Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dipping into The Lucky Ladle

My mother is, without a doubt, a shopaholic. As a teenager, I barely endured long, draining Saturdays spent at Hillsdale Mall, dreary only because my mother and I are complete opposites.  Fluorescent lights leeched life from my limbs as I shuffled reluctantly from Lane Bryant to Nordstrom's and if Beelzebub whispered in my mother's ear...Macy's would be added to the tortuous tour. There was one highlight, one bastion of warmth and comfort to be found at the end of the dry marble halls and endlessly irritating crowds, Stone Soup.

Like salve on a wound, the soup worked wonders for my sanity and allowed me to carry on through days I didn't think would ever end.  A big bowl of clam chowder or potato soup, occasionally accompanied by half a ham sandwich or a hunk of sourdough bread enabled a small taste of hearth and home, to which I desperately sought to return.

With high hopes for a good bowl of soup my friends and I decided to visit a newly opened restaurant, The Lucky Ladle at 1906 Magazine Street in what was formerly the location for J'anita's.  It was my 45th cheat and I am down 63 pounds.

We strolled into the freshly painted restaurant a little after noon to find only one table filled and an overzealous server.  Although she seemed new to the game, she was very polite, quickly showing us a table and taking our drink order.  Dani and I both selected coffee and were surprised to receive large ceramic, bowl-like mugs that had me bouncing around the rest of the day.

While browsing the menu, I noticed a nice selection of simple sandwiches and breakfast items, but I was a little disappointed by only four soups to choose from.  I suppose that four is two more soups than in your average restaurant, but this is the Lucky Ladle, right?  Additionally, the list of soups was at the bottom of the menu when in my mind, they should be the feature.  Perhaps they could offer four regular soups and two rotating special soups?  Just a suggestion...

We placed our order and watched Dani's six-month-old daughter Posie while she tried not to be cute and failed miserably.  After 15 minutes or so, all of our dishes came out in a flurry and I had to fight to take pictures before everyone starting eating.  Dani chose the "Elvis" panini, a pressed peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich on sourdough with a fruit kebab side featuring orange quarters, red and green grapes and fresh strawberries.  My bite proved to have flavor fit for a king with crisp chunks of bacon and a perfect ratio of bananas to creamy peanut butter. And I couldn't help grinning as I watched Posie love her first taste of definitely won't be her last.

I averted my attention to John's West Coast Turkey Wrap loaded with turkey, bacon, swiss cheese, avocado, fresh spinach and honey mustard.  He chose a spinach salad on the side plus a bowl of French Onion soup.  The wrap was fresh and tasty, extremely simple but good nonetheless and the soup was tangy and rich, loaded with translucent onions and little blobs of parmesean cheese.

My sandwich was called the "Frenchie", grilled ham and swiss on a croissant topped with bechamel sauce.  Again a very simple, but good sandwich that I thought went well with a bowl of their broccoli and cheese soup.  A thick slice of multigrain bread served alongside proved to be an excellent dipping tool, lifting long strings of cheddar with every dunk.

Although it didn't quite bring back the nostalgia I had hoped for (they need more soups!), I found the food to be elementary, something I could have easily made at home, but very fresh and good regardless. If I worked nearby, it would be a great spot for a nice, inexpensive, yet wholesome lunch.  They only opened in June and I am sure there are some kinks that need ironing, so you can bet I'll be keeping an eye out for an expanded soup menu, one that I believe could really make them lucky.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Oddly shaped objects and twofers at the Rendezvous Tavern

The Random House dictionary has several definitions for the original French phrase rendez-vous that literally means "present yourselves."  A rendezvous can be an agreement to meet, the meeting itself, a place designated for a meeting, a favorite gathering place and a meeting of two or more spacecraft in outer space.

When Anne and I planned to rendezvous at the Rendezvous Tavern, we managed to fulfill every clarification, but one.  I'm not saying several spacecraft couldn't have shown up at 3101 Magazine Street...only that I was unlucky enough to have missed it.

I hadn't visited the Rendezvous Tavern since my crazy, hazy days with Shalom, but I vaguely remembered one hell of a happy hour...three-for-one well drinks!   Brightly colored jacks marked how many you had left and after the third cocktail (usually a margarita...heavy on the salt!), someone had already bought another round. It was a very good thing my apartment was only a few blocks away.

The bar was dark and cool, just like I remembered it with a long wood bar running along the far wall and flaunting a good stock of choices.  There's a coin-op pool table or darts in the loft-like area in the back, but Anne and I made a beeline for the bar.  We wanted to drink.

Renea, who's been slinging drinks at the Rendezvous since right know...all hell broke loose five years ago, whipped up a tasty Cosmopolitan made with Absolut Citron for me and a Margarita with a shot of Grand Marnier for Anne.  We sipped on our cocktails and jabbed away the afternoon discussing Anne's recent trip around the world.  Seriously.  Well practically...she just got back from visiting England, Australia and Korea.  Phew!  Life is rough, let's get another drink...

Three cocktails and a shot called Pumpkin Pie (Goldschlager, Baileys and Kahlua) later, it was feeling just like old times and I was looking for left-over jacks.  We decided to walk up Magazine to seek some nosh, disappointed it wasn't Free-Indian-Food-Sunday when Rendezvous serves rice dishes from Nirvana.  As we left the bar, we spotted a couple of Nissan Cubes and a Mini-Cooper (does that count?), but from what I heard, there were a few abductions and a really great light show after we left.

Why do I always miss all the good stuff?

Monday, July 26, 2010

One out of three ain't bad? The Ruby Slipper

All apologies for being so late in writing my cheat.  I was feeling terrible on Thursday and decided to postpone my meal for a nice brunch on Saturday with John and my good friend Casey.  By the time Saturday morning rolled around, my mouth was more than ready for a fantastic meal and I couldn't stop thinking about things like bacon, hash browns, pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, and a never ending cup of coffee and chicory.

There are so many different options for a great brunch in New Orleans, but one place came to mind and stuck...The Ruby Slipper Cafe. This is my 44th cheat and I am down 62 pounds.

We pulled up to the restaurant on the corner of South Cortez and Cleveland Streets around noon to find it quite full.  The manager fussed at us to hurry up inside, it wasn't really all that hot but the air conditioning was cranked on high and I suppose he didn't want to let any cool air out.  We wrote down our name and returned outside to wait for a table.

Casey, recovering from a crazy night at the Half Moon, needed a little "hair of the dog" in the form a tall Bloody Mary.  It looked really spicy and refreshing at the same time and I tried a sip.  I'm not a fan of tomato juice, so it didn't really appeal to me, but although Casey loves Bloody Marys, she didn't seem to like it either because she barely drank half.

After a short ten minute wait, we were ushered back inside and seated at a four-top near a large window.  When I began reading through the menu, I was a little disappointed by the drastic difference from the menu on their website, but as this tends to happen all to often, it was nothing to let it slide.  We made our selections and chatted, watching other plates come out and gauging the reactions of  diners around us.

The great thing about most breakfast/brunch items is that it takes almost no time to cook.  In a very short time, we received our entrees and John and I also got a fat cup of cappuccino.  I got the Banana's Foster Pain Perdu since I was craving something sweet.  It was basically four thick hunks of French bread, a Banana's Foster topping with the inclusion of raisins and served with two pieces of Applewood smoked bacon.  The flavor of the sauce was nice, but I thought the bread was dry...especially for something that should be crispy on the outside and almost custard-like on the inside.  Unfortunately for John and Casey, I was the luckiest person at the table.

Casey threw caution to the wind and selected their BBQ Shrimp & Grits.  The description specified Gulf shrimp prepared in an Abita Amber BBQ sauce served over slow-cooked grits.  Whether they were trying for regular BBQ or traditional New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, they failed miserably.  The shrimp tasted like it had been boiled in plain water and dumped into this huge bowl of grits.  There was some kind of sauce (owing to the darker color) but the flavor was negligible.

John ordered the day's special, Ruby's Crab cake.  It was a four ounce crab cake topped with Hollandaise and served with two eggs, grits and a biscuit.  Now, I have to admit, there was a large amount of crab in their delicately fried cake, but there was also quite a few shells.  I kept looking over at John, watching him pull small pieces of shell out of his mouth after every bite.

All in all, the whole cheat was pretty terrible.  I insisted on paying for everyone as it was my fault for dragging them there and I was the only one with a decent entree.  I cringed as I signed off on $54, but hoped that with the way my luck was running, next week's cheat should be stupendous.

I stopped outside and relaxed while John and Casey enjoyed a cigarette and watched folks file out of the restaurant.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the comments I heard coming from other diners, remarks like "that was far too expensive for what we got" and "we could have saved $50 and had a better meal at the Trolley Stop."

When we got back into the car, I felt a little guilty being the only one who had a decent breakfast.  I guess one out of three ain't that bad...or is it?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Live music in my back yard: Maple Leaf Bar

I know I've bee touting my neighborhood a lot lately, but what the hell,  I'm biased.  I've actually avoided mentioning some hang-outs in my area because, well, they get enough attention.  But I would be totally remiss in my bar-jaunting duties if I didn't highlight a cool club that happens to be right around the corner from my apartment, the Maple Leaf Bar.

The "Leaf" is in fact so close to me, that if I open my back door around 11:00 p.m. on any given night, I'll hear  local legends like Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Rebirth Brass Band, Papa Gros Funk, George Porter Jr., and Johnny Vidacovich.  Some people might think living behind a music club would be irritating or distracting, causing many sleepless nights...but not me.  I drift into dreamland each night immersed in the rhythms of New Orleans and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Although the Maple Leaf  has cool features like high tin ceilings and walls, old hardwood floors and a large backyard patio, this bar is all about the music. It's a place where you drink cold beers just to cool down before dancing your ass off during the next set, where legends come to life in an intimate, sweaty setting, where the music carries you through a warm evening and never really lets go till dawn.

Mid-Summer Mardi Gras parades both begin and end at the Maple Leaf, where over the past twenty-plus years the Krewe of Oak has grown a neighborhood celebration into a mass blowout.  Masked revelers overflow from the confines of the bar and pour out onto Oak Street, sweating in bright plastic beads, feather boas and thick make-up.  I am privileged enough to know three fabulous ladies from the Bearded Oysters, an all-female dance troupe who dance, flirt, sport beards and lift their skirts to flash their merkins to parade-goers.

A few days ago, I went to visit the Maple Leaf during happy hour.  The bar was empty and quiet with only a few employees around getting ready for the evening rush.  I shared quality time with a good friend over beers in the deserted backyard patio, but everything felt kind of strange.  Without the heartbeat of music and the energy coming off of the crowd, I felt like I was in a different place altogether. I realized that this was a symbiotic existence living on the 800 block of Oak Street. Without the music, there is no Maple Leaf...but without the Maple Leaf, there is no least not in my back yard.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There's a gator in my jambalaya!

When you are on a strict eating regimen like I am, the most difficult task is finding new and interesting recipes that taste good and are also low in fat.  One of my favorite recipes to make, for so many reasons, is jambalaya.  The only problem is that most andouille sausage brands are ridiculously high in fat...anywhere from 10 to 16 grams per serving!  Needless to say, I haven't been eating jambalaya for a while...

Then, lo and behold, John was browsing the specialty meat section of Rouses and discovered some smoked alligator sausage made by the Crescent City Meat Company only a stones throw away in Metairie.  And here's the kicker, it was only 2 grams of fat per serving!  That's less than a boneless, skinless chicken breast!  Excited and hungry for flavor...I altered my jambalaya recipe just a bit so that I could once again enjoy that spicy, one-pot goodness anytime of the week.

Kim's Gator Sausage Jambalaya

1     pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced (season with S&P)
1     pound of smoked alligator sausage, diced
2     red or green bell peppers (sometimes I do both!), chopped
3     stalks of chopped celery
1     large yellow onion, chopped
3     cups of long grain rice (brown rice will be lower in calories plus more fiber)
6     cups of low sodium chicken broth
2     tablespoons of vegetable oil
2     tablespoons of chili powder
2     teaspoons cayenne pepper (or more if you like it real spicy!)
2     teaspoons of ground thyme
1/2  teaspoon of cloves
2     bay leaves
salt and pepper

In a large pot or Dutch oven, brown the chicken pieces in oil, remove from pan and set aside.  Add celery, onions and peppers and saute until the onions become translucent.

Add the sausage and saute for a few minutes.  Then add seasonings and saute until you can smell the aroma of the spices.  Next, add the rice and stir to cover grains with seasoning.  Then add chicken broth, the browned chicken (don't forget the juice leftover on the plate!), and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Once the mixture is boiling, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and set the timer for 35 minutes.  Just remember, cooking jambalaya is like cooking rice...don't lift the lid! Don't mess with it!  Just trust me on this...I promise it will be delicious!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's a miracle! Raw apple cider vinegar...

Sciatica has been a pain in my ass, quite literally, for the past 15 years.  When I lived in California, I was visiting an osteopath who treated me, successfully, for a mere $200 a visit.  Unfortunately, there are no osteopaths in New Orleans...or even in Louisiana for that matter.  The closest one lies more than a day's travel away in San Antonio, TX.    After managing the pain through stretching and exercise over the past 7 years, it just got to be too much and just recently, I decided to start seeing a local, highly recommended chiropractor.

Although I have just begun my treatment, I am already starting to see small signs of improvement and I am beginning to have a little more faith in the abilities of my doctor. He knew I was also trying to lose weight and suggested that I start drinking vinegar. And not just any kind of vinegar.  He suggested I mix two teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar (he specifically recommended Bragg's) into an eight ounce glass of water twice a day.

I know plenty of unconventional uses for vinegar, like cleaning hardwood floors for example, but I had never heard of drinking raw, un-distilled, apple cider vinegar for weight loss.  I did a little research and discovered that weight loss was only one of it's many side effects.

For example, people have reported improvement in conditions like allergies, sinus infections, acne, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, flu, chronic fatigue, candida, acid reflux, sore throats, contact dermatitis, arthritis, and gout. It also improves digestion, strengthens your immune system and promotes clear skin and, if used as a rinse, can prevent dandruff, dry scalp and generally make your hair healthier. You can even use it to improve your pet's skin conditions and also to help deter fleas!

The benefits seemed virtually limitless! I went to Whole Foods on Magazine and purchased a bottle right away. I've been taking it in the morning and the evening for three days now and I am crossing my fingers in hopes that I will not only feel improvement in my back, but that it will also help me lose a little extra weight every week. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Random dining rants...

For the past year and a half, I've paid very close attention to each and every dining experience so that I might provide a more accurate description to share with whoever might be reading my blog. In the process, I've noticed certain similarities that pop up again and again, forcing me to squinch up my face in disbelief and say "Really?"

For example, since I selected Thursday as my cheat night, John and I can't help noticing that nobody goes out to eat on Thursday nights in this town. Nine times out of ten, we practically have the restaurant to ourselves. This is good to know for all you romantics out there...want some privacy so you can smooch, flirt etc. with your significant other in a semi-public setting? Try Thursdays...

Another quirk is a server's uncanny knack of asking "How is everything?" when your mouth is full of food. I am 98% sure they do that on purpose. What else can you do but nod your head like a moron while you finish chewing your bite? I wonder how a server would react if I opened my mouth next time and answered?

Also, why is it that unless you are dining in a Japanese restaurant, it is practically impossible to have your tuna cooked rare in this town? I won't order it anymore, but John seems to be determined. Even more amazing is that the server asks him how he wants it cooked and it still comes out overdone.  Personally, I think if tuna isn't practically raw in the center, then all the flavor of the fish is lost...similar to a good cut of steak.  I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if you order steak well done, you might as well eat your wallet.  It will taste the same and waste the same amount of money.

This next annoyance is all me...I'll admit it, but that doesn't mean I can't still whine about it. Why is it that almost every time I dine at a fantastic restaurant...I leave my doggie bag on the table?  It's like I'm unconsciously punishing myself for indulging.

Here's a good one...although this hasn't happened to me but once or twice...I've heard stories from several other diners complaining about the "assumed" tip.  Example:  You receive your bill for $30.89 and drop $40 in cash into the black leather envelope.  Your server saunters over, picks up the bill, glances inside and asks "Do you want change?"  Talk about subtle..."Yes I want my damned change!  It's up to me how much your tip will be and it just got a whole lot smaller."

Is that too harsh?

Finally, since these dining adventures I relate are all "cheats", meaning that I eat fairly boring food for the rest of the week, it is an extra-special disappointment when the food I wait all week  Sometimes you pay the price for trying something new.  It's easy to see how people find an eatery they love and stick with it.  They never go anywhere else because they can't be sure they'll get a great meal.  Would you find it boring if I wrote about eating at my favorite restaurant over and over and over again?  I could go through the entire menu several times if that helps?  You would get bored?  You sure?  Can't blame a girl for trying...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

We all love you...

I love this house. Anyone who's been to Tipitina's or the Rouses on Tchoupitoulas Street would know it.  Bright green, often projecting music and heavily decorated regardless of the season, I can't help pondering who owns this double every time I pass it by.

"GOD LOVE YOU", "JESUS LOVE YOU" and "I LOVE YOU" cry out to everyone from carefully arranged, capital vinyl letters.  It makes me wonder if they're all in there together...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Just a few blocks to bliss at Boucherie

Not to start any inter-city rivalry, but I think I live in one of the best neighborhoods in New Orleans, especially when it comes to food.  It's only four blocks to Spoon Bread at Dante's Kitchen, three to a pork tenderloin & Gouda cheese Canoe at Barcelona Tapas Cafe or the best burgers in town at GB's Grill and only two blocks to a Rainbow Roll at Ninja.  While doing laundry on Maple Street (only six blocks away), I can devour some fried Kibby at Babylon Cafe or indulge in a strawberry turnover at Maple Street Patisserie. The close proximity of so much incredible food is dizzying and I have only skimmed the surface.

Just the other day I visited yet another exceptional restaurant in my 'hood that I've been anxious to visit for some time.  Ever since tasting fried boudin balls from the bright purple Que Crawl truck parked out in front of Tipitina's almost a year ago, I've been dreaming about visiting Boucherie.  This is my 43rd cheat and I am down 61 pounds.

You'll find Boucherie on Jeanette Street (only five blocks away) in the old Iris location.  John and I arrived on the steps of the quaint, unassuming house featuring a black stencil of a pig at about 15 minutes to noon.  There were only two other tables taken when we arrived, but the small restaurant quickly filled while we dined.

Since we couldn't decide between two drool-inducing appetizers, we got both; Watermelon & Creole Tomato Gazpacho with Kafir Lime Tuna Ceviche plus the Blackened Shrimp & Grit Cake with warm house made bacon vinaigrette.  The chilled gazpacho was deliciously refreshing, especially with the tangy ceviche center.  I loved the presentation featuring small drops of balsamic vinegar making the whole dish look like a slice of fresh watermelon.

As wonderful as the gazpacho was, I couldn't help but be deterred by the rich, heavy aroma of the Blackened Shrimp that was served at the same time.  The shrimp and grit cakes were fantastic, spicy and crisp...John and I made sure we split the third shrimp evenly in half as neither one of us wanted less than our fair share.  Conspiracy theory or no, I believe restaurants purposely serve their juiciest tidbits in threes, certain that the uneven number might entice a call for another order.  I was almost bamboozled by their shifty devices, but then I saw my entree.

Roast beef po'boys, when executed well, are a beautiful thing.  The beef should be tender and juicy, drowning in a rich brown gravy, that soaks into the soft, white belly of the French bread. There should be lots of finger-licking and napkin-using and small, leftover puddles of gravy on your plate. My 12 Hour Roast Beef Po'boy did all that and more.  The pickled red onions and spicy horseradish cream contrasted perfectly with the rich, heady beef that practically melted in my mouth.  I think I've found my new favorite...

John's entree was equally wonderful, a Smoked Wagyu Beef Brisket.  Apparently, Wagyu beef from Australia is supposed to be among the most tender and tasty in the world and after a bite of John's brisket, I can easily see why.  The meat was tender and juicy, falling apart at the touch of a fork and slathered in a sweet house made BBQ sauce.  I managed to snag some tasty garlicky Parmesan fries from his plate too.

After such a decadent meal, we really should have been finished, but not without dessert! I wasn't leaving until I tried the house made Fudge Farms Bacon Brownie.  Could you?

The brownie arrived shortly after we ordered it, warmed through with a couple large dollops of freshly whipped cream speckled with vanilla bean. The rich chocolate flavor burst into my mouth in my first chewy bite with a distinct aftertaste of smoky bacon.  Although I enjoyed the whipped cream, I would have loved a scoop of their homemade ice cream on top instead.

When at last we received our check, I was completely stunned! After all that food, our tab only came to $54 before tip. On their website, Boucherie describes their passion/mission of bringing "fine dining to the people."  I'd say they succeeded wonderfully!

I know there are other neighborhoods in New Orleans that have awesome restaurants to choose from just like in the Riverbend, but I couldn't be happier knowing that Boucherie is in mine.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There IS a monkey at the Monkey Hill Bar!

As a Bay Area native, when I first heard the story of "Monkey Hill" in Audubon Zoo, I thought someone was yanking my chain.  During the Great Depression, an artificial hill was constructed inside the zoo to show the children of New Orleans what a hill looked like. Even today, locals still claim that Monkey Hill is the highest point of land in the city. Seeing how I grew up in a neighborhood that had hills steep enough to make any kid on a bike Evel Knievel, this story totally blew me away.

What does this have to do with Monkey Hill Bar you ask?  Well, nothing really.  Unless you count the fact that posh bars in Uptown New Orleans are about as rare as say...a hill.

I've been curious about this bar for some time, partially due of all the questionable reviews I've read online painting the clientele as "guys with gel-compacted hair, who wear their sunglasses at night or chicks wearing dresses the size of shirts with fresh, bright orange tans" among other colorful descriptions.  I kept thinking to bad can it actually be?

Since I am a Birkenstock-wearing, no make-up or hair products kind of gal, I have to admit I was feeling a bit wary when John and I walked into the darkened bar on the corner of Magazine and Webster Streets.  Perhaps it was due to the lack of patrons so early in the day or because my bartender Ashley was sweet, attentive and accommodating, but I had no problems feeling quite comfortable in no time at all.

First of all, any bar sporting well-cushioned couches, squashy armchairs and stool seats larger than my ass already get an A+ in my book.  Also, the whole "upscale" feel of the bar was dumbed-down a bit by a pool table, shuffleboard and several poker machines in the corner.  But let's talk about why I was really there...

Apparently, Monkey Hill Bar is known for their specialty martinis and when I asked Ashley which one was her favorite, she excitedly told me about the Double Espresso. Between her enthusiasm and my love of coffee, it was an easy choice to make.  John opted for the Strawberry Vanilla.  With a practiced hand, Ashley whipped up both drinks quicker than you can say "martini".

The Double Espresso features Van Gogh Espresso vodka, Starbucks espresso liqueur and dark Creme de Cacao garnished with crunchy espresso beans and Hershey's chocolate syrup.  It was like breakfast, dessert and happy hour all in one martini glass ringing in at $9.50.  Plus, Ashley's heavy-handed pour and the happy hour, one dollar-discount made the whole venture more financially palatable.

John's Strawberry Vanilla was equally delicious showcasing Stoli Vanilla vodka, white Godiva liqueur and strawberry liqueur garnished with fresh strawberries and strawberry syrup.  We thoroughly enjoyed both martinis and I felt like a lightweight finding myself heavily buzzed after one drink!  Talk about a cheap date...

Because of our shared love of coffee, Ashley introduced me to Patron XO Cafe.  The smooth flavor of Patron mixed with a coffee concentrate?  I was skeptical, but I knew if I liked it, the mix would equal Kim wandering the streets of New Orleans with no shoes, an identity crisis and a new tattoo.  Ashley devilishly offered us two shots on the house and that was all she wrote...I fell in love.  I knew that I had to get out of there fast or suffer the consequences.

In case you were wondering, we didn't see any of the afore-mentioned yuppies during our stay, but we did spot a monkey!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Parakeets gone wild!

I had just left my house and was driving around the corner, when I was forced to stop the car.  One of my neighbors has a collection of birdhouses and bird feeders in their front yard and they must have recently put out some more food because there was a great commotion going on!

I had heard there were trees full of parrots and parakeets in the Marigny, but I had never seen any up here in the Riverbend until now.  Three wild parakeets managed to fend off a group of at least 100 smaller birds time and time again as I stood there snapping pictures.  I guess no one messes with a budgie!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Support your local bookseller! Visit Blue Cypress Books

On my way back home, I had a two-hour layover in LAX and I didn't know what to do with myself.  Stretching, eating, roaming around and chatting on the phone only managed to burn about 45 minutes and I began feeling anxious. Wandering into one of the many bookstores, I found a title by Christopher Moore I'd been wanting to read and decided to buy it.  When the register flashed $17.69 at me in bright green numerals, I was shocked!  Don't get me wrong, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal is worth every penny, but I have been shopping at used book stores and library sales for too long not to be taken aback at the price.

I reluctantly parted with almost $18, an amount that could've scored me possibly three or four books if I was at home, and I couldn't help thinking about how lucky I am to live in a city that still values the entrepreneur.  Although we still have access to mega-bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, New Orleans can still sustain the small bookstore owners like Octavia, Maple Street and my new neighborhood haunt, Blue Cypress Books.

I had purchased my first Christopher Moore novel, Practical Demonkeeping, at Blue Cypress Books for a pittance...$6 for a trade paperback in good condition. I recently went back to fill out my library a little more, spending no more than that same $18 for two books, one a signed hardcover!  The store had expanded some since my last visit, the back room became a sci-fi/fantasy area and the inventory just keeps growing.

Very often, especially on the weekends, you'll find shelves and boxes of books being sold for as little as a fifty cents each...definitely my kind of sale.  Also, the owner Elizabeth is more than willing to track down rare and out-of-print books for the avid myself.  I recently asked her to dig up a hardcover copy of Hip Cat, a children's book by Jonathan London since my attempts have been completely unsuccessful. My fingers are still crossed in hopes of her prevailing where I failed so miserably.

Another really awesome thing about Blue Cypress Books is the individual attention you get from the owner who is obviously enamored with her profession.  How smitten with the written word would one have to be in order to risk financial catastrophe by opening up an independent bookstore? Especially considering the warehouse store competition they'd face?  Definitely a romantic vision worth supporting...

My soapbox statement for the day: Support your neighborhood bookstore and if you don't have one in your 'hood, you're welcome to visit mine and stop into Blue Cypress Books at 8126 Oak Street.  Not only will you be promoting small business, you'll be preserving our unique sense of of many qualities that makes New Orleans among the most fascinating cities in the world.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Visiting Katie's Restaurant & Bar

Ever since I read about the recently re-opened Katie's in Mid-City, I became anxious to give it a try.  After all, Katie's has been around since 1984 and though it's not as old as Mandina's or College Inn,  staying in business for over twenty years is nothing to sneeze at.  On Thursday, John and I chose to have lunch at Katie's Restaurant & Bar.  This is my 42nd cheat and I am down 59 pounds.  Slowly but surely...

The lunchtime rush was just starting to fade when we wandered towards the cute, neighborhood cafe on the corner of Iberville and S. Telemachus Streets.  We stopped to read from the specials chalkboard and saw an older woman just inside the door waiting to greet us.  From what I read on their site, I assumed our gracious hostess was Mary a.k.a. the "Hostess with the Mostess" and the mother of owner Scott Craig.  She gave us menus, but I think by that time, we had already mentally selected an item from the specials board.

Our server came and took our order, swiftly returning with our drinks while we eyed the food at neighboring tables.  We were really hungry so the wait seemed longer than it really was, but our forks were clutched in our greedy hands by the time the appetizer finally arrived.  We didn't even bother with the little plates the server brought us and dove right into Katie's Homemade Crab Cakes.  The menu elaborated a bit when it touted that they were "over-stuffed with Louisiana crab meat", but they weren't the usual disappointment, i.e. crab flavored bread crumbs.  I am pleased to say they offered more crab than I expected and to make it even better, the remoulade was tart, a tad spicy and generally delicious.  In fact, I wouldn't have minded a bit more sauce.

When my Crawfish Beignet with jalapeno aioli arrived, I almost thought I had received the wrong order.  It kind of looked like a large omelet surrounded by lettuce and cherry tomatoes.  I cut into the "beignet" to find large crawfish tails, tons of cheddar and jack cheese and thick slices of pickled jalapeno.  It was almost like a quesadilla served inside puff pastry with a spicy aioli sauce poured over the top.  I ate it (who doesn't love cheese and jalapenos?) but it was strange nonetheless.

John's order, also from the specials menu, was Tuna on "Ciabiatia" a.k.a Ciabatta with Bleu cheese crumbles and mixed greens.  They served the sandwich in a large basket with thin, crispy French fries which I thought was a cute presentation technique.  Unfortunately, although John ordered his tuna rare it arrived done and was rather dry.  The manager offered John something else, but his dining mood was ruined (this had happened to him several times in the past) and he declined.  With no more ado, she removed the cost of his sandwich from the bill.

We considered dessert, but all they were only offering White Chocolate Bread Pudding.  As delicious as it may have been, John and I have been a bit burned out on bread pudding.  I understand it's a classic New Orleans dessert, but so are pralines and banana's foster...

Anyhow, on my suggestion and with a big hearty sigh from John, we drove across town to visit Bee Sweet Cupcakes on Magazine Street (is it "Bee" or "Be"? Sign and site disagree with each other), a couple of doors down from Whole Foods.  As soon as you walk in, tiers of fabulously decorated cupcakes greet your eyes and it is difficult to choose only we got four.

We walked out of the quaint cupcake shop drooling over four fabulous flavors; Gimme S'More, Pralines & Cream, Strawberry Tart and a Chocolate Manic Attack.  All four were really wonderful (and incredibly sweet), but my favorite was the Strawberry Tart...both the icing and the moist cake tasted like they were laden with fresh strawberries...absolutely scrumptious and a wonderful finish for my cheat.

I've learned quite a few important lessons on this cheat like the importance of proper spelling, that the shape of a beignet is in the eye of its creator and if I want tuna cooked rare, I have to visit a Japanese restaurant.  Most significantly, I've learned that even though they don't always turn out perfectly, each new eatery I visit presents an element of risk and I will never know what culinary surprises await me.  All I have to do is summon the bravery to take the next leap...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trapped in Lafayette Cemetery #1

Several years ago, John's mom Glenda drove down from Ponchatoula to visit with us for the day. Although she had lived almost her whole life only an hour's drive away, she never really had the opportunity to explore New Orleans and John and I thought we might take her somewhere we thought was really cool, Lafayette Cemetery #1 in the heart of the Garden District.

By the time we reached the cemetery, it was almost 3:00 p.m. and the cemetery closes on Saturdays at 2:30.   We parked on Prytania Street and walked around to the entrance to see if it was still open.  There were several large groups of people wandering around the tombs and we assumed they were tour groups. We thought we'd have plenty of time to wander around and snap some good pictures before the groups were finished.

We plunged into the old graveyard, taking pictures of incredibly old mausoleums enjoying what was left of a beautiful day surrounded by history and wrapped in blissful quiet. I marveled how amazing it was that New Orleanians lived so close to theses cities of the dead.  Also, it was hard to believe that what seemed like a very large cemetery was enclosed in only one city block.  We couldn't even hear the traffic from Prytania and Washington while inside and after a bit, the quiet became almost eerie even though the sun was still well above the horizon.

It became so tranquil that I started to get nervous.  I asked John and Glenda if they could hear voices and we all stopped to listen, hearing nothing but the twittering of birds and the sounds of stray breezes rustling the fallen leaves strewn across the pathways of the cemetery.  In a mild panic, I rushed back out towards the main gate to see if it was still open.

It wasn't.

I was locked in the Lafayette Cemetery with my boyfriend and his mother and the sun was getting ever closer to the horizon making the shadows grow long. Dark corners got a whole lot darker and small cracks in the tombs appeared much more ominous.  Our jokes about demons and ghosts emerging from those cracks quickly became fears as the daylight faded.  

John, being 6'3", was able to climb over the tall, wrought iron fence with no difficulty and he wandered around the neighborhood to see if there was anyone who could help me get out.  Glenda could have easily climbed the fence too, but being the sweetheart she is, she decided to stay inside with me, refusing to leave me trapped inside by myself.  I can't tell you the number of folks who walked by just to laugh at our predicament...I felt like some kind of sideshow.

There was a telephone number near the main gate for the grounds keeper and I called with my fingers crossed, hoping he might pick up.  Instead, I got connected to a security service who informed me that unless I could get out of there on my own, I was stuck until the grounds keeper returned on Monday morning because he was the only one with a key to the gate. Let me tell you right now, there is no way in hell I was spending the night inside a cemetery.  

I tried climbing over the fence, but was not strong enough nor tall enough to hoist myself over (or even between) the wrought iron points at the top.  Then, with the aid of nearby tombs, I managed to climb the ten foot wall surrounding the cemetery, thinking that John could help me down the other side. But once I was perched on top of the wall, I froze!  I got so frightened when I looked down at the drop to the sidewalk on the other side, I almost peed my pants.  Slowly but surely, John's mom coaxed me back down from the wall with my knees and palms scraped up from the rough stone, but I was still trapped inside.

The sun had dipped below the horizon at last and I was on the verge of tears contemplating what it would be like spending the night inside a cemetery.  I could just envision it, I'd be huddled close to the fence, jumping at every stray dawn my eyes would be bloodshot saucers, my skin would be permanently blanched and every muscle in my body would be stiff and tense.  Neighbors would report a fat zombie staring out from the gate and I'd likely be shot in the head just to be sure I wouldn't run amok, feasting on the brains of diners breakfasting at Commander's Palace.

Tears were building behind my eyes while I planned my speech for John and his mother Glenda.  I was going to tell them to leave me there, to save themselves from my nightmare when a concerned neighbor happened to pass by.

"This happens all the time," he said while passing a tall ladder between the bars of the gate. In the end, I was able to climb up the ladder on one side and climb back down on the other side of the fence using the rear of a Garden District Security van.  Everyone was relieved and laughing by the time we were all on the outside, but inside I was still shivering from our near escape.   

I have told many people this story and they all think it's just hilarious, a typical "Kim maneuver."  As a matter of fact, an old co-worker and friend still teases me about it to this day.  I have to admit, when I look back, I can't help giggling at the situations I manage to get myself into either, but there is a valuable moral here:

Never enter a New Orleans cemetery after closing time...unless you know you can climb back out!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer rain...

As we all know, not only is it hot in the sticky summer months, it is also invariably rainy.  I really love the sudden downpours (as long as I'm not driving), the utterly drenching warm showers that are so common in our sub-tropical climate.  When the skies darken and the lightning illuminates the heavens like a flashbulb, I tend to turn inward and become extremely pensive and contemplative about my little world, my little life.

I recall summers as a child where days were spent in seemingly endless play and nights found me curled up in bed reading one of my favorite books.  As a child, my dream was to write books like the ones I loved so dearly.  Not only was it my dream to write, but to write well enough to touch someones I had been touched.

That dream held strong all the way into college where I gained a degree in English with a focus on creative writing.  I felt my words finally began to blossom when I was in my last year of school, they were coming together easier and manifesting into a style all my own.  When I entered the work world all stopped.  I didn't start writing again until about two years ago.  I wasted more than 12 years.

I am writing now though, dammit!  Even if it is this little, insignificant blog into which I pour my most diligent efforts into almost daily.  At least I've finally taken a step back towards reaching my childhood dreams and I am doing it in a city I have always loved...a city where I finally belong.  That's got to be something right?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Averting a breakdown at the Crescent Pie & Sausage Company

On Thursday, I decided that my self-inflicted punishment of no cheating was at an end.  I knew if I didn't indulge this week, the proverbial dam would break. John would wake in the morning to find me sitting on the living room floor, covered in a sticky layer of Crunchy Cheetos cheese dust, surrounded by Hubig's Apple Pie wrappers and bottles of strawberry soda. Suffering from a severe food coma, I wouldn't even be aware that my shih-tzu, Pippin, was foraging for large crumbs of Pepperidge Farm Brussels in my hair while I drooled on myself incoherently. Like I'm saying, it would get ugly.

So in an effort to avoid a complete loss of self-control, John kindly agreed to treat me to dinner at Crescent Pie & Sausage located at 4400 Banks Street.  This is my 41st cheat, that is if you count my time in California as only one big cheat (a cheat vacation?) and miraculously, I am only two pounds heavier than my 39th cheat at Cafe Rani, putting me at a grand total loss of 58 pounds.

Even if Crescent Pie & Sausage wasn't located near two distinctive landmarks -- the Banks Street Bar and Banks Street Service Station (how cool is that building?) -- the Crescent Pie would easily stand out on its own.  The long red building sports a huge, heavy wooden patio that gives it that lodge/smokehouse feel. I assumed they had seating outside, but I wanted to sit inside so I could get a glimpse of the chefs working in their cool, open kitchen.

We were only the second party in the restaurant when we arrived, but during the course of our meal, people filled in the small space rather quickly and there easily could have been more customers outside.  Our server kindly took our order and immediately brought our drinks, John got a NOLA Blonde and I chose Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan. Both were delicious and a perfect start to our sausage feast.

When we had placed our order, the server mentioned a special Watermelon Gazpacho and I convinced John that I just had to try a cup.  It was so cool and refreshing, chunky watermelon with tomato, garlic, onion, cucumber...all the fresh ingredients for a great a thick vein of sour cream running up the middle of the bowl so you tasted it in every bite. We both thought it was excellent and finished it to the last spoonful.

Our appetizer came out at the same time as our entrees, but a Duck Confit Meat Pie doesn't come across my table everyday and I couldn't help breaking it apart almost immediately.  The duck was moist and the crust was dense and crispy, it makes my mouth water writing about it.  A sweet tomato chutney served alongside the pie was so tasty that John and I ate the rest after the pie was gone.  I guess we were supposed to put the chutney on the pie? Ha!  Either way, it was delicious.

At last, we were able to focus our attention on our entrees, the likes of which were no easy feat to ignore.  I went "whole hog" (can't I at least say that once?) with a Mixed Grill offering three house made Lil' Smokey's smothered in house made BBQ sauce, a large house made link of boudin and a thickly sliced link of house made andouille sausage.  Did I mention it was house made?

All kidding aside, they were fantastic and it was heartily evident that Breaux Bridge born Bart Bell (say that three times fast) was the culprit behind the luscious links. I especially enjoyed the boudin, but all of them were so good, I had no difficulty devouring everything on the plate...well, what I managed to eat before John started in on it.  Don't think I didn't wrestle a hunk of his Sausage Burger (*cough house made) and a few of his dill potato chips...that were...well...made in house.

There was no way I was leaving the lodge without having dessert and I took it as a sign when our server literally gushed about (...say it with me) house made Donut Bread Pudding with white and dark chocolate sauce.  Strangely enough, when the dessert arrived it almost looked like a bubbling slice of cheesy lasagna, but it most definitely didn't taste that way.  It was awesome!  Gobs of dark and white chocolate, doughnuts, cinnamon, butter...I had died and gone to fat-girl heaven. Although I still ended up in a semi-food coma, I was coherent enough and able to keep my dignity intact

When I came home later that night, I saw Crescent Pie & Sausage on Facebook offering "Free Sausage Thursday" where they give you a free link of sausage for every $25 you spend.  You guys owe me two links!  Don't worry gentleman...I will most definitely be back.  By the way, I've been looking for another breakfast spot and Huevos, which is right next door to Crescent Pie & Sausage, has been in my sights for some time now.  Can I trade the sausages for a Blue Jay Special?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Half Moon therapy

Like the Circle Bar, the Half Moon Bar & Restaurant on the corner of St. Mary Street is a local watering hole that I used to frequent quite often.  It was at the Half Moon that I heard about a shooting that happened on St. Charles Avenue during Mardi Gras '03...a mere block from where I was standing while screaming for beads and downing beers from a backpack. At the Half Moon, my friend and I played pool with a man named "Sweat" (our first mistake) who relayed to us his recent release from Angola before he and his perky girlfriend stole my purse. Finally, it was at the Half Moon where I sat out in their (previously) dingy courtyard, drinking pitchers of Guinness with my friends around an old rusty table, accompanied only by the cockroaches and the rain till the break of dawn.

I loved that place...

For the first time in several years, I visited the Half Moon this Tuesday night with Ryan Tramonte, his BFF Dore and of course, John.  I had arrived on the scene early and asked Tammy, the bartender on duty, if they had a special cocktail.  She suggested a bar shot called the "Kitten Whisper" with watermelon vodka, sour mix, a splash of cranberry juice and a spritz of 7UP.  As she mixed the drink, I couldn't help but notice the changes.

Several large tables now stood where two pool tables used to be and a large chunk of the back wall was missing revealing a) one of the missing pool tables, b) an air hockey table and c) a kitchen!  Yep, the Half Moon Bar & Restaurant had become a restaurant again!  When I used to hang there we'd order from Cafe Roma across the street.  I'm so glad they took advantage of their kitchen once again.

Everyone arrived just as the last shot was being poured and we started the happy hour bottoms up.  The "Kitten Whispers" were cool and refreshing...not too sweet and played nicely into a round of beers.  On a goofy suggestion from me, Ryan decided to try a "Pineaboo", Malibu Rum and pineapple juice, but also ordered a backup beer, and two-fisted his way over to a table.

While discussing the changes in the bar, Dore mentioned the renovation of their patio and I was up and running before she finished her sentence.  Pushing through some strips of heavy plastic, I made my way outside to a Half Moon wonderland!  A gorgeous tiled floor with brightly painted murals on the walls and fences enveloped the new dining patio filled with tables and benches a go-go!  The rain was all that prevented me from dragging everyone else outside.

While I was away, Dore and John decided to order some food from the kitchen.  Dore ordered a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich wrap and John got a cheeseburger.  I nibbled on some of their steak fries and took a few bites of Dore's sandwich which was tasty, as well as excellent sustenance for a long night of drinking in New Orleans.

Enjoying the relaxed atmosphere in the dark, spacious bar, we chatted easily while finishing our drinks.  Someone played The Cure on the jukebox, one I recall funnelling a lot of money into, and it made me feel so very comfortable. It was with much reluctance and shuffling of feet that we finally decided to go our separate ways home.

Although we didn't meet any ex-convicts or hear any shocking news, we still enjoyed a great happy hour at the Half Moon, a comfortable neighborhood bar that I will always recommend and frequent as often as I am able.  After all, I don't expect my adventures in New Orleans will ever end...and that's just how I like it.

So good you could go nuts...

One of the biggest surprises I encountered while working downtown was the inability to find a great doughnut shop.  Isn't there a corporate law somewhere stating that doughnuts are mandatory for good employee morale and longevity?  Admittedly, I was certainly not one to turn down a slice of doberge cake leftover from some one's birthday celebration or some delicate petit fours, a lagniappe offered from time to time at the sandwich shop on Julia around the corner, but it just isn't the same as a great doughnut.  There isn't even a Krispy Kreme in Orleans Parish although you'll find one right across the street from a Tastee in Metairie on Clearview!  Not that I like Krispy Kreme either (gasp!), but at least it would be something.

"What do you mean there are no doughnuts in New Orleans?" scoffs the man covered in powdered sugar.  Don't get me wrong, I love beignets...but let's be honest, they are made to be eaten pipping hot, fresh from the fryer to your belly with a short space in between for a confectioners mountainous blessing.

But we all know (admit it!), beignets don't travel well at all.  By the time you get a bag of beignets back to the office, the sugar is a gooey, sticky mess caked onto damp, deflated pillows moist from confinement in a paper bag.  As Alton Brown would say...that's not good eats.  Plus, how many office meetings have you attended where everyone is decorated in powdered sugar?

This obvious lack could be some savvy baker's pot of gold! Open up a drive-thru doughnut shop downtown and just watch the profits pour in.  With a nice little burst of local advertising and a quality product, a great doughnut shop could make a killing!  I can even think of the perfect spot, that empty gas station on Lee Circle?