Stormy Weather

A storm is brewing in the Gulf. Right now, Cristobal is meandering over land near the Yucatan. It won’t stay there forever. It is forecast to make its way toward the Louisiana coast on Sunday. It’s not likely to be a strong storm. At its worst, forecasters agree it could be a nominal hurricane.

Considering the fragility of our coastline, though, it may be just one more weapon that will be like a battering ram on our area. The boot in the picture above represents what used to be the coast of Louisiana. I couldn’t find a good image on the internet to show what it looks like today, but much of coast of southeastern Louisiana is gone. The land that I grew up on is increasingly being eroded and falling away. Open waters lap at our doorsteps, in some cases, quite literally, as people are forced to move to higher ground.

That’s one reason that I live where I live today. I didn’t see the sense of buying another house in New Orleans, after coming back here after nearly a decade in Honduras. New Orleans is surrounded more and more by open waters rather than protective wetlands, or near my hometown on the bayou where land is lost everyday. At least where I live now, a bit north and east of New Orleans, I don’t have to worry about small storms such as what is being projected for this weekend.

There are other storms. Some of the storms brewing are not tropical at all. There are political and racial storms that are raging now in our country. What do we do with the information we have about racial injustice and protests? Do we, as white Americans, just put up a social media comment in defense of justice and go along our way as if nothing has happened?

I’m guilty of doing that. I just posted a few things about injustice. I felt better. But what if I were really committed to understanding what’s happening in our country? I think I need to seek voices from the black community. I need to listen. There are battering rams of injustice and inequities hitting our nation right now. If not addressed, they will weaken our democracy.

Whenever we have storms in the Gulf, our motto is be prepared. We do what we can to protect our homes, and we ride out the storm as best we can. (Evacuation is still the best choice for large storms). I need a game plan, too, to prepare to understand my black brothers and sisters.

I plan to watch Just Mercy, a film about racial injustice in the penal system. You can rent Just Mercy for free in June through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayAmazon Prime VideoRedbox, the PlayStation Store, VuduMicrosoft, and YouTube. Join me in watching the movie.

I am also part of a book club that will be reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. I want this moment in history to count for something. I was only 6 years old in 1969 when the public schools in our school district were integrated. I was too young to have a voice, but I now see what a seminal moment that was for our town. I don’t want to be in denial this time, like my parents were in the 1960s.

In my morning devotions today, from Pray as You Go, the text was from Jesus’ words about the two greatest commandments. The first is to love God. The second is to love our neighbor. If we don’t grapple with social and racial inequities in our nation, I fear more storms are going to hit us. It’s time we met the storms with foresight and prudence.

An Elegy to a Disappearing Bayou

mosquite supper clubThere’s nothing quite like the comfort of a beautiful book, especially when one needs a respite from the world’s events. Who couldn’t use an escape right now from the world around us? We’re in a worldwide pandemic. Americans are in the grip of unrest and riots as racial tensions rise.

In the midst of trying times, I found the perfect antidote in the book, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou, by Melissa Martin. The author is a native of Chauvin, Louisiana, along Bayou Petit Caillou, a community just a bayou away from my birthplace, Bourg, on Bayou Terrebonne. Like me, she grew up in a Cajun community.

Melissa Martin has a degree in English from Loyola University of New Orleans. Her cooking education was in Michelin rated restaurants in California. She melded her two talents of writing and cooking to produce an enchanting volume about Cajun cooking and culture. The rich photography adds another layer of beauty to this book.

The author and I are both from the southernmost part of Louisiana, a different place altogether from the South as defined as being below the Mason Dixon Line. Here’s her words to which I can personally witness: To me, everything above Baton Rouge was the north. I grew up with leftover gumbo in the fridge and an oil rig drilling just outside my window. I didn’t know it was special to eat cold crabs for breakfast and be surrounded by water and bayous, ibis and pelicans, receding land and dying cypress trees. 

Here’s more examples of her beautiful writing. From the chapter on crabs: Crabs are the crabssummer sun held together by shell and seawater. To introduce the section on gumbo, she writes: Gumbo is the tie that binds in South Louisiana. It symbolizes family, a shared table, local ingredients, patience, and the subtleties of culture and tradition.

The book is an elegy to a disappearing bayou and culture. As she cites in her introduction, Louisiana loses a football’s field’s worth of land every hundred minutes-that’s sixteen miles of lost barrier islands, swamps, and ground each year. I know what it’s like personally to see the land loss in my lifetime. It’s incredibly sad to watch my hometown, my region, my way of life become one step closer each day to extinction as the water swallows up our communities.

This book will one day, maybe very soon, serve as a history book to what was lost in a few generations in Louisiana. If you want to know more about Melissa Martin or the Mosquito Supper Club, her restaurant, I added a few links below. However, the best way to appreciate this volume is to buy it.

Link for her restaurant: Mosquito Supper Club

Link to an article detailing information about Melissa Martin and her legacy: Bayou Benediction: A Taste of Chef Melissa Martin’s Mosquito Supper Club. 

Link to Amazon: Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou by Melissa Martin

 

 

 

The Green Bus

 

green bus
Picture stolen from Phys.org.

When I was a girl, a grocery bus passed in front of our house every Saturday. My memories are somewhat hazy, since the bus stopped its route in the early 70s or late 60s. I would have been maybe five or six when the bus quit coming down Bayou Blue. On Saturday, I remember waiting on the side of the road with my sisters, looking for the green school bus.

My childhood memory was that the bus was outfitted with wooden shelves filled with rows of candy from top to bottom. I remember Sugar Babies, Sweet Tarts, Now and Laters, Lemon Heads, and Hot Tamales. Making a choice of only one candy was a perplexing choice each week.

When I talked to my older sister about the green bus, she gently remonstrated me about the bus’ contents. According to her, and later confirmed by my mother, it was a bus filled with groceries and hardware items, too. Need a potato? Check the produce bins in the front of the bus. Want a step ladder? They were hung on the ceiling, parallel to the floor. Scrub brush? Near the back. Can of soup or bag of sugar? Middle aisles.

Every Saturday, Mr. Boudreaux drove from Thibodaux, Louisiana, down a rural route along Bayou Blue. He sold his wares to housewives and children who waited by the road. I suppose he had other routes on different days. I remember that our day was Saturday. In my mind, Saturday had to be the best day for a green bus full of candy to stop in front of my house.

In those days, home delivery wasn’t a novel concept. The milk came in bottles from a milkman in his truck. Fresh fruit came from Mr. Ledet’s customized pick-up truck. Of course, frozen confections were available from the ice cream truck, sounding its way down the road.

Today, Walmart allows for orders to be made at home, online, and then picked up in the parking lot. Instacart goes a step further, and online orders are delivered to your door. These ideas are not quite new. They are just new twists on an old theme. The green bus of my childhood lives on in new ways all over the place.

Hog’s Head Cheese and Other Cajun Delicacies

I came across an article from Atlas Obscura: Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations that says that hog’s head cheese is becoming rare in South Louisiana. Hog’s head cheese is made from, well, the head of a hog, usually as well as other offal of a pig. There’s no actual cheese. Hog innards are boiled and chilled with vinegar in a jelly roll pan. The fat from the hog’s extras gives the concoction a gelatinous binding.

Hogshead_Nolafoodgoddess
Photo Courtesy of Altas Obscura

I have never tasted it, although my mother is partial to keeping a small loaf wrapped in butcher’s paper in the refrigerator. She eats it sliced with Saltine crackers. It’s part of my heritage that I’d just as soon forget. Hog’s head cheese made with offal (the word sounds like awful!) is not even remotely appetizing to see or imagine eating.

I grew up in bayou country where Cajun culture reigns supreme. Another product that is nearing its demise in these parts are pickled pigs lips. That’s not a joke. The lips of pigs are pickled and preserved in a red, viscous liquid resembling mercurochrome. It was a common barroom treat, or so I’ve heard. Never ate it, either. I can’t do pigs lips or feet, pickled or not.

Yet, I have eaten other foods not eaten by most Americans. I enjoyed fried frog legs as a child. My daddy sometimes went frog hunting along the bayous at night. He’d come home with a burlap sack of bullfrogs and whack off the legs. Then, my mama fried them up the following day after soaking them in buttermilk. There’s nothing quite like eating frog legs that just a day before were appendages to bellowing amphibians.

Sometimes after church, we would head towards Morgan City, Louisiana, and stop at Chester’s, a vintage diner near Morgan City. My family ate mounds of fried frog legs, fried chicken, and fried onion rings at Chester’s. And yes, frog legs do taste like chicken. Chester’s is a just a memory now, and frog legs are hard to find these days.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve eaten and loved turtle soup. Not too many people in my family like it, although my grandpa supposedly liked soup from the snapping turtles he caught in the bayou. It’s a specialty of the house in gourmet restaurants in New Orleans such as Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s. The best turtle soup usually involves a bit of sherry to the dish. Delicious!

crawfish, corn and corona
My late father enjoying corn, crawfish and a Corona.

Then, of course, there’s crawfish. I can’t recall the first time I ate them. We grew up eating them: boiled, stewed, or in an etouffe. Good Friday in our part of the country is often celebrated with crawfish, boiled, and spread on an outside table. Friends and families are invited to eat crawfish, as well as the potatoes, corn and sausage that are added to the boiling pot.

I’m glad crawfish is still enjoyed here and now in other parts of the country, too. Personally, I don’t mind at all that hogs head cheese, fried frog legs, turtle soup, and pickled pigs lips are scarcer and scarcer in these parts. Some things are better left in the past.

Incidental note: Alligator has never been a cultural food in bayou country. It’s served now in many restaurants in these parts, but I never, ever heard of anyone eating gator when I was growing up. There are beasts. I refuse to eat them, even though they would be happy to eat me. 

 

 

 

 

Yard Art

EgretThe month of May continues with cooler weather than normal. We’ve had continued bouts of mild weather. This week is no exception. It’s warm, but not hot. The humidity is low. The good weather as well as continued caution in getting out very often due to the Quarantine has led me to enjoy working in my yard more than usual.

Today, I spent a few minutes looking for my yard art. I think yard art is a Southern thing. We like to display flags, signs, or metal fashioned into all sorts of creatures to grace our yards. For some reason, I haven’t been particularly generous with displaying my yard art. The only thing that’s planted in my yard that’s not a plant is my blue heron made of metal.

The heron falls a lot. He’s developing bent feathers from falling over. He’s starting to rust. But I like my blue bird. After every thunderstorm or bout of windy weather, I find the rusty bird and stake him out again in the flower bed.

SUNI have a few other items that need to be attached to the fence outside. I need to grab my hammer and some nails, maybe later today, and attach them outside. There is a metal sun to nail to the fence. Somewhere in the shed there is a an old license plate, as well as a sign that spells LOVE in swirly green and blue letters. Then, there’s the old piece of wood with a Bible verse on it. This is, after all, the Bible belt.

Any yard in the South without yard art is just a lawn. A true Southern yard has a collection of  eccentric, whimsical pieces scattered about. Heart signMaybe it’s a wooden, painted sunflower that was a gift from Aunt Edna. Or. maybe, it’s an American flag. There’s a house nearby that has a bathtub in the front yard. It’s not for bathing. It’s for decoration, for planting a few flowers. Those old tubs in yards are not uncommon in these parts. I’ll let you know what things look like after I dig around the shed looking for my yard art, although I’m fairly sure I don’t have anything that needs plumbing to add to my yard.

Order of My Days

I am been sheltering in place by law and by practice since the middle of March. Louisiana extended the stay at home order until May 15. There are a few exceptions that have been modified beginning May 1, but they are not enough to detail here. Basically, the order of stay at home remains in place.

Most days I start my day with a shawl draped over my body, my laptop balanced on my knees in my La-Z-Boy recliner. A steaming cup of Community coffee sits near. I listen to a live stream of worship music most mornings. I may be alone in the house, but I stay connected to the larger world around me through music. The Bible speaks of putting on a garment of praise,* which sounds quite nice on some level. However, I don’t feel like I have to put on something to worship, as the spirit of worship is coming from inside of me as I respond to the sounds and rhythms of the worship emanating from my laptop.

After a second or third cup of coffee as well as perusing the Washington Post online, I generally eat a small breakfast. Lately, I have given up traditional breakfast food. I eat leftovers from the night’s cooking of the day before. Today I ate Chicken Alfredo mixed with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach that I prepared yesterday afternoon.

By midmorning, I take my daily bike ride. This morning as I rode along the trail I enjoyed the wide variety of vines and ferns, and of course, the dense thicket of trees that serve as a hedge along the Trace. In those trees, birds sit and flitter, singing their staccato melodies.

The air was heavier than it has been in preceding weeks. The humid air seemed to carry the sound and smells more readily than the drier, cooler days of early April. I smelled the dense aromas of honeysuckle, magnolia and jasmine. The birds played on in a tumult of energy and sounds. Their music helped propel my heavy limbs onward.

On most days, I try to follow exercise with writing. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. However, there is always time for Kindle reading. That is essential.

Yesterday I completed Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, which is a memoir detailing the author’s early life as a Hasidic Jew in New York City, and her subsequently leaving the Jewish sect as a young mother. I recommend it, but I am always fascinated by stories of religious cults, and how followers break free. I read another memoir last week, by chance also by a Jew. Inheritance, by Dani Shapiro was a book that I found to be cloying and long. It might have been better as a long essay rather than a book.

I am trying my hand at cooking once again, a habit I had almost completely dropped in recent years. Some of my efforts have been better than others.  I was a little heavy-handed with the butter in yesterday’s chicken dish. In contradiction to Julia Child, one can use too much butter.

Some days, I visit with my sister with proper social distancing. We share opposite ends of a picnic table at Bogue Falaya Park in Covington as we eat a lunch together, six feet apart. Almost every week, I visit my mother to help her with groceries and other essentials.

I also teach a small class of English as Second Learners (ESL) once a week via Zoom. I am going to end the classes soon as we are not meeting regularly or long enough I feel to make much of a difference. We’ll resume probably in the Fall as a summer break is customary.

At day’s end, I usually find something streaming to watch. Lately it’s been old BBC classics that adapt Austen novels or other classic novels and plays adapted for film or TV. I have enjoyed dramas inspired by Thomas Hardy, George Elliot and even Shakespeare in recent weeks.

And so, the rhythm of my life flows. I start with music and end with literature. In the between time, there is exercise, food and some fellowship. Not a bad way to wile away the Quarantine.

*Isaiah 61

Traces

This morning, I rode my bicycle along the St. Tammany Trace, a path that I can access near my home. The 31-mile path is a former rail line turned into a recreational trail. I pedaled along a few miles for exercise in the brief coolness of the morning.

wildflower I was enveloped by the sights and sounds of nature as the trail is mostly surrounded by a ribbon of woodlands. One can forget, at least for a moment, that just beyond eyesight are neighborhoods and businesses, peopled by all sorts of souls. The Trace gives one the illusion that St. Tammany Parish is mostly a forested oasis nestled against the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. It is not. It’s a bustling, wealthy enclave near the city of New Orleans with only small pockets of wooded areas here and there.

But, for a little less than an hour, I rode the asphalt trail blackberriesthat lays alongside pine and oak, ferns and vines. Blackberry bushes had hints of red and ripening berries here and there. The smell of honeysuckle permeated the air.

I guided my bike back to the house. I parked my bike. All too soon, the ride was over

My phone rang, and I answered.

The reality is that I don’t live alone in the woods. I live near a bustling state highway, within a neighborhood, on the edge of a town, near the Trace. Yet for a moment, I rode along in nature, where cares slipped away.

Good Gumbo

Good GumboMy sister fixed a gumbo this past weekend. She gifted me with a quart container that was brimming with shrimp, oysters, crabmeat, tomatoes and roux. Good golly, but it was a delicious surprise. My sister, Jan, lives just a few miles from me. She’s a great cook, so when she offered to leave a quart of gumbo at the bottom of her stairs, I leapt at the opportunity for gumbo.

She also gave me a generous serving of rice: 1/2 white rice, 1/2 cauliflower rice. My sister is following a keto diet lately. She’s lost over 20 pounds on the low carb plan. She prepared white rice for her husband, and cauliflower rice for herself. This was my first experience with cauliflower rice. It was good with gumbo, but, honestly, anything is good with gumbo.

This morning, I woke to temperatures in the 40s again. I opened the windows, and because of a strong breeze, the house has quickly cooled down. I needed something warm to eat. Rarely do we have cool mornings like this in April, so I skipped my usual breakfast of a protein shake blended with frozen bananas and blueberries. Nothing cold for breakfast today. It was hot seafood gumbo and coffee for breakfast.

Blessings Box2After a gumbo breakfast, I drove a few blocks to the Women’s Center in downtown Abita Springs. There’s a blessing box in front of the Center that is modeled after the little library design. Instead of books, it holds non-perishable foods for those in need. Since the Women’s Center is closed, a few of us are filling the box as needed. I added apples, pancake mix and coffee.

Not everyone can afford to fix a pot of gumbo, I suppose, with so many jobs lost in this present time. I can’t fix gumbo for anyone who wants it. I can offer an assortment, a gumbo of sorts, of what’s in my pantry.  The blessings box reminds me of the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 with a loaf of bread, a few fish, and his Father’s blessing. If we just give what we have – a loaf of bread and few fish, or even good gumbo – then God can multiply our resources.

 

IMG_0282

A Walk in the Woods

Last week, my mother and I took a drive to Clinton, Louisiana, a small town near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My family owns land there. Most of our acreage is wooded. The family uses it mainly for hunting and occasional family celebrations.

Under the strictest interpretation of our stay-at-home orders in Louisiana, I should not be entering her house. Yet, I have, and I will continue as needed when she needs food and essentials. Likewise, I should not be traveling at all according to our governor, John Bel Edwards. We decided to be rule-breakers.

older home in Clinton
Older cottage in Clinton

On Thursday afternoon, I travelled southwest to my mom’s house to pick her up for the journey. She lives alone. During this pandemic she’s become rather isolated. I stayed the afternoon and evening in bayou country with her, getting a few things for her at the local Walgreens.

We arrived in Clinton, Louisiana, around 11:30 on Friday morning. We picked up fried chicken from a local gas station. This gas station in Clinton is especially noted for its fried chicken. Although I was sorely tempted by the fried gizzards and livers on the menu, we chose

cottage in Clinton
Newer home in the town of Clinton

breasts, wings, and legs that were fried to a golden-orange crispy perfection. The order came with French fries, white rolls, and a choice of fountain drinks. We also received a small paper sack full of ketchup.

We drove along the highway past downtown Clinton, then turned down a dirt road. At the lodge in the woods, we ate our fried food, both of us sipping Dr. Pepper. The pieces of chicken were enormous. I don’t know who supplies the chickens for the gas station, but these were not young fryers such as one usually gets at Popeye’s. By the time we ended lunch, our paper cartons were filled with bones, suggesting we had consumed a bucket of chicken rather than a couple of combo orders.

dirt road to lodge
Dirt road leading to lodge

After a few minutes of looking around the lodge and outbuildings, we walked toward the pond. The rutted, clay path leads gently downward toward a small body of water that that was dug over a decade ago. As we walked, we were hemmed in by pine, oak and magnolia. Here and there, along the short route, we came upon a clearing or two, where hunters’ stands sit silent and patient, waiting for the fall’s deer season. With that season will come men and boys ready for the game.

The woods were quiet, save for the sound of song birds, heralding the relative mildness of spring in Louisiana. The day’s temperature topped in the low 70s with a stiff breeze. We saw no other animals as we walked, not even a rabbit that often are seen darting across the path amongst the trees. In the past, I’ve seen started deer and fawns, foxes and the occasional rattler. Not today. All was at rest.

lodge
The lodge in Clinton

When we reached the pond, I heard rather than saw, the existence of life. Amphibians or reptiles betrayed their presence by plopping into the waters as we approached. We saw bubbles and moving currents as the life on the edge of the pond made their way through the water. There are fish in these waters, but we didn’t take the time to cast a line. Instead, we contented ourselves with a fine view of a small pond surrounded by small pines and blossoming blackberry bushes.

wildflowers
Wildflowers along the way towards the pond

I reflected on a few things that brought peace to my heart. I enjoyed the beauty of nature as it turns from winter into spring, new life sprouting forth. The turmoil of a world turned upside down with a viral, invisible enemy cannot stop nature from its yearly rites of passage.

I also reflected on the good news that my sister is completely recovered from a bout of the coronavirus, covid-19. She had, fortunately a mild case. No hospital, no special regimen save for Tylenol for a fever. Her husband, most likely, had an even milder case, but their doctor refused to make an order for his test since he had no fever and suffered just a slight change in health. My sister was given an order for a test for flu and the virus at a drive-up facility in Baton Rouge where they live.

Within a day, the results showed negative for flu. After a week, in which she made great recovery, her case of covid-19 was confirmed. Most peculiarly, though often a sign of the new corona virus, they both lost their sense of smell and taste for a time. She remarked how strange it was, when preparing a roux, during her mild illness, the couple had not the slightest sense of smell. Even when they tasted the completed dish, shrimp etouffée, it yielded no taste for either of them. If you haven’t enjoyed etouffée, then you wouldn’t know how especially fragrant is the dish of seafood and tomatoes, roux and rice

At the lodge in the woods, we had lots of things to be grateful for: the fried chicken, the beauty of nature and the recuperation of my sister and husband. My mom and I decided to leave rather than stay the night. We broke our journey at my house in Abita Springs, then on to her house in bayou country on Saturday.

I hope to adhere to a stricter discipline for writing this week. I don’t plan on any travels this week, as I do my best, within reason, to adhere to orders to stay at home except for essential travel. The trip to the woods was not essential, but it was restorative.

 

Ramblings

The state of Louisiana is under a stay at home order. In our state, we are permitted to get food, medicine, etc, as well as exercise outside as long as appropriate social distancing is observed. On Sunday afternoon, I  chose places within walking distance in Abita Springs, where I live. If I had to choose a place to be, I could do worse. There were only a few folks out, mostly using the bike trail that runs throughout the parish.

I dusted off my Canon camera, and I set off for a photo walk around town. These are special times we are living in, so my phone camera just wouldn’t do. No, I needed the Canon 35mm, which I haven’t used in over a year.

I didn’t have a predetermined course. I just rambled a bit downtown.  Some places were closed. I didn’t bother with pictures of the two town museums or the brewery since they weren’t open to the public. The churches are closed, too, so I skipped pictures of St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Nice buildings though.

I focused my camera’s lens on pretty houses and a few businesses that have remained open. I thought a few houses were places I would prefer to be sheltering in rather than my house. There’s nothing wrong with my house, but a grander home would please me more.

 

hotel-3The Abita Springs Hotel would be a grand place to be sequestered. Maid service, fresh linens, and maybe a nice meal or two provided with the stay. I could get used to that sort of quarantine. The hotel is open during the stay at home mandate but it looked empty. Want to stay here? Maybe when this virus scare has passed? Here’s the link to our local hotel – Abita Springs Hotel. 

blue-houseI also liked the house next door to the hotel. It’s a private residence but surely the owners would be glad to exchange houses for a few weeks for a change of scenery.  It’s inviting, isn’t it?

womens-center I wouldn’t mind taking up residence in the Women’s Center. The sign says its a place for healing and transformation. That sounds like a fine place to stay for a quarantine.

abita-brew-pubThe Abita Brew Pub is not open for seating inside, but the pub is taking orders for take-out. They have great burgers, and of course, a large selection of Abita beer. In Louisiana, the law is allowing customers to order alcohol to go from restaurants. I was tempted to stop and get a burger, but I had leftover pizza and Abita beer in the fridge at home.

abita-farmers-marketLater this week, I plan on stopping by the Abita Farmer’s Market. I don’t need a regular grocery store stop this week since my pantry is well-stocked. I have already eaten all the good stuff though, like chips and ice cream. Maybe now is the time to add fresh fruit and vegetables to my diet.

backroads-mercantile

Afterwards I got in my Mazda and took a drive out of town towards the town of Waldheim, driving east towards Mississippi. I stopped at this store, but it was closed. I need to stop when it’s open. Looks interesting, doesn’t it?

I’m glad I found my Canon camera and rambled around town and a bit farther on Sunday afternoon. I might be limited to where I can go during this statewide shelter in place order, but I can still find interesting places to view.