When I was growing up, Thursday was spaghetti day and Sunday was Chicken Soup day. Your presence was not requested – you were obligated to attend. If you didn’t, there had best be a doctor’s note, a death certificate, or a court summons to explain your absence. As our family grew and became larger and wider dispersed, the Thursday and Sunday obligations kind of died out. Chicken soup became a special occasion gathering. Christmas and thanksgiving always started with soup. But I know that when my Uncle Jack died, at 97 years old, he rarely – if ever – missed pasta for dinner on Thursdays. And my dad and my aunt still know what they ate, on rotation every day of the week. I like the built in planning of that. I’m terrible at doing the meal planning thing, which means that we’re often disorganized around dinnertime. I think often of coming up with something like that for my family again. Some weeks, it works; other weeks, not so much.
We’ve recently resurrected the Chicken Soup gathering of the clan on Sunday, and it’s very satisfying – you gather with your people, and you have a meal together. Our gathering ranges from 8 to 11 people, depending on who’s there. There’s no hard-court press to show up. If you can, do. Everyone gets a turn to host, too, and we see the slight variations in how each of us makes the soup. It’s a highlight of my week – Sundays, we gather.
In New Orleans, Monday is red beans and rice day. I think I might adopt this (see: meal planning aspirations, above). I do love me some red beans and rice. The reason for this was practical. The good folks of N’awlins traditionally (manually) did their laundry on Monday, which was a full-day effort. Having a recipe that they could just set and forget that resulted in a satisfying meal at the end of the day was the immensely practical.
This week, the focus of carnival switches to Lundi Gras in New Orleans (so, the day before Mardi Gras). The highlight of events on Lundi Gras is a Red Beans Parade. Of course it is – Monday is red beans day. The Krewe of Red Beans creates costumes made from red beans as a celebration of the culture and foodie traditions of New Orleans. The parade meets up with the Dead Beans parade, where the costumes are made of beans, but they are inspired by folklore to do with death. It’s kind of like Dias de los Muertos meets Mardi Gras. And I really can’t think of anything more festive than the collision of those two festivals.
These festivities are pretty new, created as a way to combine local year-round tradition with the festivities and parading traditions of Mardi Gras. It feels like a comfortable celebration, something that you do every week with your family, escalated to something even better. A family’s recipe for red beans and rice would be passed down through generations. Its comfort food at it’s finest, and even though automatic washers and dryers makes the need for a recipe like beans and rice less necessary, they’re still part of many families’ soul food.
So it’s absolutely fitting that beans and rice also have a fun place in the hullabaloo of New Orleans’ pre-Mardi-Gras festivities.
This year, may I find novel ways to merge old traditions and new to pay homage to where I came from and celebrate where I’m going.