Cooking With Myra: Beignets and lattes
By Myra Starkey
Sept. 11, 2012 at 4:11 a.m.
Updated Sept. 12, 2012 at 4:12 a.m.
I have not thought of the Saint Francis Manor apartments in years. Taylor and I were in Lake Charles last weekend to spend some time with Dad.
My sisters and I have been keeping him company since my mom died. I had to go to the mall to pick up a shirt or two for him and found myself in the vicinity of the apartments.
The small complex was owned by my family during my growing up years. My dad was a dentist, but dabbled in real estate. This was his first foray into owning apartments. There were 18 units and a swimming pool.
My sisters and I were most excited about the pool, especially since south Louisiana summers are really hot. We did not have a pool at home and we weren't a member of any country club.
My dad had a ready-made, clean-up crew -us- and a wife who loved to paint, so we were in business.
The tenants were mostly young adults just starting out in their careers. My father and mother insisted that we have summer jobs, probably to keep us out of trouble.
My mom did not work outside the home at a regular job. She took care of us, hauling us around to piano lessons, ballet, volleyball and all the other after-school activities kids sign up for.
My mom had a talent for painting, not as a canvas artist, but rather applying paint to walls and trim. She could roll a wall and trim out doorways and windows faster than most of the professionals I had seen. She almost single handedly painted the house we moved into when I was in junior high.
When they bought the apartments, they redid each of the units one-by-one, replacing the plumbing fixtures, sinks and painting all the rooms. I think I was covered in paint for an entire summer. Painting ceilings usually results in castoff paint and mom and I had splatters in our hair all the time. We took turns removing this like monkeys remove ticks from each others' heads. I would sit very still while she gently worked the paint from the strands of hair.
We left our painting clothes in the storage area at the apartments and changed into them to work, and then we changed again before our trip home. This resulted in stiff clothes, which we had to throw away after a week or so of use.
Sometimes, when it was really hot, we got to go for a swim in the pool if there were no tenants using it. My dad operated on the premise that kids should be seen and not heard, especially by paying tenants.
By the time I got my drivers license, I was almost a quasi-expert in painting, minor plumbing repairs, removing stains from carpets and taking the rings out of the bathtubs.
My dad never expected us to work for free. He paid us well, so that when he needed something done we were more than willing to do it.
Tenant move-outs were my specialty. I could clean out a refrigerator, oven and wipe down kitchen cabinets in less time than it would take to bake cookies.
I learned all kinds of cleaning tricks. I could make oven racks look brand new despite a year or so of sheer neglect, just by putting them in a trash bag with ammonia overnight and then hosing them off the following day.
One day my sisters and I were cleaning a dirty apartment and the bathroom tub was ghastly. Two young guys had lived there and had obviously never even cleaned the tub the entire time. I scrubbed first with Comet, but the scum was layered on.
I got the bright idea of filling up the bathtub with water, tossing in some pool chorine granules, letting it sit for awhile and then draining the water out. The tub came extremely clean, but the apartment had to be evacuated because of the fumes. My dad was really mad until he saw how clean the tub was. I ended up coughing for days after inhaling the chlorine fumes.
Just before Taylor and I were married, we took a job at the apartments to paint all the outside trim. The roof had been replaced and all the trim was new. We needed extra money for our honeymoon and dad had just the job for us.
We had two weeks to accomplish the job before our wedding. We worked on scaffolding and ladders, and I think I remember a lot of complaining by one of us who had not grown up in the world of owning apartments.
Those years, and those lessons, have served me well. When I was at Baylor, I earned extra money cleaning out apartments at the end of the semester. If I took the job, I got to keep half of the deposit, and I would give the tenant the remainder less supplies. It was a lucrative venture and it was when I realized I preferred to clean apartments occupied by girls than clean those of boys.
Later, when Taylor and I married, I got into the rental business and have continued to use some of the skills I learned at the Saint Francis Manor Apartments.
I know I probably complained a lot as a kid, but my parents showed me the value of a day's work. They taught me by example that no matter what job you have to perform, do it well, even if it is cleaning up other people's messes.
When I got home from the mall this past weekend, I asked dad about the old apartments, and he told me he sold them and years later they burned down. Another investor bought the slab and rebuilt the apartments.
I laughed and said, "I hope he has some kids and a wife who paints."
Louisiana always rewards me with delicious Cajun food whenever we are there. This trip, we drove to Sulphur, La., which is just across the river from Lake Charles, and ate lunch at the Boiling Pot. The gumbo was delicious and spicy, and I had a Pistolette filled with crawfish, which was melt-in-your-mouth good.
Taylor had fried catfish with coleslaw and a sweet potato.
When ordering, he asked our plump, jolly waitress if the catfish was spicy and she said, "Honey, of course it's spicy. This is Louisiana."
The catfish must have been dipped in some sort of mustard solution before being battered lightly and fried in very hot grease. It was crispy and good.
The only thing I did not get to eat on this trip was beignets, so on Monday morning I whipped up a batch and Taylor prepared cafe lattes to go with them. This is the breakfast of a well-fed Cajun. I think I might be big as a house if I lived in Louisiana full time.
I realize I am spoiled, since my wonderful husband prepares a latte for me every morning. Mornings are special because we get to sit together, sip lattes and anticipate our day.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.