CITRUS BONDS

Satsumas | for the love of the south

Lacy railings adorn balconies as we stroll along Royal St. The combination of the faint scent of decay and the citrus growing in ancient pots into the center of courtyards spills out into the French Quarter. Jazz echoes through Pirate Alley as we pass St. Louis Cathedral.

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Naturally, we dined like kings in New Orleans. The po’boys from Parkway on Hagan Ave. are served on the softest French bread and then slathered with a thin layer of mayonnaise, thinly sliced tomatoes, cold shredded lettuce and are generously piled with the crispiest oysters you’ve ever had. All you need is a bottle of hot sauce and a pile of napkins as thick as a dictionary, and you are all set. In the heart of the French Quarter, we sat under the green and white awning at Café du Monde with a plate of beignets piled with a mountain of powdered sugar and washed them down with café au laits and hot chocolates. In the Caribbean Room at the historic Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District, we split the Mile High Pie, which is a wedge of ice cream pie with layers of chocolate, vanilla and pink-tinted mint ice cream, crowned with toasted marshmallow and drizzled with melted chocolate. Impossibly crusty bread, decadent turtle soup drizzled tableside with sherry and dark, rich seafood gumbos littered our table at Commander’s Palace.

Satsuma Peels & Coffee | for the love of the south

But all the while, I had a secret. Safely stashed away in a clear cellophane wrapped bag nestled in my purse were sweet and sour satsuma candied peels. I found these to be the perfect travel companions. Anytime I needed a hiatus from heavy dishes, I popped one of these sunny beauties in my mouth and instantly my palate was refreshed. We piled into the car and drove three and a half hours west to Lake Charles. The fresh citrus peeling reminded me of nibbling on a few contraband kumquats in the center of one of the courtyards in the French Quarter.

Satsuma Tree | for the love of the south

I woke up in my grandparent’s house the next morning. Immediately, I made a steaming cup of café au lait and walked all the way to the left of the yard to the great satsuma tree, which gave off the scent of sweet honeysuckles after an afternoon rain. I gently twisted the fruit off the tree and peeled back the thin, supple peeling. The cold juice from the swollen segments dribbled down my chin. I quietly sipped on my coffee and finished off half a dozen of freshly picked satsumas on an old ladder next to the tree.

On our way back to Nashville, we made our way past sugarcane fields being cleared, and I couldn’t resist reaching into my bag and pulling out one of these satsuma peels. During this time of year, I have a deep connection with these little fruits. They remind me of home, and that’s a very strong bond indeed.

Sweet & Sour Satsuma Candied Peels | for the love of the south

Sweet & Sour Satsuma Candied Peels

Makes about 2 cups

Adapted from Rebekah Turshen of City House in Nashville, TN

Note: Satsumas are my favorite citrus to use since the skin is thin and peels away with ease, leaving the rest of the fruit intact. This makes for a perfect snack for later!

P.S. You can find citric acid at spice shops or online!

 

6 medium organic Satsumas

2½ cups granulated sugar, divided

1 tablespoon citric acid

½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

 

Scrub the satsumas, and carefully peel the satsuma in one long piece if you can, trying not to break the peel so you can easily cut the peeling in long, thin strips. Cut in ¼-inch thick strips. You should end up with about 2 cups of sliced peelings. (Save the segments for snacking!)

Bring peels and 4 cups water in a small saucepan to boil for 5 minutes.

Drain and repeat process twice, using fresh water each time.

Return peels to pan and add 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water. Bring to a soft boil and cook until peels are soft and translucent, about 30 minutes.

Drain and transfer peels in a single layer onto a rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Chill for 20 minutes.

Mix citric acid, remaining ½ cup sugar and vanilla seeds in a medium bowl with your fingertips. Toss the chilled peelings to coat. Return to rack and let sit at room temperature for 4-12 hours. You want the peels to be completely dry before storing in an airtight container.

Stays good for 1 month!

 

From Boudin & Crawfish Ponds to BBQ & Cotton Fields

Louisiana Landscape

Imagine a map of the United States. Now, based on that map draw a mental circle around what you would consider to be “The South.” If I asked 10 different people to describe their circle, I would have 10 different answers, especially if those 10 people were all from the south. Does geographical landscape, culture, food or accents form our opinion about the south? Did you include Texas? Florida? Where do you draw your boundaries? And what makes the south “The South?” Until I moved from my thick roots of Louisiana to the knee-deep culture of Alabama, I really didn’t appreciate the differences myself.

Cottage Path

I didn’t travel much whenever I was young. I lived in a circle that reached as far as Houston is to New Orleans. You should have seen my reaction whenever I found out that the whole country did not partake in Mardi Gras or eat boudin from their local gas stations. I lived in a world where French was many peoples’ first language and taking your curlers out of your hair in the morning was an option, not a necessity. There were not many conversations you could have with someone you just met without asking them, “Who is yo’ mama?” Almost everyone was Catholic and making a roux was in your blood. Dinners were excuses for everyone to get together. Men spent their pre-dinner time around the trucks, knees against the mud flaps, talking about LSU football. Women gathered like hens in the kitchen, quickly prepping the fixings while “catching up.”

The Yard

The food is humble, reflecting its people. Louisiana food, like almost all Southern food, imitated what was on the land. Crawfish, rice and roux showed up on nearly every table of my childhood. No one had much, but they appreciated what they did have. Everyone’s lot looked about the same, and I don’t remember anyone ever complaining about it. Good food and family remained consistent in my life. As far as I knew, those were the only two things you needed to be happy.

Going from crawfish ponds to cotton fields was a completely different Southern experience. I went from ever-flat terrain to hills. Actual hills! North Alabama landscape changes with the seasons. Many people take this for granted, but for me, this was a first. In Louisiana, a lot of the trees are evergreen, so watching the majestic ridge by our house transform from grassy green, to soft amber, then to a fiery red was magical. I felt myself get as giddy as a schoolgirl at the turn of the seasons.

Cotton Field

On the subject of fare, there is one thing that I was made aware of very quickly: pig is king. Barbecue is a way of life in Alabama. Whether the inspiration is Cherokee, Floridian, Appalachian, Mississippian, Georgian, Texan, Tennessean, or just plain Alabamian, barbecue can be found all over the state with significant distinctions. And these Alabamians have it down to a science: to the kind of wood to smoke with, kind of sauce to baste with, and how long to cook it.

History still peeks its head around the corners of the old homes in the Alabama country. Silverware that was buried during the Civil War remains in drawers lined with black velvet. Rocking chairs and tables are passed down from generation to generation. Great wealth was not part of my culture. It was unfamiliar to me. It reminded me of a great European family, where things are not bought, they are inherited. Therefore, pieces of history are kept close to the heart and the mantle like treasures. One of those treasures came in a frame: a photo of a sweet, elder black woman who was a member of the family.

Southern Spread

I gathered around the pimento cheese and pickles one afternoon and listened to native Alabamians pour over these black women that served as guideposts in their lives. There seemed to be a deep respect and love that each one had for the other. These women were considered as part of the family. It was as if they were second mothers to many. This relationship, again, was unfamiliar. Growing up, I never heard stories of anyone having servants or any kind of help other then relatives or friends. Sure, there were racial tensions that I witnessed, but I never had that deep, emotional experience that these women underwent. It was like a different world. A world somewhat tinged with guilt but great pride for these women.

Through the South’s many differences, the two bonds that seem utterly Southern are food and family. No matter what the food or family looks like, these are the bonds that seem to tie us together in the beautiful, broken, hospitable, proud place we call “The South.”

Spanish Moss

*Photo Credits: Louisiana Landscape (author’s own), Cottage Path (etsy.com),The Yard (Jesse Harding), Cotton Field (auntpeaches.com), Spanish Moss (gardenandgun.com), Southern Spread (southernliving.com)

Honeysuckle Sorbet

In Louisiana, the air was warm and moist in the spring. I would walk outside, barefoot and all, with a song on my lips and flowers in my hair. It was perfect weather for venturing out and exploring. I would walk along the garden and look at the dark green tomato leaves and the cucumber plants anticipating exploding with the warmer weather. And then, something caught my eye. I walked around the shed and hidden in my own secret garden was a bush of honeysuckles as big as a bear, just sitting there, waiting to be discovered. They were draped around each other, perfuming the air with the sweet smell of honey that would make even the most bitter of person smile in delight. And as any good Southern child knows, the experience only starts with the nose. Grabbing a branch, I carefully picked the blossoms off its resting place. I pinched off the end of the flower and gingerly pulled the stem away from the petals. And there, like a secret from a best friend, lies a drop of heaven that makes my eyes light up in joy. It’s there, waiting just for me to possess. It’s like a word of encouragement, a hug when you are in pain, or the smell of rain; there is nothing quite like tasting the nectar of a honeysuckle.

*Note: If you are allergic (or slightly allergic) to the pollen of honeysuckles, skip the actual honeysuckle blossoms of this recipe for 2 tablespoons of wildflower or orange blossom honey. The honey will give you the floral taste that the honeysuckles give.

Recipe: Makes 1 quart

3 cups of water

1 ½ cups of sugar

The juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon of honey (optional)

2 cups of fresh honeysuckle blossoms

2 tablespoons of wildflower or orange blossom honey (if using instead of fresh honeysuckles)

In a glass-measuring cup, heat water in microwave until boiling. Stir in the sugar until completely dissolved. Stir in the lemon juice and the honey. Stir to combine. Let cool slightly before adding the fresh blossoms (or go ahead and add the other honey if using). Let the blossoms steep for about 5-10 minutes. Strain the mixture and let cool in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours. Using an ice cream machine, freeze the sorbet mixture according to the machine’s instructions. Let the mixture completely freeze in the freezer for a few hours.

 

Crawfish Boil

 

As I look across the ever-flat terrain of the deepest parts of Louisiana, I see the land scattered with four-inch tall crawfish holes. These mounds of mud might seem insignificant, but an immense part of the Louisiana culture lays in these crawfish dwellings. Louisiana produces nearly 50,000 tons of live crawfish a year, which are harvested from November through June. These little critters have become a culinary symbol. The spring and summer months are filled with thick, humid air and the smell of backyard crawfish boils.  Or, if you are between bayous Des Canes and Nezpique, your nose is directed toward D.I.’s Restaurant in Basile, Louisiana. D.I. and his wife Sherry started the restaurant in his farm equipment building and placed an all you can eat spread of boiled crawfish for $5.00. Now, the restaurant seats 275 people and includes  live Cajun bands and a dance floor. People from all over the world, “with the exception of Australia”, says Sherry, have come to visit and engage in the unique Cajun culture. Piles of bright red crawfish cover the tables at D.I.’s, along with laughter, Cajun music and the cracking of shells embody the Cajun tradition.

Crawfish Boil Recipe From John Besh’s My New Orleans

2 cups of salt

1 package of Zatarian’s Crab Boil spices

5 lemons, halved

3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper

5 whole heads of garlic, halved

5 onions, halved

3 stalks of celery, cut into large pieces

3 bell peppers, seeded and diced

¼ cup of canola oil

20 small bliss potatoes

8 ears of corn, shucked and halved

20 pounds of whole crawfish, rinsed with fresh water

Fill a crawfish pot with 10 gallons of water, bring to boil then add the salt, spices, cayenne, garlic, onions, celery, peppers and oil. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and corn and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the crawfish and simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Strain the liquid from all of the other yummy ingredients. Dump all of the crawfish and vegetables on a platter or newspaper-covered picnic table. Serve with vinegar, salt and pepper mixture.

 

Chicken Fricassée

Our story begins in the fantastically small town of Lacassine, Louisiana. Grandma Domingue had a tiny garden laced with fig trees. The summers were filled with air perfumed with honey. There was a stillness, a silence where you could hear your own toes curl the deep, green grass. The scene would be quite picturesque with one exception. If your little feet could make it over to the edge of the property, way in the back, there was a cage and its contents contained the meanest chickens on the face of the earth. They were to be punished, enclosed in wire and fed only corn and water, a prisoners diet. My great grandfather hated one in particular. He hatefully yet adoringly called it Hemorrhoid because this chicken was a pain in his derrière (it sounds better in French, non?). Let’s just say that on one uncharacteristically quiet evening, my family enjoyed a chicken fricassée, or jokingly referred to by my great grandfather, hemorrhoid fricassée. Gross associations aside, this dish reminds me of the death of a demonic-people-pecking chicken. And still, I am unable to take a bite out of this dish without smiling a little. This chicken probably had it coming too.

Recipe: Adapted from John Besh’s My Family Table

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

3 bone in chicken breast

3 bone in chicken thighs

2 onions, diced

4 stalks of celery, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 24-ounce can of whole tomatoes

1 quart of chicken broth

1 pound of carrots, peeled and chopped

1 pound of turnips, diced

½ pound of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces

¼ cup of finely chopped parsley

Salt, pepper and cayenne to taste

In a heavy-duty pot, heat the oil over high heat. Add the chicken to the pot, skin side down. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Once golden brown, flip the chicken pieces over. Once brown on both sides, remove from pot and continue with the rest of the chicken. Add the onions to the drippings from the chicken and cook until softened. Add the celery and garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes and crush with spoon. Season the mixture. Add the broth and season again. Add the chicken back to the pot, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the carrots, turnips and potatoes to the pot and cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken starts to fall off of the bone. Add the parsley to the pot and stir. Serve over rice.

Barbecue Ribs

 

Growing up in Louisiana, every season was barbecue season.  The weather was never too cold to throw open the pit, pile on a colossal amount of marinated meat, and let all the flavors socialize for hours under a blanket of smoke.  I have watched my grandmother and grandfather (whom I lovingly refer to as paw-paw) barbecue since I can remember. Grandma was like a magician with barbecue. We would drive down her driveway, and I would spot the silver, barrel-like pit next to the house. I knew automatically it was going to be a fantastic day. I would walk into her kitchen and the smell of sweet rolls and smoked meat met me at the threshold.  There, on the counter, was a pile of chicken, sausage and brisket that had been covered in a cloud of smoke until perfectly cooked, juicy and scrumptious.

Paw-paw, being the most patient man I know, treated barbecue like a work of art. He would baste the meat every thirty minutes or so with Jack Miller’s Bar-B-Que Sauce to add even more flavor to the meat. The women would be in the kitchen fixing all of the trimmings: potato salad, garlic bread, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and baked beans. There would be a picnic table with red-checkered tablecloth set up under the oak tree with all of the barbeque and fixings stacked high. That’s how I remember barbecue. The warmth of the pit would be like the warmth of the oven in the kitchen. It brought people together. The barbecue pit was as much of a hearth for my family as the kitchen was.

 

Recipe: Serves 12

3 racks of baby back ribs

2 slices of bacon

Extra- virgin olive oil

½ onion

2 garlic cloves

2 cups of ketchup

1 Tbs. of dry mustard

1 Tbs. of red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 285o

Season ribs and wrap the ribs in heavy-duty aluminum foil and place them on a baking sheet. Cook them low and slow for about 3 hours.

To make the sauce:

Cook bacon on a saucepot until brown. Add onion and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add ketchup, dry mustard and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until all of the ingredients are melded together. Slather the sauce on the ribs when they come out of the oven. Put them back in the oven for 15 minutes until sticky and delicious.

 

King Cake

 

Growing up, I believed everyone in the world celebrated Mardi Gras. I thought everyone had off for Mardi Gras holidays or as we religiously called it in our private school, “Hallelujah Holidays.” And I was shocked to know that the rest of the world was deprived of king cake, sha. King cakes are traditionally baked in a circular shape that represents a king’s crown. Hidden inside of each cake is a tiny, plastic baby that represents Jesus (don’t choke on baby Jesus, that’s bad luck). Whoever finds the baby is supposed to buy the next king cake and will have good fortune in the future. The colors purple, gold and green that are used to decorate the cake represent justice, power and faith. These cakes were the best part of Mardi Gras to me whenever I was little. We grew up Christian, not Catholic, so the only tradition that we were able to engage in was eating king cake. I loved finding the little baby inside these cherished cakes. When left alone, my sister, Hope, and I would try our hardest to dig in the cake with seamless efforts. Without much astonishment, we failed every time. Baby Jesus would not tolerate cheating apparently…

 Recipe: Serves 6

* This recipe calls for puff pastry instead of the traditional brioche bread recipe. Also, most king cakes use purple, gold and green colored sugars, but I use colored royal icing. The grocery store that practically all of my king cakes came from in southwest Louisiana, Market Basket, used icing instead of sugars to decorate their cakes.

Cake:

1 package of puff pastry, thawed

1 Tbs. of butter, melted

2 Tbs. of sugar

2 Tbs. of brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup of blueberry filling (if you use canned, I won’t tell a soul)

1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 4000

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lay two sheets of pastry side by side and crimp the two pastries together. Makes sure that there are no seams. Leaving a 3-inch border, brush the melted butter onto the pastry, and then sprinkle on both brown and white sugar. Layer the cinnamon on top of the sugars. Press down lightly with your fingers. Add the filling on top of the sugars and cinnamon. Starting with the end closest to you, gently roll the pastry up jellyroll style. Connect both ends together to form a circle with the pastry. Transfer to a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper. Brush egg wash onto the pastry and bake for 25 minutes or until brown. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before icing the cake.

To make the icing:

3 cups of powdered sugar

2 egg whites

1 tsp. of lemon juice

Purple, gold and green food gels

Combine the sugar and egg white in a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment. Whisk together until shiny and can hold its shape. Add the lemon juice (add more if the icing is too thick). Take 3 mugs and line them with Ziploc bags. Spoon 2 tablespoons of white icing in each mug. Add the 3 different color gels in the 3 individual mugs. Close the bags and mix the color into the icing until you have the desired hue.

Once the cake has cooled, put a thin layer of white icing. Push the icing to a corner of the bag and snip a tiny piece of the corner off. Gently squeeze the icing onto the cake, one color at a time until you have all 3 colors displayed onto the cake. Let the icing harden slightly before serving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana Memories

Photo taken by family member in Eunice,LA.

In Louisiana, the endless summer nights were filled with fireflies, crawfish boils, and blackberries served with homemade vanilla ice cream. Everyone would gather in the backyard, the picnic table was covered with newspapers, and there was a gigantic silver pot slowly boiling away with spices that filled the warm, moist air. Vinegar and pepper in one bowl, a simple concoction of ketchup and mayonnaise in another; these were the only two condiments allowed on the table. Everyone had their own technique of how to peel the crustaceans. Being a seafood vegetarian, I would normally end the night in my own little chair, playing with the only survivor of the tragic boil. I named him Earl. My family would spend hours upon hours whipping through pounds and pounds of crawfish, enjoying the company, enjoying the food, enjoying life. It wasn’t about the meal; it was about the tradition, the family, and the smiles. The food brought us all together. As I sat back and watched the last of the summer blackberries disappear with the sun, I reflected in the belief that there’s no place like home.

 

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