New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for May, 2011

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment

From the Editor

Peter Salomon

I hope everyone enjoyed our brief journey to the ‘less-serious’ side of Mensa in our first annual April Fool’s issue last month.

Now it’s back to normal.

Well, sort of...

So The Story Goes Like This

Bart Geraci

So I spent some time over in Italy during my college years and I worked on several farms. This was the first experience I had ever had with truffles. Truffles are fungi that are found in the woods and impart an earthy quality to foods.

Truffles are expensive because no one has been able to cultivate them like other crops. There's no seed to germinate them from, there's no spores or other reliable ways to create truffle fields. They only happen by chance in nature. Like similar products, if the supply is small and unreliable, and the demand is there, the prices of the truffles skyrocket.

So people who go truffle hunting do so in secret and do not reveal their secret locations. In fact, this led to a song that they sing at the truffle festival every year...

“... nobody knows the truffles I've seen....”


Roger Durham

At the recent meeting of the American Mensa Committee, the AMC decided to make a change in the way Local Groups can send out their newsletters. Up to now, every LG was required to mail a paper newsletter to every member except those who had previously requested electronic distribution. The justification for this was that American Mensa paid each LG a per-member amount each month to cover the cost of publication. Over time, however, many groups found that the amount they received from the national organization no longer covered the cost of printing and mailing a newsletter to every member. The first change in this system was made several years ago, when the per-member amount paid to each LG was both increased and decoupled from newsletter mailing, so LGs could e-mail their newsletters (to those members who would accept electronic distribution) without decreasing their monthly income. That helped for a while, but last year the Post Office announced a plan to change the bar-coding format for mailers using periodical mailing rates (nearly all of our larger groups) in a way that would make it impossible for our National Office to generate mailing labels that would comply with the new requirements.

After considerable consultation with local editors and circulation managers around the country, it was proposed that the rules for newsletter mailing be reversed: LGs would be required to email their newsletters to everyone except those who requested a paper newsletter. This proposal was quite popular with many groups who saw a chance to save quite a bit of money on newsletter distribution, but was bitterly opposed by others for a variety of reasons. At the Atlanta meeting, therefore, the AMC decided to approve the proposal, effective September 1 of this year, but with a major change: the new process is optional, rather than mandatory. For the next several months, all members will be given the opportunity to request either electronic or print versions of their local newsletter. After that, those members who have expressed a preference will receive whichever kind of newsletter they requested, but the officers of each LG can decide for themselves what kind of newsletter to send to those members who have not made a choice. No matter which way each group decides, their funding will not be affected. Your group will still receive the same per-member amount each month.

You and your local officers will be receiving more information about the new policy in the near future, but in the meantime I want to assure you that, contrary to some of the rumors that have been circulating, this is simply a way to allow your group to save money on newsletter publication, not an underhanded plot to cut local funding.

Don’t forget our upcoming Gatherings: the Houston RG over Memorial Day weekend, the AG in Portland, OR from June 30th through July 4th, the Austin RG over Labor Day weekend, and the Dallas RG over Thanksgiving weekend. I hope to see you there! Also, if you haven’t voted yet in the national Mensa election, you have until the end of May to get your ballot in. I’d appreciate your support.


Bart Geraci

Apparently, I have caught whatever illness has been going around these past few weeks: coughing, sinus drip, et cetera. I'm finally resting up, but I did miss the Cyrus Restaurant Dinner SIG that Gerry Ward organized. I also missed the NOM Northshore SIG because I was in Albany, NY for Mensa Mind Games (Hmmm. Must be allergies around here, I felt relatively fine up there). I've got a short article on the experience (Mind Games, not the allergies).

It's time to vote in the American Mensa elections. I got my ballot and plan to submit my vote electronically. You have until the end of the month. Vote early, and despite the what is said about South Louisiana voters, vote only once.

Locally, we are going to have a special Northshore event: a tour of the Tulane Primate Research Center in Covington. It will start on Wednesday, June 15th at 11am. The deadline for reserving a spot for this special tour is May 10, 2011. Our Northshore coordinator, Rebecca Pharr, is taking reservations at She has included an article on the tour in this month's newsletter.

Regionally, Gulf Coast Mensa will have its RG over Memorial Day weekend in May. Nationally, the AG in Portland Oregon starts at the end of June. Powell's Bookstore and Voodoo Doughnuts!

Locally, JazzFest is going on at the start of May and the Greek Festival is at the end of May (Memorial Day Weekend). The Brainfork article this month talks about the Greek Festival with a baklava recipe. And it's also time to take in a ballgame or two at Zephyr Fields.

Let’s Go Hornets!


Bart J. Geraci

I got to cross another State Capitol off my list when I spent a weekend in Albany, New York. But I couldn't tell you what downtown was like, nor could I describe the State Capitol building (the 450-feet, 34-floor, Capitol building in Baton Rouge is the tallest state capitol in the U.S.) I was whisked from the airport to the Sovereign Hotel where I joined nearly 300 other people in testing board games. This was the 2011 Mind Games.

The way the Mensa Mind Games works is that everyone plays a preselected 30 games out of the 50+ games available. All the games are board games; there are no computer / electronic games. Everyone's required 30-game list is different, to ensure statistical coverage over all the games. Then from our 30-list, we rank the top 7 games. Then the 5 top ranked games from everyone's top 7 list win the coveted Mensa Select award. For every game that we play, on the required list or not, we have to fill out a comment card that goes back to the game's manufacturer.

There are people, like myself, who tries to play every game in the weekend. I didn't quite get to do that, but I did end up playing 53 out of 57 games. No, I did not get much sleep that weekend.

This year's winners are:

In 2012, the Mind Games will be held near Dulles Airport, near Washington D.C. (see for more details)

Go Ape This Summer...

Rebecca Pharr

This June, come to the Northshore for this educational tour for young and old alike, to see how apes and other primates, man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom, are being used to help make our own lives better. Our June activity on the Northshore will be a tour of the Tulane Primate Research Center in Covington, Louisiana on Wednesday, June 15, 2011, at 11:00 a.m. The address is Tulane National Primate Research Center, 18703 Three Rivers Road, Covington, LA 70433. The TNPRC is part of a national program of about eight facilities nationwide funded by the National Institutes of Health to study infectious diseases and other biomedical research using over 5,000 nonhuman primates of six different species. Since its establishment in 1964, it has become one of the biggest employers in Saint Tammany Parish, with a staff of over 300 employees, including 35 doctorate level scientists. Research being conducted includes biodefense and regenerative medicine, as well as other studies to improve human and animal health.

On the day of the tour, dress comfortably with good walking shoes. Please note that no photographing will be permitted on the tour, and any children will have to be at the seventh grade level or above to come on the tour. You will want to eat a good breakfast just before you come, as there is no eating facility on the grounds and the tour is expected to last an hour and a half. However, they will provide bottled water. If you are coming from the Southshore on the Causeway bridge, continue north on North Causeway which becomes Highway 190. You will pass the I-12. Those coming from elsewhere on the Northshore can take the I-12 to the Highway 190 exit toward Covington. Continue north on Hwy. 190 until you reach Harrison Blvd. and make a U-turn on 190, then turn right onto Three Rivers Road until you reach the TNPRC. We will meet at the front gate about 15 minutes early, and the police at the little security building to the right will let us in as a group. Then we will drive straight in and down the road until we reach Building One and go in to see the receptionist. First there will be an overview of the facility which will last 30 minutes, then a walking tour of the grounds which will last another 30 minutes, and then a tour of the Breeding Colony, where most of the primates live and play, will also be about 30 minutes. We will receive some brochures and a small gift at the end of the tour. When we leave around 12:30 pm, we could go as a group to eat lunch somewhere nearby.

Don’t monkey around and let this opportunity pass! Please let me know today if you are coming and how many people in your party, as I need to tell them how many are coming by May 10, 2010. You can email me at See you there!

BRAINFORK: A Mensan writes about food

Bart Geraci

May in New Orleans to me means not one, but two festivals: Jazz Fest and Greek Fest.

The Greek Festival ( is held every May by the Holy Trinity Cathedral ( which is presently located on the banks of Bayou St. John at Robert E Lee Blvd. The cathedral has the distinction of being the first Greek Orthodox church in North and South America. Since it's located down the street from my house, and they have wonderful food, I have been going to the festival for many years now. In fact, one year I won the big basket of Greek groceries from a $1 raffle ticket!

The food is what I look forward to every year. They have gyro meat, slow roasted Spring Lamb, fried Calamari topped with feta and a squeeze of lemon ( a surprising favorite of my older daughter), strong Greek coffee, and the ubiquitous Ouzo. They have a food store where you can buy an assortment of Greek cheeses, preserves, olives, spices (I still have their special “Greek Festival Blend”, but I'm running low...), oils and pita breads.

However the main attraction is the Pastry Shoppe. People come from miles around and stand in line waiting to get boxes and boxes of baklava, galaktobouriko, kourambiedes, cakes, cookies and other items among 20-or-so varieties of sweets. The 400-plus volunteers for the festival start their preparations as early as January.

The Greek Festival is being held over Memorial Day Weekend this year: May 27, 28, and 29.

Recipe: Baklava!

To my way of thinking, baklava is one of those deserts that really impresses people while being easy to construct. I have looked at several sources before coming up with this recipe.

For this recipe, you need to make the syrup first, so it can cool down before you pour it on the hot baklava as it comes out of the oven.


1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Flavorings - any of: lemon juice, lemon rind, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, mahlepi ( seed of a cherry tree).
1 cup honey – preferably from a local source

You make a simple syrup by taking a pot, adding the sugar and the water (and flavorings), bring it up to a boil to dissolve the sugar and cook it to reduce it somewhat. You add the honey later to this mixture, and if you want to, a little bit of vanilla at the end (otherwise the vanilla flavor will cook out). Strain the mixture and let it cool.

Now I gave a 1-1-1 ratio of sugar, water, and honey. You may want to adjust this to your taste. For instance, do you want to give more emphasis on your local honey flavor? Do you want a thinner syrup and less emphasis on the honey? Do you want to impart cinnamon or cloves into your syrup?

Nut Mixture

3 cups of nuts, chopped fine. Walnuts are traditional Greek, pistachio can be used. In south Louisiana, we use pecans.
1/2 cup sugar (or equivalent by using dried fruits)
1/4 tsp ground clove – this is very powerful spice, so this little amount may be all you need
1 to 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon.

Combine nut mixture


1 lb. Box of frozen Filo (Phyllo) Dough, thawed. The one I have says it contains about 40 9x14 inch sheets of filo. So I am inclined to make this in a 9x13 pan.
9x13 baking pan. If you use glass, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees. If you use a disposable aluminum pan (great for potlucks and other parties), you'll need some aluminum foil as well.
1 1/2 cups of fat. Commonly, clarified butter is used. You can purchase ghee (Indian clarified butter) from a grocery store that sells international foods. Some people use olive oil – in this case, it is not the strong flavored extravirgin, but a milder tasting plain olive oil. Or any combination of the above.
Pastry brush. Makes it easier to apply the butter / fat / oil.


Decisions, decisions.

Do you want an evenly distributed baklava? Then pick (N) as the number of nut mixture layers and (N +1) as the number of filo sheets and divide the amounts accordingly. For a 3-layer nut mixture, you'll use 10 layers filo, 1/3 of the nut mixture, 10 more layers, another 1/3 nut mixture, 10 more layers, last 1/3 nut mixture, and the remaining sheets of filo.

Another system uses a fair number of filo sheets on the bottom and / or top and reduces the number of filo sheets in the middle.

In either case the box says “about 40”, so you're not guaranteed 40 exactly. After you've thawed the filo, you can count them and see how you want to progress.

Whichever way your layering count goes, you want to lay the sheet of filo and brush it with the fat before the next sheet of filo. So you have a layer of fat between any two adjacent sheets of filo – it's not needed in the nut mixture layer.

Once assembled, it is a good idea to refrigerate it for about 30 minutes. This will harden up the baklava and make it easier to score it. When it comes out of the refrigerator, cut a pattern with a knife through all the layers. The traditional way is a diamond pattern, if you want squares, be my guest.

For those of you using a disposable aluminum pan, you've probably poked some holes in the bottom of the pan. So learn from my mistakes and wrap some aluminum foil around the bottom of the pan. Then put it in the oven. You can bake it at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or 350 degrees for an hour until the tops are nice and golden. If you have some left-over butter, you can pour it over the baklava for the last 20 minutes or so of baking.

Once it is out of the oven, one option is to drain the excess butter from it. In fact, if you did poke the holes in the disposable pan, you can use that to do the draining. While the baklava is still hot, the syrup should be cool / room temperature. Pour the syrup on the baklava , taking care to pour into the scored creases and edges – this keeps the baklava from getting too soggy. The syrup against the hot baklava should cause a sputtering effect / noise. Again, there is an option to drain the excess syrup from the baklava. This should keep at room temperature for a few days, but it is unlikely to last that long.

Now I think this recipe is straightforward, but if not, you are more than welcome to head on over to the Greek Festival and get your pastries there.


Black And Gold: An Outsider’s View of the New Orleans Saints Winning The Super Bowl

Peter Salomon

For the first 18 years of my life I lived within an hour of New York City (born in CT, raised in NJ) and was a diehard Mets fan when Mookie Wilson hit a slow dribbler that eventually made its way through Billy Buckner’s legs. For the next 23 years, however, I lived in GA, mostly in Atlanta. For a while, the old allegiances held, rooting for the Mets in 1986, the Giants in 1990 but eventually, especially once I graduated college, they faded away, replaced by the local teams: the Braves, the Falcons. This shedding of childhood teams is a common occurrence, especially in most major cities where so many residents are transplants. For over 20 years I was as diehard a fan of the Atlanta teams as I had been of the New York teams as a child: the Braves for their incredible Bobby Cox run, the Falcons losing to the Broncos in the Super Bowl in 1998.

Then, we moved to Boston, Red Sox Nation. We were only there for a year and despite everything, I never truly adopted their teams. To me, it seemed as though the long-time fans looked down on newcomers as jumping on the bandwagon and it felt less than welcoming. Perhaps that was just me but it almost seemed as though they weren’t really looking for new fans, they had quite enough of the old ones thank you very much.

Again, maybe that was just me. I was working from home then so I didn’t meet very many locals and felt, for the entire year we were there as though it was an extended vacation.

When we then moved to New Orleans, I had the Boston sports experience fresh in my mind. That, and as I told everyone who asked: it was going to take some getting used to all the Black and Gold. After all, I was still a Falcons’ fan, even after the year living down the street from Patriot Place.

Now, here I was, a long term resident of Atlanta living in New Orleans where the Saints were a religion. One of the first things I discovered was that where cities like Atlanta might be majority transplants, New Orleans was the opposite. Everyone I met was either born and raised here or had lived here for a very long time.

In other words: most of the people here fell in love with the Saints as children and never moved away long enough to lose that childhood devotion, which is so much stronger and complete than a transplant can usually understand.

The next thing I realized is that game day, pre-season, regular season, post-season, doesn’t matter: the Saints take precedence over everything. To illustrate this, I was visiting Atlanta during the 2010 NFL season, on a Thursday night. A Thursday night that the Falcons were playing a very important regular season game. That same night, I went to a performance of a high school musical (Fiddler On The Roof, if you must know). In New Orleans, the school would most likely not have scheduled against the Saints. In Atlanta, it most likely wasn’t even brought up. But in New Orleans, I’ve had discussions with organizations trying to schedule events and they’ll always take into account a Saints game. As I said, it’s a religion.

Anyway, we moved to New Orleans just in time for preseason. I looked through the schedule to see how often I’d be able to watch the Falcons, noting the Nov. 2 game because it was Monday night against the Saints (and the day before my birthday, which is why I remember the date).

The Falcons, despite their talent, suffered through a series of injuries so missing their games was fairly insignificant.

What was significant however were the Saints. Not just the Saints, but their fans. The people I met here in New Orleans, who invited me to parties to watch the games. Who included a transplant from the rival Falcons, just so pleased that we had moved to New Orleans, eager to share their city and their teams (and their love for both) with a newcomer.

My kids were in school, surrounded by diehard Saints fans and when they received Saints jerseys as presents they wore them until the gold letters began to wear off. My youngest, only 3 at the time, would wander around saying ‘Who Dat!’ and by the time that Saints-Falcons Monday night game rolled around, the Saints were undefeated and the Falcons were injured and I wasn’t sure exactly who I wanted to win. Sure, I thought, there’s a chance the Birds can get healthy and come back but the Saints are undefeated and local and look how happy everyone is around here when the Saints are winning.

Back in 1991, I lived through the Braves Miracle Season going worst to first. I had just graduated college and like all my friends we were underemployed with a lot of free time. So we decided, for no reason whatsoever, to watch every game that year. Well, we ended up deciding for most home games to just go to the stadium, buying the $1 tickets in nose-bleed heaven and then wandering down to better seats since the place was half empty. By the middle of the season it was apparent that this team was something special and as the season progressed it became harder and harder to get tickets. Still, we watched, attended, or listened to every game that season (Wed. night games back then weren’t always on TBS so we were limited to radio for those) and watched as a city came to the same realization we had: this was a special team having a special season. We papered our walls with the front page of the Sports section from the AJC every day with their banner headlines of Braves victories. Then, as the pennant race heated up, it became the front page of the paper itself as the entire city got involved, staying up late to watch vital west coast games. It was something special to live through that I always thought was a once-in-alifetime experience.

I was wrong.

The Saints kept winning. Friends kept including me in gameday activities and the excitement in the air consuming the city of New Orleans was contagious. By the time the second game against the Falcons rolled around there was no question which team I wanted to win.

By the time we stood outside our house listening to the fireworks being lit off all around us, as an entire city tasted the indescribable, as Saints Nation went absolutely berserk I was in tears next to New Orleans natives who had come to my house to watch the Super Bowl. I was on the phone with people who were born here but had moved away and wanted to participate, even from Nashville and beyond, in the excitement. My wife ended up going to Bourbon Street that night with friends just to say she’d been there, celebrating.

My oldest son and his friend were both stepped on by a police horse at the Super Bowl Victory parade (my son with a front foot so he was just bruised, his friend with a back foot so his foot was, unfortunately, broken) but, as I told them, it was a story they’d be telling their kids. About the time they celebrated with some 800,000 people and a police horse stepped on them.

Through it all, no one cared that I was from Atlanta, that I had, still to this day, an attachment to the Falcons. I was, then and now, a resident of New Orleans. A Saints fan. And they were so very glad to have us here.

(My debut novel, THE MEMORY OF HENRY FRANKS, will be published in Winter 2013 by Flux. Visit my website at

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

John Grover

The Boss and I have recently returned from a trip to Northern Italy. The geography of the North is highly varied from the hills of Piedmont, to the sandy beaches of Liguria, and across the vast farmlands of the Po River plain with the magnificent Alps Mountains looming in the background. Here the cities are modern, industrialized and the economy is quite dynamic. But, the architectural charm of the old city centers is meticulously preserved. And, the way of life is quintessentially Italian. Good food, good wine, good style and “la dolce vita” abound.

The wine this month is the 2008 “Solane” Valpolicella from the Santi winery of the Veneto region. This wine is made from the local Corvina and Rondinella grapes. There are several classifications noted on the bottle: 1. “Classico” which means it comes from the original Valpolicella production area; 2. “Superiore” indicates that it has been aged at least 12 months; and, 3. “Ripasso” which pertains to a specific production technique. This red wine starts with the aroma of cherry with hints of tobacco and clove. There is also a bit of mustiness to the nose which seems to go away by decanting this wine and letting it breathe for a few minutes. The taste of this wine is both subtle and delightful with muted red berry fruit and a bit of cherry and spice. The smooth tannins give it an almost creamy finish. This wine is marketed widely for between $11 and $15 a bottle.

Pork chops braised with sage and tomatoes, Modena style

(from “More Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan, Ballantine Books, 1984; is available through Amazon books)

Ingredients: 2 tbsp butter; 1 tbsp vegetable oil; 4 pork loin chops, ½ inch thick; ½ cup flour, spread on a dish; 6 to 8 fresh sage leaves; ¾ cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, cut up in their juice; salt and pepper to taste

Choose a saute’ pan large enough to hold all four chops later without overlapping. Put in all the butter and oil and turn heat to medium high. Dredge the chops in flour on both sides. When the butter foam in the pan subsides, put in the chops and sage. Brown the chops on each side for about 2 minutes. Add 2 or 3 pinches of salt, a grinding of pepper and the chopped tomatoes with their juice. Cover the pan, turn down heat to medium low and cook for about 1 hour or until the meat is tender to a fork. The sauce should be quite dense. If it is not, turn up the heat for a few moments and reduce it rapidly. Tip the pan and with a spoon remove all but about a tablespoon or so of fat. Serves four. Serving suggestion: Invest in some high quality balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. It will make a nice condiment for this or most of the side dishes you might serve with this recipe.

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.

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Last edited: 01-May-2011 . Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at