Crawfish Monica – N’Awlins Mac n’ Cheese

Reblogged from GoNola.co.   This deserves a post all of its own, because Crawfish Monica is so fantastic and, as I’ve personally discovered, it is one of the best hangover foods ever invented.   A bowl of that delicious, creamy, crawfish mac n’ cheese with a giant strawberry lemonade will get you back on your feet at Jazzfest, no matter how outrageous last night’s antics.   You have my personal guarantee!

And whether or not you’ll be in New Orleans to try this divine creation at Jazz Fest, now you can have it whenever your heart desires with this recipe from New Orleans super chef Emeril Legasse. You’re welcome.

Crawfish Monica recipe

Crawfish Monica (Photo from Flickr by muckster)

Ingredients:

1 pound linguine or fettucine, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 6 tablespoons unsalted butter,  1 cup chopped yellow onions, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 2 teaspoons Essence (recipe follows),  1/2 teaspoon salt,  1/4 teaspoon cayenne,  1/4 cup dry white wine, 2 cups heavy cream, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 pound crawfish tails*, 1/2 cup chopped green onions,  1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves,  1 cup grated Parmesan.

Preparation

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return to the pot and toss with the olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Cover to keep warm.

In a large saute pan or skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, Essence, salt, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the white wine and cook over high heat until nearly all evaporated. Add the cream lemon juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced. Add the crawfish tails and cook, stirring, to warm through. Add the onions and parsley and cook for 1 minute. Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Cook until the pasta is warmed through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add 1/2 cup of the cheese.

Turn out into a serving bowl and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Serve.

*Peeled medium shrimp can be substituted, but the cooking time must be increased to allow thorough cooking.

Emeril’s ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika,  2 tablespoons salt,  2 tablespoons garlic powder,  1 tablespoon black pepper,  1 tablespoon onion powder,  1 tablespoon cayenne pepper,  1 tablespoon dried oregano,  1 tablespoon dried thyme.  Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse on Food Network.

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If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise

The first half of my solo sojourn in New Orleans is almost over, it’s been an amazing 10 days.   When I first got here I was having some trouble explaining exactly what a Canadian girl was doing living alone in the French Quarter for 3 weeks over Christmas and New Year, it’s not a story you hear all the time.   Then someone said to me “oh, you ran away from home” and the penny dropped.  Yup, that’s exactly what I did, I ran away from home.   After a tumultuous year I was desperately in need of some down time and  some mental space to reflect on what had happened and, hopefully, gain some perspective.  And I needed somewhere that I would feel comfortable on my own and would be interesting enough to keep me entertained.  I guess I could have headed for a beach somewhere, but I’ve fallen completely under the spell of this magical city so New Orleans seemed like the ideal choice.  It was surprisingly easy to rent an apartment in the Quarter from Historic Rentals and it has, so far, been an amazing adventure.   Here is my morning spot for reading, writing and enjoying coffee.  I have to open the 10 foot wooden shutters every morning and close them at night.  I love it.

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And here is my historic apartment.

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When was the last time any of us made the time and space in our life to spend 3 entire weeks alone, fending for yourself, entertaining yourself and cutting the ties to all those everyday responsibilities that just keep piling up, day after day, week after week, year after year.  I guess they are just the necessities that come with living a responsible life, but I gotta say, letting them all go for a while is an incredibly liberating experience.   In my 20’s I was very much a vagabond gypsy, traveling overseas for long periods of time on my own and living for more than a few years the peripatetic lifestyle of a ski bum, bouncing back and forth between winters in Canada and the Southern Hemisphere.  But life has a way of incrementally creeping up on you until it sometimes feels like it’s all just about getting up at 5am, walking the dog, going to work, maintaining that house you wanted such and all the other everyday ephemera.  Not that those things are bad, just sometimes . . .well I don’t know about y’all but I need a break.   Hello NOLA.

So what have I been doing to keep busy?  Walking, lots of walking.  Unlike when I was here in May when it felt like being hit in the face with a wet towel every time I stepped out of the air-conditioned hotel, it’s a balmy 70 degrees (oops, been here too long, that’s about 18C) most days.  Perfect exploring weather.  There is, of course, the French Quarter itself, which is surprisingly big.  And every single street is packed with historic sites and buildings, incredible record stores, antiquarian bookstores, vintage clothing stores, voodoo spiritualist centres and purveyors of all things witchcraft.  Spending time poking around there is pretty much my idea of heaven.  The Voodoo Centre is only 3 doors down from The Clothes Spin, my wash and fold service  It was formerly the site of J & M Recording Studio from 1947 – 1956, where pioneers of rock and roll like Fats Domino, Little Richard and Professor Longhair recorded.  It’s pretty interesting to contemplate while I’m watching the spin cycle, and only in NOLA.

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And of course should you require some refreshment during these sojourns, well there is friendly bar or cafe on almost every corner.   From fancy white linen to dive, it’s all there in the Quarter.  One of the tasks I’ve set myself is an exhaustive review of all the dive bars  (trust me I need 3 weeks for that) so I’ve used this list of the 15 Most Iconic Dive Bars in NOLA as a starting point   My favourite to date, The Chart Room.  $3 beers and a jukebox with, finally, a great music selection heavily weighted to Marvin Gaye and George Benson.  Je adore.

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And what about those damn jukeboxes?  They are the curse of many a decent drinking establishment here.  In a city that is famous for it’s absolutely incredible live music scene, how can so many bars have jukeboxes filled with such really, really bad music?  It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe. And a secondary quest that has a surprising amount of crossover with the Dive Bar review is hunting down the bar with the best beer selection.  So far the hands down winner is The Avenue Pub, a completely nondescript, 24 hour locals spot with an incredible craft and Belgium beer selection.   At 7:00am you might meet the med students getting of shift from the local hospitals and for happy hour oyster fisherman and construction guys who came to rebuild after Katrina and never left.  I spent one afternoon helping the gal tending bar that day write-up a chalkboard sign explaining CLEARLY that they don’t have table service, you have to come to the bar.  Someone complained on Yelp . . .had those cretins never been in a bar before?    Some of the samplings from a few days ago.

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Then there are the surrounding areas: the Warehouse District, Magazine Street, the Garden District, St Charles Ave, the Fauberg Marigny and Bywater, all to be subjects of some further posts.

And other than that, I’ve been listening to music, music and more music.  From the ever-present street musicians on Royal, through all the clubs on Frenchman’s Street in the Marigny to House of Blues and, of course Preservation Hall.  So much music, if I went out every single night I would still not catch it all.   I made a really good start on visiting every single bar on Frenchman’s Street my first weekend, it was so much fun.   When I landed on that Friday night I dropped my bags at the apartment and headed straight to one of my favourite dive bars, Coop’s, for a couple of Abita’s and some fried chicken and jambalaya.  Pretty much my favourite meal in NOLA.   When the guy sitting next to me offered to buy me another Abita, I had no way of knowing it would lead to one of the more hilarious weekends of my life.   E, R and J were a threesome (well not actually, more like a couple + one) from Atlanta who adopted me for the weekend.   They had also arrived in town that afternoon and J had already fallen victim to the Purple Voodoo juice at Lafite’s Blacksmith Shop – she was going down for the count by the time I happened on the scene. So I offered to be a musical tour guide over to Frenchman’s street for the lone man left standing.  If there was a bar we didn’t get to that night, we covered it off on Saturday because we didn’t get in before 4am either of those mornings.  So awesome.  Went to the outdoor market about 1am and I was torn between buying feather earrings and a leather bustier – who wouldn’t be.  Loved the female fire-eater show too.  Ended up spending a ridiculously long time in the Apple Barrel, a tiny place well off the tourist parade which won the “award” of having the worst bathroom in NOLA, but also great music.   It’s important to have strict criteria by which to judge your dive bars.  It’s not often you meet a complete stranger and then end up spending an entire weekend having more fun than you ever imagined.  It was, I think, a gift and a truly great way to kick off my time here.   Thank you so much.

I’ve also managed to catch Kermit Ruffin’s annual birthday bash, sing Christmas carols by candlelight in Jackson Square with 8,000 people, see the oldest Jazz singer in New Orleans (Lionel’s 102) sing “Saints” and “Keep on Smiling” in the Cathedral and then last night I saw Trombone Short at HOB.  I’ve seen Shorty before, he never fails to simply blow me away.  Shorty is from the Treme and it was, as he put it “tremazing”!  I jusst love that feeling of slipping out of you ordinary life and into the magic of a truly great performance.   Shorty nailed it, again.

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An important musical geek question that would probably never come up anywhere else but in NOLA, but was the subject of considerable discussion all weekend,was the difference between a Tuba and a Souzaphone. I thought I had that nailed, but I shouldn’t argue music with a pro!  Nonetheless, to solve the vexing questions once and for all, this short video is most illuminating.  And if any of you are thinking of coming to NOLA – you can dazzle people with this piece of local musical trivia.

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And if you are wondering about how the city is doing, here is a link to If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise , Spike Lee’s follow-up documentary on post-Katrina New Orleans.  It’s an expression that seems to perfectly capture so much of the spirit of this town.  That and Laissez Le Bon Temps Roullez, which I have most certainly been doing.

So I guess the only music to close out with has to be Shorty taking it old school with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”. Not the best quality because it’s live, but I’m a sucker for live performances.

Lean On Me, When You’re Not Strong

I got on a plane Friday morning, leaving my home in Vancouver for three weeks in New Orleans. I very deliberately unplugged from the outside world for the weekend, selfishly wanting to steal that time to myself. I was going to write tonight about my first few days in NOLA, but after catching up on the events in a small town in Connecticut over the weekend, I think my “let the good times roll” post can wait. I don’t want to jump on the media bandwagon that will undoubtably become a tasteless circus, and I’m not sure I get to have an opinion or write about something that is so personal to the families, but just continuing on without any acknowledgement seems . . so small.

I try to imagine what it would feel like if my family was involved and anonymous people all over the internet were wading in with their opinions. Would I care? Would I feel violated? Would it offer me some comfort? I think my grief would be so overwhelming that at first I wouldn’t know or care what the rest of the world was saying or doing. Then I might go back and forth between anger, because no-one else can really know another’s grief, and some level of comfort in the support of others. I’ve had my own (comparatively) small experience with grief recently and I only too keenly remember how angry the well-intentioned comments of friends made me. Although I can now, with some time and perspective, appreciate the kindness behind the “you are better off” comments, I can only too well imagine how unspeakably angry the “all the angels are in heaven” comments might make those grieving families. You don’t care about any of the silver lining platitudes, you just want it to never have happened. And you want people to simply acknowledge your grief and anger, even for a moment, and not try to sweep it aside and make everyone feel better.  Even after all this time that anger, while muted, sits just below the surface. How will those families even begin to come to terms with something that is so completely without reason or explanation. What will they do with their anger, grief and overwhelming sadness. I can’t imagine what you do in the face of such unimaginable loss. Grief and sadness are not just razor-sharp, they are also dull and brutal and they bludgeon you until you feel like you will never get up again.  But you do.

Sitting here in a southern state, as a frequent visitor to this wonderful country, it is so difficult to know what to make of a country that has such an imbued reverence for weapons and where children are murdered by another child using his mother’s assault weapon. I read today that there have been more than 70 shootings in schools in the US since the Brady Handgun Prevention Act was passed in 1994.  That’s 4 school shootings a year.  Given my personal ideology, it’s no surprise that most of my friends are liberals who have no stake in the gun lobby and most of them actively oppose it. But my friends span the spectrum; I have a friend who left the US for Canada many years ago in protest over political policies and I have another friend who is a former Marine ranger, he was deployed overseas with an anti-terrorist unit and is such an ardent gun advocate that he has the Second Amendment tattooed on his forearm. They are equally passionate in their opinions, they are both intelligent and speak eloquently in defence of those opinions. Even in the wake of this tragedy, Chris wrote with passion and conviction about the right to bear arms.  And here in New Orleans, 4 people have been murdered by guns in the last 24 hours.

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In the end, what I know is that I live in a country where ordinary people don’t own guns, where mom and pop don’t keep a handgun in the glove box of the Winnebago, where my friends don’t have a pistol in the bedside table. The streets of my cities are not perfectly safe, but I don’t fear being shot in a random incident and although statistically I’m still more likely to be assaulted by a friend or relative, the seriousness of those injuries is tempered because we don’t, as a rule, have guns on our homes. And to the best of my knowledge, there has been no mass murder at a school in any of the countries I have lived in – Canada, Australia or New Zealand – countries that don’t enshrine the “right” to own and carry deadly weapons.

The American Bar Association published these statistics from 2003, the situation has not improved since then:

In 2003, there were 30,136 firearm-related deaths in the United States; 16,907 (56%) suicides, 11,920 (40%) homicides (including 347 deaths due to legal intervention/war), and 962 (3%) undetermined/unintentional firearm deaths.
CDC/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports 1999-2003 http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars

The rate of death from firearms in the United States is eight times higher than that in its economic counterparts in other parts of the world.
Kellermann AL and Waeckerle JF. Preventing Firearm Injuries. Ann Emerg Med July 1998; 32:77-79.

The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children younger than 15 years of age is nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1997;46:101-105.

The United States has the highest rate of youth homicides and suicides among the 26 wealthiest nations.

There didn’t seem to be any music that would not appear to make light of this horrible tragedy.  But then I thought of the Playing for Change: Peace Through Music documentary –   http://playingforchange.com .  Here is a cover of the Ben E. King classic sung by musicians around the world, adding their part to the song as it travelled the globe, because we all need friends to lean on.

Liberated Soul

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver”.~Maya Angelou

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Today I went to do my Christmas shopping.   One or two trips will usually do it because I have a small family here, just me and my daughter.   And while there are times when I get sad that I don’t have the huge family Christmas to look forward to, I’m also glad that I can avoid the shopping, decorating, baking, home and family perfection juggernaut that so many people get caught up in.  But I do love to give presents, even if they are just small, so my friends, acquaintances, sometime strangers and often charities are often the beneficiaries . The hardest thing is convincing people that they don’t have to reciprocate, I just really like giving gifts, particularly when they are unexpected. So if you are on my “nice” list, I had a lot of fun today and I hope you enjoy the small tokens of my affection.

But a strange thing happened, even for me, on my way to Robson Street, the Vancouver shopping nirvana.

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I got off the bus and walked past a doorway on a somewhat seedy street and there was an older Asian man, obviously homeless, huddled in the limited shelter. It was cold today, not Prairie cold, but cold  enough that I was thankful for my warm coat, wool socks and boots.  Downtown Vancouver is plagued by the homeless, by drug addicts, by panhandlers and street people.  Usually I ignore them, because I have seen the same people pan handling the same street corners for years. Literally. We have a law that makes it illegal to panhandle at bus stops (thank goodness) and as we are all creatures of habit if you turn them down once or twice they leave you alone.

But this poor man was so obviously cold and in distress.  He wasn’t even trying to panhandle, just huddled in the doorway.  He had on a light jacket but no shirt or sweater and what really caught my attention was the open sandals and bare feet.  One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that for homeless people, keeping their feet healthy is very difficult.  Shelters will always welcome packages of warm socks  – it’s something that never gets donated.

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I couldn’t get the image of this man out of my head, so as I walked past one of our large department stores, on an impulse I went in and bought some warm wool socks, a fleece sweater and some gloves and a hat.  Nothing fancy, it cost me less than $50, and I took them back to him.  There was a language barrier and I would guess a mental health issue and it caused a bit of a scene on the street, but I did manage to convince him that these were for him and that he should put them on.  When I left people were staring (I guess kindness is something to stare at) but at least one person was a bit warmer, even for a short while.  I know very well that he may lose those new clothes to some other homeless person, living on the streets does not engender kindness, but I did what little I could.   Blame it on Christmas.

Now that I was into the spirit of the day, I picked up a gift card at Chapters for the Pan Pacific Christmas Wish Breakfast on Thursday.  It’s an annual event I’ve been going to for many years where they collect gifts for the Vancouver Christmas Bureau.  I like to give books for teenagers, it’s not as cute as a stuffed toy, but gifts for older kids are much needed.

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And I dropped off a warm coat at Urban Body Laser for their annual Coats for Kids event.   I love the people at this business, they really live their values.

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To round out my day, I tracked down my two favourite street musicians on their regular corners and dropped a $20 in their jars.    One of them in particular will be familiar to anyone who spends time in downtown Vancouver.  This man plays violin beautifully and always has his lovely and very well cared for golden retriever with him.  I’ve seen him and enjoyed his music for years. The astonished look on his face as I thanked him for his music was priceless.

And how was the rest of my shopping day?  Did my family end up with anything?  Oh yes, they did just fine, although we decided a few years ago that giving experiences was better than giving more stuff, so most of my gifts fell into the future fun category (weekend in Whistler anyone?) with a few stocking stuffers thrown in.

So when you are out there doing the last, mad dash around the mall this Christmas, stop for a moment and consider.   Do you really need that 15th stocking stuffer?  Or is there another way to embrace the spirit of the season  other than with a surfeit of consumerism.  Challenge yourself, you won’t regret it.

Here is a great song about being down on your luck from the amazing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Low Road.

Wearing Your Insides on the Outside

My lovely daughter and I have been catching up on some movie watching.  She had her wisdom teeth out a week ago so we have had a lot of bonding time.  That’s a polite way of saying she’s been lying on the couch while I cater to her every whim and invent new and exciting ways to blend food into something edible by a person who most closely resembles Fat Bastard.

As I scanned through the online movie listings for the fifth day in a row, I realized why the movie business is in trouble – most of the movies out there truly suck.   And I don’t mean that they are just not to my somewhat eclectic taste, I mean they are really and truly bad.   They can introduce VIP movie theatres and fancier seating all they want, it won’t get me past paying $12 bucks for crap.  The only thing that might help is the recently approved sale of drinkies at movie theatres (a new and wondrous concept in Canada)  – a few bevvies might make some of it bearable.  But then again . . .drinking bad beer and worse wine while watching the latest schlocktacular – nah, I’m just going to vote with my dollars and skip the whole process.

But if you are prepared to put in some time looking there are some real gems that are intelligent, quirky and interesting.   There are no car chases, no-one gets blown to bits and if you can catch them at a theatre it definitely won’t have stadium seating an massive screens.   But the reward will be a story that stays with you for a long time.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World:  Steve Carell and Kiera Knightley.   An asteroid named “Matilda” is going to destroy the Earth in three weeks.  What would you do?  Take a road trip with a perfect stranger?  Or a stranger who is perfect?  As people stop going to their jobs and indulge in “take no prisoners” lifestyle choices, law and the social order breaks down in predictable,  violent and often pathetic ways.  The smallness of people’s imagination when faced with their last days never ceases to surprise me.  Out of that comes the friendship between two strangers who go on a roadtrip to find his long lost high school sweetheart.   Great music, to be expected from director Lorene Scafaria who wrote the screen adaptation for Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, adds to the treat.   With the looming end of the world (according to the Mayan calender) in December, I am most heartily glad I will be putting my time to excellent use in New Orleans!  I can’t think of a better place to be for the (putative) end of the world.

Safety Not Guaranteed:  Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass.   The world is not coming to an end in this inspired original set in Oregon, but time travel just might be involved.   A jaded magazine writer takes two interns along with him when he is assigned to investigate a classified ad placed by someone looking for a companion to join him in a time travel experiment.   Various skills are required, but “safety is not guaranteed”.  Sci-fi, comedy, romance all rolled up together into a funny, touching and beautifully nuanced movie.  Multiple threads push the story forward while the characters develop into people you can completely identify with.  And you can never quite figure out if the time travel storyline is sci-fi or just plain gonzo-ness.   Another delicious piece of quirky entertainment from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine.

Hysteria: Maggie Gyllenhall and Hugh Dancy.  I’m outing my predilection for English movies, they have a sense of humour that most American movies just can’t touch.   Have you ever wondered how the vibrator was invented?  Yes, that vibrator!  In Victorian England, the male medical establishment believed that women (at least those of proper birth) could not “experience pleasure”.  Not surprisingly, they also suffered from a proliferation of nervous complaints grouped under the misnomer “hysteria”, which was believed to be caused by “a wandering uterus”.  Dr. Dalrymple the owner of the best women’s clinic in London, develops a manual “pelvic massage” treatment complete with stirrups, red velvet draping and scented oils that relieves their symptoms.  When he takes on the young and handsome Dr. Granville as his partner, there is soon a line up out the door for “treatment”.  The unfortunate Dr. Granville develops carpel tunnel syndrome from the “treatments”.  Faced with patient complaints about his waning abilities, with the help of a friend he converts an electronic feather duster in the first vibrator.   A hilariously funny and  relevant movie about women taking control of their own bodies and pleasure.    Premiered at  TIFF 2012.

Silver Lining Playbook:  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.  Set in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the film opens with Pat Solitano’s release from a mental institution where he has been sentenced for an act of violence and treated for bipolar disorder.  Pat’s release might have been a bit premature, especially as he has to live with his parents and his father, played faultlessly by Robert De Niro, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It’s not a smooth homecoming.  Pat is trying to reconcile with his wife, but it’s tricky given the restraining order.  He meets Tiffany, the troubled daughter of neighbourhood friends and she offers to help him but only on the condition that he helps her with her dream.   A brilliant story that includes the family obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles and gambling, a hilarious tail gate party and a “silver lining” ending.  I loved this complicated, warm, uplifting story from beginning to end.  And another fantastic soundtrack featuring the Alabama Shakes and a gem from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.  Gala presentation at TIFF 2012. 

Girl from the North Country  – Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.  I included the lyric because I loved it so much.

Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That’s the way I remember her best.

I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all.
Many times I’ve often prayed
In the darkness of my night,
In the brightness of my day.

So if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.