Madisonville, Louisiana (Sundays In My City)

Madisonville, Louisiana, is a charming waterfront community on the shores of the Tchefuncte River near Lake Ponchartrain. It’s a stone’s throw from the Causeway Bridge connecting it by vehicle to New Orleans, less than an hour away. For most of its existence, Madisonville was a  little village on the water’s edge centered on fishing and boat-making. The center of town, along the main highway, Route 22, still retains its charm, although many other areas of the town are now inhabitated by weekenders and commuters with large sprawling homes and pleasure boats in the marina.

Let’s forget about the yachts and McMansions, shall we? Here’s a look at the old part of Madisonville that brings weekenders out for strolling along the banks, the numerous festivals, and the fresh local seafood.  Part of the charm is waiting on the bridge that divides the main highway, Route 22, near the town, causing vehicle long waits in the process.

Route La 22, Little Joe's Food Store
Route La 22, Little Joe’s Food Store
Old Creole House, Madisonville, Louisiana
Old Creole House on piers, Madisonville, Louisiana
pleasure boat
Cruising along the Tchefuncte River
Hot Boiled Seafood is the main attraction

The post is linked to Sundays in My City, hosted by the inimitable Unknown Mami.

Gumbo Ya-Ya

I am living in the New Orleans area once again. Sometimes, it feels like nothing has changed in the decade or so that I lived abroad. The Saints are losing, the weather is hot, and the last mayor is in federal prison. The murder rate is horrific, as the rate of black young males killing each other is a daily feature in the headlines.

Yet, things are different. Hurricane Katrina was not our demise, as many predicted. Many blighted areas of the city are better than before the storm. The public school system, once on par with third-world countries, is a stellar example to many poorer cities of educational reform.

Tourism is stronger than ever as the Quarter has stayed clean and vibrant, shedding some of the seedy bars and t-shirt shops that sprang up in the 70s. It’s also cleaner in terms of trash. Why, it even smells decent most days!

Another sign of the changing times is the increased racial diversity of the city. The city lost more black residents than white over the past 10 years since the Big One, Katrina. The city still retains a black majority but it’s a thin one.

Yet, it’s not only white residents moving to the Big Easy. Latinos and Asians have had the biggest impact on the cultural scene, especially in terms of food. In fact, Vietnamese cuisine is one of the hottest fads in the city today. The descendants of Vietnam War refugees have carved out a place for themselves with unique fare, often melding our storied cultural recipes with new vigor. For instance, Shrimp Creole is turning up all over the city in a new form, with lemon grass and Vietnamese spicy tomato paste combined with a white roux and Gulf shrimp. John Besh’s recipe is the most popular.

Hondurans flocked to the city after Hurricane Katrina as roofers, laborers, and yes, cooks. Their food trucks became increasingly popular after the storm, so much so that restaurateurs lobbied to shut them down. As most immigrants do, they were quick to improvise. A large community of Hondurans live near the New Orleans International Airport. Businesses operated by Hondurans are  often multi-service centers: cafes, grocery stores and places to send money home to relatives. Don’t get me started on the wonderful new world of pupusas, platanos, and tamales. They are here to stay, I think.

The city is famous for melding cultural influences into great food. Gumbo, the famous dish of our region, combines French, Spanish and African traditions.  What about jambalaya? I love jambalaya in almost any form as long as the spice doesn’t overpower the celery, green peppers, shrimp, sausage and or whatever other magic is thrown into the rice pot.

Oh, but they are the naysayers who hate to see the city or the nation embrace new immigrants. Immigrants bring crime! Immigrants won’t assimilate! Immigrants want to change the laws! (Can we hear the Trump bandwagon, with echoes of Alabama’s Wallace fear-mongering?)

Well, in New Orleans at least, it’s the people who have been here for generations who are murdering, selling drugs and committing armed robberies. Most immigrants I have encountered in this city acquire English quickly, usually the main language of the second generation. They are usually hard-working, entreprenurials and family-oriented.

Have we learned nothing from the xenophobia of previous generations?

Who built the Irish Canal in the upper Garden District? The abused, hated, and vilified Irish who moved here over 100 yearas ago rarely could find other work than ditch-digging and other menial labor. New Orleanians do not like to face the facts why the Irish left so few descendants here. They died like slaves digging canals that even free black men refused this work.

What about the  Italian Central Grocery who gave us the fabulous muffaletta? The immigrants ate those olive loaves on the wharves of the Mississippi River because carrying cargo on their backs was often the only work they were allowed to take. Little by little, Italians purchased cargo from ships and sold it on the streets of the city. Then, they opened restaurants all over the city, but it started with carting it on their backs over a century ago.

Yes, we need immigration reform. No doubt it’s needed. But let’s not kid ourselves. Our city, our nation and our world profits greatly when we accept each other, learn from one another, and yes, eat at each other’s tables.

I have no doubt that the presidential cycle will produce no end to what we call “gumbo ya-ya,” which means everyone talking at once. I hope that some of the ya-ya will be intelligent, cogent and helpful. We need to find a way to welcome immigrants and refugees as we seek a path of immigration reform.

Covington Farmers Market

Every Saturday morning, the yard between the courthouse and police station fills with vendors. These folks offer fresh food, prepared foods, plants, and even seafood. In the middle stands a gazebo where local musicians play a fiddle, guitar or the like as shoppers browse and sample the wares.

I go almost every week. The diversity of the products as well as the people surprise me. The shrimp come from an old gentleman who is a native of Vietnam. His English is poor, but the Gulf shrimp are big and fresh off the boat. The Italian cookies and artichoke pies are made and sold by Brazilian immigrants of Italian descent. The fresh beef is raised on a farm owned by an American and oddly, his Costa Rican wife.

Did I mention the pralines? The coconut pralines were the best I have ever eaten even if the price was outrageous: $3 per small praline. By the way, she was the only African-American vendor at the market. In this part of the world, diversity is good, as long as we keep a respectable quota on the darker members of the community.

Covington Farmers Market
Covington Farmers Market has directional markers on the state highway running through town.
Musicians take center stage at Market every Saturday.
These pupusas on the grill were made by a couple hailing from Honduras and El Salvador. Yum!
praline bits
Samples of pralines from the Praline Lady. Oh, my! They were divine.
wine lady
Serendipity wine owner from Bush, Louisiana, looks happy, as any wine lover should be.

Join us for Sundays in My City, even if my offering is a Saturday affair, at Unknown Mami’s blog. SIMC

Ash Wednesday Blues

I have the Ash Wednesday blues. I need a lenten program, fast. I don’t plan on following a diet like Jesus or Moses, without food nor drink for forty days. I want to live, not die, after all.  I am failing at the blue-box frozen Jenny Craig plan. The food tastes appalling, and it’s expensive.

Fat Tuesday has passed, but, I am still fat. Today, I am wearing an oversized hoodie and stretch fabric jeans. Oatmeal simmers on the stove. What’s for dinner?

I am considering a 40-day period of eating like the typical person from a developing country. Many poor Latinos subsist on diet of corn tortillas, beans and rice. Northern Europeans might get by with cabbage, potatoes, and the occasional beer or bit of cheese. South Africans eat corn mush and dried fish when times are hard. Poor Italians use to eat pizza and wine, albeit not Pizza Hut style.  I have lost weight in the past with a 40-day beans and rice diet. Thank God I have an iron constitution. No Beano needed.

Want to add your Lenten ideas? Leave a comment. Or vote in the poll.

And Then There Were None

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Walter, learning to read again

“I am hungry all of the time,” said Walter.

He sat on the steps outside of the kitchen door. His dirty clothes hung off his body.  His hair had whitish wisps around the ears, a sign of malnutrition.

I began to feed Walter and later, his sister.  They lived quite close, so they walked  home after a morning sandwich, and they came back later for a hot meal. We didn’t have the resources or the need to feed all of our kids twice a day. This family was obviously an exception.

The two children lacked water, soap, shoes, and decent clothing. The mother

Walter and Ixa at home
Walter and Ixa at home

worked when she could in the neighborhood cleaning houses in exchange for food. Some days, she had no work, thus, no food to share with the family.

Over the year or so that I knew Walter, he began to change. He began to wash. I often sat with him to practice reading and math skills long forgotten from the days when his mother could afford the fees.

Regular meals and occasional bags of beans and rice sent home allowed mom to spend money on water, soap, and other essentials. In addition, my manager talked with her, and she made a hard but good choice: an older son, who desperately needed more calories as he neared adolescence, was sent to live with her sister. I never forget, though, how she left walking and crying from our doors. No decent mom wants to banish a child from the home.

The new ministry that has taken ownership of my children’s project is seeking sponsors for Walter, his sister Ixa, and nearly 40 other children who lack sponsors. A monthly gift of thirty dollars will help ensure  that each child gets a meal, lessons, recreation, and now, English and computer lessons as a new teacher has come aboard with these skills. In addition, school supplies will be provided for the year.

box of boys (4)
Walter loves our project. He’s always up for a picture, a prank, or a game.

I hope one day we can say that extreme poverty has been lifted in this neighborhood.. I think the Father would cheer if we could say to our supporters: And Then They Were None who didn’t eat daily, or didn’t attend school or collected trash to look for something to eat, wear, or sell. 

To learn more about tax-deductible giving follow the link to His Eyes Honduras.

The Fat Lady Sings

fat lady 2This post is not about a Wagnerian opera. It’s about me. I am the fat lady.

I joined Jenny Craig in late December when the director called, offering to waive the hefty sign-up fee. All I had to do was buy the food. I had talked to her in November, but I flatly refused to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of buying small frozen dinners and a printout of my meal plan for the week.

Four weeks later, and four pounds lighter, I don’t know if this diet is for me. I keep cheating. Just looking at another blue box of Jenny Craig fare makes me think about something better, fresher, and tastier. I have a cycle for most of my adult years: fat, fatter, then wham! thin. Repeat over twenty or thirty years.

Today, I started the day with 2 scones and a cup of Earl Grey tea after dropping off my car at Tire Kingdom. The scones were not low-cal, but they were free. My sister owns a tea shop. Then I walked to a local farmer’s market.

I purchased organic rye bread, a small wheel of goat cheese, and a beef bone. After walking around the center of town for 30-40 minutes, I waited at the tea shop for my ride back to the mechanic shop.  For lunch, I had slices of rye, a smidgen of cheese, and 1/2 an orange. The dog got the bone.

Lucky dog, he is. He has trouble keeping weight on his frame. You can feel his ribs easily. The German Shepherd chases squirrels out of the backyard. If I were to adopt his program, my neighbors might call social services.

Instead, I am walking daily, almost an hour most days. Sometimes I take the dog with me. I feel like the squirrels need a moment of peace.

Tonight,  I will eat home-cooked lentils simmered in coconut milk, served with purple glasses me2rice and  broccoli. I have a box of oranges from my mom’s trees. I picked them a few days ago. They are mind-altering, fantastically fresh and delicious. An orange will be on the menu for dessert, I think.

Jenny would not approve. After all, I am not buying her over-priced frozen entrees.  I think this way of eating, fresh foods rich in protein, fiber and vitamins, may be the key to staying thin for life. I will let you know. It’s not over.