Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico

In 1974, we moved to New Orleans, the last stop in my dad's career with the American Red Cross. Before that, he did twenty years in the Air Force, so our family experience was one of being transients, rootless visitors to new places, never really belonging anywhere.

To welcome us, our neighbors brought over soup, but it was brown, dark, thick, and a big claw stuck out of the top. What did I know of gumbo? Before a year had passed I'd tackled cracking crabs with an empty Dixie bottle on a newspaper-strewn picnic table, attended my first Mardi Gras, watched slack-jawed as an alligator strolled down our street after a hard rain, and gone out fishing with my brother in a bayou off a local boat launch, only to realize we were under a canopy of oaks where water moccasins hung lazily from the branches and alligators barked at us from down dark arteries of the marsh. I fell in love and I've been here since. I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

The pelican is Louisiana's state bird, but I never really saw one until about 1990. We'd woken up early on a day off in spring, and like Binx Bolling, tooled along the Gulf Coast highway to the Mississippi beaches, about 90 miles east and slightly north of New Orleans. In Gulfport we boarded the Captain Pete and headed out on an hour's ride to Ship Island. We'd done this many times, as it was a favorite escape from civilization - an undeveloped, quiet beach, home to birds and crabs, with a pre-Civil War fort, a snack bar and some bathrooms and a boardwalk, nothing more.

This trip was special, though. As we left the harbor, we saw pelicans, brown pelicans flying alongside the boat, and dotting the wooden piers. They'd been nearly extinguished by chemical pollution and hunters, but here they were, making a comeback.

Over the next few years, the numbers of pelicans we'd see on our drives up to the coast grew, and we'd see them sooner each time. By the mid 1990s they were on over Lake Pontchartrain, in Slidell and Eden Isles. By 2000, I started seeing them flying along the Causeway Bridge, further west over the same lake . And by 2003 or so, their ranks had grown into the city itself, and I'd see them flying and nesting on Bayou St. John, the waterway that connects Mid City to the lake.

In 2004, I got a tattoo based on a Greek key pattern, in a blue that makes me think of the Gulf waters. In 2005, before the storm, I added a pelican rising up over that water, an image taken from a Walter Anderson woodcut; I like how his primitive style echoes the ancient Greek imagery of the wave.

Last week I went to Ship Island, and enjoyed the pelicans and dolphins that accompanied the boat to and from the island. I got sunburned and windswept, and I put the constant news stories of the spill and our inability to stave it off out of my head for a few hours.

But now I'm grieving something fierce, knowing these magnificent birds, along with their dolphin pals, and the many other species - gulls, herons, and more - are being coated in oil, their eggs ruined in their nests - and that they are dying miserable deaths while we are powerless to help them.


I bought a pork belly at Hong Kong Market. Off the Broiler has the skinny on this wonderland in a repurposed Walmart/stripmall in Gretna. With the pig on hand, I set about making us some bacon. I read Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie, but settled on Karen Solomon's recipe for the cure. After 9 days, I dried it, let it form a pellicule over a day, and then smoked it with oak hardwood charcoal, and a mix of cherry and pecan chips. It came out a beautiful color. And it tasted good. I'm going to do this again.

Oyster Freak Out

It's May, 2010. There's oil in the Gulf. I've been craving seafood, and feeling so anxious about our future. Shopping at Whole Foods for dinner, I picked up a dozen oysters as an afterthought - just in case, what if there's no more? - and put them on the grill with butter, garlic and herbs. I normally curse while I'm opening oysters but my cantankerousness was tempered by my need to just treasure the moment.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A Mess o' Chard

Can one cook up a mess o' chard? I mean, chard ain't collards or mustards. But it is greens, and good greens.

I didn't take pictures! I will, next time.

Get the rainbow chard. A nice bundle of rainbow chard has a mixture of red, white and yellow stalks. Clean the bunch in a sink of cold water - soak them, drain, and soak again. The cut the stalks in half-inch lengths, while you gently heat a lot of garlic - a lot of garlic, not a little bit - in some oil. I mix olive oil and vegetable oil.

Saute the stalks while you cut or tear the beautiful greens in ribbons maybe an inch or so wide. Add them a handful at a time and let them deflate in the heat, stirring them with the stalks and garlic. Then turn the fire way down, cover with a lid and let them get soft. The pot likker will come out and the garlic will meld with the greens and crunchy, colorful stalks.

I made a mess o' chard tonight, four bunches of it. We ate it with broiled salmon and little red potatoes.

I remembered to take some ugly iPhone 3G pictures the last time I cooked some chard:

Knox, I heeded your warning and kept it to one bunch.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Waitress in a Donut Shop

Back in the late seventies, I worked at Cafe du Monde, slinging beignets to tourists.

Here's a beignet at Cafe du Monde - pronounced ben-yay (emphasize either syllable, we'll know what to serve you.) Tourist attempts on that ranged from bengays to big nuts to bayonets.

Above is a picture of me in 1976. One day, Madamoiselle magazine did a photo shoot at CDM. We kept trying to slip the models beignets - they were so skinny!

I remember being annoyed with them being in my way all day, and this picture captures that. I don't know why that's the one they chose to publish. There's a little note "Beth age 16" in my mom's handwriting at the top, on my paper hat.