Staying Southern amid mortality and casual conversation

Staying Southern amid mortality and casual conversation |

(Image source:

Did I mention I was nearly in an airplane crash last week?

As you may remember, I made a trip down South for my cousin’s bachelorette party. There were thunderstorms across the central U.S. on the day of my return to Oregon.

I found myself on a flight to Houston. I wasn’t even supposed to be on that airplane – I had a flight booked to Denver but I was going to miss my connection. The ticketing agent in Shreveport rerouted me to Houston.

Briefly, I chatted with the woman next to me while we were unexpectedly delayed on the tarmac. She was from San Diego. And at this rate, we were both going to miss our connections in Houston.

Staying Southern amid mortality and casual conversation |

This is not an image from my flight. (Image source:

We finally took off. The 45-minute flight on the tiny airplane was loud with engine noise but uneventful.

We made our final descent and suddenly, with a few jolting movements, we were all wondering if this was our actual FINAL descent.

There was a lot of armrest gripping, gasps and expletives among the passengers.

The airplane seemed like it hadn’t slowed down a bit. Then, there was fishtailing. We were lopsided. Only the right wheel was on the ground and it felt like we were about to get going on one of those chincy portable tilt-a-whirl carnival rides I always avoid. Passengers were hollering.

Once you start to think about your last words, you stop saying expletives and start saying prayers.

The guy a few seats in front of me had a white-knuckle hold on the overhead rail like he was on an 8-second ride.

The San Diegan woman squeezed my hand.

It felt like there was a lack of oxygen in the cabin, not because we lost pressure, but because everyone had sucked all the air up and hadn’t breathed out yet.

And then, we took off again.

You know in the movies when the co-pilot is yelling, “PULL UP! PULL UP!” to the captain right before they nearly crash? This co-pilot should have started yelling earlier. And louder. (To the co-pilot: You had one job.)

No one, not even our flight attendant who had been so nice as to hand out cookies and cocktails during our delay on the tarmac, offered any sort of explanation.

No casual, “Sorry ‘bout that folks, we’ll have you on the ground in a jiffy.”

Staying Southern amid mortality and casual conversation |

(Image source:

Or “Sorry ‘bout that folks, I forgot my wallet in Shreveport.”

Or “Sorry ‘bout that folks, there was a baby bunny on the runway and I didn’t want to squish it. ‘Preciate your patience.”

Amidst the confusion, anxiety and sighs of temporary relief, I turned to the woman next to me and asked, “So what brought you to Louisiana?” As if we hadn’t just had a glimpse at the gates of Heaven.

“We went to a wedding in Natchitoches.” She told me about the festivities, the crawfish boil, a trip to Natchitoches’ Pioneer Pub and the wedding on an old Cane River plantation.

Staying Southern amid mortality and casual conversation |

Front Street, Natchitoches, LA
(Image source:

“I love Natchitoches!” I said.

As if I hadn’t just prayed the fastest rosary of my life and made peace with what appeared to be forthcoming death or dismemberment, I told her about my college career in Natchitoches and getting married on an old Cane River plantation.

We could feel the airplane making another try for the runway. The girl across the aisle from me began to cry.

We landed. It wasn’t pretty and I’m sure that airplane needs new break pads. But we landed.

If I weren’t such a germ-o-phobe, I would have kissed the ground when we finally deplaned.

It’s funny that after I had made peace with my fate with a few minutes to spare, my first instinct was to make polite conversation with a total stranger and bond over weddings under pecan trees.

Maybe my behavior was a subconscious technique to calm my nerves. Maybe I realized I didn’t want to live my last minutes of life being afraid. Or maybe, I was just trying to be a good Southerner.


Southern progress and an upcoming transplant

In other news, the South has become more progressive. People are now adding things like carrots, mushrooms and, get ready for this, sweet potatoes to their crawfish boils. | StayingSouthern.netAfter a thorough inspection during this past weekend’s bachelorette festivities, I have found that the South is still as wonderful as it ever was.

My absence from the motherland was unacceptably long. I am happy to report that the streak has been broken and I will be back again in two weeks. Hugging my family twice in a month sounds just plain luxurious.

IIn other news, the South has become more progressive. People are now adding things like carrots, mushrooms and, get ready for this, sweet potatoes to their crawfish boils. | StayingSouthern.netn other news, the South has become more progressive. People are now adding things like carrots, mushrooms and, get ready for this, sweet potatoes to their crawfish boils. Maybe this isn’t new, but it’s new to me. And utterly delicious. I highly recommend it.

Coming up tomorrow on Staying Southern, an insightful and eloquent Transplant Profile from a Louisiana native residing in Los Angeles. In other news, the South has become more progressive. People are now adding things like carrots, mushrooms and, get ready for this, sweet potatoes to their crawfish boils. | StayingSouthern.netScreenwriter, journalist and novelist, Stinson Carter is this week’s featured ex-pat Southerner. After you read Stinson’s Transplant Profile, you’ll want more – so go ahead and download his novel, False River, from Amazon now. It’s a great read, steeped in rich characters and identifiable Louisiana goodness.

Greetings from America’s skyways!

Tweet with me today while I fly the skies on my way home! (@Southern_Blog)Traveling almost makes you feel a little patriotic, doesn’t it? I love how every airport in America indulges every regional stereotype to its fullest potential. It’s like I don’t even have to leave the airport to really get to the meat of what a state is all about.

For example, Memphis International Airport: Barbecue and blues. Dallas/Fort Worth: Cowboy boots and Cowboys football. Portland International: University of Oregon Ducks, beer, and judging by the woman rocking out on the ukulele at gate C6, Portland likes the arts, too.

It’s like being at Disney World’s Epcot except I’m probably not going to get an autograph and picture with Goofy at any point today. But never say never.

I’ll keep dissecting the airport representations of each state, while you head on over to Twitter to read updates about my cross-country voyage back to the South.

(Psst! You don’t have to have a Twitter account to read my Tweets, just click the link!)

Here I come, my sweet Southern home!

Here I come, my sweet Southern home! |


This Wednesday, I return to the motherland!

That’s right, tomorrow through Monday, I’ll be writing to you from Louisiana and Mississippi!

The layovers will be long and the flights even longer. But hey, that’s life when you’re an uprooted Southerner. So, why am I making the journey, you ask? Two words:


My cousin is getting married soon and this week, we celebrate her last days as a single gal on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

There will be crawfish, warm weather and lots of laughter. Did I mention that I will be wearing shorts for the first time in nearly 7 months? Yikes. Welcome to White Legsville, population: me.

Also during the trip, I’ll get to hug my daddy and mama (a.k.a. Miss L’Anne), along with an abundance of other family members residing in the Sportsman’s Paradise.

Follow my adventures via Twitter while I “keep it Southern” in four airports tomorrow!

Recipe: Easy Gumbouffee

Recipe: Easy Gumbouffee |

From the mad-scientist test kitchen: Gumbouffee

What’s that smell? Is that success or the huge pot of Gumbouffee?

My friends, it is both. Although it felt a little like mad science, the recipe for this semi-homemade dish turned out to be oh-so-delicious.

Like we talked about in Friday’s post, store-bought spice mixes are convenient, but they don’t deliver when it comes to authentic flavor and texture. Mainstream products are “good enough” to get by when you’re craving Southern food, but what if you want great?

We combined widely-distributed Louisiana-made products, additional seasonings and a few vegetables. The result was a savory etouffee-meets-gumbo.

The best part about this recipe is how easy it is. Even those who don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen can create an authentic Southern dish. No roux-related stress, no major time commitment. Just a fun, tasty meal with real Creole texture and flavor.

Total time spent in the kitchen was less than an hour, but the Gumbouffee tasted like it had been on the stove all day.

We used catfish in our recipe, but chicken, Andouille sausage, shrimp, crawfish or all of the above would be just as tasty. You could even add okra or diced tomatoes to make it your own. Follow these easy steps and you, too will be saying this sauce is c’est si bon.


–       1 box Tony Chachere’s Creole etouffee mixRecipe: Easy Gumbouffee |
–       1 box Zatarain’s gumbo base
–       1 pound catfish, cut into large bite-size chunks
–       3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
–       1 large yellow onion, chopped
–       2 cups celery, choppedRecipe: Easy Gumbouffee |
–       2 cups green bell pepper, chopped
–       ½ cup green onion, chopped
–       8 cups water
–       1 Tbsp Emeril’s Essence seasoning
–       1/4 cup blackened seasoningRecipe: Easy Gumbouffee |
–       6-8 cups cooked white rice

–       Mix catfish pieces with blackened seasoningRecipe: Easy Gumbouffee |
–       In a large pot on the stove, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium setting
–       In small batches, cook seasoned catfish until almost done, remove from pot and set aside
–       In the same pot, add 1 Tbsp of olive oil and sauté yellow onion, celery and bell pepper until onion becomes slightly translucent
–       Add Zatarain’s and Tony’s spice mixes, stirring to coat vegetables
–       Gradually add 8 cups of water while stirring frequently
–       Add Emeril’s Essence seasoning and catfishRecipe: Easy Gumbouffee |
–       Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes until catfish is cooked through, liquid should coat the back of a spoon
–       Serve over cooked rice, garnish with green onion. Feeds 8-10 people

Etougumbalaya? You work on the name, I’ll work on the recipe

It’s Friday and during Lent, that usually means fish is on the menu.

Tonight’s kitchen adventure features a little Cajun ingenuity and catfish.

While boxed spice mixes for gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee are easy to find outside the South, they come up short when it comes to flavor, texture and authenticity.

One dark and stormy night, it was time for dinner and we were without a plan. And hungry.

It's all about using what you have to your advantage in the kitchen |

The red beans hybrid. In the words of Emeril Lagasse, “BAM!”

My husband and resident kitchen whiz dove into our stockpile of Cajun dry goods (yes, we have a shelf devoted to this).

He combined boxes of gumbo base, etouffee mix and red beans seasoning mix along with the Cajun holy trinity of fresh onion, bell pepper and celery. A ham hock and a couple bags of beans later, and we had a savory, authentic pot of red beans and rice. Sometimes you just have to use what you have to your advantage.

Tonight, we will make another attempt at combining store-bought Cajun favorites.

A few more seasonings, catfish and the Cajun holy trinity will make appearances in this recipe.

A few more seasonings, catfish and the Cajun holy trinity will make appearances in this recipe.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, catfish GumboJambaToufee. Or Gumbatouffee. Or Jambotoufee. Etougumbalaya?

You work on the name, I’ll work on the recipe.

Stay tuned to find out how it turns out and the full recipe!

Happy Friday!

Spanish moss attracts more than just Southerners

There I was, standing in the checkout line at WalMart in Bend, OR.

I looked like a Creole doomsday prepper with a grocery cart full of canned goods; mostly black-eyed peas and French cut green beans. I live in the sticks. When you live way out of town, you have to stock up on certain necessities – my household is never without black-eyed peas.

We do silly things sometimes when we miss home. |

Spanish moss is a perennial epiphytic herb. It is not Spanish, nor a moss, but a flowering plant.

Two checkout lanes over to my left, I saw a woman about my age. In her cart, I spotted a MiracleGro package that said, clear as day, “SPANISH MOSS.”

My heart stopped.

My thoughts began to swirl:

She must be from the South.

Only someone who is desperately homesick for the South would try to grow Spanish moss in this high desert climate. Maybe I should try it in my garden this year.

She looks really happy and smiley. Traits of a Southerner. And she’s curled her hair and wearing a lot of eyeliner. Yep. Definitely a Southerner.

She probably just moved here from South Carolina and misses home.

We do silly things sometimes when we miss home. |


Hmmm. She might not be very bright if she plans on hanging Spanish moss from Ponderosa pines. I won’t hold that against her. We do silly things sometimes when we miss home.

And boy, do we.

I heaved my cart full of canned goods out of line and pushed it over to the woman.

“Excuse me, miss?” I said.

She interpreted my salutation as a request to get out of my way. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said as she began to wheel her cart backwards.

“I am just wondering… Are you trying to grow Spanish moss here?” I asked.

She worked for a daycare and this week’s craft project was constructing fairy houses. Apparently, fairies have roofs made of Spanish moss. They must be Southern, too.

“Oh,” I said.

I retreated back to my checkout lane.

It’s true – we do silly things sometimes when we miss home, like approach strangers in WalMart. But in my defense, in the South, asking a complete stranger about their gardening plans is perfectly acceptable. Southerners go on living like they are in the South, even if they’re not.

We do silly things sometimes when we miss home. | StayingSouthern.netMy attempt to find a kindred Southerner may have been thwarted, but it won’t stop me from being just as friendly in the future. It also won’t deter me from possibly building some small, Spanish moss-covered houses to attract Southern fairies.

How to Write a Thank You Note (and why you should)

In this era, steeped in technology, it’s hard to sit down and hand-write a thank-you note when sending a text, tweet or email is so much easier.

Those forms of thank-yous might be immediate, but they’re hardly as personal as a penned note in the mail.

I married into a family of Northerners. They don’t write thank-you notes. It doesn’t offend me – I know, as a Southerner living in the Pacific Northwest, I own the cultural abnormalities.

Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, my mother and her own sister exchange thank-you notes practically every day. They write cards to one another for things as simple as a good chat during a power-walk around the neighborhood or bringing a quiche to Sunday brunch.

It’s easy to feel like thank-you notes are wasted on those who don’t write them at all. But, it’s been my experience that showing appreciation is never lost on anyone.

In fact, by sending thank-you notes to the Northerners in my life, I have discovered they may even appreciate them more than Southerners do. They are not used to receiving such things in the mail, thus the gesture shines even more.

A thank-you note is a tangible experience. Think about it: what do you do when you see an envelope that isn’t a bill or a pre-approved credit card? You smile. You enjoy the feel of the unincorporated envelope and the hand-written address. Then, you open it… and smile again.

A quality thank-you note should read like this:

Dear _________ ,

1. An expression of gratitude for the kindness/gift/presence.
2. How useful it is/how much it is loved/how the person’s presence was appreciated.
3.  A mention of the future: When you will be seeing each other again and how lovely it will be.
4. Another brief expression of appreciation, closing salutations and the author’s signed name.

Send enough of these and people will be talking about your good manners and the lengths you go to express your gratefulness. The thank-you note is possibly the easiest way to create a positive, lasting impression on anyone.

Good manners and gratitude know no zip codes. So keep on writing, because nothing makes a person feel appreciated like receiving a hand-written piece of mail, sent just to say “thank you.”

Come rain or shine… or both.

“Oh, look, the Devil is beating his wife,” I said casually as I looked out the window at the sudden shower of rain amidst the sunshine.

My husband almost did a spit-take.

“WHAT?” he asked.

A sunshower is a meteorological phenomenon in which rain falls while the sun is shining. (Stock photo)

A sunshower is a meteorological phenomenon in which rain falls while the sun is shining. (Stock photo)

“It’s raining and sunny at the same time. What, you’ve never heard that expression?”

It wasn’t the first time my Michigan-born husband and I have had a miscommunication solely because of the clash between his Northern and my Southern accents or colloquialisms.

To put his mind at ease that his wife was not completely crazy, I researched the phrase’s origin. I could not find the exact derivation, other than it is mostly used in the Southern U.S., but the meaning of rain during sunshine was the same in every source I consulted.

Allegedly, the Devil beats his wife during occasional sunny weather because he is angry that God created a beautiful day.

Really, the Devil shouldn’t go on taking out his aggression on other people. It’s just not healthy.

During my research, I found a document from Bert Vaux, a former assistant professor of linguistics at Harvard University. Bert solicited his academic peers for expressions in other languages describing the meteorological phenomenon. Here are some of the highlights:

Amharic: “The hyena is giving birth.”
Bulgarian: “The bears are getting married.”
Cape Verdean:A sunshower on one’s wedding day means that the groom has eaten unheated food. (I hope it wasn’t poultry)
Polish: “When the sun is shining and the rain is raining, the witch is making butter.”
Zulu: A sunshower is called a “monkey’s wedding.”

I offered to adopt the one about the witch making butter, but my husband just shook his head.  The way I see it, if I’m going to sound like a lunatic, I’d at least like to sound like a lunatic that knows where she’s from.