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

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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


Ingredients

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

Instructions:

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

Ingredients:

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.

Instructions:

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.

DELICIOUS! 

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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A Cup of Italian Gelato & A New Chapter of Life



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A Cup of Italian Gelato 

& A New Chapter of Life



Yesterday was the five year anniversary of my corporate layoff. I had worked for the company for over six years. Three months before the pink slip day, I had told my new “Barbie Doll” boss that if they were going to make some cut-backs, please add me to the list as I felt it was time to go and spread my wings. I was the manager of meetings and events and with recent budget cuts, the meetings that I produced had all been cancelled. The writing was on the wall and instead of being upset, I decided this would be opportunity for me grow professional, personally and spiritually. When it came to leaps of faith, I had past experiences where I saw the dots connecting and knew I was always taken care of. Those past lessons made it easy to trust that the next chapter of my life was beginning and I was eager to embrace it!

My friend, Jackie, who lived in Florida, had been to Los Angeles the month before for business and we had met for dinner. She told me she was going to Italy for a business trip in April and a friend was going to meet her there after her conference, and they would explore Italy for a week. I called her after I was laid off and she said, “Come to Italy with us, I’m leaving Tuesday!” On a whim, I decided to call Delta and see if I could get a free ticket with my frequent flyer points. After two hours on the phone with the Delta agent (it was Easter week and not easy to book a free flight), I finally had a reservation. I told my husband, Jimmy, I was going to go to Italy with Jackie and her girlfriend and he was not happy. The Godfather is his favorite movie and he has wanted to go to Italy for years. My response was, “I’ve never been to Europe and I think it’s time for me to go!” His response was, “OK, if I get laid off and I tell you I’m going to Scotland with the guys to play golf, what would you do?” I said I would probably be pissed off, but my mind was made up as deep down I knew this was something I had to do. I started to pack and make plans to meet Jackie in Bologna where her conference was being held.

After flying straight through the night, changing planes in Newark and Rome, I arrived at 11:00 AM in Bologna, Italy and went straight to the hotel. Jackie was at her conference so I got into the room, took a shower and went to explore. I found a great little café right down the street from the hotel and ordered the most delicious green salad and pasta dish. I don’t think I had ever eaten tomatoes as fresh and tasty. The simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic dressing was simply perfect and I swore I would never use any other dressing again. The pasta was a simple dish with a wonderful hearty red sauce with parma ham and peas, sprinkled generously with fresh parmesan cheese and accompanied by crusty Italian bread -- simply divine. I was in heaven! It felt so empowered to be travelling by myself, sitting in an Italian café and enjoying life with me. Although I didn’t know the language and was in a strange country, the excitement I felt overruled my fears.



After my yummy lunch, I went exploring the beautiful town of Bologna. I soon discovered that Bologna is considered the “gastronomical city of the world” and I know why. Shop after shop of cheeses, meats, vegetables, pasta, coffee, gelato and chocolates! Since it was Easter week, the chocolate shops were filled with the most beautiful chocolate Easter eggs I have ever seen. My mouth was watering the entire afternoon and I couldn’t wait until the next meal. I strolled down cobblestoned streets with a map in my hands and came across an Italian funeral outside a beautiful church. I ducked into the café across the street, sat at the window dipping sweet biscotti into my delicious rich cappuccino as I watched the funeral procession. I felt blessed to witness an important part of Italian life.







From there I wondered into an incredible Italian shoe store and bought a pair of white leather loafers trimmed in bright green. I couldn’t think of what I would wear them with but holding the beautiful leather shoes in my hands made me happy. I loved the smell and color and I knew I had to own these shoes. I would plan my summer wardrobe around them. I took off my old walking shoes, slipped them into the shoe box and walked out of the shop with my new shoes on my feet feeling lighter than I’d felt in years!



I turned the corner and saw a Gelato shop.  There was a line out the door and I said to myself, “Oh, yes – Italian Gelato, a great way to end my day!” I joined the line and soon had a scoop of hazelnut gelato with cooked figs swirled through the creamy confection. Growing up in Louisiana, my maternal grandmother, Nanny, had fig trees in her backyard in New Orleans. Every year, she would make fig preserves and serve them to me and my sisters on hot biscuits with butter and a glass of cold milk. There is nothing better in life! It is one of my favorite memories of Nanny and I can still see her standing at her kitchen stove cooking those fig preserves, placing them in the glass jars and serving them to us for breakfast.  Life doesn’t get better than that!



So here I was in Bologna, my first day in Italy, eating my hazelnut fig gelato, remembering sweet memories of Nanny, and trying to find my way back to my Italian hotel. As the sun went down, jetlag was setting in and I was ready for bed. It had been a beautiful day and I knew that this was the beginning of a grand adventure – exploring Italy, being with girlfriends, eating fabulous food and relishing in the joy of the unknown. Yes, I didn’t know what was around the next bend as I discovered this beautiful country and this new chapter in my life, but I was excited about the possibilities!




Over the next ten days, I would eat gelato every day in Bologna, Florence, Tuscany, Positano and Rome. I would always ask for hazelnut fig, only to be told again and again, “Figs aren’t in season,” and I would be disappointed walking away with some other flavor thinking “Don’t they know they can cook the figs and swirl them in hazelnut gelato?” However, by the end of my trip, I finally realized that nothing was supposed to taste as good as that first cup of gelato on that important day of my life in Bologna, Italy!

Susan Faith, Peggy & Jackie Crist

Looking back now, I know this was the beginning of my journey that would lead me to create “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…”! I was discovering how precious and poignant life can be around our food memories. We may break bread with others and share our lives – the joy and pain over those meals, but sometimes we must break bread by ourselves. During those solitary meals, we take the time to see where we have been, dream of where we are going and sometimes we are happy to be right where we are!


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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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