Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Crawfish & Catherine

The Dish: Crawfish — Why do we eat mudbugs in Louisiana?
It's crawfish season! 

It isn't spring in Louisiana without an inaugural crawfish boil. Crawfish (not crayfish) season spans  from March to June and the worship of said crustacean and its ritualistic boil is almost a religious celebration.  Because of this time frame, I can't imagine a May graduation party without crawfish. While this alien-looking mudbug holds significance today, it wasn't until recent decades that crawfish boils became common practice.

The red sea-creatures used to be viewed as rural, Cajun cuisine. And, as most Louisianans know, Cajuns were discriminated against until recently. Many of my friends' grandparents remember not being allowed to speak their native Cajun French in school because of prejudice. There has been a revival of Cajun French in recent years, with celebrated French immersion schools popping up around the state. But, what turned this somewhat scorned practice into a spring staple?

After doing some googling, I found that in the 1940s fishing technology made crawfish more available. I also have heard, but could not find related information on google, that the Depression caused Louisianans to stopping turning up their noses at a food source.

I'm not saying people didn't eat crawfish, I have seen etouffee recipes that go back generations.  But, the ubiquitous tradition of the boil is only ~50 years old. And, making it a social event is even more recent.  Since we are crazy about crawdads now, restaurants have gone beyond boiled and etouffee.  Local restaurants now sell crawfish dishes in the form of pie and sushi, just to name a few. (This article from LSU's Legacy magazine features some fun crawfish meals.)

My family enjoying crawfish together in 2007 at my sister's graduation party.  

How to boil crawfish, according to my Dad:

- 50 pound sack of crawfish
- 2 bunches of celery chopped
- 2 bags of onions (3 pounds each).  Cut up 1 bag, keep the others whole
- 1 cup of Cayenne Pepper
- 6 garlic bunches, halved (cut horizontally through the toes)
- 6 bags of crawfish boil
- Box and a half of salt
- 10 pounds of red potatoes (corn too if you want)
- 3-5 pounds of sausage, optional

Wash the crawfish in an outside tub with hose. Flip them over to make sure all of the bait and junk has been cleaned off.  My Dad warned "They're gonna bite you. Just man up."
Bring water in large crawfish pot to boil.
Throw it all in!
Once it boils again, cook 12-15 minutes
Turn it off and let soak in the hot water for 15 minutes
Dump them out and eat!

Tips on eating crawdads:
-Don't eat crawfish with straight tails. It means they were dead BEFORE you boiled them.
- Let some free! As a kid, I would always pick one lucky S.O.B. to set free in a ditch before my dad killed and ate him.
- The proper way to eat crawfish, according to Southern Living magazine.

The Grandma: Catherine 
My paternal grandmother's mom 

I don't have a photo of Catherine. But here is one of Gammie (her daughter) with her granddaughters (and Rasco), Christmas 2008. 

Rounding out my Women's History Month series, I give you my last great-grandmother, Catherine. Honestly, I saved Catherine for last because she has always been a mystery to me. She was ill and out of my father's life when he was growing up and my Gammie lived with ~20 people during the Depression —so her mother isn't usually a main character in her childhood stories.  I thought by putting Catherine last, I would find something out about her in the mean time. But, sadly, nothing ever surfaced.
I think that everyone has a story, and it should be told. So, here is what I know about Catherine — or more appropriately here is a glimpse into her family life.

This is the house the ENTIRE family lived in during the Depression. My boyfriend snapped this photo on Saturday when I explored the Lower Nine for another project. 

Catherine (for whom my sister Julie Catherine is named) was American born of French and Irish descent.  She was one of 11 children. Catherine lived and raised a family in the Lower Ninth Ward during the Depression. Her seven brothers lived in the same house as she and her parents and children in the '30s.  My Gammie has very colorful stories about her uncles who ran illegal lotteries, a still and speak-easy. To know Catherine, is to know this life. And one of my grandma's favorite stories involves Catherine's youngest brother Louis.

Louis may have been my Gammie's (Yvonne) uncle, but they were only a few years apart in age. Louis loved to tease Yvonne. She recalls one day Louis was working on the roof and he decided to toss her a brick for a project he was working on at ground-level.  Obviously, the brick hit her in the head and the scene was very bloody.  According to this familytale, Louis' mother hit him with a broom as a punishment. But mid-swing, Louis' faithful dog took the room in his mouth and ran.

This story is 80+ years old. But, it is just the kind of chaotic scene Gammie uses to convey her childhood.

The little girl in this picture from ~1889 is Catherine's mother (with my great-great-great-grandparents, The Ortets); she was later known to my Gammie as Grandma Meyer. You may recognize this photo from a previous post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Babette & Sauerbraten

The Grandma: Babette, my Uhr Oma (great-grandma)
My maternal grandmother’s mom

-       Babette was born in Augsburg, Germany, 1892.
-       She was a tough cookie, good cook and nurturing.  For example, her honeymoon was over on her wedding day.  On May 19,1919, she was married in a Lutheran church to a WWI hero … who fainted at the altar from Malaria.  Their honeymoon included her nursing her new husband back to health.  She often took care of her son Albert’s many injuries, as he was quite the schlinglekind (or naughty child).  Albert was hit by nearly every mode of transportation and always found trouble... To see his rap sheet, click here.
-       On the topic of being a toughie, Babette flew alone in 1959 (when she was nearly 70) to New Orleans from Germany on a propeller airplane. Babette only spoke German, which made this trip to America extra adventurous.

I often imagine this famous Norman Rockwell picture when Babette's big flight is discussed.
-       When my mother lived in Germany in ~1963 she remembers Babette’s (her Oma’s) vigor.  My mother said she had the stamina of someone half her age.  She also remembers their walks to the Konditorei, or cake shop, where she was met with tantalizing cakes decorated with marzipan figures and chocolates shaped like happy June Bugs, ladybugs. Her Oma, Babette, would always by her grandgirls a treat while enjoying hot tea.

This series of photos, from several Lake Pontchartrain beach days, during Uhr Oma's visit to New Orleans are some of my favorite family photos ...  

Babette at the beach.

Opa being handsome with his girls (my aunt and mom).

I want Oma's suit!

Her Recipe: Sauerbraten
Uhr Oma's recipe as dictated by my sister Julie

You’ll need some heavy hardware here: a heavy 4 qt kettle or pot with a tight fitting lid is a must. Plus a 3 or 4 qt glass or crockery bowl/container.

·       3 lb pot roast of beef such as top round or rump roast
·       1 cup vinegar
·       2 cups water
·       1 large onion
·       1/4 cup sugar
·       2 tsp salt
·       10 peppercorns
·       5 or 6 whole cloves
·       4 or 5 bay leaves
·       1 lemon (use rind)

Put meat in bowl and set aside. Slice onion. Combine vinegar, water, onion, sugar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves and lemon rind in a saucepan and heat WITHOUT boiling until sugar is dissolved.
Pour hot mixture over meat in bowl and allow to cool, mixture should just about cover meat — you may add a little more water, broth or red wine. Cover the pot and refrigerate.
Turn the roast morning and evening (at least 1 time a day) for 4 days.
After 4 days, remove meat from marinade, strain and reserve all marinade.
Set out a kettle or pan with tight lid. Heat 3 table spoons of butter or oil to brown meat (there will still be some marinade coming out of the meat). Slowly add two cups of marinade. Bring liquid to boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 2 1/5 - 3 hours. Important to simmer NOT boil.
Remove meat. keep warm. Pour cooking liquid from kettle, set aside for gravy.  
For gravy: melt 1/4 cup butter, blend in 1/4 cup flour and heat until golden brown, stirring constantly. Add 3 cups of liquid, cooking liquid and marinade, stir until gravy thickens. You can add 1 cup of thick sour cream here. *The gravy is where all the calories are
Put meat back in gravy to make tender.


*This week's feature is in conjunction with my Women's History series. To make it skinny ... don't make this dish? JK Try it with a lean cut of beef, portion the sizes and gravy on the side. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pie Day & Quiche

My mission this month is to record the stories of my four great grandmothers. Though I am sharing new, unrelated content this week, I am referring you to my post about my great-grandmother Barbara. It’s perfect for today because it features her St. Patty’s cabbage recipe!

The Tale: March 14 > 3/14 (3.14) = Pie Day
Celebrate Pie Day with a slice of family lore and a piece of quiche

My sister and I share a lot of things: dark hair, big brown eyes, clothes (without permission) and our best friend Rachael. 

Our Rachael is a treasure.  And these are a few things that you should know about her:

A)   She graduates from medical school in May
B)   Her family comes first

Rachael was more than happy to share some pie-riffic family stories to celebrate Pie Day (today’s date is 3.14) and, as a doctor, she knew just how to make her quiche recipe “skinny.”

With Rachael and Julie at Rachael's bridal shower, March 2011. I was a bridesmaid and Julie was maid of honor. Rachael was the matron of honor and I was maid of honor at Julie's wedding last October. She truly is the third sister. 

On Christmas, her family is all about pie.  They eat quiche on Christmas morning and live off Pastete Pie for the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. For those of you who speak German, or know just a little bit, you may notice that pastete is German for pie.   Rachael’s family is well aware of the doppel title, but the name has been passed between several generations and the recipe cherished.

The recipe is attributed to Rachael’s German great-grandmother Clara.  She was the first generation born in America and was raised in the Irish Channel, New Orleans. Clara had 13 children, nine of which survived; and the very youngest was Rachael’s grandfather Elden — who had a sibling about 30 years his senior.


Elden’s wife Lois (pronounced Loyce) and Clara had a very special relationship.  And, Clara gave her daughter-in-law the family recipe.  Lois made the dish every holiday season. Rachael said you make the pies on Christmas Eve and eat them until New Year — and then not again until the next Christmas.

But Lois, according to Rachael, liked to feed all year.  She said she remembers as a little girl her grandmother making giant breakfasts with pancakes, meats and every type of egg.  Rachael’s toddler brain processed all of the food before her and she exclaimed, “Mimi, I’m just a little girl. I can’t eat all of this.”

Carol & Lois

When Lois passed away in 1989, the family realized that they didn’t have the recipe for the savory German meat pies, so Rachael’s mother Carol and her sisters-in-law set out to reconstruct the recipe from memory.  The matriarchs brought their pies to Christmas Eve dinner and compared ingredients.  The women found a treasure a few years later, Clara’s handwritten Pastete Pie recipe. 

This pie is so beloved, that I will not be sharing the recipe with you today.   As much as I love providing my readers with delectable stories and recipes, I understand that some things should only be shared in the family. 

But, Ms. Carol and Dr. Rachael were kind enough to share their healthy quiche recipe, in addition to their stories.

The Recipe: Quiche
And it’s green for St. Patty’s Day

Rachael snapped this photo of a quiche she made last weekend. YUM!

·       1 small container Greek yogurt
·       Chopped garlic
·       1 small onion, chopped
·       1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (can use fresh)
·       1 (6 ounce) package herb and garlic feta, crumbled (or garlic herb laughing cow cheese (6 oz))
·       1 (8 ounce) package shredded cheddar cheese
·       Salt and Pepper to taste
·       1 (9 inch) unbaked deep dish pie crust (wheat)*
·       4 eggs, beaten – or 4 egg whites and 2 eggs
·       1 cup milk – low fat
·       Bacon – for a fatty quiche*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Saute garlic and onion until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in spinach, feta and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon mixture into pie crust.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour into the pastry shell, allowing egg mixture to thoroughly combine with spinach mixture.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Sprinkle top with remaining cheddar cheese, and bake an additional 35 to 40 minutes, until set in center.
Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

*Editor's tips: I use vegan pie crusts because many other crusts contain lard.  And, prosciutto and turkey bacon are a skinnier meat alternative. 

This recipe is part of my "make it skinny for Lent" initiative. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Annie & Hummus

March is Women’s History Month, so I am celebrating by featuring each of my great-grandmothers throughout the four Wednesdays of this month.  And, I invite you to do some family research too.  How many of us even know all of our great-grandparents’ names?  When you get to know them, you learn a little about yourself. 

The Grandma: Annie
My maternal grandfather’s mother

Grandma Annie looking at the camera.  I'm not sure which of her granddaughters is in the reflection. 

With my mom at an event in downtown Baton Rouge, 2010.  I think my mom looks a bit like Annie. 

-       Annie Amuny was born in ~1900 America to Lebanese parents. She had five children: John, Esma, Ellis, Ruby Lee and Juliette.
-       She loved Ingrid Bergman.  When she was elderly, and my mother was a little girl, the grandchildren hung a star shaped sign on her bedroom door with Ingrid written across it — like a sign you would see on a Hollywood dressing room door.  I saw her star every summer when we would gather for a reunion at the families’ home since ~1940.  The “Old House” where my grandfather was born was just across the street.

-       Annie was very kind. "I never saw the woman sit down to eat once," my mother said when describing her grandmother's shy, gentle nature.  
-       Annie was an artist. She wanted to study in Italy, but was married off very young.  She stayed in Sulphur, Louisiana and art became a hobby.  She drew Abraham Lincoln often, which is kind of strange for a southern lady.  To her, he represented liberty and equality.  Annie also created sets for plays at area schools. Many of her works are saved and cherished by her descendants. I know her best for the little pictures she drew of popular retro cartoons in the cement outside of the family home. Her husband, my great-grandfather, Joseph wrote “Welcome” in Arabic along side her doodles. In 2008, when the home was sold, my mother did etchings of these dear drawings and photographed them. See below ... 

Her Dish: Hummus

I got this hummus recipe from our family cookbook.  For some reason my Oma submitted the recipe — she made it for my Lebanese-American grandpa. Just like mom used to make. But remember, Oma is German, and she wrote a Lebanese recipe in English … She spelled hummus like this: H-O-M-O-S. I giggled. I know I’m a child.  But it’s like a game of language telephone, something was going to get lost in translation. 

My Kitchen Experience: I added a teaspoon of greek yogurt and a ton of cumin. I noticed that tahini had been left out of the above recipe so I added three tablespoons. I'm also not a fan of sesame oil, so I only added a half cup. With hummus it's all about flavor to taste. Add salt, garlic, pepper, red pepper, whatever, throughout the process. 

* Too make it skinny toss the pita and pair hummus with veggies. Also, a lot of hummus recipes out there call for yogurt, use Greek yogurt instead. 
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