Friday, 28 February 2014

Treme Second Line

Today, I was working on some historic sources when I heard the sound of a drum line off in the distance. I went to check out what was going on and stumbled on a Treme Second Line featuring neighborhood bands and dance troupes.

It was a nice little study break!

Krewe of Muses

Imagine -- a size 834 pump parading down St. Charles. Yes. That happened last night at the Muses parade!

The Krewe of Muses is perhaps best known for handing out bedazzled shoes as Mardi Gras throws.
All of the shoes are different and have weird little themes. Three of my friends were lucky enough to catch shoes last night.

The shoes are nearly impossible to get unless you know someone in the parade (thus, they are one of the most coveted Mardi Gras throws ever!) A few weeks ago, I went to lunch with a friend who founded Muses. She was kind enough to offer me a shoe during the parade if I could catch her attention. Determined to make this happen, I staked out my territory on the "neutral ground" side of the parade route yesterday afternoon. I texted my friend the exact location of where I was standing. I made a sign with my friend's name on it AND got all of my Tulane Med school friends to (1) get me to the front of the parade route for easy access to the shoe (2) chant "Staci, Staci, Staci" in unison (while a friend played the trumpet too) to catch my friend's attention. Community spirit! Team work! The big moment came - the first float rolled by, we all chanted, I waved my sign while frantically searching for Staci, but I couldn't see her among all of the masked women. And, just like that, it was over. No Staci. No shoe. The float just rolled on by and I just stood there sort of dumbfounded (cue the "womp, womp, womp"). After the initial disappointment, I moved on with my night and had a nice time - catching lots of beads, waving the other signs I made. My Tulane friends were all bummed out that I didn't get a shoe, but a few of them actually caught some shoes on their own! Fate is a cruel sometimes.

A bit about the rest of the night. Two krewes rolled down the parade route before Muses: the Knights of Babylon (celebrating 75 years) and the Knights of Chaos. The earlier parades were really calm and quiet - more family oriented. But, by the time Muses rolled around, it was a different story!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

First you make a roux...

What an exciting second week of my open hearth cooking apprenticeship at Magnolia Mound!

Today, I focused mainly on making gumbo file. I decided not to cook from a recipe. I wanted to follow my instincts in the kitchen. First, I made a roux. After letting the fire burn for a good hour, I brought out hot coals to do some "down hearth" cooking. I placed equal parts butter and flour in a large cast iron pot and stirred. And stirred. Then, I stirred some more. Nothing happened. When I say, "nothing happened," I mean that after 30 minutes of stirring, my roux was still as blond as Marilyn Monroe. So, I pulled some more coals under the pot, said a little prayer, and kept stirring.

Thirty minutes later, my roux was finally a nice caramel color, which means that the flour had starting toasting. Phew! Another thirty minutes passed, and my roux was a beautiful, creamy brown -- the color of a Hershey bar. I added my onions to slow the toasting process.

10 minutes later, after the roux-onion mixture had cooked a bit more, I added in the remainder of the "holy trinity": bell pepper and celery. Then came the chicken stock, ham hocks, pan seared chicken, and bay leaf. I switched cooking techniques at this point. I took the gumbo off the coals and placed it on a hook over the open flame and let it simmer for 3 hours. I let the hearth do the rest of the work. Voila - gumbo!

Today, I worked with a woman named Rosemary who has been volunteering at Magnolia mound for 20 years. She is best known for her baking skills and today she taught me how to make biscuits, country bread, and French cake. We made the biscuits in the hearth and we made the other baked goods in the brick oven. While the biscuits were baking, we cooked up some pork sausage patties and then fried apples in the fat from the patties until they were crispy and golden brown. We then made the most sinful breakfast sandwiches: sausage patties, fried apples, and rosemary jam on a hot biscuit. I died and went to heaven - twice. I definitely ate a second one. I do not regret that decision.


The brick oven is a labor of love, in many ways. You have to kindle a very hot fire, keep it burning for 4 hours to heat the bricks, and then remove all of the firewood, coals, and ash from the oven before baking your breads/cakes etc. with the residual heat. Rosemary prepped 4 loaves of bread that morning - they were rising in cast iron skillets before we put them in the oven. We put the French cake in first, though, because cakes generally take longer to bake. We didn't use a timer. We didn't have a toothpick to test if the cake was done. We just eyeballed it!

In addition to the gumbo and the baked goods, we also baked sweet potatoes and acorn squash down hearth in a cast iron pot. I was hoping that Rosemary would cook them a bit differently--by pulling out some hot coals, cooking those coals in ash, and then placing the sweet potatoes in that ash and covering them with more of it. This was a technique employed by enslaved people cooking over open flames (who were rarely given access to cook with the cast iron pots that belonged in the kitchen of the main house).

One of the highlights of my day was when a group of French tourists from Paris came through the museum. They spoke English, but had some trouble understanding the thick Louisiana accent of the docent who was leading their tour. When they visited us in the kitchen, I was able to clarify some of the questions they had. It was nice to speak in French with them!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus

"May the force be with you!" echoed along the streets of the otherwise sleepy Marigny as the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus rolled along Franklin Avenue. Last night, Trekkies (or Trekkers, as the more serious fans like to call themselves), Star Wars fanatics, Dr. Who lovers, Battle Star Galactica feans, and a mishmash of sci-fi geeks gathered for a parade that embraced all things extrateresstrial. Speaking of, my favorite part of the parade was the "Rolling Elliots" -- over 100 people dressed in red hoodies riding on bicycles with E.T.s in their baskets! They stretched out their arms, their index finger pointing, and touched their digits to those of anxiously waiting passersby. Everyone had a little E.T. in them last night.

What I love most about this parade is the krewe members' unabashed love of dorky things! This is their night to fly their freak flag and have thousands of adoring parade goers cheer them on - what a feeling that must be! A recent article in the Times-Picayune talks about the infectious atmosphere of Chewbacchus. What I find interesting is that this krewe is strictly for sci-fi fans. They state on the krewe's website that fairies, elves etc. are strictly forbidden (as are unicorns, unless they are robo-unicorns). At one point during the parade, a giant dance party spontaneously happened. Parade goers joined krewe members on the street and danced for a good 10 minutes before the parade continued its slow march down Franklin Ave.

I've made a few friends who live in the Marigny. Last night, I was able to stop by my Tulane Med School friend's BBQ. Later, I headed to a chili party hosted by one of my professor's daughter. And, at one point, I ran into friends from Duke and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum near Mimi's bar. The atmosphere by Mimi's was really cool - it basically felt like a giant block party. The streets shut down and people brought out bars on wheels into the middle of Franklin Avenue. Everyone was wearing strange costumes a la Jonny Depp in the most recent iteration of Alice in Wonderland.

Oh! And on my way to Chewbacchus, my friend Brad and I ran into the Krewe of 'tit Rex parade -- a miniature carnival parade with floats that are only about 1 foot tall!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Krewe of Cleopatra (Uptown Parades)

Yesterday morning, I presented an academic paper at Tulane's Global Gulf Conference. Later that day, I also gave a 1-hour talk at the Newcomb College Institute for Research on Women where I am a visiting scholar this year. Both talks were related to my dissertation research on the French Market.  It was wonderful to have an opportunity to flesh out those ideas and receive feedback on my analysis.

As part of the Global Gulf Conference, I attended a Mardi Gras party on Napoleon Avenue right at the start of the Uptown parade routes. Last night, the Krewe of Oshun and the Krewe of Cleopatra paraded along Napoleon, down St. Charles, and then along Canal St. I really liked being at the head of the parade route because you could catch a glimpse of all of the preparations prior to start of the parade. Marching bands were pouring in by the busload from across New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, little old ladies and young children were claiming spots along the parade route hours before it began, and police were trying to keep everything running as smoothly as possible.

The Uptown parade was so different from the Marigny/French Quarter parades I saw last weekend. It was much more family-oriented. In addition, the Uptown floats were bigger, more uniform, less spontaneous, but also fun! There were also a lot of beads and different throws -- A LOT! By the end of the evening, my next was sore from wearing so many beads!!!

Presenters, professors, and students alike attended the party and vied for coveted spots along the parade route. I was shoulder to shoulder with a very famous historian who was having just as much fun as I was trying to catch beads and beg for throws. I came to realize yesterday that Mardi Gras is the great equalizer. Whether rich or poor, young or old, famous professor or young graduate student, people are going to scream and jump for Mardi Gras throws (I swear a 95 year old lady elbowed me in order to get a coveted Oshun bead necklace)!

After watching the krewes go by, I walked along St. Charles to meet up with some friends who were a bit farther down the parade route. It was really fun people watching - St. Charles was a little rowdier than Napoleon (less families/more partying etc).

By the time I got home, I was exhausted! I pulled the dozens of beads off my neck and put them in a giant glimmer pile on the table. I'm not quite sure what to do with them...

Lunch at Dooky Chase's

This Thursday, I had lunch with Carol Allen -- the woman who wrote Leah Chase's biography. She was kind enough to invite me to Dooky Chase's restaurant to catch up and chat with Ms. Chase. The food (as always) was delicious. Their fried chicken is so moist on the inside with the crispiest breading--wow!!!

It was really nice to see Ms. Chase. We went back to the kitchens where she was working (even though she is almost 90, she still works at the restaurant most days). I asked her a few questions about the local markets in New Orleans back in the 1940s etc. She was really open and willing to share her experiences, which was a great help to me! She also invited me to attend Lundi Gras celebrations at her restaurant on the Monday before Mardi Gras. That was so kind of her!!

A Walk in the Park

I took a nice walk in City Park the other day - I thought these photos really showcase New Orleans' flora and fauna

King Cakes at Sucre Bakery

King cakes are a staple sweet during Mardi Gras season. It's a tradition to hide a little plastic baby inside a king cake. Whoever gets the slice with the baby in it gets extra luck that day (and is also responsible for buying the king cake for the next social gathering). New Orleanians have different opinions about which bakery makes the best king cake. My favorite is the Rouses grocery store brand one--there is something about that thick white icing and swirling cinnamon brioche that I LOVE. But, I wanted to branch out and try Sucre Bakery's version of king cake. Their cake was much more subtle - a lemony brioche with a smooth, iridescent glaze. A very good slice of cake, but it doesn't beat Rouses' in my opinion!

Rum House - New Work Space

I love the Rum House. We all know this. Best tacos in town! The Moroccan lamb tacos with fried plantains are my favorite. I went to the restaurant for a late lunch the other day and also had a very productive work session! I'm truly enjoying this 70 degree weather.

Bacchanal (still my favorite jazz spot!)

Last Sunday (after having too much fun at Krewe du Vieux the day before), Jessica, Theresa, and I headed to Bacchanal for a peaceful afternoon lunch. We enjoyed the warm weather, live jazz music, delicious cheese plate, and refreshing sparkling wine.

Krewe du Vieux (warning: political satire/raunchy references)

Every year, the unofficial start of the Mardi Gras season kicks off with the Krewe du Vieux parade. First, I should explain that many New Orleanians join Carnival Krewes. These are social clubs that you pay to be a member of. Throughout the year, your krewe will hold social events, but the biggest celebration of the krewe falls during Carnival season when you and your krewe put on a parade. Some krewes have been around since the 19th century and are very difficult to get into. Some krewes are only a few years old and welcome anyone willing to pay the annual dues. Krewes typically range from 100-500 members. Krewes all have different personalities and the themes and extravagance of their parades also vary from krewe to krewe. Krewe du Vieux makes a point of emphasizing political satire in its parade through sexual innuendos and other "crude" jokes. Reader beware: the material below may (and will likely) offend you!

A week ago today, I was lucky enough to be invited to a balcony party right on the parade route. My friend Caroline's friend knew someone who lived on Royal Street (in the heart of the French Quarter) with a perfect view of the parade route. After waiting for public transportation for over an hour (which never came), I decided to split a taxi with some newly-made friends. We eventually made it to the Marigny and from there I walked to the French Quarter to meet Caroline. I had to dodge tourists jumping out for beads, groups of New Orleanians dressed in bedazzled costumes dancing like wild things, and numerous other characters acting rather strangely to make it to the apartment. What I did not realize then was that by the time the parade came rolling through in an hour's time, you wouldn't even be able to walk on Royal Street because thousands upon thousands of people were converging on the Quarter.

Our host's name was Sam. He had an amazing apartment - eccentrically decorated and full of fascinating people. Caroline and I grabbed a drink and went out to the balcony to wait for the parade to make its way from the Marigny into the Quarter. Off in the distance, past thousands of drunk people, I saw a glimmer of the first float. Slowly, it creeped through the crowds and pushed its way right in front of our balcony. Everyone went insane! The old ladies next to us were screaming for beads, men and women in colorful wigs waved their hands frantically in the air trying to catch the "throws" (e.g. beads and other random things that krewe members toss from floats), and the people on the streets didn't even attempt to move anywhere because it was so crowded. I was lucky enough to observe all of this from Sam's balcony.

It is hard to capture all of the sensory experiences of this night. Sounds, in particular, were pretty crazy. There were people yelling/singing/laughing/gossiping. The noise of marching bands, tap dancers, and tractors mingled together to make a cacophonous, carnival symphony. I don't really remember smelling anything. What about tastes? Sam made a giant pot of butter beans with alligator, crawfish, and the kitchen sink in it! It was delicious and comforting on such a hectic night.

After the parade passed by our apartment (followed by Krewe Delusion's parade), I walked back to the Marigny to meet up with Theresa and Jessica. Once there, we found spots right along Frenchman Street to catch the Krewe Delusion parade once again as it made its way to the end of its parade route. It was really fun to be right on the street (a very different feel from the balcony at Sam's). Krewe members would walk by, dance with you, flirt with you, give you beads and other random throws. Once lady gave me bedazzled underwear! Another guy gave me a glittery, blue crawfish ring. Hahahahaa. How strange! At one point, I saw a very pregnant krewe member dressed as a mermaid, riding on a bicycle!

Oh! And did I mention that everyone dresses up for the parades? Wigs, feather boas, you name it, someone is wearing it!

Overall, an amazing night (other than the fact that is took me 2.5 hours to find a taxi to take me home after the parades passed through!!)

"Gal-entine's Day"

On Valentine's day, Jessica, Theresa, and I headed to Restaurant August for their prix fixe lunch. I was so exited to head to August because it has one of the best reputations in town for classy dining. The restaurant is absolutely beautiful - stunning chandeliers, elegant bouquets of fresh flowers, and large, round tables draped with soft tablecloths. I had the pate de campagne with house made pickles, marmalades, and toasted brioche to start. For my main course, I ordered braised veal cheeks with winter vegetables. The dessert was my favorite part: dark chocolate pate with strawberries and champagne sabayon. What a perfect Valentine's day meal!

Later that night, we headed to Tipitina's music hall to hear the Carolina Chocolate Drops perform. They were fabulous - very upbeat, very blue-grassy/jazzy, and just wonderful performers. The lead vocalist was particularly stunning. My favorite part of the concert was when she played a replica of a banjo from c. 1855 and her bandmates played the bones (almost like canasta percussion).

Cocktail and Bon Operatit!

After my Yale girlfriends left town, I thought my evening social plans would quiet down a bit...not the case at all! I have a good number of academic friends in town and once my schedule freed up after my hosting duties were over, my calendar quickly filled up with other activities. A few Wednesdays ago, I headed to SoBOU's "Happier Hour" with my researcher-friend, Theresa. We enjoyed chatting about New Orleans' food history, strategies for working in the archive, and how much we love New Orleans. That evening, we tried the smoky pulled pork tacos, the alligator corn dog, the taso pinchos, and beer nuts. Yum! We also tried the Carnival Old Fashioned cocktail.

After "Happier Hour," I headed to the Sheraton to hear Bon Operatit perform a free Valentine's Day-themed opera concert. I enjoyed hearing them sing songs from Phantom of the Opera!

"It's Carnival Time!"

Some photos of the decorations around town:

Birthday Weekend

Three of my college roommates came down to visit me for my birthday weekend - how sweet of them!

A quick overview of events!

Wednesday: On Wednesday evening, I picked Celina up at the airport and we headed right to Luke for Happy Hour. Half off fresh oysters and cocktails? Don't mind it I do! 1.5 dozen oysters and a Sazerac cocktail later, Celina and I headed to the French Quarter to enjoy the sights. We stopped by Pat O'Brien's to pick up a famous Hurricane cocktail and impromptu headed to a concert at Preservation Jazz Hall. There is something about those New Orleans classic jazz numbers that get me every time! We finished our night by splitting an order of beignets at Cafe du Monde.

Thursday: The next morning, we headed to District Donut and split a siracha maple glazed donut and a Mexican hot chocolate donut. The siracha maple glaze was subtly spicy, and sweet - yum! The Mexican hot chocolate donut was a force to be reckoned with - thick chocolate icing (nice and spicy) and more chocolate filling. Woo! Later that afternoon, Lissie arrived and we went for a late lunch at Parkway Bakery. Roast beef po'boys for everyone! A few hours later, Allix arrived. We headed to Bulldog for drinks and bar food. I always wanted to go to this bar (and was waiting for a bunch of Yalie bulldogs to go with me - perfect!)

Friday: Friday morning, we headed to the Bywater neighborhood to grab brunch at Elizabeth's - known for its pecan bacon and calas (sugary, deep-fried rice fritters). The bacon was to-die-for!!! Really crispy and salty-sweet. I could eat that everyday! I also like the restaurant because it is covered in Dr. Bob's artwork.

Later that afternoon, we headed up Tchoupitoulas to NOLA Brewery for their weekly "brewery tours." Every Friday, scores of New Orleanians have a big party at NOLA Brewery - they bring tailgate games like corn hole, invite many friends, and enjoy unlimited free beer from 2-3pm. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon! Here is a shot of the beers they were offering that afternoon:

That evening, our friend Caroline invited us to attend the Tulane Medical School's Prom. We got all dolled up in cocktail attire, headed to the American Sector for Happy Hour (.75 cent BBQ sliders). The American Sector restaurant is in the heart of the WWII museum in New Orleans - it is 1940s themed and serves its food in tin cans and other bizarre 1940s objects. Then we made our way to Med Prom. Tulane hired a live brass band - they were fantastic! Eventually, everyone was dancing and enjoying the upbeat music. We finished our night by heading to Cafe du Monde (again!) where we proceeded to have powdered sugar fight.

Saturday: On Saturday, we headed to the Quarter for brunch. Jackson Square was bustling! I've never seen the square that packed with street performers, artists, and tourists (everyone was out to enjoy the first 70 degree/sunny day of spring!) We put our name in for a table at Stanley! and headed to Croissant D'Or to grab almond croissants to tide us over for the 2-hour wait. My friends from Tulane/the archives also joined us for brunch -- too fun! I enjoyed the Eggs Stanley -- an ultimate eggs Benedict-type dish. The Bloody Marys were delicious too!

We rested for most of the afternoon and ordered take out from MoPho (a new Vietnamese restaurant in my neighborhood). The Fowl Pho was AMAZING! Best pho broth I have ever tasted. That evening, we headed to Bourbon Street to sing karaoke, drink tourist-y cocktails, and enjoy people watching. Fun!

Sunday: My birthday! We headed to my favorite restaurant, Commander's Palace for their fabulous Jazz Brunch. The service is impeccable, the staff is so friendly, and the place is adorable -- all of the tables have clusters of colorful balloons. Too cute! There is also a live jazz quartet that goes around to all of the tables and plays for them. I had a brandy milk punch (a classic New Orleans brunch cocktail) and a decadent meal! I started off with the "absinthe oyster dome" -- a creamy oyster soup with fluffy puff pastry. My main course, the Sportsman's Brunch was PHENOMENAL! Griddle cakes drizzled with cane syrup, toasted pecans, and roast duck. Yum! I finished off the meal with Commander's famous bread pudding souffle.

After brunch, we walked through the neighboring historic cemetery before heading home.

Later that night, Celina left for California. The remaining three of us had sushi for dinner and cannoli from Angelo Brocato's!

Monday: We somehow got everyone packed and to the airport!

A very successful birthday weekend, indeed!