Archive | October, 2011

Learning to Love the South in Cajun Country

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As I prepare to head to New Orleans for the Chefs Collaborative annual summit, I find myself thinking about my trip to Louisiana earlier this summer that opened my eyes in unexpected ways.

My dear friends Katey and Marshall and I were planning a trip to the Big Easy when Marshall called wanting to move the dates so that we could join the  Southern Foodways Alliance’s Cajun Country field trip to Eunice, Louisiana.I hesitated. I love New Orleans, but did I really want to explore rural Louisiana?

I’ve had a difficult relationship with the South. When I was younger I thought that since I grew up in Texas, I was Southern, but then I met my college roommate Beverly who grew up in Georgia. When I told her Texas was the South, she giggled, patted my hand and said, “oh, you’re so cute.”

When my sister started at the University of Mississippi, I gradually learned that Beverly wasn’t being patronizing – the South is a whole different world and I wasn’t particularly comfortable in it.I’m not naive. I know there is racism everywhere and there are many ways to be wrong, but every visit to see my sister resulted in an incident or encounter of overt racism that was more uncomfortable or blatant than the previous.

The final straw for me was when we were refused entry to a bar on her graduation night because there was a black man in our group. Fortunately, my sister was wise enough to not tell me why were turned away or about the unpleasant slur some girls called us in the parking lot until after we were in the car because I promptly came unglued.  After that incident, I avoided traveling to the Deep South whenever possible.

Now Marshall wanted to go spend two days in the middle-of-nowhere Louisiana. I hemmed and hawed, but he pressed, and he’s my friend, so I caved. And, he was right.

The Southern Foodways Alliance did a fantastic job preparing us for the trip with an extensive reading list. I decided an open mind would lead to an open heart and dove into the pre-trip reading.  I started with two of Marcelle Bienvenu’s books as I knew she would be one of the speakers on the trip. I really enjoyed Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cooking for the historical background and perspective on the area and the cuisine and I fell in love with her stories of growing up in Cajun Country in her “Who’s Your Mama, Are you Catholic and Can you Cook a Roux?” cookbook.

I read Hungry Town by Tom Fitzmorris and countless articles about Cajun culture. I suddenly had a much better understanding of my dear friend Jenna who grew up in Labadieville, Louisiana (yes, it’s as small as you think) and will drive across town to eat something delicious before she will dine on something mediocre. I was beginning to understand the important elements of Cajun cuisine – fresh ingredients, prepared with care to create complex, layered flavors – and get a better feel for the area.


Fried green tomatoes with shrimp & remoulade at Elizabeth's in New Orleans Photo by Marshall Wright


For two days, we explored the food, music and history of the area surrounding Eunice. We learned about crawfish, the meat and three (sides) lunch and the difference between gravy and smothered. We listened to Cajun music and zydeco and learned that they are indeed different. We sipped Carolina moonshine from a Ball jar and taught diners at our table who were from north of the Mason Dixon line how to peel crawfish. We ate the most amazing breakfast biscuits with boudin balls from the French Press in Lafayette as we drank our morning coffee in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express. You can check out the play by play of our adventures on our Tumblr blog.After two days in New Orleans, we were primed for our Cajun Country field trip when we arrived at The Mowata Store just outside of Eunice, Louisiana. You would never suspect that the quaint cabin next to the gas station was the perfect place for an introduction to Cajun boudin sausage – fragrant, rich and spicy. As we listened to Bubba Frey recount the history of boudin and how he makes it, I felt myself being pulled into the rich tradition of the food.


Rendez Vous de Cajuns radio show Photo by Marshall Wright

Boudin ball biscuits with Steen's Cane Syrup from French Press Photo by Marshall Wright

But, the most incredible part of the trip was the company. From the attendees to the business owners to the restauranteurs, I met some of the nicest, kindest people I have ever become acquainted with on this trip. They were big hearted, caring and real. It was lovely. I asked a few of our companions about the issue of racism, always careful to couch it through my personal experience and qualms. One fellow traveller said, “Well, it’s (the racism) always there, and it’s not right, so, the best we can do is be different than that.” I agree and it put things in perspective for me.

I realized that by going on this trip, I was seeing the South, or at least this part of it, through the eyes of the Southern Foodways Alliance crew who they truly love this place. I won’t forget those negative experiences and will never condone racism or prejudice, but, by experiencing the traditions, culture and food in the center of Louisiana, my eyes and heart are now open so that I can appreciate it for what it is – a beautiful place and the heart of one of the most unique cuisines in our country.

I may never fall in love with the South, but I think we can become good friends, and maybe that’s enough. Since I’ve been home, I’ve cooked countless Cajun dishes from the “Who’s Your Mama?” cookbook  and have grown to truly appreciate their seasonality dishes and the incorporation of fresh ingredients.

Photo by Marshall Wright

A few weekends ago I celebrated one of my favorite traditions, watching Longhorn football with friends, by thawing out some of the boudin I brought back from The Best Stop in Scott, Louisiana and whipping up a batch of Maque Choux (creamed corn). I figured one good tradition deserved another

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From a Food Fight to Food Day: October Food Celebrations

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If you can’t find a way to celebrate food in Austin this month, then you just aren’t looking hard enough. My inbox has been overflowing with invites to terrific events that showcase and support our local food community.  I hope to see you at a few of these fun gatherings.

Monday, October 17th – Friday, October 28th, Les Dames d’Escoffier of Austin, an international non-profit of Austin’s women culinary professionals, presents the 3rd Annual Food Fight! The auction includes unique foodie offerings, weekend getaways, VIP food & wine events. Auction proceeds benefit local culinary scholarships and farm-to-plate initiatives and runs through Friday, October 28th.  Start your bidding!

Thursday, October 20th, Slow Food Austin Happy Hour at Urban Roots Farm, 6::00 – 8:00 PM, 7651 Delwau Lane Austin , TX 78725.  Slow Food is hosting their October Happy Hour at at Urban Roots Farm. Jesse Bloom and the Ecstatic Cuisine Team will be serving up seasonal goodies while Michael Menley of A Torrid Affair will be mixing up a variety of Dripping Springs Vodka hand crafted cocktails.   Don’t forget your closed toe shoes, blankets and chairs.  There is a suggested $15 donation upon entry with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Slow Food Austin and Urban Roots Farm.  RSVP here.

Saturday, October 22nd, Natural Springs Garden Chili Cook-Off and Festival, noon ’till done, 15202 Kinsey Court Austin, TX (1/2 mile from 620 and General Williamson Drive). Natural Springs Garden is hosting their first annual chili cook-off to bring our community together for a good time, raise funds for our small urban farm, promote other local businesses and help Lake Travis Crisis Ministries stock their pantry. There will be live music from local bands, horseshoe tournament, chicken bingo, a petting zoo for the kids, and booths for local vendors along with great chili of course.  Thanks for your help and we look forward to seeing you at the festival!  Admission Price: $8.00 for adults, $4.00 for children 10 and under (purchase tickets online here).   Bring a can of chili, beans or a cornbread mix for the Lake Travis Crisis Ministries Food Pantry and Get $1.00 off admission.

Saturday, October 22nd, Mexic-Arte Museum’s Viva la Vida Fest, Día de los Muertos Celebration, 2 pm – 10 pm. Mexic-Arte Museum is celebrating its 28th Annual Día de los Muertos Day of the Dead festival featuring Latino artists and entertainment, educational art activities, and a grand procession. The festival includes a street celebration with natural and organic Mexican and Tex-Mex foods and beverages and a Healthy Cooking Demonstration booth hosted by Edible Austin.  From 2:00 – 6:00 pm, you can enjoy chef demos from Chef Dan Marek from Whole Food Market, Chef Iliana de la Vega from El Naranjo and Chef Jesus Mendoza from Mr. Natural will demonstrate vegetarian and vegan cooking. Admission is free. Check Edible Austin’s website for the chef demonstration schedule.
Saturday, October 22nd – Monday, October 24th, Food Day, a national celebration of healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.  Events are being held around the country that focus on six core tenets:

  • Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
  • Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
  • Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  • Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
  • Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
  • Support fair conditions for food and farm workers
Celebrations in Austin range from events at the SFC Downtown & Sunset Valley Farmers Markets (Saturday) and Hope Farmers Market 2nd Birthday Celebration (Sunday) to a Food Chat with the Sustainable Food Center (Sunday), events at the book festival (Saturday and Sunday), a free seminar at Snap Kitchen (Monday) and a Food Parade sponsored by SFC(Monday).

Wednesday, October 27th, Fall Harvest Fest benefiting Urban Roots  presented by Whole Foods Market and Greenling, 6:00 – 9:00 PM, rooftop plaza of the Lamar Whole Foods Market.  The benefit will be a celebration of Fall flavors with food by Whole Foods Market and Greenling, beer and wine, live entertainment and carnival style games.  Admission to this family friendly event is $30 per person and kids under 12 are free.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Sunday, October 30th, Green Corn Project Fall Festival, 12pm to 4pm (gates close at 3) at Boggy Creek Farm, 3414 Lyons Road, Austin, TX 78702-3727.  This annual event includes food from over thirty top local restaurants, live music, cooking demonstrations and a silent auction.  You can purchase tickets at the following locations: Boggy Creek Farm, Natural Gardener, The Great Outdoors, Monkey Nest Coffee, Wheatsville Coop or online.  at this link for directions, details, and ticket information:

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