Xmas eve gumbo (and they called me “Tex”)

Above: “You’re a cowboy, Je-emy,” said Tobey (left) when I tried on the cowboy hat that Melvin Croaker gave me as a Christmas gift last night. When I was his age, I dreamed of being a cowboy… Don’t all little boys?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (online version), the word gumbo comes from the Angolan kingombò or quingombo, meaning okra.

Uncle Tim’s gumbo doesn’t have any okra in it, nor does he make it with seafood. But, man, is it delicious: Texas is the only place I’ve lived in the U.S.A. where folks are so passionate about the food they make and eat and where there exists (what I call) idiosyncratic cuisine, where every family (and seemingly every family member) has its own interpretation and expression of traditional dishes and recipes.

Above: You pour the gumbo over boiled short-grain rice (do not used parboiled rice) and then dress with potato salad (made with hard-boiled eggs).

Uncle Tim makes his gumbo as such:

    Prepare 2 gallons chicken stock using chicken thighs (discard the bones if necessary and shred and reserve the chicken meat). Prepare a roux using 2 cups flour and 2 cups vegetable oil (rendered lard was traditionally used), whisking constantly (about 45 minutes) until the flour has browned. Filter the roux using cheesecloth (or paper napkin) and reserve. Combine the roux and stock, add finely chopped yellow onions and green onions, and then add smoked sausage sliced in rounds, including the casing (Tim uses deer sausage, made from deer he hunts himself). Season to taste with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (some use Tony Chachere filé, a powder made from finely ground sassafras leaves). Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 3 or 4 hours, as necessary, until the desired consistency is obtained. Serve over boiled rice, dressed with potato salad.

Above: Folks in coonass country all have their own idiosyncratic approach to making gumbo but one thing they all seem to agree on is Tony Chachere’s seasonings.

One of the keys to great gumbo, says Uncle Tim, is smoked sausage: the smokey notes, he explains, are what gives his gumbo its distinctive flavor. Be sure not to use Minute Rice (or any other parboiled rice): it will absorb and mask too much of the flavor, he says.

Tracie B and I paired with Luneau-Papin 2006 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Clos des Allées: the intense aromatic nature of the grape and its bright acidity were great with the spiciness and moreish fattiness of the gumbo dressed with the potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and mayonnaise in the potato salad.

Above: Uncle Tim and his dog Zsa Zsa. I asked Tim if her nails were painted red for Christmas but that’s her regular color, he said.

Beyond the excellent gumbo, the highlight of the evening for me was a special gift that Melvin and Pam Croaker gave me. You see, they’re very close friends of the B family and so they feel very close to Tracie B. Ever since Melvin got a Facebook, he’s been following my metamorphosis of Calfornian turned Texan (via Italy and New York).

cowboy

Above: That’s me with Melvin. When we left at the end of the night, Aunt Ida Jean said, “we’ll see you tomorrow, Tex!”

At a certain point after dinner was served (they’d been serving gumbo at Tim and Ida Jean’s house since 2 p.m.), Melvin asked for the roughly 20 guests to join him in the living room and he sat me on the one side of him, Tracie B on the other.

“I’ve been following Jeremy’s transformation of becoming a Texan,” he told the room. “He’s found himself a beautiful Texan girl, he’s been learning about barbecue, and he’s even got himself a Texas driver’s license. But he’s still missing a few things.”

He then proceeded to give me a six-pack of Lonestar Beer: “Now, I want you to go analyze this the way you do with your wine,” he said. But most importantly, “you need to start dressing like a Texan. And so I got you this hat.” And then he proceeded to fulfill a childhood wish of mine: he gave me a real cowboy hat, a Justin “cutter straw western.”

Tracie B’s little nephew Tobey jumped up and exclaimed, “you’re a cowboy Je-emy!”

Thanks again, Melvin and Pam, for the generous and thoughtful gift and for welcoming me to Texas and the extended B family: I guess some dreams do come true on Christmas…

Fishes, wishes, and thanks this Christmas

grigliata di mare

Above: “Grigliata di Mare,” Amalfi Coast, photo by friend and colleague Tom Hyland.

“Crisis or no crisis, Italians won’t say no to fish on Christmas eve,” says the daily dose of Italian wine news that finds its way to my inbox this morning. The tradition of eating fish on Christmas eve stretches back to the middle ages and beyond. Its origins lie in a monastic tradition of fasting as part of the holy rite: in a gesture of self-awareness and sacrifice, one “does without” the richness of fatty meat and milk reserved for feast days. Of course, as the bold statement above reveals, the tradition has been turned on its fish head, as it were: across the western world, we consume seafood delicacies on Christmas eve as an expression of luxury. Where I lived in the north of Italy, eel was served on Christmas eve. In the south, where Tracie B lived, a grigliata di mare (as in Tom’s photo above) might be served. (Alfonso posted interesting insight into the myth of the Dinner of Seven Fishes — yes, a myth! — here.)

gumbo

Above: Uncle Tim is an amazing cook and his gumbo is no exception. In Coonass country, where Tracie B grew up, east-Texas style gumbo is served on Christmas eve. When we visit with Tracie B’s family, Uncle Tim and I sit around and talk about food for hours.

Tracie B and I have a lot to be thankful for this Christmas, as we get ready to head east to her family’s place in Orange, Texas (where she and I will be eating Uncle Tim’s excellent gumbo tonight).

It’s been quite a year: I started a new job in the wine business shortly after I moved to Austin only to start over again during the summer when the company I worked for experienced its own financial difficulties. Somehow I managed to land on my feet and things are looking up for 2010 (I think that the loving support and tender words of my sweet and amatissima Tracie B had a little something to do with that).

However much we struggled financially, Tracie B and I are well aware of how lucky we are to be working and we are painfully aware that some in our business continue to struggle.

jeremy parzen

Above: Tracie B and I are getting married next month! Photo by the Nichols.

Crisis or no crisis, our lives have moved forward in wondrous ways I never could have imagined before Tracie B came into my life.

Thank you, everyone, for all the support and well wishes in 2009 and beyond. It’s been some year and as much as I’m glad it’s over, I’ll be sad to see it go: it’s filled with bright memories, even in the darkest times, of the first year of a new beginning and a new life — la vita nova.

Thank you, Mrs. and Rev. B and the entire B family, for welcoming into your lives and hearts. I’ll never forget the first time I met Tracie B’s meemaw and she explained me, “Jeremy, we’re a huggin’ family! Give me a hug…”

And thank you most of all, my beautiful beautiful Tracie B: words cannot begin to express the joy that your love has brought into my life. I love you, I love you with all my heart and soul and every fiber of my body.

Happy holidays to everyone, everywhere…