Category Archives: Louisiana

Gingerbread Man & Runaway Tales, Near & Far

Gingerbread Man & Runaway Tales, Near & Far

Gingerbread Man runaway tales from near & far are as old as they are vast, brought to us in many versions from around the world. Research shows the story began as an oral storytelling tradition, a folktale. According to a researcher at The The Straight Dope, the history behind “gyngerbreed” dates back to 1386, that’s the 14th century folks! And the early gingerbread treats were made in the shape of a fluer de lis, or men or pigs.

Leave it to the Brothers’ Grimm to show the dark side of what most think of as a moral lesson to children about vanity. In their nightmarish twist on the Gingerbread Man a young child is splashed with mud and the mud steals the child’s eyes, nose, and mouth. Yikes! Then it runs off yelling, “You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” You can see a short clip of their creepy version on YouTube  here. Yeah, run, run, as fast as you can to get away from that thing!!!

The first documented account of a Gingerbread tale in the United States appeared in 1875. “The Gingerbread Boy,” was a story printed in the May issue of St. Nicholas magazine, a children’s literary journal. And over centuries, it has been re-imagined over and over.

What’s your favorite spin on this re-told tale? You know mine, The King Cake Baby, about our very own New Orleans runaway of course!

*updated with new titles

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How to Catch Mardi Gras Throws

How to Catch Mardi Gras Throws

How to catch Mardi Gras throws is a question asked every year. Is it an art? Is it a science? Catching “throws”, the beads, cups, toys, doubloons, and trinkets thrown from Mardi Gras floats is serious business. Can visitors learn to maximize their chances of returning from parades with a huge haul?

Yes, Indeed! As we say in southern Louisiana.

Quick tips:

1. Comfortable clothing. Seems like a no-brainer, but yes, I’ve seen people in open toe shoes and heels. Clothes worn to the gym or yoga are great. Parades are no place for vanity, people! Keep your eye on the prize, catching free stuff!

2. Training & Exercise.  Competing with locals who are obviously born with the ”catch” gene will take some preparation. Work on your vertical jump. Start a stretching routine. Flexibility is key. Improve your reflexes.

3. Anticipation. You have to be able to recognize when a float rider has targeted you for the throw or someone else. If the 3 year-old on his or her father’s or mother’s shoulders is the target you have seconds to decide if you will snag that throw. However, if you do, I suggest you move to a new location.

3. Practice. Get in front of a mirror, raise your arms up high, wave furiously while jumping up and down and scream, “Throw me somethin’ mista’!” Acceptable alternatives include, “Hey, ova here!” or “Me! Me!” or “Here, here! Mista’!” I’ve witnessed many falls. Can you say, EMBARRASSING!  Practice, practice, practice.

4. Visual attention. Never take your eye off a passing float! Let’s face it, some float riders have really poor aim. Use your peripheral vision to avoid elbows, arms, and crashing bodies. Ouch.

5. Competition. It’s important to size up those parade goers around you. Assess the number of parade ladders with seats. How many are nearby? Cute kids in costume. No explanation necessary.You think older people are no threat to a successful haul? See #2. For locals, it’s their natural habitat. Do not be deceived. Missed air born throws that reach the ground are their specialty. Do not try to pick them up, feet are used to accommodate for their lack of upper arm mobility. Crushed fingers are no fun.

4. Science and more. Here’s where that high school physics class you thought you’d never need could be useful. Speed. Distance. Velocity. Mass. Are the beads small or large? Short or long?  Single or in a full pack? With or without medallion attached? Applicable to other trinkets and toys as well. Consider the type of toss.  Underhand or overhand? Adult or child?  Factor in the level of inebriation. How badly does the krewe member sway and lean?  These float riders may throw intact bags of beads. Small muscle motor function is usually impaired. In short, they have difficulty opening the plastic bags.  Be brave. Be ready.

Good luck out there. Should you catch so many beads and trinkets that you have to consider paying the airline overweight charge, or you need to check an additional bag on your flight home, félicitations!

You did it! Be proud. Start planning a return trip. You know you can do better next year.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Throws

 

 


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Sugar – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Sugar – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

 

MCCB reviewer

January 27, 2015 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD). The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press.

MCCBD raises awareness about children’s books that embrace diversity. Mia and Valarie share such titles with others. Even though census data show 37% of the US population identify as a persons of color, only 10% of children’s books traditionally published are representative of people in those groups. MCCBD’s mission is to provide information about diverse books and share with parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians. And help get them into homes, schools and libraries. To keep current, follow them on social media. Links are provided at the end of this post. The MCCBD team, sponsors, and supporters understand that it’s important for all children to see their families, cultures, customs, traditions, languages, histories, and religions in books. And it’s equally important that others see them and stories about them in books too.

To support the mission of MCCBD, I reviewed the middle grade novel, Sugar, written by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, 2013).

sugar

 

“Everyone likes sugar. But I hate it.” Says the ten-year-old girl, also named Sugar, an emancipated slave living on a sugar plantation and working as a sharecropper in post-Civil War Louisiana. Sugar knows first-hand that working with sugar cane is hard work and it kills. She also knows what her mother told her on her deathbed, “Do. See. Feel.” Despite the hard work, and poor living conditions Sugar finds ways, often frowned upon by the elders in her community and her ex-master, to follow her mother’s advice. She gets into trouble often. And she must navigate her world in order to honor her mother’s final word, “Survive.” The plantation owner’s son and Sugar become friends and that brings trouble. Chinese workers come to work on the plantation. Sugar wants to befriend the new workers against the wishes of her community. More trouble. But for every trouble, there is also change.

Rhodes writes a story about a very difficult period in Louisiana history. It is an American story. Mostly it is a story about a girl, once physically enslaved, then bound to a life of hard labor after emancipation. But the reader soon realizes Sugar’s mind is not enslaved or held in bondage. She just has to find a way to freedom.

How to celebrate and support Multicultural Children’s Books today & everyday: 

 

 

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Say what? New Orleans Speak

Say what? New Orleans Speak

Say what? New Orleans Speak – How to Sound Like A Local

The King Cake Baby  picture book is filled with local lingo which includes French vocabulary. Here’s a handy guide if you want to learn more about the language and sound like a local too. Enjoy!

NOLA historical marker

New Orleans: (noo OR-lunz, noo OR-lee-unz, noo AW-linz) a city in the state of Louisiana, former French and Spanish colony.

king cake baby: a small plastic replica of a baby hidden inside a king cake. People want to “get” the baby or find it in their piece of king cake.

king cake: an oval cake decorated in Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power).

Kings’ Day: celebrated every January 6th, the first day of the carnival season in Louisiana.

Creole (KREE-ohl) spelled Créole in French. Louisiana Creole is a culture and a language created by people in the colony when multiple old world cultures lived together in the new Louisiana territory during the French, then Spanish colonial periods and continued after the American purchase. Today, the culture is practiced and visible all over south Louisiana through statewide celebrations, use of Louisiana French, Louisiana Creole & Louisiana Spanish languages, architecture, food, music, traditions, festivals, and general joie de vivre.

ma chérie- (mah- SHAY-ree) French word, feminine, used in the English root for the word “cherish”. Means my dear or my darling.

French Quarter:  the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans since the founding of the city in 1718. Locals refer to the area as the “Quarter”. The original name is Vieux Carré (VOO cuh-RAY or Vyoo cuh-RAY ) which is French for “old square”.

Mardi Gras: (MAH-dee-graw or MAW-dee-graw) French for Fat Tuesday, the last day of the Carnival season. The length of the Carnival season varies, but always ends the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent on the Liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church.

French Quarter cottage: a small, single story creole style home.

mon ami: (mohn a-MEE) French, masculine, means “my friend’’ in English.

praline: (PRAH-leen), a creole candy made with sugar, butter, cream and pecans. A pralinière (prah-leen-YAIR) in French is a woman who sells pralines on the street. Not pronounced “pray-LEEN” in Louisiana.

How you doing dawlin’: (DAW-lyn) a local greeting; example of ”southern drawl” where vowels sounds are prolonged. Omission of the ”r” and final ”g” sounds is also common.

Jackson Square: originally named Place d’ Armes (plahs-DARM) during the French colonial period. The area, renamed Jackson Square after the Battle of New Orleans, showcases  an equestrian statue of US President Andrew Jackson.

Come with me by my house: New Orleans local lingo. Means to stop in, not to literally pass by.

Café du Monde: (kah-FAY DOO-mawnd) famous café located in the French Quarter neighborhood known for making the beignet (BEN-yay), a deep-fried French doughnut or fritter.

Where y’at: (yuh-AT) New Orleans local lingo, a traditional greeting and contraction for “you at’’. Y’at is pronounced with 2 syllables.

C’est la vie: (SAY- la-vee) French expression often used in New Orleans, means “such is life” in English.

Creole Queen Riverboat: an authentic paddlewheel riverboat in New Orleans known for Mississippi River cruises, built to mimic the days of Mark Twain.

Yeah, you right: a statement of agreement. Sometimes spoken as one word – YEAH-you-right.

Bon appétit: (BAW na-PAY-tee) French saying, “good appetite’’, means enjoy your meal in English.

 Next time – New Orleans street names!

 

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King Cake, Mardi Gras, Baby!

King Cake, Mardi Gras, Baby!

King cake, Mardi Gras, parades, krewes – all traditions unique to New Orleans and Louisiana culture here in the US.

Everyone in Louisiana knows what day it is! It’s Kings’ Day, January 6th, the first day of the Carnival Season!

When people learn I am from New Orleans, they often ask about our Carnival or Mardi Gras traditions. I always include a bit of history about king cake and the tiny plastic baby that is hidden inside. The idea for my upcoming debut picture book, The King Cake Baby, came to me while making a king cake. I couldn’t find a baby and panic ensued. If you don’t have a  king cake baby to hide inside, the pastry is just a cinnamon roll!

And I was listening to New Orleans music. So first, here’s a song. Sing along!

Eh là bas! Eh là bas! [Hey over there! Hey over there!]

Eh là bas chérie! [Hey over there, dear.]

Komen ça va? [How’s it going?]

(New Orleans musician Don Vappie on banjo and vocal)

Read on if you’d like to learn more about our traditions. The history of our Carnival and Louisiana king cake practices stem from the periods of colonization as well as English tradition. Combining cake customs from the French and Spanish rulers created the foundation for this Louisiana Creole tradition celebrated on the last day of Christmas also known as Little Christmas, Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night. The beginning of Carnival is always on January 6th and is also known as Kings’ Day. King cakes are baked and eaten throughout this time, known as the  pre-Lenten season. Carnival or “carne vale,” means “farewell to the flesh”. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, is the last day of Carnival. In 2015, Mardi Gras Day is February 17th. Although always a Tuesday, the date varies, therefore the length of the season does too. The number of days during Carnival depends on the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. It’s the time between Twelfth Night (in New Orleans, that’s between January 6th and the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.) Actually, the date for Easter Sunday sets the length of the Mardi Gras season.

Carnival is celebrated all over the world. And cakes are made too. In France & Québec the cake is called La galette de rois, in Spain and places they colonized like Mexico, South America, Florida, and California the cake is called Rosca de Reyes or ring of kings, in Germany its Dreikonigskuchen, in Scotland, the Black Bun, in Portugal, Bola-Rei. And many more I did not mention. In Louisiana, king cake is a symbol associated with the spirit of Carnival.

Many are surprised to hear that Carnival was not always a mass public daytime celebration in New Orleans. The first Mardi Gras parades were organized in Mobile, Alabama! In 1837, when the people of New Orleans started publicly celebrating in the streets, they were so wild that the government almost banned these celebrations. Yikes! By 1856, the private club or ”krewe” named the Mistick Krewe of Comus from Mobile came to New Orleans to save Mardi Gras. They organized a festive and safe event with floats, masked members who paraded in the street wearing costumes, and hosted masquerade balls .

Credit for the merriment of Mardi Gras seen today in New Orleans goes to the Krewe of Rex dating back to 1872. When Russia’s Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff visited New Orleans, the Krewe of Rex arranged a daytime parade. In 1875 Mardi Gras became a legal state holiday. Decade after decade the celebration grew. More krewes started, bands and throws like beads and doubloons were added to the parades. With the addition of larger krewes and celebrity participation Mardi Gras in New Orleans became an international event.

Louisiana “king cake”, known as kings’ cake or three kings cake in Europe and Latin America, takes its name from Catholic liturgical tradition commemorated on January 6th that celebrates the visit of the Wise Men or three kings to visit the Baby Jesus. The Twelfth Night Revelers, a Carnival society from 1870 chose the “Lord of Misrule” as their king at their ball, following old English tradition. The following year they started the tradition of choosing a queen for his majesty on January 6th. Today that tradition continues, using a “mock” king cake, and the event is considered a kick-off to the Carnival season. King cake eventually became a symbol for the start of the Mardi Gras among locals who were not members of these grand societies. The Krewe of Rex chose the colors associated with Mardi Gras today; purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power also used to decorate king cakes. In the French tradition, originally a bean or la fève, was hidden inside a king cake. Early on Spain used figurines to represent the Baby Jesus. In Louisiana, pecans and even jewelry were used. However it wasn’t until the 1940’s, that a beloved New Orleans bakery, McKenzie’s, started using the plastic baby we see hidden in king cakes today. In Catholic tradition, the baby represents the Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the baby or whatever is hidden inside is supposed to bring the next king cake or host the next king cake party or could be “crowned” king or queen.

Retail stores love Christmas, florists love Valentine’s Day, chocolatiers love Easter, and Louisiana bakeries love the king cake season!  By 1950, the public began buying lots of king cakes. Today, thousands of cakes are eaten and shipped around the world during the Louisiana Mardi Gras season.

And now New Orleans hosts its very own King Cake Festival! The second annual King Cake Festival scheduled for January 25, 2015 is sure to be fun!

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Starting today, EAT. KING. CAKE. if you are in New Orleans, join the festival. Plan a trip to see a Mardi Gras parade. Just don’t forget the baby mon ami!

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Happy New Year 2015! Bonne Année!

Happy New Year 2015! Bonne Année!

Happy New Year 2015! Bonne Année!

To everyone near and far, wishing you a very productive and prosperous year ahead. I am very excited the new year is finally here. And can’t wait to get started promoting my debut picture book, The King Cake Baby in February.

Until then, the baby extends his welcome to 2015 and has high expectations for the new year too.

KCB New Year & Ginger

 

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The King Cake Baby & Mr. Bingle

The King Cake Baby & Mr. Bingle

What do the King Cake Baby & Mr. Bingle have in common? They are both New Orleans icons. And about the same age too.

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Every baby boomer who grew up in New Orleans visited Mr. Bingle in the Maison Blanche window then went inside the store to take a photo with Santa himself. Credit for the creation of this Christmas icon goes to Mr. Emile Alline who was the window-display manager at the store. Back in 1948, a French Quarter puppeteer named Edwin H.Isentrout was hired to promote the little snowman named Mr. Bingle and advertise the MB franchise. Between the storefront window display, TV commercials, and visits to other store locations, the image became a New Orleans icon.

We can thank Daniel Entringer, Sr. for popularizing the icon of the small plastic baby known as the king cake baby hidden inside king cakes.. He was a cheesemaker from Wisconsin who bought McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes from Henry McKenzie in 1932. At one time, McKenzie’s bakery was the most popular bakery in New Orleans offering sweets such as buttermilk drops, blackout cakes, petit fours, eclairs, and chocolate turtles to name a few, in addition to their famous king cakes. When a Carnival Krewe named the Twelfth Night Revelers asked Entringer to make king cakes for them, they supplied their own trinkets to hide inside the cake as custom dictated.  However, according to the history told, a friend of Entringer found a plastic baby in a French Quarter shop back in the 1940’s and suggested he use it. The baker started using the plastic baby then and created the tradition that continues to this very day. A king cake without a baby hidden inside is simply a cinnamon roll!

King Cakes are so popular in New Orleans, they have their very own Festival! Check out the King Cake Festival website here. Check out their facebook page for updates.

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All Saint’s Day vs. All Souls’ Day

All Saint’s Day vs. All Souls’ Day

Today, November 2, is All Soul’s Day, It is a day of prayer for the dead, particularly but not exclusively, our relatives. Whereas, yesterday, All Saint’s Day, the Catholic church asks followers to live as saints did, on All Souls’ Day we honor and ask for mercy for our ancestors and the souls departed from this world as we know it.

Yesterday, on All Saint’s Day, the family back home cleaned our family tombs in cemeteries around the city, some so old they were built when la Louisiane was still a colony. Today, on All Souls’ Day we honor our dead because we believe their souls and spirits live on even when the body dies. To us death is not creepy or scary, it’s a part of life. In a way, we keep our dead alive, the lines a little blurry. Our ancestors live on in those left behind in their families and communities. Those are our customs and traditions and in our culture, that’s the way we roll.

I lost two elders recently, a 5th cousin and my mother. Today they are in my thoughts and heart as are all the family departed I was fortunate to know in their lifetimes. As our family historian, I also honor our ancestors whose stories I have uncovered, buried in documents and dusty archives. Prayers up mama, love and miss you dearly. Tell everyone I said hello.

ECCLESIASTICUS 44TH CHAPTER, VERSES 1-10 AND VERSES 13-14.

Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore; they were wise in their words of instruction; those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes-all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times. Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.

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National Gumbo Day!

National Gumbo Day!

It’s National Gumbo Day!

And all Louisianans know nothing stirs the emotions like a discussion about food. But we all know the answers to the questions often asked by visitors to New Orleans, “Who makes the best gumbo in the city?” The typical reply is, “My mama.” Or “Where do I go to eat the best gumbo in the city?”  That answer is, “My kitchen.” Because our mamas taught us to make our gumbos.

So what’s all the fuss about? Firstly, Gumbo is the official cuisine of Louisiana. Easy to understand why any origins to the dish would then elevate a group to a special status. However the name of the dish itself is a perfect analogy to the culture of Louisiana, it’s a mixed pot.

The first reference to ”gombeau” in New Orleans was in 1764 discovered by Louisiana colonial historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. It’s a record of testimony written in French and archived in the records of the French Superior Council. Of course this does not mean others who lived in the territory before 1764 were not making the dish, but often the reference to 1802 as the first record of gumbo is incorrect. In 1764 we know where in the world people came from who lived in the colony and who they found living there upon arrival. We know the Choctaw, an indigenous Louisiana people thickened soups using filé, still used today to thicken many gumbos and some believe used the term ‘kombo-lichi’ to refer to such dishes. We know ki ngombo is the Bantu word for okra, another staple used in some gumbos. And today, we know a good gumbo requires a roux, a mixture of flour and a fat like butter, used in classical French cooking as a thickening agent. But these facts still don’t answer the question about the origin of the dish. Maybe that’s a good thing because like all those ingredients put in a gumbo pot, what comes out is something special and unique. Just like me and everyone out there with Louisiana roots.

Happy Sunday Gumbo Day!

gumbo

 

 

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Lionel Ferbos 1911-2014

Lionel Ferbos 1911-2014

Lionel Ferbos, a kind and gentle soul who loved his family, his jazz and his hometown has died. Lionel lived for 103 years. He played his trumpet until the age of 102. And although his loss will be felt far and wide.

Lionel believed everyone should ”keep on smiling”.  It’s easy to smile thinking of him. It’s hard not seeing him smile back.

He’s now an ancestor, joining all the others who moved on before him. It’s a gig that will last forever. And looking back at his life, so will his memory and his music.

Keep on Smiling by Lionel Ferbos

Lionel blowing trumpet

 

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Whitney Plantation: Louisiana’s Bitter Legacy

Whitney Plantation: Louisiana’s Bitter Legacy

In the fall of 2014, Whitney Plantation will be opened as a Louisiana history museum. A brief history behind the plantation shows it’s importance in the history of Louisiana itself.

A man named ”Ambroise Heidel” immigrated to Louisiana from Germany in 1721 with his wife and children. By 1752 Ambroise bought the land tract located 35 miles north of New Orleans in St. John the Baptist Parish and it became “Habitation Haydel”. It started as an indigo plantation. Later it became one of the largest sugar plantations in the territory. By 1790 Heidel’s son, Jean Jacques Haydel Sr., commissioned the building of the Creole style plantation house. The name was changed to Whitney after the plantation was sold in 1867 after the Civil War. The site is now dedicated to educating the public about slavery along the River Road.

The current owner, John Cummings, a trial lawyer turned preservationist, has spent more than $6 million of his own money on the restoration and supplies to tell the story about those slaves brought to the plantation from the coast of Africa and their descendants who toiled and lived there. When Mitch Landrieu visited as Lt governor, he compared Whitney Plantation compared the experience to visiting the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. “The whole state of Louisiana really is a museum,” he said. http://vimeo.com/8979392

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Later Tartan Gator: A New Orleans Tale

Later Tartan Gator: A New Orleans Tale
Later Tartan Gator: A New Orleans Tale
Written by: Lorraine Johnston
Illustrated by: Preston Asevedo
Mascot Books, April 2013, Fiction
Suitable for ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: kindness, courage, community, cultural awareness
 
Brief Synopsis: An alligator at the New Orleans Audubon Zoo gets into colorful trouble when Scottish tourists ignore the sign “DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS AT ANY TIME”. A little girl comes to the rescue through the help of local shopkeepers.
 
Opening pages:  “If you’re ever going to visit Audubon Zoo, remember this story, it is quite true. There is an old alligator who sits in his pen. He’s got quite a story, it all started when…”
 
Why I like this book: Later Tartan Gator: A New Orleans Tale written by Scottish author Lorraine Johnston weaves the love of her own culture with the culture of New Orleans through her choice of setting and characters. Themes and topics addressed are valuable teaching tools. The alligator learns there are consequences when rules are broken. A little girl shows kindness and courage by her desire and actions to help him solve his problem. And through cooperation with a community chocolate shop, the little girl helps the alligator return to his original self.

 LTG

 

 

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