Half Hour Gumbo

by claire: 

Half Hour Gumbo

Serves 8

Growing up in Louisiana, I ate gumbo often. My grandmother would make it, my mom would make it, my dad would would make it and, eventually, I learned to make it too. I never wrote down the exact recipe that my parents taught me but I remember flashes of the lessons: the constant attention to the slow stirring of the roux; my mom pointing out that the roux was ready when it was the same color as our brown floral kitchen wallpaper; adding the "holy trinity" of bell peppers, onions and celery.

The first gumbo I made completely on my own was a disaster. I was a freshman in college at Denison University in Ohio. I decided to make gumbo as an extra credit assignment for my French class. Getting the ingredients proved difficult without a car. When I finally made it to a grocery store, I didn’t buy enough chicken or sausage. In addition to the challenges around ingredients, my only option to cook the gumbo was in the dorm room electric stove top - the level of heat was so unpredictable. As you might guess, it didn't taste great. I used an absurd amount of Tony Chachere's to obscure the flavor.

Chicken sausage okra gumbo

Chicken sausage okra gumbo

In anticipation of attempting traditional Louisiana recipes after I left home, I packed up a small mason jar of Filé (ground sassafras) that my grandfather Belizaire had prepared. 19 years later I still have this jar of Filé. It's a tangible connection to my grandfather. I don't actually cook with it but it has a nostalgic home amongst other strange culinary relics of my southern past.  

There are countless regional variations of gumbo (variables include thickness, use of tomatoes, and many other ingredients). The recipe I am sharing with you today integrates my favorite ingredients and techniques from across several different sources…specifically the chicken/ andouille/ okra gumbo I grew up eating at home with the spices as recommended in a cookbook called The Gumbo Shop. I came up with my own modifications to cut the prep time to only 30 minutes.

1 cooked rotisserie chicken
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound Andouille sausage
3 stalks of celery
1 medium green bell pepper
1.5 large yellow onion
1 bay leaf
1 tsp basil
½ tsp sage
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp white pepper
⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ tsp salt

Pull all of the meat off of the cooked chicken, set aside the meat. Crush carcass and boil in 3 quarts of water with ½  of an onion, 1 stalk of celery, and salt to make the broth. Cook on med/high heat for 20 minutes, strain. While broth is cooking, chop the onion, celery, and bell pepper to have ready to add to roux later.  Start the roux by adding equal parts oil and flour to heavy bottomed pot. Stir as close to continuously as you can until the roux is a caramel color. Do not burn. Stir in the chopped onion, celery, bell pepper and let them simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the broth, sage, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, salt, sliced sausage and chopped chicken meat. Let everything simmer for a bit.  
Serve with white rice and french bread.

Baby Cakes- 2 Recipes for the “baby smell”

Smelling a baby is intoxicating. I understand there is a lot going on hormonally in this act and that I am hardwired to love the smell of my babies to encourage me to take good care of them. I am developing a theory that the way a baby smells corresponds to their future taste preferences. I know my data set is extremely limited (two), but I think I am on to something…

When Arlo was a few months I started to notice that he smelled like a buttery cinnamon roll. He smelled so strong like a pastry that I could close my eyes, nuzzle deep in his neck, inhale and I sincerely felt like I would not be able to tell the difference between the two. Now he is closing in on 4 and is crazy about buttery pastry treats. I might have thought nothing of the connection except I had another subject to observe. 

Honeyman’s smells are entirely different. He exudes tones of nuts, cheese and raw dough. Since he started eating solid food, he has a strong preference for savory foods, earning the nickname, Savory Muffin. Its truly remarkable: he has zero interest in the sweets that Arlo obsesses over. 

In an effort to preserve these ephemeral smells by recreating them, I have decided to develop recipes that attempt to precisely capture in food the intoxicating smells of my two babies . 
Arlo’s Buttery Cinnamon Rolls and Honeyman's Savory Muffins

(with bourbon sauce for the grown ups)
3.5 cups flour
⅓ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 packages regular or fast-acting dry yeast
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter
1 large egg 

½ cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup butter
¼ cup chopped cashews

Bourbon Sauce
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
¼ cup bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla 

In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of the flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, salt and yeast. Heat the milk on the stovetop until very warm.  Add the milk, 1/4 cup butter and egg to the flour mixture. Mix by hand or with an electric mixer.  Gradually add the rest to the flour. Knead dough on a floured surface. Put the dough an oiled bowl and cover bowl loosely.  Let it rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours, should double in size. 

Separately mix 1/2 cup of brown sugar and cinnamon. 
On a floured surface flatten dough to a rectangle. spread 1/4 cup of melted butter and then sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mix (and nuts if desired). Roll long ways. With a serrated knife, gently cut 1 inch slices. Place in an oiled baking dish. Let it rise for another 1/2 hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool on rack. 

There is enough sugar in these for kids to be satisfied with out using the traditional sugar glaze. However for the adults, I recommend adding a bourbon sauce typically used in New Orleans bread pudding recipes. 

Heat butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon over medium heat, stirring constantly, until all of the sugar is dissolved. 


1 pound bacon
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese

Cut bacon, break in small pieces. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the eggs, milk, flour, and baking powder. Mix in the bacon and cheese. Fill the lightly oiled muffin tin. Bake for about 15 minutes. 

(this recipe was modified from The Stay at Home Chef)

Pickled Beets

When visiting my parents earlier this year, I inherited two shoeboxes of my maternal grandmother's recipes. Her name was Sarah Fletcher Bordelon. Sarah was raised in Ruston Louisiana, but spent her whole adult life in Kaplan, 40 miles southwest of Lafayette. She and my grandfather (who was from Bordelonville) loved to cook. Some of these recipes reflect the Cajun culture they were immersed in, and some reflect the era that she collected and developed recipes. I feel close to her when holding these recipes- the contours and rhythm of her handwriting, the food stains on the notecards. Cooking these recipes is an act of cultural transmission. I will periodically share her recipes on Parallel Coasts.

Pickled Beets with Onion and Peppercorn

Pickled Beets with Onion and Peppercorn

Pickled Beets

3.5 pounds of fresh beets
2 cups of white vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
2T salt
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
½ lb. onion- sliced

Cook beets in boiling water until tender. Drain, retaining 1 cup liquid. Peel and slice beets. In saucepan combine 1 cup beet liquid, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices tied in cheesecloth bag. Heat to boiling add beets and onions; simmer 5 minutes. Remove spice bag, continue simmering while quickly packing jar. 

I cut down the proportions by ⅓. Based on what I already had in my spice cabinet, I substituted the cloves for peppercorn.

Recipe as written by Sarah Bordelon in Kaplan Louisiana. 

Recipe as written by Sarah Bordelon in Kaplan Louisiana. 

I am curious to hear variations of this recipe....


On Weaning At 3.5

Moments after Arlo was born, at the instant he latched on for the first time, I remember laughing at the sudden and total reorganization of the function of my breasts. For a moment, I felt like an imposter mother. That feeling was quickly followed by wonder at how smart our bodies are. I remember my doula saying something like, “Get ready, this is going to be what it’s like for the next three years.” At the time I thought three years seems like a bit much.

breastfeeding for the first time

breastfeeding for the first time

Flash forward 3 ½ years, my son was still nursing. I knew it was time to initiate the transition to weaning because although he only nursed once a day I found myself getting annoyed by it. We had already weaned once already when I was 4 months pregnant with my second son, Avery (aka Honeyman). But when his brother arrived, Arlo became seriously interested in nursing again. In a moment of total engorgement, we regressed. It's been a year.

I often see on Facebook posts about breastfeeding in public and the negativity some mamas experience. Maybe it’s because I live in Northern California, but I have managed to not have any bad public experiences. I am not shy about when or where I nurse.  

There is a family story of my grandfather Belizaire, who we named Arlo after (Arlo James Belizaire). He was the oldest of four kids and he nursed until he was six years old. He lived on a farm in rural Louisiana and his younger brothers and sisters were also nursing at that time too. Hearing my mom tell me this story growing up, I got a sense that six was the limit. But that was a family story, now I was the breastfeeding mom. Three and a half felt enough.

I told Arlo that the “Milk Fairy” was coming soon. She was to bring a special gift in exchange for no more “ninnies”. Last month, early one morning, when Arlo crawled into my bed, I whispered to him that I thought the Milk Fairy came in the night. With a similar excitement as Christmas morning, he ran to the living room in search of the gift she brought. He was thrilled to find his first Lego set. It had a “fire rescue” theme -his favorite topic. The gift worked! He prefers playing with his Legos more than breastfeeding. He hardly talks about nursing. Recently he told me that sometimes my “ninnies” talk to him and say “Nurse me, nurse me” and he says “No, I am all done and have Legos now”. I have not delved into the psychological implications of this but whatever, it worked.

I recommend reading this fascinating article about breastfeeding. 



Berkeley, A Map

Disorientation has been an ongoing pursuit of mine - so has attraction to maps.  Today I made a map of my neighborhood that guarantees delightful disorientation. 


This map is one example of layered fabric cut-outs that I have been making lately after learning the technique of reverse appliqué in a sewing class at Stone Mountain and Daughter. The fabric is cut away at various depths, revealing the different layers of fabric below. In my map, the lines made by the red thread represent routes to nearby parks, blue thread leads to the restaurants and the yellow thread to markets and grocery stores.  

Steps to make this style of reverse appliqué. 

Steps to make this style of reverse appliqué. 

Great Kid Books (read in Berkeley)

We read together everyday- usually before bed. As my older son has grown out of board books, I find myself increasingly intrigued by the stories we read together. I am looking forward to reading longer books that we can get immersed in for weeks. 

Our current favorites:


I recently got a copy of my favorite book from growing up-  My Puppy is Born. The graphic photographs of a puppy birth have stayed with me my whole life. This book was a big part of me understanding childbirth. Since reading it to my son he asked if he arrived in a sac when he was born and if I ate that sac like the puppy mom. I was happy to report, no and no. 

My Puppy is Born.  Joanna Cole with Photographs by Jerome Wexler

My Puppy is Born. Joanna Cole with Photographs by Jerome Wexler

Mother Goose in California, Aesop in California, California the Magic Island are all by Doug Hansen. We have been loving this series. The passages are the perfect length for my son’s current attention span and it feels good to steep in regional mythology. 

Anything about adventures is a hit here. Each page of Atlas of Adventure is an illustration of a different place in the world. His favorite pages are the underwater scenes: snorkeling in the great barrier reef, river rafting in the grand canyon, or swimming in the dead sea.  

I was starting to get asked technical questions about how flying machines work. The Way Things Work has been helpful for both us in explaining the physics of basic machinery. I have a feeling we will hang on to this one for awhile.  

Animalium is a wonderful, oversized natural history book. It is organized as a museum might be with each chapter being a different gallery. The illustrations are a beautiful invitation to learning about the amazing creatures we share the world with. 

Animalium . curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

Animalium. curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

Do you have any book suggestions we should check out?

Claire: Books On My Nightstand

This is the current pile of books on my nightstand. It's not that I'm reading them all cover to cover in a linear manner; I'm more the type who likes to read excerpts now and then.

For the past four years, I have primarily been listening to audio books. Recently I received an eye exam for the first time in many years. The eye doctor was not surprised to hear about my attraction to audio books because she discovered that I am far sighted and I need glasses! I am not sure if I have been unknowingly struggling with the act of reading for many years, or if this is a new, age-related development. It’s been about two weeks since I got my glasses and already I feel a big shift in how I relate to reading. I am feeling inspired by this simple intervention.

Top to Bottom:       Performance,   Diana Taylor;   Men Explain Things to Me  , Rebecca Solnit;   Surregional Explorations  , Max Cafard/ Illus. Stephen Duplantier;   You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination  , Katherine Harmon;   Embodied Lives: Reflections on the Influence of Suprapto Suryodarmo and Amerta Movement  , Blooom, Galanter, & Reeve, editors;   On Food and Cooking  , Harold McGee.  

Top to Bottom: Performance, Diana Taylor; Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit; Surregional Explorations, Max Cafard/ Illus. Stephen Duplantier; You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, Katherine Harmon; Embodied Lives: Reflections on the Influence of Suprapto Suryodarmo and Amerta Movement, Blooom, Galanter, & Reeve, editors; On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee.  

This is one of my favorite neighborhood bookshops:

What are you reading now? Any recommendations?

Strawberry Banana "Ice Cream"

Like all kids, my son loves ice cream; it's his favorite afternoon or evening treat. And, like most parents, I cringe at how wild he gets in response to the ridiculous sugar content in market brand ice creams. That’s why I came up with a simple, delicious, no-sugar version of ice cream made by blending frozen bananas and strawberries with greek yogurt, a splash of milk, and a dash of cardamom and vanilla. My son (and I) love it. He has never questioned its "authenticity."

I wish my parents had had these kinds of recipes when I was a kid. I grew up in a mostly sugar free home, but, to be honest, sugar was the reason I lied to mother for the first time. In elementary school, the house rule was I was allowed one chocolate milk a week at school. The truth is, I chose that option every day. I would report back a different story. Now that I have little ones and can see how refined sugar changes their mood dramatically, I understand my parents choice to make limits on what comes in the house. Earlier this year I made a commitment to cut out sugar almost completely. I feel great! More on that another day. 

Strawberry Banana "Ice Cream"

Strawberry Banana "Ice Cream"

Arlo enjoying "ice cream"

Arlo enjoying "ice cream"

Check out this recipe, it's a great alternative to the sugary stuff..

Strawberry Banana Ice Cream
1 cup of strawberries (frozen)

1 cup of chopped bananas (frozen)
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
Pinch of cardamom
¼ tsp Vanilla
Blend all ingredients in food processor.

Do you have any low sugar dessert recipes I can add to our family repertoire? I would love to hear about them...