Mardi Gras and Basketball: I Love This Time Of Year

Monday, February 9, 2009

February is the shortest month but this winter it became one of the busiest as well. I keep a calendar on the kitchen wall to help me keep straight all the things that are work related but which take place outside of my regular work schedule. This month's page is full. Witness that although this posting was begun on the ninth, it is in fact the twenty-fifth when it is actually filed. A whole month has gone by without a peep. (But of course peeps normally show up at Easter)There seems to be an inordinate number of charity events in February for some reason. I also had to attend a four day course on restaurant health and safety regulations which is required by the state. I think I have mentioned before that North Carolina is beginning to adapt national standards for sanitation in places that serve food.

This was interesting in many ways. After the first day I was completely strung out. The information was useful to be sure, but it was presented in the context of the kitchen as minefield. The emphasis of inspections is shifting from clean and tidy to disease prevention. Temperatures are paramount. I hadn't been in a classroom situation in at least twenty five years- certainly not one that lasted six hours. Perhaps it was Stockholm Syndrome, but by the third day, I was fine with everything more or less. My main recommendation would be that perhaps someone who cooks should be included on the panel of people who decide on the regulations. Not everything can be plunged into ice the minute it comes off the stove. We'll see. The exam was yesterday morning and I'll know the results in about ten days.

Meanwhile, back at work, Mardi Gras was upon us. Because I had had to be away so much, we didn't get everything I wanted on the menu in time. That's OK because we'll run these things for a week or two, so there is still time. This year's gumbo z'herbe is better than ever. In October, I had a batch that Marcelle Bienvenu served down in Mississippi. She had included quartered turnips in hers. I stole that idea. Paul has taken roux to new heights, baking it for hours in a cast iron skillet. The result is a toasty, almost chocolaty red gumbo. The milk punch sherbet is divine. And finally, for the first time since the year before Katrina, we have turtle soup. I could go on about this recipe at length. It was given to me when I was still at La Residence, by Ray Farris, one of my cooks who was from New Orleans. It is my favorite soup in the world. It has all kinds of strange ingredients besides turtle. There are both whole allspice and whole cloves. There are hard boiled eggs. It has lots of lemon juice. Turtle has become so expensive that I only got one box, so this is a limited engagement. The other night, I was out on the floor, and I noticed a woman drinking her soup, clearly hoping to get every drop. Then I noticed that she had little yellow, purple and green ornaments pinned in her hair. I love people from Louisiana.

posted by Bill Smith at 4:32 PM


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