road trip! laplace, louisiana, and its 'world famous' andouille

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

The forecast called for rain, and lots of it. But no rain would deter me from my appointed rounds. I was toting an ice chest all over the state of Louisiana for one purpose, specifically. Andouille and tasso. Andouille and tasso from LaPlace, Louisiana, The World Capital of Andouille. The very best andouille and tasso known to man.

Why, yes, you can get andouille and tasso in most any market in the state, and, in fact, most any state. We've come to find several sources of acceptable andouille, and sometimes tasso, in many markets here in Texas, in fact. Acceptable. Not outstanding. LaPlace, Louisiana is the source of the standard bearer in andouille and tasso, and I aimed to tote home as much as my cooler, and my budget, would allow.

Halfway between my starting point in Hammond, over Bayou Manchac and Lake Maurepas on Highway 51, evidence acrued of a storm brewing. And the closer I got to my destination, the more ominous the clouds overhead. By the time I reached the city limits of LaPlace, the rain was falling steadily, and true to form, I was lost.  

Oh, I wouldn't admit quite yet that I was lost. I like to think I was just wandering. As they say, all that wander are not lost. They say that. But, of course, I was lost. Yet I drove on, in what was now a bonafide downpour. It was 10:30 in the morning, and it looked more like 10:30 at night as I reached the dead end of the road upon which I'd exited Highway 51 and Interstate 10.  I think. There were lots of turns and signs and I just drove as if I had closed my eyes and pinned the tail on the map of South La. 

There I sat--two ways to turn, left or right.  I slushed my trusty little car through what appeared to be a small flood (though nothing new to my fellow drivers, who blew by me in the veritable monsoon, tires throwing a tidal wave of rainwater into my windshield, wipers furiously whipping back and forth and struggling helplessly to keep up).  I made a treacherous left turn into what seemed to be a parking lot, though I couldn't tell for sure, and pulled into what might have been a parking space to consult my traveling assistant--the I Phone.

It had been some years since the last visit here, and none of the landmarks that were visible looked even vaguely familiar. So imagine my surprise to find my little 'you are here' marker situated directly below the 'you want to be here' indicator. Bailey's World Famous Andouille was, in fact, right in front of me. Serendipity. Or, perhaps, God's gracious hand on a fool in the rain. Whatever. I thanked Him, and made my way in.

And did some damage.  And then I made it a few doors down (no, really, it's right next door!) to Jacob's (also) World Famous Andouille.  Where I did more damage.  All in all, I had a total of 10 feet of andouille, a smoked whole pork belly, 8 pounds of tasso, a dozen 'cajun' tamales, a gigantic stuffed artichoke, 4 crawfish pistolettes, 4 links of crawfish boudin, and various and sundry other items.  It's tough to stick to the list, folks.

Louisiana Andouille: This Must Be LaPlace, by Emeril Lagasse
What is Tasso?,

On the way out of town and headed for the Big Easy, I drove through various stages of storm, but serendipity favored my travels yet again.  I was creeping along Highway 61, purposely bypassing most of the longest bridge in Louisiana, over Lake Ponchartrain, when I spied, in the swampy ditch at roadside, an egret!  Native Americans believe that the egret teaches one balance; the ability to progress and evolve --to walk into deeper waters without fear.  I took that as a good omen, and made my way, confidently, down the road.

Days later, upon my return home, I found a burgeoning vegetable garden that had been the host of the same storm which followed me on the last leg of my journey.  The unseasonable warmth and humidity had encouraged a big plot of asian greens to grow by leaps and bounds, and, in fact, the pak choi was testing the waters for a getaway-- a few shoots beginning to bolt.  I caught them just as they prepared to make a run for it, and I knew just what needed to be done.  

butter & beer braised pak choi 
with andouille and tasso

you will need

a big mess of greens (we used the asian cabbage called pak choi) about a half bushel, or the equivalent of about 4 market-sized bunches, rinsed 2-3 times, sliced horizontally, every 2-3 inches, stems and all.

4 oz cubed tasso

8 oz andouille, sliced in half lengthwise, then horizontally in 1/2 inch half moons

4 medium onions, sliced in half stem to root, then vertically, in 1/2 inch slices (see picture, below)

6 cloves of garlic, crushed

1t-1T crushed red pepper, to taste

1 stick unsalted butter

24 oz (2 bottles) of pale lager

salt, if needed, to taste

In a heavy-bottomed dutch oven, slowly braise tasso with onions, until onions are transparent, then toss in the garlic and cook an additional 5 minutes on medium low heat.  

Add cabbage (or greens of your choosing) in batches, stirring down as they wilt, and adding more to fill the pot. (This took 4 batches for us.) Add andouille, crushed red pepper, and pale lager. Simmer, uncovered, 30-45 minutes, or until beer has reduced by about half, and stems of cabbage are tender. Correct seasonings. 

We served this with pork crackling cornbread, and quick-pickled radishes--recipes to follow in days to come.

As they might say way down south, this is good eatin' cher!

Note:  If you are unable to secure tasso, another smoked, boneless meat can be substituted. Boneless smoked ham hocks, cubed, would be a good alternative. Up the spice ante, accordingly, as tasso is highly seasoned, whereas hocks are simply smoked, not seasoned. If andouille also proves to be unavailable, a good quality kielbasa can be used in its place.
For more information about LaPlace, the Andouille Capital of the World, don't miss Louisiana Rambles: Heritage by the Link, and the St. John Parish Andouille Festival, which is held annually and promises a rollicking good time. (If you're interested in that sort of thing, remind me to tell you about my brush with rock and roll fame at this festival, many years past, Johnny Winters AND Leon Russell.  You know there's a story there.)

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
Henry David Thoreau

road trip: ponchatoula, louisiana, and a little bit of joy in a cup

thirsty thursday
notes from maggie's farm

A steady drizzle fell on Ponchatoula, Louisiana the day I visited the quaint small town known as the Strawberry Capital of the World, (mostly by the folks of Ponchatoula, Louisiana) and littered with charming antique shops, a converted train station with trains roaring past at all times of day and night, raucous daiquiri spots, a few small cafes, a healthy helping of joie de vivre, and for a thirsty traveler, the perfect antidote:  A snoball stand!

courtesy of
Ponchatoula is the home of the annual Strawberry Festival, which has drawn millions of visitors from it's first, in 1972, to the the 40th, for which the town was in full-on preparation mode the afternoon upon which I was its visitor.  Read more about the colorful history of the festival, here.

In all of my nostalgic reminiscing about the food that still held me in it's sway some 15 years after I departed Louisiana, the snoball had slipped from the forefront until that day, when a thirst grabbed hold of me that simply wouldn't be quenched with one more iced coffee-to-go. In a quest for the perfect thing, I passed just what the doc ordered.  BINGO!  It was a SNOBALL stand. I pulled a James Rockford-esque u-turn and headed back for a taste of my past.

images courtesy of
Folks down in these parts, Ponchatoula, and it's big sister 50 miles away, New Orleans, and all points in between, take the snoball seriously, see Snowball Stands Are a Way of Life in Rural Louisiana,  Times Picayune newspaper, (there is no consensus among locals over the correct spelling, s-n-o-b-a-l-l and s-n-o-w-b-a-l-l are used interchangeably).  

A cup full of shaved ice (Shaved is a must. Crushed ice will not do.) is drenched with one, or two, or five, of the sweetest of seemingly hundreds of flavored syrups, and that is only the beginning. You can have any combination of flavors, sizes, and concoctions your mind can dream up, including, but not limited to, snoballs with ice cream centers, and the regionally-unique delicacy, a snoball topped with condensed milk.  I chose to go somewhat simply--the house special, strawberry, with the consumer favorite, coconut splash. 

From the first sip, to the last tiny bit of icy crunch, I was transported to a time past. I drove down country lanes which years before had entertained so many similar jaunts-off-the-beaten path, accompanied by my styrofoam cup full of memory, and that luscious, fruity-sweet syrup lasted the entire two-hour tour.  

Admittedly, most stands use syrups that are loaded with artificial colorings and flavorings, and though most are added to a simple syrup, high fructose corn syrup is not foreign to many a snoball. Occasionally, you might find yourself lucky enough to happen upon a syrup made with all natural ingredients.  The strawberry syrup on my snoball was made from the sweetest Louisiana strawberries.  And that's the way I like to duplicate this special treat at home. With all natural, organically grown ingredients. A few links to help bring that joy-in-a-cup to your house: 
Making Natural Syrups by Mary Tutwiler, for Times-Picayune
How to Make Homemade Shaved Ice
Strawberry Syrup
Traditional Snoball Syrup
Nectar Syrup
and for the history of it all....
In New Orleans, Snowballs Are a Really Big Deal
Longtime Tchoupitoulas Street Snowball Stand is as Good as New

and, last, but certainly not least, good food, good music, and good times at the 
The Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival
April 13th,14th, & 15th, 2012

a rainy afternoon at the museum: new orleans museum of art

(almost) wordless wednesday
notes from maggie's farm

I was in love with the whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms.
Louise Erdrich

excuse me, gentlemen.
Also see
An Afternoon in the French Quarter 
Make Mine a Muffuletta 

visions of sugar plums

(almost) wordless wednesday
notes from maggie's farm

A great big thank you to my fabulous cousin, T.R. Ryan, for the honor of sharing his posts with me, and I, with you, while I am away this week.  Follow Tim on his blog, From the Faraway, Nearby.  You are in for a treat!

While Visions of Sugar Plums Dance in My Head

T.R. Ryan

Wild plum blossoms - Wichita Mountains - Oklahoma - March 2011

I wake with a long sigh,

My pillow and my matting

Are the lost clouds I was in.

...And this is the way it always is with human joy:

Ten thousand things run forever like water toward the east.

-Shao Yong "Plum Blossom Poem"

There is perhaps nothing more divine

then the scent of wild plum blossom

perfuming the prairie wind
as winter's steady bleakness
reluctantly gives way to spring
rendering one breathless with fortune

As if just woken up from a long winter's nap

Wild Plum Blossoms

Spring in the Wichita Mountains

March 2011


the secret gardener

a tuesday with tim
notes from maggie's farm

T.R. Ryan

A great big thank you to my fabulous cousin, T.R. Ryan, for the honor of sharing his posts with me, and I, with you, while I am away this week. Follow Tim on his blog, From the Faraway, Nearby. You are in for a treat!

The Secret Gardener

Although my cousin is a famous gardener, I had rather assumed, by certain trial and error, that specific green gene had escaped me (as did the sports gene, and the gifted gene, and the gene for making money). Fifteen years of an unfailing effort to create a garden in my little, sunny Santa Fe home had proven my assumption perfectly: although my thumbs are delightfully opposable – there is not a speck of green anywhere among these freckles.

Over those years the only garden success I had was turning perennials into annuals. Every May, without fail, I would take to my little plot of high desert earth with resolute determination. And every August I would reap the same reward: one determined hollyhock rendered flowerless by weevils, a weft of woeful lamb’s ear and a scraggly little purple ice plant. By the following May I would be once again determined and certain to have found the solution. Year after year, the butterflies and hummingbirds that I so coveted would arrive, pause, wince and sail on to more fertile and fragrant fields. I never gave up.

And each failed garden, it seemed, was matched perfectly with another best selling garden book or television appearance graced with the perfectly tousled blond hair of my dapper, handsome cousin (yep, a couple more genes there that I missed), adding another annual dose of insult to injury.

It’s May 2008 and somewhere between the happy isles of Hawaii and golden sunsets on the Aegean – I find myself home, which is now in Oklahoma, with a week off. Spring is on the wane here, summer teases with warm muggy nights and mornings filled with the heady aroma of things growing and breeding and brooding. My hands begin to ache – quivering and lurching for the unclaimed plots of earth in my backyard like a divining rod to an unseen pool of water. I succumb to the madness and churn that red clay-filled soil through my fingers, smear it on my body, fling it my hair, mold it between my toes.

There is something very different about this fertile ground I hold in my hands. I feel somehow connected to it in a way I was not in other distant places I have once called home. I realize this soil is my soil; the sodden earth my feet first touched when I learned to walk; the same soil that sustained me for years with vegetables from my grandfather’s garden; and the same bit of earth that my first beloved pets found final refuge in.

This red earth runs like a river through my soul and it begged for me to create something beautiful from it. Having no time or talent for the potter’s wheel – I knew what I had to do: one last attempt at a garden and with only a little more than 24 hours to do it.

The first thing I did was box up all my cousin’s books -- all the winsome smiling and sweeping blond hair and gorgeous gardening advice – and donated the whole lot to the garden club. I then drove to the little locally owned nursery that sells plants from under an interstate highway overpass not far from my neighborhood and with reckless abandon bought anything that suggested a toleration for sun and boasted that little stamp of hummingbird or butterfly approval.

Returning home with only hours to spare, I heaved and hoed, churned the dirt, wrestled the errant Bermuda and arranged the plants like tarot cards divining the future; butterflies here, hummingbirds there, insect food, bird food, people food -- the circle of life in the full sweep of my garden plot. I made three trips that day to the nursery-under-the-bridge to fill in the empty spaces and to pay tribute to the past. I planted a clematis and passion-flower vine to honor my grandmother and a jalepeno plant to honor my first love. Infer what you will!

The sun set on my final day at home. Athens was the next port of call. The garden was now planted but no time for mulching or fertilizing or anticipating what insects might devour it while I was gone. My garden was now in hands of the unforeseen forces of the universe… that and the thrice-weekly automatic watering system that I hoped would be sufficient. I took one last look at the scraggly half-dollar sized nursery plants and the little rows I had raked with seed and wished it the best. My hands were happy, my heart rent; the urge to plunder the earth now requited.

Six weeks later, I came home to this (Blogger compresses these images - you need to click on them to view them they way they were meant to be seen):
Flowers everywhere -- bursting in blooms, vibrantly green, and growing faster and taller than I thought naturally possible and with not an ounce of fertilizer, mulch, pesticides (I would never) - nothing, nada. My sister had warned me on the phone; "Do you arrive before dark? Well I think you'll be surprised what you're going to find in the backyard. It seems you have a secret gardener."
A forest of sunflowers that had grown a foot a week and were easily two feet over the stockade fence. "What would the neighbors think?" my petunia loving mother asked.
Six-foot tall cosmos
Hyndrangea blooms the size of cantaloupes
Passion flowers arching and reeling over the deck
Prairie cone companions
Elderberry flowers with the promise of bird food in the fall
A red flower eating purple-stockinged ballerinas
This flower is supposed to attract hummingbirds - it looks like it too devoured a little pink-stockinged pixie head first.
Vibrant oranges.
edible yellows

all stunning colors and covered with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

There is nothing like the gossamer petals of a back-lit sunflower at sunset

or milkweed that turns into little hula girls dancing in a circle

there were flowers everywhere
Yes, I do believe I might just have a secret gardener. Whoever you are, you've made my summer. I can't thank you enough. In some ways it's the grandest welcome back home yet. I planted this garden as a hopeful tribute to my past and to honor my dirt-digging ancestors. Looking around at all this beauty, I can't help but feel that maybe, just maybe, I do belong back here. Well, let's say we belong back here; me and my secret gardener.

Oh, and dear cousin of the golden locks:
Eat your heart out! Love, Baldy
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