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A Grateful Heart Doeth Good
Like a Medicine



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Hurricane Gustav
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A Grateful Heart Doeth Good
Like a Medicine
14 September 2008

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into
enough, and more.
 It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order,
confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a
home, a stranger into a friend.
 Gratitude makes sense of our past,
brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."

~ Melody Beattie

Okay. Chances are you just knew that I would wind up writing about hurricanes.
Most assuredly. How could I not? "Your Webmistress, Up Close and Personal", right? Right. If you had been walking in my shoes, perhaps you would understand just how unavoidable and inevitable a theme this is for me. On these pages I have
an opportunity to let you know what's going on in my life, and with any luck at all
there will be some worthwhile recipes involved.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking... you're tired of hearing about hurricanes, reading about hurricanes, thinking about hurricanes. No kidding. SO AM I!
Because of my experiences over the past 4 years, the very word evacuation
tends to send my blood pressure skyrocketing. Red alert. Adrenaline rush to
the max. Just in case this sounds like fun to you, think again.
Actually, the Gustav evacuation itself was not bad at all. Sounds crazy, but now
that I think of it, parts of it were downright enjoyable. I have found that the most stressful part of the whole thing is the decision itself. To go, or not to go? And where? When? Is it really necessary? And what about the money??? Trouble is,
you have to prepare either way, just in case! Once those decisions are made
and the preparations completed, the rest is usually not so bad, as long as you
don't wait until the last minute.
So what does all that have to do with gratitude, pray tell? We're supposed to be grateful for hurricanes, death, destruction, devastation? Certainly not! My point here is that I have found saving grace in being grateful IN a desperate situation
by insisting on making a gratitude list, no matter how dire the straits. And just in case this sounds way too Pollyanna-ish to you, hey, what can I say? If you prefer
to focus on how horrible your situation is, knock yourself out. Experience has
taught me that accentuating the negative will eventually produce a downward
spiral. We can easily wind up being sucked down into the mire. Attitude may
not be everything, but it can make all the difference, especially when we find
ourselves in crisis.
So please, Please, PLEASE count your blessings! Seriously. Do you realize just
how much we Americans (most of us, anyway) take for granted? If right at this moment you are reading this in your home or office, large or small, modest or opulent, chances are you have access to a computer and electricity (or a good
laptop battery). You probably have hot and cold running water, too, and access
to cable TV and books and music. And hopefully a loving pet by your side.
Just imagine what it would be like to be in Galveston or Houston or Beaumont
or coastal Louisiana right now! Things we normally take for granted suddenly
become priceless luxuries in catastrophic situations. Consider this: "[9/14/2008]
Ike's 110 mph winds and battering waves left Galveston without electricity, gas
and basic communications — and officials estimated it may not be restored for
a month." (MSNBC/AP)
Are you being threatened by flood waters? Have you lost everything you ever
hoped to own? Are you in a remote location or shelter wondering if you even
HAVE a home? Do you know what that is like? Can you even imagine the
stress of such uncertainty?
Do you have your health? Is your family safe and well? Are you able to put food
on the table? And I don't mean Chateaubriand... I had a bacon, egg and tomato
sandwich yesterday that was absolutely heavenly! I thanked God for it. And for a good internet connection, cable TV, air conditioning, cell phone, a full gas tank.
My gratitude list is very long indeed...
Believe you me, there have been plenty of things to complain about for the past several weeks. But here's the thing... gratitude is a spiritual force. God blesses
a grateful heart, and therein lies the power. If we are truly grateful for what we
have, we make room for more blessings. And not only that, but medical science
now acknowledges that gratitude boosts the immune system!
On my very toughest post-Katrina days when I found myself tempted to gripe
and moan, groan and gritch, all I had to do was think about the Super Dome, or
the 9th ward, or the thousands of lives lost in the horrendous flooding to the east
of LaPlace. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was an absolute nightmare. Gratitude
became my watchword. I found myself saying "Thank You" over and over and
over again. Thank You, Father, that I am alive and well, that I still have a home,
no matter how many problems there are to be dealt with. Amazing grace...
Gustav sent MissSophieDog and me to Flora MS, northwest of Jackson. I did
NOT want to leave. On the other hand, I knew better than to stick my head in
the sand. I have become a firm believer in making the best of an apparently bad situation. To do otherwise is simply to invite trouble. Did I slip in and out of fear
and worry, no matter how hard I tried not to? Indeed. We are all human, are
we not? The key is to learn not to live there, not to make fear our habitation.
Not as easy as it sounds, of course, but I work on it every single day.

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

Serendipity is a very fine thing. Among the many pleasures of my dear friends' beautiful acreage was just walking around admiring the fruit of their labor. We
ate fresh vegetables from John's garden almost every day, and I was able to sit
on the balcony outside the guest room during my morning quiet time and admire Judith's rose garden (which she transplanted from her former home) . It has
taken me a lifetime to really appreciate the value of living in the moment. No
matter what might have been happening in LaPlace, I found great comfort in
counting my blessings and enjoying idyllic surroundings along with a cup of
my favorite chai tea.
 And we made new friends! The Lowerys made their guest house available to evacuees who were relatives of a neighbor. (Said neighbor had 15 people
coming from Louisiana, and felt that was more than she could handle...) This wonderful Cajun couple and their son live in Houma LA, much farther south
than LaPlace, and therefore much more vulnerable to severe damage from
Gustav. I learned a lot from these dear folks. There was no doom and gloom whatsoever in their attitude or demeanor. The gentleman had just retired.
He laughingly told us that he had always hoped to take a nice trip to celebrate
his retirement, but hurricane evacuation was not exactly what he had in mind...

And now for the food!

My friend Judith dearly loves to feed folks, so she wasted no time in asking
her guests over for dinner. John wanted to fix them his infamous eggplant
casserole, but had a tight schedule. He somewhat reluctantly agreed to allow
Judith and me to tackle it. As he rattled off his instructions, both Judith and
I both taking notes (hers written and mine mental). John said, "These folks
are from SOUTH Louisiana... we've got to come up with a better name than
John's Eggplant Casserole!" They both looked at me. "Why in the world
are you looking at me?" "Well, you write, don't you, and you speak French!"
Hey, just because I have a web site called La Belle Cuisine does not mean
that I am fluent in French. I do, however, just happen to know the French
word for eggplant... And that's how we came up with

Aubergines Jean Lafitte

Following are Judith's notes (seriously!)

Italian breadcrumbs

Peel eggplant, cut chunks, boil. Onions, bell, garlic, sauté. Mix and mash. 3 eggs, Sauté shrimp/andoui. Mix. Evaporated milk. Layer shredded cheese. Remember everything is done, now bake at 350 just enough to melt cheese.

It became my task, of course, to turn this into an actual recipe, which I promised
to publish on LBC. And I would, of course, take copious notes whilst helping with mise en place and prep work. Mais oui! We were assisted by Judith's most capable young daughter, Hannah, who already knows her way around the kitchen.
The copious notes fell somewhere by the wayside. What follows, to the very best
of my ability, is a record of what actually transpired in Judith's awesome new kitchen that fine day:

5 medium eggplant (preferably homegrown)
2 green bell peppers, diced
`1 red bell pepper. diced
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
(or similar Cajun seasoning blend)
1 pound Andouille sausage, sliced
(and/or Italian sausage, removed from casing, crumbled)
1 pound lump crabmeat (Watch out for cartilage!)*
3 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined if you must
About 1 generous cup Italian bread crumbs
3 large eggs, beaten
1/4 to 1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 pound shredded mozzarella
Freshly grated Parmesan to top casserole

* If you are on any kind of budget whatever, you may choose to omit
the crabmeat. John chose to go overboard for this auspicious occasion.

Okay. This is the hard part. If you are an experienced cook, these somewhat vague instructions should present no problem at all. If you are a novice, well, just do the best you can. After all, one learns to cook by cooking, no? (And you may just want to take a look at what we have to say about the basics.) Peel the eggplant and cut into medium chunks. Place in a large saucepan or small stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is very tender.
Drain off the cooking liquid, then mash the eggplant with a potato masher. John's first critique of our work was to inform us that we did not get the eggplant mushy enough. Judith and I decided that we liked it the way it
was, so suit yourself. I like to be able to recognize the eggplant, being a devout eggplant aficionado. Place the smushed eggplant in a huge mixing
bowl unless there is a whole lot of room left in pan/pot. Add some salt.
Meanwhile (while the eggplant is cooking) get out your best large cast
iron skillet (or favorite large sauté pan), cover the bottom with olive oil,
and add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Sauté gently over medium-
low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender. I'm
not exactly sure what seasoning Judith used at this point, but you might
as well throw in a little Tony's or such. I've noticed that Judith is partial
to Cavender's Greek Seasoning, but I think she used it later to season
the shrimp. Add the sautéed veggies to the eggplant, and proceed to
sauté the sausage, crabmeat and shrimp (separately) in the same skillet.
You'll probably need to add a bit more olive oil... no point in skimping
when you're cooking Cajun style! And PLEASE be very careful not to
overcook the shrimp... just a light sauté till they turn pink, okay? Shrimp
can turn to rubber in nothing flat... and that reminds me, John said to
chop the shrimp, but Judith had such beautiful perfectly fresh shrimp
that she couldn't stand the thought. She left them whole (yum!) and
her daughter, Hannah, declared gleefully that they were the best shrimp
Judith had ever cooked. We all thought (secretly) that it was a shame to
put them in a casserole! And it was interesting to observe folks at the
dinner table digging surreptitiously for shrimp as they dished up their
dinner. Good thing we used 3 pounds...
But I digress... as you finish sautéing these delicacies, add them to the eggplant mixture and mix gently. Then add the bread crumbs and eggs;
mix gently again. Then add the milk and stir gently. How much milk?
Good question. This is where your culinary judgment comes in. It's
difficult to be exact with such measurements because it really depends
on how much liquid is in the mixture at that point... how well did you
drain the eggplant, how much liquid was added to the mixture with the
veggies, etc. According to John, the point is to add enough bread crumbs
and milk to produce a mixture approximately the consistency of a good cornbread dressing. If you've never made cornbread dressing (or even Yankee dressing) you'll just need to wing it. Not soupy, but not dry.
Now get out a big rectangular casserole - at least 13x9 inches. A lasagna
pan would be better... or maybe a large oval Corning Ware casserole
(a Thanksgiving favorite). You get the idea. Either spray it with nonstick cooking spray or coat with olive oil, and make 3 layers: 1/2 of the egg-
plant mixture, then the mozzarella, then remaining eggplant. If you are
making the casserole early in the day, cover it and set aside.
When ready to prepare dinner, top the casserole with a generous amount
of grated Parmesan and bake it, uncovered, at 350 degrees F just long
enough to heat through and melt the Parmesan to make a beautiful,
delicious crust, about 20 minutes or so. Bon appétit, cher!
And what accompanies this magnificent dish? Judith chose to sauté some beautiful squash, bell peppers and onions fresh from the garden, and she insisted on Fried Green Tomatoes, as she just happened to have a number
of green tomatoes lying about. This casserole cried out for a huge green
salad, and (it almost goes without saying) garlic bread! Merciful Father,
somebody SAVE me from myself. This is good eatin'!
Dessert? Three guesses... Bread Pudding! And don't forget the sauce...
Even more important, please don't forget to say grace! We were all too painfully aware of what was happening as Hurricane Gustav attacked
the Louisiana coast. All the more reason to be grateful, right? We ate,
talked, laughed, sipped a little red wine, ate some more, got to know
one another, and had what my grandmother called fellowship. That is
very important indeed, especially during troubled times. Amen!

Featured Archive Recipes:
Cajun Seafood Baked Eggplant
Eggplant Bayou Teche
Eggplants Filled with Sausage Jambalaya
Eggplant and Seafood au Gratin
Eggplant and Shrimp Casserole
Shrimp, Eggplant, and Rice Casserole

Be well, stay safe, enjoy yourselves. Make the most of every day,
be grateful for every breath you take. Live with passion! Give a
hoot! And until next time, remember,

"If the only prayer you say in your life is 'Thank You'
that would be enough.

~ Meister Eckhart

"As you go through each day, are you mindful of the little blessings
God has given you? The air you breathe, the family you have, the
reliable car you drive. If you were to sit down and list all of the
blessings in your life, big and small, you would begin to cultivate
a thankful spirit. Today, look for blessings in unexpected places
and be sure to express your gratitude to our loving and gracious
Father in heaven."

~ Dr. David Jeremiah

Comfort Food
Comfort Food for Times of Loss
More on Comfort Food
Nursery Food

Nursery Food, Take Two

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon



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