Movin' On - New Orleans City Limits.

Another long day in the car making it the rest of the way through Texas and into some more familiar territory. Things went from arid to humid pretty fast as we rolled into the swamp lands of Southern Louisiana. And, although I had been enjoying myself immensely, wide eyed and fascinated with the new places I was experiencing, I was eager to return to climates, time zones, cities and cuisines that were more familiar. Louisiana was the first stop on our trajectory that fit the bill. Hello, N'awlins!

Sure, we had a list of restaurants to visit, but the highlight of this stop was to be an evening with my really good friend, Sarah, and her family. Sarah moved to New Orleans right after college and fell in love with it. She remained even after Katrina hit, and now lives in the Lower 9th Ward with her husband, Simon, little boy, Robin, and a host of cats. Both Sarah and Simon are educators: he teaches the second grade; she is Director of the Greater New Orleans Writing Project and an English instructor at the University of New Orleans. They are also hugely active in the politics of the City and their own neighborhood.

Needless to say, they're quite busy.

So, Fred and I decided to spend a day foraging for all of the local ingredients to make a big batch of chicken and smoked andouille gumbo for Sarah and family. After calling ahead to find out which kitchen 'fossil fuels' they had on hand (oil, rice, flour, cayenne pepper, etc.), we threw back a couple of cups of chicory coffee at our bed and breakfast, and hit the streets of the Big Easy. We picked up our produce - onions, celery, bell peppers, green onions and parsley – at the historic French Market in the Quarter. Then it was off to one of my favorite places in the city, the Cochon Butcher, to pick up our chicken and andouille sausage. We also grabbed some boudin to grill up and have as snacks for all during the long gumbo-making process. After a quick stop at a small, corner market to procure the file powder, we had only one last stop: wine, cheese and bread. That means Bacchanal. Sarah and Simon were actually married at Bacchanal and I was their wedding photographer. How could I not pick up the most important provisions there?

We arrived at their house a skosh early and busted in on Simon taking a shower. Sarah was apparently at a doctor's appointment and was running a few minutes late. While Simon finished up, Fred and I began unloading and getting organized. We prepared a cheese plate and opened a bottle of wine. As the cork popped from the bottle, Sarah walked in. Jokingly I asked, “Did you get a clean bill of health from the doctor?”

“Yes. I'm pregnant,” she replied. At first I thought she was putting me on, but as I looked from Simon to Sarah then Sarah to Simon, I knew they knew. It was for real. I was so filled with emotion and happiness – and thrilled about my really great timing to be there right at that moment.

We cooked and talked and snacked and sipped into the night while listening to classic Creole music. By the time the gumbo was ready it was late, but that was just fine. Simon ate with us while Sarah gave Robin his bath. Sarah ate with us while Simon tucked Robin into bed and then headed that way himself. We could tell it was Sarah's bed time as well. As I mentioned, this is one busy family.

Dinner was delicious. Sarah and Simon both loved the gumbo. The roux, the spice level and the consistency were all on point from the perspective of these New Orleanians. And though we were in a city with some of the best restaurants and night clubs in the country, if not the world, I couldn't think of a better place to be than in that little house by the levee in the Lower 9th Ward with Sarah and her family.

Post script: I just spoke with Sarah asking permission to mention her doctor’s appointment. She approved and said she heard the baby's heartbeat a little earlier in the day. Insert smiley face, here.

Chicken & Andouille Gumbo
(recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

Serves 6-8

1 Tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 pound andouille sausage, cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick pieces
4 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed
1 Tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 bay leaves
9 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon file powder

In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until well browned, about 8 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon, drain & set aside.

Season the chicken with the Creole seasoning and add in batches to the fat remaining in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan, let cool, until ready to use.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup oil and the flour in the same Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux.

Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and cook, stirring, until sweating, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the reserved sausage, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring, slowly add the chicken stock, and cook, stirring, until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour.

Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, periodically skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.

Remove the pot from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken thighs from the gumbo and place on a cutting board to cool slightly. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Pull the chicken meat from the bones and shred, discarding the bones and skin. Return the meat to the gumbo and stir in the green onions, parsley, and file powder.

Serve over white rice.

Three years ago: Pecan Shortbread

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