New Orleans, LA can get a bad rap if all you see is Bourbon Street. But if you step off the beaten path, it has a lot of history and adventure to offer, not to mention delicious food!
Guys! I'm still here. I know, you were probably worried for a minute that we got finished with graduation, went to New Orleans, partied our faces off, and decided never to come back. (Which may or may not be pretty close to the truth.)
We left our Airbnb in Crawford and actually backtracked through Starkville again so we could have coffee and breakfast. Did you know that most of Mississippi is a food desert? Well, it is. Some of these small towns have incredibly limited food offerings, or none at all (which was the case of Crawford, as we were staying in a pasture.) We took the Natchez Trace Parkway again, down to Jackson.
We stopped for lunch at the Mississippi Farmer's Market in Jackson, which I loved - tons of fresh produce and grass-fed beef and dairy from local farmers. There was a woman who was selling canned pickled peppers, chow chow, and hot sauce who I chatted up, as she had a disclaimer on her labels that her product was made in what is deemed a "cottage kitchen" in Mississippi.
What is the cottage food industry?
I learned that there's something called the cottage food industry, and every state has their own rules. It allows people who are small time growers, producers, canners, whatever, to package their product and sell it to the public without having to be inspected or approved by any regulatory agencies.
Seeing as how many peppers we had this year, I thought this was a great idea - I could use cottage food laws to pickle, can, or otherwise sell my peppers at little artist markets in Charleston! Wrong. I could not have been more wrong. Here's what the SC Agriculture Department says cottage food is:
"A cottage food operation is a home-based food operation that operates out of an individual’s dwelling that prepares, packages, stores and distributes non-potentially hazardous foods to a person."
Ok, cool. We're still good here. I can comply with that. Now, want to know what's covered under the SC Cottage Bill?
"Non-potentially hazardous baked goods and candy that are sold directly to the end consumer are covered under this bill."
I'm sorry. What? In case you need me to translate, this says that the only thing I can make in my home kitchen to sell to other people under this law is baked goods and candy. Two of the most unhealthy things that exist. It gets better. Want to know what's considered hazardous?
"an animal food that is raw or heat-treated; a plant food that is heat-treated or consists of raw seed sprouts; cut melons; cut leafy greens; cut tomatoes or mixtures of cut tomatoes not modified to prevent microorganism growth or toxin formation; garlic-in-oil mixtures not modified to prevent microorganism growth or toxin formation."
Ok, so raw or cooked meat, cooked vegetables, raw vegetables that have been cut, tomatoes that do not have GMOs or pesticides in them. Also, make sure that your garlic-oil mixture has the right chemicals, preservatives, and other cancer-causing crap in it so they can be certain that it's not toxic. So if I have an excess tomato crop, and I want to make salsa and sell it, no can do. Perfect. I love government.
So anyway, we left Jackson and headed down to New Orleans. We needed to grab some dinner before the big Krewe of Kringle parade, so we found a restaurant around the corner from where we were staying called Neyows Restaurant. The place was slammed, so we asked where we could place a to-go order, and the waitress directed us to the bar.
We stood at the bar for probably 10 minutes before I was able to get anyone's attention to let them know we needed to place a to-go order. She handed us some menus and walked away. It took about another 10 minutes to get someone's attention again to let her know we were ready to order, at which point she informed us that a to-go order was going to take about 30-40 minutes to be ready.
This would have been good information to have when we originally mentioned placing a to-go order, no? Oh, let me add one other detail to this story: there were 4 white people other than us in the entire restaurant.
Were they busy? Yes. Do I think we were being ignored and put off because of the color of our skin? Yes. I had multiple bartenders look right past me when I tried to get their attention, and the ladies next to me at the bar ordered food without any issue. The bartender walked away from them before I could even try to speak to her.
It was definitely an eye-opening experience to be on the other end of, and certainly lent a bit of perspective.
We ended up at the hot bar at Whole Foods because we were in a hurry. Dinner fail, I know, but we just needed to eat. We headed home, got changed into our costumes, and grabbed an Uber to the House of Blues. Let me just tell you, that place was a zoo. Also let me tell you, Brandan makes an excellent Santa, and he really thrives in a Santa costume. I think he may have missed his calling.
Krewe of Kringle Parade
There may or may not have been a Triumph motorcycle in front of our rental. I may or may not have suggested he hop on for a photo op.
This is from the House of Blues. I was trying to capture the insanely large crowd, but instead I just captured the pure joy on our faces.
There. That's the crowd shot I was aiming for. This doesn't even look that crowded, but I promise you, it was wall-to-wall Santas. Santas everywhere.
This one was supposed to be for the Christmas card. Instead, Brandan's beard is on crooked, and he's double-fisting PBRs. Don't think we'll make that the family photo.
The coolest costumes I found were people dressed up as the 12 Days of Christmas. I tried to get photos of all of them, but they were very disorganized, slightly drunk, and could not get it together. This was nine ladies dancing and seven swans a swimming:
This was three maids a milking:
Here's 5 golden rings:
Their lords a leaping was dressed as Jesus and leaping around the party; their geese a laying was a girl dressed as Mother Goose and carrying around a basket of real eggs. She missed the tip to hardboil them and ended up dropping three of them before we even left House of Blues. Oops. Their pipers piping was a guy who actually knew how to play the flute, and their drummers drumming was a high school teacher who got his hands on a band costume, then wore a drum around his neck. It was one of the most creative group costumes I think I've ever seen. Some of my other favorites were the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who:
...and Negan and Lucille, for all my TWD fans out there. Lucille's lights flashed and changed from red to white. It was awesome.
Just to really belabor the point of the ridiculousness of this evening, I also want to share this picture of Brandan mimicking an alligator in a store along the parade route. You're welcome.
Seriously, do you see that mob? It goes on forever. There must have been a thousand people participating in the parade, no joke.
We also met this amazing woman: Jenny Campbell of NOLA Costumes. She is a costume designer and makes all of her own stuff. You can see some more of her amazing work on her site here. She was dressed as the Ice Queen that night:
That thing on her head? Working snow globe. It has a fan in it and blows the snow around while it's sitting on her head. The guy next to her is her handler, so he helps her get in and out of the costumes. They spent quite awhile chatting with us, talking about our trip and our travels, and telling us how she got started.
We got interrupted about 1,548 times by people wanting to take photos of them, but no one really wanted to talk to them, they just wanted a picture. I can't understand it. Here is this obviously incredibly talented and creative woman, and you don't even want to know her name? Or where her costume came from? Or where she gets her ideas? Or what she did before she made costumes in New Orleans? Nope. Just a picture and I'm gone, thanks. No one has time for anyone else anymore.
We paraded on, and the last stop was Pat O'Briens, which is right around the corner from Bourbon Street. Now, I don't normally like Bourbon Street - I think it's a filthy, trashy, disgusting place that displays most of what is wrong with America, but when you're dressed like Santa and Rudolph, and it's 2 weeks before Christmas, you walk Bourbon Street just for entertainment.
As we wandered further, more people started yelling at us. We got Elf quotes, beads thrown to us, and lots of photo requests. We eventually realized that we had wandered so far from the end of the parade that we were the only people in costume on the street, which made us oddly popular. We posed for photos with multiple strangers, and too late it dawned on us we should have started charging for the photos. I'm pretty sure they would have paid.
New Orleans Cemeteries
Our Uber driver on the way home gave us some food recommendations for Sunday, and we took almost all of them. We had coffee at Mojo Coffee in Freret, then breakfast at Satsuma in East Carrolton. Both were phenomenal. We were all sick of being in the car, so we decided to take Folly for a long walk and headed north to City Park. On the way home we walked through Saint Louis Cemetery #3.
Because the water table in NOLA is so high, they bury their dead in above ground vaults or tombs. They refer to these cemeteries as cities of the dead. As we wandered, we wondered about the different sizes of them, and why some were bigger, some had fences, and some were seemingly just a square space in a wall of other squares. The other thing we wondered was how they were fitting all of those people into one tomb. The answer isn't what you'd expect.
As we were headed back to the house, we stumbled across a local dedication ceremony for something called an Equity Circle. An organization called The Welcome Table is a citywide initiative of NOLA Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office which focuses on race, reconciliation and community. The homepage of their website reads:
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. -Martin Luther King, Jr.
The ceremony started out with a performance by The Roots of Music, which is a non-profit for kids ages 9-14 that provides music history and performance instruction. Their website reads:
"We serve kids ages 9-14 from low-income households, and provide our students with hot meals and round-trip transportation to reduce common barriers to participation. Five days a week, 12 months a year, our program delivers over 2,500 hours of music education and other academic tutoring, over 30,400 nutritious hot meals, 1,400 bus journeys, and supplies over 150 instruments for student use."
That's incredible to me. Not only are they keeping the NOLA music heritage alive, they are providing these kids with transportation and meals to make sure there is nothing keeping them from having access to this program.
The whole idea of the Equity Circle is this: They wanted to make an inviting spot that would contribute to revitalization of an underused space, and transform the city scape even in a small way. The theme was one of race and reconciliation and the ability and interest of people to talk openly with each other.
As the Mayor spoke, he talked about how it was designed as a compass rose to indicate eternally NOLA directions - Downriver, Upriver, Lakeside, Riverside - while at the same time having a universalizing effect, as a compass rose connects a place with everywhere else.
He spoke of equity, of fairness, of opportunity, of justice. And as he spoke of the equity circle being a level playing field, where no one has an advantage, I watched these two run, jump and play together in the grass.
They talked about the centrality and diversity of the location. About how they are planting a seed in the most diverse neighborhood to see if it will grow. I can't help but hope that for these two, it grows, but in some ways, it stays the same. Because they are the very definition of what we need - to run, play, and jump with each other, regardless of sex, race, or anything else. To them, they're just two kids playing in the grass. If the whole world could see if that way, we'd be a lot better off.
Where did we eat in New Orleans, LA?
We were hungry again, so we drove to Cuchon Butcher for a snack. It's really hard going in there, because I want to order and eat everything. We had dinner reservations, though, so I contained myself.
We headed home, got changed, and started out our last NOLA evening at Barrel Proof, an awesome and completely unpretentious bourbon bar. We had Old Fashioneds, which were listed on the menu at $7, and when we got the check found they were actually $5 on Sunday. They're $4 at happy hour on weekdays. Just for comparison's sake, the least we ever pay in Charleston is $9, and the highest we've ever been charged (which was outrageous) was $16. Just goes to show you that they charge you on what people will pay, not what it's worth.
Our Uber driver had also recommended we have our celebratory graduation dinner at Commander's Palace, so we decided to give it a try. Brandan confirmed when he made the reservation that yes, he would be wearing a jacket to meet their dress code.
At first I found this kind of charming, because I think Americans for the most part are slobs and no one gets dressed up to go anywhere anymore. Then we got there, and when I walked up to the counter, the host completely ignored me and talked over me to Brandan. In leading us to our seats, the greeting was, "right this way Mr Scully." "How's this table for you, Mr. Scully?" Oh hi, just me over here, invisible wife. After we sat down, Brandan says, "Did you notice they didn't want to talk to you at all?"
So, I guess I appreciate a little bit of tradition, but maybe not too much. Shortly after that, he said, "It might just be that they think you're an escort," which sent me into fits of giggles in a very un-ladylike fashion and earned me a few stern looks from staff. Oops. No laughing here.
The food at this place made up for anything and everything else. It was seriously, no joke, hands down, the best meal I have ever had. Do you know how big of a statement that is? We live in Charleston, SC. Usually when we go places, nothing can compare to the food we have access to. The food at Commander's Palace blew my mind. It was so incredibly good.
We had a pork belly appetizer, Brandan had turtle soup, and then I had a veal chop for dinner and Brandan had rabbit. Every single thing we ordered brought out taste buds that I did not know I had.
We ended the night with a show put on by Fleur de Tease, which was supposed to be a burlesque version of the Nutcracker. With the exception of a single female dancer dressed as a nutcracker early on in the performance, and a 45 year old man hosting dressed as Clara, it had nothing to do with the Nutcracker whatsoever.
That being said, each dancer had a different talent, and we got to see belly dancing, ballet, arial silks, lyra hoops and more. Some of them were more talented than others (I was mesmerized by the lyra hoops, because I really want to try those) but it was still a cool performance.
By the time we left NOLA, we were out of energy and money. But there's something about NOLA that makes me love it, and I really do think it's the diversity. They welcome all kinds, and they have a level playing field.
Life Lesson: Come to the table as equals.
Don't automatically discount someone based on their sex, the color of their skin, their tattoos, their piercings, their costume, whatever. At a most basic level, we're all human. Our time here is limited. Get to know someone before you judge them. Keep an open mind.
Welcome them in, the way New Orleans welcomes everyone. They don't get hung up much on what people think of their city, and sometimes that gets them a bad rap (Bourbon Street, anyone?) But they pay it no mind, and they keep on doing their own thing.
Go back and look at those pictures of the little girl and boy playing in the park. They're equals. Let's all try to be a little more like them.