Monday, February 4, 2013


Friday, 18 January 2012 – our last day in New Orleans loomed as another beautiful winter’s day on the Gulf Coast.  We had a fair bit to pack in before we headed to the airport at 5.30pm for our flight to Los Angeles to join up with my brother and his family for a week of themeparks, rollercoaster, themeparks, big rides and did I mention themeparks??

The Superdown dressed for the Superbowl
As we had a historical culinary walking tour booked for the afternoon, we decided the best way to see all the other ‘best bits’ of New Orleans was to jump on the Hop On Hop Off bus.  If we managed to jump on around 9am, this would give us a good three hours to tootle around the city and the chance to actually ‘hop of and on’ at a few attractions we wanted to see up close.  Justyn, mum, dad and I walked up to Canal Street, grabbed the bus and headed up to the top deck for the best vantage point.  These buses while being ultra-touristy are a great way to see the sights of any city.  This morning, our bus was taking us from Canal Street past the Riverfront and Harrah's Casino (tick – saw that last night J) and onto the Superdome.  The stadium’s steel frame covers a 13-acre (5.3 ha) expanse and its 273 foot (83 m) dome has a diameter of 680 feet (210 m), making the Superdome the largest fixed domed structure in the world.  And it is also the venue for the SuperBowl so there was a lot of action happening around it and no opportunity for us to get off and take a tour which Justyn was keen on until he found out tours had been suspended until after the big game.  After circumnavigating the Superdome, we headed back past the National World War II Museum (tick) and along Magazine Street where after Hurricane Katrina many retailers moved to start again and this area was not as badly affected as many other parts of the city.  Because of this, Magazine Street has a real eclectic feel to it as you can find antique shops next to mardi-gras specialists next to boutiques of all persuasions! 
One of the beautiful houses along St Charles Ave
Magazine Street flows out into a more suburbian area which is where many magnificent southern mansions adorn the tree-lined route heading through St Charles Avenue – the start of the main Mardi-Gras parades.  Many of the trees bear evidence of the years of parades (the first parade was on Shrove Tuesday in 1838!) with beads of many colours shapes and sizes draping the trees like its Christmas all year round.  The traditional colours of mardi-gras are purple, gold and green which symbolise justice, faith, and power and glimmers of these colours twinkle at you from the trees.  Just duck your head from the top floor of the double-decker bus so the tree limbs and their beads don’t smack you in the face!! 
Mardi gras beads in the trees
Mardi Gras World Welcomes You!
The beautiful 19th century houses continued to line the streets as we travelled from St Charles Avenue into the Garden District on our way to Mardi Gras World which was where we decided to jump off the bus and stretch the legs.  We had just missed a tour of this warehouse complex where they have been making and building Mardi Gras floats since 1947 and contented ourselves with browsing amongst the large sculptures of creatures, people and floats.  A very unique industry!  Time was ticking so it was back on the next bus which headed through the Arts District and to the historic Jackson Square, originally known in the 18th century as "Place d'Armes,".  This famous landmark faces the Mississippi River and is surrounded by historic buildings.  It is also home to an artist colony and fresh produce markets – quite a festive place!  Heading through the French Market, we continued through the area known as Treme which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, and early in the city's history was the main neighbourhood of free people of colour.  Historically a racially mixed neighbourhood, it remains an important centre of the city's African-American and Créole culture, especially the modern brass band tradition.  Treme is home to several museums dedicated to African American life, art, and history, as well as Armstrong Park, a memorial to the great jazz legend Louis Armstrong.  The last ‘hop-off’ stop for us was the St Louis Cemetery #1 / Basin Street Station stop as this was the site of New Orleans oldest and most famous cemetery. 

Nic Cage's Tomb (apparently)
Voodoo priestess Marie Laveua tomb
All of the graves are above ground vaults and most were constructed in the 18th century and 19th century, although the tour guide said that Nicholas Cage has his pyramid vault built in this cemetary and ready for him when he is ready!  The renowned Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is believed to be interred in the Glapion family crypt here also.  Marie Laveau's tomb is believed to be the third most visited burial site in the US after those of Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy!  People still bring offerings and leave "XXX" marks on the tomb in the hopes that the priestess will grant them their wish.  The cemetery covers just one block, but it is supposed to contain the remains of 100,000 dead. 
Mardi Gras King Cake
This is where we chose to end our journey of the ‘Hop-On Hop-Off’ bus as it midday and our historical culinary walking tour was starting at 1pm just a couple of blocks away.  Making our way back into the French Quarter, we continued to be entertained by musicians playing on odd corners as the afternoon was getting started (and it appeared that many tourists were getting their party started early too!)  The meeting point for the tour was at New Orleans oldest restaurant (and oldest family run restaurant in the US) Antoine’s.  While mum and I waited across the street admiring the King Cakes being prepared (the king cake is made usually of braided Danish pastry, laced with cinnamon, always iced in the Mardi Gras colours and hidden in each king cake is a tiny plastic baby. The person who finds the baby must buy the next king cake or host the next party), Justyn went with dad to the New Orleans Fire Department to drop off some patches and a tshirt from his Mid Richmond Rural Fire Service team and pick up some NOFD tshirts – a pretty groovy souvenir I reckon!
Antoine's World Famous Gumbo

The Rex Room at Antoine's
By this time, our guide extraordinaire Renee, arrived and shepherded us into Antoine’s into their famous ‘Mystery Room’ to give us some history of Nawlins, the restaurant and outline the afternoon ahead.  Antoine's features a 25,000 bottle capacity wine storage and 14 dining rooms of varying sizes and themes, with several featuring Mardi Gras krewe memorabilia.  Apparently one of these rooms is regularly requested by Brangelina when they are in town!  The Mystery Room acquired its name due to Prohibition as during this time, those in the know would go through a door in the ladies' restroom to a secret room and exit with a coffee cup full of booze.  Our first taster on the tour was of gumbo.  This was an exquisite bowl of rich Creole gumbo with blue crabs, oysters, and gulf shrimp (and much, much better than Emeril’s I must say!).  Leaving Antoine’s, we crossed the street to where mum and I had been watching the King Cake preparation to Leah’s Pralines.  French settlers brought the praline recipe to Louisiana, where both sugar cane and pecan trees were plentiful.  The praline is easily the most famous of any confection made in New Orleans.  Not only did we get to sample a number of different types of pralines, but we received sample bags to take with us! 

Shrimp arnaud at Arnauds
Turtle soup at Desire Oyster Bar
Mum, dad and i enjoying a muffaletta at La Divina
More seafood was on the menu at our next cuisine stop.  Arnauds Remoulade are famous for their shrimp arnaud, a dish that has held first place on Arnaud’s menu since the self-titled Count opened the restaurant in 1913.  It is considered the benchmark by which all other Creole remoulade sauces are measured.  More please!!  At our next restaurant Desire Oyster Bar, we were given a small bowl of brown liquid that was a little reminiscent of the gumbo, but it was not gumbo!  It was turtle soup!  Among Creole communities, turtle soup is known as Caouane and in New Orleans, it is a specialty of several neighbourhood and classic Creole restaurants such as Desires.  Turtle soup is generally padded out with beef but they use snapping turtles that are not any endangered species list.  Let’s just say that I’ve tasted it and do not feel the need to order it off a menu any time soon…..  The next stop was a café called La Divina for a traditional New Orleans muffaletta.   As you know, Justyn and I indulged in a muffaletta at our diner stop in Lake Charles, but what is a muffaletta I hear you asking?  A traditional style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf (a large, round, and somewhat flattened loaf with a sturdy texture) split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, capicola, mortadella, salami, pepperoni, ham, Swiss cheese and provolone.  Thank goodness we also received a sampler of gelato to wash it all down as I am not a huge fan of olives!  Guiding us through Jackson Square, Renee our guide took us through a store called Creole Delicacies and out the back to have live demonstration of a roux being made by a real creole chef called Saundra.  For the non-chefs amongst us, a roux is s a cooking mixture of wheat flour and fat (traditionally butter). It is the thickening agent of a number of the mother sauces of classical French cooking which is also the basis for much of the Creole and Cajun recipes. 
Saundra preparing a roux
Apparently if you cook the roux until it is dark, then you are making Cajun food, whilst maintaining the lighter side sets you up for Creole food.  While Saundra was stirring the roux, we sampled mardi gras dip and the traditional red beans and rice.  Red beans and rice is an emblematic dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine (not originally of Cajun cuisine) traditionally made on Mondays with red beans, vegetables (bell pepper, onion and celery – the holy trinity), spices (thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf) and pork bones as left over from Sunday dinner, cooked together slowly in a pot and served over rice.  Meats such as ham and sausage are also frequently used in the dish.  The dish is customary - ham was traditionally a Sunday meal and Monday was washday.  A pot of beans could sit on the stove and simmer while the women were busy scrubbing clothes.  Red beans and rice is very much part of the New Orleans identity.  Did you know that Jazz trumpeter and New Orleanian Louis Armstrong's favourite food was red beans and rice - the musician would famously sign letters "Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong”!  Our last stop on the New Orleans Culinary History Tour was Tujague’s (the second oldest restaurant in Nawlins) for some beef brisket with creole horseradish sauce.  What a dish to end on – the brisket could have been cut with a spoon it was that tender!  Renee also promised that Tujague’s made the best Sazerac in the city and we should try definitely try it! 
Sampling the Sazerac
The Sazerac is a local New Orleans variation of an old-fashioned cognac or whiskey cocktail, named for the Sazerac de Forge et Fils brand of cognac that was its original prime ingredient.  The drink is some combination of cognac or rye whiskey, absinthe, and bitters; it is distinguished by its preparation method - using bittersand two chilled old-fashioned glasses, one swirled with a light wash of absinthe for the slight taste and strong scent, the second chilled glass is used to mix the other ingredients, then the contents of that are poured or strained into the first.  It is sometimes referred to as the oldest known American cocktail, with origins in pre–Civil War New Orleans.  For those film spotters, a Sazerac cocktail features prominently in an episode of the TV series Treme when chef Janette Desautel (played by Kim Dickens) tosses one in the face of restaurant critic and food writer Alan Richman (appearing as himself).  Richman had angered many New Orleanians in 2006 with an article in the magazine GQ in which he criticized New Orleans' food culture post-Katrina. Despite reservations, he agreed to participate in the scene and called Sazerac "a good choice of weaponry, because it symbolizes the city".  (Let it be know that I can now tick tasting a true Sazerac off my list and need never put it on any list again….  I’m not really a whisky / cognac drinker!)

Justyn with our luggage at Budget Rentals LAX!
Finally our time in New Orleans was at an end.  After thank Renee for the fabulous time we had on her tour, we made a mad dash back to the hotel to meet our afternoon airport pick up.  We loaded up the taxi SUV and mum, dad, Justyn and I headed to the airport to catch our flight to Los Angeles.  Checked in, it was a 3.5 hour flight that I used to catch some sleep as upon landing at LAX, I was to be the dedicated driver for the four of us – needed some wits about me for that!  Upgrading our car to a Dodge Journey to fit four adults, four suitcases plus various hand luggage and backpacks, we programmed Simon and cruised on up the various interstates for the 40 minute drive down to Anaheim where we were staying for the week – 6 adults and 3 children in the one house!  You would think that at 11pm at night the drive would be reasonably uneventful, but remember this is LA!  Heading along the interstate, we could see a police car with its lights blazing zigzagging across the six lanes of traffic slowing us all down to about 20mph.  Cars would come flying up beside us only to see the cop car and drop back to the speed we were doing.  We must have travelled like this for about 15 minutes!  Eventually near an exit, the police veered across to the right where they let us reclaim the 65mph speed limit.  Finally we arrived at W Laster Street in Anaheim, woke up Peter as he’d forgotten to leave the door open for us, dropped luggage off, put mum and dad in charge of making a much-needed cup of tea and headed back out to the 24hr Denny’s up the road to fix us a late night snack!  Then finally bed around 1am!  Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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