Monday, November 12, 2012

Smothered Okra...and the "Ooh La La" at T'frères B&B

I headed back to my home town this past weekend.  One of my oldest and best friends was also going to be coming in so we planned a long awaited and much anticipated visit.

I knew I was in store for good food and good friends in Louisiana...the food of my childhood that, like no other, stirs my soul.

One southern cajun dish that appears frequently on our table is "smothered cajun okra".  When cooked slowly for a long time, okra loses its toughness, becomes silky smooth, pairs well with stewed tomatoes and onions and of course...cajun spices.

The swamplands of southern Louisiana tell so many stories about the people who struggled to survive in this humid marshy environment after leaving France, fleeing Nova Scotia after Britain took over, and eventually migrating further and further south.  In the desolate wild swamplands of Louisiana, anything and everything was up for grabs and often landed on the plates  of the Acadian, or "cajun" people who survived the trek.

Due to the freedom from taxes and oppressive regulations that their fellow frenchmen were suffering, many new "cajun" families began bringing over their relatives from France.  Thus, the french influence continued to grow in southern Louisiana.  

And that is how my family ended up there.

Decades later, a heavy dose of french heritage, a mix of Caribbean, Spanish, and African American cultures...and what a melting pot of cuisines evolved from the food, animals, and... ahem...critters (crawfish, turtles, etc.) that were abundant in the area.

Along the long flat highway from Texas to Louisiana lay several clues as to the seasonal offerings of this southern stretch of farmlands.

Whereas most farmer's markets are closing shop for the winter season, several stands are just opening up in s. Louisiana and Texas.

No, it isn't pumpkins that come from the south!  Texas grapefruit and Louisiana satsumas (little mandarins) are in season right now and farm stands are teeming with them.

...and pecans (Puh-khans...NOT... Peeeee-cans) are falling from the trees and are sold in huge bags to usher in the season of pecan pies and pralines.

Several stops along the drive offer peeks into the world of the swamplands.  Beautiful, alluring, mysterious, and peaceful all describe the ebb and flow of the waters that lap up against the many moss covered trees towering into the sky.

(Above right:  Boudin Sausage and Pork fat Cracklins)

Once the Louisiana border is doesn't take long before the signs start beckoning the curious epicure.

"Boudin!"  "Cracklins!"  "Crawfish!"  

"Come on in ya'll," read the often hand-written signs adorned with claw-snapping crawfish caricatures.

I revel in the culinary explorations of my southern heritage.  I was born and raised in the south but haven't really returned since my late teen years.  I see everything with adult eyes now and years of life experience in between.

There is no place in the U.S. like the south.  Now, I'm not saying that is a positive thing!  No, there is definitely the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to deep southern Louisiana.

But, the people there are fiercely proud of their food, culture, and way of life.  They love nothing more than to stand over newcomers as they take their first bite of boudin or first slurpy spoonful of seafood gumbo to note their reaction.

Basically, the cajuns of Southern Louisiana were left to their own religion and culture with little influence from the rest of the country for several decades.

Thus, they are a fiercely independent bunch of people but remain close-knit, locked in their ways, and happy in their own little corner of the world.

I passed some large tractors chopping down sugar cane.  This made me chuckle and recall school field trips to the local Tabasco factory.  Yes, our field trips were to places like the Tabasco hot sauce factory!

On the ride home, the nuns would hand each of us a stalk of raw sugar cane.  It was tough like bamboo.  But, if you peeled back the outer layer, and chewed with gusto on the inside pulp, the sugary juices would be released.  

Sugar cane stalks in hand, lots of jaws grinding, and a bus full of very quiet girls happily rode back with our little bottles of Tabasco sauce tucked in our pockets.

I had heard about a B&B in Louisiana called "T'frères House".  It was owned by the renowned owners of a popular restaurant called Chez Pastor.  

What a delightful choice to enjoy authentic cajun hospitality.  Pat and Maugie Pastor, now retired from the restaurant business, welcome travelers to their family home with flair and panache.

T'frère's B&B was built in 1880 and is filled with wonderful southern paintings depicting cajun scenes from the area.

Mr. Pat greets guests at the door with his thickly accented cajun french.  He is filled with story after story of life in southern Louisiana and is a treasure trove of information about the food culture after running a successful restaurant for so many years.

One of their specialties are the "T-Juleps" and "Crab Crustards" that they serve at twilight each evening.  It is a  wonderful way to finish the day, sit and chat awhile, and relax on their back porch talking about the day's activities with other guests.

Scenes of the relationship between the diverse cultures of the history of the south are present everywhere.  For example, "Hattie" from "Gone with the Wind" is proudly sitting in a portrait over the kitchen fireplace.

I can't explain easily the relationships that defined the period of slavery, as well as dominated the lives of people well after the Civil War in the U.S.  It is a complicated one.  It is a beautiful one.  It is an ugly and humiliating one.  

For me, the movie "The Secret Life of Bees" best represents the relationship and understandings that were defined during my childhood experience.  I do see changes in the south...but change happens very slowly in this part of the world.  It remains a culture that I will always cherish but will always be bewildered by, and probably never  unravel or fully accept.

T'frère's house is a tranquil little spot in the middle of a city that is stretching and growing at a rate that has not been experienced before.  

Pecans can be heard thumping onto the ground, the oak trees sway mightily overhead, and the house stands proud and full of history from a time gone by.

The "Ooh La La" breakfast is an occasion full of smiles and tradition every morning.  Mrs. Maugie bustles about in the kitchen getting the trays ready...wearing her signature red silk pajamas.

The "Ohh La La" Breakfast at T'Frères

Mr. Pat rings his hand bell loudly to quiet the chattering morning guests.  They sweep into the grand breakfast room announcing "Oh La La Breakfast!"  

It's fun.  It's festive.  It's full of the cajun flair!

My childhood friend and I had such a wonderful weekend.  We enjoyed touring around the city noting areas that are the same and so many areas that have changed.

It seems it was just a snap away that we were running around school together eating Ding Dongs and dreaming about our futures.

We marvel at the cajun culture today and how much of it centers around good food, good friends, and good times.

As I head back to Texas, my heart is full, heavy, sad, but content.  So wonderful to connect with special friends.  My friend and her family were such rocks to me when I needed something to cling to at points in my life.  Their generosity and support of me is something I'll forever hold dear.

And then there comes the big, bold, brassy sky of Texas!  "Oh, La, La" is what I mouthed!  Always the captivating skies over that grand city of Houston to welcome me to my newly adopted home!

Smothered Okra with Stewed Tomatoes and Onions

1 lb okra, chopped
1 tablespoon oil
1 (16 ounce) can whole tomatoes, with juice
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped
3/4 teaspoon chopped garlic
salt and pepper

"Slap Ya Mamma" spice is popular in S. Louisiana!!
(optional:  cajun spiced shrimp added in the last 5 minutes of cooking)
Pour oil in bottom of pan.  Add the remaining ingredients.
Cover pot and simmer 1 1/2 hours on low, stirring often.  It will be slimy at first but after cooking the sliminess will disappear.  Add splashes of water if it begins to stick too much.  the okra should "brown" a little bit at the bottom of the pot.  This is good as it gives a wonderful smoky flavor and caramelization to the dish.
Remove the cover the last 10 minutes.  Add dash of cajun spices.  Add optional spiced shrimp if desired.


  1. The B&B looks wonderful, as does your okra dish. You'll laugh, I was talking to my grandmother in Arkansas last week and she complained that the squirrels got all her pecans!

    1. You should see when the squirrels pack their jowls with acorns! It's hilarious!

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed all of your beautiful pictures. I've never tasted okra, but now I'm curious.

    1. I can't think of anything to compare it to. But it must be cooked down quite a bit or it is slimy and tough. Thus...the 'smothering'...

  3. What a wonderful story and with such beautiful photos. Sounds like you had a great time, makes me want to get on a plane right now. Love gumbo and okra and look forward to trying your recipe. Again, your photos are so lovely.

    1. Yes...okra is especially yummy in gumbo! It would be weird to eat a gumbo without okra.

  4. The deep South of the US has never ceased to fascinate me. I am not even sure why. You paint a lovely, mysterious picture of a world that I have never experienced. And that includes okras :)

    1. Experiencing the south is 'interesting' to say the least! It still remains a mystery to me quite honestly. It does NOT jump out at one with beauty but the beauty must be dug out and experienced in its many tiny cajun towns.

  5. I really can't wait to visit the South when I'm in the States next. Something tells me I'll thoroughly enjoy it! It's so nice to see all of that Spanish moss, or old man's beard, hanging from the trees. If you were to see my backyard you'd think you were in the South!

    I rarely cook with okra because I've only just recently acquired a taste for it. I just may have to try this recipe.

    1. John, I can only imagine the beautiful photos that you would take! Let us ever know if you want to come to Houston. Or, we could do a house swap...I am dying to get into house swapping!

  6. What a great journey you took us on! I have been to the US a few times but have never been to the deep south and would love to one day. I read The Secret Life of Bees and also saw the movie. It did indeed portray a sad, probably indicative picture of life in those times, not so long ago. The breakfast looks delicious and varied. Texas sure has some beautiful sunsets.

    1. The Secret Life of Bees was an amazing movie for so many of us in the south. Whereas "The Help" was trite and rather cliché...the help went right into the heart of relationship between the people there. It touched me quite deeply and I love that movie.

  7. What an amazing post, Sarah! I felt like I was right there with you as you gingerly eased your way back "home" -- with all the swirl of emotions that entails. Thank you for sharing a little bit more about your story and region. I would love to visit Cajun country one day -- to taste that okra -- and so much more.

    1. It is a region of the country that is the most 'foreign' feeling I think. I'm so glad you enjoyed the journey south.

  8. Sigh...such a beautiful post Sarah. I love okra and I am drooling on your tender raw okra with those gorgeous tomato accent. Not to mention that this dish has my name written all over it and I am absolutely making this with shrimp. That being said, this post so reminded me of our trips to Savannah - the spanish moss swaying in the trees sure bring back great memories! And I miss the blackened alligator (my fave) that I ate on trip to Shreveport.

    What a great post, what great pics!

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

    1. Really delicious with spice shrimp added! Speaking of Savannah...I have such romantic visions of what it is like. Would definitely like to 'road trip' up the E. coast that way next summer and make that one of our stops.

  9. Je ne savais pas qu'on était peut-être cousines :-)
    J'adore ton blog! Tes photos sont à tomber et ton stylisme culinaire aussi!

    1. Et moi, Lou...J'adore les cities de Canada...Toronto, Montreal et la Cite de Quebec ~ tres charmantes et belles. Merci!

  10. I've been to the Tabasco factory!!! Avery Island was such a neat place, I can only imagine how magical it must have seemed to you as a young girl.

    It looks like we're all fascinated by the deep South. I defintely am, and very much look forward to my next chance to visit.

    I also love okra, but don't have too many chances to buy it up here... maybe I'll get lucky!

    1. Emma, I'm trying to imagine what occasion would have had you trekking that far south and to the Tabasco factory! Hilarious! My mother was super strict about consuming sugar when I was young. That sugar cane stalk was like a rod of gold!!

  11. Sarah, I don’t know where to start…this is a wonderful post! I so enjoyed your take on Louisiana and the south. I just made my first trip to New Orleans! Such a really interesting and lovely city!
    My grandfather used to bring me sugar cane when I was a child…I had forgotten all about that until I read your post.
    I really enjoyed the Secret Life of Bees…book and movie!
    Lastly, Your okra dish looks and sounds wonderful! I love okra! As always your photos are amazing!

    1. What a lovely memory of your grandfather bringing you sugar cane when you were a little girl. How cute! I took my kids to N.O. for the first time after Katrina. I found the city hugely altered and yet many things were still unchanged by time. It certainly is a fascinating that requires a very open mind.

  12. My dear what a gift you have for transporting your reader! Whether it be food or travels.... the transport is complete! I thought of you many times in Paris when I was delivered a beautifully composed dish... it's skilled beauty and composition reminding me of yours.

    Your comment on my blog about tearing up at Ireland's beauty....we are so alike...I walked the streets and beaches of Saint Andrews...and was moved myself to tears at the magnificent ancient beauty that echoed silently and steadfastly. Sarah I so appreciate your sharing of your fabulous soul!

    1. I can't tell you how thrilled I am about following along on your trip. I enjoy meeting someone as passionate as you and seeing them enjoy life's travel pleasures. I'll bet you came back with oodles of style and fashion ideas that we will be seeing~!

  13. Ahh...I just love your posts! What a wonderful trip and I'm so glad you took us along this way. I've been to New Orleans a few times...just a quick layover at the beginning and ending of a cruise. Lovely place...wonderful culture and food. I love how different our country is where ever you go.

    1. It's funny you say that...I think our country is so different wherever you go too. So many pple think America isn't that different from coast to coast. We may have to look a bit deeper but I love picking out the differences.

  14. I don't have much experience with okra except for it's appearance in the odd dish here or there when I've been out but I've always wanted to experiment more at home with it.

    1. I would love someday to hear what you think of it if you do cook this okra dish!

  15. Wonderful pictures. Feel like I have been there...I love the South and I am glad I ended up marrying here and living here. I love your okra recipe, will find that spice :)

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