Quick trip to New Orleans

I took my first break from the farm to trek down to Jazz Fest in New Orleans this weekend. It was a combo trip: music festival with my husband Dave (a work trip for him), surprise birthday visit with my Dad (his big 60th is next weekend). Mom, sis, brother-in-law Brian and our best family friends, Carol & Jim Williams, joined the party, too. Dave and I got in on Thursday and hit up Lilette where I had my idea of the perfect dish - crispy fried Korabuta pork belly (each little package melted when I bit into it) tossed with pea shoots, melon wedges, cucumber bits, tarragon, mint, and fennel slices in one huge salad. It was that utterly addictive concoction of salty sweet with lots of acid -- brilliant since it paired this delicious but extra fatty piece of meat with all this light, spring freshness. We then traipsed over to the Howlin Wolf for some brass band music and Dave's favorite part of the night, the Lunchbox special (a shot a whiskey and a Miller Hi Life for $7). Two of those and we were good for the night.

Friday, after saying hi to my sis Shannon and her guy Brian, we made our way to the racetrack for the Jazz & Heritage Festival where a few of the bands Dave's agency represents were playing this weekend. We spent the day wandering between shows and hung out with the guys from the Benjy Davis Project for a bit before I finally dragged Dave over to the Jazz Fest Oyster Bar (it is, after all, a professional obligation).


We stood in line for a dozen, watching the shuckers rip through burlap bags of oysters. These were from Black Bay, an area where, like most of the Gulf, the oyster farms were almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. They've obviously had an incredible recovery and we were psyched to try out the Gulf flavor. A few major differences: they serve the oysters on what we would consider the top, or flat, shell instead of inside the cup. They also had a huge condiment bar with horseradish and hot sauce. All I wanted was a couple squirts of lemon for these bad boys, which were huge and stuffed with meat. My first bite yielded decent results: earthy, almost muddy flavor with some really good chew. But oysters 2 and 3, plus a few that Dave tried were, sadly, frozen almost completely solid.


Not pleasant...at all. We gave up after those first few, utterly disappointed, and made our way back out into the heat of the festival. I made up for it with a few really tasty fried oysters at Besh Steak later that night (after we surprised Dad and spent a little time on the casino floor).

Saturday gave me the chance to show off ICO oysters to the fam. I'd had 3 dozen shipped down to our hotel so we sat by the rooftop pool and Uncle Jim and I shucked them for the crew. Jim was actually the one who introduced me to oysters back in Spartanburg, SC. We met while living there in the 80s and spent the years as a family ever since. Carol reminded me that Spartanburg was where Jim first started shucking oysters at home; now it's one of his favorite holiday traditions (that, along with watching old classics like Holiday Inn every year). Jim, meanwhile, told endless stories, like trying to explain why he and my Dad once used a vice and a greasy screwdriver to open oysters ("Those suckers just wouldn't open") and how his brother Biff once jabbed himself with a shucking knife and passed out on the floor at the sight of blood. And then, almost immediately, he did it to himself. He was using this handy little tool Mom had smuggled over from Houston, but still managed to jab himself twice, drawing blood (and when Jim jabs, boy he does it with gusto).

notice the blood-stained hand (that would be Jim's)

After a few more shows and more fantastic food, I made my way back to Boston last night, hoping to get back as soon as humanly possible. If not for the oysters, than most definitely for the cochon, fried pork belly, boudin balls, and po boys. Between that and the company, it was an absolutely priceless trip.

Dad, Jim, and Erin

Shannon & Mom hard at work

Describe an oyster.

I've just started reading The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark. It's a beautiful, out-of-print book (you can find a used copy here) recommended by a new friend, Alison Cook. (We randomly met at the bar at Babbo when I was in NY last week. After secretly coveting each others dinner choices, she spoke up and introduced herself. She's the dining critic for the Houston Chronicle - where my parents live - and while sharing each others' dishes and a lovely chat, we eventually realized we're separated by about one degree and have more than a few mutual friends. Truly serendipitous.) Anyway, Clark does a stellar job of describing oysters; the flavor, salinity, texture, brine. Not sure I can't do it justice like she can.

"It is briny first of all, and not in the sense of brine in a barrel, for the preservation of something; there is a shock of refreshment to it." ... "You are eating the sea, that's it, only the sensation of a gulp of sea water has been wafted out of it by some sorcery, and are on the verge of remembering you don't know what, mermaids or the sudden smell of kelp on the ebb tide or a poem you read once, something connected with the flavor of life itself..."

I'm at a loss for words like this, poetic and prosey, that really grasp the flavor, sensation, and overall aesthetic of tasting an oyster. So at some point in the near future, I'll have to use my reporter's approach, a mildly scientific one if you will, to uncover the words, my words, for describing an oyster. It won't be today, sadly. But someday, very soon. I'll bring home a bag of oysters, maybe several from a few different farms, then taste them one by one and write down every word, however poetic or not, that pops to mind. I'll need assistants, of course, and plenty of bottles of white wine and hearty beers (have you tried a good beer with oysters? Please do, it's fantastic. Try Harpoon's Munich Dark if you can find it) plus some crackers and plenty of lemons. Date is tbd so stay tuned. In the meantime, I'm open to suggestions.