food… glorious, sumptuous food

by Toni McGee Causey

"It’s gumbo weather."

If you hear that in south Louisiana, you know two things: it’s probably late into the football season and we’ve just recently had a "cold snap," which meanGumbos we’ve finally had nights that dip into the 40s. It also means that a whole lot of natives just broke out the skillets (the better to make the roux), and green onions, shrimp and a ton of spices.

There are a wide variety of gumbos–most use a chicken stock as part of the base and add on from there. Shrimp and okra, sausage and chicken, the general throw-everything-in-the-pot seafood. Its stock is typically thinner than a stew and thicker than a soup, served over rice, and served with a condiment called filet (ground sassafras). (One tiny 1/4 teaspoonful per bowl is usually enough.)

Now, if your gumbo  gravy is red, then you’ve got some other influences going on in there which are not south Louisiana; if there are hard boiled eggs in there, absorbing the gravy, then you’re probably eating gumbo in the Lafayette / Lake Charles area. [North Louisiana gumbo tends to be thinner and lighter as well.] [My husband completely freaked out the first time he fished an egg out of the gumbo pot. I think he thought he’d married into a bunch of crazy people. He was born in Alabama. We make allowances.]

When we’re developing characters and place in our stories, there’s one often-forgotten sensory experience left unexplored: tastes. But it’s one powerful connector to place, to the unique aspects of that place, which can orient a character there faster and more firmly than any mountain of prosaic description of landscape could ever manage.

For example, I know if someone mentioned crawfish etouffee,
[pronounced eh-too-fey] and its particular blend of spice, that they are familiar with south Louisiana.


I’m not sure if they’re familiar with the fact that one of our main crops is rice (which is one of the reasons why it’s so prevalent in many of our dishes), but if they can describe the particular creamy-roux-based taste, with a touch of tomato mixed with onions and butter, generally heavy cream (this is not cooking for the diet conscious), then I feel like they’ve captured a sense of the place. If, however, someone mentions boudin [boo-dan–that ‘n’ is barely pronounced, then I know they’re a bit more familiar with south Louisiana heritage. (Boudin is one of those foods, like sausage, where you really just do not want to go looking all that carefully at the ingredients, if you’re queasy abBoudin_1out that sort of thing. It’s a finely chopped meat/uh, other stuff/rice/spice combination which is then stored in sausage casings. Think "spicy spicy spicy "dirty rice" and you’ll have some idea. A lot of field hands and hunters / trappers would take a string of boudin links with them out in the field–cutting off a link and squeezing out the rice combination to eat as they worked or hunted. Made for easy transportation of food. I’ve seen people who beg for hot Thai food tear up over boudin, if it’s made well.)

We have other regional foods that are, perhaps, better known nationally: the spicy rice/meat combination we call jambalayaJambalaya.


The common "po boy" which I understand has variations elsewhere as the "hoagie" or the "sub": 



A local favorite, blackened redfish, which pretty much disappeared when the fish were over harvested and the state stepped in to mandate maximums: Blackenedfish

(I’m not 100% sure that’s redfish in the photo, but it was the best representation of what truly "blackened" means… those spices have been seared onto the fish, the fish is not at all burned.)

I know we commonly have beignets [bin-yays] here:


Whereas, elsewhere in the country, they might call them sopapillas:



Long before there was a Starbucks in south Louisiana, their coffee cropped up in places in fiction I’d read. (I honestly had no clue at first what a Starbucks was. The preferred coffee here is Community, usually Dark Roast, which will stand up and bitch slap you, it is so strong.) I’ve gotten a tremendous sense about who that character is from whether tBaklava_2hey cook mac and cheese from a box or a five course (possibly poisoned, if it’s a murder mystery) Italian meal. Or a fine, flaky dessert called baklava:

I don’t necessarily want a description of every meal–or even many meals, especially in thrillers or mysteries where too much description could slow the killer pace, but people eat and drink and noting regional favorites gives added… uh, flavor (sorry), to the work. Does the character know their way around a kitchen? or have they stockpiled take out menus (and if so, is their favorite Chinese? Thai? Italian? Russian? Do Russians have take out menus?) (I am now suddenly realizing that Bobbie Faye’s boss, who owns the Ce Ce’s Cajun Outfitter and Feng Shui Emporium will now also have to open a Russian-styled "home cooking" place because, well, she’s Ce Ce. And a little crazy.)

So what’s normally cooking in your area? Tell me about your regional favorites, especially the local variations on them. And is anyone else a Top Chef fanatic? Bueller? Bueller? hello?

(ps… happy birthday to my oldest son, Luke!)

65 thoughts on “food… glorious, sumptuous food

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Toni

    All this talk of food is making me hungry! Everything looks delicious, and speaking as someone who’s eaten haggis and live sushi, boudin holds no fears for me ;-]

    Robert B Parker always describes what people are eating in his books, and the way they eat. And you’re right, it does add a lot to the character.

    Now I come to think about it, I don’t have my characters stopping to eat much. They always seem to be in an all-fired hurry. Maybe I should give them more of a break …

  2. Allison Brennan

    I am so hungry. I love Louisiana food. Gumbo is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve been to Louisiana a couple times (driving to visit relatives in Alabama–don’t knock Carl!) and went to New Orleans for a week and the best thing I remember is the FOOD.

    In California, we don’t have anything truly regional, except I’ve never had clam chowder soup better than what my San Francisco born grandmother made, and true San Francisco sourdough bread is to die for. I can get a knock off in Sacramento, but it’s absolutely the best when you buy it from a outside grocer in San Francisco and because I lived so close, we had it delivered fresh every day at our local grocery.

    One thing most people don’t know about Sacramento is that we have some of the best restaurants in the country. Everyone talks about San Francisco, but Sacramento truly has top-notch restaurants across all price-ranges and type, authentic and american-ized.

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    Well, growing up in a Norwegian household, yes, I’ve had to suffer through lutefisk too many times in my life. (shudder) Other Norwegian food is alright: lefse of course, krumkake, kransekake, salmon, etc. The key to Norwegian cooking is white on white on white don’t ya know. Creamed anything. Ya sure you betcha.

  4. Fiona

    Happy Birthday, Luke.

    OMG, Toni, I love your description of the Dark Roast coffee. I need coffee that has some kick in it.

    When my Dh & I moved here (MN) the first thing I noticed was everyone’s coffee looked like weak tea. I found out this is “church basement” style coffee and people drink it all day–I guess to stay warm in the winter.

    When I serve coffee to real Minnesotans, I have an insulated carafe of hot water on the table, so they can dilute my coffee to their desired weakness. They all swear regular-strength coffee is like espresso to them.

    As for food—venison is THE meat here. This weekend is deer-hunting opener and people are going to feed their families all winter on what they get—and share their extra with food shelves and people who were not able to go hunting. I’m not kidding! Christmas dinner MUST include venison. We are going to be away from home on Christmas and my kids are going to miss that. My oldest son is hunting this year for the first time. His birthday was Friday.

  5. Rae

    Along with Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais describes food and cooking beautifully – particularly in Voodoo River, which is set in Louisiana – I was craving boudin and etoufee by the time I finished reading that book. And Elvis Cole is always cooking something yummy or going to great-sounding restaurants in LA. I think it humanizes characters to give them an interest other than just chasing bad guys – but as you say, it can’t detract from the pace of the story.

    San Francisco is one of the world’s great food towns (and I agree with Allison – Sacramento has great restaurants as well). The fine dining places, like Michael Mina and Gary Danko, can easily hold their own with anything in New York and Paris. But the best places to eat are the great neighborhood spots, like the Roman pasta place in North Beach, or the terrific French brasserie in the Financial District, or the four-alarm Hunan spot in Chinatown, or the fancy Greek restaurant near Jackson Square. I don’t think of San Francisco as having a particular regional type of cooking – it’s too much of a melting pot. But our fresh seafood is pretty darned good, and we are known for our sourdough bread. There are a couple of bakeries in North Beach that open really, really early while they’re baking that day’s bread, and you can get a fresh-out-of-the-oven-right-that-minute roll and a cup of coffee – very happy making.


  6. R.J. Mangahas

    Wow, I’m really hungry now. Can I just say that I love gumbo. The grandmother of a girl I was friends with in high school makes some killer gumbo. Although she never told me what exactly was in it. All I know is that it was REAL GOOD.

    As for local food, being from Massachusetts, a lot of the food is some sort of sea food. Funnily enough, I’m not a huge seafood fan. I’ll eat some stuff, but not a whole lot.

    Great post for a Sunday morning by the way Toni.

    And Happy Birthday Luke.

  7. woodstock

    The front range of Colorado is heavily influenced by what is properly dubbed “Tex-Mex” cuisine. My favorite indulgence is green chili – and I’ll describe it in a minute.

    I grew up in SE Iowa, and my mother’s version of chili was really a stew of hamburger, beans, tomatoes, seasoned with chili powder. The beans were kidney beans, and while I enjoyed it as a kid, I had a whole new spectrum of flavor waiting for me.

    Here in Denver, “chili” is usually “red” or “green” depending on which peppers are included in the mix. Beginning with a meat broth made from diced pork, chilis, onion, garlic, and tomatoes, simmered until the pork is very very tender. And, no beans! There is a whole school of (1)tomatillos, yes! or (2) tomatillos, no! A tomatillo is a small fruit, usually green in color, similar to a small tomato with a papery husk around the fruit. When I make chili, I usually use one pretty good sized Anaheim pepper (a little milder than a jalapeno), one small jalapeno and I ALWAYS use tomatillos. So, my chili is “green.”

    The best time of year for making chili is in the fall, when the chilis have ripened and are sold at the various farmers’ markets in the area. Chili can be served with a variety of sides and accompaniments: diced onions, shredded cheese, more chilis, sour cream, shredded lettuce, fresh tomatoes, guacamole, you can use your imagination to top it with anything that sounds good to you. Oh, and fresh tortillas on the side. I prefer white or blue corn, but in restaurants you most often get a flour tortilla.

    This type of chili is NOTHING AT ALL like what my mother served. My dad was always rather contemptuous of her calling her version “chili”. I never got a chance to serve him the type I’ve come to know and love.

    And if you wish, we can talk about Rocky Mountain Oysters. To be delicate, these are what you have left over when you start with a bull calf and end up with a steer calf. They are usually breaded and deep fried, and served with a dipping sauce similar to that served with shrimp cocktail. The taste is rather mild and bland, IMO. Having them at least once is a kind of rite of passage. I’ve done that, and from now on someone else is welcome to my share.

  8. JT Ellison

    Mmmm – crawfish etoufee. I think I need to make a bit of that this week.

    I’m Italian, so there’s lots of pasta. I have a ravioli cutter that came from my great grandparents, one of the little things they brought over from the old country. I’m a good Italian cook, but I can do Louisiana stuff well too — etoufee, jambalaya, dirty rice _which is comfort food in our house. We eat a lot of Mexican – New Mexico Mexican, with green chilies. Yum.

    Living in Nashville presents it’s own challenges to the character’s eating habits. BBQ, meat and threes, chicken and dumplings, cornbread anything all reign supreme, but Nashville has a lot of fabulous eclectic restaurants too, so I make sure to feature at least one per book.

    Great topic, Toni, and Happy Birthday, Luke!

  9. Tammy Cravit

    The big culinary thing here is something called “Santa Maria Style BBQ” (named for a city about 30 minutes from me). Essentially, this is beef tri-tip (a cut not popular elsewhere, so I’m told) seasoned with garlic salt and pepper and then slow-cooked over a wood fire and usually served with beans and garlic bread. If it’s done well, the meat comes out very flavorful and surprisingly tender; if it’s done poorly, the experience is rather like eating shoe leather with garlic.

    But I love all kinds of cuisine. There used to be a Cajun restaurant nearby that served fabulous jambalaya and gumbo, but they sadly didn’t last long. Being in California, there’s plenty of great Mexican food here (including some of the best chili rellenos I’ve ever tasted). And there’s little I won’t do for really good sushi.

  10. Tom

    Happy birthday, Young Swampwalker – and may the Farce be with you!

    You’re so right, Toni. The basic needs define us. Such an obvious thing to miss . . .

    As for The Food Of Crime, let us not forget Rex Stout’s Swiss master of cuisine, Fritz. It would be interesting to reverse Mr. Wolfe with an investigator obsessed with dieting, or even something more extreme, wouldn’t it?

    I live in SoCal, so it’s been covered. But it occurs to me that Laura Benedict (ISABELLA MOON) proclaims herself a Serious Bread Baker. The proof could, in fact, wind up in the pudding.

  11. toni mcgee causey

    Zoë–*live* bait. As in… still wiggling? I bow to you, oh greater woman that I am.

    I did the same thing as you in this current book–forgot that the characters might need to eat. They’re on such a non-stop, impossible to slow down task that pausing for food wasn’t possible, and then last night I started craving gumbo and realized, Bobbie Faye would, too. And an energy drink just doesn’t quite do the same thing.

  12. toni mcgee causey

    Allison, I absolutely love sourdough bread, and now you’ve gone and made me hungry. There’s one restaurant here which used to make it fresh every morning, but as they have franchised out to other states, I’ve noticed that the bread isn’t nearly as good. I think they’ve gone to outside suppliers for it. (La Madeleine’s–love their tomato basil soup. I think they originated in New Orleans, but I could be wrong about that. We’ve had one here for years and if I’m feeling the least bit blue, I can head over there–it is now next door to Barnes & Noble–buy a book and sit and eat their soup. It’s a special treat because that soup has three trillion calories.)

  13. toni mcgee causey

    PK, I have to admit I had never looked up the lutefisk before, and I’ve gotta ask… why? lye? Seriously? [of course, I know a lot of people look at south Louisianaians and wonder why on earth we decided to pick bugs out of the mud [crawfish] and boil them and eat them, so this isn’t a judgment, just curiosity.

    And can you imagine someone Scandinavian marrying someone Cajun and the ensuing food battles?

  14. Becky Hutchison

    Toni, great blog! I had to eat something before I could finish my post BTW. One of my memories of visiting New Orleans was the thick strong coffee. It’s the only time I can remember putting anything in my coffee. Normally I drink it black but in the Big Easy I always added milk or cream.

    Where I grew up (Knoxville TN) I enjoyed fried okra, chicken livers with gravy, homemade bisquits, chicken & dumplings and greens cooked for hours and hours with fat-back. I experienced all other kinds of food too, as my mom was a gourmet cook. (Thankfully we never had haggis, though.)

    I live in the Baltimore area now, where I’ve had tasty sweet potato bisquits, French fries with vinegar, and especially crabs steamed with Bay Seasoning. Just cover the table with newspaper, dump the steamed crabs in the middle, and pick and eat!! YUM!!!

  15. toni mcgee causey

    Fiona, that “basement coffee” comment cracked me up. And I, too, grew up on venison,though it wasn’t the only meat we had. Dad fished a lot, but he hunted every year. We regularly had squirrel sauce piquant or venison. I grew up in a family that hunted and fished for their food.

  16. toni mcgee causey

    Rae, I am now starving, and am regretting I didn’t spend extra days eating in SF while I had the chance this summer. I hope to go back next spring. I love Greek–we have only a couple of so so Greek restaurants here. And Chinese… oh, happy sigh. I got treated out by a friend in L.A. to dim sum in China town and a dozen years later, I can still remember the delicate dumplings and the sauce of one of the choices. I hear “dim sum” and think of Mitch, who was in no way Chinese, but a very good mentor and friend. Funny how food can do that.

    And Elvis Cole! damn, I had forgotten that. Voodoo River is one of my favorite books. Crais (who was born here, apparently), got it right. One of the few books of the area (Plaquemine) which does get it right. All the little details, especially the food. Thank you for reminding me of that!

  17. toni mcgee causey

    Well RJ, we’ll just have to get you some really good gumbo, soon. An adequate substitute, no lie, is to find a Zataran’s mix (many groceries carry Zataran’s). Get the one that says “gumbo base” — not the one with the rice included. I promise you, use chicken stock, add some shrimp and be sure, about 45 minutes before you want to serve it, drop in a pack of frozen okra and go cook your rice and you’ll have gumbo that’s pretty close to the original. (This is an extremely easy mix, low hassle. It doesn’t take much effort, just time.)

    And I meant to thank everyone for Luke’s birthday wishes. I’m going to pass them along to him.

  18. Dana King

    I’m from Southwestern Pennsylvania, and its generous helpings of kolbassi and sauerkraut. (No one truly from the Pittsburgh area says kielbasa.)

    Chipped chopped ham, either as a hot barbecue sandwich or cold with lettuce, tomato, and onion, is a regional delicacy hard to find elsewhere.

  19. Fiona

    Becky, I grew up on the eastern shore and there is NOTHING that can compare to Chesapeake Bay crabs with OLD BAY seasoning.

    I introduced my DH & kids to this when we went to Annapolis for a wedding in July. I almost passed out at the price of the crabs, though. WE used to catch our own.

  20. toni mcgee causey

    woodstock, it’s official, I’m coming to visit next time I swing through Denver on my way to visit my oldest son and daughter-in-law. And before they moved to that area of the country, I would have called what I made chilli as well (much like your mom’s), but then I had chilli there and wow, that was damned good. In fact, the following fall when we were there, I made everyone go out of their way to go back to that specific restaurant again so I could have the chilli, again. I would mainline that stuff, it was that good, though I didn’t realize what specifically made it green.

    Um, the Rocky Mountain Oysters? I think I’ll pass on those. (though I do have a cast iron bull castrating irons on my shelf) (doesn’t everyone?)

  21. toni mcgee causey

    JT… meat and threes? I love that phrasing. And I wish I was a great cook–I’d have probably focused on Italian (my mom’s family is Italian). I love the food, but lack the patience. We used to have one of the most amazing Italian restaurants on Government Street–we went there every year for our anniversary. I think they’d been in business for forty years, and I always knew that when I finally got published, I was going to include them in a book. Then I sold and that same year, they closed doors forever. (I think the patriarch died, though we were pretty surprised the rest of the family didn’t want to carry on, since everyone was employed there.) I still miss that place. They made *the* best oysters Bienville we’ve ever had–have never found any quite as good.

    (Which now reminds me of Brennan’s and how great that food was.)

  22. toni mcgee causey

    Tammy, that cracked me up. Sadly, if I were cooking it, you could pretty much guarantee it would be the shoe-leather variety. And we’ll have to get you some great jambalya as well.

    I’ve only had sushi here (which is, frankly, not a big sushi place… they had a really hard breaking the mentality of the residents that they were being asked to eat bait). I have been trying it and enjoying it–some days it’s just perfect. I suspect that if I lived in a great sushi place like either the west or east coast, I’d be a bit of a sushi fiend.

  23. toni mcgee causey

    Tom, heh–I’ll pass that along to Luke. And agreed, it would be fascinating to switch out Mr. Wolfe with someone diet obsessed. Or… vegan. Talk about radically changing that world.

    Laura Benedict makes bread? ohhhhhh. damn. [wondering how one gets on Laura’s Christmas list…]

  24. toni mcgee causey

    Becky–man, that list of food made me hungry. I love fried okra (it is a flat wonder I am not 700 pounds). And biscuits. And chicken and dumplings. Good, home cooking, yum.

    And I just realized, I have clearly never been northeast, because I’ve never had sweet potato biscuits, French fries with vinegar OR a steamed crab. Ever. I am so regretting missing B’con and the food there.

  25. Nancie aka Gun Tart

    Happy Birthday Luke!

    Toni, I had some of that bitch slappin’ coffee while I was there-great stuff! Now that I know the official name I’ll get some. And I managed to get some fabulous Jambalaya before I was booted out of the state.

    Down here in the desert it’s southwestern style food, although I still have a hard time figuring out exactly what that means, probably because I don’t cook. We do have many variations of Mexican Food here, and the hotter the better in my book.

  26. toni mcgee causey

    Nancie, I’m starting to worry that that’s our new motto: “Have some food! Now leave!” Glad you got some good coffee and jambalaya before they kicked you out.

    RJ, well, I promise you, that one’s very good if you don’t want to make the roux from scratch.

  27. pari

    Happy birthday, Luke.

    Woodstock, you dare to spell chile with two lls and an i? 😉

    JT, thank you for mentioning green chiles.

    And, anyone who has had the joy of living or visiting NM knows there’s just no place in the world where you can get its food but here — posole, green chile stew, chiles rellenos, blue corn tortillas — nothing compares.

    I don’t normally plug my books in the comments, Toni, but my Sasha series is full of NM food. Sasha would probably weigh a couple of tons if she weren’t fictional.

    Great topic.

  28. toni mcgee causey

    Pari, I had to go look up a couple of those to see what they were. That pasole looks delicious–mouth-watering. And I’m glad you mentioned Sasha; yeah, if only we could eat with the same calorie-free repercussions as our characters.

    I don’t know of any really truly authentic southwestern cuisine restaurants here. I need to go back and visit again. Is southern NM food different than northern NM? or is it pretty standard throughout the region? (I have a friend in northern NM.)

  29. Catherine

    Australia now has a very diverse population mix, however for years fairly plain fare predominated.

    I grew up on the coast and as children we had options to grilled, steamed or fried fish most weeks. We used to half dread when our Dad’s came home from fishing. If they had a good catch it was fine…but sometimes they’d do deals with the guys on the trawlers which would mean my cousins and I had to help prepare way more prawns/shrimp ( for eating), or roe (for bait) than small children ever should.

    As adults we’d look at whatever comes from the sea and often use an Italian, Greek, Vietnamese or Thai recipe. That I think is one of the biggest differences from when we grew up in the 70’s…We are now more accepting of a lot of different cultural styles of cooking.Part of my evolution of food was learning to cook lasagne, and pasta from my Italian neighbour when I first was married. At parties in the mid 80’s, her son and I would stand at the buffet table and devour this eggplant dish she made… at the time no one else seemed to appreciate it (for which we were grateful) I also learnt to appreciate good strong coffee through Lucia.

    Just in my regular cooking each week, I would use recipes from Morocco, Persia, Italy, Thailand, and India to prepare meals. I also think it’s a bit of a reaction from eating meat and three veg a lot through my childhood. Mum used to boil vegetables still they were either khaki or soggy. Which was a shame considering that she picked them fresh from my Pop’s garden. My Nan would spoil us when we came home from school and sit my cousin and me down to a bowl of bread and butter pudding and weak milky tea. At Christmas we would get given a shandy of lemonade and beer from my Pop as a treat…which I’d try to look like I enjoyed.

    Regionality seems to be developing more along the lines of what raw material grows easily in that region and then keeping the flavours simple.Where I live now still has a lot of dairy farms hanging on against land development. We now have boutique cheese factories sprinkled about. Often the skills from another country are incorporated…as in the Swiss cheese maker… Oh and the most incredible ice cream shop (very fresh milk supply).Another point of difference for them is there stellar Italian machine they use to produce it with.

    A few people export ranges of jams, sauces and chutney that use native spices like native Aniseed myrtle, lemon myrtle and fruits like quandong, and rosella. I think one producer told me she exported to Iceland and all points in between. She said she also had good trade to Scotland and Hong Kong.

    I think food here is still evolving a lot too. One of my daughter’s swears by Kangaroo meat for the BBQ if it’s marinated well…apparently it’s very low fat. Even my Mum has evolved, as now she cooks steamed vegetables from my Dad’s organic garden.

    Almost forgot a dish that is very Australian. Pavlova. Crisp on the outside, gooey in the middle, loaded down with cream and fruit. Mmmm

  30. Jake Nantz

    I love this post, Toni! It helped me remember that I now have to use a line in a book that my friend always says.

    We’ll invite someone to a pig pickin’, but normally he’ll just say “we’re having Barbecue.” Some unsuspecting non-North Carolinian will ask, “What are you barbecuing?”He’d always reply, “Son, this is North Carolina. Round here Barbecue is a noun, not a verb.”

    And woe be unto you if you are in Eastern NC and ask for “Lexington-style” Cue (ketchup-based pulled pork), or if you’re in the western portion of the state and ask for “Eastern-style” Cue (vinegar-based pulled pork).

    Truth is, I love ’em both, but my wife who’s from down east won’t let me have Lex-style very often. Says it just ain’t right.

  31. Ter

    I got nothing to say about the food except YUCK.. If I lived there I think I might STARVE. Sorry I am a REALLY picky eater.

    Anyway HAPPY BIRTHDAY LUKE… hope he had a GREAT one.

  32. toni mcgee causey

    Catherine, that was fascinating–thank you for that detail. I can imagine having fish constantly would get very old… and your poor mom, trying to find ways to keep cooking it. That dessert looks heavenly–it made me want to actually try to cook a dessert.

  33. toni mcgee causey

    Nancie, that is still my favorite t-shirt, EVER.

    Pari, that’s interesting–an influence of different cultures or different ingredients available?

    Jake–yeah, I didn’t realize people called the pulled pork stuff “barbeque” — I agree with your wife. That’s just wrong. Which reminds me, we have a very long-standing Cajun tradition called the “cochon de lait” which is, basically, a barbequed pig–but usually a pit set up, and the cooking takes all day and sometimes, depending on the size of the pig, it’s started the night before (while everyone parties and drinks and dances). Over the yeas, you’ll hear people say cochon de lait when they’re just barbequeing, though not in the pit anymore. Unless you’re really in the bayous.

  34. Lori

    Happy Birthday Luke! Scorpios Rock! My birthday is this Saturday……

    As for food, here in MD you cannot go wrong with crabcakes, broiled not fried. Another big favorite is peppermint sticks in lemons. You get the peppermint sticks that are porous (don’t know how else to describe them) and you cut the lemon in half and stick the peppermint in and suck out the lemon juice. It is really yummy. We even made it in to Unabridged (v 1.1) – lemon stick –noun Chiefly Baltimore. a lemon half with a peppermint stick stuck in it, through which the lemon juice is sucked.

    We also love French fries with brown gravy.And you have not had a potato chip until you have had an UTZ potato chip made in Hanover, PA and only delivered to surrounding states to ensure freshness. They even make crab chips seasoned with Old Bay! I almost forgot about Berger Cookies. They are the ultimate chocolate top cookies made in Baltimore at Berger’s Bakery.

    I am so craving the whole peppermint in the lemon thing now. Here’s the recipe:

  35. Catherine

    Toni totally in ramble mode… If I’d had coffee maybe I could have distilled that down a bit more. It’s hard to be succinct without caffeine

    Pavlova is such sugary goodness…truly worth giving it a go.

  36. toni mcgee causey

    Lori, it just never would have occurred to me, in a million years, to suck a lemon through peppermint. I am clearly lacking in imagination. We have Zapps potato chips here (though they’re pretty spicy). And you mentioning the cookies reminded me of the Bananas Foster (the dessert they set on fire at your table) invented in New Orleans.

    I love hearing about all of these–such great examples from everyone. I think it’s those little differences that gives such a genuine reflection of an area. This will remind me to be sure to check out the local cuisine when I’m setting up the next book.

  37. Tammy Cravit

    Darn, this is making me hungry, so I have to throw in one more food, introduced to me by Hawaiian friends (there’s a fair-sized Hawaiian community in SoCal). It’s called a “loco moko”, and it’s a breakfast food, that consists of layering the following things onto a plate:

    – Two scoops of white rice- Two fried eggs- Two hamburger patties- Brown gravy

    Frankly, it sounds disgusting, but it’s actually surprisingly good. Of course, I grew up in Toronto, where french fries with brown gravy are common fare, so maybe I’m just biased toward things covered with the stuff.

  38. Catherine

    Thanks Toni and yet after coffee my brain shifted into gear and I also remembered Lamingtons..this is another sweet concoction that is popular enough that it is often used in fund raising.It’s basically a small square of sponge cake dipped into a runny chocolate icing then rolled into coconut.

    Lamingtons were named after a Governor of Queensland(my home state) 1896-1901.One report which seems fairly plausible to me claims that ‘there was a large amount of stale cake in the Government House kitchen. In an attempt to make it palatable, the cake was dipped in chocolate and then tossed in desiccated coconut. The parliamentarians liked this ‘gateau’ and ordered their cooks to obtain the recipe from the Government House cook.’

    Egads I’m on a roll…just remembered Anzac biscuits which were often shipped off to the troops WW1&2 as they keep well. This was important as it would often take the Merchant navy about 2 months to send packages from home to the battlefields.They have rolled oats,flour, coconut, sugar, butter, bicarbonate of soda, boiled water and golden syrup in them. I think some people think of this as our national biscuit.

  39. Brandy

    Where we live (SC) it isn’t a family dinner or Church social that doesn’t involve Fried Chicken, homemade mac-n-cheese (what’s with making it in a crockpot?) and Coconut Cake for dessert. However! My Mom was from MA, so I learned to make both Southern and MA foods. *G* I do miss the beignets and po’boys from when we lived in MS years ago and hubs misses the crawfish boils! I wish they celebrated Mardi Gras here, too. *G*

  40. Tom

    Catherine, love the Oz and NZ stories; friends of mine are from Sydney, Hilltop and formerly NZ.

    One is a screenwriter, with a tv pilot that resolves because the new chef in the hotel knows how to combine regional and national cuisines with market fare, just outside of Sydney, and Hungarian-derived Aussie wines.

  41. toni mcgee causey

    Tammy–huh, that’s a cool variation on the breakfast stuff. My dad would do “fried rice and eggs” and to this day, I can’t quite duplicate it, but it was always one of my favorites growing up. (We also ate rice in milk as a quickie dessert.)

    Michele, I am so with you on the needing a chef! Especially after seeing all of these comments today.

  42. toni mcgee causey

    Catherine, I now officially want you to write a cookbook of Oz and NZ favorites, one which gives a little bit of the history of each item, like you’ve done here. You make we want to try something with coconut, and I actually hate coconut, so that’s pretty amazing. (grin)

    Brandy, people make mac and cheese in a croc pot? That is just so…. wrong. And it sounds like you grew up with the best foods of both the north *and* the south!

  43. BeckyTwo

    Hey Toni? I’m from Lafayette, and I swear, I don’t put eggs in my gumbo. That’s blasphemy, cher! (Seriously, I made gumbo tonight, and it was chicken with a rich, thick, dark roux. Mmmmmmm…..)

    AND… next time you’re in Lafayette, let me know, and I’ll take you to the sushi place that Thomas and I go eat at. Trust me, you’ll never want to eat at any other sushi place again after you do.


    Hey ya’ll, Toni means what she says about the Dark Roast Community Coffee. That stuff is amazing, and so worth ordering online if you’re up for it. I was going crazy until I found Community Coffee for the Senseo machine I’ve got. Yeah, baby!

  44. BeckyTwo

    Oh, I almost forgot….

    My father in law is particularly fond of nutria sausage. Yeah. You read that right, Toni. And the rest of you who don’t know what that is, Google it. *snerks*

    It’s actually not bad, to tell the truth. I’m not big on sausage, but it was decent enough.

    I can’t think of anything else regional that we eat a lot of. I guess it’s just safe to assume that we’ll eat it if it doesn’t eat us first. Yeah, let’s hear it for the born and bred Cajuns!! 🙂

  45. Catherine

    Tom I’m glad you like the Aussie and NZ stories. We have a ton of linkages as nations, and quite a bit of sporting rivalry too.

    I’ll look out for your friends pilot. Is it potentially a cooking series…there’s no murder and mayhem, just cooking?

    Toni ta muchly for the cooking book brief…hmm research vs increased girth.

    I think Allison mentioned margaritas earlier but I’ve found(doing extensive research throughout Florida and South California) that the best margaritas (to my taste)have some fresh lime juice squeezed in them. I was rather amazed to find that the best I could find, (and I kept testing to make sure I wasn’t mistaken) was in a Jimmy Buffet themed bar in Key West.

    I’m always open to more research though.

  46. Allison Brennan

    Catherine, I’m open to any research on margaritas you may engage in. I’m sure I can get Toni to join us . . . just twist her arm ever so slightly.

    I think you’re right about the fresh lime. It’s also the type of tequila–cheap tequila ruins the drink. And how anyone can drink a margarita without salt is beyond me . . . but the type of salt is important. One of my all-time favorite margaritas is at a chain restaurant. I don’t know how wide-spread the chain is, it might just be northern california, but it’s BJ’s “rita-tini” which is a margarita shaken and strained into a salt-rimmed margarita glass. It’s also the restaurant/bar that stays open the latest in Elk Grove, so when I’m on deadline . . . well, let’s just say BJ’s is open later than Starbucks 🙂

    Oh, on coffee, I love the ultra-strong coffee from the south. My ex-boyfriends father introduced me to (I think) French Market Roast, or something like that . . . it’s in a small red can and is pricy, but it is strong and fabulous. but my husband can’t stand it, so I don’t buy it anymore 🙁

    When I visited my great-grandmother and family in Alabama, I remember there was ALWAYS without fail three veggies with dinner, which was I think called supper and earlier in the day. And the food was plentiful. It was like they were afraid we were going to starve to death or something . . . and my grandfather, the one born in Alabama, had never even heard of an artichoke before he married my grandmother (my grandma is from san francisco.) But artichokes are my favorite veggie. I don’t think avocados are big across the country, either, but it’s another staple here.

  47. Tom

    Catherine, my friend’s pilot hasn’t sold yet. I’m trying to find him an agent here in the States, hoping for some sort of co-pro deal. He has a distinguished and varied career, but over here he’s known as an actor first.

    It’s not a mystery show, especially, and not a cooking show; the only violence involved would be on the slap-stick side.

  48. Arlene

    Mmm, regional dishes do add a sense of place. Now I’m hungry for some good Brunswick stew (NC) with a side of fried okra and cornpone or biscuits. Brunswick stew is one of those throw everything in the pot & cook it for hours. A really good one is the kind made by churches and fire departments for fund raisers.

    They start Friday afternoon, putting the ingredients together & lighting the fire. Yes, I said fire. The best kind are cooked outside in big iron pots.

    You throw in meat (usually chicken or pork these days but it used to include whatever you’d caught, ie squirrel, possum, etc) that’s been shredded, vegetables, seasoning & water. Cook until at least Saturday, maybe Sunday. You add water throughout until towards the end you let the water somewhat cook away and you’re left with a stew instead of soup.

    I have never read a mention of Brunswick stew and only once about a pig-pickin’. Yet both of those are very, very NC. One of my co-workers had a pig-pickin’ for her wedding reception.

  49. Terri Molina

    ooh…I missed this yesterday (for reasons you can guess–I’m over it) so you probably won’t see this…but…boy your post sure brings home the memories for me. I was born and raised on the La/Tx border and my uncles and cousins married into a few Cajun families. You know, Cajuns and Mexicans make beautiful babies. 😉 Anyway…my aunt taught me how to make gumbo (and I have to admit, I’m pretty good at it) but, I use a box mix for the jambalaya…which my kids LOVE!As for my works, they are totally Tex/Mex flavored…since a majority of my stories take place in south Texas.

  50. Debby

    Right now, everything is Philly cheesesteaks, in honor of their win. But, my father and I agree that we should never use cheese whiz…blech.

    But, considering that we are from Texas (via Mexico…courtesy of my grandmother), we love home made mexican…enchiladas, tacos, chile rellenos, and sopapillas…the mexican donut. And I really need me some chorizo!!! Love it in my scrambled eggs. Oh, not the spanish version, but the mexican…remove the casing, mush it up and stir it into whatever you want hotter and redder. Just don’t ask whats in it.

    But my mom swear by hogmaw.. shudder. Gross. Or scrapple..another of those ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ concoctions.

  51. Becky Lejeune

    I missed this yesterday and, appropriately enough, ate boudin for lunch! We don’t have distinctive cuisine out here in CO, at least that I know of. Being a Louisiana girl, though, I have to have care packages shipped over with everything from sausage and boudin to crawfish and Savoie’s Dark Roux. I have my John Folse Cajun Creole Encyclopedia and I cook for everyone whenever I can (pralines for the office Halloween potluck). I miss the food from back home.

    I’m a food junkie, though, and love to read about regional food as well – both for the “flavor” and so I can go in search of whatever it is!


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