Thursday, September 30, 2010

100th post!

Bananas! How on earth have I found so much to babble about?

Really, I blame New Orleans for BEING SO AWESOME!

Today was a quietly excellent day. I finally started feeling like I was getting some traction at work- like things were starting to click. I brought my lunch to work (leftover chicken tikka + roasted carrots with cumin seeds + locally grown brown rice + a kickass raita) and decided to go to one of the several cemeteries that surround my office building in Mid-City. There weren't any benches at the first couple cemeteries I went to, so I walked to the Katrina Memorial located in the Charity Hospital Cemetery- the only cemetery in New Orleans in which the dead are actually buried beneath the earth. Also buried there: the ashes of those who donated their bodies to medical science. Also there: 4 benches. I sat on one and ate my lunch and looked at the mausoleum/memorial.

Then, once I was finished, I went across the street and did a little wandering in the Jewish cemetery (Dispersed of Judah). New Orleans cemeteries are really, really cool. Very unique and endlessly interesting. I will try to bring a camera with me for the next time I am there. Except for the previously mentioned Charity Hospital Cemetery, everyone is entombed above ground.

Also, have I mentioned that the weather now is truly gorgeous? Makes exploring a lot more fun and pleasant.

After work, I headed out to the Lower 9th Ward Village Community Center for their Open Mic Night. I was misinformed of the time, and showed up an hour early. It was all good though, 'cause I hung out and talked to Mack and other community members outside while watching the sun set on a beautiful day. We sat out in the evening air for a spell, talking and laughing, and then we went inside to commence the Open Mic-itude. It was a small gathering (usually they get at least 30, and I think we maxed out at a dozen) but I heard some poetry in many types and forms, and a startlingly good guitarist/singer. It was really nice to be a part of it, listen to what inspired others and what it was they were inspired to do.

Afterward, I drove Bobbi home. When I arrived at the Village, Bobbi was taking a nap on the library floor. She was an enthusiastic listener and supporter, her knowledge of the people and places in New Orleans was wide and deep. She calls herself "housing challenged" because she doesn't have a home of her own. She couch surfs some of the time, and I don't know what she does the rest of the time. I was kind of afraid to ask, you know? But we had a great talk on the way from the Lower 9th to the Columns Hotel Uptown- she wanted to hear Fredy Omar play. "Riccardo Crespo on Wednesday, and Fredy Omar Thursdays," she said several times. She invited me to join her but I was ready to go home after a long day of working hard, wandering cemeteries, hanging out on the stoop of the Village, and listening to New Orleans' young poets.

I am glad this place is my home.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

lunch special=special lunch

So, it's been about a month and a half of working in Mid-City, and I think my go to spots are shaping up to be: Crescent City Pie and Sausage and Cafe Minh. Whenever I go there, the atmosphere's pleasant, the waitstaff are more or less on the ball, and the food is GOOD. They are also the closest places to my office, which means a more leisurely lunch because travel time is minimal.

At Cafe Minh, I have had their chargrilled pork pho and one of their specialty sandwiches, which were both great.

Today I was at Crescent City Pie and Sausage and instead of their Cuban Calzone (which is sooooo good, I dream of it at night) I got their Wednesday lunch special, which is soup, sandwich, salad, and a drink. The soup this week was this amazing parmesan chicken broth with both roasted and sundried tomatoes and an egg gently and beautifully poached in the middle of it. It was so delicate and complex but deceptively simple. Often there's a "more is more" approach to soup with more stuff, and more hearty ingredients, but I was amazed at how soul satisfying this beautiful and delicious soup was.

The sandwich was a grilled cheese with munster and paremsan, and I don't think I need to tell you how awesomely comforting a good grilled cheese sandwich can be. I also dipped the sandwich into the broth, which made it even better. The salad was a standard baby greens situation, lightly but nicely dressed with a tasty vinaigrette.

I also discovered today that they will make sweet tea for you if you request it, but stirring in simple syrup before bringing it to your table.

CCP&S is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places in New Orleans. And the weather here now is just gorgeous! All in all, an excellent afternoon. Till I bring my car into the mechanic to check out why it's making terrible noises. But, that's not for a while yet.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dick & Jenny's

To celebrate my return home from New England, we went to Dick & Jenny's on Tchoupitoulas. It's one of the few places that doesn't have a lunch service, and we don't have a Groupon/Living Social deal for it, so we haven't been till tonight. We wanted to go for Tom's birthday, but it was closed on Labor Day.

We were ushered through an empty waiting area and small dining room to the main dining room, which was warmly decorated and comfortable. There was a bar and a healthy number of tables occupied for a Monday night. Our server was really friendly and helpful.

We started with cocktails: Tom had a "Hemingway," which was basically a very well made classic daiquiri. I had something that I think was called a Porch Swing, which was Pimms and St. Genevieve muddled with cucumber, served in a Mason jar. (I actually had 2 of these.)

For our first course, Tom had the gumbo du jour- andouille and smoked chicken. Had a bit of a kick to it! I had the pain perdu with duck confit. It was pretty light but excellent flavors- a perfect first course. Came with sliced apple and a peach chutney, and the confit and brie were melted between 2 slices of baguette.

For the entree course, Tom had the "Vegetarian Dagwood Panini" which had roasted red pepper, grilled turnip & eggplant, sauteed spinach, and smoked sundried tomato spread on herb foccacia. I had the BBQ Buffalo Short ribs, although they were actually elk short ribs, served with a lovely mac & cheese as well as smothered greens. It was great- the elk is leaner than, say beef or even buffalo. The ribs were still cooked to tenderness, but the reduced fattiness gave it a cleaner and lighter taste- not as rich as I've sometimes found beef shortribs to be.

After that, we had no room for dessert (though I was tempted by the chocolate malt creme brulee!) so we paid the tab and left. On our way out, we stopped to chat with one of the owners? managers? and she told us that they were going to start doing weekly lunches Tues-Fri.. YAY!

Man, I am so glad to be home. My trip up north was somewhat fraught with emotional pitfalls, but all were skillfully navigated, I think. Just plum wore me out. I did see a bunch of folks, went to Gargoyle's Disco Brunch (thanks, Ellen!) dealt with condo stuff, visited my grandma in the nursing home, went to a wedding, and couch surfed and drove all over the place, not staying in one place for very long. I did stay in a crazy new Starwood Property in Lexington (MA) though- "Aloft" by W. It was pretty nice, though it tries WAY too hard. However, that's a quality I don't mind so much in a hotel (better than the opposite, I suppose.)

A couple pictures from the wedding I went to:

Where they held the ceremony:

The happy couple, from the back to protect their privacy!

I would like to stay in one place- home in New Orleans - for a while now that my travel schedule has played out. Here's hoping! Coming back to a beautiful day like today- sunny, clear, breezy, with highs in the low 80s - made that wish even stronger.

Back to the office tomorrow- I am SO not ready. Ah well!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oh when the Saints...

It's funny to think that when Tom and I were here over Christmas, we would look at the T-shirt shops in the quarter and wonder what the hell "Who Dat!?" meant.

Now I know that "Who Dat" is something that is yelled between friends, neighbors, strangers, and co-workers to convey excitement about the game of football when the local sports team- I think they are called the Saints - is playing! It's sort of the New Orleans version of "Yankees Suck" but much more prevalent. And nicer. It's everywhere and everyone and it's hollered with incredible, lusty, chest-thumping pride.

It's the WHOLE CITY. The WHOLE CITY full of people who LOVE TO CELEBRATE. It's pretty awe inspiring.

For the season opener on Thursday the 9th, the whole city practically shut down. The Saints were playing at home, and there was a parade and concert and the ENTIRE CITY ground to a halt. Kids left school early, the city government had the day off, both of our offices closed early as well. Hilarious.

Last night for Monday Night Football (tm) our friend and devoted season ticket holder Kara set up her TV outside in her courtyard and we sat outside and drank beer and watched the game. Folks were passing by asking the score and yelling Who Dat! All you gotta do is yell that and you'll have about 25 people yelling it back at you.

It's crazy, man. But totally contagious.

birthday festivities and other NOLA eatin'.

Ah, for the days that I could write 3-4 blog posts a day. Now I can't even keep up once a week.

My birthday was last week, and we went to have my birthday dinner at Bayona the night before my birthday, because I was working late on my actual birthday. Bayona was nice- it's practically an institution, or would be if there weren't several 100+ year old restaurants in town too. Anyway, I had an appetizer and entree off the "classic" side of the menu (smoked quail salad and the lamb loin) and Tom got his courses off the specials side (baby beet salad and rabbit roulade.) Tom was suspicious of our waiter, who had many suggestions. I didn't mind the solicitousness so much though. I got a pinot noir to go with the quail- the quail salad was wonderful, by the way - and a spanish red wine to go with the lamb. The lamb was cooked perfectly and had a goat cheese mixture on top of it. The sides were kind of boring, but that was fine.

We shared a lemon-lavender semifreddo for dessert, I had some sort of fancy pants dessert wine with it, as well as a cappuccino that had a chocolate covered almond on the side.

Tom loved his rabbit as well as the beet salad, so yay.

On my actual birthday, we had a release party for The Trumpet, which is a magazine/newspaper that my nonprofit puts out every other month. When that happens, we have a release party, usually in the same neighborhood that's been spotlighted in that particular issue.

This month, we were in Carrollton, so our party was at the Adams Street Cultural Development Center, with excellent catering (fried chicken, smothered chicken, casserole, peas, garlic bread, and AWESOME bread pudding,) and the appearance by the Baby Boyz Brass Band. That was loud in a small space but pretty awesome

After that, Tom took me to Cure for some cocktails. Tom had the "Trouble & Desire," which had El Dorado 5YR Rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum, Licor 43, Carpano Antica Vermouth, and Orange Peel.

I had several cocktails. First off I had the "Cease & Desist," which had Carpano Punt e Mes, Rittenhouse Bonded Rye, Fernet Branca, and Orange Peel. Then the "William Wisecracker" with Evan Williams Single Barrel, Cynar, Demerara Sugar, Lemon, Maraschino Liqueur, and Mint. Then the bartender made me one of his specialties, a "Branca Libre," a play on a Cuba Libre with Fernet and demerara syrup, the juice of half a lime, topped off with soda water. Delicious!

So that was some fancy food and drink... today I had some more low key New Orleans food. For lunch I had my first red gravy at Liuzza's on Bienville- red gravy over spaghetti with veal parmesan. This was after a cup of Oyster Rockefeller bisque, which was awesome- came with 2 freshly fried oysters perched on top. Nothing like a hot fried oyster, it just explodes in your mouth all crispy and briny and delicious.

After I picked Tom up from work today, we celebrated the last day of summer by going to Hansen's for a special Saints victory sno-bliz- cream of ice cream in the middle and cream of chocolate anise around it. It was to evoke the look of the Superdome, according to the Hansen's lady. We sat outside on a beautiful breeze September evening under blue skies and contemplated the end of our first summer in New Orleans.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Birthday dinner and Living Social

I hate to bump the plea for The Village down the page, but we have had some very nice meals recently.

On Tom's birthday, we got up at 4:15am and flew from Boston to New Orleans via Miami. That part wasn't so fun (though god knows it could have been worse) but then after we got home at around noon, greeted the cats, and napped, we decided to go to Coquette for dinner. It was close, we knew we liked it, and even though it's in the neighborhood, it's nice enough to be a "special occasion" kind of place.

We started with a couple cocktails: I had the Coquette Collins and Tom had the Twelve-Mile Limit, a prohibition-era cocktail whose name comes from being able to sail out to international waters and get loaded and marry a cow, if you so desired. The cocktails were awesome, as usual.

We decided to get the 4 course chef's tasting menu and to share a wine pairing. The first course was a rabbit rillette that came with toast points and a sour cherry marmalade, coarse mustard, cornichons, and an eggplant tapanade type of thing. The rabbit and the condiments were all amazing. It was served with a sparkling rose, which I enjoyed.

Second course was a scallop course served with a French Chardonnay and the third course was a simple but delicious flatiron steak with grits and some sort of awesome sauce. That came with a Spanish Tempernillo, which was right up Tom's alley. For dessert, the tasting menu had one of my favorites that they do, a chocolate pot de creme with freshly made beneigts to accompany it. YUM.

Today, for lunch, we went to Crescent Pie and Sausage to use a Living Social deal that we'd gotten a while back. It's in Mid-City, so I was able to point out my new office location to Tom and impress him with my knowledge of the Mid-City streets. Tom had the merguez lamb sausage, of course; he's crazy about merguez and is compelled to order it wherever he sees it. It was pretty damn delicious, especially with the accompanying harissa. I had their "Cuban Calzone" which was their crispy pizza dough wrapped around meltingly tender pork shoulder, house cured coppa, house made mozzerella, pickles, and topped with a mojo sauce. OMG YUM.

Apparently our server lost our order ticket, and pleased me to no end by choosing to announce this with a round of complimentary beers. Service win, for sure.

Now it's pouring outside, and dark. We are thinking about returning to The Avenue Pub this evening after our night out there last night. We got into the mug club there and were able to get our special mugs! So exciting.

Here it is, filled with Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous on cask:

Oh, and I didn't take any pictures of our food at Coquette, because it was Tom's birthday and he kind of hates it when I do that, but here's a picture of a stunning lunch I had a couple weeks ago at the Parkway Bakery & Tavern- a french fry poboy dressed with gravy. GENIUS!

Also, bonus pictures of Tom and I at the Avenue Pub for the Gulf Coast Fundraiser/Silent Auction a couple weeks ago- check out Tom actually smiling!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Lower 9th Ward Village Community Center

So, I volunteered to make some fundraising cold calls for The Village, and I'm dreading it. It's phone fear and telemarketing fear and stuff. I currently have Taz sitting on my left arm and am using that as an excuse for waiting till after lunch to start. I typed up the script and sorted the business cards that Joe gave me and I'm ready to go... just need to do it.

But in the meantime, here's the deal for my legions of blog readers!

The Lower 9th Ward Village is a non-profit that stands as a safe place for residents to acquire skills, knowledge, and resources that will allow them to live economically, physically, and emotionally stable lives. However, at the moment, we at the Village, like many of the Lower 9th Ward’s residents, are struggling to meet our basic needs.

Since we have not yet received any federal money or private grants, our unpaid, all-volunteer team must focus every month on just paying the rent and utility bills. This is unfortunate for many reasons, but mostly because our focus needs to be on serving the community to our greatest capacity, not on struggling to pay the bills.

This month brings the threat of our utility services being stopped due to a severe lack of funds.

So we are reaching out to all those who have come to or heard about the Village- who believe in it, who share our vision or a vibrant and fully serviced Lower 9th Ward community.

Our goal is to reach $50,000 this month, and every little bit brings us closer to that amount.

You can PayPal or send a check made out to The Lower 9th Ward Village and mail it to The Lower 9th Ward Village, c/o Joe McClendon, 1001 Charbonnet Street, New Orleans, LA 70117.

If you do make a donation, let me know so I can make sure that the payment is received and acknowledged properly.

Thanks for listening and thinking about it! It's a real tangible way to help folks who still need lots of help. It's a way to make a systemic change in the community.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

thinking about New Orleans

When I was back in Massachusetts this past weekend, I was asked by my uncle, "what's REALLY going on in New Orleans?" I guess my musings on eating, drinking, napping, my cats, and cable TV watching is not the scintillating reading that I thought it was.

Talking about The Real New Orleans is tough. First of all, I still feel like an observer here- like I don't have the right to make sweeping pronouncements about the state of New Orleans yet. I'm still learning about it. There are so many New Orleans universes contained in Orleans Parish- I feel like I've only experienced a fraction of them.

1) The "foodie" New Orleans. (I do hate that word, but chose it deliberately.) I have eaten some amazing food at some amazing restaurants. August, Cochon, MiLa, Boucherie, Coquette, Herbsaint, Brightsens, Emeril's, Mandina's... lemon ice at Brocatos, sno-balls at Hansen's, fried chicken at Willie Mae's... BBQ Shrimp Poboy at Liuzza's by the Track, french fry poboy at Parkway, roast beef poboy at Parasol's, Cochon du lait poboy at Mahoney's... tacos on South Claiborne, burritos at Juan's, lots of pizza at Reginelli's....

Been cooking too- really trying to honor the ingredients of the region. The beautiful Gulf shrimp, like nothing I've had before. Red beans & rice with 4 kinds of pork, smothered greens, shrimp and corn stew... grits, grits, and more grits.

People here LOVE food. You don't hear the guilt about enjoying food, and the self-flagellation for over-indulging. Food is love. You talk about what you had for lunch, what you cooked for dinner, what you found at the farmers market, and everyone has an opinion about where the Best of anything is found. I love it. It's like the spirit of indulgence and hospitality and sharing is directed through the food, in all its form. I mean, I bought pralines from some random lady on the street in front of my house! Can I get a HELL YEAH???

2) the drinkin' New Orleans. People like to have fun here, celebrate days that end in "y", absolutely. People also have some hard fucking lives to escape. But whatever your reason for drinking, tourist or local, you can always find the gamut sitting along any bar in the city. Tales of the Cocktail was almost the most decadent of the decadent. Liquor professionals plying their trades and wares in New Orleans.

Tom and I have developed a taste for Miller Lite since moving down here. It's refreshing, it's drinkable, and pleasant on a hot summer day. It's a surprise to us as much as anyone else. On the other end of the beer drinking equation, we've been finding some kindred spirits over at the Avenue Pub- we try to get there fairly frequently and love their love of beer. We recently found ourselves spending 8 hours there for a fundraiser//auction and had a great time, and also walked away having spent an embarrassing amount of money on rare beers.

Another surprise has been the Bridge Lounge- the dog friendly dark bar looks like a hole in the wall but is actually a sleek neighborhood bar that specializes in mojitos. I am also a Sazerac fan, which I need to get back to. We've been expanding our home cocktail mixology here as well- more booze in our collection, we've added a vintage ice crusher to our kitchen. We keep citrus on hand for delicious fresh juice cocktails.

Let us also not forget the only microbrewery in New Orleans - NOLA Brewing right in the 'hood!

Somewhat related to both food and drink in New Orleans was the drama that surrounded the Parasol's-->Tracy's drama. This was another time when I didn't feel like I had the right to be disappointed, which I was, but I was still so new that I didn't have the emotional attachment. The neighborhood has taken it more or less in stride though, so I'm following their lead.

On that note:

3) The Irish Channel New Orleans. I had the fortune of having my sole local contact as the President of the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association. She's fiercely passionate about the neighborhood, and has brought me into the community. I like the Channel- it's not overrun with hipsters and yuppies, it's close to Magazine Street, and the people are nice. It's not perfect- there are shootings and crack dealers and muggings and blight- but I love it.

I was lucky enough to be a part of a volunteer effort to bring a playground to the Irish Channel, and rally the community around it. I met so many people, went to businesses, and really got to understand the pride that people have in this community and how willing they are to fight for it against crime and drugs.

I'm now able to parlay that joy into my new job, working for Neighborhoods Partnership Network, an organization that is in place to unite, educate, provide resources, and advocate for neighborhoods and communities throughout New Orleans.

4) The musical New Orleans. We've been to a couple clubs, seen Kermit at Vaughn's, etc. I'd like to do more of that. We are still, you know, *us*. We are homebodies and we like to stay in and read and watch TV and hang out with each other and the cats. (We DO go out and about a lot more often than we used to, though.) I'd say the most amazing experience I've had was the second-line during Satchmo Fest. I absolutely cannot wait for more second-lines. The unfettered joy, dancing, interaction, music... it's just a party in the streets and something that strikes me as quintessential New Orleans, and something that actual New Orleanians do.

Like food and booze, music is yet another vehicle for expressing a lust for life that is truly inspirational.

5) The New Orleans in the Lower Ninth Ward. This is one area of discussion that I'm very cautious about, as my privilege, it is staggering. I have done and will continue doing volunteer work with an amazing organization called the Lower Ninth Ward Village - the brainchild of Mack McClendon. His goal is simple: he wants to bring people back to their homes in the Lower Ninth and to unite the community. I am hoping to help Mack and his brother Joe with the organizational type skills that I have in order to help their vision succeed. I figure as long as I'm not an asshole, people can laugh at my liberal white guilt or whatever as long as I'm actually providing something positive for Mack and his community.

I've seen some shit in the Lower Ninth that continues to be heartbreaking. Went to Mack's house, which is still under construction and may soon be foreclosed on. Seen the houses that still stand with holes in the roof, from people clawing their way out of the rapidly rising water to hope for rescue. Vacant lots. Overgrown lots. Lots with only a cement foundation left, after the surge waters knocked the rest of the house clean off of it and carried it for blocks. It's simply not OK that protection these people deserved was completely subpar and it's not OK that it's such a struggle for people to get back and rebuild.

Even after 5 years, people need help. People needed help before Katrina, and the oppressive and parasitic infrastructure here is hopefully starting to change. Tom hates it when I dismiss something that hasn't been done, or has been done late, slowly, or poorly, as "well, that's New Orleans." And he's right. Every citizen here deserves better than that. I think there will always be a prevailing attitude of laissez faire, but the potential to change is there- people are fired up after Katrina, fired up after the media dismissed the poor city dwellers who remained as savage, criminal animals, fired up even in the face of horrible federal, state, and city red tape to rebuild, fired up during and after the Saints' championship season.

And you just can't help but fall in love with that spirit, with the city, with the food, and the booze, and the music, and the people. I knew I belonged here from the first time I visited.

I hope to learn more about these New Orleans, as my exploration of them is hardly exhaustive. And I have so much more to learn and see and experience.

Tonight, the "real" New Orleans is contained in the Superdome and in the streets around it and in the streets of the French Quarter where they just had a parade and concert. Everyone here is PUMPED UP, I tell you what. City offices closed, companies and schools and post offices let out early, the local papers and websites were full of discussion of the Saints. It's one of the best reasons to celebrate and EVERYONE is. I've never seen anything like it except maybe for championship series of Red Sox. And this is just the first game of the season!