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The ABCs of Festival Season in Louisiana

French Quarter Festival

French Quarter Festival Sign

It’s festival season in Louisiana! For those unfamiliar with what exactly this means, it means it’s time to indulge in good food, listen to amazing music, hang out with great friends and just celebrate Louisiana life. Although we generally do this all year long. In fact, festivals go on in every month down here.

To put you in the festival spirit, I’m sharing my Louisiana festival knowledge (and I’ve learned a lot from researching this post) — from Abita to Zydeco.

Abita — One of the best beers to come from Louisiana. It’s no surprise it’s readily available at most of the festivals in the state. More importantly, festival season coincides with Abita Strawberry Harvest season — a beer brewed with local strawberries.

Bands — From local musicians to international acts, bands from all over come to play the festivals of Louisiana.

Crawfish — It’s no secret we love us some crawfish in Louisiana. The food reflects that. From crawfish pie to crawfish bread to just plain boiled crawfish, you can’t go to a festival without ordering something crawfish-related. And in case you’re wonder, there’s a whole festival dedicated to mudbugs called the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

Crawfish Gumbo

Crawfish is always popular in Louisiana.
Photo by Jon Sullivan

Daiquiris — Festival fun aside, it gets hot. And there’s no better way to cool off than with a frozen daiquiri. Bonus points if it’s made using real fruit.

Etouffee — A delicious Louisiana dish made with seafood or chicken, rice and a spicy gravy. A cousin to jambalaya. You’ll probably find both at any festival you attend.

Flags — Some festivals are so packed you have to make your own meeting point. That’s when a flag comes in handy. Just set up your chairs, attach your flags and tell your friends to gather under your flag. The more unique it is, the easier you are to find.

Gueydan — Every year in August, the folks of Gueydan hold their annual Duck Festival.

Hot Sauce — You’ll find it at every festival food vendor. Whether it’s Tabasco, Crystal, Louisiana or another brand, don’t forget to add it to your food. And yes, there is a Cajun Hot Sauce Festival.

Steamboat Natchez

Cruise around the Mississippi River aboard the Steamboat Natchez during French Quarter Festival or JazzFest.

International — Louisiana festivals aren’t just for locals, they attract visitors from around the globe. Lafayette even hosts a Festival International de Louisiane.

JazzFest — The biggest and probably most well-known festival in Louisiana. For two weekends each year, the New Orleans Fairgrounds are transformed into a humongous festival with a variety of musicians, tons of food vendors and lots of arts and crafts. JazzFest regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

Kids — All the Louisiana festivals are fun for the whole family.

Lecompte — Known for the Lecompte Pie Festival, this town’s festival has my favorite festival slogan: “A slice of Louisiana is waiting for you.”

Money — Get out your wallet. Festivals are fun, but they aren’t all that cheap. Especially when you want to try a lot of dishes and have a few drinks. Most are free for admission, but if not, that will set you back as well.

Natchitoches — Home of the Natchitoches Christmas Festival. Lots of lights and holiday cheer at this festival. If it looks/sounds familiar, you may recognize it from the movie Steel Magnolias.

Oysters — Another of Louisiana’s treasured foods. Shuck ’em and enjoy them on the halfshell or find them cooked into a gumbo.

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake with fresh Louisiana strawberries at the Pontchatoula Strawberry Festival.

Pontchatoula — Home of the best strawberries on Earth so it makes since that Pontchatoula is host to the Pontchatoula Strawberry Festival. You’ll find strawberry drinks and desserts galore at this one.

The Queens — A festival isn’t complete without a beauty queen to reign over it. This is the South after all.

Rayne — Home of my favorite festival theme: the Rayne Frog Festival. When you’re at a festival about frogs, how can you not have a good time?

Shrimp — Seafood is king in Louisiana and shrimp are at the top of the seafood list at most festivals. There’s even a Shrimp and Petroleum Festival in Morgan City.

Tevas — These ugly-ass sandals are all over the place at most festivals. If you have a pair, my apologies, but they just aren’t flattering — on anyone.

Umbrella — Sure, you may need it in case it rains, but what you really need it for is to generate shade of some sort.

Variety — You’ll find this in every aspect of a festival. The music, the food, the people, the theme, the rides. Most festivals have a little something for everyone.

Watermelon — Is there a better summer fruit? No wonder the town of Farmerville holds the Watermelon Festival every year.

Xylograph — X is always a hard one, but a xylograph is a wood carving. You’ll find them at most arts and crafts areas of festivals. Take home one with your name on it…literally.

Yambilee — Sweet potatoes are also abundant in Louisiana and Yambilee in Opelousas showcases the bright orange tubules.

Zydeco — The famous Cajun music is guaranteed to be playing at a stage near you when you attend a Louisiana festival.

Do yourself a favor and visit Louisiana and one of these fine festivals. I promise you’ll have a great time.

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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Livin'

 

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True Love is an Iron Skillet

Rainbow Frittata

Rainbow Frittata

One of my fondest culinary memories is remembering all the times by grandfather (I call him pop pop) made cornbread in an iron skillet. I still look back on it as a quintessential experience.

Hearing the creak of the oven as it was opened. The smell of the sweet cornbread in the air. The weight of the skillet. (Though it’s easier to pick it up now, it must have felt like a ton as a kid.) And most importantly, the taste of the cornbread itself. Not too sweet. Light and fluffy, but just crumbly enough.

Unfortunately, my pop pop had a stroke in December of 2010 that left him unable to cook with his beloved iron skillet. It was with a heavy heart that I inherited two of his iron skillet and an iron pot.

But now, every time I cook with one, I feel connected to him. And I know the connection will last as long as I’m alive and cooking. Because let’s face it, those iron skillets are going to outlast me.

Bananas Foster German Pancake

Bananas Foster German Pancake

Since inheriting the iron skillets, I’ve been able to master cooking just about anything in them. Eggs, bacon, pies, frittatas, chili, pancakes and most importantly, cornbread. Well, I say I’ve mastered them, but somehow I think it’s been in my blood all along.

If you aren’t “with it” when it comes to iron skillets, let me break down some major benefits of investing in one (or a few).

  • Nothing really cooks as evenly as an iron skillet. Plus, the entire thing can stand extremely high heat — which requires some heavy duty oven mitts.
  • There perfectly suited for indoor and outdoor cooking. Whether in an oven, on a campfire, on the range or even on the grill, an iron skillet can work in just about any situation.
  • An iron skillet is naturally non-stick when seasoned properly. To season one, just put some oil in it, form a nice coating by moving the oil around and bake it at 350F for about an hour. If it’s new, the instructions may vary some.
  • Salted Caramel Upside-Down Pecan Pie in the Oven

    Salted Caramel Upside-Down Pecan Pie

  • Cleaning an iron skillet is pretty easy. No soap required. Just use warm water and a sturdy, non-metallic brush. For tougher jobs, use some kosher salt then rub clean with a towel.
  • An iron skillet actually adds nutritional value to items cooked in it. Some of the iron is actually leeched into the food while cooking. It sounds weird, but you can’t taste anything.

I would highly encourage you to go out and buy one immediately. However, I would search for a used one with a little bit of history. Something just doesn’t feel right about a brand new iron skillet. It’s sort of a culinary rite of passage.

I know getting mine was. Hopefully, I’ll forever be able to bake cornbread my pop pop is proud of.

Take a look at some recipes I’ve posted using my iron skillet:

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Cookin', Livin'

 

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The ABCs of Mardi Gras

Endymion Parade

Endymion Parade

Yesterday marked my 10th Mardi Gras in a row. Somehow, my liver has survived all 10. I have to say that there’s nothing like a Mardi Gras celebration. It’s more than about Fat Tuesday, and I’m proud to know the ins and out of Mardi Gras — from Uptown to Downtown to the French Quarter.

In honor of my 10-year Mardi Gras anniversary, I’m sharing my Mardi Gras knowledge — from Alcohol to Zulu.

Alcohol — You better have a bottle, cup or can in your hand during the parades and celebrations.

Beads — You’ll see people going crazy for a set of plastic beads on a string. And you’ll think to yourself, “Why am I doing this for plastic?” But you’ll do it over and over again and love it. $10 says if you don’t recycle them, they end up sitting in your attic for years to come.

Santiago at Barkus

Santiago at Barkus

Costumes — New Orleanians love their costumes and are some of the most creative people when it comes down to play dress-up.

Doubloons — Going crazy for these little coins is slightly better than spazzing out for some beads. Why? These are metal.

Endymion — My favorite parade and the Extravaganza in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a party you don’t want to miss. Even if it is black tie tailgating.

Fat Tuesday — The day when the weeks of celebrating come to a head. Only 356 days to go until next Fat Tuesday.

Geaux Cups — Yes, you can ask for a to-geaux cup for your adult beverage. It may not feel right to out-of-towners to take a drink outside, but it’s highly encouraged in New Orleans.

Hurricanes — The drinks Pat O’s is known for. Just be careful, this syrupy concoctions come with a ton of rum. However, you can’t visit it without having one.

A throw from the Muses Parade

A throw from the Muses Parade

Ice — You can never have too much ice during Mardi Gras. Whether you’re along the parade route or swinging by a friend’s place, bring some ice. It’s like Mardi Gras diamonds it’s so valuable.

Jambalaya — Because you gotta eat. This Louisiana staple can be found at countless Mardi Gras parties throughout New Orleans.

Krewes — These are the organizations who make up all the parades we’ve come to love. Starting with Krewe du Vieux and ending with Rex.

610 Stompers

610 Stompers

Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler — French for “Let the good times roll.” And that’s exactly we what we do during Carnival season.

Muses — Bedazzled and glittered shoes are the prized throw from this all-female krewe.

Neutral Ground — Aka the driver’s side of the parades. If you aren’t on the neutral ground, you’re sidewalk side (passenger side). I’m a neutral ground fan.

Orpheus — One of the superkrewes. Orpheus rolls on Lundi Gras (the night before Mardi Gras) and features a ton of floats. My favorite being the train.

Parades — Most of the festivities revolve around the parades. Some are better than others, but they’re all fun.

The Quarter — There’s no better place to be on Mardi Gras day. From the costumes, to the strong drinks to the revelry, it all happens in the French Quarter.

Bead-Dazzled Chalice

Bead-Dazzled Chalice

Religious Protesters — Every year they waste their time and money to try and tell us Mardi Gras revelers how sinful we are. They’re annoying and need to go home. We don’t bring Mardi Gras to the aisles of your church, don’t bring church to the streets during Mardi Gras. 90% of the people on the street on Fat Tuesday will be in church the next day, Ash Wednesday.

Saint Augustine — Odds are you’ll see this high school marching band in the majority of the parades. This purple and gold band know how to get down during the parades.

Averie Bug at Mardi Gras

Averie Bug at Mardi Gras

Throw Me Something Mister — You’ll hear this yelled every minute a parade is rolling. It’s the best way to get the beads, cups or doubloons you have your eyes on.

Uptown — In my opinion, the best place to watch the parades. The setting is more picturesque and the atmosphere is more of what Mardi Gras really is.

Voodoo — Not the religion, but the strong “purple drink” from Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Feels like it’s worth every sip when you’re out drinking, but kicks your ass the next day. Beware.

Walking — You’re going to do a lot of it. Cabs are hard to come by, the streetcar doesn’t run downtown (during parades) and you don’t want to risk a traffic gridlock because of parades. Wear comfortable shoes!

X-Ray Vision — Odds are you won’t need it if you’re in the right place (or the wrong place). Enough said…

Voodoo or Purple Drink

Voodoo aka Purple Drink

Y’at — The question you’ll be asked most frequently during Mardi Gras. Translated, it simply means “Where are you?

Zulu — The most fun you’ll have at a parade. Be advised they don’t throw much if you’re watching on Canal so get to a side street to catch that coconut you’ve been wanting.

Like these photos? Be sure and check out MiguelSolorzano.com for a lot more pics from this year’s Mardi Gras.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Livin'

 

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My Thoughts on Marriage Equality

I’ve yet to use my blog as a political soapbox, but for whatever reason, I’ve got to speak on this issue and put my thoughts down.

Yesterday’s Prop 8 ruling by the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in California is a step in the right direction to marriage equality. And I’m only talking about marriage as defined by the state. Marriage as defined by religion is a totally separate issue and one I don’t think should be changed.

We’re at a tipping point on the issue of gay marriage. It’s now favored by the majority of Americans. But just because gays want (and deserve) the right to get married doesn’t mean the “institution of marriage” will come crashing down. This false “institution” argument is tired and flat out wrong. More than 50% of marriages end in divorce. What “institution” can you think of to defend that fails more than it succeeds?

I’m not trying to suggest that all marriages are doomed, but statistically speaking, the odds aren’t in the favor of your first marriage. Or your second if you’re Newt Gingrich.

I also understand the argument that gay marriage is immoral. Fine. You’re 100% entitled to your beliefs, but your beliefs apply more to a house of worship than Capitol Hill. No one is going to force your church or your religion to accept gay marriage. And if your church or religion does accept it, in this country you are free to choose another or even start one of your own.

To coincide with yesterday’s landmark Prop 8 news, people like Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich are complaining about “judicial activism.” But without judicial activism we would be drinking out of separate water fountains and using separate restrooms based on the color of our skin.

On the flip side of judicial activism, politicians (including judges) want to define marriage on a state and/or federal level. Marriage should exist on a state level (because marriage is not and will never be a federal issue) and take place in a courthouse. Which most likely has a scale of justice with a blindfolded Lady Justice. Justice is equal for all in this country. And while equality may not exist everywhere, it most certainly should exist in our courthouses, courtrooms and judicial buildings.

And this is where marriage equality belongs.

But some politicians are open to the idea of a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. That’s what a religious document is for, not the fabric of American democracy.

The government’s role is to uphold the 14th amendment including “equal protection under the laws” of all citizens — which includes gays and lesbians.

It’s not the government’s role to make blanket “moral” decisions affecting citizens no matter the size of the minority. A state-acknowledged marriage serves no purpose in the eyes of a higher power, a church-acknowledged marriage does.

What a state marriage does is grant a loving couple the benefits of marriage. Tax benefits, medical benefits, estate benefits, joint ownership benefits, medical decision powers, etc. Would you really want to deny these benefits based on morality?

Aside from marriage, having an issue with gays or lesbians in a committed relationship (married or otherwise) raise children is a selfish stance. Would you rather a child grow up in an orphanage or a foster home with little emotional nourishment than with two loving parents who may happen to have the same anatomical parts? That should be a no-brainer. It’s about the children, not the parents.

The whole point of my rant is to emphasize that the government needs to get out of the business of telling how people to live their lives and worrying about divisive moral issues. The religious powers in this country are doing enough of it. Using hate to get in the way of love is always a recipe for failure, and this issue will be no exception — it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of win and when.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Livin'

 

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Lobby Hopping 2011

Ritz-Carlton Holiday Display

Ritz-Carlton New Orleans' Holiday Display

Every year, we gather a group of friends together to embark on what we call “Lobby Hopping.” This year was the fourth annual Lobby Hopping (though I’ve only been involved in three). The basic premise is that the group goes from hotel lobby to hotel lobby to view the decorations and to imbibe in the spirits at the hotel bars.

This year’s route started at the Hotel Roosevelt in the Sazerac Bar. The Roosevelt’s lobby is always one of my favorites. They really go all out to create a beautiful, yet restrained, display. The Sazerac Bar is also one of the city’s most refined bars. I love that it’s like stepping back in time. After stopping for cocktails at The Sazerac Bar and taking pictures of the Roosevelt lobby, we headed off to the Ritz-Carlton.

Lobby Hopping 2011 Group Shot

Lobby Hopping 2011 Group Shot

The Ritz-Carlton’s lobby decorations have kind of tapered off over the last couple of years. While they still have nice decorations, I for one, miss the edible gingerbread display and all the candy and sweets that came along with it. Now, they opt for a simple lobby display and a large tree in the lobby courtyard.

The Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton was a fun place to get a drink. It just so happened that Jeremy Davenport was playing a show that night so we had the perfect entertainment to go with the cocktails. Additionally, this stop has my favorite drink: the Blackberry Caipiroska. From the Davenport Lounge, we headed to the Hotel Monteleone.

The Carousel Bar

The Carousel Bar at The Hotel Monteleone

Though the Monteleone’s hotel decorations pale in comparison to the other stops, the hotel’s bar, The Carousel Bar, is probably the coolest hotel bar in the city. We were lucky enough to grab some seats at the Carousel Bar and had enough drinks to last two revolutions. And yes, one revolution is exactly 15 minutes — we timed it.

We had plans to continue on to the Royal Sonesta and Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse, but because we took our time imbibing at the rest of the hotels, we ran out of time. It seems our route and plans change each year, but the event is always a blast no matter where we stop.

I highly encourage you to form your own Lobby Hopping group or join us next year if you happen to be around. Happy Holidays!

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Livin'

 

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SEC Championship Preview: LSU vs. UGA

American and LSU Flags

LSU if flying high

It’s the match-up that doesn’t matter (just don’t tell these Tigers): LSU vs. UGA. Well, I guess technically, it matters for the record books, but is anyone really under the impression LSU’s ticket to the BCS Championship isn’t already punched?

Other teams get to take a week off (Alabama) before heading into the bowl season, but LSU will look to make it win number 13. And for the record, I think the extra game helps LSU and couch surfing hurts Alabama.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of things, back to the game at hand. UGA comes in on a 10-game win streak after dropping it’s first two. LSU comes in on a 13-game winning streak dating back to last year’s Cotton Bowl.

On paper, not much separates these two teams. Both UGA and LSU allow less than 100 rushing yards a game and less than 200 passing yards per game. On offense, LSU averages 215 rushing yards per game versus UGA’s 180. UGA has a better passing attack at 255 yards per game to LSU’s 176. But the stats never tell the full story.

LSU’s passing game is built on efficiency rather than big plays. The Tiger rushing game is what pounds opponents into submission. I just don’t see this changing against UGA — no matter how stout the stats say the Bulldog run defense is.

The LSU special teams will also play a factor as they have all season. LSU is allowing a ridiculously low 0.46 yards per punt return — less than a foot and a half! If there’s a record for fewest punt return yards allowed for the season, this has to be it.

Eye of the Tiger

Eye of the Tiger

Another huge factor pointing to an LSU victory is experience. LSU has more big-stage experience at this point and knows how to not only play on the big stage, but to excel on it. Despite the game taking place in Georgia, I know the Tiger faithful will travel well and override the Georgia supporters in the Georgia Dome.

I see LSU running and running and running and coming up with defensive stops play after play to make this is a routine contest. I’ll take the Tigers by a score of 37-13.

LSU has seized it’s BCS destiny this year and it seems the whole team is aware of the stakes of every game. Thirteen and Eaux is about to become a reality in Atlanta. Forget Christmas and New Year’s, Jan. 9 is the most important date circled on Tiger players and Tiger fans calendar. Start the countdown to a Tiger Takeover in New Orleans!

Here’s some pregame entertainment for you: Protectors of the SEC.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Livin', Uncategorized

 

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Santiago the Borador

Santiago with His Toy

Santiago with His Rope

Well…it’s finally official, Santiago is ours. We’re joining the ranks of animal parents. He’s a border collie/labrador retriever mix aka a borador.

We picked him up on Oct. 23 from Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society (P.A.W.S.) and fostered him until it finally became official this week.

The process with P.A.W.S. could not have been easier and more pleasant. The adoption fee is only $100 and that includes a microchip and a spay/neuter. He did have a little bout with kennel cough, but the vet at P.A.W.S. gave us some antibiotics that cleared it up in a few days.

Thankfully, Santi (as we call him for short) is energetic, smart and well-behaved. Today’s his three-month birthday and he can already sit, make it through the night without going to potty and go into his crate without a command. He has a had a few accidents in the house, but nothing atypical from puppy potty training.

Santiago in His Sweater

Santiago in His Sweater

He did come standard with puppy breath which everyone seems to be obsessed with, but I’ve smelled better things over the course of my lifetime. I do, however, enjoy all the puppy kisses and excited-to-see-us tail wagging.

Overall, it feels good to join the ranks of animal owners and I don’t think we could have gotten a better pup. So join us in welcoming Santiago and wishing him a happy three-month birthday.

And fear not, between Miguel and me, we’ll take and post tons of photos as Santiago ages.

Santi

Santi Posing

Also, for the record, Miguel wanted to name him Bruno which I had to veto. Santiago is a much better name than Bruno for a dog in my opinion. Bruno reminded me of Sasha Baron Cohen’s character.

If anyone wants to schedule a puppy playdate with Santiago, give us a couple more months and he’ll be ready to go.

Photos courtesy of Miguel Solorzano Photography.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Livin'

 

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