Sunday, June 27, 2010

NOLA Dispatch Part III: The Southern Food and Beverage Museum

The exhibits at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, on the river in downtown New Orleans, were interesting, though sparse. Noticeably lacking was information on the high art of Southern Cakes, although this replica- and the corresponding description- of a Maryland "Smith Island Cake" was informative if somewhat... um... creepy.

As was this repica of a King Cake:

I did like the replicas of the Italian Saint Joseph's Day Altar and the Dias De Los Muertos Altar, although seeing those lush ritual altars on display in a museum, devoid of the people and celebration that lend them meaning, made the experience somewhat one-dimensional to me.

The big winner with me, however, was the museum-within-a-museum called the Museum of the American Cocktail.

Learning the history of drinking in America seemed to me time well spent, and all those classy vintage drink menus and photos of swanky prohibition speakeasies made me happy.

There was also a beautiful-tragic photography show called "Spoiled" - a collection of Tom Varisco's photos of the messages that Katrina survivors spray painted onto the refrigerators full of spoiled food that were left out on sidewalks after the storm.

Also impressive was their vast collection of Southern food cookbooks- and a file cabinet full of thousands upon thousands of index-card-sized, handwritten recipes.

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is relatively new, and I bet that in the near future they will expand and flesh out some of the very worthwhile exhibits- and, who knows, maybe I can help create a Cake Ladies exhibit one day.

NOLA Dispatch Part II: Edible Schoolyard New Orleans

I also had the opportunity this week to visit Samuel J. Green Charter School, the home of The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans. ESY NOLA's website explains that:
based on the original Edible Schoolyard founded in Berkeley, California by chef and food education activist Alice Waters, ESY NOLA provides students with engaging hands-on learning experiences through weekly gardening and cooking classes and school-based seasonal events that promote the food traditions of New Orleans. Students in grades K-8 participate in lessons that reinforce classroom coursework and core subjects (science, social studies, language, and math). At the Edible Schoolyard, the garden and kitchen are interactive venues where textbook lessons come to life. Through these experiences, students become stewards or our land and natural resources, and discover that teamwork yields genuine benefits in the garden, kitchen, and in life.

The work of teaching the connections between growing food, cooking fresh food, and preserving cultural food traditions is important everywhere, but couldn't be more critical in this city where most residents do not have access to supermarkets, and where, since Katrina, and now the BP disaster, residents are justifiably worried about the quality of their air, water, and soil.

The garden at Samuel Green.

A bower laden with grapevines frames the entrance from the school building into the garden.

Garden teacher Rahn Broady teaches students how to grow food as a part of the school's math, science, social studies and language curricula.

The lush demonstration garden at Samuel J. Green is planted in sunflowers, eggplant, garlic, canteloupe, basil, perennials, zinnias, strawberries, and okra, among many other crops. The harvest is used in the Edible Kitchen, where Chef April Neujean teaches students how to prepare culturally appropriate, nutritional dishes from the yield. April was also recently chosen to help Michelle Obama design the "Chefs Move to Schools" initiative. The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans is one example of how this resilient and beautiful city is empowering itself towards food security in the face of uncertainty, and serves as a model for other communities to do the same.

NOLA Dispatch Part I: Buttermilk Drop Bakery

New Orleans, Louisiana, has a special hold on my heart, and it's going to be hard to leave. I've been here since Tuesday, chronicling the lives and recipes of Southern Cake Ladies for my forthcoming book from Lark Books. The journey here was amazing, and I feel so lucky to get to travel the south this summer and document the people, places, and foodways that I love.

(view from the West Bank of the NOLA skyline far in the distance)

I've also gotten to relax a little bit with friends- Elyse has a serious kiddy pool in her backyard, and the Cake Cafe is always a welcoming and delicious place to hang out. Spending time with beautiful friends, old and new, have made my visit lovely.
But, lest you think that the past week of my magical Cake Ladies journey has solely consisted of lounging in kiddy pools, eating pastries in various New Orleans coffeeshops and watching the World Cup at the Lost Love Lounge...

(ahem, for example)

...I bring you this review of the Buttermilk Drop Bakery!

The Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Cafe is a busy, bustling bakery at the corner of St. Bernard and Dorgenois Streets, in the Gentilly/7th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. last year, owner Dwight Henry closed Henry's, his well-loved bakery on St. Claude, and opened Buttermilk Drop on Dorgenois with the same crew. Dwight's an interesting dude: in addition to owning a kick-ass bakery, he's also working on a movie, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," described as "an epic comedy, where a ferocious ten-year-old girl refuses to evacuate her home in the Louisiana Delta without her dying father as the Southern Apocalypse descends upon them." Find out more about the movie, and the grassroots film army Court 13, here.

Dwight Henry, Owner of the Buttermilk Drop Bakery.

Yesterday, I bought a half a dozen Buttermilk Drops, and they were hot out of the fryer. I ate two right away, gave the rest to my friends, and an hour later I was wishing I had bought more. I went back today, bought more, and they're gone too. Here's a picture of the last one before I ate it:

The Buttermilk Drops were so freaking good that I'm having a hard time describing them, but Elyse summed it up perfectly when she said, "they're crunchy and tender in all the right places." And I would add to that, perfectly fried, perfectly sweet on the outside and perfectly not-too-sweet on the inside. Damn.
Dwight makes 30 different flavors of King Cake during the Mardi Gras season, and he claims they are the best in town. If the doughnuts are any indication, I'm inclined to believe him. Buttermilk Drop Bakery also serves breakfast and lunch, and various pastries in addition to their doughnuts. Buttermilk Drop Bakery is located at 1781 N. Dorgenois in the 7th Ward, and the phone number is: (504) 252-4538.

Oh, and they also sell Sno-Balls:

And here's some sage advice from another New Orleans bakery, Adrian's: