Sometimes Love Tastes Like Red Beans and Rice



One of my favorite weekly traditions since we moved to L.A. is Couple’s Dinner. When we meet a couple we like, we invite them over for dinner one weeknight to get to know the fam, have a good meal, and share our stories. I plan the menu and T.C. makes sure to be home with enough time to whip the kids (and the house) in shape.

I love everything about Couple’s Dinner, except the meal planning. Every single time my husband and I decide on a couple to invite over, I send them the same email: “Hey, TC and I like you and we’d love to have you over for dinner. Let me know your allergies and preferences, and I’ll put together a menu. What’s your favorite kind of food?”

And every time, they email something back like, “Hey! We’d love to and we’re flexible!”

This flexibility has been troublesome for me. My sister used to joke that I’m a Black Martha Stewart and I come by it honestly; I need plans and parameters, recipes and requirements, and lots and lots of fresh cut flowers.

Our most recent Couple’s Night guests sent a gracious email saying, “We love food, so whatever you make would be great” and the Martha in me just lost it. In those moments, I totally get why Jesus told Martha to calm the heck down, because I was seething! I spent that evening whining to my husband.

“Seriously,” I began, scrubbing away at the range with my excess frustration. “Why can’t these people be vegan or gluten-free or something! Why do they have to be so laid back and ‘whatever’ about their preferences? Don’t they know I’m over here going crazy trying to plan a nice dinner for them? I feel like I’m stuck making roasted chicken and veggies at Couple’s Dinner … again!”

“Well … babes … why don’t you make something else? Why don’t you make something you love to cook? You haven’t made Red Beans and Rice for Couple’s Dinner yet. You should do that!”

I looked at my husband playing on his phone as if he had just suggested I add maple syrup to grits and try to pass it off as “Breakfast Risotto.” Why in the world would I make something so common, so everyday, for our guests? He clearly had no interest in helping me make a good impression, build lifetime friends or achieve ultimate happiness. Red beans at a dinner for new friends, is relational suicide.

First let’s get real, y’all: beans make you gassy and nerves make you even more so. If there’s anything I DO NOT WANT TO DO, it’s to have to go to the bathroom for longer than 10 seconds or—even worse—accidentally pass gas around new people! Flatulence and forever friendship just don’t mix.

Now, let’s talk economics. Red Beans is our family’s frugal time go-to. Oh snap, we had to pay more in electricity this month—it’s red beans for a few days. We’re trying to save for a family trip? Cool, I’ll make beans for a week. We’re giving a little extra to that missionary who visited church this month? Ok, beans it is!

Making Red Beans and Rice for our guests felt like admitting we’re on a budget. It felt like a failure. Sure, I can make a huge pot for guests and it’ll provide dinner for our family for several days after, but the vulnerability required of me to make such a universally frugal meal for guests was just too much to bear.

And finally, if being prissy and prideful wasn’t enough, I added perfectionist to the bundle to round out my entertaining hang-ups. There’s not much I can do to gussy up red beans and rice. It’s simple: 1 lb of red beans, one chopped onion, two cloves of garlic, a bay leaf and water. Later on you should add some Tony’s and let that simmer for several hours, and there … dinner is served! It’s a completely laid back dish.

I love red beans for my family. I love it for myself. But, when my husband suggested it, I didn’t love it for my guests. It didn’t feel “enough.” Too simple. Too common.

“Just think about it, babes,” he countered.

I rolled my eyes, sat down to plan and made a terrifying discovery: Couple’s Dinner would fall on my son’s tenth birthday. The very son who asks for red beans and rice for his birthday dinner—every year. This boy loves red beans and rice so much he not only wrote it into one of his essays for school, he asked me to specifically teach him how to make it because, “it’s the one thing I’ll cook for my wife.” There was no way I could get around it: we were having Couple’s Dinner and I was making Red Beans and Rice.

The morning of Couple’s Dinner came and as I soaked the beans and chopped the other ingredients I prayed. I prayed for peace and acceptance and that my stank attitude wouldn’t ruin the dish. My godmother used to tell me, “The most important ingredient, Osheta, is love.” In that moment, I realized that all my prissiness and pride and perfectionism were the antithesis of love.

So, while the beans cooked, I prayed that love would spill out from the pot onto the table and around my home. Slowly, the Martha in me was tamed. Our friends came over and we celebrated my ten-year-old. We played question games around the table, and sang the Stevie Wonder version of “Happy Birthday” to my son and yes, I served them rice, beans, sausage, and cornbread. Total meal cost: $11.68.

While I couldn’t boast that I served the most perfect rack of lamb or the table setting was flawless, I can say I loved. I loved with every bean and grain of rice and crumb of honey cornbread. And I think, no, I know, that one ingredient was enough.