Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Plantains For Dummies

[-----]   That is about how much I knew about plantains.  I knew they looked like bananas, they are not grown in America, and you could buy them at Wal-Mart.   After thinking about it and rereading what I just wrote, I think I should actually take out a few dashes from that measurement at the beginning.

One fine day while in the fresh vegetables and fruit area of Wal-Mart, I decided that it was finally the day that I got out of my comfort zone and buy one of these exotic looking "bananas".

Yes, it had a few black spots on it, but they all did, so I decided it must be alright.  I got home and started doing some research online about this strange new-to-me fruit.

I discovered that it really should be cooked before eating but that several people had eaten them raw and survived.  I discovered that it is considered ripe when it is all black.  (oops)   I discovered that this fruit scared me a little since I didn't know what exactly to do with it.

So it sat on the counter for about 2 weeks getting a little blacker everyday.

Finally, the day came to do something with it, because really it was in the way and I shouldn't be scared of a fake banana!   I didn't really want to fry it because of the calories so back to the Internet I went.

I saw a sight that show three methods of preparing plantains that were healthy.  I could steam, boil, or bake them.  I went with bake, since I understood those instructions the best.

I started off by trying to peel it like a banana.  No go.  The skin is much thicker than a banana.  So I cut off an end to try to peel it with some help.  Still a no go.  I cut the plantain in half short way and then again long way.  I had four pieces still with peel on them all.  Once it was cut this way I was able to get the peel off.

The peel is more like an orange and peels about the same way, sometimes coming off easy but in some places not as easy.  The actual fruit is much drier than a banana.  I thought I was going to have a mess on my hands from peeling it but I didn't.  The texture of the actual plantain was more like eggplant being slightly spongy.

I wanted to see what this thing tasted like raw, so I cut a little piece off and ate it.  Ew! Don't try it no matter if some dude on an Internet forum claims he does it all the time!  The man must not have taste buds!!  It was gritty and some of it flaked off on my tongue like dirt and tasted like dirt.  (Because I am a connoisseur of dirt....)

I finally got it all cut up and ready for its 15 minute blast in the oven at 450 degrees.


After tasting it raw I was leary of how cooking could change that mess to something enjoyable.  I read that when they are fried usually honey and cinnamon are added to make a nice dessert.  I figured it couldn't hurt to do the same if baking it.  I didn't use a lot of honey and in hindsight could have used more, again I was trying to keep the calories down.  

While they cooked they did smell good, but I think that was the honey and cinnamon more than anything else.  Once done baking the honey had burned some but overall they looked alright.  Now for the ultimate test, the taste test.

I chose one at random, blew on it so I wouldn't burn my tongue, and popped it into my mouth.  They were a little bland and that is why I was thinking more honey would have helped.  The cinnamon was good and when I hit a place where honey was it was really good all together.  They had dried out a lot and were close to being dehydrated.  They did taste and reminded me of dehydrated banana chips without all the sugar.  

I had a bowl of grapes, cubed mango, and cubed avocado that I dumped the baked plantain into.  Mixed it all up and called it supper.  


The sweetness of the other fruits helped make the plantain more enjoyable.  All in all, it wasn't awful (when cooked, when raw it was horrible).  I would like to try it again with more honey and maybe less cooking time.

So there you go, my adventures with a new-to-me food.  I hope you learned something and/or if you  have a tip or two for me regarding these things please let me know!

Until next time!

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Orleans - Street Music

While New Orleans is known for their food, they could possibly be known even more for their music.  It is a close race, to say the least.  As we walked in and around the French Quarter we often found people playing instruments and singing.  

I find that pretty amazing considering the weather was cold.  I don't know what drives these people to sit in the cold and sing.  I know they have to make some money from it, but really is it enough to survive?  Maybe it is if you are good enough.  I know the ones we saw, we really enjoyed. 

We heard two different types of music, Jazz and Cajun/Zydeco, both well know in New Orleans and the rest of the state of Louisiana.

Let's listen to some Jazz, shall we?

We saw these guys in Jackson Square. The man sitting sounded just like Louis Armstrong.  I didn't want to film him since no one else was around filming, but his voice was mesmerizing!

Jazz Singers at Jackson Square New Orleans LA

Now, just in case you don't know the voice of Louis Armstrong, I have added this video for your listening pleasure.

On another day, also in Jackson Square, we heard this band.

Jazz Group Jackson Square New Orleans LA

There were loads of people standing around filming them, so I didn't mind doing the same.  They were so fun to watch and just full of energy.

Here is a second video of them playing a very recognizable song.  And just in case you don't recognize it, the song is "When the Saints Go Marching In".

 Besides Jazz, another type of music we heard was either Zydeco or Cajun.  Based on the fiddles and lack of a rubboard, I am leaning towards this being Cajun.  Either way, it wasn't in English or their accent was so thick, that I couldn't understand it.

Plus, that dog was just too stinking cute!

Zydeco Band with Dog New Orleans LA

Give it a listen and tell me what you think.

I liked it!  It was so upbeat and happy, that you can't help but smile.

I am sure in warmer weather there are more performers, but seeing how it was fairly cold, I say, we had a good show of the music of New Orleans.

This ends my posts on our Christmas 2013 trip to New Orleans.  I hope you enjoyed it.  

Our hope, our aim, our goal, is to be able to travel to Santiago, Chile this summer.

So until then!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Orleans - Food and Drink

When we go to new places one of the things we get most excited about is the food.  I love learning about new foods and tasting those new foods.  I love going home and trying to recreate the dishes we discovered.  Food is huge in life, that is why I like to share our experiences.  Plus, New Orleans is KNOWN for their food!

There were two cafes that I researched and wanted to make sure that we went to on our trip.  One was Cafe Beignet which has two locations in New Orleans.  We found the one on Royal Street our first day walking in New Orleans purely by accident.  It was raining and lunchtime when we walked by an open door.  Frankie suggested we go in and I wasn't really paying attention to the name of the place until he asked if this was one of the places I had wanted to go. 

Why, yes! Yes it was!

Cafe Beignet Chair and Entrance  New Orleans LA

They sell New Orleans traditional (albeit overpriced) Cajun food.

New Orleans Specialties Cafe Beignet  New Orleans LA

They also have sandwiches (eh. Ok in taste but not that impressive.)

Roast Beef PoBoy and Louisiana Ham Sandwich Cafe Beignet New Orleans LA

But two of their more famous offerings are beignets (french donuts covered in powdered sugar) and coffee with chicory.  Chicory is a type of herb and the roots are the parts that are dried, ground up, and used as a substitute coffee or additive.  I know that during World War II they had to ration coffee and one of the tricks used to help stretch out the little coffee they did have was to add chicory.

According to Cafe Beignet, people in New Orleans have been adding chicory to their coffee way before World War II.

Coffee and Chicory at Cafe Beignet New Orleans LA

Let's go back and take a closer look at those beignets shall we? (Best way I can tell you on how to pronounce that is ben-yay),   These were good, not pretty to look at, but very tasty.  They taste like funnel cake, if you have ever had that, but beignets have a little more dough to them.  Both of them are covered in powdered sugar.

Beignet at Cafe Beignet New Orleans LA

While we stumbled (almost literally) onto the first Cafe Beignet, the second one on Bourbon Street was a purposeful trip (on a different day, we do have SOME limits).  

Cafe Beignet Decor New Orleans LA

This is also the location of the Musical Legends Park, where they have live jazz playing from 10:00 AM until closing everyday.

Fats Domino-Al Jumbo Hirt-Pete Fountain at Musical Legends Park Cafe Beignet New Orleans LA

You will NEVER guess what we had to eat and drink....

Beignets Three for 3.99 at Cafe Beignet New Orleans LA

Ok, so beignets and coffee couldn't have really be that hard to guess.  The beignets at this Cafe Beignet were much prettier to look at and they were just as delicious.

Beignets from Cafe Beignet New Orleans LA

Look at the thickness of the powdered sugar on these babies!  Once you were done eating there was powdered sugar all on your hands, face, shirt, pants, the table, the floor.....but it was all worth it!  (Or maybe we are just messy eaters??)

Powdered Sugar on Beignets from Cafe Beignet New Orleans LA

The other cafe that we had researched was Cafe Du Monde which has eight locations in and around New Orleans.  We tried twice to go to the original cafe for some....you guessed it....coffee and beignets.  (Hey, when something is good, you can't get enough!)  The two times we went it was super super crowded and we decided to not fight the crowd.  (Check out the rain that was pouring down the first time we tried!)

Cafe du Monde French Quarter New Orleans LA

On the day we left New Orleans we did go to another one of the Cafe Du Monde's that is off the beaten path.  It wasn't in the tourist drenched area of the French Quarters.  We had no trouble finding a place to sit and we were able to enjoy our coffee and beignets with the locals.

Cafe au Lait and Beignets at Cafe Du Monde New Orleans LA

Also on our way out of New Orleans we made a stop at a local Wal-Mart where we picked up some Cafe Du Monde coffee with chicory to take home with us.

Cafe du Monde Coffee and Chicory from WalMart in New Orleans LA

When we went to the New Orleans Museum of Art I was looking at places nearby and found another cafe in the New Orleans City Park that just beckoned to us, called Morning Call Coffee Stand.

Morning Call Coffee Shop New Orleans LA

According to their website they have been around awhile.
Morning Call Coffee Stand, New Orleans’ “most famous coffee drinking place”, has been serving café au lait and beignets to generations of locals and visitors since 1870. Founded by Joseph Jurisich and operated by succeeding generations this venerable establishment is best described as “one of the world’s great coffee houses” and recognized nationwide in numerous publications and periodicals.
Let me tell you what, it was the BEST café au lait I had on the trip hands down!

Cafe au Lait Morning Call New Orleans LA

Their process for making coffee was different from any I have seen before.  They had a kettle of French pressed coffee with chicory on one burner and a kettle of recently boiled milk on another burner.  When it came time to make our coffee they picked up one kettle in one hand and the other kettle in the other and poured from both into a cup.  The man who made ours did a fantastic job with the proportions!

You can see the kettle between the two men in the picture below.  It was a fast paced place where the waitstaff had to often prove their unique talents of balance.  I never could get a good picture of them in action because it was either too crowded or they were just too fast!

Coffee and Milk Kettles for Cafe au Lait Morning Call New Orleans LA

Speaking of coffee (like I have stopped once), we were looking for something warm to drink on one of our outings when we saw  a CC's Community Coffee House.  Community is a brand of coffee that originated in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  To find a coffee house other than Starbucks is always a blessing.  (I don't mind Starbucks, but there should be options!)

Now, you might be a little shocked to learn that I don't always drink coffee.  In fact I also like tea. Hot tea, iced tea, lukewarm tea; it is all good to me.  The more interesting the tea name the more likely I am to choose it.  Hence my choice of Spicy Zydeco Chai.  I mean come on!  How could I not choose that!

Spicy Zydeco Chai Tea at Community Coffee House New Orleans LA

I mentioned early how we stopped at a Wal-Mart before leaving New Orleans, while we were there I also found this coffee.  I told you, the fancier the flavor, the more drawn to it I am.

Community Coffee Carnivale Cake Flavor from WalMart in New Orleans LA

Ok, no more drinks.  Let's discuss food beyond beignets.

While in the French Market in the French Quarter we saw these.  Neither one of us tried one but the name was funny.  I bet they are good though!  Anything with the words "praline" and "pecan" in it can't be bad.

Praline Pecan Shoe Sole French Market New Orleans LA

Below is a list of some New Orleans specialities.  All of these could be found in the French Market and although we did not have any there, we did manage to try several of these during our trip.

French Market Specials New Orleans LA

We tried duck and andouille gumbo.  Delicious!

Duck and Andouille Gumbo Cafe Soule New Orleans LA

I don't know how much this next one is considered New Orleans fare, but it is French so I am sure they claim it. We tried a Monte Cristo sandwich with French fries.  Delicious!

Monte Cristo Sandwich and Fries Cafe Soule New Orleans LA

We tried a shrimp crepe with French fries. Delicious!

Shrimp Crepe and Fries Cafe Soule New Orleans LA

Most of the meals we ate were priced higher than what I would want to pay, but then again we were in a tourist area and they know tourist will pay.  One day we were not in the tourist area and we found this hole in the wall called, of all things, Please-U-Restaurant.  Don't let the name or the looks of the place keep you away.  Just take a look at their menu and then I will show you the food.

Please-U-Restaurant Partial Menu New Orleans LA

Now, take a look at a grilled shrimp po'boy.  Which was NOT on the menu but they gladly made for me.
It was SO good and the portion was very generous.

Grilled Shrimp Po-Boy Please-U-Restaurant New Orleans LA

Here is one more sandwich to feast your eyes upon, a fried shrimp po'boy.  Another wonderful choice!

Fried Shrimp Po-Boy Please-U-Restaurant New Orleans LA

If you find this place then GO!  Don't even hesitate!

When we go to places during Christmas there is always a chance that on Christmas day it might just be a gas station that we are eating at.  In all our travels the only country that we KNEW everything was going to be closed was Dublin, Ireland.  There might have been stuff open near the city center but our hotel was out a ways and the subway was not running Christmas day.  We planned accordingly and went to the grocery store in advance but so far that was the only place we didn't get to eat out on Christmas day.

New Orleans had several options for meals on Christmas day, there was lots of stuff closed but we managed to find a great place called Counter Deli.  They had a very eclectic mix of food most with a Cajun twist.

I chose the Croque Gagnet which had andouille sausage, gouda cheese and honey lavender mustard panini with chips.  It was very good.

Croque Gagnet-Andouille Sausage Gouda Cheese Honey Lavender Mustard Panini at Counter Deli and Market New Orleans LA

Frankie had the alligator meatballs braised in red eye gravy with provolone cheese po'boy with chips.  We didn't know what red eye gravy was but we are usually up for trying something new.  It was ok, but neither one of us really liked it too much.  I don't care much for any gravy and this one didn't do it for either of us.

Alligator Meatballs Braised in Red Eye Gravy Provolone Cheese Po'Boy at Counter Deli and Market New Orleans LA

I still didn't know what red-eye gravy was until I started writing this.  Let me enlighten you if you don't know either.  You start with ham.   You pan fry it.  Then take the drippings from the pan-fried ham and add coffee to it.  Mix it up and there you go.  Red-eye gravy.  I think I see why we didn't care for it.  Now, while I LOVE coffee, I do have my limits as to what I will put it in.

And for the record, while Texas may be in the South,  it isn't really southern unless you are in the east Texas area near Louisiana.  There are lots of these southern foods that I don't know about even though I am from Texas.  I think the difference is that I grew up in west Texas and that is a good 500 miles away from east Texas.

I got to thinking about that and if you looked at a 500 mile radius in Europe it would look like this.

Think about all the differences in cuisine and languages in that green 500 miles radius region.  It is understandable why I wouldn't really know some of the deep south foods.  It would be like people in Rome, Italy knowing all the foods of Budapest, Hungary.

This next photo is one of Zapp's potato chips, but just not any flavor.  It is their Voodoo flavor!  And just how do you explain the flavor of voodoo??  It was like no other flavor I have other had.  It was the best flavor I have ever had.  

Zapps Voodoo Potato Chips New Orleans LA

I thought for sure that I would never get to taste it again.  But lo and behold, we found them again IN TEXAS.  And not just in Texas but only a mere 30 miles away from our house!!  Wahoo!   So, having them more recently, I can tell you that they taste a lot like salt and vinegar potato chips but then there is not the super sourness of the vinegar.  Another spice kicks in when the vinegar normally does.  They were so good!

The last set of photos I have for you is from when we started our trip back home.  We were still in New Orleans and stopped at Taco Tico only because it looked like it was going to be a cheap meal.

Once in we discovered that it was "Tex-Mex" food and we instantly became suspicious!  (But again, it was cheap.)

Taco Tico Menu New Orleans LA

There was something on the menu called a Sancho.  I still am not sure what the difference was between it and a burrito. And what are Pizzadios, Crustos, or Tico de Gallo???

What exactly is this suppose to be??  Never in my life have I seen such a monstrosity!  (Let it go, Jennifer.  Let it go.  As long as they don't try to push this stuff in Texas, it will be ok. I mean what can you expect from a Mexican food restaurant with headquarters and first founded in Kansas? Taco Bell is bad enough! Wait!  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?  Ok, I am good now.)

Texas Style Stacked Enchiladas at Taco Tico New Orleans LA

As we waiting for our order (see below), Frankie walked over to a corner of the room and discovered a slot machine.  A slot machine.  In a taco place.

Left-Three Soft Tacos Right- Sancho and Two Hard Tacos at Taco Tico New Orleans LA

As we discovered on our trip, Louisiana's law on gambling (apparently anywhere is fine), smoking (apparently anywhere is fine except for a few restaurants), and where you can buy hard liquor (apparently anywhere beer is normally sold) are more relaxed than in Texas.  Different places, different laws.

I have one more post to go to finish up our trip to New Orleans and it is about the music we heard while there.  I hope you will come back for it.

Until then!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

New Orleans - Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Mississippi Levee

Before Frankie and I left for New Orleans we did some research on things to do and see.  One of the things we found was the Festival of the Bonfires in St. James Parish that happen every Christmas Eve.  The little we learned about it was that it was a 200 year old tradition for the towns of Lutcher and Gramercy in Louisiana and it included over 100 bonfires that were lit on the Mississippi levee.

It sounded interesting enough for us to make the 40 mile drive from New Orleans to St. James Parish. So off we went. According to the website linked above, it was suggested that we arrive before 6:00 PM and that the bonfires would be lit at 7:00 PM.  We got there by 4:30 PM. I didn't want to miss anything!  (Not that I really knew what I was in for, but still!)

We drove along River Road, starting in Gramercy on through Lutcher, looking at the different bonfire setups.

There were some that looked like this:

Hay Stack for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Most looked more like this:

Tall Structure for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Just to give you some perspective, these were not little structures.  Many were 20 feet tall!

Close up of Structure for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

I made Frankie be a measuring tool. He is 6 foot 1 inch, so you can compare!

Frankie Showing Height of Structure at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

There were some bonfires that had extra decoration or statements.

This was back when Phil Robertson from the show Duck Dynasty said some controversial remarks in a GQ magazine interview.

Duck Dynasty Support at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Blue Dog! If you read my last post, then you know my love of Blue Dog.  If you didn't read it......well.....just go read it now and I will forgive you.

Blue Dog on Structure at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

People in Louisiana love their Louisiana State University!

LSU Structure at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

This one shows the reason for the bonfires.

Cajun Santa in Boat with Alligators at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Apparently, the bonfires were to show Papa Noel the way to the Cajun country. Now maybe he really does come by boat pulled by alligators down there, who knows. Who am I to bust the dreams of little children and say a sleigh and reindeer are the only way??  I mean after all, it is not like a sleigh will help Santa in south Texas, now will it?  He could however, use a truck with a lot of horsepower so it can pull the trailer full of presents.

It was now about 5:00 PM and we had toured just about all of St. James Parish that was worth touring, so we decided to grab a bite to eat and wait out the rest of the time until the lighting of the bonfires at 7:00 PM.

There were not a lot of choices of places to eat on Christmas Eve in the little towns of Lutcher and Gramercy.  I was thinking we were going to have to eat at the gas station, but as it turned out we got to eat at a true Louisiana kitchen, Popeye's!  Mmmm...fried chicken!

After eating, we parked the car and walked along the levee among the bonfire structures and multitude of people that had descend on the town for this event.  (I am talking huge tour buses and loads of them!)  It was now getting dark and was about 47 degrees out there, which to us is cold.

Waiting. Waiting.

While waiting we heard a man who had build one of the structures say that most people start right after Thanksgiving building their bonfires and it takes them all the time to get it just right.

More waiting.

At 6:37 PM I texted my mom the following:
We are sitting on a hay bale in Lutcher, LA on a Mississippi River levee waiting for them to set about 100 twenty feet tall or less pyramids of wood on fire.  Some of them wrapped in fireworks...
Here we are.

Frankie and Jennifer at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Oh and yes, I said fireworks!  I am talking, black cats in bulk!

Wrapping Firecrackers around Structure for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

At 7:00 PM, true to their word, the bonfires were lit.  

Bonfire at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Bonfire 2 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Hundreds of them all up and down the levee!

Bonfires on Levee at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

As I mentioned before, we really didn't know what to expect.  Before we got there we were thinking, "Ok, we will see them light the bonfires.  We will stare at them for a few minutes, go, 'Oh! Ah!', and then leave."  We were not prepared for the size of the bonfires AND the amount of fireworks!

The bonfire structures that were wrapped in black cats were so loud when they were lit.  It was mesmerizing and so many of them started at the same time.  Others started a little later to let the festivities linger.  Then they started shooting off the aerial fireworks behind the bonfires.

It was AMAZING!  Let me just share a few of the still shots.

Fireworks and Bonfire at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Fireworks and Bonfire 2 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Fireworks and Bonfire 3 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Fireworks and Bonfire 5 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Fireworks and Bonfire 8 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

And my absolute favorite shot of the entire trip!

Fireworks and Bonfire 9 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Since the still photos do NOT do justice to the ceremony, I do have two videos to share.

This first one is of the black cats going off when a bonfire was first lit.

And the last one is of the fireworks going off behind one of the bonfires. Breathtaking!

I am really glad that we went.  It is something that if you are that close to it, you should go see it at least once in your lifetime!

I have two posts left on New Orleans; the food and the music!  I hope you will return for those.

Until then!