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When New Orleanians were scattered across the nation following Hurricane Katrina so to were their celebrations and food traditions. Mardi Gras and dishes like Seafood File Gumbo, above, will be enjoyed across the nation by both the displaced people and their new friends.
AP photo by Larry Crowe
When New Orleanians were scattered across the nation following Hurricane Katrina so to were their celebrations and food traditions. Mardi Gras and dishes like Seafood File Gumbo, above, will be enjoyed across the nation by both the displaced people and their new friends.

Savor gumbo flavor
Displaced by Katrina, New Orleanians bring traditions with them

By Jessica Su
For The Associated Press

When Hurricane Katrina forced Mary Prater to flee New Orleans, she left much behind, including cherished family heirlooms.

She refused, however, to abandon her traditions. Which is why 11/2 years later and firmly settled in NASCAR country, the 23-year-old student teacher continues to celebrate Mardi Gras. Sometimes to the bewilderment of friends and colleagues.

"I told my department head that we get off for Mardi Gras (in New Orleans) and he started laughing," said Prater, who now lives in Indianapolis. "He stopped and said, 'You're not kidding, are you?' "

It's difficult to overstate the importance of Mardi Gras for New Orleanians, some 275,000 of whom began new lives scattered across the country after being driven from their homes by the August 2005 storm.

Though Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, always has been a symbol of Louisiana's culture, for many displaced by the storm the holiday — which is celebrated with weeks of parades, food and parties — has taken on new significance.

And many plan to celebrate it as best they can wherever they are. And maybe start new Mardi Gras traditions.

"I told my mom, 'You will ship me four king cakes,' " Prater said of the traditional gaudily decorated Mardi Gras brioche-like treat. "I will eat half of my king cake by myself and run 28 miles for the next eight months."

And she plans to share her celebration with her students, teaching them about the holiday she holds so dear.

Moving on

In Anna Marie Island, Fla., Fred Sullivan plans to order 40 pounds of the native crawfish for his Mardi Gras party. Last year, the 57-year-old restaurateur spent the holiday with family in Massachusetts, hoping to take his mind off losing his home and business.

This year he wants to celebrate and move on.

"The natives don't know anything about it. We'll show them. We'll make a parade and boil crawfish and get beers. You get a long table and you put newspaper on it, and everyone stands around it. Not everybody likes crawfish, so we'll throw lobster in there. Nobody refuses lobster," he said. "Traditions get started like this."

Ann Kaufman, a 36-year-old visual arts consultant who moved to New York after the storm, said she initially panicked at the thought of spending Mardi Gras away from New Orleans. Now she plans to meet other transplants at a bar or restaurant.

But she's not sure that's a good idea. Part of the joy of the holiday is the way it brings together so many people.

"It might be more sad than doing nothing," she said. "There's no way you can replicate the energy of an entire city."

Kevin Goodman does his best to bring the festivities to his new home in Austin, but it's not the same without the food.

He and fellow members of the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indian Nation, a group of blacks that parades on Mardi Gras wearing ornate American Indian regalia, still march in parades in Texas.

But unlike in New Orleans, spectators in Austin don't cook gumbo and red beans and rice to feed the members of the parade.

"People cook it when the Indians pass," Goodman said. "That's what's missing here."

For some, the celebration is stretched throughout the year.

Sullivan's former neighbor in New Orleans, Pete Grevemberg, brings a bit of his former city to the table every Monday, when he makes his grandmother's recipe for red beans and rice at his new home in Conyers, Ga.

Of course, the recipe had to be adjusted some. Local grocers didn't carry the beans and pickled pork it called for.

But ingredients alone do not make up food, said celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, who owns K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, a centerpiece of the New Orleans restaurant scene.

"It's the person who cooks who makes the difference," Prudhomme said. "Anybody from New Orleans has no problem making Mardi Gras food. Whatever works is the method."

Of course, the recipe had to be adjusted some. Local grocers didn't carry the beans and pickled pork it called for.

But ingredients alone do not make up food, said celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, who owns K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, a centerpiece of the New Orleans restaurant scene.

"It's the person who cooks who makes the difference," Prudhomme said. "Anybody from New Orleans has no problem making Mardi Gras food. Whatever works is the method."

Seafood File Gumbo

(Start to finish: 1 hour 30 minutes, 40 minutes active)

3/4 cup margarine

2 cups chopped onions

2 cups chopped celery

2 cups chopped green bell peppers

3 tablespoons gumbo file (file powder), optional

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 bay leaf, crumbled

1 1/4 cups canned tomato sauce

5 cups seafood stock

1/2 pound medium peeled shrimp

1 1/2 cups raw packed crabmeat (picked over to remove any bits of shell), about 1/2 pound

1 dozen shucked oysters (about 1/2 pound)

1 1/3 cups hot cooked white rice

In a heavy 4-quart stock pot, melt the margarine over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers. Increase heat to high and stir in the gumbo file (if using), hot sauce, garlic, cayenne, paprika, salt, white and black peppers, thyme, oregano and bay leaf.

Cook for 6 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato sauce. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the bits that stick. This sticking is normal and heightens the flavor.

Add the seafood stock and bring the gumbo to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the shrimp, crabmeat and oysters. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Leave the pot covered just until the seafood is poached, about 6 to 10 minutes.

To serve, mound 1/3 cup rice in the middle of each serving bowl. Spoon 1 cup of gumbo over the top.

Makes 4 servings.

(Recipe from Paul Prudhomme’s “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen,” Morrow Cookbooks, 1984)

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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