Belles Calas

When it rained, we sat in the kitchen and listened to old Tante Zoe. She talked all the time when she was cooking, about what she was making and how she knew how to do it right from the old days.

If she had a big dinner for special guests, she’d say why this or that was served “To the mayor, not the bishop!” Then she’d sing and talk to herself, look up, smile and coo like the old dove she was. She made us molasses butter for our morning biscuits.

Poppa smoked cigars in the house, but Zoe said she knew better than to smell up the furniture cushions, and took her pipe to the swing on the back porch. Zoe ran that house more than he did. He knew that Zoe was listened to up and down St. Charles, and that was saying a lot.

I don’t think Mama ever knew Zoe the way everyone else did, but Mama was Zoe’s lamb from the manger and that was that.

Sunday mornings she’d fry rice beignets, the calas. She’d tell how they used to sing, the ladies in the Quarter selling their calas, “Belles calas! Mo gaignin calas, guaranti vous ve bons! Belles calas, belles calas!” Then she’s laugh and say how the fancy girls would run down the stairs with baskets to fill and take them back up to the bedrooms where the men were waiting with strong black coffee.

Calas (Beignets Riz)

Add two packets of yeast mixed with a cup of warm water and a tablespoon of sugar to two cups over-cooked mashed rice. Cover and let it work overnight. In the morning, add four beaten eggs, a half cup sugar, a tablespoon of pure vanilla and pinches of nutmeg and allspice. Blend in enough plain flour to make a thick batter, and drop by spoonful into very hot oil. When browned, drain, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.

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