I don’t cook – I order. It’s not that I can’t cook, mind you. I simply choose not to. My poor husband has lived off of pre-made meals and take-out for the past five years, ever since my youngest child went off to college. I am sure out of sheer desperation, he moved me to Africa so he would get a home-cooked meal. Smart move, fella! Clearly it has paid off. Since landing in Luanda about three and a half weeks ago, I have cooked more meals that I have in the past five years! Sadly, this is not an exaggeration.
Yes, the tide has definitely turned. Right now, I have a huge pot of delicious chicken, shrimp and sausage gumbo bubbling away on my stove. The last – and only – time I made gumbo, it was 1988 and Hubby and I were newlyweds living in Anchorage, Alaska. One of our favorite couples was moving to Lafayette, Louisiana and we were hosting a large going away party for them. Just like in Texas, everything is bigger in Alaska, and so this meant we were expecting about sixty people for dinner. Clearly, I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.
“I’ll make gumbo!” I declared to one of my friends, who was helping me plan the dinner. “Are you sure? Have you ever made it before?” she asked, a bit too quickly. “How hard can it be?” I said, “It’s just a big pot of soup, basically.” Foolishly, I was not a bit worried about cooking for sixty people. Even more foolishly, I was not worried about cooking Cajun food for real Cajuns. Many of our guest were from Louisiana, and had eaten their share of world-class gumbo. Word soon spread that a Texan, and a first-timer at that, was attempting to make this delicate and time-honored dish.
The morning of the party, a very large woman, whom I had never seen before, showed up unannounced at my door. “I’m here to make the roux,” she said, brushing past me to head to my kitchen. Dumbstruck, I followed meekly behind her and watched in amazement as she proceeded to work my kitchen like she owned it. This gal knew a thing or two about Cajun cooking. And, by her sheer size, I guessed she knew a thing or two about eating it, too.
She stood at my stove and stirred the roux for a full 30 minutes, saying little. She was there to do a job, not make small talk. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the roux had reached a lovely golden brown – the color of a brown paper bag, by her description. Her job was done. She had saved the roux from certain ruination, and all was right with the Cajun world.
I have to admit, it was a good thing she showed up. I would have given the roux about five good stirs and then moved on – or worse, gotten distracted and let it burn. Quelle horreur! That would have been a disaster of Hurricane Ike proportions!
I’m happy to report, both the party and the gumbo were a big success, but I have never attempted to cook a roux again. The idea of another stranger showing up at my door was enough to put me off the idea. Last week, on one of my marathon hunting/gathering sessions to multiple grocery stores, I found some Hillshire Farms smoked sausage – and did a little jig in the aisle when I did. Finding American products here in Luanda is like finding gold! And today, I came across some gorgeous okra at another store. The seed was planted. I decided to give gumbo another try – but only after bolting my door and drawing the curtains closed.
Here are a few photos of my progress:
Cher, let me tell you, it was worth the wait! Coo-Wee, this dang gumbo is so good, I think I will call it yum-bo! Paul Prudhomme would be proud! Bon Appetite!
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