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Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’

A drive to New Orleans isn’t complete without a plate of beignets. And a week at Mom’s house isn’t complete without a drive to New Orleans.

Before.

After.

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Update (2-9-11): You may want to hesitate to buy a Publix king cake this year. The king cakes I saw there today were absurdly flat, like somebody forgot to add yeast.

My blog stats indicate that people are eager to know whether the king cakes sold at Publix are worth buying.

Answer: They are, indeed. Publix king cakes aren’t going to compare to a masterpiece from Randazzo’s, but I assume if you’re close enough to New Orleans to get the real thing, you’re not looking for advice on grocery-store king cakes.

The first year we bought a Publix king cake in Huntsville, Alabama, the bakery folks told us they imported the unbaked cakes from someplace in Louisiana, then baked and decorated them at the store. Over the past couple of years, it seems like they may have discovered that a king cake is pretty much a giant French-bread cinnamon roll coated in colored icing and sugar, and they’re making their own version.

Publix may include mysteriously gigantic plastic babies in their king cakes, but they’re got the basics of the delicacy down: Publix king cakes aren’t overly sweet, they’re pretty and they’re big enough to serve a crowd at a fair price.

Buy one. You won’t be sorry.

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The thing about paying attention to life is all the bittersweet moments, like last night when the Saints won and the first thought that popped into my head was, “Wow. I wish my dad would have lived long enough to see the Saints go to the Super Bowl.”

The thing about bittersweet moments is that you can make them more sweet than bitter if you try. So, way to go, Saints. Dad would be proud.

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Last week, I wanted beignets. More than that, I wanted to sit at the Cafe Du Monde with friends at 1 a.m., drinking coffee and chicory and listening to street musicians. I wanted to try to convince my husband that I really did need a tattoo, and have him remind me that I only say that after I’ve had too many hurricanes. (For better or worse, BTW, too much alcohol for me involves not that much alcohol at all.)

I spent approximately 25 years of my life within a couple of hours of New Orleans. Now the Crescent City is an entire day’s drive away, so spur-of-the-moment trips just aren’t happening anymore.

But I did find beignets. A Huntsville friend was kind enough to introduce me to the Coffee Tree Books & Brew, located at 7900 Bailey Cove Road. Every Saturday morning, they serve beignets until they run out – and they DO run out. And I’m talking authentic beignets, perfect in size and shape and coated in about three times as much powdered sugar as necessary.

Honestly, I had worried that I was dragging my husband out of the house before noon on a Saturday for a big plate of disappointment. Right after we moved up here almost three years ago, a seafood chain claimed to be serving real New Orleans-style beignets. And they may have been delicious if they hadn’t been coated with caramel-flavored syrup.

Powdered sugar AND syrup? That’s IHOP, not dessert.

The Coffee Tree did not disappoint, however. As a bonus, my friend knew the proprietors and had told them we were coming in just for the beignets, so they were extra eager to see how we liked them. That said, they seemed eager to be sure that ALL their customers were happy.

The used bookstore attached to the cafe area is lagniappe.

No chicory, no street musicians, but I persevered.

Good coffee, good conversation, and good beignets – really, other than that elusive tattoo, what more could a girl want?

UPDATE: I’m told that there IS chicory available if you ask. This just gets better and better

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It’s been four years since Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out nearly all of my childhood haunts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and causing unimaginable destruction in New Orleans. It also did thousands of dollars in damage to my home in Mobile, Alabama, but that’s an afterthought considering what happened to folks west of there.

The dichotomy of kindness and chaos during Katrina’s aftermath did a number on me. At times, my faith in the innate goodness of people was strengthened, but then another tragic headline would tear that faith to shreds.

I didn’t know where my mom was for two days. Turns out she lives on the highest part of Biloxi and just had wind damage, but the only images of Biloxi on television showed blocks of flattened houses. The last image she had seen of Mobile before she lost power was the appropriately named Water Street, filled with so much water that there were waves cresting over street signs.

Fears on both sides were put to rest when Mom, her boyfriend and their two bad little dogs pulled up in my driveway on the third day.

Not two years earlier, I had scattered my dad’s ashes in the Mississippi River from the levies near the French Quarter, returning his remains to the city he loved, the city whose music inspired him. The Mississippi River had, in turn, scattered itself all over the Crescent City.

I had left two of my dad’s saxophones with a horn dealer in New Orleans a few months before the storm. After his death, I had decided that they needed to be in the hands of someone who would use them.

Several weeks after the storm, I made a halfhearted attempt to track down the dealer and check on the horns. I found out that his warehouse had been destroyed, and my best guess was that his delicate old home had, at the very least, sustained massive wind damage. I was close to being ashamed of myself, checking on $1200 worth of horns when parts of the city had virtually been wiped from the map.

The thing is, I didn’t really want the money (though it would have bought a good bit of non-squishy carpet), and I certainly didn’t want the horns back. I just wanted to see if they survived the storm.

My fiercest hope is that they survived the wind and the water and the looting, that someone picked them up and gave them to a down-and-out musician, or hell, SOLD them to a down-and-out musician for Sheetrock money, and that they’re making music on the streets of New Orleans to this day. My worst fear is that they’re rusting away in a landfill, or entangled in debris at the bottom of a neglected waterway.

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The last time I saw my dad play was at my wedding. He was the kind of guy who needed an assignment to make it through four hours of socializing with strangers, and putting him on stage was a great move. He knew how to blend in with the band without upstaging anybody, though he threw in some ass-kicking solos when the moment was right.

I was cool with the idea of not knowing exactly where my dad’s remains would lie. Really, I couldn’t wait to get the box out of the house after it arrived in the mail. I never had any intention of keeping ashes in a vase on the mantel.

Sometimes I have this vision of his ashes flowing through the streets of New Orleans in the floodwaters, landing here and there, making themselves a permanent part of the spirit of the city.

I miss my dad, and I miss New Orleans. But the thought that his saxophones might be helping entice tourists to toss dollar bills into a horn case on a street corner somewhere makes it all a little more bearable.

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I’m planning a trip to New York City and I am PSYCHED. People who grow up in the rural South usually have one of three reactions to urban life:

  • They are annoyed by crowded sidewalks, brutal traffic and the intricate layout of city streets.
  • They are terrified by the city’s sheer vibrancy.
  • They fall in love with said sheer vibrancy and begin plotting their way to a high-rise office and studio walkup.

I’ve loved city life since moving to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the early 1980s. My family’s home was an easy 20 minutes from the Louisiana state line, which was a mere 40 minutes from downtown New Orleans.

The Crescent City is a troublesome example, because it runs on its own rhythm. All cities do. But it introduced me to a world of close quarters, where strangers lived literally feet from one another, rode buses and streetcars, and many times, heaven forbid, WALKED. It was a world in which people ate dinner at 9 p.m., not 6 p.m., and they certainly didn’t call it “supper.”

It was a world of sophistication far removed from my home in Kiln, Mississippi, where I literally had to drive across a defunct cattle gap to get to school every morning.

I truly fell for city life when I was 21 and went to London for four weeks to take a World War II history class. I barely slept the entire time I was there because I didn’t want to miss a minute of action.

Between the Underground and an extremely well-run (read: on-time) system of buses, I could be anywhere in the city within a half hour. The crosswalks required traffic to come to a standstill for pedestrians to cross busy streets – and we’re not just talking crosswalks at red lights and stop signs.

After a lifetime of being accused of walking too fast, I was a welcome addition to the People in a Hurry on the city’s sidewalks. I learned the true people-moving potential of escalators, and I’ve been uncomfortable standing completely still on moving stairs ever since.

The restaurants, the shopping (note that my favorite destination in any foreign city is a grocery store, and a must-visit destination in any large American city is a foreign grocery store), the population’s ethnic mix … there’s just too much that I love to list it all.

New York has it all: subways, buses, foreign grocery stores, fast-moving sidewalk crowds, world-class restaurants, even non-stationary escalator-riders. And not a cattle gap for miles.

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Fine. I gave in. Here are 25 Things About Me. If Facebook can suffer through it, so can you.

  1. I love coffee. I drink more coffee than anyone knows.
  2. I drive my dream car, a Mini Cooper S. It’s cute, fast and fun, and more affordable than most people seem to realize.
  3. I work out with free weights three times a week. A former co-worker who calls his muscle-bound arms the “pythons of death” used to call my arms the “blue runners of death.”
  4. I can’t wait for warmer weather so I can go caving again. I have never felt stronger and more dexterous than I do when scrambling over giant piles of rock.
  5. I always thought I’d have dogs, but I have two cats instead. They’re hilarious.
  6. I judge people based on how they treat animals.
  7. I’ve always had more male friends than female friends. I may be from Mars instead of Venus.
  8. My husband is the kind of guy I would be friends with. I’m pretty sure this is why we’re still married.
  9. I’ve been to England, France, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.
  10. I have no children. This is neither an accident nor a tragedy. I’m cool with other people having kids though, and love my nieces and nephew.
  11. Hurricane Katrina flooded a third of my house. It’s barely worth mentioning compared to the damage other people had. That said, rising water and high winds still give me a little punch in the gut.
  12. I’m still pissed off about what happened to the people of New Orleans.
  13. Since childhood, I’ve had a recurring dream in which I had to walk across a yard while avoiding snakes of every type and size every few feet. That dream has been replaced by one in which water is rising in my back yard and I’m trying to move things higher in the house.
  14. I’ve never told anyone about No. 13.
  15. I had a casual smoking habit for about six years in high school and college. Nasty habit? Sure, but I miss it and wish cigarettes weren’t so bad for me.
  16. I miss clove cigarettes the most. A friend tells me it’s because I’ve always aspired to be Eurotrash.
  17. I’m really proud of my little brother for being such an awesome husband and father.
  18. I’m not sarcastic ALL the time.
  19. I decorate with objects that I love, which range from an old Royal typewriter to tea tins.
  20. The first concert I ever attended was Bon Jovi.
  21. I’ve seen Metallica in concert six times.
  22. I exhibited multiple signs of OCD when I was a kid. I remember wishing somebody would notice so that they could figure out what was wrong with me AND hoping that nobody would notice that there was something wrong with me.
  23. I think that my remaining obsessive-compulsive tendencies make me a better copy editor, writer and coder.
  24. I took Spanish in high school and French in college. When I try to speak either language I end up with a mishmash of both. Sacre gato!
  25. I’m pursuing my master’s degree in English mostly because I really enjoy the classes.

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