I Made Gumbo.

A while back I was making gumbo, and I took a bunch of pics with the intention of making a twitter thread about the process, but you know, I’m tired of sending content down the memory hole, so I’m putting it here to languish forever. I didn’t include a recipe, because I don’t have one. I was just… taught.

Gumbo isn’t hard especially, it’s just labor-intensive. I start the roux first — roughly 1 cup vegetable oil & 1 cup flour. I cook this over a medium high heat & stir semi-constantly. You can burn it if you stop stirring long enough, so I make sure I’m ready to stay in the kitchen for the duration. You do want it very dark brown – they say (whoever they are) that it should be the color of an old copper penny.

At first inception, it’s just bubbly and off-white. I use a stainless steel pan with a pretty thick bottom – I threw down at the Le Creuset outlet store a few years back. The thick bottom helps distribute heat more evenly and it’s less apt to burn. Stir!

Here it is midway through the process, maybe the 10-15 minute mark. It’s thickening up and starting to turn brown. At this stage, I am chopping a few veggies, then stirring, chopping a few veggies and stirring some more.

The roux in its final state, probably about the 30-minute mark. I imagine I could go a bit darker, but I lose my nerve.

I have chopped while stirring, a cup of yellow onion, a cup of celery and a cup of green bell pepper to be stirred into the roux. as well as about 2 cups of okra to be added later, with the meat.

And now, the magic happens! As soon as the roux is brown enough, add the onions, celery and bell pepper. The roux will still be very hot and the veggies will saute rapidly. The aroma at this moment is one of the finest smells I know. I bask in it a bit before proceeding.

You’re cruising from here on out. Let the roux and veggies cool a bit, then add about a quart of chicken stock, stir, add the chopped chicken, squeeze the andouille sausage out of its casing into small bite-sized lumps, add the okra and let it cook a while. Gumbo doesn’t take a ton of seasoning – several bay leaves, a good bit of black pepper,and salt. From here, all you’ve got to do is let it simmer until everything is cooked together and it thickens up a bit.I’d guess anohter 30-40 minutes. If t doesn’t thicken up enough with the vegetable oil roux for your taste, you could probably thicken it more with a bt of butter roux, but I’ve never found that necessary. The okra helps thicken it too.

Serve over a bed of white rice, top with fresh green onions, preferably in a bright Fiestaware bowl on a vintage diner table, for maximum photographic effect.

Soup of the Gods, alongside Tom Kha Gai.

2022 Book 2: Rain After Midnight

Don Skiles was my dad’s best friend. He died suddenly of a stroke at age 81 last May, and the whole world grew a little dimmer. He was an English professor, and author of one novel, poetry and 4 collections of short stories. I have looked on line for an obituary, but there’s nothing much out there, so I’ll write my own idea of one from my perspective, the kid of his best friend.

Book cover of Rain After Midnight by Don Skiles, a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories.
Cover Illustration by Don’s wife Marian Schell, who preceded him in death by several years.

Don Moved to San Francisco for the final time, from Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1976, while I was living with my dad during the long school break. Don, his wife Marian and a friend of theirs named Tim who was also an aspiring writer, stayed at my dad’s house for a couple months that summer while they got settled. I must have been 13. That summer was a time of constant uproarious laughter. Don was a lover of words – not just for their meaning, but simply the way they sounded. A funny-sounding word would set him off & his laughter would infect the entire house. Once we were perusing a map of Europe, and he pointed out the town name of Smolensk, which his simply found to be hilarious to say. No reason, just a hilarious sounding word. It was not a surprise to me to see that place-name listed amongst others many years later, when i read this book.

Smolensk, still fascinating Don by the way it sounds, umpteen years later. I felt like I was part of this story.

I put on a Firesign theater album one day that he hadn’t head of before, & when they uttered the phrase “Trussrippers will be persecuted,” it put him on the floor gasping for air. I think we all ended up on the floor, laughing with him. I will always cherish this memory of a man who helped teach me to love words and language. Not only did he set an example for me as a writer, but he genuinely and uncritically encouraged me to write, and despite me being a kid, he never treated me like one. Inspired by him, I wrote some poems and character sketches, which he read with earnestness, and once said “I admire your writing.” His influence on me and my journey to create art is incalculable. I didn’t go on to write much, but everything I’ve ever put to paper has a bit of Don in it.

3 of his books are still in print at Peleikenisis: Rain After Midnight, the novel Football and Across The Street From The Ordinary. If you can find a used copy of Miss America or The James Dean Jacket Story, grab them.

This book is about places, and his memories of them. Don has a simple way of telling you how it was, and transporting you there within a couple of paragraphs. I recall him being a massive fan of the Beats back in the 70’s – City Lights is his Sistine Chapel, and is mentioned reverently in a story here. There are also stories about his time in the Air Force in England, visits to Paris, his childhood & college years in Pennsylvania but it’s the stories about San Francisco that transport me in particular, because I was there & he gets them right. There’s obviously a lot of Brautigan in here – in fact, he name-checks him in this book twice. Don is a bit more matter-of-fact, though he possesses the same ability to write an entire novel in 2 pages.
My dad turns up, too. He finishes off a story about his early job in SF in ’62 called On Foot with the final sentences Harry grinned, a grape posied between two fingers. “You fucking English Majors,” He said, and Popped The Grape into his mouth.

I may be biased here, but 5 of 5 thumbs up. 👍👍👍👍👍