Around the State
Holiday for Arts in Ruston
The historic district of Ruston is at the city’s heart, which is dotted with old buildings, eclectic specialty boutiques and eateries providing delectable dining, as well as the annual Holiday Arts Tour.
Sponsored by the North Central Louisiana Art Council, 30 locations in the downtown area were selected as festive visitation points. Forty artists will perform, offering jazz renditions, a cappella harmony, bluegrass and blues.
Demonstrations by artists in the form of linocut printing, calligraphy and oil painting celebrate the expressive culture of Louisiana during the holiday season. Boutiques such as 2 Crazy Girls and Beau Monde are among the many shops offering Christmas gift choices. Visitors can spend time engrossed in viewing photography, woodworking, handmade jewelry, sculpture and fiber arts, all created by nimble artistic hands. Strolling through the festive streets, you just may happen upon members of the Tech Theatre Players juggling or engaging in thespian combat on Ruston’s sidewalks showcasing their acting ability. The celebration offers many activities geared for children during the Yuletide.
Holiday Arts Tour in Ruston
Downtown Ruston; Dec. 2 to 3
Anyone who has followed the saga of the Robertson family on the popular A&E series, “Duck Dynasty,” knows each episode ends as the family gathers around the dinner table of patriarch Phil Robertson and matriarch Miss Kay. After giving thanks, the family consumes mouth-watering looking dishes created by that supreme cook, Miss Kay. Her down-home dishes include bowls of creamy mac and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken and homemade banana pudding.
Entrepreneur that he is, Willie Robertson opened, “Willie’s Duck Diner,” filled with hearty family-meal-type fare, with the obvious influence of his mother, Miss Kay, in place. The restaurant has been closed for renovations, but is scheduled to reopen at the end of November or the beginning of December. When it does, hustle over for Sadie’s (Willie’s daughter) Bacon and Cheese Fries, Boudin or a generous basket of fried pickles. The delicious, overstuffed Cajun poor boys selection offers pulled pork or fried gator, oyster or shrimp spilling from two slices of crisp French bread.
You can choose from the “Signature Sammiches,” which includes “The Boss Hog,” Willie’s own creation of fried bologna, Colby Jack cheese and candied jalapenos resting on Texas Toast. “The Godwin,” has three decks of ham, onion straws, Swiss and cheddar cheese with mayo on Texas Toast.
Miss Kay’s meatloaf is a hearty entrée choice, especially eaten with a side of her famous mac and cheese.
A wide range of Cajun and seafood entrees, such as Jase’s Frog Legs; the jambalaya plate; crawfish etouffee; good old red beans and rice; and fittingly, duck and andouille gumbo are delicious possibilities for a fine meal inspired by a family matriarch who obviously cooks with love.
Finish your meal with a helping of Miss Kay’s velvety banana pudding.
This eatery is perfect for down home comfort food, especially during cold winter months.
Willie’s Duck Diner
125 Constitution Ave.
Brown Bag It in Marksville
Chicken & Waffles with a buttered cane syrup glaze
photo courtesy brown bag gourmet
Six years ago, Brown Bag Gourmet opened in the Marksville area, a region filled with fried chicken joints, casino buffets and other convenience food establishments loaded with sodium and cholesterol. It was not exactly prime real estate conducive to the success of a high-end farm-to-table eatery. Using the abundant fresh resources of the farming community nearby, proprietor and Moreauville native Trent Bonnette began serving hearty, healthy salads and sandwiches. It was a risk that struck a gastronomic chord.
Patronizing both the local growers and the backyard gardeners maintained mutual revenue between Bonnette and his neighbors.
People began lining up for the masterful Brown Bag Burger, made with Louisiana beef, avocado and caramelized onions topping a grilled Portobello mushroom all resting within an onion roll. Crab cakes made with Louisiana crab and shrimp accentuated by the delicate flavors of beurre blanc sauce and corn and blackened tuna served on locally sourced lettuce doused lightly in vinaigrette, were also in demand.
The dinner menu changes seasonally, but as of writing this piece includes grilled mahimahi with lump crab, thyme butter and mirliton slaw. But one popular item will always remain due to public outcry when it was taken off the menu — the Louisiana beef burger with bacon jam, caramelized onions and bleu cheese layers.
Brown Bag Gourmet
310 Acton Road
Alexandria has revered Christmas in its own quiet way as far back as the Antebellum period. Christmas season heralded the end of the harvest. The work was done and it was time to celebrate all the goodness of the preceding year. The celebration centered around two things — church and family. Nineteenth century families anticipated dressing the church in Christmas finery, the religious service and the Christmas feast. Eggnog, as usual, remained a traditional Christmas libation.
Each year, Kent Plantation House commemorates this time, once blessedly devoid of mobile devices, with the Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration. Held in conjunction with Alexandria’s Twelve Nights of Christmas, the plantation opens its doors to children who help decorate the old-fashioned way with popcorn, cranberry strands and paper chains. A bell choirs performs as the audience joins in song. Papa Noel is there to make note of all Christmas requests.
Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration
Kent Plantation House
3601 Bayou Rapides Road
Chrismas at Laura Plantation
Laura Plantation, upriver from New Orleans at Vacherie, is first and foremost a Creole plantation. Forsaking the sugar-white Grecian designs of plantations traditionally found in the South, this bewitching raised home exudes warmth and friendliness rather than grandeur. The home is washed in soft shades of primary colors with a yellow exterior and blue and red trim. Here, on these shady grounds, Compair Lapin (B’rer Rabbit) was born. It remains one of my favorite River Road plantations in a vast gallery of exquisite homes.
Inside the house, you won’t find a traditional Christmas tree standing anywhere. Preserving the Creole tradition of citrus-themed Christmas decorations, a kumquat tree adorns the gleaming dining room table, looking no less festive than a bank of poinsettias. Citrus interspersed with greenery was widely used in Creole homes during the holidays.
When December fogs shroud the Mississippi River and all seems hidden from the world, a wooden teepee burns on the levee just outside the plantation’s grounds to guide Papa Noel to Louisiana on Christmas Eve.
Take tours of the charming house, with its lovely, intimate little rooms and beautiful sprawling grounds, spoken either in Francaise or Anglaise, according to your preference.
Holiday feasts in most American cultures don’t usually include dishes from the healthy Mediterranean diet yet, what better season is there to enjoy them? After all, this is the time Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, who most certainly followed the Mediterranean diet during his time on earth. Some passages of the Bible illustrate that contemporaries of the young Nazarene ate fishes, lamb, goat cheese, whole grain breads, both flat and loaves, olive oil, olives, herbs, fruits, vegetables, legumes and honey. We know from the story of the wedding at Cana that wine was also an option. It was a time when unleavened bread was dipped into olive oil and with a animal fat used in cooking, herbs and spices were added for flavor.
Enter Lebanese and Greek cuisine, such as the savory dishes prepared at Serop’s Café in Baton Rouge, which includes all of the aforementioned food items along with shellfish and chicken.
Savory appetizers include velvety hummus, flavored with garlic and lemon juice, baba ganoush, roasted eggplant in tahini, lemon and garlic with olive oil as well as fried halloumi cheese or vegetarian moussaka.
Feta salad, rice pilaf and hummus accompany nearly all entrees. Chicken shawarma is a vertically broiled chicken breast that first spent the night marinating in garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil and Lebanese spices. Marinated cubes of grilled chicken, lamb or beef are skewered for kebabs. Order the vegetarian plate and select four items from the following choices: hummus, baba ganoush, grape leaves, moussaka, falafel; tabouleh; mujadrah (lentils and rice); or spinach pie. Fresh fish, chicken or shrimp are grilled and served in a creamy dill sauce.
7474 Corporate Blvd.
Sugar and Pecans in Cut Off
The Cajun Pecan House was established in 1985, offering fresh, shelled pecans and homemade pralines to locals. It experienced a sweet expansion over time. The charming little wooden structure on West Main Street in Cut Off now features 23 varieties of candies and flavored pecans, as well as flaky delicious pies, including pecan, praline apple, tarte a la bouille (a wickedly delicious traditional custard pie). This place has Christmas dessert written all over it. If you have long given up on the sawdust quality of fruitcake, you might have a change of heart here. The bakery has placed its own individual stamp on fruitcake with a recipe filled with fresh fruit and nuts that quickly sell out.
If you love to take one-tank trips exploring Christmas gift or meal options, this bakery is worth a quick zip down historic Highway 1 to Cut Off. You might want to indulge in some of the candies, including pecan clusters, chocolate pecan brittle, Cajun pecan logs or peanut butter fudge.
When Christmas season ends and Epiphany arrives on Jan. 6, the Cajun Pecan House switches gear and falls into full king cake mode. Some of its fans have claimed this royal confectionery even surpasses the king cakes of New Orleans.
Cajun Pecan House
14808 W. Main St.
VILLAGE OF LIGHT
Le Vieux Village (the old village) in Opelousas was founded in 1720. Originally peopled by the Opelousa Indians, Opelousas is a native Indian word meaning, “black legs,” a term that hearkens practice of members of the light-skinned tribe painting their lower legs black.
In 1988, the Opelousas Tourism and Activities Committee officially created this historic rural enclave. However, as far back as the early 1970s, local citizens donated and moved historic buildings to the site. Today, visitors can catch a glimpse of life, as it was in the past in St. Landry Parish. Replete with one of the oldest Creole homes west of the Mississippi River; a 1911 schoolhouse; 19th century country store and doctor’s office and the Jim Bowie Museum (paying tribute to Opelousas’ one time resident), Le Vieux Village is a St. Landry Parish treasure.
On the first Friday of December the “Lighting of the Village” takes place. This has quickly become a favorite holiday tradition that kicks off with music from the Opelousas High School band, followed by the official “pulling of the switch,” an act that sets the old building ablaze with Christmas lights.
Vendors are present to assist with Christmas shopping in the form of arts and crafts; baby needs; jewelry; baked goods and home décor. Santa pays a visit for a photo op and children can ride ponies, horse-drawn buggies.
Le Vieux Village
828 East St. Landry St.
Dec. 2, 2016
5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
GREATER NEW ORLEANS
photo by cheryl gerber
It wouldn’t be fitting to let 2016 end without wishing a Grande Dame of dining a happy 160th birthday. The recently renovated Tujague’s Restaurant on Decatur in the French Quarter was established in 1856 next to New Orleans’ first public market. The second oldest dining institution in New Orleans, Tujague’s is said to be the birthplace of the brunch (once known as the midday “butcher’s breakfast” for workers) and iconic grasshopper and whiskey punch cocktails. Tujague’s also lays claim to being the oldest stand-up bar in America with guests including presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and DeGaulle, as well as notables Harrison Ford, Cole Porter, O. Henry and Ty Cobb. Stand a spell and sip Christmas cheer in the form of a Sazerac, Pimm’s Cup or Absinthe Drip prepared the classic way with sugar cube and cold water.
The spicy shrimp remoulade is still on the menu as it was from the beginning, along with the house specialty brisket fittingly accompanied by horseradish sauce. Barbecue shrimp and grits are more modern offerings, using Abita Amber beer as an ingredient for the New Orleans-style barbecue butter to cover huge Gulf shrimp and stone ground grits.
Savor the veal Oscar, a tender veal cutlet with jumbo lump crabmeat, sauce béarnaise, Brabant potatoes and asparagus as you savor your surroundings. It’s like a gift itself to remember you’re seated within walls saturated with history and lore — butcher’s yarns, ghost stories and war stories shared by soldiers who made it safely home.
823 Decatur St.
THE PASSIONATE PLATTER
During the season for cooking, feasting and presents, the gift of cooking classes at The Passionate Platter in Olde Towne Slidell sounds ideal.
The proprietress is Linda Franzo, master gardener. The setting for her classes is storybook perfect — herb gardens cradled beneath the sheltering branches of an oak tree near Bayou Lacombe. Here, the mission to produce scrumptious farm-to-table cuisine takes center stage. Inside the clear Plexiglas greenhouse walls, Franzo, a former speech therapist, offers workshops in a magical setting. The garden, pregnant with fresh vegetables and herbs is just outside the door. A nearby chicken coop provides fresh eggs.
Nestled around the wood-burning beehive stove, students learn how to grill meat, make pizza and flatbread, as well as master barbecued shrimp. A firm believer in utilizing the many natural ingredients local to Louisiana, Franzo conducts hands-on cooking demonstrations that have also created herb-infused remoulade sauces and green gumbo z’herbes. Lunch or evening dining combined with cooking classes in the greenhouse is a culinary celebration.
Interspersed with all the cookery are Franzo’s tips for cultivating herbs and constructing compost piles.
The Passionate Platter
2104 First St.