Remembering a Year: Mother and Gulf Oysters

Now that 2011 is here, the author reflects on how with family and with food, good always accompanies the bad



I am pleased to say that at the end of each year of my life—now on the further side of half a century—once again I have more to be thankful for than regret. The loss of my mother was the most difficult experience of any year. I do have to be thankful that I had so much time with her and so many happy times. I think of her every day and miss her so much that many times I forget she is gone as I go to pick up the phone to call her to join us for dinner.

I am not alone—she left eight other children, our families, and an entire community who remember and miss her. To this day, I have met few people who possess her amazingly positive outlook on life. She too had five sisters and three brothers and I never once heard her say anything negative about any family member or friend.

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As much as I try to be as good as her, I often remember I have half my father's genes. He was an amazing cook, but not nearly as patient with people as my mother. My mother lived by the words, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all," whereas my father lived more by the words Robert Harling wrote: "If you don't have anything nice to say—come sit by me."

There are always positive reminders that life is going well: Everyone in my family is healthy, happy, productive. I love my family, friends, and my life. I am appreciative of my old friends and new friends. There are also reminders of the things that did not always go well last year. Last week I phoned in my order to my seafood supplier for my traditional New Year's oysters. I received word this morning—there are none. I asked him if it was because of demand or availability. He said, Guess?

There is no doubt that the oyster industry has been the hardest hit from the oil spill. The predictions are that it will take two years to recover. Louisiana's oysters were killed off by massive freshwater diversions that were meant to contain the oil slick. The good news—they will recover. I did manage to find some Texas oysters, but warned they were not as plump as we are accustomed to. We also have to be thankful for the part of our Gulf seafood industry that has survived. I still encourage everyone who loves good food to come to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast and support the restaurants and hotels that have been hit once again by a disaster.

I will not give up on Gulf oysters even if I have to use others for a year or two as I know the Gulf will come back strong. While I take my year-end inventory of what I have to be thankful for at the end of the day, I realize that it is because of being my mother's daughter that I am able to see the my glass half full and that is a great gift.

May you glass always be half full.... Happy New Year, and here is my father's oyster stew recipe.

Recipe: J.P.'s Oyster Stew

• 4 dozen medium oysters with 1 cup of the liquor reserved
    • ½ pound butter
    • ½ cup flour
    • 4 ribs celery, finely chopped
    • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 1½ cups finely chopped green onion
    • 1⁄2 cup finely chopped curly parsley
    • 1 tablespoon sea salt
    • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
    • 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 2 cups milk
    • 2 cups heavy cream

Combine oyster liquor with one cup water in a two-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the oysters and simmer until their edges just begin to curl, about two minutes. Strain oysters and set over a medium bowl. Reserve oysters and liquid separately.

Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook to make a roux, whisking constantly, until golden brown, three to four minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add celery, garlic, onions, parsley, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until onions and celery are very soft, about 25 minutes.

Warm milk and cream in a separate pan, slowly add to vegetables and roux. Add the oyster liquid and cook for five minutes.

Add oysters and cook five more minutes. Serve right away.