As you can see, I've been looking forward to my trip to New Orleans for the International Food Bloggers conference.
Below, a typical trip-planning session with my mom, who will be attending the conference with me (picture taken at La Maison Du Pain on West Pico, Los Angeles.)
This year marks my second time attending this conference and my first time visiting New Orleans. I've always felt a connection to this city, not just because of its reputation for food, but because my New Orleans born grandparents served this food at my family table long before I understood its origins. At the same time, as a Southern California kid, I grew up eating Mexican food in equal proportions, a child raised on avocados and spicy Serrano chillies.
Californian as I may be, I am fiercely connected to Louisiana, a state I have never been to but already love. And I know you're thinking that all these travel books are leading to my New Orleans infatuation, but I assure you, this is the real deal. The proof is in a rather morbid exercise that food lovers engage in: the last meal question. The last meal question is a question that any chef or gastronomic fanatic has asked themselves at one point or another. If you could plan your last meal on earth, what would it be? And my answer remains the same-- my most comforting, delicious, and soulful meal, my last meal, would be red beans and rice, cooked with ham hock, served with tabasco on the side, a slab of homemade cornbread, and accompanied by a cold bottle of beer in my hand. So you see, I was born ready to embrace everything New Orleans has to offer.
We have decided the trip's main emphasis is exploring Louisiana through our stomachs, but we're also pretty thrilled to learn all we can about the culture of our destinations. We'll explore New Orleans as well as a few surrounding Cajun country spots, a 13 day culinary tour where we also plan to check out local music, local swamps, and maintain a strict policy of a one-Sazerac-a-day-minimum. We'd love to learn more about our family's connection to the city, and even with the humidity, we're convinced it's going to be epic. After all, it's a city known for gumbo-- enough said.
We have certainly been doing our research: from just about every travel book written about New Orleans, to chamber of commerce websites, to studying each episode of the series Tremé. Additionally, I treasure every page of the book Gumbo Tales, a food inspired account of New Orleans written by Sarah Roahen. I have fallen even more in love with the city through her eyes, whether through the personal stories of the local business owners, mouth-watering descriptions of her ideal meal at Galatoire's and many other places, her habit of "craning from a barstool to observe the kitchen" in destinations such as Liuzza's by the Track, or her affection for mirlitons (Roahen says she is "forever drawn to the underdog-- in love, automobiles, sports, and vegetables.") In return for this gift, I would happily share with her a bowl of any gumbo in my possession. I'm also listening closely to what my grandparents have to say about this big adventure. While they spent the majority of their lives in California, they're still full of anecdotes about swimming in Lake Pontchartrain, Mardi Gras through a child's eyes, and best of all, the way cooking was done in their families. My other blog project, Pâté Birthday which focuses on family food culture, will also have updates about this New Orleans trip, so stay tuned.
Below, another planning session takes place with mom. French's pastry, in Costa Mesa, proves to be a great meeting spot for nibbling on a cookie or cupcake or two, then washing your sweets down with some espresso at the Starbucks, just a few retail spaces down. French's doesn't serve coffee, and with limited time to plan our journey, this is a combination that gets the job done.