If it seems that I've been neglecting the blog, it's because November has been an absolute whirlwind, in the best sense of the word. Among parent-teacher conferences, an on-going construction project (the installation of a gas fireplace in our living room), training for my town's 5-mile "Turkey Trot," and preparations for Thanksgiving dinner, my husband and I managed to escape for a romantic weekend in New Orleans to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. What an incredible place! The weather was sunny and warm, perfect for wandering around this charming city. And wander we did!
Day 1: We spent the entire first day strolling the streets of the French Quarter, admiring the architecture and stopping to browse in the shops, listen to the street musicians in Jackson Square and have beignets and chicory coffee at the famous Cafe du Monde (ooh la la!).
That evening we felt compelled to indulge in some traditional creole cuisine at Arnaud's. When I questioned the waitress about the difference between creole food and Cajun food, she explained that most creoles were people of European descent and creole cuisine includes many spices and sauces typically found in French and Spanish food. The Cajuns were considered more "country folk," and their food was, generally, prepared more simply - lots of herbs and spices, considerably less butter and cream sauces. We made sure to sample plenty of both - gumbo, etoufee, jambalaya, po' boy sandwiches, fried oysters - we tried them all! After dinner, we wandered over to the Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse on Bourbon Street and spent the next couple of hours tapping our toes and sipping champagne to some of the best live music we'd ever heard.
Day 2 included a trip up to the Garden District (via the St. Charles Streetcar) and a walk down its main drag, Magazine Street. This is the area of New Orleans that was settled by the Americans and it has a decidedly different feel. The homes in this neighborhood and their gardens are stately - grand and ornate. Meant to be admired. But by far the highlight of this day was dinner at Bayona and a Haunted French Quarter Tour (given by Historic New Orleans Tours). This is a city with a rich history and many interesting ghost stories. Tales of murder, horror and hauntings were recounted by Frank (a masterful storyteller), as we walked the cobblestone streets of the French Quarter. Even the skeptics among us were looking over their shoulders by the end of the evening!
Day 3 took us to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. This is an area of New Orleans that has been completely rebuilt, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The park's Sculpture Garden and Botanical Gardens were flooded out when the levee at Lake Pontchartrain failed, and have been totally redesigned and rebuilt over the last several years. They are a gorgeous testament to the citizens of New Orleans and the value that they place on art and culture. Dinner at Emeril's restaurant, NOLA, was a treat (especially the fried green tomato salad and the pumpkin bread pudding...sinfull!), as was the jazz at Fritzell's European Jazz Pub.
Day 4, we decided to get out of the city and tour some plantations.The relatively simple creole plantation, Laura, and the "Gone with the Wind" type antebellum plantation, Oak Alley, are located only an hour from the city of New Orleans, yet provide a very different experience of Louisiana. More beauty, more history, and my first Mint Julep. Another great day followed by another great meal - this time at Galatoire's.
So, in true foodie fashion, the souvenirs I brought home were mostly of the edible variety: chicory coffee, pralines and pecan brittle. Yes, I brought home a few fleur de lis pins (the fleur de lis is a symbol of strength, hope and courage which, since Hurricane Katrina, can be found just about everywhere in the city), but I was most excited about bringing a little bit of New Orleans home to my table.