Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya

Standard

It’s that magical time of year, that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when work seems to slow down and family life heats up, what with big gatherings involving food, fellowship and fun, culminating on December 25th with some jolly old elf in a red suit traveling the world delivering gifts, and the denouement on New Years Day with the traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut for good luck in the coming year. Naturally, at this time of year, I’m thinking about Jambalaya.

Wait, what? How did that happen? I’m sitting around the week of Thanksgiving, planning my trip to Wegmans to buy the food we need for our feast, when it hits me: I need to whip up a big pot of Jambalaya for Wednesday night. But why?

Maybe it was the thought of all of that turkey in my near future? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some turkey, but after a few days of eating nothing but turkey, a guy gets a little tired of it, you know? We even cook a back-up turkey on Wednesday, so we’ll have plenty of leftovers after we send people home with their fair share on Thanksgiving night. Since we were feeding 16 people at our house this year, the possibility of having no leftovers from our 22-lb. bird was real. Hence the 19-lb. back-up.

roast-turkey-640-old-dm

Maybe it was the Cajun Sausage Cornbread stuffing I had to make the night before? I’ve made this stuffing for years, from a terrific recipe in one of chef Paul Prudhomme’s cookbooks, and I stuff the bird with it on Thanksgiving morning before it goes in the oven. The combination of Andouille sausage, cornbread, veggies, complex seasonings and Crystal hot sauce makes for a mean stuffing! Sadly, we never have enough of it, as everybody seems to like it.

0688028470_b

That’s where the Jambalaya comes in. It was a tasty diversion prior to the turkey onslaught, an inspiration for (and from) the Cajun stuffing, and a much-needed respite from the steady diet of leftover turkey. You see, a big pot of Jambalaya leaves a lot of leftovers too!

So, what does all this talk of Jambalaya have to do with Tiki? Well, on the surface…nothing. However, I did discuss the connection between my passions for Cajun and Tiki in my blog post, Aloha Spirit: New Orleans, which I published almost a year ago. As I re-read that post, it dawned on me that a couple of things I wrote about last year have (and soon might) come to pass.

First, my friend Jeff “Beachbum” Berry did finally open his first Tiki bar in New Orleans, Latitude 29. More than just a Tiki bar, Latitude 29 is a full-service restaurant and bar in the Bienville House hotel, right in the French Quarter. By all accounts, it’s doing really well, and I can’t wait to visit it and see for myself. In the meantime, I’m planning an interview with Bum for my next podcast, which will be very soon. Stay tuned!

Latitude_29_7312.0.0

Second, I’m hoping to make it to Mardi Gras in NOLA this coming February, which is only a couple of months away. This is another item on my bucket list well within my reach. Visiting Latitude 29 is just the excuse I needed to make this happen sooner rather than later! I’ve already booked a room at the Bienville House; now I just need to convince my wife Jess to come with me. It’s been over ten years since we last visited N’awlins, so we’re due.

So there you have it. It seems I’m predisposed to thinking (and writing) about my love of all things Cajun at this time of year. I’ve always loved the idea of worlds colliding, and my converging passions for New Orleans and Tiki are neatly embodied by Beachbum Berry and his Latitude 29. Sprinkle in another bucket list conquest during Mardi Gras, and I’m set for the next few months. Mahalo ét tois!

french_quarter

Aloha Spirit: New Orleans

Standard

As I mentioned before, I believe karma introduced me to Tiki, and it continues to swim in my bloodstream. I’ve seen many signs in my travels that have confirmed this for me. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

New Orleans LA, September 2003. My second trip to The Big Easy, but the first time I spent any real time there, I was there for a couple of days on business, then my wife Jess flew out and met me for the weekend. She had a bad head cold when she arrived, but we still saw and did a lot that weekend in NOLA. It’s an amazing town!

But what made me think to write about New Orleans with respect to the Aloha Spirit? I guess the trigger was the new book I’m reading, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean, which claims that all Tiki drinks have their origin in the rum-based drinks of the West Indies. The Bum lives in New Orleans and plans to open his own Tiki bar there some day. His book is a wonderful read, but I think my personal connection of NOLA and Tiki is much deeper than this.

I fell in love with the culture of New Orleans many years ago. I loved all of it: the music, the food, the history, the atmosphere, the pageantry – I still have attending Mardi Gras in NOLA on my bucket list! I enjoy many albums in a wide range of music, from the Cajun French singing of Beausoleil to the jazz piano greats Dr. John and Professor Longhair and the big brass wailing of the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands. In fact, my second-ever CD compilation was a tribute to this wonderful music: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya.

Panda's Tasty Jambalaya CD

Inside this CD case I have squirreled away my very own recipe for Jambalaya. It’s a recipe I’ve perfected over 20 years of making it, and I continue to tweak it as time goes on. Cajun and Creole food are some of my favorites! Jess and I had one of our best meals ever at K-Paul’s, chef Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant in the French Quarter. We were lucky enough to see the man himself the night we dined there, directing traffic in the kitchen behind glass in the center of the restaurant, working his culinary magic for all to see. The next morning we ventured out to the famous Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait, a NOLA tradition. After a Saturday night partying on Bourbon Street, we spent our final morning in town at one of the countless sidewalk cafés having brunch, soaking in every last ounce of New Orleans atmosphere we could taste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So finally, how do I bring this all back to my love of Tiki? I guess the easy answer might lie with the spirit of the Acadians who settled New Orleans. It reminds me a little of Jamaican Irie – NOLA people are pretty happy, love to party, and have a strong, spiritual connection with their roots, which are a jumbled mix of many cultures. It’s evident in the passion they put into all aspects of their life, from music to food and drink. And that’s when it hits me: my total immersion into the culture of New Orleans was the precursor for my current obsession with all things Tiki! I’m now so into Polynesian culture, but I forget that I’ve been down this road before. Karma? I think so! Mahalo, New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps roullez!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA