Sunday, September 27, 2015

Encourage children to read with new Louisiana books

Multi-talented Louisiana songwriter and children’s book author Johnette Downing of New Orleans has penned a charming introduction to Louisiana with “Louisiana, the Jewel of the Deep South,” lovingly illustrated by Julia Marshall of New Orleans. The book is a literal tour of the state, focusing on the state’s crustacean and official dog (crawfish and Catahoula), among many others, but also honoring its musical traditions, diverse terrain and unique customs, proving it’s truly a jewel of the Deep South.
Other children’s books to consider:
Jeff’s dog Bob can make breakfast, drive a car and play golf, but when Mimi shows up with her puddle, she informs Jeff, “My dog is better than your dog.” Turns out the puddle can fetch a stick and sit on command, something Bob doesn’t do, so naturally Mimi considers Bob inferior. In the end, neither Bob nor Jeff cares for they know Bob is an exceptional pet. “My Dog, Bob” by Richard Torrey is a simple but powerful story honoring those who are “quietly amazing” as Torrey mentions in the dedication.
Just in time for election season is “Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box” by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein with illustrations by James E. Ransome. Young Michael joins his proud African American grandfather to the voting precinct only to watch him turned away by Jim Crow laws. He vows that one day he would vote for him. When the day arrives for Michael to vote, he vows never to take it for granted. “Granddaddy’s Turn” not only reminds us how only yesterday not everyone was allowed to vote, but that this important American freedom should never be unappreciated and always observed.
Leif Nedland Pedersen and illustrator Tim Banfell return with their “Adventures of Swamp Kids” series featuring whimsical animals in a South Louisiana setting. In “A Dog Named Cat,” Tuti the alligator, Pierre the turtle and Mon Cher the raccoon visit the SPCA to adopt a Catahoula puppy, which they name “Cat.” As with previous books in the series, the story comes with a fun song, information on Catahoulas, crafts and a “lagniappe lesson” from New Orleans newscaster Angela Hill on how to care for pets.

New releases
            “Lafayette in Transnational Context: Identity, Travel, and Nationalism in the Revolutionary Atlantic World,” edited by Jordan Kellman and exploring the many facets of the Marquis de Lafayette’s life and career, has been published by LSU Press.
UL-Lafayette professor Charles Richard’s book, “Coastal Sketches: Field Notes and Photos from The End of the World,” a collection of personal essays and creative nonfiction about the loss of place and identity occurring in Louisiana’s rapidly eroding coastlands, has been published by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
            Local author and journalist Constance Monies has collected stories that defines Acadian culture within three Louisiana towns in her new book, “Never Say Goodbye.” The stories include a Lafayette love story and the excitement of the early cattle drives, the adventures of two priests in Abbeville who build a church and learn about the traditions of the early Acadians and the courage of a woman who alone faces the occupation of her New Iberia plantation home by Union troops during the last days of the Civil War in Louisiana. Monies will discuss the “Art Of Writing” and her books “Never Say Goodbye” and “A House For Eliza” at the Writers Guild of Acadiana meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble, Lafayette. Her books are available at, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and local bookstores and gift shops and will be available for signing at Tuesday meeting.

Book Festival
The 12th annual Louisiana Book Festival will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, in downtown Baton Rouge’s Capitol Park. The festival will feature presentations by local and national bestselling authors, panel discussions, activities for children and teens, live music, food and a Halloween costume contest. A variety of writing WordShops are scheduled for the day before the festival, including a discussion about telling a story in fiction or memoir by authors Molly Antopol and Skip Horack.  For more information or to volunteer, visit

Book news
            Charlaine Harris, the New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries set in “Bon Temps, Louisiana,” will be inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame Tuesday at Noah’s Event Center in West Little Rock. The Hall of Fame honors individuals with Arkansas connections who have made significant contributions to the entertainment arts. The exhibits commemorating the members are permanently housed on display in the Pine Bluff Convention Center in Pine Bluff, Ark. Harris’ most popular novels include “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” and the “Harper Connelly” series. “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” feature Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress from Louisiana, and are the basis for HBO’s “True Blood.”

Book events
The Baton Rouge Gallery will host five writers — Ronlyn Domingue, Laurie Lynn Drummond, Renee Bacher, Jacqueline Dee Parker, Dorothy Early Davis and Claire Boudreaux Bateman  — as part of Women’s Week beginning at 4 p.m. today.
Writers’ Guild of Acadiana meets at 7 p.m. the last Tuesday of the month at Barnes & Noble Lafayette. The meetings are free and open to the public.
Barbara Sillery discusses “Biloxi Memories” at 6 p.m. Monday at Octavia Books in New Orleans. Also at Octavia this week, Fredrick Barton reads from and signs his latest novel “In the Wake of the Flagship” at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Melinda Rose discusses her latest book, “Of the Rising Tide — A Photo Essay of the Vanishing Bayou Community of Isle de Jean Charles” at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Keller Library and Community Center in New Orleans. Also on Wednesday, Michael Murphy reads from and signs “Fear Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Voodoo, Vampires, Graveyards and Ghosts of the Crescent City” at 6 p.m. at New Orleans’ Maple Street Book Shop.
            Dixie Poché will sign copies of her book “Classic Eateries of Cajun Country” from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Books-a-Million in Lafayette.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Virginia Willis goes from 'Basic to Brilliant, Y'all'

           I've got sweet potato grits on my mind today so I'm highlighting a recipe I discovered a few years ago in Virginia Willis' cookbook that blends Southern dishes with a French flare. Many readers will know Willis by her award-winning “Bon Appétit, Y’all,” and her 2011 cookbook, “Basic to Brilliant Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company,” is a “body of basic recipes that can stand on their own,” she writes, “but they can be transformed to brilliant by a short recipe, presentation tip, or technique — all accomplished without ‘dumbing down’ the basics to make the brilliant work, and without the overuse of expensive or hard-to-find ingredients.”
            Talk about my kind of book.
            The opening features “fundamental recipes” such as stocks, sauces, pie crusts and the like. Then readers move to “starters and nibbles,” with lovely ideas that run the gamut, such as Southern ratatouille, shrimp rillettes and pigs in a blanket bites. Other chapters include typical meals — soups and salads, fish and shellfish and beef, pork and lamb, gospel birds and game birds and vegetables. In Southern fashion there’s rice grits and potatoes, eggs and dairy, a section on daily bread with items honoring cornmeal and sweet potatoes and, of course, desserts.
            And the book is full of helpful hints, anecdotes and ways to turn the basic recipes into brilliant ones.
            Here’s a great example. This sweet potato grits recipe can be enhanced into a soufflelike spoonbread; the book offers both. I’ll include it here as grits and let you check out the book if you wish to know more. 

Sweet Potato Grits
2 cups water
2 cups low-fat or whole milk
1 cup stone-ground grits
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Direction: In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the water and milk and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Slowly add the grits, whisking constantly. Add the sweet potato. Season with salt and white pepper. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the grits are creamy and thick, 45 to 60 minutes. Taste the grits and sweet potato to make sure both are cooked and tender. Add the ground ginger, cinnamon and butter. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.

            In other food news, Cheramie Sonnie reviews "A Real Southern Cook: In Her Savannah Kitchen" by Dora Charles with Fran McCullough in today's Advocate. You can read it here.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is a food and travel writer living in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Joshua Clegg Caffery transforms Louisiana folklore in new innovative book of poetry by LSU Press

Musician, poet and folklorist Joshua Clegg Caffery of Franklin reinvents the lyrical folk heritage of southern Louisiana with his new book of poetry, “In the Creole Twilight: Poemsand Songs from Louisiana Folklore,” published by LSU Press
Caffery, author of “Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana” and currently a visiting professor in folklore at Indiana University in Bloomington, uses rhythmic structure, styles and narratives of Louisiana oral and song traditions with stories that range from the freaky folklore of the loup garou to the heartfelt story of a father playing imaginary dinosaurs with his daughter, based on benedictions used at rural French weddings. Poems include an Irish Bend resident in love with a Native American girl whom he abandons after the birth of their child. The child dies and becomes the fearful feufollet, or swamp gases, until the youngest in town attempts to “finish this thing.” There’s a sing-song poem relating old superstitions and something humorous about two mischievous godparents named Gabriel and Madeline with roaming eyes, among so many other wonderful tales.
Caffery offers insights into his poetric subjects with explanations and folklore history. The feufollet, for instance, comes from the old story of swamp gases being unbaptized children but Caffery uses family genealogy to round out the story.
A founding member of the Red Stick Ramblers and a longtime member of the band Feufollet, Caffery has been nominated for a Grammy for his work on the Feufollet album “En Couleurs.” He has also served as the 2013–14 Alan Lomax Fellow in Folklife Studies at the Library of Congress.

ULL lectures
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Writer-in-Residence Dr. John McNally will present the 20th Annual Gloria Fiero Lecture at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Ducrest Guilfry Auditorium at Angelle Hall on the UL campus. He will speak on “The Art of Failure,” addressing the necessity and benefits of failure as a crucial part of the creative process. The lecture is free and open to the public.
McNally is author or editor of 14 books, including three novels, “After the Workshop,” “The Book of Ralph” and “America’s Report Card.” His short story collection “Troublemakers” was the winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award and the Nebraska Book Award and “Ghosts of Chicago” was named a Chicagoland Indie Bestseller and voted one of the top 20 fiction books of 2008 by readers of The Believer. His nonfiction books include “The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide: Advice from an Unrepentant Novelist” and “Vivid and Continuous: Essays on the Craft of Fiction,” both published the University of Iowa Press. The Chicago native is also the author of four books which will be published over the next three years: a young adult novel out next month, “Lord of the Ralphs” historical novel, a book about failure and its benefits and a collection of personal essays.
            William Pittman Andrews, executive director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, will give the annual Flora Levy Lecture, hosted by the Department of English, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Angelle Hall. Andrews will speak on “George Rodrigue: Painting to the Frame,” a phrase coined by Rodrigue referring to his use of frames reclaimed from various sources. An exhibit of Rodrigue’s paintings of former Flora Levy speakers is on loan from the UL Foundation and the Rodrigue Foundation in New Orleans to the Paul and Lulu Hilliard Art Museum on the UL-Lafayette campus until Jan. 2, 2016. For more information, call (337) 482-2278.

At the library
            The Friends of the Ouachita Public Library Book Sale will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the West Ouachita Library on 188 Hwy. 546 (Exit 108 from I-20) in West Monroe.

Big Easy Read
            “Readings ‘Round the Big Easy: A Celebration of National Reading Group Month” will feature a host of authors beginning at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park of New Orleans. Nancy Dixon, author of “New Orleans Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature,” will be the keynote speaker. Authors include John Ed Bradley (“Call Me by My Name”), C.S. Harris (“Who Buries the Dead: A Sebastien St. Cyr Mystery”), Sybil Morial (“Witness to Change: From Jim Crow to Political Empowerment”), Tiffany Quay Tyson (“Three Rivers”), Kent Wascom (“Secessia”), Karen White (“The Sound of Glass”) and Richard Wall, husband of the late Carol Wall, author of “Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart.”
            The event includes a noon book club meet and greet, 1 p.m. keynote speech, 2 p.m. author panel with Susan Larson, 3 p.m. booksigning in the museum gift shop and 3:30 p.m. afternoon tea with authors in Café NOMA. All events are free except for the tea, which is $38 per person, registration required by Sept. 18. For information or to register for the tea, mail a check to Sheila Cook, Librarian, New Orleans Museum of Art, P.O. Box 19123, New Orleans, LA 70179.

Book events
Christina Vella signs “George Washington Carver: A Life” at 6 p.m. Monday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.
Stuart Stevens discusses and signs his book, “The Last Season: A Father, A Son and a Lifetime of College Football” at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Garden District Book Shop of New Orleans.
Military historian, author and authority on German U-boats C.J. Christ will discuss “World War II in the Gulf of Mexico: Documenting a War Close to Our Shores” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Jeanerette Museum, 500 E. Main St. in Jeanerette. Christ has published hundreds of articles and regularly lectures on military issues. He will discuss his years of research as he searched for the German submarine U-166 in the Gulf of Mexico. This free program is more suitable for an adult audience. A book signing will follow the event. For more information, call (337) 276-4408 or email
Festival of Words literary organization hosts a multilingual open mic from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Chicory’s Coffee and Café, 219 E. Martin Luther King Drive in Grand Coteau. The free event features poems, songs and stories performed in different languages. All ages welcome.
Elise Blackwell signs “The Lower Quarter” at 6 p.m. Thursday at Octavia Books of New Orleans. Blackwell is the author of “The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish” and “Hunger.”
George Sanchez reads and signs his latest Jeff Chaussier New Orleans mystery “Explorations End” at 6 p.m. Thursday at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.
New York Times best-selling author Lea Michele signs her new book, “You First: Journal Your Way to Your Best Life” at 4 p.m. Saturday at Garden District Book Shop. To receive a wrist-band for this limited event, participants must purchase the book from Garden District Book Shop after it goes on sale Tuesday.
            Dixie Poché of Lafayette celebrates Acadiana’s mom and pop groceries and restaurants in “Classic Eateries of Cajun Country” and she will discuss the tradition of Cajun boucheries in a book launch and food demonstration from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. During the food demo, guests may sample pork dishes such as boudin, hogs head cheese and ponce prepared by Luke Deville of Teet’s Food Store from Ville Platte and French bread from Lejeune’s French Bread of Jeanerette. Poché is a corporate and travel writer and graduate of ULL in journalism.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at