Give em a nudge…

I love when artisanal producers find a way to urge shoppers to become more than shoppers. One of the possible metrics that may  be added someday to the Farmers Market Metrics program at Farmers Market Coalition is measuring how market shoppers influence their friends shopping and also how they share ideas and tips about local items with other retail outlets. How many times do market shoppers ask their produce manager to stop carrying out of state items and instead stock locally available items during the seasonal high point? How many shoppers are the carriers of information about market items availability for their neighbors and friends?

My guess is plenty…

The Matzo Project uses that same energy to expand their reach across the US of their wonderful crackers.

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How great would it be if markets offered blank cards to their shoppers so they could leave a note and share news of a market offering with their friends and even a few select retail outlets?

 

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St. Joseph’s Day-New Orleans style (March 19)

I thought I would share some pictures uploaded by our recently retired newspaper food editor Judy Walker (seen in one picture in the hat with altar host, Subil Prosper) of her visits to St. Joseph’s Day altars around town. There are also pics of Mardi Gras Indians -taken by local photographer Roy Guste- as St. Joseph’s Day is also a public day for showing off their beadwork and parading.

The holiday is one of my favorites as it is a true New Orleans experience and involves food, superstition (or faith depending on how you look at it),  “visiting” and tradition. Really, this is an extra-extraordinary day among many extraordinary days in New Orleans. The farmers market itself has hosted beautiful altars in years past, courtesy of food maven, media star and Slow Food founder Poppy Tooker. Each item on the altar has meaning, some to honor different saints or the Trinity or local or family traditions.

Fava Beans
The fava bean was the main food that kept families in Sicily alive during the drought. Italians would carry this “lucky bean” with them for good fortune. If you pick up a dried bean from an altar on this day, you will receive good luck all year. I carry one in my wallet.
Fish
The 12 fish represent the 12 apostles.
Breads Shaped into Symbols
Several breads are made that represent both Jesus and St. Joseph. The symbols include ladders, hammers, nails, saws, lilies, and a staff for St. Joseph; and crosses, palms and wreaths (for the crown of thorns) for Jesus.
Olive Oil and Wine
These serve as a reminder of the many vineyards and orchards in Sicily.
The altar is broken up on St. Joseph’s day and food and donations are then distributed to the poor.

March 19th marks the Catholic celebration of St. Josephs Day where Catholic New Orleanians construct elaborate altars in honor of this saint. The tradition, commemorating the relief St. Joseph provided during a famine in Sicily, began in the late 1800’s when Sicilian immigrants settled in New Orleans. Altars are found at local New Orleans churches, especially those with strong Italian roots, but they are also constructed in private homes, halls, Italian restaurants, and public spaces in different communities throughout the city. If you happen to see a fresh green branch over a local’s doorway, it means you’re invited to participate in the altar ceremony and to share the food.

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I’ve also heard raves from friends about this altar.

New Orleans had a large influx of Sicilians in the 19th century who celebrate their patron saint but it is also an important day for the Mardi Gras Indians for more obscure reasons. The Indians activities defy easy description as do their amazing handmade regalia, stitched by the wearers themselves on many a night after getting off their day job. The Indians’s traditions can be viewed at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme and if you are lucky to be in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday and around St. Joseph’s Day or on the Sunday before, you can view these amazing artists on the streets of New Orleans.

this excerpt gives one explanation:

St. Joseph’s Night with the Wild Indians is not an experience to be taken lightly in any measure. It’s the living manifestation of an age-old ritual, preserved and practiced by the descendants of the African slaves, which goes back to the perambulating societies of West Africa and their call-and-response chants, the secret societies of masked warriors which are common to both African and native American cultures, and the unsanctioned moonlight ceremonies conducted by African slaves under pain of death on the plantations of the American South.

 

photo by Roy Guste

photo by Roy Guste

Joyce Montana (Widow of Big Chief Tootie Montana) and son Darryl Montana. photo by Roy Guste

Joyce Montana (Widow of Big Chief Tootie Montana) and son Darryl Montana. Photo by Roy Guste

 

First Taste

Book Review: Louisiana Eats

13328918-mmmainFull disclosure: Poppy is my pal. She is someone who calls me up and then shows up, with a gift, thoughtful questions and always hilarious stories.
What made me a fan of hers early on was her razor-sharp take on people and situations, sometimes devastatingly so. Yet she is enormously kind and open to those people who ring true. No one that receives her wrath  is ever underserving. If they get it, they usually have made one of two unforgivable sins: either they underestimated HER or they underestimated her city, her state or her people.

Another disclosure: I believe Poppy deserves as much credit as anyone in my region for rebuilding the New Orleans food system after the federal levee breaks in 2005. Too many stories to tell here, but come on over and if you care, I’ll tell you some of them over a drink. Or two. There are a lot of them to tell. Some of them are funny, some are sweet, some even a bit crazy.

These two points are linked since her life’s work is to actively promote entrepreneurs and real ideas that will build (or rebuild when necessary) the culture of her place, Louisiana. In doing that work, she extended her range to all authentic food systems across the globe through her Slow Food International connection that  meant that New Orleans gained the Slow Food vibe from the mid 1990s on.
Let me also say that most of the SFUSA folks understand her range, giving her much early credit for shaping the U.S. work that she built with others-that is, until she had to unleash her wrath on previous Slow Food leadership over the (mis) direction of a crucial program that she had helped shepherd. Luckily, she and SF made up.
Remember, I warned you that she is a fierce opponent when she feels it’s necessary.

When she started the Louisiana Eats show, she had already done a great deal of writing and television. Her talents really came to light when she began this show; her intense enjoyment and knowledge of the people and history of food and culture through one-on-one conversations on our local NPR station and now in this book. I remember a glorious Saturday morning on Louisiana Eats when she and Rien Fertel talked about praline sellers and another when she talked with Miss Linda Green, The Yakamein lady, and another when she talked with French bread baker John Gendusa among many others. Each time, I would stop what I was doing and literally stand there and listen intently to her intricate questions and always learn something. And her interaction with the dean of New Orleans Creole food, Leah Chase which is always touching and amazing since you get to hear two chefs with great respect for each other just banter and share stories.  And when she has on young activists or farmers (like Nick Usner who is in the book), you can hear the hope in her voice for the new energy coming along…
So this book is a reminder of many lovely Saturdays  and is indicative of the tone that I myself have adopted for much of my food activism: wild enthusiasm, critical assessment and a deep appreciation of the stories and background of those unique people that tell of our culture and food. Because of her, I know to seek them out, and maybe I’ll find some new folks from those Poppy has brought to us on her show and in this book. The book itself (lovely photos and recipes) is informative and a great companion to her show and I know that it will stand the test of time as a true record of some of the people that we have in our world. And of my pal who contributes so much to our place.

<a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/635646-blue-collar-mind”>View all my reviews</a>