Disney’s gumbo no match for plums in the icebox

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When I promised to blog about Disney’s kale-quinoa gumbo debacle, I never imagined I would link it to poet William Carlos Williams. In September Disney posted a two-minute video recipe for Tiana’s Healthy Gumbo on its “Princess and the Frog” Facebook page and social media users went wild. Of course, William Carlos Williams wasn’t around to read it — he’s dead. But online readers were incensed by the gumbo’s ingredients — kale, quinoa, whole wheat flour but no roux!

 According to New Orleans’ Times Picayune , social media users took the sacrilege into their

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WWL posted this screen shot of the kale-quinoa gumbo recipe before Disney removed the post that outraged gumbo lovers!

own hands with hashtag #GumboStrong. They uploaded YouTube spoofs, alerted food bloggers and even started an online White House petition. Within hours, Disney’s Facebook post and You Tube video disappeared.

When choosing a gumbo for poet William Carlos Williams, I kept remembering a 1962 interview he granted Stanley Koebler of The Paris Review.  A poet as well as physician, Williams, poet by age 79 had already suffered a decade of heart attacks and strokes. Koebler describes the interview, “Because it was so hard for Dr. Williams to talk, there was no question of discoursing on topics suggested in advance, and the conversation went on informally, for an hour or two at a time, over several days. The effort it took the poet to find and pronounce words can hardly be indicated here. Many of the sentences ended in no more than a wave of the hand when Mrs. Williams was not present to finish them.”

The days during the interview, Williams kept waiting for the doorbell to ring with a copy of his 48th book, Pictures from Brueghel. Williams died eleven months after the interview.  Pictures from Brueghel won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry – and was awarded posthumously.

It’s “heartbreaking” that the poet who brought us memorable, simple images as a red wheelbarrow or ripe plums left in the refrigerator, was disoriented and unable to speak shortly before his death.  Poetry lovers (and high school freshmen who read his poems in their anthologies) are fortunate he left us with so many poems. I wonder if he would have been around to write more if he had eaten a healthy diet. Perhaps he did, and he’s the one who swiped those delicious plums out of the refrigerator.

So for William Carlos Williams and all of us who like gumbo (but aren’t giving in to quinoa or kale) here are five tips to make your favorite gumbo healthier while retaining great flavor and texture.

FIVE GUMBO HEALTHY TIPS

  •  Use low sodium or no-sodium broth & beware of high-sodium Creole or Cajun spice blends
  • Make the roux with canola oil
  • Skin chicken or turkey & use only white meat
  • Brown sausage in its own fat, then press in paper towels to remove excess oil
  • Serve with brown rice instead of white

 And, if you want a new healthy recipe, try one of these links

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My Culinary Creation: The Cheever Gumbo Po Boy

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“Are you finished writing? Can we go in the car now? It’s time for an ice cream sandwich.” Photo Credit: http://writers-n-dogs.livejournal.com/4441.html

Every Friday, for sixteen years, short story writer John Cheever and four friends gathered for lunch and conversation at various restaurants around Ossining and Croton, New York, where they lived. Cheever, sometimes called the “Chekhov of the suburbs” or “Ovid of Ossining,” also frequented the diner at 191 N. Highland Avenue in Ossining,  arriving with a book or newspaper under his arm.

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Writer John Cheever lived in the suburb of Ossingin, New York, with family, which included several dogs. He liked to take them out for ice cream sandwiches. Photo Credit: http://writers-n-dogs.livejournal.com/4441.html

But what did he order while dining out in the suburbs? No one seems to have documented that, except  for his fondness for Italian food.

Cheever, who had more than a hundred stories published in The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, The Atlantic Monthly and Collier’s from 1935 to 1981, wrote about people in their own time, with a theme of suburban life, misfortunes and heartaches. Ironically, Cheever himself lived in the suburbs and loved it.

Rarely does food play a part in his writing, though there’s an undercurrent of disdain for supermarkets. His journals, totaling 4800 pages, hint at a dislike for fast food and a habit of eating sandwiches while writing.

Two of his short stories, “The Swimmer” and “Kinder,” were turned into films, along with other stories for television series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theatre and Playhouse 90. In Hollywood while working on one of these projects, he discovered the Monte Cristo Sandwich, and described it in detail in his letters.

After I read his daughter ‘s description of Cheever loading the dogs in the car and taking them for ice cream sandwiches, I was convinced he would appreciate a gumbo sandwich rather than a bowl of gumbo. But, of course, it should be New Orleans po boy-style, not a typical sandwich.

Cheever’s Pulitzer prize winning stories, reminiscent of  The Mad Men era, could be paired with this very suburban Gumbo Joe (sloppy joe) recipe. It’s made with  ground beef and condensed soup like Campbell’s, popular in casseroles since the late 1940s, and very suburban.  But I don’t like beef in my gumbo or canned chicken gumbo. So, I’ve created my own Cheever Gumbo Po Boy recipe. It’s really very good though a bit messy to eat. The dogs might even lick your fingers if you’re not careful.

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Riding the rails, poet Wallace Stevens’ love affair with Florida

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The Gulf, Florida & Alabama Railway excursion train crosses the pine forest near Pensacola in 1913. Poet Wallace Stevens, traveling through the Florida Panhandle on business, might have traveled on a similar passenger train. State of Florida Archives/Cottrell Image RC03853

I’m always fascinated when I learn about a famous writer visiting Pensacola – no matter how brief the stay.  As a writer living across the bay from the city, I’ve found a vibrant writing community but rarely hear of any famous writer having lived here.  Much to my delight Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Wallace Stevens visited Pensacola in 1919 — a neat fact I discovered in my quest to read 52 American writers in a year.

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Stevens in Florida in 1922 from Florida Book Review of A Poet’s Escape: The Key West Idyll (and Turmoil) of Wallace Stevens

Stevens, a noted modernistic poet, never quit his day job, rising to Vice President of Hartford Accident and Indemnity Insurance Company in Hartford, Conn. Though his first poetry was published in 1915 and his first book in 1923, the bulk of his poetry was written after age 50. His business brought him to Florida for more than 20 years.

Early on, he described his anticipation to see Pensacola in a letter to his wife written on January 17, 1919, while riding the train from Jacksonville to Houston.

 “Summer never completely fades out in Northern Florida, but, of course, it is very different from Southern Florida which is four hundred miles away. Tomorrow morning I change cars, I believe, in Pensacola and have several hours to spare.”

Sounds like Stevens was looking forward to the stop.

And, of course, my imagination envisions Wallace Stevens’  train lumbering through the pine forest, crossing the Apalachicola River,  rumbling through quiet marshes, nearing  the beach and crossing the bay, to reach America’s first settlement, bustling Pensacola.

I wonder what Wallace Stevens did with his hours here.  Did he walk Palafox Street and visit glamorous San Carlos Hotel, lovingly called The Gray Lady? Did he walk the waterfront looking at hurricane damage from two years prior? After all, he was in the

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The San Carlos Hotel, affectionately known the Gray Lady of Palafox, was a grand and glamorous hotel in Pensacola built in 1910 that eventually had nearly 250 rooms. It was demolished in 1993, despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. State of Florida Archives Image PC11786

insurance business. Whatever Stevens encountered, it helped cement a love affair with Stevens and Florida that lasted a lifetime.

Of course, I also wonder if he sampled gumbo – maybe at the San Carlos.  Perhaps the  chef served the popular “gopher” turtle gumbo made with turtle meat purchased at the grocery store on the corner of Intendenica and Palafox.

Or perhaps Stevens dined on the train and ordered seafood gumbo. That is, if he rode the L & N, which featured a platter for the seafood lovers served with Seafood Gumbo, Julienne Potatoes, Cole Slaw, with shrimp and tartar sauce.

Though I can’t locate the original L & N recipe, here’s a recipe from Dairy Keen  an award-winning fast food restaurant  in Utah, where you can dine on gumbo as miniature trains clatter by on rails overhead. 

By the way, just like gumbo, Stevens’ poetry has layers of flavor, secret ingredients, that sometimes I couldn’t quite comprehend. But I envy his perfect meter, rhythm and rhyme. Maybe that comes from riding all those trains across Florida.

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Sancocho: Gumbo, Colombian Style

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This chicken sancocho was prepared by poet, artist and Colombia-native Victoria Franks. She recently left Florida to return to Armenia, Colombia, to live. She cooked and photographed the dish especially for The Gumbo Diaries. Victoria’s collection of poetry and art, Aroma of Coffee, is available in both Spanish and English on Amazon.

Today, guest author and friend Jeannie Zokan of Gulf Breeze, Florida, brings an international touch to The Gumbo Diaries. Her memories of a native dish hint at the flavor of her first novel, The Existence of Pity. The book is set in Cali, Colombia, and debuts November 14. You can read more by Jeannie at A Writer’s Cup. Welcome Jeannie!

I grew up with our maid making sancocho, a traditional Colombian stew, from leftover chicken, plantains, and lots of yucca. Every time sancocho was on the table, the meal was a special headshot2occasion, and I miss the simple goodness it brings back to me. I never thought much about it, though, until I started reading Diane Skelton’s blog about gumbo, and realized sancocho is Colombia’s gumbo.

As with gumbo, anything goes for this soup. Different kinds of meat can be used, as well as any vegetables available, but it’s usually served with rice, and often with a big glass of fruit juice. And like gumbo, it’s made differently depending on the area. In Barrancabermeja three meats are cooked into the stew. In Armenia, pork is the main ingredient. Along the Atlantic coast of Northern Colombia, sancocho is made with fish.

I spent most of my youth in Cali, though, so I made a call to the assisted living facility my parents once lived. The nurse on duty laughed at my questions about sancocho, thought a moment, then told me families often take the ingredients, including the squawking chicken commonly found in a Cali sancocho,  on vacation (a popular destination is a local river, maybe Rio Pance?) and the stew is made fresh on the shore. Now that’s a cookout! sancocho

Dear friend Victoria Franks, who moved back to her hometown of Armenia, Colombia, sent helpful information and some pictures of sancocho, but you can see hers isn’t served by the river. My mouth is watering and my heart is missing the memories of a time gone by.



Jeannie Zokan’s first novel The Existence of Pity, published by Red Adept Publishing, appears November 14 sancocho-bookand will be available on Amazon.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder: Farm Journalist to Children’s Author

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While other school children across America were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books, I was emptying the Eastlawn Elementary library shelves of those “orange biographies” about people like Clara Barton, Dolly Madison and Wyatt Earp. I had never heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder until I was 30 and my bookstore customer wanted to feature The Little House on the Prairie books in her advertisement.

I didn’t read Wilder then either. Not until I invented this 52 American Writers series did I actually read Laura Ingalls Wilder. I chose to read, however, her articles written for Missouri Ruralist. Long before she was famous for writing children’s books, Laura Ingalls Wilder (Mrs. A.J. Wilder) was a household name. She was a farm journalist – truly a voice from the prairie providing advice and guidance to women living in rural areas.

Originally published from 1911 to 1924, her articles are reprinted in Stephen Hines’ book Laura

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“A Homemaker of the Ozarks” in June 1914 issue carries a Mrs. A.J. Wilder byline.

Ingalls Wilder: Farm Journalist. Though in one piece she disavows giving advice, many of the pieces provide advice on topics ranging from self-education to use of modern inventions to make life less burdensome.

There are touches of poetry, memoir, anecdotes, inspiration.  Even included are a few travel logs sent from her only daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who went on to become a famous journalist, travel writer, O. Henry Award winner, and the editor for her mother’s stories. For me, these articles give a  personal  perspective  into the lives of women on both the prairie and farm. Her wisdom holds true today with lines like “ The problems of today and tomorrow must be met in much the same ways as those of yesterday” and “The key to a good life hasn’t changed much in a century.”

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Mother Laura Ingalls Wilder and daughter Rose Wilder Lane were both noted journalists of their day. Rose later assisted her mother as editor of the “Little House” books.

Her farm journalist articles include some recipes with an international flair like Mexican Tamale Loaf and tips for making plum jelly, but there’s no prairie stew or gumbo. So when determining a gumbo for Laura Ingalls Wilder, I’ll take a line from By the Shores of Silver Lake, when Laura tastes Oyster Soup for the first time and relishes in its “savory, fragrant sea-tasting hot milk with golden dollops of melted cream and specks of black pepper on its top, and the little dark canned oysters on the bottom.”  And to those oysters, add some prairie rabbit and cook up a pot of Emeril Lagasse’s Rabbit and Oyster Gumbo.

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Gumbo for F. Scott Fitzgerald — anything but listless

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Don’t worry about popular opinion, dolls, the past, the future or growing up —  those were just a few of the items on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s list for his daughter Scottie. Image F. Scott Fitzgerald with his daughter Scottie in 1924.

Readers of the Jazz Age classic The Great Gatsby see a bit of the author’s personality when narrator Nick Carraway lists in great detail the guests arriving at Gatsby’s party.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author, was himself a notorious listmaker. When University of South Carolina received  Fitzgerald’s personal scrapbooks, including 13 ledger-sized notebooks, archivists found, among other things, list after list.  Sadly, no favorite gumbo list, though he did keep detailed recipe logs.

His last personal assistant, Frances Kroll Ring, wrote he was “amazingly organized” and

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Fitzgerald’s lists included money earned, money spent.

made lists for novels, football plays, football players, wars, reading, movies. Of course that wasn’t news to his daughter Scottie. When she was eleven, he prepared a life list of things for her to worry about, not worry about, and think about.

 

In 1936 when wife Zelda was under treatment in a nearby psychiatric hospital, Fitzgerald was convalescing in an Asheville, North Carolina hotel. He offered his nurse a list of 22 books he

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No Shakespeare or James Joyce on this list of essential books that Fitzgerald dictated to his nurse.

 thought were essential reading. The list on the right is written in the nurse’s hand. Best known for serious works The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, The Beautiful and the Damned, his humorous side appears in his famous Turkey List for Thanksgiving.  Published in 1956 along with some recipes, the list provides a dozen funny ways to prepare turkey. For instance, Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.

Of course there’s no turkey gumbo recipe on the list, but he surely would appreciate the Southern tradition of gumbo the day after Thanksgiving. (After all, Zelda was from Montgomery, Alabama).

So it’s turkey gumbo for F. Scott Fitzgerald, served with lemon cake for dessert, as a remembrance of The Great Gatsby scene when Gatsby prepares an afternoon tea for Daisy.

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On the Road: Gumbo for American Writer Jack Kerouac

This back-of-the-book-photo shows  Jack Kerouac's original continuous manuscript next to the original manuscript 50 years later. I missed seeing it because I was on the road.

The back-of-the-book-photo (left) shows Jack Kerouac’s original continuous manuscript. Fifty years later the original (right) came to Texas. I missed seeing it because I was on the road.

I was on the road and couldn’t make it to the Jack Kerouac exhibit in Austin, Texas, in the summer of 2008.  A month earlier, I had seen the show advertised with a lengthy, winding banner stretching along a stone wall on the edge of the University of Texas campus. The banner resembled the continuous teletype-paper manuscript of Kerouac’s novel On the Road – all 120-feet of it. Well, except for the part his friend’s dog ate.

Written by the Father of the Beat Generation, the semi-autobiographical novel covers the bohemian travels of Sal Paradise (Kerouac), the story’s narrator, and his friend Dean Moriarty, a rambling free spirit, as they crisscross America four times from 1947 to 1950.

Some say On the Road inspired the television series Route 66 starring Martin Milner and George Maharis, a Kerouac look-alike. Kerouac is on the left, Maharis on the right.

Some say On the Road inspired the television series Route 66 starring Martin Milner and George Maharis, a Kerouac look-alike. Kerouac is on the left, Maharis on the right.

The traveling Kerouac would have loved Guy Fieri’s TV series Diners, Drive Inns and Dives. Those were the kind of places he and his characters frequented on the road from California to New York. Though Kerouac repeatedly mentions a fondness for ice cream and pie, he includes plenty of other food references . . .

 “Just show me the bluefish spangle on a seafood menu and I’d eat it; let me smell the drawn butter and lobster claws. There were places where they specialized in thick red roast beef au jus, or roast chicken basted in wine. There were places where hamburgs sizzled on grills and the coffee was only a nickel. And oh, that pan-fried chow mein flavored air that blew into my room from Chinatown, vying with the spaghetti sauces of North Beach, the soft-shell crab of Fisherman’s Wharf—nay, the ribs of Fillmore turning on spits! Throw in the Market Street chili beans, redhot, and french-fried potatoes of the Embarcadero wino night, and steamed clams from Sausalito across the bay, and that’s my ah-dream of San Francisco.” On the Road (1957)

This excerpt convinces me Kerouac liked the mild, sweet taste of lobster and crab. So for Jack Kerouac, I recommend a big bowl of shrimp and blue crab gumbo from Guy Fieri’s recipe on Food Network.

By the way, I couldn’t make it to the Kerouac show in Austin that summer because I was moving to Florida, the state where Kerouac was living when On the Road was published and where the road ended for him at age 47. It’s nice to know that Florida remembers him with The Kerouac Project and Writer’s Residency in Orlando.

Oh to be a writer at this retreat. The Kerouac Project is located in Cottage Park section of Orlando supports writer residencies.

The Kerouac Project,  located in Cottage Park section of Orlando, supports writer residencies.

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