A Louisiana Holiday Adventure

28 12 2015

As I took the ornaments off the tree, I realize that my sweetie and I have truly blended our lives together. We now have ornaments from our adventures together. This season we embraced what was different and had a unique, beautiful, humid, delicious, Louisiana holiday adventure.

Fleur de lis

Thanksgiving
It started at a large extended family gathering at my Uncle and his wife’s new Marrero home.  Though I’d been to New Orleans countless times, I’d never been to it’s West Bank. The Thanksgiving food and family were all familiar. Everyone brought a dish and even the men cook down here, so no one was burdened with all the cooking. There was the traditional turkey, to the traditional southern pecan pie, to Louisiana influences like casseroles of shrimp and squash, and praline topped sweet potatoes. But friends, family, laughter, and raucous storytelling were the main course as we all reconnected in a new locale.

The following day my sweetie and I headed down to the small town named after the pirate, Jean Lafitte. We journeyed to where the bayou spills out into the Gulf of Mexico to visit more extended family. This Louisiana son is a teacher and a shrimper. He and his family live in the home his grandfather built. We arrived to freshly made beignets and strong, rich coffee served in the dining room overlooking the bayou where his Lafitte Skiff is docked.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

It’s a beautiful day with a light breeze. Just like he knows the importance of the weather because it’s critical to his livelihood, he knows all his neighbors. We walk out to the pier and he waves at a friend going out to catch oysters. I’m surrounded by a community that understands the Louisiana landscape in a way I never will. He points to a spot across the bayou in the marsh. He says that’s the favorite perch for a pair of bald eagles. He knows where they live and where they hunt, just like all his other neighbors.

Bonfires
The Bonfires on the Levees are one of Louisiana’s most unique traditions. It goes back to 1870 in a river parish between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The bonfires light the way for Papa Noel on his travels down the Mississippi River. I’d always heard that it started as a way to let anyone traveling on the river at Christmas know they had a welcome place to stop for the night.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

I have a friend whose parents open their River Road home to all. Her Mom grew up in this vintage 1930’s house. The home’s love and traditions has stayed the same over the many decades. Friends and their large family are always welcome and there’s a big pot of gumbo on the stove for everyone.

Full moon over the bonfires.

Full moon over the bonfires.

The fires are lit soon after sunset and fireworks mingle with the sparks of the fires as far as the eye can see. A full moon breaks through the clouds. It’s a magic sparkle and I feel deeply connected to the uniqueness of my home state.

New Orleans
It’s said that Governor Huey Long built the highway from the capital in Baton Rouge to New Orleans in the 1930’s so he could get to the most elegant hotel in New Orleans faster. That hotel has lived many lives since then, and there is still no more elegant hotel in New Orleans than the Roosevelt at Christmastime. It’s lobby is a wonderland of thousands of white lights in branches and trees, ornaments with accents of red velvet bows and poinsettias.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

Christmas night there was my gift. We sat in the Sazerac Bar and sipped our Christmas cocktails and watched the crowd ebb and flow. There were as many tourists as there were locals, dressed in shorts as well as in their best holiday finery. Everyone wants to walk through the beautiful lobby and soak in the holiday spirit.

We leave to take a drive through the light display in City Park and meander back to the Garden District where we find Igor’s, a 24-hour dive bar/game room/laundromat.  We grab a burger at the bar served by an exhausted bartender in a red tutu at the end of her shift. In contrast, the next day we have a meal at the John Besh’s restaurant, Luke. We feast on oysters, quail, mussels, and wild boar ragout. And whether it’s a burger at a dive bar or fine dining…all meals in New Orleans are special and delicious.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

My Louisiana holiday has been rich and bountiful; it’s been full of new and old traditions. It has been filled with people I love. We have dearly missed those who were not with us.

May the New Year be bountiful and full of adventure for us all.

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Maw Maw’s Naked Lady Bowls

17 11 2013

I love Thanksgiving and it’s traditions. I bring out dishes and silver that have been handled by so many loving hands in my family. I love the connection to the past and to the future.

My grandparents with their two small children moved from a small town in east Texas to south Louisiana in the 30’s. It must have been such a culture shock to all they knew. They came from white gravy and chicken fried steak and everybody being Baptist to a land of roux and gumbo and diversity and not everyone being Baptist.

My mom tells me she remembers asking her mother who those women were that wore long black dresses and covered their hair in a long black drape. She was told they were holy women. My mom thought that meant that the long black clothes were covering the holes in their body.

The Naked Lady Bowl
 naked lady bowl

My grandfather moved to Baton Rouge to be the advertising manager of the Coca- Cola Bottling Co. (It’s just dawning on me as I write this, the family heritage of being marketers…love that.) His boss was a sophisticated and learned man and was Jewish. He gave my grandfather a beautiful bowl set as a thank you for a job well done. It was a beautiful set with a large bowl with six smaller serving bowls. It’s bone china with gold inlay. It has Goddesses at play painted in the bottom of each piece.

That’s the part where I know it got complicated for my grandmother. You see, some of these goddess are bare breasted. I know my grandmother would have known the value of this gift. I can only imagine her Baptist horror over the nakedness of those ladies. This southern woman could never be anything but gracious over this generous gift. Her solution was to bring it out only at Thanksgiving and to keep the bowls filled with what else…Ambrosia…the food of the Gods.

A Tradition Continues
I will continue with that tradition this Thanksgiving. My 85-year-old mom will come over and supervise me making the fruit salad and be the official taster. My daughter will help as we peel the apples, juice the fresh lemons, add the bananas, oranges, pineapple, coconut and sugar to taste. I love that this recipe goes back to my great grandmother and has been passed down to four generations of daughters. The recipe is not written anywhere; making it together—mother to daughter, mother to daughter is how it is learned. Over countless conversations, laughter, teenage attitude at having to peel apples, it has been passed from one generation to another.

Priceless

This small bowl is chipped and glued together making it even more precious to me.

This small bowl is chipped and glued together making it even more precious to me.

This bowl set may be of some value. I sometimes imagine I could go on the Antiques Roadshow and be one of those people who gasp over how much it’s monetary value is. But I will never sell it. It’s not mine to sell. It’s my future great grandchild’s who I hope will still be making ambrosia that she learned from her mother and is teaching her daughter how to make. And will be putting it in the Naked Lady bowl.

Mother to Daughter
I am Connie Lee, mother of Jade Lee-Mei, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrine, daughter of Minnie Mae.