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A Westerner with Lagniappe

Eleven years ago – December of 2009 – I wrote a little essay for a now-defunct online publication entitled The Urban Campfire. When a friend send me the motivation for the publication, I was inspired. We are a creative cooperative made up of real people living real stories. We are fighting the wars, making the movies, traveling the globe, cooking the food, singing the songs, paying the mortgages. Chances are, you are too. Your story has a home here. Join the fire.

Today’s Urban Campfire

Though my title was changed by the editors from “A Westerner with Lagniappe” to “A Moveable Feast,” it was my first attempt at writing something for others and online. I never dreamed that eleven years later Andy and I would be happily blogging every other week about our lives and about food.

I’m re-posting this now because I just made the turkey gumbo recipe and I think you’ll love it. If you didn’t think to make broth with your turkey bones, simply substitute chicken and chicken broth. The chocolate bread pudding recipe is a timeless hit, too.

And an aside: seeing that plate of boiled crawfish makes me want to pack my bag and hightail it back to Louisiana for a spring visit. There’s nothing I miss more – except, of course, my Baton Rouge friend, Katie. Let the vaccinating begin!

A final aside: while I am re-posting this partly to simplify my post-holiday blogging, Andy is simplifying things too. But in his case, it’s simplifying recipes. Be sure to read today’s Andy’s Corner.

And now to my Urban Campfire contribution:

For a born and bred Coloradoan, the move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 35 years ago (footnote: now it’s 45 1/2 years ago) was nothing short of terrifying. The summer nights with 90+ degree temperatures, the clothes-drenching humidity, the stinging caterpillars, the frequent typhoon-like downpours, the 2″sized cockroaches scurrying through the house, and the incredible cultural differences made me want nothing more than a return ticket to the West.

Was I Annie Oakley?
Or Scarlet O’Hara?

But time changes all things, and it wasn’t long before I was enjoying our new Southern life, with our close ties to the LSU community, including dear friends, theater performances at the Union Theater and later at the fun and funky Swine Palace, basketball games with the iconic Dale Brown at the helm, and the LSU Newcomers Gourmet Club. Though we didn’t often do Cajun/Creole food at those dinners, we developed a great fondness for cooking, good meals…and nice wine.

As my interest in Louisiana food expanded, I started collecting recipes and cookbooks, including the must-have River Road Recipes put out by the Junior League of Baton Rouge and Cane River Cuisine from the Service League of Natchitoches, LA, and The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima and Richard Collin.  

And I started collecting recipes from all the born and bred Southerners who knew so much more about crawfish etouffee, and red beans and rice, and pralines, and roux than I did.

In 2001 we left Baton Rouge to return to the West and our roots. But as the holiday season approaches each year, I find myself practically waxing poetic about all things Southern – well, all things about Southern food. I’ve sent a shopping list to my good Baton Rouge friend Katie begging for her to restock my larder with those Southern necessities. I need Bergeron pecans from New Roads, cayenne pepper from Zatarains, LSU Beauregard yams, file powder, Tony Chachere’s Creole seasonings, and some real andouille sausage, preferably from LaPlace, Louisiana. (culinary note: the Beauregard yam is actually a sweet potato)

With all that in hand I’m ready to do my holiday cooking, which will include a left-over turkey gumbo, simple baked yams (or sweet potatoes – unless you’re from Louisiana; if you’re now thoroughly confused, a great read is You Say Potato, I Say Yam from the NYTimes) slathered with butter, and a bread pudding, sometimes with chocolate and sometimes with a whiskey sauce. I may still be a born and bred Westerner, but I’m a Westerner with lagniappe.

the unofficial urban campfire glossary

Andouille – a spicy smoked pork sausage (pronounced ahn DOO ee)

Atchafalaya: the Atchafalaya River (pronounced A-CHA-fa-LIE-a)

bayou:   a creek or small river that is a tributary of a larger body of water; or a  sluggish stream that meanders through lowlands, marshes, or plantation grounds.

beignet: a square doughnut with no hole (pronounced BEN-yay)

boudin:  Cajun blood sausage (pronounced BOO-dan)

café au lait:  coffee served with an equal part hot milk (delicious with a beignet)

crawfish:  also “mudbug” (No one in Louisiana would EVER EVER refer to them as crayfish), a small cousin of a lobster living in the mud of  streams or lakes; called a crawdad in other parts of the country

etouffee:   a Creole dish typically served with crawfish over rice (pronounced AY too Fay)

file: a Cajun/Creole powdered seasoning made from dried and ground sassafras leaves, not the root (pronounced FEE lay)

lagniappe:  a little something extra, as a gift a store or restaurant owner might offer with a purchase (pronounced LAN yap)

“suckin’ the heads”: eating crawfish (update: it’s actually sucking the head of the crawfish to enjoy the spicy juices; are you non-Louisianans grossed out?)

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