When the Levees Broke

29 08 2014

I wrote this last year on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Another year has slipped away and it has been 9 years since that devastating storm hit. This is dedicated to my friend, Karen and for the new chapter she has created. 

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Before and after Katrina is how we mark time down here in Louisiana. We just passed another anniversary of that milestone hurricane. The lives we knew were washed away when the levees broke. For my high school friend, Karen and I, it marked the washing away of our long-term marriages. My husband moved out the week before the hurricane and Karen moved out of her home, the week after. We found our friendship in the storm’s aftermath and often clung to each other for support.

94992665We both realize the women we were back then wouldn’t recognize the women we are today. Eight years ago newly single with a teenage daughter; I was scared and expecting to be laid off from my job. While that did not happen, it made me question what did I want to do. I tried out a home-based business giving wine tasting parties (a lot of fun, but I drank all my profits). That led me to get over my fear of pubic speaking, which led me to becoming president of my professional club, which led me to giving workshops on creativity, which led me to starting a design business with my sweetie, which led me to discover new talents and strengths. Most importantly I learned to let go of fear and to embrace things outside my comfort zone.

140381196Karen left her affluent life and empty marriage to find meaning in her life after her kids had grown. She moved back to her hometown to family and friends who were critical of her decision. She went from moving in with her mother, to crummy first apartment, to nicer apartment, to buying a house, to renovating that house and making it her oasis. Her small job with an old family friend grew as his company was bought and sold and bought and sold. It is now part of the largest engineering company of its kind in North America. With each evolution of the company, Karen’s job has grown and she’s moved up the corporate ladder. She’s now moving to the center of business for the Eastern region. All of her strengths have come out and are shining brightly.

Karen’s moving up North…to Nashville. Her moving is bittersweet. We recognize that we are closing a chapter in our lives. Her renovated house has a For Sale sign in front and boxes are waiting for the movers. The days of dropping by each other’s home or creating a spontaneous adventure are over as we know it. We know our friendship will shift and change.

I was just in New Orleans for a fun romantic weekend with the man I’ve been in a loving relationship with for 4 years. After the levees broke, I believed that city would never be the same. I was right, but not how I imagined it. I would never have imagined that young people would flood the city post Katrina with their new innovative entrepreneurial spirit. These newcomers wanted to be a part of reinventing their lives while reinventing this old drowned city. They’ve embraced the unique, creative, funky culture and infused it with a new vibe. The dark depressive cloud that hung over the city has blown over. Arts, music, food, business, housing, education are now filled with this new spirit as new ideas and new ways of doing things are happening. And the wonderful, live-and-let-live-with-a-go-cup-in-hand New Orleans spirit is still embraced, it didn’t wash away.

Me and Karen shopping at the Farmer’s Market and cooking up an adventure.

Me and Karen shopping at the Farmer’s Market and cooking up an adventure.

Like the crescent city, Karen and I have reinvented our separate lives. We haven’t ignored our own past, but we’ve grown and built on it. We’ve moved past our after-Katrina chapter. We’ve rebuilt the levees, hopefully strong enough to withstand future storms.

I’ve learned to flow with the current that my life leads me to. It sometimes takes a storm to push us in a new direction. It’s good to occasionally take time to look back at how far we’ve come. I’m grateful for where my journey has taken me. I’m going to miss my friend, but I’m also looking forward to where new travels will take us.

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Maw Maw’s German Chocolate Cake

5 08 2014

My Mom’s birthday party pictured below would have been on a hot August day in the hill country of Texas with all the children dressed in their Sunday best. I asked Mom if she remembered how old she was in this picture and she knew she was five. Shirley Temple had a new movie out, Curley Top, and her mother made her a dress fashioned after the one Shirley wore in the movie. Mom says she remembers it clearly because Shirley’s dress was made from silk and lace, while hers was made from pale pink organdy and was stiff, puffy and itchy. I wonder what cake my Maw Maw would have made her little girl dressed in her pretty, but uncomfortable Shirley Temple dress.

My Mother’s Fifth Birthday—August 5, 1933

Jimmie Dee— My Mother’s Fifth Birthday—August 5, 1933

Curley Top

Shirley Temple dancing in Curley Top

Decades have come and gone since this picture. This August Mom turns 86. I recently heard someone ask her if she was named after her Dad since her name is Jimmie. “No”, she proudly said, “I’m named after my Mom and my brother is named James!” Until I heard it said, I never thought about how unique that was.

I do know that having my grandmother, Jimmie Corrine’s recipes, her cooking tools and her dishes are a unique treasure from my history. I began my yearly ritual for my mom’s birthday and went through my grandmother’s handwritten recipes. I like to give my mom a taste of her childhood for her birthday. This is a cake I’ve never made. It’s not hard, but it is involved and has taken all afternoon. I even baked it in the heart shaped pans that three generations have used to bake cakes in. I know this cake is made with the love, just as it was back when Shirley Temple was dancing her way into this country’s heart.

Jimmie Corrine—My Grandmother's Handwritten Recipe

Jimmie Corrine—My Grandmother’s Handwritten Recipe

German Chocolate Cake

German choc cake

Cake
1/2 cup boiling water
4 (1 ounce) squares German sweet chocolate
1 cup softened, unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
4 egg yolks, unbeaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Directions
1. Melt chocolate in boiling water in saucepan, let cool.
2. Sift flour with soda and salt in it’s own bowl.
3. Beat egg whites until stiff (it will form peaks like a meringue).
4. Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add each egg yolk one at a time, beating after each. Add vanilla and cooled chocolate. Mix until well blended.
5. Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk into batter, beating after each addition.
6. After batter is smooth, fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.
7. Pour into 3 9-inch layer pans that are greased and floured.
8. Bake at 360° for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on cake rack.

Coconut and Pecan Frosting
1 cup white sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

Directions
Combine and cook sugar, evaporated milk, butter, beaten eggs and vanilla over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens (about 12 minutes). Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in coconut and pecans. Cool completely, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To assemble
Trim off the “dome” of the bottom 2 layers to help level the cake. Make sure the cake and frosting are completely cooled. Put icing between the layers and as Maw Maw made note, do not frost side of the cake.

Enjoy! Other recipes you may like:

Maw Maw’s Hot Milk Cake


Maw Maw’s Cocoon Cookies


Maw Maw’s Fresh Apple Cake

I honor my maternal lineage: I am Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrine, daughter of Minnie Mae; mother of Jade Lee-Mei.