Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whiskey Fest

If you'd look at my activities over the last few months, you'd think I was a drinking snob. You'd also think I had a drinking problem since most of the drinks I've had have been at work. We have had Brandy Milk Punch and Sazeracs, Lazy Magnolia beer and Pontchartrain Vineyard wine, and now, a number of whiskies. We often have experts around - the brewers, the wine makers, the bartenders that specialize in a specific cocktails. Last night, we sat around with four master whiskey distillers and mused over the topic, "American Culture and Brown Liquor." Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey laughed with Jeff Arnett of Jack Daniel's, saying they are usually sampling whiskey before their morning coffee. Aaaagh. The life. Then, we all sampled a whiskey from each of their brown, delicious portfolios. Were you there? If not, you were invited.

This is of course, just another day in the life of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. We have drinks and food and we do it on some other level. Bourbon House and the New Orleans Bourbon Society are hosting the second annual Whiskey Fest. This whiskey event one of the events. Tonight, they are auctioning off signed bottles and memorabilia from the distilleries to benefit SoFAB. Thanks. I raise my brown liquor to you all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kids in the Kitchen

Today, with the help of volunteers from the Junior League New Orleans, we began our Saturday morning Culinary Camps. The schedule is on our website. Today we made jambalaya and peanut butter balls.

Making peanut butter is one of my favorite things. I love tasting the peanuts, shelling them and watching the transformation from peanuts to butter. Add a bit of honey and powdered milk, and we have the stuff of peanut butter balls.

After stuffing ourselves with jambalaya we were fortunate enough to have Virginia Willis sign her new cookbook, Bon Appetit, Y'all. We ate goodies from the book and mingled in the party.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cinq a Sept is a Success

SoFAB inaugurated its Tuesday night after-work fall music series a little over a week ago. Yesterday was our SECOND Tuesday hosting this event. Live music by performers like The New Orleans Gypsy All Stars, complimentary hors d'oeuvres from restaurants like August and Cuvee, and a cash wine bar featuring selections chosen by the sommelier from The Savvy Gourmet is a sweet deal. While this is obvious to us, I always get a little worried when I am waiting to see if it is obvious to everyone else. It is.

Last night, SoFAB was filled with staff from the Windsor Court, young, hip couples, writers, a mother and her daughter. The crowd turned out to be rather varied. This brought me to a realization. Cinq a Sept at SoFAB is so cool because this notion is not only realized by one group of people. It seems that people from many groups have picked up on how great it is.

If you haven't made it yet, I encourage you to check the events section on our website. Even better, instead of paying museum admission for each event, become a museum member ($50/individual or $75/(you and 3 of your friends)) and come every Tuesday for free.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chris Smith's Blog - The Big Read

September 8, 2008

While on Hurricane Hiatus – Discovering the Scuppernong

While evacuated to Monroeville to avoid Hurricane Gustav, I was “forced” to try several of the local delicacies – caramel cake, chocolate pie, and one of the foods mentioned in To Kill A Mockingbird that I did not comprehend – the scuppernong. We found them in all the grocery stores.

A scuppernong is a large type of grape that is native to the Southeastern United States. It’s named after the Scuppernong River in North Carolina, where it was originally cultivated in the 17th century. In fact, the scuppernong is the state fruit of North Carolina.

Some history: The earliest written account of the scuppernong occurs in the logbook of Giovanni de Verrazzano, a Florentine navigator who explored the Cape Fear River Valley for France in 1524. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers wrote that the coast f North Carolina was “so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them . . . in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found.”

The scuppernong is a member of the muscadine family of grapes. When ripe, it has a greenish or bronze color. The grape has four parts: the outer skin; the pulp or “meat”; the seeds; and juice. The skin is very thick and tart. The pulp is sweet. Each grape has several small green seeds. The most desired part of the scuppernong is the sweet juice that lies underneath its skin.

Scuppernong grapes contain roughly 95-100 calories per cup. Scuppernongs are high in Vitamin C and contain potassium, vitamin B, and trace minerals. They are low in sodium and have no fat and cholesterol.

Besides To Kill A Mockingbird, scuppernongs figure prominently in William Faulkner’s novel Absalom, Absalom!

When I saw the package labeled “scuppernong,” I knew I had to try them. The skin is tough to negotiate – most people peel it away, then dig out the seeds, and go straight for the meat. I thought the meat would be sour, but it surprised me. It is sweet and quite tasty. People in the area make scuppernong pies. In fact, we entertained the idea of making one of these pies ourselves, but the time had come to return to New Orleans and the task of cleaning up.

If I had been thinking, I would have brought back a few packages in one of the many coolers I had lugged along for the evacuation.

Chris Smith's Blog

September 4, 2008

Of All Places to Evacuate – Monroeville, Alabama

When Hurricane Gustav appeared on the Gulf horizon, little did I know that I would be heading to the very city that served as the inspiration for To Kill A Mockingbird.

It was the idea of my friend and fellow dog park companion Harriett Swift who grew up in Monroeville. Her cousin Jane-Ellen runs the tourism activities of the county (Monroe, of course) and has an office in the courthouse. Just a few steps from her office is the spectacular courtroom that served as the model for both the book and the movie.

The courtroom is kept in pristine condition. When you are in it, you cannot help but envision the courtroom scenes from the novel.

There are two rooms outside the courtroom. One is a gallery that is devoted to Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird. The second gallery is devoted to another former citizen of Monroeville – the tiny terror who would become known as Truman Capote. Each exhibition provides some great photos of the two authors as well as information about their contributions to American literature and their relationships to their Alabama home.

Despite all the literature history, there is a certain eerie feeling for an avid reader on a pilgrimage to Monroeville. After all, Harper Lee is still alive and living a few blocks away from the town square. She’s 82 years of age, has recently had a stroke, and now lives in an assisted living facility.

Lee casts a long shadow over the town. Several businesses have “mockingbird” in their title, including a great eatery called the Mockingbird CafĂ©, recently re-opened after some unknown event. A mockingbird mural appears on a car dealership. There are other references.

Leaving your home because a hurricane is bearing down on it is an unpleasant feeling – what an understatement. Going to a place where history has been recorded was a welcome though brief respite.

I have a strange feeling I will return to Monroeville, Alabama.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chris Smith's To Kill a Mockingbird Blog

A Lesson in Longevity -- Twinkies

To Kill A Mockingbird is set in a tumultuous time in American history – the Great Depression. The book ends in 1935 when Scout Finch is roughly nine years of age.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know there is plenty of food mentioned in the book, but off the page, in the real world, quite a bit was happening in the realm of food – many new inventions, technologies and policies.
One of those technological innovations was the Twinkie!

Twinkies, produced by The Continental Baking Company in Indianapolis, were born in 1930 and they were quite different from the ones we know today. The original version was a cream-filled strawberry shortcake. They were produced only when strawberries were in season.

One of the bakers came up with an idea to create a banana filling. The along came World War II and a banana shortage, so the banana filling became vanilla, which is closer to the version of today.

The eggs, milk and butter in early Twinkies gave them a shelf life of only two days. The original Twinkies sold for a nickel, and they were popular. Store shelves had to be replenished every other day, but the practice was expensive. So, the need for a longer shelf life led to many changes in the Twinkie recipe. Mostly because of packaging, today’s Twinkies have a shelf life of about 25 days.

Many myths have sprung up around the Twinkie's longevity, claiming that it stays fresh for decades, would survive a nuclear war, and that the company is still selling off the original batch made in 1930. None are true, but this one is: Twinkies get their name from a product manufactured and sold in 1930 – Twinkle-Toe Shoes.

Chris Smith's To Kill A Mockingbird Blog

Celebration? Time for a Lane Cake

Lane cake is mentioned several times in To Kill A Mockingbird, especially when there is a special occasion to celebrate.

Miss Maudie is the cook who makes Lane Cakes. In fact, in chapter five, she is mentioned as making “the best cakes in the neighborhood.”

In chapter eight, Miss Maudie’s house burns but she surprises Scout when she announces she will make a Lane Cake and give it to her neighbor Mr. Avery for his help in fighting the fire.

In chapter 13, when Aunt Alexandra arrives to stay with the Finches, Miss Maudie made a Lane cake to honor her arrival.

In chapter 22, Miss Stephanie pesters Jem, Scout and Dill about the trial but Miss Stephanie distracts them by asking them to her porch for cake.

Other cakes are mentioned too, such as angel food and pound cake, but Lane Cake is mentioned most often.

Lane cake is a symbol of the South

The first recipe for Lane Cake was first printed in Some Good Things to Eat, by Mrs. Emma Rylander Lane, which she published in 1898. It was originally called Prize cake because it place first in a baking contest at a county fair in Columbus, Georgia, where Mrs. Lane was demonstrating ranges.

Lane Cakes look simple from the outside but there is more to this cake than meets the eye. Lane Cakes generally are considered by many to be difficult to make due to the complicated preparations and multiple ingredients.

A traditional Lane Cake is a white cake, a type of sponge cake, made in layers. It has four layers separated by filling. Each layer is supposed to be made in a pie tins instead of cake pans, making each layer smaller. The layers have different ingredients, making the cake unique – and more labor intensive. For example, cocoanut, dried fruit, and nuts are common additions, but they are not included in the original recipe.

The outside usually has a white frosting made of water, sugar, and whipped egg white. It has a filling of butter, raisins, and whiskey. Each layer has different ingredients. For example, one layer may have pecans and coconut, the next layer almonds and raisins. The recipe has been modified many times through the years.

Miss Maudie prized her Lane Cake recipe. When her house burns and she is forced to move to Miss Stephanie’s house, she says: “Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another thing coming.”

Stephanie had to wait, but you don’t. If you want to try to make Lane Cake, you can find all kinds of recipes on the internet.

Chris Smith's Blog - To Kill a Mockingbird

Cameron Gamble will read Mockingbird on WRBH

One of the most delightful events to be created as part of The Big Read NOLA has been the partnership with WRBH, Radio for the Blind.

It was so easy. A phone call was placed, a meeting was convened, and WRBH folks explained what could and could not happen. In less than 30 minutes, WRBH employees had a plan in place to bring an American classic to local airwaves.

Many thousands of people will benefit from their leadership.

Beginning Sept. 1, local lawyer Cameron Gamble will read the book. The readings will occur daily, Monday through Fridays at 2 pm, and they will repeat at 8 p.m. each night. Each half-hour segment amounts to about 12-14 pages, meaning that the book will be completed in about 25 installments.

WRBH also will air The Great Gatsby, The Big Read book selected by FaulknerFest and the Jefferson Parish Public Library.

The people at WRBH “get it.” They were a joy to work with. If we apply again next year, and get an award, they’ll be the first people I call.

Chris Smith's Blog - The Food in To Kill a Mockingbird

Food in To Kill A Mockingbird

If you are looking for a snapshot of food consumed in the American South during the Great Depression, all you have to do is read To Kill A Mockingbird.

Page after page, there are references to food and drink, meals and tea parties, desserts and oral medications, etiquette and intrigue – all around the kitchen or dining room table.

There are more than 50 foods mentioned in the book, including – pretty much in order – the following: Ice, wheat and flour; collard patch; crackling bread; hickory nuts; turnip greens; potatoes; scuppernongs; fried chicken; lemonade; pound cake; ice cream; Lane Cake; sugar; ham; summer vegetables; peach pickles; Ambrosia; biscuits and butter; coffee; cornbread; pork and beans; lemon drops; cherry wine; whiskey; eggs; biscuits and syrup; chicken; fried pork chops; Coca-cola; sardines; crackers; Nehi cola; bacon; squirrel; possum; rabbit; pecans; milk; potato salad; salt pork; beans; rolls; tomatoes; pickled pigs’ knuckles; Tootsie rolls; Charlotte; dewberry tarts; cookies; divinity; apples; taffy; and angel food cake

Some foods are mentioned in a generic manner, such as “sandwiches,” “three kinds of meat,” “two kinds of cake,” “hock of the ham,” etc.

There is also a reference early in the book to “chocolate malted mice” which are not for people at all. This “delicacy” is part of a story read to the class by Miss Caroline in which Mrs. Cat calls the drugstore to place an order for chocolate malted mice.

There also are two references to medicines that are taken orally: calomel and asafoetida.

There are three products mentioned by brand name: Coca-Cola; Nehi Cola; and Tootsie Rolls.

But it is not the mere mention of food that contributes to the book’s greatness or unique Southern perspective. Instead, it is way that food, drink, eating, meals, and parties help move the plot on its way and illustrate the great points of the story.

For example, early in the book, Scout and Jem invite a classmate home for lunch and Scout gets a major lesson in life when she makes fun of their guest for something (food-related) that he does. It’s a classic scene that illustrates the concept Atticus imbues in his children: “you can never know another person until you walk in his shoes.”

An emotional scene at the end of the book occurs when Atticus is thanked for his attempt to defend Tom Robinson, a task he performs for no money. He awakes one morning to find that his back porch is covered with food that townspeople have brought in gratitude.

And then, of course, there is the climactic scene at the end of the book in which Scout is dressed as a ham.

Part of the charm in reading Mockingbird for me was all the references to food. But when you think about it, a book in itself is food for the brain.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Southern Living

So I ended up outside Birmingham AL in my evacuation from Gustave, which was lovely. Pretty rolling hills, cheap BBQ and tea with so much sugar you could stand a spoon in it. Anyway, I decided to try and keep some semblance of normalcy among all the trashy lit reading and beer I mean tea sipping, so I contacted my friend Donna Florio who is the Senior Food Editor at Southern Living to see if I could come visit and do....something. She said sure and on Wednesday I headed up to Southern Progress, the home of Southern Living, Coastal Living and Cottage Living. I picked a great day. The recipe testers were sampling about 20 different dishes, from coleslaw to grilled pork to some tasty brownies. I got to taste everything and even put in my two cents about adding buttermilk to a soup instead of cream. The voting system was pretty straightforward. All the editors and recipe developers voted by raising their hands, giving a number on a scale of 1-2. A recipe that still needs some work gets a 1.5; a 2 is a solid recipe; a 2.5 is very good; and a 3 is outstanding. It was interesting to listen to the various critiques, especially listening the the various criteria: family friendly, kid friendly, an "interesting application" which meant a new use for a predictable food like broccoli. After all the sampling and voting, Donna introduced me to everyone and I talked about the museum, our mission, several of the projects we are working on and how everyone could help support us, whether through our Menu Project or in other ways. Everyone was really thrilled to hear about the museum and promised to come visit the next time they were in town. It was a tasty day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Open for Business

SoFAB is open for business. Gustav turned out to be a hiccup for the city of New Orleans. Our sympathy and concern go out for all of those who were seriously affected by the storm. But this time I would like to let everyone know that we were prepared. All of the books and artifacts and papers that we have been given are safe and sound. Once again, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who have donated books, artifacts and papers to us. We are able to claim to be a maturing organization because of your support.

Since I only made a brief mention of it in a previous blog, I would also like to thank the four chefs who represented New Orleans at the special event in Medellin, Colombia - Otro Sabor. These chefs represented the best of the city as Medellin celebrated its African roots. New Orleans cuisine is a close relative of the food in Medellin, including red beans and rice. The chefs were Saundra Green of Creole Delicacies, Kevin Belton of Lil Dizzy's, Chef Alfred Singleton, Chef de Cuisine for Dickie Brennan & Co, and Kamili Magee Hemphill. All of them were brilliant and they worked tirelessly to feed the thousands of people who ate gumbo, jambalaya, etoufee and bisque for the first time.