New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for February 2011

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment

From the Editor

Peter Salomon, Editor

They say the average New Years Resolution is held to for four did you do?

Make a new resolution to get involved with your New Orleans Mensa, we have great events coming up! Resolve to meet your fellow Mensans!

So The Story Goes Like This

Bart J. Geraci

For a few years, I was working in the country, helping out a friend of mine who owns a farm. While I missed the trappings of city life at first, I got accustomed to the simpler rural ways. Every six months, I'd see the local doctor for a checkup and his fee was a reasonable $40 which I would gladly pay.

One day I felt unusually ill, so I went to visit the doctor. He saw me in and asked me to lay down on the table. He excused himself and said he'd be back in a few minutes.

The doctor's cat jumped up on the table, looked around and sniffed at me. When he looked at me with those cat eyes, I only did what any reasonable person could do: I said "meow." The cat meowed twice back and then left. Then the doctor's golden Labrador Retriever came in and looked at me and ran around the table like crazy and ran off before I could decide whether to “meow” or “bark” at the dog.

The doctor came back, did some inspection and prescribed some natural-based remedies, and told me to come back if I didn't feel better soon. He then told me that it was going to cost $20 extra above the usual $40 today. I asked why.

He said, “Well, I need to charge extra...”

“...for the cat scan and the lab work.”


Roger Durham

If you could design Mensa all over again from the beginning, what would you do differently? How could this organization be changed so that if would come closer to what you would like it to be? That is the overall question the American Mensa Committee, your national Board of Directors, is struggling with in the aftermath of the Governance Task Force’s report. Oh, the question is broken down into a lot of smaller pieces that talk about candidates and board size and appointments and a number of other things, but that’s really what underlies all of the individual questions. At the Spring AMC meeting we will be focusing on a number of specific issues arising from the GTF report, and while each of these items will have certain pros and cons, the real question in my mind is whether they will help our organization come closer to meeting your expectations.

But I need your input here. You see, I am fortunate to belong to a local group, North Texas Mensa, with very few problems. We have lots of activities, plenty of money, and hardly any dissension. We usually test twice a month, we have an active scholarship program, we’ve put on a very popular RG annually for the past 31 years. Having served as LocSec here in Dallas six times, I have a pretty good idea of how a successful Mensa group works. However, I don’t know much about how an unsuccessful group works, or fails to work, as the case may be. Oh, I know what the problems are: not many activities, not enough money, no testing program, nobody willing to hold office, and on and on. What I don’t know is what would solve all these problems. What could be done in your local group that would make you feel better about your Mensa membership?

Now, I don’t mean the obvious things, like “have more activities”, but rather, what could be changed to make more activities happen? Would your group be better if it were combined with another group? Would you be happier to be a voting member of a Special Interest Group (SIG) instead of a geographically-­-defined group? Would you rather have more money given back to your local group instead of financing national programs like gifted kids? Or would you be willing to have less money allocated to your local group if we could then afford a national testing program contracted out to third-­-party providers? Those are the kinds of answers I hope to get from you. Not necessarily answers to these particular questions, just answers to these kinds of questions. So be original, be creative, and most of all, be forthcoming. I really want to hear from you.



Bart J Geraci

Let's Go Hornets!

Well, the Saints made the playoffs, but were eliminated in the first round. As a long time native, I have supported the team through thick and thin and there were much more thins than thick. So let's root for another local team, our New Orleans Hornets. Yeah! (And this year the Arena Football League Voodoo returns in March).

Every year, our chapter gives back to the community by presenting special awards (“for projects showing creativity backed by rigorous scientific reasoning”) at the Greater New Orleans Science and Engineering Fair. This year, it will be held at UNO on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, February 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, with the awards ceremony on Thursday evening, February 24th. Complete schedule for the event will be posted on the GNOSEF website ( We are in need of judges for the fair to meet on Tuesday the 22nd. It is fascinating to see what today's youth are working on. For more information, contact me at or

I am deeply grateful for members starting up new get-togethers. Jennifer is starting the Smart Set Lunch SIG where members can meet downtown for lunch. January's meeting was at Rambla on the 27th at noon. And Rebecca has become our new Northshore SIG leader, for those North of the lake with activities like lunches and dinners planned for the next few months.

Thank you all for making this chapter great!

Help Needed From Our Members

Bart J Geraci

If you've always (or never) wondered how to help out our group, we have a few areas that we could use your help in.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Fred Hatfield

This often-visited historical cemetery in the heart of the Garden District has always been a factor in my life. When I was a child in the 1930's, my family resided just off the corner of Washington Avenue and Magazine Street, so the cemetery was only a few blocks away. The wide array of recreational items to distract children did not exist in those days, so a semi-abandoned cemetery encompassing an entire block in the middle of a residential area was an attraction that couldn't be resisted.

There were hundreds of tombs with narrow and weed-filled aisles, occasional openings that revealed rotting caskets, mysterious symbols and languages on the plaques and of course, the horrific ambience that accompanies the presence of death. Never susceptible to adult hesitances, I didn't mind crawling into an empty tomb to play hide-and-seek with my companions.

In 1981, I returned to my beloved New Orleans to retire after an extended career in "Yankeeland" and found the cemetery was not only still in existence, but through the efforts of some preservation-oriented citizens had been cleaned up, many plaques restored and tomb repairs proliferated. I purchased a postage-stamp sized bargeboard cottage on the adjacent corner of Washington Avenue and Coliseum Street and vowed to spend my remaining time enjoying New Orleans ambience. With that in mind, I took a course at Delgado in tour guiding and began showing visitors through the sights of the city, including trips through Lafayette No. 1.

During one of my trips, I got an idea to catalog the tombs in the wall vaults forming the cemetery enclosure along Washington Avenue. Originally, the entire cemetery had been surrounded by wall vaults, but the only remaining ones presently lined the Washington Avenue entrance. I intended to photograph every plaque in the wall vaults, transcribe each one and make the information available on the Internet which was just beginning to become prominent at that time. Calculating the cost of a camera, film and processing showed this to be prohibitively expensive. But, considering the digital cameras that were starting to appear, a solution suddenly presented itself -- a digital camera was perfect for the job, I could take hundreds of photographs, upload them to my computer and then use the camera again to take hundreds more.

After completing the wall vault project that went so well, I determined that doing all the tombs in the entire cemetery was a possibility. My plan was to break the cemetery down into sections, take photographs daily in the morning when the weather was cool, work on the photos in the afternoon. I did this for approximately 3 years until I had documented the entire cemetery in color photos, transcribed every plaque and marking on all tombs. As I documented each section, I created a cross-index listing each name, date, age, birthdate, on every plaque including extra information such as military service, country of origin, poems, etc. I was then able to have indexes by surname, by date of birth and death and by location in the cemetery. The indexes can display a color photograph of the tomb and plaque by clicking on an entry.

Luckily, the project was completed before Katrina did a lot of damage and consequently it provides a complete inventory of existing tombs before the disaster.

If you would like to investigate possible family connections to this documentation of families and individuals from the 1798 era to present day, go to:

BRAINFORK: A Mensan writes about food

Bart J Geraci

King Cake

In New Orleans, we celebrate the Carnival Season, from January 6th (Epiphany) to Mardi Gras ( the day before Ash Wednesday, which is 40 days (not including Sundays ) before Easter (which is the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the March 21st ( Vernal Equinox )), which is (I mean Mardi Gras is) on March 8th this year. Ash Wednesday starts the 40 days of Lenten sacrifice; in our food-oriented world this usually means no meat on Fridays. Another food tradition is the King Cake, a ring of sweet eggy dough (like a brioche) topped with colored (purple, green, and gold) sugars and icings, with a token (plastic baby) tucked randomly underneath the ring.

A little bit of history first. The name “King Cake” is a reference to the 3 wise men (Magi) who presented gifts to the infant Jesus. This is also why (1) the King Cake season starts on the Epiphany and (2) the token (as used today) is a plastic baby. Such cakes have been around much longer than New Orleans; diarist Samuel Pepys recorded a party in the mid 1600s where cakes with a token (in this case a bean) were presented to the guests to determine the king and queen of the party.

Owing to its French / Spanish / Catholic heritage, the King Cake custom came to new world in New Orleans. In the early 1900s in New Orleans the token was made of ceramic, not plastic, and are now collector's items. Some Carnival Krewes still select King and Queens through a King Cake (or Queen Cake). The contemporary tradition is that weekly King Cake parties are held throughout Carnival and the person who gets the piece with the baby has to buy the next King Cake for the party next week.

New Orleans has had a lot of bakeries. So everyone buys their King Cakes from local stores, and there is competition between stores of having the best King Cake. One of the oldest bakeries was McKenzie's which first came out with a King Cake that was not sweet, no icing, and somewhat dry. But when I was growing up, the best tasting competitor to them was made by the Randazzo family in Chalmette, which used a braided brioche/coffecake dough topped with icing, then colored sugars and/or sprinkles. It wasn't until around the 80s or 90s did McKenzie's finally come up with a similar style of King Cake. Well, McKenzie's has closed down, and Randazzo's has divided into about 3 or 4 operations, still selling their King Cake.

Another New Orleans bakery is Haydel's; they created the World's Largest King Cake (certified by Guinness). This happened on September 22, 2010 with two King Cakes that wound around the Superdome. They actually created two rings (an outer and in inner) so they broke the record twice. The final King Cake was over a mile long and weighed over 4 tons. Pieces of the cake was sold and all of the event's net proceeds went to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, New Orleans. Over 6,000 people (including myself) attended the event and ALL of the King Cake was sold (and boy was it delicious!).


Like I've said before, no one makes their own King Cakes. But I wanted to find some easy recipes.

King Cake for One

I saw this at a local lunch place and it seems like it misses the point entirely, but I had a friend who enjoyed it since it wasn't super sweet and he felt like he had partaken in the tradition without needing to buy a whole cake:

1 bagel (any variety with smooth top)
colored (purple, green, gold) frosting

Frost top of bagel with different colors.

Quick and Easy Cream Cheese filled King Cake

Over the years, the King Cake has evolved into more like a cinnamon-laced sweet dough / brioche, so it becomes almost like the same dough for cinnamon rolls. Also in the past couple of decades, more bakeries are stuffing their King Cake with cream cheese and fruit fillings. So I found this recipe and tried it out with satisfactory results:

1 can cinnamon rolls
4oz cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
food colorings

Take the cinnamon roll dough, line them up into a rectangle, and flatten out this dough even further with a rolling pin. Mix cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla to taste, and spread along the wide bottom of the rectangular dough. Roll up, jelly-roll style, and be sure to pinch the seams well. Form the log into a circle and bake following the directions on the can, testing doneness and adjusting times as needed.

The cinnamon roll can will have some frosting to spread on the hot rolls. Divide that into small cups and use food colorings to get the colors desired. Frost when the cake cools.

Much Better King Cake with even less Effort

Go online (if no such store in the area) and order. All of the major New Orleans bakeries will gladly ship it to you.

Minutes of Excom Meeting

Saturday December 4th, 2010, 2 – 2:40pm

Bart Geraci
Sharon Kirkpatrick
Loretta Levene
Phil Therrein
Rene Petersen

The meeting was called to order at 2:05

Because Claudia D'Aquin was not available to attend the meeting, Rene Petersen took over as recording secretary for purposes of this meeting.

Approved of previous meeting minutes.

Motion by Lorette, Second by Phil - Passed Phil talked about the latest finances of the group.

A Mensa group is leaving on a cruise out of New Orleans March 20-27 (NCL's Norwegian Spirit: Costa Maya, Belize City, Roatan, Cozumel). Discussed getting together with that group the night before.

Someone suggested posting an ad on Craigslist to attract new members. Bart asked if anyone had any experience with Craigslist, and someone suggested Bart talk to Claudia.

Articles Still in Effect. We need to work on that. Loretta contributed some ideas so far. At the end of 2011 Loretta will resign her position of Assistant to the Editor. We will need to write an article and ask someone else to step in.

Bart talked about having an RG in December 2011. Other people said that we would need to have more active members in the group to pull that off. Bart expected only 50 people to show up; other people thought it would be in the hundreds. We'll ask National about what the average size of an RG is.

Gerry Ward was not present, but she had some concerns to be brought up at the meeting. First, she wanted to know if National Mensa was aware that Anne had passed away. Bart told them that he did notify National's membership coordinator about that. Her second issue was that could she get increased funding for a NOM night special with a belly dancer. We have about **** in the account, and Bart said we could afford that.

Bart brought a calendar for 2011 to discuss dates for future events.

Bart recalled that the GNOSEF (Greater New Orleans Science and Engineering Fair) was sometime in the beginning of the year, so he announced that he had to find out when that was. Bart was advised to contact Patti Armatis regarding that. He plans to write an article for LaPlume.

Rene asked Bart to ask the general membership to find alternative locations for Mensa testing. Bart will mention this in a newsletter article. Rene has decided to hold the next testing location on January 22, 2010.

No further actions, Motion to adjourn by Phil, Second by Loretta - Passed and meeting was dismissed at 2:40pm.

Good Wine Cheap (and good food to go with it)

By John Grover

Well, I am now suffering the consequences of numerous culinary depredations of the holiday season. How can the pounds appear on the bathroom scales so quickly? Another Christmas miracle? I rather doubt it. In order to recover from this situation, I may have to actually consume fewer calories. BUMMER! A dish prepared on a recent edition of the Today Show was the inspiration for this month’s column. This recipe, based upon a Mexican classic, is so good that it doesn’t feel like dieting.

The wine this month is the 2009 Wildflower Valdiguie from J. Lohr Wines of Monterey, California. The Valdiguie grape originates from the Languedoc- Roussillon region of Southwest France. This wine starts with an aromatic bouquet of boysenberry and cherry. It then produces cherry and raspberry tastes with a bit of acidity and pucker in the mouth. It should be served cool (55 to 60 degrees). The wine has a lot of characteristics of Beaujolais and can be served with a wide range of ethnic dishes. This wine is available for between $9 and $10 a bottle.

Turkey pozole (hominy) soup with green chilies (by Michael Lomonaco, executive chef at Porter House New York, and broadcast recently on the Today Show)

Ingredients: 2 pounds turkey meat cut into 1 inch cubes; 1/4 cup olive oil; 2 large onions, peeled and chopped; 2 red peppers, seeded and chopped; 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped; 2 tablespoons ground cumin; 2 tablespoons Ancho chili powder; 2 tablespoons peeled, chopped garlic; 1 15 ounce can chopped green chilies; 1 cup crushed tomatoes; 2 quarts chicken broth; 1 28 ounce can golden or white hominy (pozole); 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves; 1/2 cup chopped scallions; Sour cream; Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium heat. Season the turkey with salt and pepper. Add to the pot and sauté in until well-browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the turkey to a bowl and set aside.

Add the onions, red pepper and jalapeño to the pot and brown until golden, which takes approximately seven minutes. When the onion begins to caramelize, return the turkey to the pot, sprinkle with the cumin and Ancho chili powder, stir in the garlic, green chilies and tomatoes. Add the chicken broth plus 2 cups of water, stir and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower then heat and let the chili simmer, partially covered, for one hour. Add the hominy. Continue to cook until the turkey is tender, which takes approximately 15 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve with cilantro, scallions and sour cream as a topping. Yields 3 to 4 quarts. This recipe can be easily cut in half.

I hope that you will contact me with your comments and favorite wines at I will be happy to share them with the broader Mensa group.

John Grover is a member of Mensa of Northeastern New York. He lives with his wife Sharon in the Hudson Valley of New York.


Arena Football is returning to New Orleans. For those not paying all that much attention to indoor football in the spring, The Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings are moving to New Orleans and being renamed the Voodoo after the original AFL team from 2004-2008.

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