Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

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?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Different Mardi Gras

On Fat Tuesday, the United States -- outside of Louisiana -- has a vague idea there is something going on down in New Orleans. They might get a 30-second glimpse of the parades and pageantry, debauchery and general merriment on the national news. They know there's a party going on, but it's not really on their radar. It looks something like this.

What they likely don't know is there's a whole side of Mardi Gras the rest of the country rarely sees. Travel outside the larger cities, and Mardi Gras looks completely different. In the rural areas of Louisiana, Mardi Gras means trail rides, chicken runs, pots of steaming gumbo, music and dancing.

I've wanted to experience one of these events for years. Alas, it is still "on the list." But my friend, fellow kayaker and photographer Ian Wright, ventured to Church Point yesterday for this "Courir de Mardi Gras." Thank you, Ian, for sharing these terrific photos!

Laissez les bon ton temps rouler!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lake Charles Beekeepers

I wasn't always a huge fan of honey. I’d put a little in a cup of tea with lemon when I had a sore throat, but otherwise, not much. When I moved to Louisiana, I discovered allergies I didn't know I had. When I heard that local honey can help allergies, I gave it a try. Now I’m hooked on the stuff. It really works! The key is that is has to be local honey. Not the random stuff at supermarkets. So I sought out beekeepers who sell their nectar of the gods at local farmers’ markets. And I've been curious about the honey-making process since then. I have a great respect for beekeepers. They seem very brave to me; risking bee stings in the name of collecting the sticky sweet prize.

I recently discovered a group of beekeepers in Lake Charles who meet regularly to learn from each other and talk about beekeeping and honey making. They are informally called the Lake Charles Beekers. The group formed when Erik Fain, a newbie beekeeper, sought out other beekeepers.

“I was just getting started in beekeeping. I didn't know what I was doing. Based on my experience with animals and plants, I know I learn a lot faster from people locally who are doing what I’m trying to do. I wanted to get together with other beekeepers, but the closest clubs were in DeRidder and Jennings, and that was too far to drive. So I got names of local beekeepers and suggested we get together, even if just over coffee, at least once a month. It was just to get people together to talk. We’d pick seasonal topics and have knowledgeable persons present them. The most exciting part of it for me is just hearing people ask questions and talk about what is happening with their hives.”

Fain currently has only a few hives but plans to start more. One local beekeeper has over 400 hives. Fain says once a beekeeper establishes his hives, he’ll generally produce more honey than he can eat. “They either give it away or sell it,” he says.

Fain became interested in beekeeping because he enjoys gardening and he heard that beekeeping is a hobby that provides the most enjoyment for the least amount of effort. And he didn't want to buy honey. “If I have to pay $40.00 for a gallon of honey, it’s worth my time to do this.” 

Fain says he’s been beekeeping for a year and has only been stung three times. He wears a traditional beekeeping veil, a thick shirt, gloves, and pants tucked into his boots.

Fun Bee Facts: Bees visit between 50-100 flowers per trip. They forage over a 3 mile radius. Collectively as  a hive, they visit 2 million flowers and fly 50,000 miles in order to make 1 pound of honey. A hive can make up to 10 pounds a day, but this amount is seasonal and variable.

The Lake Charles Beekeepers meet on the third Tuesday of every month, 6:00 p.m., at the LSU Ag Center, just south of Burton Coliseum. For more information, email Fain at ef (at) gmlawllc  (dot) com.

Photos compliments of Google Images.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pho Saigon

Food plays a vital role in the fabric of any culture. Locally, traditional southwest Louisiana restaurants abound. But lately, I've noticed our multicultural dining diversity expanding. For years, Pho Tien on Nelson Road has been the go-to place for Vietnamese cuisine in Lake Charles. But there's a new Pho in town. And it's worth a visit.

Pho Saigon is located at 1815 N. Martin Luther King Hwy. They don't seem to have a website, but I did find this American Press article from last November. The day I was there, I suspect they hadn't anticipated a crowd at lunchtime and were caught off guard. So I suggest you don't go there if you're in a hurry. But the food is good and reasonably priced.

I was there with several friends. Below are a few items we ordered. I had this pork and vegetable sandwich and would have preferred a bit more stuff inside, but the stuff that was there was good.

A few girls at my table ordered this dish. They all liked it, but added sauces to spice up the noodles.

This beef soup was the best-looking dish on the table. When I go there again, I'll get this.

What interesting restaurants have you eaten at lately?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Slightly Changing Course, but Continuing the Adventure

For the past few months, I've been considering the direction I should take with my blog. I feel like I need a change. When I first moved here, everything was so new. I loved traveling around and seeing as much as I could see and then sharing it with you. But I moved here nearly eight years ago! I still feel like the new kid on the block. I still love exploring new places and events. Adventures! But there is increasingly less and less that I have not yet seen or experienced. New opportunities, at least within a 50 mile radius, are dwindling. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy going out and discovering new things in, around, and about southwest Louisiana and Louisiana in general. But I think I want to expand the horizons of the blog to include other things that I am interested in, as well.

The people of Louisiana continue to fascinate me. There are so many talented and interesting characters here. And each one has a story. I want to tell peoples' stories. I want to showcase who they are, what they do, what they are passionate about. When people are passionate about something, they seek out like-minded souls with whom they can share their passion. Invariably, a club is formed. There are countless clubs and groups in southwest Louisiana. Doesn't everyone have a hobby or an activity they love to pursue? So I'm thinking of featuring various clubs on the blog and learning about what they do. And maybe some interesting businesses and organizations that people, both readers and the folks who work or volunteer there, are curious or passionate about.

In the years I have been writing this blog, I've already written about several clubs. I mentioned the Calcasieu Cut-Ups, a local quilting club, after attending their annual show in 2013. And of course, I've written plenty about a club I'm in, the Pelican Paddlers. I mention the Lake Charles Garden Club in this post about Tuten Park. The Cajun Mustangers post about car enthusiasts. The Dutch Oven Society, also called Le Chien Cookers. And I wrote this fun post about the Gulf Coast Bird Club for the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Naturally, I belong to a great group of writer friends called the Bayou Writers. The invitation on this post is still open!

I've also written about a few local businesses (mostly restaurants) and organizations (mostly arts related.) So I'd like to think I'm off to a good start with this new direction.

I have a several ideas to get me started. But how about you all, my readers? Are you aware of any interesting groups, clubs, organizations, or businesses that you'd like to know more about or you would like me to feature? Write a comment and I'll look into it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Southwest Louisiana Home

I can't stop watching this video. Our local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) made this terrific tourism video showcasing everything that defines southwest Louisiana. I've been blogging for 8 years, and they sum up all the culture, art, music, food, festivals, and fun in one 3 minute video.

What makes the video even more special to me is that the song was written and sung by one of my favorite music artists, Wendy Colonna. In this video, she talks about the writing of the new song.

In this photo, Wendy on the right and Angie Manning, communications director at the CVB.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Green House Salad Company

This dreary cold winter weather is severely curtailing my outdoor adventures. I need indoor adventures. Okay, so, eating is an adventure right? Especially when it’s a place I've never been.

Fortunately for me, there’s a new eatery in Lake Charles called The Green House Salad Company. It’s at 3625 Nelson Rd. in the Scarborough’s plaza. I think it’s my new favorite lunch spot. And maybe a whole lot of other people’s, too. The place has been packed since their opening last month!

Their business is brisk for good reason. They sell terrific salads! Their menu offers a fascinating array of signature salads. Or you can create your own. Just look at all these options!

Their dressings and infused balsamics and olive oils are equally exciting. Their beverages include specialty iced teas, lemonade, cold-pressed juices, and infused water. I had the cucumber mint. Fabulous!

But green doesn't stop at the spinach, romaine, and kale. This establishment also cares about the environment. Their motto is Eat Green . . .Live Green. They reduce waste, recycle, and their to-go boxes are eco-friendly. A restaurant after my own heart.

The staff is courteous and helpful. Everything is clean and new, bright, contemporary, with cool coffee shop-like music playing in the background. I love this place!

Who wants to join me for lunch?!