Monday, September 29, 2014

Yacht at Lake Charles Landing
By Mike Shubic
Feeling the Love in Lake Charles

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “southern hospitality” before, it’s a romanticized notion personified in movies and television shows, where chivalry flourishes and visitors are made to feel welcome. While on a recent trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana for a travel conference, I discovered the essence of southern hospitality is not a cliché, but the very embodiment of its residents.  The charming southwestern Louisiana town of Lake Charles has a strong Cajun culture and has a lot to offer its visitors; from performing arts, festivals, lush golf courses, glitzy casinos, historic districts, posh resorts, wildlife excursions to authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine.


Suite at L'auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles
By Mike Shubic
Louisiana was one of only four states to which I had not yet traveled, so I was thankful the folks at TMShowcase selected Lake Charles for their annual travel conference which allowed me to knock yet another state off my list.  The conference was held at the extraordinary L’Auberge Casino Resort, which is a retreat that captivates guests, many of whom may never want to leave due to the abundance of activities and luxuriousness of the property. Some of the journalists, myself included, were upgraded to a suite, which I have to say was one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in—and, as a perpetual traveler, that’s saying a lot! Beyond the amazing bed and other typical features you’d expect in a luxurious suite, this room had a few things I’d never experienced before, such a remote control that takes care of just about everything…from dimming the lights, adjusting the thermostat, to controlling a T.V. embedded in one of the bathroom vanity mirrors. Speaking of the bathroom…it was fit for royalty, with its focal point being a huge claw foot bathtub that fills from the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling. A gushing stream of water falls some ten feet into the middle of the tub. To one side of the bathtub is a large marble shower; to the other, a frosted glass enclosure with high-end loo and bidet.

While the accommodations are spectacular, so too is the entire property at L’Auberge: The casino floor, nicely manicured golf course, spa, shopping, to the lazy river swimming pool and on-site restaurants. A spot I enjoyed one evening with a colleague was the beach along a tributary at the back of the resort. I also visited the Barbier, an upscale barbershop where I experienced my first old fashioned shave.  One evening several of the journalists and I were treated to a meal at Ember Grille and Wine Bar, the resort’s fine-dining restaurant.  Rather than ordering off the menu, the chef brought out samples of his signature dishes for us to try, which included items like Tuna Tartare, Foie Gras, Crab Cakes, Kobe beef Carpaccio, and Ember Prime, a 40oz Rib Eye carved right at the table. Following that was a host of decadent desserts. It was a sensational meal and without a doubt one of the best I had during my trip to Louisiana.


Desserts at Ember Grille L'auberge
By Mike Shubic
I arrived in Lake Charles a few days prior to the conference and was able to check out some of the local flair and activities.  As a road tripper, I was particularly interested in the Creole Nature Trail, which is one of the oldest scenic byways in the country. The All-American road winds through more than 180 miles of bayous, marshlands and shores along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an amazing blend of scenery and a wonderful view of Louisiana’s fertile prairies, lush marshes and abundant wildlife.

Along the Creole Nature Trail is a place called Airboats & Alligators where you can take an airboat ride through the marshland and visit an alligator farm.  This experience was both interesting and educational…not to mention fun to zip through a marsh atop an airboat.  Talking with the owner, I learned that just weeks after Katrina hit New Orleans, Hurricane Rita devastated parts of Lake Charles, including the area where Airboats & Alligators is located.  Rita took away the house and the business, including $6 million in Alligator inventory. It has taken many years of recovery, but they are finally getting back to normal. It was quite inspiring to listen to the passion and persistence they had to rebuild the home and their business.  Alligator farming is an interesting business and can be quite lucrative if done properly. A top tier alligator can fetch up to $1600—and, once harvested, nothing goes to waste…the skin/hide is used for shoes, belts, wallets, etc., the meat is consumed, and the teeth are often used for jewelry and tourist trinkets.
Louisiana Bayou
By Mike Shubic
Airboats & Alligators Tour
By Mike Shubic
The next stop of the day was really special…it was a relaxing eco-tour boat ride with the folks at Grosse Savanne Eco-tours, which was lead by our amazingly well-informed guide, Bobby Jorden. Situated on 50,000 acres of private land, Grosse Savanne Eco-tours has unlimited access to a multitude of various ecotypes, including both fresh and salt water marshes, cypress swamps, native coastal prairies, pine forest plantations, and agricultural lands. Our tour was through the cypress swamp, which provided amazing bird watching and other wildlife opportunities, including an abundance of alligators.


The next day I visited Rutherford Beach, which is located along the Gulf of Mexico and is a great place to find unique seashells. While strolling the beach I witnessed a pod of dolphins swimming not fifty feet from shore…it was quite a sight. I also drove the three-mile Pintail Wildlife loop, which is wetlands known as Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. This area has been manipulated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to provide feeding/nesting habitat for wintering waterfowl, allowing visitors to view a variety of wildlife & birds close-up and year round.

Bayou Rum (exterior)
By Mike Shubic
Later that day, a number of my fellow travel journalists and I went to Bayou Rum for a distillery tour.  This fairly new rum distiller is producing handcrafted spirits on-site the Louisiana way, using a traditional copper pot (which is like a work of art…and, it cost as much too) using 100% natural Louisiana cane sugar and molasses. Not only was the tour informative, and the facility beautiful, but we also enjoyed a rum tasting. It had been a while since I had actually consumed rum, and I have to say, it was quite tasty! The following week I was in New Orleans and actually had a cocktail made using Bayou Rum, so it seems the word is getting out.


If you’re into historic architecture, you won’t want to miss the Charpentier Historic District, which features a number of Victorian mansions and other sites, some of which are palatial estates along the banks of Lake Charles.


Local Lake Charles Cajun band
By Mike Shubic
After a few days of exploring Lake Charles, it was time for the conference to start. By day we spent most of our time in one of the conference halls at L’Auberge, and by night, we were taken to various venues around town for dinner, drinks and entertainment.  The first night we went to a place called The Brick House, a really cool and historic venue where they had a Zydeco band playing some lively music that blended the accordion, washboard, spoons and an electric guitar.


Another evening we went to the Lake Charles Civic Center, where again, we feasted on local cuisine and enjoyed live local music. The venue is situated across the street from the banks of Lake Charles, so the view was quite stunning. Just before sunset I escaped the festivities for a spell and strolled along the nicely developed boardwalk that follows the lake. It was a sensational sunset with a silhouetted sailboat skimming the smooth surface of the lake.


Lazy River at L'auberge
By Mike Shubic
On my final evening in Lake Charles, I got tickets to an outdoor concert that was held at L’Auberge by the pool. The massive stage with sophisticated light and sound system hosted the 80s cover band, The Molly Ringwalds. From Devo to Duran Duran, the band played all the 80s favorites…we (those of us old enough to know all the songs) danced like it was 1999.  I had to laugh at one point…when these three young women looked our way as one of my fellow travel journalist and I were rocking out and singling along to a song of which we knew all of the lyrics…it was evident by their stares, the young women had never heard the song before!


It was quite warm and muggy, and after rocking out for a bit, we all decided to head to our respective rooms to don our swimsuits and head back down to conclude the concert by floating down and around the lazy river…it was a fantastic end to our wonderful time in Lake Charles, Louisiana.




The folks of southwestern Louisiana seem to be quite proud of their boudin and other Cajun and Créole creations; I on the other hand, found it to be my least favorite part.  Call me a culinary snob if you will, but I prefer more refined and less fried foods. Personally, I gravitated toward the fresh seafood dishes in Lake Charles, which, given their proximity to the Gulf, were quite plentiful. The shrimp and crab for example were out of this world. If more traditional Cajun fare is your thing, you’ll find no shortage of that either.
I found the real stars of Lake Charles to be its people…so very friendly, hospitable, old school politeness, with an air of southern hospitality and charm.


Click the following link to see more of Mike Shubic's photos of Lake Charles.
Friday, September 26, 2014

Southwest Louisiana has a multitude of events and attractions sure to scare you and thrill you this Halloween season.  From climbing aboard the USS Orleck's haunted ship, or partaking in the theatrical production of Macabaret, to harvest events for the children, there's something for all ages.  The Lost Hollows has a fun, Spooky Timbers trail for children and another more frightening side called the Deadly Pines trail that winds through the woods. To kick off this haunt season, below is a few questions and answers from The Lost Hollows.


1. How did the concept of The Lost Hollows come to be a reality?

Years ago, after purchasing land in Lake Charles, we considered creating a hay maze unlike anything that had ever been seen before; however, after gathering research we realized our grand hay maze would not financially support itself. During a brainstorming session about what else we might be able to offer the community, we came up with the idea of a haunted attraction. Since we didn't have a building to create a haunted house, we began researching haunted trails throughout Louisiana and Texas, attending some of the country's largest haunt conventions. After a year of extensive planning, we opened our trails in 2012.

2. Where do you find inspiration for the trails?

Much of our inspiration comes from other haunted attractions around the country. We borrow ideas from these haunts, making each concept our own by twisting them into unique visions.


3. What would you say is the scariest part of the trail?

This is always a difficult question to answer. Depending on your phobias, different parts of the Deadly Pines trail will be more terrifying than others. That being said, many people find the slaughter house and circus area the most frightening parts of the trail.

4. Will the trail have any new experiences this year? Expansions? Special Activities?

Though some sections of the trails are similar to last year's, staff members work year-round to make sure the experience is bigger and better than the previous season. This year, our major expansions on Deadly Pines can be found in the cemetery, junkyard and circus. We have also made our all-ages trail, Spooky Timbers, longer.

5. Who scares easier guys or girls?

Girls tend to scare easiest; but we have witnessed many grown men cowering behind their dates, pushing everyone out of the way as they run past in fear. We always know a good night by the amount of shoes we find along the trail left by people who were in too big a hurry to exit and too scared to turn back to retrieve them.

6. Does the trail need volunteers? If so, how would I sign up?

We are ALWAYS looking for volunteers. For more information, visit the volunteer page on our website (http://thelosthollows.com/volunteer.html)!

WEBSITE: www.TheLostHollows.com
FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/TheLostHollows
TWITTER: www.twitter.com/TheLostHollows
INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/TheLostHollows


For details on all the Halloween events in Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana, go to www.visitlakecharles.org/boo.




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Southwest Louisiana has a thriving arts scene, when it comes to culinary arts, traditional art, live theatre, and music.  I love sipping coffee from Rex Alexander’s pottery at Stellar Beans.  Crave Gourmet Baskets and Gifts has a charming collection of Louisiana folk artist’s Clementine Hunter plates and serving dishes portraying life on Melrose Plantation.  The Art Shop is a great downtown location to view art, as well as rent bikes to explore the Charpentier Historic District.  There are a host of traditional art galleries and museums with rotating exhibits in Southwest Louisiana. 

If you enjoy art and want an original date night or ladies night idea, consider attending Gallery Promenade. 

The Arts & Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana organizes the annual Gallery Promenade, held Friday, Sept. 26 from 5-9 p.m.  It is always a fun way to explore the area’s art venues and a chance to meet local artists.  My suggestion is to review the list of participating galleries ahead of time and make your game plan!  

October is National Arts & Humanities Month and what better way to kick off the month than with a festival!  The first annual Chuck Fest will occur Saturday, Oct. 4 on the 700th block of Ryan Street in downtown Lake Charles.  Chuck Fest will be multi-faceted bringing together culinary arts, visual arts and live music.  There will be two stages for concerts, food trucks and outdoor art displays at this free festival.

ArtsFest and Culture Fest are both free events that occur Saturday, Oct. 25 at the Lake Charles Civic Center.  A children’s festival, ArtsFest allows kids to create their own art projects from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the Exhibition Hall.  Culture Fest Louisiana is held the same day from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.  It is an international celebration of cultures showcasing the arts, music, dance, fashion, food and storytelling of 30+ countries represented in Southwest Louisiana.

Check out this video on the thriving arts and cultural scene in Southwest Louisiana.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
www.visitlakecharles.org/filmfest 
The Lake Charles Film Commission is excited about the upcoming workshops and film screenings that will be taking place at the 3rd annual Lake Charles Film & Music Festival. Patrick Bennett, one of the festival producers, answered a few questions about this year's event being held October 10-12 at Central School Arts & Humanities Center.

1.     Why did you decide to produce a film festival for Lake Charles?
As an indie filmmaker, I’ve always enjoyed attending film festivals around the country to meet other filmmakers and watch amazing indie films. Many things have captivated me about these festivals… the red carpet events, the workshops, the parties, and meeting celebrities.

By Daniel Castro
After a couple of years of thinking about it, I decided to try and start a film festival right here in Lake Charles. I wanted to bring indie films, industry workshops, and celebrity guests here to the Lake area to help cultivate a strong independent film community in Calcasieu Parish and entertain an audience with this alternative cinema that you can’t see at your local theaters.


2.     What is new and exciting about this year’s festival?
This year we have expanded by adding an extra day to the fest and adding a music element to it. We will now feature many live performances by indie bands. Headlining the music side of the fest is the New Orleans rockabilly band ‘Gal Holiday & the Honky Tonk Revue.’ Their genre has been described as “Elvis meets Johnny Cash.” They should really get the festival off to a rocking start.
We also have a movie character themed costume party planned for the final day of the fest which should be a lot of fun.
Wesley Eure

This year is the 40th anniversary of the TV series “Land of the Lost” and we are thrilled to have actor Wesley Eure as our celebrity guest of honor. Wesley played the character “Will Marshal” on that series.

3.     Who should attend?
Well, definitely anyone who has a desire to make a film. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is… from beginner to expert… there will be workshops and seminars, taught by industry professionals,  to help you get started in filmmaking or help you better your craft. 

Actors should attend too. There will be acting seminars. This is a great place for networking… filmmakers can find actors and actors can find films to act in. There will be great networking not just at the main festival, but at all the parties and events associated with the festival. 

By Daniel Castro
Also film & music buffs should attend. There will be many film screenings from all genres. These films include short films, feature films, student films, foreign films, and music videos. The same with music… there will be live performances in a variety of genres.


And of course, if you were a fan of “Land of the Lost”, come meet actor Wesley Eure. He will be happy to visit with you, sign autographs, and take pictures. He will also give a short seminar in which he will talk about his TV, film, and music career.
By Daniel Castro


4.     What seminar are you most excited about and why?
There are a couple of seminars / workshops I’m really excited about. The first one is the Louisiana Film History seminar by Ed & Susan Poole. They are going to be putting out lots of facts & trivia about films made in Louisiana. The seminar will include an exclusive documentary about Vitascope Hall, which was the first indoor movie theater in the United States and was located in New Orleans. The seminar will take us through the history of Louisiana films from the silent era to the present. It will consist of video clips, powerpoint presentation, rare movie posters, lobby cards, and memorabilia.


I’m also looking forward to Al Bohl’s stop-motion animation workshop. In this workshop he will help the attendees create clay rabbits and then teach them how to animate these rabbits in a claymation style similar to that seen in the “Wallace and Gromit” films. The video that students will help make in this workshop will be screened at our awards ceremony.
Friday, September 12, 2014

I don't know why, but sometimes there are things that I really want to do, but it takes me way too long to get around to doing them. One example is the relatively new rum distillery down the road (I-10) from Lake Charles. Louisiana Spirits opened over a year ago. Touring the facility has been on my to-do list since then. My husband Bob and I finally made the trip to Lacassine recently.

This increasingly popular rum has been flying off the shelves at liquor stores and local establishments for several months.

Photo by Angie Kay Dilmore
Rum is made from sugarcane, which is one of Louisiana's primary crops. So it’s surprising to me that Louisiana Spirits is the only rum distillery in the state. They call their product "America's Rum" because they only use ingredients made in the United States. Most of the ingredients are locally grown and produced. They use unrefined granulated cane sugar and molasses from the Louisiana sugar mill, Patout and Sons, founded in 1829, making it the oldest family-owned sugar refinery in the United States.

The distillery offers tours, where you can learn all about the history of rum making in Louisiana (It started with the Jesuits in the 1700s) and the modern day process and methods of the present facility. They don't allow photo taking on the tour, but we could take pictures through this glass wall.

Photo by Angie Kay Dilmore
Photo by Angie Kay Dilmore
I learned things like rum is required to be at least 80 proof. And their production line can fill 22 bottles in a minute.

They do allow photo-taking in the gift shop. Prior to August, Louisiana Spirits sold only two varieties of rum -- Silver (plain) and Spiced. Their newest product is a Satsuma rum. Wow, is it yummy! We brought a bottle of that home with us. It is 60 proof, which makes it technically a liqueur. For non-Louisiana readers, a satsuma is similar to a mandarin orange and is native to the state.

Photo by Angie Kay Dilmore
They have a fourth rum in the works -- it's an aged rum. It ages in oak bourbon barrels from Kentucky for one year, so it won't be ready until December.

Naturally, at the end of the tour, there is tasting. Bob and I love the Spiced Rum.

Photo by Angie Kay Dilmore
Photo by Angie Kay Dilmore














One of the highlights of our tour was meeting Oscar, a one-month old raccoon who was rescued by the gentleman in the photo, Randy Harrah. Randy works at the distillery and calls himself the chief executive janitor. Oscar is as tame as a baby cat or dog. For now, anyway.


Photo by Angie Kay Dilmore
If you haven't yet been to Louisiana Spirits, it's worth the trip. Learn more on their website here.

To read more of Angie's adventures, check out her blog, angiekaydilmore.blogspot.com
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The men in my family are your typical “gear heads” so anything with a motor in it generally gets their attention.  For the last four years, we’ve been attending the annual Stars and Stripes in the Park Classic Car Show and Cruise Night in Sulphur, La.  This year, it kicks off Friday, Sept. 12 from 7-10 p.m. with a Hospitality Night and live music by Martin Duplechin at Heritage Square in Sulphur, 900 S. Huntington St., Sulphur.  The car show continues on Saturday, Sept. 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
More than 500 vehicles participate in the annual
Stars and Stripes Classic Car Show.

My stepdad, Brad Fontenot, always puts one of his hot rods in the show, so we enjoy going to support him and see the other vehicles there on display.  Anything goes from classic cars, hot rods, rat rods, trucks to motorcycles.  Entry for the show vehicle and spectators is free, and it is a great family event with food booths, live music and entertainment for children.

“This is one of the largest car shows in Southwest Louisiana and anyone who is a car enthusiast from Texas to Louisiana is there.  Everybody waits to see the cruise at the end of the event,” said Brad Fontenot, who will be entering his black 1966 Volvo this year.
Matt Hartman, Banks Hartman and Brad Fontenot enjoy taking
 part in the annual Stars and Stripes Classic Car Show
and Cruise held in Sulphur, La.
After the show ends, the classic cars and hot rods cruise down Ruth Street.  That’s my husband’s favorite part because they show off revving their engines and burning out! 
For me, the best part is tasting boudin from all of the vendors competing in the Boudin Wars!  While the men are looking under the hoods of the cars, I sample the traditional Cajun finger food to vote on my favorite.  The Boudin Wars takes place the same day at Heritage Square inside the Henning Cultural Center from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

“Boudin is as much a part of Southern Louisiana culture as Cajun music or gumbo,” said Thom Trahan, event coordinator and executive director of Henning Cultural Center.
A $10 ticket to the Boudin Wars allows you to sample
boudin from the vendors and cast your vote
for People’s Choice.
Boudin Wars is an event in Southwest Louisiana where local restaurants and chefs compete for the title of “Best Boudin in Southwest Louisiana” hosted by the Brimstone Historical Society and the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau.  A $10 ticket allows the holder to sample entries and cast a vote for their favorite boudin in the People’s Choice category.  Purchase your tickets in advance at www.brimstonemuseum.org because they always sell out!

"We wanted to do a food-related event here at the Henning Cultural Center,” said Trahan. “When the CVB approached us to help coordinate this event, it immediately appealed to us from the arts and culture side of it – we want to see mastery in the art of cooking. It’s a great opportunity for the public to come and sample good boudin from around the region.”
For more information, visit www.brimstonemuseum.org, www.facebook.com/boudinwars or call Thom Trahan at 337-527-0357.
Father and son, Wayne and Michael Hollier, from
Hollier’s Cajun Kitchen in Sulphur, La. won last year’s
1st Place Traditional and People’s Choice awards in the Boudin Wars. 

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