Weekend Getaway #1: Cajun Country

30 Jun
Vintage LA Map

Vinatage LA Map Art courtesy of Etsy.com

Whenever I pull out my license it dawns on me; holy crap, I live in Louisiana. New Orleans can often seem like it stands apart from the rest of the state and it’s hard to tear yourself away from the never-ending festivals and parades that you can literally stumble into every weekend  in the Greater New Orleans Area. But let’s face it – summertime is slow here. Too slow! And although it might be scorching outside, these slower months are the perfect time to get out of Orleans Parish, and really explore the state we live in. My first weekend itinerary is an easy excursion out to Cajun Country!

Avery Island & Lafayette

Avery Island. This attraction takes a little over 2 hours to get too from New Orleans. Take the I-10 W and hop on 90-W til you reach the great heartland of Acadiana. Soon enough you’ll be right in the middle of a giant salt dome that produces the most successful product to come out of Louisiana: Tabasco. Avery Island has two main attractions. 1) The Tabasco Factory and 2) Jungle Gardens. We took our puppy on this trip, so we had to skip the tour of the factory, but we caught the best part- The Tabasco Country Store. I tried some ridiculously hot sauce (they really could have put out some water for wimps like me), bought some deliciously sweet Raspberry Chipotle Sauce (seriously I put it on everything) and bought an adorable Tabasco bandana for my dog. We were ready to rock this island in style.

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I love me a good old general store!

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He really knows when to turn on the charm

Jungle Gardens is the real treasure on this Island and cannot be missed. Located right down the road from the Tabasco Factory, it is an expansive nature reserve that you drive through and explore on your own. It’s truly stunning and looks as if it hasn’t been touched, even though its been open to the public since 1935. Park in the areas marked on the map they give you when you buy your $8 ticket and explore Bird City, the Big Buddha, the Wysteria Arch, and oh yeah, some friendly gators. Or if you are even luckier, you might get to see a 5 foot snake slither on by as you try to enjoy a nice glass of Pinot on the grass. Although I almost did this, I was somehow able to keep my cool. I grabbed my oblivious dog and told my bf to get the wine and get the hell out of there!

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My thoughts exactly Odie.

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Just your average picnic crasher.

Lafayette. From Avery Island, make a pit stop in New Iberia for a beer or a snack (and whatever else you may find in this tiny town) then hit the road to Lafayette, only a 30 minute drive away. If you are traveling with a group of friends or don’t shy away from making new ones, might I suggest the Blue Moon Saloon & Guesthouse. It’s basically a huge house (erm, I think the word I might be searching for is hostel) attached to an old saloon. There is a pretty good chance you will get to know your neighbors and have to stay up into the wee hours in the morning listening to some truly authentic Zydeco music. If you miss being a young backpacker trekking through Europe- stay here- it’s a great experience and a great bang for your buck. For dinner, grab some BBQ at Johnsons Boucaniere. I’m a big fan of BBQ, and frankly, other than The Joint, I can’t find great messy grub like this anywhere in New Orleans. It was finger lickin’ good, and walking distance from the Blue Moon.

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Zydeco-ing the night away

The gang outside Blue Moon.

The Real World: Lafayette

On Sunday, make sure to have some real Cajun food. I hear Prejeans is the place to go but it seems to me like it’s the Cajun answer to Rainforest Cafe. But hey, sometimes you need a gigantic alligator staring you down while you eat delicious fried food.  Or, for more than just food, head on over to Vermilionville Living History Museum & Folklife Park: a park/venue/restaurant where you can eat, shop, tour historic homes and watch artisans work their crafts. Sounds like you can get lost and spend your whole day there; but you’ll want to be sure to hit a swamp on your way back to “the Big City.” It’s the great Atchafalaya Basin after all, and a trip out there wouldn’t be complete without it. Take one later in the afternoon, at Cajun Country Swamp Tours or Champagne Swamp Tours. Now I’ve been on one too many swamp tours that are good for you (as seen in my Swamp Post) but these tours look too legit for me to quit!

There are so many more things to see and do in Cajun Country, but hope these pointers from a novice like me gave you at least the urge to get out and explore the rest of Louisiana! For more ideas; watch the old episode of No Reservations: Cajun Country. One of my all-time favorites. Man I miss that show.

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That Fish Cray

21 Feb
Hi and Bye Mardi Gras.

Hi and Bye Mardi Gras.

What I love most about New Orleans is there is always something to look forward too. I never experience a lull in this city, even when the greatest sporting event and the greatest party on Earth have come and gone, crawfish and festival season is on the horizon. I can’t think of a better post-Mardi Gras detox than getting your hands dirty with a giant pile of boiled seafood. And that is exactly what I did (and I think half of New Orleans did judging on the tweets I saw) the first weekend after the big Super Gras. It was as if I washed clean of that plastic bead smell and soaked in that seafood goodness (that is, at the time of eating…the lingering seafood smell is not exactly pleasant). Suddenly everyone is putting up their “Hot Boiled Crawfish” signs and I’m in need of a hell of a lot more napkins. And lemons. Always have a lemon for your hands, seriously.

The Seafood Berl from Salvo's. All you can eat baby!

My resolution for my second year in NOLA is to explore areas outside Orleans Parish. And Belle Chase is one bridge ride away from my comfort zone. Once you can actually find the way onto the Mississippi River Bridge (Apple Maps- you win again) it’s really not that far. And for $28.95 all you can eat blue crab, dungeness crab, shrimp, potatoes, corn and crawfish (for $1 more) it’s totally worth the buck toll. My friend randomly found Salvo’s Seafood when she was on the hunt for crayfish, realized Frankie & Johnny’s had closed indefinitely 😦 and hopped on that digital gift that keeps on giving: Yelp. The stars aligned that night and suddenly we found ourselves in a seafood market mecca in a quiet town with a “raise the roofing” waitress named Desiree. She threw down those dungeness crabs all night like it was her job. Well, it was in fact her job to do that, but she was damn good at it. Oh, quick note, the whole reason we went to Salvo’s and the reason I’m writing this post is to highlight the great mudbugs, the crawfish, which they had just run out of. How ironic. But the point is, the trip to Salvo’s was a step toward spring, and all the new, exciting things to come!

Next stops on the Crawfish crawl (and they better not be out this time):

1) Big Fisherman Seafood – For the “let’s get take out and suck the head in the park” kind of crawdaddy. *3301 Magazine St (NSFW)

2) Rivershack Tavern – For the “let’s drink some beers and eat some tails” kind of crawdaddy. *3449 River Rd

4) The Galley – For the “I got this recommendation from my boss” kind of crawdaddy *2535 Metairie Rd 

3) B & C Seafood – For the “let’s go eat in the middle of nowhere” kind of crawdaddy. *2155 Highway 18, Vacherie, LA 70090

Groovin in my brand new shirt (win!) with my leftover hushpuppy.

Groovin in my brand new shirt (win!) with my leftover hushpuppy (double win!)

 

 

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Gunpowder and Dread

19 Nov

Gunpowder and Dread

Me and guns…let’s just say we ain’t like biscuits and honey.

I shot a gun for the very first time in my life at the Honey Island Swamp Shooting Range. Perfect setting for a terrifying hobby. Although I loved being out in the wilderness on a crisp Sunday afternoon, I don’t think I’ll be joining the NRA anytime soon. Just look at that face.

I got to use my friends historic rifle from like the 1940’s or something, which I find way more appealing than the machine gun our neighboring shooter was firing. When I’m out on the range, I’m goin for class and beauty ya know? Which is why I was sporting those ridiculously good looking pink headphones.

To all the deer, boar, chickens, goats, whatever it is people hunt, well you are in luck. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going after you anytime soon. And even if I do…well I ain’t a very good shot anyway.

Movin’ On…to the LGD

12 Nov

I like to move it move it! Great plug for this great moving company – Moveroos!

My how time flies. I’ve lived in New Orleans over a year now and I can’t believe how many boudin balls I’ve eaten, brass bands I’ve jammed out too, alligators I’ve had staring contests with and places I’ve blogged about as New Girl in Nola! I’m still going to call myself that since until I time travel back to high school and actually attend one here, I’ll always be an outsider. But hey, I love being a local tourist. Now I get to explore a whole new neighborhood, as we just relocated from Uptown to the Garden District! To be honest, I don’t even know where Uptown ends and the Garden District begins. It’s all one long extensive Magazine St. to me. Now I’m a bit further from Audubon Park and much closer to my favorite street and all of its glorious restaurants (Taco Tuesday at Rum House y’all!) I was an Uptown Girl, now I guess I’m a Garden District Gal.

Beautiful Spanish Moss…I will miss you.

Sunsets on the Fly.

I’ll miss a lot about my old neighborhood. Nothing felt better than waking up on a sunny, cool day and stepping outside to run in the park. Ok, that happened maybe ten times. Usually I would be running through a cloud of humidity. Still, Audubon Park was only steps from my front door and truly was my favorite part of living on Prytania St. That and the fact that Drew Brees lived down the street from me. I swear I was more starstruck seeing Baylon than seeing Justin Timberlake #babybreescrazy. But other than Tartine  (I could eat their French Ham & Brie sandwich every day), there weren’t many businesses we could walk too. Living in NYC for 8 years, I love walking to get drinks, coffee, food, etc. Moving closer to Mag was a must for me and boy is it gonna be a bust for my waistline and my wallet.

What I expected to see every day I walked out of my apartment. A girl can dream.

Baguettes & Brie. My downfall.

Here are a few places I am most excited about I can actually walk too in my new neighborhood!

Andy and I excited about conquering the LGD @ Bulldog.

1. Sucre – Of course Sucre is known for their macaroons and desserts but have you had their coffee? I know those red holiday Starbucks are out there hypnotizing people right now but I’ll take a cup of Sucre over the Bux any day.

2. Rum House – I’ve already mentioned Taco Tuesday but how about every taco is amazing and really cheap every day.

3. Coquette – A top Nola restaurant just a few blocks from me?! The bar is going to be set prettay high for date nights now.

4. Steins – Anyone that knows me knows I love bagels (or they do now) and my aren’t these pieces of heaven been what’s missing from every weekend since I moved here. Sent straight from H&H in NYC, I can now get them whenever I want 🙂 Also, I’ve been dying to try their other heavy bread item I’ve been missing since my move. Philly Cheesesteak Tuesdays. Did I mention about the whole waist-buster thing? It’ll probably happen here.

5. Fleurty Girl – Dear Family, *spoiler alert*  I will most likely be shopping here for your New Orleans-y stocking stuffers. I just can’t walk in here without getting a gift for someone (myself included).

6.  Slim Goodies Diner– I have never been here but I always need more breakfast foods in my life. Now if I can just figure out when there isn’t a line outside…

I have a porch!!!

Welcome to the Garden District. Probably one of my favorite pics I’ve taken here.

I could say something about every other place that lies on the stretch from Louisiana to Washington – but as you can tell I think I’m gonna be helping New Orleans economy quite a bit in my new hood 🙂

Happy October!

2 Oct

Not to knock NOLA, but why can’t the trees be this color here? (Taken in Massachusetts; Fall Haven)

I LOVE FALL. The crisp air, the pumpkin flavored everything, AND I get to look forward to my favorite holiday all month. October always instills excitement, change and fun! Ever since I moved down here, I’ve found it hard to get the fall feeling I’m used too, mostly because I don’t see the leaves change. Also, I have yet to find an apple picking farm. Johnny Appleseed would be pissed. However, I can move past these misfortunes, because although I can’t pick a pumpkin from a patch and wear adorable scarves as much as I’d like, I can see some of the most amazing house decorations I’ve ever seen, dress up in costume all month-long (hell – all YEAR long!) and I can make a giant to do list of what is up and coming in New Orleans during my favorite month of the year. Let’s get this October started!!

Music Festivals

  • Harvest the Music Series: There’s 4 more Wednesdays to spend your happy hour after work! Rebirth plays during the last weekend of the series. Tonight make sure to check out Anders Osbourne. And food…there’s always the food.
  • Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival: Presented by the same folks that own JazzFest, it’s an abbreviated version that takes place only one weekend, October 12-14, in a much more intimate space, Lafayette Square. If you haven’t made any of the Harvest Wednesdays, here is your chance to hit up the CBD for some food, booze, tunes and crafts.
  • VooDoo Fest: Its like the Coachella of the South mixed with a freak show. During the weekend of Oct. 26 – 28, VooDoo brings a more varied lineup than some of the other festivals around town, plus this year they allow camping! Hipsters dressed in ironic Halloween costumes- meet cicadas, cockroaches and mosquitos. Sweet dreams 🙂

    Talkin to one of the VooDoo concert-goers. #thatsalie

Art & Film

  • Art for Arts Sake – Get a later start on gallery hopping this upcoming Saturday, Oct. 6 for this fall staple. Stroll into hundreds of galleries on Julia St and Magazine St. while sipping on wine and feeling classy (for once). A highlight for me last year was a spontaneous dance class for many
  • New Orleans Film Festival – Mark your movie theaters for Oct. 11-18 when features, art house movies, and local films all make their debuts around town. Also be sure to check out the many parties to mix and mingle with those artsy film folk.

Oktoberfest 

Now that’s a weiner.

  • Deutsches Haus – Weekends of Oct. 12-15, Oct. 19-20, and Oct. 26-27. Even if you aren’t a fan of schnitzel, beer steins or lederhosen (in which case you are crazy) then stop by Oct. 20 for DACHSHUND RACING! Whose wiener will win!?
  • Broussards – For a $10 entry fee you can shop for Brat at different food booths in Broussards as they celebrate their German heritage with live music and lots of beer on Oct 6-7.

Haunted Houses 

  • House of Shock – Walking down by the railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere Kenner, it’s apparent this haunted festival must make a killing (ba-dum-ching). I went back in 2010, and it was PACKED. We had to wait about 2 hours to go in. They provide some entertainment during your lengthy wait, including a heavy metal band which made my ears bleed, as well as a freak show on stage who was actually bleeding by stapling his forehead and piercing various parts of his body. Yeah…not exactly the kind of ambience I was expecting. But the actual house was extremely well done, and very long. But it failed tremendously by letting in too many people at once, it felt like we were on a conveyor belt. I saw everything ahead of me and the spooks were scarce!

    The MORTUARY!

  • The Mortuary – I much preferred this haunted house. Thought to actually BE haunted and located right next to a beautiful graveyard, the wait was half as long as Shock’s, they let your group in one at a time, and the atmosphere was spooktacular. I was scurred.
  • The 13th Gate – located in Baton Rouge, I hear this is one of the best in the country (though really I tend not to agree with those lists) Since I’ve done the other ones in the area, I might have to make my way out of town for this one. I’ll report back…if I make it out alive. Mu-AH HAH HAH!

My lord we have a busy month ahead of us. Last thing on the agenda: get your costume and carve that pumpkin!

French Quarter decorations. Why do I love fake cobwebs so much!?

This little guy gettin his pirate on. Photo by Kim Smelter. October 2011.

 

Might As Well Face it I’m Addicted to Swamps

19 Sep

Upside down gator head. Such a novice. Photo by: Kim Smelter

Alligator hunting season is underway so it’s ’bout time I get my shotgun out of the shed and meet Troy in the bayou. Ok, that’s just Thursdays on Swamp People (which I don’t watch by the way so that might not be the plot). I may not hunt gators in the sporting sense, but I do hunt for great swamp tours. I’ve only lived here for a year and already I’ve been to FIVE swamp tours. Some locals may think I’m a big ol’ chump for a tourist trap, but let’s just discuss what goes on whilst on a swamp tour.

First off, you can bring your own booze (if you get lucky they may even have a cooler on board). Secondly, you get to cruise around on a boat for a couple of hours in a gorgeous setting. Spanish moss is my favorite of the moss family. Lastly, and most importantly, you get to sneak up on some gigantic gators. Now those are some fine ingredients for an afternoon outside the city if you ask me. Since I’m such a seasoned pro (hehe) I figured I should rate these tours based on a few things and give you some tips, in case you want to bring some “tourist” friends aboard. Or you can always take me 🙂

SWAMP METER KEY (out of 5)

  • Gator-Aid = the guide/captain of the ship!
  • Swamp Creatures = gators & other animals you may see in the swamp
  • The View = nature of our surroundings *Not to be confused with the abc show
  • Swamp People = the overall clientele/quantity of people on the boat

1) Munson’s : Although the drive is a good hour and a half, Munson’s is worth the 20 bones you put down. The boat is super intimate, we were literally the only group on the boat. It feels like you are visiting your local neighborhood swamper. It was probably one of the most relaxing days I’ve had in Louisiana. Big plus; the guide actually lets you feed raw chicken to the gators. Here gator gator…

Gator-Aid: 5     Swamp Creatures: 5     The View: 5     Swamp People: 5

Jen puttin out some bait. Photo by: Kim Smelter

2) Cajun Encounters: A favorite among my friends, I enjoyed the smaller boat, and the scenic route of the tour. Those small canals through the trees is just magical. I don’t really need to tell you about this tour, because you’ve probably seen the buses and ads all over town. It’s probably the most popular tour in town, but for good reason. They know what they are doin’ down in the bayou.

Gator-Aid: 4     Swamp Creatures: 4     The View: 5     Swamp People: 4

Cristina, such a tourist. Photo by: Kim Smelter

3) Louisiana Swamp Tours: This tour was the first one I ever went on. We spent time out on a bigger lake to check out shrimping boats but saw a TON of gators. The boat was a little too big from my liking as I couldn’t even hear the captain (that may have just been his thick Cajun accent though…which I adored). Apparently this man inspired the little bug in Princess and the Frog. So if you like celebrity spotting, marshmallows, and a lot of scared patrons, this tour is for you!

Gator-Aid: 5     Swamp Creatures: 5     The View: 3     Swamp People: 2

Our semi-famous Cajun guide. Photo by: Kim Smelter

4) Jean Lafitte’s Haunted Swamp Tour: Yes, it was at night so there were no gator sightings (although I swear I saw some of those beady eyes peepin’ at me). Though it was operated like a typical swamp tour, instead of gators and nature stories, we had ghosts, some sort of pirate attack, and plenty of haunted swamp houses along the way. Part Pirate’s of the Caribbean – part Haunted Mansion, I thoroughly enjoyed this unique “Disney World” like experience. They also had a zydeco band playing while you wait. Since my rating chart doesn’t fit this tour, I will give it TWO GATOR CLAWS UP!

Gator-Aid: 5     Swamp Creatures: 5     The View: 3     Swamp People: 2

Good tunes in a “chilly” setting. Oooooo! Photo by: Kim Smelter

5) Honey Island Swamp Tour: It might be best to take your grandparents on this particular tour. The boat was small, but the tour was allllll about NATURE. Gators were an afterthought, and my guide was not about to even try to grab one. He didn’t even have a tiny one on board to pass around (Hello! Swamp Tour 101!) It was a beautiful day and I did bring on a beautiful Abita Strawberry to enjoy, but I think this one is best left for the die hard bird-watchers and snake spotter of the group.

Gator-Aid: 2     Swamp Creatures: 1     The View: 3     Swamp People: 4

The best part of this tour was seeing these overalls. Photo by: Kim Smelter

Well, there’s my list. Take it or leave it, your next swamp adventure is in your little gator claws. So, I will leave you with this. As a great songwriter once wrote:

“Some say gators are dinosaurs, I say gators are dynamite”  – SNL

New Girl’s Guide for the Week!

11 Sep

WEEKLONG: Restaurant Week! Every day and night we can enjoy 2-course lunches for $20 or 3-course lunches for $35 at some of the top eateries in town. As if we need another reason to eat until the buttons pop off our pants. I participated in restaurant week last year and went to August. I don’t see it on the participating restaurant list this year but honestly August isn’t exactly the place to pinch pennies. This year I’m going for the popular lunch spot Galatoire’s but dinner is undecided. Suggestions?

WEEKEND: Irish Film Festival @ Prytania Theater. Top o’ the weekend for you lads and lassies begins with the Opening Night Gala on Friday with a screening of “The Quiet Man” plus some Irish dancing, food and drink. The fest ends Sunday but if you haven’t had enough of the Irish then extend the weekend to Monday when Pat O’Briens hosts its “Halfway to St. Patricks Day” party. If you see a leprechaun say hey! (amateur sketch: here)

WEEKEND: Burlesque Festival – Take a trip back to the 40’s to celebrate New Orleans’ rich burlesque history with shows all weekend. Or just take in some bump and grind seminars. To each his own.

WED, 9/12: 2 Chainz @ House of Blues. Give your hump day a little hip hop with 2 Chainz in the HOOOOUSE (of Blues)

FRI, 9/14: Scales and Ales @AquariumI’ll be honest, I went last year thinking I would be drinking and eating with fish and gators all night long. The reality is I was too busy standing in line. I think the way to do this gala if you want to actually eat your money’s worth and walk through the aquarium is to splurge for the VIP entry ticket that gives you access an hour earlier. Then you can dance off the grub at the stages set up by the Mississippi and laugh at the suckers who have to resort to hot dogs at the end of the night. (I was the one not laughing)

FRI, 9/14: Honey Island Swamp Band and Red Baraat Tipitinas. Because Tips is always a good time and I haven’t been there all summer long!

SUN, 9/16: Saints @ Carolina Panthers. As if there is anything else to do on a Sunday during football season. Our hangover from this past weekend is still going strong but I have hope we can beat out last years star rookie QB. This one is at noon again which means I’ll be doing the greyhound shuffle.