Monday, January 9, 2012

Red Beans and Rice & Monday

 Special Monday Post!

I thought that today would be a good day to celebrate my New Orleans heritage as Louisiana State University (my school) is taking on Alabama in the National Championship game tonight! And what dish is better for a Monday than red beans and rice?

My boyfriend Robert and me in about ~100+ degree weather in Tiger Stadium at the first game of the season.
I  feel like I am going to get struck by lightning saying this, but I never went to an entire football game
(only 1/3 of one freshman year) until this, my senior, year. Robert is a big fan —
he only requested I go to three games.  And, I had a good time.  We'll be cheering tonight!
Geaux Tigers!

The Dish (figurative): Why do we eat Red Beans on Monday?
And my cousins almost die on a railroad track …

My best friend in high school, Brittany, once told me that red beans and rice was a super food. We then, with all of the combined brainpowers of two giddy 16-year-old girls, decided to make red beans.

We did not consider it was a two-day process.  In fact, I remember us driving to the store (poorly), putting the groceries in the kitchen, singing show tunes from Rent and returning to the kitchen later to maybe chop things?

Then, somehow the beans were done hours later. Thanks to Brittany’s saint-like mother.  But, we were so proud that we made a food that contained every food group:

-       Meat: sausage and ham
-       Fat: I already said sausage
-       Vegetable: celery
-       Fruit: ehh …
-       Dairy: ?
-       Carbs: rice

 Yeah, I don’t think we had a great grasp of the food pyramid yet.

Now, as an (air quotes) adult who (air quotes) cooks, I am nervous to tackle my Gammie’s famous red beans and rice recipe. 

Throughout my childhood the beans were a holiday staple.  Gammie lived in New Orleans, worked in Hammond for my uncle and commuted through my parents’ house in Mandeville. Depending on where she made them, they would get dropped off frozen across the state.

Impressions of Gammie between cousins often included the saying “I got beans on [the stove].”

The cousins at Gammie's 90th birthday party, October 2010.

My favorite story about Gammie’s dish is captured on film during a movie my cousins and sister made, charmingly titled “The Bum.” (As the “Caboose” in the train of cousins, I was too little to act.)

My Hammond cousins lived beside a railroad track, thus the creation of the gross out vagabond character portrayed with almost no overacting by my cousin Greg. 

Gammie was babysitting during most of the filming and our parents were surprised by some of the antics caught on tape.  Most notably, the climactic scene in which two of my cousins are tied to the working train track.

The scene was a little too realistic as the boys couldn’t wiggle themselves free, but they never stopped having fun.  One of the littler boys gets nervous, breaks character (and the fourth wall) and calls for Gammie. 

Gammie walks out with a giant knife to cut them free, disregarding the authenticity of the film completely: calling them by their real names, admonishing them for calling her miss, asking the pre-teens why the heck they would tie themselves to the tracks and that they took her away from the kitchen while her “beans were on!”

That's more like it. 

But that’s my family’s modern love for red beans. My Aunt Linda (my Dad’s eldest sister) guessed that Gammie’s recipe dates back to my great-great-grandma Meyer (remember her from last week’s post).

My Aunt Linda also explained why red beans and Mondays go together in New Orleans like … well, red beans and rice.

Apparently when laundry was done with a crank and wringer, and took all day, the women would cook something that didn’t need a lot of TLC.  And, women traditionally did the wash on Mondays.

"It took them all day to do the clothes and the beans could just cook themselves," Aunt Linda said.

Linda said she remembers when her mother got a washer; it predated the family’s TV set. She said she and my uncle would watch the clothes spin through the washer's glass window when they were small.

The laundry was no longer a tedious, mechanical process and Monday didn’t hold the same significance, but people still keep up the tradition. Restaurants have specials for red beans on Mondays and many moms still make it a weekly staple.

The Dish (literal): Gammie’s Red Beans & Rice
As dictated by my Aunt Linda, at 91 Gammie doesn’t cook anymore

-       1 pound red beans
-       1 onion
-       3 stalks celery (sliced into thirds)
-       2 or 3 toes of garlic
-       1 pound of sausage (Gammie used smoked)
-       1 ham bone (Full disclosure: I used chunks of ham instead because my butcher didn’t have hambones)
-       ¼ cup flour
-       Rice
-       Optional: 1 can of New Orleans Blue Runner red beans, and yes, it has to be Blue Runner

Soak the beans overnight
Throw water off
Cover again in 2 quarts water with a ham bone and three stalks celery (cut in thirds)
In a separate pan cook sausage (sliced in ~1 inch pieces)
Remove sausage and sauté chopped onion and garlic in juices
Combine all ingredients in the pot with the beans
Put flour on top
Simmer the pot with beans on low for a minimum of two hours
OPTIONAL: When it’s almost ready, add a can of Blue Runner red beans (a new Orleans tradition) – I also prefer a thicker consistency so I added more flour here too
Season with Tabasco and Tony’s (creole seasoning)

Photo by Robert Giglio

I was nervous to tackle Gammie’s recipe. But, I have to say it came out great.  I was so proud of myself! My boyfriend and I both ate generous servings of it last night, he took a Tupperware to work and we still have leftovers! It was an inexpensive meal that will last you a long time. 

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