The first week of the new year is a challenging one for me. While most of the world seems eager to get the holidays packed away by the first of the year, and to make resolutions about their diet, I am still celebrating. On the secular calendar the holiday season ends on January 1st but, traditionally, January 1st is only the midpoint of the Christmas season. On the liturgical calendar the Christmas season doesn’t end until January 6, which is also known as Epiphany.
All last week I struggled with the cues of the world around me. I could feel the tension between my determination and the flow of the cultural mainstream. While friends boxed up their holiday treasures, cleaned out their refrigerators, and resolved to make changes to their lifestyle I resolved to observe all Twelve Days of Christmas. I remembered that without tension in the strings a violin can make no music. Sometimes tension can be a good thing.
At my house, though school was back in session and my husband was on his way out of town, we still made an effort to share Epiphany with family and friends. Having left most of our holiday decorations up, we set a festive table, lit candles and listened to Christmas music about stars and wise men and Jesus’ birth, as we shared a King Cake and the history of the season it celebrates.
While it is a challenge and can even be a bit disorienting, the struggle to swim upstream in the river of cultural norms is not without its rewards. Besides being reminded about the beauty of my faith, the history of the Christmas season and the strength of my family traditions, when I cut into my New Orleans style King Cake, I got the piece with the chocolate “baby” inside.
My family’s King Cake tradition is based on a custom from New Orleans. We set aside a small gift for the one who finds the chocolate “baby” in their slice. What’s more, finding the “baby” is also said to ensure good luck in the coming year. You gotta love that great New Orleans style!
Slow Cooking - New Orleans Style
Now our Epiphany celebration is over and my Christmas decorations are finding their way back into the garage. While I am finally getting in step with those New Year’s virtues of healthy eating and simple living I am still so jazzed about that New Orleans style that I want to share another creole inspired recipe.
This version of Jambalaya has been a favorite at my house for several years. It is a slow-cooker recipe so it is perfect for simplifying a weeknight dinner. This is a dish that benefits from a full day in the slow cooker, where the flavors can really blend.
It is a forgiving recipe. The quantities are more like guidelines than exact measurements. Ham can be substituted for the sausage and left over chicken or turkey can be used instead of shrimp. I like to make it with spicy andouille sausage but my family prefers a sausage with a little less fire. (This time I used a package of Little Smokies that had been overlooked in our refrigerator during the holiday season.) Stir the ingredients together in the morning, simmer on low, then stir in the shrimp about an hour before serving or thaw frozen shrimp and stir them in closer to serving time. Ladle the Jambalaya over rice and serve it with a loaf of crusty bread or corn muffins and a salad for a simple and flavorful meal.
from "Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook"
1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
2 medium stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups fully cooked smoked sausage
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper sauce
3/4 pound uncooked peeled deveined medium shrimp (frozen shrimp can be used instead)
4 cups hot cooked rice
Combine all ingredients, except the shrimp and rice, in a slow cooker.
Cover and cook on low setting for approximately 8 hours or until vegetables are tender and flavors blend.
Stir in shrimp. Cover and cook on low for another hour, until shrimp are pink and firm or, if using frozen shrimp, until they are warmed through.
Serve Jambalaya over hot cooked rice.