Freezing our buns off, but don't we look festive?
Saturday, February 21, we were contestants in the Manitou Springs Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo Cookoff. I use the term "we" very loosely, since the whole thing was Neal's idea and he did all of the planning and preparations for the event. I merely showed up, tried to help chop vegetables, and ended up chopping the tip of my thumb off instead. I spent the better part of an hour running around looking for a band-aid and trying to make sure my gushing blood did not end up as an ingredient in the gumbo! Did I mention that I'm pretty dangerous with kitchen knives? However, in my defense, it was dang cold at 8 o'clock in the morning and I could not feel my fingertips, or my whole hands, for that matter. And, since it is next-to-impossible to finely dice vegetables with gloves on, my frozen thumb became a victim.
Manitou Springs (pronounced man-a-too) is a quaint, artsy-farsty little town just a few miles west of Colorado Springs. It is where the Cog Railroad station is located which houses the trains that journey to and from Pikes Peak several times a day. It is also famous for its mineral springs throughout town that are fed by the snows of Pikes Peak. Last year, during Mardi Gras, we discovered that little Manitou Springs has a gumbo cookoff and a Mardi Gras parade every year. Neal was immediately intrigued by the gumbo cookoff and vowed to enter it this year. After all, we are from Louisiana and know a thing or two about cooking the foods of the Cajun gods! So, for the past year (literally) Neal has been planning his gumbo and calling the Chamber of Commerce to make sure he got his name on the list of entrants, since they are limited to 20 participants only. When we went to Baton Rouge for Christmas, we had to shop for specialty meats and seasonings for the gumbo. When Neal discovered a good sale on boneless chicken thighs at a local grocery, he stocked up and stored them in our freezer, for the gumbo. Then, when the application process was finally opened, Neal was one of the first to get his name on the list. After about a week of preparations, including cutting and pre-cooking meats and rice and preparing the roux, the day finally arrived.
I have no idea how many people attended the gumbo cookoff, but all the chefs, except Neal, ran out of gumbo. The requirement was to make at least 5 gallons; however, all good Cajuns (we're not technically Cajun, but it adds to the story) know to prepare extra. Neal had easily prepared double the required amount. People paid $1.00 for two gumbo tastings, then strolled from table to table to sample the gumbos of their choice. The place was packed and we were constantly scooping and serving gumbo samples. Many, many comments were overheard about how delicious Neal's chicken, tasso and sausage gumbo was. And, since you asked (c'mon, I know you did), tasso is a type of smoked pork. It's a Cajun thing! Our friend, Jeanette, kept urging people to "vote for Neal and Lilla" as she handed out samples. I really, really thought Neal would walk away with some sort of award, if not first place, but sadly the judges thought otherwise. I have a theory that the judges are all from Colorado and wouldn't know a real gumbo if one stood up out of the pot and smacked them in the face! Neal was a good sport about the whole thing and was really proud of all his efforts, as he should be. And, since he prepared extra, there was enough gumbo left over to share with a few friends and for Neal to munch on during the week. All in all, a very satisfying and enjoyable event, except....
that is where the whole cold/flu thing started. Remember how I mentioned it was dang cold that morning? By Saturday evening, I could feel a scratchy throat coming on and by Sunday I had the chills, aches and general crappy feeling. From there, my week took a nose-dive, I lost my voice and every day it was a struggle to pull myself out of bed. I can only credit the bone-chilling weather at the gumbo cookoff to causing my immune system to do a complete shutdown. That, coupled with the enormous amount of blood lost from my severed thumb. Who knew a thumb could bleed so much? And, as I mentioned yesterday, Neal was starting to feel a little icky but was hoping that super doses of vitamin C, cold medicine and other supplements would keep him from suffering the wrath that I endured all week. He felt pretty good all day yesterday, and we were able to go out to lunch, run a few errands and piddle around the house, with only mild coughing and sneezing on his part. But during the night, the germies played havoc on his immune system and today he is exactly where I was a week ago....chills, aches, cough, stuffy head...pure, miserable hell. Poor baby. You can run, but you just cannot hide. And speaking of hiding, I am still keeping my distance from him because I do not want to go through that misery again, but I am doing my part of playing nurse to him as he did for me. If one has to be sick, it sure is nice to have someone right around the corner waiting for your pitiful cry to bring more tissues, or juice, or a blanket. In sickness and in health, right?
I leave you with a few gumbo-related photos, and one photo of Neal yesterday cooking his homemade beer, before the wrath of illness set in...
Not the most appealing thing for my vegetarian eyes to behold
Neal taking over the chopping duties after I proved to be inferior at the task
Steeping the tea bag of grains for a batch of homebrewed brown ale