Adios, Bonnie & Clyde…

Adios, Bonnie & Clyde…

I visited the ambush site of Bonnie & Clyde with a relative of Sheriff Henderson Jordan, who participated in the attack. The article is on Criminal Element today. I spoke with relatives who lived in Gibsland at the time, who remember the car and the bodies paraded through town. 


Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Happy Mardi Gras! 

If there is a catfish to be had in Jersey (outside of the pond) we’ll be frying some up with cheddar biscuits and shrimp jambalaya this evening, tipping an Abita and wishing we were in Louisiana!

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

My roses win at the County Fair every year, even though I tell my secret to anyone who asks.  They say Myra, how do you get them to bloom so red and full? And I tell them it’s the blood. Some folk find it unsavory, but nothing has quite the nitrogen count as blood meal!

In the old days, we used rabbit blood. My husband Henry set in the vegetable patch and would blow their little brains out, and I’d drain the blood and make a stew. Those things are all bones. Hardly worth the trouble. The blood would fertilize the rose beds, it’s really the best thing for it. Now Henry’s gone, so no more rabbits. It’s just little old Myra, holding down the fort.

You know who else was famous for her roses? General Robert E. Lee’s mother. In fact, when the Yankees took his land, they buried Union soldiers in her garden, right up to the front door. Isn’t that just awful and childish? When you have a disagreement, you should at least keep your manners. What did his mama, or her roses ever do to anyone?

Yankees can be downright uncivil. Like the family who moved onto Maiden Lane, after old Miss Dufresne passed away last year. Has it been that long? She nearly made it to ninety, still driving every day. Almost backed over the Lassier child with her wagon! Bless her heart. Thankfully the Good Lord took her before she caused a tragedy.

The Yankees, or the Meltzers I should say, they came all the way down from New York. If you pardon my language, they’re Damn Yankees, since they’re the kind who stayed. After the storm, now that property values are low. And what did they do, they took out Miss Dufresne’s lovely live oak, and put in a basketball hoop. See what I mean? Now instead of shade and songbirds, we get to hear her Mr. Meltzer slam dunking, or whatever they call it, all through tea time.

He works from home, if you can call it work. For all the basketball he plays, he can’t be working much. Now, I know you’re thinking I’m a lady who lunches and has nothing better to do but grow award-winning roses, but I taught school in the Ninth Ward for nearly forty years, so I’ve done my share. Teaching the tough kids, with metal detectors on the door! I confiscated my share of straight razors and even snatched a little mother of pearl pistol from a boy’s belt once. Made the papers. Pistol-packin’ teacher mama! His parents didn’t see it that way, when I dragged him by his ear to the security office. That’s why I had to retire.

There’s such meanness in this world.

And the first thing the Yankees did when they moved in was get themselves a dog. They won’t stake him in the yard, no, he’s “free range,” like the chicken she keeps asking where to get. You want free range, put a coop out back. You can feel good about eating local, as they call it, and you can give me the blood for my roses.
But no, she keeps asking every week. Like something’s wrong with Mr. Cathaway’s market for not carrying it.
That dog of theirs kept rooting in my garden, digging up my bulbs. I told her I use fertilizer and chemicals, and it’s not safe. The street’s getting busier now, with all the new folks moving back, I said.
But “Darcy,” as they call their chocolate Lab, remained free range.
Would you believe she had the gall to look surprised when he didn’t trot home one evening, when she rang that tacky dinner bell she nailed to Miss Dufresne’s lovely porch?
First thing next morning, she was knocking at my door and shouting on my front step.

“Mrs. Carling? Hello? Anyone home?”
Henry’s truck was in the drive. She could’ve just waited a moment.
“Well good morning, Mrs. Meltzer! How are you this lovely morning?”
She wore her shameless jogging outfit and a pair of those Hollywood sunglasses, which she did not remove. “Have you seen Darcy anywhere?”
“Would you care for some chicory coffee? I just made a pot.”
“Was Darcy in your yard last night? He never came home.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not the neighborhood dogcatcher. Though there’s a pound over by the rendering plant. You might want to check there.”

“Did you turn him in? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“I did no such thing.”
“Well if you see him, Brett’s home, can you ring the bell? Thanks.”
Then she jogged off without even a goodbye. See what I mean? Uncivil.

My memaw, she always told me, Myra, you have to kill ‘em with kindness. So I went next door, and interrupted Mr. Meltzer’s “work,” by ringing the bell.
“Come in,” he hollered.
He was on the couch in a track suit, like one of my students, not a grown man. His computer on his lap.
“Hey, Miss…”
“Mrs. Carling,” I said. “I would like to have you and Mrs. Meltzer for tea when she returns from her constitutional. You were never properly welcomed to the neighborhood, and I find that uncivil.”
He snickered. “Like the war?”
“Are you referring to the War of Northern Aggression? Bless your heart. You made a little joke there! Well yes, please come over for tea and biscuits. They’re organic. Not sure if the eggs were free range, though.”
“Seeya then,” he said. Didn’t look up from his computer once.

They came over for tea time, in their exercise clothes. Really!
“Good biscuits,” he said with his mouth full. Yer darn tootin’ they are, Yankee boy!
Even his wife had one, that skinny thing. Baking and roses, my specialties.
“So, did you ever find your pup?” I asked.
“No, he’s just plum disappeared,” she replied, with that mocking tone.
“Oh, I have a feeling he’ll turn up. All the birds come home to roost.” I sipped my tea.
“Can I have another biscuit?” he asked.
“Of course!” When he reached for one, I gave his finger a squeeze.
“You’re fattening up on Southern cooking, I see!”
“It’s so good.”
“Have another one, Miss Ann.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t. They’re great, but really, so fattening. Do you use lard or hydrogenated oil like Crisco?”
Her husband’s head thumped on the table, but she, oh she gave me a run for my money, I tell you. I had to hold her by the ear and use a straight razor from my desk.

And waste some of that lovely fertilizer!
Bless her heart.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

a message in a bottle, sending out an S.O.S. to the Gulf

As you know, Abita has been one of my favorite American craft microbrews since Firecracker introduced me to Purple Haze back when we met. Nowadays my faves are their staple Amber, their oddly named buy tasty brown ale called Turbodog, and Jockamo IPA when I can get it. Based in Covington Louisiana near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, they brew a large stable of varietals and their newest, Save Our Shores Charitable Pilsner, gives 75 cents a bottle to Gulf spill restoration. They’re no stranger to charity beers, and their Abita Restoration Ale is still available, with the charity going to Katrina relief. I visited their brewery last year, and you can read all about it here.

We ordered a case of the S.O.S. Pilsner thinking they were standard six packs, but they turn out to be 1 Pint 6 ounce large bottles with a pretty logo screen printed on the bottle itself. It is a hoppy pilsner with a lot of body, completely unlike American rice beer pilsners you may be used to. It blows Prima Pils and Pilsner Urquell out of the water. It has a full mouth feel yet doesn’t fill you up like a brown ale. I highly recommend it, even if they weren’t donating profits to Gulf spill relief. We ordered ours at a local Bottle King, but Abita is carried nationwide by Whole Foods, and their website lists distributors around the country. It is worth ordering if your liquor store does not carry it, and will be a fine brew to have on Labor Day. While we relax and grill, try to remember all the fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed by BP’s negligence, now forced to work clean up for a pittance of what they made serving us local, fresh shellfish and seafood.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Beer & Oysters – Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout

‘Twas a brave man, who first ate an oyster.
–Jonathan Swift

I’m really enjoying Flying Fish Brewery‘s NJ Turnpike Exit Series of beers. It’s so quintessentially New Jerseyan to celebrate one of our state’s greatest eyesores and hellholes, and they’re doing it with excellent brews. I reviewed their excellent Exit 11 a while back, which was an American Wheat Ale. Their Exit 1 is a classic Oyster Stout, made with oysters and shells! This was a popular type of stout in England public houses when a pint of stout might be the most vitamins a man would have all day. Now, it’s just a smooth and tasty malty stout that goes great with a dozen on the half shell. The Exit beers only come in 750ml wine bottles, so share with a friend!
I was alone since Firecracker headed home for Christmas, so why not drink away my sorrows? I got these at Whole Foods, along with an Oxo shucking knife. Cost $20. But the experience of shucking oysters for the first time was worth the money. Scrub the oysters well, and discard any that aren’t tightly closed.
I opted for Drago’s Char-broiled Oysters recipe. I like them raw, but I missed these from Louisiana, so what better to eat when I missed by Baton Rouge baby? You’ll need melted butter, fresh parsley, lemon juice, minced garlic, Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, lots of grated Parmesan, and a little Tabasco. Mix it all up!
Shucking an oyster is easy if you’re patient and confident. Clamp the oyster flat side up in a dish towel, with the pointy end sticking out. Press the point of the knife into the hinge and wiggle it until you get in there and can twist it open. Slide the knife down into the valley of the shell to separate the meat, then do the same to the top. When the knife goes into the hinge you should feel it try to close; it’s alive, after all. Quickly separate the meat to put the poor oyster out of its misery, you heartless hungry bastard!
Cover each one with the cheese and butter and parsley mixture and broil them until the cheese bubbles and the edges begin to brown. I went a little lighter because I didn’t use enough cheese- a cardinal sin- and I wanted the meat to remain juicy. There’s also a salmon patty in the corner. I didn’t have any bread in the house, but I’ll be warming a nice crusty loaf in the oven to soak up the juices, when I do this again. I also used a bit much parsley, but I like it so that’s fine. Next time, I’ll mince it finely.
I like how it turned out- less like Oysters Rockefeller and more like Felix and Acme’s char-broiled oysters. The sweet shellfish really only need a little seasoning. But, on to the beer! The chocolatey smooth stout went very well with them. Because cooking oysters gives them a mild fishy flavor, the strong stout went well with them. I think it might drown out the delicate flavors of raw oysters, but I’ll buy another bottle and try that next. Because now the Plucker is a mother shucker, and I’ll be eating them at home more often. The stout’s a winner- it’s not too heavy like the Samuel Adams Imperial Stout that’s sat in my fridge for months- that’s tasty but too heavy to drink! I’m gonna make stew and chili with it. Flying Fish is quick becoming my favorite New Jersey brewer, because their varieties are readily available and quite good. And their Exit series has been fantastic!

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

–Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”

Southern Discomfort

I saw Southern Comfort on HBO in the early ’80s long before I knew who Walter Hill was; I liked The Warriors and Streets of Fire and 48 Hrs. (full review) but I hadn’t connected them as the work of one director yet. I remembered it as a cheap Deliverance knockoff, so I wanted to refresh my memory.
The story is a simple one. A squad of Louisiana National Guard are training in the bayou. They aren’t the best and brightest; their Sergeant is straight laced, but the boys have some whores lined up for fun after maneuvers, and they want to get done quick. Among them is a loaner from Texas named Hardin, played by Powers Boothe; Fred Ward as a crude loudmouth named Reece, Keith Carradine as a sarcastic self-deprecating smartass named Spencer, and T.K. “Nauls from The Thing” Carter. That gives us some solid character acting on board and a beloved cult director, so let’s see how much comfort it gives us for the next two hours.
During training, the lazy fellows are in Cajun country, and have no respect for the swamp folks; Reece calls them coon-asses. He cuts their nets as they wade through the bayou, completely unmindful of the snakes, gators, gar and other critters. They’re city boys, and some comparison to the culture clash between Americans and Vietnamese. The Cajuns speak their French patois, live off the land, and just want to be left alone. The Guard boys have blanks for training, and the guy with the M60 likes pranking people with it. When they come upon some pirogues (canoes) and decide to take borrow them as a shortcut, he fires at their rightful owners when they’re caught. Problem is, the hunters in the swamp have guns with real ammo, and they fire back.
The soldiers are green and panic, and end up lost in the bayou, with a few bullets each, surrounded by inhospitable territory and people who live in it, who they’ve made their enemies. Sound familiar? Not long after they regroup and go a little wild, they capture a Cajun trapper played by Brion James. He speaks only French, and his lines are especially funny if you understand a little. He’s stoic and laconic, and when they come upon a stringer of 8 dead rabbits- coincidentally the same number of soldiers- they think it’s a warning and are creeped out. They demand an answer from him, and he just says, “lapin!” Sonny “Billy from Predator” Landham plays another of the hunters, but doesn’t get any lines.
The rest plays out mostly as expected- some men cling to reason and military procedure, others want revenge and grasp for power in the confusion. When they realize they are being hunted, some lose it, and they never come to terms with how dangerous the land alone is, even when it is used against them. We do get to see a more pleasant face of backwoods Cajun life as two of the men come upon a small town and join in a crawfish boil, pig roast and celebration. Unfortunately the story structure is a bit muddled and the ending comes 20 minutes too late. It spends a little too much time whittling down the Guards with clever traps like a slasher film, when it should have stuck to the war film formula. It’s still an enjoyable film, in Walter Hill’s best pastiche of a Sam Fuller B-movie.
The very end slows as the rescue arrives, but comparing National Guardsmen taking it easy at home in ’73 to soldiers in Vietnam running for the medevac chopper is a bit much. I would have loved the festival scene to continue its creepy vibe, where they are unsure if the ropes being strung up are for slaughtering pigs for the feast, or for hanging interloping soldiers. I would have liked them to panic and turn on their hosts, but instead it continues the slasher vibe. Not a great movie, but a good one, and the bayou has never been bleaker. It was filmed on location and Hill’s crew suffered in the wet and cold. Ry Cooder’s excellent soundtrack, with some traditional Cajun music by Dewey Balfa, helps set the film’s excellent tone, which makes the foggy swamp one of the creepiest settings in a long time. Southern Comfort may not be one of Hill’s best, but it’s definitely an interesting take on the Vietnam metaphor.

Yankee Gumbo Foxtrot

This Yankee tried his hand at making gumbo on Sunday night. From scratch, roux and all. It turned out a little more like etoufee in the end because I’ve only had thick gumbo, and it’s supposed to be a little soupy. But I couldn’t do that, in light of Soupy Sales’s death, so there we are. You start out by browning some andouille sausage in a cast iron pan, I used Trader Joe’s chicken andouille to keep things lean. Most recipes tell you to drain the fat anyway, so why not use lean sausage?
In the same pan I put some bacon drippings and then pieces of chicken tenderloin seasoned with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning, a staple in my house and great for seasoning Louisiana cooking. I didn’t bother cooking the chicken fully, since it was going to simmer later.
I was drinking Samuel Adams’ chocolatey, malty face-slap of an Imperial Stout. I’d had this at their brewery and was glad it got bottled! I deglazed the pan with it and poured the thick sauce onto the chicken. Then I whipped out my Staub enamel crock pot to make some roux. Amazon had a great sale on these, and still does. I was gonna rave about Staub is family owned, but they are now part of a conglomerate, so oh well.
You’ll want to dice your trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery ahead of time, because once you start stirring roux, you can barely stop to scratch your ass, much less cut vegetables, answer the phone, or open another beer. So do all that first. I used two small onions, two small bell peppers, and a cleaned, small bunch of celery heart all cut into small dice.
Next the roux, the important part. Roux is 1 part oil (or butter, if you’re brave) and 1 part flour. This recipe calls for 1 cup each. I threw a few pats of butter in the oil and made a cup worth for flavor. Over low-medium heat, you stir constantly, mixing the flour in, and slowly browning it until it looks like a Hershey bar. If you get black specks in the roux or it smells burnt, you ruined it. So use low heat, and be patient. I used a silicone spatula, next time I’ll use a whisk as tradition demands.
This is peanut butter color, about halfway there; I chickened out because I saw specks, but it was probably the Tony’s! Add the seasoning later. Friend Katy recommended taking half your roux out at the point you get concerned, and browning the rest more; I might try that next time. I didn’t have enough flour to start over, so I erred on the side of caution. I thus lost the famous smoky flavor for a rich, buttery popcorn type base.
When you get the desired color, add your trinity. This will cool the roux and keep it from burning, but keep stirring often. When the onions turn translucent, add some minced garlic, and chicken stock. This is where I learned that I don’t own a big enough stock pot! It called for 10 cups, I barely got 7 in there. That’s why my gumbo isn’t soupy. Now that we ate two servings, I might add more to get the right consistency.
This is where you add your seasonings- some Worcestershire sauce, a few shots of Tabasco, Tony Chachere’s, salt, pepper, fresh parsley. And add all the meat you cooked earlier, with all the juices, and some tomato sauce or paste. I used a can of tomato paste because it seemed very spicy, but it mellowed overnight. Next time I’d use half as much, and freeze the rest. Let it simmer on low for an hour, after stirring well to dissolve the paste.
There ya go. Gumbo Yankee style. If you can find gumbo filé, which is ground sassafras root for flavor and thickening, you can sprinkle some on last. Tony Chachere makes some, I have it on order from Cajun Grocer– recommended by Caitlin over at the movie blog 1416 and Counting. The base recipe came from Firecracker’s Sis, who told me the most important part- don’t eat it right away! Keep it in the fridge overnight and let the flavors mingle. It tasted amazing the next night, when we heated it up and ate it over rice with some Abita Pecan Harvest Ale, my favorite of their seasonal brews. I learned some lessons- good gumbo is easy, but great classic gumbo is harder to master. But it’s a lot of fun trying.

Ingredients, corrected for what I learned:
1 cup canola oil and 1 tbsp butter
1 cup flour
1 tbsp bacon drippings or cooking oil, for the chicken
1 lb chicken pieces, cut into cubes
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
2 small onions,
2 bell peppers,
1 bunch celery all diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
5 drops Tabasco sauce
5 squirts Worcestershire sauce
3 tsp Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Some Abita beer for drinking, deglazing, and adding some!