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Stirring up memories


Sweet Memories of New Orleans
September 14, 2005

Every time the flooded streets of New Orleans, the ravished buildings, the desolate people flashed across the television screen, I got tears in my eyes.  They were not only tears of sympathy and sadness but also of happiness, for New Orleans has always been a place of great pleasure for me and for my family.  Along with the scenes of sadness, happy memories were flooding in.

            New Orleans was our weekend getaway during our Houston years, and we love it now that the French Quarter is just about midway between our house and son Christopher’s in Houston. 

            I recall jazzy nights on Bourbon Street, antiques and ancient books on Royale, beignets at Café Du Monde—all typical memories.  But ask my kids, all now grown, their favorite New Orleans memories and they’ll be torn—was it the long lines we stood in for the King Tut Exhibit in the late seventies, or the World Exhibition held along the Mississippi in 1984?  Then one will remember.  The other two will agree. It was the Thanksgiving at that venerable New Orleans institution, Commander’s Palace—their first grownup holiday meal out.  A member of the Brennan family greeted us and made each child, and each parent, feel like an honored guest. (“There’s always a Brennan on duty,” we later learned.)  It is such a special memory, that a couple of years ago we reinstituted the tradition and met in New Orleans to give thanks.

            But it’s a bittersweet memory, because my most recent meal—I’m not going to say last—in New Orleans was at Commander’s Palace this past July.  We had attended the Southern Foodways Alliance “field trip” and the windup, wingding Sunday brunch was at, yes, Commander’s Palace.  A wingding indeed that included sugar cane smoked duck, and, get this, eggs poached in champagne.  We slipped out through the kitchen as we headed for a Texas visit with friends and family.  Lally Brennan, the managing partner, intercepted us at the door to wish us well.  There’s always a Brennan on duty!

It had been quite a weekend.  Hurricane Dennis was hovering in the Gulf—we’d been warned by the hotel we might need to evacuate, but most of us persevered with fellow food and history lovers as we learned about the importance of sugar to the history of Louisiana and its role in cooking. 

            More about sugar and history and cooking at a later date.  Here’s one more memory from that New Orleans weekend that will always bring a smile—a Bearcat smile.

            Seems like every time we go there, we’ll bump into someone we know.  This time, we met new friends, but they seemed like old ones!    At lunch one day, I jerked to attention when I heard the fellow across the table mention Bainbridge.

            “Bainbridge?” I asked.  Bainbridge, Georgia?”

            Indeed, it was.  I was looking right into the eyes of fellow SFA member and Bainbridge High alumnus Steve Brooks.  I was amazed. “When?” I asked.  “Who was in your class?   Do you keep in touch?”

            Former  Bearcat player Steve laughed.   “Sure do.”  Then he told me about his pals Butch Mosley and “Juicy” Shirley. 

            “Juicy Shirley?” 

            “You know, Claude—Claude Shirley.  Surely you know Claude.”

            Surely I do.

            We turned our attention from the roast beef po-boys from Parkway Bakery and Tavern, crawfish sausage po-boys from Vancresson and (ohhh!) muffulettas from Central Grocery and talked about old days and new times in Bainbridge.    We learned that Steve left Bainbridge and went on to teach drafting for 39 years.  We met his wife Gayle and learned to all our amazement that Steve and I are almost twins.  We were born on exactly the same day—July 27, 1940.  I’ll be in touch forever with my “birthday brother.”

 A perfect New Orleans moment.  I trust we’ll have many more.

The December after the horrors of September 11, 2001, Bob and I spent a glorious week in New York City rejoicing in the city’s resilience and stamina.  As soon as I hear that the hotels, not to mention the restaurants, in the Big Easy are open, I look to head the trusty Jeep west on I-10 for food, friendship and new memories.  Meanwhile, I’ll be in the kitchen stirring up some good New Orleans food.  Jambalaya, anyone?

In honor of New Orleans and all of our sweet memories of the city, and in anticipation of making new ones, I offer my all-time favorite Big Easy recipe.  This has been in my cookbook so long that the card is crumbling, not to mention stained.  

            One warning: don’t even think about making these on a muggy, high-humidity day.  They’ll never dry out.  Like New Orleans—wait for the sunshine!

New Orleans Pralines

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 cups sugar

2 1/4 cups (1 pound) packed light-brown sugar

4 cups (1 pound) coarsely chopped pecans

            Cover 3 large cookie sheets with waxed paper and set aside.

             In a heavy, nonreactive pan (make sure it’s big enough) warm the butter and cream over a moderate heat until the butter is melted; stir occasionally.  Slowly add in the sugars, whisking until they are blended.  Increase the heat to moderate high, bring the mixture to a boil, and then allow it to boil for five minutes.

            Stir in the pecans and return to a boil.  Remove from heat.

            Moving quickly, drop the praline mixture onto the prepared cookie sheets using a tablespoon.  Leave about an inch between pralines.

            Let the candy cool and harden at room temperature for about 4 hours.  Then store in an airtight container.   They are said to keep for two weeks.  At my house, it’s more like two days.        

            If you remember Steve Brooks and would like to relive some of the good old days, let me know.  I’ll put you in touch.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network