Recently I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans twice for oral arguments in appeals in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  As someone who spends most of her work days sitting at a computer researching and writing, it was exciting and a great privilege to be able to attend oral argument in appeals that I spent months working on.

The first trip was with my two bosses and our client, in a case involving constitutional issues (or at least that’s what the other side claimed).  The other side was unhappy with certain events in the trial court and appealed.

We stayed at the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel, built in 1893.  This was significantly more elegant than the Hampton Inns we usually stay at when traveling to small towns in Texas (which we nevertheless appreciate).

The Roosevelt Hotel

Jasper and Maisy would have loved The Roosevelt

Did you know that many restaurants in New Orleans allow you to BYOB?  That meant the first order of business was to buy a great bottle of wine to have with dinner:

Papa Blaise will help you select a great wine at Vieux Carre Wine & Spirits

It’s no secret that New Orleans has a rich culinary history, and dining is a key part of any New Orleans experience.  We had dinner that night at Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter, which specializes in Creole and Cajun cuisine.

Mr. B’s Bistro

We were a little late for our reservation, and the host made us sit in time out, even though our table was empty and waiting for us, but once seated we had a pleasant meal, including Soups 1-1-1 (a sampling of Gumbo Ya Ya, Seafood Gumbo, and the soup of the day), and nicely wood-grilled redfish with lemon butter sauce accompanied by popcorn pecan rice:

(Mr. B’s has some recipes on its website, and one of these days, when I can cook with butter with abandon — i.e., never — I’ll try the New Orleans Barbequed Shrimp.)

Bright and early the next morning we headed to the courthouse for the big event:

John Minor Wisdom courthouse

The courthouse, built between 1909 and 1915, is named in honor of John Minor Wisdom, who served on the Fifth Circuit from 1957 until his death in 1999.  The building, designed in the Italian renaissance revival style, is silent and imposing.  No warm fuzzies to be found here (except maybe for the nice ladies that check you in and give you a coveted Fifth Circuit pen as a souvenir).

The courtroom was not as spectacular as I had imagined, and had the usual dark wood (albeit fancier) and uncomfortable wooden benches:

The West Courtroom

Oral argument was interesting.  I found the federal judges to be more intimidating than the state court appellate panels we’ve been in front of.  The panel was lively, and the questions came fast and furious.  (Pro tip:  do not point at the judges or refer to them as “you guys.”)  Issues that we didn’t place much importance on seemed to have caught the judges’ attention.  I personally think that oral argument would be more fun if it was conducted like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” — when the judges throw you a curveball, you could choose to “Phone a Friend” or “Ask the Audience.”  We left feeling pretty good about the case, which incidentally, we won.  🙂

Afterwards we had lunch at Cafe Adelaide, located inside the Loews New Orleans Hotel, and named after the Brennan family’s “beloved Aunt Adelaide.”

We were with a bunch of other people who I didn’t know, so I couldn’t really whip out my camera and take pictures of everyone’s food, but I did enjoy my shrimp and grits:My bosses and our client stayed on for a night of “client entertainment” on Bourbon Street, but I had to return to Houston (because I wasn’t invited to join them).  My bosses brought me back a souvenir though, in appreciation of all my hard work on the appeal and as a token of their deep respect for me:

 Not gonna show you what it says on the back

 In fairness, they also brought me an awesome bottle of wine.  🙂

A month later I returned to New Orleans for argument in a case involving international family law issues, this time with co-counsel who hired me to assist with the appeal.  This was an accelerated appeal, which moved so fast it made my head spin.  As with the earlier appeal, it was our opponent who appealed.  The client, who was very grateful to my co-counsel for the fantastic job she did at trial, allowed her to bring me, her paralegal, and the name partner of her firm (a very distinguished and well-respected attorney) along for support.

As we were waiting for our luggage in New Orleans, the partner told us he had arranged for a car, and would meet us outside.  We got kind of giggly when we found a limo waiting for us (this is only the second time I’ve been in a limo, the first being my wedding day).  It was a fun start to the trip.

We settled in at The Roosevelt (getting a little spoiled at this point), and then met downstairs in the hotel’s Sazerac Bar before heading out to dinner.

The partner had sazeracs waiting for each of us to try:

A sazerac, “the official cocktail of New Orleans,” (I would have sworn it was the  Hurricane), is made with a sugar cube, 1-1/2 ounces whiskey or bourbon, 1/4 ounce Herbsaint, a few dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, and a lemon peel.  It tastes like lighter fluid, and goes down just about as easily (cocktail fail for me).

We had dinner that night at Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro, which has been a fixture in the French Quarter since 1918:

We loved the jazz trio that played throughout our meal:

Among the dishes we enjoyed were the Arnaud’s Salad with House Dressing, Arnaud’s Crab Cakes with White Remoulade Sauce (best crab cakes I’ve ever had), and Breast of Chicken Pontalba:

My co-counsel headed back to the hotel after dinner to prepare for oral argument the next morning.  But the partner talked me and the paralegal into going with him to Preservation Hall to hear some jazz.  Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to preserve and perpetuate traditional New Orleans jazz.  Despite the fact that it was packed and lacked air-conditioning, we had a great time.  The jazz was really wonderful.

The next morning we headed to the courthouse for argument.  As before, the panel was spirited and engaged, firing questions at the attorneys.  My co-counsel did a bang-up job arguing, especially considering this was her first oral argument in the Fifth Circuit.  As before, we left feeling good about the case, which incidentally, we won.  🙂

With argument behind us, we headed to Galatoire’s for a celebratory lunch:

The restaurant, founded in 1905, is known for its French-Creole cuisine.  (This was definitely a stretchy-pants kind of trip.)  Among the dishes we sampled were Turtle Soup au Sherry, Redfish Meuniere Amandine, and Chicken Creole:

(Galatoire’s has a few recipes on its website, including one for Shrimp Remoulade, which I plan to try one day soon.)

After lunch, the partner headed back to Houston.  This time, I was invited to stay an extra night.  🙂  My co-counsel’s husband, who happens to work with me, flew in to celebrate and treated us to dinner at Commander’s Palace, in the Garden District.  Founded in 1893, Commander’s Palace has earned its place in New Orleans culinary history.

Among the highlights of our meal were an heirloom tomato salad, the gigantic Crispy Soft Shell Crab, a crazy rich dark chocolate tart, and a delectable strawberry shortcake:

After dinner we headed to Bourbon Street and Frenchmen Street to hear some jazz and do whatever it is you’re supposed to do there.  Let’s just say it was not my scene.

Before heading back to Houston the next day, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe Du Monde — a sweet and sticky New Orleans institution since 1862 — for beignets and chicory coffee (hoping our pants wouldn’t split at this point).

With a little time to kill before our flight, we strolled around New Orleans, taking in the sights and sounds of this colorful city:

I bought a souvenir for myself to remind me of the wonderful opportunities I was afforded on these two trips — a wooden roux spoon.  How I lived without one of these, I don’t know.  😉 

So before I go, I’m sharing a recipe for Duck and Sausage Gumbo that I made with my roux spoon (it actually works very well to stir the roux and get around the edges of the pot).  The recipe is based on every gumbo recipe out there.  Patience in making the roux is the key, for which you’ll be rewarded with a dark, earthy, satisfying soup.

Recipe type: Soup
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • ¾ cup diced celery
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ pound smoked sausage
  • 2 cups shredded roast duck
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cooked white rice
  • Chopped green onions, for optional garnish
  • Tabasco or other Louisiana hot sauce, for optional use at table
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Continue to cook until roux is dark copper colored, stirring frequently (be patient -- this can take 20-40 minutes). Add bell pepper, onion, and celery, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Discard bay leaves.
  2. To serve, mound ⅓ cup cooked rice in center of shallow soup bowl. Ladle gumbo around rice. Garnish with green onions, if desired. Serve with hot sauce for use as desired.

The flour tastes raw at this stage

Getting there — starting to smell nutty

Voila — dark copper colored roux

Maybe not Gumbo Ya Ya, but definitely Gumbo Yeah Yeah