A total of 26 trips in 100 days through four countries in 2010.
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New Orleans embraces joie de vivre at Mardi Gras ; a jolly spirit like the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. Strangers are friendly; they hand out small tokens; passersby smile and speak to one another.
Should that be unusual? Well no, but sadly, most city streets don’t feel that way.
In New Orleans, folks wear outfits or masks on Fat Tuesday, which helps create a lighthearted mood. They hang glitzy wreaths of purple, green and gold. But unlike Christmas, Mardi Gras plays to a soundtrack of rhythm and blues, and is celebrated outdoors. The air smells from the pulse of the crowd, of hot dogs, beer and alcohol.
We gawked and laughed along with the participants in the obstreperous Bourbon Street Awards : a flamboyant drag-queen contest that, honey, is just something else.
At breakfast, I stuffed myself on waffles; ate a shrimp po’boy (sandwich) for lunch in a hole-in-the-wall cafe. Dog and I drank wine as we threw beads from a balcony over hanging the street.
In Louisiana, Fat Tuesday is a legal holiday, a date celebrated with abandon; one I look forward to annually. Thankfully, the ghost of Katrina has faded. As Tiny Tim might say, “God bless Mardi Gras, every one.”
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as it sometimes called, is the last feasting day before Lent , indulgence before penance. The weeks leading up to it, known as Carnival, are celebrated with parties, masked balls, parades, and food. It’s a time to be a bit naughty and so I have good reason to devour New Orleans’s finest fare.
I make an annual Mardi Gras pilgrimage to the Big Easy and always return to fine dining at Arnaud’s Restaurant in the French Quarter. The 90-year-old landmark features Creole fare and a reputation that never disappoints. Start with gulf shrimp covered in spicy Remoulade sauce, teetering at the edge of too hot.
Then I move on to Pommes Souffle, a house specialty served as an appetizer or a side. The dish is an extraordinary rendition of French fries, light as helium-filled pillows. The fluffiness comes from frying the potatoes twice. They end up looking like fat toddler fingers and are served along with Bearnaise sauce.
Dinner suggestions include Trout Almandine, Pompano en Croute, and Roast Louisiana Quail Elzey (filled with Foie Gras mousse or Filet Charlemond) with more Bearnaise sauce. Last year, I chose Veal Tournedos. They arrived covered in wild mushroom gravy and simply melted as they encircled my tongue.
Dessert is the finest show in the city (and, needless to say, there are many competing shows). Cafe Brulot requires an expert, and the headwaiter performs the flaming touch. An orange is peeled in one intact piece and then studded with cloves. A brandy mixture is heated then ignited and slowly poured down the spiraling peel into the bowl, which another waiter fills with chicory coffee. The drink, prepared tableside, slides down so smooth that there is no need for dessert. But if you are inclined (and I was), Bananas Foster can’t be topped.
During my yearly visit, I must also feast on a few beignets at Cafe du Monde, the famous, no-frills coffeehouse/cafe. The beignets, similar to doughnuts, are rectangular (no holes) and doused in mounds of powdered sugar. They coat everyone’s fingers and clothes but are, unquestionably, worth the whitewash. You never know who (Rod Stewart) or what you will see there. One year a lady clad only in body paint sat down to order!
I’ll find time to squeeze into Pat O’Brien’s, home of the famous hurricane–a powerful fruit punch. Lesson learned —Sip, don’t drink, or your head will be filled with a storm. Do join the friendly crowd and sing along with the lively dueling pianos.
Celebration time in New Orleans surely puts an end to dieting. I’ll indulge decadent food and when Ash Wednesday arrives, start to eat healthy again.