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.


Liz said...

Hi Kyna,

Cool to hear about your ethnic background, and a whole lot of types of food I've never heard of! :P

Btw, I think it's generally a very European thing for people to be loud and argue during card games. Pete's family are the same (Portuguese), they talk loud and end up shouting over each other, tv is loud, when playing cards they argue, mum ends up crying and so on lol.
Quite eventful!

I also enjoy being adventerous with cooking, although it sadly doesn't extend to fish as I'm not a seafood person - tuna, cod, haddock, pollock and prawns are as far as I'll go.
I rarely ever follow a recipe if I'm honest, I try anything - within reason, no crazy ideas. And it usually ends up yummy.

As for surnames, I can relate to that, I have an unusual surname too, and always dreamed of marrying into a 'normal' surname. So instead I end up with a Portuguese guy which is no better! ha ha.
You'll also be shocked at the number of people unable to spell Elizabeth. Seriously.

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Kyna girl I love the story of your family !
Guess where I spent some of my early childhood ? Waskesiu, inside of Prince Albert Park ! My father was a civil engineer working for the parks administration with the federal government. I remember seeing moose and wolves and (get this) driving with my parents to the "dump" to watch the bears feed on garbage .. yup .. not too bright eh ? haha
One of my most favorite "smells" were my Indian mocassins that smelled of smoke and animal oil I think .. I can still imagine that smell it was wonderful : )
Bannock ... YES !! my father's side is Scottish (full of red heads too hehehe) and we loved eating bannock: )
I'm not a great cook but love reading about other people cooking .. and we had a pet crawfish in our fish tank that would "escape" a lot .. one morning I found him in the down stairs powder room waving his big claw at me almost shouting "help !! put me back in the tank please!!" but it was too late .. poor guy.. I felt really bad for him .. but then we moved on to "ghost shrimp" they stayed in the tank .. you could say they haunted it ?? snort giggle
So now you know I spent time in Saskatchewan, girl !
Joy : )
PS .. we love pirogies here too!
ppss .. I love my lamp too ;-)

meemsnyc said...

What a great story about your Canadian family. It's great to have family memories like that. I've been to Louisiana once, and I'll never forget the delicious etoufee we ate there. I still think about it. It sounds very time consuming to make but well worth the effort. Oh and homemade pierogies ROCK. My former roommate is Polish and every Christmas I went to her family's house and we'd make hundreds and hundreds of pierogies. So good!!

Alison said...

Great tales about your family, loved reading about them. So cool that you love to cook, I do too!

Have you ever visited this blog, about cooking? An excellent blog with good, close-up photos. I've made a few of her recipes and they've come out yummy!

Anonymous said...

Dear Kyna, How I admire your skills as a cook. As for me, I try to never be found in a kitchen.
I do, however, love eating and your crawfish dish looks and I am sure tastes absolutely delicious.

I was interested to read of your Ukrainian background and, in particular the inclusion of cabbages dishes frequently in menus. In Hungary, cabbage is a staple part of the diet and crops up in the most unexpected [for me] dishes. However, I have grown to really like the Hungarian cuisine and miss it so much when in England. How wonderful that you can create these memorable meals in your own home.

Marguerite said...

Saskatchewan! that's awesome, my mom is from there too, although more southerly. All german farmers on that side of the family. Wish I could get my hubby to be more adventurous with food. Only meat and potatoes are acceptable here and absolutely no fish. we've living in lobster heaven and he won't touch the stuff, sacrilege.

Turling said...

Excellent. I'm picking Moose Jaw as the hometown, even though it's in the south. I just think it's funny and the running joke when I had season tickets to the Kings was "where's that guy from?" "Moose Jaw!!" Was always the answer. We were normally drunk, so it was much funnier then.

I love the grandparents stories. My grandparents were in their 50's when my father was born (the great "oops"). By the time I rolled around they were well into their 80's and both passed near 100. My grandfather was born four years before the first modern olympics, which were in 1896. Yep, the man was born in 1892. My grandmother a couple of years later. Talk about Little House on the Prairie! My grandmother would tell us about the old crate they nailed to the front of the wagon for her to sit, and how it was eye level with the horse's butt. I could listen to those all day.

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Kyna, what a great post! And the photographs are a special treat! As you can guess, my favorite part was that one about your Ukranian relatives (not about ripping a Crawfish' head off). I suspect there is some Ukranian blood in me, but it's not documented. You are a hero for me since you make piroshki from scratch. I make only fast american version of them, shame on me!
Thank you! It was a pleasure to read this post!

kevin blumer said...

i prefur to cook in the winter time when it is cold its to hot in the summer to cook well i think it is i useually just have salads and jacket potatoes in the summer

Søren said...

That sounds like a wonderful meal!!!

Also, that wedding picture of your parents? That is a wonderful image, and very stylish in the "Mad Men" times.

Laura said...

My husband is perogi obsessed! The homemade ones are a real treat though. We have a friend who makes them on occasion. A good friend to have :)

Diana (Di) said...

Handsome couple, your parents. Kyna, I love your story of family, people who are survivors! Perogies, cabbage rolls... now you made me want to make them... and that Crawfish Étouffée looks delicious. But where is the recipe for the beautiful bread/rolls?

Shyrlene said...

Wow ... I stand in awe! Amazing dinner... way cool family history.

Kris said...

Soooo sorry to learn of your inept cooking skills and totally uninteresting family. I'll bet your poor husband (of the woeful countenance) probably has to eat out quite often to get a decent meal. I don't know why I even read your blog. It's so dull and the pics are usually bad to boot.

(Hmmm, Waaait. My auto-adverb/adjective generator seems to be on the fritz again. Crap) Ooops. :-P

Meredith said...

You make pierogies from scratch?!? Man, is there anything you can't do, Kyna? F. loves those things, but I just buy the frozen ones in the box -- not being blessed with Eastern European heritage, myself. ;)

Claude made me giggle. You must be a joy to live with.

Kris said...

No, seriously, this is a lovely post, rich with fun, food, family and laughter. You are truly blessed. And crazy. :-D

Kyna said...

Liz: Haha, I think you're right. My ex's family was German, and they were even worse than my Ukrainian one. They played Canasta as their game of choice, and they called it 'Fist and Foot'. The cards ended up in the garbage a few times.

I'm not shocked by anything anymore. Completely unsurprised that someone wouldn't be able to spell Elizabeth. But then there are parents going around purposefully inventing new ways to spell classic names like Ilyzabyth or something just to be different. THOSE are the people ruining it for you ;)

Joy: I think your crawfish story almost me cry. At least the crawfish I bought were already dead, I didn't have to watch him begging for his life. So there you have it, I named a dead crawfish. Oh yeah, and the smell of moccasins is AWESOME. It's one of the smells I miss. My grandma made them for people.

meemsnyc: Visiting Louisiana is on my list of places to travel in the immediate future. Chuck and I know a couple of people there, so it's nice to have someone guide you around. :)

Alison: No, I ahven't. We sell a lot of her book at my store, and I just learned from someone what she's all about. Kinda sounds like me...from the big city, transplanted into the country. 'Greeeen acres is the place to be...'

Edith: I'm actually becoming more of a cabbage fan as I get older. I love cabbage rolls, I like sauerkraut, and I like corned beef and cabbage. The thing I like about getting older is that I'm more unafraid to try new things. I used to not be able to have things touching on my plate. I've gotten a lot better about that.

Marguerite: Yep, I've spent a lot of time in Saskatchewan. I like north better than south though, the scenery is more interesting. In southern Sask, it's so flat you can watch your dog run away for miles.

Turling: HAHA! No, it's not Moose Jaw, but my brother played minor league hockey there when he was younger, and lived there for a few years with his girlfriend when he was older. Moose Jaw is actually nicer than it sounds, I was surprised too :)

Chuck's (maternal?) grandparents were pretty old too when they had kids. His grandfather was born in the 1890's, I think it was 1896 though. They came over from County Kerry, Ireland. I wish Chuck wanted to guest-write about his family, because it's very interesting too, but he's declined ;)

Tatyana: What I really think it interesting is all the ways people spell 'perogy'. There must be a version in every European country I suppose. Here people say pierogi. If I was going to write the Ukrainian way it's 'pyrohy'. But it's all delicious, so who cares, right? :)

Kevin: Nice to meet you, thanks for reading! :)

Soren: I really, really loved your comparison...'very Mad Men'. LOVE. :D 'Cause they do look like that, don't they? Chuck was laughing when he was looking at both pictures of my dad...only a few years apart and my dad put on some pounds pretty quick lol! My dad looks less 'Mad Men' in that one and more 'Welcome Back Kotter'
(not sure if you're familiar with that tv show, google it if you haven't and see what I mean ;) )

Diana: Unfortunately I don't have a recipe at the moment that I trust to give all of you lol. I've only made it myself a couple of times, and it didn't compare to my grandma's or my aunt's bread. I'll have to ask my mum if she has one...

Shyrlene: Thanks! :)

Kris: You didn't think I was mad, did ya? :) I definitely speak sarcasm, and thought your first post was hilarious! Trust me, I not only can give shit to people, I can take shit too ;) Bring it on!

Meredith: Believe me, I would give up my cooking talent for some talent with doing math. Cooking I would never do as a career no matter how much I love it, but being crap at math keeps me from my dream jobs. :(

But you're correct about one thing. I am a PEACH to live with. Right,Chuck? RIGHT?


Kal said...

I love your site. You are not only a local girl (all Canadian girls are local girls) but you know of the genius that is the perogy. I will be back.

Timmypage said...

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

If you ever write a book, this should be the tagline :D

Although I knew most of this already, time is a cruel mistress and my memory isn't what it used to be, so it was great catching up with your story.

Also, I didn't realise Chuck was Irish... I'm an 8th Irish.

About your comment on knowing people in Louisiana... I'll let you guys know when I'm on my way to the East Coast ;)

Kyna said...

Get your ass down here! :D