Punch It Up This Summer With Hawaiian Plate Lunch

As summer rolls around, I think back to the days when I had a corporate job with the vacation time and income to take extravagant vacations. Now as an entrepreneur, my vacations are spent going back to see my family in Louisiana and sometimes a long weekend in Palm Springs. In summer of 2006, we were lucky to experience our first trip to Hawaii and visited three islands: Honolulu, Maui and Lanai… a perfect “Taste of Hawaii” vacation! We planned to eat our way across the Islands with sightseeing, golf and beach time thrown in. We dined at some of the most famous restaurants across the three islands, expensive but delicious with gorgeous views. The Feast of LeLe Luau in Maui was a highlight. Chef James McDonald (we loved meeting him as he shares my husband’s name) serves up a delicious five course dinner served at your table, not the usual Luau buffet, along with entertainment highlighting five famous islands.  It was intimate and romantic … a night to remember!  The dinner at Mama's Fish House in Maui on the way back from the long road to Hana is something we will never forget. We didn't realize it would be such a fancy place with a name like Mama's Fish House. My friend Judy was beyond horrified as she had a baseball cap on and this is a woman who never wears a hat! To this day, we laugh hysterically when we realize how ultra casual we were dressed in the upscale beautiful restaurant. As my Mama would say, "Country comes to town!"

Our last day in Maui, we met a woman by the pool and asked her what her favorite restaurant was and she said, “After coming here every summer for years, I would say the Hawaiian plate lunch and if you see a "Plate Lunch" sign, stop and indulge in the best Hawaiian barbeque chicken, beef, or fish served with white rice and macaroni salad - cheap and delicious!” How had we missed this local treat? We were tourist with a capital T and now feeling left out of an important Hawaiian dining experience. Shame on us!

The next day we headed to Lanai by ferry from Maui and discovered the annual Pineapple Festival would be happening the next afternoon in the town square. After a great day of golf and snorkeling, we headed in our rented jeep to the interior of Lanai and felt like we had stepped back in time… just a few local stores and restaurants.  A stage was set up surrounded by about no more than 10 food tents and some were serving the famous Hawaiian Plate Lunch!  BINGO!

Our mouths started watering with the delicious teriyaki smells of the Hawaiian barbeque.  We went our separate ways and fifteen minutes later, we found each other. Jimmy held up his plate and said, “Five Dollars”, I held mine up and said, “Six Dollars” as I had added dumplings to my meal.  We both dug into the best barbeque chicken and beef served with sides of white rice and macaroni salad.  It was heaven eating under the stars listening to beautiful Hawaiian music and watching local children Hula dance on stage.  After polishing off our plates, I was ready for something sweet. I set off to search for a local dessert and found a tent with tables of delicious pineapple and coconut cakes.  The local women behind the table gestured to me to help myself. I took two slices of the luscious desserts and asked how much. She shook her head and smiled. I walked back to Jimmy with my tasty prize, held it up for him to see and said, “free”.  Our last night in Hawaii was one of the most memorable as we embraced the hospitality of the lovely Lanai locals. Yes, some things in life are still free.

Recently, my sister, Erin, had a poolside Hawaiian party in Baton Rouge and asked me to bring a dish to accompany her Grilled Teriyaki Chicken and Coconut Rice. I immediately thought of the macaroni salad so created my own version kicked up with bacon and jalapeno!  I'm also including her Coconut Rice dish. Serve these with any grilled meats this summer and your guests will be coming back for more. It's a bit of the Hawaiian Islands right in your own backyard!

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Serves 8-10 as a side dish
1 package of Large Macaroni
½ cup of good quality Mayonnaise
¼ cup of Creole or Stoned Ground Mustard
1 Tbsp. of Red Wine Vinegar
½ of a large Purple Onion diced
½ of a medium Red Pepper diced
½ of a medium Green Pepper diced
1 bunch of Green Onions chopped
1 large Jalapeno Pepper seeded and diced
¼ cup of pickled Banana Peppers diced
½ cup of chopped Bacon or Real Bacon bits
1 tsp. of Creole Seasoning
Salt & Pepper to taste
Creole Seasoning

Prepare macaroni, drain and rinse with cool water.  Add mayonnaise, mustard, red wine vinegar, chopped vegetables and bacon to pasta in large bowl.  Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.  Double for buffets.

Coconut Jalapeno Rice

Serves 8-10
2 Tsp. of vegetable oil
¾ cup of Shredded Coconut
1 large Jalapeno Pepper, seeded and diced
2 cups of White Rice
4 cups of Chicken Broth
¼ cup of green onion
Heat oil in large saucepan
Add Coconut
Cook stirring constantly until lightly brown, add minced onion and Jalapeno pepper
Continue cooking and stirring 1 minute longer
Add rice and stir to coat
Add Chicken Broth and bring to boil
Cover and reduce heat to low.
Simmer 25-30 minutes until rice is tender.
Sprinkle with Chives.

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Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and living in Houston,Texas after college, barbecues were a way of life.  There is nothing better than planning the menu, drinks, guests, music…so by the time the big day is here, my mouth is watering, drink is in hand and I’m ready to have some BBQ fun!

This southern belle judges a barbecue by the sides served. I believe that more is more! You can’t ever have enough sides, the more the merrier just like the guests. Yes, the main event sizzling on the grill is important, but sides are the kicker – from platters of mac and cheese, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, corn on the cob, kicked up casseroles…the list goes on and on. If I’m the guest at a BBQ, you will always find me snooping around the kitchen looking at what sides will be served.  

I’ll never forget when I was living in New York and barbecues came to a screeching halt. There were no backyards to grill in the city, and if there were, I was not friends with those who could afford backyards.  My barbecue cravings were replaced with deli cravings – a giant mouthwatering pastrami sandwich with a side of coleslaw and pickles from Carnegie Deli would do the trick. However, I missed the magic of backyard barbecues with family and friends. 

I started dating a New Yorker, Jimmy McDonald, and one summer weekend we went out to his parent’s home at Rockaway Beach.  As we headed out the door on Sunday morning to the beach, his Mom told us they were going to barbecue ribs and watch the U.S. Open Tennis Matches in the afternoon. What a treat!  I was finally going to have a New York barbecue and my mouth started watering.  A few hours later, we arrived back to their house smelling the delicious ribs on the backyard grill. They gathered around the TV, his Mom brought out the ribs on a platter and passed around plates with napkins. That was it. No baked beans, no potato salad, no corn on the cob, no cole slaw… This southern belle was baffled, how do you have a barbecue without sides?  Clearly they had never been to a real barbecue!  

That afternoon, heading back to the City, I realized our culinary styles were going to clash and could be a huge issue. The McDonald family “eat to live” whereas the Sweeney clan “lived to eat”.  How would we ever resolve this?  A year later, I moved the skinny New Yorker, to New Orleans, married him in St. Louis Cathedral and taught him the ways of the southern palate.  

Our 1992 New Orleans Wedding

After attending LSU tailgate parties, eating his way through New Orleans, attending Louisiana festivals and eating my Mama’s food, Jimmy is now a converted foodie, several pounds heavier and you will find him right by my side grazing on the tasty side buffet!  

At the 2013 Taste Awards in Los Angeles


(Marinated Black Eyed Pea Salad) by Liberty’s Kitchen


3 (15 oz.) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 large Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, small dice
2 red bell peppers, small dice
4 ribs celery, small dice
2 Tbsp. cilantro, rough chopped
Toss above ingredients with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette and chill overnight. 
May be served cold or at room temperature.

Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

2 oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
4 oz. canola oil
2 Tbsp. honey
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup loose packed cilantro
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Place lime juice, canola oil, honey, jalapeño peppers, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper in a blender and puree until emulsified.

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Celebrating Three Sweet Years of Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde…

In May, I headed back to my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a month to celebrate the Three Year Anniversary of Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde... live shows where it all began.  I also was able to visit with family/friends and eat my favorite Louisiana food. I planned two anniversary shows at Boutin’s Cajun Restaurant on May 19th and June 9th.  Many of the original storytellers were on board plus others who appeared in the shows over the years and brand new ones! It was a great time to celebrate and look back at how far “Meanwhile” has come over the past three years. From inspiration, to idea, to the live shows, to the book and beyond....it has been an amazing journey.

Celebrating 3 Years of Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde...
 Myles & Sherry Sweeney, Duncan Clements, Peggy, Shannan Rieger, 
Kelly Clements, Erin and Scott Uffman

I arrived to Baton Rouge the week before the first show. I had four radio shows scheduled to promote the shows:  Jay Ducote’s Bite & Booze show, Bill & Karen Profita’s Fun Friday show, Karen Profita’s Saturday Style show and with Jim Engster of The Jim Engster show. Jay and Jim are both veterans of the show and are featured in the Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde... coffeetable/cookbook. Jay was the emcee for the May 19th show and Jim was going to present his great story, “Life at Louie’s” about the famous diner outside the gates of LSU.  Bill and Karen were on board as new storytellers and together would be sharing their food story, “The Top Ten Reasons When You Know Your Christmas Party Is Out of Hand”!  Between all of us we had many things to share on the radio shows about the history of the shows, the Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde…Life Stories About Food coffeetable/cookbook that launched last Fall and how food is so important in our lives.  The Advocate, Country Roads Magazine and In Register Magazine also did great feature articles about the 3 Year Anniversary shows!

Peggy with Karen & Bill Profita 
on Fun Friday Radio Show

I also had the pleasure of giving a book presentation at St.George Catholic School for my niece, Isabel Clement’s 4th grade class. I selected stories in the book of childhood food memories.  They loved hearing Jeff Kleinpeter’s (Kleinpeter Farms Dairy) story about growing up on the farm, as well as Todd Grave’s story about creating Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and seeing the pictures of the dog, Cane.  At the end, I had them all stand and share their answers to “If you were a food what would you be and why?"  It was fun to hear their creative answers. After leaving the school, I received a text from my sister, Kelly, that the 5th grade teachers wanted me to come back to present for my nephew, Duncan’s class.  Clearly, a testament to how the Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde… book appeals to all ages!

Book Presentation at St. George's 4th Grade Class

The May 19th show emcee’d by Jay Ducote featured Daron Stiles, Karen & Bill Profita, Smiley Anders, Pam Bordelon, Diana Zollicoffer, Jim Engster and me.  

Jay Ducote, Smiley Anders, Diana Zollicoffer, Bill Profita, Daron Stiles, 
Karen Profita, Pam Bordelon, Peggy Sweeney-McDonald and Jim Engster

The June 9th show was emcee’d by Paul Arrigo and featured Lisa Annitti, Missy Crews, Victoria Green, Gabby Loubiere, Vanda Gray (with her granddaughter, Rachel Zatta), Karen and Bill Profita, John Gray, Myles Sweeney and me.  Veterans of the show also came to be a part of the audience and were there to join in to the group picture. Our official photographer, Troy Kleinpeter who has documented the shows and was the photographer for the book, was there to celebrate with us and take more great pictures!  I can’t begin to tell you how thrilling it was go be back in Baton Rouge where it all began to celebrate with family and friends.

Bill Profita, Missy Crews, Gabby Loubiere, Karen Profita, Rachel Zatta, Vanda Gray, Diana Zollicoffer, Victoria Green, Lisa Annitti, Jay Ducote, Myles Sweeney, Peggy Sweeney-McDonald, Richard Flicker, Jeff Kleinpeter, Daron Stiles and John Gray

I also had the opportunity to present the Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde... show at the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast District Exchange Club's Conference for their Friday night kick-off dinner June 7th at Head's and Tails Seafood Restaurant in Baton Rouge. Storytellers included show veteran's Richard Flicker and Paul Arrigo along with some great new Texas storytellers including Peggy Touchstone Sholley - cookbook author of Down Home Delicious, Clark Walter and Greg Oelfke.

Richard Flicker, Paul Arrigo, Clark Walter, Peggy Sholley & Greg Oelfke

Looking back at the 40 shows produced across the country with over 260 people on board sharing their life stories about food, I am humbled and honored by the love and support I have received every step of the way.  Now with the “Meanwhile, Back at Café DuMonde…Life Stories About Food coffeetable/cookbook by Pelican Publishing, the food stories are being shared all over the world.  I have received letters from fans as far as Canada, Hong Kong and Sweden. I know that “Meanwhile” continues to touch hearts even if they haven’t experienced being at a live show.

The Audience at the June 9th Show at Boutin's

I was blessed to have my greatest fan, my Father, Myles Sweeney in the June show. My Mom and Dad have been such an important part of the “Meanwhile” journey and to have my Dad share his food story, “Savory Snippets from Sweeney” was truly a gift. To everyone’s surprise, he stole the show! Now they know where I get my “gift of gab” as the Irish storyteller trait is strong in our family.

My Father, Myles Sweeney, sharing his food story!

Lisa Annitti, my muse, who inspired me to create the show with her “Coconut Pie and a Bottle of Wine” story in November of 2009, flew in from Los Angeles to celebrate with us by sharing her now famous story at the June show. Jimmy and I got to meet her new boyfriend, Roy Bogy, over an amazing jazz brunch at our favorite New Orleans restaurant, Commander’s Palace.  If you haven't been, you must go. Delicious!

Roy, Jimmy, Lisa and Peggy at Commander's Palace for Jazz Brunch

It is a tradition to indulge in the delicious Turtle Soup, Tasso Shrimp Heineken, Pecan Crusted Fish, Bread Pudding Souffle and a decadent Praline Parfait.  

Tasso Shrimp Heineken
at Commander's Palace

After a long leisurely lunch, we made our way to the French Quarter to stop by the New Orleans Oyster Festival along the Mississippi River.  This two day celebration of everything oyster is not to be missed. Great food booths serving every type of oyster dish and fabulous music.

Peggy & Jimmy at The New Orleans Oyster Festival

We made our way into the heart of the French Quarter to have drinks on Pat O’Brien's patio and ended up, of course, at Café DuMonde… for those little pillows of decadence - beignets and delicious Café Au Lait. As I say in my food story, the title monologue of “Meanwhile, Back at Café DuMonde…, “No matter, where I live or what is going on in my life, I always end up at Café Du Monde….taking life one beignet at a time.”  Yes, I am savoring the sweetness of life and loving every yummy moment of it!

Peggy & Lisa Annitti at Cafe Du Monde
sharing a plate of beignets and drinking Cafe Au Lait

Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde... show photos provided by 
Troy Kleinpeter of Kleinpeter Photography.

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The Journey of the Coffee Table Book – Part II

"Wrapping It Up"

(The Journey of the Coffee Table Book – Part II)

The Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde... Life Stories About Food coffee table book contract with Pelican Publishing was signed the first week of October and I had 90 days to deliver it! As we moved into the 2011 holiday season, the storytellers were extremely busy and although excited about being included in the book, this was not their priority like mine as I had a deadline to meet. Back home in Los Angeles, I would receive the book materials via emails (monologues, pictures, and recipes from 67 contributors) and I would call/email for missing information.  I felt like the biggest pest! I decided to fly back to Baton Rouge and work on finalizing everything there as pictures were still needed of the recipes and some of the storytellers in their restaurants. I wanted to make it happen with our great photographer, Troy Kleinpeter.  On December 2nd, I headed “home” to Baton Rouge!  Five weeks in Louisiana over the Christmas holidays. Oh, dear! I knew my diet was going to go down the drain, but packed my workout clothes with good intentions to power walk in my parents beautiful neighborhood.

Those December weeks in Louisiana were pretty crazy. Not only was I trying to put the pieces of the book together, but I was also celebrating the holidays with my friends and family.   My husband, Jimmy, flew in from Los Angeles for Christmas week and, of course, he wanted to eat at all our favorite restaurants - Emeril’s for his famous BBQ Shrimp, gumbo and Banana Crème Pie; Commander’s Palace for Turtle Soup, Bread Pudding Souffle and Jimmy's favorite - their creme brulee; Oyster PoBoys at The Past Time in Baton Rouge; seafood feast at Harbor Seafood in Kenner and trips to Café Du Monde in The French Quarter for beignets and Café Au Lait, of course!  I had tried to hold it together by taking walks and hitting the floor for sit-ups but by the time Christmas week rolled around that went out the window!  Yikes!

Emeril's BBQ Shrimp with Rosemary Biscuit

Commander's Palace Creme Brulee

Jimmy & Peggy at Cafe Du Monde

Karen and Burt Benrud, owners of Café Du Monde invited us to their lovely Christmas party at their apartment in the famous Pontalba building overlooking Jackson Square. Jimmy and I dream of one day having an apartment there! Standing on their balcony overlooking Jackson Square watching over 5,000 people sing Christmas carols by candlelight was the ultimate holiday moment!  Karen put out an amazing spread of Louisiana favorites from mini muffaletta sandwiches to delicious red beans and rice.  I loved seeing the “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…” signed framed poster we had presented to them at the first New Orleans show on their kitchen wall right next to the framed/signed picture of when they were on the Ellen show making beignets for Mardi Gras!

Karen Benrud & Peggy at the Party!

Christmas Carrolling in Jackson Square

The Sweeney family Christmas begins with Christmas Eve at my Mom and Dad’s home with Honey Baked Ham, my Mom’s famous Mac and Cheese (for the “kids” – however, the adult “kids” usually go back for seconds), Cheese Grits, Maque Choux (stewed corn and the recipe appears in the book), Spinach Madeline (a Louisiana holiday staple), my sister, Shannan’s amazing Grandfather's Salad, and tons of desserts made by my sister, Kelly, and my nieces. This year the nieces made chocolate covered pretzel sticks with lots of different toppings and they were a huge hit! After the amazing dinner, we have a family tradition where my younger nieces and nephews perform a Christmas play which concludes with everyone singing Silent Night while they recreate the nativity scene (the girls have to rotate the role of "Mary").  It is the most adorable thing you will ever see! On Christmas afternoon we all meet at Erin and Scott’s house, for Erin's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, hot French Bread, potato salad and lots of sweets.

My Nieces, Nephew and Friends

The Sweeney Family Christmas

When Jimmy left the day after Christmas to head back home to Los Angeles, it was total crunch time.  I recruited my nephew, Myles Rieger, who is a sophomore at LSU to work on editing with me for a few days and the last four days I recruited my Mom.  I would literally roll out of bed and start working in my P.J.’s, at my parents’ big dining room table.  Mom sat right next to me from early morning to late at night reading all the edits, organizing pictures and serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee and backrubs.  She kept me sane!  The last night was rough as we were up until the 3:00am and now had my Dad on board too.  I had come down with a sinus infection and felt horrible so around 2:00am in true drama queen fashion, I burst into tears in a total emotional meltdown. I was totally exhausted and didn’t know how I was going to finish the materials and drive to New Orleans the next day to deliver the book.

Peggy & Missy Crews

On Our Way to Pelican to deliver the Book "Baby"

Well, deliver it I did! I woke up at 6:30am, and with a last adrenalin rush of excitement, finished the final touches, took a shower, put make-up on and dressed up!  My BFF from my LSU college days, Missy Crews, was coming over at 9:00am and going to drive with me for the big delivery at Pelican and then go to a nice lunch in New Orleans to celebrate.  Pelican said I could ship the materials to them, but this was such a rite of passage that I wanted to personally deliver it. When Missy arrived she wanted to do a blessing of the “baby”. My Mom had placed all the paperwork in a big box and we put a copy of the mocked up “book cover” on the top of the box. My Mom, Dad, Missy and me stood in a circle all touching the box while Missy led a beautiful blessing praying the creative project would take wings and fly and continue to touch people with the joy and inspiration!   With coffee to go, we were out the door with my Mom in her robe taking pictures as we drove down the driveway in her “Mommee” Van! Despite the lack of sleep, I was excited, happy, thrilled and felt like I was on Cloud 9.  I felt so proud!  

Pelican Editor-in-Chief, Nina Kooij & Peggy

We arrived at Pelican at 11:30am, met with the team and took a picture of me handing the book to the Editor-in-Chief, Nina Kooij.  They seemed very happy and Antoinette de Alteriis, Promotion Director, told me there was lots of advance interest in the book.  Not being familiar with the publishing world, I looked at her and said, “From book stores?” and she answered, “No, from press and media!”  WOW! Pinch me!

Soon we were on our way to celebrate with a fabulous lunch with my cousin, Jeanne Vidrine, at a fun local delicious restaurant, Katie’s, where we sat at the bar and ate Shrimp Remoulade and stuffed seafood peppers!  Yummy - Life was too good! Later that night, my Mom, Dad and my 3 sisters all went out for a celebratory dinner at a local Italian restaurant.  No brother-in-laws, no nieces and nephews, just us – a rare occasion! They were so proud of me and I felt truly blessed!

When I arrived back to Los Angeles two days later, I found out Dr. Calhoun, the owner/publisher of Pelican Publishing had passed away on January 7th, the day after I had turned in the book.  He was responsible for seeing the value of the book to Pelican and it was because of him, I was now going to have a published book based on the show that I created!  I was sad for his family and for the Pelican team, however, I know that he is an angel in heaven watching over them, me and the “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…” coffee table book!  I hope I make him proud!

Mommee's Mac N Cheese (from my Mother, Sherry Sweeney)

16 ounce package elbow macaroni
2 eggs
½ tbsp. sugar, salt & pepper to taste
1 regular size can evaporated milk
1 cup whole milk-add to evaporated milk
2 large bags mild or sharp grated cheese
1 stick real butter, melted

Cook macaroni in salted boiling water until tender. Drain well
colander. Beat eggs and sugar together in small bowl, and add milk
mixture. Mix together macaroni, butter, and 1 package of cheese.
Add egg/milk mixture and put in buttered baking pan. Cover with
more cheese and bake at 350 for 45 minutes with loose aluminum foil
cover. Double recipe if more is needed.

This Mac N Cheese is a staple at the Sweeney house for any family dinner as the "kids" love it!  It makes a delicious side with ham, turkey, roast, or as a main dish with the salad below!  Great for leftovers too!  Do not be on a diet when this is served!

Grandfather's Salad (from my sister, Shannan Rieger)

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup salad oil
2 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice - use fresh lemons if you can

1 1/2 tbsp. vinegar 
2 pods of fresh garlic, pressed
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup freshly grated romano or parmesan cheese, grated fine

1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles
1 head iceburg lettuce, clean, dried and torn
1 head green leaf lettuce, clean, dried, and torn

1 head red leaf lettuce, clean, dried and torn
Parsley, 1 bunch, cleaned and chopped fine
Grated black pepper and salt to taste

Put first six ingredients in jar, cover and shake until well mixed. Refrigerate overnight. Right before you are ready to serve, mix lettuce with parsley. Shake dressing in jar and pour enough dressing to coat lettuce and parsley and toss. Sprinkle cheeses over salad and toss again. Add grated black pepper and additional salt to taste.

This recipe came from Shannan's late Father-in-law, Lewis Rieger. It goes great with everything. We always serve it on Christmas Eve with honey baked ham and cheese grits. It is also great with barbecue and pasta dishes. Make plenty as everyone will come back for seconds! 

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The Journey of the Coffee Table Book – Part I

Watch "Meanwhile,Back At Café Du Monde…” one of the most popular food channels on Livestream.com

The Journey of the Coffee Table Book – Part I

With the countdown on for the book launch September 17, 2012, I thought I'd share my personal journey of the book. Sometimes it is hard to believe that I am now in the publishing world.  How did this happen?  From actress, to event producer, to creating the "Meanwhile, ..." show to book!  Life sometimes takes you on a much different path than you ever imagined and you just have to buckle up and enjoy the ride...

On January 6, 2012, I delivered the "Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde..." book materials to Pelican Publishing.  After 32 shows in 3 states (Louisiana, Mississippi, California) with over 230 people sharing their life stories around food, there would soon be a beautiful coffee table book of the Louisiana life stories about food with pictures and recipes from 67 of the Louisiana food stories along with the history and vintage pictures of Cafe Du Monde!  

In September 2010, I had invited the Pelican Publishing team to come see the "Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde..." New Orleans show at Ralph & Kacoo’s Restaurant in the French Quarter. Dr. Calhoun, Owner/Publisher, and his team loved the show and embraced my idea of creating a coffee table book with the stories, recipes and pictures.  After presenting them an outline a few months later, we went through months of discussions with the Pelican team led by Editor-in-Chief, Nina Kooij; my literary agent, Anna Olswanger at the Liza Dawson Agency in New York; and my attorney, Jeff Spellerberg in Los Angeles. It was a new world and scary at times, but very exciting.

I finally signed the contract a little over a year later on October 6, 2011 at the Pelican office in Gretna, Louisiana (across the Mississippi River from New Orleans). I was thrilled as I truly felt it was a milestone in my life and a huge step for the "Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde..." brand! 

Immediately, nerves set in as I knew I had a huge amount of work to do in three months to meet my deadline of January 6, 2012. Was I nuts? I've never written or produced a book before - could I do it? What was I thinking? I must be crazy! I wanted the book to come out in the Fall of 2012, in time for the holidays and Pelican had told me it would need to delivered by January if I wanted it to be launched in the Fall.

I flew back home to Los Angeles and a week later, I received an email from Pelican that said, “Congratulations you will soon be a Pelican published author. Click here for instructions on how to deliver the book materials” and I clicked to see a very intimidating long list with format needed for text and pictures, indexing, printing hard copy, etc. I remember reading it around 9:00 PM and I literally felt sick. OMG - what have I done - how can I possibly do this? I was totally overwhelmed and almost started to cry. I couldn't believe my reaction, physical, mental and emotionally. I had worked so hard to get this book deal and now I felt like I could not possibly do everything that was required in a few months! I took a deep breath and told myself that I would figure it out a day at a time and ask for help. I went to bed and prayed for guidance and the courage to make this book happen. My husband, Jimmy, reminded me that the joy is in the journey and this definitely was going to be an adventure and I would learn as I went.

Two days later, I went to my mailbox and received the Café Du Monde 2011 Holiday Catalog! The picture on the cover took my breath away!  There on the cover was a vintage picture of Café Du Monde in the New Orleans French Quarter with a banner across the page “Celebrating 150th Anniversary in 2012” and inside was the history of Café Du Monde.  I realized what a gift it was that the book would come out in the Fall of 2012, the year of their anniversary!  I emailed Karen and Burt Benrud who run the business and asked them if I could include the history and some of the vintage pictures and they emailed me back saying I could definitely include the history and they would give me all their vintage pictures for the book. I had previously asked Karen Benrud to write the foreword and she had graciously accepted. Her Grandfather, Hubert N. Fernandez Fernandez, bought the café 70 years ago and running the café, gift shops, catalog and on-line store is truly a family affair. To have their history and vintage pictures in the book would be the icing on the cake or I should say, the powdered sugar on the beignets! I felt so blessed and at that moment I knew everything would work out exactly the way it was supposed to be!

Stay tuned for the next part of the book journey in my next blog.  Thanks for being a part of my journey!

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Chef Ryan Rondeno’s Cuisine Adds a Bit of Louisiana "Lagniappe" at Nancystree.org Garden Party

Watch "Meanwhile,Back At Café Du Monde…” one of the most popular food channels on Livestream.com

Chef Ryan Rondeno's Adds A Bit of  

Louisiana "Lagniappe"

 to NancysTree.org Garden Party

A few months ago, Ryan Rondeno, a private chef in Los Angeles reached out to me.  Another “foodie” friend, Chef Melinda Curtis, who I had met at 2011 Tasty Awards, referred Ryan to me.  He’s a New Orleans native who lives in Los Angeles and is a private chef to the stars!  Ryan has cooked for Will and Jada Smith, Tyrese Gibson and Sugar Ray Leonard.  Ryan and I became FB friend and I told him I would keep him in mind for the next Los Angeles show of “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…”. Ryan has worked at the best New Orleans restaurants, including Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s and has been in Los Angeles for three years. A few months later, I needed to get a caterer for the VIP Suite for the fundraiser I was producing and I immediately reached out to him.

Chef Ryan Rondeno

NancysTree.org was created earlier this year to raise funds to help Nancy and Jay Westbrook cover their medical and living expenses as Nancy struggles with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.  Nancy was diagnosed on her birthday in December.  Jay is a hospice care nurse who was laid off last year.  Their friends were devastated and decided to take action and produce a Garden Party to raise funds and to celebrate Nancy’s life.   I didn’t know Jay and Nancy, but jumped in to be of service.  Last September, I had produced the Premiere Oncology Foundation’s Truth Be Told event and the night before the event, my beloved Mother-in-Law passed away of lung cancer.  Everyone has been touched by cancer.  I saw how much Nancy and Jay meant to my friends and how passionate they were to make a difference so I was thrilled to be on board for this event.  In the last month, I have been able to get to know Jay and Nancy and am inspired by their journey and how they are walking through this with grace and dignity.

Jay and Nancy Westbrook

The Garden Party event was be held at Miauhaus Studios, a cool photography studio in Hollywood on Sunday, April 29, 2012 from 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm.  The event included a silent auction, food/refreshments and a comedy show and celebrity appearances by Russell Brand, Ant Comic, Tammy Pescatelli,Janice Dickinson, Sarge, Aileen Quinn and more. Activate Drinks, Illy Issimo Coffee and Sokenbicha Tea sponsored this amazing event.  Ryan was excited to be on board as a sponsor for the event to create appetizers in the VIP Suite.  He then sent me a delicious menu of passed appetizers.  Russell Brand is vegan so Ryan tweaked the menu a bit. The vegan selections included golden beet salad with lemon-walnut emulsion and Babaganoush served with crispy pita chips.  The rest of the guests enjoyed smoked Mozzarella and sundried tomato salad, with Serrano ham, and melon compote on a crostini – simply delicious!

The highlight was my Louisiana favorite, crawfish and corn macque choux (pronounced "Mock Shoe") with fennel-onion jam!  Macque Choux is stewed corn and tomatoes and divine.  Add crawfish and it is double divine!  (See Chef Ryan's Recipe below)

Crawfish Maque Choux

I can’t begin to tell you how much of a hit these appetizers were.  My friend, Adriana Bate, who I met in New Orleans years ago and now lives in Los Angeles, came to volunteer with the registration.  When she arrived, I told her we had a New Orleans chef making crawfish corn macque choux in the kitchen, she said, “That is my all-time favorite dish at Commander’s Palace and go get some for me NOW!”  We all kept running to the kitchen throughout the afternoon to get another passed appetizer sized portion off the tray as Ryan patiently kept replenishing the tray for the waiter to pass in the VIP Suite.

Peggy & Chef Ryan Rondeno on the Red Carpet

Can I just say, there is nothing like a Louisiana chef to spice up a party menu!  It was such a treat to have Ryan on board and his personality, great smile and energy were "Lagniappe" as we say in Louisiana.  For those of you who aren’t familiar - Lagniappe (pronounced “Lan-yap”) means “a little bit extra” and saying it is almost as fun as experiencing it.  It always makes me smile!

Russell Brand & Tammy Pescatelli

Jimmy McDonald, Peggy, Actress - Aileen Quinn, 
& Travis McDowell - Activate Drink Sponsor

Ant Comic, Peggy & comedian,  Tammy Pescatelli

For donations or more information about NancysTree.org, please check out the website.

For more information about Peggy Sweeney-McDonald & Superstar Events-LA go to www.superstareventsla.com
or call 310-709-2851

Chef Ryan Rondeno is available for events or private catering. He can be reached at  678-763-6627

www.facebook.com/chefryanrondeno and www.twitter.com/chefryanrondeno 

Chef Ryan's Crawfish Corn Macque Choux with Fennel Marmalade


4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, small diced
1 large green bell pepper, small diced
1 red bell pepper, small diced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups fresh corn kernels
2 Tbsp creole seasoning
16 oz Louisiana crawfish tails
1 ½ cups of heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste


In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions and the bell peppers. Cook until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add the corn and two Tbsp of creole seasoning.  Cook and stir until soft, about 5 minutes.  On medium-high, add the heavy cream. Cook and stir until the heavy cream thickens about 4-5 minutes. Add the crawfish.  Cook just to heat the crawfish through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fennel-Onion Marmalade


1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, small diced
1 large fennel, small diced
1 cup sugar
1 cup of white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Note: Use fennel frawns for garnishing the crawfish corn macque choux.


In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, cook until soft for two minutes. Add fennel and cook another two minutes. Add sugar and vinegar.  Cook for 20 minutes or until marmalade thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Can substitute crawfish with shrimp or chicken.

Note: Ryan buys his crawfish in Los Angeles at the New Orleans Fish Market on Vernon.

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