Guest Post: All that Jazz

By Rebecca Borman

One of my favorite cities in the world is New Orleans, and there’s no better time to visit than during the French Quarter Music Festival, which takes place in the spring, usually several weeks before the better-known Jazz Fest.  While Jazz Fest always boasts an all-star lineup of national musicians, FQF focuses on local talent, and, to me, that makes it more fun.  Oh, and the fact that on Saturday and Sunday, there are 23 stages to choose from and over 100 food offerings from “The World’s Largest Jazz Brunch.”

It had been five years since my last FQF, so this year I decided to make the trip.  I considered going by myself, because I’m familiar with New Orleans and the Festival; I knew I could navigate it with no problems.  But, it seemed like it would be more fun to have a group, so I decided to go with a Road Scholar group.  These were some very good decisions!

The tour would begin with a group meeting on the Wednesday afternoon before the start of the Festival.  Since I was coming across the country, I arrived a day earlier, in order to get there in time for the first meeting.  So I had almost a day to get reacquainted with the Big Easy.  I considered what I wanted to do for dinner the first evening; there are so many great options.  I decided to try the French 75 Bar in Arnaud’s, one of New Orleans’ most loved restaurants.  Of course I had a French 75, their signature drink; I also tried some delicious food (I hesitate to call it bar food!).  The next morning I made my way to Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait…no better way to begin a day.

I strolled around the French Quarter, did a little shopping, and enjoyed the feeling of this city, vibrant and laid back at the same time.  Lunch (yes, there was a lot of eating) was oysters and a shrimp po-boy at Acme Oyster Bar.

Once the “tour” started, we had a great schedule.  Every morning after breakfast in our hotel, we were entertained and educated by musicians.  For instance, on Thursday morning we heard the Lee Benoit Cajun Family Band.  They played great music, of course, but we also learned a lot about Cajun music.  I learned the difference between Cajun and Zydeco and, like everyone else, I was amazed by the talent of the musicians.  In fact, after that first presentation I thought the organizers had erred by putting the best group first.  Who could meet our expectations after that?

As it turned out, every other presentation!  The next day we heard Doreen Ketchens and her jazz band, who play every day in the same place on Royal Street.  How cool is that?  As you might guess, Doreen was earthy and laid-back.  Friday, we saw Michael White and his Quartet.  Dr. White is a music professor, whose presentation was tightly organized and fascinating.  Could it get better?  Yes!  Sunday morning Richard (Piano) Scott and his group played for us.  At one point, someone in our group asked for a ragtime piece; these are notoriously challenging.  Richard asked the other musicians if they were game to play something he’d written but they had never heard.  They said if he would play a few bars of the refrain, they would do it.  And, they did!  I thought I knew a lot about music and about New Orleans, but I learned a lot more during these sessions. After our morning activities, and except for an excellent lunch or dinner in one of New Orleans’ amazing restaurants each day, our afternoons and evenings were our own.  We were free to enjoy the French Quarter Festival.  Sometimes by myself, sometimes with another group member, I wandered around the Festival, enjoying the music, eating some of my favorite New Orleans food, like grilled chicken livers with sweet hot pepper jelly from Praline Connection’s food booth.  Since Road Scholar made portable chairs available to us, I would walk until I found a stage that grabbed me and then I made myself comfortable for an hour or so.  I spent a lot of time at the Zydeco Stage because I love that music, and there is always an entertaining crowd with lots of people dancing.

The combination of free time and organized activities was perfect, and the Road Scholar tour was a great way to enjoy the Festival.  The other travelers were interesting and intelligent, and it was really fun to share my love of New Orleans and its music with others of like mind.

  Although it was my first trip with Road Scholar, it won’t be my last.  And I’ll definitely make another trip to New Orleans for its wonderful French Quarter Music Festival.

The Big Easy

I was fairly untraveled as a child and even as a young adult. Though my family took a vacation each year, we almost always went to Colorado, and mostly to Estes Park. I wouldn’t change a thing about our vacations, but suffice it to say that I was close to 20 before I ever boarded an airplane.

Back in those days, flyers dressed up for the trip, wearing a good dress or suit. The idea of blue jeans or – heaven forbid – sweat pants on a flight was absolutely unthinkable. Flight attendants – aw, heck, we can call them stewardesses because they were absolutely always young women — wore business attire, shoes with modest heels, and hats.

I remember being about 21 or 22 years old, and yearning to visit exactly three places before I died. Today we would call them my bucket list. So my bucket list cities were New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans.

But our recent Mardis Gras party got me thinking about New Orleans, and recalling all of my visits to that interesting city. And it was the first of my three dream bucket list cities that I was able to visit. I traveled with a woman I scarcely knew, familiar with her only because she taught my brother and sister at Leadville High School. Her name was Lily, and despite the fact that I traveled 1,300 miles with her and lived in the same hotel room for probably close to a week, I recall very little else about her. Isn’t that funny? But what I do recall is that she wasn’t an ax murderer (as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t get hacked to pieces) and we had a good time together. And then never did a single thing together again.

mi0002859504We didn’t have a lot of money, so I’m certain we didn’t go to any fancy restaurants, though I’m afraid I also couldn’t tell you what restaurants we did visit. I remember that we went to Café du Monde and had beignets and café au lait and stayed in a nice hotel near the action. Other than that, the single thing I remember is that we went to a jazz show in the French Quarter and watched musician Al Hirt play from front row seats. Non-vocal jazz never really being a favorite musical genre of mine, I’m sure I must have heard of him from my dad. At the end of the show, he came down from the stage and shook the hands of a few people, INCLUDING MINE. Having not met many famous people at that time in my life, I was thrilled.

The other two times that I have visited New Orleans, Bill has been my traveling companion. The first time he and I visited, I remember being conned by an expert con artist, who bet me $10 that he could tell me where I got my shoes, and I bit. The answer, of course, was on my feet. Lesson learned.

During that trip we dined at Commander’s Palace, where Bill ate what to this day he proclaims was the best dessert he’s ever eaten (and the man knows desserts) – Commander’s Bread Pudding Souffle. We also tried Muffuletta sandwiches at Central Grocery, where they were created. Muffulettas are sandwiches made from salami, ham, mortadella, cheese and a delicious olive spread.

And, of course, beignets at Café du Monde.

The second time we visited, we ate brunch at Commander’s Palace, where we ate what I would call the best dessert I’ve ever eaten – Bananas Foster. Oh my.

But just as my primary memory of my first visit to New Orleans is seeing Al Hirt, my primary memory of that visit is ducking into a hole-in-the-wall place where we had the most delicious oysters on the half shell that I have ever eaten. The guy shucking the oysters was like a caricature of a guy shucking oysters. He had been a so-called cut man for boxers in his younger days, and as he told Bill story after story, he kept shucking oysters. He shucked way more than the dozen we had ordered, but didn’t charge us a penny more.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been to all three of the cities that I dreamed of as a young woman. Interestingly, though I enjoyed them all, out of the three, I would say that only New York City is someplace I could return to again and again, and have. I enjoyed San Francisco and certainly found New Orleans interesting and the food amazing, but neither are places that I yearn to revisit.

The sound you just heard is that of my sister Bec fainting.

But as a nod to New Orleans, here is the recipe for the Hot Crab Dip that I contributed to Sunday’s festivities…..

crab-dip

Hot Crab Dip

Ingredients
1 T. olive oil
1 c. chopped onions
1 c. chopped green peppers
1 T. minced garlic
1-1/2 t. salt, divided
1 T. Cajun seasoning
1 lb. cream cheese, softened
1 c. mayonnaise
¼ c. fresh parsley
2 green onions, minced
1 T. fresh lemon juice
3 6-oz cans crab meat
½ c. Ritz crackers, crushed
2 T. butter, melted

Process
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, garlic, 1 t. salt, and Cajun seasoning. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft, 5 or 6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the cream cheese, mayo, parsley, green onions, lemon juice, and remaining salt. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl.  Fold in vegetables and crabmeat and place in an oven-safe dish.

Mix cracker crumbs with butter, and spread on top of the dip. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crackers are browned.