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On the American Queen: Southern cooking

It feels like Sunday on the American Queen because instead of lunch, we had a jazz brunch, New Orleans style. Coming down the staircase leading to the dining room, I was met by the bleats of a tuba and the rest of a jazz quartet playing "Hello Dolly." Among items on the buffet were a variation on Eggs Benedict, smoked brisket, fried chicken and about 18 kinds of dessert (that's only a small exaggeration). There's a strong New Orleans influence on the daily menus, which are Southern themed to begin with. They were designed by Regina Charboneau, cookbook author and former San Francisco restaurateur. Charboneau is a Natchez native and has built the menus around Southern food -- crabs, shrimp, catfish, okra, grits, Andouille sausage, blackberries, pecans and the like -- and Southern recipes, although there are also plenty of non-Southern options. Among the Southern dishes I've eaten on the boat: shrimp and grits, biscuits and sausage gravy, blueberry pie, grapefruit and avocado salad, crab corn chowder, fried frogs legs, crawfish beignets, roast duck, bananas Foster french toast, and more. I missed Charboneau's smoked catfish BLT on the lunch menu and hope I get another shot at it before we disembark Friday morning. When the boat was in Natchez, I took the shore excursion to Twin Oaks, Charboneau's antebellum home and B&B, where she talked to us about some of her secrets of entertaining, fed us some of the finger foods that she prepares for guests (smoked salmon torte, biscuits with smoked turkey and cranberry chutney, tiny open-faced tomato sandwiches with shreds of bacon, jelly roll trifle) and plied us with peach champagne cocktails, milk punch with bourbon, and her colorful fruit-flavored martinis. When I woke up from my nap, I just wanted to go cook.