Last month my mom celebrated her 70th birthday. That’s a whole bunch of candles down the line. Such a momentous achievement deserves not only recognition but also a proper celebration.
We originally thought about gathering at a restaurant in Lexington for the festivities. Problem was there are 10 of us total, including four children, and it gets pricey quick, so we elected to celebrate at mom’s house, where the kids had room to rampage.
This wasn’t some huge to-do, just a gathering of our immediate family. My brother Geoff and his wife Laura both have hectic work schedules, plus two little girls they’re raising. They live 30 minutes away in Lexington, which is far enough to prevent my folks from seeing their grand-daughters as much as they might like. This makes birthdays and holidays have added meaning since it’s when we can take time to get together with each other and catch up.
Mom’s birthday celebration also held special significance because this would be the first chance for Geoff and his girls, Ainsley and Ava, to have an extended visit with my girlfriend, Maia Langley, and her two boys, Gabriel and Jacy.
They met briefly before Christmas, and the kids stayed near their siblings and familiar toys at first, but warmed up to each other as their games merged and mutated. With introductions already out of the way, we were excited to see how the kids would interact with several hours of playtime together.
In preparation some grooming was in order. The boys desperately needed haircuts. I joked that I’d be happy to hook them up with one such as my own, which is shaved close, and to my surprise they were down with that.
I opened my barbershop in the front of our living room, by the bay windows, so my young customers had a view of the capitol. We had a ball game on television for their viewing pleasure and I offered Sprite, coffee or Coke, in diner coffee cups, to give the boys some old-guy appeal.
Funny thing was I thought this whole ordeal would take under an hour. I expected hair to fly off like in the beginning scene of Full Metal Jacket, where those barbers are going through boys’ hair on Parris Island like a hot knifes through butter. Not the case with these two. They had hair of iron. It was dense like the Amazon jungle.
My shears were partly to blame. I’ve had them since I was in the police academy back in 2000. My hair is never more than a half-inch long, so I can buzz it right off. I tried going into Jacy’s hair and the blades struggled, tearing more than cutting his hair. This is something 7 year olds don’t like.
This meant I had to trim down both of them in layers, mixing between the electric shears, my beard trimmer and scissors, until their hair was low enough to buzz through.
Between all the different cutting methods and having to make frequent stops to clear away itchy hair – this took a couple hours. Gabe and Jacy were excellent customers and they compensated me with Rabbit Beer, which is always welcomed!
Mom’s birthday actually fell on a Thursday, but it’s no fun trying to wrangle everyone together for a late dinner during the week, so the party was set for the following Saturday.
An added bonus to all this was that I could drop by my folk’s house Thursday after work to wish my mom a quick happy birthday.
I’ve only been back in Kentucky on a permanent basis since June 2011, not that long when considering the last time I lived here was 1987.
I’ve stayed in touch through phone, text, e-mail and facebook, but haven’t been in my family’s or friends’ daily lives for 25 years. Usually I only see them over the holidays, when I’m constantly running between Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort, trying to squeeze in every visit imaginable.
This might be the first time in 20-plus years I could give my mom a hug on her birthday. It’s a simple thing, but really nice, and I’m not taking it for granted.
That Thursday was busy. I was up early proofing my resume and writing a restaurant review, and the legislature had us working through lunch and not out of work until after 7:00 p.m.
The natives at my house were restless for sustenance by then, and I wasn’t cooking. This was a Papa John’s night. So on my way to pick up the pizza I ran by mom’s to give her that hug and wish her a happy birthday.
While I may still be questioning the decisions that led to my returning to Kentucky, on this day I was feeling ok about it all.
For the party we were keeping things relatively simple. Kid-friendly food is always welcomed, and Kentucky Fried Chicken is a crowd favorite, but with our own sides. Mom made some country green beans and mashed potatoes (with KFC’s gravy of course).
I had designs on crafting something a little more personal and interesting for the adults, and decided to bake a crawfish pie. I had attempted this once before during Jazz Fest two years ago, when my friend Peter from Montana came down to New Orleans.
Peter is also known as Peter the Pie Guy, (www.peterthepieguy.com). He made one of his amazing from-scratch crusts and I did the filling. It turned out great, but I learned a few things along the way and modified the recipe to my liking.
Being it’s winter in the upper-South, I was concerned about finding crawfish. Shrimp does not hold up well enough and lacks the proper texture for crawfish pie.
Lo-and-behold Wal-Mart came through in the clutch. They had 12-ounce bags of Boudreaux’s crawfish tail meat (from China don’t you know, ’cause there’s lots of Boudreauxs over there in Asia), frozen for $12.
Next I needed spices. Wal-Mart was a tad light in this department but Kroger had most everything else.
On the morning of the party I went by Magee’s Bakery to pick up the cake I ordered. I’ve been buying pastries from Magee’s for as long as I can remember, but had never thought to try their cakes. They had the perfect size in double chocolate.
I grabbed a couple fudge-drizzled bow-ties and a glazed donut for breakfast since Gabe and Jacy were with me. The lady waiting on us said they were 2-for-1 and tossed in a couple extras on top of that. It was really sweet of her.
We took our goodies to my mom’s house so I could raid her spice rack for a few remaining items. I make this Creole spice mix that I use in all my New Orleans dishes. It packs a flavorful punch without singeing the taste buds.
5-Tbls. Smoked Paprika; 1-Tbls. Ground Black Pepper; 1-Tbls. Ground White Pepper; 1-Tbls. Cayenne Pepper; 1-Tbls Dried Thyme; 2-Tbls. Garlic Powder; 1-Tbls. Dried Oregano; 1-Tsp. Salt; 1-Tsp. Chile Powder and 1-Tsp. Onion Powder.
Instead of a “Pie Guy” crust I had to go with expediency and used a Marie Callender pastry crust that baked up quite well. It had to cook for 12-15 minutes, and then cool. This gave me time to slice, dice and measure my ingredients.
4-Tbls. butter; 1/2 cup onion; 1/4 cup scallions; 1/2 cup celery; 1/4 cup red bell pepper; 1/4 cup green bell pepper; 1-Tbls. Creole Seasoning; 1/2-Tsp. salt; 2-Tbls. Flour; 1.5-Lbs. Cooked Crawfish Tail Meat; 1/2-Tsp. Frank’s; 1-Tsp. Worcestershire; 3 Cloves Garlic; 1/2-Cup Heavy Cream; 1 Egg; 2-Tbls. Bread Crumbs; 9-Inch Pie Crust.
To add some zing to the above recipe I increased the Creole spice, Frank’s and garlic to taste. I also felt a meat component would bring a welcomed flavor.
Andouille sausage or tasso ham have a taste that is complimentary to crawfish. I couldn’t find any tasso on short notice so went with the andouille. This French Creole smoked sausage has a dense flavor from the pepper, onions, wine and seasoning that is mixed in with the pork.
By mincing the andouille, it easily mixes with the other ingredients and becomes a binding agent. During cooking it releases these delicious fats and juices that congeal upon cooling.
Around Louisiana andouille sausage is found in as many derivations as hot dogs, but none of those brands travel this far north.
Best I could do was Johnsonville’s New Orleans Spicy Smoked Sausage. It was a tad bland in comparison to true andouille, but mixed well and added the extra flavor and texture I was hoping to create.
I have since found some rather good andouille made locally by Critchfield’s (critchfieldmeats.com) in Lexington. That will come in handy next time.
This crawfish pie recipe almost makes itself. One tip I will add is the crawfish meat needs to be rinsed thoroughly. It had to find its way here from China. That’s a long time to be frozen in crawfish juice. Give it plenty of time to defrost properly and rinse it several times. That will prevent any “gamey” flavor from creeping into your recipe.
I needed two packs of the crawfish tails to make this recipe and was overly generous with the amount of onions and peppers I chopped, so when I was done assembling the pie I had a couple cups left over of the crawfish filling. I used some to make Creole omelets the next morning. Those were friggin’ good!
The party came off really well. Having two boys and two girls commingling their games and toys makes for hilarious interplay. There were baby dolls doing stunt moves and attacking our ankles; Gabe has a thing for counting money, so he was perpetually walking around taking faux-dinner orders for his imaginary cafe and handing out pre-determined wads of play-money for services rendered; and the girls got everyone involved in mystery scavenger hunts that turned manic and intense, which had Quincy, my parent’s dog, all fired up.
The food was fantastic and my mom really liked her gifts. She either is a good faker or really believed we had only gotten her a book, but when she opened her Apple iPad she seemed genuinely surprised. I’m so happy to see mom is enjoying this gift and bonding with new technology.
It was a great night – very pleasant. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are most satisfying.
“Well jambalaya an a crawfish pie, an a file gumbo; ‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio; Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-0; Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.” ~ Hank Williams, from the Jambalaya Song.