Friday, February 22, 2013

DGA Wine Club: Celita 2010

Posted by Benson

Celita is a Sangiovese di Romagna of the Superiore variety.  Quite obviously, it is an Italian wine from the Emilla-Romagna region in northern Italy.  The region is incredibly large and prolific, spanning almost the entire width of the northern Italian peninsula.  To give you a better idea about the location, it is sandwiched between Tuscany in the south and Lombardy to the north, and is home to Bologna.

The region is known both for wine and olive oil, though in spite of its significant production it only has two DOCGs and only about 15 percent of its wine production is of DOC quality.  Thankfully, Celita is one of them.  The reason for the variation in quality is due to the region's geographical diversity.  The Apennine Mountains run the western border of the region, giving way to rolling hills and the lower-lying plains where you will find Bologna, and eventually to to coastal plains along the Adriatic sea where you will find Ravenna.

Sangiovese is a dark-berried vine, virtually synonymous with Tuscany, and Italy for that matter.  It is a very popular grape in the country with roughly 10% of Italy's vines being of the Sangiovese variety.  Consequently, quality tends to vary considerably, but the fruit is nevertheless prized for its high acids, firm tannins, and overall balance.  In the hands of careful and experienced producer the native Sangiovese can produce wonderful and complex wines, which is likely a large part of its popularity.

The Ravaioli family, owners of the award-winning Poderi sal Nespoli estate where Celita is produced, certainly know what they are doing.   Celita is a vivid scarlet wine that encourages you to bask in the bright cherry scents and flavors that speak of a well-made Sangiovese.  The aroma has subtle hints of wild herbs and the texture is silky smooth.

In terms of flavor, the wine has a subtly sweet red cheery tartness and full fruit flavors, particularly raspberry if I had to put a name on it.  The wine has a classic tang on the finish and decently balanced tannins, though you may want to let it breathe a bit.  As a Superiore, Celita is very full, having met stringent standards for ripeness of the grape and oak aging.

Pairing is a snap with Celita.  Liz and I enjoyed it with a few tomato centric dishes from her tapas cookbook, but I suspect that it will pair will with rich, acidic sauces, red meat, and spicy sausage.  It may do particularly well with wild game, although I have not had the opportunity.  It is definitely a wine I would enjoy pairing with wild duck.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

DGA Dining - Toad Hollow Cafe

Posted by Jamie

For everyone coming to the crawfish boil, I wanted to share with you my favorite breakfast spot on the Northshore.  Toad Hollow Café in Downtown Covington is a locally owned café with great food, coffee, and cocktails.  Toad Hollow is committed to using only fresh, high-quality, and mostly organic ingredients.  They serve mainly locally sourced ingredients and the menu definitely has a strong New Orleans influence. 

The menu includes omelets,  pancakes, and several unique breakfast specialties.  My favorite menu item is the Turkey Omelet, hold the turkey.  Okay, so that might be a little strange but it is my favorite omelet.  Basically, it is a veggie omelet with swiss cheese, onion, and avocado.   

All omelets are served with your choice of toast, which is itself not very interesting.  But, all of the bread served at Toad Hollow comes from Susan Spicer’s Wild Flour Bakery!  If you are not aware, Susan Spicer is one of our top local chefs and the force behind the incomparable French Quarter restaurant Bayona.   I recommend the multigrain organic bread, but the Sourdough Cinnamon-Raisin Brioche are also choice selections.  There is even a gluten free option as well.  Another great menu choice is the whole grain organic pancakes.  They definitely won’t disappoint and you can get them in a combo with two eggs of your choice and chicken apple sausage or turkey bacon (Yum!).

The drink menu is also fabulous at Toad Hollow.  They serve organic, fair-trade coffee by Coffee Roaster’s of New Orleans.  They also have both hot and cold espresso drinks for those of us who love our lattes and an extensive list of hot and cold teas.  In addition to caffeinated beverages, there is also a remarkable cocktail menu with many New Orleans’ classics.  During breakfast hours, they have $5 mimosas, bloody marys, and screw drivers.  They also have collection of botanical cocktails.  If you are feeling adventurous, I recommend the Pimm’s Cup.  A Pimm’s Cup is a marvelous combination of Pimm’s #1, gin, lemon juice, and ginger beer (or ginger ale) that is typially garnished with a cucumber.  Apart from being a New Orleans staple, it is a very fresh drink and will go perfectly with breakfast.

Toad Hollow Café is locate at 207 N New Hampshire Street in downtown Covington. Prices range from $8 - $30.  Breakfast is served from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm on both Saturdays and Sundays.  I recommend either grabbing a quick breakfast and cocktail before the boil begins at noon on Saturday or you can sleep in on Sunday, enjoy yourself a late morning/early afternoon brunch.  The menu is gluten-free and vegan friendly.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fat Tuesday in the French Quarter - Preparations

Posted by Benson

In my last post I mentioned that every year I go down to the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday with a group of my 'Nawlins friends.  Even though I hate loud, raucous crowds, I go because there is something magical about being in a large group of people in themed costumes.

We are by far not the only group of carnival revelers to hit the streets in themed costumes.  Themed costume groups run a wide range from the slapdash to the absurdly elaborate.  Some folks all buy the same packaged costume, some try to create humorous vignettes, and some specialize in a dedicated theme that they practice with ruthless efficiency year after year, like those guys reminding us that we are all going to Hell.  (caption)Their costumes get better and better every year. 

Rather than doing the same thing every year, or going with a boring, off the shelf variety of costume, my group chooses a different costume theme each year and we all take it upon ourselves to craft a costume that fits with the annual theme.  Last year's theme was, of course, post-apocalyptic in honor of the Mayan Y2K.  Thankfully we were able to reset our calendars and the world kept turning.  But if it hadn't I would have been ahead of the curve with my tire armor and titanium spork!

Since I have started doing the Fat Tuesday in the French Quarter game we have also done Arabian Nights, Pirates, and Steam Punk

Don't ask me how the themes get chosen.  There is a process, I'm sure, but it seems to involve a Facebook group, and Facebook just isn't my thing.  I just wait for my neighbors to put up Mardi Gras decorations and then I go and figure out what costume decree has come down from on high.

Now, in year's past this process has worked just fine.  Arabian Nights - Google turban wrapping tutorials.  Pirates - who doesn't have an eye patch and a tricorn hat?  Steam Punk - buy a gas mask, smash a clock, and build a ray gun.  Post-apocalyptic - grab an old baseball bat, some old tires, and an ill-fitting leather jacket and you're good to go.

Actually, I pride myself on doing a pretty darn good costume.  There are those in the group who do it better than me (like Clay, costume guru), but I always like to make my costume one of the best.  So this year I was a little floored to learn that the theme is Gods and Monsters of the Ancient World!

It may seem easy at first (C'mon bra, haven't you been to a toga party, bra?), but there are a lot of factors to consider in a proper Fat Tuesday costume.  First, you need enough pockets for easy access cash, a secret car keys and ID stash, and your emergency buzz-retaining liquor flask.  Second, you are walking around in the French Quarter.  Proper footwear is key.  Sandals just aren't going to cut it unless you want your foot to be immersed in a puddle of...well, let's just say sandals are a bad idea.  Third, I hate carrying accessories.  After three or four hours it gets really old.  If it doesn't have a holster, sheath, or sling I won't go there.  Fourth, this thing has to happen fast and cheap. 

Needless to say, I had to wrack my brain to find something I could pull together on short notice that would beat out at least half of the group's costumes (I will not settle for less), not cost me an arm and a leg, and would meet all of my practical costume requirements!

Greek Gods were not going to work.  Too little clothing unless you do a boring toga, no pockets or bags, and sandals are key to a proper look.  Monsters were mostly out of the question because I had neither time to make an elaborate animal appendage, nor the inclination to fork out the cash for something like that.  Something Celtic or Scandinavian was a strong possibility - good footwear, lots of pouches or bags, simple tunics - but it had to be identifiable as a God and that probably meant carrying accessories.  I thought I was in big trouble.

My saving grace was ancient Mesopotamia!  Lots and LOTS of really cool deities and clothing that primarily consisted of large, square shawls.  There would be lots of coverage, allowing me to wear normal, pocket-filled shorts underneath, it would be striking, and the sewing would be as simple as hemming a few yards of fabric.  I could get away with proper footwear too since most of the attention would be on the flashy, brightly colored shawls.  The only remaining question was which deity to impersonate.

After a bit of Wikiwalking I settled on Enki, god of crafts, mischief, water, creation, and keeper of the divine laws.  Enki does not carry anything in particular, and he has the added flair of a quirky carp skin hat and the rivers Tigris and Euphrates springing forth from his shoulders.  It was a match made in the celestial firmament.


DGA Wine Club – Chateau Florie Aude 2010

Posted by Bill

This month I enjoyed an interesting Bordeaux, Chateau Florie Aude 2010.  As is typical of Bordeaux blends, it is a Merlot and Cabernet blend and is produced on a small family-owned estate on Bordeaux’s right bank.  I usually do not drink Merlot but I thought I would broaden my horizons a bit by starting with a Bordeaux as a way to ease into enjoyment of Merlot.  If my aversion to Merlot seems strange, it is perhaps because it has little to do with taste. 

I have been enjoying films for much longer and in much greater depth than I have wine, and my aversion to Merlot perhaps came from watching the movie Sideways too often.  If you are not familiar with the film, it is about a couple of middle-aged guys (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) who embark on a tour of California’s wine country.  Giamatti’s life is in the dumps and he is looking for a refined escape while his soon-to-be-married friend is looking for a fling before getting hitched.  Giamatti’s character is ultimately seeking to find meaning to his life, and descends into depths of darkly humorous self-loathing before eventually coming back out again with a fresh perspective.

Along the way are many memorable scenes, including one in particular where Giamatti’s character loudly declares, “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!”  That scene, among others, has always stuck with me and I can’t help thinking about it whenever there is a Merlot around.  It is hard to enjoy a wine when you can’t get the red, puffy, twisted, screaming face of Paul Giamatti out of your mind.  But I guess you could say that a Bordeaux blend is not really a Merlot.

Although the Merlot is 85%, the plum-rich fruit is not overpowering but actually well balanced by black currant-flavored Cabernet Sauvignon.  Overall the wine was very enjoyable.  You can see a deep red with a purple tinge as you check for color density as it thins out towards the rim.  The aroma is of elegant red fruits, plum and black cherry with hints of spicy tobacco.  Once it hits the taste buds you can distinguish strawberry, passion fruit, raspberry, and cherry flavors.  Lovely round tannins, found principally in the bark, leaves and immature fruit of a wide range of plants, and a long complex finish.

Following the pairing guide and sticking to my “strict diet” I sipped on the Chateau Florie Aude 2010 while I ate grilled red meat and also had some cheese.  The meat I selected was a gourmet cut of USDA ground meat patty bought from a company named “Bubba Burger” topped with a domestic cheese, also referred to as American cheese.  The slight oak taste complimented the charcoal flavor of the meat and the cheese just made it an American cheese burger.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Crawfish Boil 101

Posted by Benson

For those of ya'll who have never been to a crawfish boil, you're probably curious about exactly what it is.  Before last year's crawfish boil I wrote a post about what a crawfish boil is and described its significance in the culture of south Louisiana.  You can check that out here.

Crawfish boils are important social events within the fabric of southern Louisiana culture.  A crawfish boil is a time for people to come together to appreciate all of the best things in our lives.  It is not just about making food and spending time together.  It is a shared celebration of home and culture.

While crawfish can be found all over the world to one degree or another, the way in which they naturally flourish in the landscape of south Louisiana is somewhat peculiar.  Because of this, in Louisiana, the consumption of freshly boiled crawfish in such large quantities has a very strong relationship to place.  Louisianians produce the vast majority of US crawfish and we actually eat almost all of it ourselves.  Even though Louisiana accounts for more than 90 percent of total US crawfish production, an estimated three quarters of Louisiana crawfish are produced for local consumption!

Nobody eats crawfish like we do in south Louisiana, but the way that we experience crawfish is also self-perpetuating.  Today, most of the crawfish in Louisiana is produced through aquaculture.  The mudbug thrives naturally in the Atchafalya basin, and this tasty crustacean was relished by each successive wave of the basin's human residents.  Even so, the crawfish long had a stigma in modern Louisiana culture.  It was, much like oysters, strongly associated with the diet of Cajuns, and was viewed as a low class food eaten by the rural poor.  But as Louisianians began to appreciate the story of their collective experience, Cajun culture became less and less stigmatized, and the crawfish along with it.

Today, the crawfish has grown into a symbol of Louisiana's cultural roots, and the delicious, jovial excess of a crawfish boil help to connect us with a unique past and allow us to participate in an identity based on recognition of our shared experience.  The Atchafalya basin and the port of New Orleans have always brought together a rich diversity of residents, and acknowledging shared experience has long been a vital part of successfully navigating such a varied social landscape.  The humble crawfish acts as a catalyst for this process because of its democratizing impact.

In southern Louisiana today, everyone eats crawfish.  Crawfish are plentiful, cheap, and make extremely good eating.  The crawfish has grown above social distinctions such as class, race, and gender.  It carries virtually no social stigma to locals and is a food that is accessible to almost anyone.  The consumption of crawfish, especially in the context of a crawfish boil, therefore forges commonality of experience that cuts across lines of difference.

Although the Louisiana style crawfish boil is relatively unique, the purpose it serves is not, nor should it be.  The Atchafalya basin and the port of New Orleans are a microcosm of what defines our country.  The Unites States is defined in many ways by its diversity.  It is a tapestry woven of many different strands, ideally focused on the singular goal of liberty.  Diversity is a source of great strength when otherwise disparate peoples are united in a common purpose, but liberty on its own is an all too nebulous idea.

In his recently published book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, author Charles Murray argues that what he identifies as an alarming rate of increasing class division is rooted in a lack of common experience between people from different economic backgrounds.  He argues that cultural differences have become so deeply ingrained that in addition to having different views on education, childcare, etc., people from different classes often experience popular culture in radically different ways.  They don't watch the same movies, listen to the same music, or even eat the same type of food.

Recognition of shared experience is vital to the success of our republican experiment.  Common experience helps to breed unity while simultaneously celebrating diversity.  It is how we are able to form and perpetuate a society.  But as Charles Murray has argued, our nation is drifting apart into increasingly insular communities.  In southern Louisiana, the crawfish boil helps to focus our attention on the commonalities of our experiences, rather than the differences.  It reminds us to focus on the ways in which we are connected, and if you take the time to look, you'll find that they are manifold.

Not only are we all heirs to a common history of North American experience, but we are connected by a complex interplay of environment and culture.  We Louisianians may eat three quarters of our crawfish, but they flourish in an alluvial plain formed from a river system that drains more than forty percent of North America.  They are as much a part of the rest of the country as New Orleans is.  And it is in this spirit that we extend to all of our friends the opportunity to come to New Orleans and share some of our experiences.  We invite everyone to spare a moment and think about what we all have in common, regardless of how different we may seem on the surface.

Crawfish Boil Theme: High Water Friends

Posted by Benson

If you have already received your formal invitation to the 6th Annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil, you may be wondering why the heck your wristband says "High Water Friends."

Well, as those of you who were at last year's DGA crawfish boil know, the theme for that boil was "Soul is Waterproof."  It was on the wristbands, we had some snazzy Dirty Coast t-shirts, and of course Doug gave a welcoming address on the soul is waterproof theme.  If you did not get a chance to hear it, it will be track 1 on the CD which will be finished and in the mail soon.

We enjoyed the Soul is Waterproof theme so much that we have decided to give all of the DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boils a theme, and this year the theme is High Water Friends.

Now, you might still be wondering what the heck "High Water Friends" means.  We chose High Water Friends to be our theme this year for a few reasons, but the most important one is that the boil will not be held at Friends Coastal Restaurant this year.

It is a shame to see it go

The DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil has been held at Friends Coastal Restaurant every single year.  It is traditional.  We love Friends, we love the people there, the location is perfect, and Madisonville is charming.  We had to change locations this year because Friends was so severely damaged in Hurricane Isaac last year that the building has to be torn down.

Category 1 doesn't matter when the thing is just so big

Some of you may not remember Hurricane Isaac because it was quickly eclipsed by Superstorm Sandy which devastated the East Coast so badly it made Chris Christie give a shout out to President Obama.  Well, Hurricane Isaac did a number on Louisiana.  Not only was there deadly flooding in the Greater New Orleans area, but the unusually slow moving storm caused such a prolonged storm surge that most of the rivers on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain flooded severely, including the Tchefuncte River which Friends was built on.

Friends took more than six feet of flood water in addition to severe amounts of rain water from a damaged roof, and ultimately the foundation shifted, causing the building to be condemned.

But here in New Orleans Soul is Waterproof, and Friends Coastal Restaurant is far more than just a building.  This year our theme is High Water Friends because even though the building is destroyed, Friends Coastal Restaurant survives!  We cannot have the boil in the same building this March, but we are sticking with Friends.  We got in touch with Tim Reese, co-owner of Friends, and he arranged a temporary location for us just down the street from Friends.  He and his staff will be doing all of the boiling, catering, and serving as well.

And Tim gave us some other great news!  Friends Coastal Restaurant is coming back bigger and better.  Tim and his co-owner have raised funds to completely rebuild the restaurant on the same site!  The new restaurant will be larger and more modern, with the ability to host events of up to 300 people!  And of course it will be just a few feet higher than the old building.

So this year our theme is High Water Friends because our location for the boil is High Water Friends.  This year, 802 Water Street is our Friends away from Friends; our home away from home.  High Water Friends is our theme because a true friend sticks with you through fair weather or foul, through low water and high water.  The DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil is about family and community and the traditions that bind us together and make us who we are as a group.  It is about remembering that no matter who we are as individuals, we are always stronger when work together.  This year in particular the crawfish boil is about remembering to always be a high water friend.

Tim has assured us that the new building will be finished by the fall of this year, so next year the boil will be back at Friends Coastal Restaurant with enough space for all of our out of town friends to come down to 'Nawlins and have a damn good time!

Fat Tuesday in the French Quarter

Posted by Benson

If you were following the blog last year, you might have read my post about Mardi Gras.

If you did, you will probably remember the bit about my post-apocalyptic costume.  Every year I get together with a group of my 'Nawlins friends on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras day) and we head down to the French Quarter decked out in full costume.

If my son thinks I look cool, I'm ready to rock!
Costumes are of course a staple of carnival, and during the entire Mardi Gras season you can see people in costumes of all kinds from a riotous explosion of Mardi Gras colors (purple, green, and gold), Halloween style sexy X costumes, and sedately decorative masks to the more eccentric varieties such as fully nude body painting (not pictured), undecipherable uses of neon tutus, and packs of like-minded revelers in themed costumes ranging from the slapdash to the absurdly elaborate.

Here's your standard Mardi Gras color overload.  They get worse, believe me.

Here are a couple of typical 'Sexy X' costumes.  It looks like Sexy Biker and Sexy Indian.

And here we have a couple of superfluous neon tutus.  Although I bet that tutu on the right is protecting us from an otherwise completely free show.

I belong to the "like-minded reveler" variety of carnival costume-wearer.  Each year my friends and I organize into a motley band of similarly-disguised inebriates and take to the streets of the French Quarter for as long as our legs agree to carry us.  Now, if you know anything about me you may wonder why in the world I would consent to do such a thing.  I am not a fan of large crowds, especially those that are noisy and energetic.  I don't attend live sporting events, I rarely go to concerts, and I harbor a keen dislike of theme parks. 
Fat Tuesday in the French Quarter draws one of the larger and more energetic crowds one can encounter short of a Syrian protest or an LSU home game.  Seriously, LSU fans have reputedly registered as an earthquake.  So what in the world would I be doing right in the middle of it?  

     Bourbon Street on a normal night                          Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday

The answer is that there is something magical about Mardi Gras.  Mardi Gras, in the grand tradition of carnivals throughout history, is a time to let go, a time to turn the world on its head and scrape up any change that falls out of its pockets.  Like any mask, the carnival mask is transformative, but it has, I feel, particularly special power on Fat Tuesday, especially if one is in a themed group.  

Here you have a two-for: Sexy X and a group theme!

A group of themed revelers is like an eye in a miniature hurricane.  It is like being in a rock star's entourage.  You are able to glide through crowds effortlessly, with even the most woefully drunk tourists giving you the type of deference paid to a minor celebrity.  You are the people they came to see after all, and everyone local can tell at a glance that you have friends with you.  People cheer, they pose for photos, camera crews stop you for interviews, and all the while you get to bask in the insanity that is Mardi Gras, safely nestled within your own private pack of miscreants.

It is a very interesting and always very unique experience, and one that I look forward to every year.

In my next post I will talk about the costume I am working on this year.