Profile – A Very Robertson Christmas in Monroe
I’ve heard that Phil Robertson, pater familias to the Robertson clan of the hugely popular A&E series, “Duck Dynasty,” was so good a quarterback at Louisiana Tech that his teammate, some guy named Terry Bradshaw, constantly warmed the bench while Robertson took the field. Luckily for Bradshaw, the fall season of football interfered with duck hunting season and Robertson couldn’t let that happen. He left the team.
This family has become millionaire tycoons by making duck calls. Their life is chronicled in a hilarious A&E series that I am proud to call one of my guilty pleasures. You simply can’t help but love this family even as their foibles and expressions send you into gales of laughter. These fellows were raised living close to the land and nature, are consummate hunters and gamesmen, all sporting Charlton Heston-as-Moses-length beards and knit caps over flowing locks. “You’re only a man if you have a long beard,” they say.
There’s Uncle Si, a Vietnam veteran whose supposed exploits in the war have grown leaps and bounds since his discharge – one claim was to have been a surfing champion. The CEO of Duck Commander is Phil’s son Willie. Willie tired of his brother Jase and Uncle Si taking ping-pong breaks while at work, shooting hoops and wearing combat-like hunting garb on the job. When he insisted they all wear uniforms and get rid of the hoops, the boys went on strike picketing outside Duck Commander headquarters. Mama Kay stepped in and made the boys behave and resolve their differences. Jase and his wife Missy, who live in a developed subdivision constantly get into trouble because Jase likes woodfires and brought chickens to his yard. They were called before the committee overseeing the rules where Jase made a profound speech that everyone was different, this was America and he had the right to do what he wanted on his own property – then he was shown the covenant he had signed when he moved in: “They got me,” he said, proudly redneck by his admission.
I had relatives who moved from New Orleans to a new subdivision years ago – one of them immediately sank into depression. Then I learned they couldn’t do this or that with the property they bought because they had signed, “The Covenant.” When I learned this, sitting in their backyard, after having a couple of Abitas, I spouted, “What do they want to do, have everybody wear beige and be homogenous?” and began mockingly saying “The Covenant” a la Ralph Kramden. I told my depressed relative that he needed to return to New Orleans for some diversity, hear someone yell, “Hey Johnny, where’yat!” I identified with Jase, and that made me wonder: Am I really a redneck at heart?
One night the boys, sans Willie, decided that the best frogs that could be found for Mama Kay’s cooking were in the pond in the middle of the elite country club golf club to which Willie belonged. They were caught by security, and Willie arrived to pick them up wearing his robe, pajamas, boots and cap in the middle of the night.
Each episode ends with the family, including wives and children, gathered around a dinner table. “Bow ‘em,” Phil will tell them, and obediently they all comply while he thanks God for their many blessings. Their humor, fun and sense of family may explain the soaring success of the series.
On Dec. 14 the Downtown River Market in Monroe will hold A Very Merry Commander Christmas, replete with live music, a Duck Commander Derby and a flotilla filled with the stars of “Duck Dynasty.”
River Market, 316 South Grand, Monroe, (318) 807-9985.
Profile – THE VOLUMES OF YERBY
Older, vintage edition books make wonderful Christmas presents, especially if you find them with original intact dust covers. Here’s an author I’d like to find under my tree this year.
Author Frank Yerby was born in Georgia and taught briefly at Southern University in Baton Rouge. I first became acquainted with him among the cool moss green walls of my great-aunt’s room in the old Bordelonville farmhouse that was lined with books and cooly shaded by trees. Still in my pre-adolescent years in the ‘60s, I was drawn to Yerby’s books because of the beautiful dustcovers – columed plantation homes with handsome men in cravats and damsels in bright hoops skirts and curls. After being told I was far too young to read his books, my aunt told me what a fine writer he was and started a litany of his titles that sounded like music to me: The Foxes of Harrow; The Vixens; Gillian; Jarrett’s Jade; Floodtide. I forgot all about him until a recent sleepless Saturday night when I saw that the movie The Foxes of Harrow was being shown. I couldn’t remember for the life of me why it was so important that I watch it, until I saw in the credits that it was based on Yerby’s book. Suddenly I was 8 or 9 years old again, back in Bordelonville, remembering my aunt’s words.
Yerby was biracial, and upon publication of his first novel, The Foxes of Harrow in 1946, he became the first black person to ever have a best-selling book. He was also the first black to sell his novel to be made into an excellent film a year later, starring Maureen O’Hara as the proud Odalie and Rex Harrison as the Irishman Stephen Fox. The novel begins in 1827 with the gambler Fox walking the plank from a paddlewheeler to wait on a sandbar mid-Mississippi River because he cheated at cards, and it takes you through his rise as a sugar cane plantation baron to the downfall of New Orleans in the Civil War. Like its predecessor, The Vixens is set in New Orleans and nearby plantation land and is a vividly beautiful story of the true yet forbidden love between Denise Lascals and Laird Fournois during Reconstruction. Yerby writes exquisitely of romance, love and the beauty – and ugliness – of New Orleans and Louisiana, yet his works also have a savage realism about them like a Martin Scorsese film. His historical novels were rigorously researched; I found his details about the events depicted during the story historically accurate. There’s a regrettable tendency by some to immediately decry novels set on Southern plantations as “whitewashes of slavery.” This can’t be said of Yerby. Scenes of a slave girl running to the banks of a spring-swollen Mississippi River to throw her newborn into the water because she doesn’t want him be a slave and the cruel slaughter of blacks by the Knights of the White Camellia near Cloutierville speak volumes. His words still remain balanced in fairness to both races. Yerby did experience criticism for not being harsh enough about slavery; to me, he made his statement in images and action, not diatribes.
Yerby left the United States for Madrid in the 1950s because of racial inequality. There he died at age 75 of congestive heart failure, but not before he had written more than 30 books, many set in the South.
In the prologue to Reconstruction-set book, The Vixens, Yerby writes:
“When it was over, it was not really over, and that was the trouble … for they could feel the tiredness down in the marrow of their bones: they, the brave, the honorable, the decent on both sides …but when they laid down their arms and went home … the men of dishonor took over … men respected by the men who had done the fighting…for their creatures were the Carpetbagger and the Scallawag, the White Leaguer and the Kluxer. And if one was a thief, the other was a murdere r…”
With such a paucity of fine modern fiction these days, I’m glad I’m now old enough to read his books.
Cause to Celebrate – Holiday Food for the Soul in Gueydan
The Gueydan Museum is an off-the-beaten path of a gem, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and housed in a lovely Romanesque building built at the turn of the 19th century. The town itself was founded by Jean Pierre Gueydan, who was born high in the French Alps town of St. Bonnet and managed to get himself arrested twice during the Civil War by first the Confederate and then Union armies. He was supposedly released by the Confederates because he never relinquished his French citizenship. He drew settlers to the area from the Midwest by distributing brochures that described his town and the surrounding parishes as the “Holland of America.” The museum contains a collection of rare photographs and cultural treasures from the area, with actual French antiques donated by the descendants of Monsieur Gueydan himself.
During the months of November and December, the museum will provide ample visual beauty with two temporary exhibits in addition to its fascinating permanent repertoire of artifacts. In November, “Unique Beauty” displays the shutterbug expressions of the very talented Lafayette Photographic Society. When December glides in and it’s almost time for Papa Noel to guide his team of gators down the bayou in a pirogue, the museum offers “Noel au Musee,” which could be described as an Alpine forest of Christmas trees beautifully decorated by the various churches, civic organizations and youth groups dwelling nearby.
Speaking of Tannenbaums, one permanent exhibit there highlights an interesting facet to the history of the Gueydan area. If you’re strolling amid the gallery of Christmas trees, you might wander over to the displayed leather coat that belonged to a German POW who sat out World War II in the Gueydan-Kaplan area. Louisiana was among the 40-plus states designated to house captured Third Reich soldiers, with Acadiana parishes holding the majority of prisoners. Surrounded by barbed wire and overseen by a watchtower, the POW camp in Kaplan followed the rules of the Geneva Convention by providing housing similar to the Germans’ own Army barracks, i.e. 40 square feet for every enlisted man and three times that for officers. They were also paid American military wages in accordance with the Geneva Convention rules; ironically, many of the prisoners of war were put to work on farms and in mills to replace the American men sent overseas to fight. When the war ended, many of the prisoners never returned to Deutschland, but remained forever in Acadie.
Gueydan Museum, 212 Main St., Gueydan, (337) 536-0443.
Fork in the Road Mouton et Maman dans Lafayette
Lafayette is a joyously beautiful place to be for a Joyeux Noel. Houses, museums, ancient trees, churches and buildings are dazzling in the bejeweled glow of thousands of Christmas lights that shout joy into the night sky. The Alexandre Mouton House and its museum could never be accused of Scrooge-dom during the holiday season. Alexandre Mouton, who founded Lafayette, built it as a “maison Dimanche,” or Sunday house. Flavored a little with Acadian architecture, the older section is filled with artifacts belonging to the first settlers; the main museum contains Civil War-era antiques and a Mardi Gras exhibit. Each Christmas, local florists and designers fill the venerable walls with Christmas decorations.
Since you’re in the neighborhood, and it’s no doubt a bit chilly, stopping at La Cuisine de Maman at Vermilionville will fortify you. One of the best Christmas dinners I had in the home of a family member was chicken and andouille gumbo with potato salad. At this proudly Creole-Cajun eatery, this delicious gumbo, with plentiful chicken and sausage that’s simmered in a dark roux along with the Cajun holy trinity of bell pepper, onions and celery, can be partaken of with a side order of creamy salade de patate.
The patates served here are no wet noodles; stuffed with either crawfish etouffee, shrimp etouffee, or the Creole stuffing made with sausage, tasso or bacon, they’ll warm both heart and tummy.
Alexandre Mouton House, 1122 Lafayette St., Lafayette, (337) 234-2208
Le Cuisine de Maman at Vermilionville, 300 Fisher Road, Lafayette, (337) 205-9899.
BATON ROUGE/PLANTATION COUNTRY
Worth Watching – Greetings from the Rouths of the South
Wander into a Barnes and Noble at Christmastime and there among the stacks of sublimely beautiful Christmas cards for sale, you will see the Routh Collection of Greeting Cards. Here, you find Christmas in Louisiana.
Beautifully illustrated, brimming with lovely vivid color and much humor, I ask you to consider the following themes:
LSU Christmas Victory Gumbo: A gargantuan Mike the Tiger in Santa garb looms over Death Valley, stirring the gumbo filling the stadium with a paddle. Clinging to the walls are the woebegone SEC mascots: Uga, Smokey, Florida Gator, Auburn’s Tiger and Nick Saban’s elephant, among others.
Cajun Band Pier Party Christmas: Deck the docks with garlands of swamp greenery and a dose of Christmas cheer! In this festive scene, depicted is a trio of unlikely musician friends: A toothy, smirking alligator strums an upright bass as he gazes into the blue bayou; accompanying him is a blue crab as an accordion virtuoso and a whimsical crawfish playing the fiddle.
LSU Cat in a Hat: Dr. Seuss may have given us a beloved Christmas hero in the form of the grinch, but when it comes to The Cat in a Hat, we all know that honor rightfully belongs to LSU’s own Mike the Tiger.
Santa’s Bayou Trek: Here, Santa makes his annual “Night Before Christmas” trek up the bayou in a pirogue. He is guided by a team of alligators, and crawfish helpers stand by to help him deliver his presents.
As lagniappe, a delicious Louisiana recipe is printed on the back of each card, not without some benefit to my family. My cousin Marilyn, who lives in Bordelonville, was asked by her great-granddaughters to help fix a special Louisiana dish for a 4-H competition. She kept one of the Routh cards a family member sent her and used the recipe on the back to make pralines. Not only did the girls win the competition, but they also advanced to regionals.
The Routh Collection was born 19 years ago when artist Craig Routh and his wife, Leslie, decided to depict the joy of life found in droves here in Louisiana and Texas. Craig’s father, Stan Routh, an award-winning artist like his son, joined forces with the Collection, making the business completely family-operated and -created. You can thank Leslie for the delicious recipes on the back.
Growing up Catholic, my mother always selected religious themes when she sent Christmas cards to our family and friends. From time to time, I’ve kept this tradition, but more in the past than recently. I admit to once having a twinge of guilt when I didn’t choose a religious theme, but guilt was erased when I stumbled upon the humorous Routh Collection. Once I was on a mission to read the Bible from beginning to end. I came to a part in the Old Testament when the terrified, outnumbered Israelites were going to face a huge powerful army that would surely annihilate them. In the night, however, God sent forth the sounds of thousands of thundering horses’ hooves near the enemy’s camp. The soldiers were so terrified that the Israelites had such reinforcements that they turned tail and fled into the night, never to return. I remember I put the Good Book down and laughed out loud as I considered the Almighty as a prankster. Humor can also have a spark of the divine.
GREATER NEW ORLEANS
Fork in the Road Homage to Fromage in New Orleans
St. James Cheese Company is described by founders Richard and Danielle Sutton as a “playground” for cheese neophytes as well as seasoned aficionados.
The Suttons claim they are obsessed with cheese, something I completely understand. They returned to beaten and battered New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and opened their cheese shop in 2006 against the better advice of family and friends. They named the shop St. James as an homage to both their past and their future – both launched their careers as “cheesemongers” at the 200-year-old cheese shop Paxton and Whitfield in the St. James section of London.
The Suttons are generous to share their expertise when it comes to serving and choosing cheeses and drink pairings. They also offer Cheese School, where appropriate cheeses are paired with a selected beverage; most recently Lazy Magnolia beer was their libation of choice.
The Suttons say that when selecting cheeses, the rules are more laid-back than you might think. It’s most sage to buy cheese just a few days before you’re going to eat it, and buy large to stay fresher longer. To ensure the cheese breathes without drying out, don’t store it in plastic wrap but use cheese or wax paper, and place it in a sealed plastic box in the refrigerator. Cheese should be served at room temperature with mildly flavored crackers, fruits that are a tad acidic and fresh artisan breads. The Suttons point out the seasonal characteristics of cheeses, wherein the flavor is influenced by whatever the goat or cow is eating at a certain time of year. The spring grass eaten by goats produces lush delicious cheese redolent of fresh pasture. It isn’t a stupid question to ask a cheesemonger what cheese is in season.
The cheeses offered here are mouthwatering mélanges of flavors with layers like fine wines. Cashel Blue from Ireland has a creamy texture with chocolate overtones deliciously paired with Sauternes, Gewürztraminers and Vouvrays. Midnight Moon, hard as gouda, bursts with a sweet, creamy burnt caramel flavor that goes perfectly with either a Rosé or cabernet sauvignon. Nord Hollander has a savory sweet flavor that combines the taste of sea salt and butterscotch, with a bit of a crunch to it. Scotch, amber ales, shiraz or riesling are wonderful complements.
At the St. James Cheese Company, you have the opportunity to complete your party feast and buy some delicious gifts in the form of cheeses, cheese gift boxes or simply a ticket to a night of Cheese School. And don’t forget about choosing lunch from their sandwich menu.
A warm, ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich made with sharpest of cheddar cheese never seemed a poor man’s supper to me, but here they take grilled cheese sandwiches to the next level. The Gruyere Sandwich, made with aged Swiss gruyere and caramelized onions, is grilled on country-rough multigrain bread. A Francophile version of the ham-and-Swiss poor boy, the Brie de Meau sandwich, has French jambon and the creaminess of Brie de Meau fromage resting within a crusty and buttery baguette. There’s also the Mozzarella Cheese sandwich, Mama Mia! Mozzarella cheese grilled on ciabatta bread along with Fra Mani Salami and a basil pesto that’s made on the premises.
St. James Cheese Company, 5004 Prytania St., New Orleans, (504) 899-4737.