No frybread for my Thanksgiving

Fall dinnerWhen I heard The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, describing his new book about “indigenous people food” on BBC World radio, I was fascinated.  Somehow I missed the Native American indigenous food movement crisscrossing the U.S.  Even Native American restaurants are popping up. But the Native Café on Pensacola Beach is not a Native American restaurant, no matter what Google says.

The radio interview resonated with me since my latest food interest deals with genetics and food preferences. Native Americans contributed the sassafras to make filé for gumbo, so maybe the smidgen of Choctaw in my DNA predetermines my preference for gumbo.  Plus, I love Indian frybread and just about anything made with corn.

Sherman, an Ocala Lakota Sioux who grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, now lives in Minnesota where his business The Sioux Chef  is preparing indigenous foods freshly foraged from the region.  The foods he cooks are pre-colonization, before the European influence – no beef, pork, chicken, wheat flour, refined sugar or dairy products. Instead, it’s bison (buffalo), venison (deer), elk, fish, berries, herbs, ginger, flowers, pine, heirloom seeds, squash, wild grain, corn and foods native to a particular region.

Sioux ChefBut no frybread.  Sherman says it’s not genuine Native American food. Frybread evolved when Native Americans moved to reservations and the government dispensed rations of lard and wheat flour.  It was starve or figure out what to make with those ingredients. Such ration foods may have increased the rates of obesity and diabetes among Native Americans.  Sherman’s philosophy, along with others in the movement, uses regional native foods to produce a healthier, lower glycemic diet.

Sherman hopes to one day see indigenous food education and training centers, food trucks and restaurants designed for specific areas and cultures. He’s already up and running in Minnesota. I think if he wants an indigenous food revolution, however, he ought to include Pow Wows and Indian Casinos. That’s where most of us get our impressions of Native American food.

Take the 47th Annual Poarch Creek Indian Pow Wow in Atmore, Alabama during Thanksgiving. According to, 20,000 people are expected to be there, and they’ll be chowing down as they watch the colorful parades and dancers. Plus visitors will be forming opinions about Alabama’s only federally recognized tribe. The Poarch Creek are truly indigenous. Despite the Indian Removal Act of 1830, they remained on their tribal lands and have lived together for almost 200 years in and around the Alabama reservation. But when it comes to the Pow Wow, vendors will be IMG_5420serving foods like BBQ sandwiches, hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken tenders, roasted corn, turkey dinners, ribeye steak sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, pork skins, Indian Tacos and Kona Ice. Indian Tacos are about as native to Alabama as Kona Ice is to Hawaii.  

Casino restaurants could be another moving force for an indigenous food revolution. The National Indian Gaming Commission reported a Gross Gaming Revenue totaling $31.2 billion in 2016. According to, 474 Indian gaming centers operate in the U.S. Thanks to the Florida Seminoles who established the first Native American casino in 1979, casinos now operate in 28 of the 50 states.

But when I close my eyes and remember food choices at a casino in Oklahoma, I remember an all-you-can-eat buffet – followed by a bad stomach ache.

Despite my experience, casinos have a reputation for fabulous holiday buffets. And while they’ve got the nomenclature down, like Talking Stick Resort or Wandering Horse Buffet, the horse wandered pretty far off the Arizona reservation to cook cheesy enchiladas and fresh sushi. Casino diners could have a much more authentic experience savoring recipes like The Sioux Chef’s  Maple Glazed Roasted Acorn Squash with Pepitas served with a glass of Cedar-Maple iced tea.

At least the menu at the posh Poarch Creek Wind Creek Casino in Alabama hints at indigenous food. They offer fried oyster salad, seafood gumbo (with filé) and sweet corn chowder. I just refuse to count the Buffalo Wings. posted this Facebook video of Sean Sherman cooking with native ingredients.


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Gumbo Science & 23 and Me : Do we eat what we are?

IMG_0523“So, how much Italian do you have?” the man at the Sons of Italy membership table asked.  My husband and I were browsing the booths at the Festa Italiana in Pensacola, trying to walk off lasagna and sausage and peppers. Since my husband is still awaiting his 23 and Me genetic report, he was off the hook.  He honestly doesn’t know his ancestry. Me, I have zero, absolutely none, not one single drop of Italian blood. But I didn’t want to dampen the recruiter’s moment, so I changed the subject.

Italian meatballsHours later, suffering from extreme indigestion, I vaguely remembered some article I’d read — something about foods rebelling because they are out of our ancestry realm. That’s why, the writer suggested, some people are lactose intolerant. They lack the gene to tolerate lactose. I’ve never handled Italian foods well, especially those heavy with tomato sauce or “Italian gravy” as the Sons of Italy spokesman described it over the loudspeaker. (I don’t count spumoni and tiramisu because the creamy calories ease them smoothly to the stomach).

What if we “eat what we are” rather than “are what we eat”? In other words, what if the downloaddiet that settles best with our digestive tract is determined by our genes?  Not simply, I love gumbo because my family has always cooked it, but gumbo settles well with me because my genetic makeup includes Native American and French.  Seems reasonable since my 23 and Me reports already tell me that I am likely lactose tolerant, am likely to taste certain bitter compounds, like cilantro, prefer sweet snacks, and can detect the odor of asparagus in my pee. Now that’s pretty personal.

In 2012, Italian medical geneticists concluded a three-year scientific study named Marco Polo.  For it, researchers traveled the ancient Silk Road and collected more than 1000 volunteer DNA saliva samples. The volunteers also participated in studies of sound, taste and smell, and selected food type preferences from photographs. The results aren’t yet published, but data indicates tastes for certain types of food  “are shaped by each and every one of our senses.”  For example, I like salty food but don’t like salty, slimy oysters. I prefer the crunchy food like fried fish or fried shrimp. (As for fried oysters, I eat the crunch and throw away the oyster.) Marco Polo may prove our genes determine what we like to eat.

But Marco Polo doesn’t address digestion issues.  According to the online text Genetics and the Universe Within, “Along with other factors, such as the health of our gastrointestinal tract, our genetic makeup can affect which foods we digest well, and which ones we don’t.” That’s called food tolerance and food intolerance. But as of 2015, the Irish Medical Journal reports there is no widely acknowledged scientific evidence to suggest that food intolerances can be detected in DNA from a person’s saliva. And most currently in 2016, apart from lactose intolerance and celiac disease, Medical News Today reports “there is no accurate, reliable, and validated test to identify food intolerance.”

But I do think there’s a future when medical geneticists will confirm that I enjoyed and tolerated the German food at the Oktoberfest last week because, mixed in with my French DNA, is some German. Together they make up 10.3 percent of me. That’s why I’m considering trying this recipe for French German Gumbo. Bring on the bratwurst and wiener schnitzel.


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Why the Greeks didn’t invent gumbo

Greek spinach pieRather than dining at the 28th World Championship  Gumbo  Cookoff in New Iberia, Louisiana, last weekend,  I found myself at the 58th Annual Greek Festival in Pensacola, Florida. Pondering the two events, I wondered  “Why Didn’t the Greeks Invent Gumbo.” There’s a running shtick in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding as actor Michael Constantine continually points out words and inventions from the Greeks.  According to historians, Ancient Greeks brought us sliding doors, urban planning, plumbing, central heat, robots, cranes, showers, lighthouses, alarm clocks, weather stations, vending machines to mention a few. Of course we all enjoy theatre, the Olympics and our democracy, thanks to the Greeks. But when it comes to food there’s nothing Greek comparable to gumbo. To solve this puzzle I’ll apply logic (thanks to the Greeks) and deductive reasoning (more thanks to the Greeks).

Did they have what it took? When I taught World History to sixth graders, I learned Olives and olive oilAncient Greeks dined on olives, olive oil, feta, wheat, grapes, grape leaves, figs, honey, eggplant, cucumbers,  lamb and seafood.  Combining ingredients, they created dishes like baklava, gyro, dolmathes, moussaka and spanakopita. Italians (dare I say Romans?) lent influences like pasta and tomatoes. Research tells me Ancient Greeks had garlic, onions, crayfish and oysters – ideal ingredients for seafood gumbo.  The word “oyster” even comes from the Greek word ostreon. Ancient Greeks only had “wild celery” which is more of a grass (Clue #1) and lacked bell pepper (Clue #2) and okra (Clue #3). Spices were abundant, though, including oregano, thyme and basil (from the Greek meaning “royal”). But no filé from the sassafras tree (Clue #4).

Did they have the technique? Gumbo starts with a roux, which probably evolves from a French technique. Ancient Greeks cooked with olive oil, and, believe me, olive oil makes a foul tasting roux (Clue #5).  I once substituted ¼ cup when I ran out of Crisco, and the olive oil ruined the roux. Greeks primarily used flour made with barley, rather than wheat which the French preferred. Doesn’t calculate, though because the oldest city in modern France, Marseille, was founded around 600 BC by the Greeks.  So it’s probably safe to say Greek cuisine influenced the French, rather than vice versa. Hence, no wheat flour for roux for the Greeks.

Did they have the need? The Greeks believed having a happy life meant leading a productive one. Let’s face it, they were pretty productive and kept busy inventing spectacular architectural and mechanical devices.  They probably weren’t hungry enough to crack open a crab; they had plenty of squid.

To the Greeks, it wasn’t about what you had, but what you did with it. The Greek restaurant in Gulf Breeze, where I live, serves Gumbolaya (a hybrid jambalaya-gumbo-stew made with shrimp, crayfish and fish). When creating the dish, Chef Stavros took what he had and did something with it. In Memphis, Tennessee, Rocky Kasaftes, the owner of Alex’s  Pub, serves Greek gumbo.  After describing it as filled with black olives, spanakopita and feta cheese and topped with baklava, he laughs at his own joke and explains  “It’s Greek gumbo. It’s Greek because I’m Greek and I cook it.


Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine as the proud parents at their daughter’s wedding in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I credit gumbo’s invention to a blend of cultures:  Acadian-French-Creole-Spanish-African American and Native American.  Nary a Greek in sight.  But as Michael Constantine explains in his wedding speech in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “. . . I-I was thinking last night, um, the night before my-my daughter was gonna marry, uh, I-an Miller, that, um, you know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word Milo, which is mean apple, there you go. As many of you know, our name Portokalos is come from the Greek word Portokali, which means orange. So, okay, here tonight we have, uh, apple and orange… we all different, but, in the end, we all fruit.”

And in the end, we all eat gumbo.

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Treat yourself to a good book: It’s National Gumbo Day

peace love gumbo

Celebrate! It’s October 12 and that means it’s National Gumbo Day. I’ve been celebrating this day for years and even launched my book The Gumbo Diaries on National Gumbo Day 2015. But, this year I’m celebrating by buying someone else’s book, and, of course, cooking gumbo.  I’ve narrowed my book choices to three – each celebrating gumbo in a unique way.

Fresh off the LSU Press is The Fonville Winans Cookbook: Recipes and Photographs from a Book CoverLouisiana Artist. You might remember his black and white Cajun images from my last post.  Along with fame as a photographer, Winans also acquired an excellent reputation as a cook. Baton Rouge’s WBRZ-TV aired regular cooking segments with him on “Today in Louisiana.” Published just ten days ago, the 284-page book  is compiled by his daughter-in-law Melinda Risch Winans.  After his death in 1992, she discovered two journals filled with recipes he had invented or collected in the 1950s and 1960s. I haven’t seen a copy of the book yet, but considering Winans was Louisiana’s official photographer and spent years documenting life in Cajun country, I expect captivating images and surprising recipes. Booksellers promise me never-before-seen Winans’ photos, a biography compiled from family memories, and hundreds of recipes, some with personal success notes.  The foreword is by Chef John Folse, who showcased a parody photo of Winans’ famous photo “The Oysterman” as the cover of his 842-page tome. Folse’s book is second on my list.

FolseFellow writer Charlie Davis loaned me his autographed copy of Chef Folse’s The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine (2004). It is truly a comprehensive encyclopedia of culture and cooking. The compilation covers Louisiana history describing its blend of Native American, African American and Acadian influences; lore and legend (a stone that cures snake venom); festivals; plantations; culinary terms; historic and food photos; maps; a two-page spread on the history of gumbo; a roux color chart; and, of course, wonderful recipes. I could read this book for hours, but dare not leave it in the kitchen (for fear of spills) or on my coffee table (for fear of collapse). The book weighs a hefty 9.6 pounds and my coffee table has a glass top. Folse’s recipes sing to my soul – buttermilk pie, Creole tomato grits, spinach madeleine, marinated crab claws, corn and crab bisque, stuffed eggplant with shrimp. The first recipe I’m going to try, however, is a gumbo I’ve never made — Red Beans and Rice Gumbo. I usually freeze my leftover red beans, but thanks to Chef John Folse, they have a new destiny.

Lucy Buffett, Jimmy’s sister and owner of popular LuLu’s restaurants in Gulf Shores, Gumbo LoveAlabama, and Destin, Florida, released her third cookbook in May. She’s titled it with her catch phrase “Gumbo Love.”  According to reviewers, the 336-page book incorporates Caribbean, Cajun, Cuban, Mexican, Old Florida, and Creole influences in more than 100 recipes intertwined with stories of her life. Best of all, it begins with dessert. She explains the title Gumbo Love in this You Tube video, while wearing a great Peace, Love, Gumbo shirt.  She’ll be at Jewelers Trade Shop in Pensacola on Friday, Oct.13, 6 p.m., for a “Meet and Eat” where she’ll sign copies of Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining, and Savoring the Good Life. And, yes, she’s sampling the recipes in the book.         

Selecting my National Gumbo Day gift is tough because each book contains more than recipes. Each offers love for everyday of the year. I was surprised to learn The BuzzFeed Quiz “Which Weird National Day Falls On Your Birthday?” designates October 12 as National Farmers Day. I could understand Columbus Day, the date’s original holiday or even Indigenous Peoples Day, which occasionally falls on October 12. No matter. Every day is in harmony in a gumbo love world — farmers grow the Trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper) for gumbo and Native Americans shared sassafras leaves for filé with Columbus. You see, everybody puts down the roux spoon and holds hands in a gumbo love world.  Peace, Love, Gumbo.

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Off to college: educating and elevating, Cajun-style

P CoverMy neighbor’s son is off to college at Louisiana Tech, four hundred miles away from our Florida neighborhood.  And in the past three weeks on campus, his mother reports, he’s embraced the Louisiana culture, foodwise that is. He bought a container of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning because every person he met had one. And he’s learning all about gumbo and etouffeé and jambalaya. It’s just a good thing he’s a cross-country runner because in Louisiana the “freshman fifteen” can easily swell to the “freshman twenty-five.”

Just about the time he headed for college, I bought a copy of “Authentic Cajun Cooking” at an estate sale.  Still unopened in its original clear cellophane mailing package, I snatched it up when I saw the photo of the author – Chef Paul Prudhomme. Neither the Pitney-Bowes postage label or the publication has a date, I suppose because it’s bulk rate advertising. The booklet was published and distributed by McIlhenny Company (Tabasco) as a marketing gift. The guide’s text and graphic design date it somewhere between 1981 to 1983. It’s a personal history of Cajun culture and food told in the words of the late

Prudhomme funeral Advocate staff photo by Eliot Kamenitz

St. Louis Cathedral at the funeral of Paul Prudhomme. PHOTO CREDIT: Advocate staff photo by Eliot Kamenitz

“Chef Paul,” who put Louisiana cooking in every kitchen in America. Next week marks two years since  white-jacketed chefs carried his casket into St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square. After the mass, hundreds of mourners formed a “second line” and followed a brass band to K-Paul’s Kitchen, his famous restaurant.

The 14-page brochure features two gumbo recipes, along with Cajun favorites courtboullion, jambalaya, dirty rice, meat pie, sac-a-lait and corn maque choux. And then there’s candied sweet potatoes, potato salad and sweet potato-pecan pie — and more — to total seventeen recipes. Each chapter begins with a Prudhomme story about growing up in a Cajun farming family. Accompanying the stories are 1930s photographs by

F Winans

Photographer Fonville Winans filming on south shore of Lake Palourde in St. Mary Parish in the 1930s. PHOTO CREDIT: Louisiana Historical Photographs of the State Library

Fonville Winans, noted Louisiana photographer who preserved the culture of Louisiana in black and white images, along with other photos from the Historic New Orleans Collection and The Louisiana State Museum.

In the introduction, Chef Paul writes that his family descended directly from the “Acadians who emigrated from southern France to Nova Scotia in the early 1600s, then migrated to South Louisiana in the mid-1700s.” These authentic Cajun recipes are ahead of their times in the culinary world. Take, for example the latest cooking trend — television chefs “elevating” almost every dish by topping it with a fried egg. The Cajuns were elevating with boiled eggs a hundred years ago . 


For the above recipe, Prudhomme explains since his family consisted of Cajun “farmers,” fresh shrimp were not generally available so they used dried ones. The lack of refrigeration might have had something to do with that, too.  But it just goes to prove, you can enjoy Louisiana flavors wherever you live. And for an extra dash of Louisiana, sprinkle on a little Tony Chachere’s or, better yet, add a dash of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Gumbo Filé.

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Cooking Up a Storm: Art Exhibit Meets Food Truck, Rallying Rawlings Style after Hurricane Irma


The Historic Thomas Center in Gainesville opens its “Cross Creek Rising” exhibit Friday, Sept.29 in conjunction with Artwalk. Three food trucks will rally with menus inspired by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek Cookery.

“Cross Creek is Rising” and the Margaret Kinnan Rawlings Historic Site has reopened. Though I’d love to see the art show, “Cross Creek Rising: The Consciousness of Land & Water,” I’m more excited about what the chefs are cooking for the Food Truck Rally portion of the event. They’re making Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings-inspired dishes. After studying Cross Creek Cookery, I know what I’d be cooking. I’ve watched plenty of food truck shows on television and know that anything deep fried sells. And, of course, I’ve eaten at a few food trucks, too.

Hurricane Irma didn’t dampen the spirits of the Cross Creek Rising artists when the storm barreled through Central Florida.  John Moran delivered his art to the Historic Thomas Center, first by boat through the flooded streets of Gainesville, then by bicycle. The juried exhibit features photography, drawings, paintings and sculpture created to celebrate the role of North Central Florida as a muse. In other words, the artists are being inspired by their environment just as Rawlings was with her writing. And in Moran’s case, getting the work to the show meant immersing himself in this environment.

To complement the art exhibit, the food trucks from Mayflower Cellars, Vanarchy Sandwiches and Fables Catering will be dishing out creations, part of Gainesville’s Artwalk, Friday, Sept. 29. This is one of the many cultural events scheduled commemorating the 75th anniversary of both Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery.

If I were bringing a food truck to the rally, I’d be cooking croquettes. I mean, Marjorie was passionate about croquettes. She includes nine – yes, nine — croquette recipes in Cross Creek Cookery.  She believes “there is little excuse for wearing out the patience of a family by serving left-over meat plain cold sliced, day after day, when croquettes are so simple to make, and so tasty.” Using Marjorie’s recipes, my food truck (appropriately named Marjorie’s Cross Creek Croquettes) will fry up and serve all nine types from her cookbook. And some are truly surprising. She describes a parsnip croquette as the ugly duckling transformed to a swan.

Marjorie’s Deep Fried Cross Creek Croquettes

∼ 3 for $8 ∼

Vegetable Croquettes: Potato, Sweet Potato, Parsnip

Dessert Croquette: Rice with tart Wild Plum Jelly

Meat Croquettes: Chicken, Lamb, Ham or Turkey (save the beef for hash)

Specialty of the House: Egg Croquette

Egg Croquette

The Mother’s Egg Croquettes that I made are “delicate and of pristine simplicity,”  just as Marjorie promised. I did feel like I was dining at a country club luncheon in 1954 when I bit into one. The subtle flavor, however, is worthy of any fine restaurant anytime.

I’m quite taken, in fact, with her Mother’s Egg Croquettes.  The recipe was once a closely guarded secret. That is, I guess, until her friend’s cook stole it, trying to outdo the Louisville Country Club. Marjorie herself provided the recipe for her husband’s chef at Castle Warden Hotel. Neither place made it quite right, but I’m giving it a try.

When sharing the egg croquette recipe for the first time in print, Marjorie writes “Some of the most delicate dishes in the world are of pristine simplicity, but with a subtle flavor past the most elaborate French concoctions.” And mine turned out as delicious as that sentence sounds.

If you’re in the Gainesville area, Friday night around 7, stop by the Food Truck Rally at the Historic Thomas Center, enjoy a MKR-inspired dish and check out the art selected for “Cross Creek Rising: The Consciousness of Land & Water.”

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Hurricane Irma: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park Closed “Until Further Notice”


Hurricane Irma resulted in the closure of 168 Florida parks. The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings site, located in Cross Creek, is included. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery.

In January when I visited the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Site near Gainesville, Florida, I blogged about the visit and made some wild promises about cooking my way through Cross Creek Cookery to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the cookbook.  The staff at the site had planned a year filled with celebratory cooking and cultural events, to celebrate the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Yearling.  But then came Hurricane Irma, plowing a swath right through that part of Florida.

Now I’m wondering if the hurricane left anything of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – her


Letter E marks the location of the author’s home located on Orange Lake, on an isthmus connecting two lakes. Note the size of the lakes.

lovely 1930’s writing cottage, furniture, priceless first editions, antique car, chicken coops, farm and orange grove.  The park is one of 168 closed in Florida due to Hurricane Irma, and there’s no posting of when it will reopen.  

Like the name of the novel and companion cookbook, her home is located on Cross Creek, which connects two large lakes, Orange and Lochloosa. Cross Creek (the nearest town is Hawthorne) sits on an isthmus between the two lakes. Walk down a path behind Rawlings’ house, and there’s water, lots of water, shallow swamp water, then deep lake water. 

Ironically, an upcoming event was entitled Cross Creek Rising.  Photos published by the Gainesville Sun, show plenty of high water and downed trees in Alachua County – that’s the county in which Rawlings’ farm is located. Of course, her home has survived its share of hurricanes.  When MGM’s 1947 production of The Yearling was being filmed nearby, a hurricane destroyed the set.

So, while the official historic site is on “disaster leave” I can at least keep the celebration going in a small way by sharing a few of my Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings cooking adventures. My Gulf Breeze kitchen is dry – Irma went the other way. 

In March, I tried Rawlings’ Flank Steak recipe (pages 112-113). For the first time ever, I


Flank Steak as prepared using Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ recipe in Cross Creek Cookery.

cooked flank steak that came out tender.  Following her instructions, I scored, added water, boiled, simmered, then repeated the steps. The entire time I kept thinking this is never going to be tender – but, in the last ten minutes – voila! – tender flank steak.  

My latest tribute to Marjorie was recreating Sour Orange Pie, popular at The Yearling Restaurant down the road from the historic site. I had given up making the pie because I couldn’t find sour oranges. That’s when my hairdresser Emilie brought me a plastic grocery bag filled 

Calamondin 1
Calamondin mixed with lemon juice provides the flavor of Sour Oranges, which grow wild in Florida thanks to the Spanish.

with green calamondin from her tree. Florida cooks recommend a recipe substituting calamondina Filipino fruit, for Florida sour oranges. Emilie brought me enough for two pies – the first from the green unripened calamondin and the second when remaining citrus ripened to orange. Both pies were delicious and the juice tastes the same, regardless of the fruit’s color. Best of all, Emilie reminded me of another benefit of the calamondin – marinating flank steak. Upcoming state park events (that may well be cancelled) are a porch party, a concert, art exhibit and Food Truck Rally. So, I’m off to research suitable recipes in Cross Creek Cookery for casual outdoor dining. While I can’t 

Calamondin 2
Sour Orange Pie made with wild sour oranges is a favorite at The Yearling Restaurant. I substituted calamondin for sour oranges, thanks to my hairdresser.

predict the weather or how a recipe turns out, maybe I can predict what the park rangers would have served.

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