How My New Year’s Food Resolutions Unfolded in a Gumbo Making Tradition

January 02, 2018

How My New Year’s Food Resolutions Unfolded in a Gumbo Making Tradition

While I dove into my hours of ritual gumbo cooking for New Year's Eve, I was reminded of seven New Year's food resolutions for 2018.

By Sally Smithwick, Managing Editor,

I’m not a great cook, but I’m an okay cook, I’m adventurous, I know where the good recipes are online, and I find it to be relaxing. Four years ago, my husband suggested that we follow his Louisiana French grandmother’s holiday tradition of using the leftover turkey from Christmas Day to make turkey gumbo on New Year’s Day. Although it meant abandoning my families tradition of collard greens and black eyed peas on this day, I gave it a go, and I took it very seriously. Now it’s my favorite and most rewarding meal to cook all year long.

This year as I began the process, which is by the way hours and hours of dedication, I began to take note of a series of food resolutions that have just naturally worked their way into my family’s lifestyle. And these food habits bring me happiness! Here’s how my new food ways unfolded in a family ritual and tradition. 

I always make the gumbo the day before, because after 24 hours in the fridge the flavors have mingled even more beautifully, and it’s just better. My first task was to boil my turkey carcass from Christmas day, which this year provided me with eight cups of turkey to use in the gumbo and 16 cups of stock! One of my goals that has quickly gained steam this past year is to waste less food, so I’m always looking for the opportunity to make use of something I would have in the past habitually thrown in the trash. Not only do I feel good about not wasting food, but it has saved a significant amount in food expenses, and it has forced me to get creative and make some surprisingly new great dishes with leftovers.

The turkey needs to boil for about four hours, so while that’s happening, I go to the store for other ingredients. In my neighborhood there are two supermarkets right next to each other. One is a little cheaper ,and I do like the fuel points, but the other one is a happy place for me. At the Donelson, TN Publix, I’m always smiling while I shop. The store is clean and fresh, the staff is warm and helpful and trying to go the extra mile for you, they take your groceries to the car, and they give your a children a free cookie, stickers and crayons, the same lady is there daily cooking up something new for shoppers to try. I also love the meat and seafood department, particularly when I feel like spending a little more for something special. The products are always worth the price. So New Year’s resolution number two, shop in my happy place whenever I can.

The next phase involves a little spring cleaning and pretend drinking. After I put my groceries away, I turn on some music. I’ve recently been intrigued by mocktails, so another food goal of mine is to try more of these recipes. For this day I made a no-alcohol grapefruit mojito. Here’s the recipe I used

Next I began my annual spice organization and kitchen refresher. So you know those spices expire?And it’s very easy to lose track of when you purchased them, so every New Years I clean house. Also this gives me an opportunity to assemble them where they are visually inspiring. Which leads me to my next food resolution, use more spices. There’s a world of health benefits in those spices, and a world of flavor and adventure.

Now I’m ready to cook! My kitchen is fresh and clean, my turkey stock is ready, and for the next several hours I will prepare the turkey, prep the veggies and spend an hour and a half stirring the roux, the most delicate and important part of gumbo, and then putting it all together. Although I find cooking peaceful and meditative sometimes, I also find while cooking I have some of the best conversations with my children. They sit at the table and work on art or play a game, or my seven year-old can read a book to his four year-old sister and I, all while I cook. Sometimes we even have spontaneous kitchen dance parties. And I am also making more of an effort to involve them in cooking with me. They love helping, and they learn about and appreciate their food more and are more willing to try new things. 

So my gumbo is complete. Oh…here’s the recipe I use! It’s solid, but the 40 minute cook time is completely inaccurate! This takes hours, and if you dig into some opinions about making a roux, you’ll probably develop your own method. Lately with cooking, I like to find a recipe, skim it, then modify with my own ideas. I really believe this approach is making me a more creative, confident and skilled cook. 

Lastly, the dinner party on New Year’s Eve! My final food related resolution for 2018 is to host more dinner parties. And by dinner parties, I don’t mean 30 people at my house. I just mean, inviting a few family members or friends over once in a while. Making food for people is good for the soul. I even love the process of setting a beautiful table and lighting candles. We are music lovers and have a large vinyl collection, so it can be fun to let guests choose a record and makes for great conversation. I read this article this year in New York Times Magazine all about the art of the dinner party, and felt inspired and reminded of the joy these occasions can bring, and what my children will take away in memories from them.

Happy new year! And here’s to great food and fellowship in 2018!