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La Vida Jazzfest!



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La Vida Jazzfest!
 May 2001

 Just as I’ve been telling you for the past ten days, all Heaven broke loose
in New Orleans. It really did. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2001. Lord have mercy, what a blast! Of course, if you don’t appreciate excellent music (jazz , blues, Zydeco, Latin American, to name but a few varieties), good times, and great food, this topic probably will not interest
you. On the other hand, since you have chosen to visit us here at La Belle Cuisine, I can only assume that the food, at least, will be of interest to you. Right?

 You may as well make plans now to attend next year, okay? It will give
you something to look forward to. And you can always change your
mind, although I simply cannot imagine why you’d want to...
The Festival runs two consecutive weekends, beginning with the last
weekend in April. Be sure to make your hotel reservations early on, and
dinner reservations at one of the city’s myriad of excellent restaurants for
the evenings you don’t plan to attend Jazzfest. You won’t be able to go
out to dinner on those evenings. Trust me.

 The Jazzfest is open from 11am until 7pm. On the day(s) you plan to attend, it’s probably best not to eat breakfast. Unless, of course, you do what we
did.  Stop off at the Morning Call in Metairie (or the Café du Monde in the
French Quarter) for café au lait and beignets. I can’t imagine a better way
to start the day – any day. Sets the tone for les bons temps to follow.

Dress comfortably. This is imperative, unless you want to spend the day
in misery .
If there is such a thing as a Jazzfest “costume” I would have to
say it’s khaki shorts or slacks and a white shirt or some kind, followed
closely by jeans shorts and halter tops. Saw some really terrific T-shirts,
too. Like “Good enough is simply not good enough.” I like that guy.

An elderly lady in the WWOZ jazz tent gets my vote for one of the most outrageous get-ups of the day: An electric chartreuse satin-looking skirt,
topped by an equally shocking fuchsia blouse, sequined, which stated
boldly, “Passages���. Much to my dismay, I could not manage to get close
enough to her to read the fine print and get the rest of the message.

Be prepared to see just about anything (except, of course, suits and ties.  Arrgghhh!) All manner of piercings and tattoos, of course. My gentleman companion observed that the messages delivered by the tattoos were, in general at least, not of a friendly nature. I agreed. And then we spotted someone sporting a musical staff tattoo. Cool, we agreed. Friendlier. "It probably isn't 'Barbed Wire,' he quipped, 'but I'll bet it isn't 'Nearer My
God to Thee', either...

Then there was the platinum blond guy sporting a purple velvet top hat,
a sequined vest, and some kind of frou-frou pants. He was passing out
bright yellow stickers. What did they say? Were they smiley faces?
Would you believe 
I don’t know?!?!? Never could get close enough to
him to find out. Alas...

Or how about the group of guys proudly displaying their peanut ear-
rings and feathered straw hats? What was up with that, anyway?!?!?
A tad brazen, perhaps, but I just had to know...
“Nothing, really, ma’am," came the reply. "It’s kind of an inside joke.
We’ve been doing it for years…”
“No philosophical significance, no symbolism, no tribal rites…?" 
“Hell, no, ma’am, we’re just out to have a good time…”
Indeed they did. And so did we. As will you, if you just take it easy,
maintain your coolness, and go with the musical and culinary flow.

 And do wear your most comfortable shoes. This is Very Important.
You’ll be glad you did. It’s a great idea to take some bottled water along
with you unless you are prepared to pay the price. And sun block isn’t
a bad choice, either. Ditto for a hat of some sort, or perhaps last year’s Jazzfest bandana. No need to risk getting sunstroke while you’re waiting
in line for your Crawfish Monica, right? More on this Very Important
Food item later.

 Here’s something else well worth remembering. This is not like going to
a concert at the Superdome, where an incredibly large parking facility is
provided. This is like going to a open-air festival where NO parking is
provided. What can I say? Some folks are apparently perfectly content
to take their chances on finding a place in some entrepreneur’s yard now
parking lot relatively close to the Fairgrounds. I am not. Tried that once
and did not like it. Not at all. (In case you do opt for that, it will run you anywhere from about $5 to $25, depending on the proximity to the Fest.)
Get this. For $14, you can park your car in a secure area called Marconi
Meadows in City Park AND ride to and from the Fairgrounds on a Jazz
Fest Express shuttle bus. This is a super deal, y’all. And you can buy
your shuttle tickets in advance along with your Jazzfest tickets ($49 a
day in advance, or $59 a day when purchased on Festival days). I’m all
for the hassle-free experience, so we arrived at Marconi Meadows with
tickets in hand. The only way to go... [Check here for current info!]

 I noticed that some folks take a different approach than we did. They lug
lots of stuff with them, like blankets to spread out on the ground, folding
chairs or those umbrella-type collapsible things. They are on a Mission.
They know exactly where they want to stake their claim. No doubt this
is determined by the venue of their Favorite Musical Group. Someone
like Paul Simon, for example, who was El Numero Uno Nombre Grande
this year (2001). Last year it was Sting. (Yes, that is correct. Sting. Paul
Simon. Not to mention Ellis Marsalis, Keb Mo’, Ramsey Lewis. You get
the picture. We are talking Big Time here, okay?) So if Paul Simon is to
perform at 4:40 p.m. on the Acura Stage, and you actually want to SEE
Paul Simon up close and personal, you’ll want to pick your spot as soon
as the Festival opens, relax, enjoy the preceding groups, take turns with
your companions doing food and beverage runs and await the Big
Moment. And we wish you luck with that. Lots...

[2007 offered Harry Connick, Jr., Rod Stewart, Norah Jones, Dr; John,
Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer, Jerry Lee Lewis, Z. Z. Top, Steely Dan,
Irma Thomas, and many, many more... Click here for current info.]

 This is not the approach we chose. We knew for sure that we wanted to
see Ellis Marsalis at 1:10 in the WWOZ Jazz Tent, Banu Gibson & New
Orleans Hot Jazz at 3 in the Cox Communications Economy Hall, Louis’
Home Cookin’: A New Orleans Tribute  to Louis Armstrong (featuring
six of the best trumpeters you'll ever hear) back in the Jazz Tent at 4,
and wrap it up with Celia Cruz and the Johnny Pacheco & His Orchestra
(Latina) at 5:45 on the Congo Square Stage. (What’s that? You would
have opted for the Dave Matthews Band at 5? Yes, I hear you. But what about the fact that you’re in the Jazz Tent at 4, and the Dave Matthews
Band is drawing a HUGE crowd on the Acura Stage??) If you could see
the layout of the Festival, you would understand just how vital logistics
are to the success of your excursion.

Since we were going to be covering a LOT of ground, we knew better
than to bog ourselves down with chairs or blankets or any other non-
essential paraphernalia. My point here, jazz fans, gourmands, and party
animals, is that it will simplify your total experience considerably – not
to mention keeping your stress level in check -  if you know prior to
your arrival at the Fest where your priorities lie.

 In between the musical encounters (of the close kind, if you are fortunate), you will, of course, be contemplating your JazzFestFeast. You must. This
is the NEW ORLEANS Jazzfest, remember. Food is NOT an afterthought
or a sideline at this event, y’all. In fact, it is nearly as much a raison d’etre
as the music itself for this bash. Would that I could tell you about ALL the food.  Alas, time and space do not permit such a grand indulgence. Here’s what we planned to eat (all highly recommended by our favorite New
Orleans food guru, Tom Fitzmorris):

 Natchitoches Meat Pies and/or Crawfish Pies (Mrs. Wheat’s)
Pheasant, Quail & Andouille Gumbo from Prejean’s
in Lafayette, authentic Cajun country
Crawfish Sack and Crawfish Beignets
Crawfish Monica
Crawfish Bread
BBQ Oyster and/or BBQ Shrimp po’ boy, made by the
Red Fish Grill, the only Brennan presence at the Festival
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
And in between, of course, several trips to a beverage vendor
for another dose of Foster’s.
Plus Rosemint Tea and/or Mandarin Orange Tea, the most
refreshing drinks at the Festival.
Oh yeah, they have café au lait (hot, iced or frozen) from
Café du Monde, too!
And Italian Ice Cream and Biscotti from Angelo Brocato’s...

Mercy, mercy, mercy... Somebody SAVE me!

I know, I know, I know, we cannot possibly consume that much food
in the time allotted. But we could try! And even if we could consume
that much, we couldn’t possibly manage to procure that much food
AND partake of the musical enchantment on our list. Ostensibly the
reason we went in the first place. Right? Right!

 Well, what can I say? We didn’t make it through our list. Chances are you won’t either. Just do the best you can, and enjoy what you DO manage to
get your hands on. (Believe me, that won’t be a problem. The enjoyment,
I mean.) Be prepared for long lines, and keep on humming, snapping your fingers, tapping your feet. And shaking your booty if your feel like it. You probably will feel like it, because you’ll notice that underlying everything
else there is a constant, persistent, undeniable beat. Bass. Boom, badda
boom, badda boom. Cool. And after all, you didn’t expect the Fairgrounds
to be empty, did you now? If you play your cards right, you won’t spill a
bite wending your way back through the line behind you, looking for a
good place to chow down.

 Our most memorable food experiences were the Crawfish Beignet excursion
and our quest for Crawfish Monica. We are lured to Food Area II by a trail
of mixed aromas almost impossible to describe. Reminiscent of the sea, first
of all. Like standing on the beach at Gulf Shores with a faint spray of salt
water in your face. Or being on a deep-sea fishing boat. The saltiness is cut
by a hint of sweetness. There is a faint yet pungent yeast-like scent. It’s
difficult to say whether its origin is bread or beer. There’s plenty of both.
And the oily odor that comes from hundreds of fried foods being prepared
all around. And herbs – the ubiquitous thyme and oregano that are such
an integral part of Creole and Cajun cookery. Pepper of all kinds, and lots
of garlic. A fiery, piquant feeling permeates the entire area. They have
definitely kicked it up a notch, jazzed it up most suitably, these masters
of outdoor gastronomy. We know we are not the only ones in line
salivating with anticipation…

 The Beignet stand was not yet jam-packed, as we hit it relatively early in
the day. We even found some space at a nearby “standing table” which
was occupied by some very friendly folk. That made the whole thing
even better.  The gentleman standing across from me was ravenously
consuming what appeared to be a French fry po’ boy. I’m thinking,
wait a minute, French fries on a sandwich. Doesn’t make sense, does
it? Now that I think of it, though, Emeril would not agree... The po’
boy is now oozing what appears to be gravy. Hmmmm...My interest
peaks. But before I have a chance to get into my Funky Liza Roving
Reporter mode, someone asks,
“Excuse me, sir, but are those French fries on your sandwich?”
“Yeah, you right, French fries and roast beef gravy, the only way to go.
Best po’ boy in the woild.” (These, along with fried apple, blueberry
and peach pies are provided by Elizabeth’s restaurant in Bywater.)

This leads, of course, to a general round table discussion of po’ boys in general, ingredients in particular, whether to eat dressed or undressed
(no, not as in naked, but as in condiments), and other matters of great
import. Eventually, the gentleman of the French fry po’ boy asks if we
are familiar with the origin of the po’ boy. I tell him I think I am, but
would love to be enlightened nonetheless...
“Well it happened because of the strike…”
“Oh, I thought it was when they were working on the canal…”
“No, it was the bus strike, streetcar strike, back in the 1920s. At
Clarence and Lefty’s…”
“Not Martin Brothers Grocery?”
“Clarence and Lefty’s. The name came to be because they would say,
‘Here comes another ‘po boy…’

Just imagine a Hero. Or a Sub, or Hoagie, or Grinder, with a New Orleans
twist. What makes a po’ boy really special is the bread. It has to be made
with good quality, fresh French bread. New Orleans French bread. That
means a crunchy crust with a very light center. Anything else is just a poor
substitute and undeserving of the name. In which case, call it anything you
wish. And by the way, Mother's Restaurant, on the corner of Tchoupitoulas
and Poydras in downtown New Orleans, has been serving po’ boys since
the 1930s. To die for, only not as great as in past decades. The signature
po’ boy at Mother’s is the 'Ferdi Special,' a combination of excellent baked
ham, roast beef, debris (the roast beef which falls in into the gravy in the
oven), shredded cabbage and condiments including Creole mustard.

 But I digress. Jazzfest food. Just in case you think these jazz fans are not Serious about their victuals, consider this. The gentleman who enlightened
us on the history of the po’ boy, who was of slight build, without an ounce
of fat on him, turned down my offer of a Crawfish Beignet. Why? He’d
already had them, thank you very much. He was very quick to inform me
that he had begun his culinary quest with Crawfish Monica (best done early
on so as to avoid lines 30 folks deep), then proceeded to devour an order of
beignets. Had a couple of beers to wash them down, and THEN decided on
his favorite po’ boy before he got serious about the music. Nuff said.

Okay. About the Crawfish Monica. This delicacy was named after creator Chef Pierre Hilzim’s wife, Monica, and is prepared by Kajun Kettle, who describe it as “a delectable blend of tender crawfish tails in a rich, spicy
cream sauce served over premium quality rotini.” Indeed. Thousands
upon thousands of servings. Boggles the mind. (Tom Fitzmorris is quick
to point out to his fans that this has absolutely nothing to do with that
other Monica.)

Do I have the recipe? Surely you jest! But I do just happen to have a
very close approximation, courtesy of Chuck Taggart:

Crawfish Pasta
inspired by the Jazzfest favorite, "Crawfish Monica"®

 “Joe Cahn, formerly of the New Orleans School of Cooking, came up with his
take on this delectable dish and taught it to his students at the school; I offer
you his version below. If you can't get the real thing (and you really should sometime, either in person at Jazzfest or through mail-order), this version
might be worth a try.”

1 pound crawfish tails, boiled and peeled; OR
1 pound shrimp, peeled; OR
1 pound lump crabmeat; OR
1 pound oysters, drained and quartered.
1 stick of butter (Do not use margarine.)
1 pint of half-and-half
1 good-sized bunch green onions,
chopped (tops, too)
3 - 10 cloves garlic, chopped (to your taste)
Creole seasoning to taste (or 1 - 2 tbsp.)
1 pound cooked fresh pasta
(Dry pasta is all right if fresh is not available.
Rotini is preferred, but use your favorite shape.)
Cook pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain, then rinse
under cool water. Drain again, thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a large pot and sauté onions and garlic for 3 minutes.
Add the seafood and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half, then
add several big pinches of Creole seasoning, tasting before the next pinch
until you think it's right. If you've boiled your own crawfish, save the fat
and add it in as well.
Cook for 5 - 10 minutes over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Add
the pasta and toss well. Let it sit for 10 minutes or so over very low heat, stirring often. Serve immediately, with lots of French bread and a nice dry white wine.

 Special thanks to Monica Davidson (the namesake of Crawfish Monica®) of
Kajun Kettle for her kind permission to use the trademark "Crawfish Monica"®
in the description of this dish.

 Friends and neighbors, mes amis, if this doesn’t whet your appetite for all
things Jazzfest, all things indigenous to Nouvelle Orleans in all her glory, I
give up. This is Funky Liza, signing off for now, and reminding you to
Live with Passion!

Work like you don't need the money.
Love like you've never been hurt. 
Dance like nobody's watching.
Sing like nobody's listening.
Live like it's Heaven on Earth.

~  Michele

P.S. Please be sure to check out New Orleans JazzFest Food!

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon



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