Modine's New Orleans: Full for the Holidays

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

Eating season is almost here.

Everybody in New Orleans has been living off comfort food for the entire hurricane season. Nothing but red beans and fried chicken, Hubig’s Pies, French fries on poor boy bread with extra mynez, stuff like that.

It ain’t what you call nutritious.

But pretty soon we can eat real food. We got Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s coming up, which means oyster dressing, pecan pie, sweet potatoes, rice and gravy, ham and turkey and roast beef – to start. My gentleman friend Lust, who owns the Sloth Lounge, always orders one of them turduckens – a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a canary, for all I know – deep-fried, for the Sloth’s Annual Thanksgiving Dysfunctional Family TV Tailgating Gala.

Gradually, we’ll taper off into King Cake season, and burp.

I wonder if that’s why New Orleans gets on lists of America’s Fattest Cities every year, but my mother-in-law Ms. Larda says, no, no, we got a whole 40 days of Lent, and everybody stops eating then, Catholic or not, because otherwise they would explode.

Still and all, even with 40 days of not eating (except for oysters and crabs and fish – which everybody knows is healthy food), people in this city are still fat.
My sister-in-law Gloriosa decided to put a stop to that.

She says this city is going to slim down, or she will know the reason why. I could give her 343,829 reasons why, which is the number of mouths and stomachs that sit down to dinner in New Orleans every night, and that don’t even include the mouths and stomachs in Jefferson and St. Tammany, which have lunch here most days.

 Now, Gloriosa is the Gunch family beauty. This wouldn’t be saying much, but she’s more gorgeous than people in other families, too. She is Ms. Larda’s youngest, born after three brothers and a sister who weren’t too bad-looking, if you like Cabbage Patch Kids. Ms. Larda must have been statistically due for a Barbie when Gloriosa came along. That is the only thing we can figure out.

But last year, Gloriosa looked in her full-length mirror, at the bosoms that have been stopping traffic ever since she was 14, then at her waistline, and she detected what she decided was a muffin top. I would call it a muffin crumb, if that. Still, she immediately signed up for Weight Watchers and Jazzercise classes.

Pretty soon she was lecturing at Weight Watchers and teaching Jazzercise and everybody was hanging on every word and wiggle because they thought if they did whatever she does, they would look like her instead of skinnier versions of their own selves. They lost weight and Gloriosa got all the credit.

She let it go to her head.

In November, after she gave everybody in her diet and exercise groups their instructions for healthy, miserable Thanksgivings, she turned her attention to her own family, the Gunches, who cook by the vat and buy special stretch pants for Thanksgiving dinner.

If she can reform the Gunches, she can reform New Orleans.

She is going to make us the healthiest Thanksgiving dinner we ever ate. Low-fat turkey and a whole lot of steamed vegetables with fat-free butter-colored imitation spread and real-food-flavored seasoning granules.

My daughter Gumdrop even says she’ll provide all the vegetables. Gumdrop lives out in the country, near Folsom, where people grow their own stuff. She says that no matter how many kinds of vegetables you plant, you always get way more than you want of one thing. Not necessarily something good. You get, say, okra out the wazoo. Or pole beans. Or something that might be squash. So much, you can’t even give it away. The neighbors see you slinking up the drive with another bag of okra or pole beans or possible squash and they slither down beneath the windowsills and don’t answer the door. So what people do, around there, is hang plastic grocery bags of vegetables on each others’ gates and run away. Gumdrop harvested the latest crop of bags from her gate. So at least nobody had to go out and buy this stuff.

Except me. I am supposed to get the turkey – and not no pre-basted one either, says Gloriosa. She will roast and baste it herself (probably with Diet Coke).

Now usually, the Gunches train for Thanksgiving by pushing away from the table for a couple days before, but this year, they might as well pre-eat. They are trying to decide whether everybody should order Chinese and eat it in secret, or meet at Popeyes and not tell Gloriosa, or maybe both. It is enough to break your heart.

And then, we had an act of God. Gloriosa sprung her ankle in Jazzercise.

So Ms. Larda has to do the cooking. Ms. Larda cooking anything means a couple sticks of butter to punch up the taste, or a little cream sauce made from condensed milk, some Tony’s, maybe some cane syrup, bacon fat ... Happy days are here again.

I had not bought a skinny turkey yet, so I called Lust, and he got a good deal on an extra turducken for us.

Gloriosa couldn’t come, poor thing, but we fixed a plate to send over. We washed off the cream sauce first.

 Between the second and third helpings of various vegetables, Ms. Larda says this proves that even healthy food can taste good – that’s how we all cook in New Orleans. So why are we always on the fattest city lists?

I guess it’s one of life’s mysteries.
 

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