Cooking with Myra: Laissez les bons temps rouler

Nov. 15, 2011 at 5:15 a.m.

Gumbo with alligator-handled spoon

Gumbo with alligator-handled spoon

By Myra Starkey

I have arrived at the age where I am much more likely to be a friend of the parents of the bride or groom, rather than an actual friend of the bride or groom. Many of our friends' children are beginning to seriously consider wedded bliss, if not actually going through the ceremony.

Taylor and I have successfully married off one daughter, and so, have experienced both the joy and the financial investment that is involved with such an event. There is a certain comfort in attending weddings you don't have to pay for, and so each time I am invited to one, I take full advantage of the opportunity.

Our friends, Mary Ann and Robert, just married off their oldest daughter, Meggie, to a guy named Dutch. We have had the fun of seeing her grow up, go off to college, get a job and fall in love.

We first met Dutch about a year ago and, through all the wedding festivities, have gotten to know him and see what an enjoyable, lighthearted person he is. The two of them wanted to have a wedding where all the friends and family could get away and have fun, so they chose to get married in New Orleans.

Being from Louisiana, I am a fan of the old city. "N'Owleans" has had its ups and downs over the years. It has been pounded by storms and plagued by crime, but it remains a darling destination of the South.

During my first year at LSU, I spent a lot of time visiting friends and hanging out in the French Quarter. Perhaps that is one of the reasons my parents encouraged my transfer to Baylor by my sophomore year.

Later, Taylor and I would leave the kids with my parents in Lake Charles and go there for a weekend of rest and good food. There is really no place like it.

Since Meggie and Dutch had chosen New Orleans for their destination wedding, my friend, Kim, and I decided to leave a couple of days before our husbands, so we could have a "girl vacation" and eat good food and lots of desserts.

We made the short flight from Houston and arrived at the hotel, dropped our bags and headed for the French Quarter. It was just as I remembered it. We searched out a small restaurant and split a crawfish etouffee. We knew we would be walking a lot and needed some calories for energy.

New Orleans has a European feel because of the old buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. It was a colonial French city in the 1700s and developed as a major shipping center at the mouth of the Mississippi by 1812 with the advent of the steam-powered riverboats.

Wrought-iron trimmed balconies covered with ivy vines lined our paths as we ducked in and out of antique shops on Royal Street. We were only looking and not buying.

We window shopped until our feet throbbed and finally headed for the one place everyone goes for an afternoon pick-me-up and that is Cafe Du Monde. The powdered sugar-dusted beignets were calling my name, and a side of strong chicory coffee completed my afternoon desire.

After both of us had eaten more than we should have, we walked several more miles looking in art galleries, listening to street musicians, peeping in the establishments along Bourbon Street and observing the interesting variety of people.

We found a shop called Roux Royale, which turned out to be a real find. Kim found some gumbo spoons which had handles in the shape of alligators. That is my kind of spoon. The only problem with buying a bunch of alligator spoons is that one must carry them, and they are very heavy.

We continued to peruse shops and galleries until dark and then hurried to our hotel, both of us carrying our cherished spoons, trying to avoid any criminal types who might be after such unique eating utensils.

That night, we dined at Stella, an old favorite in New Orleans. The food was both delicious and beautiful.

Kim and I chose a seven-course tasting menu, which included cucumber salad with compressed tomatoes, apricot salt and champagne yogurt dill emulsion, and it continued to get better. One of the entrees was seared salmon with bacon, glazed bok choy and pickled mushrooms. We finished with a raspberry chocolate ganache cake and salted caramels. I almost had to be rolled out the door I was so full.

I thought that surely I would be able to skip a meal or two the next day, but as fortune would have it, I was hungry again by the next morning. There is an art to stretching one's stomach. Why diet when there is so much food to experience?

Our all-time favorite meal on the trip was at Mr. B's, a bistro-type restaurant, which caterers to a business clientele. We split gumbo and an entree of the barbecue shrimp. The waiter brought us bibs, and when the shrimp arrived we knew why because it was very messy, but oh so good.

My gumbo was extraordinary, so I bought a cookbook.

The husbands showed up later that day, and we dined at the highly rated Bayona for supper, which turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. I long ago had purchased the cookbook from the restaurant's chef and owner, Susan Spicer, and it is one of my favorites, but the food that evening did not meet my expectations. By the time of this late evening meal, I had probably already consumed about 5,000 calories, so not cleaning my plate was probably OK.

My Saturday was devoted to a bridesmaids' luncheon, where Meggie smiled and looked beautiful among her guests, and we were all dressed up like "ladies who do lunch," but I had really sore feet from all the walking before, so I sat a lot of the time.

Once again, the food was marvelous. A spinach-stuffed breast of chicken was served on a bed of creamy, cheesy risotto. While I was chewing, I thought that perhaps I should start the "taper down" segment of my food adventure, but creme brulee was brought for dessert, and one should not pass that up.

The wedding was outdoors in a beautiful courtyard, and the bride and groom were married under a gazebo of lights and flowers. The young couple was glowing, and the night was cool and crisp. A south breeze carried the sounds of jazz musicians from a nearby street. The newly introduced Mr. and Mrs. paraded briskly down the aisle between the guests marking the time for the reception to follow.

The after-party featured a buffet with all sorts of New Orleans delicacies, such as Oysters Rockefeller, crabcakes and crawfish quiche.

A lively Zydeco band played, and the dance floor stayed crowded. It's hard to just sit and listen to music like that. I even took my turn on stage playing a washboard contraption with two spoons. Too bad I had already packed my alligator spoons.

We had to leave for Victoria the next day, but not before riding a streetcar and finally locating the well-known Sucre bakery, where we had French macaroons. We then finished our weekend feeding frenzy with a spicy shrimp po-boy sandwich at a neighborhood bar called Parasol.

I am now on a diet with the exception of trying new recipes from the "Mister B's Bistro" cookbook where I have discovered a really great new recipe for shrimp gumbo. I now realize that weddings can cause weight gain, but of course New Orleans is not the sort of place to show restraint. As they say, "Laissez les bons temps rouler," which means, "Let the good times roll!"

Stay tuned for the barbecue shrimp recipe in a future column.

This is a dark-roux gumbo. The gumbo takes it's name from "ya-ya-ing" the whole day while the gumbo cooks, but never fear, it really doesn't take all day.

I substituted shrimp for the chicken, but the choice is yours.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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