Red Beans and Rice Monday, Jan 27 2014 

Growing up in the South, I grew to understand that both of my parents had eaten their share of beans during the Depression.  With dried beans, cured pork meat, and some rice, you had an inexpensive  meal to feed a dozen. And I suspect they did it with some frequency.

Red beans in progress.

Red beans in progress.

It was probably for that reason that we seldom had dried beans. We ate our fill of green beans, butter beans, field peas and snaps, but never dried beans. It was not until I was adult that I grew to know and love beans. My late mother-in-law was a master of the split pea. And I got to know lentils, and navy beans, and those colorful bean blends that Mainers love. But, it took numerous trips to the Gulf Coast for me to fall in love with red beans and rice.

It’s Monday. And in New Orleans, Monday was traditionally wash day. If you are washing clothes, scrubbing them on a wash board, and hanging them on a line to dry, what could be better than having a pot of beans cooking on the stove all day? I thought it was cliché, and then I had them at restaurants all over town. I had them between sets at Vaughan’s Lounge. I had them on Monday nights in bars uptown. They are as New Orleans as beads on Mardi Gras, but you can enjoy them on a weekly basis.

Of course, over the years of my New Orleans sojourn, I have taken up cooking red beans. Not every week mind you, but regularly enough that I don’t really need a recipe. However, for the rest of you, I will share. Enjoy.

  • 1 pound red kidney beans, dry
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (red makes a nice presentation)
  • 5 ribs celery, chopped
  • Garlic, I go for a lot, say 6 healthy cloves
  • 1 large smoked ham hock, substitute some cured ham, especially end pieces
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds mild or hot smoked sausage or andouille, sliced on the bias. I like to brown it before adding to the mixture.
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • As many dashes of hot sauce as you like
  • A few dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • Creole seasoning to taste; or red pepper and black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
Red beans and rice.

Red beans and rice.

Soak the beans overnight or bring the beans to a rolling boil. Make sure the beans are always covered by water, or they will discolor and get hard. Boil the beans for about an hour, until the beans are tender but not falling apart.

While the beans are boiling, sauté the Holy Trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper) until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. After the beans are boiled and drained, add the sautéed vegetables to the beans, then add the ham hock, smoked sausage, seasonings, and just enough water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2 hours at least, preferably more, until everything gets nice and creamy. Adjust seasonings as you go along. Stir occasionally, making sure that it doesn’t burn and/or stick to the bottom of the pot.

Serve generous ladles of beans over hot white long-grain rice, with good French bread and good beer.

YIELD: 8 servings

For vegetarians (I cook them this way about half the time)

  • Omit the ham hock, ham, and the smoked sausage.
  • Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil along with the seasonings.
  • Add 1 teaspoon (or enough as you like, to taste) of liquid smoke seasoning. The vegetable oil helps replace the fat you get from the sausage, and the liquid smoke flavoring helps replace the smokiness you get from the smoked sausage and smoked ham hock.

Enjoy!

Advertisements

Zatarain’s Sunday, Jan 19 2014 

Emile Zatarain, Sr.

Emile Zatarain, Sr.

There are a number of trademarks that are inextricably linked to New Orleans and one of those is celebrating a its 125th anniversary. In 1889, Emile Zatarain, Sr. founded a business at 925 Valmont Street in New Orleans. His first product was root beer extract, but that soon grew to include seasonings and bleach. The product line continued to expand and included spicy Creole mustard and various pickled vegetables.

In 1922, Zatarain turned the business over to his son Emile Zatarain, Jr., whose wife, Ida May, contributed her own recipes for this such as remoulade sauce and olive relish to the company’s produce line. In time, was purchased by a succession of larger companies. The business moved to nearby Gretna, LA and less profitable products like bleach and pickled vegetables fell by the wayside. In the 1970s it concurrently grew into a regional food supplier and institutional food service.

zatarainsIn 1985, the company featured some 60 products, but began marketing boxes rice dishes for which it became known across the United States. Anyone could add Creole spice to their dinners with a box of Dirty Rice, Gumbo Mix or Jambalaya Mix. It temporary marketed some products as “Cajun,” but eventually settled on the more refined “Creole” image.

In 2003, Zatarain’s truly became national when it was purchased by McCormick & Company, the world’s largest spice and seasoning company based in Maryland. Coincidentally, it too began in 1889 as a purveyor of root beer flavorings. The purchase gave the company both national and international distribution, but at its heart, it remains New Orleans-centric. Many of its products, such as crab boil and Creole mustard are aimed at Louisiana chefs and a discerning local market. And as proof, it began a campaign a few years back to make Mardi Gras a national holiday. Needless to say, that has never caught hold, but cooks far and wide have nevertheless “Jazzed it up with Zatarain’s.”

Rainy Monday Morning Monday, Mar 11 2013 

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

We’ve been in New Orleans about 36 hours and the weather has caught up with us. There are showers around this morning and there’s a good chance of thunderstorms in the area. It looks like our first day working at lowernine.org will be affected in some way or the other.

I’m sitting in a McDonald’s in Chalmette. The sun is not quite up. The service is friendly, but the term “fast food” is relative here. Fox is on TV; country is on the radio. One is reminded of being in Southern Louisiana when a patron crosses himself before eating his sausage biscuit.

Where to start: it has been an interesting and challenging weekend. Van number 2 got here first and settled into their accommodations at lowernine.org. I picked up my friend Kyle on the way in from the airport and got into the Lower Ninth about 6:00 pm in the evening. We went through the walk through at the All Souls Episcopal Church and Community Center just as Van number 1 arrived. The third van came in a couple of hours later.

IMG_0167The accommodations should be a challenge. Cots and air mattresses in the common areas. The problem is, we have to stow all bedding and belongings during the day because it is a community center. And more challenging: 33 volunteers (including 12 from the University of South Carolina) and two showers with spotty hot water, to say it nicely. We worked out a schedule for showers and kitchen use with the USC folks and the work week will tell how well it works.

I appropriated the privacy of the small library, which seems right. Group 1 stayed back a while to orient the incoming group, while Kyle and I headed into the City. The first agenda item was something to eat; the food court at the airport was but a distant memory. He wanted a poboy I wanted the briny taste of a muffaletta. Kyle told me he had read of a “new age” poboy place on Conti off of Bourbon. That sounded kind of like “military intelligence” of “jumbo shrimp,” so I had to bite, so to speak.

IMG_0168

Queen of the second line, March 2013.

It was in the back of the Erin Rose bar; the dining room as about 10 X 10 feet and the menu was intriguing to say the least. I had a “Hot Muff”, a cross between a Cuban sandwich and a muffaletta and Kyle had something that involved sucking pig, I think, but it looked as delicious as mine tasted. While we were waiting with a group Asian twenty-somethings with Texas accents, when in walked this apparition; what I can only describe as a tricked-out, professional second line dancer named Jennifer Jones. As weird as that was, I had just seen her on a repeat of Anthony Bourdain’s “Layover” a couple of nights before. Kyle ate as I tried to talk to her and eat my sandwich at the same time. I took her picture and ventured forth to find the St. Joseph”s Parade — and lost. By the time we were ready to stop and watch it, it seemed to have melted away into the quarter and the after parade dinner/dance.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina's, Uptown, March 2013.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina’s, Uptown, March 2013.

While most of my students explored the French Quarter for the first time (with the few blocks on Bourbon to find eats I had pretty much reached my quota for the trip), Kyle and I headed uptown to catch the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Tipitina’s. And it did not disappoint. While the personnel had shifted slightly from the last time, the heart and soul remained the same. They started at 11 pm; right on time for a 10 pm show and played through to 1 am. Because of the time, I crashed on Kyle’s sofa in Broadmoor.

By the time got to the Lower Ninth, the students were slowly emerging from their sleeping bags. We went to the local Walmart to buy groceries and provisions. And things continued to move slowly. We finally headed out late morning, with two of the groups exploring Armstrong Park and Congo Square on the edge of Treme. Afterwards, we all met at the Parkway Bakery on bayou St. John. Yes, poboys again. This time we went old school. I studied the menu over and over to find something new to order. The choices were myriad, but when you’ve tasted near perfection it’s hard to waiver; I went with the shrimp, fully dressed and a Barq’s. The wait was long, but it was worth it.

IMG_0240

With New Orleans class veterans, Kyle Murphy (2009 & 2011) and Kendra Hanlon (2010 & 2012), second line, March 2013.

Afterwards, most of us caught the beginning of the Keep ‘n It Real second line. It was overcast, but warm. The music was hot and the growing crowd was fully engaged. The students, Kyle and I were joined by another former student, Kendra. We all went well beyond the turn onto Broad Street. The students eventually peeled off while the three veterans soldiered on to the first stop before turning back.

We took in some music on Frenchmen Street: the ceremonial first Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat. We sat in Washington Square Park for a while, taking in the playing children, passersby, and chatty homeless. We met the entire group at the Praline Connection where students were introduced to the Afro-Creole menu and warm service. Among the etouffee, the ribs, the fried chicken, the red beans, and jambalaya were many smiles and full bellies.

IMG_0247

Dinner, Praline Connection, March 2013

I dropped Kyle off and headed up to Gentilly where we had been invited to a concert by Paul Sanchez at the Gentilly Baptist Church. Sanchez, along with singer Arsene DeLay and a couple of others gave us an hour and a half of mostly his songs, including a number of tunes from his musical “Nine Lives.” The students were rocking with the message of love and renewal and I got here some of favorites like “Fine in the Lower Nine,” Rebuild, Renew” and “Foot of Canal Street.”

The students, of course, headed back downtown. I followed them only so long to take a short walk on Frenchmen. I was tired form the second line and the clapping and the people watching. But I was not hungry. I had wisely taken the key so I headed back to All Souls, took a shower that might have been a degree or two warmer than body temperature and took it easy until they returned. I have to pace myself.

Besides, today we start to work.

Warning: my posts during spring break are usually the product of short blocks of down time, combined with reduced access to the internet. Because of time limitations (and poor eyesight) I most assuredly do not catch all typos and misspellings the first time around.  I apologize and please bear with me. I do hope to get around to correcting them during a more leisurely period.

10 Things I Like About New Orleans Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 

St. Louis Cathedral from the Algiers Ferry.

St. Louis Cathedral from the Algiers Ferry.

OK, nearly in the “10 days to New Orleans” window. So much to do; so little time. Yet the anticipation is building.

So, let’s do a random, stream of consciousness exercise: name 10 things I like about New Orleans that are probably not on the radar of the average tourist. In no rational order:

1) The ferry to Algiers. You can hop on a free ferry from the end of Canal Street to Algiers, part of New Orleans, but more like a quaint village on the turn of the Mississippi.

2) Friday night fish fries during Lent. They are everywhere throughout southern Louisiana. The food is often great and the opportunity to meet and talk to locals is outstanding. Best combination ever: Friday night fish fry with my friends Bruno and Ani in Algiers.

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine's Church

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s Church

3) Jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Treme. Words can’t do it justice because you have to experience the sights and sounds for yourself. The sign of peace goes on the 15 minutes — and it ends too soon.

4) Grilled meat sandwiches at a second line parade. Never tried the grilled pork chop sandwich because the smell and taste of the grilled sausage sandwich is like heroin. Last year I found myself getting upset because the vendor did not make my sandwich fast enough.

5) Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street. Traditional tunes by the Rites of Swing, with vocals by the lovely Yvette Voelker. The vibe is almost as good as the afternoon sunlight coming through the windows.

Jackson Square.

Jackson Square.

6) Sitting on benches people watching. Favorite spots: Jackson Square, the Moon Walk along the River, and Washington Square Park in the Marigny.

7) Abita Amber in “go cups” from Fritzel’s Jazz Pub on Bourbon Street. It is pretty much the only thing that brings me to the touristy part of Bourbon Street when I’m in the French Quarter.

8) Hole in the wall po’boy shops. Jimmy’s, a gas station near I-610, where you can get an enormous, wonderful po’boy for well under $10 bucks. This year, I’ll be staying across the street from a combination tire dealer/po’boy shop in the Lower Ninth. I expect it to be fabulous.

Louis Armstrong statue, Louis Armstrong Park..

Louis Armstrong statue, Louis Armstrong Park..

9) Walking the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery. I don’t think my students get it, but I love walking the battlefield where a rag-tag army under Andrew Jackson defeated the British Army in January 1815. The adjacent cemetery, which mainly hosts the remains of African-American soldiers from the Civil War, is equally peaceful and moving.

10) Louis Armstrong Park. Recently reopened, it contains monuments to New Orleans cultural icons, from Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong to “Tootie” Montana. And then there are the ghosts of Congo Square.

I could come up with more, but it is time to go to bed. And I’m sure that in a few weeks, I’ll be able to come up with 10 more.

18 Days from New Orleans…But Who’s Counting? Tuesday, Feb 19 2013 

Exactly 18 days from now (it’s a little past 10pm on February 19, 2013), we will have traveled over 1500 and most of my students will be walking the streets of New Orleans for the very first time. It’s about this time every spring when I sit down and write a column on what to expect in terms of preparation, of the trip, and what to look forward to in this exotic and shockingly different place.

Rebirth Brass Band at Howlin' Wolf, March 2008.

Rebirth Brass Band at Howlin’ Wolf, March 2008.

But when I sat down to do that, I was paralyzed. I’ve probably written a dozen or more such entries since 2008. What can I say new? And then it hit me: I’ve got columns buried in the recesses of the blog that I can recycle. Aren’t we supposed to recycle? And then, rereading some of my previous entries (for the most part — typos still sting) is fun.

So, here is trip down memory lane that I hope will prove useful for this year’s eager and very receptive crop of future NOLA-heads:

Last year, I wrote this entry called Ten Days. It was my attempt to get the class excited about the trip — as if that is necessary. I also tried to get them in the right mindset for the trip and how to approach their encounter with the Crescent City. It was also intended to serve as inspiration for starting their New Orleans journals well in advance of the trip

This a column I wrote back in 2011 called New Orleans in March, i.e. preparing for the trip. Keep in mind, this was for when the class stayed in Madonna Manor over in Marrero, LA. Where we are staying this year shouldn’t be near as creepy, haunted, or utterly fascinating. However, much of the advice of what clothes, begging, and personal effects still rings true. Students still debate about boots vs. sneakers; but if you end up working in demolition, nothing is better insurance than a good pair of boots.

Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2009.

Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2009.

Another one from two years back is New Orleans Quick Reference Guide. In this entry, I pulled together a number of  street maps of New Orleans and the French Quarter, as I feel strongly that students should get their geographic bearings in spite of GPS. I also included quick links to New Orleans weather, news, music, events, etc. Back in 2011, I likely assumed students would be relying on their laptops. With smart phones, the same information is more readily available.

This one, from last year, entitled Zero Hour. It is all about the night before departure jitters and anticipation. It does make me wistful, because I am flying down on Saturday this year and chances are, most of you will beat me to the Lower Ninth.

Domilise's oyster and shrimp po' boy, March 2008.

Domilise’s oyster and shrimp po’ boy, March 2008.

The next two are in the vein of Letters from New Orleans. One I lifted pretty much from a Brett Will Taylor column in nola.com — he didn’t seem to mind, as he commented on the entry. I titled it using a quote from his column: “The normal is strange here; the normal is strange”. The other is one of my favorite essays of all time called Five Ways People in New Orleans are Different from Us. It helps capture my respect, fascination, and love for the folks I’ve encountered in New Orleans. And it is one of my most viewed blog entries ever.

The last of this collection is one of several great student guest contributions from last year’s class. The posting, from Sam Docos, leader of the Baratarians this year, beautifully captures the anticipation and fulfillment of the trip. Pretty much focused on food (wonder where she got that from?), it is called Po’ boy Dreams.

Enjoy. But please stop drooling.

 

Po’ Boy Dreams Wednesday, Apr 11 2012 

Parkway Bakery po' boy, March 2012. Sam Docos.

The suspense of the po’boy was killing. In the weeks leading up to our trip to New Orleans, Bill talked about the hype surrounding this mysterious sandwich and the weight that people put on their favorite po’boy shop. He even showed us a video of Domilise’s Po’Boys which showed one of the delicious looking sandwiches being made. I was hooked, I couldn’t wait to order my first po’ boy.

The opportunity came the first night we went into the city. We walked down Frenchman Street and found a welcoming club called Vaso where a brass band was playing inside. We sat down to order and as I read down the menu I came across po’boy sliders. My decision was easily made. I was so excited for my first po’boy, but I was soon disappointed when I realized that it was nowhere near close to a real po’ boy. I enjoyed the small sandwiches, but continued to long for the actual, full-sized sandwich.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern, Mid-City New Orleans, March 2012. Sam Docos.

A couple days later, Kendra, our group leader,  introduced us to her favorite po’ boy shop, Parkway. Although I felt like I was somewhat betraying Bill by going to Parkway rather than Domilise’s, I was none the less very anxious. I grabbed a menu and started to read the many options of po’ boys. There was everything from fried shrimp to caprese (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) po’ boys. I definitely felt like a tourist in a sea of experienced po’ boy consumers. Kendra informed us that Barq’s from the bottle is a must with your sandwich and I have to agree that it was the perfect compliment.

After contemplating which one of the many choices I would purchase I went with the fried shrimp and of course I got it dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo. After each member of our group of 9 had their po’boy in hand we made our way over the bayou to enjoy our “first real po’boys”. I must say it was an experience I will remember for a while. The bayou was beautiful and the po’ boy was delicious! Not one of us was disappointed with our choice.

A Parkway sub by Bayou St. John, March 2012. Sam Docos.

We were fortunate enough to visit Parkway once more before the trip was over and I’m pretty sure that most of us took the opportunity to try another type of sandwich. This time I tried the caprese since it seemed so different from the rest. It was much different from the fried shrimp but it was still delicious. Again no one was disappointed which shows that you can’t go wrong with any type of po’ boy. I must say that the wait was well worth it.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde, March 2012. Sam Docos.

The good food of New Orleans definitely didn’t stop with the po’ boy. Another one of the group’s favorite New Orleans hot spots was Café Du Monde. The Café is known for their delicious coffee and beignets. I’m pretty sure that we sat down for a fresh batch of sugar coated pastries late at night about five times. By our last night there the waiter surely recognized us.

The day we left the city my group mate Gabby and I couldn’t resist one last chance to enjoy a po’ boy. Both of us had been craving a fried chicken po’ boy so we walked down Decatur until we found a restaurant that could satisfy our need. We left New Orleans in our van as we savored our last po’ boy — that is, until our next visit.

–Sam Docos–

24 Hours in New Orleans Sunday, Apr 8 2012 

One of my favorite travel columns is in the Sunday New York Times; it is called “36 Hours in…whatever.” It can include places that I never thought of going to (until I read the column), but it always fun to see what the writer includes in a visit that last barely 24 waking hours. For cities I know, I generally quibble, but I’m prone to that anyway. And then a few weeks ago, they featured New Orleans, and my antennae were out…big time.

St. Louis #3 Cemetery, March 2011

Although I’m generally in New Orleans for a week or more or at time, I was impressed y what they included. And for the most part, they included things that I consider a must. And while I eschew the highfalutin bar and restaurant scene (first, I am of Scottish descent and second, the heart of New Orleans is its working class citizenry and I much rather eat and drink with them). They did include a visit to the cemeteries (check), a visit to the Lower Ninth (check), and various musical venues (check, check and double check). The one thing they included that I had not done was the jazz mass at St. Augustine’s in Treme, and I took care of that first chance [see: Cruising from New Orleans] However, when we returned to New Orleans, I had that karmic opportunity to experience my beloved city by the hour.

I was not awake, but because we were approaching the mouth of the Mississippi at midnight when I retired, I suspect we docked about 5:00 or 6:00 o’clock a.m. Our return flight was scheduled for 6:00 a.m., so we had exactly one day in New Orleans. If left entirely up to me, it would have been a mad, maniacal rush to cram as much in as possible. Luckily, my wife has common sense.

Jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, Treme, March 2012

We were all packed, bathed, dressed, had a full breakfast on board (seated, not the buffet), and were through customs before 8:00 a.m.

8:00 a.m.: we took a cab with our luggage to the Queen and Crescent Hotel on Camp Street. They were full, so I clearly expected to check our luggage and be put out on the street. However, they had a no show the night before and they checked us in! Luggage stowed. Bathroom. E-mail for the first time in a week. Glorious.

9:00 a.m.: we started across the French Quarter for our second trip to St. Augustine’s in as many weeks. It’s something to be in New Orleans and with a wild, hankering for a jazz mass. But it is worth it.

10:00 a.m.: the most moving, welcoming, mind blowing mass imaginable. From ushers, to alter server, to musicians, to the priest, it is perfection. Even though over half of the “participants” are guests, the mass is personal, welcoming, and an immensely spiritual experience. The sign of peace lasts for ten minutes. And hour and forty minutes, you are walking the streets of Treme so thankful for the experience you have had.

Congo Square Fest, Armstrong Park, March 2012

Noon: Louis Armstrong Park for Congo Square Fest. Food, music, crafts, and food. Food twice, because the fest is also the start of the Revolution Second Line, so you have all of the food and drink vendors that accompany such events. Fried chicken, beans and rice, and greens for lunch, $2.00 beers, Latin jazz, a shaded lawn, and a second line. What more could one want?

1:00 p.m.: Revolution Social Aid and Pleasure Club Second Line, with the To Be Continued Brass Band. OK, here is where having my wife along is a good thing. I could have been lost following this thing for miles, but we saw it off, had another beer and walked back through the French Quarter. A bright, Sunday afternoon. Royal Street resplendent with light and entertainment.

2:00 p.m.: Pat is resting comfortably. I do so for…15 minutes. We make plans to meet at the Spotted Cat at 5:00 p.m.

3:00 p.m.: OK, I left the “36 Hours in New Orleans (NY Times version)” compound. I grabbed a cigar and local brew and did some intense people watching, most of which focused on the…

Stella’s Balcony, Stella and Stanley Yelling Contest, March 2012

4:00 p.m.: Tennessee Williams Literary Festival “Stanley and Stella Yelling Contest.” I look at the videos from this every year and I wasn’t going to miss it the one time I was in town. It was hysterical from the time participants started lining up to register. Photographs don’t do it justice and as soon as I can figure out how to extract the video from my camera, I will share. Suffice it to say, how often do you see hundreds of people crowded around to hear theatrical yelling?

5:00 p.m. I got to the Cat a little early, but Pat was already there, besieged by a drunken opinionated carpenter with bad teeth. I’ve run into this guy before, so I felt bad, but once I got there, he decided to make an awkward, smelly, and argumentative exit. The wonderful Cindy, who was behind the bar, was most comforting and the music, by Yvette Voelker and the Rites of Swing was predictably enjoyable. By the time we left, I think Pat understood why I spend so much of my evening hours there.

Rites of Swing, Spotted Cat Music Club, March 2011

6:00 p.m.” Lovely evening to walk across the French Quarter. First on Chartres, then on Royal. Ended up at the Acme Oyster House, where there was a healthy wait. But we were there, it was nice, and there was a place nearby to get drinks, so why not.

7:00 p.m. After a wait, classic, modest, non New York Times dining. Shrimp po’ boy (her); fried oyster plate (me). Great food and exquisite company.

8:30 p.m.: OK, let me whisper this, very quietly, with a 3:00 a.m. wake up call, even I was willing to call it a day. We went back to our room, finished packing, and after an action packed day, made it an early night.

3:40 a.m.: Airport shuttle. And all that boring, yet frenzied stuff afterwards at the airport.

6:00 a.m.: flight home. Daylight shortly after.

24 hours in New Orleans.

The End of the Week Friday, Mar 16 2012 

Los Islenos and Baratarians in Slidell LA, March 2012

You can take all of the cliches about returning home after spending a week away and boil ’em up in a pot and pretty much get the point of this post. Between Thursday night and Saturday morning, the students here are already preparing for the separation; the trip, the thing they’ve looked forward to since pre-registration is about to be over. No matter how much we talk about their experience in an effort to place this great, yet peculiar City in context; it won’t be enough. And then they’ll get to drive the 26-28 hours back to Durham NH. I think they’ve really begun to understand this place, warts and all. And they understand the small contribution that they’ve made to the lives of the people in this region. They’ve certainly gotten the food. They’ve adapted to the slow pace. And they understand that this place sweats music. And they have already begun ignoring the sunburns, and blisters, and the aching muscles that they never realized that they had.

UNH Students on the Canal Street/Algiers Ferry, March 2012

Thursday night, everyone got up from dinner and a surprise birthday cake from home, and ventured into the City. One group had already gone in to eat at the Praline Connection on Frenchmen. I met the other two groups for a round-trip on the ferry to Algiers Point. I didn’t even get off the boat. The night was balmy, almost summer-like. We’ve enjoyed it immensely, but I’ve heard several locals worry aloud: “if it’s this hot in march, what is it going to be like in July?”

Young Fellaz Brass Band, Frenchmen Street, March 2012

After the ferry ride, the groups went their separate ways, although most ended up listening to some sort of music. I caught the up-and-coming Young Fellaz Brass Band for a short, yet-spirited set at the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen, before ducking into one of the nearby clubs for a set of cafe jazz. I had early morning plans to visit with the group working across the Parish, so I returned before most of the students.

Friday brought the last day of work and the last night in the City. I drove through the morning fog to meet up with the Wild Magnolias, who are putting the finishing touches on a couple of homes outside of Abita Springs. Both are scheduled to close before the end of the month. In the process, they have picked up such skills as pouring cement, building steps, and playing with local canines. They have plans to work through so that they can go to Uptown New Orleans for a Parkway Bakery po’boy. I would be jealous, except for the fact that I have found a couple of very, respectable po’boy shops right here in Slidell (As of this writing: Jocko’s and Kenney’s Seafood. I’m sure if I return in the future, I’ll discover others.).

Wild Magnolias, outside of Abita Springs LA, March 2012

The Los Islenos and Baratarians continue to toil away on Maple and Tupelo Streets,  painting and laying flooring. And they so without the benefit of the shade enjoyed by their cross-Parish classmates.The volunteers next week will be left with a nice platform upon which to erect walls. Yup, students from UNH-ABC did that. Nevertheless, you could feel the energy level drop like the air released from a balloon. And the fact that it was humid and above 80 degrees before 11 a.m. didn’t help. They too, were heading out for po’boys, but I warned them to leave room for dinner (fried catfish, okra jambalaya, salad, etc. And I’m throwing in 10 pounds of boiled crawfish, so that everyone will have a chance to try them).

I don’t think there’s a soul who’ll stay put or retire early tonight. Most plan to meet up at the Blue Nile to see Kermit Ruffins and his band, the Barbecue Swingers (Kermit is know almost as much for his cooking as his effervescent music). I might try to catch Dr. Michael White, who is playing over in the courtyard of the Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street a little before. From the Blue Nile, I suspect they’ll fan out to have cafe au lait, listen to more music, or just enjoy walking the streets on a warm night. And again, even though I don’t have a long drive ahead of me, I think there’s a good chance that I’ll be among the first back in Slidell.

Or, as the old crank in “It’s a Wonderful Life” said: “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!”

“Scruffy,” Abita Springs LA, March 2012

“Root Beer,” Slidell LA, March 2012

Ten Days Tuesday, Feb 28 2012 

UNH Students arriving Sunday morning in St. Bernard Parish, LA, March 2007.

OK, I should be too old to get so excited by such things, but it is ten days before we all head down to New Orleans! After six years of spring break trips, it just doesn’t get old. And this year will be different enough to spice things up a bit.

I feel as though I’ve done this before, but  it is important to help prepare you for the adventure you soon will be undertaking. This will be an adventure. Even if you were driving to Springfield, IL, a 1500 hundred mile van trip with your classmates will likely be like nothing you’ve ever experienced. And as weird as it sounds: every year, I’m amazed at how energized students are following 25-30 hours in a large, white van.

For the trip. Plenty of snacks. Not enough beverages to force too many pit stops. Comfortable clothes, maybe a pillow, a fleece blanket or bag. And even though I’ve never experienced it; I know it will be fun. There will be stories.

We have talked New Orleans, all the time, but there are things in Southern Louisiana that a classroom cannot prepare you for. So, be ready to accept the following:

The weather is changeable — Chances are, it will be sunny and warm, but nights can be chilly and days often start out cooler than you expect. Wear layers. I usually bring a couple of long sleeved shirts, a fleece vest, and a windbreaker. I’ve been surprised with cold, windy weather, but most of the time this works just fine.

New Birth Brass Band, Preservation Hall, March 2007.

Absorb the sounds –There will be music. The City thrives on it. With food it is New Orleans’ life blood. Go with it. Swing with it. Bring it back in your heart. We have well-known musicians, Paul Sanchez and Dr, Michael White on our schedule, but there will be others. Whether in the clubs or on the street, there will be others. Three places to put in your sights: Frenchmen Street; Preservation Hall; and Rock and Bowl. Enough said.

Just eat it! — As iconic chef and restaurateur Leah Chase says: “if it taste good, eat it!” Go with that. People in New Orleans live to talk, listen to music and EAT!” It’s in their blood. And they know what’s good. And you have to try it. It’s fried, fattening, greasy, sometimes gross, but it is traditional local cuisine. It is real. It is authentic. And it will help your understanding of the people and area in which you are staying.

Be prepared to work hard — While the nights are ours, we’ll be starting out work days early. There will be hard work. Have close toed shoes. Be prepared to sweat and be prepared to be satisfied after a day’s work. And be prepared to reflect upon your journey. We are working with faith-based organizations and they will insist on starting the day with prayer and reflection. And regardless of your beliefs, we are all  working to same ends, so it must be a good thing. Go with it.

Slow down — We have all been through a stressful first half of the semester, and I know I have been complicit in that. But this is your chance to pull back, absorb it all, and enjoy. You are leaving the frenetic Northeast for place where time is relative, or maybe non-existent. People and events move at a different pace or none at all. Go with the flow and you’ll learn to appreciate the different rhythms of life.

Garden of the Beauregard-Keyes House, French Quarter, March 2008.

Take it all in — Cemeteries, shotgun houses, Creole ironwork, live oaks, alligators! etc. There will be things you’ve never seen, or at least noticed before. Place them in you memories, take pictures, and write about them in your journals. Along with that, take in the friendships you find and build during the trip and you’ll have memories that will live for your lifetime.

And most important of all — enjoy!

King Cake: “Yeah, there’s an app for that!” Friday, Dec 30 2011 

The tradition of serving King Cake as part of the New Orleans carnival season dates back to the 18th Century. The baked confection, which contains a trinket (often a plastic baby) or dried bean, has been decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar or icing since those colors became a part of Mardi Gras in the 19th Century. It is proper fare anytime from Epiphany (January 6th) through Mardi Gras. And you’d think the tradition could just rest with that, but you would be wrong.

King Cake from Haydel's, Super Bowl Sunday, February 2010.

For years, former New Orleans residents could have a King Cake shipped anywhere from a number of New Orleans area bakeries. The packages usually contain the cake, Mardi Gras beads and trinkets, and perhaps even a music cd. Most of those bakeries have websites where you can order your little piece of Carnival and increasingly, you can find Haydel’s,   various Randazzo bakeries, and others on Facebook.

Randazzo’s Camellia City Bakery has taken taken the King Cake tradition and social media to the next level. This year the bakery has launched an interactive King Cake app — King Me! So, if you feel the need to order a customized King Cake using your smartphone or tablet, you’re in business!

Yes, a new tradition for Carnival!


Next Page »