I know how to ask questions.
In fact, after more than 20 years as a print/broadcast reporter, I think I’m fairly seasoned in the art of interrogation. But, just as the salesman can never say ‘no,’ neither can I seem to avoid the heat of the third degree.
And I do a damn poor job of answering, too — especially when the questions are as loaded as Willie Nelson after a live performance.
Would you like to go to a movie tonight?
I’ve been married to the same woman for almost 20 years. She knows that I’d rather crawl (nude) over broken glass — with my hair on fire — than go to a movie theater.
My reasons are plenty, but I’m mainly turned off at the sound of other people cackling or discussing scenes. As well, I usually cause some sort of marital controversy when I insist on being separated by an empty seat. (I like to stretch out.) Also, if I wanted to pay $10 for a 10-cent bucket of popcorn, I’d order room service at the Ritz Carlton.
And here’s the kicker. My feelings about this haven’t changed. Ever. Yet she still asks, occasionally.
The question unloaded: ‘I know you hate the movie theater and chick flicks in general, but I really want you to go with me — and sit next to me. If you go, I might be interested in some romance later.’
How much money do you have in your side account?
I had a secret bank account. Once. Nowadays, in the interest of full disclosure (and to avoid a repeat of World War III), my bride is aware that I keep a modest amount of side-project money in a different account. It’s not much. But, it has come in handy a time, or two.
The question unloaded: ‘I need you to transfer $150 into the regular checking account. I didn’t budget for all of the beer you bought last week.’
Are you planning on coming straight home?
This one’s a doozy and it causes my heart to stop for about three seconds almost every time I hear it. As a law-abiding grown man, I want to respond ‘What’s it to you?’ But instead, I tend to start stuttering as I search for an answer — usually ‘Uh … Do I want to come straight home?’
The question unloaded: ‘We waited dinner on you yesterday because you saw someone you knew at the beer store — and y’all talked for an hour.’ -or- ‘I need you to stay at work an extra 20 minutes, then go 15 miles out of your way to pick up your daughter from one-act play practice.’
Are you busy?
This is the mother of all loaded questions.
By answering ‘no’ or ‘sort of,’ I’ve found myself roped into speaking engagements, fundraisers and major projects for the little old lady down the street. That answer has also garnered me an audience spot at the weekly get-together of the local pyramid scheme and countless situations in which I was asked to ‘hold this’ while someone else welded, cut or tightened.
The question unloaded: ‘I’m about to screw you out of any free time that you might have looked forward to. And I’ll make you feel guilty if you even think of saying yes.’
That said, after I go way out of my way to see a bad movie (that I’ll pay for with my side-account), I’m all yours.
Laissez les bon temps rouler! I’m no more Cajun (or Creole) than Chef Boyardee. But, Mardi Gras is the time of year around here when everyone shares in the heritage and culture and lets the good times roll! Though I served my Cajun-style hankerings on the same plate, each of these dishes can truly stand on their own as a meal.
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Cajun Fried Chicken
3½ lb – Chicken (broiler fryer), cut into 8 pieces
1 qt – Buttermilk
1 tsp – Cayenne Pepper (or more, for heat lovers)
1 tsp – White Pepper
1 tsp – Ground Celery Seed
1 TB – Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 TB – Kosher salt
All-purpose flour (about 2-3 cups)
3-4 slices – Bacon
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
In a large container, pour buttermilk over chicken pieces, making sure to coat each piece well. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or (preferably) overnight.
Combine seasonings in a small bowl. Set aside. Place flour in a pie pan or large paper/plastic bag (this makes for easier cleanup).
If deep frying: Add enough oil to fryer or pan so that chicken is covered. Add bacon. Heat to 350ºF.
If frying in cast iron: Add about 1 inch of oil to the skillet. Add Bacon. Heat to 325ºF.
One piece at a time, remove chicken from buttermilk bath. Pull back the skin and add a pinch of the spice mixture. Dredge each seasoned piece in flour — only dredging what you are about to fry. (Flouring the whole bird at once will result in some soggy pieces. You don’t want that.)
When oil has reached the proper temperature and bacon has cooked, remove bacon and gently place floured chicken pieces in pan or deep fryer. Do not crowd the pan.
Cook for about 13-15 minutes (less for wings and white meat), turning occasionally to ensure even browning (in cast iron). Place cooked pieces on a paper plate to drain (this works so much better than a rack). Season with additional cayenne pepper and salt, if desired.
Fried Chicken 101
- Many recipes call for adding the seasoning to the flour. Hot oil does quite a number on herbs and spices, often allowing only the salt flavor to come through. Avoid this by seasoning below the skin, then coating with flour.
- Adding a few bacon slices to the oil adds a subtle but excellent flavor to the chicken.
- Don’t have buttermilk? Milk also works well in tenderizing poultry.
- Watch the temperature. You don’t necessarily have to use a thermometer, but just know that cast iron is an excellent heat conductor. That 325ºF oil will drop slightly when you add chicken pieces. But, it will also rise again fairly quickly. Don’t be surprised if you have to lower the heat a little.
Cajun Red Beans & Rice
1 lb – Small Red beans (or small Kidney beans)
1 – Medium yellow onion, chopped
1 – Bell pepper, chopped
4 – Celery stalks, chopped
2 – Garlic cloves, minced
1 – Smoked ham hock or pork neck bone
1 TB – Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp – Cayenne pepper (or more/less, depending on your taste)
1 tsp – Dried Thyme
1 lb – Smoked sausage, sliced
Kosher salt and Louisiana-style Hot Sauce, to taste
Cover beans with water and soak overnight -or- Cover beans with 2-3 inches of water, bring to a light boil, turn off heat and allow to sit for an hour. Drain.
In a large pot, cover beans with about 3 inches of water. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic (known as ‘The Holy Trinity’ of Cajun cooking) and ham hock. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a very light boil. Cook for about 1½ hours, stirring occasionally. If you notice that the liquid has reduced to below the surface of the beans, add more.
After 1½ hours of cooking, beans should still have their shape and be al dente. Add black pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme and smoked sausage.
Bring pot back to a light boil and cook, stirring regularly, for about 30-45 minutes. Season to taste. Serve with long grain white rice.
Serves 5, with enough for leftovers. (Cajun Red Beans taste better the next day.)