Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Welcoming little Jackson!

In addition to being a real-life aunt, I adore being a surrogant auntie! Today, joining Nancy's Patrick and Mikaela's Umea, my dear friend Tracy gave birth to her little man Jackson! This pile of handsomeness weighed in at 10 pounds, 8 ounces, and is 22 inches long... he has one strong momma!

Oh Tracy, how far we have come....!

Surrounded by... stuff

I have never been, nor ever will be, a minimalist. As much as I enjoy clean, spare spaces in other people's homes, I'm meant to be surrounded by color and clutter. Both make me happy. Of course, there's good clutter, and then there's bad clutter.

The good clutter is the stuff that I love: books upon books upon books, kitchen tools/vessels/machines, shoes. The bad clutter is the stuff that makes me feel trapped: precious memories that I've saved because they're precious, only they're unmarked in a box that hasn't been opened in two years, in a closet full of said boxes. The bad clutter includes papers I mean to organize in a particular way but never quite get around to, clothes that instead of being hung up exist in carefully arranged stacks in odd places (or, um, disaster piles), one computer that doesn't work but is full of writing I want to keep, another that doesn't work but is full of graduate school research and photos. And more books. And more boxes.

(What can I say? I come from a family with barns and storage units and attics filled to the brink. I can only remember a handful of times that one car has been able to fit into my parents' garage, and it's never been able to hold two cars.)

 As co-clutterers, T and I have learned a really important lesson: we operate well within highly structured organizational systems. Figuring this out has been huge (and hilarious for two fairly mellow people who don't respond well to top-down hierarchies in any other part of our lives). Our stuff feels less overwhelming - and is much easier to put away - if there's a specified place for it, preferably with a label. We cannot trust ourselves to remain organized without structure, and knowing that is half the battle. Enter our biggest money hole:

At this mecca of places to put things, we've spent a small fortune over the last two years in an attempt to organize our lives. Walk into our pantry, and you'll find dozens of labeled plastic containers that hold the treasures from my bulk grocery aisle binges (grains and beans and pasta galore). You'll find additional shelving made for fresh spices. Baskets for larger items. Lights affixed to walls. Walk into our closet, and you'll find shoe shelves, tie racks, bins for sweaters. Open our closets, and you'll find bins for extra sheets, guest pillows, and more. This is all well and good (and a huge improvement over what came before it), but it's still an effort for me to put certain things away. Before I know it, there will be piles of shoes at the top of the stairs or a stack of newspapers taking over the table. I really have to make a conscious effort to put things away (it's only natural for me to do so in the kitchen), yet our structured systems really do help. But then there's the biggest problem.

The Clubhouse. This is the room downstairs that was initially meant to be an office and writing space for me, but which I hardly ever use. The cats took it over as their hangout space while we're at work, which is how it got its nickname. Up until about a month ago, it contained a desk that held miscellaneous items I hadn't figured out where to put yet, a fold-out couch that collected clean laundry we hadn't folded yet, a chair with more laundry, and lots of bookcases. Today, it contains all of the above, plus a mattress, box spring, and bed frame that we don't have anywhere to put since our building took our storage away. They're stacked against the couch, with an unfolded ironing board being the only accessible thing in the room. It is a clubhouse of insanity.

We've decided to give away the couch and set up the room as more of a bedroom, a project we've put off because our go-to donation organization, a local women's shelter, can't pick up pull-out couches for insurance reasons. Once we figure this problem out, we're going to attack The Clubhouse in earnest, because at this point, if you can actually reach the closet, you can barely open the closet door that hides all those nightmarish boxes of stuff that I mentioned.

Re-doing the room as something that better fits our needs is a fun decorating opportunity, but also a nightmarish chore. Most importantly, though, it's a much-needed opportunity to further minimize. We are trying to move, after all, and the less stuff we have to move when the time comes, the better. But the real task of organizing the paper and research and stuff I've collected over the last fifteen years? It gives me an instant headache. And makes me feel anxious. And makes me feel trapped and unable to lead a proper adult life while carrying around entire filing cabinets of things I don't look at anymore.

What, not everyone has panic attacks due solely to old college papers and vacation souvenirs?

Here's the fear: as soon as I throw out some of my notebooks full of random academic articles on a certain subject I thought I was done with, I'll end up in a new city in a PhD program desperately trying to find the exact research that I threw away. As soon as I throw out precious relic #476, a friend will ask me if I still have it and I'll feel like a bad friend for letting it go. So instead I just go the Container Store, buy a plastic container to hold all of my wrapping paper and gift wrap ribbons, and feel like I'm at least trying. (Although let's be honest... that container is not yet filled with the wrapping paper thrown around the Clubhouse closet. But it is waiting beside the closet door.)

The true vastness of this project, it occurs to me, is that however wonderful a truly organized Container Store-d Clubhouse will be, it's really only another small battle in a lifetime of battles against stuff.

Wish me luck.(And send Container Store giftcards.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Man-gasm" meal

This weekend I broke in the new Gourmet Today. What to make first, though - there are too many wonderful choices (over 1,000, in fact). But the look on T's face when I read this recipe aloud was too cute to resist. Braised Short Ribs with Dijon Mustard it was, then. A simple recipe that smells heavenly and tastes like rich, homey goodness, this one's a winner. T's assessment? "It's a man-gasm." That's right, folks, you heard it here first: "man-gasm." It's the word that's going to sweep the nation, starting now.

Gourmet Today's Braised Short Ribs with Dijon Mustard

1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine
4 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths by the butcher
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 shallots, trimmed, leaving the root ends intact, and halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
6 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1. Boil the wine in a 2-quart heavy sauce pan, uncovered, until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, pat the ribs dry and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the ribs in 2 batches and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer with tongs to a bowl.

3. Reduce heat to moderate, add the shallots to fat remaining in pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to another bowl.

4. Stir reduced wine and mustard into the juices in the pot. Add the ribs, meat side down, cover tightly, and simmer, for 1 1/2 hours.

5. Gently stir shallots and tomatoes into the braised rib mixture and continue to simmer, covered, without stirring, until meat is very tender, about 1 hour more.

6. Carefully transfer the ribs, shallots, and tomatoes to a platter. Skim off fat from cooking liquid. Liquid should coat a spoon and measure about 1 cup; if necessary, boil to reduce.

7. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and pour over ribs.


These ribs were road-tested by Serious Eats, too... to equally rave reviews. Next time, we're going to match these up against short ribs that are a bit more my speed: Short Ribs Braised in Coffee Ancho Chile Sauce.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Next year in letterpress

Last year, I snapped up ten or so Ilee calendars - one for my desk at work, and the rest to give as gifts. The Ilee 2009 calendar is gorgeous... every month I love turning to the new design as much as I hate to say goodbye to the old one. For someone whose office is a bit lacking in the inspiration department, this little rectangle of paper happiness on my desk has gone a long way over the last nine months.

As we inch closer to October (how did that happen, by the way?), it's getting to be time to think about 2010 calendars. The problem, though, is that I can't decide which one to buy! I'm partial to Ilee because of how much I've enjoyed their calendar this year. Here's Ilee's 2010 calendar:

It's lovely, and I'm sure the intricacy of the designs and letterpressing in person is as amazing as 2009's, but I'm just not sure I'm as head-over-heels with it as I was for 2009's calendar. I think it has a bit less vibrancy of color than this year's. There are two other strong contenders right now, too.

First up, Linda & Harriet. L&H were responsible for some of our holiday cards last year, and I really love their work. I have several greeting cards from them as well. Their calendar has such lovely designs and I adore the different typefaces used each month. The Linda & Harriet 2010 calendar:

Bonus: the bottom of each tears off and can be used as a postcard after each month is over. Genius!

The other top contender is from Egg Press, who also makes some of my favorite holiday and greeting cards. Their calendar is offset, not letterpress, so it'd probably lead to less stroking of its pages during office hours (what? is that creepy?), but it does have coordinating backs with a spot for taking notes. And really, just look at the April design - it's like they knew it's my birthday month. The Egg Press 2010 Calendar:

What to do, what to do? Buy one of each and then pick my favorite to give as gifts? Pick a different one to give to each friend according to the designs? Too many lovely choices!

For you fellow paper lovers, keep an eye out on Oh So Beautiful Paper, where Nole will be publishing her 2010 calendar review soon, and further complicate my decision, I'm sure.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday I'm in Love

After a two-week absence, Friday I'm in Love is back! Here are three little things I've been loving this week:

The Informant!

Ahhh, Steven Soderberg. AHHHH, Matt Damon. I really loved The Informant!, perhaps all the more so because I wasn't quite sure what to expect going in, and thus was completely under Soderberg's spell. Brilliantly cast and really deftly written, this movie begins as a bumbling-but-sly farce and turns on itself halfway through to become something else entirely. And if it even made meany Manohla Dargis gush a little bit (seriously, she likes nothing), then you know it must be worth seeing.

My friend Jessie started a new blog recently, and I would be remiss if I did nothing more than add her to my list of "Freckled Friends" and move on, so allow me to brag a bit. Jessie, you see, is a beautiful writer, and with the flick of her wrist can produce sentences that would take most of us ages to craft. Her real life is something of a wonderful jambalaya: she works in rescue medicine and comes to your house if you call 911; she writes about the local music scene and tells you who to go see; she gardens and might even cook something for you if you ask nicely; she reads wonderful books and loves to talk about them; she approaches her life with a heart firmly affixed in the mountains of Virginia, where she comes from, even though home is now far away. Jessie is a force of nature. She was also my first friend to meet Trevor, and assessed him a second: "Kind of preppy, but a sexy voice." A couple of months later, she was jokingly grabbing his ass in a bar. He was in. And that's Jessie. (That's us above, by the way, at a favorite hole in the wall brewpub in downtown Albuquerque.) Anyway, what are you waiting for? Go read her!

The Psychedelic Furs

 I am a hopeless New Waver, and the Furs rock in a million ways. Ghost in You? Love my Way? Pretty in Pink? C'mon! We have tickets tonight, and while I'm pumped to see the show, I'm also fascinated by what the crowd will be like. Cannot wait! This show will be a mighty fine reward for a week of waaaay too much work stress.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Women in my kitchen

So, it turns out that Ruth Reichl is every bit as charming and lovely in person as she is on the page. Of course she is.

Crappy, rushed, omg-I'm-embarrassing-myself fan photo
I took of Ruth being charming and awesome

And Gourmet Today? It's a tome. Wow. I think I'll start lifting weights with it. And cooking from it starting this weekend, by the way.

Since I clearly still have fantastic food-writing women on the brain, here's a recent dish courtesy of Judith Jones, who adapted it from her pal James Beard. (Sigh.)

Be sure to mix the pasta well in your serving bowl for the flavors to meld. This recipe makes more than enough for two hearty servings. It's a great light pasta for dinner anytime, perfect with a bright green salad. It'd also be perfect at a summertime lunch with your girlfriends and some crisp, cool wine. Enjoy! (And thanks, Judith.)

James Beard's Swordfish-Olive Pasta

1 6-ounce swordfish steak (this will be a small-ish steak)
1/3 cup (or more, if you love them) finely chopped Italian black olives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 ounces bite-size pasta (fusilli, gemelli, penne, etc. - a little less than half a box)
2 large shallots, sliced thin
2 large garlic cloves, sliced then
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2-1 teaspoon herbes de provence (or your favorite dried herb blend)
1+ tablespoon capers
Chopped fresh parsely

Rub a little oil on both sides of the fish and place it on aluminum foil. Broil for 4 minutes on one side. Turn, top with olives, and broil for 2-3 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and drop in the pasta. While it cooks, saute the shallots and garlic in the olive oil over low heat until they're soft (don't let them brown). Add the dried herbs and capers. Slice the swordfish in thin strips and place it along with the olives into the shallot/garlic mixture.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving 1/2-cup of the cooking water. Mix together the pasta and swordfish, adding cooking water as needed to moisten the pasta.

Season with salt and pepper, then toss into a warm bowl. Sprinkle fresh parsely on top, and freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, if that's your style.

On creation.

Lately I've been surrounding myself with the words of women whose lives have been shaped by food. They are great company, these women, and reveal something new to me with each read. My latest culinary/literary journey was Judith Jones' The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. Jones was the legendary Knopf editor responsible for publishing dozens of food luminaries over the course of her career. As the Times put it, "Ms. Jones may not be the mother of the revolution in American taste ... but she remains its most productive midwife."

Toward the end of her memoir, Judith discusses what it was like to begin cooking for herself after her husband and partner in all things food passed away. 

After Evan died, in the winter of 1996, I doubted that I would ever find pleasure in making a nice meal for myself and sitting down to eat it all alone. I was wrong. Instead, I realized that the ritual we had shared together for almost fifty years was a part of the rhythm of my life, and by honoring it I kept alive something that was deeply ingrained in our relationship. In fact, more than ever I found myself, about mid-afternoon, letting my mind drift toward what I was going to conjure up for dinner when I got home. Instead of walking into what might have seemed an empty apartment - actually, I've always had a dog who is hungry to greet me - I gravitate toward the kitchen, as I did as a young girl to bask in Edie's warmth, and I can't wait to bring it to life, to fill it with good smells, to start chopping or whisking or tossing and smelling up my hands with garlic. I turn on some music and have a glass of Campari or wine, and it is for me the best part of the day, a time for relaxation. When, at last, I sit down and light the candles, the place across from me is not empty.

This passage strikes right to the heart of why I love to cook. The joy of it, for me, is essentially a solo effort. The end result feeds us, sure, and I do adore cooking for others and sharing food with people I love, but the process is really the product for me. My cluttered mind is always desperate for expressive release, which explains the four blogs over the last six years and a lifetime of writing just to clear my head. In time, cooking has become another form of release for me, a method of creation that soothes my cluttered mind as much as it produces something worthwhile in the end.

It wasn't always like this. Through college, and even through much of graduate school, cooking was born of necessity and rarely given much thought. It wasn't until I lived alone in a tiny adobe apartment in Albuquerque that I realized how much I truly enjoyed my time alone in that tiny space of creation. Cooking in that kitchen was entirely on my terms. I cooked alone (my kitchen could barely fit two people anyway); I cooked with tools and vessels I loved (it's there that I began my love affair with flame Le Creuset - a dangerous habit that gets worse all the time); I took as long as I wanted and had no one waiting on me (eating at 9? no problem). I also realized that I loved cookbooks that read like novels,and began reading them as such (food is life is journeying is personal is political).

Tiny nook off my barely-bigger old kitchen in New Meixco. 
Colorful, cluttered, and unmistakably mine.

I'm grateful these days, in a kitchen that's much more modern and better-equipped than any I've had before, for those years in that tiny, colorful nook all my own. It's there that I realized the joy of cooking for myself, of culinary discovery of my own design, of not only how meditative cooking a risotto can be, but how being meditative is really a requirement to the perfect risotto. In many ways, I think my approach to cooking is the opposite of Judith's. She's finding the pleasures of cooking for one late in her cooking journey, whereas that's how I began. In my case, I'm grateful I found it alone.

Since we're on the subject of women whose lives were shaped by food, this afternoon I'm going to meet Ruth Reichl, who's doing a book tour for Gourmet Today. I can become uncharacteristically shy around famous people I admire, so I won't tell her how much I adore her memoirs, or how much of a treat reading Gourmet every month is, or how much her second book in particular was so painfully familiar to read that it still haunts me. I won't say any of that. I'll smile, and have her sign something, and move on.

But to all these women whose paths to creation are the stuff of food and words, there are things I wish I could say more eloquently. Thank you for putting yourselves out there. I like thinking that my journey in the kitchen is part of a collective experience, however selfishly it suits my own needs. You are all endlessly inspiring in the most personal of ways, and your words are welcome in my kitchen any time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Never Say Never: Electronics Edition

Sometimes showering your loved one with huge surprises and grand gestures is just the right thing to do. T's birthday, a week ago today, struck me as an opportunity to go above and beyond. For more reasons than I can count here, he deserved  birthday fireworks this year. And because he's the last person to ever expect them, fireworks seemed especially fitting.

Our gift tradition is opening presents in bed. I'm not sure how it began, but we love doing it this way. When we celebrate Christmas, there's wrapping everywhere and the cats think it's a holiday just for them, wrestling over our legs with ribbon. It becomes a family event. And so we set the alarm for 5 a.m. the morning after we returned from New Orleans. I put on some jazz to liven us up, brewed some coffee, and brought in the presents.

His card (letterpress of course, this year from Smock):

His "small" gifts: A print for hanging and his favorite bottle of Scotch for drinking:

The big surprise: I'd been saving for months to gift him with a big electronic purchase that he wouldn't justify on his own. Me? Not really an electronics kind of girl. But T most certainly is. When it came down to it, though, I couldn't decide which boy toy would make him happier: a new tv (he hated his old one) or half a laptop (his trusty Mac is entering its golden years). In the end, I decided to go the gift card route, letting him choose for himself. But since a gift card is unromantic, I had to dress up the presentation a bit, showing him that the boring old gift card I was giving him was actually a romantic gesture. To dress it up, I made a little book that described why he deserved a big present and told a meandering tale of cuteness until the big reveal. It was kind of adorable.

The book listed just some of the things I wanted to get for him but couldn't ("brownstone in Washington, D.C. complete with new job," for example). It also laid out my thought process around shiny electronics, that half of the fun for him would undoubtedly be picking his new toy out himself. In that case, then...

A pocket for the gift card, but presented in a way that made him grin like crazy.

It was adorable, actually. His eyes got big and I can only imagine what went through his head:
  1. How in the world did limited-income Maggie manage to save $1,000 without me knowing about it?
  2. My laptop still has some legs ... the tv, on the other hand... yessssssss!!!!!
  3. Maggie didn't even watch tv before we started dating.
  4. She already thinks our tv is enormous and kind of embarrassing.
  5. But it's nothing compared to the tv I plan on picking out.
  6. Is she sure she's ready for this?
Two days later, with the assistance of my gift card, a gift card from his mother-in-law (thanks Mom!), and some of his own cash thrown in, he was pulling the protective plastic off this behemoth:

Even better? This weekend he sold his old tv on Craiglist, meaning that a 52" Sony LCD cost him about $200.

Happy tv times in our place. And a happy, happy birthday for someone who really deserved it. Now if only I could figure out how to work the DVR...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Missing you, New Orleans

Ahhh, New Orleans. You lusty, insatiable thing. You have a piece of my heart always, it turns out. Not that I should have been surprised.

There are places that I know without ever being there that I will love. They are inevitably places of history, places of culture, places of tradition, places of music, places of food, places of art, places that are no one's but their own. On paper, I could check each one of these items off for New Orleans. But walking around its streets, shoulder to shoulder with its people, well that's a different thing entirely. The real deal.

[Sidenote: The angst I have about the place I currently live and why it's not happening for me? Reference against the above list and get an idea of the disconnect.]

We arrived under the guise of celebrating T's birthday, but we really just needed an excuse to get out of town. As expected, Dean and Jeanne were quite the traveling companions, full of the inside scoop thanks to Jeanne's sister and brother-in-law, who teach at Tulane, and their own storied history of Nola adventures, dating back to the late 1960s.

Eating, of course, was of primary importance. On Friday night we ended up at K-Paul's, an old-school Cajun restaurant where I sampled my first-ever shrimp etouffee and had the first of many delicious cocktails. Our favorite morsel of the night? Fried oysters in "Hot Fanny Sauce," which we jokingly ordered because one of our cats is named Fanny, but quickly realized the sauce is so delicious we might have named Fanny after it had we tried it first.

After dinner we walked around the city for hours, poking around little streets and taking it all in. D&J took us to a stretch known for tiny jazz clubs, where we found out that because we were in low (read: hurricane-prone) season, a bunch of places were taking their annual vacation. So instead, we headed back to Bourbon to our hotel. I decided that for my first trip to Nola, we should stay right in the middle of the party, and the Sonesta did not disappoint. Inside the hotel is Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse, so we spent the rest of the night wildly applauding incredible musicians and sampling more delicious Nola drinks.

Saturday... such a full day! We started with brunch at Elizabeth's, a fantastic hole-in-the-wall, locals kind of place recommended by J's sister.

 HEAVEN. Funky and art-filled and low-down (I wanted to buy at least two pieces hanging on the wall), and the kind of menu I love... we're talking crab and grits and fried green tomatoes and sausage and strong bloody marys and rich coffee and PRALINE BACON. Nomnomnomnom. With a menu like that, the four of us spent hours sampling and chatting. It's to Elizabeth's, also, that I credit my new obsession: boudin balls.

Boudin balls are a local and regional specialty; they're sausage-balls, in essence, served in a mustard sauce. It's safe to say that I'm about to begin an in-depth study on how to make the best boudin balls outside of Cajun country. It turns out that Central Market sells boudin sausage (love you CM!!!), so I don't have to worry about making my own authentic boudin and can simply begin to fry balls (ha!) and concoct mustard sauces to my heart's content. Watch out, arteries.

After brunch, we drove around New Orleans so I could get my head around the city a little bit. We spent nearly an hour driving through the Lower Ninth Ward, and I think my heart was breaking the entire time. I have friends who visited Nola shortly after Katrina and still talk about how overwhelming the destruction was to see at that point. Four years later, it's humbling to admit that I'm not sure I could have handled seeing the area right after the catastrophe. Nearly all of the homes still standing are marked with the rescue tags from various agencies - "3 Dead" spraypainted on one house, "Dead dog" on another, and then thankfully, "0" on the next. It was raining when we drove through the Lower Ninth Ward, which seemed fitting for the tragedy still taking place there, and also eerily unsettling. The area is so far below the sea level that an average rainstorm like the one that afternoon was already filling up lawns with water. The place truly makes you think about the struggle between humanity and nature. It's ever-present there.

But then, amidst the horror still spraypainted on homes, there is progress. There are blocks of brand-new development sponsored by universities and sustainability programs and yep, Brad Pitt. There are people out and about, looking onto a levee that seemed perilously close to full from our perch on the bridge above it, but which locals are accustomed to as their front door to the rest of the city. Maybe that's the Lower Ninth Ward in a nutshell: beside one emptied-out home missing glass in its windows and marked by death, there is a new home, brightly painted and looking forward. Both face that levee. One was lucky. One was not. I did the best I could to get my head around that kind of force-of-nature nonchalance that says more about human intervention than blanket natural disaster. Again: humbling.

Here's the thing about New Orleans, though. As leveling as seeing "3 Dead" spraypainted on the side of a home is, you cross the bridge and you don't see it anymore. Our day was structured like that - that night's hotly anticipated event was eating at John Besh's Restaurant August. Did I forget what I saw? Temporarily, sure. But the spraypaint stays with me, I can assure you.

On to August... oh, August. We all know that I've been crushing on John Besh for some time now. After eating at his restaurant? It's on.

We dined with Dean, Jeanne, Judy, and Ken, and even our locals hadn't eaten there yet.We each ordered a starter and an entree, and really... I just can't say more. Except that I will eat there again. Soon. Very, very soon.

A funny note on the chef: John Besh wasn't at August during our meal. The chef de cuisine responsible? An equally charming and handsome kitchen magician named Michael Gulotta. How do I know that he's charming and handsome? Because our table requested a kitchen tour, to which we were greeted by applause in the kitchen and whereupon Jeanne and I took turns flirting with Michael, who showed Jeanne how he made the foam accompanying her fish dish. I'm not sure if Michael is single or not, but he's around 30 and single ladies... you might want to go and request that kitchen tour. Pronto.

Saturday night there was more music and more cocktails. My first Sazerac... hello! We witnessed an extremely awkward marriage proposal and saw a girl wearing a dress that was begging for a "What Not to Wear" intervention. People-watching is fantastic in New Orleans, actually... there's just the funniest mix of high- and low-end on every corner. I love that kind of juxtaposition. I don't care about seeing designer gowns and shoes at every turn. But a designer gown next to a guy wearing terrible shorts and a tacky t-shirt? Now that intrigues me.

On Sunday morning, we were supposed to get up early and walk to Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee, but a torrential downpour made walking impossible (note on Nola flooding: an hour of rain and the streets in the French Quarter were flooding the sidewalks... and that's on high ground). Once the rain let up, T and I found a local beignet spot near the hotel, aptly named Cafe Beignet, and got our sugar high on for the day. Yum.

The day revolved around Sunday Jazz Brunch at Antoine's, a legendary New Orleans establishment. This history of this place is just extraordinary. We were probably cheating by going for afternoon brunch instead of dinner, but they were closed until Saturday for their annual vacation week, and it was the best we could do. Brunch was delightful - Oysters Rockefeller, invented at Antoine's, eggs in decadent sauces and crabcakes made to perfection... all very good. The music was good, the service good... but our tour of the restaurant after brunch was over? Now that was the stuff of legend. There are fourteen dining rooms at Antoine's - really, go see - and it would take days to look at every item on the walls in every room. Days. We laughed at the icky pairing of middle-aged "Kings" with teenage "Queens," were in awe at the amazing artifacts about prohibition and various festivals and secret societies and Nola ruling classes. We peeked into a wine cellar that stretches an entire city block. The rooms are like stepping back in time, quite literally. The mind transports back even though you're clutching a plastic takeout bag and wearing a decidedly modern sundress. The place just stands still. Amazing.

Our last stop on Sunday before heading out of town was to The Columns, a legendary old hotel in the Garden District, for a last New Orleans cocktail. Like every other place in town, this building is so chock-full of history that the mind boggles... the perfect setting for a goodbye drink. Once inside, we realized it was where Pretty Baby was filmed, and the place really does still look exactly like an early-century brothel.

So... we're planning another trip. Because we have to go back. And honestly, we made a deal that as long as we live in a city we don't love, we might as well take advantage of traveling to cities that are relatively close by that we do love, which someday might be more difficult to travel to. That said, we're returning later this fall or winter. On tap?
  • Staying at The Roosevelt, which is oozing with history and was recently reopened post-Katrina
  • Eating at August again (duh) for more Frech-Creole deliciousness
  • Eating at Domenica, John Besh's newest restaurant, conveniently located inside the Roosevelt
  • Eating at Galatoire's, which rivals Antoine's for the most legendary New Orleans restaurant award
  • Eating at Cochon! Eating at Bayona!
  • Eating at Willie Mae's Scotch House... and Mother's, too
  • Sandwiches, sandwiches, sandwiches - po boys and a Central Grocery muffaletta
  • Hitting up Kitchen Witch, this fantastic out-of-print cookbook store we found... but this time with a list! I was unprepared in heaven!
  • More music!
  • More art!
  • More history!
  • (Okay, this might take a few more trips)
Some pics from our French Quarter afternoons (as high-brow as some of our culinary adventures were, you'll see that my photographic interests are at the other end of the spectrum):


Friday, September 11, 2009

Regularly scheduled programming to resume next week

I wasn't going to skip out on my fave blogging feature Friday I'm in Love today, until two things happened:
  1. I contracted some sort of intense sinus pain/head cold/chills&fever situation last night, which means I'm currently drugged and barely capable of typing
  2. Due to last night's medicated state, I did not get much done on a work deadline, so will be spending the day hurriedly trying to craft logical planning language despite feeling like my head is floating above my body
We're hopping on a plane to New Orleans this afternoon, so wish my tender eardrums luck up there (and keep the rain away, while you're at it). I'll be eating my way through Nola with three companions this weekend: my fantastic h-word, about to celebrate a birthday, his father/Best Man extraordinaire Dean, and Dean's fabulous partner-in-crime, Jeanne.

Photographic evidence from our wedding as to why we invited Dean and Jeanne to join us in Nola:

Assuming that my taste buds come back soon, I'll be joyously savoring yumminess at:
  • August, where I may or may not try to flirt with Chef John Besh
  • Antoine's, where I will brunch amidst jazz and down Bloody Marys
  • Cafe du Monde, where we will stuff our faces with beignets after the bars close to ward off hangovers
  • Many and varied hole-in-the-wall spots tonight, where we're going to bar/music/restaurant-hop
  • Mystery spot for lunch on Saturday, although I'm leaning toward Mother's
Is The Big Easy ready for me to totter my way around its streets, high on medication and wearing 4-inch heels? Only time will tell... Come back Monday for the full report, including a wrapup of all the fun birthday surprises I have in store for my favorite guy. Happy weekend, everyone!

PS: White Thread Weddings is featuring our wedding today, if you're into that sort of thing ;-)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vegetarian Man Food

I've noted before that when I cooked only for myself, I cooked mostly vegetarian meals. Now that I cook for a hungry 6'3 male, however, I feel oddly pressured to include meat in every meal. This is not because T tells me that he needs to eat meat every night. In fact, when I wistfully bring up my veggie meals of the past, he reminds me that he doesn't need to eat meat all the time. Yet I hardly ever listen to him.

Until nights like last night, that is, when the day got away from me without a trip to the market and there was too much good stuff on television to want to go out to dinner. To the pantry, then, where the range pretty much consisted of veggies, beans, and rice.

Chana masala (spicy chickpeas, essentially) used to be a go-to Single Maggie meal. Quick, delicious, nutricious, and inexpensive. My first recipe was from an ancient Martha Stewart Living magazine, and like most of Martha's savory recipes, the seasoning always seemed off to me. (I know many folks swear by Martha's baking recipes, but as a non-baker, I wouldn't know.) Over the years I crafted a chana masala recipe of my own that, while better than Martha's, still never felt like more than a careless throwing-together of pantry items. And since chana masala is one of my "whatever's in the pantry" meals, I never really took the time to dig around for a recipe that I liked better. The dish, it seemed, was to remain an afterthought in every way. An inevitably delicious afterthought, but still an afterthought.

This week, however, I finished Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life*, a wonderful book full of charm and tenderness. Staring abysmally into our pantry and already wearing pajamas, I decided that it might be time to sneak in a veggie dinner, but that this time, I'd use Molly's (Brandon's, really) recipe instead of winging it. I caramelized the onions longer than I normally do; I layered the spices differently than I normally do; in essence, it was my dish, just a tad more refined. And it was delicious, of course - how could spicy chickpeas not be delicious? Piled on top of some basmati rice, served with a dollop of soft goat cheese (I didn't have yogurt on hand, which the recipe called for, and who am I to deny a swirl of goat cheese in my dinner?), topped with a garnish of fresh cilantro, and sprinkled with a dash of garam masala, it filled me up nicely.

Even better? It filled my guy up, too. I should really listen to him, I think. Probably. Maybe.

Make Orangette's Chana Masala tonight and dare your man to need meat with it.

*True testament of Molly's book: She actually makes me want to bake. I never want to bake. Martha doesn't make me want to bake.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Modern Americana: My Way

I'm a big fan of Americana and folk art, but it's a delicate balance. Go too far with Americana and your place ends up looking like that quaint country store you love to visit but whose apple pie candles give you a headache after thirty minutes. I've seen my share of overly country'd home decor, and while it works for some folks, it's definitely not my style. But a juxtaposition of folksy with modern... that I adore.

Take this piece, for example... how much fun is this?

I've been lusting after it for ages. It's from the Sundance catalog, so brace yourself for the price: a cool $3,895. (They also sell a colossal version for $25,000, which I've gotta admit, would look fantastic against the side of a barn next to my hypothetical rambling farmhouse.) Similarly, I stalked the original of this print on Etsy until it sold and have been kicking myself ever since. Pottery Barn had something similar last year, and while it was fine, it was Pottery Barn, thus taking the coolness out of any art piece (although I'm not going to lie... I'd snap this woodwork piece up in a heartbeat).

Political folk art is my favorite little corner of the folk art world, and an easy way to modernize a style that's old with a new twist. Our home has a great mix of political art (some modern, some folksy) set against fairly modern furniture, and I really like that contradiction. Political pieces work really well for who we are and what we care about, and is great fun to build as a collection.

The absolute best way to find these pieces is to stumble upon them or connect with an artist. That's how Trevor bought a fun piece we have that references Jessie Ventura and Granny D, marking a particular time in American politics:

...and it's how we decided we had to have the original sketches of a campaign-related print that ran with a New York Times op-ed on election rhetoric, to mark another distinct moment in American politics:

(It's also why it should come as no surprise that I've been coveting this piece for ages.)

The best place I've ever been for stumbling upon brilliant political folk art is Ed Larson's little gem of a studio on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Here's the entrance:

And inside, you'll find brilliance like this Katrina-themed piece (you can't see it here, but the stick figure is labeled "Brownie"):

I last visited Ed's studio as a poor just-out-of-graduate-school shopper, so I wasn't in the market for any original pieces. Instead, I picked up this limited edition lithograph, marking, you got it... a distinct period in American politics:

Coming full circle, take a look at my mouse pad, which I nerdily adore. It combines my love of license plate art and the Constitution all at once... brilliant!

You remember how much we love the Constitution, don't you?

While we're at it, get a load of Senator Al Franken drawing a perfect map of the United States from scratch... in two minutes flat. The man is a genius.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Some weekends are for doing, while others are for being. Our holiday weekend was spent just being. We were just us on Friday, napping the workweek out of us, then ordering our favorite takeout salads from the French cafe downstairs and eating them in front a movie. We were just us on Saturday, flirting with tennis and shopping, lingering over sushi, and being entertained by Mr. Tarantino. We were ourselves on Sunday, indulgently sleeping in, again, then deciding to jump in the car and head to Austin for two days, a city that breathes much more like I do than the one we currently call home.

In Austin we were so us, lounging poolside and eating glorious food (orange-glazed Berkshire pork carnitas with pickled onions may well be my new "last meal") and then walking hand in hand amidst undergraduate hijinks and hilarity. From a rooftop bar, we grinned until our faces hurt at the dance-off taking place on the street below us, but didn't even finish our beers. It was time to crawl into bed, but we didn't feel lame about that. That's the thing, I think, about being with the right person at the right time. It's okay not to want to stay out until the bars close. It's okay that you'll miss whatever next dance move is about to take place on the street below you, because however hilarious it is, it still won't make you as happy as wrapping yourself around your tequila-scented partner in crime at the end of the night. And so you do.

We were married during the holiday weekend that kicked this summer off, and here we are at the other end of it, more relaxed on this side, not any more concrete regarding a Life Plan, but somehow feeling closer to it with each weekend full of us that we have. It's been a very good summer, and I think it'll be an even better fall.

*"Bookends" is a T family practice whereupon one vodka shot is taken at the beginning of the night and one at the end. So happy to call that crew my own now :-).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dapper doppelganger

Instead of a DVD player, we have an XBox 360, which I know nothing about except how to turn it on for the sole purpose of watching a DVD. T has cute boy moments with it, playing sports-related video games when I work late, but that's my only exposure to the intended purpose of the machine. At any rate, when starting it up for a DVD tonight, I caught a glimpse of his official XBox 360 avatar.

The avatar:

The groom:

Besides wearing a light blue (not seersucker, but close enough) suit, the avatar also wears a wedding ring! [Insert extra adorable points here.]

Maybe video games are kind of cool after all.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday I'm in Love

A long weekend! A long weekend! I'm leaving work early today, because frankly, I've worked way too many hours for my own good this week. We don't have a single real plan for this weekend, and might just take off a road trip if we're in the mood.... love this kind of three-day freedom. On to my picks for the week:

I adored this book every way possible. I've been reading a lot of Richard Russo at the urging of my oldest friend, an unabashed Russo devotee, and this one has been my absolute favorite so far. There's nothing like that feeling of being propelled into a great story, and Russo's standard themes of small-town decline, class struggles, and past v. future are brilliantly showcased here. I watched half of the HBO miniseries (available from Netflix) on Monday night, with the other half waiting for me tonight, and am equally pleased with how the story comes to life on screen through Russo's screenplay and a cast of brilliant actors. Go read! Go watch!

I am consistently falling in love with new letterpress designers on Etsy, but my latest batch of cards are definitely among my Best Evers. I mean, a corset image thanking someone for helping you hold it together? Genius! Go and peruse their old-world designs and clever turns of phrase. My card box at home is now bursting with Kirtland House goodness, from circus performers "hanging in there" to dapper travelers offering "bon voyage"... love it!

I fell in love with this children's book and decided it was a must-have for the daughter of a hometown friend of mine, also named Amelia. If little Amelia is even a smidgeon as charmed by this book as I was, it'll be a smashing success. "Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride" spins the tale of Amelia Earheart and Eleanor Roosevelt meeting up for dinner at the White House, then cruising around the skies in an airplane and speeding over the hills of DC in a covertible, as two strong, free-spirited women are wont to do. A total delight, this book.
Related Posts with Thumbnails