For a young girl from South Louisiana, moving to Southern California was scary and overwhelming. Everything was different - the sounds, the smells, the accents… The first night in the new house I laid in bed listening to Spanish being yelled and to what I incorrectly assumed was Mariachi music (I was properly educated on this later) vibrating through my bar covered windows. It was an almost 100% Latino neighborhood. I felt like I had moved to another country. Yet, all it took was one party to change it all.
Cautiously headed over to my neighbor's son's birthday party. I knocked on the door and nervously stood there waiting to hand over my offering of red beans and rice hoping I wouldn’t stand out like a giant pale sore thumb in the corner. I swear I heard angels when that door opened. First thing I heard was the loud female voices coming from the kitchen. You would have thought they were fighting but I knew that sound. I had grown up with that sound. It was women cooking, laughing and trying to talk over each other while simultaneously ribbing each other. It was so familiar to me it felt like that hug only your Maw-Maw can give you. As I headed to the backyard more familiar sounds bombarded me- a loud stream of Latino music, a group of men of short stature, at a grill. All of them have a beer in their hand and obviously, none of them had just started drinking. I couldn’t understand the words but I recognized the language. The language of men who worked hard all week and enjoyed nothing more than a few beers outside while telling story after story and seeing who could get the best insult in. Just when I think it couldn’t get any better, there it was - the food tables. Multiple tables covered with every bean and rice, long-stewed meats and spicy sauces. My red beans fit right in. I knew at that moment I had found my own California version of a Cajun family. The music and food were a bit different but the feeling was the same. All night the ladies kept telling me to eat and from this, they started calling me “Flaquita” and never stopped from that day. If they could only see me now, no more skinny little girl to be found now. They became my California family. I learned a lot from those loud ladies and their eternally full kitchens.
Fast Forward twenty years and many pounds later and I meet one of my favorite people in the world. My friend Michael. He is part Mexican and part Cajun. He is a true MexiCajun and it is every wonderful thing I ever could you could imagine it to be. A whole lot of love with just the right amount of spice. He has left us to do Missionary work and we miss him every day. One day I will make my flan recipe and I will share one of my many Michael stories with y’all (he makes a mean flan). But till then, this recipe is a representation of my favorite parts of that day in Cali and makes me think of Michael when I make it. It may seem odd at first when you read the ingredients but believe me it will all make sense once you take that first bite. This chili and Michael are proof that Cajun and Latino when combined, can make some incredible things.