Sunday, October 27, 2013

Marie-Grace and Cécile's Jambalaya

A wildly anticipated dinner from some surprising new additions!

I had thought that Rebecca would be the last doll I added to my collection for quite a while, unless by some miracle, I found a high paying job that let me have enough flexibility to grab an Addy, or I stumbled upon one at a thrift store, or inherited one from someone who didn't want to keep theirs anymore, for whatever reason. So when my mom informed me that she'd sort of had an impulse purchase "for the sake of the blog", I assumed she meant she'd bought a crazy new piece of kitchen equipment. Imagine my surprise when she revealed that she had managed to snag a Marie-Grace and Cécile at an incredibly good price thanks to a deal from the TODAY Show! They got here a few weeks ago, and we've all been eagerly awaiting a good time to feature them on the blog.

This isn't because we were struggling to come up with something to feature with them, but just because scheduling kind of prevented us from being able to do what we wanted. As soon as we knew they were coming, my dad and I wanted to make jambalaya, and this was the first weekend everyone was around to do it.

Marie-Grace Gardner and Cécile Rey were added to the American Girl line up in 2011 after the archival of Kirsten in 2009, so they're probably not familiar to anyone who had stopped paying attention to American Girl in the last three or so years. I've also noticed there's a lot of confusion over these two dolls, which usually boils down to which one is the best friend doll, why would a white girl be friends with a black girl in 1853, and why isn't Cécile a slave? In the interest of clarification, I'm giving a quick explanation before we get to the cooking.

First of all, neither one of them is the best friend doll. Marie-Grace and Cécile share a central series of six books, with three of each being told from the perspective of either Marie-Grace or Cécile. Marie-Grace does, however, have an extra mystery book (which are longer chapter books with no pictures that are considered canonical additions to the six book main series, much like the short stories of yesteryear). Cécile isn't a slave because not every single person of color in America or even - yes - in the south was a slave. While I am definitely part of the group that was (and still is, to be honest) a little puzzled about why American Girl would make a series dedicated to such a specific, obscure historical event (namely, the Yellow Fever outbreak in New Orleans in 1853) before doing something with the Civil Rights movement or Asian immigration to the United States, I don't think it's a bad thing at all to shed light on an aspect of society that many people are simply not aware of, because not every black person prior to the Civil War was a slave, and that population tends to be totally overlooked in discussions of American history. Cécile and her family are free people of color living in a society that - while segregated and still firmly supporting and relying on slavery - did not discriminate against people based on skin tone as obsessively as other parts of the country did. This doesn't mean that there was no discrimination (because again, it was still a segregated society in many ways and did support slavery), but it's far more likely that Marie-Grace and Cécile would be able to be friends in New Orleans than had the story taken place somewhere like Georgia or Texas.

To be honest, despite liking the two of them and enjoying their books, I wish that Cécile had been the main character, and Marie-Grace had just been the "best friend". I thought her stories were far more interesting, and I wanted to know more about the challenges she and her family would have faced as more Americans came to New Orleans with their much more ingrained intolerance towards anyone who wasn't white. If you've overlooked these dolls or their series because you've been a little confused about what their deal is exactly, I'd definitely recommend giving them a shot before writing them off entirely.

I've always thought they were pretty dolls, but I had never really put priority on them when it came to who I was going to add to my collection next, which disappointed my dad and my brother, as they're both big fans of Cajun and Creole cuisine. This made the surprise of getting them even more exciting, especially now that we've got characters who can represent French food, too!

Most of my recipes that I haven't done by myself have been made with assistance from my mom, and this is the first one my dad was able to help out with. There was some debate about whether or not it was legitimate to use the Zataran's recipe and rice mix to feature this one the blog instead of making everything from scratch, but honestly, I didn't mind doing it this way. I wanted to showcase the way my dad usually makes it instead of just yanking a recipe from a cookbook or the internet, so while we still did most of the leg work, I guess this dish might qualify as semi homemade.

We had to head to the grocery store today to pick up some last minute ingredients.

While the store had everything else we needed, they did not have Andouille sausage, which is basically what makes jambalaya jambalaya. This was particularly frustrating to discover considering my mom and I had gone looking for it yesterday too, at a different grocery store. Apparently everyone else was making jambalaya this week, too.

Fortunately, the next store we went to did have it.


Although jambalaya is one of my dad's favorite dishes to eat and prepare, it's not something we make too often, probably because it tends to be a relatively time consuming dish. My dad is also much more particular about his knife cuts than I am, so while I chop through vegetables pretty quickly without giving much thought to how uneven everything is beyond going man, I would totally lose on Chopped with how messy these carrots are turning out to be.

Because of this, I let him take the reigns on some of the early stuff, and mostly acted as a sous chef. I didn't want the dish to be disappointing, and wanted to learn how to do it right, so I watched and asked questions and helped out with chopping stuff and throwing it into the pot.

Now, my dad is a bit of a scootch, and to be honest, I was a little worried this was going to carry over to some of the pictures with the dolls. I feel like this was at least slightly justified, because while I know he'd never do anything to genuinely mess them up intentionally, this is what happened when I asked him if he'd mind putting Emily with Samantha and the snickerdoodle cookies:

Fortunately, no one had to be shipped off to the doll hospital after "falling" face first into a pot of jambalaya, although my dad did try to get Marie-Grace to look like she was drinking Tabasco sauce while I was distracted chopping the peppers. He ended up snapping these pictures instead when it became clear that there was no good way for her to hold it without someone's hands being in the picture.

My mom still thinks these are incredibly unflattering pictures, which I think has to do with her legs being a little loose.

Being a sous chef was also helpful because it meant I didn't have to handle the raw meat too much, since that still grosses me out a fair bit. I don't think I could ever actually butcher an animal unless I was really facing starvation if I didn't do it.

Also, pre cooked shrimp are a lot easier to clean up than raw shrimp.

We also got to try out our new cast iron skillet for the first time! A few weeks ago, my mom and I went to a Civil War reenactment in the next town over and got talking with some women who were making dinner over the fire in cast iron pans. My mom brought up the blog and asked some questions about how to properly care for a cast iron pan, and has been fixated on getting one to cook with if not since my first recipe on the blog, then definitely by the end of this conversation. It's actually another contender for what I thought she might have bought when she told me about the dolls!

My mom has been using it and has been taking exceptionally good care of it, but my dad and I had never had a chance to cook with it before. The one thing I really took away from it was that the little plastic protector you can sort of see in some of these pictures? Does not really block the heat. Don't let it fool you.

(For the record, I didn't burn myself. I was just surprised!)

It also hasn't gotten to the point where the surface is almost Teflon-like in terms of things not sticking to it. I definitely noticed some of the thinner onions were sticking pretty firmly to the pan even when I tried to peel them off with the spatula.

We threw in the rice, let the water come to a boil, and then added the sausage and the chicken. Next comes the vegetables, and the shrimp are added last. I'm not actually sure when you'd need to throw them in if they weren't pre-cooked, but I'm virtually certain most people would just say cook them in advance like the sausage and chicken and then throw them in.

Once it's done cooking, take it off the heat and let it sit for five minutes, and you're good to go!

There are two main varieties of jambalaya: Cajun and Creole, although not every restaurant or cookbook will make the differentiation when they tell you that's what you'll be eating. This is a Cajun jambalaya because it doesn't include tomatoes in the recipe, which is a key ingredient in Creole jambalaya, which originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Spanish settlers were trying to create paella in the New World, using the tomato as a substitute for saffron. When French influence began to take over in New Orleans, new spices and ingredients were added to the dish, which made it something unique and special. It's mentioned in Marie-Grace Makes a Difference, and though the book doesn't specify which kind of jambalaya she'll be eating, it's probably Creole style, as it's the more popular version in New Orleans.

Cajun jambalaya is known as brown jambalaya in New Orleans, and is a version of Creole jambalaya adapted to the lifestyle and culinary tastes of Louisiana's rural, swamp dwelling population.

Ours was definitely tasty, although we discovered that the kind of Andouille sausage we used was kind of lacking in the usual kick that you tend to expect with that kind of sausage, which was kind of disappointing. I still enjoyed mine a lot though, and while it wasn't really a traditional Andouille sausage, I still thought it was good! I actually might have picked most of the left over pieces out of the pot when I went back for seconds. It was totally worth the wait, and I'm really excited to decide what dish we should do next to feature these two great characters!


  1. I'm so jealous you were able to get them on sale! I'm such a late sleeper that by the time I was up everything was sold out. Cecile is on my wants list and now I refuse to pay full price for her after she's been on sale several times. And of course your jambalaya looks good even though I'm a vegetarian!

    Sorry I had to delete my previous comment because of atrocious grammar.

    1. I've really got my mom to thank, I'm a late sleeper too and even if I wasn't, I don't watch the TODAY Show! Ahaha. Hopefully they'll run more things like this in the future since they've gotten such strong responses the last two times they did it and you'll get lucky. c:

      No problem, it happens to all of us!

  2. Ooo Jambalaya. I now have southern hunger pains again, what with growing up in Texas near the LA border.

    I love Cecile some much; as far as I'm concerned, she is the main character and Marie-Grace is the spare. (I got her as a preorder and currently have all her clothes and some of Marie-Grace's for her wardrobe.) A lot of people can't wrap their minds around the fact that since the creation of America, there have always been free black people--even rich well to do free black people, and that not every black and white interaction was slave to master. It's kind of irritating for me, cause it narrows black history in America to "Slave, then civil rights, then PRESIDENT OBAMA" as if we pop up as needed for the white narrative. New Orleans was pretty good about that, even if they had and still have tons of issues.

    1. It especially irritates me that AG fans ask this, because it's not like they have to look far for confirmation on it. There was definitely a free black character in Felicity's books (Marcus was his name I believe) and I'm fairly sure at least Addy's World and Felicity's World both made mention of the concept of freedmen and gave some IRL examples.

      Honestly in the realm of stupid questions I was expecting something more like "if Cecile is black, why does she have green eyes?" but I haven't seen any of that. I find it interesting that people are completely unperturbed by her eyes, which are probably a direct result of old-timey NOLA's culture of racial mixing, without knowing the first thing about said culture or even that it existed.

    2. Edit: The freeman in Felicity's series was named Isaac.

    3. It genuinely baffles me while at the same time it really, really doesn't. I wish more people would see her as an opportunity to learn something new about another culture versus just screaming that AG has abandoned historical accuracy and good story telling because they're retiring the older characters.

    4. @ Gwen: Ugh, the whole wailing and gnashing of teeth over historical retirements. With Molly gone, that leaves Addy as next--and even if I'd be sad to see her go, I have to admit I pretty much have everything for her. Also, Molly going bye means maybe a new character, and I love new characters. Plus, as I more than ranted, the books ARE STILL THERE. But the people whining they can't learn history without the character are the same ones who are like "books what's that lol dolly."

    5. I actually had a conversation with someone the other day that I thought you might find amusing. They were trying to argue that there was no value in producing a character who came only a couple years before or after the original one, because the stories would be exactly the same, and I was just like... yes, because Samantha and Rebecca's experiences ten years apart are word for word the same stories and challenges and social/political issues, yep, there is only one American experience at any time in history.

      This is part of why I wanted to do a blog that had some historical element to it, honestly. I'm really tired of seeing how misinformed people are about their own nation's history, and I'd really like to see that change.

  3. Oh. Oh honey. Did you not season your skillet?

    As a Southern woman and an avid cook I cannot allow you to do this to yourself. Go start seasoning your skillet now, and don't make anything else in it until you've been seasoning it for at least two or three weeks. Skillet food does not taste right if the skillet isn't seasoned, and seasoning it is also imperative to get that nonstick-coating thing going. The general accepted method is to daily paint it with some sort of fat (usually lard but you can use vegetable oil or shortening if you're not into that) and leave it in a 350ish degree oven for a few hours, again - for a few weeks. I'd advise removing the handle cover to do this. Once you've seasoned your skillet, you don't scour it or put soap in it - just wipe it out and rinse it with warm water.

    1. It's been seasoned, and we're not scouring or putting soap in it! It's just new, and my mom was impatient to use it, so it's only been seasoned for about a week. Thanks for the advice!