Louisiana Rambles

Exploring America’s Cajun and Creole Heartland

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Starting an adventure at the end of the road

Posted July 23, 2014

A road trip to the end of the line has a magnetic draw, and Louisiana offers plenty of these routes. Follow the one that leads through Chauvin and Cocodrie, however, and you may wish the road would never end.

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Dancing and Dining on the Prairie

Posted July 11, 2013

Cajun dancing is hungry work, though happily wherever people are doing a waltz or two-step good food is usually nearby. That’s certainly the case on Saturday evenings in downtown Eunice, that farm town and hub of Acadian culture out on the Cajun prairie.

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Alight Christmas: Bonfires Beckon in St. James Parish

Posted December 20, 2012

Christmas Eve bonfires along the Mississippi River represent deep tradition for some Louisiana families, though for others making the trip to experience this amazing spectacle can be tricky. Family obligations and other traditions on Christmas Eve might preclude a road trip, even a short one. But it’s worth the effort, and with just a little advance planning — to put the in-laws on notice perhaps, or to organize a group for the outing — it can turn into an unforgettable part of your holiday.

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Rallying – and Dancing – Around the Blackpot in Lafayette

Posted October 24, 2012

There is a lot coming up for New Orleans this weekend, but the prospect of excellent, competition-driven Cajun cooking is on the burner too, and that’s often enough to inspire a quick road trip all on its own. My last post was about the French Food Festival this weekend in Larose, while today I’m highlighting a delicious, fun, just absolute sweetheart of a festival in Lafayette: the South Louisiana Blackpot Festival & Cookoff.

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Cajun Pride at the French Food Festival

Posted October 23, 2012

There are plenty of high profile cooking contests out there these days, all over cable TV in particular. They have celebrity chefs, celebrity judges, fancy, gleaming kitchen sets and over-the-top cooking challenges. But I’ve always found that when it comes to really good, truly inspirational competitive cooking, you can’t beat a Louisiana festival where local families break out their own treasured recipes. Two examples are coming up this weekend in south Louisiana. And, even though this is a busy time in New Orleans, the allure of the eats that each offers should be enough to tempt a quick road trip. I’ll highlight one today, and the second tomorrow.

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Louisiana Eats road report: Johnson’s Boucaniere

Posted September 26, 2012

Lately I’ve been contributing as a guest on “Louisiana Eats”, the radio show hosted by Louisiana food maven Poppy Tooker and produced by our local NPR affiliate here in New Orleans, WWNO 89.9 FM.

I’m serving as her “rambling reporter,” providing tips for where to eat while traveling around Louisiana. In the latest segment, we talk about Johnson’s Boucaniere, a great smokehouse in Lafayette with a lot of character, immense flavor and a long history.

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Celebrating the Crawfish in Breaux Bridge

Posted May 1, 2012

The crawfish are pouring out of Cajun country in a torrent at this time of year. It’s an incredible – and very specifically Louisiana – harvest, and naturally Louisiana greets it with a harvest festival. As always, the first weekend in May means it’s time for the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

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Festival International: When Playing Second Fiddle Is a Blessing

Posted April 26, 2012

It’s an extremely busy time for festivals around south Louisiana. While Jazz Fest in New Orleans tends to suck most of the oxygen from the room due to its sheer size, rich history and general awesomeness, the Festival International de Louisiane two hours down the highway in Lafayette is an increasingly appealing draw as well.

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A World Away, Just 20 Minutes Out: the Barataria Preserve

Posted March 28, 2012

A recent ramble through the Barataria Preserve was a powerful reminder of just how close the natural splendor of south Louisiana is to our doorstep here in the city and the way it can transport a visitor to a seemingly different world, if only for an hour or so.

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Alight Christmas: Bonfires Beckon in St. James Parish

Posted December 16, 2011

Christmas Eve bonfires along the Mississippi River represent deep tradition for some Louisiana families, though for others making the trip to experience this amazing spectacle can be tricky. Family obligations and other traditions on Christmas Eve might preclude a road trip, even a short one. But it’s worth the effort, and with just a little advance planning — to put the in-laws on notice perhaps, or to organize a group for the outing — it can turn into an unforgettable part of your holiday.

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Of Oysters and Omelets in Eminently Edible Abbeville

Posted November 3, 2011

I’ve racked up a lot of miles in search of iconic Louisiana food, and while I don’t regret a bite of it, in the future when I need a concentrated dose of our distinctive local flavor I might just drive straight to Abbeville, a place I’ve come to love as one of the great eating towns of Acadiana. You’ll find Abbeville at the end of a two-hour road trip west from New Orleans, about 20 miles south of Lafayette along the Vermilion River, surrounded by cane fields, cattle ranches and fishing villages. With a population of about 12,000 people, it’s a small town with an historic core and an outsized culinary personality, one that will be in full bloom next weekend, Nov. 5 and 6, with oysters, omelets and more.

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Heritage by the Link at the Andouille Festival

Posted October 14, 2011

There is noting remotely seasonal about andouille sausage. But there is no denying that the urge for andouille goes through the roof at this time of year, as summer weather slackens and the first whiff of Louisiana’s fall and winter weather hangs in the air.

The capital for andouille is LaPlace, and it’s no coincidence that this time of year, with the seasons change, is when this riverside town hosts its annual Andouille Festival, which happens Oct. 14th through 16th.

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Watching Louisiana Culture Bubble Over at Festivals Acadiens et Creoles

Posted October 13, 2011

The intergenerational transfer of Cajun culture happens on hunting trips and at fishing camps, in kitchens and campsites, at music jams, in horse stables, during Mardi Gras and at family gatherings, from weddings to funerals. That’s where the deep fermentation happens. But for the traveler, a good south Louisiana festival is a chance to experience the contemporary culture firsthand, to participate in the celebration and to watch it all bubble over the top.

I am an unabashed fan of Cajun country festivals, and a great showpiece of what they’re all about is coming around this weekend with the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles. It happens Friday, Oct. 14 through Sunday, Oct. 16 in Girard Park, right in the heart of Lafayette and it’s free.

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Grand Isle, Our Giant Sandy Fishing Boat

Posted July 23, 2011

It seems that every road on Grand Isle leads to fish. The boat launches here send countless fishing craft set off for the bays north of the island and to the Gulf to the south. In fact, the beauty of Grand Isle, I’ve come to believe, is that you don’t even need a boat to feel like you’re fishing from one.

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Where in Louisiana?

Posted June 24, 2011

A recent Saturday afternoon drive took me through some classic Louisiana country scenery. Flip through the gallery above and see if you can guess where in Louisiana I was rambling when I took these pictures. The answer, and the photo that likely will give it away, are at the end of the gallery.

Food in the Face of Floods

Posted June 21, 2011

The Mississippi River’s great inundation of the Atchafalaya Basin brought this part of Louisiana to the attention of a lot of people watching events unfold around the country. For many of those intimate with south Louisiana eating, however, no introduction is necessary. The Atchafalaya Basin, and the communities in it, are writ large across the food map that comes to mind for these avid eaters whenever they consider Louisiana.

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Steering a Course for the Mississippi

Posted June 6, 2011

It’s easy to frame this spring’s historic Mississippi River flood stage as another example of man versus nature, and that’s indeed how many in the media covered it. But instead I think we should see in the river’s awesome display our potential to better tap the its mighty power rather than our failure to reliably and absolutely control it.

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Basin Blues in Butte La Rose

Posted May 17, 2011

If somehow you knew nothing about the slow, quasi-controlled river flood moving through Louisiana right now, the simple fact that the tiny hamlet of Butte La Rose is turning up in national media coverage should be enough to tip you off that trouble is brewing. In fact, when the world at large hears about small, secluded Louisiana places like Butte La Rose at all, it’s usually a sign that something has gone wrong. Now that the Morganza Spillway is channeling a large chunk of the torrentially swollen Mississippi River down the Atchafalaya Basin, Butte La Rose is in the crosshairs of disaster and the spotlight for media.

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All Along the Spillway

Posted May 7, 2011

Flood control systems in south Louisiana are so omnipresent, and so massive, that it’s easy to take them for granted. All that changes when we really need them, however, like right now.

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Festival International: When Playing Second Fiddle Is a Blessing

Posted April 29, 2011

It’s an extremely busy time for festivals around south Louisiana. While Jazz Fest in New Orleans tends to suck in most of the oxygen in the room due to its sheer size, rich history and general awesomeness, the Festival International de Louisiane two hours down the highway in Lafayette is an increasingly appealing draw as well.

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A Grim Anniversary, and a Powerful Voice

Posted April 20, 2011

The anniversary of a momentous event can evoke powerful emotions, as we’ve all had unfortunately ample opportunity to experience in recent years. Today, though, the first anniversary of the BP oil disaster feels different.

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Borne on the Bayou: Discovering Bayou Lafourche

Posted April 6, 2011

I’d crisscrossed Bayou Lafourche many times over the years without knowing much about it. But one extraordinary outdoor event revealed the culture and history, the natural beauty, the current perils and potential promise of this vital south Louisiana waterway, and it gave me a better context for understanding the whole region. That annual event comes around again this week.

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An Unexpected Workout on Bayou des Familles

Posted March 28, 2011

I led some visiting out-of-towners on a short canoe trip recently that might serve as a cautionary tale. It was a nice trip, all in all, and I had indeed intended it to be a short one. . .just not this short.

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A Mardi Gras After-Party on the Prairie

Posted March 7, 2011

D.I.‘s Cajun Restaurant is one of those Acadiana eateries that seems harrowingly remote, yet comes alive at mealtime as customers convene from all corners. This phenomenon is never more astonishing than during Mardi Gras, when it turns into a sort of after-party for merry revelers.

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When Sunday is Tuesday: a Cajun Mardi Gras Alternative

Posted March 2, 2011

The hardest part about experiencing Mardi Gras in Cajun country is missing Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Anyway, that’s how I felt until I discovered how a little historical twist years back set up an opportunity to see a real deal “courir” in Cajun country and still be back in New Orleans for the big day itself.

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Chasing Cajun Mardi Gras Across the Prairie

Posted March 1, 2011

Any time of year that I travel around the Cajun prairie I always seem to meet people who want to talk about Mardi Gras. Specifically, such folks will learn that I’m visiting from New Orleans and then immediately make the claim that Acadiana is the place to find “the real Mardi Gras.”

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A Vast and Varied Fleet of Homemade Floats

Posted February 14, 2011

Before shrimping season begins, fishermen all over south Louisiana start chalking hulls and mending nets to get their vessels ship-shape. The approach of Mardi Gras signals a similarly perennial rite around the region as people get their parade floats ready.

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Avery Island’s Winter Colors and 450 Shades of Red

Posted February 5, 2011

Things are looking rather freezer-burned around New Orleans right now after an uncomfortably long string of days under 40 degrees, so I was happy to find a recent reminder of an eruption of color and blooms now underway in Iberia Parish.

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Coffee and “Jam” in Breaux Bridge

Posted January 28, 2011

The Saturday morning zydeco breakfast at Café des Amis is a big, big draw, and each weekend a crowd gathers to join the party inside this downtown Breaux Bridge restaurant. A zydeco band plays in the alcove of the restaurant’s bay window while a packed house dances between bites of griddled boudin and “big hat” omelets with etouffee. It’s really fun, but it’s also so popular it can be hard to get in.

Right around the corner, though, you’ll find another Saturday morning musical scene rolling along at a more relaxed pace. That would be the Pont Breaux Jam, an open acoustic jam session held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the downtown café the Coffee Break.

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Jeanerette Gingerbread

Posted January 22, 2011

One of the pleasures of bypassing the interstate in favor of secondary roads around Louisiana is the way these older routes tend to bring you right through the middle of the towns along the way. Sure, it makes for a slower journey between points A and B, but it also provides a string of rewards along the way.

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Don’t Call It a Gumbo

Posted January 22, 2011

Gumbo comes up a lot in Louisiana Rambles. Doing a little word search through my manuscript, it appeared 18 times. But I’d like to point out that each of these mentions is a reference to something to eat and emphatically not a metaphor for Louisiana culture.

Whoever first compared the multiethnic richness of this state with its most famous dish was clever. But he or she has doomed us all to its endless recycling in the media, in politics and in ad campaigns.

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