Saturday, February 24, 2007

How I make seafood gumbo

First you make a roux, unless you're like me and buy the stuff in a jar.

If that's the case, then the first thing you do is make a stock. The way I do it is pretty simple. Fill a large stock pot (6 quarts) at least half way with the following ingerdients:

- 8 to 12 fresh crabs - I was able to find some blue crabs at the Ranch 99 in Clairmont Mesa.
- a quartered onion.
- a few rough-cut stalks of celery.
- several garlic cloves.
- a few sprigs of parsley tied with string.
- a quartered lemon.
- a few bay leaves.

Fill the pot with water; bring the mixture to a boil; then cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until the veggies are very soft and translucent.

Once the stock is done, remove everything from the liquid and separate the crabs from the vegetables (I do this with a slotted spoon and tongs). Throw away the vegetables but keep the crabs in a bowl off to the side. Run the stock through a fine strainer, then again with a paper towel lining the strainer. Change the paper towel often to keep the stock flowing.

Now it's time to turn the stock into gumbo.

In a large pot, sauté a couple of chopped onions, a few stalks of chopped celery and a couple cloves of finely chopped garlic until the onions are golden and somewhat transluscent.

Add the stock to the pot, and bring to a boil. Using two tablespoons of roux for every quart of stock (use a little more for a thicker gumbo), mix the roux in a separate pot or bowl with a couple of cups of stock to make a paste, then add the mixture to the large pot. (For you purists out there who are mortified to learn that I buy my roux from a store and aparently have nothing better to do with your life than waste hours stiring at the stove, here's a great roux-making Web site.)

Make sure that all of the roux is incorporated into the stock. This is crucial. Any roux that doesn't mix thoroughly can settle on the bottom and burn. (I learned this lesson the hard way when making a massive pot of gumbo a few years ago during a family LSU football tailgate outing.)

Season the gumbo with thyme, sage, a couple of bay leaves and cayenne pepper. Add a couple of diced red bell peppers and the big front claws from the boiled crabs. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 to 45 minutes. (If you like okra in your seafood gumbo this is when you should add a cup or two of the chopped vegetable.)

While you're waiting for the gumbo to cook, clean the crab bodies of meat.

About 15 minutes before serving, add the crab meat (I usually buy a little extra from the store to throw in), at least two pounds of fresh shrimp, a pint or more of oysters (including the oyster liquor), and a cup each of chopped green onions and parsley. You can also throw in a pound of crawfish if that makes you happy.

Serve with a little rice, filé and your favorite hot sauce.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day-late king cake

Wouldn't you know it. The first time I mail order a king cake and the damn thing arrives the day AFTER Mardi Gras!

Frances Bakery gets an F for on-time delivery, but the Metairie, La., shop didn't disappoint once we started eating the thing. Frances (pronounced fransis-sez if you're a yat from Metairie) has long been at the top of my king cake maker list.

For those of you unfamiliar with king cake tradition, this sugary, cinnamon-roll doughy treat is served throughout Carnival season in south Louisiana. Hidden inside each cake is a small plastic baby. Whoever finds the baby is on the hook for buying the next cake - usually expected within a week.

My co-worker Jennifer (below) and others at my office just didn't get it. They struggled with the notion that finding a baby, or a facsimile thereof, could be anything but a joyous event. Convinced that the pink glob of hard Chinese plastic somehow was a talisman of good fortune, Jen spent the day hoping she would be the lucky one to find the baby in her piece of cake.

But she struck out. The baby ended up inside one of several pieces that I brought home to share with Rex's housemates. (For what it's worth, Rex says the cake, as seen in these photos, looks like Linda Blair threw up on a cheap pound cake.)

I gave up trying to imbue my coworkers with the Louisiana king cake tradition. Maybe here on the Left Coast the baby should be the bringer of good luck.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fat Tuesday in America's Finest City

Mardi Gras in San Diego's heavily homo Hillcrest neighborhood was a mix of county fair, street festival and circuit party.

The celebration covered two blocks along University Avenue - much smaller than the main Mardi Gras celebration downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter.

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is known as The Greatest Free Show on Earth. But here in San Diego, they charge $20 a head to get into the Hillcrest Fat Tuesday party.

There were a few people in costume.

Construction equipment substituted for street-side balconies.

A little flesh.
Lots of beads.

And plenty of places to pee. (Finding a bathroom in New Orleans on Mardi Gras is so tough there's even a song about it.)

Lundi Gras in New Orleans

My sister Michele sent these pics from the Krewe of Orpheus parade, Harry Connick Jr.'s Mardi Gras club that rolled Monday night through the Central Business District.

Click on pics to make them bigger.

New Orleans public high school bands, such as this one, returned to Mardi Gras parades this year after suffering devastating losses from Hurricane Katrina. This New York Times article chronicled the resurrection of the St. Augustine Marching 100, the most important marching band in the city.

Michele (below with the glasses) and her friend Mary, a West Banker, posed with one of New Orleans' finest along the parade route.

Thanks go out to Mary's husband, Dean, who took these pics.

Thanks for the memories Tom

My San Diego buddy (and fellow former New Orleanian) Tom H. just emailed this pic at 10 p.m. West Coast time - midnight New Orleans time - under the heading, "It's over."

Midnight marked the official end of Mardi Gras in the Crescent City when a shoulder-to-shoulder line of cops started its traditional march down Bourbon Street, clearing the street of revelers and ordering everyone home.

Tom took this classic Fat Tuesday photo a few years ago around midnight on Mardi Gras in a gay French Quarter bar called Good Friends. Yes, that's a condom wrapper on the floor.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

You know you're in California when . . .

. . . you turn the corner in Costco and find rock music legend Mick Fleetwood signing $50 bottles of his signature wine. I snapped this pic with my cell phone camera.

I'm beginning to think that Rex slept through the late 1970s and early 1980s. I actually had to explain to him who Fleetwood Mac is. His reaction to stumbling upon Mick in a discount warehouse store: "Well, he's got to be somewhere."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

London withdrawl

While roaming the neighborhood today I had a nearly uncontrollable urge to walk on the left side of the sidewalk.

Will it ever pass?

A bloody start to Mardi Gras

A fresh spate of shootings left two people dead and seven wounded in New Orleans as the city geared up for this weekend's big Mardi Gras celebration.

Meanwhile, a grim article in the New York Times reported on the continuing exodus from New Orleans. The story was punctuated by news that my buddies Greg and Rod are leaving their long-time home in Faubourg Marigny and moving to San Francisco.

Of course, there's another side to this story. Some of the city's unflooded neighborhoods are thriving, and new residents continue to arrive in New Orleans to be part of the reconstruction effort.

My friend Chuck, who lives in the French Quarter, reports that business is booming at his high-end fabric supply shop in the Warehouse District.

As is often the case in New Orleans, things are far more complicated than they appear to be.

Back in sunny SoCal

After spending two frigid and wet weeks in New York and London, we're back home in San Diego where an early spring has arrived thanks to strong Santa Ana winds. The humidity today was only 13 percent and afternoon temps hit the low 80s (F).

No complaints were heard from my pug Nero.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Random parting shots of London

Some of London's more interesting contemporary office building architecture.

Me doing some shopping at Clone Zone on Old Compton Street right in the middle of the Soho neighborhood, the city's main gay district.

Some of the sights along London's seedier streets.

Crews prepare a Leicester Square theater for a London movie premier.

Just one of the tens of thousands of closed circuit cameras that peer down on practically every inch of the city.

Rovics rocks London club

I saw activist folk singer David Rovics play on our last night in the city.

Unfortunately, this was the best picture I was able to snap during the show with my digital camera without using the flash.

A month ago, I stumbled across a music video on YouTube made by David about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I became more interested in his music after visiting his Web site and online Songwriter's Notebook.

David happened to be playing here in London now, and we were able to meet up with him for a while before his show.

He opened his set at Cafe Suki with "New Orleans," a song he wrote in the days following Katrina while he was on tour in Beirut.

His music covers everything from the war in Iraq to corporate corruption to urban sprawl.

He's also a really nice guy.

Check out his songs here. And go see him perform live if you get the chance.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The land of man skirts

This woofy Scotsman is Paul, my ex-boyfriend and our host during our trip to London. He donned this traditional formal wear to attend an event where he served as translator for Prince Charles and a group of Russian musicians.

In addition to Russian and his native tongue, Paul speaks at least four other languages (mostly self-taught) and has become an internationally acclaimed opera director in recent years - see this, this and this.

More London at night

The Clock Tower (Big Ben is a rather large bell inside) and the London Eye, sort of a giant slow-moving Ferris wheel along the south bank of the Thames River. (Click on pics to make them bigger.)

Those of you from Louisiana will instantly notice that the tower and wheel are bathed in purple, green and gold light - the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. Though it is Carnival season in Bayou Country right now, I'm certain the lighting combination was just a coincidence.

Westminster Palace, home of Parliament. The object in the water is some sort of barge that's been there for days. And I can't explain why the lighting on the front right corner of the palace was turned off when I took this pic.

The big wheel again. I should note that Londoners cringe when you call this contraption anything other than The Eye.

Westminster Abbey.

The heavily guarded entry to Downing Street, where Prime Minister Tony Blair resides.

One of the giant lions that overlooks Trafalgar Square.

Without a doubt, London is best viewed at night.

Getting rid of some pounds

I spent Monday afternoon hanging out and hitting stores with my buddy Roberto, a great friend and fellow former New Orleanian.

Roberto, who is a black and white art photographer, left NOLA just a few months before Hurricane Katrina, and temporarily relocated to Paris before landing in London with his Irish partner David.

They got married about a year ago via Great Britain's Civil Partnership Act. They live in the Vauxhall neighborhood on the south bank of the Thames River.

Roberto and I spent part of the afternoon roaming some of London's best shopping streets. We stopped first at Thomas Pink, a swank men's clothier in the chick Mayfair district where I bought this sweet tie (below) sporting tiny dragonflies.

Next stop was Fortnum & Mason for chocolates. We finished our spree at Davidoff where I picked up a Cuban cigar for Rex.

We ended the day at Bar Code in Vauxhall for the weekly Monday night Bear Code party. David was DJing the event. You can see his DJ profile at the bottom of this page.

Vauxhall seems to be home to a growing number of bears and bear bars. Roberto says the area reminds him of our old neighborhoods in New Orleans, Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Outrage! gang

We spent part of Saturday night in south London visiting with Peter Tatchell (middle above), Brett and Chris (below).

Peter is the best-known member of Outrage!, a confrontational gay-rights group formed in 1990, but his prominent role in left-wing British politics goes back to the 1980s. Some of his more imfamous acts - such as trying to perform a citizen's arrest in 1999 in the middle of London on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on charges of torture and abuse of gays - have earned him death and fire bomb threats over the years.

We enjoyed a spread of yummy snacks and coffee (below) at Brett and Chris's flat while we talked for hours about politics, gay culture, London, bars, outing, nature versus nurture, and other interesting stuff. We also met a gay Iraqi who talked passionately about the deadly danger facing gay men who remain in his country.

London chaos

London is really big and really crowded.

It's filled with young people - including a surprisingly large number of twentysomething women with American accents (why is that?). There are plenty of aging yuppies too, but I haven't seen many elderly folk. Seniors here might just stay close to home in order to avoid the crush of the streets, sidewalks and public transit.

And like in Manhattan, there are very few beggars or homeless people on the streets of central London. I wonder if, like in New York, city officials have forced most of the poor to flee to the suburbs.

We've had no problem navigating the city on buses, the Tube and commuter trains, but it's not unusual to be packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

Simply put, London is chaotic.

Streets twist and turn. Names of roads change constantly. (Americans, of course, must remember to look the opposite way when crossing streets.) Even the architecture is random and confusing. It's typical to find new glass-and-steel towers mixed in with centuries-old buildings, the direct product of bombing in World War II that left gaping holes in building rows that were later filled with new structures.

The pic above shows the British Telecom Communications Tower rising from behind early 20th Century buildings along Tottenham Court Road just north of the Soho neighborhood.

At times, I've felt like a scampering ant. But like inside an ant hill, there is remarkable order underlying London's apparent chaos. Things work. People get where they need to go. They're relatively polite to each other and to tourists. There's virtually no outward sign of crime or blight in the central city.

Still, as functional as things are here, getting through the day can be downright exhausting.