>Mardi Gras Revisits the PNW

>One of the first times I visited Hannah in Portland was about this time a good two years ago.

I told her I wanted to cook for her friends.
I felt like maybe it was one of the best ways to win over their hearts – considering I’m a somewhat quiet guy, food often speaks louder.

I made them fried chicken, jambalaya and some kind of garlic/mozzarella french bread combo. You can’t really go wrong with cheese, garlic and bread. Nope, ya just can’t.

My first impression was that they were a little cautious. They were Hannah’s best friends and I was the boy she met in India who had decided to come to see her. This food was my only alibi at the time.
I felt like though, I had offended them with how I make my fried chicken. [Though all was in good humour – I still hope.]

I soak it in a typical egg wash, that of just milk and a couple of beaten eggs. More often up here, you meet vegetarians. I respect that lifestyle, but get a little nervous when the pompous attitudes come out. [I tend to side with Anthony Bourdain’s logic on vegetarians… :P] They were quite disturbed of the fact that I soaked chicken in milk and egg before frying. If anyone knows anything about frying, it is to have a good egg wash. It helps the batter stick and makes the breading extra crispy.

Needless to say, I have a huge respect for vegetarians. I believe they are the voice of reason in a country of over-consuming meat eaters, unfortunately at times, like myself.

But, this was about feeding their hearts. Fried chicken is a labor of love, I often say. You get messy, along with everything you touch. Your fingers are caked with flour and you have to turn everything on with your forearms, as if you were going into surgery.

The chicken had been fried and jambalaya fluffed and perfect – people were fed and all seemed satisfied. I believe I changed ‘many an opinion’ that day…

so the tradition continues…

Last year, I created our 1st Annual Mardi Gras Ball. It’s an excuse to eat lots of comfort foods, dress up nice and act well, somewhat sophisticated. I had only been in Oregon for a few weeks and thought it would be a great time to get everyone together and to again, let the food speak louder than I could.
This time, I added fried pickles, hushpuppies and that infamous crab boiled pot of potatoes, corn, sausage, onions and garlic.

It was simply brilliant, though I was exhausted as it was my second day of work learning my new job and I had tripped over the washing machine and busted my ass. “Nothin’ but my pride”, I said…”Nothin’ but my pride..”

This year, we up’ed it once more as we entered Mardi Gras season.
Hell, the Saints had won the Super Bowl and we had more than enough reasons to celebrate my Beloved South.

I cooked up all the usual from the prior year, but added to it Veggie Gumbo. I had argued with Hannah that it wasn’t gumbo unless there were crab legs and shrimp heads stickin’ out – but she wouldn’t budge [not that we could have afforded it anyways, hah…]

I set out to cook my roux – which is a basic gravy involving about one part flour to two parts vegetable oil. I had never made a roux before, so after 45 minutes of stirring it to a medium-brown, I decided to let it be. I dropped in the holy trinity [which is celery, onion, and bell pepper] and was introduced to an inverted deep frying lesson when the veggies went in with an uproar of a sound. I was quite frightened, but it turned out okay. I started cooking it at 10:30pm and finished at about 1:30 in the morning. Again, a labor of love.

I love introducing Northwest folks to Southern culture…for all it’s worth. “What’s Zapps?” or “Abita…hmm” – and let me say, Oregonians are freaks (in a good way) about their beer. Not that Abita can hang with Portland microbreweries, but I’d say Abita is in a class all of its own.
That’s the good thing about Abita – you can drink it with spicy food. It’s a perfect creole couple.

Friends walked around, holding their bellies — gravy induced rice dishes meeting deep fried goodness was the perfect combination to an almost drunken fullness.
Again, it’s the food of the poor folks like so much. Greens, rice and leftover bits. Deep fried flour and chicken. Veggies cooked into submission along with everything else in the same pot. There’s nothin’ like it.

In all of this, is my Southern pride. To know and understand that this food is my culture and in my blood has allowed me to make some great relationships. Everyone leaves full, satisfied and ready to go to bed.

I believe the way to most people is through their bellies…

and after all, this food speaks loud and true to who I am…

a native son to the American South.

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