Westmount, Montreal: My Neighborly Canadian Neighborhood

I spend part of my life in Montreal. Thankfully, we live in Westmount, an English-speaking neighborhood. My French is terrible. Perhaps because my high school French teacher was Madame Sanchez.

French is the current official language in Montreal. If a sign is written in English, the French word has to appear first, and larger. Shopkeepers don't have to speak English -- and they sometimes can't. In any event, I want to at least understand French. I'd like to look like a native rather than a Texas rube that just tumbled off the turnip truck.

Speaking of produce, I love to shop for food when traveling. It's fun to see all of the stuffs we don't have in America, either because it's illegal or indigenous.

I can't drive in Canada, which is fine -- the shoppes I need line one street, which is a charming 3 block walk from our apartment. I call it E-street. There's a boucherie, a boulangerie, a charcuterie, a fromagerie, a patisserie and a poisonnerie. To warm cold feet, there's an Uggerie.

I devour the exotic foods as well as savor the flavor of the shopkeepers. Tony the butcher's lamb chops come with a side of eye-roll from his wife at his curmudgeoniness. The sweet baker at Le Fournil had me at hamantaschen. Shop hopping to several stores to gather interesting, fresh, local ingredients is right up my alley. It takes a village to build a dinner; Westmount is that village.

One day, I sauntered into the fancy patisserie, Gascogne. I don't know anyone that works there; but as I inhaled, I smelled friends of mine -- gateway drugs -- bread baking and chocolate melting.

When you enter most shops in Montreal, if they don't know you, you're greeted with an English/French mashup, Bonjour/Hi. In the language you respond, they respond.

A bearded baker with his head down and focused, rumbled, Bonjour.

I was only there to ogle the goodies, and perhaps pick up one tiny, individual pie. A treat to pop in my mouth as street-walking sustenance.

Bonjour, I replied, hoping that my Lubbock accent was suppressed enough for me to pass as a Montrealer.

J'jehsi kn;irjjbjkb dlj*&Y(*&T s.,mndfrrrjheieiueb !! lksc;lsiru , HYFE dsv;lrsdn;gih ?, he asked.

I froze up. I figured he was asking me if I needed help. I could do this simple transaction alone.

Non, merci, I managed. I grabbed a metal shopping basket and swung it, hoping to cause a glint that distracted him away from my lack of comprehension.

I bent over the refrigerated case, admiring the elaborate creations and thinking they'd save money on utilities by keeping these items ootside, where the temperature is usually well below freezing. I chose an eclair. L'eclairs coco citron -- a brightly decadent lemon, chocolate, creme-filled delight. These horizontal doughnuts are one of my favorite grab-and-go pastries. I walk down the street and ram them in my mouth like a warrior busting through a thick wall.

The price was clearly displayed, 3.75$. I placed my selection in my basket and proceeded to the cashier. I greeted the young staffer with only a smile. To nip any possible communication in the bud, I handed her a pretty, 5$ Canadian bill.

Guei'r'lckndr;lkn!P*U(*&  ;JN:JKHIU f'kdvlkdnf;lk we;oih ? she asked.

Using my inside voice I yelled, Good lord, I mean, mon diex, what the hell can she want?! I gave her plenty of money. It's too late to oot myself as a tourist. I was doing great!

I replied by handing her another 5$ bill. Throwing money at a problem often works.

Jeu'vrns;lrkj! Ixdv/msdreijn" )(*&)&^%cdrejfberrgreie;io. She clearly wanted something.

I narrowed my eyes, grunting to myself in an attempt to comprehend and keep my cover. In Madame Sanchez' French class, I'd squint and stare at her, focusing on the line where her forehand ended and her bouffant hairstyle started. It was easy to imagine her bald. That fantasy kept me from getting bored as she droned on and on in French. It also kept me from learning French.

Back in the patisserie, I shoved a 10$ bill towards the cashier's mouth, as if I were extinguishing her firestorm of language.

I asked if you wanted a bag, she said in perfect, non-accented English.

I took my lumps and eclair and left.

There's a bright side to every tragedy.  Et voila, behold les shoppes:

Fried Chicken Recipe: Momma Wanted to Throw Us From The Train

I feel fortunate that I still have my hair. And that I got to spend time with my great-grandmother until I was in my twenties, and my grandmother until I was thirty-something.

Maybe my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother (pictured left) are why I have my hair. They're for sure why I can cook.

I held onto their apron strings, eventually tying the apron around my own waist. Even though they're not with me technically, I tell their stories and cook their food. They're always with me.

I Tell The Tale of New Orleans At Mardi Gras

Hit New Orleans any time and you're greeted with delicious, deeply developed flavors found no where else.

Treat the city like a bowl of spicy gumbo. Tear off a chunk of French bread. Dredge it along the bottom of the bowl. Soak up every bit.

Experience New Orleans at Mardi Gras and you'll feast on the world's wildest street party. Around every corner you'll find a gasp. Some naughty, some nice, and likely end up with a tattoo on your soul.



 As they say in the Big Easy -- Let the good times roll.

Floating On A Mardi Gras Parade

I rode on a float in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Lots of my firsts happened in New Orleans. I took a streetcar to school, met my lifelong best friend, joined the Marine Corps.

I ate my first oyster in the Big Easy. I was thirteen. My family had moved there from Texas where the most exotic slimy thing I’d ever swallowed was okra.

The waiter carried the tray of oysters as if they were valuable, easing it down onto our table. Things on ice appear more precious. I picked an oyster up. It smelled like the stinky parts of the Galveston beach. The shell was thick and jagged. Everything about it looked like something not to eat. I stared down at the gelatinous mass quivering in pearlescent liquid. I thought, “This is home now, better get used to it.” With a toss I’d seen in movies, the cold lump slid down my throat. Once those flavors get in you, you’re addicted.

Cooking Up Christmas... Ostrich

I ate roadkill one Christmas.

I love going home for the holidays. When I walk in my parent's house, familiar smells from the stove reach out to hug me before my mother can. She rushes over, fluttering her long red fingernails as if piping me aboard. She wears felt Minnie Mouse antlers, candy cane socks and a sweater vest with sequined snow men. I spy dangling ornament earrings.

#YouTube - My Cooking and Talk Show: Let's Make Eggs!

I open an email from a great friend, David Youse. He needs $3 million to open a play on Broadway. I wish I had the money -- he's a proven producer.

As I drive along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, I pass Johnny Carson's former compound.  I think, WWJD (What Would Johnny Do)?

He'd have David on his show. The exposure would send the money flowing in, very much like the ocean waves on my left. I drive on, chuckling. If only I had a talk show.