Monthly Archives

March 2015

Asian, Chicken, Healthy, Louisiana, Soups, Vegetables, Weeknight

Pollen got you down? Chicken & vegetable soup with wontons

The sinister underside to Louisiana’s otherwise perfect spring is pollen — and that stuff is about to kill me! Recently sprouted leaves on our neighborhood’s famed oak trees are now layered with fuzzy clumps of oak pollen that give the trees a yellowish sheen. Stand near one long enough and you see pollen dust falling like evil snow. It’s all over our cars and streets. There. Is. No. Escape.


Most years, this isn’t a big deal to me, but I must be getting old and intolerant because being outside makes my head feel like an oversized melon.

Only one thing to do – make a spring soup.

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Interviews with expats, Louisiana

Kenyattah Robinson misses po’boys, New Orleans Popeye’s and his mama’s gumbo

Like so many people who grew up in New Orleans, Kenyattah Robinson’s life as a kid included a grandmother whose cast iron pots made magic.

“She wouldn’t have to measure anything at all,” he told me recently. “She cooked everything by feel. She would nod off in the living room and wake up exactly when the food was ready. She had this internal clock. Every meal was freshly prepared. There was no eating out.”

Kenyattah left New Orleans to study at LSU, where he earned a degree in Liberal Arts and business, then landed a job on Capitol Hill with then-Louisiana Senator John Breaux. Later, he earned an MBA from Cornell University, and now works in Washington, D.C. for Jones Lang LaSalle as a senior vice president on the Public Institutions team.

A major theme of my book Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey is the grip Louisiana’s culinary culture has on those who have left the state. As part of my interview series with Bayou State expats, I wanted to pick Kenyattah’s brain about what he missed from Louisiana’s culinary tableau. I know there’s great food in D.C. – some of it made by Louisiana-born chefs and some of it meant to mimic the Bayou State experience. You can even get boiled crawfish in the nation’s capital.

Still, there’s no place like home, so from his K Street office, Kenyattah spilled to me his Top Five Most Missed Foods.

1. Gumbo.

I’m very particular about gumbo. I will not order it from a menu. My mom makes a really mean gumbo and I usually bring some back to D.C. with me. It’s seafood with crab and shrimp. She also throws in pieces of sausage for flavor. No tomatoes. That’s wrong. That’s for shrimp stew or shrimp Creole.

(Uh. Oh. My prized seafood gumbo has a little bit of fresh tomato thrown in for color and sweetness, a typical Creole gumbo, says Chef John Folse. But I’m not bringing that up.)

2. Po’boys.

Shrimp. Fully dressed with Tabasco, or Crystal, depending on the place. I like those small shrimp — and the bread needs to be right. Crunchy on the outside and soft inside. I usually stop at Parkway when I go home.

3. Red beans and rice with smoked sausage and cornbread.

4. Jazz Fest food.

I go every year and get the crawfish bread and a softshell crab po’boy.

5. Popeye’s.

It sounds crazy, but New Orleans Popeye’s MOST DEFINITELY. It just tastes different. Particularly the spicy chicken. There’s something about the flavor and the crisp of the skin.


Crawfish bread. There's nothing like the kind you get at Jazz Fest.

Crawfish bread. There’s nothing like the kind you get at Jazz Fest. WWOZ

My Book Shelf, The Writing Life

Birthday party for a dead person

Today (March 25, 2015) would have been Southern writer Flannery O’Connor’s 90th birthday. A few days ago, the LSU English Department held a birthday party for her – yep, a birthday party! – at the campus Barnes & Noble Booksellers, where scholars, alums and writers read their choices of passages either from O’Connor’s works, or from literary criticism.

From the time that LSU Boyd Professor of English Jerry Kennedy asked me to participate, I was in, not that I was an O’Connor. I did have a lost fondness for her, however. Like Flannery O’Connor, I grew up in middle Georgia. And like she had been, I am an only child who was raised Catholic in the heavily Protestant Peach State. It had been years since I had read anything by O’Connor, but this was a good excuse to get reacquainted.

I chose to read from Wise Blood, one of only two O’Connor novels, and her first. This bizarre book, chock-full of Southern Gothic weirdnesses, was also made into John Huston movie in 1979 starring Brad Dourif, the actor who played Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Doc Cochran in the HBO series, Deadwood (2004-2006).  Wise Blood has everything from a precocious preacher’s daughter to a main character who insists on establishing the “Church Without Christ.” It also has juicy, memorable lines like, “her hair was so thin it looked like ham gravy running down her face.”

Odd. Weird. Fun. Funny. Southern.

Event organizer and LSU Associate Professor of English, Brannon Costello said it best when he remarked that only a Southern Gothic writer like Flannery O’Connor would appreciate that there we were, on a Sunday afternoon in Barnes & Noble, throwing a birthday party for a dead person. For me, it just felt great to have a reading assignment – something that made me think, grow — and in this case, laugh and cringe at the same time.


Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, a terrific independent bookshop in Denham Springs Louisiana, includes Wise Blood among its recommended summer reads featuring Southern women writers. I got to know this bookstore when I signed copies of Hungry for Louisiana here during an evening celebration in May held among Denham Springs’ downtown merchants. It was so much fun and I would trust any titles suggested by John, Michelle and Victoria – Cavalier House’s sharp and capable team.


Hungry for Louisiana, The Writing Life

First book signing a sell-out!

Thanks so much to all who came out to the Baton Rouge Gallery, Center for Contemporary Art on the officially launch night of my book! We SOLD OUT that evening of copies of Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey and noshed on some great food by Kathy Mangham and Gourmet Girls Catering. Kathy made fabulous seasonal hors d’oeuvres, including two of the book’s 18 recipes! We also enjoyed the first truly pleasant spring evening of 2015 after a long, wet and chilly winter in Baton Rouge. It was Friday the 13th, and it was awash in great omens!

I’m hearing from many folks about how much they’re enjoying reading the book and learning more about Louisiana’s irreplaceable food culture. I love feedback and would love to hear your thoughts. You can find the book through the link on this site, on Amazon and at numerous regional Barnes & Noble Booksellers, BAMs and local independents. Lots of signings coming up! Click here for Events.

Thanks again!


Crawfish Fennel Salad with Tangy Vinaigrette, one of 18 recipes found in Hungry for Louisiana.

Crawfish Fennel Salad with Tangy Vinaigrette, one of 18 recipes found in Hungry for Louisiana.

Dairy, Farmers Markets, Hungry for Louisiana

Mmmmm….Creole cream cheese

Creole cream cheese. Ever heard of it?

If you’ve got roots in New Orleans, or some parts of Cajun Country, or if you’re a Slow Food disciple and track endangered foods, it might be familiar. But there are still a good many people throughout Louisiana and the rest of the country who have yet to discover this indigenous farmhouse cheese and its unique flavor profile.

A few years back in South Louisiana, when both Smith Creamery and Chef John Folse’s Bittersweet Plantation Dairy were making Creole cream cheese, you could find tubs of it on local grocery stores shelves. Then Smith Creamery experienced a large fire, and was later bought by Kleinpeter Dairy, and Folse opted to close his operation and focus on other ventures. Creole cream cheese was still being made in the region, but Baton Rougeans couldn’t buy it without special ordering it or driving over an hour to the Covington or Crescent Farmers Markets. Now you can find it again in the Capital Region as well as other parts of the state.

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Hungry for Louisiana, Interviews with expats, Louisiana

What expats miss: Suz Redfearn says Jazz Fest & red beans

Proving the point that Louisiana expats pine for the food culture they left behind (a theme in the intro chapter of Hungry for Louisiana), I’m doing an interview series featuring transplants nationwide who still miss the food, drink and culinary rituals of the Bayou State. Here are thoughts from my friend Suz Redfearn, an accomplished freelance journalist who left Louisiana for Washington, D.C., in 1998. Comments from her appear in the book.

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