Well, I never thought it’d happen to lil’ ole me but my new book, Your Own Personal New Orleans Tour, has been on Amazon for almost a year now and it’s still a bestseller, in the top 5 in its category!
Your Own Personal New Orleans Tour Remains Bestseller on Amazon!
So here’s an interview I did with monster Internet maven Dion GeBorde about alla dat.
Click the Buy Now button below to get your copy of my bestselling travel guide
Your Own Personal New Orleans Tour
It used to be $0.99. Now you can get it for only $3.47.
But hurry, I may be raising the price in the near future. So now is the time to get it.
Don’t have a Kindle? No problem. You can get a free Kindle reader for your computer. Download the Kindle app. for your Mac HERE. Download the Kindle app. for your PC HERE.
What does it take to be queen of a New Orleans Mardi Gras ball? My grand-niece Gigi Bienvenu showed us all as the queen of the 2016 Acheans ball, one or the many such private affairs the folks of New Orleans have during the carnival season.
Your humble correspondent attended as an invited member of the committee dressed in the costume de rigeur – in other words “tails” you know like they wear in Downton Abbey – with other family members, to watch as Gigi reigned over the proceedings next to her king.
How To Be Queen of a New Orleans Mardi Gras Ball
Gigi Bienvenu queen of the 2016 Mardi Gras Ball Acheans. Photo Daniel Erath The New Orleans Advocate
As is the custom with a New Orleans Mardi Gras ball, the name and identity of the king is not revealed. He wears a beard and blonde wig underneath his crown which makes all kings of Mardi Gras balls look almost exactly the same. Only members of the organization (“krewe” in NOLA lexicon) and the queen know his identity.
Carol Bienvenu, the mother of Gigi Bienvenu flanked by Lauren Fitzpatrick and Lydia Scanlon. Photo Daniel Erath The New Orleans Advocate
For the Achaeans, Athena was summoned to guard Odysseus home to Ithaca and a reunion with spouse Penelope, whom he had not seen for years, and who was beseiged by suitors. As the program stated, “Retrieve his wife, his home, and his friends” after his long odyssey.
With such a spirit of return and welcome, it was most fitting that her majesty would be surnamed Bienvenu. Reigning as the queen was Miss Genevieve Marie Bienvenu, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Albert Bienvenu IV.
Her majesty Gigi related shortly before appearing in her majestic glory in the Sheraton’s Grand Ballroom that she was “excited about the whole experience” of being queen. She learned about her honor in April of 2015, when her parents took her to Antoine’s Restaurant for dinner. On the baked Alaska dessert was inscribed in icing “Queen of Achaeans.”
Gigi Bienvenu strolls through the pre-ball throng gracing her subjects with her beautiful presence. (Taken with my little old-fashioned flip phone.)
Vera Wang protege Suzanne St. Paul created Gigi’s bead-embellished silk satin gownwith Rows of Swarovski crystals. The organization’s traditional ermine-trimmed mantle and Medici collar as well as the glittering crown and scepter were her queenly accessories.
Before the ball there was a pre-party affair at her parents’ home where the maids of honor and the queen were toasted with champagne and the proper edicts were announced regarding the evening.
Afterwards at around 10:30 PM the queen’s supper was held in the hotel’s Armstrong Ballroom where the fantastic cover band Liquid Blue from San Diego entertained on into the night not letting up once during their spectacular 3 hour “reign” over the late-night proceedings. You name it they played it, all styles with equal ability and gusto.
Gigi said at the end of it all, “I had an experience of a lifetime — a truly magical evening.”
So how does one be queen of a New Orleans Mardi Gras ball? With grace, generosity, beauty and elegance. Gigi showed us all how to do it.
I was so busy the last couple weeks of December what with Christmas, New Year’s and all that I have not taken the time to do a post here in this here blog. We had a lotta parties here. A part of me kinda felt exhausted what with all we had to do, and another part was exhilarated at being so busy and putting into action all my organizational skills. Yeah, I’m kinda nerdy that way.
How We Spent Christmas and New Year’s in New Orleans 2015
My mom, who is now 102, surrounded by family, unimpressed by the silly faces.
We had a Christmas Eve party like we do every year, and this year I made turtle soup. And wow was it good, lemme tell ya, if I do say so myself. I just followed a recipe I got out of the Joe Simmer Creole cookbook. Actually, that recipe is a ‘mock’ turtle soup which means “dere ain’t no toitle meat in it, dawlin.”
When I’ve made it before I use half real turtle meat and half ground beef. But heck the turtle meat this year was really expensive, I mean like we’re talking about like 17 dollahs a pound. What? And then you had to buy it in 5 pounds lots. So I opted for a pound of alligator meat.
I mean, the Southern Yacht Club makes their turtle soup with alligator meat so I thought I would too. I figured that it would give the soup that swampy flavor that turtle meat does. So I used three pounds of ground beef and one of the alligator which I ground up in a Cuisinart before putting it in the pot. Anyway, the soup was a hit.
Then for Christmas we did our dinner here at the house which we have not done in ages. We usually go to my brother’s and his wife’s house but my mom who is 102 wanted to stay at home. So we just added another table to our dining table we sat 15 people for Christmas afternoon dinner, a fairly manageable amount.
We had filet. I made Bernaise sauce with those instant Knorr packets. It was good, although it had hydrogenated oil in it, but what the hell, it was Christmas and once a year ain’t gonna hoit, babe.
Then a few days later my nephew and his wife and brilliant, cute, sweet, dawlin’ young’uns came to stay through New Year’s. On New Year’s day we had corn beef brisket, black-eyed peas (the best I ever made), and cabbage, you know, to insure a filthy-rich, abundant and prosperous 2016. So I ate a lot of it. Yum.
And around mid-afternoon I left them with all the dishes and high-tailed it out to Manresa House of Retreats, an hour upriver from New Orleans in Convent (yes, that’s actually the name of the town), and did my yearly silent retreat with the Jesuits. After all the activity of the holidays it was a great place to unwind and reflect, and heck just to sit and do nothing. And this year I got to sit at a dining table with two local celebrities. So perhaps that portends that my fortunes are looking good for this year!
At Thanksgiving we always we have so much turkey and side dishes left over that it’s a struggle to figure out what to do with them when the day is over.
It’s not that our guests didn’t eat the turkey, they did and a lot of it, but you know there is so much else to eat what with the mirliton casserole, the sweet potato pone, spinach casserole, corn bread dressing, cranberry sauce, and the rolls and the gravy and all of that. Really the turkey seems to take a back seat to what is on most folks’ plate.
Thanksgiving, the Wisdom of Skimpy Appetizers, and How to Make Turkey Bone Gumbo
Adding root beer to your turkey gravy is what makes this turkey bone gumbo a real winner.
But this year we did something a little different. We did not serve as many appetizers. Usually I would make chicken liver pate and we’d have smoked salmon and crackers and cheese.
People would hover over the coffee table in the living room scarfing it done, especially the kids who loved to plant themselves in front of the salmon and act like they hadn’t eaten in two days. So by the time the Thanksgiving meal was served almost everyone was already too full to enjoy what some people had slaved over to make. And there’d be a lot of leftovers.
So this year I decided to try something different: skimpy appetizers. No salmon, no pate. In cahoots with my niece whose job it was to do the appetizers this year, we came up with a raw veggie platter and a little cheese. Oh, and some olives. She did some research on the Internet and discovered that if you serve olives, because they are salty, people won’t eat as much.
Well, it worked and in spades. When we called everyone to the table I saw something I’d never seen before, people standing up with their plates moving around the table, reaching over each other piling their plates high with food. It was chaos.
I stood there mouth open, appalled. Usually people sit down and we just pass the dishes around very calmly. But not this time. I guess folks were so hungry that they just couldn’t wait for standing on ceremony. Then it struck me as really funny and a big smile spread across myself and I chuckled to myself. I love this, this is great! Needless to say, we didn’t have a lot of leftovers.
So what was left of the turkey I made Turkey Bone Gumbo, a recipe that I found in a local New Orleans magazine. And of course I modified it to fit my own tastes and circumstances. I rarely follow a recipe to the letter. So here it is, I’ll share it with you.
Turkey Bone Gumbo
1/2 cup flower
1/2 cup olive oil, bacon fat, turkey fat (I prefer to use bacon fat)
2 large onions diced
4 stalks celery
2 bell peppers
1 whole apple (with seeds and inner flakes remove) sliced thinly
8 garlic cloves minced (add more if you want, I do)
2 Andouille sausages sliced into 1/4 inch rounds (this is optional)
2 cups Thanksgiving gravy with the veggies in it (the gravy I made this with had Abita root beer that I basted the turkey – if you don’t have this then just add about 1/2 cup of root beer, I’m estimating here. You don’t want it to taste like root beer, you just want the deep smoky flavor it emparts)
5 cups chicken broth (preferably a natural kind with no chemicals)
4 cups water
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme or teaspoon of dried thyme
2 cloves or 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 tablespoon lemon rind
4 cups leftover turkey meat, shredded
1 turkey carcass
1 bunch parsley, chopped
Many of our creole/cajun recipes start with “first you make a roux.” I don’t do this. I use powdered roux I get at the store which is just toasted flower with a bit of seasoning. If you don’t have this in your area just preheat your oven to about 400, toss a cup of flower onto a baking sheet, spread it evenly around and let it toast to a nice brown color. It doesn’t need to be too dark, and don’t burn it!
Making a roux the traditional way is just too time consuming and if you are not careful and inexperienced it can easily burn. I find that using this toasted flower gives you the same flavor and I cannot tell the difference between this “instant roux” and the old-fashioned kind.
So what I do is to put the oil in a skillet (I use cast iron almost exclusively in my kitchen) and sauté the veggies in it save the garlic which I add at the very end of the sautéing process. When the veggies are all nice and soft I add the roux flour and stir it up to make sure it’s spread all over the veggies, then I add the garlic and let it cook a bit. Really for just about a minute or so.
You can also do all this inside the pot that you are going to make the gumbo in as well instead of in a skillet.
Add the sausage if you are going to use it and stir it up a bit to let that brown as well. Put all this in your cooking pot. Add the stock and water, the turkey meat and the carcass. When it starts to simmer add the bay leaves, the cloves and thyme. Also add the apple and the root beer and the lemon rind.
Let it all simmer, uncovered for a couple hours.
When it’s ready take some tongs and a fork and pick over the carcass making sure you get all the meat off. And as much as possible remove all the bones.
Taste it and make sure it’s seasoned right with salt and pepper. Then stir in the parsley.
When you are ready to serve it set the table with gumbo file and hot sauce and ladle it over a dollop of turkey dressing.
My Brother’s Gumbo
The next night after I had made this gumbo my brother and his wife came over with duck (that he’d shot) and sausage gumbo he had gotten up a 6:00 in the morning to start making. It was one of the best gumbos I had ever eaten. The roux was very dark and the whole thing was incredibly flavorful. He told me that he had added an entire apple and squeezed an orange into it.
So the next day I reheated my turkey bone gumbo and put a sliced-up apple into it peel and all and let it simmer for a while for the apple to incorporate. I didn’t put any orange juice into it, I was afraid to. But let me tell you just the addition of that apple made my gumbo even better. Wow!
So give it a try. It might be worth cooking another turkey, albeit a small one, if you are out of leftovers and didn’t baste yours with root beer, just to make this gumbo.
I always try to do something a little different each year for Thanksgiving and this year I focused on elegance and flavor. We had 25 people, all family, at our table. Actually it was three tables. We had to set up two extra tables as extensions to our normal dining table.
A New Orleans Thanksgiving, A Fantastic Turkey, An Amazing Gumbo
Yep 25 folks young and old. Three tables. Note the kids’ table at the very end.
I wanted to make the table more elegant. Each year we always put out the nice china, crystal water glasses and nice silverware. We usually have these sloppy hand written place-cards, sloppy because they are done in my hand, and if you’ve ever seen my penmanship you’ll know why they’re sloppy.
So, I ordered some nice silver-bordered cards off Amazon and used Edwardian script on the Word template and voila! Beautiful cards that got all kinds of compliments, people were amazed that they were done on a computer because the letters looked so clean and perfect.
Even the kids’ table got the elegant treatment.
The next thing I did differently was the turkey. I’ve cooked the turkey every Thanksgiving for the past 10 years or so. I get the bird from Whole Foods, you know one of those supposedly special free-range jobbies. I get up early to get it prepared to go into the oven and I’ve tried all kinds of things over the years.
But this year I went way out on a limb. I saw something in a recent magazine about making turkey bone gumbo and the key ingredient in it is the gravy that you make on Thanksgiving from the stuff in the roasting pan. Nothing unusual about that except… the main ingredient in that roasting pan is what you baste the turkey with.
Are you ready for this? I used root beer. Of course, not just any root beer but a good Louisiana root beer.
(Did you know that Barq’s root beer originated in New Orleans? Yep. And before Coke bought it it was just called Barq’s. Nowhere on the label did it say root beer. In fact, one of their ads would say “It’s Barq’s. But is it root beer?” Of course you see Barq’s is another way of spelling “bark” and root beer supposedly comes from the bark of a sasparilla tree… but I didn’t use Barq’s over my turkey.)
The recipe called for Swamp Pop, but Robert’s Supermarket didn’t any so I got me a six pack of Abita Root Beer.
Abita Root beer is what I used to baste the turkey.
Another “outlier” in my turkey roasting was something I never heard about but saw it mentioned in the article where I got the turkey gumbo recipe. Bacon. Oh yeah. Bacon. It was recommended that I blanket the turkey in bacon.
So I got some of the good hand made bacon from Whole Foods, the applewood-smoked style and put it over the bird before it went in into the oven. Then a couple hours into the cooking of this 20 pounder I open a bottle of Abita Root Beer and just poured it all of the turkey.
Notice the bacon on top and the rich brown color from the Abita Root Beer.
And immediately the skin took on this wonderful dark brown hue. I basted it a couple more times before it was done. And when I pulled it out the bacon was dark as well and nicely, nicely cooked. The aroma in the kitchen was wonderful.
So after taking the bird out of the roasting pan I made the gravy in the pan. The gravy was so dark and rich looking. When we carved the turkey, actually my nephew carved it and, being a restauranteur, did a job of it, too. The meat was tender and juicy and cooked just right.
What happens if you let a turkey dry out too much… he he… or maybe it’s just a decoration on the sideboard
At the table I got many compliments on the gravy. You could not tell that there was root beer in it. It just had this rich, smoky, deep flavor. Wow!
So when I made the gumbo a couple days later I added about two cups of the gravy to it. You know, it had all that bacon fat and pan drippings and veggies and root beer in it. Oh my gosh. It was incredibly delicious. Mm, mm, mm.
So draping the bird in bacon, basting it with root beer, that’s how I’m cooking turkey from now on. Hm, I was just thinking I could roast a chicken the same way.
Comments are welcome… but only if you have something nice to say.
So I was watching Ellen Degeneres the other day, as I am sometimes wont to do as I’m taking care of my mom who will be 102 in January and Ellen is one of her favorite shows, along with The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.
Ellen Degeneres Surprises New Orleanian With Amazing Life-Changing Gift – Watch Her Reaction
New Orleanian Dianna Beasley in Ellen Degeneres audience with no idea what’s about to happen.
Anyway, as I am doing other things around the house at 3:00 in the afternoon and trying to work on my business I find myself checking on her more when Ellen is on because, yes, I like Ellen Degeneres too.
I think she is a really good person, she is very funny and I’m always touched when she gives thousands of dollars or big gifts to her non-celebrity guests in need.
So the other day she had on a woman named Dianna Beasley, a woman from New Orleans who has been on Ellen’s show a couple times in the past — Ellen once gave her a brand new car. She lost everything from Hurricane Katrina and Ellen helped her turn her life around.
She changed her health and now in her mid 60s runs marathons! (Running a marathon is something I’m working on myself, never done one and now that I’m in my early 60s it’s time for me to do one as well.)
Now Ms. Beasley’s mission is to make really healthy food available for the folks in New Orleans with a new food truck. So she’s been saving up some money to buy one and her grand-daughter has created a beautiful logo to plaster on the side.
Beasley says in this clip that New Orleans is one of the most unhealthy cities in the country. Sorry, I’m going to have to disagree with that. New Orleans food made with fresh, good ingredients is probably one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. OK, maybe we do drink a little too much and eat too much bread pudding and potatoes and such.
Anyway, watching Beasley’s reaction to Ellen amazing gift is priceless. Just another example of the good that fellow New Orleanian Ellen Degeneres spreads around. She made another New Orleanian happy.
“It is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than own the entire state of Ohio.” — Lafcadio Hearn…. New Orleans is one of the most magical cities in the world. There is something about this city that has a tendency to take hold of you and won’t let go. If you are born […]more →