It’s Slow Foods “Dinner and a Book” night. We read “Gumbo Tales,” a book that will make you sweat and your hair go limp with humidity as Sara Roahan takes you through N’Awlins food culture. I love New Orleans and its pea soup humidity, its mix of cultures, its joie de vivre, it’s pride of place and Gumbo Tales captures it all.
I also realize that I sure couldn’t eat like Sara does without keeling over in a dead faint or worse. She, like Anthony Bourdain, can apparently eat anything and lots of it and stay on her feet, even healthy and fit. (I haven’t see a picture of her but from her book, I know she does yoga and someone in the quarter once mistook her for a ‘dancer’ so she must keep it together pretty good.),
Anyway, New Orleans food is rich, muddy, complex with nary a fresh vegetable. Chapter titles in the book are straight forward and give us an idea of the great foods we will explore in Gumbo Tales:
- Sazeracs (a mixed drink)0
- Red Gravy
Well, you get the idea.
It’s not a requirement that we cook and bring food from the book we have read but we were all inspired this time to do just that. The menu was full of gumbos and etouffees and my king cake.
A king cake is a sweet yeast bread braided into a circular loaf. It’s finished with a sugar glaze and dusted with sugars in Mardi Gras colors – purple, gold and green. After it’s baked, the cook sticks a little baby Jesus (or a bean or maybe even a coin) somewhere in the bottom of the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the baby Jesus has to buy the next King Cake according to the author. (I always thought it meant good luck all year long.) And it’s not a King Cake next year but right then for the next party. Which explains why there are thousands of king cakes sold during Mardi Gras season which officially begins on Twelfth night, January 6th.
After our last Slow Foods dinner, when I had decided that I was going to make the cake, I went home and ordered a bag of little plastic Jesuses (Jesi?) from a company that specializes in Mardi Gras supplies. I thought I was getting a dozen but I got at least a hundred in a plastic bag. A hundred little pink babies. My son, Jason, said it was creepy to see them laying on the kitchen counter. What will I do with them all? Lots of king cakes this Mardi Gras season or as Ellen suggested, individual king buns, each with a baby.
No one tackled the turducken. For those who haven’t heard, a turducken is a chicken wrapped in a duck wrapped in a turkey. It begs a joke about the riddle wrapped in an enigma. To me it’s a riddle that it ever gained popularity or that Paul Prudhomme created it. (there’s some question about that: several claim the honor and some say it’s the reinvention of a dish from the middle ages.) It seems overwrought and silly to me and Sara did quote Poppy Tooker, the head of the Slow Foods convivium in New Orleans as saying, “As far as I’m concerned, a turducken is a medieval pile of poo….”. I’ve also heard turduckens are delicious.
ANYWAY, to make a turducken, you have to have all 3 birds completely deboned. Some leave the bones in the wings and legs of the turkey so after you sew it all back up it looks a little like the traditional bird. There are 3 different stuffings, one in the chicken and then one in between the chicken and the duck and the duck the turkey. Pounds of butter are used. Hours of cooking. Sara had me laughing out loud as she told me of the mishaps she encountered when she decided to tackle a turducken for her northern family. The turkey was too small to fit around the other stuffed birds. She collapsed on her duck fat slick floor in frustration at one point. Lesson: always try a recipe before you prepare it for guests.
So no one in our group tackled the turducken.
As always the food was wonderful. The next book is “The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten……