Monday, May 31, 2010

A crawfishy tale

I suppose my grandmother (Mimi to me) had always been a rebel. At 5'9" she betrayed her Cajun heritage by growing taller than almost everyone in her family. Her shoulders and hands were tiny, though--very French. After her first husband left her, she married a non-Catholic--very scandalous in her family. She loved life and had a wicked sense of humor. She once told the lady at the Lancome counter that for what they charged for a facial cleanser, "it ought to clean your butt for that price!" I would have been horrified but for the look on the sales lady's face--like she was painfully waiting for the punchline, while Mimi gingerly adjusted her purse on her arm and walked away. Because of her diabetes, she was well-known by the pharmacists at her local Wal-Mart, and she made a "better-than-sex" cake for a young man there who was particularly kind to her. She made him eat it--with his hands--in front of her and all the customers waiting patiently for their prescriptions. While he was mid-bite into the cake, she shouted, "Isn't that better than sex!?" and laughed her sweet, diabolical laugh. Poor guy.
Mimi taught me all of the Cajun-French I know. But I cannot tell you about it. Not only because true Cajun-French is a spoken language, never written, but also because all she taught me were curse words. I do not remember her cursing much in English, though--I guess that, and her many pairs of delicate dinner gloves, were the indication that her rebellious spirit had some familiarity with decorum. She gave me a pair of those dinner gloves, creamy velvet with rhinestone cuffs. I loved those gloves, but they were not my favorite of the things she passed on to me--that gift would be her love for cooking. When she cooked crawfish etouffee (AY TOO FAY), her kitchen seduced me with fragrance and held me there while I watched her serve up big bowls of this earthy stew over steaming white rice.

In the spirit of both Paul and Willow--whose posts are always filled with juicy information, I will tell you that etouffee means to stew, smother, or braise and is considered primarily a Creole dish--rather than Cajun. According to Chef John Folse in his Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, Creoles--first named for the children born on Louisiana soil--were once considered the cultural aristocracy of Louisiana. They were well acquainted with fine wines and superb cooking. Creole cuisine was inventive, refined and generously seasoned. A sophisticated, aristocratic cuisine based on European techniques, Creole cooking used wine- or liquor-based sauces to enhance its subtle delicate flavors. Cajun cooking, on the other hand, was more rustic and dependent almost entirely upon home gardens and local wildlife for its ingredients. Cajuns were the homestyle cooks, while Creoles were the chefs. Another piece of information to note is that both Cajun and Creole dishes rely heavily on "the Trinity" (onion, celery, and bell pepper) and "the Pope" (garlic). With terms like these, it is easy to see that these Louisiana cooks take their cuisine very seriously.

Which brings me to the real reason behind this post. I will not bog you down with details, but I will tell you that I recently read a comment from Mark--a merchant seaman and friend of Melinda and Diahn who commented about Melinda's etouffee having cream of mushroom soup in it. Cream of mushroom soup? Are you kidding me? Clearly this is dangerously close to sacrilege. All I know of Mark is that he is a vegetarian, has excellent taste in show tunes and books, and is married to a very pretty wife (I've seen her picture). So, he seems to be a pretty together guy. However, I fear that if Mimi (or any other crazy Cajun) read Mark's comment, she would introduce him to some Cajun-French. So, for the sake of sparing Mark a possible good Cajun cussing in his future, and to provide you with a taste of some fantastic cuisine, here is a recipe for crawfish etouffee (without cream of mushroom soup):

1/4 C. butter
1 C. diced onion
1/2 C. diced celery
1/2 C. diced green bell pepper
1/2 C. diced red bell pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 large shallot, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground red pepper
14 oz. chicken broth (or crawfish stock)
1 oz. white wine
1/4 C. fresh parsley
1/2 C. fresh green onions
2 pounds cooked, peeled crawfish tails (you can use frozen--defrosted and drained)
Hot cooked rice

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and next five ingredients; saute until tender.

Add flour, salt, and red pepper; cook, stirring constantly until caramel colored (about 10 minutes). Add next four ingredients; cook, stirring constantly about 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly.

Stir in crawfish and cook until thoroughly heated (about 5 minutes). Serve over rice.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Magpie #16

what is the sound of your trial by fire

is it the soft unlatching of sandals
for the sake of holy ground
only to walk the coals
lusty flames
gorging themselves
on the last of your faith

is it the escaped groan
of watching your dream slip
the long, slow fall
like broken glass under bare feet

is it the mother's staccato lament
planting the son of promise
supinated and shoeless
into the eager earth

perhaps it is the trickle of a briny bath
while hope walks away
like a fickle lover
or the silent abuse of unforgiving heat
claiming your tongue and
turning your sweet songs to vapor

maybe your cries come
a mere echo back from deaf caverns
but of this I am sure
there will be the shout of return
glorious return
like the white wizard
full of light and power
or Lazarus unforgotten

and the deep sigh
of feeling the dewy, yielding grass
between your toes again

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

She's cool like that

This is Katherine--my fourteen year-old who just sort of oozes coolness without even trying. Somehow her sweet, tiny hand that barely used to fit around my finger has outgrown mine, but I drink up the joy of knowing she has not outgrown the need to feel my hand in hers. I like to call her my anti-teenager. She is, for the most part, thoughtful and witty and remarkably kind. I try to raise my children to live as though we are all part of an amazing team, and if that is so, Katherine is the quarterback among my children. When she was eight, she used to play hide-and-seek with her newfound neighborhood friends. When they made her three year-old brother "it," she hid right beside him while he was counting and whispered Evan, I'm right here. She still brings her younger brothers and sister along with her everywhere, and she still reminds them that she is right here--beside them--no matter what. They spend their days truly in awe of her. She always seems to dazzle them with whatever play she has in mind for the day's game.

At fourteen, she is so much more than I ever was at her age. Strong, independent, and completely comfortable in her own skin, she shines with the light of a true original--a fresh-faced, converse-clad, guitar-playing original. When she was first born, I imagined that she would be a small version of me--only, hopefully, without all of the mistakes. But who could have ever imagined the richness and dimension she would add? She has helped me to learn to let go of perfection. She makes me feel beautiful, and wise, and really happy to be growing older. She introduced me to Maroon 5 and Twilight and comfy t-shirts and JabbaWockeeZ. Most importantly--she inspires me to serve a little more selflessly, to live bigger, and to embrace change courageously. I think when I grow up, I would like to be more like her.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The little things

My husband and I ponder together often. We sit in the cool of the morning or evening and try to figure out people and life and our place in this world. One resource that has given us much to think and talk about is a book he is reading: The Call by Os Guinness. I cannot tell you the countless lessons it has led us to, but this morning was especially profound. Guinness says that George MacDonald writes in his piece "The Shadows," "the mark of a true vision of things is that 'instead of making common things look commonplace, as a false vision would have done, it had made common things disclose the wonderful that was in them.'"

For the girl who gets trapped in the obligation of living for the glorious, this is a beautiful wake-up call. I am the sure product of a father who demanded not just excellence--but perfection in all that we did. He taught us that being the best, the top, the most celebrated should be the aim of our life's work--and he walked it out to prove it. Now, it is not for me to point a finger at my father and disagree with the choices that seem to have served him well, but this vision of a life well-lived just doesn't suit me. Probably because I have chosen to be a mom, to let my degree serve as a backdrop for teaching my own children, to spend many days nursing and making peanut butter sandwiches and, honestly? Cleaning lots of poop. For a long, long time I thought I turned my back on the accolades I was beginning to collect and choose, instead, the second-rate. Not that my life is in any way second-rate in my heart--just the opposite. But I felt that through my choices I was letting someone down, and that I was committing the great American sin of not "living up to my potential."

But in this life--the one that false vision would call commonplace--I have found the truest and deepest of meaning and beauty. In this life, I have discovered a passion for writing I never knew I had. I am the one who kisses my children's tears away and lays them down for naps. I listen to my children's jokes and their questions about life--and we try to find answers together. I read stories and learn along with my children every day. Some days I cry because we go without some of life's luxuries and pleasures, and I wonder if it is all worth it. Some days I get frustrated when my Pollyanna life just falls apart into chaos. Some days I do laundry and dishes and garden and cook, and some days I do none of those things. Some days I enjoy the simple pleasure of watching my two youngest serve each other cookie dough while we bake together in the kitchen.
But the key for me, and maybe for you, is that no matter how I spend my day, I do even the mundane because it's what I love--even if I do not do it well--even if there is no one to congratulate me at the end of my road. In each day, I can ask myself, am I making the common things disclose the wonder that is in them? And if yes is the answer, then I have lived well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Magpie #15

cast not your net for me
for I will not be gathered
under your steeple
or to your polling place
or your bed

and I will not cast
my bread
or my vote
or my garments
to be strung along
to be weighed
and counted
and forgotten

I may offer myself
a satisfying meal for a poor child
but I will never feed
your greed
or ambition
or ego

I belong to the sea
and to the caress of each wave
but I do not belong to you

I swim
in the warmth of
clear emerald
while you drown
in the cold blackness
of insatiable lust

cast not your net for me
for I will not be gathered

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Morning surprise

A couple of months ago, my neighbor gave me some bulbs and plants for my sad, sad flower beds. I planted most of what she gave me, but I had run out of room before I was done. So, on my back patio sat a Styrofoam minnow bucket full of bulbs. I would look at the bucket each morning as I enjoyed a little quiet time with my husband, and I would think I really need to plant those. But I would pan the yard, trying to find just the right place for them and come up with nothing. So they waited--my bucket of neglected bulbs--unwater, unplanted, unrooted.

This is what I saw when I got up yesterday morning:

Yep, right there, in the most unlikely of places, were these captivating flowers. And I cannot tell you the joy they brought me, because, like these bulbs, I have felt very unearthed and honestly a little forgotten by God. Like He put me aside for a while because there was no perfect place for me to be planted. So I have been waiting. Waiting to be watered. Waiting to feel my roots thriving in the soil. Waiting to feel like I belong to something again. But as we all know, life is rarely measured out to us in comfort and security--many times our conditions are rough, and our resources are sparse.

Today, though, I have a new perspective because of these little metaphors ablaze on my porch. Maybe everything I need in order to thrive has been in me before I was ever uprooted. Maybe I am not forgotten after all. Would it be so crazy to think that even in my seeming displacement, I could (and should) stop waiting and start bringing a little joy and beauty into someone else's life? So today, instead of wishing for a garden of rich soil and soft, sweet rain, I think I will just . . . bloom.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Magpie #14

Is it possible to hold irony in my hands? To trace my fingers over the delicate pattern of life circling back upon itself? The retribution of greed now balanced upon my palm.

Somehow, I think I knew it would all come to this. That it would fall to me to pack the last traces of you. The mink, stolen with your mother's scent still fresh in the luxurious warmth. The long list of trinkets and valuables--all fodder for your bloated belly full of entitlement.

And now the dishes. The dishes. The dishes your mother swore you were taking piece-by-piece right out from under her. The dishes that lay hidden in your closet until her death. The dishes that should have been carefully packed and laid aside for your selfish son and his grasping wife. The dishes which I left, instead, a shattered heap on the floor.

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