Author Archives: nolablossom

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Small and complicated in the Big Easy

King cake bread pudding: a few weeks late, or maybe right on time

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The past five-ish(?) years, I’ve been making king cake bread pudding for Easter. When the idea came to me that Mardi Gras season, I was astonished that I’d never thought of this before, and didn’t know anyone else who had either. What better way to have one more taste of king cake, while still operating within the rules? I am one of those New Orleanians that does not play with king cake. You eat it starting on Epiphany and not past Mardi Gras day. As much as I love a good king cake, do not expect to see me having a bite outside of that window, even if you rename it and put some other color sugar on it. Except now in the form of bread pudding, which is a whole ‘nother game.

I loved the symbolism of the king cake being “resurrected” on the day celebrating Jesus doing the same. So I started freezing pieces of king cake throughout the season and then combining them all into bread pudding for Easter day. Bonus: more space in my mouth and belly to try different kinds of king cake. And a way to help my Catholic husband celebrate the day with something special. It gradually became a tradition to invite people over for the annual eating of the king cake bread pudding. And friends also started collecting pieces of king cake to contribute to the bread pudding. Then we would all gather for an afternoon treat.

But then last year, I was starting my comprehensive exams the day after Easter, so I delayed the bread pudding by a week. And then this year, MrMan and my parents were out of town not only for Easter but much of the following weekend as well. And then two weeks after Easter seemed too arbitrary for the annual eating. But then I realized that if I waited one more weekend – to this coming one – we could have king cake bread pudding for the First Day of Ridvan. Which, perhaps is the most New Orleans Baha’i thing ever.

Ridvan is the festival celebrating the 12-day period in 1863 during which Baha’u’llah revealed that He was a Manifestation of God and shared the principles of the Baha’i Faith. Baha’is believe that there is one God and that He sends Individuals, in human form, to share the teachings and guidance humanity needs as we progress, with Baha’u’llah being the most recent of these Manifestations (but not the last). So we believe in Jesus. We also believe He has returned, as Baha’u’llah.

Maybe next year, it will work out to have king cake bread pudding on Easter day. Or I might just shift to a new tradition of having king cake bread pudding as a way to celebrate not just the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but His return.

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Breakfast nibbles

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breakfast-nibbleLast night, I made some breakfast nibbles. I hesitate to call them cookies, as that implies a sugary sweetness and a crispiness (at least to me – all hail the crispy cookie!) these just don’t have. And I’m not trying to build expectations, only to have them dashed to the table. But… nibbles – you still want to eat them. How does hearing the word nibble not make you want to… nibble them up? And as we launch into this phase we call 2017, why not make mornings a little easier with a breakfast that’s ready to go and pretty healthy? And taste pretty good, if I do say so myself. Oops, there I go building expectations. But remember, they’re just nibbles.

Breakfast Nibbles

  • 1-1/4 cup oats
  • 1-1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 9 Medjool dates (pits removed)
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 bananas, of the very ripe variety – they’re what sparked this whole thing
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil – mine was in the magical soft state
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup nuts/seeds – I used a mix of chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Put parchment paper on 2 cookie sheets to make things easy, if you like to roll that way. Since you’re making this, I’m going to assume you’re the kind of person who likes easy.

In a food processor, pulse the oats so they’re less distinct but not down to a flour. Transfer to small mixing bowl. Add flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.

In the now-empty food processor, chop the dates. Mine were so moist that it was a bit of a challenge, so that’s why the shredded coconut was tossed in :). Add the bananas and blend it all together.

In a medium mixing bowl, use a handmixer to beat coconut oil, egg, and vanilla until it’s all nice and creamy. Add the contents of the food processor (dates, bananas, and coconut) and beat until it’s again combined. Add the bowl of dry ingredients. Dough! Fold in the nuts/seeds.

Using a couple of spoons, drop dough on the cookie nibble sheets. I made about 28 nibbles.

Bake at 375 F for 13 – 15 minutes.

Try a few, store the rest until morning 🙂 Eat with (almond) milk/coffee/egg nog.

Anxiety

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It’s strange – a week ago, maybe even a few days ago… okay, possibly a few minutes ago – I was feeling a sense of anxiety and urgency around tomorrow. But the closer we get to Election Day and its results, that anxiety is tempered by a feeling of surrender and calm. Don’t get me wrong – that surrender is accompanied by encouraging everyone to go vote, and I did just that more than a week ago.

But the reality is, I’m not sure tomorrow is as defining as we make it out to be. That defining, in many ways, has already been happening. In the past year, a light has been cast on many of the fractures in our country. A country that is really quite remarkable in its vastness and diversity and accomplishments and its as-yet unrealized potential. I think that tomorrow night, regardless of the outcome of the election, there will be many people (still) feeling unhappy and dissatisfied and unheard.

Some of the sentiments expressed in recent months have scared me and made me quiver with anger and sob tears of frustration. Some were expressed or inspired by public figures, but a lot of those sentiments are those of regular people. People who may consider me too brown or too female or too child-of-immigrant or too committed-to-a-religion-other-than-Christianity to be a real American (whatever that means). Or maybe people who don’t think any of the above. But regular people – my fellow citizens (or not) Americans – nonetheless. Who at some point in recent months have also probably felt scared, quivered with anger and/or sobbed tears of frustration.

So, we’re on the eve of what we portray as a big choice between two people and the paths they represent. But what is each of us regular people – those who make up the majority of the fabric (a fabric I picture as a multi-hued and intricately patterned brocade) of the United States – doing to find common ground with people different from ourselves? What path are we trying to follow, or make? Who are we inviting to join us on that path? It’s not a question just for you, but for me. What am I doing to get outside of my particular set of bubbles to learn what others think and feel and what motivates them in those directions? How can we work together? I have a feeling some of what I would learn might surprise me. We humans are complex creatures.

Truth: I still have anxiety about tomorrow. But it’s more of an anxiety that on the surface we’ll treat tomorrow as an end to all of the feelings and contention that have bubbled up, around a lot of issues, while further entrenching ourselves in whatever views we hold today. Instead of seeing tomorrow as not only an opportunity to voice our opinions and to abide by the majority of those voices, but also a reminder to listen to one another and work together to build and improve upon the community we want to have.

Another milestone

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By one measure – perhaps the one that matters most in this case – yesterday marked ten years since we moved back to New Orleans. On the Gregorian calendar, we haven’t yet reached the anniversary, but yesterday was Lundi Gras. So it’s been ten New Orleans years since our plane touched down in time to celebrate the first Mardi Gras, and Lundi Gras night, after Katrina. A reminder of the relativity of time and how we measure it.

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2-1/2-year-old-MrMan and Sam at Thoth (2008)

Thinking back to that somewhat sparse Mardi Gras – in parades, and floats, and people in the street – when MrMan was only three months old, and tiny enough to strap onto my front, reminds me of how integral Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. And how both are such an important part of my life. Soon after Katrina, I got in my head (and heart) that I had to be here in New Orleans for Mardi Gras 2006, as a way to tell my city that I believed in it and its ability to recover.

Back then, I didn’t expect that we would still be living here all these years later. I thought that it was going to be just a brief stint to soak in and support post-Katrina New Orleans while we figured out where on the mainland to settle. Ha! I can’t find photo evidence of Mardi Gras 2006 right now, but I still remember people asking me on Lundi Gras if that was a real baby in there – in the mound on my front. It’s still a weird question in my mind (and a weird costume idea), but I guess also a reminder of how rare infants were in the city back then, six months after the storm. I also remember that I was pretty stoked to get a parking ticket that night, suggesting we wait to pay it so that we could give the city even more money with the fines. I’ve gotten over that mindset.

All this to say, happy anniversary to us! And Happy Mardi Gras!

Double digits

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How? How have the past ten years passed so quickly? Yet life pre-MrMan seems so very long ago? Some might say a lifetime ago. (Ha!) I wrote this to him on his first birthday and it still holds true today:
There have been struggles and tears, but there’ve been more laughter and smiles. I’ve been trying to think of something I’ve done or experienced that’s better than motherhood. I think I’ve lived a pretty cool life so far, visited and lived in some interesting places, met fascinating people. But none of it holds a candle to you. Thank you for coming into my life. Happy Birthday, MrMan! I love you!

I’m Shokufeh and I approve these messages

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The past few weeks have included various stories and opinions about New Orleans and its state 10 years post-storm. Generally, they’ve annoyed me, as they all seemed to subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) suggest that Katrina and its aftermath provided a wonderful opportunity for others to come in and save us from ourselves. Look at all the opportunities this blank slate provided! Look at how much better things are than they were eleven years ago! Please, let us all pat each other on the back!

Thank goodness for these more recent stories that have been shared – ones that better capture the complex, but often negative, emotions and experiences of many of us here.

It’s the 10th anniversary of Katrina, and I don’t know how to feel

“I consider all 3,620 days since we returned from the evacuation to work, live and raise our kids in this damaged and difficult city days of service to the recovery. We’ve mourned loved ones, gutted houses, started nonprofits, navigated an ever-morphing school system and cleaned up plenty of messes….
“But what is the right tone? Some consider “anniversary” too celebratory and “commemoration” too elegiac. Even in a city known for jazz funerals, it’s confusing. Obviously we need to remember and to remind. And obviously we need to be grateful that we’re still here. But I’m at a loss over how to feel. …
“With the anniversary has come the hard data and research that reveal a troubling truth behind these divergent narratives. Not everyone has benefited from the recovery. A majority of blacks think the quality of life is the same or worse since the storm, while a majority of whites think it’s better. Black men are making 50% of what white men are making, and half of the black men in the city are unemployed. Gentrification is displacing scores of people from their longtime neighborhoods. The people and places responsible for producing our famous culture are seriously threatened.
“Our city was unified after the storm, and now the old fissures are widening. This can be the moment we acknowledge them and commit to solving them.”

 

“Don’t Call Me Resilient”

“Scattered around the city, placards are appearing that read, ‘Stop calling me resilient’ The text continues, ‘Because every time you say, Oh, they’re resilient that means you can do something else to me. I am not resilient.'”

 

Katrina might as well have hit New Orleans a day ago if you’re young, male and black

“It has been ten years since Hurricane Katrina, but the city is still waiting for much of the recovery to occur.
“The New Orleans East neighborhood that my family returned to is missing a neighborhood market or grocery store. Two enormous, undeveloped empty lots face my family’s home. Nearby, other blighted properties have not been renovated or even demolished.
“This is a neighborhood that used to feel vibrant with businesses, family and fun, but for the last few years it has remained desolate, much like many other predominantly black neighborhoods in the city.”

 

Gwen’s Take: New Orleans today is a story of pessimism, optimism and grit

“Madeleine LeCesne, a New Orleans native who is headed to her first year at Princeton this fall, was nine years old when Katrina effectively washed away everything her family had built in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood.
“Maddie, as she is known, started writing poetry at the age of six, scribbling her compositions on the headboard of her bed. The bed was lost in the storm. Her family was evacuated to Texas.
“She is now a cheerful and accomplished young woman. In 2014, she was a National Student Poet. This week, she shared a stage with a who’s who of New Orleanians — lawyers, writers, politicians — who all agreed on one thing: The city has not come as far as it should have.
“But for Maddie, the storm’s wake brought a particularly painful sort of pessimism.
“‘I can say that I will never own a house one day, because I had to watch my parents lose everything,’ she said matter-of-factly. ‘I can say that I have been of voting age for more than a year. I haven’t filled out my voter registration forms, because I don’t trust politicians. My parents voted. They paid their taxes. And they still lost their homes.’…
“She described an ‘overwhelming anxiety’ that she lives with every day.
“Keep in mind, Maddie is a success story.”

 

And Now We Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Amnesia

“Yes we (most of us, but not all — so many died, so many were broken, so many could not return) survived. Yes we have shown resilience and creativity and fellowship and generosity. And all that should be celebrated — it is what makes going on worthwhile. But I don’t need to be told about how plucky, inventive, and lucky we all were. We know it….
“Katrina is not your feel good story. It is not your experiment in social policy. It was tragedy on a grand scale — and yes, human goodness, too — but also a theater of institutional neglect and spite, a perfect stage for our American propensity for forgetting and for silver linings.”

 

Post-Katrina New Orleans is bouncing back, but not for the better

“[S]even out of 10 jobs being added in the metro area have occurred in low-wage industries like tourism, administrative services, and retail. In contrast, job growth in good-paying industries like transportation and distribution, energy and petro-chemicals, and durable manufacturing lags their peers nationally….
“Median household income in 2013—at $45,981—is lower in real terms than in 1979. Meanwhile, many white households in greater New Orleans are better off, having expanded their ranks in the middle- and upper-class since 1999 while the corresponding share for black households shrank.”

I’m from New Orleans, but I didn’t understand why we needed to save it

“New Orleans has no place in a cost-benefit analysis, because what it offers — what it adds to America — cannot be counted. Its value is avowedly sentimental, and it was folly to believe that a culture could be weighed in this way. After 18 years there, I should have known that myself. The reason I didn’t helps explain why others couldn’t either….
“As an animating principle, joie de vivre has its drawbacks, and they help explain the city’s dysfunction. A major metropolis devoted to the good life cannot be a place of surpassing efficiency. But why couldn’t I see that flaw as the tolerable side effect of a miraculous, serendipitous, singular creation?…
“My belated New Orleans education forced me to swallow an impossible, and yet an inevitable, fact: the spiritual, the musical, the mystical side of human relations. Sometimes what is important cannot be seen, only felt.”

A Tale of Two New Orleans

“But while in most cities gentrification is caused by a simple desire for prime real estate, in New Orleans the draw is the very culture that the resulting changes to the city is eroding….
“‘When Katrina happened, I knew something was gonna change — I just didn’t know how,’ Meyers says. ‘But now I see it. It’s a lot of people who are not from here who stay right next door to us. People from South Carolina, all over the world, New York, California. So you felt a sense of well, my neighborhood’s ’bout to be gone.’
“He hops off the stoop and looks down the street into the sun, eyeing the houses. ‘I probably know 2 out of 15 who stay here right now. And everybody knew everybody before that. We the first ones here and ’bout to be the last ones left. And we on the verge of getting kicked off our own block.’…
“‘It’s not that people are resistant to change, it’s that they include us in their change in our community,’ Chapman continues. ‘People who have gone to school here and stayed here and adopted the culture, and not tried to change it, we accept them.'”

 

Myths surrounding Katrina still flow from reporters, politicians after 10 years

“The truth is more complicated than that.
“It’s true that the city has grown from near abandonment immediately after the storm to 80 percent of its pre-Katrina population, and it continues to grow faster than most other major cities. Its police department and jail are undergoing massive reform efforts. And tax collections are up year over year. The city’s schools are showing large gains in student test scores and graduation rates, according to a recently released study.
“Still, the impact of the floods was devastating and it continues to affect the area. About 1,800 people died, many of those in New Orleans. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleanians’ homes were flooded.
“Ten years later, the city still suffers many blighted homes and overgrown lots.
“Violent crime continues to be a problem, and the city’s homicide rate consistently ranks near or at the top nationwide.
“The city’s fiscal progress could be undone by millions of dollars in unmet obligations. Advances from the police department and jail reforms are fitful.
“The sweeping school overhaul remains extremely controversial….
“Meanwhile, the city’s lack of affordable housing is reaching a near-crisis point. About 50 percent of the city’s residents spend more than 35 percent of their income on housing, and 37 percent spend more than half their income on housing.”

Growing past Katrina: How a storm reshaped a boy

“There is little research examining how Katrina-related trauma affected different age groups of children. Of the children displaced by the storm about 46,025 were under age 5 and 33 percent of them poor.
“But the research that does exist suggests that children who were already exposed to traumatic events were particularly vulnerable when Katrina stripped away all other predictability and security in their lives….
“…[C]hildren who were in the city at the time of the storm experienced more profound symptoms of trauma than those who were able to get out with their families. And ultimately, the children’s post-disaster trajectories tended to take one of three paths: declining, equilibrium or fluctuating.
“Those whose post-Katrina lives got worse saw simultaneous and ongoing disruption in family life, health care, schooling and friendships. Those who reached equilibrium were able to do so after quickly finding stability due in part to their families’ access to financial, social and cultural resources.
“The fluctuating child experienced moments of stability following moments of instability. They may have been doing well with housing, for example, but were struggling in family relationships.
“But the biggest key, said Fothergill, in these children’s lives were having one or more anchor relationships — grandmothers, aunts, uncles and others who provided support.”

 

Julie Willoz’s amazing Katrina evacuation story, all told on Twitter

“Who says Twitter is only good for snarky comments and posting cat photos? Ninth generation New Orleanian Julie Willoz (who normally tweets as @JCWilloz) is this week’s guest tweeter for @beingNOLA. Over the past two nights, she’s tweeted a stunning, dramatic story. Well worth reading.”

 

Bubbling over

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On my way to work this morning, I found myself wiping tears with my t-shirt. They were a physical manifestation of a bubbling over of feelings. All kinds of feelings, not entirely consistent with one another. We humans are complex creatures.

Sometimes I forget that I wasn’t actually living here ten years ago, that I didn’t actually have to evacuate. I recognize that sounds glib in some ways. It’s not intended to gloss over the trauma that so many of my fellow New Orleanians experienced. I think it just speaks to my connection to my hometown, even as I sat 4,000 miles away, trying to grasp what was happening.

…..

I’m grateful for this life. This colorful, messy, frustrating, rich in some ways, poor in others,interesting, conflict-filled life. One in which it’s clear that our desire to wrest control of nature is never to be entirely fulfilled. Where if we turn our heads for just a little too long, vines curl in through our windows (and sometimes our walls). Where the ground beneath our feet is really not too solid, and moves as it wishes. Where maintaining a manicured yard can be a full-time endeavor, and still may be not quite achieved. (I don’t even pretend to try.) Where something is in bloom, and color is to be found, year-round. Where water makes up a large proportion of our environment and sometimes, obviously, bests us.

…..

I’m frustrated by the pain and struggles and inequities that so many New Orleanians face on a daily basis. I’m also frustrated by those who speak about the great opportunities that the post-storm environment has provided. And frustrated by the measures used to gauge our “progress.” By whose standards are we being measured? At what point does the use of these measures, and the efforts to meet them, also translate into a city that has been wiped of its unique characteristics and culture? Where is the balance between becoming any-city and being/becoming a place where all have the chance to thrive?

…..

Ten years ago, things were different here. Some things were better, some were worse. Change in and of itself does not indicate progress. But is an inherent part of life and, sometimes, something to strive for.

A little less than ten years ago, it was not clear that the city would continue to exist. It was not clear that some neighborhoods would continue to exist. I think we should celebrate that the former did not come true – we’re here, we’re living. At the same time, we should, and do, mourn the lives lost. And work harder for the people and neighborhoods that we’ve failed thus far.

…..

Like I said, complex.