it be? Again for me, it wasn’t about the weight. I set a 5 lb. loss goal, but the real goal was to get me out of the rut I had gotten into before my vacation, eating too much bar food, drinking too many beers in a week. Those who know me know that I cook healthy food at home, and work out several times a week. But we all get into a rut, and I’ve been in mine. So the overall goal was to kickstart me getting back into a good routine, and to make me more aware of what I was eating. Not as many “real things” as DC health and fitness guru Chad Hamilton might say.

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