February 5, 2013
I’d like to tell you a story about New Orleans, if you don’t mind. But I have a few newsy things to share first:
Recipe Index—I’m so pleased to announce a new feature on the site—a recipe index, where every recipe ever posted is listed, linked to, and divided by category. My hope is that this will make finding specific recipes or just browsing for something that sounds good to eat much easier! You can jump to the index from any page on this site by clicking the link in the site’s header (Many, many thanks to my friend and computer geek Greg—he of sriracha recipe fame—for his help in making this happen.)
Contest—Reader and fellow blogger Jennifer generously nominated Blue Jean Gourmet in the category Best Recipe Blog for The Kitchn’s Homie awards. I’m honored to be included on such a fine list of blogs, and I would be honored to have your vote! Click here and scroll down to find Blue Jean Gourmet.
Now, back to the story. It’s longer than the ones I usually tell here; I’m hoping you won’t mind.
It was a mild, late-December day and Jill and I were sitting on tall stools in a perfectly unmemorable French Quarter bar, behind a rough-hewn, open-air wood counter that faced out into the street. We were drinking beer at 10 a.m., because that’s what you do when you’re in New Orleans (see also: swamp boat and cemetery tours, the best oysters of my life, good music everywhere, and practically unrivaled people watching opportunities).
That was the day Jill told me about Bruno.
When Jill and I met, we both very quickly became certain that we wanted to be in each other’s lives forever. Though people often assume that our other differences—age, race, religion, etc.—must have been difficult to work through, they weren’t. The sticking point for us was children.
Jill is nineteen years older than me, and by the time I came along, she had already made the decision for herself not to have children. Kids were not part of her life plan, but they were a non-negotiable part of mine.
At the same time, I was young (so young) and in no rush to start a family. So we proceeded to build our relationship and let the issue be. “All I can promise you,” Jill told me, “is that I can open myself to having my feelings changed on this. I promise to stay open.” She didn’t know exactly what that meant, and neither did I, but I trusted her, and we had time.
There were moments when I worried—despaired, really—that I would have to leave Jill in order to be a parent. I respected her feelings and the fact that she didn’t want to walk into parenting with anything less than a full commitment; nor did I want to parent with someone who was less than fully committed. But I didn’t want to parent with anyone else but her. And I didn’t know how (or if) we would work this difference out.
One morning, just a few weeks before our trip to New Orleans, Jill had opened up the paper at the kitchen table and read a story about AIDS orphans in Africa. This was around the time that Oprah was doing a lot of work opening schools around the subcontinent and drawing attention to the plight of millions of children who had lost their parents, even all of their adult relatives, to AIDS.
Along with the newspaper story was a picture of a young boy—an orphan—maybe two or three years old, clinging to the white legs of an aid worker whose torso & face were not visible in the shot. All of the boy’s relatives had died. He had no one.
In that moment, and in her re-telling of it in a bar in New Orleans, Jill began to cry—to sob. Were this a story about me, such a detail would not be worth noting, but Jill is not a crier. But this photograph got to her, touched her deeply.
If I, a privileged white woman living in the richest, freest nation in the history of the earth, she thought, can’t stand up and be a parent to this child, who can?
Her heart was cracked wide open.
For several days, without telling anyone, Jill worked to track down the photographer who had taken the picture, in order to track down Bruno. She was fully prepared to fly to Uganda and adopt him.
I listened to this story, twirling my half-full pint glass, not wanting to interrupt, the street before us still quiet for the time being. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was hearing, but I did not want to interrupt, the moment already growing significant, taking on weight.
In doing her research, Jill had discovered that inter-country adoption from Uganda to the U.S. was (at the time) incredibly difficult to pull off; only sixteen total were finalized that year. The process involved long-term residence in Uganda and was barely even feasible for straight, married couples, let alone us. Still moved to act, Jill had instead found and pledged financial support to an African orphanage. And she pledged something else, to me, that day in the French Quarter.
“Let’s adopt,” she said. “We can’t be Bruno’s parents, but we can provide a good home for another child who needs one.”
After that day, we began a very different conversation about having children—no longer dancing delicately around the topic, but moving ever-closer to one vision as we planned, asked questions, and anticipated. To this day, I remain grateful for Jill’s willingness to be open, and humbled by the power that lives have to twist shape.
Now we are proud parents to this beautiful one. He may have been born in Texas, but as far as I’m concerned, he was conceived in New Orleans.
slightly adapted from Simply Recipes, where you will also find instructions for making your own shrimp stock
I’ve had shrimp stock burning a culinary hole in my freezer for a few months now (the result of many a painstakingly saved shell) and this was one very fine use for it. This etouffee disappeared quickly; next time, I’m making a double batch so I can throw some in the freezer.
1 ½-2 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined (reserve shells to make stock)
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ + 1 T flour
2 medium onions, medium dice
2 small green bell peppers, medium dice
3-4 stalks celery, medium dice
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ pints shrimp stock
½ T sweet paprika
½ T garlic powder
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
salt & hot sauce (such as Tabasco), to taste
garnish with: chopped green onions
serve over: white rice
First, make sure that your shrimp stock is hot and at the ready—I like to keep mine warm in a saucepan on the stove. You’ll need to add it in a few steps.
Hear this: don’t be intimidated by the roux-making process. I was, and after some patient coaching from Jill, realized that there was no need. All a roux requires is patience and persistence. You can do it!
What’s more, an etouffee doesn’t require the chocolate-dark roux that a gumbo does; you only need to get to caramel-brown for this recipe. To start, heat vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium for a few minutes. Add the flour all at once (it will sputter), whisking thoroughly to get rid of any lumps.
Cook the roux, whisking in a figure eight, until it turns medium-brown. This should take approximately ten minutes. It should look about like a salted caramel sauce.
Add the trinity (onion, bell pepper, & celery) and jalapeno to the roux, tossing to coat all the vegetables. Continue to cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
Pour the hot stock in slowly, stirring constantly to encourage it to incorporate. Don’t worry if things look terrible at first—the roux should loosen up after a few minutes. The idea is to add enough stock to make a thick sauce, which should be between a pint and a pint-and-a-half. Add the seasonings and salt to taste, then stir in the shrimp. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to low.
Cook until shrimp are just done (approximately 10 minutes), then remove from heat. Sprinkle with green onions and serve over white rice, with hot sauce to taste.