Retreat, Recipe and Raising Money

The Group of Writers and I with Ronald Lewis at the House of Dance and Feathers Museum
If you don't know about the New York Writers Coalition, then it's about time you learn about it.  Their mission is to provide free creative writing workshops for those who don't necessarily have a voice in our society.  There are numerous writing programs in place for at-risk youth, adults who are homeless, incarcerated, disabled, have serious illness and many more.  This organization has been successfully ran by my good friend Aaron who is the founder and executive director of this coalition.  These writing workshops have provided a place for the non-traditional writers to write and tell their stories.  These programs truly empower and inspire those who attend these free workshops on a weekly basis.  To celebrate its 10th year anniversary, many wonderful events have been created for all to participate.  One of the events I attended last week was a five day writing retreat in New Orleans.

I was so fortunate to be a part of this retreat.  Aaron asked me if I could help cook for the retreat goers, and without hesitation, I said yes.  I knew it would be a great experience for me, and I was excited to visit a city that I've heard so much about, but never been.  I was extremely nervous since I wasn't sure about the equipment and the ingredients that I have available.  It made it really tough to plan, but in the end; it all worked out as I realize it wasn't about the meals that I cook, but it was a chance for me to immerse in the New Orleans culture and embrace its people.  I was also given the opportunity to sit in on a few of the writing sessions and witnessed firsthand what a bunch of talented writers who participated in this year's retreat.  There were poets and novelist amongst the group.  Not only are they talented, but each of them truly touched my heart.  I was inspired by their words, their writing, their sense of humor and their friendships.  Of course not to mention Aaron, he led the writing sessions with sensibility and generosity.  It was a truly powerful and transformative experience.
Walking across the Magnolia Bridge
The Neighborhood Story Project Headquarter
View from the Lower 9th Ward
House of Dance and Feathers

Walking the Second Line Parade

Other than attending the writing sessions, I was thrilled that there were scheduled outings planned for the group so we could learn more about the city of New Orleans and its local traditions. The city tour was led by Abram and Rachel, the two directors of The Neighborhood Story Project; a non-profit organization that helps local writers to create books and tell stories about their communities.  We started the tour by the river in Bayou St. John then slowly made our way to the Lower 9th Ward.  We learned the history of New Orleans' neighborhoods.  We listened to how everyone was affected by Katrina.  We saw houses that were built after Katrina and new houses that are still being built.  We visited House of Dance and Feather Museum founded by Ronald Lewis, who is passionate and inspiring to his community.  I was truly touched by his love for his neighborhood of the Lower 9th Ward and the museum he built.  It was amazing to see all the costumes he collected from Mardi Gras and the Second Line parades.

Another memorable outing was walking the Second Line parade, a traditional parade which is also called a Jazz funeral without the body.  The parade was hosted by the Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and it was a celebratory event.  The parade consists of a marching brass band and members who wore festive costumes dancing down the streets.  I was overwhelmed by the joy of the people and the music.  It was truly an unique experience.  It was easy to be present and be in the moment.  It felt so freeing to dance with the band and to feel the music move through my body.  I felt the spirits of the people in New Orleans.  It was definitely a highlight of my trip.

I could go on and on about my trip to New Orleans, but I also want to share one of the recipes I made for the writers.  I was thankful that they were so appreciative by the food that I serve, and included me as part of the group.  They made me feel comfortable and at ease.  I felt like I was cooking for friends and not strangers or clients.  It was such a pleasure to cook for them.
Roasted Salmon with Soy and Guava Glaze

Roasted Salmon with a Soy and Guava Glaze (Serves 8-10)
4 lbs of Salmon (Divided into 8-10 pieces of 6-8 oz fillets)
4 gloves of garlic (minced)
6 scallions white parts only chopped (reserved half of the green parts for garnish)
1/4 cup of Guava jam
1/2 cup of soy sauce
1/2 cup of chicken stock
2 tbs of olive oil
2 tbs of grated ginger
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 500.  Marinate the salmon pieces with all the ingredients above except for the chicken stock, lemon and lemon zest for 10-15 minutes.  Place the salmon in an oven safe baking pan with some of the marinates still clinging and roast it for about 5 minutes.  Transfer the remaining marinates to a sauce pan and add the chicken stock.  Simmer the glaze until thickens.  Brush the fillets with the glaze and roast another 3-5 minutes until the fish is just opaque in the center.  Transfer the fish to a platter, spoon the remaining sauce over it.  Add lemon zest and juice then garnish with scallions.  This is an easy recipe that you could entertain with.  I served this dish with some coconut, lime Jasmine rice and roasted asparagus.  
Now that you read about the retreat and recipe, I hope you bear with me for just a little longer to read the most important part which is raising money.  If you haven't already, please visit the NY Writers Coalition website and learn about the wonderful writing programs they have to offer.  Today, they launched a 10 day fundraising drive to help pay for pens, notebooks and expenses to run these programs in NYC.  I hope you could visit this page that I set up to help raise money in the next 10 days.  You can also learn more about the various programs and events that are going on throughout the year to celebrate its 10th year anniversary as well as how you could be a part of this amazing community.  Thank you in advance for your generosity to donate and support this wonderful organization.

Finally, if you have a chance to visit New Orleans in the future, be sure to visit our friends Abram and Rachel of the Neighborhood Story Project as well as Ronald Lewis at the House of the Dance and Feather. 


  1. Wow, Margaret what an opportunity. I am keep thinking recently I need to go out of my comfort zone and draw my needed inspiration from creative folks and new places and experiences. Was so wonderful following your NOLA adventure through twitter.

    1. Thanks Shulie! It was definitely an awesome experience. I highly recommend you follow your gut, and let it lead you to that place. xoxo

  2. this is great! i love it when people are passionate about something and volunteer :) are there any other volunteer activities you do?


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