Two interesting food stories drifted across my facebook today.
Literally the first thing I read this morning was the comments on this ‘Healthy Gumbo’ posted by Disney’s Princess and the Frog page.
Now I knew no good could come of this recipe when they started dumping veggies straight into a cold and naked pot. But I was actually shocked when they added kale and quinoa at the end. It was like Sandra Lee wrote the recipe for this ‘gumbo’. They added chili powder to simulate the dark red brown color of a roux. They added crushed bay leaves, which horrified me because bay leaf fragments in food are extremely dangerous*.
* Bay leaves do not soften on cooking, and the sharp fragments can actually lacerate or pierce bits of your digestive tract. This is why recipes usually call for whole bay leaves, and tell you to remove them before serving.
So I went and rummaged up the controversial video, because that’s what I do, and I don’t understand why it’s controversial. It’s a very technical summary of pho, by a chef whose love for the dish shines through a rather technical discussion of it. Its not a discussion of the cultural importance of pho, but it clearly was never meant to be one. Its about the technique of making and eating pho. It was educational. I didn’t know that rice noodles would continue to suck up the liquid, although the lack of broth as I eat a bowl has always been one of my least favorite things about pho.
One thing that especially struck me was when he talked about how people squirting sriracha into the pho before they ever taste it breaks the chef’s heart. This is a universal heartbreak among anyone who loves cooking, to have your labor so callously reseasoned (and over seasoned) is a heartbreak that unites across any cuisine and culture. (I have it every time my dad vigorously salts and peppers my risotto before even taking a bite.)
If we want to really talk about cultural appropriation, lets talk about what Disney did to gumbo. Gumbo has a huge, long, noisy history. I’ve never seen any two cajuns agree about is gumbo ‘done right’. But they all agreed today that this recipe Was Not Gumbo.
The first thing the recipe did was to qualify their version as a ‘healthy’ gumbo and skip the roux. Because regular gumbo is deemed ‘unhealthy’, the style of the dish needs to be fundamentally changed. Then they use an absurd ratio of vegetables, something like 4:1:2 green bell pepper:onion:tomato. (Incidentally, watching the argument between pro-tomato and no-tomato was one of the best parts of the comments. But I’m no-tomato myself.) Where is the celery? Why is the veggie ratio so weirdly off from the modified mirepoix that is the standard base of cajun/creole dishes? Who knows. (Okra is also in there, and there was another complicated debate in the comments about how they used the okra wrong, but I don’t like okra and never use it, so I didn’t pay much attention. However, reliable sources say you don’t just throw raw okra into gumbo.)
Then, because there’s no roux, the gumbo is the wrong color. This is fixed by adding chili powder. I’ll pause a moment for you to all vomit and return. Back? Chili powder is full of cumin and oregano and ground ancho chile. None of which belong anywhere near this cuisine. Crushed bay leaves are added, because why not add a pointy choking hazard to your meal? Whole wheat flour is used to thicken, because again, we have to fix traditional gumbo so that it’s healthier. Chicken stock is added, and it’s cooked for an while much like any vegetable soup.
At this point, I expected them to add chicken. But they added shrimp instead. When I make a seafood gumbo, I use the heads and tails and stuff to make a proper seafood stock. When I use chicken stock, I add chicken. This doesn’t seem like a hard concept, but apparently it is.
Then they threw in a head of kale. And served it with quinoa. I wish I were making this up.
Up to the kale I could forgive this recipe for being naive, the job of some poor ghost recipe writer who didn’t really know better. But kale doesn’t happen by accident. Neither does quinoa. All together, this recipe wants to use gumbo’s cultural associations, but it doesn’t want to actually be gumbo, in all it’s unhealthy glory. It has to be fixed, made healthier and trendier. There is no respect, much less love, for the roots from which it claims to spring. It is a mockery of gumbo. This kind of contempt is real cultural appropriation.
We eat a lot of cajun for a family that’s half Mexican and half muddled German. I don’t pretend any of it is super authentic. But it’s made with love and our best efforts. Love for the style of food, for the people eating the food, for the long generations that stretch back, table to table, to the beginning.
Today was the best kind of vacation day, the sort where you have no real plan and end up taking a 2 hour nap on accident and then spending the evening outside. Also there were donuts.
We ran out to the best bakery in the world in the morning and bought a simply ludicrous number of donuts. The plan was to have extra for our breakfast tomorrow, but various appetites expanded to fill the quantity of donuts so the only ones left for the drive are the ones glazed and then rolled in finely chopped peanuts. My mom and I are happy, but no one else is. Fortunately the bakery is on our way out of town.
And then we just relaxed. The boys played. I knit on geeky craft exchange Bigger on the Inside shawls with all my might and main. Raphael got put down for a nap at 2 and sucked me into a nap as well around 3:30.
In the evening we played cornhole and looked for a snapper turtle that was lurking around the dock and I acquired a precious supply of rhubarb to bring home with us. Rhubarb is $8/pound in Texas grocery stores. And it’s not in great shape by the time it goes on sale either.
I haven’t seen my oldest cousin a lot since we’ve been nominal adults, but I’ve spent more time with him in the last two days than in the last 15 years and it has been interesting getting reacquainted. I think I maybe understand him better now than I did when we were kids, and the naturalist in him gets along with the biologist in me very well.
He saw a snapper turtle pop it’s head up in the lake while we were halfway through our second game of cornhole and so David and I stayed out on the dock with him for another hour, hoping to catch it so David could get a close look at it. Apparently it’s egg laying season and she’s looking for a place to lay. And we talked about turtles and fishing and how deer will eat birds if given the opportunity and Wild Kratts, which was David’s contribution.
Later the boys and I FaceTimed Daddy to say goodnight. It’s rough on them being apart from him. David is intent on fishing at home, to hone his skill for the next visit, and Mike has promised to look into it.
Tomorrow we head home, two days of driving. And the weather in Texas is not promising. And then it’s back into the grind. At least, by the time we get home, Mike will be off for the summer.
It’s been a long while. I’ve really fallen out of the habit of blogging. Mostly this is because I stare at this white space and panic, knowing that I don’t have anything really profound, or even especially grammatically correct, to say here. And then I close the window and hit delete. Eventually, I stopped even opening the window to write in the first place.
But, thanks to a convoluted series of events that I don’t need to go into, I’ve looked up a couple of my old blog posts and realized how much I recorded daily life back when David was small, and how much I had forgotten about things like visits to zoo, etc. And right now we’re in Minnesota – we came for a family wedding and are spending a few days extra with my aunt and uncle, cousin and his wife, just visiting and reminiscing. These together have encouraged me to begin writing again. Nothing profound, just a record of daily life. Right now especially, between work and homeschool and CCE planning and knitting and visiting, time is just screaming by. I suspect I’ve lost too many moments the last few years to the fog of parenthood and the mists of time. I’d like to try not to lose too many more.
So! We’re staying at my aunt and uncle’s house, which is on the shore of one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Mike flew out Sunday evening – he can’t take vacation around three day weekends during the school year. My sister and her family left to drive home yesterday, and we left our resort cabin to come here.
My cousin took a group of us out on the lakes. He’s changed so much since we were kids, is so much more tolerant and friendly. I adored him when I was little – he was a year older than I was – and I was a terrible pest, following him around endlessly during our summer visits, and he tormented me in return.
But now, we seem to know each other better. We can tease each other without the undertone of childish malice. He was laughing on the boat because his mom and aunt would rather look at houses and talk about who lives where, but we would rather look for turtles and fish and the mysterious underwater features of the lake, because he says we aren’t really grown up.
Another cousin and his wife are having a baby in November. It’s very exciting finally someone I know is having a baby in a geographic and temporal location for optimum knitting! I had a perfectly brilliant idea for a baby gift and his siblings and I colluded quite happily on the details.
We have one more day here, then leave for the long drive home.