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"When the wash was clean and hauled in off the line, the beans were ready..."
"Where you been?"
I lived in uptown New Orleans in the 1980s and ate at least two or three meals a week at the Camellia Grill. Yes, that Camellia Grill, the one with the T-shirt which James Carville made famous.
And I almost always made it to the Grill on Monday or, as I used to think of it, red beans and rice day. Supposedly, back in the days when washing clothes was a major chore even for the middle classes, folks used to soak dried red beans for a few hours and then slow cook them for hours more. When the wash was clean and hauled in off the line, the beans were ready.
Camellia Grill serves a very healthy portion of red beans and rice along with a couple of slices of buttered white toast and a hamburger patty. I used to have the beans and rice with wheat (you had to ask) toast and no patty. And a Diet Coke. And the waiters, good guys one & all, knew that was my order.
I'd sit down at the counter, shake hands with a waiter who had probably served me a couple of days ago or certainly at least once within the last 10 days, and nod when he asked "The usual?" Then we shook our heads over the latest failings of the Saints or the hot weather: stupidity and humidity, our favorite topics.
Anyway, I left New Orleans for Charlottesville in 1990. I made the rough calculation that I'd been in New Orleans for 51 out of 52 Mondays before I left, and that I'd eaten red beans and rice at the Camellia Grill on 50 of those Mondays.
I thought I'd be back to Louisiana frequently enough to visit and, not being big on goodbyes anyway, didn't tell my friends at the Grill I was leaving. As it turned out, it was about a year before I returned for red beans and rice. I walked in the Grill, took my seat, and shook hands with one of my favorite waiters.
"Where you been?"
"Virginia?" He shook his head, clearly aware that red beans and rice were about as common at UVA as good mole is in Copenhagen. Then he said the words that brought me home...I mean, home: "The usual?"
"Dona Maria ...is VERY good--even without McDonald's nuggets.."
I was so excited to listen to the program that spoke of the "perfect"...mole! Now, I have always also used Dona Maria and it is VERY good--even without McDonald's nuggets! ... I was born and raised in Northern Colorado.. as white as possible! BUT... I LOVE the roots of my ... region. I just finally was able to check out the Mama's mole...Could this woman ever PLEASE invite me to her home so that I could WATCH and learn how to make incredible MOLE??? I don't know that I could replicate her words without her action!???
"She stopped. She stared. She popped her question. ..."
“You’re having ICE CREAM for breakfast?”
Was she surprised? Appalled? Intrigued, perhaps?
Brooke Shields was one year behind me at Princeton. I had had several points of contact with her. Up until that moment the most intimate, in its own singular way, was also the most indirect. It was the time I ran into a wacko who had driven and flown from somewhere in the Midwest (Iowa?) to meet Brooke in the hopes of getting Michael Jackson’s phone number. And EVERYONE knew that Brooke and MJ were tight. See? Could I please show her where Brooke lived? Uh, no.
Not altogether true. I knew that Brooke lived in the college next to mine. I think our cafeterias shared a kitchen, though it’s been a long time, and I’m not sure that I ever knew the truth of that. Certainly it was possible to move from one cafeteria to the other without setting foot outside. So here’s the thing.
Sometime during my sophomore year (her first year) I made it to breakfast after an all-nighter – the ONLY time I ever made it to breakfast. I noticed Brooke sitting with some friends. After breakfast I made my way to the ice cream/sherbet freezer, located right next to the exit from the cafeteria. There I was, minding my own business, scooping some sherbet -- then, as now, probably my favorite comfort food – when along came Brooke and friends, on their way out of the cafeteria. She stopped. She stared. She popped her question. Cool, I responded:
"'Where can I find, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?' She looked at us knowingly and with a smirk on her lips said..."
Reading about Michele's love of Judy Blume evoked a particular memory from the beginning of second grade. Even though I was the youngest of four girls, I felt terrified to ask anybody about what they truly meant when they said they "got" their "period." There was laughter, there was pain, but there was never a straight story. I was told, "You'll find out, " or "You won't have to wait long, we all got it early," but what was "it?" My friend Margaret told me that she knew of a book we could read. She was an only child, so she really didn't have any other resources. Because of her name, she heard "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret," many times before she knew what any of those older girls were teasing her about. But when she deciphered all the taunting, she figured out that this book was about "it." We set out, determined to find our answers. We were seven, and we had already read Blubber, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, etc. So going to the school library and asking for a Judy Blume book was as easy as pie. We walked in and saw Mrs. Woodfork, our librarian, wearing the pointiest bra you've ever seen. This made us giggle. Our nerves made our giggles escalate and soon we were laughing so hard we couldn't speak. Finally, we gained composure and I "calmly" asked, "Where can I find, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?" She looked at us knowingly and with a smirk on her lips said, "You girls are too young for that book, why not try one of Beverly Cleary's books." Censorship! Clearly if there was one thing that she could have said to us that would of made us even more determined to find that book, that was it.
After further scheming we asked Stacey, a girl down the street who was a couple of years older than us. She laughed, but by that time we were thick skinned. Anyway, she gave us the book, and that is what we wanted. We ravaged that book and after reading it, moved into an informed state of waiting for "it." Thank you Judy Blume.
"...pan dulce, taco trucks, chicharrones..."
You brought back some pretty good memories from my time in NYC searching not only for mole but also pan dulce, taco trucks, chicharrones and other foods I considered essential.
What made me relate even more to your story was that I am also from Oxnard. We go back every so often to visit family and I think even more importantly, to eat some good Mexican home cooking. (I didn't think many Oxnardians made it out past the borders of Ventura County).
My mom makes it from scratch except she uses Ibarra for the chocolate. I think Ibarra is much better tasting than Abuelita by the way. (The chicken McNuggets was a good touch).
"Now I just need some shredded chicken mcnuggets.."
I can't believe how hard it is to find mole sauce in New York. Right after your segment I went for a drive (I live in suburban, Eagan, MN). On the way back I noticed that a Mexican grocery store had just opened a block from my apartment. I went in, and sure enough, they had mole sauce. Now I just need some shredded chicken mcnuggets :-)
"...'Chicken McNuggets Mole' had me laughing for 45 minutes...
Michelle's segment on "Chicken McNuggets Mole" had me laughing for 45 minutes. Maybe she has something there. "Fast food Mole." "Mole in a cup." "Mole Burgers." The possibilities are endless.
I'm half Mexican, half Italian, 100% gringo. I have to admit to prefering chicken cacciotore over mole.
"..tell [Michele] to head downtown and take the F train--it's the
quickest way to get to Sunset Park, Brooklyn...New York's Mexican comunity.."
Maybe Michelle Serros hasn't been in New York long enough to venture to the outer boroughs, or maybe she's one of those Manhattan-centric folks. But tell her to head downtown and take the F train--it's the quickest way to get to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. What she will find is New York's Mexican community. Taquerias, freshly made (and unfrozen) tortillas, and plenty of mole. In fact ,my favorite Productos Mexicanos store sells not only Dona Maria, but also the owner's homemade Mole. Not to mention Mexican chocolate and all kinds of chiles. 5th Avenue in Brooklyn is lined with tiny restaurants and bakeries selling $2 tacos. Now that's a real New York bargain!
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