If you don’t know today is Mardi Gras, then you probably don’t watch much fluff TV or cooking shows. And you probably aren’t a member of one of the liturgical churches (think Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox or Lutheran), either.
I didn’t grow up with Mardi Gras, but once it found me, I never let it go. I mean–food, music and lots of adult drinks? Yes, I think so!
I fell in love with New Orleans on my very first trip there, and the love affair has not only continued and deepened, it’s spread. I passed it on to my kids, who also embrace a deep and abiding adoration for the Crescent City. The Big Easy.
So it wasn’t a leap that we also embrace Mardi Gras. This is, technically, the last Tuesday of Epiphany, the day before the beginning of Lent. In the days when the Church oversaw the rhythm of daily life and dictated seasons, Epiphany, which always begins on January 6th and ends on Mardi Gras, was observed with the leftover frivolity of Christmas. Think lots of parties and food and music and drinking! It was the last hoorah before the sobriety and quiet of Lent, which is a season of repentance and reflection.
In our family, we invite friends over to enjoy chicken and sausage gumbo, King Cake and praline sauce over vanilla ice cream. We usually start the day with beignets, and the house is decorated with beads and masks, along with other goodies we’ve picked up from our frequent NOLA visits.
Music is a given. Think Pete Fountain, Harry Connick, Jr. and Fats Domino.
Tonight, we’ll definitely laissez les bons temps rouler–let the good times roll. And tomorrow, we’ll begin Lent ready for a quieter, more reflective time.
“What’re you doing?” I closed the dryer and started it up, stepping away from it so I could hear Zelda. “Uh, I’m cooking.” Her voice held a faint tinge of . . . I couldn’t read it. Embarrassment? “Cooking? For you and Gia? Well, aren’t you a good roommate?” I flopped onto the sofa. “You never cooked for me.” “No, doll, I’m not cooking for Gia. I have a . . . date. I guess. Sort of.” If she had told me that she was a spy who was cooking for the head of the CIA, I wouldn’t have been more surprised. Zelda was predictable only in her cynicism about romance and relationships. She had regular sex with an abundance of men, and she liked men, but she didn’t trust them. “Uh . . . okay. Can I ask the name of this date?” “You can ask, but I’m not going to tell. This is way outside my comfort zone, Quinn. It’s probably not going to amount to anything. If I’m wrong and it does . . . then you and I can talk. I’ll tell you all the down and dirties. But until then—if there is a then—I’m going to play it close to my chest.” When I didn’t respond right away, she hurried to continue. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Quinn. I just don’t trust me. I’m going out on a limb here, and I’m actually scared shitless.” “Zelda.” I crossed my legs at the knee and kicked one foot in the air. “I’m not insulted that you want to be, um, discreet. It’s your business. But don’t be scared, okay? You are the most incredible woman I know. You’re beautiful, you’re funny and you’re smart. Any guy would be lucky to date you. So don’t mess this up just because you think you’re not the relationship type, okay?” Something sizzled on Zelda’s side of the phone. “I appreciate everything you said, Quinn. I don’t necessarily agree with you, but still, I’m grateful. I can only promise to do my best.” “Good. Have fun, and don’t think I’m going to forget this. When I get home next month, you are so cooking for me.” She laughed. “You got it, doll. We’ll be in our new apartment with a real kitchen, not this lame ass kitchenette. So I’ll make you something special to celebrate moving in, okay?” “It’s a date.” I giggled at my own joke.
So who was Zelda cooking for, and what did she make? Well, no spoilers here–though you may have guessed the who–but I can tell you that for her mystery date, the enigmatic Ms. Porter prepared Chicken Espagnole, a dish that tastes fabulous and looks elegant but is actually fairly simple to prepare. This recipe was adapted from one served at The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, where I’ve enjoyed all their food on multiple occasions.
If you want to know more about Zelda’s secret lover, preorder Days of You and Me–and then get ready for her spin-off standalone book, Wildest Dreams, coming in 2017.
Zelda’s Chicken Espagnole
2 small chickens, backs removed, cut in half
3 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tsp black pepper
4 tsp white pepper
5 tsp onion powder
5 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbs paprika
4 Tbs salt
3/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, roughly cut
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp sage
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt
4 cups chicken stock
6-7 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
5 green onions, diced
Place chicken halves in roasting pan with sides at least 3 inches. Sprinkle CHICKEN SEASONING over chicken and roast in 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove and set aside.
While chicken roasts, in a large pot melt butter and add flour to make a medium roux. Add VEGGIES and stir until coated. Cook about 20 minutes, then add SAUCE SEASONING. Cook until combined, then add chicken stock slowly, stirring well. Bring to a boil and cook on low for about 20 minutes. Add mushrooms and green onions, mix well and remove from heat.
Spoon sauce over chicken in roasting pans and return to the oven, roasting at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until chicken is tender. Serve over rice.