Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Orleans: Calas Cakes, Fake Siblings, a Quiet Jazz Hall

One of the first places where we ate, following Central Grocery (and Felix's for oysters the night before -- check out a comparo with their across-the-street rivals, Acme here) was The Old Coffee Pot. We were ready for a good Southern breakfast. We crossed Bourbon Street, as it seemed we had to do, no matter where we were going, passed a closed Preservation Hall and were seated in the main room, below and to the side of one of the most singular chandeliers I had ever seen. Not that I noticed it myself.

"Look up~~" Compatriot murmured.
It's so small and subtle, no wonder I didn't see it.

14' ceiling mandatory. Luckily these abound in NoLa.
There's just SO much going on with it. I love it.
The waitress came over. "You identicals? You twins?"

We laughed and shook our heads, no, no.

"~~But you're sisters--"

"No, no we get that a lot, but no~"
The waitress shook her head vigorously and roped in nearby diners. "They look like SISTERS! Don't they look like sisters!" The next two tables peered over at us and they nodded their heads, "Oh yeah, yes they do!"  Mmmp, mmp, mmp! What did we think we were doing, coming across as so similar, with no blood ties? This ushered in regular false sister sightings (sometimes, girlfriend sightings), with us at the center; where strangers were utterly convinced of their rightness. Collectively speaking, New Orleans is confident we're related. We get this every once in a long while here, but it was definitely in overdrive there. Comp usually chalks it up to superficial similarities in our appearances and to people not really being observant, but I like to think it also reflects us being sympatico, and behaviors associated with that: the negotiating over menu options together, excitement over food, watching other people, etc.

Related or not, we both know how to eat well.

I suspect the french toast (lost bread) had turmeric to give that nice orange tint.

Mine was good, but I must say Comp's was better: Creole fried rice fritters called Calas cakes.  They are slightly sweet, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg; between a certain earthiness and nuttiness, they feel wholesome-- even though they're fried. This of course, could be me lying about the relative health of food I like, which I am prone to do. But oh, how I wish they would travel up here!

Poor, ignored grits. you were lovely, too. Creamy, salty and buttery.
We looked up every once in a while. And chatted with the traveling Brits at the next table over. Here's another shot of the place.
Calm in the middlin' morn, busy-busy during weekend brunch time. We spent our latest night on Saturday, listening to rousing jazz at the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street. After a 3 AM bedtime and a longish line of drinks over many hours, I must confess I was the worse for wear the following day. Grits sounded comforting. We returned to the Old Coffee Pot, only to find ourselves in the dining room purgatory of the outer hall. Some people had tables outside; the relative cold was chastened by one of the largest space heater things I have seen, hanging about ten feet above our heads. I mourned our unfed state, but was also haggard enough to be mostly content with standing and staring about. Compatriot found a zine from a nearby shelf -- if there's anything to read anywhere, she'll find it -- and riffled through rants slagging tourists (maybe it was written by community members of the service industry? I think). They turned the outdoor speakers onto funk and soul music at a blaring level; this seemed mean. The waitresses alternately ignored and acknowledged the unbrunched lot of us (we got a "Hi honey-- HEEEEEEeeeeeeeEY!" which gave us hope we would not be turned away unfed.)
Once released from purgatory, I felt the need to gleefully document from the other side. I hoped to get a really woeful expression, but I refrained from taking several shots.

And then, happily, there was coffee, and grits and a biscuit with butter and honey. A good biscuit, finished off this way, is one of my favorite favorite food things: I think my Dad originally turned me onto that.* We sighed and ate and C kindly ordered a breakfast plate that included Calas cakes, so we could revisit those as well. One of us smiled, or said hello to one of the waitresses we had crossed paths with. "They LOOK like twins, but they ain't twins," she muttered as she walked past.
Before we left for the afternoon, three waitresses gathered nearby and discussed it once again (one we hadn't met before); my favorite line from the exchange was the mysterious, "Even if they're NOT sisters, they're GONNA be sisters!"

*Little did I know, it was a three biscuit day! At GW Fins that night, a small, slightly sweet biscuit was placed on a wee plate to the side of both of our place settings. I ate one and suddenly a pair of tongs silently darted in from the dining room's gloom with another: Biscuit Fairy! This kind of servant is exceedingly rare. And shy. But appreciated.

In case you missed it, her pin reads, "Tipping is not a town in China."
The famed Preservation Hall. Just a little further down on Saint Peters Street
Fully intended to go, but did not make it inside.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I'm Afraid I Couldn't Say

It's always odd to me how things arrive in clusters. Even though the derisive part of my brain is condescending about it -- "NO, that's just the human need to find pattern everywhere--", the (pattern-loving) side of me remains confident: "Yes, but! This never happens and then it happens A LOT!" Which surely means something. I don't know what it means, but I am happy to harbor the vague notion of some kind of meaning. Whatever the import, this week has been a week of secrets.

A.) "I'm only telling you this because I know you will be professional about it." True, I will be. But gahhhhh. Hamstrung from the get-go! Statements beginning in this fashion rarely turn out to be appealing anyway. This particular tidbit fell in line -- it was unfortunate, so the temptation to share was minimal. Had it been juicier, I still would have kept mum, so.

B.) I have been invited to take part in a THING! It's totally bizarre, but I'm not allowed to share any specifics. This is going to be harder, but I will do it. The novelty will wear off and it will sink into the background. But! I was presented with a cellophaned gift basket of candies as a welcome. My initial contact person was very friendly and we had a fabulous time talking. She was horrified that my birth year was the year she graduated from college (or high school?). She recently overtook a young woman who was texting while speeding her SUV down the freeway; she honked repeatedly and flashed the loser finger sign at said texter. Hahaha! "Well, I hope she learned something, I don't usually behave that way!" In my crystal ball, I see the brazen text addict texting about it. Anyway, she was a blast-- warm, genuine, totally fun. Anybody care for a strip of candy buttons? I can not disclose their provenance.

C.) From my sister, "Now, maybe DON'T put this in your blog. Perhaps you could just write it down in one of those journals, and you know, keep it for use later." Old school, I get it. I would say that I *DO* possess some discretion and I really don't tend to over-share. Nor am I a narcissist. Naturally, boundaries differ from person to person, but I like to think that people who know me think I exercise good judgment.

This sisterly caution brought me back to my college days, when I lived on a co-ed dorm hall, with shared bathroom. A small number among us wanted it to be a clothing optional hall, but thankfully, this designation had to be unanimously approved. The rest of us quickly shot it down. One of the lamer arguments in favor of the designation was that it was SO RIDICULOUS to have to put ON a bathrobe in order to walk those ten steps to a shower stall where one would just have to TAKE OFF that very same bathrobe before turning on the water. Really, Girl X said, were people really that uptight ??? Yes. Yes, we were.  Nakedness is the most natural thing in the world and it's a sad reflection that even on a campus like this one, our society's repressiveness is so strong. The bathrobe shall be your cross to bear.

Girl X was the same one who gradually worked up to at least a dozen facial piercings, who then hotly complained about off-campus people staring at her; and who insisted I look at her breast* in the bathroom mirror after a less-than-satisfactory piercing. She glared at her reflection: "Look! Look! The angle is all off!!" I frowned in sympathy. Yes the piercing was wonky, no the nipple did not look happy. She later occupied the sought after middle seat of the lounge sofa to watch a hall favorite (Northern Exposure? Maybe? Wowwwwww, long time ago); it wasn't long before she was exclaiming to the next person over, "OW! You just elbowed my nipple! God!" I suspect that led to another shirt lifting, though I can't recall at this point. What's my point, anyway? Hmm. That I am NOT this person?...But I am happy to write about it... Oh, this post is a fine line. Think I'll return to posting about New Orleans...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Orleans, Take One

I have been avoiding you. It's not like I'd cross the street and take a sudden intense interest in bland modern architecture at the very moment you were to wave, but maybe, if I knew you were nicely seated in a room with the door open, I'd add an extra step in my stride as I passed in the hall; or inadvertently dip my head between my shoulders in a faulty attempt at invisibility. I'd hopefully think myself elsewhere...because, as you know, that's where I have been for most of the past week: elsewhere.

And I have the pictures to prove it! Which is the problem, really. So. Many. Pictures. Hundreds. Digital cameras are a blessing and a bane: I could not stop taking photos, wherever we went in New Orleans, even as I knew most would be mediocre and fail to convey whatever grandness I felt the need to capture. "Okay, you have to stop now, because people are looking over~~" Compatriot told me just after we were served our luscious and ridiculous looking entrees at the frustratingly dim G.W. Fins. At that point, I should say, it was not that I was taking SO many, but that I needed to try the flash a couple times. Ambience. Pfffffh.

Only a few of the many, many glowing policemen. Moribund battery.
Many cases were a total fail: parades (where I was foiled by low battery/shifting people backs/movement/my ineptitude), bars, where I just didn't even bother. The latter part was especially frustrating, because all these random interactions were happening that I also wasn't taking notes on, so there was no way to remember wonderful bizarre turns of phrase...How on earth can we keep our vacation WITH us without documenting? Which naturally brings us to that problematic divide where the documentation of experience gets in the way of experiencing the moment. Right? OH GOOD LORD, just tell us about the vacation already.

We came, we saw, we ate as many fancy flavor combinations as we could order, we drank Nola Fizzes and special drinks that didn't seem to be available to buy; we shot our hands up for cheap metallic beads; we narrowly avoided being felled by collapsing drunks in the late morning hours; we were repeatedly mistaken for sisters. We warned each other that both of us wanted downtime and not this go-go-go business and then we did like six things in a day and fell into exhausted sleep on our nicely made beds, despite an inevitably unreliable thermostat. One of us did a fantastic job of navigating to all our vaunted destinations, one of us packed five too many fancy tops, one of us was chosen as a taxi driver's future bride; both of us scurried past Bourbon Street after our first jaunt down it, on our way to better things.

Some snaps from the first day:
Obligatory plane shot. I fancy a window seat.
First meal: Muffalettas
This sandwich is bigger than your head. We shared half of one and were stuffed. Pennsylvania peeps: think hoagie, but better. The Passionate Eater had a nice description from 2007, which still holds:

"If you've never had a muffaletta, allow me to explain this prodigious sandwich that calls New Orleans its birthplace. A muffaletta is sandwich that is loaded with a piquant and acerbic chopped "olive salad" that is almost comparable to a caponata + tapenade mix. The salad contains substantial hunks, bits, and pieces of marinated or pickled vegetables, including capers, pepperocinis, pimentos, anchovies, and olives. This is no puny sandwich. The crusty, dense, and chewy bread that encloses a muffaletta is twice the size of a dinner plate from Denny's. And every muffaletta is interlayered with slice-upon-slice of soft provolone cheese and salami flecked with peppercorns. Forget about Skittles, the muffaletta is the true rainbow of flavors. Gulliver would definitely find these things in Brobdingnag."
We didn't take any carriage rides, but I often snapped pics of the horses.
Saint Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square
From farther away, where we sat eating our beignets...
...from Cafe Du Monde

Oh geez, more horses.
But it's better than the "So Good" stores, right? See below.
If it wasn't fuschia, it was the animal print.We saw three of these scary stores.

The taxidermied alligator enticing you to consume.
Can't have the real thing? How about marble? Antique row of shops

Famous Cornstalk Hotel
We did not stay here

The swanky Hotel Monteleone. We didn't stay here, either.
More buildings should look like wedding cakes on steroids, IMHO.
Home base, in the French Quarter, but at a nice, calm remove from...

...Bourbon Street. Where Homer Simpsons with inflated balloon penises walk and bars announce: BIG ASS BEER.
All for now. Coming up: buskers, monkey floats, food comas and cemeteries.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Forecast Outlook: High Praline Probability

Good almost afternoon! Happy Super Bowl Sunday, for the sports fans. I'm going to a Superbowl party this evening, which made one friend guffaw when I told her. I *am* an unlikely attendee, but the invitation had Superbowl party in quotes and the folks involved are fun and there's bound to be all kinds of good food. I know better than to bogart prime sofa space and I imagine there will be someone to duck behind if anyone REALLY wants to school me on football. Which, why would they, when there are other fans around? So. I have my spiced yogurt dip at the ready.

In the meantime, I can't really settle in. I think it's because I'm on the verge of a vacation. Compatriot and I are off to New Orleans on Wednesday and I can't wait! It has been years since I have ventured to a brand new place, just for the sake of going, but here we are! I can barely believe it's happening. The flights and French quarter hotel are booked, travel guides thumbed through, tripadvisor, chowhound, Facebook friends all polled and scanned; notes scribbled. So! Many! Possibilities!  C & I are pretty much aligned: we both need downtime, we're both REALLY focused on food/drink/soaking it up through walking around.

When my Dad hears we're going, he leaps to what is important to him, as a lifelong railnut: "You need to take the green line of streetcars: those are the REAL antiques, built in 1922. Get on at Canal street, they go through the garden district. The red line is okay, but they were built later. They were damaged in the floods, not sure if they're up and running."

Mom, who got a little confused about who I am going with and what the nature of our trip is, says, "This sounds expensive...Is this Compatriot rich?" Expensive, yes and rich, no. And there are no sugar daddies or sugar mommas involved here, just two friends splashing out a bit. She follows that up with a recommendation for a very expensive Creole restaurant that Dad & Mom went to a year before Katrina.

Someone asks if our hotel is supposed to be haunted, which I haven't read anywhere. But isn't everything haunted in New Orleans? I want and do not want to brush up against the haunted. I don't discount the idea of ghosts, though I think there's a lot of bunk surrounding such things. Really, I am a bit superstitious anyway. Continuing on the superstitious tip, I can't help but feel this trip is yet another indication that this year is and will be a huge year of change. No matter that we planned it and brought it into being. And maybe it doesn't matter, in the end: if you enter a time frame convinced it will be one of change, you'll make it that way, anyway...I know that change is always happening anyway, but some part of me is gearing up for more/bigger/better.

[Also superstitious: horoscope warns against my spending money at this time. Well. Good luck with that.]

Anyhow, it's time to do some sketching and to cook a batch of artichoke avgelemono soup to freeze. I'll leave you with a couple snaps of the framed Frida Kahlo brochure:

Her sideways gaze looks more serious than I noted before   
Doesn't it look lovely? I have it hanging in the living room, on a red wall (which I can never photograph well). I realized after I hung it that I inadvertently created this interplay of the gaze between works. To Kahlo's left is a large poster from the DIA's exhibition of fashion photographer Richard Avedon (which I won! through a little bit of my own social media finagling); the black and white photo shows a beautiful woman with a HUGE white flower, looking backward behind her --> in Kahlo's direction. A couple feet over is a wonderful sepia toned photo of "Dorothy and the Duck"  by Joel Anderson. How fun! The spacing is weird, but otherwise, I'm pleased about that. Anyhow, Dexter Picture Frame did a really nice job. 
Hard to tell from the photo, but the beige mat has a nice, threaded texture

Exhibit details, right on the frame backing.
Check out the detail on the right! At this point, I'm definitely friends with the fine folk of the Dexter and Saline Picture Frame Co.s and they are my go-to framing place, so you may think I am biased. But I'd just like to take a moment here. When I brought the brochure in for framing, it was just that: folded, a little beat-up. I knew they'd cut the front off, so it would lay better -- but it was such a nice surprise to see that they had also cut the exhibit writeup from the brochure and affixed it to the back! I'm so pleased about that and certain they would have done that for any of their customers. Nice job!