Sunday, August 31, 2008

Colombia and Gustav

Earlier this week Elizabeth Pearce, Senior Curator, and I returned from a week in Medellin, Colombia. I had anticipated writing about how lovely the people were. How we learned so much about Afro-Caribbean connections all over the southern US and the islands and coast of South America. Beans and rice and seafood are everywhere.

But instead of emphasizing this wonderful connection, I am instead writing to reassure everyone that all is secure in light of the threat of Gustav. Of course, it is impossible to promise that something unanticipated and unpredictable won't occur. But I think that we are as prepared as can be and with a disaster plan as much in place as possible.

Thanks to all of you who have written to inquire after our safety and readiness. We look forward to next week's programs, the continuation of the BIG READ and the return to normalcy. I hope that all of you are well and safe. Thanks for remembering SoFAB.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chris Smith's Blog - He's singing like a Mockingbird

Wednesday, August 6, 2008
I Read the Book -- Now I'm Singing Like a Mockingbird
Nobody told me about To Kill A Mockingbird. I assumed it was good, but I didn’t realize it would be one of the best books I’d read in quite some time.

Also, the book wasn’t required reading where I grew up. I knew about the movie, but I’d only bits and pieces, enough to get the gist. Therefore, Mockingbird – no matter what it’s incarnation – just wasn’t on my radar screen.

I finally read the classic novel because the Southern Food and Beverage Museum teamed up with the New Orleans Public Library to apply for a grant with The Big Read, a program that encourages literacy and reading. It’s sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Arts Midwest.

As the person designated to plan the museum’s events, I had that obligatory sense of responsibility to at least read the book, or at least skim it quickly. While shopping at a local Barnes & Noble, I picked up a copy. I splurged and bought the hardback version because I thought I needed a sturdy copy – one that I could mark up, use for reference, take to meetings.

I started to read the book on a Friday night and had completed it by Sunday noon. It would have taken less time but I had weekend errands to run. Even after only five pages, I knew it was going to be one of those books, the one that fit under the category of “I couldn’t put it down.”

In retrospect, I don’t know why I waited so long to read this great novel. In the past few weeks, I’ve recommended Harper Lee's tale to everyone I know. Nobody told me, but I am making it my duty to tell the world.

Welcome to my To Kill A Mockingbird blog.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Newcomb Newcomers

As Liz and Elizabeth attend a conference in Medellin, Colombia, I am at the museum. Sure, Colombia sounds good. Well, actually, it sounds amazing and I would love to be there. But, I also enjoy the little things that fall on my shoulders, the ones that would normally fall on someone else's shoulders.

Today, I gave a talk to Newcomb freshman. Since I once was a freshman at Newcomb and new to this city, I appreciated the opportunity to relive the past a little. During my presentation, one girl asked, "What's a poboy?" Fair question if you've never had one. Several had come from the north and had never had the delight that is an oyster from the Gulf. Oysters from cold waters have a clearer liquid and a brininess to them. Oysters from the Gulf grow in much warmer waters, giving them a creaminess and fattiness. Everything is new to them!

It would be amazing to try a poboy again for the first time or stare down into the mysteriousness that is etouffee. Reliving things this way makes you want to grab them all by the hand and take them to all of your favorite places and to tell them what the best things on the menu are. Instead, I followed a tradition and treated the museum as my home. (Sometimes it feels that way, anyway) For Cajuns, 19th centery etiquette required them to serve guests coffee, no matter the circumstances. Sometimes a bite to eat as well. Before work this morning, I made them white chocolate bread pudding and chicory coffee.

It was quite a pleasure to see a group of newcomers try these things that have become so normal to me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spinning Top or Gyroscope?

Now that we are open, opportunity keeps knocking - a collaboration in Medellin, Colombia, podcasting, new exhibits - while we have to keep operating. This is exciting, but crazy-making. I am trying to decide whether we are a spinning top: something that is kept in balance by outside forces caused by the spinning or whether we are a gyroscope: something that is in intrinsic balance despite outside forces. The jury is still out.

Yet, despite this feeling of controlled chaos, (or perhaps because of it, I admit), the future seems very bright. We have assembled a remarkable staff, both paid and volunteer. We have the support and interest of a terrific board. We are deepening the exhibits and planning for very strong future exhibits. Our library continues to grow. Our partnerships with l'Institut du Gout and other institutions are expanding. Our work with children is also growing.

I look at it all in wonder. It must be a gyroscope that is at the center of all of this activity. It will keep our activities balanced as we go forward.

Friday, August 8, 2008

OOOOOOHH Mexico, it sounds so sweet I just had to go....

I spent 2 weeks in Mexico and ate lots of things I cannot spell. I also surprised myself by not thinking about the museum much. Well, not at the beach. Once I arrived in Mexico City, (or DF as many locals say, for Distrito Federal, something I'm also sure I misspelled) I was back on the clock. I met up with Ruth Alegria who leader of the Slow Food Convivium in Condesa/Roma ( a cool neighborhood just outside of the Centro) and is the IACP coordinator there, as well as Nicholas Gilman who is working on a second edition of his "Good Food in Mexico City" (my bible there) and Nick's partner Jim Johnston who recently penned "Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler" (my other bible. you can have two, yes?). All three were so hospitable and fed me well. While there, I met with Azucena Suarez de Miguel, the Director of the Fundacion Herdez, which in addition to being a large international food company (yep, it's that salsa you buy) also runs a food museum downtown. We had a great meeting and I hope we are able to partner with them sometime in the future on an exhibit or conference. I can home tan, rested and full of ideas of how to embark on our global food empire building, I mean partnership building. And full of tacos al pastor, too. Which, now that I think about it, is just as satisfying.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Have you ever had a grape sandwich?

Today, kids' summer camp came to a close at SoFab. On Tuesday, we made egg salad sandwiches and ate grapes for a snack. One child, who "LOVES" grapes, tapped me on the arm and handed me two green grapes between two pieces of bread. He said, "Grape sandwich."

Cooking is about creation, self-expression, and sharing. For the camper, this took the form of a grape sandwich. And, it isn't really that different from my sister's roommate, who, upon realizing he had not purchased enough apples for the apple pie he had spent the day creating, substituted potatoes for apples so that he could still share it. (Hmmm.) And my sister's roommate is not that different from all of the professional chefs who have made misguided decisions in the name of creativity and expression.

So many people say they do not cook because they are too worried that it will come out all wrong. Even if these things taste a bit... um...well... questionable, at least they were attempted. It makes me glad there are grape sandwiches in the world.