By Charles Chandler
There are many things I love about February in Michigan, the weather being one. It is predictably cold and snowy, not at all like miserable March. These big lake snow bands just fascinate me, one minute almost a whiteout then a few minutes later beautiful blue Michigan sky. I love the first snow because it covers up all the brown, including those autumn leaves that did not get raked as planned. If it gets deep enough you can go cross country skiing or snowshoeing out on the North Country Trail. Other February favorites are the Super Bowl, crazy good college basketball, my daughter and Punxsutawney Phil’s birthday, West Michigan Luthier Concert at the Dogwood Center and the biggy......Valentines Day.
And being from the South I kinda miss the Mardi Gras season especially the foods. If you can’t make it to one of the great Carnival Cities this year you can join me and other foodies and create your own up north Mardi Gras celebration. It’s easier than you think. First start playing some traditional Carnival music like Dixieland Jazz or my favorite Zydeco, wear something purple, green and gold and get plenty of those traditional bead necklaces of the same color. Then head on down to the Gala Gourmet on 18 State Road in Newaygo for a big surprise.
Terrie Ortwein and her culinary crew at the Gala Gourmet are serving up traditional Cajun and Creole dishes during the month of February. These include the cornerstone of New Orleans cuisine the famous Poor Boy and Muffuletta sandwiches. Pair these up with a bowl of their spicy Gumbo and you will surely forget about the cold and snow outside. I had an Oyster Poor Boy because this is a rare treat here in the river valley and as far as I know the nearest place to get these delicious shellfish is up at Pearl's New Orleans Kitchen in Elk Rapids.
The Gala crew rarely serves fried food but someone in the back of the house is an expert because frying oysters is a practiced art with timing and temperature supercritical. My “Po Boy”was perfect, oysters lightly breaded, not overcooked and dressed with fresh lettuce, tomato, with touch of house sauce served on a crusty roll.
Our family tradition was to always brighten up the warm oysters with a few drops of the original McIlhenny brand red Tabasco sauce and fresh lemon juice. The classic Muffuletta is a hearty working man’s sandwich and when you add a bowl of gumbo can be a light lunch for two. Terrie O also offers the delicious Jambalaya as a take home prepared meal.
I took my Muffuletta home and am still munching on the huge sandwich with my compliments to the Chef because the traditional olive tapenade relish has to be homemade. As for the Jambalaya, Dianne and I had that with a small salad for a pre Valentine dinner. My great aunt Amore Hebert from Baton Rouge, La set the culinary standard in our family and she would have served this dish.
Terrie’s Jambalaya has all the classic spicy ingredients with a light tomato base that added that signature color to the perfectly cooked rice. This is a hearty meal and perfect for two. Ask Terrie to select a wine from their extensive stocks and make it a celebration dinner and don’t forget a loaf of crusty French bread. Fat Tuesday is fast approaching and it will soon be Lent so don’t hold back. Browse that enticing Deli Case and load up on the desserts. A cup of strong French Roast coffee and one of the house special dark chocolate turtle cookie are my first choice.
Now back to the Mardi Gras beads.
After you and preferably a group of your friends have had a great Cajun or Creole meal at the Gala Gourmet, walk outside and pause a moment on the sidewalk. Then when one of those big noisy log trucks that frequently rumble down State Street begins slowing for the corner traffic light squint your eyes. If you do it right I promise that log truck will look just like one of those crazy floats rolling along Royal Street heading down to the French Quarter.
Then yell ‘Laissez le bon temps rouler’ really loud and fling your beads at the log truck and there you have it.
Mardi Gras with no hangover and a lot less travel money.