Showing posts with label Jimmy McDonald. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jimmy McDonald. Show all posts

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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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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