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Big Easy Living: New Orleans thanksgivings

I’m not big on culinary traditions. The only must-have dish on our Thanksgiving menu is asparagus casserole – an oddity that came out of a Junior League cookbook in the ‘60s and somehow stuck. It’s made with canned mushroom soup and a béchamel sauce, which seems like a complete kitchen oxymoron to me.

This does not mean, however, that we are a family that lacks traditions. Like most others, our group succumbs to holiday formulaic behavior, from the mandatory cutthroat Christmas Eve greed game to the order in which our stockings are hung.

Stewart has a Thanksgiving tradition that inevitably inspires eye-rolling all around, but we all pitch in. (And don’t tell him, but the holiday probably wouldn’t be complete without it.) First, he makes each of us at the table name one thing we are thankful for. Which is nice.

But then he follows it up with a Twenty Questions inquisition, as only a lawyer can. What’s everyone’s favorite color? (Still green.) Favorite animal? (Still horse.) Favorite holiday? (Still Halloween.) Favorite family anecdote? (Do I have to go there?)

This year, I’m trying to get ahead of the curve, with a little early morning Turkey Day pondering. What am I truly thankful for? Can I think of any new embarrassing family moments to share?

The exercise turned my musings to New Orleans, a city I love unreservedly – and find occasionally beyond frustrating. (Not unlike family.)

Of course I love the obvious things about the Big Easy – its music, its food, its sense of fun. But what I really am thankful for are the city’s many quirky blessings, things that fly under national radar, but that make this the city the one we all love.

So I asked my family to modify the tradition, just a bit. This year, instead of general thanksgivings, I’ve asked them to think about what they specifically are thankful for about New Orleans.

Here are some of the things they tell me they will mention, as we gather around the Thanksgiving table.

We are thankful that New Orleans:

  • Was rebuilt through grassroots efforts by people like us.
  • Has volunteers who still come here.
  • Is a city so creative that it has a Red Dress Run and a Running of the Bulls, even though there are no bulls.
  • Is a place where young people still come to change the city, which led to us being named entrepreneur city of the year.
  • Has the Saints (duh), but the season is not year round so some of us can come up for air on Sundays.
  • Lucked out with the levee breaks, since all the historic areas – our tourism meal ticket – were spared.
  • Has chefs who can create desserts like the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding at Boucherie, a meeting of the mundane and the esoteric that reaches subliminal heights.
  • Still has a one-screen theater, and it still plays “Let’s all go the lobby” before every show.
  • Has weekend festivals dedicated to things like po-boys.
  • Has po-boys.
  • Has bars without closing times, and that offer go-cups.
  • Has so many gorgeous houses with gingerbread trim and 14-foot ceilings.
  • No longer has Ray Nagin as mayor.
  • Is short on chain restaurants and long on mom-and-pop places.
  • Has had Mardi Gras every year through war and upheaval, with only one cancellation in more than 100 years, and people partied anyway.
  • Is a place where, if you go to Rue de la Course on a Thursday afternoon or Rock’ n Bowl on a Tuesday night, you will see someone you know.
  • Is a place where you can be yourself, and people appreciate it.
  • Is a place where you can walk down the street in the fake fur coat you bought to be Margot Tannenbaum on Halloween and no one looks at you twice.
  • Residents get it, so that you don’t have to tell them the city is fabulous. They know.
  • Is a place where, by the time you are 19, you are an undeniably amazing parallel parker.
  • Is a city where celebrities congregate because the locals leave them alone.
  • Has far fewer Occupiers than other cities do, because we are probably the only place in the country where there is no one who actually belongs to the 1%.

Renee Peck, a former feature editor and writer at The Times-Picayune, is editor of NolaVie.


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