Sunday, January 6, 2013
just when you thought it was safe to come in from the holidays
Happy Mardi-Gras season! As a one-time resident of the French Quarter, New Orleans, i LOVE this time of year, which has no "holiday obligations" dragging along like the baggage you thought you'd need on that trip, but which turned out to be superfluous. ;-) Traditionally it seems, MG was about getting back to normal after the Christmas revelry, and enjoying your remaining goodies before they become verboten during Lent. Yes, you finished up the LAST of the eggs in your Shrove Tuesday pancakes, there where the high water table didn't allow you to have a root-cellar and where the chickens would probably be laying again at Easter. But think of all the other things that might spoil in those six long weeks! Gotta chow down so as not to waste them! Remember -- people used to buy their wines from the Old Country in big casks and bottled them at home -- i'll bet they couldn't be relied on to "keep" as well as what we get today. So, allow the rest of the keg to turn to vinegar during the lenten season??? Sacrilege!
Sadly (and ironically), the local restaurants we came to love for "everyday" actually simplify their menus during higher-tourism times. When my daughter and i visited on the weekend before Halloween -- which used to be a "locals'" holiday -- we found ourselves hampered in our hedonistic pursuits. We concluded that THAT weekend is becoming overly patronized by outsiders to the point of not being able to get reservations at favorite places, and facing long lines at joints that are almost empty under ordinary situations. Need to choose another time of year next time, i'm afraid....
"Mardi Gras food" doesn't HAVE to be the carbfest that NOLA's is. The first year we were there, yeah, we DID get a real king cake from the place J's coworkers described as the best there is. That year is when i fell off the LC wagon and gained quite a lot of weight (the bread in N'Orleans is out of this world)! I also learned to love the Hurricane and to respect the HandGrenade, to enjoy alligator for starters and deplore the fact that it was cooked so unhealthfully, and to begin my continuing affair with raw oysters. :-D I tried the famed beignets, and ya know what? they were fry-bread, nothing more. A REAL beignet is pate a choux -- the stuff that cream puffs and eclairs are made of -- and you can get a much better one in St. Louis....
REAL Mardi Gras food is mostly low-carb, actually! Butter and eggs. MEAT. You know -- "rich people's food" in the bad old days. Lenten food would probably be considered good diet food by mainstream dieticians these days -- plain potatoes, butterless veggies, peasant bread. What is "soup maigre" but the cabbage-soup diet in vegetable stock? Pfui!
The celebration HERE will be a melange of tradition and modernity. We'll start today and enjoy the hell out of all those self-indulgent fleshly (AND fleshy) dishes that cause ascetics everywhere to swoon, appalled and envious simultaneously (they know who they are, but they won't admit it). We'll whoop it up till Ash Wednesday, then we'll whoop it up some more because OUR gods believe we should enjoy their bounty rather than pull a long face. ;-) I WILL order a small king cake to be sent to the grandkids, because they get such a kick out of it ... but just a small one. With extra beads and masks.
The second MG season we were in NOLA, i made a cream-cheese-filled almond-flour coffeecake and sprinkled it with colored xylitol for our own delectation and whaddaya know -- it satisfied our attraction to something sweet and special, and we didn't hate ourselves in the morning. I think i'll do it again.