Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Birthday gumbo and my CSN winner

October 26th is always a very special day for me because today would have been my wonderful father’s birthday. I say “would have been” because he sadly slipped away from us in 2001 after a courageous battle with lung cancer. Cancer won in the end but not without one hell of a fight. He fought the disease with dignity and humor and taught his loving family one final, valuable life lesson…how to say goodbye gracefully. Knowing how fragile we all were, he kept us propped up with his bravery, strength and gentle resignation, making us believe that he had everything under control as usual.

There was so much more to this wonderful man than how he died. Physically, my dad was tall and thin and always impeccably dressed. He bore a slight resemblance to Clint Eastwood which accentuated his bad ass side. After he retired and moved to his dream farm in the country, he would frequently wear a pistol on his hip just in case there was a snake that needed killing.  Being a lover of wildlife, snakes were about the only thing that he felt free to kill just because of their perceived threat. In this part of the country snakes are frequently poisonous so if they were, and happened to be in his yard, it was curtains for them.

His actions were vindicated on one fateful day when he and my mom had gone to Houston for a treatment and I was housesitting for them. My daughter and I awoke to find one of his beloved dogs on the front lawn graveyard dead with two puncture wounds in his skull from what must have been a huge rattlesnake. We tracked down the other two dogs that had been with him on his big romp the night before and they had also been bitten. Thank goodness that they eventually pulled through because digging a grave for one huge dead dog in full rigor mortis was indeed enough. 

I didn’t feel close to this man because he was “just” my dad either. In my adult years he became one of my dearest friends. For the four years that we lived in the UK, I spoke with him virtually every day. We would spend the better part of an hour just laughing and solving the world’s problems. He had a delightfully wicked sense of humor that never failed to make me belly laugh. No one, no matter how young or old, was immune from his warm and playful teasing. I’m sure deep down inside my son still wonders if his grandpa put him on “report” which most certainly marred his “permanent record.” I can't put into words how much I miss that.

One of my dad’s absolute favorite dishes in this world was seafood gumbo. When he was in the final stages of his disease, we all helped him search the great state of Texas high and low for the perfect bowl and never seemed to find just the right recipe. Well Dad, in your memory I’ve been working on my gumbo and finally came up with something I think you’d really like. I only wish you were here to share some with me. Of course something tells me that gumbo in heaven is probably pretty hard to beat. Happy birthday Daddy!

Crab and Shrimp Gumbo

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 medium size onion, finely chopped
1 medium size green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 large celery stalks, finely chopped
2 medium size garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups water
3 Р10.5 ounce cans beef consommé
4 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
3/4 - 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 ounces crab meat (use lump meat if you want, but I use claw meat that is not only cheaper, but adds to the rustic, down home flavor of this recipe), picked through for shells
3 green onions, light and dark green parts, chopped and divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cooked rice (approximately 2 cups) and chopped green onion or parsley for serving

Pour oil into a large stockpot that has been set over medium high heat; heat oil to hot before whisking in flour. Cook roux, stirring frequently, for 10 – 15 minutes or until it turns a dark walnut brown being careful not to let it burn.

Add onion, bell pepper and celery and cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook and stir for approximately 1 minute longer. While whisking constantly, pour in water, consommé and tomato sauce. Bring to a slow bowl before adding the bay leaf, thyme, parsley and Worchestershire sauce. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 20 minutes.

Add shrimp,crab meat and half of the green onion; replace the cover and cook until shrimp just starts to turn opaque, approximately 5 minutes or so. Add /asalt and pepper to taste.

Serve piping hot over cooked rice with a sprinkling of the remaining chopped green onion or parsley and lots of Tabasco sauce on the side.

Easily serves 8.

In celebration of my dad's birthday, let's give someone a present. As promised, today is the day for my CSN giveaway. I checked in with Random.org this afternoon, put in my numbers and it chose, drumroll please...Jen Harriman. Jen, CSN's representative will contact you shortly with your code. Thanks to all of my followers, new and existing, for participating in my giveaway. Check back soon for the next one!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

People of Wal-Mart and a New Giveaway

I woke up the other day and realized that maybe my car needed a couple more dents in the side, so I got up, got dressed and headed for Wal-Mart. Now I don’t want you to think that new shopping cart dings are the only reason I went there, I also needed some of my favorite limeade (Mama loves her Margaritas!) and they happen to sell it for $1.00. I pulled on a crisp shirt, dug my favorite lip shine out of my purse, ran my fingers through my hair and hit the trail. I used to not always care how I looked when shopping at Wal-Mart, but If you haven’t visited www.peopelofwalmart.com, I suggest you do and you just might primp a little bit too before you pass through those automatic doors. I am all too aware that some terrible things can happen to a person in life and being featured on this website is definitely one of them.

Once inside I grabbed the trolley that I was offered by the fossilized greeter in the entryway. Since I am one of those shoppers who likes the thrill and adventure of shopping without a list, I headed straight over to the grocery area before I forgot what I came for, leaving my favorite health and beauty section for last. Since I parked on the opposite end from the grocery, I had to pass between the self-check lanes and the magazine/book department and I was stopped in my tracks by a new attraction, a reading area. It seems that they have taken in part of the book section and replaced it with a pseudo Persian Rug, two pleather club chairs and a contact paper veneer end table. I guess that once upon a time an optimistic store manager had seriously overestimated the population of readers in the Castle Rock area. Books must not be big sellers around here.

Now, I’m not quite sure what the psychology of grocery store planning is, but I am sure a lot of thought goes into it. In order to foil any plans that “The Man” might have to make me spend more money than what I plan on, I try to start at the back of the store and work my way to the front just to be contrary. I really can’t figure out what the thinking is with these grocery store designers at Wal-Mart because they put their refrigerated and frozen sections acres apart. On many occasions I have chosen my ice cream and by the time I wind my way to the back of the store to the milk, I have to double back and take my thawed, sloppy ice cream carton back where I found it and replace it with a fresh one before I check out. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone who has gotten one of my melted and refrozen ice cream treats. I’m really sorry but please keep in mind that it really is Wal-Mart’s fault.

Before I forgot something important on my list, I headed to the Minute Maid section for my limeade. Nope… they don’t sell that anymore (s**t!), but they would be more than happy to sell me cherry limeade or any number of fruit juice blends that don’t even resemble what I came for. Once I finally decided that no matter how long I stood there and stared at the shelf one wouldn’t materialize, I begrudgingly moved on. The next thing on my list was a bottle of Lawry’s Hawaiian Marinade that my son fell in love with while on a trip with a friend to Lake Nowhere, Nebraska. He had come home with tales of how delicious his friend’s Uncle Kenny’s barbequed chicken was and this was what he used. Now for this boy to take note what was used to season chicken was more than monumental, so I put aside my ego and bought a bottle. “Maybe this homemade marinade stuff is overrated,” I thought as I pulled a bottle off the shelf. No, I was wrong. I don’t know what Uncle Kenny’s secret is but I don’t get it. Maybe anything is delicious when you are waterlogged, sunburned, starving and fifteen. One day he’ll appreciate the magic of pineapple juice, soy, brown sugar and mama’s love, but until then I’ll keep buying him the Lawry’s.

After about an hour I left without my limeade (and a couple of other things I forgot), but with many, many things I didn’t realize we needed until after I got there. I was even too tired by this time to hit the Health and Beauty section, but who really needs deodorant and toothpaste when you have a new pair of capris? I once again said my goodbyes to the checker and the greeter and removed the trolley that had dug its way into the side of my car and headed home to empty the hundreds of carrier bags with the sinking feeling that I’d be back before I knew it.

Now, Uncle Kenny may make better chicken than I do for now, but I really know the way to my son’s heart and that’s through his love for French toast. After making more versions than America’s Test Kitchen, I believe that I’ve developed the perfect recipe. What does this have to do with Wal-Mart you may be asking? Well, you know those fluffy soft big loaves of bread that they call French bread, it’s not very good on its own, but for this recipe it’s the best.

Vanilla Almond French Toast

3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus a little extra if need for cooking
2 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground gingerroot
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
8 – 1” thick slices of soft French bread from a large loaf

Preheat a large non-stick skillet and the 3 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat.
While the pan is heating mix together the eggs, milk, cinnamon, gingerroot, and vanilla and almond extracts.

Dip the bread into the egg mixture one slice of bread at a time for approximately 3 seconds on each side. Quickly shake off any excess egg mixture before placing bread into hot oil in the pan. Repeat with as many slices as will fit in the pan.
Cook for approximately 3 minutes on each side, watching carefully as not to burn it. Transfer to paper towels to drain quickly. Repeat with the remaining bread, adding more oil to the pan if needed. Bread should be golden brown and crispy.

Serve immediately with butter, warm syrup or a sprinkling of icing sugar. I also love to toast some sliced almonds and sprinkle them on top before pouring warm syrup over all. Fantastic!

Serves 4.

Since this post has been about a difficult shopping trip, I thought I'd end on an up note and talk about easy shopping. CSN has once again furnished me with a $65.00 gift code to any of their 200 plus online stores for one of my lucky followers who reside in the US or Canada. Their shopping sites offer everything from beautiful handbags and bar furniture to great cookware (my personal favorite of course)and bedding. All you have to do to win is be a follower of my blog and leave me a comment stating you'd like to be entered into my drawing. On October 26th, I'll let Random.org pick my lucky number and announce my winner. Good luck!