Spring Break. Do you go on a spring break with your kids? Is it a time you remember from college? Do most couples take a spring break? Do retired people? Do single folks? I just don’t know.
A week-long vacation that is a clear “break” between the long weary winter and the first days of spring sounds amazing!
My Midwestern friends pretty much all go south this time of year because we all know our area can be weather unstable. (This week for example will be 70 Monday and possible snow by Thursday!). There isn’t much to do but go to museums or eat out. Both activities are fun but most of us welcome a little get away.
The bad thing is if you aren’t a parent, you don’t get that excuse of “we need to go on vacation because that is when the kids have a break.”
In my case, I get to hear about everyone’s spring break. I have made countless offers to come along in a “wingmom” sense but most of my pals realize that I’m a bigger kid than most of their children and they don’t want the extra work! (My sister in law was the one to make me aware that I don’t look both ways when I cross the street.)
I do love to see pictures of everyone’s trips and hear the stories. It is especially fun in this day of social media since I can make comments in “real time” and almost feel like I am there. (But I’m not…because I wasn’t invited…not that I’m bitter…I’m really not…I’m a horrible traveler…with the exception of finding the best bathrooms….sorry…went a little off topic there.)
The pictures are classics like group shots, sunsets and a rogue animal that crosses their path. Maybe a picture of the hotel rooms, a cruise ship or a car packed with sleeping kids. The selfies, closeups of a fresh pedicure on the beach and blurred images as you drive over a state line never get old.
One would think that seeing all the fun you AREN’T part of would make you jealous…but it doesn’t. I’m always in the mindset that I’m happy to see the people I love happy. It is as simple as that….until I start seeing slide after slide of what people are eating….then I feel like the big green monster has taken over my soul. (Soul may be a little dramatic…but you get my drift.)
This hit me the other week when some of dearest friends went to New Orleans on vacation. I was fascinated with every shot they took. (Their kid is an exceptionally talented, smart, cutie pie but they have known me long enough to know that I really want to see what they eat!)
Their trip seemed to take the usual steps of a family vacation but I was impressed with how much they really got into the food culture. (I tip my hats off to them.) Every image of the catfish, gumbos and cornbread made me feel like I could taste the food and I never wanted to be a third wheel more in my life. (Plus, they also met the infamous Queen of Creole Cuisine Leah Chase and everyone knows I love to meet cooking royalty.)
The worst part of seeing all their meals was that I had an unbelievable, nonstop craving for some Cajun cooking. I know of a couple of places in the area where I can get an “emergency” jambalaya but there was something about THEIR experience that moved me into my own kitchen. I needed a little NOLA in my mouth and I had two choices….jump in the car and crash their family vacation or jump into my kitchen. (Given my earlier mention of being a bad travel companion….I gave them a break…and didn’t pack a bag…plus I really didn’t know where exactly they were because my one friend probably knows me well enough that I might go off the rails one day and show up at his door with a suitcase in my hand.)
I took taste buds into my own hand and started looking up recipes for gumbo. I needed it to be simple with ingredients that were accessible in my area. I knew from past experience that if I could find a good andouille sausage, I would be able to create a great gumbo. (Which leads me into thinking that I need to learn to season my own sausage one of these days….remind of that okay?)
I found the sausage and bought some filé powder (it is an herb made of sassafras root that finishes off a gumbo with an almost a sweet, cooling smell.) There was no chance I was finding okra so I decided that would be strike one on my authenticity.
Strike 2 is that I am not sure that I have ever tasted an “authentic” creole dish without having been to New Orleans. I probably have given the vast amount of food I’ve eaten over the years but I’m not convinced I could label myself or cooking as “real.”
Strike 3 is the most embarrassing since I still get gumbo and jambalaya confused. I use the simple definition that gumbo is more like a stew and jambalaya is more like a paella. (Sorry to my Cajun readers out there for the basic-dummied down version but it is the only way I can remember which is which.)
My problem is that I like different aspects of both of them so when I cook a jambalaya it somehow turns into a gumbo or vice versa. (Is this considered gumbo mumbo jambalumbo?) Any which way, what I created was great and worthy of being on a postcard or at the very minimum part of your spring break menu.
Gumbo Mumbo Jambalumbo
2 chicken breasts
1 pound andouille sausage cut into large rounds
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped (include the leaves if you have them)
1 cup bell pepper chopped (I never use green because they aren’t my favorite)
1 cup of chopped carrots (not traditional but I was using up carrots)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp each onion and garlic powder
2 Tbsp flour
14 ounce can of diced, fire roasted tomatoes
2-3 cans Chicken broth (I initially started with 2 but then it was too thick so I added more…it is just how you like it.)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 pound raw, peeled, deveined shrimp…. partially frozen…I’ll discuss that
Fresh thyme minced with minced green onion
2 cups of cooked rice
In a large skillet, sear your chicken breasts in olive oil. I did about 3 minutes per side. It is okay that they aren’t completely cooked. Put them in your oven for no more than 10 minutes….and once again…it is okay if they aren’t cooked all the way.
In a large Dutch oven, cook the andouille sausage. Let it get a little brown on the edges. Remove from pot but keep the drippings.
In those drippings, cook the onion, peppers, carrots and celery over medium heat. Sauté until they just get softened. Sprinkle with spices and let cook another minute.
Sprinkle with flour and cook another minute.
Add the tomatoes, 2 cans of the broth and the Worcestershire.
Bring it up to a simmer.
Cut up the chicken and add to the pot. Also add in your shrimp. I added mine partially frozen. It simmered for another couple of 5 – 10 minutes and until both the shrimp and the chicken were done perfectly. (This is where I had to add more broth.)
Serve in a bowl with a scoop of the rice. Sprinkle with the gumbo Filé and the minced green onion and thyme. (I added a dash of hot sauce because I love the heat but my hubby thought it was perfect.)
Take a picture and send it to your vacationing friends and think to yourself…haha…I don’t need a vacation to eat great but then realize maybe that cockiness is why no one invites you out! haha