MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

Tag: New Orleans

The Muddy Mississippi: My Journey to New Orleans

 

karenhathappyGrowing up in a spacious home amidst the woodsy hillsides of Marin County, I had no true understanding of this corner of our country. Sure, I was aware of heated politics and civil unrest that were occurring in ‘The South’ because our family watched the images marches and riots on Walter Cronkite’s evening broadcasts.

As the daughter of a staunch Republican attorney, I nevertheless developed a liberal outlook that embraced pacifism, feminism and equal rights; yet, social justice issues were somewhat hypothetical from my Bay Area baby hippie perspective. However, with my expansive worldview and better than average vocabulary, I was the darling of my high school philosophy and social studies teachers: erudite Jewish educators who loved to quote Eric Fromm and Rollo May. In 1972, these wonderful high school teachers at the new alternative school, Nexus, encouraged me to think big, to write poetry, to take hikes in Point Reyes, to attend a liberal arts college, and even to see the glorious cathedrals in France. But they never even suggested I visit New Orleans.

mississippi-112000_1280

Forty-three years later, I buy a residence not far from the Mississippi: the home is in the southernmost part of Uptown New Orleans very near a wide curve of the River’s crescent – and so the nickname Crescent City. From our front porch, if you just wander across the Rouse’s Market parking lot, hop over a few railroad tracks, cross Clarence Henry Parkway, mosey through a cluster of container yards, you’ll find a bunch of behemoth cranes loading up the freighter ships that travel to the Gulf.

 

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Christmas Cookie Martini

Consumed by Carrie: New Orleans’ Holiday Traditions

 

Roosevelt Hotel Holiday Lights

Roosevelt Hotel Holiday Lights

As you might expect, Christmas is New Orleans has special traditions; it’s not so different from other parts of the country — but it definitely has a unique flavor! There are pralines and pecans pouring out of every corner, beautiful light displays in City Park, complete with a Cajun Santa Claus with alligators pulling his sleigh. There are Christmas Eve bonfires that reach high into the sky, lighting up the banks of the Mississippi and caroling on the streetcars and into Jackson Square. 

My favorite thing to do is to go see the beautiful decorations at the elegant Roosevelt Hotel. While at the Roosevelt, I stop by the famous Sazerac Bar for a festive holiday cocktail – one of my past highlights is the festive Christmas Cookie Martini. 

Christmas Cookie Martini

But lets get to one of the best parts of Christmas in New Orleans, the FOOD!

One of the earliest signs (and oldest traditions) that the holiday season is right around the corner is the Reveillon Menu. Reveillon is French and means awakening. This title was given to the meal that was typically served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It was meant to give nourishment and energy for the next mass early on Christmas morning.  You will see Reveillon menus at a lot of the best restaurants in town; Restaurant August, Bayona, Commander’s Palace, Domenica, and dozens more.

The menus are usually made up of three courses and are served throughout November and December. First courses usually include something with oysters, turtle soup or gumbo.  Commander’s palace is featuring a chargrilled oyster stew, and Antoine’s menu has Alligator Bisque. I noticed that a popular choice for the second course is dishes using small birds such as quail or squab. There is of course always a fish option, and also pork or veal. Braised meats are prevalent, pork shanks at Domenica, short ribs at Café Adelaide, and veal osso bucco at Brennan’s. Some restaurants go the celebratory route, pulling out all of the stops with caviar, foie gras, lamb, and special cocktails. I have to say that I’m partial to the time-honored traditional menus that stay true to New Orleans cuisine.

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herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Eating Off Your Plate

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Food loving friends and family contributed to my delicious and libationary 2013. Here are some of the highlights of a plentiful year:

Sharing Food.The joy of sharing food together reflects on the quality of the friendship. My daughter, Robyn, jokes that our family has a tendency to eat off of each other’s plates, uninvited. Perhaps that is odd, but the gracious and intentional sharing of food can deepen most relationships. I wrote about sharing a leisurely meal with a dear friend earlier this year in the Redd Meet post.

Sharing my love of New Orleans. The April 2013 trip (it was dear friend Liz’ first time in NOLA) was described in my previous post: Restaurant and Bar Reviews 2013. So much laugher, great music and delectable experiences during her inaugural visit. My second trip (Thanksgiving 2013) had a number of food and drink highlights, many of which I reported on chow.com NOLA board, one of my favorite online places with some of the best overall discussions about food anywhere. Chowhound NOLA is so entertaining and convivial that not one, but two, of my chow correspondents astutely “ambushed” me on the November trip.

Sharing success. My daughter’s dear friend, Carrie also has her own fun and informative blog Consumedbycarrie.com. She also makes an awesome chocolate chess pie!

Sharing skills. I went to our local Sur La Tableto get some new skills. “Wives with Knives” is an enactment-style TV show on ID, but mayhem was not my purpose in taking the basic knifing class. I am seeking additional confidence as a cook because, frankly, I think it will make be a fitter foodie. Although I was not very coordinated in the class, I have been more adventurous in the kitchen and have committed zero crimes with my new Kyocera ceramic chef’s knife.

Sharing hobbies. In 2013, my husband and I we realized we had made a great trade: I become a true baseball fan – hanging in there for an abysmal season – and my husband had opened his mind and stomach to fine food. Here are our a few of our new favorite spots around ATT Park in San Francisco.

Marlowe: http://marlowesf.com/  Wonderful post-game comfort food

Zare Fly Trap: Mediterranean cuisine with modern Persian influence. Delightful pre-game, had a great meal with Mimi this summer. http://www.zareflytrap.com/about_us.html 606 Folsom Street

83 Proof: A wonderful neighborhood bar http://www.83proof.com/ 83 First Street between Mission and Market.

With 2014 adventures in the planning stage, I hope to read the great food writers, get creative in my recipes –- and make sure to grab a few bites off of everyone’s plate!

 

Tourism indicators up in New Orleans and Sonoma County

 

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

As an informal ambassador for both New Orleans and Sonoma County, I’m happy to pass along positive tourism news for both sweet spots.

According to Don Ames at Gulf Coast radio station WWL, Fall convention business is booming in New Orleans:

“We’re 60 percent up, compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. For the next three month, … just in CVB-booked conventions, about 130,000 people coming from all over the world for major medical conventions and this is going to bring about 153 million dollars into the City of New Orleans,” says Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Kelly Schulz.

(Although not a convention attendee, I am happy to report that I’m a generous hospitality industry consumer during my regular visits to the Crescent City.)

For more on New Orleans’ healthy tourism business, check out http://bit.ly/GJFKx1

In news closer to my home, Sonoma County tourism is also hopping. Writing in the North Bay Business Journal, Eric Gneckow reports that Horizon Air — the sole commercial carrier at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County airport, has hit a significant milestone with the number of flight operations returning to levels not seen since before the financial downturn.For more, click here http://bit.ly/GPAHLO

Sonoma County vineyards

sazerac cocktail

Transformation NOLA-style

Renowned writers have long explored the decadence and idiosyncrasy of the Big Easy. I won’t try to compete with decades of great prose and poetry, but will offer my list of personal transformations since falling in love with the city New Orleans. Here are ten ways that the Crescent City changed the life of this native northern Californian:

 

1.  Appreciation of Jazz and its history. I may not understand it, but I like Jazz — especially if brass and young people are involved. 

 

2. Now prominent in my living room bar is a bottle of artisan-distilled Rye whiskey. My rye love started with the Sazerac Cocktail. If you have not experienced a Sazerac, get thee to New Orleans!

 

sazerac cocktail

sazerac cocktail

 

3. I am  now staunchly spoiled when it comes to wait-staff hospitality, and am exceedingly impatient with what I now call “California-style indifference” in any restaurant.

 

4. Consider myself a foodie. Thanks to an extroverted couple from San Diego— who were also lost waiting for a streetcar at Riverwalk, we discovered a sampling of New Orleans favorites— like Casamento’s and August— on our first visit. Now I am a shameless food follower and have even been called a great ambassador by local chowhounds.

 

5. Addicted to accumulating airline and hotel miles and points. Since my darling daughter now lives in New Orleans, I have a great excuse to travel. Deep discounts and free nights make it much more fun. 

 

6. Cocktails.  Thanks to a hint from the locals,  I don’t even look at a food menu until I’ve ordered a cocktail!

 

7. Sundresses. I think they are a must in the summer, but the sundress becomes more appealing for a middle-aged women when a charming young man, walking an Uptown neighborhood street, says: “That dress is perfect for today!”

 

8. Da Track. The thought of spending Thanksgiving day at the horse races would have upset my life balance before NOLA. Da Track is a New Orleans tradition:  a spicy mix of old timers and young hipsters coming together in their best hats and finery on Thanksgiving afternoon. Looks like I will be there for 2013, too.

 

9. Hurricane alerts. My daughter may be composed during storm warnings, but her worried mother is on Twitter, Hurricane watch, Weather Channel and the NOAA website at any inkling of Gulf storms.

 

10.  Joie de vivre. I enjoy the pleasures in life more passionately knowing that in our vast nation there is a place as magical and unique as the City of New Orleans.

 

To my new friends in New Orleans, to my dear daughter who may never leave, and to all the friends I hope to meet on my journeys, I share some BB King:

 

“I don’t care if you’re young or old

Get together, let the good times roll.”

  

Karen D’Or

July 2013

 

Maurepas Lunch

New Orleans Food and Drink Marathon

SoBou Delights

SoBou Delights

I posted this trip report on Chowhound after my most recent visit to New Orleans, and a local chowhounder commented that I was a great ambassador for his City. Here is the full report; I take my eating and drinking seriously!

     It was her first night in New Orleans. We arrived late but not too late to mosey over to Irv Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the elegant Royal Sonesta hotel. I had a delightful house version of the Dark n Stormy, Dear Friend had a bright pink Passionfruit cocktail. We were too tired to venture much farther so opted for Desire Bistro and Oyster Bar, next door, for salads and sweet potato fries — which arrived as cold as the salads. A glorified coffee shop. My earlier Dark N Stormy was prophetic as it started sprinkling, followed later that night by a scary April T-storm.

French Quarter Fest 2013

French Quarter Fest 2013

     The sun came out for Sunday morning, the last day of French Quarter Fest (FQF) 2013. We started at Cafe Beignet for hot beignets, cafe au lait, and the Royal Street location did not disappoint. Met Dear Daughter and her friends for FQF music and a leisurely food graze which included: crab sliders from Something Else cafe (hit the spot!), Abita Amber, Tropical Daiquiris from Organic Banana and a highly-anticipated early dinner at Killer Po Boys. We each chose a different Po Boy filling: pork, shrimp, veggie and beef. Not the raves I expected from companions, however I liked my veggie/coulis version and felt Killer’s lived up to the hype.

     DF and I went to the famed Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone to find that  lightning from the prior night’s t-storm halted electricity so: a) the carousel was motionless, b) glasses were not cold, and c) no air conditioning. They closed the bar at 8 pm. DF took a sip of my sazerac; sadly it was warm. However, Monday was fantastic! Took the Confederacy of Cruisers “History of Drinking” tour with Lara the bartendress from R Bar. She led us all around the quarter on cruiser bikes with clipped-on moveable drink holders on drizzly Monday morning. First, she prepares island style (unblended) daiquiris before launching a multi-stop 3-hour French Quarter bike tour with stops for full size: 1) Finnegan’s Easy for local beer, 2) Napolean’s House for classic Pimm’s cups, stop 3) Roosevelt Hotel for Sazerac or Ramos Gin Fizz and 4) Erin Rose for frozen (or hot) Irish Coffees. At several other stops she tells the history of New Orleans relationship with alcohol. Rain was coming down as we cycled down Bourbon back to the Marigny, drinks in tow.
     A great morning followed by lunch at Maurepas Foods. After the tour we couldn’t conceive of a Maurepas cocktails, however hitting the spot were their Strawberry Salad, Arugula salad, Braised Broccoli — along with cheesy bread and their top-notch grits. Service was fantastic and everyone loved their dishes which warmed us up after the soggy bike ride.
Maurepas Lunch

     That night DF & I tried to get into Mr. B’s Bar: mobbed. Carousel was still out of power. Thank goodness we found French 75 which we loved. Why had I not been there before? Lovely bar and great drinks. DF enjoyed The Baroness cocktail x 2, and I had the very creative Caibiscus — a blend of a caipirinha with hibiscus tea. Chris Hannah is a legend and lives up to his reputation as a superb bartender.

Krewe of Barkus Great Dane

From No Cal to NOLA

It all changed when my daughter and her wild-eyed cat, Lucy, moved from Sonoma County to New Orleans last year. I became a foodie, I got hooked on accumulating hotel points and airline miles, and I even went to  “Da Track” on Thanksgiving day. My new love affair with vibrant, enchanting New Orleans — so very different from sedate, bucolic Sonoma County — woke up a slightly more tawdry, “laissez le bon temps” side of this native Californian.

With my expatriate child happily employed as a first grade teacher in New Orleans’ historic Tréme neighborhood, we explore great dining spots outside French Quarter. We venture out to many neighborhoods, and continue to find surprising gems: Bywater BBQ meccas; Marigny storefront spots with non-stop music; “Da Track” at the fairgrounds Mid-City – the place to be on Thanksgiving Day!

Ahh the bistros! Whether it’s French, American or New Louisianan, New Orleans know how to treat visitors right in a bistro setting; we enjoy Uptown’s Coquette, Patois, and Lillette. Not only are their dishes delicious, but each spot pulls off signature cocktails, upbeat service, and their own special take on beignets or bread pudding.

For my first February visit, I arrive well before Fat Tuesday hoping to avoid craziness.

Barkus Great Dane

Barkus Great Dane

I quickly learn that Mardi Gras is not a day but I season. So, I catch plenty of parades, and beads. Hint: when New Orleans gets the occasional cold rain and wind folks on the floats throw ENTIRE bags, not strands, of beads. No disrobing required: just plenty of wet, cold, bag-of-bead projectiles to be had.

Thankfully, in Armstrong Park on a warm Sunday afternoon, we find the annual Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade, a zany costume showcase of NOLA’s dogs… and their owners. 

Thank goodness we have portable camp chairs with drink holders: we warm up in the Louisiana sunshine, drink Bloody Marys, and watched the greyhounds, the sheepdogs, the poodles, and my favorite – the Great Dane with “jester” paws.

The Barkus krewe has a good heart. The newly-crowned Queen Maggie is stunning rescued retriever whose was left alone for two weeks after her owner passed away. Queen Maggie is success story from a city that has come back from the brink. I’ll return for Mystic Krewe of Barkus next year with the hopes of seeing more of New Orleans’ triumphs.

 

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