Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hubig's Pies are Coming Back!

           On July 18, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a press release heralding the opening of a new factory for Hubig’s Pies in Jefferson Parish. The factory, set to open in 2020, will mark the return of Hubig’s Pies to Louisiana and the Greater New Orleans area for the first time since 2012, when the original factory, located in the Marigny, burned down.  Over the years, many of New Orleans culinary staples like king cakes and beignets have become well-known. But Hubig’s Pies were, in the words of food writer Ian McNulty, “one of the subtle homegrown pleasures of New Orleans that the city kept for itself.”  

            The Hubig’s Pie itself is a fruit-filled turnover covered in glaze. Once sold in grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores, Hubig’s pies were a staple food item for Louisianans as they grew up.  Governor Edwards described how as a child, he “went to a store and at the cash register you always had the cardboard boxes of Hubig's pies. My favorite was the apple pie. I was always really disappointed if I went through the checkout and I wasn't able to get one of those pies.”  

            Hubig’s Pies arrived in New Orleans in 1922, the brainchild of Simon Hubig, a Spanish immigrant, who arrived in the United States after World War I. He opened the first Hubig’s location in Fort Worth, Texas in 1922 before expanding across the southeastern United States. The Great Depression led to the closure of all of the Hubig’s locations except New Orleans. Unlike other large-scale bakeries, Hubig's relied on workers to produce its pies. The New Orleans location, with its prominent red and blue metal sign, became ubiquitous across New Orleans. Savory Simon, the company’s mascot, was featured prominently on the packaging and advertising.

            By the time Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005, Hubig’s was producing over 25,000 pies per week. Flavors included: apple, lemon, peach, pineapple, chocolate, coconut, blueberry, and sweet potato. Hubig’s Pies were also popular as gifts for parties and weddings. During the Saints 2009 Super Bowl run, the company ran a special “Hu-Dat” Pie. Hurricane Katrina damaged the exterior of the Hubig’s factory, but the company managed to reopen in early 2006. 

            On July 27, 2012, the Hubig’s bakery caught on fire in the early morning hours. The fire burned quickly and within an hour the entire building had collapsed. The company announced plans to rebuild, but insurance disputes and other delays quickly piled up. In 2015, the New Orleans City Planning Commission approved plans to build residential buildings on the factory site. Currently, the site is home to condos. 

            While Governor Edwards announced Hubig’s return, the company does not have a specific factory site yet. They have only been granted a small business guarantee loan from the state. The company has stressed that this is an early, but positive step in bringing the company back to life. They also announced they have no plans to change the pie’s famous recipe.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

New Orleans Fried Chicken

New Orleans is known for its rich food culture--Cajun food, Creole food, gumbo, jambalaya, fried seafood, turtle soup, bananas foster, the list goes on and on and on. But New Orleans is also known for its fried chicken. The Crescent City is the birthplace of Popeye's and the New Orleans area restaurants use a special spice blend created by founder Al Copeland that can't be found elsewhere.

A few years ago, Nola.com created a guide to New Orleans fried chicken. In the video below you can see the best fried chicken New Orleans has to offer, but if you want to try it for yourself you'll just have to come visit!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

12 Years a Slave

            English director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave, is the best portrayal of American slavery put to film. Instead of presented a sanitized version of the Old South, made famous by Gone With the WindMcQueen reveals the violence, ordinary and extraordinary, that characterized the relationship between masters and slaves. 

            12 Years a Slave never lets the audience escape from the violence inherent to American slavery. McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt keep the camera fixed on a series of violent acts. When Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrives in a Washington D.C. slave pen, a slave catcher batters him with a paddle. After Northup’s near hanging by John Tibeats (Paul Dano), he remains hanging by the neck, his toes tapping on the muddy ground just barely preventing him from choking. The longer the scene drags on, the greater the possibility that Northup will lose his tenuous balance and die. Edwin Epps’s (Michael Fassbender) whipping of Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) towards the end of the film brings this extraordinary violence full circle. Epps whips her on suspicion of sleeping with another white man. The scene grows especially disturbing as Epps orders Northup, at gunpoint, to whip Patsey as well. Mrs. Epps (Sarah Paulson) watches the spectacle in satisfied approval, as Patsey, the object of Edwin Epps’s sexual desire, suffers horribly. These moments of extraordinary violence remind the audience that violence stood at the core of American slavery. 

            The film also reminds its audience of the casual and systematic violence that pervaded throughout the Slave South. In a New Orleans slave pen, Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) demonstrates the physical attributes of a young male slave in one moment. In the next, he beats Eliza (Adepero Oduye), a female slave, for crying at the potential separation of her family. Freeman, then, calmly immediately returns to his business. His ordinary business transaction becomes Eliza’s worst nightmare. In the middle of a midnight dance, Mrs. Epps throws a whiskey decanter at Patsey’s face, badly hurting her. Mrs. Epps, then, orders the dancing to continue as if nothing had happened. In another scene on Epps’s plantation, slaves endure whippings for failing to meet their work quotas as children frolic in a field and slaves go about their daily work. As Northup’s life rests on the pattering of his toes, the other slaves go about their lives, ignoring the nearly dead man only a few feet away. Only a brave female slave shows compassion and brings him a drink of water before fleeing in terror at the arrival of Northup’s owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). In these scenes, violence proves devastatingly banal. 

            12 Years a Slave highlights the wide range of experiences endured by the enslaved. Eliza fathered children by her master and received special favor from him. She had slaves to serve her until her master’s family orchestrated the sale of her and her children south. Clem, a slave in Burch’s slave pen, swears that his master will redeem him. Clem rejoices and embraces his master when he appears to reclaim him. Patsey, Epps’s best cotton picker and the object of his lust, demonstrates the vulnerability of slave women to sexual exploitation by their masters and hatred from their mistresses. Mrs. Shaw (Alfre Woodard), the black mistress of a white man, prides herself on being served by slaves and not having to work the fields. Her horrifying pragmatism and scorn for her fellow slaves highlights how some slaves carved out comfortable niches for themselves.  

            There is a similar diversity in the white characters and their role in perpetuating slavery. William Ford is a kind master, but only as kind as a system that brutalizes an entire race of people allows. He protects Northup from murder, but chides him for his character and behavior. Tibeats, the dimwitted degenerate, tries to demonstrate his mastery over Northup and winds up on the wrong end of a vicious beating. Chapin, Ford’s overseer, saves Northup’s life, but only because Ford would lose money if Northup died. Freeman traffics in human flesh as easily as if he were selling produce. Mrs. Epps, the coldly unsympathetic plantation mistress, lashes out at her husband and Patsey alike. 

            Fassbender and Ejiofor warrant special attention for their performances. Fassbender's Epps is Southern ideas of slave mastery taken to their most brutal and extreme. He terrifies his slaves by bursting into their cabins and demanding they dance for his amusement. He surprises Northup with a barely contained menace that never rises above a whisper. While giving instructions, he casually rests his arm on the head of one of young male slaves. He lusts after Patsey with unrestrained abandon, raping her for his own gratification and entering into a crazed passion at the suspicion of her sleeping with another white man. Fassbender’s performance embraces the unchecked power of mastery. 

            Ejiofor ably captures Northup’s descent into the horrors of slavery. At the beginning of the film, his voice is cheerful and buoyant. By the time he reunites with his family, his voice, worn down by year of enslavement, cracks and stammers. The voice of Solomon Northup remains, but is irrevocably broken. Ejiofor conveys the strain of Northup’s enslavement just underneath the surface, knowing never to express too much anger at his situation. He chides Eliza about crying over the loss of her children. Northup sympathizes with her plight, but demands that she, like him, vow to survive rather than submit to grief. 

            The film also juxtaposes white and slave religion. Both Ford and Epps read the Bible to their slaves, dictating it to them and stressing a message of submission. The slaves sit or stand silently as their master imparts his lesson. When left alone, the enslaved sing spirituals and embrace a participatory faith. Slaves engaged in collective religious services as a way of binding together and seeking strength to survive the tortures of enslavement. 

            By showing Northup’s sale from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, the film highlights the importance of the domestic slave trade. Public understandings of slavery in America have stressed the importance of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the horrors of the Middle Passage. Yet the United States ended its participation in the Atlantic Slave Trade in 1808 and the American slave population had long since begun growing through natural reproduction. A large domestic slave trade emerged to facilitate the movement of slaves from the Mid-Atlantic to the expanding slave South.     

            12 Years a Slave represents the best film about American slavery by placing the African American experience at the heart of the movie. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Hamilton in New Orleans

         Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton opens with a question: “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” Miranda answers this question with a musical that pulses with relentless energy, employing a multi-racial cast of sympathetic and flawed characters to invest all Americans—regardless of race—in the history of early America. 

         In person, the musical itself is a wonder to behold. From the very beginning of Hamilton, the performers move across the stage with an unrelenting energy. The excitement of the performers and the audience highlights the unique ability of live theater to immerse us in a different time and place.  

Hamilton inside the Saenger 

         Miranda presents Alexander Hamilton as driven, brilliant, and brazenly arrogant. His journey from Caribbean orphan to cabinet secretary epitomizes the American myth that greatness awaits anyone willing to work for it. Hamilton is a Horatio Alger hero incarnate. His skills raise him out of poverty and into the simmering cauldron of Revolutionary era New York City. By the end of the first act, Hamilton is accepting the position of Secretary of the Treasury in George Washington’s administration. In the second act, Hamilton’s arrogance and devotion to his own legacy overwhelm him. He cheats on his wife Eliza with a woman named Maria Reynolds. Later when Hamilton is accused of paying cash to Reynolds’s husband as part of a land speculation scheme (and not as hush money to cover up the affair), Hamilton decides to clear his name. The song “Hurricane” reveals that Hamilton has learned the wrong lesson from his life. Instead of ignoring the insinuations about his character, he decides that he’ll “write ev’rything down, far as I can see… I’ll write my way out… overwhelm them with honesty.” By admitting that he cheated on his wife, Hamilton ruins his political career and his marriage. His reconciliation with Eliza only comes after the death of their son Philip in a duel. Hamilton, however, cannot find peace for long as his simmering conflict with Burr boils over onto a dueling ground in Weehawken. 

         While ostensibly the villain of the show, Burr is a tragic figure. After having being orphaned, Burr is cautious and self-interested. He outlines his philosophy in “Wait for It.” Burr sings, “I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original. I am not falling behind or running late. I am not standing still, I am lying in wait.” Burr stands in comparison to the ambitious Hamilton. He remains patient until he sees Hamilton succeed after following Burr’s advice to “talk less, smile more.” Angry that he's been denied credit and power, Burr declares, “I wanna be in the room where it happens.” From that point on, he does whatever is necessary to accumulate power for himself, including unseating Hamilton’s father-in-law in the senate, allying himself with Jefferson and Madison, and most famously trying to steal the election of 1800 from Jefferson. After Jefferson excludes him from his administration, Burr focuses his rage on Hamilton, the man he now believes has undermined his entire career. It’s only after the duel that Burr realizes that his ambition killed his best friend and further ruined his political career. He laments his own failings and recognizes that “the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” 

Hamilton and Washington 

         In the hands of a lesser storyteller, the women of the Revolutionary era might have fallen by the wayside—reduced to the sideshow roles of many musicals. But not in Hamilton. He elevates their role to that of active participants in the Revolutionary era. Angelica Schuyler is introduced searching the streets of New York City for someone who can match her intellect and rejecting all those, like Burr, who fail to measure up. She eventually finds a intellectual equal in Hamilton, but directs him towards her sister Eliza in a show of sisterly love and in acquiescence to the social demands of her time—the penniless son of an immigrant is no fit for the eldest daughter of one of the colony’s richest men. Hamilton wins Eliza over, but his relentless ambition drives a wedge into their relationship. When he cheats on her, Eliza destroys their correspondence, striking a blow at Hamilton’s most prized possession, his legacy. She asserts her own agency through this act of destruction. In depicting the Schuyler sisters as fully realized characters with motivations outside of their relationships to men, Miranda embraces a broader understanding of the Founding generation. It is not just the Washingtons, Adamses, and Jeffersons that are worthy of our attention.

         Through the racially diverse cast Miranda has brought forth a new interpretation of the past--of the Revolutionary generation through the lens of hip-hop. He makes their struggles relatable to people of the 21stcentury. If the nuances of financial policy and cabinet debates fall upon deaf ears in the classroom, when reconceptualized as a hip hop battle they become more understandable. By portraying Americans of the past as Americans of today, Miranda also opens up American history to those who learned it solely as the province of dead white men. The Founders aren’t dead. They’re alive and they look like us. This more inclusive view of the Founding gives everyone a stake in American history—even those who didn’t have one then. In Hamilton, everyone can be in the room where it happens.