I am a square. A straight arrow. One of those people who colors inside the lines obsessively. If there is a rule, I will adhere to it with very few exceptions. If there are guidelines I don’t understand on a paper, I will gently pepper the instructor with questions for clarification. On occasion, I have been known to shift around policies without actually breaking them, but that’s only when I feel like I am to blame for a miscommunication with one of the Writing Center’s many online submitters.

One day, I came home from tenth grade and sat down at the table, and my dad said to me, “You’re such a good kid. Why the hell are you so good?”

“I don’t know.” I thought about it over an algebra problem. “Maybe I just want to make you guys proud, you know?”

“Well, that’s all good and well, but seriously… break the rules. Stir up some trouble. Start a fight.”

When he said that, a million little thoughts rushed into my head, thoughts I didn’t want to bring up.

The bullying stopped in ninth grade. From third to eighth, I was the center of attention, and not in a good way by the standards of the other children. I was hyperactive and bubbly on most days, but on others, I was overly sensitive. One look could make me cry. Quite frequently, I didn’t understand why I was in trouble since the other person was the perpetrator and, therefore, the ones to blame. Worse still, I took to new information like tomatoes to basil: we complimented each other perfectly. There were days when I had to redo homework, but only because my handwriting was messy from doing it on the bus. And because I worked hard, teachers liked me, and I liked them. I guess it got old in ninth grade. Most of the boys who tormented me had moved away, and the girls on the cheerleading squad finally decided they had more important things to do than tease me, and I had more important things to do than try to ignore them or come up with a witty reply on the spot.

I was seven when I got chicken pox. It was three days after my great grandfather’s funeral, and my cousins had bestowed the disease on me.  My second grade teacher, who I still occasionally contact for old time’s sake, made me a plate of fudge and called me at home to make sure I was doing well. Of course, I ate all of the fudge in one sitting and later threw it up, but that’s beside the point. The gesture said something about her view of me, and I liked what it said enough to make a poor life decision.

I had to come up with something better than that, though, something to prove to my father that I could make a little trouble when I felt like it.

“Well, what about that time in eighth grade I almost got a detention for swearing?”

He said it hardly counted, but it certainly counted for something when he got home that evening, namely a long and somewhat voluminous lecture on why young ladies shouldn’t say those words.

To hell with that. Between him and my mom, I am fluent in “sentence enhancers.” That whole “Do as I say, not as I do/Because I said so” thing doesn’t work with me… so maybe I’m a little less of a straight arrow than I first thought. I follow the rules, but only if there is a clear rationale for doing so, just as I work around them if the situation warrants it.

My most grandiose rebellion of all was becoming an English major. After one year of constant identity crises and attempting to follow parental expectations, I finally decided it wasn’t worth it and that I would do whatever the hell I wanted regardless of their approval or disapproval, so I quit school for a semester to sort everything out. Bad idea. I practically went stir-crazy. It only took me a month to figure myself out. English major it was, for better or worse. It has been almost seven years since then, and I have no reason to regret rebelling. I’ve earned an opportunity to do something incredible with my life through the very same degree that my parents nearly convinced me not to get.

This week, I decided to break the rules… a lot. Like, to the point where I am expecting my dad to show up on my doorstep to set me straight. I’m expecting at least one comment that says, “How dare you?” Let it be known that I know gumbo is not an Italian dish but Cajun or Creole, and let it also be known that I couldn’t care less. For one thing, I happen to dislike Cajun food, granted I haven’t had much of it. The closest I have probably gotten is Frogmore Stew, which not only does not contain “Frogs” or “Frogmore” and is notably not a stew at all since it does not have a thick stock but a thin and runny broth that tastes like a salt lick infused with Cajun seasoning. If you think about it that way, my “gumbo” is more a gumbo than Frogmore “Stew” is a “Stew.” Italian food is just… better to my palette. My mom jokes that she should have been born Italian. I still wonder why she didn’t marry into an Italian family, but that’s just the way things go, I suppose.

But there was another influence on my decision this week. Cooking meals for yourself means that if you buy a package of five Italian sausages, you inevitably have two left over when you’ve finished making baked penne, and when when there are two perfectly good pieces of Italian sausage hanging out in your freezer, what else can you use them for but something Italian?

Somehow, the kitchen has put me in some paradoxical space between rule-follower and rule-breaker, and I am enjoying every bite of this gray area.

Italianesque Chicken and Sausage Gumbo for the Sole
(With Basil Lemon Risotto… also for the Sole)

The Ninth Bowl

Let’s start with the gumbo…

Ingredients

  • 3 Chicken Tenders
  • 2 Italian Sausages
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 leek
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • ½ a bunch of fresh basil

Directions

  1. Defrost chicken and sausage. Cube chicken. Sauté in pan with sausage.
  2. Add garlic. Sauté for an additional 1-2 minutes.
  3. Combine flour, butter, and oil to make a roux. Add chicken stock and whisk.
  4. Remove sausage from pan and slice into ¾ inch pieces (don’t panic if it’s not cooked all the way through).
  5. Add crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Add squash and leeks. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
  7. Add basil and turn off heat. Let sit for two minutes.
  8. Serve with Basil and Lemon risotto… because it is gumbo, after all.

…and add some risotto!

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken boullion
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup arabiatta rice.
  • ½ bunch of fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ Grated parmesan

Directions

  1. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, chicken bouillon, and water in a pan. Heat to a boil.
  2. Add arabiatta. Cook uncovered for 16 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. When the cooking liquid is gone, add basil and Parmesan. Stir. Serve with gumbo. It also tastes good by itself.

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