Sometimes words fail me

Wesly and I barely, just barely, began to try to imagine what life and the world will be like without our dear friend Mary, and we simply cannot.

Her loss has left a huge hole in the fabric of our lives, and although we’ll never really be able to fill it we can … I don’t know, hold up a big sign in front of it that says, “OH NO YOU DON’T!” and tell Mary stories. Ghu knows we’ve got enough of them.

Countless adventures in New Orleans, basking in the best music in the world and fabulous meals ranging from Commander’s Palace …

Wesly and Mary

Wesly and Mary anticipating our fabulous Commander’s Palace meal in May of ’07, which you can see by clicking on the photo.  While most of it was from the menu, there was a very, very special hours-to-cook main dish that Chef Tory started preparing the day before when he heard Mary and her friends were coming in.

… to bacon-wrapped hot dogs on the street.

A thing of beauty

Mary (and we) ate these beautiful things with gusto and relish (and onions!), and we really wish the LAPD would leave the vendors alone!


That’s Mary on the right, whom you can’t see because she’s quite logically and rightly more concerned with devouring that glorious bacon-wrapped hot dog than posing for my dopey picture.

There was Mary and Steve’s wedding 15 years ago en bas du chêne vert, underneath the big green oak tree behind the home of Marc and Ann Savoy in Eunice, Louisiana. We danced to the music of Marc and Ann and Michael Doucet and several other Cajun musicians, while people pinned dollar bills to Mary’s veil in the old tradition, and then all the assembled guests devoured about 700 pounds of crawfish. Fortunately when you’re already dressed for a crawfish boil you don’t have to worry about getting crawfish juice all over your nice clothes.

There was porkchop-eating and hog squealing in Basile, Louisiana (and the spine-tinglingly wonderful story of Mary happening to come across an old cemetery next to a high school football field, wandering around and wondering out loud where the great Cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa was buried … only to find herself standing on his grave.

There was the New Orleans music box set she and I worked on together, for which we co-wrote the book — she wrote the traveling to and life in New Orleans essay, and I did the music one.  What a joy it was for us to have done that together, and we were so proud of the end result.  For that matter, there was Mary’s endless and passionate love for my home city of New Orleans, a city in which she was not born and was not raised but ultimately became just as New Orleanian as everyone else in that city, and who constantly helped me see and experience and love my own city better.

There was the fact that she’s been responsible for a great deal of content on this weblog over the last 10 years, not only because of lots of mutually enjoyed musical and gustatory experiences, or of her own exquisite food porn often sent my way, but because if I happened to go five days or (horror of horrors) a week without posting, I’d get a phone call. “Hey!” she’d  holler. “Where’s my free content?!”

There was the legendary trip to Las Vegas where we became The Fat Pack, sitting around a big table at the wonderful Rosemary’s Restaurant and all eight of us, without planning, each ordered a different appetizer and entrée, with sixteen dishes orbiting the table all night and much gustatory delight and laughter.  And there was later that trip, when Mary informed us that her editors at Frommer’s had complained that one of the sections of the Las Vegas book was out of date and she’d have to re-review the places in it… so she packed us all up in the minivan and together we made the rounds of three Vegas strip joints.  Good gravy, what a strange night that was.  We have stories. (Hi, Melinda! Your two new gay friends say you’re their favorite non-male stripper ever!)

There were a dozen and a half or more Jazzfests, the Bayou St. John house they owned with Nettie and Diana and so many great days passed there, and on the Fair Grounds so many magical musical moments we all shared, and there was dancing in the rain, which I think made for the most fun Jazzfests of all.

The Fat Pack in the rain

This is how the professionals do it.

There were peaceful, relaxing times at beautiful houses on the Cajun prairie …

Mary and Robin and a serene afternoon at the Seale Guest House in Eunice, LA

Mary and Robin and a serene afternoon at the Seale Guest House in Eunice, LA

A rare photo that includes the entire original Fat Pack. And why is Mary on the phone? Undoubtedly hearing something juicy!

A rare photo that includes the entire original Fat Pack. And why is Mary on the phone? Undoubtedly hearing something juicy!

And there were many, many crawfish boils.

You call that a crawfish? That's not a crawfish, mate ... THAT'S a crawfish!

You call that a crawfish? That’s not a crawfish, mate … THIS is a crawfish!

And as Wesly said earlier, there were books and talks and deep conversations and endless amounts of love and so much that she brought to our lives (to name but one, how she gently pointed out to Wesly what a good idea it’d be for us to move in together already … and that went well!).   It’s going to take us 20 years to remember and recount all the stories.

Since sometimes my words fail me  I wanted to bring you some words from Mary herself, first.

On her website there are archives of the articles she wrote for the Los Angeles Times about her initial diagnosis and first two go-rounds with cancer, plus the archives of Merry Maladies, the mailing list she maintained for her Best Beloveds, so that the people in far-flung locales around the world who loved her could keep in touch with what was going on with her, interspersed with regular doses of food porn.  It’s a lot of reading, but it’s really, really worth it … and of course, for a subject so serious, it’s always funny.

Then there was the final Merry Maladies missive, written by Rick, her best friend of 20 years:

Her husband Steve, her mom, her dear friend Nettie, and myself were in the room, talking about how today is Fat Tuesday. I looked over at her and said, “We’re going to go get on a plane and go to Mardi Gras, right Mary?” And she raised her head slightly and then was gone.

She always had great timing.

Rick wrote more on their joint website Plucky Survivors, which recounted their 10,000 miles of travel around the smaller corners of America.

There was the first public mention, the next day on L.A. Observed, and a really lovely brief piece in the L.A. Times the day after, which is a must-see because of the fabulous picture of Mary with her and Steve’s dogs.  That was one I didn’t have, and it’s in my phone forever now.  The Times today published a superb full-length obit, plus their own links to Mary’s articles for them.

There’s the wonderful outpouring from the Threadhead community; i.e., the Jazzfest fans from all over who hang out in the Jazzfest online forum. (Threadhead Records and all the wonderful work Chris Joseph and friends do for New Orleans music sprang from that forum.)

And the love just kept coming in. Tuesday night after she passed, Phast Phreddie wrote Steve to let him know that Dave Alvin dedicated a song to Mary during his show in New York.  The next day, Joel Savoy and family and friends played a Cajun fiddle tune and said a prayer for her at the grave of Dennis McGee, and bade Steve “prends courage.”  And as I write Jellyroll Justice, one of my favorite DJs on WWOZ, has dedicated his show to her.  All of them and many more have comforted us, and our thanks is mighty.

In the midst of our grief and deep sadness I have to confess I also felt flashes of anger. It’s so damned unfair, and we’re really, really sick of cancer. On Tuesday I wanted to break something (when I got really angry as a kid I used to break molded plastic coat hangers, which shattered quite satisfyingly). Fortunately I take comfort and joy, as Mary did, in music and song, and the beautiful words of John Boutté and Paul Sanchez helped to soothe me.

Don’t waste your time being angry
When a moment is better with a smile.

That is the opening line of one of my very favorite songs in the world (and one that Mary loved too), called “At the Foot of Canal Street,” written by John Boutté and Paul Sanchez, and performed by them both, singly and together.  All I have to do is think about her and I’ll smile, and the moment will be made better.

The song sprang from a comment John made when he and Paul were comparing their backgrounds and neighborhoods; John said, “Well, it don’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, sooner or later we’re all gonna be together at the foot of Canal Street, baby.” That’s because where Canal Street ends in New Orleans is a cluster of cemeteries … also some of Mary’s favorite places. (Her personal tours of St. Louis Cemetery in N.O. and Hollywood Forever here were great.)

When Diana called me with the news, this song broke through the numbness and the tears … I thought, she has laid her burdens down at the foot of Canal Street.

Listen to the song, and listen closely to the words. Now that you know what they mean, you’re a little bit more local now, and you’ll appreciate it a lot more.

“At the Foot of Canal Street,” by John Boutté

And one day, my dear Mary, I’ll see you there at the foot of Canal Street.

(P.S. – If you came here directly and haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss Wesly’s post.)


You leave this world and become a dream

Our dear friend Mary left us today, Mardi Gras, February 16, 2010.  She had fought with cancer for years, kicking its ass repeatedly, but in the end it was too much.  I suppose it’s part of the human condition, but I have lost too many friends.  Today I am numb and deeply weary.

Mary in Jennifer Aniston dress

Mary loved New Orleans.  She loved the city so much that she bought a house there.  In Frommer’s New Orleans, which she wrote passionately and updated faithfully, she said:

This is one of the few cities in America (if not the only one) where you do not feel as if you are in America.  It may sound cliched to call New Orleans magical and seductive, but it happens to be the truth.  Every one of your senses will be engaged from the moment you arrive here.  The city is a visual delight, from the lacy ironwork wrapped around the buildings of the French Quarter to the stately, gracious old homes of the Garden District to the giant oaks that stretch across Esplanade Avenue or drip with ghostly Spanish moss in City Park.  But to just call New Orleans picturesque is not doing it justice.  Music flows from every doorway or is played right in the street.  Jazz, Cajun, blues, whatever–you’ll find yourself moving to a rhythm and wondering if the streets really are dancing along with you.  There are delicious smells in the moist, honeyed air, which seems to carry a whiff of the Carribean while caressing your skin, almost as if it were alive.

New Orleans will always and forever be inseparable in my mind from her deep and abiding love for the place.


Mary loved to read.  For Christmas she gave me a copy of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.  I confessed that I had never heard of Lydia Davis, and she confessed that neither had she, but she had it on good authority that I as a lover of short stories must read these, as they were nothing short of the form’s perfection.  I have still read only just a handful of the stories, and I never had the chance to tell her that I find them oddly, weirdly brilliant, and that rather than sinking into me they seem to stick on my surface.  I’m sure she would have looked at me, sideways and penetrating, and said, “Hmmm,” by which she invariably meant, “That is fascinating, and I’m so very glad you told me.  You must tell me more.”

Mary in India

Mary loved to ponder and think.  She recently recommended to me and her friend Quinn another book, this one called Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman, a collection (as one might well surmise) of stories exploring forty different, intriguing, hypothetical afterlives.  She said in email, regarding the story after which the collection is named,

In [the afterlife described in] the first story, “all the moments [of your life] that share a quality are grouped together.”

This one is haunting me.  This is the problem with conventional views of the afterlife, why someone as saintly as John Cobb says he hopes his adventure as John Cobb will one day come to an end.  Otherwise, can you imagine the boredom and tedium?

Not when you two are there, of course.

I’m certain this contemplation sprang from, or was rooted in the same philosophical soil as, her passionate exploration of The Likelihood (or Unlikelihood) of Things Eternal.  On February 13, three days ago, she was granted her Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy of Religion at a special ceremony in her home, surrounded by her professors and fellow students from what she loved to call God School.  Her husband Steve said,

…at the crux of her extemporaneous speech was that as she progressed through her studies people would ask, “So what’s your position on God?”  And she would reply, “I haven’t got one.”  And she stressed that she holds to that today.


Mary loved her dogs, her family and friends, and — first, foremost and always — Steve.  I can’t imagine what any of us will do without her.  The world is already a poorer place without her in it.

Mary, rest.


How to get me to brush more often

Even the son of a dentist needs more incentive.

Whiskey Tooth Paste!

(Via Boing Boing)

Now if they made rum dental floss we’d be set. In the meantime, this will have to do.


Thursday Drink Night: Trader Tiki’s Syrups

Another Thursday Drink Night is upon us, meaning that … it’s Thursday again. (These things happen.) Meet the CSOWG and various and sundry cocktail geeks at The Mixoloseum Bar (i.e., the cocktail-geekiest online chat venue) at 4pm PT / 7pm ET / 0h GMT for drink-making, insult-hurling and general verbal mayhem.

Tonight will be a fairly special one, however, as one of our own — Blair Reynolds, a.k.a. Trader Tiki — has burst upon the cocktail ingredients scene with his own line of flavoring syrups for tiki cocktails and beyond.

Trader Tiki's Syrups

Let’s taste.

I was very happy when the Tiki Fairy brought these earlier this week, because (among other reasons) I’d been wanting to make orgeat for ages but have been too frakking lazy. Blair’s orgeat is complex, with a rich almond flavor and a bit of tannin and bitterness, where I’m tasting the almond skins as well. Apricot kernels are included in the formula as well, providing that lovely bitter almond flavor in the background without any of the annoying hydrogen cyanide that bitter almonds bring to the table. This is much more complex than the cloudy white brands you see from Monin and the like, and the sweetness is kept in check. Blair favors the original French recipe, calling for rose and orange flower water in the mix. I can’t wait to try this in a Mai Tai, plus classic non-tropical cocktails like the Japanese, and one I found that fascinates me, called the Alligator (time to make some eau de melisse, looks like).

The cinnamon syrup is thick and sweet, flavored with two kinds of cinnamon — the spicy, sweet and strong cassia, and the slightly more mellow Ceylon cinnamon, with a complex, fruity, citrusy flavor (I love sprinkling Ceylon cinnamon on fruit). Perfect for some of the more famous tiki drinks (like a Jet Pilot, mmm) and whatever you can concoct.

The vanilla syrup is just as thick and sweet, with a lovely vanilla bean flavor and would be just as lovely on pancakes as it would in your drinks.

Perhaps the most fascinating flavor he’s released is Don’x Mix, named after Don the Beachcomber (aka Ernest Beaumont Gantt), who in Los Angeles in the 1930s invented the exotic tropical cocktail as we know it. “Don’s Mix” was one of his secret ingredients, mixed and bottled away from the bar and provided to the bartenders so that if one or more of them left to work for a competitor they wouldn’t be able to take his drink recipes with them. A recipe isn’t much use if one of the ingredients is listed as “Mix #6.”

In this case, though, we now know that Don’s Mix was 2 parts grapefruit juice and 1 part cinnamon syrup, used to flavor Donga Punch, Zombies and other tropical drinks. If you don’t want to make your own, this is the perfect solution. Lighter than the regular cinnamon syrup, less sweet and with a really nice tang of grapefruit, this is the one I want to get creative with. I’ve got a couple of ideas for TDN tonight and I’m going to focus on this one. Here’s hoping my drink tastes as good in the glass as it does in my head. (Then again, it might suck, but then we go back to the drawing board.)

So! Needless to say, order some syrup and get your tiki on!

Jeez, I got busy … Thursday Drink Night starts in five minutes!


Cocktail index finished – RSS onslaught over!

Okay, finally! The Looka! Cocktail Index is now complete. Well, caught up, that is. Every cocktail post from 10 years of manually coded weblog has been tediously and painstakingly imported into WordPress (with the exception of two or three really shitty recipes for boring vodka cocktails from the old old days, and if you want those you’re going to have to obsessively dig for them).

The running total so far: 315 cocktail recipes in the index, plus 49 51 more that are multiples within a single post. We haven’t yet figured how to get the AZIndex plugin to create two separate index entries that point to one post; Marleigh’s waiting to hear from the developer. When we do figure it out, that’ll bring the cocktail index up to 364 listed recipes. New cocktail recipe posts will be automatically added to the index.

Despite the tedium I really did enjoy going through all those old posts again, and there are some drinks I forgot about that we’ll now revisit — that’ll be fun. Enjoy randomly clicking through them, as there are tons of things you won’t find in cocktail guides, like original recipes by our bartender friends near and far. (Oh, and there’s one joke in there, but it’s pretty obvious.)

I truly apologize for the barrage in your RSS feeds. I thought that backdated posts wouldn’t show up in the feed as new, but of course, WordPress had to make me look like a jackass and feed them anyway. I’ve gotten some good feedback, that some of you enjoyed seeing them go by, at least. I hope it wasn’t too bad for the rest of you. Posting will now resume at its previous intermittent rate (i.e., when I feel like it and when Wesly finally gets around to another one).

Wow … I think this weblog transition is actually kinda almost done.