Thursday, June 30, 2011

I can't believe it's finally over...

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't had the opportunity to post as frequently this month for one, overwhelming reason...I had jury duty. Now, for my readers who do not live in Orleans Parish, criminal court jury duty demands that you appear two days out of the week, either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, every week for an entire month. That's right, you read me correctly. For the entire month of June, I had to appear at the courthouse on Tulane and Broad at 9 AM (8:30 AM if you want a good parking spot in the Jurors Lot on White Street) every Tuesday and Thursday.

After checking through security, you head into the basement where you sit in a highly air conditioned room with approximately 200 - 300 other people waiting patiently to be picked to serve. A digital display will show a number between 1 and 12 every morning...usually 12. It means that there are 12 courts who may need to select a jury and you, the patient citizen, will wait, sipping coffee until that number reads 0 (zero).

Now you may be thinking, "Well, that doesn't sound so terrible. Once you get selected and serve on a jury, your duty is over...right?" Wrong! After serving, you must return to the "Jury Pool Lounge" and wait till they either call you to sit again on a different case or finally let you go home...for the day. Oh yes, you must return and finish out the rest of the month.

Yes, jury duty in Orleans Parish can be tedious, dull and tiresome. But, I have to admit, I had some interesting events occur as well. First of all, there is an older gentleman who comes in every morning serving treats like mini-pecan pies, fresh pralines and other goodies for a couple of bucks each. Interestingly enough, I discovered in a short conversation with him, that he used to mix drinks at Commander's Palace back in the 60's during his youth...even though at that time, it still wasn't an accepted practice to allow African Americans to make cocktails.

Second, I got to spend a lot of time chatting with Tim McNally, a friend whom I'd worked with before at my previous employment. Tim is a wine enthusiast who (among other things) writes a column for New Orleans Magazine called "Last Call." The hours literally sped by while Tim and I talked about everything from the cost of broken air conditioning systems to the latest episode of Treme. Naturally, we also talked a lot about food...

Since I'd never served before, I was also extremely interested in the whole jury selection process which turned out to be quite an eye-opener. Though I probably should have expected it, I never realized how personal a process it actually was and at times, I felt I was airing my dirty laundry (so to speak) to the entire courtroom. But I see now that it was necessary. After all, there is no way I'd be fit to serve on a case that was, for example, concerning assault with a deadly weapon, if I had been recently the victim of just such a crime.

Regardless of the benefits, educational and otherwise, I am relieved that my duty is finally over. At the end of our service today, we all received the pictured "Certificate of Appreciation" which says:

"On behalf of the citizens of Orleans Parish in recognition of your very substantial, and important contribution to the administration of justice by serving as a juror during the term of June 2011."

I'm holding on to this little beauty, not only for posterity, but just in case I get called again before my two-year interval is up!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Two for lunch at One Restaurant & Lounge

John and I were walking to Walgreens one day when we passed a house with an overgrown, rampant garden, a literal riot of color, that was so engaging we had to stop and gawk a while. Now, I'd walked past this particular house hundreds of times, but never really noticed the garden until it was pointed out to me. The same thing occurred just last week with One Restaurant & Lounge.

I've eaten sushi at Hana, enjoyed breakfast at Refuel and slurped frozen yogurt from Pure Yogurt Culture on dozens of occasions, but I never really noticed One. Maybe because it's in an unassuming, shotgun house or maybe (most likely) it's because their sign reminds me of a real estate board...the last thing I'm looking for when hungry. Anyhow, the restaurant was mentioned to me in conversation and when I looked it up, I had to smack myself in the head! It was right there, only a few blocks away from home, on Hampson Street all along. So, for my 91st cheat (I am still only down 81 pounds), my friend Lorin and I enjoyed lunch at One Restaurant & Lounge.

I walked over in the overwhelming heat and by the time I arrived I could only think of one thing, a nice cold drink. The dining room was cool and a bit dark from the tinted front windows when I stepped inside, a blessing since I was dripping sweat and red in the face. I chose a table where I could watch the front door (seeing as I was early) and realized I was also near some bar seats where patrons can watch the chefs in action. I ordered a tasty, brisk Huckleberry Mojito and browsed the menu while waiting for Lorin to arrive.

She showed up on time and after a flurry of warm greetings, we sat down and decided what to order. I love dining with Lorin, not only because she knows everything there is to know about food, but because she loves to share and a simple meal turns into something quite more familial, more social and a whole lot of fun.

We started with a delightfully munchable Duck Liver & Mushroom Pâté served with pickled fennel and toasted pine nuts. We also each ordered a cup of soup; Lorin chose the "soup of the day" which turned out to be a tomato gazpacho with fresh, boiled shrimp and I got the sweet potato bisque with crawfish and caramelized pineapple. I enjoyed both soups, but I think I liked mine more, getting a kick out of the tart pineapple flavor against the savory sweet potato.

We were both feeling a bit full by the time our entrees arrived. Lorin had BBQ Louisiana shrimp & grits and I chose the open faced brisket sandwich. The grits were nice and creamy and the shrimp was delicious, but the sauce tasted sweeter than I expected, though not to the detriment of the dish. My brisket was rich and fatty resting on thick slices of focaccia bread and topped with a huge pile of shoestring potatoes. It was easy to save more than half of my dish for John who gobbled it up as soon as I got home.

We had ordered ahead for a blueberry cobbler for dessert (which takes 15-20 minutes to prepare), but sadly, we were told later that it wasn't available. Of course, I had no difficulty selecting a flourless chocolate cake as a substitute and Lorin agreed wholeheartedly. The cake came out looking a lot like a souffle, almost tumbling over on itself like an unsteady, too-tall top hat. The cake was so warm, moist and delicious that there was no difficulty inhaling it in a flash. Plus, served alongside this wondrous cake was a large dollop of fresh whipped cream that was so thick and creamy, it was almost like a dessert in itself.

After such a pleasurable lunch, I doubt I will ever overlook One again. Maybe I could convince them to change their signage though, so others don't make the same mistake I did.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

House of the week: Craftsman double on Willow Street

So I was browsing around and I found yet another great house for sale in my 'hood. Only a couple of blocks away on Willow Street, there is a gorgeous double shotgun (Yep! I'd rent out the other side) originally built in 1911. It's got everything I love so dearly, the dark hardwood floors and high ceilings plus well-remodeled kitchens and lovely bathrooms. Since it's a Craftsman-style house, it has unique architectural detailing like built-in columned book shelves breaking up the parlor from the main family room and thick, chunky columns in front of the porch. There is some odd, half-constructed building in the backyard (another potential rental opportunity perhaps?), but the main house looks solid and well-maintained. The house is going for $239,990 which, again, is a bit of a reach for me, but with rental money coming in, I think I could swing it.

Now...who's going to gift me with the $12,000 down payment? Anyone?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taking it easy at Tracey's

Overcome with laziness due to a deluge of work and a twice-a-week jury duty grind, I wanted nothing more than to enjoy my cheat in a place where I could let my hair down (so to speak) and be comfortable in flip-flops and shorts. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to hit up Tracey's for some no-nonsense bar food. I hadn't been into Tracey's since their notorious move about a year ago and I was curious to see the new space for myself. This was my 90th cheat and I am down 81 pounds.

It was late in the lunch hour when John and I stepped into the cool interior of Tracey's from the sizzling hot pavement on the corner of Magazine and Third. We knew exactly what we wanted, swiftly placed our orders at the counter and went to find a table. The bar was fairly empty at the time and I saw a few employees enjoying their own lunches in booths nearby.

Our order came out fairly quickly. I chose an 8-inch fried shrimp po-boy on Leidenheimer bread (of course) fully dressed with an order of French fries. I know, I know... everyone usually goes to Tracey's for the roast beef, but what can I say? I wanted shrimp. They were deliciously fried golden brown, large, juicy shrimp and I enjoyed every bite. I might be getting a bit spoiled though, because the fries were obviously frozen and what with hand-cut French fries becoming a dime a dozen these days, it was hard to go back to the old standby.

Being really hungry, I also ordered a Graffagnini (a.k.a. WOP Salad), because I had a yen for the tang of olive salad, muffaletta-style and because the non-PC name of the dish made me laugh. The salad was tasty, but unfortunately it seemed to be missing one of the key ingredients to a WOP Salad - the sardines! I was sort of disappointed, but at least the vegetables were fresh and the olive salad sated my craving.

John seems to be on a B.L.T. kick this month, not that I'm knockin' it! At Tracey's, his B.L.T. was served on thickly sliced and toasted white bread with several pieces of bacon, crisp lettuce and bright tomatoes. Simply, straightforward and good, he gobbled it down before I was even halfway through my po-boy.

As we left the bar and were headed home, I jumped up, smacked myself in the head and exclaimed "We need dessert!" Luckily, there is a new ice cream shop on Oak Street I'd been wanting to try, so we just stopped by on the way home. Only open a couple of weeks, The Adventure is in what was formerly known as the only snowball stand on Oak, Queen of the Ball. Apparently, Brad Wilkins (owner of the Oak Street Cafe just down the street) jumped at the opportunity to open an ice cream shop with his daughter, who can be found behind the counter everyday hustling scoops.

I got a scoop of Chocolate and another scoop of Banana's Foster while John settled for one scoop of Blueberry Cheesecake. The Adventure uses Kleinpeter Dairy ice cream which they tout as "hormone-free," plus the shop emphasizes that their cups are made from corn, rendering them "compostable." While I totally dig the environmentalist, healthful attitude towards ice cream and the scoops were creamy, delicious and reasonably priced, I left the shop a little dismayed. After all, where was the adventure?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

House of the week: Shotgun double on Cambronne Street

Only five, short blocks away from my apartment is a gorgeous shotgun double for sale near the corner of Cambronne and Birch Streets. Built in 1916, it features hardwood floors, high ceilings and it appears as if a lot of the original architectural detail is intact. Both of the kitchens have been updated to my standards and I love the beautiful, stained-glass windows above the front doors. It also has a nice-sized back yard, though it needs some serious plant (perhaps even a garden?) love because it looks to be all gravel or cement.

The house is priced to sell at $249,000 which is really pushing it for me, but just think...I could stay in my beloved 'hood!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Al fresco afternoon at Martinique Bistro

Though most people might think I'm a bit batty, I always love enjoying the warmth and sunshine while dining during the summer months in New Orleans. Yes, I realize it's in the mid-90's (feels like 100) and yes, I will probably be perspiring on my plate, but I just can't help it. I'm a summer girl. I love the sun and the heat and if I can get out into it, I will. So naturally, when I requested to sit outside at Martinique Bistro last week for lunch, the server looked at me askance, but graciously complied with my wishes. It was my 89th cheat and I am still down 80 pounds.

There was a huge awning over the courtyard providing plenty of shade and we were seated next to the quaint, burbling fountain that also provided a sense of "cool." There were also two fans aimed towards our table, but I thought one was plenty since I didn't want to get blown away while I ate. We had the entire courtyard to ourselves and we sipped on huge glasses of ice water while deciding what to order.

Feeling a bit hungrier this time around, John and I each ordered our own appetizers instead of choosing one to share. My salad with pistachio-crusted goat cheese, fresh greens from Hollygrove Market and apricot-raspberry vinaigrette was quite tasty. The only complaint I had was that there was just a bit too much dressing, making the greens soggy and wilted in texture, but the flavor was delightful and the goat cheese rich and creamy in a decadent. crusty shell.

John chose the Prince Edward Island Mussels steamed in a rich curry sauce. The mussels were perfectly cooked, plump, large and briny in flavor that went oh-so-well with the delicious curry. After he'd emptied all the shells, John and I both dipped hunks of buttered ciabatta (from La Boulangerie just down the road) into the leftover broth until the entire bread bowl was gone.

It wasn't long after they whisked away our plates, that our entrees arrived. John had the Scottish Smoked Salmon Club with thick slices of bacon, fresh tomatoes, and peppery arugula on a buttery croissant lovingly spread with house-made remoulade. It was yet another delicious interpretation of a "BLT" and we both loved it, along with the crusty, herbed red potatoes that were served alongside.

I picked a plate of  pan fried pork medallions served atop a thick pile of buttery grits and haricot verts and topped with a rich, white gravy and crispy fried onions. The pork loin medallions were tender and flavorful and I absolutely loved the gravy that I mixed up with the grits and wolfed down with great gusto.

At last, it was time again for dessert. The server regaled us with a long list of ambrosial-sounding sweets, but I couldn't help choosing what the server described as "Irish Car Bomb" profiteroles. John looked at me after the server left and asked "What the hell is a profiterole?" We both found out when the server arrived with three dainty cream puffs filled with Guinness ice cream and drizzled with Jameson Irish Whiskey caramel and Baileys crème anglaise. Easily the best Irish Car Bomb I've ever experienced and all that without the nasty hangover.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

House of the week: Dream within a dream - Victorian on Jackson Avenue

Just for shits and giggles, this week I decided to double my price limit in my usual house search from $250,000 to $500,000. I figured if I had stayed in California, it would have been impossible to buy a home for less than 500K, so what would I get if I had that much to spend in New Orleans?

Well, right after I clicked the "search" button, the first home to pop up is this stunningly gorgeous Victorian house built in 1851. Tears came to my eyes as I lovingly scrolled from image to image showing a home with heart-wrenching architectural details, a huge gallery and front porch, wrought iron railing and floor-to-ceiling windows. This "mansion" has 3025 square feet of living space complete with laundry room, living room and dining room featuring 14 ft. ceilings, classic hardwood floors, claw foot tubs, fireplaces and even some beautiful, classic chandeliers. Take a look at this beauty and you just might cry too...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lovely lunch at Lilette

So when I told friends that I was going to cheat at Lilette last week, they all responded with a resounding "Finally!" or variations thereof. Apparently, John and I were the only people who have not yet visited the cozy, Magazine Street restaurant created by Chef John Harris. It was my 88th cheat and I lost one of the pounds I gained the week previous, putting me at a total loss of 80 pounds.

I made reservations earlier that day in the hopes of procuring a window seat, desiring only to capture perfectly-lit images of Lilette's cuisine for my readers. When we arrived though, they plopped us at a two-top in the center of the sparsely-decorated dining room and I assumed it was to save the booth near the window for a larger party. Unfortunately, I assumed wrong because the table remained empty while we dined until it was later taken by another couple. Perhaps if I wear a pin-striped suit next time?

We had an unusually long wait before ordering, so we talked about the decor of the dining room which featured dark red, almost chocolate colored walls, an off-white painted tin ceiling and classic black & white tiled floors. There is no art on the dark walls in Lilette, but there were several old mirrors hung by long wires and an interesting shelving system on the wall behind the bar.

At long last, we were able to order a couple of cocktails, which were fabulous. Sipping on a Cucumber Martini (John got the Amaro Iced Tea) kept me calm while we waited for another stretch before our server took our lunch order. It seems he was busy keeping an eye on a large group of women who were celebrating a birthday (as well as frequent, animated conversations with the bartender), but seeing as it was his only other table, I had a hard time cutting him some slack. Though, when the food arrived, our attention on the service was easily diverted.

The appetizer we chose, easily the star of the entire meal, was Alaskan King Crab Claws served with passion fruit butter. Let me tell you, not only did John and I pull every sliver of crab out of the shells, we also ordered extra, crusty rolls to sop up that fantastic sauce. The tart, brown butter flavor of the sauce was stunning with the sweet, juicy crab meat...a definite treat.

It was super-hot that day, as it has been everyday since, and I was in the mood for something lighter for lunch. So, uncharacteristically, I chose the Chicken Salad for my entree. It was cool yet rich with port-plumped figs, baby greens and a smattering of pine nuts and I used the grilled wheat bread on the side to scoop the delicious salad into my mouth.

John picked Lilette's version of a BLT made with crispy hunks of pork belly, fresh tomatoes that had been blanched and peeled and baby greens served on herbed aioli-slathered and toasted sourdough. He easily gobbled the sandwich (of which I managed one small bite) and the accompanying house made potato chips.

As you well know, I couldn't leave without dessert and I chose the Brownie Sundae. It came out of the kitchen in a huge bowl and was served with gargantuan spoons, but I could have easily just stuck my face in like a pig to the trough. The ooey-gooey, fudge-a-licious brownies were topped with two huge scoops of vanilla malt ice cream "floating" on a small pool of espresso and bourbon-butterscotch sauces and sprinkled with malted almonds. We were moaning with delight to the very last bite 'till the other diners in the restaurant were giving us dirty looks...though I think they were just jealous.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I just realized...

...I completely forgot to mention how much I'd lost/gained in my NOWFE post a few days ago! It took me a bit to recover from the food induced haze on Friday. It's also because things on the diet front have not been very good.

Well, I gained three pounds last week and NOWFE was my 87th cheat, setting me back to a loss of 79 pounds.

How depressing huh? My weight has been bouncing up and down by a pound or two, but basically it was staying in the same place for so damned long, that I got extremely frustrated. I started to cheat more often on little things like 2% milk in my coffee instead of nonfat, using sugar when we ran out of Equal, not drinking enough water, having buttered toast for a midnight snack and doing a whole lot of sitting on my ever-widening ass.

But, don't lose faith in me yet! Something clicked in my brain this past Saturday. I'm not sure what triggered it, perhaps my subconscious misery finally came forth into the light and slapped me in the face, but I started out fresh and new again...a health regime re-birth, if you will. Ever since that fateful moment, I have been exercising (with John) everyday using different pilates workouts and have been completely on the "straight and narrow" with my eating habits again and you know what? I am feeling a lot better, too. All I can do is keep trying, right?