The quote above is how Louis Armstrong ended all of his correspondence, so fond was he of the iconic washday supper, still held dear in Old New Orleans almost as religion. Every Monday on my walk to work through the French Quarter, I smell red beans and rice in the works on peoples' stove tops. The perfume of bell peppers, onions, celery and garlic meet my nostrils along with the aromas of bay and smoked pork sausage. Once in a while, I can smell scorched Louisiana popcorn rice that some home-cook has left over too high heat on a burner, rendering the pan of starch useless-or even worse, serving it despite the ruination of the grain.
When I first arrived on the green, levied banks of the Mississippi to start a new life, I swore to uphold all of the unique and utterly charming old customs that enrich the fables of this City. I vowed to never let a second-line parade pass me by without joining in, even if I'm just waving a handkerchief from the banquette. I committed to living a life as free of stress as I could and live La Vie Bon Temps. I dedicated myself to cooking red beans and rice every Monday, even if I wasn't doing laundry on said day. It is tradition to do as such as a New Orleanian. Especially being a New New Orleanian, or so I thought. Any weekend stop at the grocery in the Quarter would find my basket containing at least a pound of Camillia Brand Red Beans and all of the necessary ingredients to prepare this dish. When people would come to visit from Florida, why, I would cook up a big pot of red beans, local andouille and rice from the fertile fields of the Delta. The meal was always met with such glowing satisfaction and nods of approval, that I continued the trend for months. Months....
Let me say, it is impossible to prepare a small amount of red beans and rice. Even if five people are gathered, consuming all they can, one is still left with half of a gallon of the stuff. I am a man who loves his leftovers, and typically will consume every last morsel of a left-over. Sometimes re-imagined in a clever and delicious way. I've basically had enough of the red bean. I don't even want to see it in chili.I have had my fill of a filling dish, I can assure you.
At the tony French Quarter restaurant at which I work, one of the "benefits" is a full staff-meal, provided to employees free of charge before each shift. It is something that I anticipate every day that I work. There is always speculation as to what it might be. It is usually held in some kind of secrecy until it is served. Perhaps so the Chef doesn't have to hear any grousing about how someone doesn't want to eat open faced tuna melts again, or how someone else had a turkey sandwich for lunch that day. Usually the meals are very well imagined: balanced, tasty and fresh. One of my favorite things that they don't trot out nearly often enough is the build-your-own-nachos bar. Once we were treated to a positively enormous chefs salad, bursting with so many good things, with your choice of homemade blue-cheese dressing or ranch! The Asian inspired staff meals are always well appreciated. Who doesn't love eggrolls and vegetable lo-mein? My favorite day is pizza day. I literally leap with joy. We are treated to a variety of Sysco Brand Rising Crust pizzas with very creative toppings such as (but not limited to) lamb and spinach, corn and jalapeno and barbecued fried chicken, just to praise a few. A fresh green salad is always provided. Sometimes, since the meals are kept so guarded from the staff until they are served, an experienced waiter may sniff out a clue and reveal the meal beforehand. Yesterday I spied that Jack O'Lantern of a sous-chef headed for the giant food processor with a bowl of dill pickle chips and onions, ready to make relish. "Oh. Must be hot-dogs today." Guess what we were served? Hot Dogs! I knew it! I'm a detective. I mean, usually these are meals that any 11 year-old would be pleased with, but what the hell? It's free.
Mondays, are for me, a particularly nice day to work. I've made my money over the weekend and Monday precedes my two days off in the week, so whatever tips I can charm out of people is gravy. Scratch to be spent on cocktails or lunch or whatever I choose. The ugliest part of Monday has got to be the ennui and tedium of refilling the sugar-caddies after they come from the dishwasher, but if that is the biggest thing I have to overcome on "My Friday", then I will suffer through. Then I remember that it is Monday. There is hot sausage grilling in the kitchen. The rice cooker is going full-force and I see empty cans of Blue Runner Red Beans in the garbage. My heart sinks to the floor and I wish that I had eaten before I came to work.
I still hold true to the commitment to uphold the traditions and unusual customs that make New Orleans such unique and wonderful place to live. A place that millions of songs have been written about. A place that has street names like Elysian Fields, Desire and Piety. A place that celebrates anything from Creole tomatoes to Gumbo and Mardi Gras. A place so rich with culture and absolutely filled with music. A place where the odd is commonplace. On my way home tonight, I passed a house on St. Peter Street in the Quarter where about thirty Santa Claus's were falling out of the front door in various stages of intoxication and undress. I love living here but, I will tell you, if I see another red bean, I am going to scream.