Monday, November 28, 2016

Come Home for Christmas in St. Francisville

CIC posterCome Home For Christmas in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler

The theme of St. Francisville’s popular annual holiday parade is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and visitors the weekend of December 2, 3 and 4 will indeed experience that warm and welcome homecoming feeling as they enjoy this small town’s safe and family-friendly celebration called Christmas in the Country.
The whole weekend is packed full of fun, with spectacular seasonal decorations, musical entertainment throughout the National Register-listed downtown, breakfast with Santa, caroling and window-peeping, contemporary house tours, living nativity and even a symphony concert. Sparkling lights trace soaring Victorian trimwork and grace gallery posts to transform the entire picturesque little town into a veritable winter wonderland.
Mayor D'AquillaSt. Francisville’s jovial mayor Billy D’Aquilla, just elected to serve an unprecedented ninth term in office, lights the town Christmas tree Friday evening, Dec. 2, with a welcoming reception, choral performance on the front porch of Town Hall by Voices in Motion at 5:30 p.m. and fireworks beginning at 6 p.m. Local shops as well as vendors in Parker Park downtown offer twilight shopping until 7. Hemingbough is the setting for the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra’s St. Francisville Chamber Series presentation Holiday Jazz, beginning at 7 p.m. and featuring the jazzed-up seasonal favorites performed by pianist Willis Delony and friends, plus a dessert reception (tickets available at Bank of St. Francisville; 225-635-6397).

runSaturday, Dec. 3, begins at 7:30 a.m. with a prayer breakfast at United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed by Christmas on the Run, relays for life benefitting the American Cancer Society, with 1-mile Fun Run at 8 and 5-K at 8:30 a.m., both starting from Parker Park on Commerce Street (www.stfrumc.org).

Children won’t want to miss the Women’s Service League Breakfast with St. Nick at Jackson Hall of Grace Episcopal Church; there are three seatings at 8, 9:15 and 10:30 a.m. Reservations are encouraged, and advance tickets ($8) may be purchased online at www.womensserviceleague.com ). The Service League also has its usual fresh wreath and cookbook sale on Ferdinand St. throughout the weekend.

A Saturday house tour (10 to 4) benefits the wonderful parish library and showcases some unique contemporary homes. Tickets ($25 in advance, $30 day of tour) may be purchased at the library, The Conundrum bookstore, or online at www.brownpapertickets.com. Sponsored by Friends of the Library, featured homes exhibit a variety of architectural styles and include Charles and Kate Seal’s classic southern home with sweeping front gallery, Chip and Connie Hunter’s home filled with vintage touches and French influence, David and Angie Ray’s traditional home in The Bluffs golfing community, and Finney and Peter Couhig’s intriguing West Indies-style home.

Parker ParkSt. Francisville’s oak-shaded Parker Park overflows with children’s activities, music, food and crafts vendors all weekend including Friday evening, and there will be entertainment throughout the historic downtown area. Dynamic Laura Lindsey gathers children under the tent in the park for Christmas storytelling at 11:30, and the Fugitive Poets perform from noon to 2. New this year in a little town gone crazy for rock painting/hiding/finding is a fun activity sponsored by WF Rocks under the tent at 12:30 Saturday, with guidance by talented Alaine Dibenedetto and her sister Angie in dotting/painting fun rocks which will travel to St. Jude Hospital to spread some joy. The group has brought out the creativity in residents of all ages and even has specially designed T-shirts, one of which will be provided free to finders of a dozen marked rocks hidden around town on Sunday. At 2:30 p.m. the West Feliciana Middle School choir performs under the park tent.
From 10 to 4 on Saturday, Oakley plantation house in Audubon State Historic Site presents Colonial Christmas cooking demonstrations in the outside kitchen, followed from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. by candlelight tours plus period music and wassail. In town, Saturday evening entertainment includes Twilight Shopping and music from 4 to 7 p.m., a Community Sing-Along at United Methodist Church on Royal Street from 6 to 7, a Live Nativity inside First Baptist Church on US 61 from 6 to 8, and “Peep into our Holiday Homes” to admire Christmas decorations in participating historic structures (also 6 to 8 p.m.).

floatThe popular Christmas parade on Sunday, December 4, begins at 2 p.m. and traverses Ferdinand and Commerce Streets. Sponsored by the Women’s Service League, the parade features gaily decorated floats, marching bands, and of course Santa Claus riding atop a vintage fire truck. This year’s theme is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and there are not one but three grand marshalls being honored this year, all specially recognized award-winning local educators: Heather Howle, Terrance Williams and Janet Lathrop. Prior to the parade, the Angola Traveling Band from Louisiana State Penitentiary performs in Parker Park beginning at noon Sunday.

The enthusiastic sponsors of Christmas in the Country are the downtown merchants, and the real focus of the weekend remains the St. Francisville area's marvelous shops, which go all out, hosting Open Houses with refreshments and entertainment while offering spectacular seasonal decorations and great gift items. A variety of quaint little shops and galleries occupy historic structures throughout the downtown area and spread into the outlying district, each unique in its own way; visitors should not miss a single one.

The town’s longstanding popular anchor stores have been joined by a number of smaller boutiques offering a wonderful variety of wares—antiques, collectibles, original artworks, upscale and affordable clothing, housewares, decorative items, jewelry, books and children’s playthings-- to remind visitors how timeless is the excitement of small-town Christmas shopping at this exuberant celebration of the season.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Fruitcake Weather in St. Francisville


Fruitcake Weather in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler

            Fruitcake Weather. That’s what beloved southern author Truman Capote called it in his wonderful Christmas Memory, when the first wintry winds blew down pecans to be shelled and when annual visits to the local bootlegger surrepticiously supplied the secret kick to the dozens of fruitcakes made by Capote, then an orphaned child, with an elderly relative whom he described as “still a child.”  The Christmas memories may have come from their home in rural Alabama, but all across the South and especially in St. Francisville, Louisiana, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas were always special, and every old home’s gleaming mahogany sideboard groaned with the weight of homemade fruitcakes to which, every time anyone passed by, another little dash of brandy was added.
            So as the holidays approach, it is only natural that our thoughts turn to…food, desserts especially, rich holiday traditions gleaned from old family receipt books and tattered treasured clippings. Back in the era of Capote’s childhood, recipes were like antiques…they had to have provenance, so you could tell whose they were, where they came from, where they were served, who cooked them and who enjoyed the consumption. They were like old friends or family with familiar backgrounds, and you could tell by the name of the contributor whether the recipes would be any good or not.
In Plantation Recipes and Recollections compiled by Violet Pate, elderly keeper of the history of the oldest established black Baptist church in the St. Francisville area, she records the details for Oyster Dressing, noting that it was cooked for 30 years for Mrs. Lois Lester of Waverly Plantation at Bains by Violet Glover, who happened to be the charming grandmother of Baton Rouge mayor Kip Holden from whom he obviously inherited his brilliant smile. Even in the early days, its location right along the Mississippi River assured St. Francisville a bountiful supply of fresh holiday oysters shipped upriver by prosperous merchants as Christmas/New Year’s rewards for loyal patrons.
Early cookbooks came in all sizes and shapes. That whirlwind master marketer Marcelle Reese Couhig, familiarly known as Nootsie, hit the jackpot with beloved recipes like the internationally appreciated Asphodel Bread, on index cards in actual boxes, still sold today by descendants at their local bookstore. Her typically casual recipe for French 75 is below, reprinted from the Women’s Service League Feliciana Favourites cookbook, treasured compendium of offerings from all the good cooks of the area, first printed in 1981; an updated version, with all new recipes (but no contributor names), has just been released to fund worthy community projects undertaken by this volunteer group.
            Every local church and charity had its fundraising cookbook over the years. St. Francisville’s earliest residents being mostly English, the holiday recipes were heavy on Anglo influences…Charlotte Russe, Floating Island, Plum Pudding brought to table flamed by such liberal doses of brandy that wide-eyed children feared their grandmother would go up in smoke, mincemeat pie with plenty of hard sauce (see recipe below) to make it palatable, fruitcake so frequently doused over preceding weeks that visible fumes arose, much to the delight of tipsy great-uncles (didn’t every family have one?). The vintage cookbook published by Grace Episcopal Church, whose congregation first came together in the 1820s, included a recipe for “Old English Plum Pudding” said to have been brought from Liverpool “more than a century ago and age has not lessened its popularity.”
And eggnog. Lots and lots of eggnog. At Catalpa Plantation, as described in Audubon Plantation Country Cookbook with wonderful vintage images and lots of history accompanying the actual recipes, the late grande dame and gracious hostess Mamie Fort Thompson was quoted as insisting that in making the eggnog served at Catalpa’s famous Christmas parties, you could use half an eggshell as your jigger to measure the bourbon. She strongly recommended using the larger half!
Of course today our kitchen shelves groan under the weight of contemporary cookbooks from all over the world, from notable chefs (especially our wonderful Louisiana ones) and famous restaurants. And in St. Francisville itself we even have restaurants lending new influences to our holiday menus…Oriental, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Cajun. But there’s just something about those old cookbooks full of recipes as warm and welcoming as treasured old friends, and holiday visits to the St. Francisville area impart the same feeling.
Still, there’s  lots to do in St. Francisville besides eat. Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation (check locally; it has new owners), plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).  
In November Oakley features programs called “Forgotten Lives” (a quarters tour with emphasis on experiences of plantation slaves) November 6 from 12 to 4, and “Deck the Halls” on November 26 from 10 to 3, allowing visitors to “adopt a mantle” to decorate with period greens for Christmas. And as decorations go up throughout the historic downtown area of St. Francisville in preparation for Christmas in the Country the first weekend in December, the little rivertown becomes a sparkling winter wonderland.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.westfeliciana.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

MAMIE THOMPSON’S FAMOUS CATALPA EGGNOG

6 eggs, separated; 6 tbsp. sugar; 6 jiggers bourbon; 1 half-pint whipping cream, whipped; 3/4 cup milk (optional); nutmeg.

Beat egg yolks until very light. Add sugar. Beat. Beat egg whites, then gently fold into yolk mixture a little at a time. Pour bourbon over, to sort of cook the egg whites. Mix. Add whipped cream, folding in gently. If too thick, add up to ¾ cup milk. Refrigerate until very cold. Top with sprinkling of nutmeg.
VIOLET GLOVER’S OYSTER DRESSING

6 jars oysters, chopped; 10 slices bread, toasted and softened with milk; 1 stick butter; ½ cup onion; ½ cup celery; ½ cup bell peppers; salt and black pepper; 1 teaspoon Tabasco.

Drain oysters and save juice. Cook onions, celery and bell peppers in butter until tender (about 10 minutes of stirring so they won’t burn); add chopped oysters and toasted bread, then salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce. Pour ingredients into baking dish and cook in oven for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
GRANDMA’S HARD SAUCE (from Oil & GAStronomy)

1 stick real butter, softened; 2 cups confectioners sugar; brandy.

Beat butter, gradually adding sugar until creamy. Add brandy one tablespoon at a time to taste. Taste brandy. Add brandy to taste. Taste brandy. Add brandy to taste. Goes well on hot apple pie, mincemeat pie, or on a spoon. Grandma is always in a wonderful mood after making this recipe.
FRENCH 75

1 quart gin; 3 bottles champagne; 1 pint lemon juice; 1 cup sugar.

Chill gin and champagne for a couple of days in the fridge. Use one large chunk of ice in the bowl. Make it yourself in a plastic something in your freezer. Pour sugar over ice, then all the rest of the liquids. If you like it sweeter, make a simple syrup, but watch you don’t spoil your dinner. Serves approximately 25.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

St. Francisville ROCKS!

St. Francisville ROCKS!
By Anne Butler

boy rocksIt seemed like such an innocuous, innocent little message, posted on Facebook by local med tech/mom Nancy Metz Arceneaux: “I think the painted rocks they are doing in various towns are so cool. Such a neat way to spread joy. Anyone interested in helping me get it started in St. Francisville?”

And in the way of small southern towns, word spread like wildfire, and before you knew it, there was an enticing painted rock under every bush, on every walkway, in every conceivable cubbyhole (other than mailboxes; that would be a federal offense). The little Louisiana rivertown of St. Francisville, like communities large and small all across the country, went rock crazy!

The craze, enthusiasts say, is a fun way to draw residents together, encourage creativity and pass along a positive message. It gets kids outdoors and away from technology for awhile, searching for rocks to paint themselves, carefully choosing inspirational messages or appealing images, executing the artwork, hiding the rocks and waiting for finders to excitedly post their discoveries on social media.

Mostly painted with acrylics and sealed with a spray sealant or Mod Podge, rocks can be designed and executed by all levels of artistic skill and creativity…colorful hearts or flowers, whimsical animals and birds, feather doodles, short sayings or supportive messages…executed in paints, permanent markers, fingernail polish, puff paints, embellished with tiny jewels or feathers or whatever the imagination can conceive. Concealed all over town, the painted rocks provide exciting hide-and-seek quests; they can also be used as gifts, conversation starters, paperweights, and for myriad other purposes. As Pablo Picasso put it, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” and what joy even such simple artworks as painted rocks can bring.

JoeSt. Francisville is home to a growing population of creative souls, both young and old, and many of the rocks dispersed around town are truly works of art. Musician Joe Roppolo, who plays a mean harmonica with The Delta Drifters blues band, has recently been turning out beautifully decorated didgeridoos, those Australian Aboriginal wind musical instruments. Now he has created such gorgeous rocks with the same decorations that he has inspired a whole class in Mandala painting sponsored by the local umbrella arts organization called Arts For All.

Mandalas (Sanskrit for “circles”) are spiritual, ritual symbols representing the universe in Indian religion, the word now used generically to refer to any diagram or geometric pattern representing the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically. In spiritual traditions mandalas are used to focus attention or guidance, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction. Besides, they are just plain beautiful designs in which to lose oneself and, in Gandhi’s words, “in a gentle way, you can shape the world.” Psychologists like Carl Jung have considered mandalas as representative of the Self, the wholeness of one’s personality, and have said that creating them helps to stabilize and re-order one’s inner life.

The children of St. Francisville don’t quote Picasso or Gandhi or Jung as they shriek with joy at the discovery of each special rock, running through the town park or sports facility, through cemeteries (where Easter eggs are also hunted) and along bricked sidewalks, in restaurants or boutique shops or art galleries or doctors’ offices.

rocksAnd beside each excited child is a grateful mom, one like speech pathologist Lucie Branton LeDoux. Not a week after Nancy Metz Arceneaux started the craze that swept her hometown, LeDoux posted her appreciation as she and her young son Will took a morning walk through St. Francisville looking for painted rocks and whatever else caught their fancy. “We live in the greatest town!” she said. “Took another walk this morning and here’s what happened. We talked about squirrels, why leaves can be seen in concrete, butterflies, pecans growing in trees, what a ‘memorial’ is (‘read the names again, Mama’), and what it means to ‘keep your eyes peeled’ for these beautiful rocks everyone is painting and leaving for others to find (my boy couldn’t stop smiling!) He told me our town is very pretty, everyone is so nice to each other, and he loves where we live, and I have to agree! Thank God we get to raise our children where I grew up! All that and a flower my boy picked for me! What a great morning!”

Nancy Metz Arceneaux, “mother” of St. Francisville’s rock obsession, called it “a way of bringing joy to others in a time where all we hear about is violence and hate. There are still good people in this world and in our beautiful town for sure, so why not spread LOVE instead of hate. Not only is it bringing joy to children but to adults as well.” And Lucie LeDoux added, “You know what I love most about WF Rocks (the Facebook page of the movement in St. Francisville, with images of excited children and rocks they have created or found)? It has gotten my children OFF technology and outside. Plus, we spent time as a family tonight painting rocks. How awesome is this? This is another win for children and families. This sweet little idea of yours could be game-changing for some people.”

girl rocksInspirational small-town morning strolls and painted rocks sharing the joy of life and the warm sense of community…just a few of the things St. Francisville is grateful for as Thanksgiving is celebrated. Small-town pleasures, small-town treasures.


Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation (check locally; it has new owners), plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.westfeliciana.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).