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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

'Tis the Season

December 21, 2015

Am I the only one suffering from holiday discombobulation this year? Does it feel like the Christmas season to you, or is it just me who hasn’t embraced the holidays, yet? I sat down at my desk to write a Christmas column, but I’m just not feeling it.

Your columnist appears in a couple of dozen newspapers each week. Depending on which publication you are reading it is just before, or just after, Christmas. As I write, Santa’s arrival is four days away and it just doesn’t feel very festive around here.

It’s not the weather. I stopped falling for the October chill-snap hoax years ago. Though I encountered several people who got suckered in this year. It never fails, when that first brisk hint of chilly air visits South Mississippi, someone inevitably says, “Fall is here. Time to break out the sweaters.”

My standard reply is always, “This is Mississippi. It will be 72 degrees and raining on Christmas Day.” As of this writing the anticipated high temperature on Christmas Day is 80 degrees with a 50 percent chance of rain.

Bah humbug.

It’s not the weather and it’s not for lack of Christmas décor around town. Everyone in my neighborhood has their house decorated in a festive manner. The stores put out all of the holiday stuff the same time they did last year. My wife has gone all-out Christmas crazy on our house décor. Every room of our home is decked out in seasonal garland and ribbon. She takes it to the next level during the holidays and her family is grateful for it. I’ve given ample play time to the Dean Martin, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra Christmas albums but it still doesn’t “feel” like Christmas.

The easy answer might be that I am wrapped up in opening a new restaurant and am too busy to stop and enjoy the season. But the first restaurant I opened was on December 27, back in 1987 and I remember that period as a very joyful Christmas season. This opening is a few weeks away, so that can’t be the answer.

I’m no Scrooge. I love Christmas. Some of the fondest memories from my childhood revolve around this time of year— not because of the gifts and presents I received, but of the family time shared with loved ones, many of whom are no longer with us.

I am changing the Christmas Eve menu this year, maybe that’s it. As long as I can remember, our menu consisted of the same foodstuffs year in and year out. Christmas Eve always looked a lot like our Thanksgiving table and I have great memories of eating very formal meals in my mother’s dining room. This year I am serving duck and Andouille gumbo before the Christmas Eve service at church. It will be a casual affair.

Maybe I am reaching a new phase in this parenting gig and it just now hitting me. My children are 18 and 14-years old. This will probably be the first Christmas morning in almost two decades that there will be no “toys” under the tree. I won’t be assembling gadgets at 2 a.m. No one will be sneaking a trampoline into the backyard at midnight. We will have to wake them up Christmas morning instead of them knocking on our bedroom door at 4 a.m.

I secretly liked the toy phase. I probably griped about having to assemble stuff, but down deep I enjoyed playing with my daughter’s Easy Bake Oven or my son’s race car track— maybe more than they did.

Actually, over the course of writing this column I am feeling a little more “Christmassy.” I have replaced the classical music I usually play while writing with Dean Martin’s Christmas album (was there ever a cooler guy than Dean Martin?). Maybe it’s been me all along. Maybe I just haven’t slowed down long enough to take it all in and enjoy the things that truly matter.

I might have just been visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future while sitting here at my desk, and all in the time it took to write this 750-word column. I am grateful for the Christmases I spent as a child and young adult. I look forward to creating similar experiences for my children, and never want to get so busy that I forget the things that truly matter. It’s about memories, not stuff.

Christmas is the prime season for life’s greatest tenets, the five fs—faith, family, friends, food, and fun. Maybe that’s what has been missing these past few weeks. It’s time to take a few days off and help create more Christmas memories for my family and me.

My wish today is that you and yours have an overabundance of the five fs during your holiday season and throughout the next year.

God bless us, everyone.


Shrimp and Okra Gumbo

1 /2 cup           Canola oil

3 /4 cup           Flour

1 cup               Onion, diced

1 /2 cup           Celery, diced

1 /2 cup           Bell pepper, diced

1 1 /2 cups       Fresh okra, sliced

2 Tbl                Garlic, minced

1 1 /2 lbs         Shrimp, small

2 tsp                Salt

1 1 /2 tsp         Black pepper

2 tsp                Creole Seasoning

1 tsp                Thyme, dry

1 cup               Tomatoes, diced

2 quarts           Shrimp stock, hot

2 Tbl                Hot Sauce

1 /2 tsp            Cayenne pepper


In a large skillet, combine oil and flour to make a dark roux. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until roux is very dark (be careful not to burn).

Add vegetables, garlic, spices and shrimp and continue to cook for five to seven minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Meanwhile, bring shrimp stock and tomatoes to a boil. Slowly add roux mixture to boiling stock and mix well. Lower heat to a slow simmer, and cook 10 more minutes. Add hot sauce and cayenne pepper.

To serve, place ½ cup of cooked white rice in a bowl then pour 8-10 ounces of hot gumbo over the rice. Serve with toasted French bread.

Yield: 1 gallon

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