In reviewing the 50 posts that I’ve published on this blog so far, I do see some common threads, and one of them is a liking for lemons! Who knew? So I’m going to go with that for a bit and see where the lemony path takes me.
A cookbook in my future!
Right now I’m planning to develop a cookbook, and that may play a big role in where the next few dozen recipes go, we’ll see. Lemons are fresh, bright, cooling in the summer, and help out with nasty colds and sore throats in the winter. So all around a good friend to have! Today I’m going to focus on our trip (a return one for me) to New Orleans last Fall to attend the Sweet Adelines International Conference and Competition. Beth and I were thrilled to sing on stage at the Smoothie King Center, under the direction of one of my idols. What does that have to do with lemons? Well…. A certain treat, namely the beignet, will be getting a little special treatment that has to do with lemons!!! Read on for more!
My first trip to New Orleans.
When I first went to New Orleans, it was 1995. My mother, who was singing in a chorus with me at the time, and I, decided to attend the Sweet Adelines International 50th anniversary celebration. We stayed at Le Pavillon, just a few blocks from the Superdome, where the conference/competition was being held. The suites there were crazy expensive and had fireplaces, and gorgeous marble columns, etc. We reserved ours along with two other members of my quartet, Dee and Clare. They each got their own rooms since their husbands, Richie and Tony would be joining us later in the week.
We arrived a few days early to do some wandering around the city before all those singing ladies in glitter hit the town. Unfortunately for me, the Saints won a football game the night before, and celebrations in my suite resulted in major damage to the room… so we were downgraded to a large room. Still it had multiple beds, and I ended up “subletting” the extra bed to a few people who came down early hoping to find a place to stay ahead of their chorus. The funds raised paid for at least a night or two of our stay!
We so enjoyed that hotel. Hot tubs and cabanas on the roof, hot cocoa and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every night (I ended up having a butler carry one up to my room one night when I was plain too tired to do it myself), an amazing dining room with $12 prime rib every night, and incredibly detailed and beautiful original paintings all around the ceiling of the dining room. We talked to one of the waiters there during breakfast one morning, and he informed us that they’d been painted by his grandfather (or maybe great grandfather). Seems the ancestor had lived there as a young man, receiving room and board in return for his painting. Beautiful scenes of the bayou, plantations, and the countryside. My favorite memory beyond having PB&J delivered to my room (crunchy please) was when Dee, Clare, Richie, my mother and I were sitting in one of the hot tubs on the roof singing. We taught Richie a tag and after a few drinks, he’d decided he could sing it on his own! He held out his note and we joined in on the harmonies, suddenly he slipped off the side of the tub and disappeared under the bubbles, with martini glass lifted high above the water! It was a fun night!
New Orleans and Music
It was a week of fun. As mentioned, we sang tags in the hot tubs, on the tour buses, and in the lobby of the hotel. We also got to hear Pete Fountain play the clarinet. He was an amazing musician. Listen hear to get an idea of the work he did with a clarinet! We also bought tickets to hear Harry Connick, Sr. perform on Bourbon Street, and in general, got to explore to our heart’s content and see an amazing contest. They even held a mini Mardi Gras parade inside the stadium for us, and everyone wore their shiniest gold costumes in celebration of the anniversary.
In that year, Rich-Tone Chorus won, beating Ronninge Chorus (now known as Ronninge Show Chorus and a multi time international champion just like Rich-Tone) by 13 points. Third place was a full 194 points behind. For those who don’t know the scale we’re judged by, those scores were 2809, 2796, and 2615. So 13 points is a VERY tight contest! But the contest we were really excited about was the quartet contest. We watched Weekend Edition take gold, with Four-Star Collection coming in 31 points behind, and Rumors coming in 123 points behind number one. A number of the top 10 quartets that year went on to come in first later. It was a weekend filled with music of all kinds, and that’s been the history of the place so I’m glad we got to be a part of it.
New Orleans and Food
So beyond the music, the second thing you need to know about New Orleans is it has been a foodie destination from way back. During my first trip, we stopped at what was supposed to be the location where the first Sazerac cocktail was served. I’m not sure it was the actual place, but it was a tiny little bar tucked away in a boutique hotel. The drink had a strange taste, but was minus the absinthe that made it famous way back when.
On our return in 2019, that little hotel was gone, and it seems a museum has been opened in the original location. Maybe it’s the same place? I couldn’t tell, too much time had passed.
In 1995, my mother and I discovered Mr. B’s Bistro, our absolute favorite place. So much so, that we went back three times during that trip for lunch and two dinners! And when my brother Bill was playing on tour there with the Band of the Rockies (US Air Force Band) I recommended it to him, and they definitely gained a few more fans! In 2019, we sought it out once again for shrimp and grits. Happy to say the restaurant still stands after the flood. So much time and so many events, but their food and service is impeccable! White gloves, warm bread, and a welcoming atmosphere. I hope to return another time to enjoy the world’s best shrimp and grits EVER!
Beignets every day!
And of course, what visit to New Orleans would be complete without beignets??? During that first trip, we wandered all around the city, even taking the streetcar into the Garden District to see Anne Rice’s then amazing purple mansion. It was wiped out during the flood, but I believe she’d moved by then. On that trip, we also sampled Café du Monde’s famous beignets. When we went back in 2019, we made a return trip to Café du Monde, then stopped at a little beignet place on Royal Street, Café Beignet later in the week. Either place leaves you covered in powdered sugar, but I think we kind of like Café Beignet better, believe it or not! Of course, we were jones-ing for beignets at that point, so maybe would have loved them no matter what. We actually ate ours that second time, walking down the street on a steamy evening, wafting powdered sugar as we walked. But either place will get you hooked. Note, if you’re not into powdered sugar all over the place, you can ask for them without… but is that really the full beignet experience you’re looking for?
A haunted home away from home
Anyone who has been to New Orleans knows you can’t go and avoid music. And who would want to? It’s the heartbeat of the city. When the flood came and caused so much devastation, I wondered what had happened to all the beautiful places we’d visited. All the little nightclubs, the hotel bars, and Le Pavillon with those suites we loved so much. On this trip, Beth and I were arriving the night before Sandy and Grant, so we chose to stay at an antique hotel in the French Quarter. It wasn’t until I woke up the morning after booking this amazingly inexpensive place, that I checked online and discovered, the Hotel Provincial is known as one of the Top Ten most haunted hotels in the country. Side note, Le Pavillon is also in the top 5 most haunted hotels in New Orleans. I’ve made a habit of seeking out the spiritual world without even knowing it, or have they been seeking me?
No ghosts in sight!
For proof of that, see my previous post about the ghosts up in Canada. We got to the little hotel and it was beautiful! We loved our room just off the third story balcony, and we slept well, with no ghostly visitors. The clerk at the front desk informed us that “most” of the hauntings were the result of a train line running just behind the building. It made beds shake as the train rolled by. But that doesn’t explain the ghostly apparitions we read about. Injured civil war soldiers lying on stretchers everywhere, random visitors sitting on beds in the middle of the night. Still, we enjoyed and would highly recommend this place if you’re okay with stairs. As you can see in the photos, there are a lot and there are no elevators. This hotel spreads through a number of old buildings including a civil war hospital (thus the ghost stories) and a few other antique buildings on a quieter street in the French Quarter. I’d also recommend booking a table at Café Amelie when you’re there. We tried to, but there was a private party going on (with some great live music) so we couldn’t get into the courtyard. Maybe next time.
Traveling large and staying at a suite
This time we were traveling with our friends Sandy and Grant, and Grant’s mom. We decided a suite was again the best option. But this time we needed one that was larger, and guaranteed not to be destroyed due to a winning football game. We reserved a 3-bedroom suite at The Natchez. Let me tell you, if you are looking for an incredible suite, with a big beautiful kitchen, comfortable rooms, and just a short walk to the craziness of Bourbon Street, but far enough away to get some peace and quiet, book a suite at this place!! It is expensive, and you have to make a huge deposit (like 50% of your entire stay’s bill), but it is amazing. And it’s within walking distance of some fantastic restaurants, including the Ruby Slipper in the Central Business District (CBD), currently closed due to COVID-19, and Mother’s which is the kind of place where you should order the specials of the day because they sell out FAST! Also, don’t miss the hot tubs out on the roof at the Natchez. We discovered them one morning over coffee! Right next to a very busy street, but plantings and the roofline itself maintain a private, hidden feel. Some photos below will give you an idea of our suite. Belive it or not, that top left picture is from our bathroom, original paintings we loved hanging in our bathroom! Every room had original artwork of multiple styles. We loved it.
But where’s the music?
Sweet Adelines – Let’s be honest New Orleans is about music, right? And, as my mom and I did in 1995, we spent a lot of time attending the Sweet Adeline Conference (and singing in it this time!) at the Smoothie King Center next to the Superdome. We watched amazing choruses and quartets from around the world. Beth and I, and our friend Sandy, also sang in the Family Chorus under the direction of Debbie Cleveland. An idol of mine from 1991, when I saw her compete with her quartet, Showtime in San Antonio. I was an avid fan and listened to their music constantly. I was thrilled to be in Indianapolis when they won in 1993. They took 2nd in both 1991 and 1992.
Preservation Jazz Hall – This time we also got tickets to a show at the Preservation Jazz Hall on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter. If you go to see the show, be aware that once you’re in that tiny room, there is no getting out, no bar, no restroom, and no air conditioning. But the music will take you away, so you won’t really care! Reservations are pretty much a must and it’s a good idea to reserve a “seat” near the stage. Otherwise you may get positioned on the floor. Too hot, dusty and crowded for that in my mind. Unfortunately, those “seats” are literally wooden benches, like at church, and if you’re a little larger than the average tiny person of the 1800s, or like to sit with your knees spread wide open (manspreading???) you are going to be feeling a bit crowded. And, if you’re like us and want to bounce around to the music on your bench, you’re going to get some dirty looks from people who just went to say they went, but don’t really like that kind of music, so they’re just sitting there waiting for it to be over. The woman next to me wanted room to spread her knees wide apart, didn’t want me touching her cane, and I ended up getting way more “up close and personal” with her than I wanted. Thankfully there aren’t many of those types buying tickets, and we loved the experience regardless. We bought CDs on our way out to listen to at home.
The Three Muses – We also went to Three Muses on Frenchmen Street in the French Quarter. It’s a bit less crazy than Bourbon Street, and definitely, a must-visit! While we were there we got to stop into a street fair where artists were selling paintings, crafts, and tons of things we wanted to bring home. Three Muses is a little “bar and small plates” spot. There is a cover/minimum drink order to listen to music, but if you order food (which we did) you can sit and enjoy the music all night (or up to an hour and a half depending on how crowded it is). And you’ll want to! The musicians were sitting in the bay window at the front of the restaurant, and we had a table right in the middle of the space, so could easily watch, eat, drink, and just soak up the atmosphere. Thankfully Uber and Lyft are easy to get, so we didn’t have to walk all the way back to Natchez Street when we were ready to go home.
So much to see and do
From wandering streets to stopping in at art galleries to eating, drinking, listening to music, and wandering by the river, New Orleans is a non-stop place to visit. Tough to relax in, but definitely worth your time if you love music and incredible food. We did discover (after someone was injured by a tipped over picnic table at the Ruby Slipper) that ambulances do not appear anywhere fast (45 minutes in that instance) and we saw more wobbly-legged drunk people at 6:30 am being helped into cars (we had to be at rehearsal for 7 am!) than I’ve ever seen anywhere.
But there are so many places to visit! A few more of our favorites:
French Truck Coffee – There are multiple. We visited the one on Chartres Street
Lafayette Square food tents, live music, a beautiful space to walk
Ice House Bar at the Provincial Hotel a cozy little place at the haunted hotel we stayed on the first night. So cute, and peaceful
Amorino on Canal Street for the most incredible gelato you’ve ever had. They even create gelato roses and also offer crepes, macarons, and an amazing number of treats you’ll want. This is a chain that is located around the world. A must stop!
Hove Parfumeur I got addicted to Sweet Olive perfume during my first visit to New Orleans when we took a tour of the local cemeteries. Between 1995 and 2019 I also sent someone on the hunt to buy me more during a business trip, and Beth and I stopped in to buy more when we were there. It’s a small shop, with a wide range of organic and natural fragrances in many forms. Just by for a sniff!
So in the spirit of New Orleans, but putting a lemony spin on a recipe, I’m providing you the opportunity to create your own beignets, with a lemon cream filling, and lemon thyme scented powdered sugar sprinkled on top! I’m not making them today, so you’ll have to be satisfied with my photos of all the other places we went in New Orleans, but when we’re able to gather with friends again, and can consume just a few of what would be 2 dozen or more beignets (this recipe makes enough for a gang!) I’ll add those photos to the post! Enjoy!
Lemon Ricotta Beignets with Lemon Thyme Scented Sugar
- 1 cup warm water (I use hot from the tap)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 large egg (room temperature)
- 2/3 cup ricotta (room temperature)
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 TB lemon thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 4 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 TB unsalted butter (room temperature)
- vegetable oil
- lemon filling (see my recipe or use pre-made lemon curd)
- lemon thyme scented powdered sugar (see my recipe or use plain powdered sugar)
- In a medium sized bowl, add warm water, sugar and yeast and whisk to combine. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes until foamy.
- Mix the flour and salt together
- In a small bowl, whisk egg until smooth. Pour into the large bowl of your stand mixer, and add ricotta, lemon zest, thyme leaves, and vanilla. Slowly add half the flour/salt mixture. Add the yeast mixture carefully, to avoid splashing and mix well. Add in the butter and beat until fully incorporated. Finally, add the remaining flour and salt mixture. and beat until dough is smooth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Heat 4 inches of vegetable oil in a large pot sufficiently deep to avoid splattering yourself, until the oil reaches 360 degrees on a candy thermometer. Make sure to use a thermometer so you don’t overheat the oil.
- Line a large cookie sheet with paper towels.
- Fill a piping bag with lemon filling.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on a floured surface to a 1/4″ thick rectangle. Cut into 2 1/2″ – 3″ squares.
- Fry the dough in batches, using a slotted spoon to flip each piece so they brown well on each side. 1 – 2 minutes total. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
- When cool enough to pick up, insert piping tip (small) into beignet and fill until it starts coming back out of the whole or the center starts to puff up.
- Once completed, sprinkle with plenty of lemony sugar topping!
To be authentic, serve with plenty of hot chicory laced coffee with cream, or your favorite beverage.