Bayou of the snake
It has been geologically, archeologically and paleontologically recorded that once the Mississippi River flowed much farther west than its current course, threading its mighty way through present-day Acadiana. Old Man River began to hear its siren call to drift eastward in the direction of what is now present-day New Orleans, but not before it first moved through the present-day area of the Atchafalaya River. The Red River began flowing through the westerly space the Mississippi vacated. When the Red River reached the Atchafalaya, Mother Earth began the birthing process of Bayou Teche.
But it is the Chitimachas who once peopled her banks who know how the Teche was really formed. A legend, sacred as the four trees that signify the boundaries of their territories, is responsible for giving the café au lait water its name. Long before European settlers arrived, the Chitimacha people considered snakes sacred creatures, and it was against their law to kill one. The Chitimacha word for “snake” was “teche.”
One day, sheer terror loomed on their horizon: A gargantuan snake appeared, stretching from what is now Morgan City all the way to the area of Port Barre. The elders of the tribe met in crisis and deemed that catastrophe from the mighty snake was imminent. The elders nullified the sacred edict that no snake would ever be harmed and dispatched a group of the bravest, best young warriors of the tribe to destroy it. Their conflict with the serpent lasted an entire day; the snake was tough and tenacious, becoming stronger and stronger as the fight ensued. The exhausted braves were losing heart when one of them dealt a deathblow to the head. The stubborn snake took a long time to die, and his slithering death wiggle cut a huge cavern in the earth. Eventually, the serpentine chasm filled with water.
In honor of the Chitimacha legend, the waters were christened “Bayou Teche.”
CAUSE TO CELEBRATE
Hitting the dirt
I’ll admit it’s an activity that always frightened me a little in the past, but along with a sudden fascination with hogs of the nonporcine variety, it’s something that I now find myself just itching to try. For 16-year-old Amber Vann, a junior-year high school student from St. Martinville, and 11-year-old sixth grader Niall Broussard, four-wheel racing on dirt tracks is a fait accompli.
Last year, both of these youngsters, who were introduced to the sport by relatives, placed in the Top 10 of a national motocross competition. In both the Broussard and Vann households, dirt bike racing has been somewhat of a family affair.
Amber’s father, Philip, who placed fourth in the national Senior 40-Plus dirt bike racing competition, began teaching his daughter the sport when she was 4 years old. By the time she was 6, she was competing with other first graders roaring over dirt tracks on their bikes. Amber admits that being one of the few females in a sport dominated by males in Louisiana can be challenging, but she also considers it an inspiration. Although some local girls enjoy dirt bikes, Amber remains the only one in her area to compete in national races.
“It’s hard at times,” Amber says, “but it’s fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun.”
Amber’s mother, Bonnie, is supportive of the healthy competitive spirit her daughter displays in her sport of choice.
“Around here, it’s a guy’s sport,” Bonnie says. “They don’t like having a girl compete. They get behind a girl, and they don’t like it. It inspires her just a little bit more.”
Amber has plans to compete in the B Class division, something that will allow her to race against other male riders at a faster pace, a move that she hopes will improve her technique and increase her speed.
Amber, who was overjoyed at her victory at the national series championship, describes her experience: “It was about halfway through when I realized I had enough points to win. But I knew I had to keep racing. I was really surprised. I expected to place in the Top 5. … I was just happy.”
Each time Niall is slated to race, his entire family –– including his grandparents and his uncle, and sometimes, according to young Niall, “my nanny and uncle and little cousins Rene and Reece” –– packs up the RV and heads to the races. His dad, Richard, works on his bike, while his mother, Monica, sees to his gear.
“Everyone’s involved,” says Monica.
Young Master Broussard, justifiably proud of his racing acumen, was recently thrilled to win a gift certificate of $100 from Honda after winning first place at a race in Monroe.
Although 2007 was an exciting year for the two young bikers, both are looking forward to the spring, which heralds a thrilling season of racing that begins in mild March and ends in sizzling August heat.
FORK IN THE ROAD
Prejean’s Restaurant has been designated, by vote, to have the best Cajun food in Acadiana, no small feat in an area jeweled with tasty Cajun eateries. Noted for delicious entrees and live Cajun music, Prejean’s has provided some lively evenings for its patrons, who enjoy themselves so much they usually leave with a pleased sense of entitlement.
When the sun rises over Acadiana, Prejean’s epicurean expertise again reveals itself in the form of a menu that makes you impatient to break your fast. Wrap your hands around a steaming cup of strong coffee made the Cajun way, and prepare to feast. Omelets arrive at your table as full and golden as the sun rising over the bayou. The Bayou LaFourche is a light, airy omelet stuffed with onions, peppers, mushrooms, sautéed crawfish, shrimp and jack cheese. The smoky tasso, sautéed crawfish, onions, peppers and jack cheese give the Atchafalaya Rising omelet a decided Cajun flavor, a kind of jambalaya in eggs without the rice. Filled with the bounty from local farmers’ gardens, The Vegetarian is an omelet brimming with garlic, peppers, tomatoes and sautéed onions, while the Big Bayou Country omelet is stuffed with bacon or ham, onions, peppers and jack cheese.
The very hearty Zydeco Steak and Eggs comes to your table in the form of a 6-ounce grilled sirloin steak, a pair of eggs cooked to your specifications and a side of house-made hash browns.
The Pain Perdu, which is actually French toast, is created from slices of French bread dipped into a whipped froth of eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and then grilled to a rich golden color and topped with butter that slides into the maple syrup. You can have your choice of either Louisiana sweet potato or buttermilk waffles when you order the fresh-off-the-griddle Belgium Malted Waffles. Like the Cast-Iron Buttermilk Pancakes or LA Sweet Pancakes, the waffles are also served with butter and maple or cane syrup or strawberries and whipped cream if the latter is your preference.
Prejean’s Restaurant, 3480 N.E. Evangeline Throughway (I-49), Lafayette, (337) 896-3247