I don't know why I followed the drunk down First Street and around the corner. It's not something I would normally do, but the more I listened to the man slur and watched him stumble over loose bricks, the more I was certain he was leading me to the right spot.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Patrick asked.
"How could it not be?"
He rolled his eyes, but followed the man just the same. We'd been married long enough for him to know I would not be deterred.It was Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We'd been tasting King Cakes since January 6, the day of the Epiphany and the official start of the carnival, when stores started selling them for the season. Each one was different, some more cinnamon roll-like, some reminiscent of a Danish pastry, but each one decorated with purple, gold, and green to signify justice, faith and power.
The cakes were quickly becoming my favorite treat with afternoon coffee. I was worried they'd disappear after Mardi Gras, and I'd have to wait until the next year to enjoy them again.
We'd met the man while he and his family cheered, hollered, and pleaded with the passing parade floats to be thrown some beads.
Their section of the street was cordoned off with a tent, foldout chairs, and plastic tables laden with food and drink. Children were perched in the front row on ladders with special box seats constructed for the occasion.
They were serious parade-followers and had been celebrating Mardi Gras in this location every year since the man was a boy.
The year of Katrina was the best parade, he'd told me earlier, before he'd consumed so much celebrating. It wasn't big, but it had heart.
He'd lived his whole life in New Orleans and had yet to miss a year of Mardi Gras. If anyone should know where to get the best King Cake than he should.
My favorite King Cake is Randazz-zzzz-zzo's.
The man's pockmarked cheeks puffed out like a trombone player as he worked the wet words and ran out of air on the z's. I was pretty sure the name was not that long. They's use sprinkles on top.It was true.
We'd had a Randazzo King Cake last week.
The spongy light cake-like bread was covered in super-sweet icing and the colorful sprinkles of the ubiquitous colors. It was the best we'd had so far. But, Randazzos was across the water of Lake Pontchatrain in Slidell, and we were in New Orleans' Garden District watching one of the many parades of the season. For some reason, it seemed perfectly natural to be following a complete stranger around corners and down the streets lined with the large Southern homes that inspired Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire to the closest next-best-thing to the famed Randazzos.
The man tripped over the roots of a live oak covered in moss and ferns that pushed the bricks of the pavement up and out of place as it grew and fumbled into a woman wearing a Mardi Gras mask of the same green, gold and purple colors visible on each balcony we passed.
The city was in full festive celebration. Bright red alcohol sloshed out of the hurricane glass she carried and stained the woman's t-shirt with a stick figure on the front and the words Drunk #2. It seemed fitting.
"Scuze me," he slurred.
I don't think she even noticed.
"I like this one... cause they don't... they don't" He stopped in mid-stride and looked up to the sky above for the word he was searching for. He wrapped his hands over his forearms in a tangle that took all his concentration to unwind. "You know" He turned back to me and his glassy eyes focused on my braid. "That!"
He reached out and grabbed my hair in his fingers.
"It's not a braided bread?" I filled in the words for him.
He shook his head and confetti from the parade fell from his scraggly locks. "No, braiding cinnamon into it makes them messy to eat," he whispered to me like it was an old family secret he passed on.
I looked down at his untucked Saints jersey covered in spilled gumbo, the splatters of muddy ground from the rain the previous day, and the muddle of beads coiled around his neck.
He'd been sucking on crawfish all afternoon along with the local Abita beer and butter glistened his chin.
"No, we wouldn't want anything messy."
Yet, still I followed him. Because truthfully, he was right. I, too, had heard how good Sucre's King Cakes were and when I asked where I could get one to bring home, he offered to take me. It seemed reasonable at the time.
Sucre was bright and trendy, the Starbucks of pastry shops; it took all my willpower to walk away with just one cake and a few macarons to snack on in the car home. Boxes and boxes of the hand-rolled, freshly-baked cakes were stacked along the counter. I was not the only person in search of the Mardi Gras specialty that day.
We retreated from the jam-packed store to the sidewalk to share our King Cake with the man. He was right, it was good.
The yeasted dough cake was light and spongy and glazed with a thin silvery metallic icing that faded from green to gold to purple. It wasn't as sweet as other versions I'd tasted, but sitting there, in the center of New Orleans, in the middle of Mardi Gras, feeling festive and full, it was the best King Cake experience I'd had all season.
1/2 cup warm water, 1 1/2 envelopes dry yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar, 3 eggs, 5 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 pound butter softened, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 cup cream cheese, 1 cup strawberry jam
Frosting: 5 cups powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons butter melted, 5 tablespoons milk, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, Purple, green and gold sugar crystals
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine warm water, yeast, sugar and eggs. Let stand for 10 minutes to start the yeast bubbling.Add the flour, sugar, butter and sea salt and knead with a dough hook on medium speed for 10 minutes until a soft, smooth dough is formed.
2. Cover and let rise for 2 hours.
3. Punch down dough and divide in half. Place one portion on a lightly floured surface and roll to a 28 X 10-inch rectangle.
4. Spread half the cream cheese on the dough leaving a 1-inch seam at the top long end of the dough.Add half the strawberry jam to the top of that.
5. Roll dough in a jellyroll toward the seam starting with the long end. Place dough, seam down, on a baking sheet and join the ends to form a circle. Pinch the ends together to seal. Repeat with remaining dough.
6. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.Cool completely.
8. Meanwhile, mix together the frosting ingredients. Spread evenly on both rings and sprinkle the colored sugar over the top in an even color pattern.
“What do we do with a drunken leprechaun? Early in the morning!”
The same way mysteries of mischievous leprechauns in Irish folklore have transcended through time, the original recipe for this drink is also a mystery. A few variations of this St. Patty’s-themed cocktail are served in local pubs, but most of them include its most important ingredient — good ol’ Irish whiskey. Like a fun twist on the Irish Screwdriver, check out our favorite version of this green concoction.
2 oz Irish Whiskey
1 oz Blue Curaçao
3-4 oz orange juice
Fill a cocktail glass with ice and add whiskey, Blue Curaçao and orange juice. Stir well and garnish with a fresh orange wedge.
This drink is not Irish, but its green color makes for a perfect St. Patty’s Day drink to enjoy at sea. Using the same ingredients but replacing whiskey with tequila, try another easy twist on the classic recipe for a Tequila Sunrise. Sail off toward the horizon while enjoying this beachy beverage.
2 oz Blanco Tequila
1 oz Blue Curaçao
3-4 oz orange juice
1 lime and 1 orange wedge
Fill a cocktail glass with ice and add tequila, Blue Curaçao and orange juice. Stir well and garnish with a fresh lime and orange wedge.
For the salty sailor who could use a sweet kick on V-day, this sweet yet tart drink is perfect for your anti-Valentine’s Day party. This ocean-inspired twist on the classic margarita also makes for a perfect waterside cocktail.
1 ½ oz blanco tequila
1 oz Blue Curaçao
¾ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
Splash of orange juice
1 lime and 1 orange wedge
For a salted rim, fill a small plate with lime juice and swirl your glass rim in it, then dip it into a plate of margarita salt and fill your glass with ice. In a separate cocktail shaker with a light amount of ice, pour in tequila, Blue Curaçao, lime juice and a splash of orange juice. Shake thoroughly and strain into your glass and garnish with a lime or orange.
Also known as “The Isaac,” this romantic red drink was created by original Love Boat cast member Ted Lange, who played Isaac the bartender. Inspired by his signature bright red jacket mixed with the show’s sweet theme, the delicious libation is a perfect Valentine’s Day cocktail for boat lovers.
2 oz white rum
2 oz pomegranate syrup
½ oz fresh lime juice
Splash of club soda
2 pineapple leaf spears
Fill highball glass with ice. In separate cocktail shaker, fill with ice, white rum, pomegranate syrup and lime juice. Shake and strain into highball glass and top it with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a fresh lime slice and two pineapple spears.
*Check out a special segment from Princess Cruises where actor Ted Lange gives a demo of the Love Boat cocktail that debuted on the cruise line in 2015.
In my quest for the best Caribbean Rum, I’ve sampled a few. From Appleton to Ron Zacapa rum, my tastebuds have celebrated the luscious flavors borne from fermenting sugarcane into smooth amber elixirs.
In the pursuit of rum perfection, I’ve noticed that a well-designed label can give clues about what awaits inside the bottle. Many simply present the distiller’s name and location where a rum derives its unique flavors. But it’s hard to resist the image of a crusty old captain, pirate ship or sassy sea wench when pouring a hefty splash into a tumbler.
Curious rum aficionados like myself are always eager to hear the back story behind the libation in our hand. Like a slice of pineapple or lime wedged upon the rim of a glass, the history of a rum’s journey from the Caribbean to our lips can make a cocktail taste even sweeter.
I recently stumbled upon the extraordinary tale that intertwines Jamaican rum, world- class musicians and James Bond. To fully appreciate this unique saga, follow my lead and shake up a GoldenEye Cocktail (see recipe below) to sip while the story unfolds.
Our story begins in 1939, when a London journalist named Ian Fleming joined the British Navy Intelligence Service. His unit specialized in military espionage and covert plans to thwart German aggression in Europe and the Caribbean.
During World War II, Fleming was engaged in Operation GoldenEye, and in 1942 he was sent to investigate suspicions about Nazi submarines in the Caribbean. During this deployment, he became enamored with Jamaica and vowed to live there some day.
When the war was over, Fleming returned to Jamaica and bought 15 acres of plush land that was once used as a donkey racetrack. In 1945, he built a house not far from the banana port town of Oracabessa Bay, and the seaside property became Fleming’s tropical sanctuary where he could focus on writing and the discrete task of taking previously tight-held secrets into a public, fictional genre.
He named the estate GoldenEye as a tribute to his Navy service and began working on a book that evolved around the dashing spy and Special Agent 007, James Bond. This protagonist would emerge as the amalgamation of agents he’d met during his maritime service. As an avid birdwatcher, Fleming took the name for his lead character from American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds, who wrote the definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies.
Fleming’s first spy novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. This book and all 13 in the James Bond series were written in his bedroom at GoldenEye. Three of them — Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun — take place in Jamaica.
Not only did the breezy island life at GoldenEye inspire Fleming’s novels, but so did his fetching neighbor, Blanche Blackwell. She was the muse who helped spark his creative drive. The Blackwell family had lived in Jamaica since 1625, exporting bananas and coconuts and crafting a distinctive brand of rum.
Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell grew up between England and Jamaica, and in his childhood spent a good amount of time with Fleming. In 1954, after Blackwell got booted from an elite British school for rebellious behavior, he came back to the island to get involved in the family rum business. Contrary to plan, he followed his instincts and made a career choice that would dramatically alter the global music scene.
For a while, he kicked around working as the aide-de-camp to the governor and as a waterskiing instructor. But after hearing the blind pianist Lance Heywood play at the Half Moon Resort, Blackwell recorded the musician, and in 1959 he launched a music studio called Island Records. In sync with his unconventional style, it became known for discovering and nurturing innovative performers who had been shrugged off or overlooked by bigger record labels.
Island Records introduced the world outside of the Caribbean to Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jamaican reggae music, showcasing island culture and universal struggles of indigenous people. It launched British bands such as Traffic, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Fairport Convention. It also cultivated artists such as Cat Stevens, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits and the Irish band, U2.
Throughout his success in the music industry, Blackwell remained in contact with Fleming and his projects. When the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica in 1962, Blackwell was hired as a location scout and consulted on the soundtrack. Sir Sean Connery, whom Blackwell had met during the filming of Dr. No, remained a friend until his passing in 2020. Using a family recipe, Blackwell launched his boutique rum in 2008 that is distributed around the globe.
Live and Let Die was filmed in 1973 on the Blackwell Estate, which now includes The Fleming Villa. Scenes from the movie were shot near GoldenEye, Blackwell’s luxury hotel in Jamaica. The latest Bond flick, No Time to Die, returns to the exquisite Jamaican backdrop of GoldenEye, and the production team was treated to a supply of Blackwell Rum for inspiration while filming.
TO CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF JAMES BOND, a special bottle of Blackwell Rum has been released, along with a new memoir by Chris Blackwell, The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. If you’re cruising around Jamaica this winter, cue up some Bob Marley tunes, open a bottle of Blackwell’s 007 Rum, and shake it (don’t stir) with pineapple juice and ice to create the GoldenEye Cocktail. And if you’re nestled in at home in a colder climate and dreaming about the Caribbean, we suggest watching a Bond flick and warming up with the Toasted Toddy.
-1 part Blackwell Rum
-1 part pineapple juice
-Lime or pineapple wedge
Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge
-3 parts Blackwell Rum
-2 teaspoons brown sugar
-1 1⁄2 parts fresh lemon juice
-6 parts boiling water
Add all ingredients to a mug, except for the water. Pour in the boiling water, Stir well to blend
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