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Now Playing: “When You Get Back” – Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen

I still feel New Orleans in me with a weight similar to a very full belly, a heavy presence that leaves me wondering if it might be embedded in my belly forever. At no other point in my life have 10 days gone by so quickly. Never before have I felt so fulfilled from an amount of work that felt so small, in context. There is a part of me that is New Orleans, an itch I can’t ignore, but can’t yet scratch. I find myself wishing I’d brought more home. The voodoo doll from the French Quarter, cajun seasoning and sliced garlic from the cooking school (the vanilla bean extract was confiscated at the airport), bottle-cap framed ouija board from Dr. Bob’s, the “past cards” I’ll be sending away to parents and grandparents, the 3 CDs I acquired from musicians that inspired us all, the magnets on my fridge, the mud on the bottom of my suitcase, the crumpled up boarding pass in the front pocket of my backpack… I can put all these things in a pile in the living room but I can’t bring New Orleans home with me, at least not physically. I mean it honestly, though, when I say it’s a part of me forever.

New Orleans made me want to be a better musician. It made me want to forget the stupid little day-to-day things and focus on the important stuff. It made the “hard work” at home seem insignificant. I wanted to stay for a year and keep working, keep asking the locals to tell me their stories, keep learning about the history. I wanted to contribute. I learned things about gardening that I convinced myself I would re-create at home. I learned more about a history of a town with more stories than I could probably ever hear in one lifetime.


I did things I never thought I’d be able to do in less time than I would have ever imagined, like, for instance, when I was able to identify tree species by day 2, or hack through 100 meters of blackberry in an hour and a half. I got a taste of what strength really looks and feels like, and it was gone too fast. Does anyone know of any place around Ventura County where you can chop wood or hack at something with a machete, for recreation? Does anyone have anything invasive they need help tearing down? You have my number.


Relieved to find…

The Louisiana woodlands ain’t so bad!

The Voodoo Dolls had some challenges today, having to backtrack a bit before completing our first transect. But then we moved on to our second and suddenly we had a groove. It’s hard to fight the thirst and hunger, which become an annoying disruption in what would otherwise be an efficient process, but other than that, some pointy sticks, and some bugs, it’s mostly just a nice walk though beautiful woods. 

We felt like explorers as we got quicker identifying plant species, curiously watched critters, marched through clover beds, and Julianna even dabbled in some archaeology. 

Our feet hurt and we reach a wall every now and then but for the most part, we feel pretty comfortable in these woods. It’s an nice feeling, a boost of confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. We can definitely say we are proud of our team.


One of my favorite dishes to make on special occasions is crab stuffed mushrooms, so I thought maybe we could re-create it here in New Orleans Cooking School. The Crescent City Farmers Market didn’t have mushrooms quite big enough for stuffing, so we improvised, which turned out to be a lot more fun than sticking to the normal recipe. We picked from what was available and ended up with something totally different! Michael had some Louisiana blue crab claw meat already available for us, so all that was left was mixing together some extra ingredients.

We pulled “heart of the ox” tomatoes and sweet bell peppers to scoop out and make serving boats, added a lemon spiced pesto, shitake mushrooms for extra meatiness, onions, cajun seasoning, lemon, and topped it with bread crumbs and mozzarella cheese. We pressed the bottoms of the boats into some extra cajun seasoning and, per request, experimented with a little paline oil drizzle. The stuffed vegetables baked at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until the veggies were nice and tender with gooey cheese on top.

Because we had gooey fingers, we avoided using our phones, but were lucky enough to have Kev on the job! We re-payed him with a stuffed red bell pepper. Bon apetit!


How Yesterday Made Today…

As the stories of our beautiful dishes and recipes continue to expand online, we are invited to acknowledge how we brought farm to table for today’s Cooking School. It’s called the Crescent City Farmer’s Market, and it’s where Michael takes our NOLA crew each and every year right before our class gets together and cooks, in order to buy fresh, local food for a budget of $20 per dish – to feed 17 people. Michael’s greatest emphasis – aside from taking advantage of his position in order to discuss history and culture – is that we can feed the masses honest, healthy meals on a reasonable budget, and the cooking school provides an outlet for that.

On our walk over to the market, Michael shared a lot about the rich history and current state of the New Orleans lifestyle. “Local” to New Orleans means a 250 mile radius. The point of the Farmer’s Market was originally to bring the central business district back to the French quarter. Michael spoke a lot about the economic climate, the complicated nature of taxes and law changes, property ownership, etc. For instance, traditionally there are two floors to each building – the store on the first, and the residents on the second. Taxing and maintenance issues are moving businesses out of the city, however, and it is consequently becoming more residential. There seemed to be an obvious connection between the significance of the farmer’s market in relation to placement, business, and bringing that sense of welcoming and personality back to the home streets of the French Quarter and the American District.

Our trip to the market was fast, busy and exciting. We were encouraged to ask each vendor for their stories and origins, and after about 20 minutes of running around, blindly and frantically meal planning, we were ushered past the last few booths and on our way back to the cooking school. Memorable moments included a surprise from the cinnamon roll saleslady – a full time water quality professional! Exposure to an informative walk through of interesting cultural histories was a treat in itself, and the avocado popsicles weren’t bad either. In fact, they were kind of life changing.

Follow these links to learn about some of the ingredients for our recipes, and their origins!

– Aryana and Lauren 🙂


“It doesn’t look like it’s bumpin’ just yet,” Dr. Anderson mumbled to himself as we pulled in to park, in what looked like a regular residential neighborhood. On the corner stood a triangle building, a charming host, a security guard, and some friendly locals, mingling and waiting for the entertainment to begin.

We got comfortable for what couldn’t have been more than fifteen minuntes as exceedingly friendly waitresses greeted us and surrounding tables shared friendly smiles. Then, the all-female brass band took the stage. A woman tested the comfort of her sousaphone, another her alto sax, a trumpet, a keyboard, and drums took the stage to play local favorites. Right away, the CSUCI students sprinted to the front to start the dancing. They danced all the way through the set, befriending audience members as the crowded seemed to quadruple within a few performances.

It was a quick visit, but a great way to end the night, after a long day including a levee failure tour, and exploring the French Quarter and its rich history. Exhausted, we take to bed, and anticipate another early day tomorrow.


I’ve got two lists – one “to bring” list, and one list of names, the names of people for whom I can definitely not fail to buy souvenirs.

A death/skull themed gift for Professor Olsthoorn, the osteologist.
A portrait of Mistress Marie Laveau – the voodoo queen – for my mentor, a French historian.
A mask for my mom, since she’s brought so many home for me over the years.
My dad is a drummer. I’m sure I can find something, what with the jazz and all.
Something for my boyfriend… probably a beer coozie and a shot glass.
The list keeps getting longer. I hope New Orleans has some good clearance bins.

I’ve hardly slept this week, haven’t packed, have worked almost every day after school but won’t get my paycheck until next Thursday. At least I got my laundry done, and the only homework I need to complete is an essay on Women & Gender in History.

I’m saying all this because this is what I’ve done in the time I’ve waited for this trip to come. I may not be packed, but I’ve been so very ready for days now. I’m ready to get dirty, sweat, possibly faint. I’m ready to probably cry. I’m anxious to finally know, in person, a culture I’ve been obsessed with for years. To hear, in person, jazz around which I’ve formed a musical identity as a singer, flute player, and occasional desk drummer. To taste, finally, the shellfish, beignets, alligator, gumbo, and jambalaya I’ve only attempted to recreate in my tiny apartment kitchens. Well, except for the alligator…

As an anthropologist, I’m ecstatic. As a foodie, I’m hungry. As a musician, I’m anxious – in the toe tapping sense of the word. As a historian, I’m honored. As a student, I’m ready for the challenge.