Around Louisiana

Northern Louisiana

FORK IN THE ROAD
Strawberry Fields
Strawn’s Eat Shop first opened its diner doors in 1944 under the auspices of Mr. Strawn. Fourteen years later, the diner passed into the ownership of Gus Alexander, who galvanized the efforts of Lula McCoy, fried
chicken genius, and Ella Hamilton, whose witchery with pie helped pass this eatery into the realm of Shreveport eating legends. Twenty years ago, Buddy and Nancy Gauthier acquired the famed eatery and made some changes but were savvy enough not to change menu items that had kept the hungry masses at their door for decades.
Strawn’s has always been an old-fashioned diner, with daily specials comprising tummy pleasers such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes, chicken and dumplings, famed chicken-fried steak, fried chicken and roast beef, with winter-weather sides such as corn bread, mustard greens, pinto and lima beans, corn bread dressing, and purple hull peas thrown in for good measure. Bowls of hearty beef stew with corn bread on the side have won accolades from customers — nd honestly, why not? Corn bread with beef stew? Manna from heaven! The murals decorating the walls of the restaurant are just an added dollop of joy to what is already complete dining pleasure.

If there’s one thing that makes my mouth water, it’s the idea of an icebox pie. If there are three things that make my mouth water, it’s the flavors of fresh strawberries, chocolate and coconut. Happily for me, the legendary icebox pies at Strawn’s are available in those three flavors. These delectable edible orbs are a composition of flaky crust, fresh fruit and fresh whipped cream, perfect for your incisors to dive in deliciously. In a recent survey, Southern Living magazine named Strawn’s Eat Shop as one of the Top 5 diners in the south, crediting its strawberry pie as being largely responsible for the honor. Owner Buddy Gauthier was kind enough to share the secret strawberry glaze recipe. So “come by, and get your pie.”

Strawn’s Strawberry Glaze
1 1⁄3 cups sugar
1 1⁄4 cups whole milk (plus 3 tablespoons, set aside)
2 tablespoons margarine
1⁄3 cup cornstarch
4 whole eggs
1 to 2 drops of red food coloring
Mix sugar, 1 1⁄4 cups milk and margarine until sugar dissolves. Mix cornstarch in a separate bowl with the remaining 3 tablespoons of  milk. Add the cornstarch-milk mixture to the sugar, milk and margarine. Cook in a double boiler for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the eggs. Cook 2 to 4 more minutes, stirring constantly. Put the cooked filling in a bowl, and beat out the lumps with a mixer. Add red food coloring. Let the glaze cool for 30 minutes on the counter and 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Diner Tip: Spread the glaze
in the pie crust; top with
strawberries.
Strawn’s Eat Shop, 125 Kings Highway, Shreveport, (318) 868-0634

LOUISIANA-GROWN
Winter Honeysuckle
Part of the repertoire of snowy white flowers that perfume the air with intense fragrance, winter
honeysuckle blooms in North Louisiana in pleasant beneficence. The mild winter days that
sometimes visit the Bayou State only serve to drawn forth its sweet lemony perfume. Its very botanical name, Lonicera frangrantissima, means “most fragrant.” Dismiss the thought of entwining honeysuckle vines
taking over your garden domain; this delightful little perfumer with the tiny cream-colored flowers contains itself on a fulsome blue-green shrub that may not be drop-dead gorgeous to look at but nonetheless brings a lot of
pleasure to garden strolls. In winter, its stiff branches are transformed into starry wands by the tiny flowers that bloom on them. The stems are perfect to cut for indoor flower arrangements that will fill your room with lemony
 fragrance for days. Native to China, winter honeysuckle has been known to survive in desert areas of Texas and stands up well to cold weather. When spring arrives, purple stems begin to shoot forth from the foliage. When the flowering time is over, the blooms are replaced by red berries during spring. Growing as high as 10 feet, this charmer likes full sun but will also do well in partial shade in well-drained but moist, rich soil.    

WORTH WATCHING
Persons of Letters
Nationally renowned literacy experts John Mangieri and Cathi Collins Block, representing publishing company Scholastic Inc., recently participated in the unveiling of the new Literacy Lab at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The university’s College of Education and Human Development, renowned for graduating teachers of high caliber, helms the new center. Believing that strong literacy skills are the bedrock to an individual’s success in life, the Literacy Lab provides students with a professional media lab-curriculum library, with special emphasis on reading, mathematics and science. This allows the students to meet professional block requirements, expand their knowledge and help create lesson plans.

The university received recent acclaim in an article in Time magazine for its excellent work in training new educators.
“The Literacy Lab is a fabulous resource for our region and for our teacher candidates,” said ULM Provost Stephen Richters.

“Keeping information current so that all students have access to the latest research is crucial,” Block said. “With this lab, students are ahead of the curve.”

Added Mangieri: “Studies show that one aspect where [primary and secondary] students have the least confidence is in vocabulary. We feel that this lab can give teachers significant information to improve their lessons not just for tomorrow but for the foreseeable future.”

Assisting in the development of the lab was Beth Ricks, an endowed professor in the College of Education. The lab is intended to serve as a hands-on teaching mechanism for education majors.

“I noticed that students didn’t have a space to practice methods they were learning in our classrooms or create materials they could use in the field,” said Ricks. ”It was a disconnect between practice and fieldwork that needed to be resolved.”

Ricks drew resources from across the campus, and although the idea was her brainstorm, she credits the entire College of Education for the result, praising the collaborative effort of all involved.

“It really energized the department,” she said. ”My colleagues gave above and beyond what I had requested.”

In concert with Scholastic Inc., Ricks and the faculty garnered access to the latest technological resources in addition to research on education.

Block and Mangieri believe the Literacy Lab at ULM could improve reading levels by more than two years for every semester its techniques are employed.
 

 

Central Louisiana

PROFILE
The Battle of Bermuda Bridge
As Kenneth Prudhomme tells it on the grounds of Oakland Plantation in Cane River country, it might first erroneously strike you as a tall tale: the day the mighty Maj. Gen. George S. Patton lost a battle in the Bayou State.

But every word of it is the gospel truth.

According to Elizabeth Collins, who wrote about Prudhomme’s account of the battle for the Army’s Web site, it was September 1941 and 400,000 American troops had come to Louisiana for war maneuvers under the command of Patton, Brig. Gen. Omar Bradley and Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower. These expansive war games were a lightning rod to gauge the quality of strategy and equipment. Patton’s Blue Army convoy, 500 cars strong, was advancing, with a wary eye cast out for the Red Army, near the Prudhommes’ family plantation in Oakland when his troops were stopped dead in their tracks by the sound of a deafening single shot. A scout climbed into a nearby tree to trace the source of the gunfire and was nearly knocked from the tree as another vicious shot ripped through the air. The sight of an Army vehicle parked at the plantation’s general store seemed to confirm that the Red Army had them in the cross hairs –– Patton’s forces ripped the quiet of the day into shreds with barrages of machine gun and rifle fire, aiming in the direction of their foes.

The foes were members of the Prudhomme clan, Alphonse, 14; Kenneth, 12; and Mayo, 9. Their “lethal” weapon was their new toy –– a carbide-gas 12-inch-long toy cannon. The more fire they received from Patton’s Blue Army, the more the boys reloaded their weapon and returned fire. They were soon joined by one Jesse “Chippy” Williams, a field worker who added to the fracas by setting off firecrackers that sounded like .50-caliber machine guns. He was assisted in his endeavor by the Prudhomme boys’ father, Alphonse, who was momentarily suffering from obvious Peter Pan syndrome.

“What were we thinking?” asks Kenneth. “‘Shoot! Shoot again! Shoot again!’” The rascals were having a high old time taking on the general who would later pass into legend. According to Collins’ story, the boys are the culprits who fired the shot that nearly knocked the soldier from the tree.

The Blue Army fought valiantly for half an hour, even setting off smoke screens and bringing in a howitzer to defend itself. Finally, a war games umpire decided to investigate the battle scene only to discover Patton’s convoy was being held at bay by three boys with a toy cannon and firecrackers. As Kenneth remembers, the umpire said, “Mr. Prudhomme, do you mind calling off your boys? You’re holding up our war.” None of the boys realized they had stopped the mighty Patton until they heard one of Paul Harvey’s radio broadcasts in the 1980s that told the complete story. Stop by Oakland Plantation for one of the seasonal tours, and you might get to shake the hand of the man who briefly terrorized the liberator of Bastogne.

CAUSE TO CELEBRATE
Mark the Occasion
Seemingly lying in sweet contentment along Highway 1 in Avoyelles Parish, the town of Marksville recently celebrated its bicentennial with plays, historic home and cemetery tours, parades, historical flags,
bicentennial afghans and historic souvenirs. According to Marie Lemoine and Randy Decuir in the Cenla Focus, it all began two centuries ago when Italian trader Marc Eliché’s wagon wheel broke and he stopped near the Red River to repair it. He was distracted from his labor by the beauty of the land of the Avoyel Indians. As someone whose maternal roots grow deep in Avoyelles Parish, I can vouch for the lovely pronounced green of the prairies and the mystical groves of trees that sway over the bayous. Eliché wandered no further and built a trading post near the present Marksville City Hall. According to Lemoine and Decuir, the official symbol of Marksville is a broken wagon wheel. It’s almost an acknowledgement of how fate can sometimes step in and lend a hand. The area was originally populated by American Indians and Italians, but denizens from Alsace-Lorraine in France began arriving in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a German thread that runs through this community, possibly the result of Alsace-Lorraine and Germany sharing a common border. The original French settlers were not Cajun.

Approximately 6,000 people reside in Marksville, and the town honors its colorful past by preserving the Prehistoric Indian Site Museum; a photographic historical display of the parish in the courthouse; and the charming Hypolite Bordelon home, a rustic two-room cottage filled with all the accouterments of a small farmer’s life way back when.

Also found there is a “church house” built over a wife’s grave by her grief-stricken husband. Marksville is 200 years old and still alive and kicking, ready to take on another pair of centuries. And the Tunica Indians keep things lively with their state-of-the-art Paragon Casino Resort, also known as the Pearl of Louisiana.

QUIRKY PLACES
Fish Fall
The day it happened, Oct. 23, 1947, was light and breezy, with a touch of fog and no thunderstorms. Sure, small tornadoes and dust devils had been reported in the Marksville area the day before but not that day –– the day the fish fell from the sky. They landed over 80,000 square feet of Marksville. Other strange reports from time to time across the globe reported rainfalls of eels, turtles and other miscellaneous creatures, usually following bouts of extremely bad weather. But the Great Marksville Fish Fall still stymies any forthcoming explanation from meteorologists to this day. According to a report filed by television station WBRZ in Baton Rouge, a biologist wrote of the incident right after it occurred:  “Thousands of freshwater fish native to the area were falling on Main and Monroe streets. The fish were falling in intervals, landing on roofs and backyards.”

During the Great Marksville Fish Fall, the bank director found hundreds of fish in his backyard; his cashier, J. E. Gremillion, unfortunately got hit on the head by a hickory shad as it plummeted to earth. The event was
re-created as part of Marksville’s recent bicentennial celebration, but no actual animals were used or hurt in the re-creation of the scene.
 

 

Cajun Country

WORTH WATCHING
Respite of Hope
As the new year rings in over the Bayou State, one Opelousas man knows that once again he assisted in benefitting a wonderful cause: the Opelousas Area Cerebral Palsy Clinic. For the past five years Bobby Dupre has delivered Christmas gifts to the clinic and has served as Santa Claus in the clinic’s annual fundraiser, Breakfast With Santa. This pancake breakfast replete with celebrity chefs and waiters is a special project of Dupre’s. When it first began in 2004, it raised $22,500; donations now have grown to more than $40,000. Dupre’s dedication to this charity is remarkable.

In 1952, Opelousas-area resident Elaine Fields gave birth to a daughter with pronounced cerebral palsy in a community that had no resources to which she could turn for help. For many years some parents of children with cerebral palsy were advised to put them away in institutions and forget they had ever been born. After reading an article in the Ladies’ Home Journal written by a mother who also had a child with CP, Fields contacted the author and was advised to seek assistance from the New Orleans Cerebral Palsy Association. From that point, Fields embarked on an odyssey where she at last found mercy for her child’s –– and other children’s –– condition. Through the auspices of physicians, help from the community that included local mailmen re-walking their routes at night to raise $4,000 and her own dogged determination, the Opelousas Cerebral Palsy Clinic was started in 1955. Its mission:  to offer occupational, physical and speech therapy free of charge to all afflicted with CP. Now a United Way Agency, the clinic also stays vibrantly alive through the care and concern of the community.

Dupre calls his work with the clinic the “most inspiring and important charity I’m involved in.” This year he vowed to add an additional $5,000 of his own money if total donations in conjunction with the breakfast reached $50,000.

“All of the ingredients for the breakfast are donated,” Dupre says, “so all money donated goes directly to benefit people receiving treatment at the clinic.”

Dupre accepts donations all year long, not just at Christmastime. So if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to lend a helping hand to those who need a break, please contact Andrew Guidroz at (337) 351-0732 orandrew@thecajun.com to donate. Santa will remember you with kindness.

Opelousas Area Cerebral Palsy Clinic, (337) 942-3648
 
PROFILE
Crustacean Master
I’ll admit that when I heard the first pancreas transplant in Louisiana had been performed by a Dr. Boudreaux, I said, “If it’s in Louisiana, let the first be Boudreaux!” Now, another scientific milestone has occurred to one our resident geniuses, Dr. Darryl L. Felder, a biology professor at the University of Louisiana Lafayette –– a milestone perfectly fit for one connected to the Bayou State. Felder recently received the Crustacean Society Excellence in Research Award at a banquet held at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. According to Ron Gomez of the Acadiana Gazette, Felder is the 21st recipient of this award, which is only granted periodically to a carcinologist (crustacean biologist) whose research has provided marked advancement in the field.

Dr. Rafael Lemaitre, president of the society and a Smithsonian scientist, had high praise for not only Felder’s scientific acumen but also his team-building, administrative and fundraising skills. For the past 40 years, Felder has excelled in the fields of population genetics; biogeography; physioecology; and conservation of marine invertebrates, especially crustaceans. Obtaining more than $46 million in grants throughout his career, he is also responsible for attracting federal research laboratories to the Lafayette campus, which now houses the USGS National Wetlands Research Center and the NOAA Estuarine Habitats and Coastal Fisheries Center vital to marine research. Brilliant but modest, Felder credited the success of his work to his lab staff, postdoctoral fellows,
graduate students and peers throughout the world.

CAUSE TO CELEBRATE
Steel Magnolias
The Iberia Cultural Resources Association recently held a meeting to hear the stories told by four remarkable women who live in Iberia Parish. Holly Leleux-Thubron of the Daily Iberian reported that the accounts that describe aspects of life in Iberia Parish told by Shirley LeMaire, Claire Mire, Ann Patout and Julaine Shexnayder were part of a project to preserve the history of the community.

LeMaire, born in 1925, was a nurse at Dauterive Hospital for 40 years.

“It used to cost $35 to have a baby at Dauterive, and the nicest room went for $6.50 a day,” she told the Daily Iberian.

Mire worked as a legal secretary for many politicians and knew Edmond Landry, builder of the first town hospital, whom she described as preferring silver spoons to tongue depressors.

Patout praised her mother-in-law, Yvonne Patout Southwell, who, widowed, ran the Hotel Frederick while raising eight children; Clara Roy, manager of Teche Wholesale Co.; and Laurence Bowab, female head of the Ackal family.

“The good ol’ boys didn’t want them in politics … I just think they were scared these ladies would do a better job,” said Patout.

Shexnayder chose to tell the story of the Orphan Train. “Since the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum opened in Opelousas, we’ve been trying to track down everyone who is part of this.”
 

 

Baton Rouge/Plantation Country

WORTH WATCHING
Getaway to Nottoway
Late one Friday afternoon, early last October, I drove to Nottoway Plantation in White Castle. Always a gem on the River Road, this beautiful wedding cake of a manor house had recently undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation. I remembered its charm from a stay in the early ‘80s and found the recent renovations had not undermined the historical beauty of the house but enhanced it. The beautifully designed grounds lying on a bend of the Mississippi are a blessing –– somehow making you feel wide open to the sky yet still anchored to the earth, sheltered by trees that lift their graceful fingers skyward. The herb garden that surrounds the overseer’s cottage now used as a guesthouse filled the twilight air with sweet green pungency. The ubiquitous banana trees I remembered from before have been replaced with perfectly placed palms. I wandered around the grounds as a moon, fat and round as the “O” in October, rose over the levee. Sunset tinted the sky in deep hues of periwinkle blue and melon, coloring the pure white walls of the main house in a rose-tangerine glow. I was escorted to my suite that had been the master bedroom in the glory days of the Randolphs, to be greeted by an enormous half tester bed that looked like Abe Lincoln might have slept in it. The beautiful room was washed in mid-blue, and the attached bath had a roomy clear glass shower that looked most inviting. Nottoway has that endearing old wooden house smell that I cherish like a precious perfume.

Guests have gracious run of the house, yet the place remained daydream quiet. In one of the upper halls of this house, washed in exquisite color and decorated tastefully with antiques, there is a strange portrait of a young man and woman in distress from a flood; the man’s face is anxious and angry, and the woman seems transfixed as though she knows she is about to meet her maker. It’s an odd thing to put in the hallway but adds to the fact that there isn’t a boring object to be found in this “Sugar Palace.”

As night fell, I sat in a white rocker under one of the porch galleries and enjoyed the full moon beaming on the palm trees and grounds, the gaslights flickering in the dark like feux follets. Someone told me I had unconsciously wandered to the favorite spot of the ghost of Julia, the long-dead Randolph daughter, who has been seen wandering the galleries in her antebellum hoopskirt and watching the river. It was a serendipitous surprise to realize the pleasant, efficient night manager, Bob Green, and I had been children together in the happy confines of Incarnate Word Parish in New Orleans; we hadn’t seen each other since we were children and spent pleasant time catching up and reminiscing about the old days.

On the main floor, a dim, cozy cocktail area, with its bricked walls and hardwood floors, reminded me of those dark little hideaways you sometimes stumble upon in the French Quarter, like one of Sherlock Holmes’ slip holes. The divine aromas of succulent meats grilling over pecan wood issuing from the Mansion Restaurant –– another warm and cozy spot at Nottoway –– made my mouth water.

Nottoway is less than 100 miles from New Orleans, and once you’ve reached Donaldsonville, it’s very easy to find. It’s a perfect mid-winter weekend retreat. Reflective and beautiful, combined with a gracious and hospitable staff, it casts its spell.

Nottoway Plantation, 31025 Louisiana Highway 1 (off the Great River Road), White Castle,
(866) 527-6884

FORK IN THE ROAD
Plantation Fare
The Mansion Restaurant at Nottoway is a perfect place to scurry to on a cold winter’s night. Nestled on the first floor of the manor house, cozily squirreled away like nuts stored for the winter, the taste of the food prepared there is equal to the delicious aromas that waft from the kitchen. The cold weather just might not prevent you from starting dinner with the distinctive mango soup or a shrimp ceviche in coconut foam, but if it’s warmth you crave, gumbo with chicken, andouille and okra is waiting to drive the chills away. The fried crawfish salad blooms with mesclun, supremes of orange, sorrel and honey-mustard dressing. The Ricotti Gnudi is a dynamite sorcerer’s brew of brown butter, house-made sausage, sauce piquant and sage, a blend of flavors that makes your tongue feel glad to be alive.

There are scallops, and there are scallops, but at Nottoway, there are seared diver scallops. These scallops, hand-picked by divers as opposed to harvested by a boat dragging the floor of the sea, are larger and more succulent.

The Mansion Restaurant serves them perfectly seared with grit cakes, tomato coulis, basil oil and a brussels sprouts hash that melts in your mouth. When cold weather comes to Louisiana, my mind always flies to duck in any form.

Duck confit, tender and flavorful, is accompanied by quinoa risotto, duck glacé and diced tomatoes with roasted Louisiana corn. Another not-so-foul choice of fowl is the delicious Pan-Seared Crispy Duck Breast, crispy skin and tender meat soaking in Rainier cherry-and-persimmon sauce. Side servings of fried plantains and broccolini make this dish a complete happy marriage of wonderful flavors and textures.

The Mansion Restaurant, Nottoway Plantation, 31025 Louisiana Highway 1 (off the Great River Road), White Castle, (866) 527-6884.
 

 

Greater New Orleans

PROFILE
Palm to Pine
Mike Conlin, a resident of Metairie and a native of British Columbia, Canada, recently embarked on a sentimental journey of sorts, retracing the old route of Jefferson Highway in a fit of happy motoring. According to Mike Waller of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, this former map-maker spent two years plotting, confirming, tweaking and correcting the map he’s been constructing based on old travel brochures. It seems that Jefferson Highway is much more than just a route to Ochsner or a path to take you to visit relatives who live in Harahan. Jefferson Highway was conceived in 1915 in New Orleans and dedicated four years later. The highway passed through eight states that covered more than 2,300 miles, reaching from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Canada. It was known as the “Palm to Pine Route” since it began at the palm trees in New Orleans and concluded in the pines of Minnesota and Canada. Conlin describes this route as a connection to his native country. Joined by a fellow traveler, he left Winnipeg on Nov. 1, driving the long, circuitous route of the old Jefferson Highway back to New Orleans while his GPS recorded all movements of the trip. Parts of the old Jefferson Highway have disappeared completely, but Conlin remained undaunted.

“We’re going to find out which roads are drivable, which are not and where the detours are,” Conlin stated before he began his journey. Conlin wants to establish a Jefferson Highway Association that will dot the historic corridor with markers and encourage organized touring caravans similar to those that were very much a tradition back in the days when the highway was new. It was the apparent love of the new automobile that sparked construction of similar cross-country roads nearly 100 years ago. Conlin invites any Jefferson Highway enthusiasts to join the caravan in the spirit of the old societal motoring movements. For more information, visit www.jeffersonhighway.com.
 
CAUSE TO CELEBRATE
Maglioto the mask-maker
Susan Maglioto can make many faces. Four years ago, armed with trims, glitter and a glue gun, she was helping a friend decorate Mardi Gras masks. Somewhere amid all the sparkling whirls of color, the desire to make masks out of leather took root in her mind. She studied the art of leather mask-making under the tutelage of Jeff Semmerling at the Inside Out Art Studio in Chicago and, as she puts it, “hung up my glue gun and started working with leather.” Her company, Dante’s Masquerade, offers exquisite masks with a quality that somehow manages to transport you back to ancient Rome. Rich in jewel-like colors and distinctive designs, her masks are perfect for Carnival, and the sight of them splayed on her tables at art fairs is a celebration unto itself.

Maglioto participated in her first French Market Association Mask Market in 2009, an event wherein high-caliber artisans from across the nation display their wares at the site of the old French Market. She will again participate in the Mask Market this Feb. 12 to 15. When it’s not Carnival season, Maglioto sells her creations on the third Saturday of each month at the Bywater Art Fair in Markey Park (corner of Royal and Piety streets) and at the Freret Street Market (Freret Street and Napoleon Avenue) on the first Saturday of each month. She also accepts custom orders. Maglioto takes both a personal and creative interest in her masks –– she described how she gave a man a mask that she had made long before they ever met and said that she was shocked because it looked like she had made it perfectly for his face.

“In honor of the Saints’ winning season, I’m making a headdress in black and gold,” she says. ”I love working with leather, but sometimes the leather does what it wants, and the mask makes itself. I always do my best not to waste leather or make anything substandard. I hope people enjoy wearing my masks because I do make them to be worn.

I’m always flattered when people say they are going to hang or mount the mask, but I hope my masks can be both … my masks are made to have a good time in. … Hang it on the wall, but wear it during Carnival! There is always a great pleasure in watching people try on the masks and finding the right one.”

Visit www.dantesmasquerade.com, or contact Maglioto at dantesmasquerade@gmail.com or (504) 915-3200.