Wednesday, January 9, 2013

LOFT LIFE: The Big Easy wasn't so easy this time

We live in Connecticut. Our children and grandchildren live in California. So how did we end up in New Orleans for Christmas?

It’s complicated. That seems to be the catch all phrase to explain away totally irrational and uncomplicated reasoning. 

We chose New Orleans for three good reasons that seemed rational at the time: 1) I am a writer. I need to visit places to write about them; 2) we had a time share available for Christmas week--no small feat to accomplish with last-minute planning; 3) my husband assured me he would have a business trip to California or somewhere in December and I counted on using my free airline ticket to visit the kids, during his time away.

Well, I guess two out of three isn’t terrible. I did gather some stuff for my writing; we did stay in a time share condo in the Garden District. December The business trip never happened, so I will have to look into January of February for my trip out to SoCal.

We decided not to rent a car, and, after a taxi to the condo, we visited Walgreen’s for our 10 Jazzy Passes--NOLA’s answer to bus and trolley fares by the day. That worked out well to visit the French Quarter almost daily--which was only two miles from the Garden District, but not really a carefree walking area.

This trip, I had the foresight to ask hubby what his expectations for the trip were--like what did he want to do. This is different from my usual airtight planning where I forget to ask him what he wants to do. The asking part is a better plan. We did all he hoped for and more.

One request was to revisit the New Orleans School of Cooking on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter, which I found an online coupon for. We had done this about twelve years ago on our first trip to The Big Easy.

The class, taught by Michael W. DeVidts, was even better than we remembered it. This time, since I no longer eat chicken (Eat for your blood type advice to B types), we opted for the alternate menu of shrimp and artichoke soup, crawfish etouffee, and pralines. The last time we had gumbo, jambalaya, bread pudding and pralines. There is beer and lemonade included also.
I caught the chef on his way in to ask if there would be any chicken or chicken broth in our menu. He said it was too late for the soup, but immediately, cheerfully, ordered the kitchen staff to switch to veggie broth for the etouffee. Later he thanked me for my request, even saying he had learned something--that veggie broth tastes better with the crawfish than the chicken broth he normally uses. That made my day. I was feeling guilty for changing the ingredients for the whole class.

Michael has an outrageous sense humor, and added to his obvious talent in Creole-Cajun cuisine, attendees can expect a great history and culture lesson peppered with lots of wit and wisdom.

The meal was delicious, and really, there was no need after that to find these dishes, since we imagined that we had already had the best in NOLA.


We had other good experiences too. Walking along Decatur we discovered Key West Hats, where I was able to give Jay his other Christmas gift--a Fedora. Really, I think he looks great in this hat--so we got two. Here is one:

I expect to start hearing blues music any minute when I see him in this one. Beau, our salesperson, was very helpful. We let him know that our Fedora attachment came from watch Matt Bomer on White Collar, which I am sure has increased this trend for others too. Hey, if you haven’t seen this one, it’s on Netflix, and is really a good series. 

Of course we had the beignets, the chicory coffee, and Jay had to have that gumbo I deprived him of at the cooking schools.

But, really our overall feeling in NOLA was that we wished it were California for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t have a good time. It was just that the food was very different from how we eat, or at least how I eat (see my July 2012 post, It’s not easy being green). Therefore I ended up gaining back almost HALF of the weight it took me a year to lose. Thankfully, back on green smoothies and sensible fresh food, I have shed half of the half gained, so all is not lost. And, it’s just that we aren’t spring chickens anymore, you know, so staying up late to hear the 10p.m. sets of live music really didn’t fit our metabolic rates anymore. And, it’s just that the French Quarter is not a cheery place to be even in the daytime, and at night, well, we weren’t so ready to venture there every evening by bus. The trolley wasn’t running from the Garden District to the FQ.

We ended up strolling down Magazine Street in the Garden District on a couple of days, and found a great pizza place with a Mediterranean menu for things like warm pita with humus, roasted red peppers, olives and pine nuts, and great pizza with focaccia  crust, and spinach and gorgonzola with sun dried tomato toppings. This too was more a California than a Creole cuisine. 

One evening we walked to the Trolley Cafe a block away from our condo, and I had the best crab cake I have ever had, loaded with crab and not loaded with bread stuffing. This was a pleasant surprise.

We also had dinner at a French restaurant, where I had pappardelle pasta with crimini and shitake mushrooms in a garlic and olive oil. I had just read about parpadelle in Patricia Cornwell’s Port Mortuary, so I was amazed to be offered a pasta I had never heard of the same week I read about it. It was fabulous. I also had red fish, which was also great.

But, three evenings we stayed in walking distance to our condo, choosing to eat at Houston’s, where we found California cuisine like ahi salad, kale salad (truly yummo), sirloin tips salad, with citrus dressing--a true masterpiece. We really prefer the Mediterranean and California cooking, so it doesn’t make sense to choose NOLA, where at least half of the charm is that heavy fried, bready, fatty, and saucy rich food.

At Houston’s we did order the barbecued ribs for Christmas eve dinner, and had soup so we could not be hungry and save half of our entrees for Christmas Day dinner, because, believe it or not, even in this touristy locale, most restaurants are closed on Christmas. “People in New Orleans cook at home,” our taxi driver informed us. So OK. 

I sound like I’m complaining. I am grateful we get to travel, try different things, and have these adventures. I truly am. We are blessed.

But as we ate our bbq in our condo and relaxed all Christmas Day, we were mostly thinking about how much we missed the kids.