Books and Spring

Happy spring! Saturday, March 20 marked the arrival of this much-anticipated season. Most years by now in my northwest-Alabama northeast-Mississippi southern-middle-Tennessee corner of the South, we’ve already had several gorgeous spring days. But 2010? Not so much. That’s why everybody who saw it loved this spring-like tablescape at a recent book-signing with author and columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson. It was a typical gray and cool and wet day, but the folks at ColdWater Books in Tuscumbia, Alabama, outdid themselves with these sweet and delightful touches of spring. I love the gentle pop of colors in the blue-and-white print tablecloth, the pink punch and the yellow flowers. And aren’t you impressed with that huge pottery bowl holding ice and water bottles? When I first saw it, I was thinking $300 or more handmade one-of-a-kind creation. But no. It’s a $30 planter from Lowe’s. Sweet! Just make sure the one you buy doesn’t have a hole for water drainage, and you’re good. And here’s another good idea: Buy Johnson’s new book, Enchanted Evening Barbie & the Second Coming: A Memoir. It’s Johnson at her best — funny, smart, insightful and a tad wistful. The book-signing was the first time I’d met her, and if you ever get the chance to meet her, too, take it. She was so gracious and friendly — a real delight.  And if you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy of Johnson’s previous book, Poor Man’s Provence. It’s about the second home she and her late husband, Don Grierson, created for themselves in Cajun Louisiana. But be warned: It will make you want to drive down there to see it for yourself. Spring-break road trip, anybody?

Cajun Week

L'Auberge du LacThis past weekend  I had the great good luck to Casinosbe in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Some friends and I drove down to Cajun Country for a wedding and stayed at L’Auberge du Lac Casino Resort. You know that in Louisiana (and Mississippi), gambling places by law L'Aubergehave to be on water, so L’Auberge — billed as a “riverboat casino” — is built on a bowl-like structure that’s in the lake but you’d never know it. In fact, with the hotel’s dark wood and metal Arts and Crafts-like decor, you’d never know you were in Louisiana. I loved the massive fireplaces and the solid oversized furniture, but it reminded me more of the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, than a Cajun casino. But then this was the first casino I’d ever been to, so what do I know? Since my only casino experience is from Ocean’s Eleven, I really didn’t know what to expect. The hotel part, however, was lots of fun. The two rooms we four women were in were lovely, with wonderful bathrooms (you know I always love a good hotel bathroom) and especially luxurious bed linens and mattress — a good thing, too, because due to an apparent twist of the air vents, we could hear everything said and done in other rooms somewhere in the hotel. Every. Little. Thing. Not so noticeable during the day, but at 4 a.m. when a bunch of drunk females wandered back to their room in a loud and feisty mood? Extremely annoying. We didn’t Lake Charles, Louisianaget much sympathy from hotel management, either. Oh, well. Isn’t a hotel stay always a gamble? And speaking of, I did try my luck in the casino under guidance from my more experienced friends. Unwilling to risk anything more than what it would cost to eat at McDonald’s, I plopped down in front of a 1-cent slot machine, making $1 last about 20 minutes and losing a total of $1.76. I just don’t get gambling, although I thought I had an addictive personality since I cannot leave any Mint Milanos in the bag and have been known to sit through an entire day of America’s Next Top Model reruns. Maybe if I knew how to play something that involved some skill, such as craps or 21, I might like it better, I think — although my husband was glad to hear that I found my gambling experience sort of boring. However, I did pick up some helpful gambling tips: Always get the machines close to the door, because they pay off more. Always get the machines farthest from the door, because they pay off more. Always get a machine that’s been paying off, because it’s hot. Always get a machine that hasn’t paid off, because it’s time is coming. Always play for big money, because you’ll win big. Always play for small money, because you won’t lose much. Good luck!!!

Check out the Web site for L’Auberge du Lac at http://www.ldlcasino.com

Cajun Week

Cajun foodWe all know that one of the best parts about Cajun Pujo Street Cafe in Lake CharlesCountry is Cajun food. When some friends and I spent this past weekend in Mississippi and in Lake Charles, Louisiana, we did our best to sample as much Cajun cooking as possible. One of our favorite spots was Pujo Street Cafe in downtown Lake Charles, where we had lunch and took refuge during a Saturday afternoon downpour — and then enjoyed ourselves so much that we didn’t want to leave. The New Orleans-style cafe is one of those successful downtown-renovations — the building used to be a drugstore and apparently was the town gathering spot. Thanks to a fresh and innovative menu, delightful decor and friendly and helpful service, I can see why it still is. Pujo has a light and airy sidewalk courtyard and inside it features intriguing local art work on the exposed brick walls. And the food? Let’s just say we didn’t leave much behind. One of my friends raved about her Shrimp Angel pasta, and I refused to share any of my Oysters Pujo — pecan-crusted fried oysters with spinach and gouda cheese. Check out Pujo Street Cafe yourself at http://pujostreet.com.

Cajun Week

Cajun wedding decorCajun wedding When friends and I stepped into The Brick House in Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a Cajun wedding reception, we immediately fell in love with the Mardi Gras-themed decorations. I mean, does this say “Louisiana” or what? Every table was different, and it all added to the festive family-party vibe that made us not want to leave.  This building is a former warehouse now put to use as a catering center — a perfect solution to old downtown spaces I wish more property owners would consider instead of letting their buildings just sit there. But there was hardly any sitting at this wedding reception, as the zydeco music got folks up Cajun wedding and dancing and the buffet line beckoned with andouille-stuffed Cajun wedding mushrooms, fried eggplant, crawfish pasta salad and other yummy Cajun dishes.  And this wedding king cake! Oh my goodness! Have you ever seen such a fun wedding cake? And it tasted delicious, too. The top tier was deep chocolate. Then the middle layer was a rich cream-cheese pastry and the bottom layer was raspberry — and we had samples (Oh, OK, actual real pieces. Big pieces, in fact. Actually, I think that was just me.) of each one. Even though we had driven 12 hours and hardly knew anybody but a handful of people, we had a blast — Cajun folks are wonderfully friendly and hospitable and we instantly felt like we were family. And, by the way, don’t my friends and I look stunning? We spent a lot of time and effort trying to look good so we wouldn’t embarrass our friend, the mother of the bride — the one who’s  smiling so big in the center. After this experience, I can highly recommend Cajun weddings. In fact, if you ever get an invitation to one, do not hesitate: RSVP immediately! You won’t be sorry. And come back here tomorrow for more Cajun Week.

Louisiana

Cajun weekendToday I’m kicking off Cajun Week for no other reason Cajun wedding weekendthan this past weekend some friends and I drove a looooonngg way to Cajun country for the wedding of another friend’s daughter — and had such a blast we’d turn around and do it again in a second, despite the seemingly endless marathon of driving on the Natchez Trace. Since I still can hear the zydeco music and taste the andouille sausage, I’m sharing with you all. First, can you guess where we were? This is the view out of our eighth-story casino-hotel window, looking toward the lake for which this town is named — or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, the restaurant pictured is a very cool and tasty downtown eatery just around the corner from the breathtakingly beautiful Catholic church where the wedding was held. Sadly, I don’t have any Cajun prizes to give away to the winner, but you’ll have the satisfaction of proving you know your Louisiana geography. And please come back all week — I’ve got upcoming posts on Cajun food, decorating and wedding styles along with all the gambling tips I picked up in my (brief) career as a high-roller. You don’t want to miss it!