After we traded in the idea of Mardis Gras in New Orleans for Mardis Gras in Michigan (this gave me the opportunity to introduce Neil to his first Fat Tuesday paczki), Neil and I had Cajun cooking on the brain. It didn’t take long for us to fill the kitchen with the incredible smells of a delicious sausage gumbo, a thick Cajun stew. A perfect meal for a future pig farmer and a lady with ambiguous dietary self-restrictions.
Holy cow, was it good! Before I get to the recipe, here are a couple of things we learned as we looked for the perfect recipe:
1. Bell pepper, onion and celery are sometimes called the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking – a flavor blend common in the cuisine – and they definitely add to the depth and flavor of the gumbo.
2. Filé powder, a seasoning made from ground sassafras leaves, is often used to thicken and flavor gumbos. Often it’s added just before eating. We weren’t able to find it, so if you’ve ever tried it, I’d love to know what it’s like.
3. A good roux (pronounced “roo”) is CRUCIAL
What’s a roux, you ask? Basically, it’s a cooked mixture of flour and fat. But oh, it’s so much more than that! It adds thickness, depth and flavor (not to mention a cooking challenge!) to an average pot of soup.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4 hungry people)
2 links sausage (we tried Andouille and Keilbasa courtesy of Zingerman’s Deli and the Copernicus European Delicatessen)
1/3C oil or butter
1/2 C flour (whole wheat pastry or white)
1 large onion, finely cut into large half-moons
3 cloves garlic
2 green bell peppers, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 Tbs mixture of thyme, paprika, cayenne, bay leaves, oregano (or a handy Cajun spices blend)
3 quarts stock, warm
1/3 C chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
6C cooked brown rice
the how to
- Cut the sausages into 1/2″ slices and cook over medium-high heat until browned in your soup pot. No oil necessary – they should release plenty of their own. Pour them in a bowl and set aside for now.
- Using the grease released by the sausage (and the additional oil or butter, as necessary), pour in the flour and begin to make your roux. Stir continuously – it can quickly burn. The flour should get to a thick pasty consistency – not too wet, not too dry; add more oil if it’s drying out – and should look somewhere between a dark copper and rich chocolatey color. This depends on your patience and preferences, but can take anywhere between 7 and 20 minutes of stirring (it’s worth it, I promise!)
- Once your roux has darkened, add the onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper and spices and cook until the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent.
- Add the stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Then turn the stove down to low and let simmer for half an hour.
- Add the cooked sausage and continue to cook for half an hour+ until the soup has reached the consistency you’d like and the flavors have melded.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, and throw in the chopped parsley just before serving.
- Serve over rice, topped with Tobasco sauce and accompanied by a spicy glass of wine.
- Savor the flavors. Happy Belated Mardis Gras!
In our recipe searchings, Neil and I came across a cookbook (Justin Wilson’s Homegrown Louisiana Cookin’) written with a crystal clear -and hilarious- voice:
For the past 5+ years I’ve lived in a bubble. A bubble filled with people who love food, from its beginning as tiny seeds tucked into soil to the many incarnations it can take in the kitchen, and love too the community that springs up around a dining room table. In moving to Michigan, I wasn’t sure if I would find that bubble popped or just shifted. While the familiar faces around the table, some of the ingredients in the dishes, and, who knows, maybe the levels of recovery from butter-phobia may be a bit different, I am so happy to find a thriving food community in Southeast Michigan. And last Friday (at the advice of both my mom and my friend Jill), Neil and I sat down to eat at what has quickly become a hub of the local food/community movement in Ann Arbor: the Selma Cafe
Their blog explains it better than I can, but the basic idea as I understand it is that Jeff and Lisa, the visionaries of Selma, started the cafe in their home a couple of years ago as a place where people could come and share food, conversation, ideas and inspiration for a few hours on Friday mornings. The food would be local and prepared in-house and the proceeds would go towards funding the construction of hoop houses on farms in the area. With a mission of creating a community space and evolving a community and food consciousness, the Selma Cafe is clearly off and running: an article I recently read said that upwards of 150 people eat breakfast at Selma every Friday.
Neil and I walked in to find the place brimming with people, most of them sitting around the huge communal table in what must have previously been Jeff and Lisa’s living room. The kitchen was buzzing with cooks, super friendly volunteer staff, a live folk band and more dining nooks. We filled our tummies with biscuits and gravy, a delicious fried egg, local hoophouse greens, a scone from a local bakery, and Michigan cider. In the process, we chatted with our neighbors, all of us outfitted with name tags we’d later stick to the wall in the entrance. A beautiful way to spend a Friday morning and a comforting continuation of my bubble.
I’m so glad to know places like this exist here, and will definitely be a return visitor. If you’re in the area, check Selma out.
Well if you’re really in the area, there’s no reason not to check these places out too:
- A breakfast that feeds souls and community farms (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
There’s nothing like a road trip to remind you what a vast country the United States truly is (a vast country that seems to be 99.9% covered in snow in early March). After moving out of our Bellingham abode (complete with a really sweet send-off from friends and neighbors) and spending a few days at Cloudview to get Neil a bit more moved in, he and I drove from Royal City, Washington to Chelsea Michigan – 2,145 miles, give or take – and we did it in just 3 days!
When it looked like some heavy winter weather might be gaining on us and when some frigid night-time temps forced us to get a hotel in Minnesota (the night before we spent a pretty comfortable night on a platform Neil built for the bed of my truck), we decided CHELSEA OR BUST!
Even though it was a (relatively) quick drive, we still made sure to take in some of the highlights of the middle stretch of the US: things like flocks of wild turkeys, beautiful farmland, hot drinks at a sweet cafe in Sundance Wyoming (where the barista, after seeing my license plate, told me that she grew up in Coupeville Washington of all places!) and a CHEESE shop in Wisconsin (of course) that supplied us with the cheese that would fuel the last bit of our drive and the beer that would reward us once we arrived at my mom’s door. All of it local and delicious!
The road trip had a beautiful symmetry to it; 4 and a half years ago, Neil and I made the trip across the country after our year at EarthCorps. Unlike his last visit (a time when I was pretty anxious about an upcoming 3 months in Japan), I was determined to be a better host and give Neil a good look at what my little slice of the MItten has to offer. A week of long walks, local brewpubs, Indian restaurants, museums, cooking, parks, tours of both Tantre Farm and the Jiffy Mix factory (a mom and pop business started in my hometown) and lots of time spent with my nutty family brought to a close the month-and-a-half long celebration that has been our shared retirement. And following what was certainly the hardest airport send-off of my life, we’re starting in on some pretty exciting seasons this year. Of course none of it is that easy or seamless (otherwise my brain wouldn’t be in the total whirlwind it’s in right now), but it is truly a new adventure.
love from Michigan,