Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Can't go to New Orleans Without Tasting the Food

Last week, I was with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I asked the group to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.  In this entry, Brett "Big Daddy" Toresdahl shares our group's culinary experiences. 

As the self appointed “food tour guide” for the WHLC Youth Gathering crew, I felt the responsibility to review some to the incredible cuisine that we experienced in the Big Easy.  Let me first start with a word of thanks to my fifteen traveling companions for their eagerness and willingness to explore the food of New Orleans with me.  Often, when traveling in groups it is hard to come to a consensus as to where to eat for a variety of reasons, but for the most part All were game to try new places, setting aside any dietary pickiness that they may have brought with them.
Before setting out on the trip, I attempted unsuccessfully to get a clause added to our covenant that would put a moratorium on the eating at any fast food, chains or joints that had more than one location and could be consumed had we stayed in Iowa.  But being realistic, traveling by bus, keeping schedules, battling 33,000 others for food and convenience sometime made this difficult.  I regretfully report that there was some McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC and Subway consumed.  Lord, forgive us our sins. With this said, I set my sights on the group experiencing the food, atmosphere and culture that is truly New Orleans.  If anyone has ever been there, you know what I am talking about and I think our group left with some memorable food experiences.
On the day of our arrival, following registration and check in to our hotel, we set out by trolley for our first food experience. Our destination was Dooky Chase, a restaurant rooted deep in the African American community and the Civil Rights movement of New Orleans.  Our walk from the trolley took us six or seven blocks through a neighborhood which still had the footprints of Katrina.  We walked past boarded up homes next to newly build townhouse complexes next to overgrown vacant lots next to small businesses struggling to survive.

Right in the middle of blight, poverty and now construction is this incredible restaurant that's been cobbled together by an amazing ambassador of New Orleans, Leah Chase, the 88 year old matriarch of Dooky Chase who still oversees the kitchen starting at 7am daily.  The restaurant is part old world, part gallery and everything New Orleans.  Dooky Chase is one of those places you hear about as being quintessentially New Orleans. From the amazing food to the beautiful art, it did not disappoint.  Dooky Chase, was known as a gathering place during the 1960s among many who participated in the Civil Rights movement.  The restaurant is also known as a gallery due to its extensive African American Art collection.  The distinguished collection represents powerful symbols of a history this restaurant both survived and altered.

As you step thru the door you know you're leaving the challenges outside the doors behind you.  The tables are covered in white linen and the main dining room is a deep red.  While many tourist flock to Dooky Chase, it regularly attracts a professional crowd at lunch as well as a number of local politic types. Ms. Chase's traditional southern fare food is as good as the atmosphere. Everything you'd expect to be on the menu is; fried chicken, fried catfish, smothered cabbage, red beans and rice, peach cobbler. We went for the buffet and everything on it was delish.  The fried chicken was golden crunchy, moist and not greasy.  My mouth is still watering thinking about it.  I believe that I can claim it as the best I have ever eaten. The andouille sausage, green beans, mac and cheese, red beans and rice were all stars.  And when the friendly wait staff announced that the dessert for the day was peach "cobbler", we all answered in unison, “yes”.  

All of us left Dooky Chase with huge smiles on our face. We saw some amazing art, ate some incredible food, and enjoyed getting to know each other better.  A side note of trivia: Ms. Chase was the inspiration for the main character in Disney’s animated movie “Princess and the Frog”.

The next morning, the group determined that the only way to start a morning in New Orleans is with a plate of beignets and a cup of chicory coffee.  So we ventured into the French Quarter in search of the place that is on everyone’s “to do” list.  All we had to do was follow the brightly colored t-shirts of other Lutheran youth headed for the same destination.  The Original Cafe Du Monde is a traditional coffee shop. Its menu consists of dark roasted Coffee and Chicory, Beignets, White and Chocolate Milk, and fresh squeezed Orange Juice. Beignets are square French -style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar.

When we arrived, the dining room was crowded and the lines were long.  But the experienced and seasoned staff kept the tourists flowing in and out.  Our patience paid off as we were rewarded with what we had come for, the beignets.  Hot, fresh and drenched with powdered suger, our eyes bulged as they were placed on our table. The group quickly concluded that beignets should replace donut holes at WHLC coffee hour.  After a brief discussion with Megan about the merits of recycling the excess powdered sugar, our group was off to the Convention Center for our day of peacemaking.

Lunch time brought us our first food dilemma of the day.  Do we eat expensive convention center fare or do we venture out in search of a place that has not been found by the other 33,000 in attendance?  The decision was made to divide and conquer.  Part of the group headed in the direction of Mother’s (more about this to follow) and the rest of us set out for the new WWII Museum where we knew that they had an old fashioned soda shop complete with sandwiches and homemade ice cream. Not more than a block into our journey we cross the street into the arms of a woman standing outside of a sketchy neighborhood bar & grill and encouraging us to stop and try the food.  “Kids are welcome”, she exclaimed.  The chalk written sidewalk sign promoted cheap po boys and $2 bread pudding.  After a slight hesitation to change our plans, we told the woman we would be back.  A few more steps up the street, Megan and Emily couldn’t resist and turned around to go back for fresh shrimp po boys.  They reported that the little dive joint was as charming and delicious as we suspected.  And two days later, we kept the promise to the woman and returned there as a group for a lunch that I will describe later.

About three blocks away we found the Soda Shop.  Opened as part of the WWII Museum, local award winning chef John Besh uses his famed culinary expertise and creativity to turn a traditional looking soda fountain into a very interesting place for lunch.  I think Caroline may have had the most interesting PB&J in her life with a grilled version, oozing with gooey peanut butter.  Several of us had the devil dog which was a homemade hot dog topped with a ground sausage mixture reminiscent of a coney dog.  The parmesan wrap was reported to be very satisfying as well. Most of us topped our lunch off with house-made ice creams and milkshakes. They offered flavors such as Bananas Foster, Sector Candy Bar Crunch and Creole Cream Cheese Red Velvet among others.  The Soda Shop was definitely worth the walk.  But this brought about my second food dilemma of the day; how was I going to walk past the $2 Bread Pudding sign again?

More to follow…

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Citizens WIth the Saints - Julia Recap

" This trip will only be as fun as you make it" - Erik 

I heard Erik say that and new that I wanted to have a really good time on this trip, I knew that how much fun I had was entirely in my own hands. So instead of complaining about the long lines and the weather and the lack of sleep, I completely embraced it. That is why sitting here on the bus on my way home, for the first time in my life, I really don't want to go home, I want to still be in New Orleans with every single person in our group. I'm finding it extremely difficult to come up with the right words to accurately describe what happened this week, and I'm not sure if the words will ever come. But here's my best effort at explaining what happened to me over the past week.

I learned a lot about myself and my faith over this week. It was our first night in the dome and the service started out with welcoming all of us. The speaker used the analogy of us all being the ingredients to God's pot of gumbo. Saying that no matter what our race is, our sexual orientation, whether you're poor or rich, smart or not, strong in your faith or still figuring things out, we were all welcome in God's pot of gumbo, and we were all needed in his pot of gumbo. It was after he said that that I knew the gathering was exactly where I needed to be. I have struggled with my faith for many years and I knew at that moment in the dome that that was perfectly okay. For the first time, I was perfectly content with where I am with faith. 
A big theme within the gathering was tearing down walls, walls the we had built up and created, and how we need to tear them down and encompass everybody with love and God's grace. I think this is something that for the rest of my life I will take with me and continue to work on and try my best to do. Walls that are extremely high, and very thick, made of the worlds strongest materials. And if I am able to make even a small dent in one of these walls, I know that I have made a difference.
My faith may still be on a roller coaster ride, and may potentially be for my entire life, and that's quite alright. But living out my faith, and using it to help others of all kinds is where my faith grew and became stronger. 
Many unexpected things happened on this trip also. For instance, my ability to go with the flow, and embrace everything that happened, instead of worrying about what we were going to do next, or if we were going to make it in time, trying to plan everything, i just went with whatever happened. If you weren't able to find your inner patience, the gathering was going to be hell for you. Simply trying to get on the elevator to get to your room was a 20 minute task, resulting in 20 people in the elevator at a time, and we being in the back of it, but naturally being the first ones who needed off. Getting food wasnt a quick task either, McDonalds moved us through the fastest and with the line halfway to the door it still took over 15 minutes. 

One aspect of the trip that I wasn't thinking was going to have such an impact on me was New Orleans itself. I think by the end of the week I'd fallen in love with the culture and history of it.  I can honestly say that I believe New Orleans has been through some very rough times, and we in Iowa have been through nothing compared to them, and yet the people of New Orleans seems to have a bigger heart, and the ability to let loose and have a great time and truly embrace who they are. Sure, they have their rough spots, Bourbon Street in itself is like nothing we have in Des Moines, but the again, Des Moines has nothing like the true soul jazz that emcompasses New Orleans, and it's people. Going to Preservation Hall changed my entire opinion of jazz. I have never liked jazz, jazz band was always something my parents made me do, not something I wanted to do. I still dont like the sound of jazz in Iowa, it's too Midwestern. But, if I lived in New orleans, jazz would be my thing!

From Daisy Dukes, to Cafe du Monde, Mothers, to Dooky Chase, there was no shortage of opportunities to try the real taste of New Orleans cuisine.  I found that I really like gumbo, beignets, and po boys, and that if I just try things, I might realize how much I really like food of different cultures.

I realize that in this blog I left out one of the biggest aspects of my trip, and that was the friendships I made with each person from our congregation that went. I have left this out on purpose. Not because I dont want to share them with you, but because I don't have the words to explain it correctly to you. They're too important to me and too close to my heart to falsely represent them to you all. If you are at church you will see these friendships and how close we all got on this trip. You will hear us laughing at the jokes that were created, and reminiscing about the trip and the great time we had together. And my hope is that instead of reading about the friendships that were created, you will be able to see them and watch them.

This short blog hasnt even made a dent in sharing the experience that happened to me on this trip. If you want to hear more about what happened on the trip and how it was for me please don't hesitate to ask, I'd love to share! This trip is something that I'm so greatful I got the opportunity to take part in, and so glad that I embraced the trip the way I did, I have absolutely no regrets. 

May I be the change to help tear down those walls. 

~ Julia Ratekin

ELCA Youth Gathering - WHLC reflections

I was in New Orleans for the ELCA Youth Gathering.  I invited participants from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.  This article was a shared effort among the 11 youth participants.

We are on the bus and our week has been "fantasmical." We all got super close, like family.  All of us have gotten to know a little bit more about each other and ourselves. Hopefully we will be able to bring what this whole experience taught us back to Windsor Heights. However the experience we had in New Orleans may not be able to translate to those back home, finding the right words to describe how our lives all changed in different ways, and the ways they changed is extremely hard. But that’s the beautiful thing about it. 
Through crazy awesome concerts, worship, and conversation, we all learned more about our personal faith as well as the lives of Lutherans all over the country. Also, the food was fantastic!  The motivational speakers got a lot of everyone’s attention.  All of them talked about subjects that touched everyone and they were able to get their point across even though most people in the audience have not, and will hopefully never have to go through what some of the speakers went through.  One of the messages was that everyone is a child of God.  No one should be turned away because of race, financial situations, past history, etc.  

Coming from a multi-generational church, with a lower number of youth members right now, it was amazing to see so many youth participating in the songs, speakers, and activities. The energy was outrageous in the Superdome! We hope the energy can be spread through the pews at WHLC and you will see the energy in our eyes and hearts, and feed off it!

When we first arrived in the Superdome, I remember thinking that I had never seen so many people gathered together in for the same reason. But that wasn’t even the most impressive part. I had never seen so many young people excited about God. Back in our everyday lives, God often falls to the background and things like relationships and friends and drama take the forefront; but it was like once we all set foot in NOLA all the worries of our home lives melted away and our attention was 100% focused on how to love like Jesus.  Overall everyone had an wonderful time. We learned many things such as “to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known”... and also, “be the the change you want to see in the world.”

NOLA has been through a lot, but so have communities just like it across the country.  We need to be mindful of the needs of people back home.  It takes all of us to be citizens with the saints.  As one speaker described gumbo and all its ingredients to the crowd, I thought of WHLC and all the ingredients that it has to make our own version of gumbo back home.  

Kirsten Benson, Rylee Freise, Rebecca Ihnen, Julia Ratekin, Travis Reinders, Emily Roose, Brian Rye, Petir Thompson, Hannah Toresdahl, Madison Ward, Caroline Warmuth

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Let It Shine

I'm in New Orleans with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I invited our group participants the change to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.

The friday night mass gathering in the dome was particularly moving. The speaker was the Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. She talked about hope. Hope is a word that has such a different meaning to many people. Some know what it is like to need or want hope, others hope for things. Her message was a great definition of what hope actually is. She talked about the need for hope  because hope was lost in their life from anything such as bullying to parts of the world that are stricken with poverty. But, here is the key to hope, Jesus. We are all loved by Jesus and we are God’s children. Spreading God’s love gives hope to people. However she acknowledged that even though one person can be a light in the darkness, one can’t change the world. Next came the most moving part of the trip; she asked everyone to turn on their cell phones. The light from the phones lit the dome. It looked like a little city. She then started everyone singing “This Little Light of Mine”. Suddenly the little light that couldn’t change the world became bright and all the little voices became one big voice. Tears were impossible to hold back at this point. I am pretty sure that if a person was having trouble finding hope in life, they could’ve felt the Holy Spirit then. But the question that everyone is asking; how do you keep that hope and energy strong when you leave the magical Lutherdome? You keep your little light shining and giving hope to one person at a time (by standing up to a bully, giving someone a hug when they need it, or just giving someone a smile and a word of encouragement when they look like they could use one) and then their light will shine, and the “pass it on” theory starts. Soon we will have a little city again, and just maybe the world will begin to change. I have HOPE that it will. My little light is shining. I hope that when I tell you this next part, your light will become lit; Your are loved by God. He knows you, every part of you (the good and bad, the perfection and the flaws) and He loves YOU.  ~ Megan Seifert

Saturday, July 21, 2012

100 Wells

I'm in New Orleans with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I invited our group participants the change to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.

Water, created by God, is essential to our existence on this earth.  Water can save lives, water can take lives.  
For the Practice Peacemaking Day I learned about carrying water.  Most of us walk into a kitchen or bathroom, turn the faucet on and KNOW that hot or cold water will gush our.  As much as we want, whenever we want.  
My task was to carry a 5 gallon jug of water one-tenth of a mile. At points along the way, poster told four different stories about the paths people take to get water.  My storyline followed a mother who had to make a choice each day, go for the water herself or send her daughter.
If the mother went, that meant she had fewer hours in the day to work at her many family duties.  If the daughter went, she would miss school that day.  What a choice! 
About halfway around the course a volunteer placed a round red sticker on my arm.  “That’s a mosquito bite,” she said.  “At the end of the course, you will need to be checked to see if you have malaria.”  This was a way to introduce people to the ELCA Malaria Campaign, which, by the way, we have already begun at WHLC.  
At the 3/4 mark, we had to climb some stairs with the water jug to simulate uneven terrain.  Then rounding the corner toward home, the sign informed me that I had fallen and now should drag my foot to indicate a leg injury.
With a few last steps, I completed the journey.  The final sign informed me that a typical trip to get water would be 2 miles or more, 20 times my tiny trip.  Oh, and I forgot to tell you that the 5 gallon jug weighed 41 pounds.  Ouch, it was very hard to carry.
As part of our offering, this Youth Gathering Group gave $250.00 to the 100 Wells Project.  The totals from each Synod are being tracked all week.  I’m excited to hear how much will be raised.  
The power of water is still being demonstrated here in New Orleans today.  Our service project was delayed for 3 hours due to torrential rain and street flooding.  Our group was wishing we could sent this storm to Iowa, and the group we worked with today from Ohio, had the same thought for their parched state.  I wonder how the power of water will change people’s lives tomorrow?  I pray that we can make our goal of 100 Wells and start to raise funds for the next 100.  

Peace, y’all. 
Pastor Robin.

Youth Gathering Reflections - Day 1

I'm in New Orleans with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I invited our group participants the change to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.

The bus ride started with a walk across the street to the Kum-n-Go to get nail polish remover for Kirsten...they didn't have any.

We then loaded the bus and headed to the back and got situated, then we left for New Orleans, LA.  It start out with Megan being really hot.  Then we met some interesting people sitting in the seats in front of us.  They seemed most interested in our friend, Petir.  We attempted to sleep on the bus as we drove through the night.

Then we arrived at the Convention Center, which caused a major Chex Mix situation.  (Don't ask)  The adults went to orientation while we went into the huge Interaction Center.  While in there we saw Allison and Caitlyn from our church, who are volunteering with the Gathering.  We went to play mini-golf, but quickly noticed that mini-golf was something we weren't the best at.

From there, we went to our hotel to check in.  While waiting for an hour to get our room keys, we played spoons and other card games.  After putting our stuff in our rooms we took the trolly and walked to Dooky Chase, where we ate lunch.  We learned that the founder was the inspiration for "The Princess and the Frog"!  We had a delicious meal of authentic New Orleans food, laughter and conversation.  The walls were covered in various art pieces collected over the years, all very native to the culture of New Orleans.  Walking back, we felt with our skin color and a big group, we definately look like tourists.

Parts of New Orleans look renovated and new, while some places distinctly show the damage of hurricanes, along with the large poverty here in the city.  The southern accent has been fun to listen to, along with all the different pronunciations of "New Orleans".

We are back at the hotel now, relaxing and getting ready for the Superdome tonight.  We are all very excited and can't wait for the fun to begin.

     ~ Julia, Becca, Emily, & Kirsten

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Back to the Crescent City

I’m headed to New Orleans to spend the week with 35,000+ people for the ELCA Youth Gathering.  I have the privilege of leading a group of 11 youth and 5 adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church.  We’re traveling on a charter bus with participants from Zion (Muscatine), Shepherd of the Cross (Muscatine), and Gloria Dei (Iowa City) Lutheran Churches. 

For the next few days, the folks from WHLC and I will be posting our group’s experiences from the Gathering here on koinonia.  A few quick-hit items to mention before we get too far into the week…
  • ·      In addition to the 16 participants attending the Gathering from WHLC, our congregation has 4 additional people serving as volunteers who are working behind the scenes for this event.  (Dwight DuBois with Grand View University, Hannah Parker working the ropes course with Luther College students, and Caitlyn Reinders and Allison Ullestad working the 80,000 sq. ft. sports portion of the Practice Peacemaking Interaction Center.)

  • ·      There are 933 youth and adults attending the Gathering from the SE Iowa Synod – the third largest synod group. 

  • ·      Each of the 35,000+ participants will complete at least 4 hours of service projects around the greater New Orleans area.

  • ·      Speakers I’m most excited about – Shane Claiborne, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Yeheil Curry.

  • ·      Musicians I’m most excited about – Lost And Found, Rachel Kurtz, and AGAPE.

  • ·      The Gathering making digital strides by making the Guidebook and an interactive map available as a smartphone app.  Super helpful.