Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Living in the Moment of Gumbo

The workday yesterday was long, one continuous loop. It was a fine day and I lived in the moment—the moment of making gumbo! Ever since my trip to New Orleans I’ve wanted to make gumbo. All day yesterday, I thought of the items on my list. I knew it would be a late workday. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to come home and cook gumbo, to enjoy the aroma of lard and flour slowly cooking, stirring and stirring, forming the roux.

I mentioned before that I watched the movie, Julia and Julia over the weekend; I feel that this movie has had a profound affect on reigniting my passion for cooking. I still enjoy watching cooking shows and looking through cookbooks, though this time, there was a new pizzazz in me after watching this movie.

So there I was at moments throughout the day dreaming of making gumbo. I let any trace of stress blend into the aromas and rich brown of the roux—all the while thinking to myself about what the chef at the New Orleans School of Cooking reminded us about in the demonstration: You have to use lard or it will not be the same. I believed her. I grew up on lard (manteca in Spanish) and the aroma once it hits the pan is like no other and my taste buds watered, so while I was there at the demonstration, I was also transported to my grandmother’s kitchen. It was a heavenly intersection of cooking memories of the past with new memories of the present and future.

After the workday was done—later than usual—I headed to Safeway for the gumbo fixings. I realize too there are many variations of what you can put into a gumbo. I chose andouille sausage, small shrimp, okra; garlic, onion, celery—the holy trinity—as the chef deemed these three lovely ingredients; and bell pepper. The last item I needed was lard. I didn’t see it in the section with all the other oils and shortenings. I asked someone. “No, we don’t carry it anymore. We used to,” he said.

Well, I had all the items in my basket, and it was already late and I wasn’t near a Mexican style store and I just wanted to go home by this time.

Part of the joy of cooking is that it reminds us that often we’ve got to improvise in cooking, as in life. Things change, we adjust, we improvise, work with what we have. I had all the other items in my basket and, though I wouldn’t be going home to make a roux or a true gumbo, I would still set out to make a modified gumbo stew with the ingredients I had. This wasn’t going to be dinner, but for our lunches and any leftovers for the following dinner or another lunch. When I got home, I didn’t even feel the need or want to rest after a long day at work, I simply wanted to be in the kitchen—after greeting and kissing my significant other and chit chatting about our days.

One of my favorite cooking shows is Chopped, where the contestants are presented with three mystery baskets. They begin with an appetizer, the winners moves onto the entree course, and finally, the two contestants left standing, battle it out in the dessert round. The mystery baskets are revealed at the start of each round, each containing oddly paired ingredients, where the chefs then have access to the pantry and their own experience and creativity. This is a show demonstrating the true art of cooking improvisation. 

Into the kitchen I went—wash, wash, rinse, dry; chop, chop; chop, chop. The ingredients sizzled away, wonderful aromas wafted. I tasted in intervals of simmering. Mmmm. The okra was emitting is sappy juices, mingling with the others. It felt done and I let it cool. This morning I cooked some white rice and last night I cooked more corn muffins, so that will be lunch for both of us today. Now, what will I cook next?

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