Thursday, February 18, 2016

Acadiana.....Cajun Country!

      With Mardi Gras and NOLA in our rear view mirror we ventured off once again into the Louisiana countryside.  There was still so much to see and we were in no hurry to get anywhere else.  Leaving NOLA we headed west back to Lafayette and Breaux Bridge.  We made camp at Poche's RV Park and Fish Camp near the Bayou Teche and Henderson, LA in the Atchafalaya National Historic River Basin Area.  This is the heart of Cajun and Acadiana Country with plenty to experience.

      Breaux Bridge is the Crawfish Capital of the World as they so proclaim.  It is available everywhere from do it yourself to buying retail or wholesale and then of course there are the myriad of local eating establishments to try it from pie to stew to casserole to etouffe to, of course boiled and dumped on your table peel to eat yourself with corn on the cob and boiled redskin taters. 
      Our first day we met up at Poches Market and Restaurant with old friend Colonel Jesse Shanks (USAF ret.) on his way to Hammond, LA for his college basketball reunion.  It was a great lunch with even better company.  I gotta tell you that the Crawfish Etouffe was some of the best I have ever eaten!  I'll be hitting their butcher shop before I leave.  I have also learned after talking at length with the locals that True Cajun food isn't about the heat, but the flavor.  Most Cajun food is seasoned to perfection and 'HEAT' is a matter of how much extra seasoning, pepper, or hot sauce you add at the table. 
Crawfish Etouffe, Coleslaw, Fries, and a Biscuit for lunch at Poches

      Afterwards we took a drive around the historic district of Breaux Bridge.  This is also the home of Bayou Teche and famous hoist bridge.  I don't think this one has been used in many a year.  We were finally able to tour a cemetery where above ground vaults, crypts, and urns are used instead of the traditional below ground affair we see up north.  This is due to the high (and sometimes flooding stage) water level.  Some of these dated as far back as the late 1700s and early 1800s!  There are plenty of antique stores here as well as several famous eateries:  Café des Amis, Crazy 'bout Crawfish, and of course Poches. 
      The next morning we got up extra early to be at Café des Amis when the door opened.  They are famous for their Saturday Morning Zydeco Breakfast.  It was an incredibly fun time.  Zydeco music playing, folks dancing with anybody/everybody, and plenty of good food.  Seating is large family style and we ate with two other couples, one from Beaumont, TX and another from Lake Charles, LA.  Both had driven all this way just for breakfast.  What really got me was the fact the bar was OPEN and serving at 8 a.m. as well.  WTH can drink at 8 a.m.?  Cajuns, dat's who! Anything for a party.  We arrived at 7:30 for an 8:00 opening......and took our place in line.  There was still a line when we left. 

 Eggs, Boudin Patty, Gravy, Cheese Andouille Grits, and of course Beignets @ Café Des Amis
      Next we drove over to Lafayette to tour the Acadiana National Museum, learning the history and culture of Cajun folks and then toured the Vermillionville Village. 

      Venturing further south we visited New Iberia and St. Martinsville.  Two more villages with plenty of Cajun Arcadian influence and antebellum homes, including the grounds of Longfellow's famous Evangeline. A very good website for locating many of these homes is   Another good one is   We stopped in New Iberia for lunch at Victor's Cafeteria on the advice of old friend Jesse Shanks .  Wonderful food:  Catfish, the best shrimp I've ever had, cornbread, and a delightful Pecan Peach Pie.  We have used Jesse's dining suggestions at several of our stops in Louisiana, man he sure knows how to pick them!
Shrimp, Catfish, Cornbread, and Pecan Peach Pie.....lunch at Victor's Cafeteria
The BEST shrimp I have ever eaten!
        A soaking, rainy day allowed us time to get caught up on some laundry and other minor camp chores, but the day after we ventured out on yet another 'day trip'.  This time SW to the historic Cajun town of Abbeville, and then on to Avery Island, LA., the home of the Tabasco Plantation. 

 Airborne photo courtesy of Tabasco Co. 
      Avery Island itself is a bit of an anomaly.  The island is the tip of a giant salt dome that extends some eight mile beneath the earth's surface.  Edward McIlhenny founded the company on this small island in south central Louisiana.  The factory tour is a self guided affair that costs $8 and with the Garden and Wildlife Sanctuary the total is $12.50. 
Greenhouse seedlings
Blending Room
Bottling/Packaging Room
         The vast majority of Avery Island is a wildlife sanctuary.  In fact, Edward McIlhenny helped save the Snowy Egret from extinction by building a protected aviary on this island.  The island is home to birds, black bear, deer, nutria, rabbits, armadillos, possums, squirrels, raccoons, bobcats, and of course alligators call Avery Island home.  The island is also home to some enormous Southern Live Oaks draped in lots of Spanish Moss.  There are also Magnolias, Camellias, and Clematis to name a few flowers.  There is also a huge presence of bamboo growing in tight clusters. 
 Most of the gators we saw were youngsters
More of the gardens
       After our Avery Island adventure we motored into Abbeville, LA to experience what the Cajuns call the Oyster Capital of Louisiana. We settled into Schuck's Oyster House with Barb thoroughly enjoying her Shrimp PoBoy and my willing adventure once again into the world of Charbroiled Oysters.  15 oysters with assorted toppings.  DELISHIMOSO!  YUMDOGGEES! 

         Towards the end of our stay we embarked on our swamp tour with Champagne's Cajun Swamp Tours. Our hope was to capture the authentic swamp landscape with cypress trees, Spanish Moss, and many, many critters.  The cost for this tour is very reasonable:  2 hours for $20 each adult.  It is an excellent tour with great boats, lots of wildlife, and a very knowledgeable guide.  It is also very close to our camping area at Breaux Bridge, LA with Bayou Teche and Lake Martin as their venue.  I highly recommend it. 


       I used the 150-600mm lens for most of these shots, obviously due to the range, but Barb got a very nice shot with the 18-55mm of the mossy gator on the log as the guide steered the boat right by it and she got her shot from a distance of no more than 3 feet! 
       Our last night was appropriately crowned (for me) with a dinner of boiled peel and eat crawfish.  We ate at Myran's Maison de Manger in Arnaudville.  This place got a few bad reviews for customer service, but our campground host told us they are seriously understaffed and just to get there when they start boiling at 5 p.m.  It worked cause we had great service and lively conversation.  Crawfish boiled are delicious, but you get 4 pounds and peeling/eating them individually is a lengthy experience.  You have to develop a rhythm and keep plenty of your favorite beverage and paper towels within reach.  Barb just looked at me like a 5 year old in need of a bib.  It took me an hour to polish off a tray of these spicy babies.  When we left the place was packed and the waitress staff was hopping every which way.  They were delicious.  By the way, Barb also enjoyed her shrimp dinner as well. 

       We had so much fun visiting Arcadiana.  We are already planning to stop here on our sojourn south next winter.  The people are the friendliest and the culture/food are at the top of the scale.  You know how some folks always claim to be of Irish heritage come St. Patrick's Day?  Well, if I wasn't Cajun in my previous life I surely will be in my next.  We stocked up our RV freezer with nearly 20 pounds of Boudin, Gator, Andouille, and various other delicacies for our summer UPNORTH.  I also tried 'Cracklins' for the first time this trip.  I have had Pork Rinds on many occasions, but these have a deeper, richer flavor that is enhanced when you get them fresh and warm in the morning.  I'm sure these aren't on the 'healthy list', but they sure are tasty.  Think of them as Bacon Jerky.  From here we venture south to the Gulf for a few days of R & R on the beach and then back into Texas for some BBQ and Wild Hog hunting. 
"The real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners pleasantly" 
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi Hotspot

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler


      Arriving in New Orleans we continue to experience the intermittent 'check engine' light, but with the diesel running 'fine as frog's hair' and averaging 14 mpg towing it is still like nothing is wrong.  Wow, that should take care of my simile and metaphor quota for the month, eh?  We had reservations at Pinecrest RV Park  in Slidell, LA. which is on I-10 just 30 minutes across the Pontchartrain Bridge from NOLA.  If you plan on attending I would suggest making these reservations well in advance.  We made ours prior to leaving mom's in November.  It is the best locale and price I could find.  Park prices for this week are $70/night/3 day minimum due to the huge event that is Mardi Gras.   There is a newer, closer park just east of downtown, but at $150/night.  There are no other choices unless you want to camp MILES away and commute for hours back and forth to NOLA.  This park is nicely situated among the pines.  They have laundry, shower, and bathroom facilities.  WiFi is also available, but much like other places we have stayed my MiFi had better signal strength.  The office staff is very friendly and helped us through a myriad of tourist questions from parades, to restaurants, to NOLA parking (probably most important). 

      For me it has been 44 years since my last (and first) Mardi Gras and for my bride this is her first......a 'Bucket List' item for her.  Although the flavor, cuisine, and atmosphere of Mardi Gras has been present in every town we have visited enroute, nowhere would it be greater than "The Big Easy" itself.  There are 29 parades the last 7 days of Mardi Gras throughout the area.  Yep, that's several a day! 
It is important to note that crime is still a very large factor in the greater NOLA metropolitan area, especially the French Quarter; pickpockets being the most prevalent.  This has been a large problem since Hurricane Katrina with the increased poverty.  With Mardi Gras comes the tourists, and closely behind follow the sharks.   There is an increased police presence during the festival, but the problem will always remain a factor.  We took recommended precautions such as not carrying your wallet in your back pocket or a purse at all for that matter.  Cash in a front pocket or in your shoe.  Carry only a driver's license for an ID.  NO CREDIT CARDS! Cameras at your own discretion.
      Our first night we attended the Krewe of Selene Parade.  This parade was 1 of 6 in the area this night.  Yep, Barb is no longer a 'rookie' fact she was a 'born again kid'....
      I found it interesting that none of the parades take place in the French Quarter, but several do end just about there.  The parade routes are mid-town, up-town, and in the outlying areas of Metarie, Slidell, etc.  The days of 'show your stuff' to get beads and trinkets seem to be over as well.  Just a simple "Throw me something, Mister" is what is suggested.  There were, after all, many families in the audience.  The most popular trinkets have the parade coin attached.  Barb filled a bag full. 
      We missed our reservations for dinner at Emeril's NOLA one evening due to a parking lot on I-10 and we never made it off the interstate either.  The next day we got up much earlier and got into downtown about 9 a.m. and got parked in a city premium lot ($25 all day) so we could walk/tour at our leisure. 

 Jackson Square, St Louis Cathedral
Decatur Street French Market Park
French Market
King Cake Pretzels
The French Quarter Royal Mutha Shucker
Bourbon Street
Acme Oyster House.....since 1910
Bourbon Street
Toulouse Street Players
      We spent our time touring throughout the late morning and early afternoon.  Things were just starting to get a bit 'out of control' by late afternoon when we left.  Although the Mardi Gras parades now only route through the 'family friendly' areas of uptown and the surrounding towns, the French Quarter with each and every evening still ranges far out to the realms of Mardi Gras and all that is know for:  loose, a bit on the raunch side, and party hardy.  This is where a 'lady' may still 'show her stuff' for beads thrown from the upper wrought iron balconies.  It is a never ending party.  There is a bit of something for everyone here. 

      Of course there is the food.  This is the penultimate goal of my visit here.  I love Cajun food and love to prepare it, but this visit has shown me that I really don't know shit about cooking.  I have learned quite a bit by talking to the sous chefs and others about the essence that is Cajun cooking.  I also learned about the differences between Cajun and Creole cooking.  The NOLA area is predominantly Creole whereas the outlying areas further west are the most Cajun.  Creole cooking utilizes tomatoes or tomato sauce and Mirepoix (diced mix of carrots, onions, and celery).  Cajun cooking rarely uses tomatoes in any form and relies on spices, herbs, and the 'The Holy Trinity'  (diced celery, onions, and bell pepper).   It is said that a Creole feeds one family with three chickens and a Cajun feeds three families with one chicken. Another major difference between Creole and Cajun food is in the type of roux used as the base of sauces, stews, soups, and other savory dishes. Creole roux is made from butter and flour (as in France), while Cajun roux is made from lard or oil and flour.  Creole cooking is refined, French, city cooking while Cajun is predominantly country cooking utilizing whatever can be had.  Again, there will be no restaurant reviews, but a collage of several of the meals we have enjoyed along the way. 
French Market Boudin Balls & Crawfish Balls w/Remoulade
Alligator Bites w/Remoulade
Good grief I love Charbroiled Oysters
I ate these several times at different restaurants
Muffaletta Sandwich
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company
Left:  I'm So Stuffed Shrimp Right:  Shrimp Spectacular
       Barb had remarked once during our treks around NOLA that she always wanted to try the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.  We were not able to find the one there, but through a little online research I found one about 55 miles away on Mississippi's Gulf Coast Casino Row.

      So, one morning we got up a bit late as our itinerary was just to check out a local brewery and have some lunch.  I simply didn't tell her where I was headed and off we went to an Early Valentine's Day Surprise lunch.  It was first time there as well and I have to say the staff is wonderful, the food delicious, and you NEVER GO AWAY HUNGRY!  I became inspired from the food this week and spent my last day gathering ingredients and making Shrimp Gator Gumbo......some for our last night and the leftovers for the road.  Jumbo Shrimp are available fresh all around this area for $3.95/lb.!  I do want to stock the freezer with some gator and boudin for the trip north, but still have to save room for a successful hog hunt later this month.
      Our week in 'Naw-lins' was a busy, exciting adventure.  May never go back there again during Mardi Gras, but Barb can cross another one off her 'Bucket List'.  We took the last day in camp to clean the RV, get some last minute laundry done, and pick up our forwarded mail.  Hopefully it will be ready as Kalkaska's Post Master screwed up the request (for the 2nd time this winter) and it had to be resent.  Our journey now takes us back onto the country roads of Louisiana heading west, taking time to savor the flavors and culture of Cajun Country.