In the utter silence that cloaks my house this afternoon, it's hard to believe that two weeks ago today things were rockin' and rollin' around here. The College of William and Mary had just elected to close ahead of the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene. With that, Felix and five hall mates who had been together for all of six days followed their "personal evaluation plans" and came to roost here for the storm.
What a lovely time we had! I can't even begin to express what wonderful young men they were in every possible way. Sweet, kind, funny, thoughtful, smart...well, you get it. They comprised the perfect package and surely made for the best hurricane party ever.
Another happy thing occasioned by their appearance was oodles of cooking for me. They were receptive, excited and grateful for anything and everything I threw their way and in fact, even wanted to help me cook! That is indeed a rare turn of events around here, and one I don't usually encourage, but in this instance, when we decided to make gumbo, I really needed, and they happily provided, all hands on deck. They gamely stirred away at the enormous pot on the stove as the storm raged, and chattered away exuberantly as they made quick work of peeling five pounds of shrimp. Even Felix had fun taking on scullery duty, despite trying to convince everyone that he'd been "stung" by one of the shrimp.
My sister Jo produced a great recipe for gumbo that came originally from Bon Appetit. I tweaked it only a very little bit, but it was a huge hit, and a very comforting project to take on as Irene raged outside. I do regret nearly causing Jeff's demise when I sent him out into the heart of the storm to get me a handful of thyme from the garden. However, it did make a huge difference to the gumbo, and all's well that ends well, right?
The recipe made a gigantic amount of food, enough not only for two nights here (the boys insist it was even better the second night), but I have gallons and gallons frozen to take to parent's weekend so they can share it with their other hall mates during what they've dubbed "Gooch Sunday Supper."
It was divine, and on Saturday night, in the midst of a hurricane, with the power off and gigantic trees falling all around us, we ate off paper plates, in a candle-lit dining room and had the time of our lives. I have to say, it was hands-down one of my most successful dinner parties ever and the company, and conversationwere sublime. I hope to see them all frequently during the next four years, and I certainly hope it doesn't take another natural disaster to make them head in this direction. Irene, you were quite a gal....thanks for the memories.
Shrimp, Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
serves at least 30 people--I'm not kidding!
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 large sweet onions, chopped
6 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
8 celery stalks, chopped
16 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
4 8-ounce bottles clam juice
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 pounds andouille sausage, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
3 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 16-ounce packages frozen okra
5 pounds medium shrimp, peeled
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, minced
Heat oil in a heavy 13-quart pot over medium-high heat until very hot and almost smoking. Add flour and stir constantly until mixture is dark reddish-brown, about 5 minutes. Add chopped onions, chopped bell peppers, and chopped celery and cook until onions are soft and brown, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cayenne and stir 2 minutes. Add wine, thyme, and bay leaves; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes with juice, clamjuice, broth, sausage, and chicken; simmer until chicken is cooked through about 15 minutes. Add okra and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Add shrimp to pot and cook shrimp until just opaque in center, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Season gumbo to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with minced parsley and serve over steamed rice.
--only very slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2006