Travel through the New Year with heartwarming recipes.

By Denise Gee

Grief leads us into the kitchen. There, we craft the mosttangible offerings of comfort. Yet the physical and emotionaldevastation surrounding September 11, 2001, had us all at a loss:How could we console the thousands we'd never met, yet with whom wefelt a kinship?

Simplest solutions included donating much-needed blood or money,and proudly flying U.S. flags. But five south Louisianans tooktheir compassion 1,200 miles farther. Following their bestinstincts and a map, they headed toward the ruins of New YorkCity's World Trade Center towers. Their mission? To serve therescue workers healing bowls of chicken-andouille gumbo.

"Gumbo is the ultimate comfort food-it's good for the stomach,but also the soul," says Danielle Bradley. She and husband Shawn,his brother Jarred, and friends Amanda Smith and Kari Andrewsdecided to share Shawn's grandmother's recipe with the exhaustedfirefighters, police officers, and "bucket brigade" workers they'dseen on TV.

"Shawn got tired of seeing them surviving 18-hour shifts onnothing but hamburgers. He thought they needed more uplifting food.So we all took off from work to go give 'em some."

Hauling 10-gallon stainless-steel pots,"cast-iron skillets,ingredients including New Orleans tap water "so it'd taste likehome," dozens of French bread loaves, 20 King cakes (Mardi Grasdesserts), and more, the group headed out on the morning ofSeptember 19 in a truck/camper/trailer spanning 47 feet. Thejourney from St. Charles Parish
to lower Manhattan took 34 hours-and a lot of determination."We had two instances where the trailer wanted to break off, so wehad to stop twice and get welders to make repairs. We thought we'dnever get there," Danielle says. "But we did. And we were glad theywere glad to see us."

Calling themselves "The Gumbo Krewe," the quintet began cookingon September 21, only a few blocks from the destruction. Based ontheir warm reception, they went back for a second visit on AllSouls' Day (November 2); future visits are in the works.

So far, Danielle estimates they've served more than 50,000bowls. Meanwhile, they heard haunting stories about the promisinglives of lost loved ones, and nightmares the workers wereexperiencing, both asleep and awake. For the time they spentcooking in NYC, they're still getting appreciative letters.

"Gumbo is one of those foods that once you start making it,everyone gets 'round the pot and adds thoughts about what should goin it," Danielle says. "So there's a lot of conversation-andlove-that makes its way into each pot."

And the gumbo itself stirred up some conversation.

"For a long time everyone was calling it 'jumbo,' " Daniellelaughs, "or 'that soup.' And then they'd say, 'You all are from NewOrleans? There aren't critters in there, are there?' What theyseemed to love most is that we made it in front of them. They wereamazed-the aroma would bring them in from everywhere, and theylapped it up."

In the 10 minutes they'd take to eat, the workers found awelcome respite from the chaos all around. "They seemed tocompletely forget about what they were there to do," Danielle says."When we got there nobody was smiling. But after they'd eat thegumbo, we'd see at least a few smiles."

Louisiana families have known for generations that gumbo is theultimate dish for peace and comfort. In this case, the steamingbowls of goodness united total strangers and sustained them. Forthe New Year, our gift to you is a gumbo for every season. Eachrecipe offers the best of winter, spring, summer, or fall. And thebest of the person who makes it.

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