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'Eat, Pray, Love'

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
March 26, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 26, 2011 at 10:27 p.m.

Diane Mooney's Shrimp



WINNER

Diane Mooney lives in Seadrift with her husband, Von Mooney. They have been married for 31 years and have two children, Anthony and Jill (married to Derek Goode). They also have one grandson, Keegan, and one adopted grandson, James. Mooney is a school librarian and has worked with children for more than 30 years. She loves reading and motivating kids to read. She also loves to write. Mooney says her best writing "comes from the heart."



FIRST RUNNER-UP

Originally from Houston, Paula Palmer has lived in Victoria for about 15 years. She is retired and likes to travel and learn about new cuisine. When on trips to other countries, she always makes it a point to check out the local grocery stores. On a trip to St. Lucia, the tour group was in a shop buying liquor, while she was over in the grocery store buying nutmeg. She also likes to check out local Farmer's Markets and try new varieties of produce. Paula to reads a little every day and thoroughly enjoyed "Eat, Pray, Love."



SECOND RUNNER-UP

Sande Bilton is 49 years old and married to Timmy Bilton. She has a daughter, son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters, who are the loves of her life. She is an active member of her church, Faith Family. She has worked for the state of Texas for 23 years. Her parents instilled a love of reading in her as a very young child, and she still loves reading today. Other things she enjoys are photography, scrapbooking, music, connecting with her friends on Facebook and hanging out with her family - especially her beautiful granddaughters.

IF YOU GO

Who: Author Elizabeth Gilbert Where: The Victoria College Fine Arts Auditorium on When: Wednesday

Tickets: Free

For more information: Call 361-573-3291

Author Elizabeth Gilbert explores the world via food, spirituality and emotion in her popular book, "Eat Pray Love." As part of an Advocate photo and essay contest, readers shared their love of food and how it's warmly intertwined with the deepest levels of their lives. Gilbert will speak at the Victoria College Fine Arts Auditorium on Wednesday at noon.

The winners will all receive a signed copy of Gilbert's book, two tickets each for Gilbert's free speaking engagement and recognition at the event. Free tickets are still available by calling 361-573-3291 or visiting the VC Marketing and Communications Department in Room 100 of the College Services and Training Building. Tickets are required to attend the event and are available for pickup until Tuesday.

WINNING ESSAY

'SHRIMP'

Everyone has their favorite birthday meal. Each year, mine is the same - shrimp. I don't really care how they are prepared, I just want them. (I actually know more shrimp dishes than Bubba Gump!) I've been eating shrimp my entire life (more than 50 birthdays). I can pretty much tell my life story in "shrimp." Here it goes:

I come from a long line of shrimpers. My grandpa was one of the best. I remember staying with my grandparents and having to go to bed early because "Grandpa has to go shrimpin' in the morning." I would get up before daylight and watch my Grandma pack his lunch and send him off. Then we would lie in bed next to the open window and listen to the sounds of the boats as they left the harbor. We didn't have cell phones back then (of course!), but my grandparents would communicate with each other through CB radios during the day. It would be so fun listening to them talk, using their "secret" codes for how many shrimp were or were not being caught. I couldn't wait until he got home in the evening. My grandma always had his dinner waiting. Many nights it would be fried shrimp - my favorite, even back then. She would pan fry them and they were soooo good!

My daddy was also a shrimper, so we always had shrimp available in our freezer. I grew up learning that life was dictated by the success (or lack of success) of the shrimp season. The "big" shrimp season would start right before the beginning of school. If it was a good season, we would start right before the beginning of school. If it was a good season, we would have plenty of new school clothes. If the season didn't look so good, neither would we!

By the time I was school age, I was old enough to help my daddy "head" the shrimp before freezing them. Heading shrimp is a dirty job! I would either get poked by the horns or queasy from the smell. I tried not to complain because I knew it was well worth having a good shrimp dinner one day. My mom was a good cook and had her specialties, but my favorite thing to come home to after school was a plate of golden fried shrimp. They would be piled up on a platter with fries and a bowl of homemade tarter sauce (I think that is why I was such a chubby kid).

We didn't have an air conditioner, so the smell of shrimp frying would travel out the windows and through the neighborhood. All the neighbors would know what we were having for dinner, including my best friend. She loved my mom's shrimp, too. I remember many evenings sneaking out a handful of fried shrimp and meeting her halfway between our houses (She did the same for me when her mom cooked something I liked).

Many shrimp dinners later, I grew up and married (no, my husband was not a shrimper). Luckily, I still had my daddy's freezer to count on. Being young and just starting out, my husband and I didn't have much money. I would often rely on the shrimp from my dad's freezer to get us through the week (That's when I learned or made up shrimp recipes).

Once we were settled and had a little more money, eating shrimp became less a necessity and more a luxury. It became part of our social life. We would get together with friends and family for a shrimp fry or a shrimp boil. As much as I love fried shrimp, it is hard to beat a shrimp boil. It consists of shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn boiled in a a spicy pot of water. The spicier the better! After everything is done to perfection, it is smothered in melted butter and sprinkled with Cajun spice. A boiling pot feeds a lot of people, so it is great for a party (it also goes well with cold beer). Now that I am older, I still love my shrimp. Sadly, most of the shrimpers I know have died or quit the business (a story for another day). Now when I want a shrimp dinner, I go to the local fish market and buy some, or I go out to eat at a local restaurant. Shrimp are pricey, but if you think of all they mean to me, I would say they are "priceless."

I hope that when I'm out of birthday dinners here on earth, Heaven will have an "all you can eat" shrimp buffet waiting for me; fired shrimp, boiled shrimp, grilled shrimp, shrimp gumbo, shrimp kabobs, shrimp puppies, shrimp salad, shrimp diablos, shrimp dip, sweet and sour shrimp, shrimp creole, coconut shrimp, shrimp newberg, shrimp pizza.... I also hope when that time comes, my friends and family will remember me by enjoying the spiciest shrimp boil ever!

PAULA PALMER, FIRST RUNNER-UP

'Bear Soup'

As a child, I was always a picky eater. Didn't really like food. A wash- down of chocolate milk was sufficient to end hunger pangs, then, a mad dash for the door. There were forts to build, games to play, kites to fly and endless sidewalks to skate down.

That was the early '50s. No fast food, no pizza deliveries, not even frozen TV dinners were around too much then. But my father always loved food and loved making it as much as eating it. He was the son of German immigrants, and he grew up poor. He told us about trying to trade off goose grease sandwiches his mama would give him for his school lunch. It bothered my father when his children would not eat the meals he worked so lovingly to prepare. No recipes then. He never had one, and never wrote one down. But he always knew just what each dish needed to be perfect every time.

One of his favorite things to cook was a hearty and spicy beef stew. My big sister and me would sit at our places at the table and look at our bowls of steaming concoction. Big chucks of potatoes and carrots would be revealed upon a stir of the warm orangey colored broth that was also filled with mysterious inedibles. Bay leaves peeked through, and black peppercorns lurked below and would always end up in a spoon warranting their tedious removal. So, to entice us to eat, my father would tell his two little girls the story of the three bears and how Goldilocks came upon their cottage in the woods and ultimately devoured their bowls of "Bear Soup" that sat cooling on their kitchen table.

It worked like a charm. And I discovered that orange liquid glop . was quite good, quite good indeed. My father made Bear Soup until he was too old to cook. I finally made a point of watching him make dozens of his famous meals and wrote down the procedures as best as I could. A "little of this" and "more of that" came together for me and I made Bear Soup for my children many times.

They didn't know why it was called Bear Soup for a long time. They were enthusiastic eaters, and I never needed to tell them any stories to entice them to eat. Today, my dad is gone, but my children and my sister's children all love Bear Soup. I know I could streamline a lot of the procedures he used to make the stew, but it is a labor of love that perpetuates the making of the dish exactly as he would have liked it done. What are you making right now that your children will be remembering?

"When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It is also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be."

- Molly Wizenberg

SANDE BILTON,SECOND RUNNER-UP

'Red Fish Hash & Fresh Trout'

EAT: Timmy Bilton and I met in November 2000. At that time, we had both been divorced from our first spouses for a couple of years. We were instantly attracted to one another and began dating. Although Timmy was a gracious date, taking me to dinner, dancing and movies, our favorite date became our weekly Friday night dinners at his house. Every Friday night, he would invite me over, and by the time I would get there, he would have some music on, a great bottle of wine opened and great smells coming from the kitchen. I would sit at his kitchen table, enjoy a glass a wine and watch him put together some wonderful meals, using ingredients I had never even heard of or seen before!

Every week was something completely different, and I realized that I would never eat the same thing twice with Timmy because he didn't remember what he did from week to week! My desire to have some of these dishes again inspired me to start taking notes while he was cooking. We turned these notes into recipes with Timmy giving each recipe a clever title. Within a year, I had enough recipes to put together an entire cookbook! This book not only had all of Timmy's recipes, but it also chronicled our Friday night's together.

We also included some of Timmy's family recipes as he is inspired as a cook by his mother and his two sisters. We both enjoyed doing that cookbook so much that within another year-and-a-half or so, we had enough recipes and stories to put together a second cookbook!

PRAY: At the very same time, I was building a relationship with Timmy, I was also beginning a spiritual journey. I had recently joined Faith Family Church and was inspired to learn more by reading and studying the Bible and building a relationship with God. That was a decision that changed my life forever.

Pastor Jim Graff always gives new members of the church the following challenge: "Give yourself to God, and I promise you, in a year, you will not recognize your life." I took that challenge, and I can tell you that my life changed dramatically, and I now enjoy loving relationships, a peaceful home life and perfect health. All of this came from God.

LOVE: All of the above led to Timmy and I falling deeply in love with one another. We were married June 11, 2004, at Faith Family Church surrounded by our family and friends. We couldn't be happier with our relationship with one another and with God. And I am happy to report that Timmy is still cooking! Unfortunately, I don't write them down anymore, but we still have our nights of good food, good wine and great conversations. This picture that I am submitting is a sample of some of the great meals he cooks for me. I count carbs, so he tries hard to cook low-carb foods.

The Red Fish Hash is made with Red Fish and Spaghetti Squash. He also cooked trout as well. Both fishes were fresh because he had personally caught them the day before! This story is long but I felt I had to tell the whole story for this picture to be meaningful.

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