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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Oh, me. Me, oh, my, oh, file gumbo. I cannot be argued from this strong point, but then, I don't expect to argue anyone else from theirs, either. Gumbo is a West African word for the vegetable we call okra. A number of African words have passed into common usage in the south. For example, around Charleston, if you asked somebody if they ever cooked with sesame seed, they'd stare at you. Sesame seed is something they use in restaurants. But bennae, now. Oh, sure; there's bennae seed all over.
File is used as a thickener in NOLA and vicinity, but there's hardly any need for it. Unless you've washed your okra until it is waterlogged, it will thicken the soup just nicely. Shrimp is all right, I suppose, but as much as I love shrimp—and you will never meet a Charlestonian who doesn't love shrimp—it is a pallid flesh to set against the spices of gumbo, much stronger than those of a remoulade sauce, the strongest acceptable accompaniment for shrimp. The same for crawfish, though I love crawfish in any number of other dishes. Just don't try to make me sit through a crawfish boil. The calories expended in getting the tails out and down your neck far exceeds the calories gained from the actual tails. It is like eating celery. There's no way to win, no way to break even, and no way to get out ahead of the game.
The only meat to use in true gumbo is smoked ham. The very best is the meat of the hock, but that does entail a good deal of work, plowing through a fair number of hocks to get enough meat. But it is the sweetest part of the smoked ham, and might have been created to meet the okra and tomatoes and spices.
I won't give you my own personal ground-up recipe for gumbo because then I'd have to hunt you all down and kill you. I intend to ask my assistant, Maria, to send me the recipe from Charleston Receipts, if there is one. Mind, some of these tell you to send the yard man to the market to purchase the terrapin because that is not the chauffeur's job.
For those who would like to try the quick and dirty version I make, remember that any purist will sneer at you for calling it gumbo. At least, they will until they come back for their second or third bowl. And when you want some approximation of gumbo on short notice and you have less than an hour to put into assembling your ingredients, it serves remarkably well.
Begin with 1 and a half to 2 pounds of 85% lean ground beef. Put this in the bottom of your pot and cover it with chicken broth, adding more broth as necessary. Stir this until the meat has broken up into tiny fragments. No lumps, no pieces; it should all be a broth of beef. Now add 6 to 8 cans of okra and tomatoes. These should be plain okra and tomatoes. You can add any spices you need to. Now. Drop in two tablespoons of salt. Add your red pepper. I use flake red pepper. As to amount, I make a mound on the palm of my hand and toss it in, but this may be too much for some people. Finally, for this quantity of soup, forty-fifty dashes of Tabasco sauce. You may want to moderate that, but I find most people will enjoy it at this level, though I will add more Tabasco in the bowl. Now bring it to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Let it cook for about an hour or until the liquid level in the pot has decreased by an inch or an inch and a half. Skim excess fat from the surface and dispose of. You want a touch of that grease left, just not too much. Serve as is or over rice, with fresh, barely cooked corn (Silver Queen is best of all) sprinkled over the surface, with piping hot corn bread. It's quick-and-dirty without a doubt, but it is also pure quill good.
For NaClH2O, your family put vegetables IN the Hoppin' John? I mean, not just black-eye peas , but veggies in the rice? Collards as a side dish are traditional, to be sure, but not IN the rice, man. I begin to think that the family history you relate is a legend, as they say in tradecraft. Plainly you are a first generation immigrant from Pakistan or Chicago or someplace like that. Veggies AND black-eye peas! Good God Almighty!
I don't know where the name came from, but I can tell you why it is considered lucky to eat it on New Years Day, especially with some benne wafers for dessert. In Charleston we add something with benne seeds, anyway. Hoppin' John and collards originally were slave food, you know. Slaves, at least here in South Carolina, were allowed to keep their own kitchen gardens, and their own pigs and chickens. Now COWPEAS and rice (but NOT black-eye peas and rice) together form a complete protein. Add in smoked pork, collards, and anything containing benne seeds (benne is a West African word for sesame, an excellent source of oils), and you have a very healthy diet. Now if I were a slave, I think I'd consider myself pretty lucky to have a good, healthy diet. Most Southern country food comes from the African-American tradition, sometimes touched with Acadian (Cajun), and I suppose a good many of the folk beliefs shifted over, too.
Somebody—I can't remember who; it's a long way back—called my recipe for quick-and-dirty okra gumbo atrocious, or some such words. Harsher, I believe. I agree with him, from a purist's standpoint. I much prefer the slow simmered version that takes half a day to get right. I just don't always have half a day, and sometimes I am willing to settle for an approximation when I can't get the real thing. A point to consider. When I make a pot of this, I always think of how often I can have lunch from it, but I never get to finish it myself. Everybody in sight lines up with their bowls as soon as they know I'm making it. Might tell you something, don't you think?
I have to apologize, I fear, for my comments regarding file (pronounced fee-lay; I can't put the accent in) and shrimp in gumbo. I happened to check Charleston Receipts, the wellspring of Charleston recipes, and among roughly half a dozen or so recipes for gumbo I found two that called for the use of dried sassafras leaf (file, to those of you who don't know), and one that called for shrimp, oysters, crab AND fish. At least I can say that New Orleanois are pikers when it comes to stuffing seafood into gumbo.
Hi, guys. I apologize for it being so long since my last post, but I had a few little rough patches to deal with, and they kept getting in the way. You know how it is. Somehow, and you never quite do know how, you find yourself juggling three eggs when the doorbell rings. You want to put the eggs back in the basket so you can answer the door, but sure as anything, that's just when somebody with shoot another egg in on you, or even two, and you're juggling faster than ever. Well, we have all that under control now. Wilson has very kindly been keeping you abreast of events, so I won't bore you by going into details. Suffice it to say that I am recovering lost ground every day now. Tonight, Harriet and I are being taken out to a nice French restaurant by a young cousin, Mary Pinckney, who is more like a daughter to us. Next weekend, Wilson and Janet will come down, and we'll have some BBQ chicken. Though I can see the argument shaping up now. Harriet will want me to try making the BBQ sauce as nearly salt free as never no mind, while I think that cutting loose once in a while is my safety valve that allows me to eat restricted salt the rest of the time. I'll just have to triple the Tabasco in the sauce. That has a good bite and a good flavor. Sure, there are hotter sauces, but either they have a poor flavor or else the heat is so great they have no flavor at all. I'll stick with my Tabasco.
I see where Wilson posted the wolfman stuff. But he makes it sound like a joke. I actually find it quite restful lying in the flowerbed at the front of the house and leaping up when tourists walk by. The way they jump and squeal and set off running, well, I just lie there and laugh. Hwoooooooooooooo!
It is a couple of weeks yet before I go back to the Mayo for my second set of tests with respect to this study I'm in. I still don't expect any good news yet, not for another few months. Then we'll see. You can stand back and watch me dance.
Okay. I've been going on long enough, I think. I haven't looked at my e-mail in about five or six days, so God only knows what it has piled up to. A thousand or so, I imagine, just at the main address, and I run six to keep things separate. I know you'd rather I spent the time answering more questions, or talking about what is going on here, but I really do need to answer the e-mail. And what is going on here is that Harriet is making soupe au pistou for dinner, and though it is about 3 hours till time to sit down, I am beginning to smell it. So I shall have to answer e-mail while drooling. That is what is going on here.
Good-bye until later, guys. I'll try to make it shorter interval this time. My apologies again to everyone for the delay. And my very great thanks to everyone who posts. Whether or not you offer prayers or well-wishes, whether or not you have some personal tragedy of your own to share, every post is a lift to me—yes; the tragedies, too, because I have a chance to reach out and offer what I can, which doesn't happen often under my present circumstances—and I thank you for them.
Well, that's about enough of that for a short addition. It is about time for lunch, and I think I'm going to have a bowl of the left-over soupe au pistou. Soup, and stew, are always great if they have a few days to sumption around, letting the flavors mingle. I know some disagree with that heartily, but I stand where I stand.
Take care, guys.
2:58 pm (1458 hours, hooah!), 23 July 2007
I'm stealing a line from a friend and big WOT fan, "leave the imagination to RJ."
He's fine! Having one of those "rough patch" days today, but fine. In fact, he had a hearty breakfast of Sauerkraut and a Hamburger. You read that right. Yuck! Not to my liking, but gives you an idea of the cast iron nature of his stomach. I guess eating cold C rations in the rain and mud of Vietnam will cause you to think anything is good. In fairness to his taste buds, he would season the Cs with a few dashes of hot sauce, a secret his father shared with him.
RJ and Harriet are off to the Mayo tomorrow for the 90-day check up. Her biggest concern is that their flight departs during the time frame that the President of the US is due to arrive in Charleston for the debates to be held at the Citadel tomorrow evening. They also have a family affair to attend during this trip. So, they are not due back in Charleston until the middle of next week.
He'll let you guys know the results of the trip after their return. Not exactly sure when, but after.
FYI: A woman that I adore whom shall remain nameless, but whose initials are... HARRIET, will be celebrating a birthday on 4 August. You might want to extend her a Happy Birthday message.
For Sadie: Jason at Dragonmount has my personal contact info. If you will email him a "ship to" address, I will personally get RJ to sign some bookplates "to Sadie"(about business card size, peel off stickers) to place in your books. Consider them my birthday gift to you, a survivor. Kudos girl. Figuratively of course, but keep the dresser in front of the door. Throw yourself headlong into your schoolwork. Thanks for your prayers for my brother/cousin. I will offer prayers for your continued success and that your Mother and Sister find their way back into the light.
I ask you to keep the prayers coming, they are still needed. Please toss in a few for our men and women in uniform.
Blessings on you all,
4th of 3
By yours truly.
Before I start, I want to point out that it was a noisy environment: we were in the VIP-room of the Fair, but there were like 20 other people in there. Jordan had just started his lunch (he apologised for me having to ask him questions while he was "shoving down some of these sausages" ), and most of the other people there were eating as well. There was a lot of background noise, so at some times I really couldn't make out what exact words Jordan used in his sentence. This only happened four or five times, most of which are marked by [..] in the sentence.
Then, this is just the interview, and nothing else. I will write a detailed report of last week completely, and make another thread for that. That thread will include this interview as well, WITH a lot of background information and the like to go with it. But that'll take me a while, and I promised you guys this interview Tuesday morning (i.e. now) so here it is. I haven't even had the chance to translate it for my work, ugh, be thankful.
Final note: Everything that I say is in bold italics, the rest is Jordan's.
And now I am going to prepare some quick-and-dirty gumbo, Charleston-style, which is the only real gumbo. I mean, file? Roue? Okra thickens the broth just fine, thank you. And shrimp?!?!?!? In gumbo? Well, I eat it when I'm in NOLA, but even my brother and nephew, who live there, can't convince me that it's really gumbo. The question will be whether, having made the gumbo, I can actually manage to eat it here and now. We shall see. Yes, indeed we shall.
I told you this was going to be very brief. So long for now, guys.