It’s all in the pastry…

tarte aux pommes: 2, originally uploaded by rhino75.

This is the first time I’d used a pastry recipe from my Michel Roux book (many thanks to Nardac for that) and I have to say it was a winner. A dream to handle, no shrinkage and it produced a really light, crisp crust.

The Big Easy

new orleans: keys, originally uploaded by rhino75.

He met Marmelade down in ole’ New Orleans,
Strutting her stuff on the street.
She said ‘Hey Joe, wanna give it a go?’

In fairness, we had been warned. Patti Labelle, Christina Aguilera and even All Saints had done their best to show us that New Orleans is a party town. And by “party,” I mean “bachelor party”: beer at $1 a pop, at least three bars with “Larry Flynt’s Hustler” in their name, stale, greasy pizza by the slice and doormen telling you that “there’s plenty more pussy inside, guys.” Yay.

Bourbon Street is pretty much a gay man’s nightmare. I say pretty much because there were lots of glittery beads around (oooh, shiny!) and a smattering of half-empty gay bars further down the street, including the rather appetisingly named “Napoleon’s Itch.” (warning: don’t click on that link unless you’re a REALLY BIG fan of “It’s Raining Men” :))

Undeterred and clutching our list of “hot ‘n’ happenin'” bars from, we made our way – on foot – out to the Faubourg Marigny, where, N. assured me, gay nirvana lay. Which is how we found ourselves literally locked in a bar called “Big Daddies” with one other customer, a slightly ropey looking barmaid and the Pet Shop Boys’ Greatest Hits.

“What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?”

Ok, ok I’m painting a pretty bleak picture. It wasn’t all bad (the hotel, for example, was fab) but it was the only stop on our trip that really disappointed us, I think maybe because we’d built it up to be more than it is. The problem is that there’s really not very much to do in New Orleans apart from party. Once you’ve seen the Garden District – which does have some beautiful houses – and Audubon Park, and walked round the French Quarter a couple of times – well, that’s about it.

We even took the ferry over to Algiers, only to find there was nothing going on there either – apart from a rather deelish lunch at the Dry Dock Café, which is heartily recommended. Still, it passed the time – pfft.

One of the two highlights of our stay in the Big Easy turned out NOT to be the “cuisine” (yes, actually, I’ve had nasty fried food before) but … wait for it… the THEATRE. While slogging our way back on foot from the Garden District under a blazing noonday sun, we stopped off for a Muffuletta sandwich. We got chatting to our waitress Lauren who told us she was appearing in a play that evening and suggested we go along. “Money in the Garter” by Sally Asher, “a play about Catholicism, Mythology and Strippers,” turned out to be a witty, wry affair that, while a tad long at three hours, kept us thoroughly entertained.

What was the second highlight? Earning $20 each for answering questions on gay tourists’ sexual habits while in New Orleans, including – rather alarmingly – whether or not we’d had anal sex with any women since swinging into town. Very bizarre and not very scientific if you ask me but it DID keep us in Jack and Diet for the rest of the night. Which is all you can ask for really, innit?

Dollywood Babylon

“We must be nearly there – I’m sure I can smell the tang of catfish on Dolly’s breath guiding us home” – N.

Things didn’t get off to a good start. I chose the motel because the website said it was only a mile from Dollywood. What it didn’t say was that that a) we would have to play chicken across four lanes of traffic twice a day if we wanted to eat anywhere other than Dolly’s Dixie Stampede and b) that mile is really only as the crow flies; if the crow happens to be walking with blisters in his new Converse, it’s a good three-and-a-half mile trek under a blazing Tennessee sun. Imagine then, dear reader, how grumpy we were when we eventually got there. Now Dollywood may welcome 2.5 million visitors a year but glitzy it ain’t. My first instinct was to go round and give the whole thing a good clean and a fresh coat of paint. There are only about three rides and the place is 90 percent given over to souvenir shops and outlets serving gargantuan portions of fried pig and chicken. Lord knows, I’m no sizeist but I’ve never seen so many people on “fat carts” – you know, those little buggies people drive when they’re too large to walk without putting strain on their joints. We kept having to fight the urge to snatch food from people’s grasp, shouting “NO, you’ve HAD ENOUGH!” Genuinely scary. As was the “History of Country Music” show. Oh it started off harmlessly enough, I grant you, with a band playing country covers and some fake interaction with pre-taped segments featuring various “stars”. But then, from nowhere, a man appeared brandishing a huge American flag and we were all told to stand up and shout out our hometown and state while the guys on stage sang a rousing song about “Lovin’ our country”. Terrifying. On the plus side, though, we did get to see Jessica Andrews who sang the theme tune from “Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye” (I was particularly proud of the fact that I knew the chorus and could sing along). Don’t get me wrong, there were some good bits. The Dolly museum is massive – did she never throw anything away? – and really well put together, and we went to a show featuring her uncles and cousin Debbie Jo that was brilliant. We had fun and stayed all day (ok, we couldn’t face the walk back) but I don’t think it’s a “must see,” unless you’re really into pulled pork and Claire’s Accessories.

Peaks and Troughs

It’s been a funny few days. First of all, as promised, we did “hit” the Nashville gay scene. Perhaps disappointingly, it was rather like the gay scene anywhere else in the world – no cowboys – but within an hour, we’d both made new “friends” 🙂 It’s quite funny to be seen as exotic but I could get used to it. The next day was spent on the bus circuit from hell, trying – in vain – to find the Grand Ole Opry. We never did find the spiritual home of country music but we DID find the Opry Mills shopping outlet village, which proved to be our own private Mecca. Now we’ve left lovely Nashville behind and I’m typing this in our hotel room in Pigeon Forge, TN, looking out at the Great Smoky Mountains (while Nick watches another of those real-life crime shows) As soon as you step out of the hotel, however, you’re confronted with the family vacation horror that is Pigeon Forge. Think of a funfair/shopping mall withthe a motorway running through it and you’ll get the idea. “Tacky” doesn’t really do it justice. Still, this is the reason we’re here and where we’ll be spending the day tomorrow. Pray for us. P.S. The Greyhound bus network gets scarier with each journey we take. Today we met a man with a gunshot wound – to say we’re a little conspicuous is an understatement. Still, travelling in fear gives the whole thing an added edge.

Nashville Nights

nashville: wheels, originally uploaded by rhino75.

We’ve been here less than 24 hours but already we’re having SO MUCH MORE fun than in Memphis. Last night we went on a Jack Daniels crawl, endding up in the Ful Moon Saloon, where we saw this lil’ lady. Think gay karaoke but with a country twang. Shelly knows no fear, tackling audience requests for Patsy Cline, Lynrd Skynrd and Fleetwood Mac with nary a blink. We’ve already booked her for L’Enchanteur 🙂 Seriously though, all the bands we saw in the bars on Broadway last night were fantastic and they were just playing for tips. Tonight the plan is to “tackle” gay Nashville. So we’re off to buy chaps and cowboy boots. But not spurs! Stand by for a progress report…

Walking in Memphis…

memphis: beale street, originally uploaded by rhino75.

Then I’m walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel?

mari et femme

mari et femme, originally uploaded by rhino75.

The bride may not have been blushing but she was beautiful. The groom, suave and debonair. The bridesmaid, pretty as a picture. The shoes, as fabulous a collection as in any episode of “Sex and The City”. And don’t get me started on the caterers :). I DO wish someone hadn’t had the bright idea of ordering another alcohol delivery at 4 a.m. though – it almost finished me off. Almost. Congratulations to the bride and groom and here’s to wishing them all the very best in their new life together. Cheers (oh no, not again!) 🙂