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 www.pinecrestrv.com  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'....in 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. 

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