I gave away most of my cookbooks several years ago to the local junior college’s culinary program, and never looked back. But I hung onto a few, including some I had barely opened, but felt guilty about giving away since they had belonged to Buck’s late first wife. Karen was a fine artist with a great fondness for entertaining friends. She and Buck raised three children together and had a real love affair for most of their marriage, but at some point they began to dream different dreams, and eventually divorced. Karen married a locally beloved retired pediatrician 24 years her senior in an Episcopal church ceremony within weeks of when Buck and I eloped to Dale County, Alabama where his cousin set us up with a county judge.
Karen and Joe had twenty years together before he died. They traveled the world and enjoyed the local arts culture, birds of like feather in so many ways. But despite her relative youth, Karen’s health wasn’t good, and in 2005 she died from complications of a stroke just 60 days before Buck’s and Karen’s 45-year-old son, Darryl, died of a heart attack. You might say 2005 was one tough year. The construction of our new home was roughly 60% complete when all this happened. We couldn’t go back, but it was the hardest thing in the world to move forward. It took a lot of the joy out of that remarkable project.
After Karen’s death, I helped the kids with the sorrowful task of cleaning out her waterfront condo. There are several stories in that alone, but I won’t go down that trail today. I wound up keeping several of her cookbooks, her recipe box, and a Le Creuset cast iron set in Flame. I told the kids the Le Creuset set is designed to pass on to the next generation, so if any of them or their children ever develops an interest in cooking, I’ll keep them clean and well-used. Which I do.
So when Buck and I used one pound of the shrimp we bought at Joe Patti’s on Wednesday for a peel and eat boil, I tucked the other pound into a zip bag encased in crushed ice in the coldest part of the fridge and we hatched the idea of making Shrimp Creole for Friday’s supper, a dish we haven’t eaten in years. After a quick, unsatisfying search of internet recipes, I remembered Karen’s cookbooks. The three I saved were from a specific region of the country, really a culinary universe all its own: NOLA.
Here they are: Brennan’s New Orleans Cookbook by Hermann B. Deutsch (1961), LaBouche Creole by Leon E. Soniat, Jr. (1981), and The Commander’s Palace New Orleans Cookbook by Ella and Dick Brennan (1984). After comparing Shrimp Creole recipes in each, I went with the one from Commander’s Palace and followed it with two exceptions. I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, but used Muir Glen organic San Marzano style from the pantry, and used only two teaspoons of Louisiana hot sauce instead of the recommended four. Good thing, too!
Internet recipes can be a mainstay, especially from trusted sources like New York Times Cooking, Epicurious, and Cooks Illustrated, among others. I especially enjoy Sam Sifton’s NY Times Cooking newsletter . It’s like a friendly, newsy email from a friend. It gives you access to their recipe data base with your own recipe box. And it’s free. No need to become a subscriber. Best deal out there for foodies.
I think Karen and Joe would have enjoyed sharing our supper last night, even if we were ex-laws in life. I wish they were both still topside.