Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New Orleans: Food, Music, Food, Fun-times, Food, Plantations

After arriving in New Orleans and settling into our rental, a cute spacious apartment in the Tremé district, we went to dinner at Bayona in the nearby French Quarter. We started with a tasty Crispy Smoked Quail Salad with Pears & Bourbon Molasses dressing accompanied by Sweet Potato Brioche with Maple Butter. Our main courses were Veal Sweetbreads with Sherry Mustard Butter for Pat and Italian Sausage Stuffed Rabbit & Rabbit Leg Milanese with Pecorino Polenta for Bill. For dessert, we couldn't resist the Muscadine Jelly & Peanut Crust "Linzer Torte" with Candied Peanuts. Everything was delicious, well-prepared and reminded us that New Orleans is noted for it's amazing cuisine. We vowed to take advantage of that in the next few days.
Sweet Potato Brioche
Crispy Smoked Quail Salad with Pears & Bourbon Molasses 
Muscadine Jelly & Peanut Crust "Linzer Torte" with Candied Peanuts
After dinner we wandered through the French Quarter listening to music and admiring the Halloween displays. New Orleanians do love to celebrate Halloween! Houses were elaborately decorated already and a 25+ year resident told us to expect extravagant costumes as well. 
Houses prepared for Halloween

Before our walking tour of Faubourg Marigny we stopped at the Envie Cafe for lunch. As we were finishing our Prosciutto & Asparagus Panini and local English Brown Ale, Abita Turbodog, our guide and the rest of the tour group arrived.

The Faubourg Marigny district was home to the Creoles. Think of them as French speaking Catholics of mixed black, French, Spanish descent, and one of the most unique culture’s in America. See definitions below for more specifics.

Famous or infamous people who live in the Marigny include Bernard de Marigny (gambler, playboy, developer, politician and duelist) and Marie Laveau (the "voodoo queen” who wielded power base on her vast knowledge of personal affairs gathered by her spies, most notably via hair salon gossip.) Note: Voodoo came to the area from the Caribbean and is an integral part of the culture. 

We also learned about New Orleans architecture with house styles such as Creole Cottage and Shotgun House. Shotgun Houses had doors in the front and rear that aligned with the interior room doors allowing air to flow through (natural air conditioning) and for a shotgun to shoot straight through. 
Colorful Creole Cottages
The Marigny also had a significant influence on American music. Most notable, the mixing elements of African and European music into what became known as Jazz. The tour ended on Frenchmen Street, what appears to be the current heart of the New Orleans music scene.

Dinner at GW Fins began with a glass of Prosecco, it was Friday. The “bread course" was biscuits and whipped butter, yummy. Pat selected the Fried Soft Shell Crab with Toasted Cashews. Bill chose the Wasabi Crusted Wahoo. We shared Roasted Brussel Sprouts and a bottle of Viognier. Dessert was an irresistible and amazingly light White Chocolate & Caramel Bread Pudding with Dark Chocolate Chunks and Pecans (no fat or calories!!).

Biscuits and Whipped Butter
Soft Shelled Crab - lovely presentation
Bread Pudding
For lunch on Saturday (Halloween) we went to Mr B’s Bistro for a taste of gumbo, Bill had the chicken and sausage gumbo and Pat had seafood gumbo. Bill followed his with prawns and Pat had catfish. Dessert? Profiteroles and expresso. After lunch we strolled along Decatur St. shopping for gifts for our house keeper and house sitter.

Gumbo at Mr B's Bistro
Profiteroles with Amazing Chocolate
Sunday we attended a demonstration class at the New Orleans School of Cooking!!  Mike not only demonstrated how to make Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding and Pralines, his narration provided a lot of historical notes. The key cooking lesson learned: use the best ingredients then very little salt, pepper or other spices are necessary to make a very tasty meal. Add spices to taste at the table. Bill says: "more chili please."

Spoons with varying stages of roux from uncooked (light) to done
Bread Pudding ready to eat
Monday we went on a Tour of the Garden District, a more upscale neighborhood to the west of the French Quarter. We visited Lafayette Cemetery #1, admired the architecture, and learned about some of the famous people who live or have lived in the area. After lunch at a small cafe we shopped along Magazine St.
Tombs at Lafayette Cemetary #1
Pat taking a photo of a memorial to Jefferson Davis
...in front of the house where he ended his years.
A short bus ride and lengthy walk took us to Mardi Gras World - home of one of several companies that create floats for the Krewes that sponsor parades as part of Mardi Gras. The tour of the Warehouse provides a behind-the-scenes view of Mardi Gras. This was an amazing place to visit. Through the video and tour we learned a lot about Mardi Gras with an emphasis on the massive planning efforts involved for each of the numerous parades. We also learned that each of the 50+ Krewes sponsor a parade with multiple floats. We learned about the process of creating new floats in the themes chosen by the various Krewes. Planning and construction of new floats starts within days of the previous parade. Characters used on the floats are constructed from a very dense foam that is carved into a rough shape and then given its final form via a layer of paper mache. Characters from prior years are reused and repurposed (with paper mache and paint) for the new year.

Tuesday we took a tour along River Road (the road along the levees of the Mississippi River) just north of New Orleans. There was a time when this road passed through hundreds of sugar plantations. There are only a few left. Not all plantations were big and beautiful. Most were simply practical facilities focused on sugar production. We started our visit at Oak Alley and learned that the plantation land and basic buildings were purchased by a wealthy gentleman who envisioned the Alley of Oak Trees as leading to a grand plantation there.  It is also one of the more commercial current-day plantations with guest houses and event facilities.

Next we visited a plantation now know as " Laura". It has 5 centuries of history and is one of the few still in painted in bright Creole colors. An interesting guided tour of the house and gardens tells a lot about the history of the plantation and people who lived there.

On the trip back we were given a summary of favorite restaurants in New Orleans. We decided to go back to GW Fins for dinner and were not disappointed, Pat had Cobia (a somewhat dense but flaky white fish) and Bill tried the Black Drum (a more meaty fish). Both were very tasty.


Gumbo: a thick soup of protein and vegetables that is served over or along side rice.

Jambalay: a rice dish that contains the protein and vegetables.

Cajun: descendants of French Canadians known as Acadians who typically live in the bayou areas of south central and south west Louisiana. They used to speak an archaic form of French but this has mostly been dropped as the school systems emphasized English and speaking "cajun" became a stigma.

Creole: Originally referred to someone born in Louisiana, hence there could be French Creoles, Spanish Creoles, Black Creoles... This term has evolved to refer to all people of very old Louisiana heritage of whatever background (French, Spanish, Black, Native American and/or African) including mixed backgrounds. 

Creole cuisine, reflecting the broad heritage of their mixed backgrounds, uses tomatoes. Proper Cajun food does not. That's how you tell a Cajun versus Creole gumbo or jambalaya. A vastly over-simplified way to describe the two cuisines is to deem Creole cuisine "city food" and Cajun cuisine "country food."

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