Joe-bert – Excerpt From Book 4

I have finished the first draft of Book 4 of the Catahoula series. Now for the rewrites… And then the editing… Meanwhile, I have here included a short excerpt from the book. This scene takes place in St. Louis when Ethan and Angel are checking into the hotel there. We see Ethan quick to be irritated by the clerk’s mispronunciation of his name and it draws out his sense of humor.

*****

I cleared my throat, and the clerk looked up. “Oh! May I help you, sir?”

“Yes. Name’s Joubert. I telegraphed for reservations three days ago.”

He pushed his glasses up his nose and went to shuffling another stack of papers. “Oh, here it is. Mr. Ethan Joe-bert,” he said reading my name off the reservation telegram.

“It is Joubert,” I replied, using the correct French pronunciation.

“Joe-bert,” he repeated, not even coming close.

“No, Joubert. Draw out the ‘J’ sound, and the second syllable sounds almost like ‘bear’, not ‘bert,’ except more tongue out front and an almost silent ‘t’ on the end. Try it.”

The clerk bravely tried to follow my instructions and failed with a hard sounding “Joe”. “No,” and I reached out and pinched his cheeks to pucker his mouth. “J-j-jou…”

Another hard “Joe” came out, but this one sounded more like it was uttered by a duck being strangled. Angel snickered behind my back. I looked around and glared at her. She pinched her mouth closed in an attempt to hide her amusement, but her laughing eyes gave her away. Turning back to my new friend, I repeated, “Joubert. Try it again.”

He failed once more. Angel couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out laughing. “Give it up, Poppa.”

Resigned to my fate, I said to the clerk. “Very well, just call me Joe-bert.”

He was much relieved. “Oh, thank you very much, sir!”

I shrugged in resignation.

*****

The working title remains If Ever I Cease to Love for now. More on the book here.

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Cherry Bounce Update #2

Two months ago I posted about my cherry bounce experiments and updated that about ten days later with my first update, concerning the second experiment. I was supposed to wait three months before bottling. Well, that didn’t happen. I figured two was enough. So, today I decanted my mash into 200ml bottles and tasted it.

There were two recipes being tested. The first was based on one supposedly from Martha Washington. It called for cooking the cherries and sugar for 20 minutes and using rye whiskey. The second came from a friend, which was his mother’s recipe. It called for cooking only enough to dissolve the sugar and used vodka for the alcohol. Both recipes called for fresh sour cherries, which I did not have and used dried tart cherries instead. Neither recipe made mention of the sugar, but if you have been following my rants here, you will know that I have a fondness for turbinado sugar, which is sugar that is much less refined than white sugar. It is brown and granular with large grains and retains more of the molasses flavor. I especially like it in my Sazerac Cocktail recipe.

I strained out the cherry mash from both of my cherry bounce experiments and transferred the “juice” to bottles for future consumption. Unlike my dad, who was the inspiration for this experiment, I elected not to dispose of the strained cherry mash by bundling it up in cheesecloth and attempting to toss it onto the roof of the building on the other side of Bourbon Street. (This was to hide his foray into adult beverages at age 12. It didn’t make it, by the way.) Instead, I saved it in jars in the refrigerator. Janis plans to use it over ice cream—and probably a few other things she will eventually dream up. In both cases, the liquid came out a muddy reddish color because I didn’t strain it through a fine mesh, only a colander.

Now for the good part, the testing.

The Vodka Recipe – Both recipes had very intense flavors and leaned to the syrupy side of a liqueur, which is what it is supposed to be. This one much favored the taste of the cherries, and the alcohol seemed a bit stronger than in the other. I did not use an expensive vodka because I have very strong opinions on that matter. Since, by law, vodka must not have s discernable taste or flavor, I would never use an expensive vodka in a drink where its subtle (and expensive) attributes could not be appreciated. And this was such a case. This recipe was very drinkable but intense enough you could possibly use it in various cocktail recipes as a flavor ingredient.

The Rye Recipe – This one also had intense flavors but the cherry flavor was a bit less intense than in the Vodka Recipe. The use of rye whiskey also gave it a much a more complex flavor. There was a lot more going on in your mouth than the simpler and very intense cherry flavor of the Vodka Recipe. The rye whiskey came through in a very subtle way that complimented the flavor of the cherries. It was not an in-your-face whiskey experience at all.

Conclusions – While both recipes are very drinkable, and it is quite probable that some would prefer one over the other either way, my choice leans heavily to the more complex Rye Recipe. If I were using the cherry bounce as a flavor element in some cocktail, I might favor the Vodka Recipe for that purpose. Otherwise, for sipping, the Rye Recipe wins for me.

What next? – We scale up the recipe for a larger batch. I will make the Rye Recipe with a few adjustments to my test version. For one, I will not cook the mash for twenty minutes. At twenty minutes, the sugars were beginning to turn into syrup. I think ten minutes might work just fine.

Other experiments? – My dad almost certainly used a different recipe from these two. Unfortunately, he isn’t around to ask about that, and we can find no record of his original recipe. One thing that makes me suspect his was different is I am pretty sure he did not use added alcohol like the two recipes above. The reason I believe that is he had fermentation going on in his version. Once he corked the bottle too tightly, and it blew the top off, scaring the wits out of our maid who was washing dishes right next to it. The added alcohol seems to inhibit that because it kills any yeast present, preventing fermentation. These recipes would more accurately be called “infusions.” If I can come up with a recipe that I think is closer to my dad’s I will run another experiment.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy what I have so far. Cheers!

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Last Ride…

In my book 1943 Road trip! Searching for Miss Betty on a WWII Harley-Davidson, one of my “characters” is a 1943 Harley WLA Liberator military motorcycle that my main character, Mac McConnell, bought and ends up taking on a road trip across much of southwest America in search of Miss Betty. That motorcycle is a central part of the story and the inspiration for the title—that and the fact that the backstory took place in 1943.

Well, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube of someone taking a ride on a 1943 Harley-Davidson WLA, which is linked here. It is a fun eight-minute video of the owner of the bike taking one last ride before selling it. Evidently, he lives in Great Britain because he is driving on the “wrong side” of the road. If you watch the vid, notice how he has to shift gears, using a hand shifter on the left side of the gas tank. Modern bikes use a much more convenient foot shifter so your hands stay on the handlebars. The siren you hear during the vid is on the bike itself and not some cop trying to pull him over.

I owned a motorcycle for only a few years and began riding at age sixty. For the very brief time I rode with two close friends, I really enjoyed it and wished I had started much younger. As Mac says in the book, which was a quote from my friend and fellow rider, Buck Roy, “Riding is the closest you can get to flying and still be on the ground.” I really miss those lazy trips up and down the winding River Road along the Mississippi River. Watching this vid brought back those memories.

As bikers are fond of saying, “It’s the ride, not the destination.”

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Mr. Hubwumpus

My dad had a story he told to us kids, one which I will always remember and have tried to pass on to my own kids and grandkids. And that is the story of Mr. Hubwumpus. I don’t know where MB got it; perhaps from his own father or mother. He first told it to me when I was around five. I can distinctly remember the settings, which was at my grandmother’s house one evening not long after my mother married MB.

Mr. Hubwumpus was a strange animal indeed. He was a dragon of sorts. He was green and had scales for skin, and he breathed fire and smoke like a dragon. His most unusual feature was that he had a light on the end of his tail and eyes on the back of his head. In a weird kind of logic, the light on his tail and eyes on the back of his head were there because, as MB put it, “He needed to see where he has been.”

No, I can’t make any sense of it either, not now and not when I was five. Light on his tail? Eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been…? It’ll give you a headache.

About the time I turned fourteen my mother decided she was going to turn the tale of Mr. Hubwumpus into a children’s book and get rich while confusing kids all over the world with the tail light/eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been brain teaser of an animal. I had some artistic ability, which I eventually turned into a profession designing ads and packages for some large international brands. I got this talent from my mother. Interestingly, she studied art at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1941, later dropping out of school when the war started. I studied advertising design there in 1964 when it was called the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). The director of the art department was a Dr. Robertson. When I met him, I asked if he remembered my mother and he said he did.

Back to my story.

My mother decided I needed to illustrate the story, which she would write. Since the story of Mr. Hubwumpus had never gotten past a description of this creature in its early tellings, she had to invent a tale for the book, which ended up being along the lines of Mr. Hubwumpus had something of an identity crisis over his frightening appearance but wanted to make friends with a “people”, which turned out to be little Jimmy. But Jimmy’s mother saw them together told her son he must have nothing to do with that horrible looking monster. That was not good for Mr. Hubwumpus’ ego, and he retreated away from “people” back into the swamp. Jimmy ran away in search of his friend and fell into quicksand, and Mr. Hubwumpus came to save him. He huffed and puffed and breathed fire, which made his tail longer and its light brighter so Timmy could be pulled from the quicksand. All this was witnessed by the townspeople—you know the type: those holding the pitchforks and torches. And seeing the evil-looking Mr. Hubwumpus save Jimmy…well. (This is Copyrighted, BTW.) I just reread the manuscript, and the story is actually quite charming.

Meanwhile, my friends wanted to know what was taking up so much of my playtime. Being sworn to secrecy by my mother, I had to reply. “It’s Top Secret. I can’t tell you.”

Well, I ran into one of my old childhood buddies recently. That would be Lebo Centanni. Hadn’t seen him since we were kids in Kenner except very briefly in 1972 in Anchorage, Alaska when I was getting out of the Air Force, and Lee was flying C-130s out of Elmendorf AFB. Evidently, poor Lebo had been consumed by this top secret thing ever since we were kids and now some sixty years later he asks me, “Lane, I have to know. Back when we were kids you were working on this ‘Top Secret’ project with your mother. What in the hell was it?”

Wow! Sixty years and not knowing about Mr. Hubwumpus has been eating Lebo up all that time. For a brief moment, I considered stringing poor, eaten-up Lebo along and saying it was still “classified” but decided to finally spill the beans about Mr. Hubwumpus.

I think he was disappointed, but at least he can sleep at night now.

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The Lost Rocks

I was recently reminded by Janis (again) of an incident that happened over 45 years ago. I had received  PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders from George AFB, CA to King Salmon, AK. King Salmon AFS was a remote, unaccompanied tour (no dependents) for one year, which happened to be my final eleven months in the Air Force.

I made Staff Sergeant (paygrade E5) the first of November. We were leaving on the first of December for leave before I had to report to Elmendorf AFB, AK by the end of the year. I did get to spend Christmas at home that year.

We had driven to California two and a half years before in a red ’68 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu with all our belongings packed in that car and on top. We looked like a modern version of depression era dust-bowl poor Oakies on the way to California. While packing the Chevelle back in New Orleans, we discovered that boxes take up a lot of valuable space, so we packed much of our stuff without boxes, utilizing every nook and cranny in that car. For months after arriving at George, every time I opened the trunk I would discover some nicknack we had missed unpacking that had vibrated out of some nook or cranny in the trunk.

In those two and a half years at George AFB, we accumulated a lot of stuff, more stuff than you can imagine—way more stuff than what would fit in the Chevy Vega we owned then, which was smaller than the Chevelle. We had also “accumulated” a child (Heath) who would be taking up the back seat of that tiny Vega.

Heath would get car sick every time he got in a car back then, so we fed him Dramamine the whole trip. Yes, we drugged him. He didn’t puke, but he slept the whole way home.

Fortunately, the fact that I made E5 a month before we moved qualified me for the Air Force to pay for moving my household goods (HHG). The movers arrived and packed all the stuff we had in our apartment, and I was still under the 6,000 pounds limit for an E5. The mover asked us if we wanted him to pack the various rocks out on our patio that Janis had collected in our trips out in the desert and the nearby San Bernardino mountains. I’m not talking little rocks here. These were big rocks—watermelon size rocks.

Janis said, “Yes.”

I said, “Hell no!”

That was a decision I have come to regret and am still regretting to this day because she is constantly reminding that I made her leave her rocks in California. I suspect she will note that on my headstone. “He left my rocks in California!”

The picture is of that red Chevelle and Janis with Heath (in the oven). I prefer to forget the Vega.

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Two-Bits

Two-Bits was my cat. I was about six when he came into my life. He was a pitiful black and white kitten roaming the street behind Kenner High School and in danger of being run over by a car. I wanted to bring him home, but my grandmother, who picked me up at school, would not allow it. I told my even more soft-hearted mother about the kitten, and she immediately went and retrieved him.

And much to my dad’s chagrin, we owned a cat, or more accurately a cat owned us. MB claimed he hated cats, but either he got over that or he was lying because he seemed to take to Two-Bits. In fact, he is the one who named him Two-Bits.

Two-Bits grew to be a big old, handsome, butt-kicking tomcat, and like most all tomcats, Two-Bits would go “tomcatting.” He would disappear for days at a time and come home somewhat lighter in weight and usually battle-scarred. He would stay home on R&R for a while to rebuild his vitality before he would go out tomcatting again. I imagine old Two-Bits had hundreds of progeny around Kenner.

Alas, my mother decided to end his tomcatting days, and Two-Bits made a short trip to the vet to returned minus two body parts. That was supposed to solve the tomcatting problem, but tomcatting was so ingrained in his psyche by then that the fact he no longer had the necessary “tomcatting equipment” didn’t even slow old Two-Bits down. He continued to tomcat the rest of his days and come home with just as many scars—albeit without leaving any more progeny around Kenner to carry on his heritage.

I don’t recall how long he lived or even when he died, but he was still around when I was a teenager and dating Janis. That would put him at ten years or better.

Two-Bits had the run of the house, and he exercised that privilege to its fullest. He went wherever he wanted and pretty much did whatever he wanted to do. That fact shocked Janis when we were eating a roast beef poboy at the kitchen table one night. She was not accustomed to having a cat in the house, so Two-Bits was a bit of a cultural shock for her. His actions were especially shocking that night when he jumped up on the kitchen table to investigate what we were eating. Janis freaked out and so did Two-Bits. They both decamped from the table. Janis and I had cats after we got married, but they were NEVER allowed on the kitchen table or countertops.

Two-Bits was an important part of my childhood, and I do miss him even after all these years.

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OUR Little Gingerbread House

I say “our” because my granddaughter Haley and I made it—from a kit, that is. It began with a “crisis” phone call from Haley. She was home. Her mother was out with friends at Christmas party. Dad and Ruby were asleep upstairs, and poor Haley had just made thirty-five phone calls looking for a gingerbread house kit and finally found one at a Walgreens near our house.

So I put on my red cape and went to Walgreens. There I was confounded by the fact that they had two different kits.

I called Haley on the phone. “Which one?

“I can’t see them. Pick one,” she replied, somewhat exasperated at her grandfather’s inability to decide on a gingerbread house.

So I picked one—the one with the best looking packaging. (I did do package design for a living, you know.)

Arriving at Haley’s house, I softly knocked on the door, and Stella (that’s their Boxer) barked. So much for “softly knocking.” Haley answered, and we promptly began the gingerbread construction while her dad and sister blissfully snoozed upstairs.

I have been involved in many product shoots that involved creating the perfect looking elements in a perfect setting that almost always required the services of a stylist of some description to get that perfect image for the ad. I knew that what was on the box cover was an example that could never be achieved in real life by a couple of amateur gingerbread constructionists like Haley and me. We were not thus disappointed in the results.

Thinking I was better qualified to apply the white icing decorations from the squeeze bag than a ten-year-old, I assumed that role. But my windows looked like they were made of melted plastic that oozed and dripped over the sides of the gingerbread like white syrup. About halfway through the process, I passed that job off to Haley, certain she could not possibly do worse.

We were running out of white icing in the little plastic pouch that came with the kit, and Haley dragged out some red icing from a birthday party cake long past. While I was squeezing out the last of white icing from the bag, hoping against hope I could somehow save some of my blundered decorations, Haley was constructing “people” out of a mini Tootsie Rolls with gumball heads. She used the red icing to stick them to the front of the house by the alleged door made out of two chocolate Tootsie Rolls smashed roughly into the shape of a door and stuck on the front of the house with red icing.

After a moment, she stood back and commented on her work. “It looks like a murder scene,” she said, her voice somewhat critical.

I peaked around to her side of the house, and she was right. Her little Tootsie Roll people looked like they had met a “slasher.” There was “blood” everywhere! “Blood” where they stuck to the house. “Blood” on the ground around them. It looked like an attack by ISIS had taken place in the front of our little gingerbread house.

She tried to cover the “blood evidence” with the last of the white icing with only limited success, as you can see in the first image.

As a final touch of “gore”, we added Rudolph as a “trophy mount” over the back door.

Finished, our little gingerbread house bore only a passing resemblance to the one on the box. It was made out of gingerbread and covered with white icing, but in a way that looked like it had been applied by a drunken sailor on shore leave. But it was OURS.

Merry Christmas!

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Chewing Tobacco

Janis’ family, on her mother’s side, comes from Oxford, Mississippi. There is a world of difference between New Orleans and Oxford. That is one reason I enjoy our rare visits there.  Not many of her relations are left in Oxford, only her Uncle Dick (but his real name is Pat) and two of his kids remain. Others are either deceased or scattered across the US.

Dick is an absolute pleasure to be around. He has an outgoing personality and was born with a smile on his lips and an interesting story ready to tell. I have figured out what makes his story-telling so funny. It is really quite simple: He enjoys telling them so much he is grinning and laughing the whole while he tells the tale.

Dick mostly built houses with a few commercial buildings thrown in for good measure. He is 90 now but still spry and still builds things, albeit mostly much smaller projects like remodeling jobs for one of his kid’s homes.

It seems to be a tradition in Oxford for Dick (and his dad before him) to take what I call “tours” and show guests around to see the “wonders” of Oxford, MS, which, in Dick’s case, were the houses he built, including for some rather famous Oxford residents.

We were stopped and admiring one of Dick’s buildings, and he pulled out his pouch of tobacco and took a pinch for himself and offered the pouch to me. I have smoked cigarettes and a few cigars in my distant past but had never tried chewing tobacco. So out of curiosity, I took the offered pouch and retrieved a pinch and popped it into my mouth.

What followed was not expected. About the time I got it all situated over on the side of my mouth, my taste buds suddenly discovered its foreign presence and screamed, “FIRE! FIRE! QUICK, WE NEED SPIT TO PUT IT OUT! LOTS OF SPIT! SPIT! STAT!”

My mouth immediately filled up with spit, like fire-hose-wide-open full of spit! Good thing we weren’t moving, because I couldn’t get the car door open quick enough to rid myself of it. My mouth was so full my cheeks looked like a chipmunk hoarding a year’s supply of nuts. By the time I got the door open, tobacco-brown spit was already oozing uncontrollably from the corners of my mouth with a volcano-like eruption imminent.

BLAH! But that didn’t end the fire response from my taste buds. They continued to call for more spit to squelch the flames.

After a few minutes of me violently clearing my mouth and with tobacco juice running down my chin, I turned to Dick, who, by the way, was laughing, and  I said, “That is the last time I’ll do that.”

The pic above is of Uncle Dick taken only a few years ago.

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Cherry Bounce Update #1

I wrote of my Cherry Bounce experiment where I am attempting to reproduce my father’s recipe here. Not having his original recipe, I used a modified version of a recipe attributed to Martha Washington.

What I did not mention in that post is I later added a second experiment using an old recipe from a friend’s French mother, although slightly modified to accommodate my available supplies. I will call that one my Roy Recipe in honor of Mrs. Roy. She used wild cherries from her own yard. Not having a cherry tree in my backyard, I used dried, tart, pie cherries. Her recipe called for vodka instead of whiskey or brandy and not cooking the mash. So I have two jars set aside to rest for three months.

Well, I couldn’t wait any longer. I know, it has been slightly less than two weeks, but I had to taste them.

I could drink them now, and probably will next week for Christmas. The Martha Washington recipe with the cooked mash and Sazerac Rye whiskey is rich in flavors and complex, much of which comes from the rye whiskey. The Roy Recipe is less complex due to the vodka but is still quite good. Without the MW version to compare to, you would like it a lot. But I think I much prefer the more complex Martha Washington version. I’m pretty sure that one or a version of it will be the basis of my next and larger batch I’ll make after Christmas.

I will allow others to taste both at Christmas and let you know what comes out of that.

Cheers.

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Cherry Bounce

My dad, Dr. MB Casteix, used to make cherry bounce. His foray into creating adult beverages began when he was quite young. Since he started college two years earlier than most, having skipped two grades, he must have been younger than 16 on his first attempt because he was still living at home with his parents. At that time they were living on Bourbon Street in the building that is now the Famous Door Bar. It was a pharmacy at then, and the family lived above it. I wrote about his cherry bounce escapades here.

I decided I would like to attempt to recreate MB’s cherry bounce, but I don’t have his recipe and have no idea how he made it. I did a search online and found a few recipes, including one that is attributed to Martha Washington.

I did know one thing about MB’s recipe, and that was that it evidently continued to ferment in the bottle. In that linked post above, there was a recalled incident of the top blowing off the bottle and scaring the hell out of our maid. The recipes I found called for adding bourbon, rye, or brandy to the cooked cherry mash then storing that for three months. The alcohol should prevent any further fermenting, I would think. But I have to go with what I have.

So…I created a modified version of Martha’s recipe in smaller test proportions and cooked up a batch. The attached pic is the cherry mash before adding the rye whiskey. Unfortunately, we will have to wait three months to see if it is any good.

So, stand by…

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