Location is an extremely important part of writing a successful story. For me, if a book takes place in a state, city, or part of the world I’m interested in, I’m more likely to buy the book.
New Orleans happens to be one of those cities I not only love to visit, I love to write about it as well. It’s also one of those cities that if you do decide to use it as the backdrop for your story, you’d better do your research and get it right. If you make a mistake and put a famous hotel or restaurant on the wrong street or get a musician’s name wrong, or place a historical event or figure in the wrong time, your readers will let you know about it.
In Rue Toulouse, I put Ma Cherie on Royal because there are other similar establishments located on that street.
Remi and Caterine eat at The Chartres House, which is a favorite of my husband and me. In fact, I had my characters order what David and I usually have ourselves. I knew they’d like it!
Caterine meets her grandmother at Brennan’s for brunch. Again, this is one of our favorite places to eat. Because, while I was writing the book, Brennan’s closed for a time, I thought about using a different restaurant, but it’s such a part of New Orleans, and it was expected to reopen, I took literary license and used it as it was.
Caterine and Elaine talk about getting pizza at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. The pizza is wonderful, and there have been many times I wish they could deliver to me here at home – in South Carolina. Considering that’s about eight hundred miles away, I don’t think that will happen.
Remi, Caterine, Elaine, and Paul go to The Gumbo Shop for dinner, another New Orleans must, but I have to admit I had to maneuver things around a bit in order for the scene to play out the way I wanted..
Remi and Caterine have café au lait and beignets at The Café Du Monde. These puffy sugary donuts are incredible, but extremely messy. Don’t wear dark clothes when you go like I did the first time. No matter how careful you are, the sugar sifts down onto your lap. Afterward, everyone knows where you’ve eaten.
To write about the actions in the story, it helps to know where the characters live. Remi’s apartment is on Rue Toulouse. David and I were staying at a hotel on Toulouse when I came up with the idea for the story. In fact, there’s a great house on Toulouse between Dauphine and Burgundy which I use as Remi’s digs.
Caterine lives in Audubon Place. This is an exclusive gated area adjacent to Audubon Park and near the colleges of Tulane and Loyola. I needed to have a few questions answered about living in Audubon Place, so we drove up to the gate and a very nice guard was patient and helpful with me, but we couldn’t drive in and look around so most of Caterine’s house is totally my imagination. Google Earth is a big help with it’s aerial and street views.
The picnic that takes place at Remi’s family home is totally made up, but Houma is a real place and we drove out along the bayou south of Houma. The store where they stop for beer and wine does exist.
Some of the secondary characters mentioned are real people. There are men who paint themselves silver and copper that do different poses. And a man who dresses like Uncle Sam walks the streets with his little dog. There are street musicians everywhere and carriage rides for the tourists. There are second line impromptu parades and beads, beads and more beads thrown from balconies and floats during carnival.
A couple of years ago we decided to rent a condo instead of staying at a hotel. We found a wonderful place on Dauphine that at one time must have been either the kitchen or slave quarters behind the main house. One advantage of renting is that you can cook your own food if you like. Gumbo is a staple of New Orleans, and my husband decided to make some of his own. I have to say it tasted incredible. Gumbo just tastes better in Louisiana. Below is his recipe.
WHODAT GUMBO Andouille and Chicken Gumbo
Keep a kettle of hot water on the back burner.
ONION [2-3 MEDIUM] chopped sauté until clear
CELERY [6-8 stalks] chopped sauté until softened
BELL PEPPER chopped
+ GARLIC [3 cloves] chopped
Chop veggies and saute in the gumbo pot. Add a little water from the kettle and simmer.
While they are sauteing you can make the roux, but don’t burn either one.
1/4 c PEANUT OIL
1/4 c FLOUR
Pour about ¼ c. of the oil in a skillet and place it over medium heat.
When the oil is warm but not too hot, start stirring in flour until the mixture is thick. Add more oil or flour until it’s right. Roux must be stirred constantly to avoid burning. If you start to see smoke turn it off to let it cool a little while.
Once the roux has turned a medium brown, lower the fire just a little. The darker you cook the roux, the more flavor it will add to the sauce. Don’t cook it past a mahogany color, though. A dark roux might take up to 20 or 25 minutes. If you see black specks in your roux, you’ve burned it; throw it out and start over.
Turn the fire up a little and add hot water from the kettle about 1/4 cup at a time.Let it bubble before adding more. After adding about two cups of liquid let it come to a boil, then add the roux and water mixture to the gumbo pot.
Add 16 oz CHICKEN BROTH to the pot. Add more broth or water as needed as you add the other stuff.
CHICKEN BREASTS  Dice (about ½ inch) and brown in a skillet. Add to the pot.
ANDOUILLE Sausage [1 lb.] Slice or dice and sauté. Add to the pot.
for KICK, add CRYSTAL, Louisiana, Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce.
Add 3-4 GREEN ONIONS (do not sauté ) chopped.
Simmer one hour or so. Add Gumbo FILÈ [if you have it.]
Filé should never be added to a pot of gumbo while it’s cooking, but rather at the end when the gumbo is off the fire (it’s best when you sprinkle it on, cover the pot and let it sit for 15 minutes). Filè is a thickener and adds flavor. You can also thicken with Wondra which is easier to use than regular flour or cornstarch. I like my gumbo fairly thick but that is up to the cook.
serve with: scoop of white rice
In Rue Toulouse, I tried to bring the sights, sounds and tastes of New Orleans to life. I hope I did, and I hope you get a chance to visit this incredible city.
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