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The Joy of Cooking in New Orleans

In New Orleans and other places along the Gulf Coast that were devastated by the hurricanes, this Thanksgiving won't be the same. But, as they work to revive their restaurants, some of New Orleans' most storied cooks are preparing their own special holiday meals for family and friends.

JoAnn Clevenger, owner of the Upperline restaurant, which reopened with a skeleton staff in mid-October, says food offers more than mere nourishment. It "gives remembrance of normalcy and all the joy you had when you were eating the fried-green tomatoes or the gumbo. It floods you with happiness and a sense that things can be as they were..."

Clevenger closed her restaurant for Thanksgiving to give her staff time to recoup and be with their loved ones. Her home table will be filled with mustard greens, baby turnips and oyster dressing.

Leah Chase is co-owner of the Dooky Chase Restaurant, which took on as much as five feet of water after Hurricane Katrina. She's now settled in her daughter's home in Baton Rouge. Chase says there are 12 people living in a space made for four. Everything is crowded -- including the tiny kitchen.

But the Thanksgiving tradition continues. Gumbo and wine are served at noon. Then a couple of hours later, there's potato salad, baked macaroni, oyster dressing and pork loin sweet potatoes. "And naturally, the mirlitons." Mirlitons are a favorite green plant for South Louisianans that's perfect for stuffing.)

"Food is almost everything to us… it is just our life," Chase says. Since Hurricane Katrina, "if I didn't have cooking, I would just be lost."

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