Tag Archives: back to school

Chicken Sausage Gumbo in the Crock Pot: Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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My dearest husband and I are taking a twice-weekly Spanish class at the local community college and, as part of my transition back to the American lifestyle, I bought myself a lovely crock pot to prepare dinner on class nights, since we’re in class at our usual dinnertime. But here’s the problem with crock pot recipes: so many of them call for just chopping a bunch of meat and veg and dumping them into the crock pot. Eight hours later, you’re supposed to remove the lid and find a delectable, savory stew. Balderdash! You’ll have a rubbery, under-seasoned, gray mess, that’s what you’ll have.

And we all know that you can’t get that authentic Cajun flavor unless you start your gumbo with a roux. Now, I was only a Southerner for five short years, but I’ve been to N’awlins, and I’ve eaten some truly divine Cajun and Creole cooking. And I know that a good gumbo starts with a roux – flour and oil, cooked on high heat with constant stirring until it reaches a nice, nutty brown. No roux, no Cajun, and don’t let anyone tell you different. But you don’t need a lot of roux to get that Cajun flavor – a little bit goes a long way, adding flavor and thickening the broth to a velvety consistency. And here’s the truth about crockpot recipes – you’ve gotta start them on the stovetop before dumping them into the crockpot; otherwise, they’re gonna taste bland and sad. If that’s too much work for you, order takeout.

So, here’s how I modified a few recipes I found online for chicken and sausage gumbo in the crockpot. To serve three or four people, you’ll need:

  • A Dutch oven or soup pot with a nice, heavy bottom
  • A crock pot or slow cooker
  • A wooden spoon or other hard, heat-resistant stirring implement. You’re going to be working with a roux, AKA Cajun napalm, so you don’t want to use a stirrer that could melt.
  • 2 Tbs. of neutral oil, such as canola or peanut
  • 2 Tbs. of plain wheat flour
  • A medium-to-large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • A green bell pepper, seeded and chunked up
  • 2-3 cups of frozen, sliced okra. Don’t bother thawing first; it’ll have plenty of time to cook in the crock pot.
  • A 12-oz. can of V-8 juice. I used the reduced-sodium kind, since the spice mix, sausage and broth contain salt. Suit yourself.
  • Enough chicken broth to cover the other ingredients – about 2 cups. Again, I used the reduced-sodium kind.
  • About 2 Tbs. of your favorite Cajun seasoning blend. If your spice blend does not contain salt, you might want to add some to taste. Be sure to taste the spice mix before dumping it into your recipe; some are quite spicy, some not so much.
  • A pound of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Thighs just taste better after stewing for hours in the crockpot, whereas breasts tend to dry out, even in liquid. Go ahead and spring for the organic stuff – it’s not that much more expensive.
  • 2 andouille sausage links, sliced about ½ inch thick. You want about as much mass in sausage slices as you have in chicken thigh meat. I found some good ones made from chicken.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. of mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. of powdered dried thyme. This is part of that characteristic Cajun flavor.
  • Maybe some fresh garlic, sliced thin, if your spice mix doesn’t taste garlicky enough for your liking.

 

OK – here’s what you do.

  1. In your Dutch oven/soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly with your wooden spoon until your roux turns a nice, nutty brown. Watch it carefully – once it starts to color, it’ll brown up fast, so stir vigorously and keep your eyes on your pot. You want it to be at least the color of peanut butter, but a bit darker is even better. It’s the roux that gives your finished gumbo that characteristic Cajun taste. But beware! This stuff can burn, and burnt roux will ruin the flavor of your gumbo. When it doubt, throw it out and start over.
  2. When the roux has reached the desired color, dump in the chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir well so that the roux is distributed and coats the veggies. It might not look like there’s enough oil in there to sweat the veggies, but trust me – there is. Cook the veggies for at least 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, and leaving the lid on between stirs. Add some of the Cajun/Creole seasoning as you stir, as well as the powdered mustard, the dried thyme and the bay leaves. You want the veg to soften a bit and the onions to look a bit translucent. Doesn’t that smell marvelous?
  3. Pour in the V-8 and stir it all around a bit, so that any marvelous goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan dissolves into the V8. Dump this mess into your crock pot. Toss in the frozen okra too
  4. Wipe out the pot and add a bit more oil – just a whisper – to keep the chicken from sticking. But if it sticks, no worries, as you’re going to deglaze with chicken broth. Season the chicken meat, which you have cut into bite-sized chunks, with the remaining Cajun seasoning. When the pot is hot, add the raw chicken and cook until golden on all sides – more or less. If you miss a few spots, that’s no big deal, as you’re going to stew it in the crock pot for a while. You don’t need to cook the chicken through, just stir it around until the exterior is nicely colored. Toward the end of this process, throw in the sliced sausage and brown it up a bit.
  5. When the meat is done, dump it into the crock pot; then deglaze the soup pot with the broth. Stir that around until you’ve incorporated all the yummy, meaty goodness clinging to the bottom of the pan. Dump this into the crock pot. Add the garlic, if you’re using any, and stir everything well.
  6. If the solids aren’t covered, add enough chicken broth (or V-8) to just cover them. Put the lid on the crock pot and crank that sucker up to “high.” Leave it on high for a good hour. Then you can turn it down to “low” and let it go another 4 hours or so. A bit longer is OK. No peekie! If you open the lid, you release the heat, and it takes quite a while to build up again, which means a longer wait for your gumbo.

And there you go! It’s traditional to serve this stew/soup over a scoop of white rice, but you can use brown rice, quinoa, or no starch at all, if you’re feeling Paleo. A good squirt of Tabasco sauce would not be amiss. Laissez les bon temps rouler, cher!

Inspiration Abounds

Diane Nash

Since retiring from my teaching job in Germany and returning to the US, I’ve had the good fortune to meet many older women who inspire me with their achievements in the arts, in fitness, and in community activism. I don’t have to look far to find role models for my retirement years. But recently, I had the privilege of meeting a lady who truly inspired not only me, but an auditorium full of students.

Last week, at Tacoma Community College, we were honored with a visit from a pioneer of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Diane Nash, then a student at Fisk University in Nashville, was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a leader of sit-ins that resulted in the desegregation of Nashville lunch counters, a leader of the Freedom Riders movement and of the Selma Voting Rights Movement campaign. She was arrested many, many times, spent time in solitary confinement and, like Henry David Thoreau, refused to post bail when arrested for breaking unjust laws. She is now a gracious, soft-spoken lady of 74, and she spoke to the students of TCC about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and how the principles that inspired her then can be used by young people today. I was struck by her gentle sincerity, and I did my best to scribble down the many gems of wisdom that she shared with the gathered students.

Ms. Nash explained how she and her fellow student activists used “agapic energy,” a term taken from the Greek word agape, meaning a love of humankind. She prefers this term to “nonviolence” simply because nonviolence is a negative term, signifying the lack of something, whereas agapic energy refers to applying the power produced by a love of humankind – very positive indeed. Her goal during her struggles for civil rights was to wage war using energy produced by love instead of energy produced by violence. According to Ms. Nash, Mohandas Gandhi developed a technique for thousands of people to focus their combined love energy on their opponents, and she and her fellow activists applied this same technique to achieve desegregation in the South. Ms. Nash explained to us that agapic energy helps teach or heal the opponent. This first principle of agapic energy particularly struck me: “People are never the enemy. Unjust systems, attitudes and actions are the enemy, but people are not. The proper attitude toward an opponent is, ’We love and respect you as a person, but we won’t tolerate what you’re doing.’” Wow – I don’t believe that many partisan politicians share Ms. Nash’s views, but imagine what our government could achieve if those partisans focused agapic energy on educating and healing their opponents.

According to Ms. Nash, “Oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed. The only person you can change is yourself. And when you change yourself, the world has to fit up against a new you. Very often we give away our power and waste a lot of energy trying to change other people.” So simple, so true. Dear reader, will you permit me a personal example? Thanks for your indulgence: I could not change a family member who was bent on making me feel as lowly as possible, and the effort exhausted me. But when I instead focused on changing myself, well, my life became a lot better. I’ll bet you have a story like that as well. So – Amen, Ms. Nash, and thank you for your elegant simplicity.

Alas, my notes became pretty garbled, since I hadn’t thought to bring along a notebook. Here are some of the legible bits from the tangle of notes I took on the front cover of the Weekly Volcano (newsletter of hipster happenings in Seattle):

“History’s most important function is to cope with the present and the future.” We educators are encouraged by our – er – leaders in the field to make the subject matter relevant to the students. Brava, Ms. Nash.

“Voting is important, but it is not enough.” “If we had waited for elected officials to desegregate lunch counters, 50 years later, we’d still be waiting. “

“The most critical question is, ‘What can I do?’ For anything to work, you must do it.” Ms. Nash reminded the students that, although Dr. King was an outstanding spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement, it was not his movement – it was a people’s movement. Any campaign for social change must be a people’s movement.

“Freedom is not something you get, and then you’ve got it; it’s a constant struggle.” Does that ring true, ladies?

And finally, her parting remarks: “I’d like you to know that, although we hadn’t met you [referring to the students in the audience], we loved you. Future generations are looking to you to do the same for them.” What an inspiring challenge! Here’s to the students of TCC, and to their fellow students across the country. May we find inspiration in the words of this great lady, and may we direct agapic energy toward building a better future for ourselves, and for future generations.

Back to school?

back to school

Today, one of my favorite fashion bloggers, Une Femme d’un Certain Âge, wrote about the back-to-school period as a time for returning to routine and order. http://unefemme.net/2014/09/la-rentree.html Or perhaps I should call her a blogueuse, since she so often writes about French flair. Anyway, la rentrée (“back to school” en français) is indeed a time when we pull ourselves together after summer’s messy, relaxed respite; we make plans, set goals, and start the new year. Because, let’s face it – when your life moves to the rhythm of the school year, New Year’s Day falls when those school doors open after summer break. Until now, my life has moved to this rhythm, whether as a student, the mother of one, or a teacher. I’d trip gaily down the school halls wishing colleagues and students a “Happy New Year,” which was probably pretty annoying. There was something comforting and optimistic about this time: fall sports, homecoming, golden autumn afternoons, and lots of interesting people to talk to, both students and colleagues. The work load was not yet too onerous, and we were mostly glad to be together. And that atmosphere of cheerfully working toward a common goal, of starting over fresh, is one that I’ll miss.

But now I’m retired, and this is my first non-rentrée. Today the children of Tacoma started their school year, bless their hearts. Yesterday, D and I helped our sister-in-law haul boxes to her new classroom. She’s an accomplished theatre teacher at a local elementary school, which was still undergoing major renovations the day before school opened. Workers of all sorts were climbing ladders, installing floors, ceiling tiles, lights, plumbing, and spreading fresh topsoil out front. It’s going to be a lovely new addition to the school building when they’re done, but Oy vey! Can you imagine all those children running through that muddy topsoil on the first day of school?

Now, I’ve never taught elementary school, but I felt relaxed and at home toting boxes through the halls of this unfamiliar building. Odd, isn’t it? Elementary schools are such cheerful, welcoming places, especially in the fall. Colorful artwork on display, little tables and chairs arranged for group work, shiny playground equipment… I would have felt at ease pitching in and getting right to work – until thirty-plus little people gathered around my desk, clamoring for my attention. OK – never mind.

The flip side of “back to school” was that panicky, sinking feeling I’d get during the last few weeks of summer break. Wait! I’m not ready yet! I haven’t had enough time to be myself! I don’t want to be Ms. S. again! Summer break was the only time when I could sink into my own rhythm, follow my own inclinations, without those school bells marching me along. In summer I could wear whatever I liked, rather than what was expected of a woman in my position. (And teachers have a pretty lax dress code. I’d never have made it in a profession that required suits.) I could eat when I was hungry, and sleep until I was good and ready to get up – heaven!

Well, this newfound lack of a set schedule is both a blessing and a challenge. I’m finding that, if I allow it to happen, my days become just as filled as they ever were with errands, appointments – just no more teenagers to deal with, unless they’re serving me coffee. (God bless the baristas.) So my new challenge in retirement is to enjoy and profit from this atmosphere of “back to business,” this fresh start, by establishing my own goals and rhythm.

You know what? I think I’ll go back to school, but this time as a student. Not literally, at least not yet; rather, I’m going to focus some of my newfound free time on learning things that I’ve long wanted to learn, but never found enough time for when I was working. I want to learn

  • how to speak Spanish
  • how to play the guitar
  • how to cook fish – without overcooking it
  • how to paint with watercolors
  • how to publish an e-book
  • how to scuba dive
  • how to plant a veggie garden in raised beds
  • how to become a fitness instructor

What a great school year I’ll have – all my classes are electives! May all you teachers and students have an enjoyable and productive school year. Go learn something new!