Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Crying “Uncle” and Easing My Way into Mardi Gras

In Family, Food, In My Kitchen, Uncategorized on January 26, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Crying “Uncle”

Last week was tough. Hitting the eight-month point in the pregnancy and the associated discomforts might have had something to do with that. And then there were those few nights when I thought I was having labor pains, and the night I actually went into the hospital at 3am after whatever pain I was having didn’t let up after two hours and a shower and several glasses of water.

We had invited friends over for a Mardi Gras dinner of sorts, thinking that we were early enough to avoid my being too tired to host a dinner party. Luckily our friends looked at the dark circles under my eyes and told me that I needed to get over myself. So Richard made the seafood gumbo, I made the king cake (with some help from a friend and her industrial KitchenAid), and we headed to our friends’ house for festivities.

It’s nice to be taken care of, especially when you’re not so good at that whole rest and relaxation thing. I’m officially on it’s-all-about-me time now. A pedicure is in my near future.

Richard doesn’t cook much, basically chili and gumbo. The gumbo part came slowly as I delegated parts of the dish to him here and there over the years. The last two gumbos we’ve made I’ve given him instructions (which he’s largely ignored) but he’s been the one to really make the gumbo. He’s done so well, I’m not so sure I want to do it myself anymore.

Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun Seafood Gumbo with Andouille

We make our roux for gumbo in a 2:1 flour to oil ratio, so we used 1 c flour and 1/2 c oil. Otherwise, we find we end up skimming oil off of finished gumbo. We don’t add the sausage as I’ve never found an andouille in Maryland that I like. And we used closer to 2 pounds of shrimp — no one complained.

2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery

Seasoning Mix:
2 whole bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon minced garlic
5 1/2 cups Basic Seafood Stock

1 pound andouille smoked sausage (preferred) or any other good pure smoked pork sausage such as Polish sausage (kielbasa), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 pound peeled medium shrimp
1 dozen medium to large oysters in their liquor, about 9 ounces

3/4 pound crabmeat (picked over)
2 1/2 cups hot cooked rice

Combine the onions, bell peppers and celery in a medium-size bowl and set aside. In a small bowl combine the seasoning mix ingredients; mix well and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the flour, whisking constantly with a long-handled metal whisk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until roux is dark red-brown to black, about 2 to 4 minutes, being careful not to let it scorch or splash on your skin. Immediately add half the vegetables and stir well (switch to a spoon if necessary). Continue stirring and cooking about 1 minute. Then add the remaining vegetables and cook and stir about 2 minutes. Stir in the seasoning mix and continue cooking about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic; stir well, then cook and stir about 1 minute more. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place the stock in a 5 1/2-quart saucepan or large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Add roux mixture by spoonfuls to the boiling stock, stirring until dissolved between each addition. Bring mixture to a boil. Add the andouille and return to a boil; continue boiling 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes more. Add the shrimp, undrained oysters and crabmeat. Return to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and skim any oil from the surface. Serve immediately.

To serve as a main course, mound 1/4 cup rice in the middle of each serving bowl. Spoon 1 cup gumbo over the top, making sure each person gets an assortment of the seafood and andouille. Serve half this amount in a cup as an appetizer.


Fear of the Phone

In Family on January 9, 2010 at 8:31 am

The jangling of the phone at 5:40am yesterday sent my heart racing in panic. Silly, really, that I didn’t think it was the school system calling to say we had a 2-hour delay due to snowfall. My visceral reaction had my thoughts going straight to my dad, “It’s my mom. What’s wrong with my dad?”

I’m not the only parent in the area who reacted that way, but my thoughts in those initial moments are telling of the news I’m trying to process right now. After eight years of battling prostate cancer — mostly with wildly successful results — my dad is out of treatment options.

It’s not surprising, really, when you consider the clinical data for prostate cancer drugs. But my dad is about as bull-headed as they come. When one course didn’t work, he’d say, “Ok, what’s next?” barely acknowledging the bump in the road.

I’m not sure he’s reconciled himself to this news either. From what my mom says, he’s contemplating a clinical trial at a cancer hospital three hours from their home. The purpose of the trial is to determine side-effects, apparently. His oncologist, a straight-shooter who does not like to speculate, told him flat out, “You will not get better.”

He’s weak, for sure, and susceptible to falls and broken bones — he broke his arm right before Christmas — but he still putters around the house playing Mr. Fix-It, which is what he likes to do. When I feel the sinking weight of dread about the cancer creeping into his bones and causing excruciating pain, as it is apt to do, I try to refocus on the present. What can he do now to live life to the fullest? What can I do now to appreciate him?

I don’t have any solid answers, other than wanting him to meet his next grandchild. The oncologist did not paint a pretty picture, but he also didn’t say that the end of treatment meant “The End” was near. So what happens between now and The End? We’ll have to work on that, and may come up with some good answers. But I know my heart will still skip a beat every time the phone rings.

Just Call Me Michelle Obama (Or, Thank God for My Arms)

In Family, Uncategorized on January 4, 2010 at 8:24 am

Arms at their triathlon peak, summer, 2008.

I am inordinately happy about my arms today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for my two well-functioning legs. It’s just that I haven’t seen much of them lately, except for that gnarly varicose vein on my right calf. Nor do I think I’d care to look at them at 30 weeks gestation.

Before this pregnancy, I came to be a runner. Not a fast runner, mind you, just someone who actually enjoys running and signed up for races here and there. I ran through my first trimester, albeit with a sudden shift in what my cardiovascular system could tolerate before I cried “uncle”. Since then, I’ve vacillated between astonishment at women who run throughout pregnancy and envy for anyone I see running — outside in the bitter cold, or inside toiling away on the treadmill. (Good god, I hate that thing, but I’m jealous nonetheless.)

Much as I want to work up a profuse sweat and push my body to its athletic limits, it just ain’t happenin’ right now. Seems as though this pregnant belly does not take kindly to much more than walking from my legs. Ten minutes of any leg-driven cardio gets my abdomen hard as a rock and cramping. This is not a pleasant sensation, and one of those moments when my body is just screaming out “Stop it fool!”

My arms and upper body, however, I can push. I can hit a muscle conditioning or yoga class or even free weights and know that I’m getting a challenging workout without disturbing baby’s world. I caught sight of my arms this morning in the mirror at the gym and was pleased to see some definition. For now I’ll ignore the extra little jiggle of water retention and hey-I’m-pregnant-hand-over-the-cookies maternal fat. I spotted a bicep! And look — that there — it’s a tricep!

Just like Mrs. Obama’s iconic limbs, my arms still have something going on. And for now, I’m good with that.