I was doubly excited to leave for New Orleans last Friday. I was to speak at the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) and it was my first time to NOLA.
I got to stay with my dear friend, Poppy Tooker, who in my opinion represents the heart of New Orleanean food culture. More about that later.
On to how the trip unfolded.
As usual, packing seems to always be a last minute activity for me. No exception on this trip. I was concerned about not having cool enough clothes to survive comfortably in a hot and humid climate.
I am not a hot weather girl by any far stretch of the imagination so when I expressed this to Poppy months ago, her quick reply was, “We do air conditioning really well!“.
Poppy, you were so right!
I gathered up everything in my closet that said, “I am so cool” not in the way of style but more in the temperature category, put them in my rose colored suitcase and placed my head on my pillow hoping to get atleast 4 hours of sleep.
My alarm went off at the ridiculous hour of 4:45 AM. I contemplated 5 more blessed minutes of dozing but dared not miss my ride with Shauna Ahearn who did a drive by pick up on the corner by the espresso spot at 5:45 AM on the dot. We were taking different flights and then hooking back up at Hotel Monteleone, the home of the Carousel Bar. Shauna and I live but a 15 minute ferry ride from each other but we connect more on Twitter and Facebook than in person with our schedules. We both enjoyed a lovely catch up on the way to SeaTac Airport.
I landed in New Orleans and couldn’t believe how hot it was when I set foot outside of the terminal. We’re talking upper 90’s here. It took a bit of time for the taxi to cool down but once it did I enjoyed the ride into town looking for glimpses of the real New Orleans.
There was quite a crowd in the lobby of the hotel when I arrived. I dropped my satchel and found Nancy McDermott (no we’re not related even though we’d love to be!), Diane Jacobs, John Mitzewich, Jamie Schler, Andrew Scrivani, Shauna, and a few others ready to ease our way into a “Big Easy” evening.
You may not know this, but I am somewhat “directionally challenged”. I take very round-a-bout ways to get from Point A to Point B. I do get where I am going eventually but if you say right, I’ll probably go left! As we strolled down the streets, John navigated with his trusty hand-held navigational device and deftly got us to Drago’s for oysters and later Cochon Butcher for the local charcuterie. Every doorway we passed of the larger hotels and restaurants blasted out with refreshing Arctic breezes.
I didn’t want to turn into a pumpkin after little sleep the night before so I tried to get back to the hotel at a decent hour for a good night’s sleep only to find that the air conditioning was too cold and I couldn’t turn it down! The hotel sent someone to fix it but even still, I found myself needing a comforter.
Poppy and I connected after the morning sessions and she quickly whisked me away for lunch at Galatoire’s, in business since 1905 with nearly the same menu. It was the perfect overture into Poppy’s world.
Every meal over my two days with her, revealed another layer of the New Orleanean and Creole cuisines that Poppy champions.
After lunch, Café Brûlot, steaming hot coffee laced with brandy and ladled into our cups while still flaming by our waiter, was so much fun. I was taken back to the feeling I had when I was a little girl, seeing Baked Alaska on very special and rare nights out with our parents.
Back to the conference we went and arrived in time for Poppy’s well-received presentation on the strong culinary traditions of her beloved city, and seasonal and sustainable eating.
Our reward after, was a drink at the Carousel Bar, before heading to her lovely home in the Garden District; my home, too, for the next two nights. Supper was at Charlie’s Seafood with Poppy and her husband, Nicky, a charming gentleman. Charlie’s was a bit of a drive but oh, so worth it.
“Every Friday is Good Friday” is the motto at Charlie’s and everything I had there, which was almost entirely seafood, was in-cre-di-bly good even though it was a Saturday! I could hardly put another bite in my mouth but it didn’t take too much convincing that a piece of pecan pie would be just the way to cap off this perfect New Orleans’ meal. Thank goodness it came with three forks so we could all share it.
The next morning was Sunday and I accompanied Poppy and Nicky to Our Lady of Prompt Succor before we got ready for a one-on-one Creole cooking demonstration for a student from Florence, Italy. I was honored to be asked to assist in small ways plus I got to learn from the master…
and come home with some of her recipes to try. I’m already thinking up ways to incorporate some of those Creole flavors into a savory pie…maybe one with Washington oysters.
Monday, my last day there, was the most meaningful for me and I think for her as well. It was August 29, the 6th anniversary of the day that 53 levees were breached in her beautiful city from the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina. For Poppy, Nicky, and the many that were in New Orleans during that horrible and frightening time six years prior, I can only imagine what it must have been like.
How ironic that on this, my final morning there, we watched and listened to the TV coverage of flooding in Vermont from Hurricane Irene.
I packed up my things, placed them in her car and she drove me through neighborhoods that were once underwater and nearly destroyed. Now rebuilt, repaired and freshly re-painted, it is heartening to see how this city has risen again.
But, if you look deeply into the eyes of those who love her, of those who were there, you can see the pain that remains. The loss was great and the personal cost to so many, unknowable.
Our last stop on the way to the airport was Parkway Bakery for Po’Boys.
Now many of you know that I eat a gluten-free diet. But, on this occasion, I prayed to the goddess of gluten, hoping she would be kind to me. I tossed caution to the wind and ate what had to be one of THE BEST sandwiches in the world— a shrimp Po’Boy— and I have lived to tell the tale!
It was a short trip to Louis Armstrong International Airport and as I settled into my cross-country journey, I was full to the brim with the flavors and memories of New Orleans and my all too brief visit. But, now that I’ve been there once and experienced it first hand, I know I’ll be back.
I look forward to my next visit, Poppy. Thank you for opening your home and heart to me.