Tag Archives: New Orleans

The po-boy: A messy history

History has it that the po-boy was invented by the Martin brothers, Benny and Clovis, to feed striking streetcar drivers in New Orleans in 1929.

According to an account on the website of the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, Benny Martin once said: “We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.’”

It is true that the Martin brothers wrote a letter, addressed to the striking drivers and printed in at least one local newspaper, in which they promised to feed the men. “Our meal is free to any members of Division I94,” they wrote, omitting any description of what that meal might be.

But history is often not neat.

The explanation for how things came to be can change over time. What is accepted as gospel in one generation may bear little resemblance to what was previously believed. Sometimes what sticks is the best story. This is how legends are made.

The generally accepted and oft-repeated story of how the celebrated po-boy sandwich was invented first appeared in a New Orleans newspaper in 1969, 40 years after the streetcar strike. But before that the tale was different.

In 1933, The New Orleans States wrote about the Martin brothers as they marked their grand opening at a new location, a story that appeared alongside a large advertisement paid for by the shop. The States told how the Martins came to the city from Raceland and began selling “sandwiches of half a loaf of French bread generously filled with whatever one desired, from roast beef to oysters” near the old French Market. They later moved to the corner of Dumaine and Decatur before returning to the French Market, where they stayed until 1929. Based on this version of events, Benny and Clovis Martin were selling the sandwich years before the labor dispute sent streetcar drivers to the picket line.

The States then described how the sandwich got its unusual name, an account similar to those repeated throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

“From the hard-pressed truck farmers of St. Bernard, who gathered daily on the curb along North Peters Street with their produce, came the name of Poor Boy,” the paper wrote.

***

There are other mysteries about the official history of the po-boy. One involves New Orleans’ most famous son.

In his autobiography, jazz great Sidney Bechet writes of joining with a cornet player he had never heard play to promote a show at a local theater, presumably sometime in the 1910s.

“I hired Louis (Armstrong) to come with me on this advertising, and, you know, it was wonderful,” Bechet writes in Treat It Gentle, published in 1960.

“Anyway, I gave him 50 c., I gave the drummer, Little Mack, 50 c., and that meant I made a dollar; the leader always kept the double. That was the first time I ever heard Louis play the cornet. He played the cornet then, though he went to the trumpet later.

“We went out and bought some beer with the money and got those sandwiches, Poor Boys, they’re called — a half a loaf of bread split open and stuffed with ham. We really had good times.”

It is possible that Bechet learned of the po-boy later and embellished the story of his early gig with Armstrong. But it’s worth noting that Bechet’s exposure to New Orleans later in his life was limited. He was long gone from the city by the time of the 1929 streetcar strike during which the po-boy was supposedly invented. Bechet moved north in 1917, years before Benny and Clovis Martin had even arrived in the city. Armstrong left New Orleans, too, moving to Chicago in 1922.

According to John Chilton in his Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, the clarinetist who wrote of eating po-boys as a young man became estranged from his family and rarely returned to his hometown. Bechet came back to New Orleans for 10 days in 1944, then played a one-night stand at Municipal Auditorium in 1945, a dark period when the po-boy seemed at risk of extinction. (On Nov. 11, 1946, the States wrote that “the ‘poor boy’ sandwich, a New Orleans invention whose notoriety ran ahead of its nutrient worth, is today little heard of in the land of its birth.”)

Other than that, it’s unclear whether Bechet ever set foot in Louisiana again.

***

The po-boy name first saw the light of day in the New Orleans press in late 1929, four months after the start of the streetcar strike, in a story about a high-profile murder trial in Pointe a la Hache. The scandalous case involved a man who had fallen off a steamship into the Mississippi River in what was first thought to be a suicide. After his body was recovered, though, it was discovered that he had been shot. A woman traveling with the dead man claimed she had become engaged to the ship’s second officer; he was charged with murder.

The legal drama attracted a circus of journalists and curious onlookers at the Plaquemines Parish Courthouse on Nov. 4, 1929. At 1 p.m. that day, wrote Meigs O. Frost of The New Orleans States, “human appetites began to assert themselves.”

“Lawyers and reporters went or sent to a nearby lunch stand,” Frost wrote.

“Presently the tree-shaded courthouse lawn was dotted with groups gnawing at the huge sandwiches New Orleans knows as the ‘po-boy sandwich’ — whole loaves of French bread split lengthwise and filled with a freight of ham, sausage or cheese — and drinking from bottles of pop.”

The ship officer was eventually exonerated. He and the woman, socialite Gloria Rouzer (the ex-wife of British film director Michael Powell), were both freed.

***

Lunch stands in New Orleans were serving sandwiches that bear a strong resemblance to modern po-boys long before the po-boy name became famous, some of them on the Uptown side of Canal Street. In 1917, for example, the Comus Soda Fountain on Common Street and St. Charles Avenue advertised an oyster sandwich for 10 cents.

“Four delicious fried oysters in a toasted, buttered French loaf with piece of pickle, wrapped in sanitary wax paper sealed bag, for 10 c.,” the ad says. “We keep them hot and ready to take with you.”

But even in 1917, the sandwich that would be king was not new to New Orleans. More than a half-century earlier, Sam’s Saloon on St. Charles Avenue began selling oysters in sandwiches, instead of the then-standard metal containers.

“A big loaf of bread is ‘dug out’ — reserving a crust end as a stop — any quantity of delicious fried or broiled oysters is piled in; the top is neatly put on; and a gentleman can carry home his loaf and his ‘dozen’ — all hot — or have them brought home, for a lunch or a relish to dinner, without putting himself out of ‘tin’ to pay for ‘tin,’” wrote The Daily Picayune on Dec. 7, 1851.

Sam’s Saloon was operated by John McClure, the founder of the New Orleans Crescent, which three years earlier had brought Walt Whitman to the city to write for the newspaper. (Whitman lasted only a few months in New Orleans.)

“The oysters are ‘Sam’s’ are not remarkable as fish, but as oysters they are ‘good,”” wrote the Picayune.

***

There are tantalizing fragments of history surrounding the po-boy name. On New Year’s Day in 1931, Andrew Battistella ran an advertisement in the New Orleans Item touting his sandwich shop in the French Market. “New Year’s greetings to all,” the small ad says. “French Market coffee and lunch stand. A. Battistella, Prop. Originator of the Poor Boy’s Sandwich.”

Battistella gives his telephone number in the ad: Main 1407. Years earlier, that phone number had been used by a prominent local real estate agent named Armstrong Donaldson. Donaldson ran his own advertisements in the local papers in the 1910s and 1920s. He signed them “A. Donaldson, poor man’s agent.”

In the mid-1920s, the Bienville Meat Market, which had several locations in the city, regularly advertised its prices “in our flyproof markets.” One fixture: the “poor boy’s special for hard times,” stew meat for 10 cents per pound. It was perhaps not a bad base for making a sandwich, though any connection to a restaurant is unclear.

***

While the origins of the po-boy and its name are murky, it is clear that the Martin brothers perfected the sandwich, helped make it famous and bequeathed it with many of the defining characteristics that we know today, the bread shape and consistency chief among them. There were some key differences, though, according to Nick Gagliano, a lawyer who lives in Metairie.

Gagliano, who was 3 years old the year of the streetcar strike, remembers going to the Martins’ sandwich shop as a child.

“There were several things that stood out for me,” he said in an email this year, “one being their house-made mayo that was like no other that I ever tasted. The lettuce was shredded, which was a first-time experience for me, and there was very little gravy, which allowed the crisp French bread to taste like bread (not like the sodden mess you get today from some shops).

“I do not recall them asking me if I wanted it dressed, nor do I recall whether they offered tomato,” he said. “I simply ordered a roast beef sandwich with mayo and lettuce.

“I can say it was what I would call a modest well-balanced sandwich, where the meat, gravy, bread and fixin’s did not overwhelm each other, and which you could easily eat with your hands, without fork or knife or a week’s supply of napkins.”

An AP member exchange feature.

Bigger Than Life: Bounce queen Big Freedia returns to PrideFest

With a large, well-manicured hand in multiple realms, Big Freedia is on her way to becoming (drag) queen of all media.

Musically, Freedia can be credited with introducing the hip-hop/house hybrid bounce music to the public and increasing its familiarity in the mainstream. In print, her memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva!, puts her life experiences into words. Watching her reality TV show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, we witness her trials, tribulations and triumphs. And with a role in the film Heart, Baby, an upcoming release about an imprisoned boxer who turns down a chance at freedom if he participates in the 1984 Olympics, Big Freedia will further increase her already considerable profile.

To be clear: It’s Big Freedia’s world, we just bounce in it. Big Freedia will perform at Milwaukee PrideFest on June 11, but before then, she talked to WiG about the new heights she’s risen to in recent years.

Freedia, since the time I first interviewed you in 2011, much has happened in your career, beginning with the way you brought bounce music into the mainstream. What do you think about about the reception bounce music received and what do you think about the future of the musical genre?

Well, I definitely think it’s grown. It has definitely been accepted around the world and I’m super excited about that. That people allow me to come to their hometowns and be myself and represent the culture of music that I represent, and New Orleans, especially.

(Bounce music) will continue to grow. The sounds are getting bigger; it’s elevating. More artists want to work with and incorporate bounce music in their music. I’m very excited about the way things are going and where they can go.

As you’ve said, you’re “one busy queen.” One of your biggest gigs is your reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, which will debut its fifth season on Fuse. What’s the best thing about having your own show?

I’m blessed to have my own show and to have a platform to speak on a lot of different things that are happening around the world. To have a platform for my music and a home for New Orleans; a show that represents our culture, what happens in New Orleans and what happens with me when I am on the road.

What are you most excited about in season five of Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce?

I’m most excited to see the roller coaster that I’m going to be on. Where I’m going, where I’m traveling, what’s going to be (happening) in the season. Figuring out at that point in my life what’s happening next. It’s a lot of hard work and determination. I put forth my best effort and present to the world what’s going on in my life and (that of) all the people around me.

What can you tell me about the movie you made earlier this year?

The movie is called Heart, Baby. It’s about a boxer who was in jail. I’m one of the featured actors and I’m totally excited about that. I’m ready to step into the acting world some more. I’m such a diverse artist and I’m able to be creative on a whole lot of levels.

What part do you play?

I’m one of the queens in jail who was the “mother” of the girls in jail.

You also wrote a book, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva!, with your publicist Nicole Balin. What was that experience like for you?

It brought back a lot of emotions. I had to revisit a lot of things from childhood to currently now. It was a fun experience to jog my memory for all the things that have happened — or at least to my best recollection. It was an exciting and hard process for me. We only had a certain amount of time to get our draft in and finish the book. We were on a tight schedule. Lots of hours of talking on the phone to Nicole, and then her coming to New Orleans and meeting and going to the places where I grew up. It was interesting to tell my life story in that period of time the best I could. Then to have a finished product was really amazing.

Earlier this year, Beyonce tapped you to be a part of her song “Formation.”

Oh my God!

What was the experience of working with Queen Bey like for you?

I died at home and came back to life when I got the phone call. It was so major for me and for New Orleans and my career. I was blown away when I got the phone call.

What did it mean to you that she knows who you are?

We’d been in contact before I did the song. She’s been aware of who I am and what I represent and my music. She’s been following me. She was a fan first.

In June, you are performing at Pridefest in Milwaukee. What can fans expect from a Big Freedia Pride show?

They can expect me to bring lots of energy and love and asses together. It’s going to be an amazing show. We’re going to bring it as we usually bring it. We’re coming to have a happy time at Pride. We’ll be doing some of the new stuff off the album and debuting a few of the new singles off the album. They will get to hear some of the new sound of Big Freedia.

We’ve lost some big name musical acts this year, including David Bowie and Prince. Have you performed or do you plan to perform any of their songs when you play Milwaukee PrideFest or other shows?

I haven’t gotten that far yet. I have so many other things in front of me. But I did do a dedication to Prince at my show at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. It started raining right when I was singing “Purple Rain.” I couldn’t have asked for a better performance at a better time. In the future I’ll definitely be dedicating some stuff to both of them.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to end on a serious note and ask you to say something about the controversy surrounding North Carolina’s House Bill 2, also known as the “bathroom bill.”

I just think it’s a bunch of bullshit. There were drag queens way before my time and they will continue after. They’re (Republicans) making a big mockery out of nothing. People just want to be able to govern us with everything. They should just let people live and be free to choose whatever bathroom they choose (for) whatever their preferred gender may be.

I’m definitely going to continue to support those people. I will be at Hopscotch Music Festival (in Raleigh, North Carolina, Sept. 8 to 10) and letting them know that there are people there giving them moral support. I will be the artist that goes there and lets them know that. Fuck what the Governor says. Do you and be you and just live!

Backlash halts removal of Confederate symbols in New Orleans

Backlash against a plan to remove prominent Confederate monuments in New Orleans has been tinged by death threats, intimidation and even what may have been the torching of a contractor’s Lamborghini.

For now, at least, things have gotten so nasty the city hasn’t found a contractor willing to bear the risk of tearing down the monuments.

The city doesn’t have its own equipment to move them and is now in talks to find a company, even discussing doing the work at night to avoid further tumult. Further complicating the issue was a court ruling in March that effectively put the removal on hold.

Initially, it appeared the monuments would be removed quickly after the majority black City Council on Dec. 17 voted 6-1 to approve the mayor’s plan to take them down. The monuments, including towering figures of Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, have long been viewed by many here as symbols of racism and white supremacy.

The backlash is not surprising to Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and longtime civil rights activist in New Orleans who’s worked on behalf of a group demanding the monuments come down.

The South has seen such resistance before, during fights over school integration and efforts in the early 1990s to racially integrate Carnival parades in New Orleans.

“Fighting in the courts, fighting in the legislature, anonymous intimidation,” Quigley said. “These are from the same deck of cards that are used to stop all social change.”

For all its reputation as a party city of fun and frolic, New Orleans is no stranger to social change and the tensions that come with it. It was the site of an early attempt to challenge racial segregation laws in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case and home to then-6-year-old Ruby Bridges whose battle to integrate her elementary school was immortalized in a Norman Rockwell painting.

New Orleans is a majority African-American city although the number of black residents has fallen since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina drove many people from the city. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who proposed the monuments’ removal, rode to victory twice with overwhelming support from the city’s black residents.

Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has become heated since nine parishioners were killed at a black church in South Carolina in June. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds in the weeks after, and several Southern cities have since considered removing monuments.

“There is no doubt that there is a huge amount of rage over the attack on Confederate symbols,” said Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based group that tracks extremist activity.

His group counted about 360 pro-Confederate battle flag rallies across the nation in the six months after the church shootings. Such rallies were rare before then, he said.

In New Orleans, things have turned particularly ugly.

In early January, as it beat back legal challenges seeking to stop the removal, the city hired a contractor to remove the monuments.

But H&O Investments LLC. of Baton Rouge soon pulled out of the job, citing death threats, “unkindly name-calling,” outrage on social media and the threat of other businesses canceling contracts.

One day, several protesters came while H&O workers took measurements. Some of the protesters wore materials “with affiliation to white supremacy groups,” said Roy Maughan Jr., a lawyer for the contractor.

That same day, Maughan said, “a specific articulated threat” was phoned into city authorities warning workers at the monuments to leave for their safety. On Jan. 12, H&O sent the city a letter saying it was dropping out.

Then, on Jan. 19, a Lamborghini belonging to the owner of H&O Investments was set on fire. The sports car was parked outside his office near Baton Rouge, Maughan said.

A national rental crane company the city had hoped to hire also refused to be involved.

The FBI and local fire investigators declined to comment. No arrests have been made.

After H&O withdrew, the city opened a public bid process to find a new contractor — and things got messy again.

When the names of companies interested in the work turned up on a city website, businesses were reportedly slammed with emails and telephone calls denouncing their involvement. The protest was organized at least in part by Save Our Circle, a group touting thousands of supporters who want a massive monument to Lee in Lee Circle preserved in the spot where it has stood since 1884.

The city closed public viewing to the bidding process and has met with contractors without disclosing their names. The mayor declined requests for an interview.

Michel-Antoine Goitia-Nicolas said his reasons for supporting boycotts, making calls and joining protests on behalf of the monuments are personal: He traces his ancestry to Beauregard, a Louisiana native who led Rebel troops at the opening of the Civil War. A prominent equestrian statue of Beauregard at the entrance to City Park is slated to be taken down.

“It’s totally divided this city,” Goitia-Nicolas said of the city’s plans.

Standing next to the Beauregard statue, Goitia-Nicolas said he was willing to chain himself to statues to stop the removal.

“Our lesson in history is that when we tear down the monuments of the past we rebuild the errors of our past,” he said. He said he was proud of Beauregard, who he said “never owned slaves.”

“Why take it down? Put a statue of somebody positive in black history right here, in the midst of Beauregard, or in the midst of Lee. We support that.”

Just this month, a state lawmaker began pushing a bill meant to save the monuments. And on Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction sought by opponents of removal. They argued that lifting and hauling the structures could cause irreparable damage that shouldn’t be risked while appeals are pending.

“With this city, the way things go, it might not come down,” Lisa Huber, a 39-year-old greenhouse gardener, said as she pondered the statue of Lee atop a 60-foot-high marble column, standing in his Confederate uniform with his arms crossed, staring down the North.

“I think it should come down, just because of the symbolism behind it.”

Travel news: Cuba guide, New Orleans lights, hotel emojis

Tourism in Cuba has boomed with the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S., and a just-published travel guide offers an up-to-date look at visiting the country.

“Cuba As Never Before” by Louis E.V. Nevaer, looks at not just classic attractions like Havana’s rum museum and Ernest Hemingway sites, but also offers a guide to some of the newest places of interest to tourists, including the contemporary arts scene, private restaurants known as paladares and even Airbnb listings.

The book also offers advice on car rentals, tipping, cruises, flights, tour companies and private guides, and explains current regulations on travel by U.S. citizens.  In addition, the book includes information on communities and subcultures ranging from Cuba’s gay and lesbian scene to surfers, Santeria and Cuban Jews.

Offbeat recommendations in “Cuba As Never Before” include La Marca tattoo parlor, Arte Corte Papito’s hair salon, and Promociones de ICAIC for original Cuban movie posters.

NEW ORLEANS LUNA FETE

New Orleans is bringing back an unusual art installation and festival of lights called LUNA Fete that debuted last year.

The outdoor art-and-lights event uses historic buildings as a canvas for contemporary lighting, animation and interactive video. The event begins Nov. 29 and ends Dec. 5.

The undertaking is inspired by the Fete des Lumieres in Lyon, France, which attracts millions of visitors annually. The New Orleans project was one of three similar initiatives launched last year in the U.S., with the others in New York and Boston.

A work called “The Pool” by artist Jan Lewin, in which a pool of swirling circles of light and color changes as spectators interact with it, will be shown at Lafayette Square each night of the festival.

A second work by OCUBO, a Portugal-based studio, will use the facade of the Power House Theatre at 1847 Polymnia St. for the projection of a story featuring local children along with graphics and animation, also to be shown each night of the festival.

A third work will be presented Dec. 4-5 at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, where the artist Miwa Matreyek will present live performances integrating her shadow with animation of dreamlike scenes. That will be an indoor event with $10 tickets.

Local artists’ projects will also be shown throughout the week around those three sites and along Julia Street, New Orleans’ contemporary arts district.

The event is being produced by Arts Council New Orleans. Details at http://www.artsneworleans.org .

EMOJIS FOR ROOM SERVICE

The Aloft hotel in Manhattan’s financial district has launched a new way to communicate with guests who need room service: by emoji.

The program is called Aloft TiGi for text it, get it.

The hotel sells six specialty kits, ranging from $10 to $30, which guests can order by texting the right emojis to a dedicated number along with their room number.

Kits include “The Re:Fresh,” with toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, shaving cream and deodorant, which can be ordered using emojis that include a tub and shower; “The Hangover,” two bottle of vitaminwater, Advil and two bananas, ordered with emojis for a drop of water, a pill and a banana; and “Surprise Me,” promising “fun swag” and “cool stuff,” ordered with an emoji of a wrapped box.

The hotel then confirms the order via text and delivers it to the room. Charges are included on the checkout bill.

Details at http://www.alofthotelshub.com/news/aloft-hotels-launches-worlds-first-emoji-only-room-service-menu/ . The hotel is located at 49-53 Ann St.

Emeril Lagasse tells life story via recipes in new cookbook

Before there were Food Network icons and cultish produce, before farm-to-table was a philosophy and cake decorating became a competitive sport, there was Emeril Lagasse.

And his is a life story best told by the kitchens that formed and informed him. There was the Portuguese bakery where he washed dishes as a youngster, the pizzeria where he stretched dough in high school, the Asian restaurants where he learned the secrets of Chinese sauces, and of course the grand kitchen of New Orleans’ iconic Commander’s Palace, where he became head chef at 23.

It’s a story Lagasse is ready to tell. His latest cookbook, “Essential Emeril,” is his life in recipes, a collection that covers everything from Asian fusion and Tex-Mex to classic French and Italian.

“Cooking isn’t just about what ends up on the plate. It’s the journey, taking time, having a plan, being prepared, being patient, noticing the smells, being mindful of what’s going on in the pan,” he said. “(The book) is a generous slice of the amazing journey I’ve had up until now in this glorious world of food.”

Through stories and recipes that chart his course through the television and restaurant worlds, Lagasse shares the foods and people _ everyone from his mother to Mario Batali _ that shaped his career. Peppered throughout the cookbook _ Lagasse’s 19th _ are many of the New Orleans dishes he has become known for, including barbecue shrimp with jalapeno biscuits, pork candy ribs with spicy hot Creole seasoning, and andouille-crusted redfish with Creole meuniere sauce.

And through those recipes, Lagasse gives us a glimpse at another side of the chef Americans came to know best for kicking things up a notch. He reflects back on those early, nervous years when he first took over at Commander’s and spent his days off in the Louisiana country, visiting farmers and Vietnamese fishing boats, sourcing trigger fish and escolar that “no one else was bringing to the table.”

“If I could control as much of the quality of what was being served on the table for my guests, then this was what was going to be the path in building an incredible reputation as a chef,” he said in a recent interview. Eventually, “memories of my childhood started flashing back at me and why my family had a farm and why they raised animals. … The avenues connected and my love and fondness for what I was doing just grew.”

Lagasse also isn’t afraid of dropping the names of the many celebrities he has counted among customers and friends. And that’s half the fun of reading the book. For example, there are the “potatoes Alexa,” made with a portobello-truffle emulsion, named after Billy Joel’s daughter, as well as the triple truffle risotto he served to Sammy Hagar at his wedding.

Lagasse went on to open numerous restaurants of his own, including Emeril’s in New Orleans, NOLA and Delmonico. And the book is filled with tips and recipes inspired by those who helped him along the way, Charlie Trotter to Julia Child.

More recently, Lagasse’s television career has focused on Florida, where he lives with his family. When producers first approached him about “Emeril’s Florida,” Lagasse was taking a break and not interested. But the avid fisherman, who loves spending rare days off on the boat with his kids, said he started thinking about the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and all the lakes and ponds around the state. “I’m going to show people that there is so much abundance here.”

“I love the state,” he said. “I’ve met some amazing people from shacks that sell fish sandwiches to five-star restaurants.”

In the kitchen…

CHICKEN WITH CHAMPAGNE AND 40 CLOVES OF GARLIC

“The slow cooking of the garlic makes this dish sweet, nutty and creamy,” Emeril Lagasse writes in his new cookbook, “Essential Emeril.” “Some folks like to cut up a whole chicken, but I prefer all thighs. They braise well and the meat stays juicy. I used Champagne because I love the subtle flavor it adds, but any dry white wine could be substituted.”

Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes

Servings: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 to 12 large bone-in chicken thighs (about 5 pounds)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

40 cloves garlic, peeled (about 3 whole heads)

1/4 cup lemon juice, or to taste

1 cup Champagne or other dry sparkling or white wine

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

6 sprigs fresh thyme

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 325 F. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high. When the pot is hot, add the oil.

Season the chicken on both sides with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Working in batches so as to not crowd the pot, sear the chicken, skin side down, until golden brown, about 6 minutes per batch. Brown briefly on the second side, then transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Add the garlic to the empty pot and cook, stirring, until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, Champagne, broth and thyme. Return the chicken to the pot, nestling the pieces down into the liquid. Make sure some of the garlic is sitting on top of the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot, then place in the oven. Cook, stirring once midway to ensure even cooking, until the chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and some of the garlic to a platter, then cover with foil to keep warm. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs from the pot.

In a medium bowl, mash together the flour and butter to form a smooth paste. Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the hot juices from the pot into the paste until smooth, then add this mixture to the pot along with 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Whisk to combine. Don’t worry if some of the garlic cloves get smashed; they will help to thicken and enrich the sauce. Cover and cook over medium heat until the gravy has thickened, 10 to 20 minutes longer.

Season the sauce with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or more to taste. Serve the chicken with the gravy spooned over the top and sprinkled with the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley.

Nutrition information per serving: 870 calories; 560 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 62 g fat (18 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 325 mg cholesterol; 1,090 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 56 g protein.

(Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s “Essential Emeril,” 2015, Oxmoor House)

American Queen offers luxurious Upper Mississippi cruises through October

A trip from the Quad Cities to Burlington seldom is an all-night affair.

But navigating the world’s largest overnight steamboat under bridges —some with mere inches of clearance — and through a series of locks on water crowded with pleasure craft and barges is no rush job, meaning what might take a couple of hours by car is a 12-hour voyage on the Mississippi River.

Not that any of the more than 400 passengers aboard the American Queen seemed to be complaining as it paddled gently south earlier this month. Amid its comfortable appointments, gourmet meals, top-notch entertainment, active nightlife, cozy sleeping accommodations and smooth ride, the transit between ports was fast enough, indeed.

“It’s like a mansion on the river,” veteran river cruiser Nancy Wee of Broomfield, Colorado, said of the Queen.

Compelling though the boat may be, however, the 20-year-old paddle wheeler is not the big draw here, The Hawk Eye (http://bit.ly/1KAyzk4 ) reported.

That claim is staked by the river itself, and shared by the communities that lie at its banks and welcome passengers to town throughout cruise season, which runs July to October on the Upper Mississippi.

“It’s just being out on the water,” said Carolyn Hezlep of suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was traveling earlier this month with her husband, Morgan, on a seven¡day cruise between St. Paul, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri.

“The banks of the river are constantly changing,” Morgan Hezlep said. “There are stretches of nothing but nature.”

Of those remote spots between cities and towns, he said, “You kind of get the feeling this is how the pioneers saw it.”

For them and other passengers, who on this cruise hailed from 11 countries and almost every state, it was an experience not to be missed. The same, they said, ought to go for people who live in places like Burlington, where the river, its views, history and commerce are a constant presence — whether any of those things get much day-to-day notice or don’t.

Ohio residents Robert and Linda Schwenke, of Dayton, were on their third American Queen cruise, but their first on the Upper Mississippi.

“There’s always something to see,” Robert Schwenke said, Linda Schwenke explaining that on an ocean cruise, there frequently is nothing but water all around.

“It’s neat on the top decks at night looking at the cities and the locks,” she said.

First-time cruiser Kirby Brown of Manteca, California, said someone who lives near the Mississippi River but doesn’t take the opportunity to experience it truly is missing out.

“One part of the river is not like another,” Brown said. “Each town is different. The scenery is different.”

“When you live someplace, you ignore what’s nearby,” he added, citing the four years he lived in Connecticut but never visited New York City. “To your regret.”

Capt. Brent Willits, who grew up in Clinton and advanced from towboat deckhand to helming or leading construction of gambling boats up and down the Mississippi, has piloted the American Queen for the past two years.

A native of these waters who has seen them from St. Paul to New Orleans, Willits likewise recommends a Mississippi cruise to people who live near it.

“There is so much history close to home,” he said from his seat in the pilothouse as he guided the Queen downriver approaching the Interstate 280 bridge.

The boat and its crew, Willits said, are “ambassadors, and show a lot of folks the importance of the inland waterways.”

For passengers from the American East or West, or overseas, meanwhile, he added: “We get a chance to show them what the heartland of America is all about.”

Only cruise vessel on the Mississippi

The American Queen is operated by Memphis, Tennessee-based American Queen Steamboat Co. and was built in 1995. It replaced the Mississippi Queen and Delta Queen, and is the company’s only cruise vessel on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. A sister vessel, the American Empress, carries cruise passengers on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon.

On the Upper Mississippi, passengers start and end their cruises in St. Paul or St. Louis.

There is no mid-stream boarding, Chief Purser Chris Caussade said.

“You have to go one way or the other,” he said, noting most passengers will fly into one city and out of the other.

From southeast Iowa, connections through Lambert Airport at St. Louis would be easy enough. Non-stop flights are available to and from Minneapolis. Some passengers, though, avoid the need for airplanes by making it a two-way trip.

“I just find it relaxing,” said 91-year-old retired hardware store owner Cyril Hegerle of Bloomington, Minnesota, whose 76 th river cruise was last week as he headed home from the previous week’s voyage south.

Buses that trail the boat up and down the river carry passengers on their excursions at daily ports-of-call like LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Dubuque or Hannibal, Missouri, and at each stop, local guides come aboard to share stories about local history and color, Brown said.

The boat offers plenty aboard to keep passengers occupied, too.

There are nightly shows in the 250-seat Grand Saloon, movies in the theater, after-dinner entertainment including piano music in the Captain’s Bar and dancing in the Engine Room Bar, a never-ending supply of cookies and ice cream in the Front Porch Cafe, daily games and more.

Beer, wine and spirits are never far away for those who want them. And nobody ever goes hungry on the Queen.

“I think the food is fabulous, and the variety is wonderful,” Robert Schwenke said.

A cordoned off area of the engine room is open to visitors, and they can see large hydraulic arms powered by a 78-year-old steam engine pumping back and forth, turning the paddle wheel. A pair of gas-powered thrusters provide assistance while maneuvering and when paddling against the current on northbound cruises.

Also powered by the steam engine is a 37-whistle calliope, which is played daily as the Queen leaves port.

Topside on the sun deck, passengers who are so inclined can take a dip in a small heated pool, or get a workout in the gym.

Indoor and outdoor seating is plentiful, too, for those who wish to relax with a book or watch the river slide by.

The 222 guest cabins range in size from 500-square-foot luxury suites where guests are catered to by their own butler, to windowless interior cabins ranging between 140- and 80-square-feet. Each room is named for a person or place connected to the steamboat era.

“It’s a little more interesting than saying ‘I’m in 212,’ “ Caussade said. Cabin 212 bears the name of President Zachary Taylor.

For those who can’t quite disconnect completely from the world, there is satellite TV in every cabin and stateroom and Internet access throughout the boat.

“It’s kind of like stepping back in time. Welcome to the 1860s, with WiFi,” Willits said.

Like many on board, the Hezleps were traveling with a contingent from the organization Road Scholars, which coordinates educational travel opportunities for seniors. While the cruise’s theme was musical in nature, their tour was focused on the steamboat industry’s impact on the development of America.

“We don’t just look at things,” Morgan Hezlep said. “We learn what they represent.”

By visiting communities where the cruise made port calls, the Hezleps said, they had an opportunity get a glimpse at what Morgan Hezlep described as “the culture of Middle America.”

Cruise passengers, even those not part of an educational tour, also have the chance each day aboard to deepen their knowledge of the history of America on the Mississippi in the Chart Room, a forward space on the Queen’s observation deck where maps and charts and history are at their fingertips, and where the boat’s historian and storyteller — known aboard as the “riverlorian” — shares river lore several times a day.

That history is further illustrated in a collection of paintings by Iowa artist Michael Blaser, whose works hang in corridors throughout the boat.

‘It’s the story of America’

Though the Hezleps had visited the Mississippi previously, wading across at the headwaters in Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, their mid-September cruise was a first for being out on the water.

“I always wanted to be on the Mississippi,” Morgan Hezlep said. “It’s the story of America, practically.”

That was a common refrain among passengers.

“This is America,” said Wee, who was on her 30th river cruise leading a group through her travel agency, Wee Travel. “You get to see America. You get to learn about America in a way you can’t do anyplace else.”

She keeps coming back for more, Wee said, because “it’s always something different,” with a new view around every bend in the river, or changes in scenery as spring blooms or fall colors burst.

Brown and his wife, Iran, chose a river voyage over an ocean cruise “because this was closer, and part of the country we’d never seen before,” he said.

Both said they were enjoying the on-board entertainment, and learned the calliope is a musical instrument best appreciated from a distance, where it isn’t quite as loud. Watching the riverside come and go, and experiencing passage of the locks were favorite activities, too.

Being aboard the Queen is different from other cruises, Kirby Brown said.

“It’s much more leisurely,” he said.

Taking their shore excursions in the morning, Brown said, gave them freedom to “lay around in the afternoon.”

A cruise is as programmed or relaxed as the individual passenger wants to make it. After all, the only place anybody has to be is on board when the Queen leaves the dock.

Willits said the American Queen, which weighs 3,700 tons, measures 420 feet long and 89 feet at the beam and has a 432-passenger capacity, “is a big boat but a small cruise ship.”

A 6,000-passenger ocean-going cruise ship, by comparison, can be “overwhelming for some.

“This is still big enough to be impressive,” he said, noting in a review of 101 luxury cruise vessels by Cruise News and Reviews magazine, the Queen was No. 9, just ahead of the Queen Mary at No. 10.

Luxury comes at a price

A cruise aboard the American Queen — or on the Queen of the Mississippi, a smaller boat operated by American Boat Lines that cruises past the Burlington area without stopping (Viking River Cruises will begin Mississippi River operations in 2017 with a possible stop in Fort Madison) — is an experience that, if not exclusively for the well-heeled, is certainly the domain of the comfortable.

Most who come aboard, Willits explained, can be described as “affluent, intelligent and intellectually curious.”

“Seventy is the new 50, I guess,” he said.

The longer the cruise, the better the accommodations and the closer to peak season, the higher the cost.

Fares aboard the American Queen in 2016 for a St. Paul-to-St. Louis cruise will range from $2,224 per person double occupancy for a 132-square-foot inside cabin in July and August to $7,999 per person for a luxury suite with veranda in September and October.

A cruise of the whole river between St. Paul and New Orleans runs, per person, between $5,949 for a northbound voyage to $20,000 for a southbound one, depending on accommodations.

“It’s may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Morgan Hezlep said, “but you will not regret it.”

At 91, Hegerle’s perspective is a little different, calling cruise travel “cheaper, really, than a nursing home.” Meals, entertainment and shore excursions are included in the cost of every cruise. Special on-shore activities are extra. Those include alcoholic beverages at the Queen’s four bars; a cabaret show in the Bart Howard Room at the Des Moines County Heritage Center in Burlington; bus trips from Bettendorf to experience the Herbert Hoover Museum at West Branch; a John Deere plant tour or the riverside charm of Le Claire and Flexibility to book passage at the last-minute and a willingness to accept whatever berth is available, Hegerle said, is a good strategy for obtaining discounts.

With only a couple of cruises left on the 2015 season, now may be a good time to test that theory.

The Schwenkes were late in booking and wound up with an inside cabin for their cruise. They didn’t say whether they were enjoying a reduced rate, but they weren’t disappointed in their small accommodations.

“We’re never in the room, anyway,” Linda Schwenke said, her husband Robert adding, “There’s always something to do.

This is an AP Member Exchange story shared by The Hawk Eye.


10 years after Katrina, the new New Orleans has left many old residents behind

Talking about New Orleans a decade after Hurricane Katrina, people here often reach for the biblical, describing an economic and cultural resurrection.

Helped by billions in recovery money, buoyed by volunteers and driven by the grit of its own citizens, the city is enjoying a resurgence. Reforms from schools to policing to community engagement and water management are in progress, buttressing people against the next monster storm.

But in the same breath, people also point to the many left behind. This `New’ New Orleans is whiter and more expensive, and blacks still suffer society’s ills disproportionately, especially in the chronically neglected Lower 9th Ward, a bastion of black home ownership before the floodwalls failed.

“A lot of folks say things are so much better, the economy is so improved, and other people are going to say it is so much worse,” said Allison Plyer at The Data Center, a think tank in the city. “And both those realities are true.”

Katrina swamped 80 percent of New Orleans with polluted water up to 20 feet deep. More than 1,500 from Louisiana died, the National Hurricane Center reported a year later. Hospitals and police were overwhelmed. The economy shut down. Survivors felt abandoned. Many evacuees didn’t return.

It seemed like a death blow for a city already suffering from crime, racism, poverty, corruption and neglect. New Orleans is a national treasure, where African-American, French, Spanish and Caribbean traditions had mixed for nearly three centuries. Could the people who create its unique forms of music, food and fun survive such devastation? Could they thrive?

“We’re still standing,” said Jannis Moody, a young black woman enjoying a free concert featuring the Rebirth Brass Band. “What’s clear” is that the people of New Orleans “are a resilient people.”

Signs of renaissance abound:

The city has recovered nearly 80 percent of its pre-storm population. Most public schools are being run as private charters, and the graduation rate has jumped, although criticism abounds. The old Charity Hospital, a first and last resort for the uninsured, has been replaced by a gleaming new University Medical Center.

Louis Armstrong Airport, where thousands tried to flee in August 2005, now handles more passengers than before Katrina. There are more restaurants. New businesses open 64 percent faster than the national average. Sales revenue this year is up.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bought a French Quarter mansion and built new housing, part of a wave of up to 40,000 new residents, Tulane professor Richard Campanella estimates. Countless “YURPS” (young urban renewal professionals) and millennials followed the recovery and insurance money to what seemed like a “kind of undiscovered bohemia,” he said.

At Launch Pad, a co-working space meant to foster community, co-founder Chris Schultz said the storm “catalyzed people who stuck around to really care about the city.”

“The city has changed and ultimately we needed to change,” said New Orleans native Brooke Boudreaux, operating manager at the iconic Circle Food grocery near Treme, a neighborhood that calls itself “the Birthplace of Jazz.”

Once catering almost exclusively to black customers, the flooded grocery finally reopened last year, responding to an influx of Hispanics and whites by adding tamales and organic produce to New Orleans staples like Camellia red beans.

The Industrial Canal cleaves the Lower 9th Ward apart from all this. Eighty-year-old Oralee Fields calls it “the wilderness” as she looks out from her porch in frustration at the vegetation overtaking her street. “I had nice neighbors. We all grew up together, children walking home together from school.”

Massive piles of garbage and homes ruined by toxic mold are gone. What remains in the Lower 9th is an emptiness. Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” houses, community gardens and a new $20.5 million community center attest to hard-fought progress. But only one school has reopened, and few stores.

Generations of home ownership worked against the Lower 9th, because many lacked the flood insurance mortgage lenders require, said Sierra Club activist Darryl Malek-Wiley. Reconstruction money matched pre-Katrina market values that didn’t cover rebuilding. A protracted debate over whether to abandon the Lower 9th as livable space slowed recovery.

The city’s black population is down from two-thirds before Katrina to about 60 percent. Those who remain earn half the income of white households. Thirty-nine percent of children remain in poverty.

“When Katrina hit, you got to see the real New Orleans, people who were trapped at the Superdome and the Convention Center – 99 percent poor, black. We don’t have anyone who seems to know how to fix that problem,” said Wayne Baquet, who owns Lil Dizzy’s Cafe in Treme.

With cheap rentals largely destroyed, rents skyrocketed by 43 percent. Public housing projects were demolished and replaced with lower-density housing. Thousands of families remain on a waiting list for subsidized housing. Many workers face longer commutes.

“The quality of the housing is definitely not worth the price that they’re charging now,” said Adrian Brown, a chef in the French Quarter who moved outside the city center.

New Orleans capitalized on “the power and the spirit of the comeback,” said Michael Hecht of Greater New Orleans Inc., but most of the disaster relief and philanthropy has come and gone. He says the next ten years will likely be harder than the first.

At the Rebirth concert, an upbeat crowd enjoyed a lush summer evening, with kids playing and couples swaying as the Mississippi lapped at the levee.

“You’re not going to recover from the impact of Katrina and be the same,” concertgoer Torrie Jakes said. “Do I mourn the loss of that New Orleans? Yes, but do I like the new parts of New Orleans? Yes, I do.”

Bewitched by the Big Easy: Tennessee Williams and New Orleans

To walk around the French Quarter today, it is impossible to believe that New York literary types once sniffed that New Orleans was a “cultural swamp.”

OK, that was almost a century ago. But still, writers and artists have flocked here since before the Civil War. Yet the writers we know best came for inspiration long afterward: Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein.

It’s difficult to put your finger on what makes New Orleans unique. According to local historian Kenneth Holditch: “People came here by desire, ready to seduce, to be seduced.”

Perhaps the most “seduced” of them all was Tennessee Williams. He is as revered in New Orleans as Aaron Rodgers is in Wisconsin. Williams wrote novels, poems and short stories, but his best-known works are plays such as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He is widely considered one of the foremost playwrights of the 20th century. 

Williams was a prominent figure in New Orleans for most of his adult life. He rented many apartments throughout the French Quarter. He also owned his only home here, which is located on one of the quieter streets.

A Glimpse into Tennessee Williams’ Past

As with most of the homes located in the wrought-iron-adorned French Quarter, Williams’ home is relatively unimpressive from the outside. Only when one passes through the iron gate and walks into the courtyard, can one fully appreciate its charm. 

There are more wrought-iron balconies inside the courtyard, of course, and the exterior walls are painted in pale, sandblasted colors of yellow and peach. During a visit in March, there was only a hint of the lush foliage that was to come later in the season. An assortment of iron baskets on one exterior concrete wall, containing dried-out twigs, promised to bloom into an overflowing riot of colorful blossoms come summer. 

The glistening, bean-shaped pool looked inviting on this 80-degree day, as gardeners trimmed the palms and other plants. People still live in these apartments, even the one Williams called home. 

The complex was open as part of a walking tour of Tennessee Williams’ haunts, held in conjunction with the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, a five-day celebration of Williams and other American writers. 

Williams never got used to owning such a large space, ultimately splitting the house into apartments and renting out most of them. Sadly, he didn’t spend much time in the house before his death, but it is remembered that he loved the swimming pool, and swam in it almost every day. 

Our tour guide, a jovial, handsome man named Phillip, saw Williams often when the famous playwright was in town. That’s because he was among Williams’ favorite waiters at Marti’s, a restaurant located down the street from his house. Phillip took the small group inside the restaurant and pointed out where Tennessee Williams preferred to sit — at a booth in the corner. The booth was part of a raised section in the restaurant, and it held a commanding view of the entire place. The small restaurant had perhaps 25 tables.

Phillip was 20ish during his time at Marti’s, about the same age as Williams was when he first journeyed to New Orleans from St. Louis. Phillip, who has studied Williams’ history, noted that the first place Williams stayed during his initial visit was a back hallway behind Preservation Hall, the famous jazz band hall in the French Quarter that packs in tourists every night. Williams camped out with friends for a few nights before he found better quarters.

Even when he became famous, Williams preferred to keep a quiet presence in New Orleans. Philip noted that he refused any preferential treatment at Marti’s or elsewhere, recalling a story of how Williams once stopped going to a bar in the French Quarter because the owner refused to charge him for drinks. He kept conversation with the staff to a minimum. If his regular booth was taken, he would sit at any open table, with as little fuss as possible.

Dining In Southern Style 

Unable to resist Tennessee Williams’ “favorite” restaurant, (or at least, the closest to his house), I gathered a group of colleagues to get dinner at the bistro. No reviews were formally written, but the critics’ unofficial opinion was a universal thumbs-up.

I selected one of the more modestly priced entrees, trout amandine with green beans ($28), and bread pudding with a tiny white pitcher of rum crème anglaise ($10). Both proved to be excellent options. The pudding came baked in its own mini-bread pan, and was meant for two — but the other half served as delicious leftovers the next day.

Alcoholic drinks throughout the touristy French Quarter tend to be pricey. At a top-tier restaurant, specialty cocktails run $14 to $17; wines (by the glass) are about the same price. If you are looking for a bargain, Bourbon Street (i.e., party central) draws afternoon bar flies with 2-for-1 or even 3-for-1 specials. 

Do give regional spirits a try, even if your favorite pour is beer or wine. Many are as fruity as they are potent. Options range from hurricanes and sazaracs (both invented in New Orleans) to “Red Lights” and the gin-and-Champagne cocktail the “French 75.”

Here’s a fact to make Wisconsin bar owners drool: In the French Quarter, bars are allowed to be open 24/7. If one over-imbibes, there are regular cabs and bicycle-powered rickshaws to take partygoers to their hotel.

Playwright, Poet — and Painter?

For the next month, a trip to New Orleans also offers the opportunity to see a different side of Tennessee Williams as an artist. Williams became an amateur painter later in life. Many of his paintings were created after he moved to Key West, where his oils on canvas were so popular with locals there they would buy them before the paint was dry.

It’s from Key West that New Orleans is temporarily getting a rare collection of Williams’ paintings. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is featuring an exhibit of paintings given by Williams to his friend David Wokowsky, on loan from the Key West Historical Society, through May 31.

Williams’ paintings are colorful, whimsical and fluid. They are often titled after the names of his poems. Williams also painted naked images of his male “ideal,” as well as a fairly realistic portrait of the actor Michael York. 

There is much of Tennessee Williams’ New Orleans to see year-round. Bronze plaques throughout the French Quarter pay tribute to the places he and other famous writers, playwrights and musicians stayed and hung out. 

For those who can’t get enough of the Williams’ allure, however, check out the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. Williams wrote a mountain of work during his adult life, so there’s no chance of running out of new and undiscovered treasures of his talent.

IF YOU GO 

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival runs every spring and celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2016. Visit tennesseewilliams.net or call 800-990-3377 for more details.

This year TW/NOLF co-produced an LGBT literary festival, Saints + Sinners, with the NO/AIDS Task Force of New Orleans. Visit sasfest.org for more information.

Marti’s can be found at 1041 Rue Dumaine, New Orleans. Reservations suggested. Call 504-522-5478 or visit martisnola.com.

Literary tours of Tennessee Williams’ haunts, as well as those of other famous authors, can be scheduled by private groups of 20 or more. A two-hour tour is about $25. Many other tours of the French Quarter, Garden District, etc., are offered daily (and some evenings). Contact the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau at 504-566-5011 or neworleanscvb.com.

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is at 925 Camp St., about a 20-minute walk from the French Quarter. Admission is $12.50, $10 for seniors, students and those with a military ID. Visit ogdenmuseum.org for more details.

— Anne Siegel

Artists take aim at gun violence

The wall of a downtown New Orleans art gallery has been riddled with bullet holes.

It’s not another act of brazen gun violence but rather a thought-provoking work of art. In each hole is a bullet casing, its back painted with the tiny portrait of a child under the age of 6 killed in New Orleans gunfire.

The persistence of urban gun violence has inspired more than 30 artists from across the country to contribute to the exhibit, “Guns in the Hands of Artists.”

The artists took the stocks, barrels, cylinders and other parts of dismantled guns slated to be destroyed through a city buyback program and transformed them into art.

The exhibit is opening Oct. 4 at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans, for decades one of America’s deadliest cities.

Although murder rates are down from recent years, shootings persist.

A pizza delivery driver was recently shot to death during a delivery. Over the summer, a drive-by shooting left two people dead and several others injured, including a woman and her two young children. Another shooting killed a woman on the city’s famous Bourbon Street.

New Orleans artist Sidonie Villere said she feels a mix of fear and anger for her hometown. She soaked five gun cylinders in hydrogen peroxide, salt and vinegar, to make them corrode — a representation of what she calls an “emotional corrosion” surrounding guns.

“I’m hoping when people see the piece, they see that there’s some kind of breakdown,” she said.

Artist John Barnes built a wooden sculpture in the shape of a historic New Orleans shotgun-style house with a real shotgun, sawed in half, running through its center. It includes signs “Get Off My Property,” “Turn Down the Music” and “We Are Here Now” — taking a shot at gentrification, vigilante-ism and “Stand Your Ground” laws.

“This piece is sort of playing off that energy of a response based on a perception with very little actual factual basis for the action,” he said.

Ferrara said the exhibit is not anti-gun. It is meant to foster dialogue surrounding guns. The first “Guns in the Hands of Artists” was held in 1996, around the time the city’s murder rate was on the rise. The exhibit was organized by Ferrara and New Orleans native artist Brian Borrello, who now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Borrello is contributing two pieces to the new exhibit, including a 9 mm pistol with a clip that arcs 7 feet in a circular shape that Borrello said shows “endless war.”

“It’s very scorpion-like,” he said. “Deadly beauty.”

Nearly two decades after the first exhibit, gun conversations now include the names Ferguson, Columbine, Sandy Hook and Aurora.

“We’re in the same place if not worse,” Ferrara said. “It’s an issue that affects all of us in New Orleans, but unfortunately, it’s an American epidemic.”

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Making Mardi Gras taste a little more like home

The sad fact of the matter is, most of us won’t make it to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. But that’s no reason to forsake some of the city’s classic cuisine.

This year, honor Mardi Gras by making jambalaya at home. It’s the perfect dish for out-of-towners; it’s easy, it’s weeknight- and kid-friendly, and it’s extremely versatile. Because while there are several basic approaches to jambalaya — Creole and Cajun among them — there really are endless variations on this dish of rice, meat and seafood.

So we decided to put a local spin on jambalaya, with variations playing up ingredients drawn from New England, the Southwest and the West Coast. Just follow the base recipe, adding in the local ingredients of your choice (see the variations below the recipe). And don’t hesitate to mix and match. The beauty of a dish like this is that it will be delicious pretty much whichever direction you head.

JAMBALAYA ACROSS THE COUNTRY

This is a have-it-your-way approach to jambalaya. Follow the base recipe below, adding the local variations where indicated. Our suggestions for those variations are listed below the base recipe, but feel free to substitute the ingredients of your choice.

Start to finish: 1 hour

Servings: 12

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large yellow onions, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound sausage (see below)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 cups crushed fire-roasted tomatoes

Regional variation of vegetable and seasonings (see below)

2 cups long-grain white rice, such as basmati

2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth

3 bay leaves

1 pound seafood (see below)

Salt and ground black pepper

In a large Dutch oven, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions, green pepper, celery, red pepper flakes and sausage (see below). Cook, stirring, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken, tomatoes, vegetable and seasonings (see below), rice, chicken broth and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Add the seafood and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the seafood is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaves before serving.

NEW ENGLAND VARIATION:

Use bulk breakfast-style sausage. For the vegetables and seasonings use 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced, and 1/2 bunch of Swiss chard, chopped.  For the seafood, use lobster meat if available, otherwise use peeled and deveined raw shrimp.

Nutrition information per serving: 360 calories; 100 calories from fat (28 percent of total calories); 11 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 85 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 26 g protein; 500 mg sodium.

SOUTHWEST VARIATION:

Use a diced spicy sausage, such as chorizo. For the vegetables and seasonings use 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 cup frozen or canned corn kernels, 1 minced chipotle pepper plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo, and a 3.8-ounce can sliced black olives. Omit the seafood and instead use a 15-ounce can of drained and rinsed black beans. Finish with 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro.

Nutrition information per serving: 450 calories; 180 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 20 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 24 g protein; 810 mg sodium.

WEST COAST VARIATION:

Use 12 ounces of an herbed chicken or turkey sausage, along with 4 ounces chopped prosciutto. In place of the crushed tomatoes, use a 6.35-ounce container of prepared pesto and a 14-ounce can of artichoke hearts (drained), the zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon. Use lump crabmeat for the seafood. Serve topped with sliced avocado.

Nutrition information per serving: 450 calories; 170 calories from fat (38 percent of total calories); 18 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 39 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 31 g protein; 1,050 mg sodium.