April 2, 2018
The practicalities of home-work life for the self-employed are not lost on me. I’ve lately struggled with how to carve out a space for myself inside this shotgun house. It’s difficult since there are only two rooms, the front dining area and the kitchen, which are basically open to each other. There is a small bathroom at the back of the house, but it’s a unique situation which I will write about when I’m ready. That, and it’s much too small to sleep in.
What preoccupied my mind for a few days was where to lay my weary head at night. At first, I slept in the backseat of the Oldsmobile. I got tired of that real quick.
I really didn’t like the idea of sleeping out in the front room floor, and I didn’t want to sleep on the kitchen floor either.
Perhaps you’ve noticed this yourself, perhaps not. But the next time you walk into a bakery or patisserie or cafe, look at the counter: the trapezoidal-shaped counter that holds all of the delicious pastries, with an elegant angle that allows the customer to loom over the goods without contaminating them with their profuse saliva.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that most counters are elevated a foot, maybe two feet, off of the ground. Underneath that bottom shelf of the counter, there is plenty of space for a slightly-above-average height woman to sleep. And so I do, raising the bottom shelf just a hair higher so that from my supine position I can get a peek of anyone entering the bakery.
Cozy, snug, secure.
One evening, as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard two voices, both male, very southern and very white. They seemed to be debating something, perhaps whether to go inside or not. My primal adrenaline rush prompted me to pop up, and in doing so banging my head against the shelf above me.
The men hushed. After a few minutes, they began whispering to each other.
As scooched up my head to see who was there, the front door quietly opened and two men dressed in Confederate soldier uniforms entered the bakery (no, I didn’t lock the door. We’re in rural delta land, people).
For real. Gray suits, epaulettes, pistols, little caps and sashes. Clean. Dashing.
And what the hell? Was there a reenactment in the area that I didn’t know about?
And then, that feeling…that deep in the gut, goosebumps, all-knowing feeling: Ghosts.
The men stood about, confused. Not entirely sure where they were, but realizing there was food, they started talking furtively about gathering all the edibles that were still on the shelves above me. I held my breath as one of the soldiers stood over the counter looking at the biscuits, breads, and donuts I hadn’t bothered to dispose of earlier that evening (because sometimes I like a little midnight snack myself). Using his pistol, he pointed out which ones looked tasty and which ones looked like dog shit (his words, I’m just reporting here…I don’t stand by that assessment) as he twirled and shined the gun.
The other soldier moved around to the back of the counter and opened the door. He then grabbed one of the white paper bags, shook it open, and filled it full, repeating until he had three bags full. His boots bumped and scuffled near my feet, up my legs, the curve of my back, and next to my head.
He closed the counter and both men started for the front door. The pistol-twirling soldier exited. The second, arms full of goodie bags, began to step out. As he closed the door, he quickly stuck his head back in for a moment.
“I thank you, kindly,” he whispered as he gently closed the front door.
The next thing I knew, it was morning. Birds chirping, sunlight streaking through the windows. I recalled what happened, bumped my head again and laid back down.
I was up way too late. I missed my morning baking. And surely, I thought, that was all a dream.
But when I crawled out from my “bedroom,” I looked at the pastry case.
Empty…save for the dog-shit-looking danishes.
I’ve tried to rationalize this: I probably emptied the whole case before I went to bed, but dreamed it was full. But the dream was so vivid, and sometimes I do leave a few (ok, a lot) of baked goods in the case.
And look, living in New Orleans is living with ghosts, whether people like to admit it or not. So this isn’t my first rodeo. But then again, I don’t know if they were ghosts.
It’s really bothering me, and making me homesick in a strange way. So in homage to things that haunt us and what transpired here at the Chickering Café, I decided to include my recipe for jasmine syrup, made from Confederate jasmine flowers.
Drinking helps me cope, but you can use this on cakes or anything else you like.
Confederate Ghost Jasmine Syrup
To make (confederate) jasmine syrup, first you must mix yourself a stiff drink, pour it into a cup, grab a paper bag or basket, and go for a walk. Walk and watch the sun set; you’re bound to see a cotton candy sky of pastel pinks and blues. Or you might see a vibrant red sky. Sip your drink, preferably on Bayou Saint John, and watch. Wait until dusk to gather the jasmine flowers. You can find them in New Orleans growing on fences, lamp posts, and oak trees.
Cut some of the winding stems and place them in your bag or basket. It is better to carry them this way because they will seep a sticky, milky sap.
Once safely home and toasted, make a simple syrup. Ratios of sugar are to your discretion. Most simple syrups are 1:1 sugar and water. But if that is too sweet, you can reduce to a 1:2 ratio. Whatever your measurements, the amount of sugar should be the same as the amount of jasmine flowers (1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of jasmine flowers).
This is a lot of fractions. Be careful, be cautious: you’ve been drinking.
Once the simple syrup is underway, make yourself another drink to congratulate yourself for your accomplishments thus far.
Remove the flowers from the stems and place them in a strainer to rinse them clean. Then place them in a beautiful bowl to make yourself feel good.
Once the simple syrup is completed, add the jasmine flowers and let steep for a few hours. Drain the syrup to remove the flowers, pour the jasmine syrup into a mason jar, and make yourself another drink with your new syrup.
It’s late, and you’ve got nothing better to do. And as far as suggestions, you be the bartender. I’d just mix it with rice vodka and ice.