New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for December 2016

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


By Bart Geraci

Well, the elections are over ... almost. We’ve got a runoff for the Senate race this month on the 10th.

The 2016 NORGY is the big event this month. We’ve got one more planning meeting this month.

Wishing you all a wonderful season and may 2017 be better than 2016.

Let’s go Pelicans and Saints!

NORGY 2016 !!!

NORGY 2016: A CONSUMMATION of New Orleans Culture

Friday, December 9 – Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Gathering will feature speakers, activities, and excursions that exemplify a wide variety of New Orleans culture. The general topics to be covered include History, Food, Architecture, Literature, Music, and Lagniappe (that's a little bit extra) – all the things that make our city truly one of a kind.

Our hotel, Hilton Garden Inn New Orleans Convention Center, is located one block from the Convention Center, three blocks from the World War II Museum, and is near many restaurants.

See for more info.

Taz Talks

By Taz Criss, Region 6 Vice Chair

December always seems to be a whirlwind. Between holiday celebrations of all sorts with friends and family, office parties, and the fact that many people have work fewer days, it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks.

I hope you haven’t let your registration for NORGY, New Orleans Mensa’s Regional Gathering, slip through those cracks. NORGY will be held December 9-11, 2016. LocSec Bart Geraci and the NOM team have put together what looks like a truly fantastic weekend of culture, food, and general fun. It has been several years since NOM hosted an RG, but it looks like they will be making up for it with a vengeance. You can register and find more details about the schedule and programming online at .

December is also the time that people make charitable donations. If you have not yet found your worthy cause, I would ask you to consider donating to the Mensa Foundation. The Foundation awards tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships each year, as well as providing funding for many gifted youth programs and educational efforts. Your donations to the Mensa Foundation are tax-deductible. More information and an online donation form can be found at . You can also call the office at 817-607-0060 ext. 199 and speak to a staff member if you have questions or prefer not to donate online.

During the hustle and bustle of this month, I encourage you to take the time to attend a local Mensa event. Growing up in this organization, I have repeatedly found kindred spirits and some of the most fascinating people through conversations with my fellow members. It is my personal experience that the connections with fellow members are largely rewarding. So go forth and enjoy the top benefit of membership in this fantastic organization – other Mensans.

As always, I ask that if you have any questions, concerns, or general comments, please let me know. I have created a simple online form where members can offer feedback on any topic, both by name or anonymously. You can find this form at Of course, if you prefer, you can always contact me via email at

I wish all of you a very happy new year.

So The Story Goes Like This

By Bart Geraci

I was visiting a friend of mine in West Texas in mid December. His daughter was telling his wife that she needed a gift-wrapped present for school tomorrow.

He told me, “You should see how she wraps presents.”

I watched her clear off space on the table, then bring out a small basket of scissors, tape, ribbon and a tube of wrapping paper. Then she proceeded quickly and efficiently to cut the paper, wrap the present, and even made a bow from the ribbon.

She did it so fast, I was impressed and I asked her “Wow! Where did you learn that?”

She said, “Well, it’s something I was able to do as a little girl - just look at the object and determine how much wrap I needed.”

I said “Really? No one taught you?”

She replied, holding the present, “No...”

“’s a gift.”

BrainFork: Praline

By Bart Geraci


“Guilleaume left La Praline with a small bag of florentines in his pocket; before he had turned the corner of avenue des Francs Bourgeois I saw him stoop to offer one to the dog. A pat, a bark, a wagging of the short stubby tail. As I said, some people never have to think about giving.”
- Joanne Harris, “Chocolat” -

This month we’re talking about the New Orleans candy, the praline.

There are three different kinds of candies with the word “praline”:

In New Orleans, it’s pronounced “praw-lean”, not “pray-lean”.

A Brief History of the Praline

“(A customer enters a pet shop.)
Mr. Praline: 'Ello, I wish to register a complaint.
(The owner does not respond.)
Mr. Praline: 'Ello, Miss?
Owner: What do you mean “miss”?
Mr. Praline: I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!
Owner: We're closin' for lunch.
Mr. Praline: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.”
- Monty Python, “Dead Parrot Sketch” -

Legend has it that the confection was invented for César, Duke of Choiseul, Count of Plessis-Praslin. The idea from the cook was simply to sugarcoat almonds individually to prevent indigestion.

When the French came over to New Orleans, they adapted it to using locally abundant pecans in place of almonds, using the fresh sugar cane in the area, and adding cream to the mixture to thicken it. It has been mentioned as a delicacy from New Orleans in a book published in 1758.

Weather or Not

“I make a mean pecan pie, and I have a great recipe for pralines - also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.”
-Phil Robertson-

Before we start cooking, be aware that the weather can affect any type of candy-making. While we are cooking sugar, we are adding moisture to the air by way of steam. During the cooling process, the candy may start absorbing the moisture from the air back into the sugar mix. If the air is humid, the candy will absorb a lot more water and it will become much softer than desired.

A cooler area is more beneficial than a warmer area in candy making. The faster we can bring the temperature down, the smaller chance that it will have to form unwanted sugar crystals. For similar reasons, adding liquid nitrogen (which is so cold, it’s below -320 degrees F) to a milk mixture will bring the temperature down so fast, ice crystals will not have time to form, creating ice cream with a much smoother texture.

Nevertheless, with modern HVAC systems, the effects from outside humidity and heat may be less of a problem than it was in generations past.


“The complexion of a sweet praline
Hair long as the sea
Heart warm like Louisiana sun
Voice like a symphony.”
- Leon Bridges, “Lisa Sawyer” -

There are many recipes, and some variations between ratios of sugar to cream to pecans to butter. Here I’ve converted everything in terms of cups, so you could scale the recipe, but see Advance Preparation note #2.


2 cups sugar - could be half white sugar, half brown sugar, or perhaps a 2 to 1 ratio.
1 to 1.5 cups pecans - some recipes toast them beforehand, some don’t
0.5 to 1 cups dairy - heavy cream / milk / canned evaporated milk / buttermilk
1/8 to 1/2 cups butter


Traditional: vanilla
Variation 1: Chocolate - 1/4 cup chocolate
Variation 2: Cafe au lait - 1/8 cup instant coffee
Variation 3: Bourbon - 1/4 cup bourbon
Variation 4: 1/3 cup peanut butter, added at the end of boiling the syrup)

Advance preparations:

  1. Figure out where you’re going to let the pralines cool down. Then use either wax / parchment / foil / silpat. Now this can’t lay right on your table / counter, since the pralines are coming HOT (150-200 degrees) off the stove, so add a buffer between the sheet and table - cooling racks, newspaper, baking sheets, etc.
  2. Don’t double the recipe. The problem here is that you have a limited amount of time from the time the pot comes off the heat and beating it in order to spoon it on your prepared surface. A bigger recipe means that halfway through, the contents of the pot will harden too much.
  3. Use the next bigger pot than what you’re thinking of using. The problem here is that the syrupy concoction will bubble up tremendously.
  4. Long sleeve shirts are recommended. Since we’re dealing with temperatures around 230 - 250 degrees, you do not want a stray bit of fiery sugar blob landing on your bare skin.
  5. Candy (or instant-read) thermometer. Part of the success of pralines is dependent on getting the right temperature. The recipes call for a number between 230 and 250. If you can figure out what soft-ball stage is by dripping a little bit of the mix in iced water and feeling it, then you don’t need a thermometer. For the rest of us mere mortals we need our candy thermometer. Not a meat thermometer that only goes up to 190 or so.
    Now if you have a thermometer that gives readings in 2-3 seconds, that will be fine. Since you get the temperature right away, you will not need to keep it in the sugar mix.


Combine sugars and dairy in a pot, cook over medium-high heat until it starts boiling. Add butter and pecans. Then bring up the temperature to X degrees.

What’s X? Well, it’s supposed to be soft-ball stage. The recipes I’ve seen talk around 232-240. If it’s under that, it may be too runny. If after cooking, it’s still too runny and doesn’t hold together very well, then scrape it all back into the pot and bring it to a little bit higher temperature.

Once the temperature is reached, you take it off the fire and start stirring the pot. You can use a wooden spoon so it doesn’t absorb the heat. You can feel that as you stir it, it will get thicker and thicker. You’re looking to get it down to about 200 degrees or if you can hear the formed sugar crystals scrape the side of the pot. Then go ahead and drop it on the prepared sheet. Let the pralines cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Nut-free Variation: make without pecans, but just before spooning it out, add rice cereal to the mix.

New Orleans Mensa ExCom Meeting

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Home of Bart Geraci

Mensa ExCom Members present: Bart Geraci, Kevin Chesnut, Robert Myers, Summer McKnight, Gerry Ward

Meeting called to order at 5:15 p.m.

Old Business: Bart presented the minutes from the August meeting. The minutes were accepted.

New Business: 1. Treasurer's report: (Rene' Petersen was not present, but sent his report to Bart.) Balance as of November 1: General Account $11,587.21 RG account $1,189.38 2. We have a person who took the test in October passed and has already joined Mensa. 3. We're getting the refund of our balance from the Post Office since we no longer use the bulk mail – we're using first-class postage for our mailed newsletters. 4. Agreed to pay for the performers at the RG.

Some RG planning was involved and will be covered under a separate statement.

The next RG planning meeting will be Sunday, December 4th, at 5:00 p.m.

The next EXCOM meeting will be Saturday, February 11, 2017, 5:00 p.m.

All business being concluded, the meeting was adjourned at 7:15 p.m.

Submitted by Bart J. Geraci, LocSec.

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Last edited: 5-Mar-2017. Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at