Showing posts with label Baton Rouge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baton Rouge. Show all posts

A Beautiful Basket of Sweet Easter Memories

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A Beautiful Basket of Sweet Easter Memories

Sisters - Shannan & Peggy

Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the 60’s, Easter was almost as big as Christmas for the Sweeney Family. Over the weeks leading up to Easter, my Mother and the four Sweeney Sisters - Peggy, Shannan, Erin and Kelly, would shop at MaisonBlanche and D.H. Holmes for the perfect Easter dresses in pretty pastel colors with brand new shiny shoes, white stockings and bonnets with satin ribbons. We would have all-day shopping affairs with a great lunch at The Piccadilly Cafeteria or Shoney’s Big Boy.

 Peggy, Myles Sherry & Baby Shannan

When I was around 11, I insisted that I wanted bright yellow patent leather shoes with a small clear acrylic heel and they would be perfect for my yellow dress that year. They were magnificent and I felt like Cinderella at the ball when I put them on. My Mom said she was not going to buy them for me as she thought they were the tackiest shoes she had ever seen! She tried to convince me to buy the simple white Mary Jane’s. I started to cry and threw a fit right there in the shoe department!  In order to shut me up, she said she would buy them for me but I better wear them more than Easter Sunday. Well, wear them I did until they were so small they hurt my feel.  I still remember the joy I felt when putting those “Cinderella slippers” on my feet. I would twirl around in the living room listening to my favorite 45’s on my Dad’s huge stereo console living out my fantasy of being a movie star!

A Sweeney Easter Basket

On Good Friday, my mom would boil dozens of eggs in a big pot with a white kitchen towel in the pot to keep the eggs from cracking. We would gather around the kitchen table lined with newspaper with coffee cups of vinegary colored dye and use a crayon to draw bunnies, flowers, sunshine’s (my favorite) and write our names before dipping the eggs with the copper wire egg dipper that came in the egg dye kits. The large basket with fake green grass would soon be filled with beautiful bright eggs. Miraculously, the ones with our names would appear in our individual baskets on Easter morning and the rest would be hidden around the house when we woke up to see what the Easter Bunny had delivered!

"Easter Tree"

We even had a festive “Easter Tree” made with tree branches sprayed with white paint and real eggs that had been blown out, dyed or painted and strung with satin ribbons. It would be placed in the middle of the formal dining room table where we would place our empty baskets in anticipation for the Easter Bunny to fill. My mother made the most beautiful Easter baskets I have ever seen. Around the large white or milk chocolate bunnies placed in the middle, she would add Elmer’s Heavenly Hash, Pecan or Gold Brick Eggs, speckled robin eggs (malted milk ball), bubble gum eggs and my favorite - the sugar diorama egg decorated with beautiful frosting! To this day, I still crave the malted milk ball eggs which are readily available every year. Now living in Los Angeles, Elmer’s Chocolates aren’t available here, so I’ve graduated to the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs as they are my husband’s favorite (cold right out the fridge with a glass of milk) and Starburst jelly beans!

Sugar Egg

Robin Eggs

The baskets would be wrapped with iridescent plastic wrapping topped with a bright bow.  We would always have gifts wrapped on the side that would be new spring P.J’s or a stuffed bunny.  I always felt sorry for my friends that didn’t have baskets as grand and beautiful as ours!

Peggy with Easter Goodies!

After opening our baskets, hunting for eggs around the house and having breakfast, we would dress up in our Easter finest, head to mass at St. Thomas Moore and then pile into the station wagon for the hour and a half drive to New Orleans to see both sets of Grandparents. We would have Easter lunch at Nanny and Poppy’s house, hunt for more eggs in her yard and then head to Grandmother and Grandfather Sweeney’s for a visit with one more final Easter egg hunt in their backyard.  

The Sweeney Family at Easter 
Shannan, Sherry, Myles, Peggy
Kelly & Erin in front

The Easter lunch would usually be a delicious ham cooked inCoca-Cola, mustard, brown sugar and pineapple.  The sides would be huge casseroles of macaroni and cheese, green beans cooked in bacon with new potatoes, spinach Madeline, maque choux (corn/tomato casserole), ambrosia fruit salad and for dessert lemon meringue pie, carrot cake and sometimes homemade ice cream we would help churn on the back patio.  On top of all the candy we had eaten throughout the day, it’s no surprise that all four girls were sound asleep for the entire trip back to Baton Rouge early in the evening.

Peggy & Shannan

When I was a senior in high school, my Grandmother “Nanny” was very sick in the hospital in New Orleans.  My Mom was with her day and night for weeks as it was serious.  Mom was only going to come back to Baton Rouge Easter morning to have lunch with us (we would go to a restaurant that year) and head back to New Orleans.  My Dad told me he needed my help to be the Easter Bunny and put together the baskets for my sisters.  I dug out the candy from the closet, got the baskets from the attic, filled them with green grass and distributed the candy in the baskets.  My Dad came in, looked at my pitiful baskets and said, “Aren’t you going to make them pretty with the wrapping and bows like your Mom does?”  I didn’t even know where to start but I did my best to make “them pretty”, however they didn’t look like Mom’s beautiful baskets as I didn’t have her magic touch.   

As I spend this Easter weekend in Los Angeles with my husband, Jimmy, I’m missing my family and the traditions we used to have.  My Mom and Dad sent me a beautiful Easter card with a check for an “Easter Treat”. My Easter Treat was to get my hair cut and colored on Good Friday followed by a manicure/pedicure.  When I showed my husband the card, he said, “I think that check was for us to go to dinner”!  I called my parents to thank them, and Jimmy grabbed the phone and asked my Mom if she put up her Easter Tree this year.  She replied, “No, I haven’t put it up in years”.  This is a new tradition - the smart ass New Yorker son-in-law gives her a hard time for not continuing the old Sweeney Easter traditions for the grand kids. She laughs hysterically as he rants and raves about how she doesn’t really care about her grandkids if she doesn’t put up the Easter Tree! She will get them all gifts, but the tradition of the beautiful baskets has become the responsibility of her daughters! 

I did buy an Easter Tree about 20 years ago, but now it is lost in the storage shed in our garage. Jimmy and I have no kids to dye eggs with on Good Friday and  we won't be staying up late filling baskets on Easter Eve.  Instead, we are doing a date night at Fleming's Steak House and Easter Sunday we will go to church in the morning followed by a lovely brunch hosted by our friend, Jeanne Glenn, in Santa Monica.  She’s doing the Easter ham and everyone else is bringing the side dishes.  I recently made the peach cobbler submitted by one of the Storytellers, Daniel Brockhoeft, that will appear in the upcoming “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…” coffee table book being launched by Pelican Publishing in the fall. The cobbler was a big hit a few weeks ago at a dinner party so I will bring it for dessert tomorrow. I added raspberries to the peaches and will bring store bought vanilla ice cream. I did get Jimmy a singing Easter card and picked up the Peanut Butter Eggs, malted milk ball eggs and jelly beans, although I’ll probably place them in a gift bag with tissue paper – a long way off from the beautiful Easter baskets of yesteryear!  

Happy Easter or as we always said in our family, “Haffa Easher” - that’s Happy Easter with a mouthful of jelly beans!

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It All Started With a Coconut Pie....

It All Started With a Coconut Pie

It all started with a Coconut Pie. I was back “Home” in Baton Rouge visiting my family for Thanksgiving and probably in one of the darkest times of my life. My business as a meeting and event producer in Los Angeles had shriveled up with the economy and was a far cry from the corporate meeting planner salary I had been used to. When I was laid off two years earlier, I had high hopes of opening my own company, Superstar Events-LA, and taking the industry by storm. At the same time, corporate America stopped producing high end meetings and events and it didn’t’ look like it was coming back anytime soon!

I wasn’t grateful for much this particular Thanksgiving. I was in the “depths of despair” as I like to say since I am a southern belle-drama queen! I had arrived the week before Thanksgiving and cried every day to my Mom as I tried to figure out my next step professionally and personally. My husband, Jimmy McDonald, and I weren’t getting along and, of course, it never dawned on me that I was probably blaming him for my misery. He told me that my happiness shouldn’t come from my job and that I should try being a human being instead of a human doing. Great! I need you to be philosophical when I’m fricken ready to put my head in the oven! Thanks, Jimmy! Let’s just say, it was the lowest time in my life and I remember praying for God to please show me the way as my plan was definitely not working.

The day after Thanksgiving, my friend, Lisa, came down from Shreveport to visit me in Baton Rouge and when I asked her how her Thanksgiving was, she rolled her eyes and told me her “Coconut Pie and a Bottle of Red Wine” story. She was so depressed that she was going to spend Thanksgiving alone without her family and friends because she was in Shreveport working on a film. So the night before Thanksgiving, she left work and went to Strawn's Eat Shop to buy a coconut pie, went back to her corporate apartment, cooked herself dinner and drank a whole bottle of red wine. Then in her drunken depression, she ate the entire pie that she was supposed to bring to her Thanksgiving dinner at her boss’ house the next day. She’s a smart ass New Jersey girl and when she told me her story, I laughed until I almost cried. Throughout the weekend, I asked her to tell my Mom, family and friends her pie story. It continued to get funnier and they all laughed hysterically. I said to Lisa, “This is like one of those monologue shows, but with food stories and everyone has a food story!" I stayed up most of the night in my hotel room in the French Quarter thinking of the idea of people coming together to share their stories about the Universal language, FOOD, and how our lives revolve around it. I was so excited, I barely slept.

The next day Lisa and I headed over to Café Du Monde in the French Quarter for their famous beignets (fried donuts with powdered sugar on top) and Café Au Lait! While enjoying the deliciousness of the morning, I told her about my idea to produce a show of food stories. Since it is about food you have to eat and drink, it’s really an “event” held at a restaurant. It would be a celebration of how food is so important in our lives!

I now had my own event and I started to get excited, inspired and jazzed and felt I was coming alive again! What would I call it? And then I remembered that when Jimmy and I lived in New Orleans 12 years before, I had coined the phrase “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde….” on one of our many visits there. I would pick up my coffee cup and toast my friends while saying it. We would even clink our coffee cups on the … (dot, dot, dot) while laughing. I also remember saying, “That is a great name for a book, a play, a film or the story of my life!” Who knew!

Back in Baton Rouge later that evening, I told my parents and sisters my idea. They loved it and gave me ideas for local TV Anchors, Chefs, Restaurant Owners, Business Owners and foodies. I now had a “Wish List” of potential headliners to invite to share their personal food stories.

My next step would be to call Café Du Monde to get permission to use their name. I was terrified to pick up the phone – what if they said, “NO”? I procrastinated for several days and then just did it. I spoke to Burt Benrud, Vice President of Café Du Monde, and told him the “working title” and said to him, “Meanwhile, Back at Starbucks… just doesn’t have the same ring!” He laughed and said to send him an outline of the show. OMG – I had to write an outline – it was becoming more real. The fear was overwhelming. Can I really do this? I typed up the Vision of the Show and emailed the next day. Within 15 minutes I received an email granting me permission to use their name.

The first show of “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…” was produced six months later on May 16, 2010, at The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and the rest is history.

The Myrtles Plantation

I like to say the beignet gets sweeter and bigger all the time. 32 shows in just over a year in Louisiana, California and Mississippi with over 230 people from all walks of life sharing their food stories and this Fall we will have a coffee table book being launched from Pelican Publishing with the stories pictures and recipes!

People love the shows, but even more, they love the story of how it all began! My hopes for the “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…” blog will be to share my sweet journey. I believe I was divinely inspired and chose to listen to the idea that the creative Spirit was whispering in my ear. It hasn’t been easy. Lots of ups and downs, and I’ve had to find the courage to overcome all my fears and, believe me, there have been many of them! Also, there have been many lessons which I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I have found my talents, my strengths, my weaknesses, my heart, my soul, my light, my Sunshine! I am so blessed. Miraculously, because I am now happy with myself, my relationship with Jimmy, completely turned around and we are happier than ever! I couldn’t have done this without him, my family and my friends! So the journey that began with my Muse - Lisa, and her funny Coconut Pie Story continues, as I learn to take life one beignet at a time….

My next blog will be about how I put the premiere groundbreaking shows together so join me again soon!

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