Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Louisiana - Wish List

In the last post, I talked about my trip to New Orleans and the cuisines and styles of music from around the world that have blended together to make up present day Louisiana.  This post is a listing of other places around Louisiana that I’d like to go and visit.

One tour I’d love to go on is the Creole Queen Paddlewheeler in New Orleans.  A Mississippi River Cruise on a paddle wheeler would be the New Orleans experience, I bet!  Floating along what they call the Delta area with the plantations along the mighty Mississippi would be fantastic.

A friend visited the World War II Museum in New Orleans earlier this year and the pictures looked awesome.  There are so many planes there from the WWII era.  It was definitely not a stuffy old museum.  It seemed new and very interactive.  They even have a soda shop.
I’d like to visit the cemeteries of New Orleans like the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 or the Metairie Cemetery.  According to the Save Our Cemeteries website, the water-logged, swampy soil that New Orleans is built on makes digging more than a couple of feet impractical.  This gruesome revelation was made soon after the city’s first cemetery was established on St. Peter Street just inside the current French Quarter.  Graves started popping to the surface with a grim “Hello” and bodies floated down the street when it flooded – which was often.  The solution was to avoid burial altogether and house the dead in above ground tombs.  St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest cemetery in the city and was established by the Spanish in 1789.  Many of the city’s first occupants and notorious personalities are entombed here.  Visitors over time have left behind various offerings or tokens at the New Orleans’ cemeteries and I think that would be interesting to see.
While in southern Louisiana, you have to stop by Avery Island and tour the famous Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory.  It’s only a $1 toll to enter the island and they have factory tours of the Tabasco Sauce bottling Monday – Thursday.  While on the island, tour the 170-acre jungle gardens to see a variety of exotic plants and wildlife.
To get the real Louisiana experience, you’ll want to take a swamp tour and see some alligators.  It seems like a unique experience through the bayous and swamps seeing all the swamp creatures.  It reminds me of the History Channel’s show “Swamp People” that my parents love to watch.  It just seems a little crazy to me, but I love to hear their Louisiana accents.

Leaving New Orleans, I’d love to take the Great River Road along the Mississippi River.  717 miles of it is in Louisiana, and it takes you past rural towns, historic sites, Antebellum homes and plantations, the state capital, and the history of the Louisiana Purchase.  All I’ve seen online are beautiful pictures along this road trip.

One of the plantations along the Great River Road is the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, which is nicknamed the Grand Dame of the Great River Road and perhaps is the most photographed plantation in Louisiana.  It has a restaurant on the grounds that offers a menu of traditional Cajun and Creole dishes. 
Another beautiful plantation that I found online is the Nottoway Plantation Resort in White Castle.  It’s the south’s largest remaining antebellum mansion.  You can also spend the night there.  Information on eight other magnificent plantations can be found at the New Orleans Plantation Country website.

Also, along the Great River Road, be sure to visit the state capital, Baton Rouge, which has the tallest capitol building in the USA at 34 floors.  They have an observation deck on the 27th floor that overlooks the city.  From the overlook, you’re able to see the capitol’s rose gardens, Louisiana State University, and the mighty Mississippi River.  Even better is the free admission. 
In my research, I found a town that I’d love to go visit.  Natchitoches is the oldest town in Louisiana, established in 1714.  Located in the northwest part of the state, “Steel Magnolias,” was filmed there.  The town also has bed & breakfasts, two plantations, and Fort St. Jean Baptiste.

These are just the places I visited or would like to go and visit in Louisiana.  If you know of anywhere else in Louisiana we should check out, please leave a comment below.  Next, we’ll explore what’s just round the corner in Maine.
**All photos found online.**

Monday, October 29, 2012


When mentioning Louisiana, most people think of the city of New Orleans.  Back in August 2006, I visited New Orleans on a church choir tour of the Southeast.  We spent the night just over the border in Mississippi.  As we drove into New Orleans for the day, we could see some of the damage from Hurricane Katrina that had hit a year earlier in August 2005.  However, as we drove into the French Quarter area of New Orleans, I couldn’t see any damage.  We had a fun day in New Orleans. 

Our first stop when we arrived in the French Quarter was the beautiful Andrew Jackson Square along the Mississippi River in front of St. Louis Cathedral.  It makes for a perfect picture backdrop too.  Be sure to visit.
Picture I took of Andrew Jackson Square
One place that we HAD to visit was Café Du Monde, and it did not disappoint.  Get a table outside, some beignets, a cup of hot coffee and you are set for a great meal and some awesome people watching.  The meal is so good that you won’t even care about how messy you might get eating the beignets with all the powdered sugar all over you.  No one can make them like Café Du Monde!  YUMMY!
My friends at Cafe Du Monde (me in the bright blue shirt)
We spent the rest of the day walking around the French Quarter, browsing through shops, and just people watching - observing the uniqueness that is New Orleans.  The French Quarter has to be one of the best places in the U.S. to people watch.  It’s a must see place!

For lunch, we ate lunch at The Gumbo Shop.  I can’t recall what I had to eat, but I do remember it tasted good.  Since my visit, there are quite a number of good restaurants that I’ve heard about that make for a possible 2nd trip to New Orleans some day.

I mentioned earlier this year that Arizona turns 100 years old this year.  However, Louisiana turns 200 years old this year!  From the French Fleur-de-Lis and the Spanish Bourbon banner to the British Union Jack and the American Stars and Stripes, Louisiana’s varied cultures are reflected in the flags that have flown over the territory.  The varied cultures are also reflected in Louisiana’s cuisine and music.

Two regional cuisines are Creole and Cajun.  Both come from French and Southern Cuisines.  However, Creole is refined city cooking with influences from Spain, Africa, Germany, Italy, the West Indies, etc.  It has rich sauces, local herbs, red ripe tomatoes, and the use of seafood caught in local waters.  One popular Creole dish is gumbo, which is a type of stew, seasoned with sassafras and bay leaves and served over rice.  There is no set recipe for the perfect gumbo – some have chicken, seafood, or andouille sausage.

The Gumbo Shop's Seafood Okra Gumbo
Cajun cuisine on the other hand is country-style food found along the Louisiana bayou.  It uses simple foods right from the land and uses more spices.  It’s a heavy, one-pot dish served over steaming rice.  One popular Cajun dish is Etouffee, which is made with crawfish most of the time. 

Over time, the two cuisines have evolved and it’s now harder to define what is Creole and what is Cajun.  Most of the time, the two words are used interchangeably.

One item from Louisiana bakeries that I want to try is the Mardi Gras King Cake.

The cake originated from Christmas time in the Middle Ages when they celebrated the Three Wise Men (or Kings) on the 12th night after the birth of Christ.  The cake often begins appearing during Christmas and is seen up until Fat Tuesday, the beginning of Lent.  It’s an oval-shaped braided coffee cake decorated with cinnamon sugar in the official Mardi Gras colors of gold (for power), green (for faith), and purple (for justice) and contains a tiny plastic or ceramic baby somewhere in it.  If you get the slice of cake with the baby, you must host the next party.  My friends that have tasted these cakes love them!

Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans dates back to 1699.  Mardi Gras has its roots in preparing for the season of Lent.  It starts on Epiphany (January 6th), but the celebrations are concentrated in the two weeks before Fat Tuesday.  It’s a season of parades with elaborate costumes and elaborate floats, masquerade balls, and parties.

Louisiana has its own various styles of music as well. Cajun music has roots in medieval France via Nova Scotia.  It later interacted with country music and blues, and adopted the accordion as its signature instrument.  Listen to the Balfa Brothers.  Another regional style is Zydeco, dance music of southwest Louisiana’s black, French-speaking community.  Its signature instrument is also the accordion; with Afro-Caribbean roots, it has elements of blues, country, and Cajun.  Take a listen to Clifton Chenier singing the Zydeco Cha Cha.

Louisiana’s diverse people, food, and music clearly give it a unique personality.  In my next post, I’ll list some of the places in Louisiana that I’d like to go and visit.
*Pictures found online