Devin Meyers proves once again that New Orleans can cast the most unusual of creative spells.
Meyers is in thrall to the red bean. The parade is an homage, though, not only to culinary tradition, but to Mardi Gras Indians (members must make a new bean suit every year) and second-line parades.
"I'm not a native, " said Meyers, 26. "My people in South Carolina don't really eat beans. In college, I studied abroad in Brazil, and the Brazilian diet is so bean-heavy it's amazing. You eat them twice a day, every day.
"After about a year of that I was addicted to beans."
When he moved to New Orleans, red beans and rice on Mondays became his favorite meal.
His first Halloween here, he decided to hot-glue red beans onto an old suit. And he is the kind of person, Meyers says, who doesn't do things halfway.
"People just freaked out, " he said of the reaction to his costume. "People took tons of photos of me. By the time Mardi Gras came around, I thought OK, this could be my tradition, but a culinary tradition.
"It's all about co-mingling all the different influences of the city."
This year will be the third Redbeans Parade, but the first with an official parade permit. The first year, Meyers invited a few friends over and made a Power Point presentation.
"I really like cooking a lot, " Meyers said. "The way I've kind of suckered people into joining Redbeans is cook a big meal for them. They know that if it's Sunday, (they) get to work on (their) suit, and eat."
On Sundays, he makes four or five courses. Thursdays, guess what? He makes red beans.
A week ago Sunday, people, hot glue and legumes were wall-to-wall inside the house in Faubourg Marigny that Meyers shares with a roommate. There was room in the kitchen, though, for his big spread of two roasted chickens, red beans and rice (of course), crawfish cornbread, crawfish matzo ball soup, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, quiche and more.
Potluck contributions included a French cassoulet (white beans, duck and two kinds of sausages) and a king cake from the nearby Cake Cafe. The group will debut their suits at an open-to-the-public Prom Party on Sunday night. Members vote for the best male and female costumes, naming the winners king and queen. The most outrageous costume is named the princess.
Caroline Thomas was voted queen last year for a costume that included sleeves of overlapping bay leaves on what looks like an old band jacket. She's had to try to outdo herself in 2011, she said.
Thus, she has spent her time gluing beans, feathers and medallions to a seersucker suit for an homage to the iconic Huey P. Long.
The back of the jacket has a large black-and-white portrait of the famous governor, surrounded in glittered beans and red maribou, with a pelican's wings (made of beans) spreading above the whole thing. The three-dimensional pelican head (in white rice) hovers over the rim of the medallion. Above the pelican, ostrich feathers create an even more surreal frame.
It was "great to get the full exposure" of reigning as queen last year, Thomas said, but she's "totally terrified to be at the front of the parade." She's beaning (their verb) a few straw-type plastic hats to give away at their stops along the route.
"People seem to be really excited to see us, " Thomas said. "People say, 'What are you? What is this?' and they start following us. It's fun to see it grow."
Members also make a suit for their grand marshal for life, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson.
Watch for puns and historical figures in the parade, too: This is a literate group. Harry Houbeani and Bean Franklin (with lightning bolts zigzaging down the sleeves) will make appearances, as will a pack of revolutionaries -- Reds -- including Stalin and Lenin.
Several of the members are teachers. Meyers teaches social studies at the International School. He came to New Orleans on a volunteer photography project about nine months after Katrina. "I realized I loved the city and kept coming back. I graduated from college in Charleston and decided to move here, " he said. And he's here for life, he added.
When he started the Redbeans Parade, most of the participants were in their 20s and 30s. Twenty people made suits the first year, and 40 the next. The group is now all ages, and a couple of children will be walking with them next year, Meyers said.
The making of the suits is open to individual interpretation.
"Anyone can do whatever they feel, " Meyers said. "We've had people use jelly beans. It's really loose ... The creativity of the group is fun to see, because it's the whole spectrum."
His suit this year has Louisiana beaned on the back, with country-and-western-style florals on the front. The pants are totally trimmed in beans, and with it he wears a legume cummerbund. The total weight: about 50 pounds.
To finance the group, for the first two years, Meyers asked for $125 dues. That covered meals, craft supplies, the brass band and a big party the night before the parade.
"This year, we kind of got sponsored, " Meyers said. "By Camellia Beans. I sent them a letter. They're providing all the beans.
"My life is ridiculous. I come home and look at my beans collection and laugh. I have 400 pounds of beans in my living room in organized plastic containers."
Not all has been smooth and creamy in Redbeans Parade world headquarters, however. The first year, Meyers learned the hard way about long-term bean-suit storage. After the parade, members put their suits away.
"After a little while, you go back and look at it and realize, mice have eaten your rice, " Meyers said. "And these little tiny white things like sawdust or sand on the jacket are moth eggs.
"One type of moths just go for it. Before you knew it, there were little fluttering moths all over the apartment. It's something I'm trying really hard to avoid this year and every year. I think it's under control. We coat the bean suits in lacquer and it seems to protect them.
"It's been the learning curve of the beans."
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Devin Meyers shared original recipes he serves to members of his Redbeans Parade group as they work on their costumes.
2 stalks celery, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced, mashed
2 bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon cayenne
1/2 pound smoked ham with bones
2 slices bacon
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
2 pounds dry red beans, sorted, rinsed
Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Add water to 3 inches above the beans.
Bring to boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 3 hours, until the beans are soft. Add more water if needed. Always have the beans slightly submerged.
Crawfish Matzo Ball Soup
2 whole chickens
Pepper, bay leaves, carrots and yellow onion
1 stick butter
2 cups carrots
2 cups onions
1 cup sliced celery
1 tablespoon crawfish boil dry seasoning mix
6 eggs, slightly beaten
6 tablespoons chicken fat (skimmed from the broth)
3 cups matzo meal
3 teaspoons each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon diced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon crawfish boil dry seasoning mix
1 package (10 ounces) frozen crawfish tails, thawed
Make broth: The day before or earlier in the day, in a very large pot, combine chickens, pepper, bay leaves, carrots and yellow onions with a gallon of water. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Do not stir. After 2 hours of simmering, remove chicken and let cool until you can remove the skin and bones. Shred chicken and return to broth.
Refrigerate if making ahead.
To make soup: Melt butter on low heat, add onions, carrots, celery and seasoning. Stir together on low heat for 5 minutes.
Add the gallon of chicken broth. Bring to a simmer.
To make matzo balls: Mix eggs, chicken fat, matzo meal, salt, pepper, parsley, seasoning and crawfish tails in a large bowl. Blend well. Chill in refrigerator for several hours or until cold.
When the dough is cold, form into 1-inch balls using a spoon and your hands.
Drop the balls into simmering broth.
Cover and do not lift the lid as you cook for 45 minutes.
Notes: You can drain the matzo balls from the broth and freeze them on a cookie sheet if you want to make a double batch and use some later.
For lighter matzo balls, increase egg and simmer a bit longer.
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Food editor Judy Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3485. Follow her on Twitter at JudyWalkerTP.
INFOBOX: Redbean Pre-parade Prom Party
What: Party with the Redbeans in their suits!
When: Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m.
Where: 527 Elysian Fields Ave., $25 ticket includes drinks. Live music by Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson, Shovels and Rope, Margie Perez, 6 Wheels of Justice, Daria Dzurik