Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Short But Delicious Life and Death of Crawfish Claude

I love to cook.

Even more than that, I love to eat.

I don't do a lot of serious cooking in the summertime. It's way too hot out to run the oven, so Chuckles takes over the cooking duties with his trusty grill during the sweltering months. During the winter, I love to experiment.

I come from a long line of great cooks.

Ok, I don't really know how long the line is, but my mum had the excellent fortune to learn from my two culinarily gifted grandmothers, and I have reaped the benefits.

My maternal grandmother, Jessie, has lived out most of her years living in Northern Saskatchewan.

My mum's tiny hometown is actually on that map, I'll let you guess which one it is.

From her 80th birthday party last year. In case it's not obvious, my Grandma's the one reading the card:

Here's a fun fact: that side of my family is Métis (may-tee), which is a French word that means mixed aboriginal and European descent. My Mum is one of 13 children. Eight girls, five boys. My grandma had THIRTEEN kids. I can't even imagine. My youngest uncle is a year younger than my oldest brother. How's that for crazy? My grandma is one tough cookie. You've got to be, when you've got that many kids. She's awesome.

My grandma is a great cook. She owned her own restaurant up there for a time, and when she wasn't an owner, would always somehow participate in the food business any way she could. Northern Saskatchewan is kind of isolated, with a whole lot of forest, hence there are a lot of forest fires. She would often cook for the firefighters down at the fire cache.

My mum often tells me stories from her childhood. Time ran a little slower there in terms of technological advancements and the like, and her stories often sounded like she was living a 'Little House on the Prairie' life even though she was born in the early 1950's. My grandpa John was a hunter, a trapper, and a fisherman. My family was quite poor (with 13 kids to feed and clothe, they would be, wouldn't they?). During the summertime, camping wasn't camping, it was the way they lived. My grandma knew how to clean fish, tan hides and smoke various wild meats. My mum said she ate so much fish as a kid, she couldn't eat it again till she was much, much older.

I think my favourite thing to eat that my grandma (not to mention all my aunts) made was fresh bannock. Every time my mum and I made the 8 hour trip from Edmonton to her hometown, I always knew there'd be some of it on the counter waiting to be slathered in butter and snacked on.

My dad was from Southern Saskatchewan. His hometown is not on the above map, but it's a small farming community somewhere near Yorkton.

That side of my family is Ukrainian. The Canadian prairies are full of Ukrainians. Edmonton, the city I'm from, is so full of them that people there call it Edmonchuk for fun. My maiden name is long and ethnic, a very common Ukrainian name ending in, you guessed it, 'chuk'. I really liked it, but ever since I've been married, I'm relieved when someone asks me my name and I only have to spell the 'Kyna' part out.

My mum married my dad when she was 16 and he was 25. I think my parents were very good-looking in this picture (which was fortunate since they were married in the 60's).

They were married for 17 years. It's funny, my parents were from two completely different backgrounds and opposite ends of the province. But they each were immersed in the culture of the other. My mum, being married to my dad so young, learned the ways of Ukrainian farm life and how to cook amazing Ukrainian food. My dad was the Director for the Department of Native Education in Alberta for 30-some years. Not an ounce of aboriginal blood in the man, but the Native people he worked with and worked for treated him as one of their own.

My Ukrainian grandmother Mary, whom we called 'Baba', was a very tiny woman. I believe she was 4'11".

Haha, look at the chops on my dad! A person can really change in just a few years, can't they?

I wasn't as close to her as I was to my other grandma, because my parents separated when I was 3. Also, she and my paternal grandfather Paul ('Gido' in Ukrainian) died when I was quite young.

Even though I only remember seeing her a few times, I remember that she was an excellent, excellent cook. Perogies (pyrohy), cabbage rolls, amazing breads. She had a temper on her though. I remember one time when I was there, Baba got irritated with my cousin in the kitchen and whacked him on the hand with a wooden spoon. I remember Gido getting up at 4am and banging around in the kitchen, cleaning dishes or something, when everyone else was still trying to sleep. That was leftover from farm life I guess. He would ask me if I wanted some candy from the store when he went, and I'd always say no because I didn't like candy all that much. I think he thought I was a little weirdo because of that.

The Ukrainian side of my family is filled with 'big' personalities. They talk loud, they laugh loud, and they argue when they play card games. Great storytellers. When I was younger, I was a little frightened by it all. I was very shy. Then I sort of grew into my own big, loud, Ukrainian personality, and I'm very glad for both halves of chromosomes that I inherited.

Especially the cooking part. Like a good Ukrainian girl, I know how to make perogies from scratch. It takes me 4 or 5 hours, but it's worth it.

I'll attempt pretty much anything. Most of the time, everything ends up delicious, and the odd time something doesn't work, I don't sweat it too much. Chuck is a great guinea pig. He'll eat pretty much anything except cottage cheese and anything savory where fruit is an ingredient where he thinks it shouldn't be. Can't sneak a raisin past Chuckles.

My mum sent me a whole load of recipes as a housewarming present when we decided to get married. I also think the internet is a treasure trove of recipes as long as you have the common sense to discern which ones are crap and which ones aren't. So maybe I'm not so much a good cook as I am a person with good common sense.

I think living down here in the South has broadened my culinary horizons even more than if I had stayed in Canada. I would have never experienced collard greens, homemade corn bread, black eyed pea and ham soup, and fresh Southern biscuits with white sausage gravy. I still can't stomach grits though, they look like snot.

The other day I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to make Crawfish Étouffée, which is a dish popular in Louisiana.

I never in a million years thought I'd be popping the heads of crawfish and stewing them to make a seafood stock.


I named this little guy Crawfish Claude and played with him a little bit.

Then I ripped his head off and threw it in the pot with his other friends.

Added some veggies and spices.

And a delicious crawfish stock was born.

The dish itself was time intensive, but I had laid out all my ingredients ahead of time so I would have everything ready to go into the pot.

Ideally I would be using a different type of heavy-bottomed pot, perhaps enameled cast iron, but I'm poor so I have to work with what I got.

I first made a white roux, added in the my mirepoix of veggies and tomatoes, added crawfish tails and andouille sausage, and then in went my stock.

Serve it over rice, and voila.

I realize that this dish isn't everyone's cup of tea. My brother-in-law Steve hates shrimp and the like, he calls them 'sea roaches'. Luckily I married the more adventurous, 'foodie' brother.

Chuck is sad because he's full but still has the urge to eat more because it's so good.

I got the recipe off of this guy. I think he could have made it a little more spicy, and next time I would add a lot more heat to the dish. But otherwise it was awesome. I love YouTube. I learn by watching, and found a video on how to peel crawfish that will be valuable to me for the rest of my cooking life.

Crawfish Claude really took one for the team.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chuckles Gets Behind the Camera

Yesterday we had snow yet again. It was the third snowfall of significant accumulation that we've had this winter. Extremely uncommon.

Now I'm not complaining about the snow, it's the ice that I have a problem with. It was a very icy snow...a friend of mine compared it to Dippin' Dots.

Chuck woke me up before he left to tell me that the tire I had patched last month was flat again. I dread taking it in to the mechanic because I always feel stupid when I go in that place without him.

So of course I procrastinated like the pro that I am, and waited till almost noon to bring it in. Earlier that morning, my stepdaughter says, "I sure hope we get some snow today! Even if it's just a dusting!"

I had heard that the county adjoining ours was supposed to get it, and I told her we probably wouldn't see much of anything.

I was wrong of course, we ended up getting about 3 inches at my house. And by the time I got my ass in gear to take the tire in, it was pelting those little ice pellets of so-called snow.

I was hoping it wouldn't last long (because it wasn't supposed to in my area), because I had to drive in to work for 4pm.

The snow didn't let up, and indeed got worse. I knew the highway was going to be icy, so I left an hour before I was supposed to be at work.

Yeah. One of the scariest drives I've ever taken. I can't believe that I didn't end up in the ditch or wasn't plowed by someone else.

People were going way too fast for the conditions. I saw 6 people in the ditch on the way to work, and 3 accidents. One of the accidents happened while I was watching.

I have to cross a bridge over a waterway on my way into Jacksonville. There were about four cop cars on the bridge, to force people to slow down. Anyone who has experienced snow and ice can tell you that bridges freeze before anything else. This one truck apparently didn't slow down enough on the bridge going the opposite way, and I saw him do a 180 on the bridge and crash headfirst into the guardrail. Right in the middle of all the cops. He's lucky he didn't hit one of their cars.

I was going 10mph at one point, not even touching the gas or the brake, and my car was fishtailing. A U-Haul was traveling behind me (way too fast) and I saw him fishtailing towards me in my rear-view mirror. I thought he was going to plow me for sure.

About halfway there, I thought I'd have to call out from work, and turn around and go back home. But the other side of the divided highway going back towards my house was WAY worse. The traffic was backed up for miles and miles. A co-worker of mine lives right down the street from me, and she said it took her 3 hours and 20 minutes to get home. So I'm glad I just decided to make the rest of the trip to work. When I came home at midnight last night, it was still nasty in spots, but it wasn't as bad as it had been that afternoon.

I called Chuck on my 15-minute break to tell him of my harrowing drive. He said it took him 2 hours to get home himself. Whilst we were on the phone, he was telling me how gorgeous the sunset was at home. When he got off the phone with me he started taking pictures.

They're AWESOME. I'm sorry I missed such a beautiful sunset. Thank goodness he grabbed the camera.

This is one I took earlier:

And here are his, they're in sequence:

These last two are my favourites!

I think Chuckles did a good job, don't you?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Raleigh Weekend~Pt2: North Carolina Museum of Art

Think the fun was over after seeing the live music?

Think again!

Chuck and I were watching 'The Antiques Roadshow' on PBS one night, and there was an ad for the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. We asked Helen if she'd like to go with us while she was in town, and she agreed.

When we arrived in Raleigh on Saturday morning, we took a trip out to where the museum was to make sure we could find the place on Sunday. The parking lot was freakin' packed. PACKED. We thought that there must be something going on across the street (there are some big fairgrounds there). I love Norman Rockwell's art, but I couldn't believe there was THAT much hubbub over it.

I was wrong. The next day we came back around noon to attend the exhibit, and the parking lot was packed again. We had to park really far away in an overflow parking lot. Couldn't even see the museum from there.

There are two main buildings. One of them looks like a huge brick office building. And the other one was massive and silver and blocky, with sweeping white sheets hanging in all of the huge glass windows.

There were sculptures all along the walkway, like this silver tree below and a huge replica of Rodin's "The Thinker" that I posted above.

We went inside and bought tickets for the Rockwell exhibit, which were priced at $15 each.

The exhibit was in celebration of the grand reopening of this particular building. Everything was on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachussetts. Taking pictures was not allowed.

It was awesome, there was a lot more to see than I thought there would be. It took us a couple of hours to get through it. The exhibit included his original paintings that the covers of the Saturday Evening Post were printed from, plus all of the original covers (many with the library or personal address stickers of the people who had owned them still on them), plus some of his later works unrelated to The Post.

Rockwell lived from 1894-1978. The man was a master of the human expression. If you look at various paintings through history, you might notice that most of the portraits are painted with the subject's mouth closed, or only slightly open as to hide the teeth. It is very difficult even for the most advanced artist to paint a subject's teeth and make them look natural and not creepy at the same time. Rockwell was talented enough to paint any human expression, teeth or no teeth, and make the subject in the painting come alive.

Here are my most favourite Norman Rockwell pieces:

And Chuck and I even had the chance to be in one of Rockwell's most famous paintings...

I learned a lot about the Saturday Evening Post. For example, I didn't realize that Benjamin Franklin was its founder in 1728.

I also learned a lot about Norman Rockwell that I would have never expected. I believe people get the wrong idea about him.

People seem to think Rockwell was deluded about American society because of the way he depicted it. Like he really thought America was that 'way'. Families smiling over the Thanksgiving turkey, baseball, apple pie. But he just painted things like he wished they were, not how he actually thought they were. If you look closely at most of his works, they have a hidden meaning that you have to think to uncover.

The Post placed restraints on his creativity, and I had never even known that until I filed past all of his covers up on the wall in the gallery. I came to one with an African-American child on the cover, and I realized that was the first one I saw to do so. Then I came upon this painting and the Little White Card next to it explained that Rockwell was not allowed to include black people in his illustrations for The Post, unless they were clearly in a servile position.

Rockwell grew increasingly more angry with racism the older he became. Eventually he refused to go along with convention and depicted what he felt like depicting. He painted this one, entitled 'The Golden Rule' during the desegregation of schools in the South, in 1961.

He started working for Look Magazine around this time, after 47 years with the Post. I didn't realize how moving some of his paintings would be. I stood in front of 'The Golden Rule' for a long time.

'Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi)' was the last painting in the exhibit, just before the exit.

He painted this in 1965 in outrage over the murders of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi. He usually had several projects on the go at once, but this one he worked on exclusively for 5 weeks straight.

All three of us enjoyed ourselves very much, but there was a downside. The sheer amount of people attending the exhibit. People were rudely edging other people out of the way. Some people would just come and stand right in front of something I was looking at, like I wasn't there. One guy even blew his nose REALLY loudly and at length in the midst of the crowd, which was really gross. Everyone turned to stare, and Chuck said,'NICE' really loudly and the guy glared at him. I love Chuckles for that.

After taking a short break in the downstairs Rockwell Cafe (where we enjoyed some Cokes...we decided to eat later on, I didn't feel hungry enough for a $9 cheeseburger), and walking through the rest of the building, we decided to check out the big silver and glass, industrial looking building.

What a surprise that place was!

Contained every sort of art imaginable.

There was the abstract, modern art.

This 'Mona Lisa' was recreated using loads of cotton-threaded spools tied together. And that little orb was smaller than it looks in the picture. Very neat.

African art. I thought this sculpture made up of little concrete heads was neat.

"You can't see me!"

The Early Italian Renaissance Art wing was amazing. I practically skipped over to it when I saw it.

Chuck and I walked up to this 'Madonna and Child' circa 1230-1274. Chuck exclaimed, 'Are these real??' I must admit I had that thought myself even though I answered 'Of course they are!' because you just don't expect to see this kind of art in North Carolina.

Our friend Helen is quite the globetrotting lass. She's a university English professor here in the States, but she loves to travel in her spare time. One month she's in England, next month she's in Morocco, before you know it she's in Brazil...

She was just telling us earlier that the best time to visit the Vatican museum is on a Monday morning. And here we were, dragging her around a museum in boring old North Carolina. But I think she still enjoyed herself a little. ;)

Chuck with a Botticelli. He really liked that one. That's a look of reverence and awe on his face.

We wandered into the Flemish Baroque period, and I must have stayed here longer than in any other wing of the building.

I like the above picture because people are sitting down looking at that one painting, so you can get some idea of the size of them. Most of the pics I took in this wing don't show how massive these paintings are.


This is a creepy one. The Little White Card next to the painting said it's called 'A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms', by Pieter Aertsen in 1551. It symbolically links food for the body with food for the soul, offered by Mary to the devout believers. I don't make this stuff up, People!

'The Holy Family with St. Anne' by Peter Paul Rubens.

Joan of Arc, done by Rubens and Workshop.

Another weird one, similar to 'A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms'. It's called 'Market Scene on a Quay', by Frans Snyders and Workshop, circa 1635-1640. This one apparently has no 'higher' meaning than just to portray the delights of nature and the 'marketplace'. Although the card next to the painting is careful to point out that this is not a real representation of a market, because it is "well known that meat and fish were sold at separate markets". Thank you, Little White Card.

Standing in the midst of all of these Dutch Masters was a 1st Century headless statue of Bacchus. You may notice he's also dickless. Or you may not have noticed, but I bet you do now.

THIS one really caught my eye. It's called 'The Dentist' by Jan Miense Molenaer in 1629. There is no explanation of the meaning on the Little White Card because this one obviously needs none. Look at the look on the woman's face! Creepy and awesome at the same time. I'd love to own that one.

We've now moved into the era of Rembrandt.

These are copper etching plates made by Rembrandt. He was a master etcher. All three of us were pretty enthralled by these.

The final area that we walked through held French Impressionist art. Chuck and I particularly enjoyed the Monets. They don't show up particularly well in photographs.

'Morning on the Seine, near Giverny' 1896.

After we strolled through the paintings for a couple of hours, there wasn't much time for anything else. The museum would be closing soon, and we'd been walking around for about 5 hours.

We made a quick stop in the Egyptian Art wing.

According to the gospel of the Little White Card, this one is 'Figure of a Man', circa 2494-2345 B.C.E. That's 'Before Common Era'. That's AWESOME.

It's a 'ka statue', which is an idealized portrait of the deceased for priests and relatives to leave offerings to in the chapel after death. This one apparently suggests that the person it is modeled after was wealthy, because of the size of the statue.

Then we visited the Roman sculptures.

1st Century marble torso. Rwoar.

This is 'Head of a Woman in Guise of a Goddess', Roman, 1st Century. Love it...almost as if she is about to turn her head and start looking at me.

I found the head of Bacchus!!

But not the penis.

I wonder if this guy has it...?

Nope. And Chuck feels sorry for this poor fellow.

They say that at one time, one of the Popes had all of the naked male statues in the Vatican de-penised, and the area covered instead with fake fig leaves. I wonder what they did with all the offending members, put them in a box in the basement?

At this point, the guards at the museum were sighing very loudly and clearing their throats and such. It was closing time, and they wanted to go home. I guess if you're around this amazing art every day, you get immune after awhile.

I snapped a few last pics on the way out.

There was an area that featured the works of Rodin. This photograph is one of my favourites for the day.

'Iris, Messenger to the Gods' was my favourite Rodin piece.

Wow. She looks like a lot of fun, eh? If I could do that, I would have been more popular in high school. I bet I know what kind of messages she was delivering to the gods. Hehe.

I took this one on the way out the door. These giant figures looked cool when we first came in, but even cooler on the way out. It was getting dark outside and the inner lighting really started to show up and look pretty.

I walked out of that place floating on air. I was seriously jazzed.

Unlike Helen, I'm not a world traveler. Neither is Chuck. I've traveled through Canada (every province between BC and Quebec), and to a few of the Southern US states (Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida...funny that I've never visited any of the Northern ones near Alberta, eh?).

I never in my life thought that I'd get to see that quality of art exhibited. I got to see it in North Carolina! When I saw the authentic Bruegel? I think I literally squealed. The Raphael? Catch me, I'm gonna faint.

And for that part of it to be unplanned? And free? That makes it even better! So forgive me if I sound like a nerd. Some of you live in areas where this type of art is commonplace, or you have the means monetarily to jet off at whim to these areas, and could see it whenever you want to. I don't.

Chuck, Helen, and I went to stop for dinner together before we had to head back home to the Coast. We were planning on staying an extra night and coming back Monday morning, but Chuck's work has been a little squirrely this month which we didn't expect. He had to come back for work.

We ate at the Greek Fiesta, which we thought sounded hilarious the first time we happened upon the place by accident.
They make a mean authentic lamb pita with tzatziki sauce. I don't know how 'authentic' it really is, but it's oh so delicious.

We said goodbye to Helen at the hotel, and made our way back home. Exhausted and happy. It was really cool meeting an online friend, I recommend all of you do that at least once. Just make sure that they're not perverts first.