Tag Archives: author

Another Poem Published, First You Make a Roux

Deep South Magazine has just published another of the poems from my work in progress collection, Always the Heat.

This poem is titled First You Make a Roux. It was inspired by a painting I bought some years ago on a trip to New Orleans with my best friend.

All good Louisiana cooking starts with a roux, and it's something I stessed to my kids when I started teaching them how to cook.

Look for the poem at http://deepsouthmag.com/2013/11/first-you-make-a-roux/ and I hope you like it.

Making a Roux

One of my Poems Got Published

My poem, Winter in Louisiana, was just published in Deep South Magazine.

As you can tell by the name, most of my writing will fit in well there since they have a very distinctive Southern Viewpoint.

Another poem is scheduled for a fall publication date.

The Bottle Tree – Where I Got the Name

Bottle Tree

Each time I do a book signing or have a table at an event I always spend a little time talking to someone about bottle trees. Invariably a person walking by will stop to look at the books and then we'll discuss how bottle trees used to be prevalent in the rural south, how you rarely see them now, and how they are making a come back as a kind of art form made by local artisans.

I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts on the topic here on my author website so my fans and readers know a little about the subject and the way I work.

I remember when I was a little kid and we would go to my great grandparent's house in Bellwood, La. On the way there, on one of the back roads, was an old house with a bottle tree in the front yard. I didn't know the story about them but I always thought it was neat and would look for it on each trip.

Some years later I saw one and jotted the name down in a notebook I kept with ideas for stories, names, titles, etc. The name sat there for years and suddenly, one day, an idea popped into my head that was almost the complete story that I eventually published as  The Bottle Tree. Literally, the idea was not there one minute and the next it was there in my mind, almost in the final form that was published.

Bottle trees were a unique part of the culture of the rural South. Several sources that I looked through state that the concept dates as far back as the 9th century in the African Congo.  Originally, the people would lay plates around the graves of deceased family members. The practice changed to hanging bottles on a tree when the practice came to America with the slaves. The bottles were supposed to scare off bad spirits due to the sound that they made when the wind whistled across their open mouths and it was also thought that spirits would be curious about the bottles and get caught in them when they came to investigate.

In my book, The Bottle Tree, the characters discuss the bottle tree which plays a part in the book and that one of them has in his yard:

            “What is it?” Leesie asked, walking around the tree and examining it from all angles. Caleb and Johnny did the same.

            Ukiah had decorated a tree with bottles. Some were tied on with string, some were stuck on the end of cut off branches. The bottles were a mixture of sizes, shapes, and colors. Some blue, some clear, some brown. On one side of the small tree sitting on the ground was a solitary, bright red one.

            “Y’all ain’t never seen one of these?”

            “I have,” Johnny volunteered, surprising both Caleb and Leesie.

            “You have? Where at?” Ukiah asked.

            “My Uncle Franklin used to have one in his yard. Not as big or pretty as yours though. He called it his ‘bottle tree’”.

            “And that’s exactly what it is. Did he tell you what it was for?”

            “He said it kept the spirits away.”

            “It does that, plus more. You see these bottles here?” Ukiah pointed to the clear, blue, and brown ones on the tree. “The bad spirits hear the wind whistling through these and it scares them off. If’n they do come around, the wind pushes them into the bottles and they’re trapped there and can’t bother you.”

            “What about that one? It’s pretty,” Leesie pointed to the red one on the ground.

            “Oooo, you got a good eye, Leesie. That’s the one that makes my bottle tree special. Most of them are just to take care of bad spirits but that red one is the cat’s meow. It’s for good spirits.”

            “Good spirits?” Johnny asked. “I ain’t never heerd of no good spirits.”

            “That old voodoo woman who taught me how to make that peanut candy told me a real bottle tree has to have a special red bottle. According to her, and I ‘spect she’s right, sometimes people die and their bodies can’t be given a proper church burial so they can’t go straight to heaven. Their spirit wanders around until it finds the red bottle and it stays inside it until somebody they love dies and their spirit comes looking for them and helps them get to heaven. Don’t that sound nice?”

            “Yes sir. It’d sure be lonely just to wander around by your lonesome,” Caleb said.

            “It sure would. That’s why everyone ought to know where there’s a bottle tree like mine. Just in case.”

Setting the Atmosphere Through Food (and a Roast Beef Po-Boy Recipe)

As I've mentioned before, most writers pull off of their backgrounds when they set the atmosphere and tone of their books. Some do it by smells (who can forget the sour smell of Bourbon Street on a weekend morning), some do it by sounds (Ernest Gaines is great at this, conveying a sense of poverty by the creaking of worn out bed springs), and others are visual. I often do this by describing a food.

In No' Chance I referenced both the Lucky Dog hot dogs found throughout the French Quarter in New Orleans as well as po-boys served at Johnny's Po-boys there. This is probably a holdover from the family dinners we used to have out at my great grandmother's house in the small community of Bellwood, La. Ma and Pa Alford lived in the heart of the Kisatchie National Forest that became the setting for The Bottle Tree. We used to go there on Sundays and Ma would spend all morning cooking so that we'd have a huge lunch and the day revolved around that meal.

The recipe below is one that reminds me of New Orleans, the taste instantly sending me to the humidity, sights and smells of the Crescent City. This one is made the New Orleans way, dripping with "Debris Gravy". It's also great to make homemade french fries and use them in place of the meat to make the po-boy, but then covering them in the gravy. You have to remember, most of the New Orleans and Cajun foods (two different kinds) were developed because people were poor and had to make do with what they had. This one can be made from inexpensive ingredients but the taste is rich!

I started with a recipe from NOLACuisine.com and then made some changes to suit my family.

I hope you try and enjoy it.

 

Roast Beef Po’ Boy with Debris Gravy Recipe

For the Roast:

1 Beef Chuck Roast (app. 2 ½ pounds). Don’t trim the fat since it adds flavor.

2 Garlic Cloves thinly sliced

Kosher Salt & Black Pepper

Cayenne

Flour to coat roast

3 Tbsp Lard or Vegetable Oil

1 Medium Onion, Diced

1 Medium to Large Carrot, Diced (I prefer to shred it using a cheese grater)

1 tablespoon finely Chopped Garlic

1 Cup Beef Stock

1 Cup Chicken Stock

Water if necessary

2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 Tbsp Hot Sauce

2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme (you can use dried if you don’t have fresh)

1 Bay Leaf  (fresh or dried)

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to taste

 

Cut small slits into the roast, about every 3 inches, try not to pierce all the way to the bottom. Stuff the sliced garlic into the slits.

Season the Roast very liberally on all sides with the Salt & Black Pepper, season with Cayenne to your taste, I don’t use much.

Coat the roast in flour. You want enough to form a light crust when you brown it in the oil. This step will make the gravy just a tad thicker.

Heat the fat in a heavy bottomed Dutch Oven over high heat, when the oil starts to smoke, wait a few more seconds, then carefully add the Roast cut side down. Brown very well on all sides, without burning it. Remove to a plate.

Drain off all but 1 Tbsp of the fat in the pan, add the onions and carrots, cook until just before the onions start to brown, add the garlic (be carefult not to burn the garlic) then place the roast back in the pan, then add the stocks. Finish, if necessary, with enough water to bring the cooking liquid 3/4 of the way up the roast. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then back down to a very low simmer. Simmer covered for 3-4 hours or until the meat falls apart when you look at it (you know what I mean, very tender).

For the Debris Gravy:

Carve the meat into very thin slices, it will be hard to do and will fall apart, that is good. All of the bits and pieces, that fall off are your Debris (pronounced Duh-bree.)

Add all of the bits and chunks to you cooking liquid after skimming off the fat from the surface, keep the carved meat with a little liquid on a warm plate, covered tightly with plastic wrap.

Bring the gravy to a full boil and reduce until it coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Our family adds all of the meat back to the gravy when it has reduced and lets it sit there for a while to moisten the meat.

  

For the Po’ Boy:

New Orleans Style French Bread  (we found out that if you can’t get the good, crusty French bread to make this then you can use the canned Pillsbury Crusty French Bread and it is surprisingly good)

Cut the bread 3/4 of the way through so that the bread folds open as opposed to slicing it all the way through. If you slice it through the sandwich will fall apart. If you are using fresh baked bread wait for it to cool before slicing.

Shredded Lettuce

Mayonnaise

Roast Beef (see above)

Debris Gravy

 

Slather the bread with a very generous portion of Mayonnaise on the inside of the upper and lower halves. Place about a cup of Shredded Lettuce on the bottom half. Cover the lettuce with a generous portion of the “sliced” Beef. Drown the beef with Debris Gravy.

 This recipe will make 4 big Po Boys.

Junebug and the Body – Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Felt Like a Kid Again July 16, 2012
By Evergreen
If you like books that can take you back to a simpler place and time, read this one.
Sweet and endearing, this book is very enjoyable, with well drawn characters and a few twists and turns. I read this on the beach in Michigan, but as I flipped the Kindle pages I was easily taken south, to a small Texas town of the 70's. It brought back many great childhood memories of my own. Don't be afraid to upload this to your Kindle, and enjoy.

5.0 out of 5 stars Best Whodunnit Read For Summer …(or anytime, really) July 23, 2011
By bookfan
I just read this little gem of a whodunnit and was completely enthralled. First off, kudos to the author on character development. It's the first thing that carries you in to the story because the 2 boys are so genuine that they engage you right away. This can't be easy for an adult author to pull off, but he does it in expert fashion. The use of childhood -or rather, boyhood humor, comes at unexpected yet welcomed times and had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. You might be disappointed if you're looking for a gruesome read, because this one's "G-rated."
Second, the plot is masterfully crafted with twists and turns that come at the pace you'd expect from a murder-mystery. Plus, the twist at the end will surely come as a surprise to even a serial whodunnit reader. I have to add that for anyone who is fond of southern culture and idioms, this story will quench your thirst in a big way. I can't remember the last book I read that had this kind of authentic grasp on southern mannerisms, and being a born and bred northerner, I literally crave southern characters. I'm definitely adding this author's name to my search list.

5.0 out of 5 stars Will be rereading this one. June 20, 2013
By Donna B. Smith
Eagerly awaiting sequels. Chilling story line with unique characters. I certainly felt connected to events as they unfolded and felt the horror that Junebug and friend must have felt. Chillbumps!