52 Places to Go in 2018

st charles grocery (1)Earlier this week, I mentioned Fodor’s list of places to avoid in 2018. Almost as soon as the ink dried on that post ( or digital imprint made), I heard on local radio that the New York Times listed 52 places to go in 2018.

What’s number one on the list? New Orleans, Louisiana. I almost laughed out loud. I will never forget the naysayers in the days, weeks, and months after Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the city.  I won’t easily forget the stinging words of the people who sheltered me in Baton Rouge for a few days after the storm. I heard other remarks through the months afterwards, too.

“New Orleans deserves it.”

“God sent Katrina to punish the city’s inhabitants.”

“It’s never coming back.”

I love New Orleans. I lived there for many years, and now, I live just a few miles north of the city.

No one deserves a hurricane. Or a fire. Or an earthquake. Check your New Testament, please. Jesus said rain falls on the just and the unjust.

I laugh because New Orleans refuses to die. It’s come back different. It’s smaller, more versatile, and in my opinion, better than before.

2018 marks  the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans. She’s moving on quite nicely these days. Many old venues are stronger than ever, like the Saenger Theatre, Preservation Hall, and even the once-ravaged Super Dome. The food is still better than almost any other place in the nation. Neighborhoods in many places are quietly gentrifying and getting a new lease on life with new blood who like our unique culture.

New Orleans has always been a gumbo pot of a city. Every group that settled here left a mark on her to separate her from rivals. The natives, the slaves, the free Creoles of the Carribean, the French, the Spanish and even Yanks are part of the DNA of a city that no one can quite define.

Come on and see for yourself why it’s Number One for 2018. There’s no place quite like New Orleans.

“We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.” – Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic, 2006

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Gumbo and Grace

mama dearest
Gumbo Queen

Finally! It’s gumbo weather in Louisiana.  Temperatures are mild, and the humidity is low.  Time to stir up a roux in a cast iron pot and get cooking. Even better, it’s a good time to ask my mama to make a gumbo.  When it comes to gumbo, I can’t think of any I have had that compares to her gumbo. Especially her seafood gumbo.

The roux is turned into dark brown.* The holy trinity is added. ** Stir in a tad of finely chopped tomatoes,  and lastly fresh shrimp and crab.

 

And best of all, okra. I love okra. Just the name, okra, makes me smile. It sounds southern and exotic at the same time. It’s a weird-looking vegetable, spindly and green on the outside. On the inside, it’s full of muokra and rouxcilage and seeds.

 

My mama is the Gumbo Queen in my mind. I didn’t know, until recently, that she feels she has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect gumbo, and after 85 years on this earth, she hasn’t gotten it right yet. She’s always comparing it to her mother’s gumbo. She feels insecure mainly about her chicken and sausage gumbo.We figured it out maybe. Her mama used fresh chickens from the yard, killed the same day as the gumbo is fixed, as well as using her own lard, not oil in the base. The okra would have come from my grandfather’s garden, picked by one of her seven children.

I think she should allow herself a bit of grace. A store-bought young fryer chicken never will taste like a large hen from the chicken coop. Nor will frozen okra compare to the pods one can pick from the garden. I scarcely expect her to find fresh pig fat either.

Maybe her roux isn’t as good as my mother’s mom did it, but it’s good, no doubt. For me I consider it a success to not burn the roux.  There’s a trick to it, after all. Only the best cooks can get a smoky, dark roux just perfect without burning the oil and flour mixture. Too little cooking, and a light brown watery broth makes for a tepid bowl of gumbo.

My Cajun mama needs to give herself permission to have an excellent gumbo even if her mama had a better one. I need grace, too. Not just with gumbo. But with myself, with my family, and everyone else, for that matter.

Smiing Adele.jpg
Grandma Adele in the 1950s.

 

*A roux is made from equal parts of flour and fat/oil heated over a low flame, turned constantly until the mix becomes dark brown.

**The holy trinity of most Cajun dishes are these three: celery, onions, and bell peppers.