All the rain over the past week has caused a severe shift in our eating habits, not only for our customers at the shop but also here at the house. We’ve also gone from raw chill to the lower 70s. Add to this the normal seasonal shifts with the beginning of Carnival Season and the acceleration of Crawfish Season, and the culinary options around here have gone from wonderful to unbelievable in a very short amount of time.
Last weekend at work, when it was so cold and wet outside, I laid out a full hotel pan of what I call Taco Pie. It’s a Texan-y mixture of spiced ground beef, shredded flour tortillas, jalapenos, salsa, onions and melty cheddar. It was sold out in less than an hour, thanks largely to the weather. We’re big into such filling casseroles this time of year, along with beefy wines and heavier beers. It is, from a food sense at least, my favorite time of year. This is not to even mention King Cake. Is it just me or has everyone had a little stronger yen for King Cake this particular season? I thought so.
On the other hand, there is also a gentle pressure at the first of the year from those who have resolved to eat healthier and lose a little weight. I am no dietician or nutritionist, but my answer to this is to go Greek and otherwise Mediterranean. Heavy on the roasted vegetables like yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, onion and lot of garlic. The only fats are quality olive oil and a little feta cheese. You can eliminate salt by adding some garam masala as your lead spice and there ya go. For a snack, few things are better than the broad variety of hummus you can either buy or easily make yourself – and you don’t have to sacrifice that “full” feeling.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised this year by the increased availability of some high quality wines at very affordable prices. This past week, I was able to pick up some Concannon petit syrah for less than $8. Normally, I try to pair particular ethnic foods with wines from the same region. But this wine has proven itself so versatile with so many foods that it’s quickly becoming a household staple. Like Mouton Cadet (which I call the Coca-Cola of wines, because it’s easy to find and so affordable), it’s not going to skew the main flavor away from any food pairing.
That said, we picked up a sale wine just after the holidays that was a mistake. While the flavor was decent, my wife (who is no longer much of a wine drinker) erupted in hives shortly after one glass. I had no ill effects, but we quickly dumped it. Benadryl saved the day and I guess it was the sulfites. But it certainly wasn’t worth the temporary “gah!” moment.
One of the many great things about New Orleans is its depth of wine, beer and liquor experts (of which I am not one. I have a general experience and knowledge, but there are large gaps). While we expect a high level of expertise when we go to specific sellers like Martin’s, there isn’t always a drop-off in knowledge when we shift to nearby grocery stores. There are exceptions, of course, but I generally find superior guidance at nearly anyplace I go in town. You’re usually not going to be served by some zit-faced employee whose legal drinking experience can be counted in months. I like that.
…so now we sail into Carnival Season, with the added advantages and hassles of hosting a Super Bowl. May we all learn the new traffic patterns quickly and find the fastest way around the construction zones. I’m interested to see which teams will be playing. That’ll tell us a lot about what kinds of food and drink we can expect.
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.