Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Robert St. John: Local Hopes

 NEW ORLEANS— The practice of making New Year’s resolutions is something that has never interested me. I guess I have just always assumed that I could make a vow to myself on any day, and if it’s something that I really need to do, or a practice that I need to start implementing, then I shouldn’t wait until January 1st to get to it.

The no-resolutions policy has never precluded me from having wishes, hopes, and dreams. I am 100% down with those three things. 


I’ve always been a dreamer. It must be deep in my DNA. I don’t dream much these days, and I don’t spend a lot of time wishing for things either. But I do consider myself as a person of hope, actually a person with a lot of hope. These days I mostly live in the hope and goals realm of daily life. 


I don’t set many personal goals, but I deal with a lot of goals in my business life. It’s the hope thing that seems most important to me today, especially after the last two and a half years we’ve experienced.

My dictionary defines hope this way:


Hope (hōp)

1.) a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen: he looked through her belongings in the hope of coming across some information / I had hopes of making the Olympic team.

- a person or thing that may help or save someone: their only hope is surgery.

- grounds for believing something good may happen: he does see some hope for the future.

Verb (no object)

-Want something to happen or to be the case: he’s hoping for an offer of compensation/ (with clause): I hope the kids are OK.

- (with infinitive) intend if possible to do something: we’re hoping to address all these issues.


I am full of hope. I’m not sure if it’s possible to have too much hope, but if it is, say hello to Mr. Glass Is Way More Than Half Full. With that settled, I do have one hope I’d like to share.

It is my hope that in 2023— more than ever— people realize how important eating locally is to the health of a community. I sit here writing this column in my favorite little bakery on Magazine Street, La Boulangerie in Uptown New Orleans. Citizens of New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and the like don’t worry about eating local because those cities are filled with independent, locally owned restaurants, bars, and cafes. A food savvy New Orleanian will look at you as if you just stole his king cake if you suggest eating at a chain restaurant. Why would anyone, when there are so many great independent locally owned establishments in town?

You might be saying, “Yeah, but I don’t live in New Orleans.” Fine. Your town or city has locally owned dining establishments, no matter how small. Support them.


To my thinking, locally owned restaurants, bars, and cafes tell us more about a community than the slickest chamber of commerce flyer ever will. Some people judge towns by their population. Others judge them by amenities such as parks and playgrounds. Many consider school systems and tax policies. I judge towns by the quality and longevity of their small independent diners and cafes. 


The chain restaurant at the interstate off-ramp in your town is exactly like the chain restaurant at the interstate off-ramp in a town 500 miles down the road, and in Cleveland, and Peoria, and Albuquerque, and Des Moines. Your locally owned restaurant was dreamed up, conceived by, and opened by the risk and sweat of your neighbor. 


By you allowing your locally owned restaurant to feed your family, you’re making it possible for them to feed theirs. The money stays in the community and turns over several times.


Even though we are almost three years removed from the onset of Covid, restaurants are still struggling. The ones who survived are dealing with supply chain issues, astronomical food costs that can’t be passed along to customers, and massive labor shortages. National chains have easy access to capital. Locally owned restaurants have gone into deeper debt trying to keep their doors open.


A more jaded reader of this column might opine that the columnist is only trying to drum up business for his establishments. I would quickly respond that the jaded reader obviously doesn’t know me very well. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are mostly ok. There are still some positions we need to fill, and we can’t do anything about the excessive cost of wholesale food, but we’re purchasing at— or below— what our neighbors are paying, so we feel blessed. No, I am lobbying on behalf of the independent restaurateurs in our communities who are still hanging on by a thread, and trust me, there are tens of thousands of them across the country. 


They are in your town, and they live in your neighborhood. Their kids and grandkids go to school with your kids and grandkids. They shop in your stores and buy groceries in your markets. I believe independent restaurateurs support locally owned businesses more than others in the community, because they know— on a deep and personal level— how important it is to keep all commerce local whether it be grocery stores, hardware stores, gas stations, or boutiques.


A chain-restaurant proponent might make the argument that the chain restaurants are hiring people who also live in the community, and I can’t argue that. But corporate profits get sent to corporate headquarters in Dallas, Orlando, or wherever the base of operations is located. Think of it this way— if there weren’t so many chain restaurants in your community squeezing out the independent operators, there would be more independent restaurants filling that void, creating unique character, vibe, and distinctiveness in your town, while keeping everything local.


My hope is that in 2023 more people will make the decision to eat at places such as the Coney Island Café, T-Bone’s, Jutama’s, and Mexican Kitchen in my hometown, and places such as The Mayflower, Broad Street Bakery, and the Trace Grill in the Jackson metro area. Over the last couple of years, we’ve lost so many others I’d love to be able to name. Your city or town has places just like those, run by independent restaurateurs who wake up every day ready to fight the good fight on the frontlines of their local business community. It is my wish, my dream, and especially my hope that in 2023 we give them our support, more than ever. Join me. 


Eat local.



Sesame-Soy Cabbage Stir Fry


1/4 cup            peanut oil or vegetable oil 
1 Tbl               minced fresh ginger 
1 Tbl               minced garlic 
1/4 tsp             crushed red chili flakes 

1/2 cup            red onion, peeled and julienne
3/4 cup            carrot, julienne 
3/4 cup            red bell pepper julienne 

1 head             bok choy cut leaves crosswise into 1/2” thick slices (approx 5-6 cups cut)
6                     green onions, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups       fresh snow peas

1/2 head         Napa cabbage, leaves cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips (about 3-4

                       Cups cut)                            
2/3 cup           good-quality chicken stock or broth or vegetable broth 
1/4 cup           soy sauce 
1Tbl                cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water 
2 Tbl               toasted sesame seeds



Heat a large wok over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger, garlic, and chili flakes and stir-fry just until they are aromatic, about 30 seconds. Scoop out the aromatics and set them aside. 

Add the remaining oil to the wok. Turn the heat up to high. When the oil is hot, add the julienne carrots, red peppers and red onion pieces and stir-fry until they turn glossy and bright, 1 to 2 minutes. 

Add the bok choy. Stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes more. 

Add the scallion pieces and snow peas. Continue stir-frying until they are bright green and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes more. 

Add the Napa cabbage along with about 1/3 cup of the hot stock and the reserved aromatics. Continue stir-frying until the vegetables are all tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more. Add the remaining stock, soy sauce, and cornstarch mixture and stir-fry until the vegetables all look lightly glazed with sauce, about 1 minute more. 

Transfer the stir-fried vegetables to a heated serving dish. Garnish toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Yield: 8-10 servings


Anonymous said...

lol. There's a reason why La Boulangerie is packed but Campbell's went under - and it's not because New Orleans' residents support local establishments but Jackson's don't. Some local restaurants are good and thrive, while some aren't and don't.

Anonymous said...

sunflower oven bread. if you haven’t had it yet…it’s an example of an outstanding locally owned business

Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

Sorry Robert. I'll need Cliffnotes on this post. Exceeded my attention span.



1 (¼-oz.) envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoon)
2 teaspoons honey
5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for hands
4 Tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for pan Flaky sea salt
2–4 garlic cloves


Whisk one (¼-oz.) envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons), 2 teaspoons honey, and 2½ cups lukewarm water in a medium bowl and let sit 5 minutes (it should foam or at least get creamy). Add 5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour, 1Tablespoon kosher salt and mix with a rubber spatula until a shaggy dough forms and no dry streaks remain.

Pour 4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil into a big bowl that will fit in your refrigerator to rise. Transfer dough to bowl and turn to coat in oil. Cover and chill until dough is doubled in size (it should look very bubbly and alive), at least 8 hours and up to 1 day. Or room temperature rise until doubled in size, 3–4 hours.

Generously butter (so the focaccia won’t stick) a 13x9" baking pan, for thicker focaccia that’s perfect for sandwiches, or an 18x13" rimmed baking sheet, for focaccia that's thinner, crispier, and great for snacking. Pour 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil into center of pan.

Keeping the dough in the bowl and using a fork in each hand, gather up edges of dough farthest from you and lift up and over into center of bowl. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat process. Do this 2 more times; you want to deflate dough while you form it into a rough ball. Transfer dough to prepared pan. Pour any oil left in bowl over and turn dough to coat it in oil. Let rise, uncovered, in a dry, warm spot until doubled in size, at least 1½ hours and up to 4 hours.

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 450°. To see if the dough is ready, poke it with your finger. It should spring back slowly, leaving a small visible indentation. If it springs back quickly, the dough isn’t ready. (At this point the dough can chill it up to 1 hour.) Lightly oil your hands. If using a rimmed baking sheet, gently stretch out dough to fill (you probably won't need to do this if using a baking pan).

Dimple focaccia all over with your fingers, creating very deep depressions in the dough (reach your fingers all the way to the bottom of the pan). Drizzle with remaining 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake focaccia until puffed and golden brown all over, 20–30 minutes.

When serving, Melt 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Peel and grate in 2–4 garlic cloves with a Microplane (use 2 cloves if you’re garlic-shy or up to 4 if you love it).

Return to medium heat and cook, stirring often, until garlic is just lightly toasted, 30–45 seconds. (Or, if you prefer raw garlic to toasted garlic, you can grate the garlic into the hot butter, off the heat, then brush right away.)

Brush garlic-butter all over focaccia and slice into squares or rectangles.
Do Ahead: Focaccia is best eaten the day it's made, but keeps well in the freezer. Slice it into pieces, store it in a freezer-safe container, then reheat it on a baking sheet in a 300° F oven.

Anonymous said...

We know Mr. St. John enjoys New Orleans restaurants, which are excellent. However, I will not set foot in that city until things improve. With vehicles on the Interstate being shot at, carjacking, etc., life is too short to take a chance by going there.

As for dining at local restaurants, I totally agree with Mr. St. John. Unfortunately, with dining out becoming too expensive, you have to be practical.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear at 12:57
You have a lot of nerve with your reference to a lengthy column. Got Cliffnotes for that recipe of yours?

Anonymous said...

@3:05 - Amen! Had the same thoughts!

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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