Fireworks on the Levee: A Baton Rouge Tradition

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. Growing up, we would celebrate the 4th of July with friends and family, cooking out, soaking up the sun, and of course, setting off fireworks.  My dad would take my brother and me early in the morning to one of those massive firework dealers that seem to spring up overnight around New Year’s Eve and the Fourth, and we would buy an obscene amount of sparklers, roman candles, bottle rockets, and the like. Everyone would gather around after the day’s festivities to ooh and ahh at our firework displays that night, while our miniature schnauzers cowered inside and howled.

Upon moving to Baton Rouge, we discovered the Baton Rouge tradition of watching the Fourth of July fireworks from the banks of the Mississippi River. People arrive downtown early in the morning to claim their spot on the levee and spend the remainder of the day enjoying the nearby festivities, such as the USS KIDD’s July 4th Spectacular or the LSU Museum of Art’s 4th of July Celebration at the Shaw Center, complete with a DJ, cash bar, hotdogs, and jambalaya from Capital City Grill (check out these events and more at Visit Baton Rouge). The fun-filled day culminates with a spectacular fireworks show at 9 pm, sponsored by WBRZ 2 and the USS KIDD. This year, leave the fireworks displays to the pros and come and join us on the levee! You will be  part of a Baton Rouge tradition to remember, and, more importantly, our schnauzers will thank you.

Corn and Black Bean Salad, Warm Welcomes – RRR IV

Of course, no Fourth of July celebration would be complete without a fabulous meal. Warm Welcomes – River Road Recipes IV, features an entire suggested menu to enjoy while watching the fireworks on the levee. One of my favorites from this menu is the Corn and Black Bean Salad, found on page 229. It is cool, colorful, and flavorful, with just the right amount of kick from the jalapenos and spicy cilantro dressing.

The bright, fresh summer vegetables featured in this salad add the perfect pop of color to your 4th of July menu. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

The bright, fresh summer vegetables featured in this salad add the perfect pop of color to your 4th of July menu. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Spicy Cilantro Dressing

  • 1/2 cup corn oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder


  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 cup diagonally sliced green onions
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 garlic cloves, minced
Corn and Black Bean Salad. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Corn and Black Bean Salad. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

For the dressing, combine the corn oil, vinegar, cilantro, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, and chili powder in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and seal tightly. Shake to mix.

For the salad, combine the beans, corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions, red onion, jalapeno chiles, and garlic in a bowl and mix gently. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Chill, covered, for 6 to 10 hours. Spoon into a salad bowl and garnish with sprigs of cilantro and/or red onion wedges.

Serves 8.

Maximizing Flavor While Minimizing Your Health Risks

Weight loss seems to be a topic of perpetual interest in our society. While we are bombarded daily with images of svelte models and fad diets, it can be easy to forget that the true goal is being healthy, not necessarily being thin. Unhealthy lifestyles lead to a variety of health issues, and unfortunately, this health crisis hits close to home. Baton Rouge is #1 in obesity in the country for cities of our size, and 1 in 3 children in Baton Rouge are obese.

What is Obesity?

Obesity it defined as having excess body fat. It is based on the Body Mass Index (BMI), which utilizes height and weight measurements. For adult men and women, a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is classified as overweight and a BMI larger than 30 is classified as obese. There is no absolute BMI that defines obesity in children; the CDC has standard reference charts (growth curves) depending on age. A BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles is classified as overweight, and a BMI greater than the 95th percentile is classified as obese. Obesity affects all ages and increases risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and arthritis.  There isn’t one single cause for obesity; there are many contributing factors. Those include: genetics, environment, types of food eaten, lack of physical activity, medical conditions and side effects, and lack of access to fresh foods.

Lack of access to fresh foods, like healthy nuts and fruits, can lead to obesity. Areas with a lack of access to grocery stores and healthy food providers are known as "food deserts," and can typically be found in impoverished areas. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Lack of access to fresh foods, like healthy nuts and fruits, can lead to obesity. Areas with little or no access to grocery stores, farmer’s markets, or healthy food providers are known as “food deserts” and can typically be found in impoverished areas. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

Easy Tips for Cooking Light

While there are many factors contributing to obesity, eating better is a cornerstone to living a healthier lifestyle and reducing health risks. Contrary to popular belief, eating healthier doesn’t mean sacrificing on flavor. In fact, River Roads Recipes III is entirely devoted to “lightening” some of our favorite dishes while preserving the tastes we have grown to love. Additionally, River Roads Recipes III  contains helpful tips throughout on how to reduce calories, fat, sodium, and cholesterol. A few of these tips are listed below and can be incorporated into any recipe to make it healthier:

  • Cut the Fat
    • Use leaner cuts of meat and trim all visible fat
    • Limit dairy fat by using alternative skim or low fat products
    • Remove the skin from poultry and game
  • Reduce Sugar
    • Use 1/4 less sugar than the recipe calls for
    • Try substituting 1 cup of sugar for 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce
    • Try substituting 1/2 cup of fruit juice concentrate in place of 1 cup of sugar
  • Prepare Food Differently
    • Bake, broil, roast, or grill rather than frying or pan searing
    • Use non-stick skillets to cut back on the fat and oil called for in the recipe
    • Use more spices and herbs to enhance flavor and reduce your use of oils and butter
    • Toast nuts to achieve more flavor from smaller portions

Curried Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney, RRR III, p. 68

This is a great, quick and easy healthy recipe from our River Road Recipes III cookbook. Note how the recipe cuts down on the calories and fat found in traditional chicken salad recipes by removing the chicken skin, toasting the chopped walnuts, and using low calorie mayonnaise and nonfat dairy substitutes, yet maintains great flavor by adding the curry powder and mango chutney.

Curried Chicken Salad 3

Curried Chicken Salad from RRR III. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

  • 1 pound skinless chicken, cooked, and cubed
  • 2 cups seedless grapes or golden raisins (I like to cut these in half)
  • 2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup low fat/low calorie mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • Lettuce leaves
  • 4 tablespoons mango chutney

In a bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients. Chill for 2-3 hours. Serve on lettuce leaves with mango chutney on the side. Serves 4.

Mango Chutney 2

Mango chutney served with fresh mango slices. Photo by Lauren De Witt.

*Nutrition Note: This recipe has 324 calories, 14.4 grams of fat, and 190 milligrams of sodium per serving. You can take the health benefits a step further by substituting the walnuts for 1/2 cup of chopped water chestnuts (this will reduce over 4 grams more fat per serving). You can also try using a fat free mayonnaise to trim an additional 4 grams of fat per serving.