New Orleans has been beckoning me for some time.

I kept dreaming of shrimp po' boys, Cafe du Monde's beignets, Paul Prudhomme's K-Paul's, Commander's Palace's Barbecued Shrimp, Cafe Adelaide's Creole cheesecake and more. Recipes were floating during my REM, unwilling to stop for me to write them down.

My dreams were inspired in part by Kim Sunee's memoir, "Trail of Crumbs." She had such a passionate love for New Orleans as well as French cooking that it made me want to get up in the middle of the night and cook. Once, I did, just having to try her celery and olives, of all things, which is absolutely delicious and was worth eating at 3 a.m.

Her stuffed crawfish heads wooed me. Although she has a source for them, I couldn't quite see ordering them.

Two weeks ago I realized my fantasies, attending a conference in the Big Easy. There I was on a panel with Tory McPhail, chef of Commander's Palace. Tory has cooked at Charleston's Food & Wine Festival for three years.

I said, "Tory, could we stuff shrimp heads?"

"Why not?" he answered.

And so, when I went to Commander's to eat, there it was, Shrimp Bisque, with a stuffed shrimp head proudly standing up in the middle of the bowl. We followed the bisque with Barbecued Shrimp and Shrimp Remoulade, regardless of their place on the menu.

After a party at Cafe Adelaide, where author Ti Brennan was the consummate hostess, I thought I could eat no more. But I was shameless. All I wanted to do was to get some Creole cheesecake, take it to my room to eat and go to bed. So I did. I sat on my bed and poured the caramel sauce on the cheesecake, pulled out a fork, and ate it as if it was my last dessert. It would have been a worthy one.

Not that all my eating was in grand style. I had that shrimp po' boy at a nondescript place in the French Quarter and it satisfied my hunger. And I ate a muffuletta at Central Grocery, standing in line for half an hour for the honor of purchasing one. They've been making them there since 1906, and it is still worth the effort to get one of the world's best sandwiches.