It was as natural as eating and, to me, as necessary. I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking a beer.”
The world is divided into two categories of people: those who drink alcohol and those who won’t. Whatever your viewpoint on alcohol and its effects, people will continue to drink – even as others tread the path of sobriety.
I like to drink beer, you prefer apple juice – and that’s fine. It’s freedom of choice that makes us unique individuals.
But to deny yourself the chance to enjoy the guilty pleasures of this great world is to spend a lifetime with a brown paper bag on your head. With luck and perhaps a small dose of fortitude, your gastronomic adventures will lead you to a slice of foie gras seared medium rare with caramelized bananas and brioche, or the salty clean taste of the ocean from a fresh shucked oyster.
Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”
Personally, I like beer, it’s an unpretentious drink made from four simple ingredients – grain, hops, yeast and water. When combined and allowed to ferment, the result is a slightly effervescent alcoholic beverage which can be bought at any convenience store, supermarket, gas station, pub or restaurant. The bottle is easily opened. Twist the cork with your thumb and forefinger or use a bottle opener. If none is handy, improvise with a spoon, a knife, the butt end of a lighter, or just use your teeth. Whatever your method, its intent is the same: to allow the amber liquid inside- to flow from bottle tip to tongue tip. Beer is a blue collar drink, its steel toe boots and blue jeans sitting at the local bar.
Beer is meant to be enjoyed without great expense or pompous adjudications. Beer is a wonderful chameleon that blends in at a picnic, backyard barbecue or at the dinner table. It construes itself to taste exactly as it should. Beer is aromatic and bittersweet, refreshingly delicious without need for garnish, mixers, cranberry juice or glass. It needs no further transformation by shaking, stirring, decanting or even blending.
ANYONE CAN OPEN A BEER
It needs no special location, time, or place to be enjoyed. You can enjoy beer in solitary silence or in a crowded room amongst friends. Beer is ethnic, cultural, and diverse. From the dark amber-colored liquid of Guinness from Ireland, to the clean hoppy taste of Sweetwater Ale in Atlanta, Georgia, or the heady brew that is Jamaican Red Stripe.
I particularly enjoy drinking beer on the balcony of my third floor apartment. This is my quiet time, sitting in the semi-dark watching cars drive in and out of my apartment complex. The MICROS is silent, my knives have been put away, my station is clean, and I am finally home.
Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music. – Julia Child
I try to post at least once a week on PhotoChefs. Usually it takes at least five days of thought, writing, pictures and editing before I’m satisfied with the published content. In my initial research on food blogs, I bought two books on the subject: Blogging for Dummies, and another…. I can’t remember the name. They recommended posting as often as twice weekly to build content and keep readers interested. I also spent quite a bit of time studying the design, look and content of the most popular food blogs: eggbeater.typepad.com, chocolate and zucchini, Chez Pim, Orangette.
A common thread among the authors of most food blogs: most of them DO NOT WORK IN PROFESSIONAL KITCHENS. Many have the time and money to travel the world, eating and blogging about famous chefs and restaurants. I appreciate and sometimes envy their ability to dine in places you and I can only dream about. For most readers (including myself), these sites allow us to be voyeurs on a restricted budget. To know that they were there – at El Bulli in Spain, The French Laundry in the United States, Noma in Denmark– and were thoughtful enough to let us share their experience through words and pictures is a privilege.
Ninety percent of the time, I’m the person cooking for everyone else. I rarely have the time to see a restaurant from the diner’s perspective; and when I do, it’s usually Burger King to go or some other cheap eats. Who wants to see pictures of that?!
I’m a cook first and a food blogger second. I work long hours. Each night is a marathon filled with several sprints. Clock in at 2 p.m., and the race to finish prep by 5:30 begins. Time is ticking, orders need to be fired, food is in the pass, there are hungry mouths to feed. And after all is said and done and the MICROS has chirped its last hurrah, clean, sanitize, re-stock, go home. I’m usually sweaty, salty, and ready to take a shower at the end of my shift.
But I’ve already begun to think about you, my reader. As I write these words at 2 a.m., please forgive me; I’ll finish and post an article tomorrow. I hope that my story, pictures, thoughts will be worth the wait. I promise that in the future I’ll be posting more frequently to keep my readers stimulated and ultimately satisfied. So until my next article, remember that I’m always thinking, pushing, and working at making this – PhotoChefs – the place where you’ll enjoy each visit and feel comfortable as I share.
The swamp gives life and it takes life. This primordial cycle is simple, brutal and unforgiving: the laws of nature rigidly enforced in a lonely landscape painted pastel colors of green, blue, and gray.
The heat, humidity and mosquitoes rise from the swamp to assault human inhabitants with unbridled ferocity. They state the obvious: “You Are Not Wanted, Stay Out”.
This vast expanse of marshland is interspersed with bodies of brackish water, cypress trees, Spanish moss, marsh grasses, vines, palmettos and irises. It is wild, pristine, harsh and beautiful. The marsh is teeming with life – crayfish, frogs, snakes, turtles, catfish, snowy egrets, blue herons, pelicans and alligators.
The city of New Orleans stands as a solitary fortress in the middle of this alien landscape. Its citizens have erected barriers of concrete, roads and highways along with the trappings of human habitation to keep the swamp at bay. But Mother Nature is an implacable adversary. The swamp is hers, and all who choose to live in it must eventually bend to her will.
“What is born of me, shall return to my bosom, and the earth will shelter and provide shade in this, our final resting place.” As the citizens of New Orleans are nudged closer to deaths’ embrace, The City of the Dead waits patiently to house them. Rows and rows of concrete tombs bleached white by the sun stand as testament to the futility of fighting the cosmos.
In the years 1787 and 1788, New Orleanians suffered and died by the thousands from plague and disease. Smallpox, influenza, and mosquito-borne yellow fever and malaria filled the cemeteries to the seams. Conventional burial practices did not work: if you dug more than a few feet into the ground, you would hit water.
During times of flood, the coffins and bodies would float to the surface, sparking a fresh round of disease and death. The city started the custom of burying their dead above ground in mausoleums. Every year on November 1st and 2nd, All Saints and All Souls Day respectively, residents clean and paint the cemeteries and pay their respects to the deceased.
The swamp is more than the harbinger of death and decay; it also nurtures life in the plants and animals that spawn and reproduce instinctively. The pattern weaves as it will, each birth a celebration, as joyous as a newborn’s first breath. The circle of life also unfolds in the shotgun houses of New Orleans.
Shotgun houses are long and narrow instead of wide, with an entrance at the front and an exit at the back. A widely-told tale is that one could open both doors and fire a shotgun through the front and the bullet would fly through the back, without hitting anything. Having a door at the front and back also allows the house to stay cool in the hot and humid summer months. The history of the shotgun house can be traced back to the Caribbean, namely Haiti and by default Africa. It was the Haitians, who are of West African descent, who brought this style of home to Louisiana. Evidence suggests that the name “shotgun,” is actually a corruption of the word “shogon.” In West Africa, “shogon” means “God’s House.”
Hurricane Katrina and the Mississippi destroyed many examples of these homes in the lower Ninth Ward – and almost a decade later, the rebuilding process is slow.The effects of Katrina are still painfully evident in the hearts, minds and stories of the people who suffered through it.
There are neighborhoods where houses still wait: desolate, abandoned, shuttered and forlorn. But the people of New Orleans are accustomed to hardship and heartache.
In this city, life moves forward resolutely: hurricanes, floods and mosquitoes are faced with the strength of spirit of a people who have been dealing with the ravages of nature for hundreds of years.
This home is Grandma Davis’. She has spent her life in the Ninth Ward, marrying, raising four children, and burying a husband. She held the same job for 51 years and was laid off seven years ago, but retirement didn’t sit well with her. Instead, she found another job and continued working – just as she has done most of her life. She’s 78 and these are her twilight years.
Grandma Davis is New Orleans soul food. Her small garden overflows with okra, butter beans and collard greens. Her pantry is stocked with a lifetime spent in the kitchen. Cast iron skillets and baking utensils share space with birthdays, family cookouts, and the laughter of children playing in the house. Over the years this collection of bric-a-brac has meandered onto shelves and into drawers and cupboards – an old wire whisk, a hunting knife, a butcher’s block, plastic Tupperware, antique teacups, a cook’s treasure chest. I consider myself a fairly good cook, with an extensive repertoire of recipes and technique, but in Grandma Davis’ kitchen I bow before a master.
As she cut up the vegetables for dinner, her touch was gentle and minimal. Collard greens sautéed with ham hocks, Spanish onions, a pinch of soda, salt, pepper, then left to stew without fuss or fanfare until done – mouthwatering.
Sweet potatoes peeled, cut, then boiled until fork tender, a pat of butter, a sprinkling of nutmeg, a few drops of vanilla and a dash of salt- candied yamalicious.
A whole chicken, cut into eight, then breaded in seasoned cornmeal and flour, bubbling in a skillet of hot fat until golden brown and crispy – exquisite.
Grits, andouille sausage, red beans and rice, stewed okra, fried catfish, creamy potato salad, sweet potato pie, New Orleans 7-up cake. Classical dishes from the South; a lesson in the subtle nuances of taste and texture. Fried, steamed, baked…
I ate it all: buttermilk biscuits and eggs for breakfast, oyster po-boy sandwiches for lunch, and gumbo for dinner. While grandma was busy in the kitchen cooking, friends, cousins, her son, his wife stopped by to say hello and chitchat on the porch. Somehow there was always enough food to share an extra plate.
No one left without a bite to eat, a slice of cake, a generous portion of sweet potato pie. This is New Orleans, where generations of family live within a fifteen-mile radius of each other. This is New Orleans, where the bonds of family run deep and true like the roots of a magnolia tree. Where aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers help each other, rebuild, renovate and provide the support system that helps families stay together.
These are the lessons learnt in the bayous of Louisiana: life passes in the blink of an eye, like fireflies winking in and out of the night sky. Perhaps this is why everyone celebrates – Mardi Gras, the jazz festival, All Saints Day – it’s a parade, it’s joie de vivre, because no one knows what tomorrow may bring. There is strength in unity and community. New Orleans – and the people who make this city special – is stronger for it.