Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Uncle Edwin and My Memories

I went to the funeral.  One of seven children, Edwin James Daniels was born in 1918 in Amite, Louisiana and died in February of 2015.  He was my Dad's brother.  Like many young men of his time, he fought in World War II and was part of the "Avengers of Bataan"  also known as the 38th Infantry-Mechanized Calvary in the Philippines. He was awarded six medals for his service.  Later in his life, the Governor of Louisiana presented him with another medal in appreciation for his service.  His burial at Port Hudson National Cemetery was befitting  a hero.

After the war he married Aunt Lee, as we called her.  Her name was really Shirley, but I never knew that until I read the obituary after her passing six years ago.  They had two sons, David and Chris.  There are also three grandsons and one great-granddaughter.  In his 93 years, Uncle Edwin was a positive influence on this family as he was a Christian and lived a faith filled life.  At his funeral, his grandson recalled the impact of Uncle Edwin's strengths in handshake and in his belief in Christ.  He espoused the importance of "good clean living" and his legacy will live on in his offspring.

Uncle Edwin played a defining role in my life and I did have the opportunity to tell him so during one of our visits before he died.   He worked as the Chief Custodian for the parish schools in Baton Rouge for many years.  He was awarded the "plum" of his occupation by working at the newest and fanciest of the schools in the parish, Tara High School.  Teachers and students alike respected him for his knowledge and ability.   He was in a position to become acquainted with many of the key people in the parish level of supervision of the various subjects taught.  It seems that a Mr. Howard was his friend and also happened to be the person in charge of hiring teachers in the field I was studying in college.  Apparently, Uncle Edwin had bragged that he had a niece who was receiving her degree in teaching and was seeking employment.  Mr. Howard offered me a position and I took it!  That launched my 30 year career in education.  I sincerely believe that Uncle Edwin got that job for me.  There were so many applicants that, until he spoke up for me, I was just another piece of paper looking for a job.

Edwin in blue shirt
I wasn't particularly close to my uncle in my adulthood since marriage, my own children,  career  and a busy schedule kept me from visiting much.  I knew, however, that if I picked up a phone a loving voice would answer.  I did see him at family reunions and an occasional Christmas party and was happy for those times of seeing my relatives on my Dad's side.  Childhood memories of birthday parties that Aunt Lee gave for her boys are cherished ones.  All the cousins were invited and there was always cake, candles and the singing of "Happy Birthday to You."  I remember running and playing in their yard.  In those days birthday parties were at "your house" and your Momma baked the cake and "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" was the entertainment.  Times were simpler, but all the cousins had these parties.  Lots of opportunities to get to know family in those days.

They owned one house during their sixty or so years of marriage and lived in it for almost all that time.  The neighborhood changed, but they stayed and were happy and comfortable there for many years on Sherwood Street.  I also have fond memories of the Sears catalog.  Sounds strange, but my uncle and aunt shopped from the catalog and every time a new one came out, they would drive to our house and give me the catalog from the last season.  I remember paging through that big colorful book and circling all the things I wanted to purchase....if I had the money!  I don't think they ever knew how much enjoyment that simple gift generated.

When I had my own children, every now and then I would get a little envelope in the mail from Aunt Lee and Uncle Edwin.  It was always filled with diaper coupons and a friendly note that they were thinking about us.  The best part of those letters was the two $1.00 bills that were folded in.  There were instructions that the money was to be used to purchase ice cream for my children.  They sent us a Christmas card annually and we did the same back to them.  They always kept in touch and that was greatly appreciated and valued.  Of course, that mail promoted a phone call from me, so we could talk.

Edwin and his sister, Jackie
In his declining years, Uncle Edwin moved to Zachary.  His move, and mine, to the same town placed us in close proximity and I was blessed to get reacquainted with him.  He lived at Oakwood Village and had a small apartment designed for seniors who desire independent living.  It suited him well as he was then a widower and was never known to be a materialistic person.  During the six years he lived there he made many friends.  The ladies liked him because of his pleasant demeanor and he remained a "good looking" fellow until the end of his life.  The gents respected him as a friend and many because of their shared war experiences.  He was kind to everyone he met.

One year he was crowned the King of the Oakwood Village Mardi Gras festivities and the local newspaper put his picture on the front page.  He had a special lady friend and he confided to me, once, that she was so interesting to talk to because she had traveled the world.  I loved to go there and see them sitting in the large living area of Oakwood as they chatted or just sat in silence enjoying each other's company.

Uncle Edwin was a humble man and an all-around nice guy.  When I went to the funeral I saw a lovely display of his war medals and commendations that his sons had organized for the mourners to view.  I regret that I never knew of his brave deeds as a soldier or that his fellow servicemen called him the "Swamp Rabbit."  I suppose he was fast and was familiar with swampy terrain because of his native Louisiana.  This display also included family pictures of his children, grandchildren and his beloved great-grandchild.
"Swamp Rabbit"

In his last few months he was hospitalized several times and I was blessed to visit him on those occasions.  He always had a smile for me and knew my name.  It stunned me that he resembled my father so much.  He didn't seem to be in pain, but there was a feeling that he was ready to meet his Heavenly Father.  He passed away in his sleep and I know he lives in Heaven because he was a perfect candidate for that destination.  I shall remember him always and give thanks that he was my uncle.  Rest in Peace, Uncle Edwin.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Elayne Spinks Kuehler, a Romantic Realist

Plein air painting
When Elayne Spinks Kuehler was three years old, her mother remarked on her daughter's artistic abilities.  Her third grade teacher noticed her ability to draw and often gave her tips on drawing at her desk while the others in the class were coloring or enjoying quiet time with reading.  She admits to pulling the encyclopedia from the shelves at home to spend hours studying the paintings of the Old Masters.  When she was twelve years old, her father told her that he believed that since she loved art so much and was so good at it that she should delve into it whole heartedly and "do something with it.".   While still a teen, she spent her summers dabbling with various media, but admits to loving oil the best.   Her high school art teacher took her aside and told her that she really had talent and should develop it.  When she was eighteen years old, she sold the first painting she ever completed.

"Poetry in Motion"
The journey to becoming a professional artist was not straightforward.  Elayne found herself with small children, a house to manage and a job.  Painting became last in her priorities in her youth, but it was always there.  She reminisced that her son used to cry and cry when she went for an occasional art lesson.  For about eight years she had no time to paint. But she did pursue art and honed her skills.  Today she is recognized all over the country for her beautiful paintings.  Her works can be seen in galleries and in private collections in many places.

She has studied with Barrie Van Osdell, Carol Peebles and Auseklis Ozols who each specialize in a different form of art.  She has crafted her skills and has won many awards for her work.  When she was 28 years old she found directions in an art magazine to enter the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club contest to be allowed the privilege of exhibiting in its gallery in New York.  The CLWAC is named after a collector who wished to promote women artists.  Her painting was accepted and she has since become a member with privileges of exhibiting there.  That was her first competition.  Since then she has won many awards internationally, nationally and regionally.  Her website, lists all of her memberships and exhibitions.
Teaching Studio
Elayne's motto is taken from another famous artist, Michelangelo, who when asked about his worked stated:  "I am still learning."  As a learner she is also a teacher.  She maintains, in addition to her private studio, a teaching classroom where she instructs budding artists.  Some just want to learn the basics but a few have become professional artists in their own right.  She teaches private and group lessons in oil painting.  Her classes include instruction on technique, composition, drawing, color and design.  She has also been known to host "painting parties" from time to time for those just wanting to have fun while expressing themselves creatively.

Elayne's art can be currently seen in several galleries including Taylor Clark Gallery in Baton Rouge, LA or on her website.  She participates in exhibits across the nation and has often been selected to have one person exhibits.  One such recently was in Fayetteville, Texas where she displayed her work featuring the hill country and its beautiful wildflowers.  In October of 2014 her works will appear in the Garden District Gallery  in New Orleans, LA and the Three Rivers Gallery in Covington, LA.  

"Hail Istrouma"-Private Collection
Prints available
Elayne is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and attended Istrouma High School.  This year the school closed and Elayne created an oil painting of the building as she remembered it from her days there in the mid 60's.  Istrouma has the unique distinction of having a closely-knit group of alums that gathers at least bi-annually at someone's country home for a meal, music and fun.  The hosts of these gatherings are to be the recipients of the original oil painting as they have some very generous and appreciative friends.  In order for more people to have a copy of the painting Elayne had giclée prints made for folks to purchase.  These prints can be ordered directly from Elayne  by contacting her through her website.  They can also be purchased from Taylor Clark Gallery in Baton Rouge, LA.  One can learn more about the alumni gatherings for graduates of the 50's and 60's by reading another post by this blogger

"Azalea Still Life"-award winner

Elayne Kuehler is a prolific painter who focuses on oil painting, but is equally talented with pencil drawings and she has illustrated a children's book as well.  If you are lucky enough to see her works in person you should not miss the chance.  However, her website depicts many still life paintings, pencil drawings, miniatures, landscapes and wild life works.  She is versatile and widely recognized for her passion for art.  She is shown here at the Brush With Burden exhibit in Baton Rouge in the spring of 2014 beside her award winning painting, Azalea Still Life.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Musical Reflections of Boomers of the Deep South

Recently, Next Avenue,  popular website for "grownups who keep growing" published an article delineating The 15 Songs That Defined the Boomer Generation by Doug Bradley.  The link was shared on a closed Facebook page where about 200 high school boomer friends are members.  Most agreed with the list, but would have added tunes by the Righteous Brothers; Peter, Paul and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel.

My friends and I grew up in south Louisiana and went to a huge high school where there were about 500 graduates each year during the 60's.  Through the miracle of social media, many of us have reconnected.  We enjoy sharing our ideas, pictures, prayer requests, happy times and sorrows each morning as we gather for coffee together on the Internet in our various locations around the world.  We often post songs that stir memories of our younger days.  At least twice yearly we get together in person to celebrate our shared pasts and our present endeavors.  When we read Doug Bradley's article it set our minds whirring about our teen days and the music that became the fabric that still binds us together.

One friend, Judy, stated:  "My grandkids like music, but it's not part of their being - not the way it was with us.  I think we had something really special."  Then it began.  We started forming our own list.  We collectively decided that such lists are probably regional so we began to think of songs from the southern part of the country and particularly our home state, Louisiana.

Many of us still remember the first transistor radios we owned as kids.  The one I got for Christmas when I was 12 was green.  I loved that radio so much that I kept it by my pillow at night.  We were able to get on our party-line telephones and call the local radio stations to request songs or dedicate songs to special folks or our current crushes.  Then we had to wait up to listen to see if the DJ played our requests and read our dedications.  Often names were not mentioned.  It was sort of a code with words such as this:  "Dedicated to R. by D."  It was a code and the teens knew the meanings.

We also had many rock bands that formed in our parents' garages and always included a drummer, a guitar player and at least one vocalist.  Often there was a horn section, too.  The bands hired out for school dances and parties and were very affordable as we really didn't have much money in those days.  Some of the bands caught the ear of a local producer and got "recorded"  Names such as "John Fred and the Playboys", "Van Broussard" and "Floyd Brown" became well known as they had been successes.

It's not uncommon for boomers in my area to have impromptu gatherings to play the old songs while some dance.  My friend, Frank, owns a jukebox where he frequently loads the old favorites and plays them for us when we gather.  It's truly a magical way to travel in time.

We were influenced by New Orleans musicians and even claimed them as our own.  Many of these became well known around the country and had billboard hits.  There were basically two kinds of songs:  (1) "belt buckle polishers" aka "belly rubbing" music and (2) jitterbug music.  The variation on fast dancing included the Twist and maybe an early line dance known as the Stroll.  It was not uncommon to see girls dancing with girls as they boys were often shy, unskilled or both with the fast songs.  Some our music stirred memories of the war of our generation that was called the Vietnam Conflict.  Some of the tunes reminded us of the rebellion from the music of our parents.  Some even reminded us of learning new dances by watching dance shows on our black and white televisions after school.

We got our music from television, radios and record players for the 45 rpm vinyls that were very popular and easily affordable.  We could buy the week's top tunes for less than a dollar each and it was not at all expensive to collect many hits tunes.  The next big change in the way we listened to music was when 8-track players became popular.  If all else failed, you could just get in your hotrod and listen to the local radio stations to get your music fix.

After much Facebook bantering and discussion we came up with a list of the songs that had influence on the Boomers of the Deep South during the 60's, as that was the decade of our youth.  Perhaps we cannot say they "defined" us, but we still like to hear them and many of us still enjoy dancing to them.  They are listed in no particular order and for the sake of brevity, is highly edited as we had so many suggestions.  The performers of the song versions we remember are listed in parentheses.

Many of these songs can be purchased yet today electronically, some are available in shops such as Atomic Pop Shop that specializes in the old tunes and the old ways of listening to them.  Some, however, exist only in our hearts and memories.

Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)
I Can't Sleep if I Can't Sleep With You (Floyd Brown)
Kiss Me Just One More Time (Floyd Brown)
Mother In Law (Ernie K-Doe)
It's Raining (Irma Thomas)
Ruler of My Heart (Irma Thomas)
Lipstick Traces (Benny Spellman)
Anna (Arthur Alexander)
You Better Move On (Arthur Alexander)
Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino)
Crazy Baby (Van Broussard)
Feed the Flame (Van Broussard)
Judy in Disguise (John Fred and the Playboys)
All These Things (Art Neville)
Mustang Sally (Wilson Pickett)
I'm Leaving it up to You (Dale and Grace)
Sweet Soul Music (Arthur Conley)
St. James Infirmary (Bobby "Blue" Bland)
Ya Ya (Lee Dorsey)
Working in the Coal Mine (Lee Dorsey)
Counting the Steps (Greek Fountains)
Keep Your Hands off My Baby (Hal Ellis and Ye Old Inn Crowd)
and lastly, ANYTHING by Elvis Presley, a true southerner!

Thanks for Frank Parker, a dear friend, for allowing access to his extensive collection of music from our boomer era.  Also a thank you very much and a "shout out" to Atomic Pop Shop in Baton Rouge, LA for the excellent pictures of the record players.  Many of these songs are on Youtube....just listen to your heart's content and enjoy.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pepper Heaven on Earth

The Poblano pepper is a mild chili pepper that originated in Puebla, Mexico.  It's a large pepper and many grow to be about the size of an adult hand.  Probably the most popular way to serve this flavorful vegetable is Chile Relleno that consists of roasted Poblanos, stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg white and flour and fried until the cheese melts.  It's a common menu item in restaurants that serve Mexican and/or Southwestern cuisine.  My husband and I have become very fond of this dish and wondered other ways to "stuff" the peppers that have become readily available in our grocery stores.

I grew up with stuffed green bell peppers, since my parents grew them in a garden almost every year.  My mom would use a ground beef and rice mixture and I got to be pretty proficient with that dish.  I developed a recipe for those and it can be found by clicking this link to another edition of Weekday Rambler.  The preparation of the Poblano pepper that requires roasting and removing the skin before cooking had remained a mystery to me, but was a technique I was eager to learn.

roasting over flame
The other day my husband came home with a sack full of beautiful Poblano peppers.  It just so happens that I have a very good resource for learning to cook with this ingredient.  My neighbor, Patti, was born and grew up in Mexico and is an expert chef!  Yesterday she was at my house and I was able to get a first hand demonstration of the roasting technique.   She showed me how to roast the peppers over the open flame of my gas cooktop and peel away the scorched skin.  She also showed me how to slit  and remove the inedible seeds without using a knife, thereby not compromising the integrity of the pepper and so it would hold its shape during preparation.

after roasting, let it set
The first thing to do is to wash the peppers using a vegetable brush and drain them on paper towels to make sure the skin doesn't have excess moisture.  Leave the stems intact.  The stem is not eaten, but while roasting you hold on to the stem as the peppers are turned in the flame.  When the pepper is blistered and has a charred appearance all over, remove it from the flame and place it in a bag.  Patti said to use a plastic bag.  Some recipes I found on the Internet suggested a paper bag.  She also suggested adding a little salt to the bag and wrapping in a damp kitchen towel while letting it set for about 3 or 4 minutes.

The next step is to peel away the skin.  This is faster if you do it with a stream of water running to help "rinse" away the tiny pieces that may  get stuck to the surface.  Patti suggested the technique of using  "all of your fingers to massage the skin from the pepper.  I had a tendency to scrape and that wasn't working well.
remove skin

When the skin is removed, turn the pepper to "feel" the weakest point and use your finger to "slit" a small opening.  A knife can be used but it is easier to control the size of the slit if one is not used.  The seeds will be exposed and these are also easily removed with your hands.  Every seed should be removed as they can be "heat" filled if you bit down on one while eating.  The running water can be used to rinse the pepper to get all the seeds out.

The peppers can be roasted ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to fill and bake.

Patti's words of: "be patient, don't rush the process, be gentle with the peppers and don't burn your hand"  came to me the entire time I was preparing the vegetables for the delicious shrimp stuffing I was planning to use.  I found a recipe on the Epicurious website and I loosely followed it with a few changes to suit ingredients I had in my kitchen and to our tastes.  Here's what I came up with for the stuffing.

Ingredients for the filling that I used:
2 T. melted butter
1/2 c. (or so) chopped Vidalia onion
1 T. minced garlic (from a jar if you don't have fresh)
1/4 c. (or so) chopped parsley (or cilantro)
1/2 c. chopped red bell pepper
1/2 c. goat cheese (natural, not flavored)
1/4 c. Monterrey Jack cheese cut in chunks
1/2 lb. boiled shrimp, peeled and coarsely chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion, garlic, cilantro, red bell pepper in the butter until tender.  Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese, shrimp and seasonings.  Spoon the filling into the cavities of the prepared Poblano peppers.  Place the peppers in a baking dish sprayed with a nonstick coating and bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the filling is hot.  This makes four peppers and serves two generously.

Now the finishing touch is the Red Bell Pepper Sauce that I adapted from the Epicurious recipe found at the link given above.  I altered the recipe by leaving out the step of roasting the red bell peppers and by using a scant handful of pickled jalapeño peppers instead of a fresh serrano pepper to add "heat" to the sauce.  I also used my food processor instead of my blender.  It occurred to me that I could have used an immersion blended to puree the sauce after the broth was added.

Sauce Ingredients that I used:
1 T. olive oil
2 T. (or so) chopped vidalia onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 red bell peppers, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. pickled jalapeño pepper slices
1 chicken bullion cube dissolved in boiling water

Saute vegetables in the olive oil until tender.  Add the chicken bullion mixture and puree in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender.  Return to pan to keep warm until ready to serve

The plating can be seen in the picture.  Our side dish was Jazzmen rice garnished with basil from our garden.  I had some Monterrey Jack cheese on hand, so I melted a little with additional chicken broth for a topping before serving.

The entire process took about 3 hours, so don't attempt this on a day when you are in a hurry for a quick meal.  I do recommend that you try it as it will broaden your culinary horizons and increase your appreciation for Mexican cooking.   Thank you, Patti, for all of your help!  I am more confident now and plan to try other fillings.   Let's see.....ground beef,  chorizo, rice and cheese....the possibilities are endless.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

La Divina Italian Cafe....It's Simply Divine!

Lance and Mary LeBlanc were enamoured with the gelato from La Divina Gelateria in New Orleans, so they wanted to share it with their hometown, Baton Rouge.  The owners of the original stores, Katrina and Carmelo Turillo, were inspired to create gelato that would replicate the taste of the frozen dessert they learned to love while living in Italy.  The LeBlancs became interested in bringing the gelato to Baton Rouge because of its unique qualities: 1/3 less fat and fewer calories than ice cream, and it is served at a slightly warmer temperature than traditional ice cream.  The combination of less fat to coat the tongue, and the fact that taste buds are not frozen allows the flavor to shine through.

The crowning glory of La Divina is the artisan gelato and sorbetto.  The ingredients are fresh and many times from local vendors.  The frozen desserts are made at the  New Orleans Magazine Street location and are delivered weekly by Carmelo.  The small batch production ensures quality in product and the flavors. The offerings change seasonally, but there are a few staples that are real crowd pleasers.  The Bourbon Pecan  has a hearty bourbon aroma and flavor and is laced with toasted nuts. The Azteca Chocolate is made with Valrhona couverture, local honey, cinnamon and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.  Peach Amaretto sorbetto.......well the name says it all.  The Ping Pong flavor is pink, fruity and fun and is a favorite with kids of all ages.

Gelato & Sorbetto
The gelato and sorbetto can be purchased in very small amounts
(2 oz. bambino portion) to a full quart to take home.  If a customer cannot decide on a flavor, the tastes are free until such an important decision can be made.  There are normally 24 flavors from which to select.  They even make a gelato for dogs...not kidding!

The menu also features a variety of espresso drinks, pastries, panini, soups, salads and creative side dishes.  The full menu can be found at this link.  For announcements of daily specials and  of new flavors, their  Facebook page is invaluable.

Custom Coffee
Espresso drinks are served all day, and the baristas have fun creating new drinks to add some variety to the selections.   The coffee is custom roasted  100% Arabica and can also be purchased in bulk under the LaDivina label.  The most recent specialty drink item is Butter Coffee using grass fed butter and coconut oil.  Those following carb free diets really like that one.  The coffee menu is rounded out with mocha, cappuccino, macchiato and basic espresso.  Every Monday morning there is a BOGO special where you can indulge yourself and a friend.   Coffee drinkers and dessert lovers will also be tempted by the variety of fresh baked pastries.  The pastry selection changes daily and it doesn't disappoint.

My favorite panini is the Cabrini.  It is served warm, and the ingredients include  prosciutto, creamy chèvre cheese,  Asian pears and a tangy honey mustard sauce.  The Carmelo (named after the creator of the restaurant) is a scrumptcious concoction of seasonal vegetables, pecorino cheese and arugula pesto.  The sandwich paired with the house made Zuppa create a great meal.  Tomato Basil soup speaks for itself, but the Tuscano merits an ingredient list so you can get the full idea of this delicious menu item served almost daily.  It starts with a cream base and is chocked full of Italian sausages, chopped kale and potatoes.  It is hearty and could be a meal in itself.

Carmelo Panini
Don't be fooled into thinking you are eating light if you order  Insalate.  The salads are huge!  You could share one and still be completely satisfied.  The Azul is made with romaine lettuce, sliced red onion, gorgonzola cheese, spiced pecans and a soft boiled egg.  All are tossed in a red wine viniagrette dressing.  The Il Polo has grilled chicken slices, romaine lettuce, avocado slices,  red onion and tomatoes in a pancetta vinaigrette dressing.   This summer an "off the menu" special was the Strawberry Insalate made with fresh Louisiana fruit and a fruity balsamic dressing.
Strawberry Insalate

For those wishing to have a side dish with a panini or salad, there are several of those, too.  There are Rosemary Roasted Potatoes served up in a large bowl and house marinated olives.  The very best side (in my opinion and worth driving 30 minutes from my house to LaDivina) is the Truffled Mac and Cheese.

Truffled Mac & Cheese

The space at LaDivina Italian Cafe is pleasing with an eclectic look that pops with a bright orange color and speaks of loving attention to detail. Lance found the chairs at auction and refurbished them.  He also gave the plain tables a faux marble finish.  A local furniture maker designed and constructed the banquettes along the side walls.  There are always fresh flowers on the table and most are grown in Mary's garden at home.  The copper topped bar area was hand crafted by Lance and is unique and functional.

Copper Bar
The artwork on the walls is changed monthly  as they feature local artists.  On my last visit the art of Claudia LeJeune, a juried watercolorist, was featured.  The paintings are for sale or for your enjoyment as you dine.   Lance and Mary support the arts in Baton Rouge and have donated gelato to various art events.
Casual Ambience

Except in the summer, La Divina hosts a monthly Italian Night.  The programs are varied but include mandolin music and lessons in speaking Italian.  Announcements of the programs and dates are found on their Facebook page.

 La Divina is a great place to hang out, drink coffee and eat.  Drop in for coffee, gelato, breakfast, lunch or dinner, and be transported to a little part of Italy.  The restaurant is located at 3535 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, LA in the Acadian Village Shopping Center.

Be sure to tell Mary and Lance that I sent you and enjoy!

Mary & Lance LeBlanc

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is it Fall? Time for Louisiana Yams

My friend, Cookie, reminded me in September to order sweet potatoes from the West Feliciana 4H Club in St. Francisville, Louisiana.  Having missed out on purchasing Louisiana Yams last year, I had asked to be informed.   I sent my check and was given and call last week to come and pick them up.

Having no idea where to go, I asked for directions.  When the kind lady started telling me to turn down the gravel road and follow the signs, I knew I wasn't taking the Blue Cloud to pick up my order.  I enlisted my husband and his trusty Tundra to go on the errand with me.

If you have never been to the 4H facility in St. Francisville, it would be worth a trip just to see the wonderful place for kids to participate in some healthy recreation and education.  I didn't know it but was told that the 4H members sell yams (as they are called if grown in Louisiana) every year, just as scouts sell cookies.  They even have a competition to see who can sell the most.  The proceeds of the sale go to fund 4H projects and camps during the year.  This snapshot of the 4H barn shows a livestock show in progress. On the day we visited, the barn was packed with boxes of yams.  Cars and trucks were lined up to pick up their orders.
Photo by Feliciana Explorer

 For those who are not familiar with Louisiana, yams are a big deal.  There is even an organization for the promotion of the product.  It's the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission and the spokesperson is Holly Clegg.  Holly is a chef and cookbook author as well.  She promotes eating sweet potatoes as part of a healthy diet.  The LSU Ag Center is responsible for the research over the years to develop this truly unique product.  According to an Ag Center publication,  "sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and vitamin C when baked in the skin.  They are low in sodium, fat and saturated fat.  One medium-size baked sweet potato has only 103 calories."

There a hundreds of recipes for sweet potatoes and Yams but I have collected a few really easy ones to share with you. None of my recipes involve marshmallows, even though the addition of those is popularly associated with yam cookery.   Those you don't cook can be stored in a cool dry place for several months.  The recommended storage temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees F.  They can also be baked in their skins, wrapped individually in plastic wrap and frozen with good results.  If you don't live in Louisiana, you can substitute sweet potatoes grown in other parts of the country and yearn for the real thing!

The easiest Yam recipe of all:

Baked Yams

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with foil.  Using a vegetable brush, clean the yams, leaving the skins on. Pierce each one once with a fork.  Rub each yam with olive oil and sprinkle with a dash of sea salt.  Bake on cookie sheet for about an hour.  Split open and garnish with butter and/or cinnamon.

Here's one requiring a little more preparation:

It's is adapted from one I saw on WAFB television prepared by Chef John Folse.  The recipe in it's entirety can be found on, but this is a short version.

Holiday Yams by Chef John Folse

8 Louisiana yams
1/4 pound butter
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
4-5 whole cloves
pinch nutmeg 

Choose 8 yams of similar size. Peel yams and place in a large pot with enough water to cover the yams. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Cook until yams are fork-tender. There should be no more than ½-inch of water remaining in the bottom of the pot. Stir in butter, sugar, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg then continue to simmer until sugar is dissolved and a simple syrup is achieved. Simmer over low heat until yams have absorbed most of the simple syrup but are not falling apart. Serve one yam per guest with an equal serving of the simple syrup.

And best of all:  
Cookie's Sweet Potato Bread (see note below)

1 cup mashed cooked Louisiana yams*
1 ½ cups self rising flour**
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons milk
1 cup chopped pecans & 1/2 cup raisins or Craisins***

1.    Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease bottom only of a loaf pan
2.    Stir together flour, spices, sugar, eggs, oil and milk.  Blend well.
3.    Stir in yams, pecans and raisins.
4.    Pour batter into prepared pan.
5.    Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the middle “comes out clean.”
6.    Cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to serving plate.

*about three fist sized potatoes, boiled and peeled
**If using all purpose flour, add 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder and ¾ teaspoon salt
***better when soaked in orange juice and drained

Note:  Cookie advised me it wouldn't last long.  I didn't even get a good picture so had to snag one of a similar recipe from the internet. 

My sous chef is really growing.  Here is a recent picture of her enjoying her Cheetos on the patio.  She has her feet propped up just like her Granny Dot!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Steve Lalande: A True Talent and a Celebrity Among Us

Steve Lalande
Recently Runnels Theater for the Performing Arts presented Hello, Dolly!  My friend Steve Lalande posted on Facebook that he wanted his friends to come see the musical and watch him in the role of Cornelius Hackl.  A few of us got tickets and went.  It  has been great getting reacquainted with Steve from our 1960's years at Istrouma High School and a thrill to see him on stage with his surprising talents.

Runnels produces a series of shows during the year including one featuring community actors and it was Steve's debut on that stage.  Those of us who attended agreed that "our own" Steve cannot only act, but sing and dance as well.  His return to Baton Rouge from 34 years of living in the Los Angeles area, was a prelude to his return to the stage.    By day he works as an Office Assistant for Taylor, Porter, Brooks and Phillips, the oldest law firm in the Baton Rouge area.  Working for the law firm is his second career.  He worked for many years as a professional actor.

In a recent conversation, Steve confessed his shyness during  high school, which was when I knew him last.  Forty five years ago he had never been on a stage nor had he ever seen a play.  In 1969 Steve hitchhiked to Los Angeles to visit his sister, Priscilla who is also an IHS graduate, class of 1967.  He stayed a couple of weeks and saw Hair at the famous Aqaurius Theatre. The then controversial rock musical made a huge impression on him and he became enamored with theater after seeing the performance.

When he returned to his studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he wasn't so sure he wanted to major in computer programming after all.  He made no changes, however, but found that he needed an elective course for the semester.    His friend,  Mike Stewart (IHS grad 1965), talked him into taking a theater class because:  "The prettiest girls on campus take those classes."  That was the beginning of his show biz days.    His friend's suggestion turned into a life changing choice.

His first performance was in 1971 for Lafayette Little Theater.  Later that same year he was featured in the leading role of the university's production of The Little French Tailor.  A transfer to Louisiana State University in his junior year found him on the stages there as he worked toward and received his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre.

In his first performance at LSU he distinguished himself by receiving the Best Actor Award for his performance as the Messenger in The Bacchaea Greek tragedy. Under the coaching of Gresdna Doty he won the role of Dr. Bradman in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit for which he received great reviews.

Baton Rouge Little Theater's production of Fiddler on the Roof found Steve as a Bottle Dancer. (The link is from the movie, so you can get the idea of the significance of being a Bottle Dancer…quite impressive stuff to say the least!)  He studied dancing under Elissa Fuchs and also had the role of Peter in the Prokofiev ballet,  Peter and the Wolf.  A star was born!!

After his college years,  he auditioned for and won roles in various regional theaters.  His first professional role was in Drumbeats in Georgia by Pulitzer Prize Winning play writer,  Paul Green, in Jekyll Island, Georgia.   He also toured with the American Living History Theatre in the role of Alexander Hamilton.  I recently looked at Hamilton's picture on a $10 bill and it was "Steve."  He joked that he became Alexander Hamilton during those three years in that role. He also had the role of Albert Einstein in Cabaret Dada directed by Buddy Ebsen.
In 1974 he returned to California  for a month's visit with his sister that turned into 34 years.   He was lured by the acting opportunities and got an agent. (This photo is a picture from his original portfolio.)  He had roles on television in Benson, Three's Company and even a commercial for truck bed liners.  It was a living!  After his one appearance on Benson that aired on nationwide television, he was recognized on the street several times by people who had seen him on television.  He had a one word line, but it was memorable and funny!  While many of us were at home raising kids and working at our various occupations, our friend Steve, was in Hollywood appearing on television and on stage.

He once auditioned for the lead in a television series,  Half Nelson.  The audition call was for men with  leading man looks and short stature.   He made it to the finals only to lose the role to Joe Pesci, an unknown at that time.  Entertainment Tonight did a clip on the auditions because the actors all had to be under 5'5".  Steve was in good company. Other actors meeting those requirements are Dustin Hoffman, Joel Gray, Danny Divito, Michael J. Fox to name a few.

His self professed claim to fame was his four year stint (1981 to 1985) as Steve the Waiter in General Hospital.  After 50 episodes of waiting tables and pouring bubbly, Steve had his first speaking role on the soap opera.  He brought a telephone to Dr. Quartermaine who was dining in the Haunted Star Nightclub and said:  "Telephone call for you, Sir."  Steve showed me a short DVD compilation of his 90 appearances in General Hospital, and that, he jests, was his most frequent line.  He quipped, "Seems  that every one wanted a phone!"

Actors know the significance in "hitting your mark" while performing.  In one of his speaking roles he overstepped the mark and ended up between the camera and Stuart Damon (Dr. Quartermaine).  Steve was impressed by the kindness of Damon, who instead of yelling "Cut", just leaned over around Steve the Waiter to say his lines.  This was a prime example of how genuinely nice the actors were to their fellow cast members.  As Steve the Waiter, he got to meet Elizabeth Taylor,  John Stamos, Sammy Davis, Jr, Rick Springfield and many other stars who had cameo roles on General Hospital.  The romance of Luke and Laura was a great part of his own life.

In 1985 Steve was working as a Film Industry Courier and one of the clients for script delivery was  Julie Andrews.  He was eventually hired to work exclusively for Julie and her husband, movie writer and director, Blake Edwards as a driver for their family.  That association turned into a position as a Production Coordinator, Assistant Director and Production Assistant for Blake Edwards on seven films.  He was the Production Assistant on Bruce Willis' first movie, Blind Date with Kim Basinger.  He had the privilege of meeting and working with  all the stars in those movies including John Larroquette, Jack Lemmon, George Carlin and James Garner among others.

In 2009, Steve returned to his beloved Louisiana.  He missed acting and auditioned for Hello, Dolly!  because a colleague encouraged him to do so.  He reluctantly showed up and was the last to try out for the chorus.  After several days of no contact, he decided he had not won any part.  Imagine his surprise when Director, Ann Dalrymple, emailed him with an offer of a role.  She had a keen eye, as he was perfect for the part of Cornelius Hackl.   His debut on the Runnels stage caused him great exhiliration only found in performing.   As Cornelius Hackl,  he demonstrated that he had not forgotten his craft.  He sang and danced with ease and apparent glee.

The minute he appeared on stage I knew I was in the presence of a true talent.  His confidence and stage presence were reassuring.  He nailed the character.  Costumed in a bright orange wide lapel three piece suit and a matching hat, he was transformed into a hay and feed store chief clerk who had never experienced the big city and a love life!  And who knew he could sing and dance?  My favorite of the songs he sang was It Only Takes a Moment." When I praised his singing he said: "Well, it wasn't Michael Crawford."  I thought it was just as superb!

After all those years in Hollywood he brags that his finest part is being the father of his daughter, Emily.  Emily is a beautiful young woman who from childhood was in television commercials.  Her theater interest led her to win the role of the voice of Peppermint Patti in an animated Charlie Brown Valentine special.  She, too, has "retired" from acting is is pursuing the profession of teaching.  She and her dad are very close even though she still lives in California.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing Steve Lalande on other stages in the area.  He told me that performing "gets in your blood" and it must be pursued with passion.  The audition, the  rehearsing and the performance are very fulfilling.  It's hard work, but worth it in his opinion.  He endeavors to "use creative expression to move and inspire the audience," and I believe he is most successful in doing that.  Baton Rouge and Louisiana are lucky to reclaim one of their own.  Welcome home, Steve.  Break a leg!