Monday, December 1, 2014

Country Holidays, Louisiana Style: Christmas in Dogtown by Suzanne Johnson

Somehow, it became a winter tradition. My friends from New Orleans and I would pile in a car the second weekend of November and make the trek west along the winding Mississippi Great River Road to St. Charles Parish, where we’d spend the day at the annual Destrehan Plantation’s annual fall festival.

               A beautifully restored plantation house and its sprawling, oak-shaded grounds sits across from the river levee, and we’d spend the whole day visiting the house and antique barn, listening to local bands play, and eating—crawfish bread, pralines, roasted peanuts.

               For a couple of years, when I was making art quilts, I had “Yat Cat Quilt” T-shirts printed up and had a booth along with my friend Debbie, who made quilted tea cozies. Most of the years, though, I was on the visitor end of things rather than the seller end.

               And yeah, I’ll admit it now, I went for the crawfish bread. Think of a fresh French loaf, hollowed out and then stuffed with a mixture of crawfish tails and cheese and tomatoes and cheese and butter and garlic and cheese. (Did I mention cheese?)

               I drew on another favorite winter tradition for “Christmas in Dogtown,” a story about family and tradition and what “home” means: my semi-annual trek to LaPlace, Louisiana, in St. John the Baptist Parish, also west of New Orleans. Now, the locals will tell you they’re “Bailey’s People” or they’re “Jacob’s People,” meaning they prefer the smoked meats from either Jacob’s Smokehouse or Bailey’s (next door).

               In “Dogtown,” Teresa Madere has fallen on some rough times so she agrees to leave New Orleans for the month of December and help her uncle run Madere’s Meats out in St. James Parish (just keep heading west and you’ll get there). In my crossroads community of Dogtown, people from the city drive out to buy their holiday meats from either the Maderes or the Caillous, the two main families in town.

               It was fun to pull on some Cajun culture to not only tell about the mystery behind the Dogtown community, but also the culture of boudin and andouille and tasso and smoked alligator gar.

               It’s not as exotic as it sounds, so in case you want to know more about what Resa’s having to do in “Dogtown,” here’s a quick “meat primer” of the Louisiana river parishes 
--Andouille, pronounced “ahn-DOU-eee,” is a smoked pork sausage sort of like a spicier kielbasa. It’s used to make red beans and rice (red beans spiced and cooked down to a mush, with andouille and rice) and jambalaya (a rice dish that usually mixes spices and rice with andouille and either chicken or shrimp, or both). I’m sure others use it in all kinds of other things, but those are the main things I make with it.

 --Boudin, pronounced “boo-DAN,” is basically “dirty rice” in a sausage casing and unless otherwise noted is synonymous with “boudin blanc.” The rice is mixed with pork or shrimp or crawfish, and then seasoned well and stuffed in the sausage casing. One of my favorite memories was when my mom came to visit me in New Orleans for the first time and I served some crawfish boudin with my red beans. She didn’t say anything but I noticed she kept picking something out of her food. She finally said she didn’t eat grub worms. Needless to say, no more crawfish boudin for her (it was crawfish tails, not grub worms…really!).

               There are also variations: boudin balls are balls of the rice mixture that’s battered and fried instead of stuffed into the sausage casings and boiled or grilled. “Boudin noir” has the blood and organ meats in it. Suzanne doesn’t care for boudin noir, thank you. In “Dogtown,” Resa weasels out of making it whenever she can.

               And yep, I have had alligator boudin, as well as alligator sausage. It doesn’t taste like chicken!

               Don’t like the sound of that stuff? No worries—“Dogtown” also has a sexy guy with moss-green eyes and the St. James Parish bonfires. Each year, bonfires are built along the river levees and set ablaze on Christmas Eve to help Papa Noel find his way to all the Cajun boys and girls when he arrives in his pirogue (kind of a flat-bottomed canoe). It’s a beautiful sight, and for those of us making our winter pilgrimages out of New Orleans, a sure sign that the holidays are here!

Have you ever tried any of the Louisiana cuisine—if so, what’s your favorite thing?

Christmas in Dogtown
Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Sweet Paranormal Romance

Publisher: Story Vault

Date of Publication: December 2012


Number of pages: 30
Word Count: approx. 11,000

Book Description:

A woman who spent years escaping her rural past learns that Dogtown, Louisiana, hides more family secrets than just the recipe for boudin blanc…..

Resa Madere’s on the verge of losing it all. The boyfriend’s gone. The job’s history. Her beloved house is on the brink of foreclosure. She’ll do anything to save it—even spend a long Christmas holiday working in St. James Parish, Louisiana, helping her uncle run the family meat business. But the community of Dogtown, which has been home for seven generations of the Madere and Caillou families, has deep roots and deeper secrets. For Resa, going home is one thing.

Getting out might not be so easy.

About the Author:

Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance (under the name Susannah Sandlin) from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis' birthplace, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick. She’s the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series and, as Susannah Sandlin, the Penton Legacy paranormal romance series.

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