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!

Monday, September 30, 2013

My Aunt Minnie Lou from Tangipahoa

Yesterday I attended my Aunt Minnie Lou Hutchinson's 90th birthday party!  She is an inspiring person with a reputation for  good works for her family and her community.  The birthday party was held at the Methodist Church in Tangipahoa, Louisiana where she has been a member for her entire adult life.  The party was preceded in a church service where she was honored.  She was one of seven children and sister to my mother.  The sisters were close in age and in spirit throughout their lives and so my cousins were always close to me.

Her birthday party was a grand affair.  Almost all of her family members were there including children,  grandchildren and great grandchildren.  The room was also packed with friends and other relatives who came to wish her well.
Aunt Minnie Lou and husband, Uncle Harvey were married 53 years when Harvey passed away in 1997.  They had four children:  Harvey, Wallace, Montie Sue and Nelwyn.   She is the grandmother of nine and the great grandmother of twelve.

Harvey & Minnie Lou
Ready for an Event
Minnie Lou and Harvey were always quite the pair!  She and Uncle Harvey were community and church leaders and active in Eastern Star and The Masons.  She still belongs to the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  Her chapter of UDC was in part responsible for renovations and upkeep of Camp Moore, a Civil War site, that is now a national park and museum.  Up until recently she was an officer in the group. Although she never said, I always felt that my Mom was secretly jealous of the beautiful evening gowns and active social life that her sister enjoyed.

Their lives were not elaborate.  They ran a dairy farm.  Both would wake before dawn each day to milk the cows and then repeat the process at day's end.  After the farm was sold, because of construction of Interstate 1-55 through the middle of their property, they settled into semi-retirement.  Uncle Harvey had a desk job for a while.
In 1964 she was hired as the Town Clerk for the newly incorporated Village of Tangipahoa and served in that capacity for over 43 years.  

With the Governor
As Town Clerk,  she did everything from field complaints to managing water bills for the residents. When she retired most of the community showed up to pay honor  this tireless community servant. A retirement dinner honored her as a person and as a dedicated employee.  In her photo albums this picture of her with Governor Bobby Jindal was found.  He joined the community in celebrating her work.

Finding herself with spare time after retirement, she became a traveler and visited her sons who live in other states.  She enjoys having an active part in their  milestones of births, graduations and weddings.    She is very proud of her family's many accomplishments.

Aunt Minnie Lou now lives with one of her daughters.  Age and some health problems have slowed her down a bit.  She no longer lives in the lovely house the hill, which was a wonderful childhood memory for me.

In my mind, this grand lady always took an interest in me and my family.  I suppose many of us have or had an aunt like this.  When I was a young bride she would call to chat with me and would always identify herself as "Aunt Minnie Lou from Tangipahoa."  My husband asked me once:  "How many Aunt Minnie Lou's do you have?" I looked forward to those  calls and I know if I call her up right now she would want to talk about my family.  Aunt Minnie Lou is like that.

House on the Hill
As a child, another good memory was her showing up at our house during the summer and telling me to "get your things because you are coming with me to Tangipahoa for a vacation."

Fond memories were those!  I remember the fresh milk straight from the barn on those summer mornings.   I actually learned to drive there.  My Uncle Harvey would put his auto, "Leaping Leena," in neutral and I got to steer as we coasted all the way down the hill and into town without changing gears.  There were parties on the lawn which always included  games and delicious cake.  I believe I even got my first kiss at one of the later parties.  I was never a great swimmer, but going to swim in the Amite River was also on the agenda.

I still remember the "dinner on the ground" events at their church.  If I were visiting on a Sunday, we would attend Sunday School and church services afterward.  Sleeping "in" on Sunday was not tolerated.   In the hot part of the day we would play endless games of Monopoly or just roam around the farm.  Playing in the barn loft was a favorite way to pass the time. The cousins also had a playhouse and a small wading pool that Uncle Harvey had built.

We could roam around all day in the safety of the clean country air.  They were the first of those I knew who owned a hi-fi system and had a huge collection of 45's.  Uncle Harvey would play the music and dance with us.  Aunt Minnie Lou tolerated all the commotion from the kitchen as she prepared great meals of fresh vegetables on those summer evenings.

Food conjures up memories and people and places for me.  Aunt Minnie Lou took part in the publication of two cookbooks by the members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  Here are two recipes.  One is hers and the other recipe is found in the same cookbook.
Aunt Minnie Lou
as a young woman

Banana Nut Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
two mashed bananas
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup chopped nuts
 2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix sugar, shortening and eggs.  Stir in other ingredients.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Cool in pan for a few minutes before cutting.

Confederate Cannon Ball Punch *

Juice of 6 lemons
 1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons bitters
1 qt. Claret wine
1 qt. dry sherry
1 qt.brandy
1 qt. brandy
1 qt. whiskey
1 Quart club soda

1.  Combine lemon juice, sugar and bitters.
2.  Add the balance of the liquids are stir.
3.  Serve chilled or over ice.
Source:  UDC cookbook recipe by J.A Winkler, retired Commander Camp Moore

*I have always gotten a kick just out of reading this recipe.  I have often thought it a misprint and that it was supposed to be a cup of each of the liquors.....Oh well....Sounds like a punch with a real punch.

Daughters Montie Sue & Nelwyn
with their Mom
Sons Harvey & Wallace

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Central Legend-One of the Good Guys

Russell Jacobs aka
Rusty Rooster
We went to Louis DeAngelos Italian Restaurant  to sit in a radio audience where our friend, Russell Jacobs, was the main attraction.  He was interviewed on Central Legends, a live radio show.  Central Speaks Station 910AM features members of the community who have had a positive effect on the city.  Central Legends is broadcasted live from DeAngelo's  on Sullivan Road weekly on Thursday evenings.  On this particular evening, the bar and half of the restaurant patrons were "Rusty Rooster" fans!  The wait staff team was extremely accommodating as we took over the place. Hosts Les Bueche and Dave Freneaux discussed the history of Central with Rusty, and never at a loss for words, he answered and commented with great style!  I am sure the radio audience was able to share the good nature of the interviewee.  He has been a respected member of the Central community for over forty years and is a well known face to many.

Les Bueche,
 Dave Freneaux, Rusty 
Rusty was chosen as a Legend because he was  instrumental in the incorporation of the City of Central.   Central was once part of the city of Baton Rouge, but as their numbers grew they decided to become their own entity with their own schools for local children.  Since the incorporation in 2005, it has grown to be the 13th largest city in the State of Louisiana.  Central's school system has become one of the highest performing districts in the state.  The city is thriving with privatized services and a surplus in the city coffers.  Rusty had a huge part in the incorporation process as he, among others, spearheaded the effort and personally collected many of the signatures needed.

The interviewers asked Rusty questions about his personal life as well as his efforts to make a Central a city.  The Rooster  grew up in a single parent household with a working mother and two devoted sisters, Sharon and Patricia.  A neighbor helped by making sure the kids had their clothes ready, their Bible lessons studied and their shoes shined for Sunday. Sharon has confessed that as siblings, they fussed and argued, but in adulthood they are "thick as thieves" as they see each other many times a week and have even traveled together with their spouses.  It was not an easy life  for this family, but love prevailed and all got good backgrounds of positive morals and values.

Sweethearts after all these years

Attending public schools of Baton Rouge, he was a 1967 graduate of Istrouma High School where he excelled in athletics and leadership.  He married his high school sweetheart, Susan.  They have three  sons and several treasured grandchildren.  A daughter was lost in infancy and this tragedy led  to the closeness of the family and a strengthening of their faith.

Rusty valiantly served in the Army during the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1971. He spent 15 months in Southeast Asia fighting for our country.  He has kept in touch with his service buddies, with whom he formed strong bonds.  He has attended a few battalion reunions over the years.  He was honored recently, for his service  by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  Before his army days, he studied briefly at Louisiana State University, but his true calling was working with his hands.  He began working as a carpenter after his discharge.  He was good at it and decided to strike out on his own.  With an enduring entrepreneurial spirit he formed his own company.  Jacobs Building began in 1985 and continued operating un 2010, when the doors were closed.

Rusty in the Army
When Central became a city, Rusty became the first President of the Central Chamber of Commerce.  According to a friend of his, he served his term with dignity and positive leadership.  Jacobs Building left a legacy of many structures in the Central area.  Rusty reminisced that his company seemed to specialize in building or remodeling churches.  They built and/or remodeled thirteen area places of worship.  His dedication to his business and his employees was legendary, too.  When diagnosed with pneumonia, he informed the doctor that the pneumonia might be bad, but things would really get bad if he didn't "make his payroll."  At that point the medical expert allowed him to leave the hospital long enough to meet his obligations to his "people."

Gov. Jindal presenting medal
When the residents decided to leave the jurisdiction of Baton Rouge and become their own city, Rusty helped lead the charge.  He helped with the collection of 7,000 signatures required to be incorporated as a separate entity.  Then, because of a spelling error in the original petition, they had to do it a second time.  Rusty was there both times.  He went door to door and also manned posts at local businesses entreating the citizens to again sign the petition that was the first step in incorporation.

In retirement Rusty is an active Facebooker.  In one post he made it known that in spite of health warnings, he loves to eat bacon.   In a time when we are told that bacon is unhealthy, he has been a staunch supporter of the piggy product. He recounted that he has people all over the world sending him cartoons about bacon, t-shirts with bacon logos, bacon flavored foods and he has become a self-proclaimed proponent of the delicious food!  When you think of bacon, think of Rusty Rooster!

In spite of health issues for Susan and himself, Rusty remains the bright spot on the radar for many people.  He has an undying faith in Christ and lives his faith.  He is generous, supportive and can always be counted on for a smile and a word of encouragement.  He's a true friend to many. As one person pointed out:  "He is one of the good guys!"

I was so impressed to be in the company of a legend that I asked him to autograph my napkin.  Here it is:   Marilea with Rooster autographing napkins for us!  What a fun evening.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rotisserie Chicken Wisdom

Today we drove our retired selves to town to Sam's Club to purchase rotisserie chickens.  You see, we normally keep these in our freezer for quick meals on nights when we are too busy to cook.  We could purchase them locally, but they are about $3.00 more each when we buy them in our own community.  Therefore, we spend about $3.00 worth of gas to save that amount in food purchase.  

Those of you who belong to discount clubs can relate to the feeling of getting some good deals.  It helps to rationalize the money one spends while there.  I have digressed...We went for the chickens and they were not ready.  We were sad to see the shelf bare, but encouraged that the chickens would be ready in about ten minutes.  I staked out a spot in the queue while hubby went about the store seeking bargains on staples.  It was during this wait time that I gained the wisdom I am about to impart.  Seems those waiting with me, for the never ending ten minutes, wanted to chat.  I love talking to people and after all we had the common interest of "chicken love" in common.

One man told me that he gets rotisserie chickens to serve company.  He splits them into quarters, places them on his grill, slathers them with BBQ sauce and serves them up to his friends as a home cooked grilled delicacy.

A woman in a motorized shopping cart was waiting for her chicken because her granddaughter was coming to have dinner with her.  Said granddaughter was also waiting in the carpool line to be picked up by grandmother who was waiting for her chicken.  (BTW:  She got the first one off the spit!)  The rest of us made sure of that.  I hope she made the carpool line in time!

An 81 year old woman (she confided her age to me) was purchasing three chickens to take to a wake.  Her Godson had been murdered this weekend and she was helping with the food for the family of the deceased. She also told me that she buys these chickens each week for her own kitchen.  She is a widow and advised me that I could cut a chicken into two halves, eat one and freeze the other half.  I admired her upbeat spirit as I knew she must be grieving the loss of a loved one.

Another one in the chicken line, told me the best thing to do with rotisserie chickens is to remove all the  edible parts, chop and make chicken salad. This practical person confided that she never eats the skin as it is too fattening.

A young mother said her husband loves roasted chicken and she was going to surprise him with that for supper.  She said she will try to pass it off as her own cooking, but he always knows.

Another person in the line was wearing a souvenir t-shirt from Boston.  I asked him if he had visited there recently as I had.  He replied:  "If I had money to visit Boston, I wouldn't be waiting in line for $4.88 rotisserie chicken!"  I had to laugh as I had just returned from Beantown a week prior to today.

Hubby and chicken fed spoiled dog
During the writing process of this post, a friend reminded me that rotisserie chicken, when sliced, makes great sandwiches.  At our house, we eat one for supper, then share with our picky eater dachshund.  Another suggestion came from my hubby who said he likes to add the sliced chicken to canned marinara sauce and serve it with cooked pasta.

The possibilities and variations on this item are seemingly endless.  I am thinking that as I write this, there are other uses for rotisserie chicken of which I am unaware.  I do hope that my readers will share with me.  Make a comment or send an email. I appreciate all responses.

I have now run out of Wisdom on Rotisserie Chickens, but must confess that my period of waiting for this delectible discount club treat reminded me that folks have bonds and abilities to make the best of almost any situation.  I loved talking to those who taught me so much about human nature and chickens today.  I was surprised that they would impart information to a stranger, but pleased, nevertheless.  

Our Sam's Club venture was supposed to be clandestine because we were also on a trek to stock up on white wine.  Our cover was blown and we were "busted" as we ran into a long time friend who commented on all the junk food and alcohol in our cart!  In fact, the cashier said she would meet us in the parking lot with a cork screw.  We lied and said we were purchasing the wine for gifts.  So $349.00 later we drove home with our rotisserie chickens.  Oh well, we tried.

Here is a recipe I prepared just yesterday with a rotisserie chicken.  Disclaimer:  It's very fattening and a true comfort food!  I adapted it from a recipe I came across on Facebook....don't judge, please.

Easy Chicken Spaghetti with Lots of Cheese and Butter

4 to 5 cups chopped cooked chicken (from a rotisserie chicken)
10 ounces spaghetti (broken into small pieces, boiled and drained)
2 cans cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup (10oz. condensed size)
8 ounces sour cream
1/2 cup chicken broth (canned or made from bullion cube)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (substitute oregano and thyme)
1/4 cup dried parsley
Salt, pepper to taste
about 1/2 cup bread crumbs

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease (or spray with Pam) a 9" by 13" baking pan.
2. Combine all ingredients, except bread crumbs, in large mixing bowl.
3. Pour mixture into prepared baking pan and top with breadcrumbs.
4. Bake, covered with foil, for about 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes.  Let set for about 5 minutes before serving.

Add a tossed salad and bread for a satisfying meal.  Makes 6 generous servings and freezes well.

TIP:  To prevent the foil from sticking to the casserole, spray the side next to the food with Pam.  Place the foil "shiny side out" to ensure the best heating process as the shiny side reflects heat.

For those of you who follow the Weekday Rambler:  I thought you would like to see how my sous chef has grown.  She is three years old, now and helping her Daddy make brownies at her house.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Our First Family Vacation (from Hell)

The year was 1984.  We had a windfall and purchased a brand new Chevrolet Suburban.  It was baby blue and had those good durable cloth seats.  The second and third row of seats folded flat.  Son, Greg, was seven years old and daughter, Gretchen, was three.  We had never embarked on a real vacation and decided it was time for one.

In the spring of 83 hubby had a business trip to the Loveland, Colorado area and fell in love with the Rocky Mountain National Park.  He found some cabins that were in the park, but privately owned.  A rarity, that.  He reserved a cabin for our first family vacation that would begin in June of 1984.  He wanted the rest of us to share the beauty of the setting with him.  Also, the temperatures in the mountains are so much cooler than in the deep South in June.  I am telling that back story to let you know that this trip with the kids was well thought out, planned to a "t" and budgeted.

During a project to digitize family photos I came upon an album that captured the trip in pictures. In addition to snapshots there was a long forgotten journal of each day of the excursion.  Reading over the notes I took and looking at the pictures, I had to laugh out loud.  What was supposed to be a lovely first vacation for our sweet little family turned out to the trip from hell.

Our vehicle was packed to the brim with trip supplies.  We even carried a portable potty, so the kids could use it any time they needed to.  We were on a mission to get to the mountains and didn't want to make a lot of pit stops.

According to the journal, one child vomited in the car when we were about 2 hours away from home.  A stalled 18 wheeler delayed our progress and both kids skinned their knees at the roadside park in Texas.  We took a wrong turn in Dallas and spent the rest of the day on backroads.  After finally reaching Wichita Falls, we swam in the hotel pool until exhausted.  Then we noticed that our youngest had a fever of 103 degrees.  A call to our hometown family doctor resulted in us getting some antibiotics for her after visiting the ER or a local hospital.  And, so we were off to a great vacation!!!

The next day we saw our first mountains as we made our way north.  The highlight of this long day of driving was the swimming in the Holidome!   Are you see a pattern here, yet?

The third day involved a drive into Colorado Springs and another Holidome.  I was beginning to think we could have stayed in Baton Rouge and rented a room at the Holidome there and the kids would have been happy.

The day in Colorado Springs involved visiting the North Pole Santa Village.  Christmas in June was really a kick for our southern offspring.  Then we had the great idea of driving to the top of Pike's Peak.  Some neighbors had bragged on the beauty and adventure of such an endeavor.  The trusty Suburban made it but I lost my breakfast on the way up!  When we returned from our trip, the neighbors said they didn't drive it, but had taken the tram to the top.  Well....we did it the hard way!

Cascade Cottages in the Rocky Mountain National Park were rustic and complete with our own family of mice who made appearances by falling on our faces while we slept.  Upon complaining about the unwanted guests we were told that it was a privilege to have such accommodations.  Our response was to check out, drive to the nearest town and buy a tent and camping supplies.  The journal entry reads thusly:  "That night we slept in a tent which was on an incline and we rolled downhill all night.  When we woke up Dad was at the bottom of the heap!!!"  The night it rained, we discovered that our tent leaked.  What novices we were!  But, we called ourselves having a good time on family vacation.

While in the park, there was some hiking.  My hubby ended up hiking each trail carrying a pack weighing about 35 pounds.  Our three year old thought that being carried along the way was the best way to hike.   We laugh about it now, but at the time it was not funny.  Thank goodness we were young, strong and healthy and could accomplish the task.  Hiking was challenging.  Greg, our oldest, and my hubby went off a "more challenging" trek.  They missed a path marker and ended up in a thunderstorm lost as could be.  Back at the campsite I was begging the rangers to look for them.  They returned  soaking wet and much wiser about staying on path.  Scary, that!
Driving the Trail Ridge Road was another memorable adventure.  Learning about the tundra world was fascinating.  We wore short sleeved shirts at the bottom of the mountain and needed coats at the top!  The sight of bicyclists clinging to the road made us a little worried about the safety, but we trudged on to the reward of the peak.  What breathtaking views we saw and the kids got to see snow for the first time.

The park offered so many nice opportunities.  The rangers presented programs that we attended and we learned about the flora and fauna of the Rocky Mountains.  I even learned to cook family meals on a Coleman stove.  Quite a feat, for this city girl!

Our return to Louisiana involved a boring drive across the state of Kansas.  We kept thinking that there would be something along the way, but we were wrong.  One has to remember this was way before GPS systems and Internet.  We treated ourselves to a couple of nights in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the historic Arlington Hotel.  At the top of the page I mentioned a portable potty that we had loaded in the back of the suburban.  Can you imagine what that was like after 10 days on the road?  Never again!!!

In Hot Springs we rode the Ducks and swam in the hotel pool!   We also ordered room service for breakfast and felt we were being given the royal treatment.  There was a fireworks display over a lake in the evening and the kids were thoroughly impressed.

Our trip home was very quiet and without incident.  I am so happy I saved the pictures and the journal of our first family vacation.  With all the ups and downs, we had the time of our lives.  Since then I have been on some fine trips including four trips to Europe, but this inaugural family trip was the most precious memory I have of family travel.  Thanks for going down memory lane with me.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

St. Joseph Altar, an Italian Tradition

A long time ago and far away, there was a drought and resulting famine on the island of Sicily.  The people were desperate for sustenance.  It was during the Middle Ages and there was no Red Cross or United Nations rescue efforts. As they watched their crops fail and their families starve, the people turned to prayer.  The Patron Saint of Italy is St. Joseph and it was through his intercession that they prayed for help.

When the heavens finally opened up and the rain replenished the land the people were very thankful to their patron saint for answered prayer.  They built an altar, adorned it with breads, fish and sweets and dedicated it to St. Joseph. Thus began the tradition of St. Joseph altars in Sicily. 

Now Italians and Christians around the world continue the practice that recalls the devotion of the Sicilian people and their gratitude for the end of the drought that almost destroyed their way of life.

Tradition has it that those who build a St. Joseph’s Altar must beg for foods and supplies from neighbors and businesses.  The time and money that go into building the altar are also considered sacrifices.  After the tribute of gratitude the leftover foods are distributed to the less fortunate. 

The foods brought to the altar are also steeped in symbolism.  Many times candles are lit in remembrance of loved ones who have passed away.  There are variations on the theme from place to place but there are some common characteristics of all St. Joseph Altars.  Almost every component of the altar symbolizes some religious belief or story.  

The altar is always constructed with three levels of presentation.  This represents the Holy Trinity or the Holy Family.  A statue or picture of St. Joseph is placed on the top level. The altar is embellished with palms, breads, fish, sweets and wine.  Since the feast takes place during Lent, meats are not used.  Red, green and white are prevalent in the decorations since these are the colors of the Italian flag.  Italian recipes prevail in the preparation of the items.  The tables are arranged in a cross shape to symbolize Christ’s death on the cross. 

Altar breads are made in various religious shapes such as crosses, chalices, and hearts. Since St. Joseph was a carpenter there are often shapes that bring that profession to mind, such as a ladder or hammer.  Some of the altar breads are dried, toasted with sugar and sprinkled atop spaghetti as part of the meal that is consumed.  The crumbs are symbolic of St. Joseph’s sawdust. Some people save the crumbs and toss them into a storm to prevent destruction.
The wine on a St. Joseph’s Altar symbolizes the miracle that Jesus performed at the wedding at Cana.  A large fish placed on the table symbolizes the miracle of Christ feeding the multitudes with five loaves and three fish.  Heart shaped pastries symbolize the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Legend and tradition have it that visiting St. Joseph altars is “lucky”. During the famine that struck Sicily in the Middle Ages humans were reduced to eating fava beans, a food normally fed to the animals. They felt they were lucky to have at least those beans to eat when there was nothing else. A fava bean carried in one’s pocket is said to prevent “going broke”.  A fava bean placed in a pantry is said to prevent one from ever going hungry. Traditionally each person who visits a St. Joseph’s altar is given a bag with a fava bean, a prayer card and some sort of cookie or pastry from the display that has been blessed by a priest. 

Steeped in tradition and prayer, the St. Joseph’s Altar is a community celebration and when held in churches or reception halls (as space permits) the public is invited.  The act of sharing the food is one of gratitude for the end of the famine those many years ago in Sicily, and for continued blessings received today. The centuries old custom of creating St. Joseph’s Day altars is a great showcase of Italian foods and a magnificent gesture of charity and faith.  

The pictures are from the Seventh Annual St. Joseph’s Altar of 2012 at St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary, Louisiana.