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On Being a Mentor at Cafe Reconcile and a Key to the Violent Crime Problem in New Orleans

A few years ago I had the privilege of being a mentor for couple kids at Cafe Reconcile. Reconcile is a place that was started by a Jesuit priest in the heart of the Central City in New Orleans. Central City is one of the worst places to live in the city because it is just rampant with crime. Most of the murders in the city happen here.

On Being a Mentor at Cafe Reconcile and Key to the Violent Crime Problem in New Orleans

Kitchen workers at Cafe Reconsile, New Orleans...

Kitchen duty at Cafe Reconcile New Orleans

So people figure that heck if you just stay away from that area you’ll be OK. And except for random killings that occasionally happen elsewhere in the Crescent City it pretty much holds true. The original vision of the cafe was to provide a place for underprivileged kids to get experience and education in the restaurant business and culinary arts so that when they finish their 6 week intensive program they are pretty much ready to start working in a restaurant.

Some might start a job as mere dishwashers but at least they get their foot in the door and the education they get from Cafe Reconcile helps them move up rather quickly. Most of the kids are black but there are occasionally some white kids and hispanics that enter the program.

Entrance requirements are rigorous and not everyone who applies gets in. They have to show a willingness and commitment to want to improve themselves and there is a lot expected of them. Unfortunately they come from a community and school system where expectations are low and there is even some social pressure that encourages kids to not want to excel.

The thinking is if you excel then you are trying to be ‘better than us.’ And kids can actually get shunned if they get good grades and try to improve themselves. How the black culture ever got to to be this way is a tragedy of national proportions. That attitude encourages crime and so many people are not allowed to dream big dreams because they have been conditioned to think that not only can’t they achieve it but they are not worth it.

So in comes Cafe Reconcile to change all that. Admittedly the problem is more massive than one cafe can hope to change, but at least it does provide some kids with the opportunity to get out of a disempowering community and sometimes terrible family situations.

Many of the kids that are working in the cafe program have been in jail for one thing or another, some have been into drugs. Some are even unwed mothers. The program looks past all that and sees that if a kid comes forward and wants to be part of the program they show that they have taken their first steps to wanting to improve their lives. And the folks at the cafe will do everything they can to help them.

What the cafe program requires of them is being on time for all classes and meetings, staying off drugs, a willingness to learn and be coached and being responsible for taking care of their hygiene. Many of them have never had this type of rigor in their lives and those that get through it are the better for it and helps to spread the message of the cafe and the possibility that with love and attention people can reform and be given a real great start in their lives.

Many have gone on to getting great jobs in the best restaurants in town. Some want to open their own places someday. That never would have happened had it not been for Cafe Reconcile.

I had eaten at the place several times and loved the cooking and the down-home funkiness of the place with original art work on the walls, funky murals and the kids all eager to want to do their best. And for some of them their best is not always good enough. So they have to learn how to be better.

In the program they all get a chance to work at all the jobs that it takes to run a restaurant from maitre’d to waiter, bus boy, dish washer, food preparer and general clean up. Sometimes you may get one of them as a waiter. It’s new to them, and well, they just don’t get it always. They don’t get the whole deal of what it means to serve and to be on their toes. So they may forget something you ordered, or give it to the wrong person, or not be very communicative in the way a waiter needs to be. Learning about these things is all part of the training.

A friend of mine took on creating the mentorship program and I was asked to be part of the first group of mentors. My first day of going in as a mentor was challenging for me. Having no idea who I was being assigned to made me a little nervous.

The idea was for me to go in about once a week, have lunch with the kid assigned to me and engage in conversation. Then I was to check-in by phone at least once a week. I worried and wondered what the heck we would talk about.

Our life experience was so different, from different parts of town, almost like worlds away. The only thing really connecting us was the fact that we were both born and raised New Orleans. That was pretty significant in itself owing to our love for the place.

So on my first day as a mentor I’m down at the cafe and here comes this skinny kid with cornrow hair cascading to his shoulders with tattoos on his neck and some on his arms. His black skin showed them as only outlines, not like the bright colorful tattoos on whites.

Somehow I had to get past all of these differences and get past my judgements to be able to sit and be with him and regard him in some ways as equal, otherwise my role of mentor would come off as false and patronizing.

So after asking him a little about his life and family we found common ground in that both of us were artists. My being a musician and writer and him doing drawing and sketching. At our next meeting he brought in his sketchbook to show me what he’d done. I could see that he was really talented and he told me he wanted to do tee-shirts. That was pretty cool. He already seemed to have the entrepreneurial spirit. As the weeks went on and I got to know him I really liked him and admired him for what he was committing himself to.

So I only had 6 weeks to make some kind of impact on Larry. But as it turned out he seemed to have his head screwed on pretty straight and there was not really much I could do or say to have any impact really. Perhaps I was the first white guy he’d really gotten to know from the other side of town.

So it was mainly just taking the time to meet with him and see where he was at and what he needed. It turned out not much. We had good conversations and he was always very well-mannered and courteous, he had been raised pretty well by what seemed to be a loving family.

He told me he had ambitions of starting his own restaurant some day away from New Orleans. I asked him what he wanted to do that for and I informed him that I know in his young life that he has not done much traveling and seen a lot of the world as I have. But I said that of all the places I’ve seen in Europe, the middle east and all states on the North American continent there was no place like New Orleans.

Our scheduled mentoring time of six weeks was coming to a close and I determined that I wanted to continue our meetings perhaps over an occasional lunch. So I called him one day and he suggested we meet at the IHOP on Canal Street. I got there early to find that the AC had broken down that day. Although it was not real hot in the place it was stuffy and uncomfortable.

Larry finally showed up and we sat and chatted, tolerated the stuffy warmth of the place, and had a little something to eat. I found out that he had to take the bus and streetcar to get to the restaurant. I didn’t realize that he lived in Central City. We had a good conversation but it was all pretty much surface stuff, me asking him questions, imparting him wisdom and not getting too deep. I gave him a book of poems The Way of Life by Lao Tzu.

Several weeks passed and I called him to set up another time for a lunch this time close to where he lived. I brought another inspirational book with me that I thought he might like. This time I decided to really go deeper in our conversation and I asked asked him about his situation and his life.

He told me that he’d been in jail, picked up for driving in a car that contained a few marijuana cigarettes and was working on getting his record cleared by the courts. One funny but sad discovery he made while incarcerated was some uncles and cousins who had suddenly disappeared he encountered in the few days he was in prison. “Oh, so this is what happened to you all,” he told them. “Everyone in the family was wondering where you all had gone to.”

Then he revealed that he had recently seen a guy get shot through the head and killed outside his home, a guy on a bicycle. His mother had been terrified when she heard the shot thinking that it might be him. He said when he saw what happened he did not stick around, he quickly disappeared because he did not want the shooter to see who he was for fear that he might be next. And in that moment I understood why folks who’ve seen these crimes don’t come forward. It’s simple survival.

Then I decided to go deeper in our conversation. I asked him, “Why is that all of these black kids are shooting each other?” He said very simply, “Because they don’t have fathers.” I was taken aback by his honesty and candor. And also what seems like the simplicity of the solution of the whole terrible violence problem we have in this city. And from the mouth and heart and soul of someone who knows, who lives amidst the violence.

He went on to say that they don’t have anyone to look up to, no one to guide them, show them what’s right and wrong and they get mixed up with the wrong people who give them some sense of belonging and mentoring except that it is of the destructive kind.

I was also amazed that he was aware of and willing to admit a major challenge in the city’s black population: the ongoing and destructive effect of fatherless homes. Had I not been willing to do this mentoring gig for Cafe Reconcile I would never had had the opportunity to be face to face with someone who is living amidst the violence and lost lives and opportunity that is our city’s shame and embarrassment.

You know we see and hear about it in the papers and TV and radio but it’s really just news and stories we hear at arm’s length, it’s really hard to “get” until you actually know a member of the community it’s affecting, where you can sit down and actually talk with someone and get to know them on a friendship basis as I had the opportunity to do.

For months I did not hear from Larry. The phone number I had for him no longer worked. When I would hear about a shooting in Central City I wondered if somehow he had gotten in the crossfire or been targeted for some reason or other.

I had last heard that he had been working down at the restaurant Sylvain on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, a job that he had gotten soon after his graduation from the Cafe Reconcile program. One evening I was in the Quarter with my friend who had been in charge of the mentorship program. She suggested we pass by the restaurant to see if Larry was there.

We walked down the alley way toward the inner patio and to the kitchen. I peeked in the door and there was Larry. He looked at me blankly for half a second and then his face lit up when he realized who it was. He came up to me and threw his arms around me and we hugged for a good bit. We were both so glad and excited to see one another.

I was glad to see he was doing so well and he apologized for not sending me his new number. We took a photo with our arms around each other. It was really good to see him. Here was someone who made it out and was already making something good of his life.

Posted in New Orleans Business, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans Landmarks, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Restaurants.

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How to Have Fun in New Orleans – Two Ditzy Chicks Do It Their Way – Video

Well, if you want an idea of how to have fun in New Orleans look no further than these two girls from Astronauts Wanted. They really seem to have caught the flavor of the city.

How to Have Fun in New Orleans – Two Ditzy Chicks Do It Their Way – Video

Seems like much of their experience here revolves around drinking, starting at 9 AM Sunday morning. There are other things to do here. But what the heck. The video is fun and they looked like they are having a great time.

One of them says toward the end of the video “This is a f**ked up, wonderful town.” Yep, really that pretty much sums it up.

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Restaurants, New Orleans Videos.

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New Orleans Voted Number 10 of World’s Best Cities

Yep, well, New Orleans has done it again as being one of the world’s best by Travel + Leisure. Why have we garnered such a distiction? Well, it’s the Running of the Bulls San Fermin fest, that’s a heck of a lot more fun than the one in Spain. And a lot safer too. With a lot more girls. And more booze. And more people making fools of themselves. I think.

The Crescent City Connection frames the skyline of New Orleans, one of the top 10 cities in the world.

The Crescent City Connection frames the skyline of New Orleans, one of the top 10 cities in the world.

It’s the quirky charm, they say, and the Satchmo Summer Fest. But, heck, it’s more than that. It’s the people and the food and the strange, dreamlike atmosphere, the down-home warmth of the place.

San Francisco, New York, Miami, ha, didn’t even make the cut.

Here’s an excerpt from SF Gate, a site in San Francisco:

In fact, San Francisco only placed fourth among all U.S. and Canadian cities in the travel publisher’s annual survey, with three cities from the South ahead of it on the domestic list,  in ascending order: Savannah, Ga., New Orleans, and Charleston, S.C., which repeated its 2013 top rating  on the U.S./Canada list. Charleston’s high ratings this year also earned it No. 2 on the “world’s best cities” list—up from No. 7 on the 2013 international rankings —with Kyoto at No. 1 and New Orleans  at No. 10.  

Kyoto, number 1? Hm, well, I ain’t never been there so I can’t say anything about that. And for Charleston to be voted number 2? Really. These results must be oddly skewed some way.

Anyway, there ya go. New Orleans still considered one of the top 10 best in the world. Well, we already knew that, didn’t we. Don’t need any magazine to tell us dat, cher.

Posted in New Orleans Business, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans News.

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Show Your Love For A Rescued Dog With This Limited Edition Tee Shirt

Here in our neighborhood in New Orleans we got a lot of dog. In fact, I never realized how many dogs we have until I started taking care of a sweet little longhaired chihuahua named Lilly.

You know it’s like that thing where you buy a new car and suddenly you see tons of the same car on the road. It’s almost as if those cars weren’t there before and, boom, now they are. It’s the same way with a dog.

Show Your Love For A Rescued Dog With This Limited Edition Tee Shirt

We got lots of dogs in New Orleans, and lots of dogs in the pound. Show your love with this this limited edition tee.

We got lots of dogs in New Orleans, and lots of dogs in the pound. Show your love with this this limited edition tee.

They say that if you get a dog from a shelter it will always remember that you saved them. And Lilly is no exception. You hold her face to face and she will look right into your eyes with such love and sweetness that it’s sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes, you just wanna eat this little thing up. You know… I don’t mean literally.

Anyway, this is a teeshirt I designed and is available for a limited time on Teespring. Get one before time runs out, this Sunday July 6th.

 

 

 

Posted in New Orleans Life.


You Move You Lose – The California Honeydrops Do Their Own Version of a Rebirth Brass Band

New Orleans music comes in all shapes and sizes, all colors and beats and too many influences to name here. And one thing we are famous for are our great musicians. And also our beat. Yeah, there ain’t no place on earth dat’s got da beat like we got, babe.

You Move You Lose – The California Honeydrops Do Their Own Version of a Rebirth Brass Band Tune Jamming in a Van

Rebirth Brass Band is one of the best bands in the city, been around for a long time. I mean our brass bands is one of the things New Orleans music is all about.

So here are these youngsters from California doing the Jam in the Van thing in New Orleans during the Jazz Fest paying tribute to Rebirth, one of their favorite bands, with their own version of You Move You Lose, a Rebirth classic. They do a pretty damn good job of it too. And their musicianship is great.

Leave a COMMENT. Tell us what you think,

 

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Jazz Festival, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music, New Orleans Videos.


Is There Really A Difference Tween Cajun and Creole Food? – Watch This And Find Out

Being from New Orleans I always wondered what was the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine. I mean I knew there was a difference but I didn’t know how to explain it.

Is There Really A Difference Tween Cajun and Creole Food? – Watch This And Find Out

This video is from an Aussie who found a great dish at Buffa’s, kind of a mix of of Cajun and Creole. And the young lady, a local, sitting next to him does a pretty good explanation of what makes Cajun and Creole different.

My family is from St. Martinville, considered the heart of the Cajun country. When I was a kid we used to go there a lot and spend weekends and sometimes longer. My father wanted us to get to know his family and get an idea of what it was like growing up in a small town.

I used to love going there, loved being around my uncles, aunts and cousins with the cool Cajun accent. My father’s family is not really Cajun, we’re French, being descended from three brothers who immigrated directly from France in the 18th century.

Of course, we all ate the country food that everybody ate. We didn’t call it Cajun food. It was just our food. You know the gumbo and jambalaya and the sausages and all of dat other type of Cajun fare, cher. And yeah, my family really did say ‘cher’ just like you hear it in the movies.

So, yeah, Cajun and Creole are different, as there are distinct differences between Cajun and Creole people, but the are both quintessential South Louisiana. Oo, yeah, I ga-ron-tee!

 

Posted in Cajun Culture, Louisiana, New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Restaurants, New Orleans Videos.

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Did You Know: Louisiana Folks Spend More Time On Religious and Leisure Activities

The American Time Use Survey by the US Department of Labor has deduced something that people in Louisiana already pretty much know: yep, we like to lounge, and I guess pray about lounging, or pray while we’re lounging. (I just threw that last bit in.)

Did You Know: Louisiana Folks Spend More Time On Religious and Leisure Activities

Louisianians like to party and have a good time more than any other state in the union. Is it any wonder?

Louisianians like to party and have a good time more than any other state in the union. Is it any wonder?

Now as if the government doesn’t have better things to do and spend our money on than this… but here it is. Besides winning the race in leisure and religious activities we also seem to be on the high end of spending more time grooming and kinda average when it comes to housework. Who’d a thunk it.

And we’re sort of average when it comes to sleep. Well, heck when we’re all wrapped up in leisure activities, namely drinking, eating, partying and lounging who has time for sleep? It seems that our next door neighbor Mississippi does, since they get more sleep then anyone else in the nation, logging in average 9 hours and 8 minutes. Hm, must not be a lot to do there.

An article from the Washington Post lays out the survey in its entirety. Here is an excerpt about the finding in religious activities:

Two words: The South. Southerners are more likely to say religion is “very important” in their lives than people from any other region, so it’s no surprise that they report spending more time per day on religious activities. Utah, with its large Mormon population, also stands out. At the profane end of the spiritual spectrum you have Rhode Island, whose residents report averaging only two minutes per day in spiritual activities, or roughly an eighth of the time spent by people in Louisiana.

Many people around the country think of New Orleans as being this place of debauchery where people come to let it all hang out. That’s the leisure part, as we love to sit on the porch and have a drink in the afternoons. Few realize that this city is actually one of the most spiritual, churchgoing places in the country. It think it’s one of the things that has kept us so resilient. Yep, we like to party, and we also like to pray. It’s a good balance, and that’s who we are.

Leave  COMMENT. Whatcha think?

 

 

Posted in New Orleans Life.


What Would You Do If you Only Had 48 Hours In New Orleans?

New Orleans is blessed with a culture all it’s own. Anyone who’s visited here knows that. Here’s a video that originally appeared on the AOL travel website that lays it all our for you in 9 minutes what to do if you only had 48 hours here.

What Would You Do If you Only Had 48 Hours In New Orleans?

OK, so the guy mispronounces some of the names. Not being from here we’ll give him a pass. And yeah he doesn’t mention Cafe DuMonde but all in all it’s a pretty good all around intro to the City That Care Forgot. Leave COMMENT. What do YOU think?

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Festivals, New Orleans History, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music, New Orleans Videos.

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13 Great and Groovy Breakfast Spots in New Orleans

Being a city with so many restaurants and great food you would expect that there would be a slew of fantastic breakfast spots in New Orleans. Yeah, New Orleanians like to eat all day everyday.

13 Great and Groovy Breakfast Spots in New Orleans

Elizabeth's for breakfast makes some of the best dishes in New Orleans. (photo - Marshall Matlock)

Maker of creative dishes, Elizabeth’s is one of the best breakfast spots in New Orleans. (photo – Marshall Matlock)

And because we have been raised to have such discerning palates – we simply don’t tolerate the bland and un-fun food the rest of the country normally eats– we have many places that serves absolutely scrumptious, to-die-for breakfast fare with many of these places creating their own delicious dishes that are par for the course in the Crescent City.

So NOLA.com has produced this groovy list of 13 of the best places to get breakfast in the city of New Orleans. Here’s an excerpt from their article with two of my favorites from their list:

6. Riccobono’s The Panola Street Café is your classic breakfast spot. Their modest menu includes bottomless coffee, pancakes, waffles, omelets, and breakfast plates. Riccobono’s is one of my favorite spots to sit with a friend and enjoy breakfast at the counter.

Yeah, and one of the best things they don’t mention here is the Crabcakes Benedict. I mean really, instead of a bland English muffin they put a wonderful crabcake. And then what I like to get is the Huevos Rancheros. When I eat dat in the morning I don’t hafta eat till dinner.

They also mention:

11. Elizabeth’s is definitely one of the more popular spots for breakfast in New Orleans. And with great food and fantastic cocktails, why wouldn’t it be? Oh yeah, then there’s the praline bacon. No kidding!

This is probably where you’ll get some of the most delicious and creative breakfasts anywhere. I mean they got dishes you’ve never heard of, blending ingredients that you would never have thought would blend. And the decor is funky, and well it’s just a great, cozy, all around far out breakfast experience. And, yeah, the praline bacon is just heavenly.

They don’t mention Coulis on Prytania near Touro Hospital, but just as good as any of these places listed on NOLA.com.

Hey, there are some really great breakfast spots in New Orleans with tons of delicious dishes.  Your only dilemma is deciding where the heck you’ll go next.

Be sure to leave a COMMENT. Tell us if you love, hate, or thing this article is ga-rroovy.

Posted in New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Restaurants.

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New Orleans Recipes: Easy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo – Part Deux

Of all the great New Orleans recipes gumbo is perhaps the most popular and the most requested. And that one along with jambalaya is one of the ones least frequently made at home. Why? As I said in the previous post, it can be time consuming.

New Orleans Recipes: Easy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo – Part Deux

Styrofoam bowl of chicken & andouille gumbo, a...

A yummy chicken and sausage gumbo. One of the favorite of New Orleans recipes.

But I got me a secret that makes it so simple that heck I could make it every week and not feel any strain. I got this recipe out of a slow cook creole cookbook and I’ve made some slight modifications to it, as really any good cook would usually do. When a recipe says to add 2 cloves of garlic I laugh derisively. Really? Only 2 cloves? Ha ha ha. Give me a break. How about 5 or 10 cloves?

I don’t think you can ever add too much garlic, except that time a buddy of mine made some guacamole and he added so much garlic it was inedible. I guess there is a limit when the garlic is going to remain raw in a recipe. Cooking it though, well, you can never add too much in my view.

Anyway, I know you be dyin’ to get this recipe so here it is. Although the recipe in the book says Chicken Andouille Gumbo I rarely use andouille because it’s usually full of preservatives and stuff I don’t want to eat. So I just opt for a clean (without chemicals, I mean) cajun or italian sausage, spicy and smoky is better but not necessary. But really almost any kind of sausage will do.

I use a crock pot. But if you don’t have one just use a nice size 4-5 quart pot. Cook the gumbo on low.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil, lard or bacon fat or a mixture of these three, and a little butter too
1/2 cup dry roux mix (that you’ve bought or made yourself. See the previous post.)
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup celery
6-8 cloves garlic mashed and chopped
1 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
3/4 lb sausage
1 lb frozen sliced okra (if you can’t get this it’s OK. Just use a bag of mixed veggies)
3 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt (add this last and taste the gumbo before you add it to make sure you don’t make it too salty)
6 cups chicken stock or broth
1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs, with or without skin cut into 1 inch pieces

So in a heavy skillet what I do is saute the onion, bell pepper and celery (we call this the ‘trinity’ in southern Louisiana cooking lore) in the oil and fat on medium for a few minutes, let’s say 5 minutes. Next I add the garlic and stir it around for about a minute. Then I take the dry roux and sprinkle it in with veggies and stir it around till it’s well mixed so that they are coated with the roux. This should only take a few seconds.

Put this mixture in the crock pot and add all the other ingredients except the salt. I would add like half the salt now and maybe save the rest after it’s cooked for 4 or 5 hours to taste it. Make sure you don’t add too much and make it too salty. I usually like to stir the gumbo occasionally while it’s cooking.

For the sausage I put them in whole. If you slice them and put them in raw they will all fall apart in the gumbo. So I let it cook whole in the gumbo for several hours and then at some point before I serve it I take ‘em out and slice ‘em and then return ‘em to the gumbo.

Set the crockpot to low for 6-7 hours. Serve it in large bowls with some steamed rice. White rice is best.

If you make this the day before you eat it it will be even better because when it sits in the fridge for 24 hours it has a chance to blend in well. Letting it sit for a day just does something to it that enhances the flavor.

 

Hey, leave a COMMENT. Tell us what YOU think!

 

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Recipes.

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New Orleans Recipes: Easy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo — Making the Roux

One of the favorite of all New Orleans recipes is gumbo. Originally the word gumbo comes from the African word for okra – gombo. And as most good gumbos have okra in them, well, you can see how the word came about.

New Orleans Recipes: Easy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo — Making the Roux

Making the roux? Yeah, I don't do this when I make my gumbo. I do something easier and just as good. Making the roux? Yeah, I don't do this when I make my gumbo. I do something easier and just as good.

Making the roux? Yeah, I don’t do this when I make my gumbo. I do something easier and just as good.

This is going to be a two parter. In this first post we will talk about making the roux. The next post I’ll give you the recipe that I use to make great gumbo that everyone talks about and by which they will crown you with the moniker of “chef.”

The word ‘gumbo’ is also used to denote a metaphorical mixture of things, an inclusion in the idea pot of many different influences. And that’s what gumbo is, it’s a mixture of influences from Africa, Native American, French, Spanish and what-have-you that’s present here in south Louisiana.

Not only can you find gumbo in New Orleans but it’s all over the Cajun country as well. I mean, no self-respecting Cajun restaurant is going to be without it’s own version of gumbo, cher.

Some of the best gumbo I’ve ever had was at the New Orleans Country Club. They make this seafood gumbo that tastes like you died and gone to heaven. Thick, rich, tasty and chock full of seafood, I remember my mom’s manfriend would always admonish us that when we serve ourselves at the buffet table to always go to the bottom of the pot with the long ladle to get the best chunks of seafood and goodness that was down there.

And then of course you drop a big pour of sherry on the top and take the first unbelievable taste of it and well… heaven on earth.

But the hardest thing about making mosts gumbos is doing the roux which means standing over a pot stirring a mixture of flour in butter or oil or lard till it turns brown. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just, well, boring and I got better things to do than that, OK. Call it lazy and spoiled but there ya go.

So, making the roux is I think one of the main reasons folks don’t like making gumbo at home. It’s just takes too long and if you are not careful you can burn it and then you have to start all over which is, of course, a drag.

Well, there is a way easier way. And here it is: you buy the roux at the grocery store. Now I like to get the powdered roux, not the one with oil already in it – that stuff’s got some stuff in it that, well, I don’t wanna eat. If the recipe calls for 1/2 cup of flour I just use 1/2 cup of the dry roux.

If you don’t have it where you live you can order it on Amazon. Also, Zatarain’s sells a gumbo base that does just as well, but they add flavorings in it that I would prefer not to use in my gumbo, but it’s OK and will do in a pinch.

You can also do what my brother does which is taking some flour, spreading it out on a baking sheet and toasting it in the oven. I’ve never done this so don’t know what temperature he uses or for how long. It seems like something you just have to figure out yourself.

So using this already-made roux is just one of the tricks you can use for other New Orleans recipes that call for roux. So you have no excuse now for cooking our delicious New Orleans food.

Leave a COMMENT. What do you think?

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Recipes.

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10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Battle of New Orleans: The Myths, the Legends and The Truth

By contributor Timothy Pickles

The Battle of New Orleans is fast approaching its bicentennial year. It never ceases to amaze me how many things in history, or life in general for that matter, are taken at face value or just assumed and suddenly take on the stature of Holy Writ when, in fact, the assumptions are wholly wrong.

10 Things You Didn’t know about the Battle of New Orleans: The Myths, the Legends and The Truth

English: The Battle of New Orleans. General An...

The Battle of New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson stands on the parapet of his makeshift defenses as his troops repulse attacking Highlanders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost all common assumptions about the battle are, to quote Douglas Addams “Apocryphal or at least wildly inaccurate.” So here is the list of 10 myths and legends and, to set the record straight, the real truth:

1. The battle was fought after the war was over.

A peace treaty had been signed on December 25th 1814 BUT the treaty did not end the war, the war was ended when both sides ratified the document their agents had signed, and the United States did not ratify the treaty until February 18th, over a month after the battle.

2. This was the last clash of arms between the US and Great Britain.

When the British sailed from the New Orleans area they did not sail for home, but to Mobile Bay where they attacked and captured Fort Bowyer which guarded the entrance to the Bay. This was preliminary to capturing Mobile, a port, unlike New Orleans, usable by British capital ships where the army could be landed, then march to Baton Rouge once called New Richmond when it was part of British West Florida.

Then, cutting off New Orleans from the North, the army would march down the river road and take the city with the whole British army arriving at the same time rather than piecemeal as it did. The plan was only abandoned after the British successfully captured the fort when news of the treaty arrived 3 days later. It is well to remember that at this time the treaty had still to be ratified by the US!

3. The US won because the British were not clever enough to use rifles and hide while the American did.

In actual fact, though many of the US volunteers had rifles, the only regular rifle troops at New Orleans were British! The 95th Foot (rifles) were formed to use the new form of weapon that was more accurate than the musket, but they were only used in specialized situations.

Though rifles were accurate they took a long time to load correctly, twice as long as a musket, so one gained accuracy but lost firepower. Like the British the US army was mainly made up of well-drilled musket men. The myth of the coonskin-cap-wearing volunteer, with his rifle winning the battle, was fostered in later years and bolstered in the immediate pre Civil War years by Southerners as a warning to Yankees.

4. It was a battle won and lost in one day.

Hardly. Though sometimes presented this way, what is often presented as a battle was in fact a month long campaign starting in December 1814. It encompassed a naval battle, an amphibious landing, amphibious operations in the Mississippi river and land artillery attacking US naval vessels.

5. At the end of the battle Andrew Jackson knew he had beaten the British.

Actually, at the end of the Battle Andrew Jackson was certain another attack would come and was fairly certain he would loose. The battle took place on both sides of the river and while on the East bank Andrew Jackson won the day brilliantly, on the West Bank the British, under Colonel Thornton, drove the Americans out of their main positions and two miles upriver.

In effect, Jackson’s right was destroyed and the British had all but a clear road upriver to the city. A badly wounded Thornton requested 2,000 reinforcements to take the last American position, but Maj. Gen John Lambert, the last general officer on his feet, refused, being badly shaken by the deaths of Pakenham and Gibbs and the wounding of Kean. Essentially, he grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.

6. Andrew Jackson saw Edward Pakenham killed.

The story is often told, I am sure, that in the aftermath many a rifleman shouted to Jackson that he had shot the British General and Jackson shouted back that he had seen it. However, his aide records that the first indication Jackson had that Pakenham was dead was a note from Lambert requesting that a truce be called to collect the dead and treat the wounded, in which he signed himself  ‘John Lambert Commander of His Majesties Forces'; Jackson sent back to find out who this ‘Lambert’ was as he had never heard of him before.

7. Major General Sir Edward Michael Pakenham was killed by a rifle shot.

A popular romantic story which has no basis in fact, Pakenham was hit twice by multiple projectiles, the first blast breaking his right arm, wounding him in the leg and killing his horse, the second killing him. The descriptions make it quite clear that he was killed by grape shot. Cannon fire not a rifle ended his life.

8. The highlanders marched across the field wearing kilts and feather bonnets.

It is amazing how many serious historians get this wrong. In fact, the 93rd Foot (Sutherland Highlanders) were ordered to have their tartan cloth for their kilts made up into ‘trews’ (a type of Tartan trouser) for the New Orleans campaign. They also removed the black ostrich feathers from their feather bonnets and so they did not look very ‘highland’ like on the campaign, though the bagpipers would certainly identify them as such.

In fact, this was the only battle fought up to WW2 where the Sutherland (later Argyle and Sutherland) Highlanders did not wear the kilt and it was the only defeat they ever suffered. Of course, regimental tradition states that the reason for the defeat of the British at New Orleans was the lack of the kilt!

9. The British were great targets as they marched across the field in long straight lines.

While it is true that the standard formation for British troops in battle was the line, which allowed them to bring maximum firepower to bear on the enemy, this was NOT the formation they used at New Orleans. The Americans were hunkered down behind their thick barricade, impenetrable to both musket and artillery and the British had to assault the defense works. This was not done in line but in column.

The idea was to attack a small area of the works with an unending stream of men, the only way to take this sort of position because all fire was useless. While musketry and rifles certainly did do great damage to the British, by far the most effective and devastating fire came from the artillery which was very skillfully served.

10. The British way outnumbered the Americans.

Actually, for the battle they were fighting, they didn’t. Though the British did outnumber the US almost 2 to1 the Americans were behind a very well constructed earthwork. By all rules of war the ratio of attackers to defenders for this type of operation is supposed to be 3 to1, so, in effect, the British army was at least 6,000 men weaker than it should have been to attempt the attack.

This is why Pakenham tried to concentrate his troops at particular points and outnumber in detail what he could not outnumber in toto. He came very close to achieving his goal but in war there is no prize for second place.

 

So there you have it, some fascinating and unknown facts about the Battle of New Orleans that helps to dispel some of the many myths behind this famous and world-changing event.

 

Timothy Pickles is an author, film and TV producer for the History Channel, historical advisor on numerous Hollywood films, and coordinator for historical events.  Originally from Yorkshire, England, he now lives and works in New Orleans.

Posted in New Orleans History, New Orleans Landmarks, New Orleans Life.

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Gumbo – The One Word That Sums Up New Orleans

Who’d a thunk that as you are sitting slurping down that lovely brown, thick, chunky, spicy gumbo you are really chowing down on a history lesson about all things New Orleans.

Gumbo – The One Word That Sums Up New Orleans

Jazz musicians Kermit Ruffins and Danny Barker...

Marco Werman of NPR came down for a visit to radio station WWNO and did a nice little piece about the city. Here is an excerpt from his article on NPR website:

… New Orleans’ two best known cultural contributions to America – music and food – express multiple layers of meaning in this city.

Think jazz.

Think gumbo.

And whenever new people come to New Orleans, the words and the music and the food evolve. When you listen to trumpeter Kermit Ruffins performing at the Bullet’s Sports Bar in the city’s seventh ward, it’s easy to forget that all this comes out of a few hundreds years of history.

“You know, it’s like “there’s no place quite like this place, so this must be the place”? There is no place in the United States quite like this place. Southern Louisiana,” says New Orleans food historian Jessica B. Harris. “This is a place that has been French, then Spanish, then French, then American. That’s a lot of stuff going on.”

“It is that place where things mix. People often have referred to the culture of New Orleans as a gumbo,” Harris says.

 The origin of the word gumbo is from Ghana where ‘gombo’ means okra. And okra is just one of the ingredients in a good gumbo. So whenever I eat gumbo I see it as the one part of our unique cuisine that reflects that true essence of New Orleans. So many influences, such a great flavor.

Allen Toussaint has a little song that reflects this essence of the Crescent City:

“A yankee saw a crawfish called it a baby lobster
We laughed so hard we nearly busted our sides.

But when he tasted the difference he started raving so much he got a southern welcome arms open wide.

Imagine boudin cooking.
Imagine cracklins cracklin.
Almost enough cayenne to water your eyes.

But in the midst of all this fine southern cuisine, I’ll take the crawfish everyday, everytime.

Laissez laissez bons temps rouler.
Laissez laissez bons temps rouler.
Laissez laissez bons temps rouler.

I could eat crawfish everyday.
I could eat crawfish everyday.”

And although I personally would not want to eat crawfish every day, I know what he means.

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans History, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music.

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European Podcast Spells Out What Makes Native New Orleans Food Unlike Any Other

People come from all over the world to indulge in our New Orleans food. You know when I was growing up we just ate food that was from here. I don’t think we called it New Orleans food, it was just what we ate. You know, we got the gumbo, and the shrimp creole and the beignets and the coffee and chicory and all the other foods that make our cuisine so unique.

European Podcast Spells Out What Makes Native New Orleans Food Unlike Any Other

English: A traditional Creole/Cajun cuisine cr...

It was not till I went away and lived other places that I could really appreciate what we have here in New Orleans. I lived for 16 years in the Pacific Northwest and although they got some restaurants that have decent food, there is really no coherent cuisine. Nothing that was unusual from the rest of the country.

I mean I can remember going to eat at people’s homes and just having well, not really good food. It’s was just plain, boring, anywhere-in-America food. The thing is we here in the city are spoiled. We have been raised on fabulous food, that’s just normal to us but really different from anywhere else. What makes us different is that we have a distinct native cuisine, and other places in the country don’t.

Marcus Hippi of Finland who traveled all the way to New Orleans just to do this interview talked to Liz Williams of the Food and Beverage Museum, Ryan Prewitt, Ann Tuennerman, Francisco Robert of Dinner Lab and Tim McNally, of world-wide fame.

Local food blogger Robert Peyton of appetites.us paraphrased from the interview that ‘our cuisine stems from our ability to relax and enjoy the moment, and that we appreciate food on a different level from our neighbors.’

Yep, I think that about sums it up. You can hear this interview on Monocle at this link: Podcast

Posted in New Orleans Life.


Best Things About New Orleans – the Quirky, the Festive, the Free

Local folks know the best things about New Orleans are many, varied, funky, delightful and delicious. What better way to find out what locals think about the city than to ask them point blank to their faces, what they think  what makes life in New Orleans so danged great.

Life in New Orleans is very different from anywhere else. Oh, you know it, babe!

Life in New Orleans is very different from anywhere else. Oh, you know it, babe!

So Zillow, you know that all things real estate site, did just that. Here’s an excerpt from their post:

The people are the best part about New Orleans. They are festive, quirky, lovable, gritty, creative and tenacious. They work hard and play hard. I also love that we can get our drinks in “go cups” and walk down the street. Only in New Orleans. — Carlie Kollath Wells

There are so many free and cheap activities to take advantage of in New Orleans. You can start with the parks — City Park is so big you could spend an entire day there exploring the different attractions, Audobon Park is picturesque and The Fly is a great spot to lay out by the Mississippi River or barbecue. — Tiffany Mast

This only touches the surface of what makes the city so great. What are the best things to do in New Orleans? Heck, where do I begin?

 

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Neighborhoods.

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