Photos by Michelle and Maddie
"New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture—even the local superstitions. It's a sensory experience on all levels and there's a story lurking around every corner." —Ruta Sepetys
|Top: Hurricanes (regular and virgin) and dinner at Pierre Maspero's. |
Bottom: Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole and Po-Boy at Gumbo Shop.
|St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica is among the oldest cathedrals in the United States.|
The statue located in Jackson Square is of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States.
|My artistic rendering of the cathedral's facade.|
|Five to midnight in the garden of St. Anthony (on the backside of the cathedral).|
New Orleans was founded nearly 300 years ago in 1718. After both Spanish and French rule, the United States purchased Louisiana from Napoleon in 1803. The cultural and architectural influences of both the Spanish and French are still visible in modern day New Orleans, plus there are substantial Caribbean influences that cannot be denied. Some even go so far as to say that New Orleans is the "northern most Caribbean City". During the war of 1812, the British tried to conquer the city but Andrew Jackson and his troops prevailed to decisively win the Battle of New Orleans with the assistance of privateers led by the famous pirate, Jean Lafitte.
By 1840, the port city of New Orleans, optimally situated at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, was the wealthiest city in the nation. Meandering through the French Quarter and the Financial District, it is easy to see that big money built the historic buildings and mansions. Architectural flourishes abound and are pleasing to the eye. Throughout the French Quarter artistic ironwork is a unifying decorative element which embellishes balconies, fences, doorways, staircases, lamps and signs.
|My favorite photo from the trip! And the band plays on in Jackson Square...|
|Maddie and I met the lovely and talented, fascinator-wearing, Ginger Woechan.|
You can find her and her adorable dog in Jackson Square.
|According to talented artist Victoria Lenning, Dia De Los Muertos is alive and well in NOLA.|
|When you make eye contact with a joker, this is what happens next.|
We happened upon Dickie Brennan's Palace Cafe. A diner, who was exiting the circularly rotating front door, assured us that the food was great. The recommendation sealed the deal, and we entered the beautiful interior of the restaurant. I audibly sighed when the blast of air conditioning hit my face. The friendly hostess led us up the decorative iron staircase to the second floor and seated our party at a coveted table by the floor to ceiling windows looking out to Decatur Street. Our visit to New Orleans was off to a terrific start.
|Café du Monde is famous for beignets paired with café au lait. It was so hot and humid |
at our table on the covered patio that Maddie and I opted for frozen coffees. Great choice!
|After our visit to Café du Monde, Maddie and I took a stroll along the mighty Mississippi River.|
|For our next visit, we'll take a steamboat cruise on the Natchez and stay at the Hotel Monteleone.|
What followed next was my first encounter with a succession of delicious meals that properly introduced me to the tasty regional cuisine of New Orleans. Over the course of my life, exposure to Cajun and Creole cooking has been rather limited—much of my knowledge has been gleaned by watching Emeril Lagasse's cooking shows. When I have dined at the occasional Big Easy-inspired restaurant in California, the results haven't been so great. It's probably akin to trying to find a proper Mexican food restaurant in Maine. After my visit to New Orleans, I now understand why people become obsessed with Creole and Cajun cuisine. I have ordered four cookbooks on the subject since returning home, and I plan on making some of the cuisine's classic dishes for family and friends.
|The mural at Johnny Sánchez is a rendering of the chef's tattoos.|
|Sucré is a "sweets salon" near Jackson Square in the French Quarter.|
|Strawberry daiquiri at Gumbo Shop, bread pudding at Royal House, Crème Brûlée at Palace Café and Arroz con Pollo at Johnny Sánchez.|
|New Orleans is the birthplace of the Sazerac cocktail made with Rye and Absinthe.|
I sipped this one at Evangeline on a Saturday afternoon.
|Oyster lovers rejoice! Oyster houses abound in the French Quarter.|
|Left - Pralines are made fresh on-site at Southern Candymakers. They will ship direct to you!|
Right - King Cake was served as an afternoon treat at the business conference our team attended.
To complete our dining experience we all agreed to order Bananas Foster. Over the course of the evening we had watched the servers throughout the restaurant prepare the dessert table-side by sautéing fresh bananas in brown sugar and cinnamon, then flambéing the mixture by adding banana liqueur and rum. When the alcohol hits the hot skillet, flames leap into the air invoking quite a dramatic scene. The bananas and sauce are served nonchalantly over vanilla bean ice cream. Three spoons dipped into the delicious mess, because no one at the table was going to forgo tasting this New Orleans classic. Personally, I think the dessert would be even better by swapping Butter Pecan Ice Cream for the traditional scoops of vanilla.
|After our walk along the Mississippi we headed back to the French Quarter |
and stumbled upon a Pride Parade.
|The parade's participants threw beads at us, much to our delight.|
|Drag Queens enjoy the elegant ride through the French Quarter.|
|The Pride Party on Bourbon Street was just getting started at midnight.|
One intersection led to another, a few lefts and then a few rights, and we eventually found ourselves on Bourbon Street, which I should add, was on the eve of what turned out to be a very historic Pride weekend. Spectacle ran amok. Bourbon Street is not for the faint of heart, prudes, or for those folks who suffer from germ fetishes.
We walked to the top of Bourbon Street where beautiful, young gay men with waxed chests were dancing in the street, wearing only purple briefs accented with white piping. I peeked in the bar on the opposite side of the street, and there was a dark-haired Adonis dancing on top of a bar, Coyote Ugly-style, clothed only in a white thong. Behind him on the far walls, the big screen TVs pulsated with homoerotic videos, which interestingly enough incorporated ripe fruit, men kissing, pulsating colors, and exploding geometric patterns. It was hypnotic, but when you have your eighteen-year-old daughter and boss observing you from a few feet away, I was encouraged to walk on and find the next spectacle to take in, which on Bourbon Street, it turns out, is right in front of you. It was one arched eyebrow moment after the next.
The three of us turned around at what seemed to be the end of the line. We retraced our steps, walking and perspiring all the way back down Bourbon Street, all 13 blocks of it—the air cloying thick. We weaved around the thousands of bodies of partiers and bystanders, and of locals and tourists. Our darting eyes surveyed the scene in front of us, as well as to the parallel sidewalks and the balconies above. Intermittently we looked down surveying the ground a few feet in front of us to identify and avoid urban landmines such has horse dung, vomit, discarded food and trash.
Public drinking is, of course, legal. People haphazardly carry big plastic glasses filled with strong cocktails such as neon pink Hurricanes or the appropriately named Hand Grenade®, touted as "New Orleans' Most Powerful Drink". A man wore a cardboard sign that advertised Big Ass Beers at a nearby bar that had a sidewalk accessible take-out window. Alcohol-fueled laughter and shrieks of glee filled the night air. A few inebriated college-aged girls cried while loitering in the street and high octane couples verbally abused each other. I felt like a voyeur as I bobbed and weaved through the swarms of people. We saw men cajoling and females flashing breasts—more cheap Mardi Gras beads being earned to add to the layered collections worn around women's necks.
|In Jackson Square, near the Cathedral, there was umbrella-twirling dancing in the street.|
|Umbrellas in NOLA are used as protection from both rain and sun.|
These long legged girls were visiting the city for a volleyball tournament.
|Voodoo dolls for sale in a souvenir shop in the French Quarter.|
|Quintessential New Orleans: Voodoo and Drag Queens on Bourbon Street.|
|This Four Points Hilton is located on Bourbon Street where guests can view from the balconies|
the nightly spectacle of revelers traipsing and weaving up and down the street and sidewalks.
On Saturday morning, Maddie and I slept in. Truthfully, I was not overly anxious to leave the hotel to encounter the claustrophobic humidity of a bayou summer day. Maddie finally insisted that we leave the hotel. What a role reversal. "Oh, alright!" I said begrudingly. "Let's do it." And do it, we did. Almost all of the photos in this blog post were taken on that Saturday beginning with our lunch at the Gumbo Shop, followed by our walking tour of the French Quarter and Jackson Square, meeting Alain for an afternoon snack of beignets (fried donuts sprinkled with copious amounts of powdered sugar) and coffee at Café du Monde, walking a stretch of the Mississippi, stumbling across the celebratory Pride Parade, and once again wandering all over the French Quarter and eating dinner (while resting our aching feet) at an oyster house before catching a taxi back to our hotel. Maddie and I had a blast, and I was so happy to be making memories like this before she heads off to college in August.
|There's no shortage of gift shops in the French Quarter.|
I am compiling a bucket list of items for a future trip to New Orleans, which I'm hoping will be for an upcoming Sistercation (but not when it is so damn hot). I think it is safe to say, no matter what your personal proclivities, New Orleans will ignite your imagination and especially your taste buds. The city is at once foreboding and yet also inviting. New Orleans sits at an odd juxtaposition of old and new, prim and sultry, Gothic and modern. There's plenty of Southern charm to go around. I've returned home with the hankering to learn more about Cajun and Creole cooking, and to wash it all down with a not-too-sweet, passion fruit-accented Hurricane cocktail.
|Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church is located near the French Quarter.|
|Join us for Hurricanes below...|
by Linda and Michelle
Michelle: When our party sat down for dinner at Original Pierre Maspero's in the French Quarter, the server proclaimed that the restaurant is one of the few places left that does not prepare the cocktail from a mix. She enthusiastically assured us that the Hurricane served at the restaurant is prepared only with freshly squeezed juices and good rum—both light and dark. She sold me—I'll have one post haste, please. The server also sold Maddie, who ordered a Virgin Hurricane. Both versions were fruity and refreshing.
I enjoyed the Hurricane cocktail, and it was delicious with the Blackened Red Drum entrée. The spicy fish dish was complemented by the sweet beverage. With that being said, I would prefer a Hurricane that is less sweet. When I mentioned my observation to Linda, we immediately begin discussing how to make an artisinal Hurricane—hold the the corn syrup and the weird red dye, please. Purchase fresh passion fruit or buy frozen purée.
|Linda decided to buy fresh passion fruit and make passion fruit syrup for our cocktail.|
My love affair with passion fruit (which is known as lilikoi in the Hawaiian Islands) began when I was seventeen, and introduced to the exotic fruit on a trip with my grandparents to see our Nana Maxine's sister, Dodie, who lived on the island of Kauai. I still remember my first tastes of this flavor sensation fruit, and my love of passion fruit has endured on. Imagine how pleased I was to discover that this was one of the three ingredients in a Hurricane.
|Seventeen-year-old Linda vacationing with our grandparents on the island of Kauai in 1974.|
For an authentic Hurricane you need just three ingredients according to Jeff "Beachbum" Berry—a leading authority and historian on Tiki drinks and other cocktails. One needs only good quality dark rum, passion fruit syrup and fresh lemon juice. That's it.
Never having had a hurricane before, I was anxious to try one. Committed to making my own passion fruit syrup, I sprang for the expensive jewel-like fruit which were lustrous and smooth purple ovals when I first brought them home. They took quite a bit longer to ripen than I had calculated. On the day that Michelle and Maddie arrived from Tucson to help me celebrate my birthday, the passion fruit were finally pitted and fragrant. We were ready to make the syrup.
The finished cocktails were more delicious than I had hoped and definitely worth the wait and expense. The flavor profile is rich with the caramel of the rum, the brightness of the citrus and then the tropical complexity of the passion fruit. Now I know why it is the cocktail of legend.
cocktail shaker or small pitcher
hurricane cocktail glasses
2 oz passion fruit syrup
2 oz fresh lemon juice
4 oz good quality dark rum
Combine all the ingredients in a small pitcher. Pour over ice-filled filled cocktail glass and serve immediately. Garnish with a slice of orange and a cherry as desired.