Once Upon A Frittata, 19 years ago, I gave up a job I loved in Florida and followed a boy to New Orleans.
They call it the Big Easy. But it wasn’t.
I was officially initiated into Louisiana summer by having the Florida orange juice sweat right out of me. You eventually get used to sweating pretty much all the time in Louisiana. I found myself in the delirium of constant humidity and total dehydration, so I quickly traded Gatorade for Abita Amber.
Lose The Blues
Then I tasted my first boudin at a local blues festival, and thus began our long and tawdry affair. Also ate my first (and last) fried Oreo on a stick that day. I remember being amused at the creativity of what the people of Louisiana can do with a deep fryer. Disgusting, but charming. For those who don’t know what boudin is, don’t ask.
My favorite boudin is made in a town that until recently I seriously thought was called Crotch Springs (Krotz Springs as it turned out, lol).
The Other Girl
In August of 2005, the boy and I split up because another girl came along. Her name was Katrina. She showed up in the middle of the night and outstayed her welcome.
On August 28, 2005 around 3pm I was getting a pedicure. By that time the next day the entire city of New Orleans was underwater, I was trapped in my neighborhood and would not see electricity again for 21 days. Katrina and the weeks of debris cleanup she left in her wake shed a spotlight on the strength of human relationships. They were either forged solid like iron from the shared experience or they receded like the flood waters leaving nothing but rot and mold behind. But it showed me the true spirit of resilience and what can be accomplished when people put all else aside and work together.
I want to send a forever thank you to the first responders who were the bravest heroes in those dark days and who continue to serve selflessly.
One of the things I’ll always remember about surviving Hurricane Katrina was how it helped me appreciate the power of the church community. Our government was sluggish and ineffective at responding (it WAS unprecedented and there was essentially zero time for preparation). The first humans who made a real difference as cleanup began were church volunteers. Not from local churches. People from congregations far and wide.
I was stunned when someone stopped to help me drag a tree out of my yard and told me that his group was from Middlesex County Massachusetts. That’s the county that I grew up in. I realized that church is what community and humanity is all about. I was often tearful to see the outpouring of genuine kindness and selflessness of so many who chose to march into that madness instead of just praying from far away.
I spent the next few years, which I affectionately refer to as “the winter of my life”, in the pharmaceutical industry. It was a hard time. I was pretty much alone and knew literally no one outside of the job. Louisiana is the most local place you’ll ever try to live. If you didn’t grow up their and go to high school there, it is REALLY hard to fit in.
This is not to suggest that the people of Louisiana are not friendly or welcoming. They just have really big circles already. Strong traditions. Long histories. It’s like walking onto the set of the latest Harry Potter movie and someone has to try to explain Hogwarts and Muggles to you, meanwhile a mad game of Quidditch is going on and your supposed to catch the Golden Snitch.
Having few human friends, I found companionship with the birds. I, unintentionally, bought a house in a neighborhood that was a bird sanctuary. The house had a bird feeder out front. I filled it. I watched. Then I got curious. Then I got the essential beginner’s book – “Beginner’s Guide to Birds – Eastern Region”. Identified my first Eastern Bluebird.
I remember flipping through that book and seeing the Painted Bunting and thinking “No way. There is just no freaking way that THAT bird could show up at my feeder.” Less than 24 hours later it did.
The next book added to my shelf was the Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible. I read that the chickadee is pretty bold and can be tamed to land in your hand. So I tried it. And it worked. And for a few weeks, every day, I would sit on my porch and my little black and white companion would land in my palm to grab the luscious meal worms I was offering.
It gave me comfort because it was a cousin to the Black Capped Chickadee, the state bird of Massachusetts, which I knew because I’d had to memorize that fact in grade school. And thus began what has become a true joy and passion – birding!! Click here to check out the Bird page on Frittata for more feathered friend photos!
Decade of Decadence
Eventually I found another boy and spent the next decade making the best of what life in New Orleans offers until that, too, ran it’s course. In other words, I ate a shit ton of food. And I drank a shit ton of booze. In fact, most of my good memories of life in Louisiana revolve pretty much entirely around either birds or food (yes, I eventually made some great friends but we were always eating and drinking).
My favorite food festival is Greek Fest which takes place every Memorial Day weekend. Let me tell you – the Greeks and the New Orleanians totally understand how to put on a massive food festival (also the Germans – see my Oktoberfest video at the end).
I am also somewhat famous for my tour of local hot dog stands across Louisiana and Mississippi.
There is a special place in my heart for a Louisiana crawfish boil. It’s where I fit in. It’s where I felt like I belonged. Celebratory food gatherings in Louisiana had been a challenge for me. These people eat seafood on Thanksgiving! They put oysters in their stuffing! I was horrified. I’m a New England girl through and through. I nearly cried the first time I survived a N’Awlins Thanksgiving meal that had no turkey or mashed potatoes at all.
But crawfish made sense to me! They looked like little lobsters! Finally I recognized something on my plate. And there was cold beer. Camaraderie. Hours of grazing. More cold beer. Long, hot (sweaty) afternoons. Days of garlic breath. For the record, my step son Will is unquestioningly the absolute best boil master. I drool whenever I see pictures of crawfish on Facebook.
Time To Geaux
After nearly 20 years in New Orleans, I, like Katrina, had outstayed my welcome. It was time to move on. Louisiana threw me quite a going away party hosted by a girl named Ida who showed up 16 years to the day after that other bitch. Consequently, I hope that my extensive knowledge of how to operate and maintain a gas powered generator is NEVER needed again. This time, I was prepared. Not only did I evacuate to higher ground, I had the proper evacuation supplies – wine, gourmet meats and cheeses, sushi and whipped cream.
I survived Ida. After that I put my house on the market and sold pretty much everything I own. I did not leave like the poem that says “leave nothing but footprints”. I left my shit all over that state.
I had lived in 6 different places during my 20 years in New Orleans. In general, I am not a pack rat. That said, I am still reeling at how much stuff (clothes and shoes) one woman can accumulate. As a result I did a cleanse to get the voodoo out of my system and rid myself of nearly every possession I owned.
My wake is a trail of Frittata crumbs in the form of the various women who are wearing fabulous dresses and shoes that carry my spirit. (Matter of fact – If you check out this link, you might even find some last minute $5 deals from my fabulous closet!) Homes that bear my artwork. Bird feeders that nourish my feathered Louisiana friends. Books with inscriptions from me that readers haven’t found yet. Pots that have proper turkey residue baked in that are now used to cook seafood dressing at Thanksgiving and making gumbo the next day.
The Awakening Begins
So I’m burning the sage sticks now and cleansing my soul of the muddy waters of the mighty Mississippi. As this chapter closes another begins. Follow Frittata because it’s about to get real.
Louisiana: Au revoir mon ami, laissez bon temps rouler!
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