“Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel.”
- James Taylor, “Shower the People”
We saw ourselves in one another. Alice Weiss, a fierce fighter, moved to New Orleans in the 1970s to work as a civil rights attorney for the ACLU. I pack a goodly dose of Scandinavian, and Alice once told me she could envision my face on the front of a Viking warship, leading warriors into battle.
Last year on my birthday Alice was given a death sentence via leukemia: Six to 12 months. She decided to pursue a stem cell transplant at M.D. Anderson. Days before Alice was to leave, another of our neighbors, Jennifer John, and I took Alice to Costera for her 78th birthday. It was our intention to stuff her to the gills to fortify her for battle.
The dining room is richly inviting with soft, natural light falling upon burnished leather and metal, deep sea foam walls and natural wood surfaces. Alice looked radiant in the light, basking in our attention as we lavished foods upon her: pan con tomate; shrimp and leek stuffed mushrooms; salad with Manchego, radish, almonds and citrus; roasted cauliflower with pickled raisins and hazelnuts; roasted mushrooms with warm egg yolk; jamón ibérico with almonds; crispy veal sweetbreads with lemon, capers and Romesco; seared duck with charred radicchio. We finished the meal with an ethereal cheesecake.
Alice felt loved. She called me from Houston six weeks later to let me know she was coming home, having decided to forego the stem cell transplant because the wiping away of her immune system would probably kill her, both for the physical toll it would take and the isolation in which she would be required to live. A creature like Alice Weiss dies if left alone in the dark. Since she was going to die anyway she decided to it would be in the company of the loving community of our Uptown neighborhood where she lived with her adoring husband, Marc.
We felt honored by her choice.
I brought Alice with me when business took me to Old Town Slidell. As she hailed from a family of European Jews, including some who were persecuted by the Nazis, Alice was thrilled to find in an antique store a globe depicting the world as it was immediately following World War II, the mountains of the USSR depicted in bas-relief.
We sat on the open back porch at Palmetto’s viewing lush Bayou Bonfouca through cypress tress heavily draped in moss. We drank glasses of rosé and indulged in cups of rich lobster bisque; oysters bathed in spinach cream sauce then broiled; and fried artichoke hearts with remoulade sauce for dipping.
Alice repeatedly took deep, luxurious breaths of the fresh bayou air, delighting in the crisp, vegetal fall essence.
It was a good day, one that reinforced in me the unifying power of the table and how sharing a fine meal with a friend has the power to elevate all above their circumstances, however painful they may be.
In the following weeks we shared more meals, including a Christmas Eve/Chanukah dinner with our families. Each time we gathered we were elevated beyond the obvious: Alice was dying, fast.
We lost her on January 29, 2020. I was holding on to her arm and Marc and I were sharing fierce and funny Alice stories when she slipped away.
Life is fleeting and precious. Meals shared make for beautiful memories. As we begin anew with spring, take extra care to love your people, forgive past misdeeds and take the time to breathe in the beauty around you. It is there.
Chef Jeff Mattia recently opened Pyre Provisions, fusing classic steakhouse and rustic barbeque techniques. The menu includes shareable plates and salads including smoked duck hummus made from slow-cooked duck legs and a house-made hummus. Happy Hour is a great time to try something new. Check it out Tuesdays-Fridays, 3-6 p.m. for specials on wine, beer and daiquiris, and 3-5 p.m. for specials on small plates.
Costera, 4938 Prytania St., 302-2332, CosteraRestaurant.com
Palmettos on the Bayou, 1901 Bayou Lane, Slidell, (985) 643-0050, PalmettosRestaurant.com
Pyre Provisions, 70437 Highway 21, Covington, (985) 888-6129, PyreRestaurant.com