Time now to study this year's Feasting Season. That's a survey of the food that finds its way onto plates, forks, and spoons, and in cocktail and wine glasses, and other sources of deliciousness during the fall season. The Feasting Season isn't entirely a hallmark of falling leaves, holidays, or songs as they play during the season. But those bits of the environment add marvelously to life right about now.
For me, the Feasting Season involves my annual religious retreat at Manresa Retreat House, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It's something I began during my college years, and it has continued ever since. Although it's about improving oneself and involves the Jesuits, you don't have to be of any particular religion.
Indeed, at the end of the four-day retreat, the main conversation is about the food that was served each day. My function in the program is to lead the grace before meals. At the end of the retreat, most of the participants ask me which dishes were the best, disagreeing if that's their mind. The kind of food served is home-style, and mostly the kind your mother served you.
The menu begins at Thursday night’s arrival dinner with spaghetti and meatballs. I can't remember ever having had this without it being anything less than excellent. Breakfast the next morning added light biscuits, grits, and grilled Canadian bacon, all decent but nothing special. One of my favorite Manresa stories I have often told involves biscuits, and the late great Warren LeRuth, who for many years was in my retreat group. Talking is forbidden, but Warren passed me a note once at breakfast. It read simply, “Not enough leavening in the biscuits.”
Friday's lunch showed off fried catfish and was one of the best meals in the entire retreat. It reminds me of what we say on the show about New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood. It comes to the table hot and greaseless, golden brown and delicious. The meatless lenten theme continued at dinner. with a delicious okra gumbo that was light in roux. This replaced a tuna casserole that I think most people had the same opinion as I since it is now gone.
Saturday's lunch was red beans and rice served with smoked sausage. The beans hold their shape and they are not too soupy, which is the cardinal rule of red beans, I think. The spice level is right on and there is no need for improvement here.
Dinner Saturday evening was another favorite, a delicious and tender roast pork. This is served with peas and green beans.
The closing meal at Sunday lunch is always fried chicken, which is also very good. It is served with dirty rice. White or dark meat used to be an option, but we take what we get now.
To my palate, the best meal of the retreat was the red beans and rice with smoked sausage served on Saturday. It's my job to say grace before meals , and I give this special attention in my introduction to it, because it's been that good for a long time. And everyone I talked to seemed to agree that I will likely laud Manresa's red beans once again next year, when I expect to appear there for the forty-seventh time.