Hurricane Delphi Hits New Orleans

No, you didn’t hear about this hurricane on the news. It would have been bad if it made the news! My group of online mommy friends decided to have a Big Time in the Big Easy. (If you want know the history of these mommy friends, scroll down to January 2017 and find my blog on the Women’s March, I’m not rehashing it all!)

So late last year, someone said we need to have another get-together, let’s rent a house somewhere — it’ll be cheaper than a hotel and we can really spend time together. What about New Orleans? So we started the group planning. We got a tentative head-count so we could start looking for a house. Kirsti found a great one on Air BnB. Gretchen reserved it and started collecting our money for the deposit. We spend several months hounding various members about coming. We ended up with 17 staying in the big house and one staying nearby. We came from 11 states from Maine to California and three Canadians representing Toronto and Vancouver.

The house is an old mansion that has been split into two houses. We were on the left. There’s a third story in the back.

Here is a tour of the house, narrated by Dawn.

 

In July, the serious planning got started. What did we want to see and do and eat and drink. The suggestions were fast and furious. I really wanted to do a short cruise on the Mississippi so finally I said “Let’s book tickets for the Friday 10 am. cruise”. After that, Marianne added a cooking class. Echo wanted to do a ghost tour. So we had three things on the schedule with loads of time for impromptu excursions and just hanging out around the house. Gretchen ordered the groceries and Andrea was in charge of the alcohol. We were well stocked for food and drink. The planning stage of the trip was fun in itself, everyone was so energized.

 

Making dinner Thursday night. The woman on the right is Dena. She isn’t actually a forum member. One of our very long-time members — Autumn — got married a few months back and Dena is her wife. They are still at the “can’t stand to be apart stage” (the rest of us who are married over that!) so they decided to get an AirBnB down the street and have a little honeymoon. Dena was fantastic to jump right in and help with the kitchen work.

Thursday was arrival day. We all came in at different times, a few were down in the French Quarter having drinks by 12:45, others rolled in about 2:30 in the morning. I had an afternoon flight. Heath was going to take me to the MARTA station at 11 but we left a little early as I was pacing the floor and Buddy had figured out something was going on and was bouncing off the walls.

The flight was interesting. They got about two-thirds of the way through the beverage service when the pilot announced they needed to stop it and prepare the cabin for landing.  After the flight attendants did that, we ended up circling for about 30 minutes due to storms over New Orleans. Oh, well, I got my Biscoff. I don’t remember what time I got the house. None of my messages were going through so I had people wondering where I was. I had a really chatty Lyft driver who gave me all kinds of good advice about visiting the city.

 

Miles and miles and miles from home

Since Thursday was arrival day, we decided to stay in for the evening. We had rotisserie chicken, salad and my homemade bread for dinner. I packed so much food my checked suitcase got opened for inspection. They leave you a little card when they do that. I didn’t have the curry puffs packed in as well as I thought and they had a rough time. The ones in the Ziploc bags did fine. I was able to salvage enough of them, though. They were a hit while we played Card Against Humanity.

What a mess

It was a wild night. So much fun meeting everyone. Some of us attended the Women’s March last year and had met but for most of the group I think it was their first time to really meet anyone. So lots of squealing and hugging.

I won a round of Cards Against Humanity. And if you squint you can see the curry puffs in the middle.

I went to bed about 10, I’m not sure how long others stayed up. I could hear them laughing all the way up on the third floor.

Friday

Friday morning we dragged our bedheads into the kitchen for another round of hugging and squealing.

The boat tour was scheduled for 10 that morning and it turned out 15 of us, including Dena, had tickets. The other four decided on makeovers (more on that later).

Our house was in a fantastic location. It was one block in one direction from a bus stop and two or three blocks in the other direction from a trolley stop. Most of us opted for the bus to Spanish Square where the boat dock is.

Off on an adventure!

We headed to the back of the bus and there was one man back there. He saw this mob of women descending on him and said “I’ll move so you can sit together”. Yeah, he wanted to get away from us!

We are ready to cruise!

We did a history tour on the Creole Queen. It was a 30 minute boat ride where we learned all about the history of New Orleans then about an hour at  historic Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery where we heard a park ranger talk about the Battle of New Orleans.  If you don’t know about the battle, Johnny Horton wrote a very informative — and I’m sure 100% accurate — song about it. You can hear it here.

Wendell was our historian. We learned all about the founding of New Orleans by the LeMoyne brothers and about LaSalle’s exploration of the Mississippi River. That was before he got lost, ended up in Texas near where my parents live, founded the first French settlement in Texas and then was murdered by his men.

 

Looking out at the Mississippi. To quote Heath, “it’s very wet from the standpoint of water”. It’s also very deep from the standpoint of having water over your head.

What I thought was really interesting was this Domino’s sugar factory. It was built in 1909 and is the largest sugar factory in the Americas and one of the world’s largest. If it were built today, Wendell said it would cost $2 billion. (That’s a B, folks). They make all kinds of sugar — granulated, powdered, molasses and their hard hats are partly sugar — and 70% of it is from Louisiana-grown sugar cane. My dad grew up not far from New Orleans and he had a job every year helping to process sugar cane into molasses but that’s a story for another time.

Sugar factory

We got to the national park and listened to the ranger and then looked around some. I loved the grass, it was that soft springy stuff that grows in South Texas but won’t grow in Atlanta.

I couldn’t get a head-on shot of the information sign but you might be able to enlarge and read it.

There were all these gorgeous Live Oak trees with Spanish moss growing off of them. I just love those trees and would love one in my yard. The are fantastic for climbing, swings and tree houses. Andrea said “Spanish moss doesn’t grow on trees, you buy it in little bags at Michaels”.

Look at the grass!

Then it was back on the boat and back to town. Wendell had just a short presentation on the way back. It was hot so we sat inside in the air conditioning and discussed lunch plans, getting in touch with the make-over people.

And speaking of make-overs. That was Nipuna, Stella and Kirsti. Look what Nipuna did!

Say goodbye!
Isn’t she cute!

The boaters and beautiers (minus Nip who went back to the house for a nap) met up at Jackson Square to look for a place for lunch. We ran into a street band.

Melissa and Gretchen keeping the trumpet player company

We finally ended up at Muriel’s. They had good reviews, air conditioning and enough tables for all of us. The food was really good, the service was really slow, even at an off-peak time.

My table. All of the chandeliers were different and there were lots of interesting things on the walls
Yummy

I had the shrimp creole and it was delicious. We got shrimp and goat cheese crepes as an appetizer for the table. Now I know what heaven tastes like.

We finished just in time for a few people to rush off to an important appointment. Jaimi had been thinking about getting another tattoo and thought “why not get it in New Orleans?” She asked if anyone else was interested, made some phone calls and found a good place off the beaten track that didn’t charge tourist prices. Melissa came up with a pretty flower design that she wanted and a few others went for it, too. So now we have an official ATC tattoo. Jaimi got a really neat “stairway to heaven” design.

Look at those wild women and their matching tats! And Jaimi’s stairway. It’s upside down in the photo. Stella, Andrea Jaimi (standing in back), Echo, Melissa and Melanie.

While they were tatting and Nip was napping, the rest of us wandered around a little looking at the shops.

Junky souvenir shopping.

We went through an area where it looked like Halloween decorations were being set up. It’s a little early but it is New Orleans. Then we stopped to talk to the people. They were preparing to film an episode of NCIS: New Orleans late that night. The security lady said if we came back about 10 we might get to be extras. We didn’t make it, though. It would have been fun to watch the filming.

 

Setting up for filming

When the tattoo group got back they had their artwork covered with bandages. Later that afternoon we were all in the kitchen and heard this blood-curdling scream from the back hallway. Echo hollered “Holy *&%@#! Taking off the bandage hurts worse than getting the tattoo did!“.

People straggled back throughout the afternoon. We hung out in the kitchen and ate and drank and compared notes from our day. At one point (might have been the next day) someone commented that we had that beautiful living and dining room but spent all of our time hanging around the kitchen. Probably because that’s where the food and booze were. And the Cherry 7-Up, which apparently isn’t available in Canada.

That night we planned to get gussied up and hit Bourbon Street.

All dressed up with somewhere to go

There were two bars we were interested in. One Echo found, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. It’s the oldest bar building in the US having been built between 1722 and 1732 and it’s a neat place to visit even if you don’t plan on drinking. I thought the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleon looked really neat. Both are “must visits”. They were in good locations to bookend a bar crawl. We started at the Carousel and it was expensive (should have known that from the looks of the hotel) and forget getting near the carousel, after all it was Friday night.

It just looks expensive

So we headed down Bourbon Street in search of food. And that’s where we ran into Virginia. She was awesome.

 

Virginia was a hilarious trans woman out taking photos for tips — “I’ve got hormones to pay for” — and passing out advice. She told us a street to avoid (I think we were headed that way) because she had been robbed down there. We took her advice. There are all kinds of colorful people on Bourbon Street.

When my friend Bonnie, who is a big New Orleans fan, found out I was going she said “Oh, I hope there’s a funeral while you’re there” because the funeral parades are really neat. There wasn’t. But it turns out wedding parades are thing, too, and we did see one of those! And someone in our group said she was in one, once.

Well, we ended up at the all-time tourist trap, Pat O’Brien’s. But they had affordable food, room for all of us and hurricanes.

The gang at Pat O’Brien’s minus Shelby who is taking the picture.

Back in the planning stage Marianne wondered about trying gator while we were there. Stella said she had it once and it was chewy and nasty and she didn’t like it. I wondered about that and asked where she had it. As I suspected, what she thought was gator was actually deep-fried shoe-leather-on-a-stick at a fair. So I told her she should give good gator a chance. Pat O’Brien’s had gator bites as an appetizer so a couple of plates of that were passed around.

Stella, Shelby and the gator bites. Stella liked them.
Andrea has a bite of gator. The dipping sauce was really good.
Shrimp and grits

Stella swore all up one side and down the other that she didn’t like grits. I told her this wasn’t like the grits you eat at breakfast and she tasted it. She still didn’t like it, but she did taste it. It was really good but I only ate one grits cake. By the time we got dinner it was 10:30 and it was just too late for a heavy meal like that. I did eat all the shrimp, though.

I don’t remember what we did after dinner. I’m pretty sure I went back to the house.

Saturday

For as late as some people were up Friday night we were up and going early Saturday morning.

Breakfast Saturday morning. We look pretty wide awake.

Saturday morning some of us went cooking and some of us went swamping and some of us went I-don’t-know-where.

Marianne found the cooking class a few months ago and 12 of us had advanced tickets for that. It was at the New Orleans School of Cooking. We decided to take the street car down to the French Quarter. After trying both, I recommend the bus. The streetcar is what the tourists do because riding a streetcar is a novel, fun thing to do. As a result, it’s packed. It’s also built to be open, so it’s really hot, and the wooden benches are hard and they make your legs sweat. The bus is mostly local, not crowded (except I’m sure during rush hour when people are going to/from work), the seats are softer and it has a/c. They’re run by the New Orleans transit company, cost the same amount of money and the multi-ride passes are good on both.

Ready to cook! (I have to add that I got more attention wearing that t-shirt, even in the bars.)
There was a nice gift shop and we all did some shopping after class
Chef Matthew hard at work

This was a demonstration class as the hands-on class was $139. Chef Matthew was very entertaining and we learned so much. When he introduced himself he said he had a bachelor’s degree in cooking. Come to find out, you can get a master’s degree, too. He said the certification programs just say “You can cook, thank you for your money”.

He told us the difference between Creole and Cajun food, which someone had asked about just the night before. He said Creole food is city food. It’s rooted in French cooking (although both cuisines incorporated Native American and Spanish influences). It involves lots of pots and pans and lots of different ingredients as city people lived close to the port and had access to a variety of food. Cajun food is country food. Most recipes are one-pot meals, as that’s all people had, and ingredients were limited to what the people catch, kill or grow themselves. He said “Cajun food is brown food served over rice”. Sounds a little like Asian food, too. He said it’s hard to get pure ethnic food in New Orleans because of “creolization” — throwing Creole spices into everything. With one exception, Vietnamese food. The Vietnamese immigrants settled a little ways away from the main population and have managed to retain their original recipes. He also talked about Po Boys. As you can imagine, they were created by a couple of poor boys trying to make a living. They wanted to sell sandwiches but didn’t want to use French bread as it’s tapered at the ends so when you cut it, you lose the ends. They developed a loaf with square ends so you could use the whole thing.

For recipes, we learned how to make gumbo, jambalaya, bread pudding and prawleens (pralines) and got copies of each recipe. I noticed the gumbo recipe didn’t call for okra. I’d always heard that gumbo=okra and if you don’t have okra, it’s just soup. I asked and Matthew said there’s no official recipe. He also said earlier “everybody’s Mamaw’s gumbo is the best”. And the way to fix burned roux is to throw it out.

I loved this from the praline recipe

I’ve never been able to make a decent roux, but now I think I have a handle on it. I also now understand why to cook the rice with the jambalaya, rather than separately and ladling the jambalaya on top. And after he showed us how to make everything, we got to eat it. I also found out I’m not putting nearly enough seasoning in stuff and why salt is important to the flavor. He also said something that may save my sanity. This professional chef hates to cook chicken so he just buys a rotisserie chicken and pulls the meat off the bones.

Gumbo
Jambalaya
Pralines and bread pudding

Everything was delicious and filling. We didn’t need lunch after that. Along with the samples, they brought each table a pitcher of some local beer that is supposed to be really good. This was my opinion after tasting it:

This is not a re-enactment.
Group shot with chef Matthew

So our plan is in a couple of weeks to pick a week and all of us make one of the recipes and compare results.

While the 12 of us were learning to cook a few others were checking out alligators on a swamp tour.

Stella holds a baby alligator. I texted this picture to Katy and she said “I want to hold a baby alligator”.

Gretchen, Melissa, Ruthe and Erika spent the afternoon on Royal Street. Gretchen and Melissa had their cards read and Ruth and Erika got tattoos lite (henna).

Gretchen learns her fate
Ruthe getting Henna by Jenna
Erika’s henna. Very nice

Echo and a few others decided to head to the Voodoo museum. Ruthe said a lady on the plane told her she was so freaked out by it she couldn’t finish it. I figured I wouldn’t do any better. Just as well, right after they left, we ran into this guy!

Chewbacca has shrunk some in his old age.

We went to the Jean LaFitte National Park visitors’ center, mainly because someone needed a bathroom break, but we looked around the museum some. LaFitte was a French pirate, smuggler and businessman. His knowledge of the area was the reason the colonists won the Battle of New Orleans.

Statue of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, founder of New Orleans

The sky started to cloud up so we figured it was time to head home before it started pouring. Some caught an Uber but Marianne and I decided to take the bus. We knew which bus to take but we had to ask a couple of people where to find the stop. So we saw a couple of streets we hadn’t been down. We ended up getting off one stop early and wandered around the neighborhood where the house was and found some interesting shops to look at.

Don’t mind my poncho, it was raining.

This store had some interesting things in the window and the dress shop actually had some cute things.

We made it back to the house. Where we hung out on the patio. For all the fun things we did and saw, I think my very favorite were the time we sat around and visited. So nice to be able to have a real-time conversation without having to worry about auto-correct.

One thing Echo really wanted to do was a ghost tour. All the Groupon tickets for Saturday night were sold out but Echo called the tour company and the customer service lady met the Groupon rate (actually 50 cents cheaper) since we were such a large group, so everyone had tickets for that. We started out with about 30 in the group and by the end of it were down to about 10 total and I think five of us. A few people decided they weren’t all that interested after all, a couple of families bailed early and I think we lost a few to the bars along the way.

Our guide was Doug, unless we were leaving a bad review, then his name was Tommy. He was lively and animated, but aren’t they all? My Lyft driver on Thursday warned me that most of it is made up. I said I knew that, but it’s fun and something you do.

Doug the ghost guy

We walked around and looked at buildings that are supposed to be haunted. We learned a little about Voodoo and Marie Lavaue, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Voodoo doesn’t officially have queens, she was more like Queen Latifah. She sounds very interesting and I would really like to learn more about her. We went by Muriel’s, where we had lunch on Friday. Doug said they have a really hard time keeping employees. That could be because it’s haunted, but it could also just be a lousy place to work.

The ghost table

This is the table where the ghost hangs out and for something like $65 you can eat with the ghost. Echo said she wants to do that, I told her to get a selfie with the ghost.

We went past the LaLaurie Mansion, an infamous haunted house. Doug’s story got so graphic that I stepped out of earshot for a couple of minutes. Then we moved onto the Anne Rice House.

I did with the ghost tour like I do with all movies I see that are “based on a true story” — I looked up to find out what really happened. While Madame LaLaurie did treat her slaves so badly the other slave-owning neighbors reported her to the authorities (you know it’s bad when that happens), I was glad to hear that no one was buried alive under the floorboards and there’s no evidence that Dr. LaLaurie did any “medical experiments” on them. The raw truth was bad enough. So it was fun, with just enough grain of truth to pique my interest in “what really happened.”

After the tour was over we met up with the others on Frenchmen Street. We wandered in and out of a couple of bars before ending up at Checkpoint Charlie’s.

One of our forum members, Shawn, couldn’t make the trip but she sent Dawn some money to buy all of us a round of drinks with instructions to take a picture of all of us with our drinks making a pirate face. We managed to get 15 of us together, the others had already headed back to the house. If you’ve never tried to organize 15 people who are scattered around town and have had various things to drink throughout the night, be grateful.

Here we are. Arrrgggghhh

Then some random dude sees us getting our picture taken and decides to join in. He probably went around telling all his friends how he picked up 15 women at once.

Jump on in

After Charlie’s I followed part of the crowd over to Downtown Tattoos where Melissa got her nose pierced and Marianne tried her best to get me to at least get my ears re-pierced. I have no idea where everyone else went to. I went back to Charlie’s and found Echo and Nipuna and we decided to go back to the house. There was a Taylor Swift concert that night so what had been an $8 ride share to and from the house was $25 for Lyft and $20 for Uber. Apparently they jack up their prices when there’s high demand. Should have just taken a taxi, even if it was $20, I’d rather pay a legitimate $20 fare. Anyway, we made it back.

After visiting both Bourbon and Frenchmen streets, Stella asked which we liked best or what we thought, I don’t remember. Bourbon Street was much louder from the standpoint of noise, although both were pretty noisy. Bourbon Street had a younger crowd, much rowdier, and people were much more colorful. That’s definitely the party scene, the place to see and be seen. Frenchmen was more of a place to hang out , have a few drinks and listen to music. Although it was busy and noisy it did seem calmer than frantic Bourbon Street. Frenchmen is the real music scene, there were lots of street performers and every bar had live music. Bourbon Street is where all the tourists go and Frenchmen is more locals but the tourists are discovering Frenchmen. Not being a drinker or a fan of loud noise — even if it is music — I enjoyed the people-watching on Bourbon Street more.

We did run into this bicycle pulled contraption near Frenchman Street (might have been around the corner). Those are swings.

Sunday

We had the house through Monday but I decided to leave on Sunday so Heath wouldn’t have to take more time off from work to transport me, especially with all the dentist and doctor appointments he’s already taking off for. I just wish I’d opted for a later flight, I had to leave the house at 11.

Sunday morning was Sunday morning. A couple of weeks ago Gretchen thought it would be neat to attend a service at an African-American Gospel church for a cultural experience. About five people said they would go. I would have if I weren’t leaving early. However, since Sunday morning is unfortunately scheduled right after Saturday night, no one made it to church.

We got up in dribs and drabs and had breakfast on the patio. I had some hot chocolate. And then an English muffin with jam. Then I was rooting around in the fridge for something else to eat, saw the seven-layer-dip and thought “what the heck”.

Vacation breakfast

If you can’t eat seven-layer-dip for breakfast on vacation, when can you?

If you’ve read this closely and are at all familiar with New Orleans, you’ll notice there’s one major thing I hadn’t done and I was leaving in three hours.

I hadn’t had a beignet! I think everyone else made it over to Cafe du Monde at least once, some twice. Some people went to Beignet Cafe (which actually has better beignets) but I never seemed to get a chance. I wasn’t with the right people, it was about to rain, it was far too late at night and I was too tired to enjoy it. Late Saturday night back at the house Ruthe had said she would go with me the next morning, even if it was real early. But she was asleep when I got up and I wasn’t going to wake her up. Melissa asked if I ever got any and I said “no, I guess I’ll just get some at the airport”. I’d checked their website and there was a place. She was horrified. “Friends don’t let friends eat airport beignets”. So she and Jaimi went to Cafe du Monde with me.

We got there and there was a line to the street corner at the front. We went around to the back where the take-out window is and there were probably 20 people in line. Melissa and I got in line and Jaimi went to check out the table situation. There were about six or eight empty tables so we did like the locals and went in and sat down. After a couple of minutes a waiter came by, cleared the table (when they’re busy they wait until someone sits down to the clear the tables) and got out order. We were in and out in about 15 minutes.

Me and my beignets
Melissa, me and Jaimi

After we left the cafe, Melissa needed to walk about halfway down the next block to CVS for some saline cleanser for her nose piercing. We passed by the line.

This is the line. You can hear a bagpipe in the background.

I don’t understand how the line forms. There were six, maybe eight, empty tables just on the backside when we walked in and maybe more in the front and yet the line wasn’t moving. There’s a sign that clearly says “Please Seat Yourself”. I don’t know if people don’t believe the sign and are waiting for a hostess, if they can’t see any empty tables and don’t want to lose their place in line (send a scout!), if they only see dirty tables and are waiting for them to be bused (not going to happen but tourists don’t know that) or what. That line should be constantly moving, every time a table empties, another party should be sitting down. Well, the locals don’t wait in line and neither did we.

We got to CVS and finally found what Melissa needed. We got in line at the register and a lady was asking the cashier if there was another place for beignets as the line was so long. I told her “you don’t need to wait in line, go inside, find an empty table, sit down and a waiter will come and clean the table and get your order”. She was like “really?”. She was very excited to hear that.

Then it was back to the house for last-minute packing — Gretchen had to haul my suitcase down from the third floor — a round of hugs and goodbyes and off to the airport.

When I was getting ready to leave, Dawn was on the phone trying to get a Groupon deal for another swamp tour for the people who missed the first one and wanted to go.

I found Katy a cute t-shirt at the airport. All they had in town were novelty t-shirts and I didn’t think she’d like that. I also wish I’d waited to get my pralines as the airport shops had some in a nice tricentennial keepsake tin. So I messaged everyone to let them know about my finds.

I heard later a couple of people ended up doing some airport shopping. The flight home was uneventful. It was short, a little under an hour, so they stopped beverage service one row before me but I had a Sprite from the airport and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so I was good.

In keeping up with the posts Sunday and Monday I saw that there were trips to The Sculpture Gardens, the WWII Museum and a cemetery tour. An evening out for seafood where two people tried oysters for the first time and there were some root beer floats, too, my kind of drink!

Dawn and Marianne and their root beer floats.

Marianne was the last one out on Monday evening and she did some shopping on her own.

Plans are for an LA beach house in 2020, we will see.

And there you have the story of Hurricane Delphi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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