Friday, December 12, 2014

MORE OF KAREN BOURQUE'S ARTISTRY

On Wednesday, we not only brought home good memories of hanging out in Arnaudville, Louisiana, with Darrell and Karen Bourque, we acquired another glass art piece by Karen, whose work hangs in our Sewanee, Tennessee and New Iberia, Louisiana homes. The latest acquisition is a rendition of the Pickerel Weed, an aquatic plant with brilliant blue flowers, densely clustered on a long spike with heart-shaped leaves, that attracts bees and butterflies.

Karen was inspired to create the stained glass piece using blue dog-toothed amethyst after reading Why Water Plants Don't Drown by Victoria Sullivan and discovering the lovely illustration for the Pickerel Weed rendered by Susan Elliott, artist and co-editor of Pinyon Publishing.

In the text accompanying the glass work, Karen explains that no blue stone felt right for the flowers, so she chose the dog-toothed amethyst to represent them. She attributes qualities of spirituality and contentment to the amethyst and relates that it has calming, protective powers of healing, divine love, and inspiration and that it enhances psychic and creative abilities. We have hung this art that represents "the peace of the perfect peace which was present prior to birth" in the sunroom and can look out and see it each morning at breakfast time.

I always enjoy the texts that accompany Karen's work as they are small inspirational pieces she chooses to use in her interpretations of objects in nature and the personalities who commission the work, as well as to foster creativity in those who acquire the glass work. She is married to the poet Darrell Bourque, and they're well suited to each other because she matches his gift for writing poetry with her visual poems in glass.

Karen has done glass pieces for many homes throughout Acadiana, for the Louisiana Book Festival, for the Ernest Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and other art centers. Much of her work focuses on the natural world and spirituality—on those images that give meaning and harmony to human experience.

We now have five of Karen's glass pieces, three of which are at Sewanee. One of the more recent pieces is a rendition of a porch that was photographed and appeared on the cover of Porch Posts, a collection of essays and stories that I co-authored with Janet Faulk this year. I will be autographing this book at A&E Gallery in New Iberia Saturday, Dec. 13, 1 - 3 p.m., along with Vickie Sullivan who is debuting her sequel to the speculative novel Adoption entitled Rogue Genes.

Porch Posts' cover is Karen's interpretation of a painting done by the late Elmore Morgan, Jr. which shows the bare outlines of a porch open to the air that might have been a place to sit and watch the sunset and fireflies winking on a summer night.

Karen handles commissions for glass work created in her studio in Church Point, Louisiana, and if you're interested in her work, she can be reached at 337-684-3542 or 337-351-2219.

Photograph of the Pickerel Weed by Victoria I. Sullivan, author of Why Water Plants Don't Drown, Adoption, and Rogue Genes.
  



Thursday, December 11, 2014

"HANGING OUT" IN ARNAUDVILLE

The Poets
Yesterday morning, we took a ride over the "prairie" in St. Landry parish to have lunch in Arnaudville with our good friends, Darrell
and Karen Bourque. It was a chilly December day but the sun was out and as we drove into the small town of 1400 residents, we felt excited to be meeting with our old friends and visiting a town that has become a buzzing haven for writers, artists, musicians, and chefs. Arnaudville has gained recognition as the hub of the French cultural renaissance; in fact, the town received the award of "Cultural Economy Hero of the Year" from the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation in 2013.

We were also excited to be picking up a piece of glass art created by Karen, who had done a wonderful rendering of the pickerel weed, inspired by drawings she had seen of Susan Elliott's art in Vickie Sullivan's book, Why Water Plants Don't Drown, a naturalist's guide to aquatic plants. And, of course, Darrell and I had a chance to "talk poetry." He's a former Poet Laureate of Louisiana and winner of the "Louisiana Writer of the Year Award" presented at the Louisiana Book Festival this year.

The Artist
Both Darrell and Karen, native south Louisianans, contribute much to the Arts and also support writers, artists, and musicians throughout the State. Darrell has become fascinated with, and actively involved in, memorializing Amédé Ardoin, the legendary Cajun accordionist. The Amédé Ardoin Project is raising money to build a public statue in honor of the musician, and an estimated $30,000 to $60,000 is needed for a bronze statue.

Darrell has already memorialized Ardoin with his last book of 14 poems entitled If You Abandon Me, and he's busy working on another book that will include the Amédé poems and poems about other famous Cajun musicians of Louisiana.

We enjoyed lunch at the Little Big Cup restaurant on the banks of Bayou Fusilier, and Darrell took us on a tour of several cottages recently moved into Arnaudville that will be available for artists, writers, and musicians who apply for a few months' stay in the village so they can work on their various projects. He was inspired to take us on the tour because I had said how great it would be to have writing space in a tiny house in an out-of-the-way place like Arnaudville. The cottages near the center of town are situated on the banks of Bayou Fusilier, a bayou that forms a junction with Bayou Teche. Darrell said that artists from around the world visit the area, and some of them take up residence after tasting our Louisiana bayou waters.

We missed the Fire and Water Rural Arts Celebration that took place at NUNU's, but Darrell took us to this Arts and Culture Collective, site of the recent celebration, to meet George Marks, owner of the old warehouse that houses the artwork, books, and products of regional artists. NUNU's will also be the repository for funds raised for the Amédé Ardoin statue.

Amédé Ardoin's story is a sad song in itself. The famed musician who sang of loneliness and heartbreak, performed at a dance one summer night, and a white woman brought him her handkerchief to wipe his brow during the performance. Following the dance he was run over by prejudiced assailants and injured so badly he could no longer take care of himself. He was committed to the State hospital in Pineville, Louisiana where he died in 1942.

Darrell tells this tragic story in the 14 poems mentioned earlier and was inspired to carry out the project to create a statue in the musician's honor. Any home in south Louisiana (or anywhere else, for that matter) that hosts a party and raises as much as $300 toward the Ardoin project will receive a yard sign that says: "Amédé Ardoin stopped here on his way home."

Naan Oven
Birdhouse
Tower
When we took a walk in the yard around NUNU's with George Marks, I spied a unique clay oven that brought back memories of the ovens that baked our weekly naan when we lived in Iran. The oven was another creation of local artists and was fired up continuously during the Le Feu et L'eau (Fire and Water) Rural Arts Celebration last week. Vickie Sullivan snapped photos of the oven and a yard "totem" topped by a birdhouse made of tile that are displayed on this blog.

(Note: Before we left NUNU's, Darrell told us that George Marks will have a "tiny house" on wheels next door to NUNU's available by the Spring of 2015...hmmmm).


We always come away from a visit with the Bourques inspired to write and to support the Arts and are already planning an early January get-together with this talented couple to celebrate the New Year in bayou country.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE ESSENTIAL LOUISIANA COOKBOOK

Although New Orleans, Louisiana touts its chefs and cuisine as unparalleled in the United States, in the more provincial parishes of Louisiana known as Acadiana where every meal is a celebration, good cooks and cuisine equally abound. "The Berry" (New Iberia) and St. Martinville have their own culinary notables, and Saturday morning, two of these notables, Stanley Dry of New Iberia and Marcelle Bienvenue were in Books Along the Teche bookstore greeting customers. Bienvenue, author of the famed Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux? who now teaches Culinary Arts at Nicholls State University, made a brief visit inside the store while Dry sat at a table on the sidewalk in front of the shop, hawking his new book, The Essential Louisiana Cookbook.

Dry writes the column "Kitchen Gourmet" in Louisiana Life magazine and was former senior editor of Food & Wine magazine before he became a Louisiana transplant who tasted bayou water and ended up becoming a citizen of Teche country. His new cookbook is a handsome volume with photographs by New Orleanian Eugenia Uhl whose work has appeared in Commander's Cookbook for Commander Palace and New Orleans Cooking.

The Essential Louisiana Cookbook features traditional favorites like Chicken and Sausage File Gumbo, Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, Shrimp Sauce Piquante, Red Beans and Rice and other recipes a la Dry, as well as those for non-traditional dishes such as Mushrooms Stuffed with Boudin, Blueberry Clafouti and Satsuma Sorbet—rich culinary dishes that showcase Dry's talents as a food editor and consummate cook.

As Dry writes in the "Author's Note," no single dish in this collection exemplifies the complexities of Louisiana cooking since it is a mixture of influences and ingredients from French, Spanish, African, Native American, Caribbean and German cultures. However, foremost among the favorite recipes for any Louisiana table are those that feature gumbos. Dry comments on the history of this famous dish with the caveat that "trying to sort out the origins and evolution of the dish is highly speculative..." He includes a note about one of the earliest recorded references to gumbo in the memoirs of Pierre Clement de Laussat, French colonial prefect and commissioner for Louisiana, who hosted a Louisiana ball that lasted all night and featured 24 gumbos, eight of which were sea turtle dishes!

Dry knows his food as he has worked in the restaurant and food business for years, including a stint as a cook. While we visited with Dry, he and his friend Alice Burke discussed the merits of the gumbo she had made for her children's Thanksgiving dinner (an essential south Louisiana dish for Thanksgiving tables) which included both duck and oysters, two ingredients Dry mentions in the "Author's Note" that are often combined "from both land and sea." He adds that some cooks include hard-boiled eggs in sausage gumbos and others add quail eggs to versions of this tasty dish.

For the breakfast bunch, a section on Louisiana breakfasts and brunches includes a recipe for sweet potato biscuits that should please the palate of gluten-free enthusiasts, along with a dish that Dry says is associated with the Carolina low country, one that uses genuine stone ground grits as an ingredient —Shrimp and Grits. This delicious recipe is followed by another one for seafood and grits, with the note that grits are "no longer reserved for just the breakfast table."


Dry doesn't neglect the famous jambalaya and crawfish pie recipes that have found their way into story and song, or his version of bread pudding, Coconut Bread Pudding With Meringue & Custard Sauce. And if you've worked up an appetite for south Louisiana cuisine after reading this review, drop in at Books Along the Teche, in New Iberia, Louisiana, where signed copies of The Essential Louisiana Cookbook are available. Bon appetit, and Bravo Stanley Dry for this volume that reflects your most creative culinary abilities!