Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Andre's American Chronicles - November 1997

November 1997

At last! Our furniture arrived! The event of the past month was undoubtedly the arrival of our furniture. After nearly seven months of getting by with the minimum it was rather strange to have a house full of furniture again. No more sleeping on the floor or sharing one lounge chair. And our winter clothes arrived just in time.

Exactly 2 months after leaving Cape Town the furniture was delivered and unloaded. Not that we have unpacked everything yet. The garage is still half full of boxes and many boxes will actually stay packed because we do not have the space for the goods. Especially kitchenware. Our current house does not have the same cupboard space we had in our house in Durbanville.

As the unloading company left with the empty 40ft container I stared after them with a bit of nostalgia. It was as if the last physical link with South Africa was broken. The next two days we worked long hours to unpack and clean things. So far we had very little damage to our goods.

The Friday evening I arranged my South African wine in a dark recess in the basement and sitting there among a hundred odd bottles of wine, being a Friday evening, a feeling of longing for the past came over me. Earlier that evening I received a surprised phone call from an x-South African staying only a few blocks from me. He heard from his neighbors that kids from South Africa are in the same school as the neighbors' kids. He promptly looked up in the school's telephone directory for any surname that might look South African. He said that when he got to Hanekom he realized it is as South African as Mrs. Ball's chutney, KWV brandy and boerewors.

Back to the wine. Being a Friday night, sitting there among the Nederburg Edelroods, the Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blancs, and the ever trustworthy Chateau Libertas; listening to Pink Floyd's The Division Bell in the background, sipping KWV Port, I became uncharacteristically homesick. I specifically missed the many Friday evenings I spend at Leon's house, my brother-in-law; talking about rugby, cricket, wine, politics and general stuff men talk about while a fire is going for atmosphere...and braai when we eventually got to it. But thank goodness for memories. Those evenings might be out of reach now, but not out of mind.

Happy Halloween!!
Apart from the 4th of July and Christmas, Halloween is one of the most celebrated days on the American calendar. It's an evening for costume parties for the adults and trick-or-treat-walks for the children. During October homes get decorated inside and outside with orange pumpkins, skeletons, gravestones, ghosts, witches flying on broomsticks and much more.

On the Saturday evening before Halloween, Monica and I were invited to a Halloween party. Being inquisitive to see what these parties are all about and also seeing an opportunity to meet other people and possibly make new friends we decided to go. Monica hired costumes for us. She went as Elizabeth I, the Tudor queen of England and I as a Monk, to look after her spiritual needs, so to speak. (Our neighbor looked after the kids.) It was a fun evening of meeting new people, experiencing American culture and playing Halloween party games.

The next Friday evening, October 31, Halloween day, the kids and their friends, under supervision of adults, went around a few blocks trick-a-treating. Each came back with a plastic pumpkin full of sweets. They both wore black capes and one had a mask of a gorilla’s head and the other a mask of a wolf’s head. Monica and I stayed at home to answer the doorbell and to give candy to the children trick-or-treating in our neighborhood.

The History of Halloween
There are various versions of the Halloween history, but this is a combination of the most accepted and written about facts or fables.

The custom of holding a festival at harvest time goes back over two thousand years. The last day of the year on the old pagan calendar, October 31, served the triple purpose of bidding goodbye to summer, welcoming winter, and remembering the dead.

The earliest Halloween celebrations took place among the Celts, who lived more than 2000 years ago in what is now England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern France. The Celtic priests, called druids, used to honor Samhain, the god of the dead, on the evening of October 31 and the day of November 1. According to Celtic legend, Samhain controlled the spirits of the dead and could allow them to rest peacefully or make them go wild on this night.

On October 31, Samhain assembled the souls of all those who had died during that year. To pay for their sins, these souls were put in the bodies of animals. The greater a person's sins, the lower the animal that his soul was placed in. The spirits of the dead were thought to roam the earth on October 31.

In addition to worshipping Samhain, the Celts also worshipped their own sun god. They believed that the sun, because it ripened their grain, was their greatest friend. Without the sun the people would starve. Once the summer's harvest was safely stored, the Celts tried to help strengthen the sun god for the coming battle with the darkness and cold of winter. On November 1, which was the Celtic New Year, they offered animal sacrifices to the sun.
Other cultures had holidays and rituals around Halloween time as well. Rome had a festival honoring the goddess Pomona who ruled fruits and gardens. The Romans pictured her as a beautiful maiden, her arms filled with fruit and a crown of apples on her head. When Rome conquered the Gauls, Celts who lived in Northern France, these two customs blended and the result was a great fall holiday that mixed the different aspects together. This is where bobbing for apples came from and the association of apples with the harvest.

During the Middle Ages witchcraft, which was a carryover of people still practicing their pagan beliefs, emerged as a cult opposed to the Catholic church. Halloween became known as the Night of the Witch. The devil and his followers would come together to mock the coming of All Saints Day on November 1 by performing unholy acts. The church had established November 1 as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day because it was already the date of pagan celebrations and the Church hoped that the old customs would be forgotten. But people continued the pagan celebration on the evening before All Hallows Day. It became known as All Hallows Even, and then was shortened to Hallowe'en, and then Halloween.

Halloween has many customs around the world. One custom from the Celts is lighting bonfires because they believed that evil spirits lurked around as the sun god grew pale and Samhain, the god of the dead, grew stronger. They would light great bonfires on the hillside to scare these spirits away. The cooking fires inside homes were also extinguished and new fires were lit from the great bonfire to honor the coming New Year.
People of the British Isles had the custom of tossing objects such as stones, vegetables and nuts into a bonfire to frighten away the spirits as well. The symbolic sacrifices were also fortune telling props used at Halloween parties in more
modern times. If a pebble that a man flung into the fire at night was no longer visible in the morning, people believed the man wouldn't survive another year. If nuts tossed by young lovers exploded in the flames, this would be a quarrelsome marriage.

People began hollowing out turnips and pumpkins and placing candles inside to scare evil spirits from the house. Why was the result called a "jack-o-lantern"? Tradition says that an Irish man named Jack, too wicked for heaven and expelled from hell for playing tricks on the devil, was condemned to walk the earth with a lantern forever. The trick or treat system started with the Irish when groups of Irish farmers would go from house to house soliciting food for the village Halloween festivities in the name of Muck Olla (ancient god of Irish clergy). Prosperity was promised to cheerful givers and threats made against tightfisted donors. Also, the poor in England would walk from door to door, begging for food on All Souls Day. When the people gave the poor special sweets, the poor promised in return to say prayers for those of the family that had died. As years passed, more children than adults did this.

Black cats are also a symbol of Halloween. The Celts believed that black cats had once been people. They thought bad magic had changed them into cats, so they left them tied with silver ropes because it was believed that they could protect church treasures. The blending of the Catholic traditions into this story of black cats turns the cat into a witches companion. The witch could also turn herself into a cat.

And finally there is the custom of why people dress in costumes on Halloween. Since the ancient Celts believed that the spirits of the dead walked abroad this night, they believed that if you wore a costume, then you would fool the dead into thinking you were one of them and they would leave you alone.

Halloween was scarcely observed in the Untied States until the last half of the nineteenth century. It is thought that large scale Irish immigration had much to do with the popularizing of the holiday.

Harvest festivals were traditionally accompanied by rituals the world over that linked the cycle of death and life together. Linked with death, for the corn came from under the earth where the dead resided, but even more with fertility and new life, ears of corn were left standing in the field because people were afraid of exhausting the strength of the crop. This was said to be an offering for Odin's horse or those who dwell under the earth.

In Germany, peasants used to break the first straws of hay brought into the barns saying, "This is food for the dead." Many people throughout the world hold annual festivals honoring the departed at this time of year. The exact time varies from region to region but there is a tendency to associate it with the harvest. In the USA, their ancestors from England who had this tradition in their background, created Thanksgiving as a new holiday to give thanks for the crops and all our bounty. It was the autumn of 1621, in Plymouth Colony, when Governor Bradford set a time for giving thanks for the year's harvest.

Traveling America...
....and beyond
(Tales from the happy Bus...)

Arabia Steamboat Museum
A couple of Sundays ago we went to the Arabia Steamboat Museum in downtown Kansas City.

The Arabia was one of many steamboats that traveled the Missouri River to bring supplies and people to the frontier towns along the Missouri River in the middle part of the 19th century. A side-wheeler, built in 1853 in Brownsville, PA, it carried passengers and supplies until she struck a submerged tree trunk in 1856 shortly after leaving the Kansas City dockside on her way to Omaha, Nebraska. She had 130 passengers and 200 tons of mystery cargo on board that captivated challenged treasure hunters for more than a century. Some said she carried gold. Others speculated it was a shipment of fine Kentucky bourbon. When she sank her passengers escaped to the river bank, but no one could save her cargo.

Over the years the Missouri River changed its course. This was also helped on by government departments that narrowed the river. In the past 6 different expeditions had tried to find the Arabia, but without success. They were all looking in the wrong place. In 1988 the Hawley family, father and two sons, began excavating in a Kansas farm field, 20 miles from the river. Thirteen months and $2,5 million later some parts of the Arabia and most of its cargo was brought to the surface after the Hawley's dug a 60 feet deep hole, the size of 6 football fields in circumference. What they found was not gold or bourbon, but a "time capsule" of remarkably preserved 1856 frontier supplies - the world's largest collection. They found housewares, food, tools and personal effects. Only half of the cargo is currently on display. Restoration on the rest continues daily.

Although it was initially claimed no-one died at the time if the sinking, during excavation they discovered a skeleton. A donkey, still fastened to a wooden beam.

The Food-eater Man

Kansas barbecue! Where Barbecue is never dry, but always served with a sauce. Let me first paint you the background picture. Everywhere you go in the US they tell you their barbecue is the best. But not all places are known for their barbecueing. Kansas is one of the places known for good barbecue meat. The others are Texas, Tennessee and the Carolinas. I can only talk about what I've seen and heard from people in Kansas City.

A barbecue is not like a braai in South Africa. If you going to grill hamburgers, frankfurters (ya they do) or other meat like chicken, steaks and pork chops on open coals (direct heat) then it's called "cookout". But a barbecue is preparing meat via the indirect cooking method, in other words it is really smoked meat, but while coating it with a barbecue sauce all the time. This is a long process. It can take hours to actually cook the meat.

I have not yet tried to do this myself, but I have tasted it at a barbecue we were invited to and in a restaurant. The spare ribs are very similar in taste to those available in South Africa, but it is the other meats, the beff brisket and pork shoulder that is magnificent prepared in this indirect heat, smoking process.

A taste from the Deep South

On to this month's recipe. At last I've laid my hands on a good Jambalaya recipe. I recently bought a excellent book containing just main dishes. No breads and soups and sweets and desert, just plain good food. And the recipes covers the world. (Rather disappointed not to see any African or South African recipes in it.)

Jambalaya has always been a staple of Cajun everyday cooking. It was a way to feed lots of hungry people with a small amount of food. Bits of leftover meat, poultry and of course seafood were mixed with a few seasonings and rice to feed many hungry mouths on just a small amount of money.

What meats to use is really up to the chef. You can add good Cajun hot smoked sausage and chicken. Or use shrimp, crab and fish all combined. Or what about rabbit meat or porcupine. Anything goes. There is no end to the combinations that are possible. Usually though the meat is a combination of shrimp, sausage and either chicken, pork or other seafood. And one can add a Creole touch by adding tomato ingredients.

The secret to good Jambalaya is...."If you have it, throw it in the pot!"
In that sense a Jambalaya is similar to a Spanish Paella or a South African potjie. It is just the spices that differs. But then spices makes a dish, doesn't it.

But first a little bit of history of one of the most interesting areas in the USA. New Orleans is a city in, Louisiana, one of the Southern states of America, famous for it's Mardi Gras. It’s swamp area, infested with mosquitoes and alligators, where the humidity is so high it feels you can cut it with a knife, but it is an area very much alive with Jazz, Zydeco and Cajun music. It's high on my list of places to visit during a holiday or a long weekend.

Louisiana Cajun and ex-urban Creole culture was born in the French-speaking countryside of Southwest Louisiana. In a nutshell, Creoles are descended from 17th through 19th century settlers who came to Louisiana directly from France, Spain, Haiti, or Northwest Africa, while Cajuns are descended from the 17th century French settlers of East Coast Canada. Many Native Americans and Anglo or German Europeans contributed to the cultural mix from which Louisiana and Creole culture emerged. Although many Creoles and Cajuns today speak only English and participate to a large extent in mainstream American culture, Cajun and Creole culture remains strong and relatively intact after two and a half centuries (or more) of growth and change on American soil.

The ACADIANS were French subjects in the Canadian province of Novia Scotia. When Great Britain acquired their country in 1713 they wanted to remain loyal to their French homeland. The British ordered them to pay homage to the English Queen and to give up their Catholic religion. The Acadians (later shortened to "Cajuns") refused and began what could be termed the longest "sit-in" in history. The disagreement lasted forty-two years until 1755. In September of that year the entire Acadian population, in all, over 10,000 people, was loaded onto prison boats . . . families were separated and their homes burned. They were sent to the colonies and the British Isles as prisoners of war. Many hundreds died en route, many more hundreds never saw their families again. Those who lived found hope in stories of a place far to the south where they could rebuild their homes and where their French language would be understood. As they escaped they made their way to the heart of Louisiana. On farms many could only see as unworkable swamp and barren grassland, they built their paradise. It is this spirit of survival against all odds, a unique spirit that could only come from hardship, that gives Cajun food, culture and music its own personality and character.

Today the Cajuns are very earthy, happy people and a lot of folks call their music "happy people music".

From Louisiana we get some well-known words like:
Bayou: The outlet of a lake or one of the delta streams of a river.
Cajun: A native of Louisiana of French Acadian ancestry.
Creole: Originally described those people of mixed French and Spanish blood who migrated from Europe or were born in Southeast Louisiana and lived as city or plantation dwellers.
Etouffee: French word meaning "smothered." A method of cooking seafood smothered in vegetables in a succulent tomato-based sauce to create a stewed-like seafood entree. Served with rice.
Gris-Gris: A (voodoo) spell.
Gumbo: A thick soup prepared with seafood or game, countless spices, vegetable, & served over rice. It is thickened with file or okra.
File: Ground sassafras leaves used to season gumbo and other dishes.
Mardi Gras: Commonly called Fat Tuesday - the day before Ash Wednesday and the first day of the Roman Catholic season of Lent.
The Big Easy: A nickname for New Orleans meaning people here take it easy.
Zydeco: A relatively new kind of Cajun dance music. It is a combination of traditional Cajun dance music and African blues.

But, on to our dish. This is the classic Creole influenced jambalaya with chicken, spicy sausage, ham and shrimps.


1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1-2 uncooked chicken breasts, skinned and cubed
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup smoked ham, sliced 5mm thick and chopped
150 g spicy sausage, (Andouille or Mexican Chorizo) raw or smoked, cut into rings
4 cups of chopped tomatoes, seeded
1 cup canned tomato puree
1 cup chicken or seafood stock
1 cup medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
½ cup minced green onions
2 ½ cup cooked long-grain rice

1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, cayenne, black pepper and thyme.
2. Toss the chicken in the bowl until well coated with spices.
3. In a large skillet or Dutch oven (black cast-iron pot), heat the oil.
4. Sauté the chicken, stirring almost constantly until the chicken is browned, 6-8 minutes.
5. Add the celery, onions, green peppers and garlic, and saute for about 5 minutes, or until vegetables are limp.
6. Stir in the ham, sausage, tomatoes, tomato puree and stock, and cook until mixture is bubbling.
7. Reduce the heat and simmer until the tomatoes have cooked down and liquid is slightly reduced, creating a rich, red liquid.
8. Add the shrimp and cook until they are opaque and tightly curled, about 2-3 minutes.
9. Taste and season if required. It should be very spicy
10. Add the green onions and enough rice so that the mixture is neither soupy nor dry.

And wha-la! Bon Appetite!!

If you like to try something different, something foreign, something spicy, you got to try this.

Way to go Proviiiiiiiince

Following the rugby on the Internet is like kissing your sister, but I guess that's better than kissing your brother. No excitement at all. But I'm nevertheless glad and happy that Western Province won the Currie Cup. On the TV in America you don't often see rugby.

The photos taken on our trip to Kansas did not come out all that well. Due to costs involved I did not send them away for digital development. Sorry about that.

Cheers from the Midwest.

No comments: