A Louisiana Holiday Adventure

28 12 2015

As I took the ornaments off the tree, I realize that my sweetie and I have truly blended our lives together. We now have ornaments from our adventures together. This season we embraced what was different and had a unique, beautiful, humid, delicious, Louisiana holiday adventure.

Fleur de lis

Thanksgiving
It started at a large extended family gathering at my Uncle and his wife’s new Marrero home.  Though I’d been to New Orleans countless times, I’d never been to it’s West Bank. The Thanksgiving food and family were all familiar. Everyone brought a dish and even the men cook down here, so no one was burdened with all the cooking. There was the traditional turkey, to the traditional southern pecan pie, to Louisiana influences like casseroles of shrimp and squash, and praline topped sweet potatoes. But friends, family, laughter, and raucous storytelling were the main course as we all reconnected in a new locale.

The following day my sweetie and I headed down to the small town named after the pirate, Jean Lafitte. We journeyed to where the bayou spills out into the Gulf of Mexico to visit more extended family. This Louisiana son is a teacher and a shrimper. He and his family live in the home his grandfather built. We arrived to freshly made beignets and strong, rich coffee served in the dining room overlooking the bayou where his Lafitte Skiff is docked.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

It’s a beautiful day with a light breeze. Just like he knows the importance of the weather because it’s critical to his livelihood, he knows all his neighbors. We walk out to the pier and he waves at a friend going out to catch oysters. I’m surrounded by a community that understands the Louisiana landscape in a way I never will. He points to a spot across the bayou in the marsh. He says that’s the favorite perch for a pair of bald eagles. He knows where they live and where they hunt, just like all his other neighbors.

Bonfires
The Bonfires on the Levees are one of Louisiana’s most unique traditions. It goes back to 1870 in a river parish between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The bonfires light the way for Papa Noel on his travels down the Mississippi River. I’d always heard that it started as a way to let anyone traveling on the river at Christmas know they had a welcome place to stop for the night.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

I have a friend whose parents open their River Road home to all. Her Mom grew up in this vintage 1930’s house. The home’s love and traditions has stayed the same over the many decades. Friends and their large family are always welcome and there’s a big pot of gumbo on the stove for everyone.

Full moon over the bonfires.

Full moon over the bonfires.

The fires are lit soon after sunset and fireworks mingle with the sparks of the fires as far as the eye can see. A full moon breaks through the clouds. It’s a magic sparkle and I feel deeply connected to the uniqueness of my home state.

New Orleans
It’s said that Governor Huey Long built the highway from the capital in Baton Rouge to New Orleans in the 1930’s so he could get to the most elegant hotel in New Orleans faster. That hotel has lived many lives since then, and there is still no more elegant hotel in New Orleans than the Roosevelt at Christmastime. It’s lobby is a wonderland of thousands of white lights in branches and trees, ornaments with accents of red velvet bows and poinsettias.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

Christmas night there was my gift. We sat in the Sazerac Bar and sipped our Christmas cocktails and watched the crowd ebb and flow. There were as many tourists as there were locals, dressed in shorts as well as in their best holiday finery. Everyone wants to walk through the beautiful lobby and soak in the holiday spirit.

We leave to take a drive through the light display in City Park and meander back to the Garden District where we find Igor’s, a 24-hour dive bar/game room/laundromat.  We grab a burger at the bar served by an exhausted bartender in a red tutu at the end of her shift. In contrast, the next day we have a meal at the John Besh’s restaurant, Luke. We feast on oysters, quail, mussels, and wild boar ragout. And whether it’s a burger at a dive bar or fine dining…all meals in New Orleans are special and delicious.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

My Louisiana holiday has been rich and bountiful; it’s been full of new and old traditions. It has been filled with people I love. We have dearly missed those who were not with us.

May the New Year be bountiful and full of adventure for us all.

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Yuletide: New Orleans style

16 12 2014

I only live 90 miles away, but New Orleans is a world apart. Every time I visit, I love it more.  My sweetie and I spent a December weekend savoring it all. Yuletide in this old city has it’s own feel; it’s not Mardi Gras or festival-time or it’s-so-hot-I-can’t-breathe-I-must-find-a-cold-bar-summertime.

NOLA

It’s beautiful and sparkly, people aren’t in a hurry, there’s more children with their families in the grand hotels all dressed up in their holiday best. There’s the odd mix of evergreen and palm trees and the illusion in hotel lobbies that it’s cold and wintery yet everyone is wearing short sleeves. The city feels more ancient at Christmas, maybe it’s the carolers dressed in vintage clothes sitting in the bars taking a break from singing their carols. Or maybe it’s the old spirits of those who have walked it’s streets, have once again come back for a visit.

NO1

I love the aromas of New Orleans
New Orleans has it’s own smell that’s like no other city. It’s the wet, humid, tropical, heavy air mixed with french bread, coffee, frying foods, beignets, alcohol and car exhaust. You sense the decay and the decadence and the history. It fills your senses the moment you arrive. For me it breathes welcome back.

musicians

I love the sights and sounds of New Orleans
Car horns, people talking, laughing, arguing, but mostly I hear music and as the sound of one musician fades you hear another. A trio of men singing Temptations-style wearing matching suits and standing in the middle of the street; musicians from different generations coming together doing what they all love; crowds dancing and clapping; young street people with matted hair making up for their lack of talent with their great enthusiasm.

I love the tastes of New Orleans
Almost immediately upon arrival, we go to have a drink at my favorite spot in the Quarter. The balcony at Muriel’s overlooking Jackson Square in the shadow of the Cathedral.  Muriel’s is a favorite place for a memorable meal; their crawfish and goat cheese crepes will remain a sense memory that stays with you for the rest of your life. But this is also a haunted restaurant. It was once a private home and the owner gambled it away in a poker game one night long, long ago. He came home and hung himself so the home wouldn’t be taken away from his widow. If you meander through the back hallway on the way to the balcony, you’ll see the table set every day with bread and wine for his ghost.

NO

Great food is so much the heart and soul of this city. And whatever restaurant you stumble upon will quickly become your favorite until you stumble upon another. Even the bread and coffee are better here. Herbsaint is a little bistro that we’ve been hearing about. I love to watch cooking shows and am always intrigued by the food combinations that I never thought could be put together. The magic that occurs when tastes blend and marry in your mouth with the perfect pairing of wine.  We had one of their signature dishes Housemade Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Farm Egg. I do not know how you can fry a poached egg with a crust and keep the yoke buttery. But they did it. When you cut that egg and it drizzles into the pasta, well, my eyes rolled back in my head, as I tasted total deliciousness.

A toast to New Orleans
When I win the lottery, I’ll buy a French Quarter home with a courtyard and a balcony. I’ll call to you from the street and invite you up for a drink, maybe a Pimm’s Cup or a Sazarac. And you’ll join me on the balcony and we’ll wish everyone below a Merry Christmas.

Wishing you a sparkly and  merry Yuletide. –Connie

Wishing you a sparkly and merry Yuletide.
–Connie


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