In spite of my Sicilian heritage, I've never been much of a Catholic.
Actually, that's not true. Until about 5th grade, I was all kinds of Catholic. I was baptized, made my Holy Communion dressed as a chubby little bride-of-Christ, chose a Confirmation Name (Maria Goretti, look it up) and solemnly confirmed my everlasting allegience (and a percentage of any future money I might have) to the Catholic Church. The nuns in my Catholic school had all us girls convinced that The Convent should be our primary goal and destination. The weak-willed (defined as "those who might consider having sex someday"), had other options: secretary, teacher, or nurse. The truly useless could just settle on being a wife and mother, but only if we promised never to use birth control, produce at least six little souls for The Church, and send them all to Catholic schools.
Of course, I wanted to be a nun. I figured it would make everybody happy and I could stop worrying about burning in hell. Then, suddenly, it was over. In a flash. I was reading one of my nannu's National Geographic magazines, and I saw a picture of a woman in a pink-and-black-striped bathing suit. It was gorgeous. The best thing I'd ever seen. As of that moment, I no longer wanted to be a nun. Nuns didn't wear bathing suits. Ever. Briefly, I considered substituting "missionary" for "nun" as my career choice, since I imagined that missionaries could wear bathing suits, especially if they were in some place like Hawaii. I have no idea why I thought Hawaii needed missionaries in the latter-half of the 20th century (or ever, as I'm sure most Hawaiians would agree), but I was determined to somehow fit that bathing suit into a solemnly-confirmed-Catholic lifestyle. Then I decided I was being stupid, so I just gave it up.
Saved by fashion. I never did wear that bathing suit, but it served its purpose. I was cured for life.
However, the one thing that I've always liked about Catholicism is Lent. Lent is brilliant, except for the whole ashes-on-the-forehead thing. Lent comes right at the end of all the fattening holidays and, if you do it right, forces you to eat sensibly for forty days. You're back to normal just in time for the Easter Bunny.
Here's a recipe for Mardi Gras, your last hurrah before Lent: jambalaya. Some of my Sicilian antecedents came to Chicago via Louisiana. Some stayed there. I wish I could tell you that I got this recipe from them. But I didn't. I saw somebody make it once on TV.
First, mix up a small batch of Cajun spice, which is basically equal parts black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, and salt. You will need about two teaspoons of it. If you don't feel like mixing it yourself, you can usually find "Cajun Spice" in the grocery store.
Chop up two green peppers, a big onion, a couple of stalks of celery, and 4-6 cloves of garlic (make sure you take the seeds and stuff out of the green peppers). In a big pot, heat up about a half-a-cup of olive oil and a big pat of butter. Saute the vegetables in it until they're soft. Add two big cans of Italian plum tomatoes. Bring all that to a boil, turn down the heat, and let it simmer awhile. In the meantime, cut up some smoked (this is important) sausage into small pieces and put it in the pot. You can also add some cut-up (cooked) chicken. And/or some shrimp. Whatever you like or whatever you have in the fridge. I use the last of the leftover turkey that's been sitting in my freezer since Thanksgiving. It's perfect.
Simmer that all together for another while. ("Ma, how long is 'a while'?" "About a half-hour, forty-five minutes, Nikki.") The tomatoes will get soft. Smash them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Now, add a two cups of water and a cup-and-a-half of uncooked rice. Stir. Bring to a boil again, turn down the heat to "low", cover the pot, and cook for about 20 more minutes. Until the rice is done. Then stir in two teaspoons of the Cajun spice. Add salt to taste.
Serve the jambalaya with chopped scallions, tabasco sauce, red wine, and French bread.
Have a party. And Sister Connie says, laissez les bon temps rouler!