Saturday, February 23, 2013

And in the End, it really is all about Love

So we're back home to our beloved Philly with yet another set of great memories & stories of folks we met and chatted with, some new recipes, and some new music.

And to be clear, we are not so dazzled by NOLA that we don't realize it has its problems, some quite serious.
It is a city. Cities that are vibrant, diverse, busy, well traveled, worth living in and real, do.

Cities that attract the creative and the crazy; the seekers and the strivers; and the lonely and the lovers are mixed up, complicated balls of hot, wet messiness. That is as it should be. That is New Orleans.

A few things that we'll miss until we return to New Orleans:

Almost always, people on the street speak or at least smile. That's another human being there! (I'm happy to say that's the norm in our little village in the city here - although it's definitely not the norm city wide).

The glorious, glorious food. And the great places to eat that food that we've come to know - especially those that are beloved by the locals.

Being able to stop for a minute to give a listen to street music.

The music. And lots of places to hear it every night.

Accepting there's always time to chat. Also accepting that there's always time for a bit of alcohol, a bite of food.

Realizing that rushing should be reserved for the most dire of circumstances.

Dancing in public - which is accepted, expected and encouraged. There are no "bad" dancers in New Orleans!

The colors, the palm trees, the aromas, the people, the river, the warmth.

Ah, New Orleans, know that you are loved. See you soon!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Where the Music Matters

Our last day was devoted to a little bit of shopping, a little bit of eating and a lot of music. I've never been in another city in which music is more important than New Orleans. And what wonderful, diverse music it is. The saying is that there is live music somewhere in the city (more like many places in the city) 363 days a year. Music in clubs, music on street corners, music in cafes, music - everywhere it seems.

We spent this, our last night in the city, on Frenchmen Street - home to a literal line up of live music venues. Many of these venues also offer good, inexpensive food, along with full bars, of course. You can walk up and down Frenchmen and duck in and out of spots where individuals and bands are playing. There is often no cover, sometimes a one drink minimum is the cover. Often a group will just set up on a street corner and start playing. Tonight we saw the Young Man's Brass Band who were playing as we got to the Street. These young guys are mostly high school students, a few are a bit older. They were great. As always it was "pass the hat". The public supports the music - that's the way it goes.

A good deal of our time tonight was spent listening to "The Big Easy Brawlers". Remember the name - you never know!

And remember, Jazz - the only totally indigenous American art form - was born here. Modern jazz and traditional jazz can both be found thriving in New Orleans. Of course there's also Zydeco, singer-songwriter, Bluegrass, Brass Band, Big Band, and many other types of music alive and well here.

I was also thrilled today to be able to visit and tour WWOZ FM radio - the public radio station I listen to pretty much exclusively at home. 'OZ offers shows featuring all sorts of New Orleans music. The folks there were so friendly and welcoming. I was happy to be able to identify the voices of some of the folks who were in while I was there - now, I have faces to put to a few of the DJs I hear.

So - what's important here in NOLA? Music. Food. Tradition. Live and Let Live. Other People. Beauty. And an emphasis on Enjoying Life.

We're packing. Tomorrow we fly home. We miss our furries a lot. We miss New Orleans already!

The picture is of an apartment building in Marigny.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Big Easy

Tuesday in New Orleans.

For some reason - and I don't think it's always because we're all somewhat buzzed - people talk to each other, strange to stranger, much more in New Orleans than we've experienced in other places.

Today, while having our daily Bloody Marys, we were able to provide some guidance as to the best spots for oysters to folks who had just arrived for a conference. We chatted up some store owners we knew from previous visits - yes, they are nice people anyhow, but it was just so damn wonderful to see that they are still in business! We returned to so many wonderful shops - a refill for my leather journal (originally bought here); a stop for hard to find hot sauces; and a few goodies from a local candy maker, among so many other wonderful places. All took considerable but worthwhile time as we "caught up".

And that's how it goes all the time here - if you let yourself be open to it. Travelers are relaxed and perhaps more open to talking to strangers than they would be in their "real life". Of course the natives will always talk. That's who they are - and it's a wonderful thing. I've learned so much from bartenders, servers and other service industry folks, I can't begin to list all of the knowledge and folklore I've absorbed over the years.

Also, for us, at this point, the relaxation has set in; the secure feeling of being just where we should be predominates. It is at once both settling, comforting and confusing and unsettling. When we are here, we dread having to leave.

A day spent in the French Quarter and an evening at the nationally acclaimed restaurant Cochon has only made these feelings stronger. Having cocktails at the bar waiting for our table at Cochon, we met some very interesting "foodie" natives. When we got to our table we met folks from the west coast (at the next table) who are here for the first time producing a film. The cool thing is, talking to them, we are the source of information about NOLA - and of course, Philadelphia - which they've only visited for a short time. Great fun, sharing information, our experiences on both the east and west coasts and our mutual love of New Orleans.

If you've never really been in New Orleans - and I don't mean on a cruise stop or a tourist driven visit - I mean really "been" here, you won't understand a lot of what I'm saying. We can't stress enough, if you are not a timid traveler; if you aren't a person who signs up for the group tours; if you travel to immerse yourself in other places, you cannot come to a better place than New Orleans. It is not like anywhere else in the U.S. - as a matter of fact, it feels very much like you are outside of the U.S. There is a living, breathing culture here that you should not go through your life without experiencing. And, fellow serious travelers, the price is right! There is so much to experience here and you don't need a ton of money.

This guy is one of the street performers in the Quarter - he held this pose for what seemed like forever! More fun to come tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This City Won't Ever Drown

Today we explored the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. We both agreed that this was an area we want to keep a close watch on over the next few years. It's just in the early stages of gentrification. Beautiful old empty buildings in serious need of repair still outnumber the houses which are under "reconstruction". It's obvious in some places that the water (the area runs right along the river) did invade during the Storm. But the young folks we saw working, walking their dogs, and getting around on their bicycles and those we got to chat with made us feel so positive. The couple of stops we made for first, the all important Bloody Mary, and then for lunch hinted at the Bywater that will be. And probably sooner than people think. Bywater - remember it.

Tonight we had a most amazing evening at Kermit Ruffin's Speakeasy in Treme. We had some of Kermit's cooking (red beans & rice; fried frog legs; fried catfish; and gumbo). The food was delicious. But the music from Kermit's band and the joy of listening to it in a small setting with lots of locals was something we'll be looking forward to doing again very, very soon.

Tomorrow - it's time for some wandering in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, having some more great conversations with locals, and as always, more great food and music.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why we love this place.

OK so after the world's best check in with Lola and Vincent at Jazz Quarters in Treme and some great conversation about the city and what was new and their recommendations, national politics, music, etc., we unpacked and took off in search of oysters. This is our tradition. It cannot be toyed with! So we wandered into a bar called Desire (in the Sonesta Hotel) in the Quarter. This spot was recommended by our hosts. We usually go to Acme as soon as we land. Desire has a lovely raw bar with bar stools - oh yeah, perfect. We pulled up to the raw bar, announce the fact that we just got into town and that we need to slurp some oysters. We started with one dozen, ice cold, on the half shell and two Sazeracs. Paper is put on the bar top; lemon quarters are added, along with hot horseradish, cocktail sauce and hot sauce and a basket of Saltines. Our Shucker, Anthony, puts up the oysters as he shucks them - he gets it. The crackers could have been gold flecked - I ain't seeing them. In about five minutes we do away with the first dozen oysters and the first two Sazeracs. We catch our breath, order a dozen more, two more drinks, fried pickles with remoulade and onion rings. We move a bit slower on these. We are in Heaven.

Then Rodney, another professional shucker, starts chatting with us. We tell him it's the first time we've stayed in the Treme - and for the next fifteen minutes he explains to us, while filling other oyster orders, the history of Treme, the slave trade here, and the way things eventually changed. He also proudly tells us how well the public schools are doing test score and graduation wise. We have an interesting discussion about how 80,000 people left here after The Storm and never returned - BUT how about 50,000 new people moved here and stayed - and in Rodney's opinion, that is an excellent thing. Rodney grew up in Treme and lives in the 9th Ward. He stayed in '05. He's proud of that.

In five hours, we've had wonderful talks with folks, good wine, great drinks and outstanding oysters. You can't beat this!

We're tired. We stop and pick up a half of a Muffaletta, a bottle of wine, some other snacks and drinks and make our way back to our suite. We have a little 'fridge and figure later- we'll need a snack.

We're sitting here now, planning tomorrow's activities. Just relaxing and figuring out where we'll wander but being guided by what we always know is true: the only way to really get to know a place is to eat the real food of the area and to talk to the locals - really talk to them. There's no where better to do that than in New Orleans. Don't be in a rush because when you ask, you will get an answer!

Yes . . . We made a big mess!

Friday, February 15, 2013

New Orleans 2013

In two days, we'll be back in our second favorite city, New Orleans. We've had many wonderful times in NOLA - as I said we love it. In our humble opinion, you cannot get a better bang for your traveling buck than you can in New Orleans. You will have a great time, meet great people, eat great food and hear great music in a beautiful city. The food in NOLA is of course a great draw for foodies from all over and we like to say it's impossible to have a bad meal there. The other good news is that you don't have to break the bank to do so.

As we usually do, we don't have a great deal pre-planned. We'll sit with our morning coffee and take in the day a bit and decide where to head. Slow and easy. The more we get to know the city, the longer our list of favorites gets of course, but we are always on the lookout for someplace new. Another interesting thing about NOLA is that the "tourist" places are generally superior to such places in other destination spots. New Orleans is about the business of hospitality. There are many, many places you can dine or hear music at which you will see a mix of locals and tourists. That's a good thing. It's a great way to meet the locals.

This time, we have two formal dinner reservations set: Cochon and Herbsaint. We are doing the Donald Link tour for sure, they are both very different, and they are both his restaurants. That said, I know that eventually we will grab brick oven pizza at John Besh's Domenica. We can't miss a stop at Willie Mae's Scotch House for the best fried chicken I have ever had, and for sure we'll slurp oysters on the half shell at Acme and stop at Casamento's for a fried oyster "loaf". Other than that, we'll be exploring some new neighborhoods, renting a car one day for a drive to the 9th Ward, and of course, we'll hit a number of venues for fabulous music.

Shopping is also a lot of fun in NOLA. There are so many interesting little one of kind shops and galleries in the French Quarter, the Bywater, and other districts. If you are a Mad Men fan, there's "Hazelnut", New Orleans native Bryan Batt's home decor shop on Magazine Street. Rumor has it, Bryan is in the shop a lot!

My hope is to "travel blog" a bit from New Orleans - hopefully with some pictures of the beauty of the city. I want you to be intrigued and interested enough to go!

So as of Sunday, keep an eye out for my raves from the Crescent City!!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kale: Why We Need to Eat More of it!

Here's a more reader friendly view. Still learning!

Microwave or No Microwave! That is My Question

Our ancient and rather large microwave is gone. Well it's about to be gone as it is doing very scary things when we attempt to use it for the "big three": heating water, melting butter, and heating milk for hot chocolate. For years, those three activities have been its raison d'ĂȘtre. Truly. Guests have used it for other things but I have never liked food cooked in microwaves - I mean when I can avoid it, of course. On business trips, I always went for the hotels that offered a microwave - then for the whole trip I went out for meals and/or lived on baked potatoes, salads, and steam-in-bag veggies. OK, back to the current situation. A couple of times this week, the unit threw a few scary shots of what I can only describe as light bolts at us - so, we get the message. Microwave heaven awaits.

I look at the kitchen cabinet it sits in and think, "Wow, I could sure get a lot in there; maybe add a shelf or two. Save a lot of trips down to the basement pantry". It's always about space around here.

And so my question: should we replace it or do what we've talked about for a couple of years now, and break the microwave habit totally?

How many folks out there live and cook without them? I know that foodies take an "attitude" towards using them for actual cooking, but do they hold on to them anyway?

I would love to hear from others as to what they see as the the pros and cons of both replacing and learning to live without a microwave.

And now, take a good look at this chart. For goodness sake and in all seriousness: Eat More Kale!!!