Monday, April 28, 2014

Fiddling my life away — and that’s OK

            Southerners have a love affair with the fiddle that hails back, no doubt, to the population’s origins in the British Isles. The majority of the original free settlers were of Scotch-Irish descent so naturally much of our roots music includes a heavy dose of fiddle.
            My personal background includes a Southern migration from Georgia to New Orleans on my mother’s side but also Creole on my father’s side, a mixture of French, Spanish, German and Irish immigrants who arrived in Louisiana to create a new home for themselves, mixed with Cajun. So I’m especially partial to the fiddle, loving American roots music as well as Cajun and zydeco.
            Not that this is weird, mind you, but I do tend to veer to the fiddle performances when I attend music festivals.
            Take Festival International de Louisiane, for instance, the largest free Francophone festival in North America and one of the greatest weekends to be had in America. There are several stages scattered throughout downtown Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun and Creole Country, plus arts and crafts, performances, great food, lectures and so much more happening the last weekend in April. And it’s all free!
            This past weekend I was fortunate enough to hear Suroit perform from the Madeleine Isles of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, with Felix Leblanc dancing a jig sitting down while pounding out his Acadian fiddle. The International Fiddle Summit — sponsored by Festivals Acadiens et Creole that happens in October in Lafayette, also free — blended the remarkable talents of, from left below, Leblanc, David Greeley, Joel Savoy, Chad Justice, Amelia Powell and Dirk Powell. Dominique Dupuis of New Brunswick, who I saw perform as a child at Festival International in 1999, returned to stir up the crowd with a passionate performance on her own as well as accompanying the legendary Zachary Richard on opening night.
            It’s now Monday after Festival and I have lots of company in Lafayette today experiencing Festival withdrawal. But I also have my latest CD of Suroit to keep me company. Time to listen to Leblanc’s beautiful lilting “Rosalie,” written to his daughter.
International Fiddle Summit

Monday, April 21, 2014

Don’t cry for me, Vidalia!

            There’s a region in Georgia that will make you cry.
            Actually, it’s like a good love story. Oh so sweet to the taste but invariably causes tears.
            We’re talking about Vidalia, Georgia, and the surrounding 20-county region of south Georgia that produces the sweetest onions in the country. These delicious onions produced by a unique combination of soil and climate produce exquisite dishes because of that fine marriage of sweetness and tangy.
Vidalia Onion Festival
            Visitors can enjoy these fabulous onions during the 37th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival April 24-27, 2014, in Vidalia. There will be carnival rides, band competition, a folklife play taking the stage for the 10th year, street dance and much more. On Sunday it’s the third annual Golden Onion Cooking Competition between 12 of the state’s finest chefs with the first place winner taking home the Golden Onion trophy along with a cash prize.
            Past winners include Chef Hilary White, owner and executive chef of The Hil: A Restaurant at Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga., for her recipe “Caramelized Vidalia Onion Fritter, Serenbe Farm Vegetable Slaw and Mustard Vinaigrette,” and Chef Daniel Chance, executive chef of Campagnolo in Atlanta for his recipe “Scallop Stuffed Vidalia with Onion Purée.”
            For more details, including a complete outline of each day's festivities, visit:
            I was fortunate to visit the area during the harvest of those famous Georgia onions and I not only watched those sweet onions being harvested but sampled an array of dishes that incorporated them, including a cheesecake topped by carmelized Vidalia onions! These unique onions are perfect in a variety of dishes, especially where something sweet yet tangy makes all the difference.  One of the many products I sampled while in Georgia was Braswell’s, which creates delicious jams, marinades, vinaigrettes, relish and much more, packaged in Italian glass that resembles the old jam jars (hey, I’m using mine for glasses!). My favorite since I’m a fan of the Vidalia onion is Braswell’s Select Vidalia Onion Relish, and I nabbed this nifty recipe incorporating that relish off their web site. To find a market close to you that sells Braswell’s, visit

That's me with Yumion the Onion!
Turkey Sliders with Vidalia Onion Relish
2 pounds ground turkey
1 jar Braswell's Select Vidalia Onion Relish
16 slider rolls
            Directions: Place ground turkey in a medium bowl and gently fold in Braswell’s Select Vidalia Onion Relish (over mixing will make sliders tough). Roll 2 ounces of meat mixture into a small ball and flatten to make patty. Grill, flipping once, until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees (about three minutes per side). Place sliders on warm buns and top with lettuce, tomato and your favorite condiments. Makes 16 sliders.

 And here’s the 2013 Golden Onion winner Chef Daniel Chance’s recipe.

Scallop Stuffed Vidalia with Onion Purée
1 Vidalia onion
1 U-10 scallop
2 anchovy filets
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon pickling spice
1/2 stick butter (cold)
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

            Directions: Cut top and bottom off onion and peel. Strip layer by layer until interior is the same size as the scallop. Carefully cut out the core of the onion leaving a two-layer onion ring. Season the scallop with salt and pepper and insert scallop in the onion ring. Separate onion trimmings and place 3/4 of them into a sauce pot with the anchovy and clove of garlic.  Sauté with butter. Take remaining onion and place in non-reactive bowl. Heat vinegar, sugar, water and pickling spice in second sauce pot. Bring to a boil then pour over chopped onion in bowl. Heat frying pan and sear scallop in-onion with olive oil creating a hard sear on both sides and set aside. Place sautéed onion, anchovy and garlic in blender and purée (add cold butter). Plate onion purée. Place seared scallop in the center and pickled onion on top. Use green onion tops (if available) for garnish.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The odd bayou art of Kenny Hill

The following is an excerpt from “Exploring Cajun Country: A Tour of Historic Acadiana” by Cheré Coen

            Bricklayer Kenny Hill settled in the small bayou town of Chauvin in 1988, just below Houma, Louisiana, erecting a tent on a bayou-side lot while he built his home. Then in 1990 he started creating pieces of concrete sculptures throughout the property, mainly those with a religious tone or a Biblical reference. There are angels and other celestial figures, a 45-foot-tall lighthouse made up of 7,000 bricks, cowboys, soldiers and the artist himself, sometimes expressing a conflict between good and evil. Hill didn’t create these folk art pieces to share with others. He called his work a “story of salvation,” according to Nichols State University, which now owns the property, although by the year 2000 when he was evicted for not keeping the grass and weeds down, he was dismayed by religion and reportedly knocked the head of Jesus off a statue when he left.
            The Kohler Foundation purchased the property, which has been gifted to Nichols State in Thibodaux and is now the Chauvin Sculpture Garden and Art Studio. The site at 5337 Bayouside Drive is open to the public from dawn to dusk but the NSU Folk Art Studio’s hours vary; call (985) 594-2546 or the Nicholls State University Division of Art at (985) 448-4597.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Galveston's little teapot

            Drive down Seawall Boulevard to the West End of Galveston Island and you’ll be treated to the most unusual house, something akin to a silo top upside down.
            Called The Kettle House because it also resembles a teapot, the home is the cause of many a tourist causing traffic slowdowns on this stretch of highway just outside the Galveston Island State Park.
            According to “Weird Texas: Your Travel Guide to Texas’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets” by Wesley Treat, Heather Shades and Rob Riggs, the house was built by a man who once constructed storage tanks for oil companies. “The neighbors, some of whom were residents when the ‘Kettle’ went up, have seen the man but know little about him,” state the authors.
            If you search the Kettle House online you get much of the same, plus one story about how it was constructed to be a convenience store and abandoned.
            My source on the island told me that a man built the unique establishment and a hurricane arrived, preventing him from moving in. The owner passed away and his son now owns the curiosity. It’s believed that no one lives there because they couldn’t get permits to finish the building.
            I don’t know about you all, but I would give anything for a peek inside.