However, I stopped caring about most of these things - menopause is great for that; you never knew just how much estrogen was controlling your brain, telling you to do this or that ("be sexy", "attract men", "be feminine", etc) until it fades from your system and you think clearly for the first time in 40 or so years. At some point, comfort matters more than what other people think, and you start feeling it's time to get back to developing your own sense of style, one that reflects your core self. The self that was you as a 10 year old girl, before you started worrying about what others think.
To that end I discovered "Lagenlook", a style that has been popular with young and old women in Europe for a while now, an idea which loosely translates to "layered look". It is timeless in that it transcends fashion cycles, and focuses on comfort while letting you express your own personality. This is not, however, the layered look we all grew up with in the '70's, of turtleneck dickies under shirts, covered with sweater vests or matching sweater sets, scarves and jackets, etc. You can google the term and select images and you will find it consists of loose flowing layers of clothing that are natural fibers - think cotton, linen, wool. In northern climes there are many layers and lagenlook shoes, stockings, hats and outwear as well. But the concept is particularly suited to hot regions of the globe - you just change the fabrics from thick wool to shear linen and cotton and wear fewer layers.
My grandmother Ruby’s house exists no more; rather, it exists in my memory only. I think it was a Sears catalogue house that was modified and added onto over the years. My family has taken many photos of people, places, and things for well over a hundred years, but no one ever took a photo (that I know of) of Granny’s home. I spent some time searching for images and floorplans of 1920’s American homes online, and this is the closest I can find:
The exterior wooden walls were painted white, the roof was a dark blue scalloped tile. As granny’s little family grew, the house was added onto – the back bedroom was extended out to the side, making the house have an overall “L” shape. Like most Southern homes of the era, this home was a good 3-4 feet up off the ground, with the underneath areas fenced in and painted to match – this was where lazy dogs slept on hot summer days. A small porch and a doorway were added to the expansion, almost meeting the front porch in a wrap-around style. The back bedroom of the original plan, now considerably larger, became a family room.
Across the rear of the house, another bedroom, in the “sleeping porch” style of the pre air-conditioned south (with windows on three sides) and a small bath were added, along with a bumped out kitchen eating porch and a wraparound back porch that had an enclosure for the ice and milk man to make deliveries.
Inside, the house had wallpaper imported from France, cedar wood floors, two stone faced fireplaces, and two bathrooms – the first house in the county to do so. My mother was fond of saying that her Daddy “hand-picked every board in the house so that none of them had a single knot in the wood.” I remember vivid pale blue wallpaper with giant white cabbage roses in the bedrooms; the bathroom fixtures and tiles were turquoise, even the toilet and sink and had a snazzy art deco vibe. The tub was over 6 feet long and a grown man could lay down in it. Ceilings in that house were 12 ft high and had ceiling fans or punkahs in the middle of each room to keep us cool all summer long. The scale of the house was pleasant, open, and spacious.
Granny’s house sat on a large corner lot in Sulphur Springs, nestled in a ring of giant pecan trees that provided shade in the summers, pesky squirrels in the winter, and dropped pecans onto the roof the rest of the year. Behind the house was a fenced in yard, and behind that was another fenced in yard full of more pecan trees and a vegetable garden. Behind that yard was a pasture where horses and cows were kept. Several wooden storage buildings, built to match the house, kept carriages, then cars, and served as workrooms for various projects.
I remember, as a little child, visiting Granny’s house. I remember the stately Victorian homes, separated by iron fences, flowers, and tall trees that lined her street. We would invite the neighbor across the street, Miss Dolly, over for coffee. My grandmother never learned to drive, and when it was time to shop we walked a few blocks “to town”, along sidewalks cracked with enormous tree roots. Along the way, we passed old folk sitting on shady porches, airing themselves, and Granny would say, “Good morning. Have you met my grand-daughter?” as we walked past. Nowadays, all the beautiful old Victorian houses are gone, torn down, and the lots turned into a no man’s land of light industrial commerce. Looking at the street haunts me, as I wonder : What remains of any of us, after all the people and buildings are gone that we knew?
The very first fine dining restaurant I ever visited in my life was Antoine's, when I was 16 years old and visiting N.O. on a school trip. I have always been a fearless gourmet eater, and it all started here - after consuming greedily a large bowl of magic known as "gumbo", I got to the bottom of the bowl only to discover that all the tasty things I had been gobbling down included a half a crab, guts spilling out into the bowl. I didn't care. It was awesome. I don't eat at Antonines every single time I am in NoLa, but about every other. After all, I have to give some other fine dining establishments a chance, too. I have never been disappointed.
If you find yourself in New Orleans in August, when the weather is miserable and even the tourists stay home, you may be fortunate enough to have arrived at a time the locals call "Restaurant Week." This is a marketing ploy to lure in the unsuspecting - the heat and humidity are reminiscent of Rangoon in the rainy season- and it is well worth the serious gourmand's attention. Many of the pricier restaurants around town offer special deals, 3 course pris fix meals at a low low rate - both the Old Guarde Grande Dame establishments, as well as the trendier newcomers.
I have never had a bad meal in NoLa. Never. It is because I read reviews online and carefully plan what and where I will eat. Make sure the calories are worth it. I generally don't like chain restaurants, and often find that the newer flashier places are over-priced and under-quality. It's not that I shun the newer establishments, I just vet them carefully before I spend my $$$. Also, I refuse to stand in a line for pretty much anything - except Preservation Hall - and always make reservations in advance. (I use Open Table and collect reward points.)
Galatoire'sThis most recent trip was my first to Galatoire's in a long time. Reservations got us a quiet table for dinner upstairs, at a window overlooking the clamor below. That's how you do it in NoLa. The downstairs room was for walk-ins and had a long line to get a table. Jackets are required for gentlemen- bring your own or wear theirs. I had : turtle soup (so -so), shrimp cocktail, (excellent), salad w blue cheese (excellent), fresh catch of the day fish (forget what kind) in a Meuniere Almondine sauce (excellent), a couple of Sazeracs (very strong) and could barely waddle out, so no dessert.
I have been eating beignets at Cafe du Monde for over 40 years now, and I never get tired of them. The only unpleasant aspect of dining there is the line, which can be two hours long or more. I recommend visiting in the middle of the night.
Brennan's is credited with inventing eggs benedict and bananas foster. For this reason, it is a popular breakfast or brunch choice for many, and again, reservations are your friend. We skipped a line down the block and walked right in. Fans were devastated a few years back when the family announced it was shutting the venerable institution down. Fortunately, they opened it back up awhile later, and you can eat the same wonderful dishes there just as if it never happened. Rest assured, it is still pretty damn good. For breakfast dessert this year I had fresh local strawberries, currently in season, with mascarpone cheese that were melt in your mouth delightful. And of course, mimosas.
Commander's Palace, or CP- I have to disclaim: I have never eaten here. Many rave about it, but my friends have always said they felt it was over-priced and not that good. Yet it is owned by a member of the Brennan's family. IDK. I list it here as a member of the NoLa Old Guarde Grande Dame restaurants.
Tujague's (pronounced "two jacks", like a hand of cards) is a place I have walked by 100's of times all these years, and never entered. I do not know why. This year I decided to try some of these places I had never been to, expand my repertoire as it were. Glad I did - I had the best gumbo of this trip, as well as a damn fine brisket poboy, and the best Sazerac of the trip (made correctly, with cognac, not whiskey). Also, the best French bread of the trip. All around, it was delightful, and I am glad I finally tried it out. Note: I loaded the dice by reading restaurant reviews online, and ordering food items that others had said were the best offerings. Just FYI: The poboy was huge, husband and I shared one, and were penty full when done.
Court of Two Sisters- Many will decry some of these establishments in the French Quarter as being too touristy or too this or too that. My personal thought is that if a place has been around for a long long time, there must be a reason why. Court of Two Sisters is not your fine gourmet cuisine, upscale dining, or eclectic fusion experimental dishes. Court of Two Sisters is huge buffet of all the favorite Cajun comfort foods, in an all-you -can-eat format. It is a great place to take hungry teens, rowdy kids, family reunions, grandmas and grandpas, or folk who want to try a diverse array of foods for the first time, Their oysters rockefeller may not be the best in the world, but you can try them and see if it is something you might like to try again, later, in a more gourmet establishment. Good place for peel and eat shrimp, gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, etc.
Bourbon House- Pull in here for a brief respite when the crowds on Bourbon St start to drive you nutz. Dinner is pretty good, the oyster bar is great, and their bread pudding is the best in town.
Atchafalaya - We ventured out of the Quarter on our previous visit, and discovered this little gem. Here I had the best shrimp and grits I have ever had in my life, before or since.
These are by no means the only or even the best restaurants in town. These are my faves, and what I know and do not know based on what I like. Stay posted- everytime I go, I try someplace new, and I will let you know what I think.