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Dec 10, 200912:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Two Weeks

Holiday shopping doesn't have to be a challenge.

I do not want to be the one to panic you, but assuming you have done very little to none of your holiday shopping, you are down to 14 days … and counting.

So you’d best put some thought and effort into who will be the beneficiaries of your largesse and what they will receive. Besides, how else are we going to jump-start this economy if you don’t participate? Yes, we are all depending on you. And you have not even moved off the couch.

OK, you are allowed to stay on the couch when watching a Saints game. But after that, let’s get a move on.

Possibly a few suggestions will start your creative juices flowing, as well as get your palate in order. Let’s carefully consider a few thoughts here.

Gift cards
Completely impersonal –– unless you provide your favored recipient gift cards from New Orleans restaurants.

Yes, that’s the ticket. Give your friends gift certificates for dining at our local places. There are plenty of advantages to this approach. One, you have actually done something that appears thoughtful. Two, you are supporting our hospitality community. No downside there. Three, your gift can be enjoyed at leisure by the recipient, not just during the hectic holiday season. Four, maybe you’ll be invited when the certificate is cashed in.

You can purchase certificates in any denomination in any restaurant of your choosing in any price category. I don’t know why more folks don’t take this path to easier shopping and putting smiles on the faces of the receiver. And, of course, this is good for New Orleans.

I am not a big fan of gift cards to the major chains. But you know your audience better than I.

People love to receive cookbooks, wine books, coffee table books, books that will probably never be opened ever again and books that simply are frivolous and are just for fun.

This year’s must-have book is chef John Besh’s My New Orleans, a cookbook. Most of our great chefs have written wonderful cookbooks. From now on, this will be the one by which all others are judged.

The book itself is wall to wall with great photography, and the recipes, though maybe a bit complicated, are well worth your time in preparation. If Besh can’t do South Louisiana cooking, then maybe we should turn this place over to the Corps of Engineers.

And I am happy to recommend Poppy Tooker’s Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook. If you don’t know Poppy, then you are missing one of the most delightful souls in our midst.

She is a firm believer in and preacher of “fresh” and “slow.” In her book, Poppy does not focus on the work of one place but rather brings the whole community into focus. As you know, every Saturday morning in a parking lot on the corner of Magazine and Girod streets, the Crescent City Farmers Market opens for business, bringing the freshest vegetables, fruits, seafood and meats right into the heart of the Central Business District.

We are fortunate here in that our French Market is steeped in history and tradition and is still in operation every day. The farmers market stretches that whole idea to another part of town and for just one morning a week. It’s well worth the trip for the savvy buyer, and it’s no secret. The Saturday affair is packed with cooks and consumers looking for The Best.

The cookbook is Poppy’s love note to this 14-year-old effort and will not only give you ideas for excellent dining fare but also entertain you.

(Note: The Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook has earned Cookbook of the Year honors from New Orleans Magazine, one of the publications affiliated with this Web site, myneworleans.com.)

If you are a spirits lover, maybe you should consider Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink, written by the husband-wife power team of Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown.

Here is a book that has no fear wading into the vast pool of knowledge that surrounds the creation and the development of distilled spirits. This incredibly written volume takes us from 9,000 years ago in ancient China where botanicals were distilled to preserve their bouquets for perfumes and also to capture their essence –– which possibly became the earliest Toddy for the Body. (Jared and Anistatia did not write anything so trite and corny as that. I did.)

Who first coined the term “alcohol”? And what effect has alcohol had on politics and government directions and decisions, aside from the smoke- and gin-filled rooms of lobbyists and elected officials?

It’s a compelling volume and told in story format that will have you stopping every few paragraphs to fully consider what has been presented.

I am not certain if the book is in local bookstores, but it is worth seeking out and would make a great gift for the curious fact-hound on your list.

Yes, there is a wide selection of attractively packaged upscale adult beverages in all the usual outlets now. Purchase wisely.

With pricing on many wines and spirits in such fluctuation, most are going down in cost, not up, and the manufacturers of the products are doing what they can to bolster their pricing structure. Although all the little add-ons in the gift box, such as glasses or bar utensils, are certainly interesting, you may do better concentrating on purchasing a higher level of quality in the main product and giving better alcohol-related merchandise.

There are many factors to consider here, including your desire to not wrap presents, as well as being able to score something in the gift pack that is not normally available, such as a monogrammed corkscrew or etched glassware.

Just remember that maybe you could do very well cost-wise simply purchasing a stand-alone vintage champagne rather than a nonvintage in a fancy package or seeking a longer-aged rum as opposed to the younger stuff in the box with the trinkets.

Maybe you are buying for someone who really appreciates all the related toys, and in that case, go forth with the VISA card. But if you are giving to someone who knows the product well and would appreciate receiving the higher level of quality, that may be the better choice, though not the obvious flashy one.

If the person you are gifting likes spirits such as bourbon or vodka, consider something new, such as tequila. And if the person is a wine-lover, go to the favorite grape varietal, such as cabernet or pinot noir, and maybe find something of quality from another region instead of the place your favored recipient usually patronizes.

In other words, here is the opportunity to allow the lucky giftees (not certain that is a word, but I’m going with it; you then are the giftor) to receive things they will enjoy but would probably not buy for themselves.

These approaches not only lower the odds on your gift being returned –– or, worse, re-gifted –– but also make you look like you put in thought and effort to please your favored recipient.

You don’t have to stress just because time is short. Get on with the effort.

And be very good to yourself. That’s the most important thing you can do in this season.

Happy Holidays.

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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