An expatriate of New Orleans – and professional chef – who has lived in Los Angeles since her childhood, blogs about the journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles back to New Orleans, and points along the way.

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From Ain’ts to Saints- the Soul of New Orleans

Posted by on Jan 30, 2010, 3:48 pm in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Personal Reflection | 0 comments

A couple of nights ago, I posted a question of my Facebook page asking what people were planning to serve on Super Bowl Sunday. I got a response back from a friend saying, “This is going to come as a shock…but I have never seen a football game. Not in person. Not on television. My husband doesn't watch football. I bet he doesn't know the teams who are playing. I know- un-American.” Many probably do think it is un-American, no doubt, but a shock? Not exactly. I myself have always said Super Bowl is the perfect day to go out to a restaurant (they’re empty and quiet), and have never known before what teams are playing. But this year’s Super Bowl is about way more than football. The Saint’s have become the symbol and metaphor for the city of New Orleans, and its journey to recovery. Although the Super Bowl has been held many times in New Orleans, the Saints have never played in the Bowl. Now, this team made up of rejects, and often referred to in the past as the Aint’s, whose fans could be seen wearing paper bags over their heads at games, will be competing for the NFL championship. They have are now being referred to as “The Soul of New Orleans.” Wright Thompson of writes “They are a motley group, undrafted guys and late-round fliers, players cast off from other teams. (Drew) Brees landed in town after an injury convinced the Chargers that his best days were behind him. ‘When we came here,’ he has said, ‘I was in the process of rebuilding, as well.’” Fr. Tony Ricard of Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, says as he finishes saying Mass in a Saints jersey, “the Saints have lifted the spirits of the whole city.” Even President Obama has cautiously weighed in saying, "You know, I think both teams are terrific. I guess I am rooting a little bit for the Saints as the underdog, partly just because when I think about what's happened in New Orleans over the last several years and how much that team means to them. You know, I'm pretty sympathetic." It’s an understatement to say the city is overflowing with civic pride, and all of us expatriates here in Los Angeles, will be glued to our television sets, as well. So next Sunday, my brothers, my uncle, my cousins and yes, even I, who has barely seen a football game in my life, will gather to celebrate my mother’s (a NOLA expatriate of over 50 years) birthday and to cheer on the Saints. We’ll be eating jambalaya, shrimp po’boys, potato salad, and red beans and rice- thanking God for  Mother, and cheering on our Saints. So, I have two things to say- 1) don't rain on our parade, and 2) what will you be serving? Click on this link to hear Wright Thompson talk about "The Soul of New Orleans"...

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Haiti and New Orleans

Posted by on Jan 13, 2010, 6:24 pm in Current Affairs, History, Personal Reflection | 0 comments

I listened with empathy and a measure of recognition today, to newscasts interviewing Haitian expats in the U.S. Their voices tremble as they speak of anxiously awaiting news of the fate of their loved ones, and recounting a night of little or no sleep. Haiti and New Orleans have historic connections. Their people share a past of brutal plantation culture, slavery and a racial caste system under French colonists in the 17th and 18th century. The present day country of Haiti was formed in 1801, after an extremely bloody period of slave rebellion on the island of Saint Domingue in the 1790’s.  The island was split into two countries (the other being Santo Domingo, or the modern day Dominican Republic), and many post-rebellion refugees from Saint Domingue eventually found a home in New Orleans. Ned Sublette, author of The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square writes “The southern United States was in a panic. The slaves of Saint-Domingue had risen up and killed slavery itself.” He further states that  “Haiti was central to every major event in the hemisphere at the time, and most especially to the Louisiana Purchase. Slavery continued for in the southern United States for another 70 years…but the Haitian revolution was the turning point.”  He also connects the slave rebellion with the French Revolution as a fundamental event in shaping the modern world. So perhaps, in some way, we all owe a debt to Haiti. New Orleans is often referred to as a Caribbean city, and many of its distinctive rhythms (along with the voodoo culture) arrived there directly from the islands of Saint Domingue and Cuba. It traded with the newly established nation of Haiti, long before the government of the United States recognized it as a nation. Unfortunately, the nation of Haiti has not fared well, suffering dictatorial governments, bruising poverty, and I might add, little or no help- and sometimes harm- from its huge northern neighbor. And the news of today’s earthquake is heart wrenching. As I said, I can empathize having seen my beloved city of New Orleans face an unprecedented disaster, and yet this is oh so much worse. I hope that if you have stuck with me this far, you will do whatever you can to help the citizens of Haiti now.  I’ve listed below a few organizations that are on the front lines helping. Doctors without Borders  Habitat for Humanity Oxfam The Clinton Foundation Yele Haiti  Also, you may text "Yele" to 501501 and $5 will be charged to your phone bill and given to relief projects through the...

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Harry Shearer Interviews Army Corps of Engineer’s Whistle Blower

Posted by on Sep 14, 2009, 11:00 am in Current Affairs, History | 0 comments

Once again, I am so grateful for Harry Shearer's continuing to shine the spotlight on post flood New Orleans, and the ongoing issues the city faces, even when most of the country has seemed to move on. Here is an excellent interview he did this weekend with Maria Garzino, a whistle blower within the Army Corps of Engineers. I especially hope all of you who still refer to the destruction of New Orleans as a "natural disaster" will listen. Ciao, Gisele, born in the now still mostly deserted 7th Ward of New...

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New Orleans 4 Years Later

Posted by on Aug 30, 2009, 11:36 pm in Current Affairs, History, Personal Reflection | 0 comments

This weekend marks the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s hit on the Gulf Coast, and today the 4th anniversary of New Orleans’ awakening, in spite of being spared a direct hit, to being flooded by the effects of waters surging up the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. And this week marks the 4th year since the startling “Third World” images were broadcast across our airwaves from one of our nation’s most beloved cities.

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Ms. Leah Chase Receives Another Lifetime Acheivement Award

Posted by on Jul 14, 2009, 1:00 pm in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, History | 0 comments

Ms. Leah Chase Receives Another Lifetime Acheivement Award

Ms. Chase, whose name readers of this blog are familiar with, was given another lifetime achievement award this month- this time from the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans (she had previously received one from the Southern Foodways Alliance) . When I mentioned it to my uncle he responded, "it's no wonder-she's important to that city and its food reputation." I might also add that she is such an inspiration to so many, working tirelessly for what she believes in, and always very gracious and accessible to all. Here's a clip from the Southern Food and Beverage Museum's latest newsletter. This past month, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum hosted its gala in honor of Leah Chase.  During the dedication ceremony, Leah's granddaughter pointed out that Leah never lets the bad (Katrina) or the good (awards and honors) stop her from continuing along her path.  To drive the idea home, she ended her speech with a message to her grandmother, in words that Leah must often use, regarding the gallery named after her at SoFAB.  "Grandma, this is great.  We knew you could do it.  We are proud of you.  Now let's move on." Next post I'll share with you what Ms. Chase had to say to me about the differences between  Cajun and Creole food the last time I spoke with her. You'll love it, so tune...

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Posted by on Jun 16, 2009, 4:27 pm in Current Affairs, History, Travel | 0 comments

I wrote earlier about meeting Misty in the French Quarter at En Vie. She gave me her phone number, so I called her again towards the end of my trip. She asked how I had enjoyed my visit. I shared with her that it had been somewhat difficult for me. She said "New Orleans tests you if you want to live here." Indeed. I say she's a tough mistress. Charming and beautiful, but petulant and demanding. She’s difficult, and entrenched in her ways, but her allure is undeniable. She gets her hooks in you, and doesn’t let go. Misty suggested I just sit back and let things happen when I expressed my frustration to her. How differently people there approach things. Here in Los Angeles everyone is into making things happen, “creating","manifesting” their own reality.  They believe in attracting everything to themselves that they need or want. I’ve even heard the suggestion that you can change things in your life in an instant by changing your mind, making a choice. But in New Orleans, people have squarely hit against forces they cannot control. I remember using the phrase “ever since they started trying to tame the river” in the presence of my friend Jerry, a fellow expatriate of NOLA. What exactly I was discussing, I don’t remember, but I was, no doubt, showing off my newly learned knowledge after reading RISING TIDE: THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI FLOOD OF 1927 AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA , and learning a great deal about the history of the Army Corps of Engineers’ flawed attempts at flood control in the region. Jerry let out a hearty guffaw. “You can’t control that river.” And so it’s true. The river is mighty- wild and powerful- and a force beyond our control, as it keeps reminding us. I talked to a friend last week who asked about my trip. Once again, I found myself saying to someone, that it was “somewhat difficult.” I started in, relating to her the various moods I’ve encountered in NOLA during my trips since the flood.  The celebratory mood at the homecoming to the first Mardi Gras PK, the realization of the hard realities they were hitting a year later, and the entrenched discouragement of this trip, in spite of small and individual successes. “I was reading something about New Orleans the other day” she said. “The article said the city isn’t coming back, that whole neighborhoods are still empty.” “It’s not true. It is coming back” I responded. “Some neighborhoods are back and doing well. Some are not. But it all depends now on the choices they make.”  Yes-choices. While choices are important in creating our reality-and when I think about Ray Nagin (hmmm-maybe it would be good if they kept him in China) I realize it’s something the people of New Orleans need to consider very seriously- the rest of us can learn from them that we cannot control every force. We learn that we must live in balance, that we must make good and proper choices to live harmoniously with those forces, and that our good and proper choices must still sometimes inevitably yield to forces beyond our control Okay- I promise we'll get back to food and fun next time. Ciao,...

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Treeless Leeves- The Army Corps Is At It Again

Posted by on Jun 10, 2009, 10:29 am in Books, Current Affairs, History | 0 comments

Army Corps orders thousands of trees chopped down    Here they go again. The Army Corps of Engineers’ track record when it comes to flood control along the Mississippi has been disastrous. Remember the drowning of New Orleans. Here’s a clue- it wasn’t the natural disaster Hurricane Katrina that devastated the city.   Just a couple of months before the post-Katrina flooding of NOLA, I finished reading  a book I highly recommend to everyone.  RISING TIDE: THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI FLOOD OF 1927 AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA by John Barry is, among other things, a history of the flawed policies regarding flood control in the Mississippi Delta. It’s a book that took Mr. Barry 20 years to write, and although it is history, it reads like a novel. I highly recommend it to anyone who ever wondered how it was that New Orleans found itself in the position it did in late August of 2005. In fact, I recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand New Orleans. You’ll also come away learning much about this country, and how things work in the corridors of power, just in case you didn’t know already.   And now, I read today the article linked to above on the latest pursuits of the Army Corps. Please read it (and seriously-pick up Rising Tide) and then do whatever you can to get the word out about this, and hopefully stop it. Do we really need, in a world threatened by global warming, to have our government destroy thousands of trees (many old growth) across the country? Please take action now!  ...

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Visiting with Leah Chase

Posted by on May 26, 2009, 12:27 pm in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, History, Travel | 0 comments

On the last day of my visit a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in to visit with Mrs. Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. I had visited with Mrs. Chase, in her FEMA trailer, on my last visit, but hadn’t been smart enough to tape it then. This time I wised up and video taped our chat.

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New Orleans- Coming Up on the Fourth Anniversary of Katrina

Posted by on May 21, 2009, 11:04 am in Current Affairs, Travel | 0 comments

New Orleans is still a city very much in the process of rebuilding itself. My trip to Jazz Fest was the third time I’ve visited since the Flood. They’re coming up on the fourth anniversary this summer. There’s definitely been progress, but I also felt a real heaviness across the city this time around. The people who had quick insurance payments have rebuilt, their houses are beautiful-freshly painted, new tile floors, granite counters, new furniture, carpeting, big flat screen T.V.’s. Those without the quick insurance payments, or any insurance at all, are still in limbo – at best. The Road Home program has been dissolved, and many neighborhoods, including the one where I was born and spent my early childhood, are still fairly deserted. And everyone is anxious about the hurricane season which begins in just a couple of weeks. “It snowed in December” my cousin Linda said. “ It snowed in December the year of Katrina, too.” Monique called on one of my last days in New Orleans. I told her that this had not been a particularly comfortable trip for me. “I gathered that” she said. There’s been personal stuff, but it hasn’t been just that. There was a negative vibe across the city, and it seem to have settled in. I picked it up in those I visited with – Raoul, Uncle Roy, Marlene. I said to Monique that my first visit after Katrina had felt celebratory. It was the first post – Katrina Mardi Gras. People were beginning to return, there was a sense of homecoming, and everyone was upbeat. When I visited a year later, reality had settled in, people had hit the hard task of rebuilding, and all the problems that came with it. I could feel it everywhere. I remember saying that to Deb Cotton at the time. She responded, “Yes, I just have to take frequent trips out of the city.” “Yeah, it just goes that way here”, Monique said.  “I remember it being that way in 1989, too, with the oil bust.” She laid blame on the mayor currently, though, “A mayor is supposed to reassure the city. It’s his job.”  “One more year” Lloyd said. But the day after my conversation with Monique was Cinco de Mayo, and even though it has nothing to do with New Orleans, the city is working itself up to celebrate it. “Any excuse for a party” Marlene...

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Vaucresson Sausage at Jazz Fest

Posted by on May 13, 2009, 2:14 pm in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Travel | 0 comments

On my first day at Jazz Fest, I had the privilege to follow and interview  Vance Vaucresson, owner of Vaucresson Sausage. My mother's family lived on the same street as the Vaucressons when they were children. My mother and uncle are life long friends of the Vaucressons, as was my grandmother with the Vaucressons of her generation. Vance's grandfather, Robert, was a butcher in the 7th Ward (click on the link and scroll down to Day One of this blog at its former location for background on the 7th Ward), and made sausage in that capacity. One of my uncles still speaks lovingly of Mrs. Vaucresson, Julia, Robert's wife, who during the Depression would often send over bits of leftover meat for their family. Their son, Robert Jr., aka Sonny, took over the business, eventually transforming it into a sausage company, in addition to being the first Creole of color to open a café on Bourbon Street, and becoming one of the original Jazz Fest food vendors. Vance is Sonny's son, and in spite of their facility being devastated in the flood following Hurricane Katrina, continues the tradition of selling sausage po' boys at Jazz Fest. Here's a clip of my time with him. Laissez le Bon Temps Roulez ! Gisele And please visit my other blog...

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