Traveling: The Angola State Prison Rodeo

Back in October of 2011, Cristina and I went to prison. Voluntarily. Actually, we paid to get in.

Every October, the Angola State Prison opens its doors to the public. What the public get is basically two things: a rodeo and an arts and crafts fair. All participants are prisoners serving time for various, but in most cases, violent crimes. That’s what really makes this event  special.

First let’s talk about the rodeo. Late in the afternoon, you find your seats and get ready for a show. And a show you will get. The afternoon we were there, we got to see the normal rodeo stuff: bull riding, calf wrestling and the like. Like a rodeo, it can get violent in a second. Quickly, you forget these men are prisoners and start worrying about them. There are other events  such as bull in the ring with real bulls. There are rodeo clowns for the kids. My favorite part was when the monkey’s were riding the dog’s herding sheep into the back of the truck. Since you can’t take cameras into the prison, you will just have to trust me, it happened.

I know people who go to the rodeo every weekend in October. But not to see the rodeo. You see the rodeo is what pulls you in. The crafts are what keeps you coming back.

The first thing that Cristina and I talked about on the way home was how we needed a truck. Some of the items you can buy: swings, smokers, patio furniture, armoires, paintings in custom-made frames, custom-made belts and wallets, and entire bedroom sets. The level of craftsmanship is extremely high. These guys  truly have nothing else to do. Most of the prisoners will be behind a fence barking at you to try to buy their wares. Others, who have earned the right with their good behavior, will be next to their products acting as salesmen. When they have sold you on an item, they write you a ticket that you take to the point of sale booth. There you will receive your receipt and the go pick it up from its creator.

The only downside of the day was that when everyone decides to leave, there is only one road out. Make sure you have a full tank.

Even though the Angola Rodeo is every weekend in October, they do open their doors every spring for one weekend, and that weekend is this weekend.

Festing: Our Day at the French Quarter Festival

It’s time for farmer tans, racoon eyes, and for the first time for me, a wedding ban tan. In other words, it’s festival season. And French Quarter Festival didn’t disappoint.

Parking was relatively easy and cheap at the self park in the Hilton. Having had administered the ACT that morning, we were famished by the time we got to the festival. The first booth that caught my eye was Crescent Pie and Sausage Co. For eight dollars, I recieved a huge portion of Bad Bart’s Black Jamabalya and large link of hot sausage. My sister opted for some seafood pasta while Cristina went to Boucherie’s booth to order the 12 hour Roast Beef Po-boy and the Krispy Kreme bread pudding. That’s right…Krispy Kreme bread pudding. While they were both delicious, the bread pudding was a tad too sweet. Still a little hungry, we also ordered the beef tenderloin with crazy potatoes and the baked mac and cheese from Crazy Johnnie’s. The beef tenderloin was absolutely delicious, very tender with the perfect mashed potatoes mixed with garlic and herbs. We also tried the chargrilled oysters from Royal House, which were great as well.

Enjoying Kermit Ruffins at French Quarter Festival

Enjoying Kermit Ruffins at French Quarter Festival

Now we were ready for some music. We made our way to the front of the Abita Stage to watch Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. It was perfect day to listen to music outdoors with the clouds covering the sun about every 15 minutes. Kermit and the band were very tight and put on a great show. The audience was very into it, singing along with popular New Orleans favorites like “Mardi Gras Mambo” and “It’s a Wonderful World.” Kermit is a master at the trumpet and a great crowd-pleaser.

Kermit Ruffins

Kermit Ruffins playing the trumpet at FQF

Mardi Gras Indian

Mardi Gras Indian on stage with Kermit Ruffins at FQF

We then walked around Jackson Square to look at the artwork, noticing some we wouldn’t mind owning. If you ever have a chance to get to Jackson Square on the weekend, you have to check out the local artists. Most of the artwork is exquisite, and we have several pieces hanging up around our home. After, we headed over to the Old Mint to see another band we recently discovered.

We first saw Debauche at the Freret Street Festival. The Russian Mafia Band, their words, play tradional Ukranian folk music. There is a thin line between sadness and joy and their songs often stradle that line. I don’t like to dance, but I couldn’t help it. Neither could Cristina. We had to buy the CD. And listen to it multiple times. Within a single weekend. It’s amazing. Seriously.

Debauche

Debauche, our new favorite band!

After a festival lunch of Rouse’s boiled crawfish with a Plum Street Snowball to wash it down, we took a long slow stroll to Jackson Square doing some window shopping on the way. One of the great things about the the Festival is how you notice little places in the quarter you have never seen before. The area across the street from the French Market on Decatur St. is full of awesome little stores with weird antiques, old New Orleans artifacts, paintings, voodoo mysteries, and all kinds of other stuff. We definitely plan on going back soon to do some proper shopping.

The booths in the Square were super busy but after seeing other people post pictures of it, I had to have a Maple Bacon Long John from Blue Dot Donuts. My doctor would hate it, but damn it was wonderful. I offered Cristina a bite and she insisted on taking two. Cristina’s dad used to work at Carmelo Ristorante when it was in New Orleans, then the one in Slidell. They just opened a new open in Mandeville and she was really anxious to try some of the food; however, by the time we got there, it was late in the day all they had left was pizza. She did see Carmelo working behind there, and I know that was a bittersweet moment for her as she remembered the past and her dad.

Blue Dots Donuts Maple Bacon Long John

Blue Dots Donuts Maple Bacon Long John

Yet, we were still hungry and at this point exhausted. There is one great thing about parking at the Hilton. It gives you an excuse to order a dozen Charbroilled Oysters from Drago’s. They are pretty much the only reason to eat there, but it’s a good one.

Drago's Chargrilled Oysters with Barq's in a bottle

Drago's Chargrilled Oysters with Barq's in a bottle

Oh, and the way home we blared some music from that Russian Mafia Band.

Eating: Phil’s Grill

Duck Sausage Hamburger with Goat Cheese and Strawberries from Phil's Grill

Duck Sausage Hamburger with Goat Cheese and Strawberries from Phil’s Grill

Everyone needs a restaurant in which they can take anyone they know. We are either relatives or friends of picky eaters. Hell, I’m picky in that I really don’t every want to eat at Applebee’s or Chili’s again. But sometimes we have to agree on where to eat. One place we always suggest when have a group is Phil’s Grill. We’ve never had a complaint.

I’ve eaten a different sandwich every time I’m at Phil’s and I’m not near trying everything. The reason for this is that Phils Grill is a build your own burger place. However, the burger (Angus by the way) isn’t the only option. You can build your “burger” with grilled or fried chicken breast, tuna, alligator, hot sausage blend, Portobello mushroom, turkey, and bison. Their are about six buns and many toppings to go with your choice. And all meats that can be, are cooked to order.

If building your own burger places too much pressure on you, there are plenty of predesigned burgers to choose from. Plus, every month there is a burger of the month.

Ok, I’ve described what you can get at Phil’s Grill. How does the food taste? Well, it’s one of the few places we eat at regularly. The grilled chicken sandwich is never dry like at most places and the fried chicken sandwich is breaded with Zapps potato chips. Cristina’s grandmother, a lady who is not afraid to tell you if something is good or not, raves about how good the hamburgers are. Every time she comes to visit she wants to go.

This month’s burger of the month: Duck sausage burger, LA strawberries, herb goat cheese spread with LA Sisters pepper jelly vinaigrette and fresh spinach on a sun-dried tomato bun. Also available on a bed of Spinach. This was the best burger I’ve had yet at Phil’s. Considering how often we go, that’s saying something. I can’t wait for May.

Festing: The Freret Street Festival

Freret St. Festival

Freret St. Festival

I have mixed feelings about Social Media. Sometimes it’s too much information literally and figuratively. Sometimes it’s too much misinformation. But sometimes, the information is just right. And when it leads to you to a great street festival it’s down right perfect.

And April 7 was a perfect day for the Freret Street Festival.

The Fry Bar set the trap for us to attend. When they posted they were going to be at the Festival, I knew were we would be that Saturday.

Considering that this is a street festival, parking was surprisingly easy on Napoleon. Once we got to Freret, we started the walk towards Fry Bar. We were starving and the art booths could wait. Cristina ordered the garlic and feta fries while I went with the garlic and sea salt fries. We both loved the roasted red pepper ketchup that went with them, the perfect dip (though they are so delicious, they don’t necessarily need it!). Now, to understand how great of compliment that is, you must understand that I hate ketchup. Normally, I feel that if you need to put ketchup on something to make it taste better, then it really doesn’t taste good enough to eat. This ketchup and the cinnamon-tinged ketchup at Cowbell are the only two versions of that tomato sauce you will probably ever see on my plate.

Mardi Gras Indian

Mardi Gras Indian

The Crowd at the Freret Street Festival

The Crowd at the Freret Street Festival

Now we needed some protein. Being a sucker for alligator, I got a grilled sausage poboy from one of the booths. Cristina fared better with her choice of a BBQ Roast Beef poboy from Boo Koo BBQ. I was lucky in that she was willing to share. The roast beef, slow cooked and super tender, was covered in one of the best BBQ sauces I’ve ever had. Now that Boo Koo operates out of Finn McCool’s, I foresee us writing more reports of their food in the future. For dessert, Cristina enjoyed a birthday cupcake from Sweet NOLA Cupcakes.

Having fun at the Festival

Having fun at the Festival

The rest of the day we spent looking at the art in the booths. Most of the ones we really liked were a little out of price range. I didn’t run across any of the cutting boards I’ve been looking for. However, Cristina did find one piece of art from Voodoo Skull New Orleans that she felt needed to be in our house.

Yeah You Right!

Yeah You Right!

I couldn’t agree more.

Blogging: Learning How To Use Our Cameras in the French Quarter

Every time we travel someplace new or familiar, Cristina and I always try to find what is unique about the place.  This is especially true about New Orleans.  While we might live in the suburbs now, Cristina used to live in New Orleans and I taught in New Orleans Public Schools before Katrina.  This makes us, in our eyes, locals.  Yet, sometimes, it pays to look at New Orleans with the eyes of a traveler. There is so much history and beauty to this city that we don’t know.

This is why we often look for tours of New Orleans.  LivingSocial makes it very easy  to find the tours for a great price.

The most recent tour we took was with American Photo Safari.  Four hours of walking the French Quarter and taking pictures.  Sure, we could do it for free, but calling it a tour is the last way I would describe it. Sure, we saw the sights and learned some history of the Quarter. But this tour was so much more than that. It was a photography class.  In fact, on their website they call their tours workshops.

Chris, our tour guide/teacher, started off the tour with a handout. The handout was cheat sheet for using a camera covering white balance, shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, as well as some composition tips.

All you need for this tour is a camera with fully charged batteries. I had a Canon Rebel while Cristina had our trusty Sony HX5V (a point and shoot). Everyone else in the group…which was about six people…had a different camera. Chris was at ease showing us how to work our camera to get the shots we want. A lot of the information I knew in theory, but Chris taught how to actually get my camera to do what I want it to do. While I don’t begrudge anyone who sets their camera to full auto, Chris showed us how to take control of our cameras.

At the end of the day, we both knew we had got more than our money’s worth for the day. While I still think Cristina has a better eye for a good shot than I do*, I now know how to manipulate my camera to get the details I want in my shot.

This tour is perfect for people who are getting into photography. It’s also perfect for people who have a fancy camera but aren’t quite sure how to work it past the full auto.

And now, the pictures of the tour!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*I’ll convince Cristina to do her own blog of the pictures she took. And yes, I was right; she has much better eye for a good photograph than I do!

Concerting: Minus the Bear and Ben Folds

(First a word from Kurt) Cristina sent me a text message one day demanding I buy tickets to Ben Folds at Tulane‘s McAllister Auditorium. Kind of odd since she never demands anything. I logged in and purchased the tickets. She was excited; I wasn’t.

I have no problem with Ben Folds. I just don’t really care. I was doing this for her. That was until I heard the opening act was going to be Minus the Bear.

I first heard about them around 2002 with the release of Highly Refined Pirates their first LP. Any band that names a song “Thanks for a Killer Game of Crisco Twister” will catch my attention. In fact, their song titles are catchier than most other bands’ songs. The music lived up to the title. Clever and playful melodies that take you somewhere. Learning they were going to be at the show now made me excited for the gig.

They didn’t disappoint. Even though they aren’t presently on tour they were tight and seemed to be having fun. The crowd on the other hand was truly there to see Ben Folds. I truly was the odd ball out in that I was there to only see them plus I was a frontrunner for the oldest guy in the place.

They finished their set with “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” which is my favorite song of theirs. While were in Paris, I would annoy Cristina by singing the song. How couldn’t I with lyrics such as “we have to plan our day, the Rodin and D’Orsay.” Yet, the day we did have planned the D’Orsay was closed. Well, at least we got to sit on “park bench that’s older than my country.”

Ben Folds

Ben Folds singing

Cristina’s turn to now talk about the amazingness that is Ben Folds. (Yes, Cristina wrote this.)

Ben Folds is one of those people I’ve wanted to see since college. With or without Five, with The Bens, any way you slice him, I adored his music. Unfortunately, I’ve never come close to seeing him live. As I’m randomly checking facebook after school one day, I see he’s coming to Tulane University. For $15. Are you kidding me?!

When Kurt and I arrive, I immediately see some old college friends. Sweet! We catch up with them while waiting in line, and manage to all get about 5th row when we enter the auditorium. Though Kurt was super excited for Minus the Bear and stood up and danced the whole time, I enjoyed them while sitting. As soon as Ben Folds came on the stage, I became the geeky fangirl I’ve always been, taking my turn to stand up and dance.

Ben Folds was everything I knew he’d be. It was just him and his piano, beautifully and masterfully singing his best songs. He was so energetic, funny, and engaging with the audience. The crowd, most of them college students, were extremely into him, which I thought was awesome that he was still touching people musically.

Ben Folds Drum Solo

Ben Folds Drum Solo

Though singing crowd favorites like Army, Still Fighting It, Zak and Sara, Annie Waits, and Brick, he left out my absolute favorite song, The Luckiest (which I know he plays live still!). During B****es Ain’t S***, he pulled a girl audience member up on stage to sing it as he played the piano accompaniment. She did such a great job, and the audience was so supportive and singing along with her. Such a great moment for her! He also made up two different songs about New Orleans on the spot, solidifying my belief that he is a musical mastermind. At one point, they pulled out a drum set and he did an awesome drum solo, making the crowd go wild. He ended the show with Not The Same, having the audience take part with the “ahhh ahhhhhhh” harmonies.

In all, it was everything and more than what I hoped for. Checking this one off the bucket list for musical acts I must see.

Here’s clip of him I shot while singing Brick. Sorry for the weird in and out of focus thing that seems to be going on, I think the strobe lighting was affecting my camera’s focus. Enjoy!

Family-ing: Fulfilling a Dream, The Captain’s Lady Cafe

Captain's Lady Cafe

Captain's Lady Cafe

If you would’ve asked my mom two months ago if she was going to own her own restaurant, she would’ve laughed and called you crazy. Yet here she is, the Captain’s Lady Cafe a month old, serving New Orleans style food, as well as just simple down home cooking.

In February, my mom and step-dad noticed a little cafe style restaurant for sale. They laughingly tossed around the idea of buying it and opening up a permanent place, in addition to using their trailer on the weekends. A week goes by, and the price of the place drops even further, a price that made their far-fetched joke a reality.

Using the help of her husband’s family to paint and slightly remodel the place, along with the help of Kurt to design the menu, in less than 3 weeks they were ready to open their new business endeavor. On March 8th, 2012, Captain’s Lady Cafe was open for business.

My mom was optimistic about business, but not overly so. She knew it would take some time to gather a fan-base; therefore, she was amazed at the turnout the first week. She was slammed! Her cafe is surrounded by businesses, who all order gobs of sandwiches for lunch. She has a different daily special everyday, which often sells out before the day’s end. She has a to-go window, where people can call in orders ahead of time and pick it up without even leaving their cars, as well as order through the window. There are picnic tables and umbrellas outside, as well as four small tables inside.

It’s a cozy, friendly place with down home cooking, influenced by New Orleans. The daily specials range from red beans and rice, to chicken and sausage gumbo, to shrimp étouffée. The snoballs are New Orleans style, thinly shaved snow ice, using a block of ice and a three blade system that has it coming out as soft as snow. My grandma bakes some of her goodies and has them for sale on the counter. Robbie’s Bread Pudding is absolutely divine, literally some of the best bread pudding I’ve ever tasted. In addition, she makes homemade iced tea (sweet and unsweet) and homemade lemonade. There’s even art along the wall for sale by local artists (including my sister, Dina!).

In all, everything I have eaten here has been delicious. The prices are incredibly reasonable, the service is super friendly, and the atmosphere is cozy and comforting. If you love delicious home cooking, I highly suggest coming to Captain’s Lady Cafe. I couldn’t be more proud of my mom!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.