Friday, May 13, 2011

Mmm, mmm. Louisiana!

Greetings from Abita Springs, Louisiana! I have to say that this is a lovely spot.  So far we traveled through arid high desert in California and Arizona, majestic northern New Mexico, surprisingly varied Texas locations, and have landed for a few days in this sweet spot just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. 

This isn’t my first trip to Abita Springs.  Nearly 20 years ago, when attending an national teacher’s convention (NEA) in New Orleans, a group of us in the Christa McAuliffe Institute was invited out to fellow CMI teacher Kathleen Duplantier’s home to learn how to make a proper roux. In a heavily wooded spot next to a bayou, her home had a full wrap-around porch.  A lovely large older home, it was charming- brightly colored paint and a very homey kitchen.  There Kathleen demonstrated how dark you must toast the flour/butter mix if you expected to have any flavor-- and that was just short of burning it. 

 Abita Springs bayou © Scott Jensen photography

As we drove from Texas, I looked up Kathleen on the internet (times have changed for the availability of information!) and found that she’d retired and moved to Costa Rica, so I missed seeing her. We had visited her after dark, so I didn’t have a great sense of the locale other than the famous Abita Springs beer, both alcoholic and root. We’re here at Abita Springs RV Resort as guests of the Ocean Canyon properties, which owns a series of RV campground / resorts across the south, and generously offered to host us in return for a session in which they could share the benefits of their membership.  There was much to like about the offer they made, but as we don’t live in the south, it would be impossible for us to make use of the benefits. This is a lovely campground, and a lovely day.   
Joe taking a business call in our happily messy home/office on the road! 

There’s a soft rain, and we’re comfy inside typing away, taking a day off from travel and ball parks.  Joe sang last night for the New Orleans Zephers, and we had the very happy occasion to eat at MiLa restaurant, in the Roosevelt hotel, just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans.  We had eaten there three years ago on a holiday over spring break, and loved it.  I was on a taste-testing binge- three great restaurants in three days, comparing the Sazerac cocktails in each. Apparently these are pretty hard to find in bars, not that I either look for them or frequent bars, either, but internet browsing about features of New Orleans got me interested. 
Though the quality of the Sazeracs didn’t much vary, the cooking did.  We had been to Commander’s Palace before (grand, special event, dated, delicious, in the Garden District) and we had been to Bayona’s before (trendy, modern, delicious and in the French Quarter, famous chef Susan Spicer), but we had only read reviews of MiLa. It was amazing: chic, exquisite, modern, and had a rising chef couple who each grew up in the south, found themselves missing the south when they found each other in New York, and returned to open this restaurant-- the name represents their states- Mississippi and Louisiana.  

We had travelled to Napa Valley the summer before where the two highlights of our trip were dinner at the French Laundry (big splurge) and lunch at Julia’s Kitchen (the only restaurant Julia Child had ever approved to have her name associated with, delicious and affordable!- but now sadly closed). It was located at COPIA, an ambitious, though short-lived project that was to serve as the gateway to the Napa Valley,  “American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts”.  We had happily way overrun the vacation budget at COPIA’s gift store, as the selection was incredible.  When we next returned to Napa, COPIA was no longer open. 
But I digress. Back at MiLa, we had heard that chef Allison Vines-Rushing was on her way to the French Laundry for some professional development event, and we sent word back to the kitchen that we had recently visited there.  So she came out and chatted, and explained some of her techniques for the fabulous food.  Last night, we hoped to see her again and mentioned to one of the staff that we had chatted with her shortly before her visit to the Napa Valley and hoped to chat with her.  We were warned that she was very busy and not likely to come out, so we weren’t all that hopeful. 
Our server made a joking comment that she had been delayed in coming out to refill our water because they were “talkin’ about y’all” in the back, and I jumped on the opportunity, and asked if she realized that there really was something to talk about, that Joe was singing the national anthem in 109 ball parks (actually it’s 110-- he’s STILL making appointments!!) this summer, and in just a few minutes, that information had the hoped-for result:  Allison appeared, interested in the tour, and asking about details.  She also explained how she made the fabulous broccoli veloute (soup with shrimp garnish- steamed the broccoli florets, chilled to retain the color, added to a chilled vegetable stock, garnished with a spicy chopped shrimp, light and scrumptious).  We never got around to talking about the French Laundry!

(If you're reading this, Allison, thanks again!!) 
MiLa lobby bar, picture from their website. 
Well, that made our night.  Though we COULD have taken today as a tourist day in New Orleans, we decided to take it as a writing day, as we have so much to say, and not that many opportunities to concentrate on writing.  We’re far more tired after a long driving day than I could have imagined, and writing on the road doesn’t really pan out-- too much to be alert for, even if you’re the passenger, and there’s just constant vibration as you ride.   
The campsite from my front-seat workstation! 
Then when the soft rain fell on the RV this morning, that sealed the deal.  It is really fun to tap away in the comfort of this wonderful vehicle, which is the embodiment of every playhouse dream I have ever had.

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