How's Bayou? Turtles, gators and acne
We used to be so much more adventurous.
In the early 1970s, as a late-twenty-something, I was full of ideas for Madewood. We were the first plantation house to produce an arts and crafts festival, complete with opera, chamber music, ballet and children's events; and after hosting several December events in the mansion, we came up with the idea of a Christmas Heritage Celebration and Banquet.
We weren't content with just serving a lavish dinner: We had drinks by the fire in the Old Kitchen, carolers on the rear balcony and a torchlit procession around to the front of the house, where everyone was welcomed in to the festivities.
Even that wasn't enough. During the day, we had a visit from the Cajun Santa Claus and a reading of The Cajun Night Before Christmas by its author. There was ornament making, hot chocolate for everyone, and a performance by the inimitable Sam Adams -- still tickling the ivories, and the sense of humor of North-Shore residents -- that featured the "Paligator," a cartoonish alligator that Sam had cooked up with puppeteer Nancy Staub for a kids' show at Puppet Playhouse in Uptown New Orleans.
One of his daughters had to slither into the painted canvas body and reach forward to a pair of paddles that made the mouth gape open and shut. The only source of air was the oversized slits that represented the gator's eyes; and, even on a chilly December day, the inside of the creature was swelteringly hot.
The daughter (who requests anonymity) was well beyond the age of wanting two front teeth for Christmas; instead, thanks to the Paligator costume, she got a severe case of acne from the hours spent inside the apparatus. To this day, she can't look at a picture of an alligator or crocodile without breaking into a cold sweat.
Animals figured prominently in the celebration those first few years. Once, Mother decided that a traditional turtle soup would be the way to begin the evening. As the afternoon hours ticked away, she would alternate between worries that the turtle meat wouldn't arrive on time and assuring us, "When I'm gone, I want a party, not a funeral. "I've led a wonderful life, and I want everyone to celebrate and be happy."
After a dozen or so lamentations about the delayed turtle meat, and another mention of the party, I was exasperated.
"If you don't stop talking about that miserable turtle meat," I was surprised to hear myself exclaim, "we'll all be happy when you're gone!"
Things are much simpler these days, though the decorations have grown more elaborate and the Christmas trees taller, wider and fuller. There's no procession, as we're all older and don't like the idea of marching around on a chilly December evening.
And the Cajun Santa Claus? Well, he's so last century.
This year, it fell to me to prepare the hot buttered rum punch with which we greet guests by the roaring fire in the capacious Old Kitchen, and to come up with an idea for a new appetizer.
During the summer, I'd stumbled on Campbell's "Limited Edition" Harvest Orange Tomato Soup. Regular readers of this column will realize that this immediately appealed to my "It All Depends on How You Define 'From Scratch'" mantra, and I immediately snapped up the 40 or so cans on the shelf.
And Saturday evening, I found myself creating:
Madewood's Heritage Orange Tomato Soup
1 can Campbell’s Harvest Orange (or Yellow) Tomato Soup
Equal amount (1 soup can) of Half & Half
2 minced cloves of garlic
Chopped green, orange & yellow peppers
Dash of salt
Everyone raved about the soup; and guests who've attended the banquet for years were unanimous that Angie's turkeys and other dishes were the best ever.
But I could not tell a lie, at least not to Millie's church group, who'd organized a table as its monthly dinner meeting.
As they departed, each received a gift-wrapped can of the treasured soup, along with the recipe -- and an admonition to snap up those limited-edition cans next summer before they fly off the shelves.
They really are Mmm, Mmm Good.
How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.