A meal, a memory, a story – Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde by Peggy Sweeney-McDonald
Lively, vivacious, and a true Southern belle, Peggy Sweeney-McDonald shares her path to her book, Meanwhile…Back at Café Du Monde. A foodie, an event planner, and life seeker all encapsulate the joy and vision that Sweeney-McDonald had for the “Back at Café Du Monde” monologue series and book. I’m not sure what to describe the book except that it is a hybrid of a cookbook, mixed with history and nostalgic stories of other family, friends and foodies.
I knew a little bit about Ms. Peggy and her series. Most of the monologues are available on YouTube, so I had the opportunity to take a peek into some of the stories before actually reading the book. I decided one evening to read through a significant portion of the book. Armed with a bottle of wine and a cozy chair, I started reading. Much to my surprise the inspiration for the entire concept started with one of her good friend’s stories about a bottle of wine and a coconut cream pie. I won’t spoil the story for you, but let’s just say the red wine somehow rationalized the consumption of an entire pie. I started reading and drinking my wine, and kept drinking and kept reading…more on that later!
Before I get in too deep, though, I should probably lay some of the ground work. If you are familiar with New Orleans, then you are familiar with Café Du Monde, beignets and café au lait. In 2012, the iconic green and white striped awning brand with its “little pillows of decadence” as Peggy describes them, celebrated its 150th anniversary, the 70th anniversary for the current owners (Fernandez/Benrud family). The term for “Meanwhile…back at Café du Monde” began at one of Ms. Peggy and her husband’s last beignet plates as a New Orleanian. She describes artfully how living in the warehouse district developed her love for the brand and how many days either began or ended at the patio café.
When Ms. Peggy heard the coconut cream pie and bottle of wine story, she proceeded to have her friend, actress Lisa Annitti, relay the story countless times to her family and friends while they visited Ms. Peggy’s family in Baton Rouge. Thus, the book concept was born: life stores that are centered on food – and allowing those persons to tell their story to a group of people. Having grown up in Louisiana, the old adage “We don’t eat to live, we live to eat,” captures how our experiences and events are centered on food. Because this part of our lives is so integral, we most certainly all have passionate and sometimes raucous stories as a result of food.
As I started delving into the book and stories, I was suddenly transformed from my arm chair in Baton Rouge to my childhood home in Uptown New Orleans. From one story to the next, I was reminded of nostalgic moments that I hadn’t thought of in many years and in some cases decades. All the stories can be easily relatable to the reader and allow for enough imagination for you to fill in the pieces. Having gone to most of the restaurants, walked the same streets, and eaten most of the same dishes as the stories describe I was fully entranced. Although, I do think that if you hadn’t experienced these foods and places, the experiences are easily relatable. Before I knew it I had drank most of the bottle of wine and read most of the book. Because of my obsessive “stick-to-itiveness” I had to finish both the book and the wine. Although, I am not suggesting you do so on any sort of normal basis.
A collection of 67 stories from actors, chefs, farmers, purveyors, eaters, and foodies from all background provide the delightful anecdotes and often humorous tales. There are a good assortment of stories from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and some other locations in the US for some added flair.
Ms. Peggy has provided the introduction and shares her own stories. If I could wish for anymore from the book, it would be a few more stories from Ms. Peggy herself. I think she could certainly provide an entire book on her own experiences!
I expect to keep this book on the borderline threshold of a recipe book with lots of notes in between the pages and kept on my recipe bookshelf. Yes, I do actually have an entire bookshelf dedicated to cookbooks and cooking magazines… Yet, I also want a copy that I will keep on my coffee table. Although, this book is certainly more than just a tabletop display, in my opinion. I can see holding onto this book and sharing it with friends and family members. We often have memories that are centered on meals and the preparations to gather ingredients, choose dish pairings, and then celebrate.
Once you get hooked on the book, Ms. Peggy has found a way to keep the stories alive by introducing the food story concept at events – corporate, family, and all others in between. I do look forward to her third edition of the live renditions and monologues that will begin in May. As more dates and speakers are confirmed, I will be sure to share that information with you. If you get the chance, I do hope and suggest that you try to make the trip to see one of these performances.
As I completed the book and the bottle of wine…my mind kept going back to the Coconut Cream Pie that caused so much trouble yet so much inspiration. I pondered at midnight if I had all the ingredients to try to make Lisa’s coconut cream pie from the recipe she provided.
Realizing I didn’t have of the essential ingredients – coconut or cream…I sulked back to my arm chair. My mind went back to one of my cravings when I was pregnant, a Hubig’s coconut cream pie. If only I could have one of those.
The next day though, I marched over to my Baton Rouge local vendor of Hubig’s and gleefully ate it before I left the parking lot. Washed down with some of my homemade café au lait I was finally satisfied, and I think I may have discovered a cure for red wine hangover!
Its often the unexpected that keeps us remembering, holding onto the nostalgia of a moment, a meal, a memory. What is your own Meanwhile…Back at Café Du Monde story? You might not look at these food experiences the same way again!
Find out more about Peggy Sweeney-McDonald and the Meanwhile…Back at Cafe’ Du Monde:
There are also several of the live monologues on YouTube!
For more information on me – Follow me on Twitter – @KatDeCuisine