New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for January 2014

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment

From The Editor

Kevin Chestnut

The two faces of the Roman god Janus, one looking backward to the past, and one forward to the future, make him a suitable symbol for the start of a new year.

Here's hoping that the view in both directions is a pleasant one for all of our members and friends.

Janus image source:

So The Story Goes Like This

Bart Geraci

So I was visiting a friend out in the middle of East Texas and it was quite a while when I saw him last.

The last time I went to this town, it was dirty and run-down and there were billboards plastered everywhere. But this time, the town was cleaned up nicely and all the billboards were gone. When I saw my friend I asked him about this. He explained that the town got a new mayor who put in a great effort to clean up the town. I told him that the act of removing the billboards really made the town look much nicer.

So much so…

...I liked the way the city was designed.


By Bart Geraci

January is the time to make resolutions for the new year. But January 6th starts the Carnival season, and that means King Cakes until Mardi Gras (March 4th) this year.

Thanks to everyone who showed up at the End-of-the-Year NOM Night at our house. We all had a great time.

Starting this month, we are happy to announce that Bob Myers is our new Assistant LocSec.

Coming on February 19th, our chapter will once again be judging the participants of the Greater New Orleans Science and Engineering Fair (see This is one of the ways our chapter gives back to the community. If you are interested in helping us judge, contact me at

American Mensa is excited to introduce the all-new digital monthly Bulletin magazine. Just click on the link below to view the November/December issue, including bonus content for this issue's cover feature! Even better, you can download each edition and take it with you on the go -- no Internet or cell signal needed. Read it on your smartphone, tablet, or computer -- it will optimize to whatever platform you use.

Let’s Go Saints & Pelicans!

From the National Office

Foundation 2014 Scholarship deadline

The deadline for the Mensa Foundation scholarship application process is January 15, 2014. The details for the various scholarship programs can be found at:

Are Irish Weather Forecasts Really Worth the Effort?

By David Dillard
David moved from New Orleans to Ireland about three months ago. He recently submitted this article to the Irish Mensa newsletter, and thought we might enjoy it too. – Ed.

I haven’t lived in Ireland very long but I have discovered watching or reading an Irish weather forecast is very entertaining, if not very useful. To put it in perspective, after a few minutes, one wonders if it is based on meteorology, astrology, chaos theory or general guessing. The typical report begins with a gentle introduction usually incorporating key words such as “mild, milder, light, lovely and brilliant”. Weather maps are a confusing set of graphics with every possible symbol represented in moving, gyrating and spinning patterns accompanied by seemingly random numbers. The verbal description is like the Oracle of Delphi foretelling a future of uncertainty, joyous moments, possible disappointments, hope, definitely change.

A daily forecast goes something like this: “Today; winds are likely to be mild, approaching from the west then possibly becoming milder from the east later in the day although gale force gusts could be a problem. Temperature will remain similar to yesterday although warming spells may be expected unless drops of several degrees eliminate that possibility. Sunny spells should occur followed by rainy spells, misty then heavy. Fog is expected sometime soon. We are also keeping our eye on a huge and horrible weather system approaching England and the rest of Europe where disastrous events are sure to happen. A satellite view shows this massive, unprecedented storm system inundating the entire continent as well as parts of Africa and stretching into the Middle East and lingering in India. Ireland may get a slight bit of rain as that front pushes through. Altogether it should be lovely and mild with light winds. We will be here to update you as developments unfold”.

I have a friend in Los Angeles, California who once said: “I hate this place because it is warm and sunny every day of the year”. After spending time in California, I can agree with her. Nice weather is like having oatmeal and water for breakfast every morning. Before I moved to Ireland, I was told by numerous people the weather was horrible. I totally disagree! California weather is like boring elevator music when compared to Irish weather which is like a Mahler symphony or a Verdi opera. Irish weather is not bad at all, it just changes often. I love the “blustery days” as Winnie the Pooh would call them, yet I also love the sunny spells, the glorious, intoxicatingly beautiful days and even the occasional sideways rain and fog.

If my point is not yet rendered, I give this example of what not to do. Imagine a young family where the dad decides to take everyone to a beautiful overlook for a picnic. Now, if you are into the plastic forks, spoons, paper napkins, plates and cups, let me tell you what can happen. As your family is basking in the sun, enjoying their chicken sandwiches and admiring the waves crashing into the deathly high cliffs below, an unseen force suddenly comes and lifts the whole meal, place settings and grandmother’s quilt off the ground and into the ocean. You marvel at how your chicken sandwich has become an experimental aircraft where its wings are the paper plate as it spins like a small UFO before hurtling itself into the breakers several hundred feet below. No, this will not be a lovely day for you.

To ensure a lovely day you must approach the situation the Irish way. First, equip each member of the family with Wellies, rain slickers, wool socks and sweaters, signal flares, brightly colored reflective vests and if you are planning to use a boat, consider going to a museum instead. Use only sturdy, permanent bowls and utensils. Make sandwiches on Irish brown bread which is heavy enough to withstand those gale force gusts. Make sure you have a flashlight and a GPS mobile unit. Keep an eye on the children that they don’t fall into a rabbit hole and disappear. Remind your wife not to wear her summery dress for it may end up over her head. If light rain does occur just keep eating and in a few minutes it will be lovely again. Brilliant!

So the lesson here is not the prediction of our weather, which we acknowledge is impossible, but preparation. In effect, I have changed my outlook on life because of this. Now I think not if something is going to occur but when. This is generally a good philosophy for anyone to practice. Irish weather has toughened me some and I can laugh in the face of approaching storm clouds as I stand firm in my Wellies, girted with rainproof gear and woolens. As far as Irish meteorology is concerned, I offer a simple solution; eliminate those things most likely not to occur and you will be closer to the truth. For instance; Ireland will most likely NOT have a tsunami, typhoon, tornado or blizzard any time soon. Emphasize the good and downplay the bad. We have many beautiful rainbows reaching all the way to the green pastures below. There are star filled skies where Orion and Taurus prance across the night. The moon reflecting off the ocean is breathtaking as blinking lighthouses keep watch over our shores. Fog is beautiful when it hangs over the top of a limestone mountain.

I hope this gives the reader a sense of our weather without the usual criticism of it just being downright bad. Did I mention we supposedly don’t have lightning or thunder in Ireland? I emphasize the word supposedly.

Enjoy your day, Cheers.

From the RVC

Roger Durham, Region 6 Vice Chairman

Once again, another year is gone, and it’s time to wish all of you a very happy New Year. As I write this in early December, I have just returned from the winter meeting of the American Mensa Committee in Florida.

As I’m sure you recall, at our last meeting the Board adopted a policy banning weapons at national Mensa events. Although I, as a member of the Risk Management Committee, was the seconder of this motion, I wasn’t very happy with the final wording that we ended up with after several last-minute amendments. Consequently, at the December meeting I offered a revised policy, seconded by LaRae Bakerink, our Second Vice-Chair, which I’m happy to report that we passed. Under this new policy, if not prohibited by local law or the hotel itself, you may bring a firearm to the hotel, keep it in your room, and carry it when you go outside. You are only asked not to bring it into the actual rooms where Mensa functions are taking place, such as speaker rooms, hospitality, game rooms, and so on. The new policy applies only to firearms, unlike the original one, which prohibited weapons of any description. I am indebted to Brian Reeves, our Secretary, for his help in drafting the new policy. Although opposed to the idea on general principles, he generously assisted me to find wording which I hope will be less objectionable to members concerned about their 2nd Amendment rights. Please keep in mind that this is not a political statement, just an attempt to placate our liability insurance carrier.

Now, following up on last month’s column, I have been asked to remind everyone that our Regional Scholarship Chair, Tom Ehrhorn of New Mexico Mensa, needs regional judges for the second-level scholarship essay judging next month. It’s all done by email these days – you don’t have to leave the comfort of your favorite chair. If you can help by reading 50 or so essays, please contact Tom at Your help will be greatly appreciated.

Finally, if yours is one of the groups which recently went through local elections and have new officers taking over this month, my sincere congratulations (or condolences) and best wishes to all of you who are newly elected to a leadership position in your local group. Please do not hesitate to contact me ( if I can be of assistance in any way.

More scholarship info...

From Jane Gmur, Assistant National Scholarship Chair

I’m looking for a few good readers. Students going to college next year will be applying to the Mensa Education and Research Foundation for a scholarship – more than 175 are offered. Winners are selected based on short essays written by the applicants describing their career or study goals. I’m asking Mensa members to spend some time, just a few hours in late January or early February, to score essays.

The Foundation has expanded the scholarship program this year. Until now, when a Local Group didn’t participate in the program, students who lived in its area were ineligible to apply for a scholarship. The program has been expanded so that applications from nonparticipating group areas are accepted and processed by a national-level set of judges. As Assistant National Scholarship Chair, I’m organizing those judging groups now.

The essays are short, 550 words at the most. If we can send fewer than 70 to each reader, then scoring should take 4 hours, more or less. Criteria are well-defined by the Foundation to keep scores as objective and consistent as possible.

Personally, in my first few years of membership, I used to disregard requests to judge scholarship essays: I didn’t feel qualified because writing isn’t my forte and, besides, it just sounded dry. I believed that they didn’t need me; other members would be better judges. In fact, reading the essays is interesting. They reveal students’ interests and concerns and which career goals are favored each year. Most scholarship judges continue volunteering every year after they've tried it once. As for being qualified, if you spot errors in the newspaper or if you know the difference between their, there, and they're, you're probably qualified to judge essays.

I don’t want to steal current judges from Local Groups or Regions. However, for those judges who love reading essays and want to spend an additional few hours reading more, you can participate at this level with no fear of conflict of interest.

Please send an email to to get involved in this worthwhile program

BrainFork: A Mensan talks about food

By Bart Geraci

Pina Colada Bread Pudding

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga, if you have half-a-brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I'm the love that you've looked for, write to me, and escape"
- Rupert Holmes, "Escape (the Pina Colada Song)" -

For the 2013 End-of-the-year Mensa party at our house, I cooked 3 major things:

Basic Bread Pudding History

““It looked like pieces of bread pudding that had been soaked in raspberry syrup.”
- Diana Rowland, “My Life as a White Trash Zombie” --

In terms of Bread Pudding history, I turn to the book “New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and their Histories”, edited by Susan Tucker. A simple recipe from Lafcadio Hearn's “The Creole Cookbook” written in 1885 states:

"Butter some slices of bread, cut thin, and lay them in a dish, with currant and citron between; pour over it a quart of milk, with four well-beaten eggs, and sugar sufficient to sweeten to taste, and bake. Serve with sauce."

What I notice about the recipe is:

But above all, this is very similar to the recipes of today.

By the 1900s, Bread Pudding recipes appeared in cookbooks and started to come in many variations, both in terms of the contents of the pudding and the sauce on top.

My Introduction To Bread Pudding

Milton Waddams: “Excuse me? Excuse me, senor? May I speak to you please? I asked for a mai tai, and they brought me a pina colada, and I said no salt, NO salt for the margarita, but it had salt on it, big grains of salt, floating in the glass…”
- Office Space (movie) -

The first bread pudding recipe I really enjoyed was from “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen” cookbook. Now what’s really odd about this is that it takes up 2 printed pages, and it comes with not one but two sauces: a Chantilly Cream and a Lemon Sauce. The sense I got from the recipe is that the basic bread pudding consists of the following components:

The next step up was going to a cooking demo at New Orleans School of Cooking. If you ever get a chance to go, I would encourage you to do so. What they opened my eyes with was the idea of all kinds of variations on the basic bread pudding, including Pina Colada version.

The Bread

“ ‘A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said, ‘is what we chiefly need’”
- Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking-Glass” -

The basic idea of bread pudding comes from the frugal use of leftover stale bread. In New Orleans, our use of French Bread gives us an advantage over sliced bread found elsewhere because we can produce cubes the size we want to use. Any small leftover French Bread crumbs can be used in the pudding as well to add more body. However, bread is not the only substance that can be used. Other recipes include using cake pieces in place of the bread. And then I talked to someone who used lots of leftover doughnuts as the base. He told me any kind, filled or glazed, and any mixture of those. But the one that I was amazed about was the use of Hubig’s Pies (little half-moon fried pies with filling) as the base. As of now, I have heard that 2014 may be the year that Hubig’s Pie factory will return.

Fruits and Nuts

“You've got to go out on a limb sometimes -- because that's where the fruit is."”
- Will Rogers -

The typical bread pudding has raisins in it and sometimes it has pecans (our local nuts) as well. In the 1950s, with the advent of convenience foods, recipes began using canned fruits, such as pineapple, and even fruit cocktail was used in the mix. Although if you go this route, you may want to strain off the liquids (and save it in case you need more).

Along these lines, a sweeter bread pudding could be made with chocolate (and white chocolate) chips tossed into the bread. Also, the chips could be melted and folded into the liquids portion of the bread pudding.

The Liquids

“Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”
- Langston Hughes -

The liquids that are added include not only eggs and milk, but also the sugar and spices. This is mixed together in one bowl (usually, eggs are beaten first, then everything else is added). For some recipes, the fruits are added to the liquids bowl after everything else is incorporated, then it is poured over the bread in the pan.

Some recipes that will use egg yolks in the liquid mixture will tell the cook to save the egg whites for a final step of adding a meringue to the baked bread pudding.

The Sauce

“In the orchestra of a great kitchen, the sauce chef is a soloist.”
- Fernand Point-

In New Orleans, the traditional sauce that is spooned on top of the bread pudding is a Whiskey sauce. In the March 2013 issue, I gave a recipe for a Whiskey Sauce, which is reproduced below

Combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan over low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Break one egg into a bowl and beat it. Gradually add the hot liquid to the egg, beating all the while to keep the egg from curdling. Pour bowl back into saucepan and cook until thickened. Gradually add 1/3 cup bourbon.

A simpler, eggless sauce could be made with melted butter, powdered sugar, and some alcohol of your choice (not just whiskey, I’ve seen Rum and Brandy being used). This would be mixed all together and just flowed onto the hot bread pudding.

But if you’re doing something like a chocolate chip bread pudding, you may want to do a sauce consisting of white chocolate chips melted into some hot milk to pour out on top.


“My point is, life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada.”
- Ellen DeGeneres, “Seriously... I'm Kidding” -

There is a great deal of flexibility in both the amounts and the ingredients for this recipe. Unlike a cake recipe, which requires a delicate balance of leaveners in order to create air pockets, this is going the other way. That is, you are filling the air pockets in the stale hard bread with flavored liquids.

Breaking this down into steps:

The Bread: Get the pan, normal or disposable, prepared for your pudding. Some recipes will tell you to spread butter on it, some won’t. Then take the stale bread, torn into pieces and put in the pan. Why stale? With the liquids that you’ll add in, the bread needs to be hard to soak in the liquids without falling apart.

The Fruits and Nuts: For the Pina Colada version, I added diced pineapple (straining out and saving the juices) and coconut, both sweetened and unsweetened. Then toss all of this together with the bread. The coconut can be toasted ahead of time or not. Nuts can be added as well. Again, these can also be toasted ahead of time. At this stage, you’re finished with your solid material in the pan, so look at it and ask: More bread? More fruits? Raisins? (if you’re not making a Pina Colada version)

The Liquids: You probably need some eggs in your liquid material, to give an eggy body to the final results, so you can start off by whisking that first. Pina Colada was chosen based on some things we had around the house, namely, Pina Colada mix, which is just loaded with sugar (actually HFCS) and flavoring and well, other things. But you don’t want to just use that straight because it’s too sickly sweet - at least to my taste. So blend some of that with some milk. But I did have a can of coconut milk, so I used that in place of some of the milk. And I had some leftover evaporated (not the thick condensed) milk in a can. And let’s see what else I can put in here.

OK, there was a bottle of coconut flavored rum. I wanted flavor rather than booze (at this point anyway), so I put a bit into a pan and burned off the alcohol and added it to the mix. Also I added back in some pineapple juice that was strained off earlier from adding the pineapple.

Finally, you want to add some spices (cinnamon? nutmeg?) to the liquid mix to help it disperse throughout the bread pudding.

Now start adding the liquid. As you do so, you can press the bread into the liquids. You don’t want to add too much as it would become a soup of sorts. You want to see a thin bead of liquid around the edges. If you have time, you can let the bread soak for say up to 45 minutes

Baking: Most recipes call for baking it at 350 for an hour. What you want to see is the top browned.

The Sauce: I actually didn’t need a sauce for the Pina Colada bread pudding, but I did try later after the party using the Pina Colada mix straight and it seemed to have a nice balance in terms of sweetness, texture, and color. I was using whole eggs in the recipe, so I didn’t have any whites left over to make a meringue.

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Last edited: 09-Jan-2014. Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at