Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tickfaw State Park, Springfield, LA

On our way home from Hammond last weekend, we veered south of I-12 to explore Tickfaw State Park in Livingston Parish. What a gem! As we followed the signs down a narrow country road, we were convinced we were lost. It looked like we were going to the middle of nowhere. And then finally, we see the park entrance.

The park is well-maintained and well-used but not crowded; at least not on that particular Sunday. There's a lovely campground and newer-looking cabins, a nature center, playground, a pavilion for ranger talks. And many very nice hiking trails. We strolled along a couple trails, taking in the beauty of Louisiana bayous.

We saw lots of these lizards. Bob says it is a five-lined skink.

Been anywhere beautiful lately?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Exploring the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain

When I lived in Pennsylvania, Bob and I were avid bicyclists and we often rode on rail-trails (recreational trails used for hiking and biking, converted from old train tracks) which are all over the place in the southwest part of the state. I had been wanting to ride the Tammany Trace in Louisiana ever since I first heard about it several years ago. This trail connects the towns of Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville, Lacombe, and Slidell along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. According to the website, Tammany Trace is the only rail-trail in the state of Louisiana.

Our son Andrew played in a Wind Symphony concert in nearby Hammond this past weekend, which gave Bob and I the perfect opportunity to dust off the bikes and start pedaling!

Naturally, we wanted to explore the towns along the way. The trail begins (or ends, depending on where you start) in Covington and what a gem of a small town! Full of quaint streets lined with well-kept historical homes and fascinating shops and restaurants. But we were drawn like chicken to scratch to this amazing farmers' market! We could have spent hours at this happening place, but we had miles to go.

Across the street from the market there's a very interesting old cemetery.

Use a GPS to help you find the trail, as the locals don't seem to know where it is (or maybe we were just asking the wrong people). And parking wasn't as easy as we thought it should be, but no worries. Just three miles down the trail and we came to Abita Springs. They have a nice trailhead with a park, museum, and the Abita Brew Pub, which is the original location of Abita Brewery. Not terribly far from the trail, you can tour the Abita Brewery. I can sum up the brewery tour in four words. Crowded. Loud. Free. Beer. The first two words may be attributed to the particular time we went -- Saturday at 2:00, the final tour of the day. Not sure.

The Tammany Trace is a treasure; paved, well-maintained and well-used, at least on a lovely spring Saturday. The local communities plan events at the many parks along the trail. In Abita Springs, there was an Easter egg hunt in progress. Not far from that, there was an event to benefit a Down's Syndrome organization. In Mandeville, we perused a flea market and there was some sort of historical something going on. In between towns, the scenery is lovely. And this time of year, the wisteria and azaleas are in bloom.

Mandeville sits on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, to the east of the causeway. Life there seems to happen along or near the waterfront. We had a fabulous dinner at Rip's on the Lake, touted as "The Best Seafood on the Northshore." Bob and I believe it! I had grouper and he had mahi-mahi. We shared an appetizer of crab cakes. It was one of those meals where you feel sad when it's over.

Bob gazing at sailboats on the water.

Because we aren't in our best biking shape ever, we headed back to Covington after Mandeville (round trip 23 miles). Lacombe and Slidell will have to wait until next time.

On our way home to Lake Charles the next day, we visited Tickfaw State Park. It's a beautiful park! Read about that in my next post.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Love Auction 2015 to Benefit Abraham's Tent

As usual, there are SO many things to do and see this weekend; Banners events, Live at the Lakefront, Lake Charles Civic Ballet's Assemble 2015, Flea Fest . . . but there's an interesting happening you may not have heard of, and it's for a worthy cause.

Love Auction 2015 takes place this Saturday at Lake Charles Toyota, 6-8 p.m. It's a fundraiser to benefit Abrahams's Tent, an organization that feeds the hungry in Lake Charles.

The event is organized by McNeese University student Shakiyla Solomon. She heads a campus ministry called Sixthirtyfive, which is associated with Sale Street Baptist Church.

Many original pieces of artwork have been donated to the auction, plus items and services from local merchants -- lots of gift baskets, golf at LC Country Club, purses, Paul Pettefer's BBQ, and much more.

Dinner will be catered by Mr. Bills Seafood. Entertainment by some McNeese music majors. There is no admission fee, but a donation to Abraham's Tent is expected. And you won't want to miss out on the auction items!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pops and Rockets: gourmet tour de force fresh flavors frozen on a stick

There are businesses. And then there are really cool fun businesses. Nick Villaume and Robbie Austin created a product and a brand that defines the latter. They produce and sell frozen gourmet confections on a stick and call their venture Pops and Rockets.

Robbie on left, Nick on right

They started this business less than a year ago, initially making the pops in their home kitchens, where they were able to make around 200 pops a day. Because they've experienced such a positive response to their product, they now lease commercial kitchen space and they recently purchased new equipment that allows them to make 200 pops an hour.

Back in Blackberry (a blackberry coconut flavor) in the freezer awaiting packaging.

Every company needs a hook or a theme that sets it apart from other similar businesses. For Pops and Rockets, it's the 1980s music culture. Their pop names relate to bands, songs, and hip movies from the era of big hair and glam rock. The name Pops and Rockets is derived from the 1980s alternative rock band Love and Rockets.

Villaume is a local businessman. He helps in production and focuses on marketing the pops and social media. Austin is a Lake Charles artist; the creative outlet is what keeps the business exciting and fresh for him. He is primarily responsible for creating new innovative flavors and assigning them clever names. To date, they have produced close to forty unique flavors. Some of their newest concoctions are Pepper in Pink (strawberry and cracked black peppercorn) and Blister in the Sun (pineapple/ginger with raspberry). Earlier this year for Mardi Gras, they created Alive and King Cake (cream cheese and cinnamon). One of my personal favorites is Sledge Honey (salted peanut butter and honey).

Despite leading busy lives with families and other jobs, these guys get around town! You can find them and their pop cart every Tuesday at the Cash and Carry Farmers Market on the corner of Enterprise and Broad St., 4-6 p.m., and most Saturdays at their "pop lab" on Pujo St. by Botsky's Hot Dog shop, 12-2 p.m. They also attend various event and festivals around town. Look for them at Live at the Lakefront this Friday evening at the Civic Center outdoor amphitheater (Arcade Theater).

Villaume and Austin have big ideas for the future of Pops and Rockets. They intend to continue their marketing plans, which include customer loyalty cards, two for one specials, and BOGO passcodes exclusive to their email followers. In the near future, they’d like to hawk their pops from umbrella-topped street vendors throughout the city, with trailers pulled by bicycles. With increased production capability, they would like to sell their pops from local stores and restaurants. Eventually, they would love to open a pop shop next to the pop lab in the nether regions of the Historic Calcasieu Marine Bank Building. Austin envisions a catchy Pops and Rockets sign on the exterior, a fun mural on the wall of the hallway leading to the shop, an anticipation as you walk down the hall, hear the music and see the bright colors. You just know you’re about to experience some magic.

Some may wonder, what’s the big deal? It’s flavored ice on a stick. (And don't call them popsicles -- that's a trademarked word.) It’s nothing new. But it is Pops and Rockets creative flair, the ‘80s music, the unique flavor combinations and names that set them apart. Austin admits it’s not a huge money maker, but he has his dreams. “The Pops and Rockets Musical Tour where we resurrect ‘80s bands – that is on the retirement agenda,” he says, tongue in cheek. “But we’re both comfortable one step at a time. It’s the energy that keeps it fresh.”

If you've already discovered Pops and Rockets, what is your favorite flavor?

For more information, see their website, or find them on Facebook.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Diamond Dancers

For one group of Lake Area ladies, age is just a number and nothing can keep them down.

They call themselves the Diamond Dancers, and they do indeed sparkle, right down to their bedazzled shoes.

I caught up with these gals in January, during their first rehearsal after a holiday break. They didn't miss a beat.

The Diamond Dancers include seventeen energetic ladies ranging in age from near 60 to over 80. The group formed in 2002 when 70-year-old team captain Mimi Hayes (third from right in front row below) joined a local dance troupe to compete in the Senior Olympics. Now they volunteer as ambassadors for southwest Louisiana. They will perform approximately 40 shows this year; for tourist groups, festivals, conventions, and other events. 

Most of these ladies have had no formal dance training; they just love to dance! They rehearse twice a week for two or more hours at Westlake’s Managan Recreation Center. This close-knit group enjoys not only dancing but socializing together. They celebrate birthdays, holidays and take field trips.

Co-captain Sandra Tarou (second from right in back row below) joined the Diamond Dancers in 2008 because she wanted a fun physical outlet. “We show the community that no matter how old you are, you can still enjoy exercise and it can be fun,” she says. “You can be physically active, even at our age.”


Friday, February 27, 2015

Tasterite Jamaican Restaurant

Before Andrew returned to college after Mardi Gras break, he and I went to Tasterite Jamaican Restaurant. It had been "on my list" since it opened over a year ago. The tiny Lake Charles establishment is not easy to find, connected to a mini-mart on Opelousas St., a block or two west of Hwy 171. But once you discover where it is, you'll be back.

Tasterite is owned and operated by a sweet couple, Daemion and Heather Bailey. They are both from Jamaica -- Heather came to America as a child and Daemion only 5 or 6 years ago. He cooks and she covers the counter and cash register. It's primarily a take-out place, with only a few seats and tables.

The Baileys specialize in authentic Caribbean cuisine, including curry and jerk chicken, pork, goat, fried fish, bean dishes, and plantains in season. They live in Westlake and grow much of the food they serve in a backyard garden -- peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and something called callaloo, which is similar to mustard greens. All their dishes come in small, medium, and large portion sizes. Andrew and I both ordered smalls and neither of us could finish our meals. But the food was very good. I had the jerk chicken, which was very much like barbecue. Andrew had the curry chicken. Meat and vegetables are served atop a large portion of Jamaican rice.

Daemion has worked in restaurants in several cities across America, and says Lake Charles is "the best." Call them at 337-419-1844 or find them on Facebook.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Louisiana Winter Beer Fest

Bob and I aren't super big beer drinkers, but we enjoy a good brew now and then. We like to try new beers and find new favorites. I have a very narrow range of beers I appreciate, so it's especially exciting for me to find one I like a lot. When we heard about the first ever Louisiana Winter Beer Fest, I promptly bought tickets. And good thing I did. They sold out 700 tickets in no time. Proceeds benefit the Lake Charles Symphony, so it's for a great cause!

Bob and I know the event organizer, Nick Villaume. Even the day of the event, he was putting out a call for more volunteers to help out. Bob and I said sure, why not. Could be fun. So we were the “pourers” for Bayou Teche Brewery. Our new friend Carlos brought three of their several brews; a belgian pale ale he says is their number one seller, a "noire" or black beer, and a french farm style beer called Acadie. The Acadie was the most popular one we poured. Everyone seemed to like it. Maybe, I think, because I told everyone it was my favorite.

After our volunteer shift was over, Bob and I made our rounds to all the tents. Twenty-three craft breweries from Louisiana and around the country and a couple from Europe were present, offering a total of 71 different beers. IPAs were very popular. Good for Bob (who prefers IPAs), not so good for me. I don't like the "hoppy" beers. Chocolate and coffee stouts were also well represented. While the concept thrills me, I found most of them to be too bitter for my tastes. I was disappointed that no one offered a ginger beer. I love ginger beer.

So, after tasting A LOT of beers, I narrowed down my favorites. I liked NOLA Brown Ale and Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar. But my very favorite was Sierra Blanca Alien Amber Ale. I could have stood in front of that table and just had the guy refill my glass over and over. Actually, I did that for a bit.

In addition to all those beers for the "regular" ticket holders, there was a VIP area with sixteen more craft brews and home brews offered. I didn't have one of those tickets.

There were several super food vendors at the event. My new Jamaican friends from TasteRite were there. (Look for them in a new post soon.) We had a fantastic pulled pork and slaw sandwich and bread pudding with blackberry sauce from Luna's and some boudin balls from Pujo St. Cafe.

There were two bands who entertained fest-goers. Bob and I especially enjoy the first band, Beau G's Band of Ojin. I wanted to buy a CD, but when we talked to one of the bandmates, we discovered they'd only been together a couple weeks and had no CDs.

One of the perks of volunteering is the privilege to attend the volunteer after party. Well, after a couple hours of sampling, the crowds and noise, not to mention the alcohol, were getting to me. We didn't stick around till the very end. Maybe next year . . . 

Great job, Nick!

So, what's your favorite beer?