17 May 2011

Red Beans & Gas

Fall is nice -
Just like [red] beans & rice.
The leaves fall down,
All the way to the ground.
And that's why fall is nice.

a classic: AABBA

That may have been a second or third grade poem.  Let's hope second.  I've come a long way from whichever year that was - emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually (whew).  Speaking of coming a long way, recalling that lovely bit of verse I wrote at seven or eight years of age made me want to see if the grammar school I attended had a web presence.  Sure enough: St. Benilde School is on line.  Back in the day, I don't even know that we knew what "on line" (or "online"?!) might have meant.

Gichi-ziibi  (or misi-ziibi) continues to grow, crest, surge, and overflow its levees, inundating towns, homes, and people in the Mississippi Delta and southeastern Louisiana.  Feeling nostalgic as I often do, especially in times of regional crisis, I decided to make red beans and rice this Monday.

Monday is traditionally red beans and rice day, as pretty much anyone in New Orleans can (hopefully) tell you.  In short, the story goes like this:

  1. Sunday your family eats a ham.
  2. Monday is laundry / wash day.  While you're slaving away doing the wash, beans simmer away without much fuss in a pot for a few hours, accompanied by hocks and other hunks of ham left over from the day before.
... a New Orleanian "set it and forget it" meal.

But don't take my word for it.  Backing me up on the whole "Monday is red beans and rice day" are 
Further acknowledgment of the solid traditional link between Monday and RBnR can be found in my  dad's going every Monday to Men's Club eetings at St. Benilde, after which he would either come back with red beans and rice or tell us (every time) how he just had the "juice" from the beans with rice, since he detests all beans for some unknown reason.

So to answer Drina Turner's question to me via Twitter yesterday, "Is there a history connecting red beans with laundry?", the answer is yes.  There's certainly a folk history, and folk history is what is most appealing and valid to me these days.  However, since we've long since strayed from keeping Monday as a day to do laundry, if Sunday is your washday, it can also be your red beans & rice day.  After all, for a time there was a standing invitation to have red beans 'n rice at Chuck's place every Sunday.  If Chuck can do it, so can you.

Yesterday, however, I was sticking to tradition.  I sorted the laundry, got out some roasted chicken carcasses, leeks, and other seasoning veggies to make a killer chicken stock to use in the beans, then turned on the flame to start extracting flavor.  After returning from starting the first load off in the washing machine (no, I didn't have to go down to the river with a washboard and some laundry bluing), I noticed that the flame was out.  None of the burners would turn on.  Neither did the oven.  Super.  I saw things thus: no stove, no stock; no stock, no beans; no beans, no good.

Skipping over my frustration and the details of several communications with neighbors, my landlord, Puget Sound Energy, and my building's resident owners, let's just say that gas service was restored and all issues were resolved by 5pm - except that I hadn't cooked those beans!  Although the laundry had long since been done and this was a little later in the day than I would have ideally started the stock and beans process, I stuck to my original plan.

The stock was rich, hearty, and edible all by itself.  That boded well for the beans, which had been soaking since the night before.  I continued by lightly browning a smoked ham hock in the bottom of my cauldron (as I have recently grown fond of referring to my larger cooking vessels), then adding the trinity + two diced carrots + three garlic cloves.  Once these vegetables were a bit soft, I added two bay leaves, the beans & about two quarts or so of that flavorful stock.  Along the way, some salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, and other magical herbs went in until I was satisfied ... and ultimately nourished.
Last night I didn't take a picture of the ingredients, cooking process,  or end result; but here's a shot of my lunch today.


  1. I want more Edible Escapades!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. And the support! I know that you really want that menu for your best friend's wedding too. Working on developing it.

  3. THIS is why you must keep writing about food, culture, and life.

  4. Thank you for the encouragement, Mike.

  5. i love this! john makes a mean rnbr! he told me rbnr was a monday dinner tradition but didn't connect it to the laundry and previous ham dinner day. history and nostalgia will make the next rbnr dinner taste even better...thank you for adding flavor to this dish!

  6. Hi Karen. I'm happy to have contributed another ingredient to your rbnr dinners with John! Thanks for reading.

  7. David this is an absolutely delightful snapshot of a day in your life. Who would anticipate not having a working stove?! Maybe I’ll make Sunday my red beans day and rice day.
    Thank you for the regional history, recipe and incredible you.

  8. Drina, thank you for your comment. The wacky things that happen often give us fodder (and time) for thought and other side projects. Sunday's just as good a day to make Red Beans & Rice as Monday. You'll be eating beans for the next several days anyway ;-)