Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Mardi Gras Gumbo Cook-off occurs
Feb. 14, 2015. Photo by Buzzy Gordon
Thanks to the popularity of Cajun cuisine, Louisiana cooking has become world famous. And as a big fan myself, I thought I knew most of what there is to know about the food. Until I went to Southwest Louisiana for Mardi Gras, and attended the annual Gumbo Cook-Off in Lake Charles, that is.

This is nothing like any other BBQ or chili cook-off you may have ever attended. More than 50 krewes and other competing teams filled a hall of the Lake Charles Civic Center, spilling over outside adjacent to the lakefront promenade. The noise level is astounding: krewes are also competing to win the “spirit stick,” by engaging in raucous revelry.

Mardi Gras krewes vie for the coveted Spirit Stick!
Photo by Buzzy Gordon
As the smells of simmering roux start to activate the salivary glands, you begin to wish the tasting would commence. But the teams have been admonished not to serve until the judges have collected their samples. Finally, lines begin to form; and one by one, krewes begin ladling out their savory offerings. These are no measly samples: styrofoam bowls are filled to the brim with the steaming samples.

I did my best to try them all, but after 20 or so half-bowls, I had to call it quits.  But I managed to taste a bit from each category: traditional chicken and andouille sausage; seafood; and wild game. Some of the latter were quite exotic -- like pheasant and elk sausage. Alligator featured prominently, along with rabbit, and even the occasional squirrel.

While most of these mouth-watering recipes may be available to the public to eat only once a year, you'll be glad to know that the best in the professional competition -- as awarded in two of the three categories in 2014 -- comes from the kitchen of the Jack Daniel's Bar & Grill restaurant at L'Auberge Casino Resort.  Professional seafood honors went to the Krewe de Sauvage, while Krewe de Mischief danced away with the coveted Spirit Stick.

For the aspiring chefs who want to make their own gumbo, check out this "How to Make a Gumbo" video by Chef Scott Landry.

Photo by www.monsoursphotography.net 

January 6 . . . a date known by many names. Many churches call it Epiphany. In Mexico, it is the Day of the Holy Kings. To the Irish, it is Little Christmas. Roman Catholics know it as Joan of Arc’s birthday. But here in Louisiana, it’s Twelfth Night!

Twelfth Night marks the beginning of Mardi Gras season. In Lake Charles, we celebrate with an annual Twelfth Night Extravaganza! At this much-anticipated event held at the Lake Charles Civic Center, the royal courts of local krewes parade through the arena and make their exit, thus paving the way for the new krewe kings and queens. In typical Mardi Gras tradition, it is a night of glitz, glamour, pomp, and pageantry.

Photo by www.monsoursphotography.net 
When my family and I moved to southwest Louisiana seven years ago, the reality of Mardi Gras was the greatest revelation to this naïve uninformed transplant. Prior to our move, I thought (as do most Yankees) Mardi Gras was an event in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, the night before Lent starts. Oh, and they had a parade. That's all I knew of Mardi Gras.

Photo by www.lindseyjanies.com
I could not have been more mistaken. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Mardi Gras is not a mere day but an entire season! And not only in New Orleans, but across the entire state! I was shocked that it is a state-recognized holiday, when businesses close and the kids are off school for several days.

Balls, parades, king cakes, gumbo cook-offs, trail rides, chicken runs, giddy merriment, indulgence . . . to me, it was all new, magical, mysterious. Mardi Gras continues to be a source of curiosity, fascination, and bemusement for me.

Back to the Twelfth Night Extravaganza . . . despite my fascination, I did not attend this event until last year. And I wondered why I had waited so long. It’s a rollicking good time. Lake Charles has over 60 krewes and is second in the state only to New Orleans with the number of krewes participating in Mardi Gras activities.

Photo by www.monsoursphotography.net 

Most of these krewes join the celebration at Twelfth Night Extravaganza. The costumes are colorful, sparkly, feathery, elaborate, and truly something to behold. Revelers on floats toss candy and shiny Mardi Gras beads to the enthusiastic crowd. Each person in attendance receives a small piece of King Cake. Twelve lucky winners find the “baby” in their piece of cake and win fantastic prizes.

Whether it’s a family tradition or your first time to attend, make plans to see the Lake Charles Twelfth Night Extravaganza January 6, 7 p.m.
Tickets are $5 in advance, $6 at the door. Children 5 and under admitted free. Tickets may be purchased at Joseph’s Electric, Gordon’s Drug Store, Party Time Store, and Moss Bluff Flower.

To read more of Angie's adventures, check out her blog, angiekaydilmore.blogspot.com. 
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Photo by www.parkerbrandcreative.com

Calling all sportsmen (and women and children, too)! On January 9-10, 2015, the coastal town of Cameron will host its annual Louisiana Fur and Wildlife Festival

This popular event has been entertaining festival-goers since 1955 and highlights duck and goose calling, retrieval dog trials, nutria and muskrat skinning, trap setting, skeet shooting, and oyster shucking competitions. 
Duck Calling Contest.
Photo by www.parkerbrandcreative.com
Oyster Shucking Contest.
Photo by www.parkerbrandcreative.com

In addition to the usual fair fare, food vendors also sell alligator sausage, jambalaya, boudin, gumbo, smoked sausage, and crawfish. 
Photo by www.parkerbrandcreative.com

A gumbo cook-off is also a part of the yearly festivities. Thrilling carnival rides will entertain people of all ages. The Pageant Queen, King, and attendants of the Fur and Wildlife Festival will be crowned on Friday evening.

Photo by www.parkerbrandcreative.com

The fun continues on all day Saturday. Sign yourself up for a morning 5K run. Stroll through the antique car show.  Watch the festival parade at 1:30 p.m.  Observe an alligator skinning demonstration at 4:30 p.m. 

Photo by www.parkerbrandcreative.com
The exciting musical entertainment lineup includes Bag of Donuts, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, John Dale Hebert, Water’s Edge, and Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Road Runners. 

For a complete schedule of events, see the festival website, http://lafurandwildlifefestival.com
Photo by www.parkerbrandcreative.com

All events will take place on the fairgrounds located at the former Pat’s of Cameron (513 Marshall St.) in Downtown Cameron unless otherwise noted.

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

Friday, December 12, 2014
Growing up, my father’s photography studio was located in downtown Lake Charles in a historic building from the early 1900s.  I spent many summers there helping in the office, answering phone calls and assisting in photo shoots.  My brother and I would even play hide and seek when we were kids.  Those old homes have lots of hiding spaces!

The historic Locke mansion located at 929 Broad St. in Lake Charles, La. was built in 1910.
Photo by www.monsoursphotography.net 
After my dad bought the home in the early 1980s, they did some renovations and found some pocket doors.  In the pocket doors, they found newspaper articles stuffed within the walls from the 1800s.  I always thought that was so cool and I think that’s what started my fascination with the Charpentier Historic District.  Charpentier is French for carpenter, by the way!

Learn more about the Charpentier Historic District at www.visitlakecharles.org/historic.
Photo by Marty Solis
Recently, the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau developed a free Lake Charles Historic Tour App.  It brings the Charpentier Historic District to life through a guided tour of the 40-block area of homes in the National Register of Historic Places.  You can choose a 30 Minute Tour, One Hour Tour or Ghost Stories Tour. 

1911 Historic City Hall has a permanent exhibit on the Great Fire of 1910 and is
featured on the One Hour Tour.  Photo by www.lindseyjanies.com
The haunted legends tour, or Eerie Calcasieu Tour, as it is named in the app, has some pretty crazy stories included.  There’s even a video that captures some great stories of the local ghosts.  There are also videos on the Great Fire of 1910, Lake Charles Architecture and the History of Lake Charles. 

The Eerie Calcasieu Tour features haunted sites throughout Lake Charles.
The app promotes social network sharing and even allows the user to create a post card from the district.  It's available in multiple languages and Closed Captioning, which is great if you have friends from other countries who are visiting and would prefer to experience the tour in their native language.

Download the free app in your app store by searching for “Lake Charles Historic Tour.”  

Learn more about the Charpentier Historic District at www.visitlakecharles.org/historic.

Check out this quick video about the Lake Charles Historic Tour App.

Friday, December 5, 2014
The Golden Nugget Lake Charles is officially open for business! 

“The opening of the Golden Nugget has been highly anticipated for the region,” said Megan M. Hartman, senior marketing manager for the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

Corner Suite by Landry's, Inc.
With 740 guest rooms and suites, meeting space, extensive retail outlets, a full-service spa, and an innovative casino floor, the Golden Nugget Lake Charles has truly emphasized the appeal of Southwest Louisiana being a premier resort destination.
Double Room by Landry's, Inc.

Foodies will be delighted to know there are nine restaurants to choose from!  Just a few of the examples are fine dining at Vic & Anthony’s, legendary Gulf seafood from Landry’s Seafood House, and casual 24/7 options at Claim Jumper. Their extensive, Vegas-style buffet even offers hand dipped strawberries!

King Room by Landry's, Inc.
There’s a lazy river with a water slide, along with a marina and private beach.  Golden Nugget has already booked top name entertainers for the first quarter like LeAnn Rimes, Meryl Haggard, and Alabama.

Although Golden Nugget Lake Charles is the fifth Golden Nugget property by Landry’s, Inc. chairman, CEO and sole owner Tilman J. Feritta, it is really the flagship since this $700 million resort is the 1st resort they built from the ground up.

But golfers hold tight.  The 18-hole championship golf course, the Country Club at the Golden Nugget, is set to open at the end of April just in time for the start of summer.

Find more information on the area’s four casino options at www.visitlakecharles.org/gaming.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Yesterday I was standing on the shoreline of Lake Charles right where the National Hurricane Museum & Science Center will be located one day among elected officials, community leaders and employees of State Farm and Entergy.  It was surreal because this dream of building a one-of-a-kind education center has been a long one in the making.

Photo by www.monsoursphotography.net 
State Farm and Entergy each gave the National Hurricane Museum & Science Center $500,000 and I feel with these large corporate donations, other companies will step up to give.  We are two more steps closer to the reality of breaking ground on the center!

Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach mentioned how the center will be a national tourist attraction.  And while it will tell the stories of how hurricanes have impacted the people, land and economy, the educational components on hurricane preparedness and recovery will be included, too.
Mayor Randy Roach. Photo by www.monsoursphotography.ne

The sign, held up by two Entergy trucks, said it all.
Photo by www.monsoursphotography.net
 “With these gifts, we begin to show that the project is truly nationwide in scope,” said Gray Stream, the center’s board chairman.

  “The center represents more than just a facility,” and it can help “education, inform and inspire young people,” said Mayor Roach.  “It can make them realize it’s not what happens to you that counts.  It’s what you do in response.”

The center could bring in as many as 220,000 visitors a year and provide the region with a $55 million annual economic impact.

To learn more about the National Hurricane Museum & Science Center, log on to www.nhmsc.com
Monday, December 1, 2014
Southwest Louisiana Marsh by www.monsoursphotography.net
To me, there’s nothing more peaceful and beautiful than watching the Southwest Louisiana sun rise in a duck blind with a cup of hot coffee sitting next to me dad.  My dad, who is also a photographer, always told me that Southwest Louisiana has the most gorgeous sunrises than anywhere else in the world!  Who’s gonna argue with that?!?

Duck hunting has been a strong family connector in the Monsour household.  I’ve been hunting with my dad since I was two years old.  We’d have father-daughter duck hunts at the camp in Johnson’s Bayou for as long as I can remember.
A father teaches his children to call ducks.
Photo by www.monsoursphotography.net

My dad would always have a string of calls around his neck, but my favorite was the old wooden Faulk’s call.  It just looked more rustic than the synthetic calls, and I’m sure it sounded better!

Faulk's Game Calls was started by Clarence "Patin" Faulk. Patin was a local guide and a trapper in Big Lake, Louisiana. He made duck and goose calls at his home starting in the mid 1930s. His son Dud Faulk learned about call making from him. In 1951, Dud created a full line of calls and started going to trade shows. Dud won the International Duck Calling Championship once and the World Champion Goose Calling Championship twice. He continued to grow the business with his wife Rena at his side.
Today, Dud's wife Rena, daughters and grandchildren assist in running the business in Lake Charles, LA. Faulk's Game Calls is still producing quality, hand tuned calls with the same attention to quality calls that they started with in 1951.

A Few Duck Calling Tips from Canaan Heard with Faulk’s Game Calls:
      - Don't over call. 
      - Call when the ducks are flying away from you or are passing in front of you. 
      - Don't call when they're flying at you. 

Check out this video of avid outdoorsman Hal McMillin during teal season.  To learn more about duck hunting in Southwest Louisiana and to find guide services, go to