New Orleans: Part Food

New Orleans. We’re back for the food and the drink. I’ll take your hand and lead you through the complex flavors of this gastronomic wonderland.

Let’s start on Decatur Street. The smells of freshly baked pralines float out the doorway of Southern Candymakers and spread into the humid air. A smell that cannot be contained. I promise you have never inhaled a better combination of butter and sugar in your entire life. Have a sample or buy a whole box. 

We now follow the curve of the majestic Mississippi River along Decatur Street until the Cafe du Monde appears like a beacon of green awning-ed glory. This establishment was started in 1862 and people still sit at one of the simple white tables complete with matching chairs squeezed wherever possible. Grab a table, the waitress will be over shortly. The menu is small and requires no additions. Order a café au lait and at least one order of beignets. These fried fritters are covered in powdered sugar and taste of luxury and exuberance. IMG_3025

Your sweet tooth temporarily filled, it’s time for true sustenance. Whether it’s late in the morning or early in the night, people are eating and drinking everywhere. Unable to choose where to eat next, let’s choose them all. Oceana, recommended by our cab driver, has a delicious assortment of creole dishes (despite its tourist appearance) and David the waiter gives us the signature bread pudding for free. After dinner #1, it’s time for seafood. The line outside Felix’s does not deter us and soon we are sampling a variety of delectable oysters. Take any and all recommendations. The waiter will not lead you astray and the gumbo is delicious. 
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IMG_2994Thirsty? As you move through Jackson Square, take a left at the cathedral. Sample the Pimm’s Cup at Tableau on the balcony before heading over to Napoleon House, the legendary home of this beverage. Ready for a change? Leave Chartres Street for the refined Roosevelt Hotel complete with chandeliers in the lobby and handsome men at (and behind) the bar. You absolutely must get a Sazarac. As night falls, join the hordes of happy drunken lovers on Bourbon Street and b-line it for Pat O’Brien’s, known for flaming fountains and infamous Hurricanes. Drink, dance and repeat before stumbling home to your hotel. —-

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Good morning! Upon waking up and taking a cold shower, make your way over to Mothers. You’ll be glad you did. The portions are huge, the eatery is cafe style and the ham is divine. Prefer white tables cloths for brunch instead? Try Antoine’s or Galatoire’s for an elegant way to start the day. Beware the waiter at Antoine’s with the shaky hands. He may just spill….

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One more district to explore before your eating/drinking tour is complete. Grab the streetcar out to the Garden District home to a number of celebrities including Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and the fictional man-turned-boy Benjamin Button. Walk the tree-lined streets and admire the Southern beauty curling around the pillars and peeking from behind the flowering magnolia trees. Don’t forget to grab a shrimp po’ boy at Parasol’s and a drink at The Columns before heading home. IMG_3014

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In tasting your first oyster and drinking your first Pimm’s Cup, the city makes sure you will return home happy and full, lacking in nothing except more time here.

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New Orleans: Part 1

Today marks almost one week to the day since I returned from New Orleans. This city dazzles in necklaces of gaudy indescribable beauty as a lady who sips Pimm’s Cups and watches the sudden rains wash Bourbon Street clean of guilt and grime. NOLA is a woman who has seen the world–the best and the worst of human nature–and her veins run thick with Southern history. She was the one American city I was dying to go and having met her, I wouldn’t say she was American at all, but a country and a force onto herself. 

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St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square

And so, it seems only natural that our small band of college friends would reunite, for the first time in exactly a year, to celebrate the joys of living in a city that cerebrates life itself. I don’t know if I will ever again experience a trip with friends that was so complete in all aspects of the journey, a trip so full I suffered from almost no moments of regret. Each day since I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly what caused so much joy and the only thing I can see is New Orleans herself, the beautiful combination of people, music, food and culture all falling into place. 

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Street performers attracted crowds for daring juggling acts and magic shows. Restaurants with white table clothes and strict dress codes shared the same street as strip clubs with flashing neon lights and smiling girls. Live music shook and tickled the air: marching bands paraded on the street, lonely guitarists asked for tips, full jazz bands played late into the evening. Beer was cheap and people of all ages, shapes and sizes carried their filled plastic cups throughout the city looking for the next adventure. The locals talked to the bachelorette parties and the tourists found the local cafes. Anything seemed possible.P1060397

 I couldn’t stop marveling at the attention to detail. The musicians took such time in their riffs and their harmonies. Each house with a balcony had ironwork that deserved a photograph and a sigh. And the Mardi Gras floats. On our first morning we took a tour of Mardi Gras World and saw the floats that are designed, created, and decorated each year for the special celebration. We learned the history behind the crews, who gets to ride on the floats and how they get to stay up there so long (hidden bathrooms on board). The artists worked full time, all year round to get their creations ready for the debut. In a world of tradition, being the best seemed like destiny. P1060416

The weather was beautiful. Most days were hot and sticky but the temperature and humidity didn’t seem to bother anyone. Every day was a party no matter if the sun was shining or your face was slick with sweat. Just a couple minutes south, the Mississippi River wended slow, a muddy body of water that threatened the city like a sleeping snake. Our hotel on Royal St. was just a block east of Canal St. where the streetcar ran and one block south of Bourbon St. where the nightly debauchery would take place. It felt like we were at the center of a churning, boiling fabulous world. P1060440

I’ve only just sent the scene. And I haven’t even mentioned the food or the drink or the night I played a small tuba in a crowded bar. All to come. Just know that if you have not yet had the chance to visit New Orleans in the last week, it’s about time you go. 

10 Steps: Turkish Breakfast

I have enjoyed Turkish breakfast in a variety of settings. My first taste of this delicious daily tradition was in a pension in Bodrum. From there, I traveled 20km to Turgutreis to stay on an ecofarm where I tasted the most delicious homemade orange jam from the trees in the backyard. My next memorable breakfast was in the apartment of two college student who prepared the usual edibles including sides of “bitter honey” and freshly prepared stove top tomato and pepper chutney. Moving from Denizli to Olympus via Antayla, I once again tasted fresh oranges from trees on the property, this time simply cut into quarters and served. I’m in breakfast heaven.

10 Steps to Preparing a Turkish Breakfast

Every Turkish breakfast included at least one Turkish person who is warm and welcoming, ready to instruct you as to the proper way to begin one’s day. Do not overlook this essential ingredient. However, since not all of us are friends with Turkish people nor have the ability to fly at a moment’s notice to Istanbul, made do with the friends and family that you have readily available. 

Ingredients: orange trees, chickens, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, honey (local), bread/simit, jam (cherry preferably), salt and pepper (for the table), Turkish teapot, small bowls, Turkish teacups, plates etc.

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  1. Prepare the tea*. A day does not begin nor end without this steaming hot beverage. Drink at will. P1050559
  2. Go outside to your orange trees and pick some oranges. Cut oranges in slices for easy consumption or boil with sugar and cloves for a sweet, sticky jam.
  3. Collect the daily eggs from your chickens or sneak across the street to the friendly farmer for some of his/her eggs. Boil water for the hardboiled variety or fry in olive oil and sprinkle with cumin and paprika. IMG_1639
  4. Take an inventory of the cheese recently purchased from the market. Slice fresh feta into squares or triangles depending on your geometric preference.
  5. Wash fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and slice accordingly. 
  6. Slice fresh bread purchased earlier that morning from the bakery. Rip simit** into pieces or leave whole.
  7. Put various condiments into adorable little bowls for easy access.P1050564
  8. Place sliced bread and simit in a basket and set the table.
  9. Fill tea glasses for guests with sugar cubes on hand.
  10. Serve. Enjoy. Repeat daily for maximum smiles. 

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Notes:

*Tea is an essential part of Turkish culture. The most common teapots look like two metal containers stacked together. The bottom pot is filled with water and placed on the stove to boil. The second stacked pot is filled with tea leaves. As the water boils, the top pot steams the concentrated tea. To serve the tea, make a ratio (3:1) of boiling water and concentrated liquid in individual glasses. 

**Simit is a soft breadstick looped into a ring shape and covered with sesame seeds. Found at all cafes and bakeries.

Day One: Milan

On my first evening in Italy, I sit outside my room on the 3rd floor balcony that overlooks the Viale Andrea Doria. Straight ahead, a neon yellow sign proudly displays GRAND HOTEL DORIA high above the old stone rooftops. The moon is almost full. It is the same moon that will shine down in America, hours from now and miles away. P1020438

I sit here in comfortable solitude as I piece together the events of the day. I remember my seat mate on the airplane, Chelsea, who drinks a glass of red wine while finishing the last tantalizing chapters of Gone Girl. She is kind, a graduate from UVA Law, who just finished the Texas bar exam and is finally taking a well-earned vacation with two of her law school friends. She is the kind of girl who saves her brownie from dinner for a late night snack and asks me questions about my upcoming trip. Chelsea and her two friends will later “adopt” me into their friend group as we navigate the bus system, train station and correct destinations. Thank you to those young women. And thank you to the New Jersey father who used his precious cell phone data to look up the directions to my hostel and allowed me to write each one down so I wouldn’t get (too) lost.

P1020429Thank you to the Australian girl, Kelsey, who is occupying one of the six bunks in my room tonight. Dinner was great. Your 24-year-old confidence as a traveler and explorer of the world is inspiring. I hope you get to reunite with your Irish boy sometime soon.

Milan: 

“Few Italian cities polarise opinion like Milan, Italy’s financial and fashion capital.” Lonely Planet Mediterranean Europe (Travel Guide)

Milan is first and foremost an international city. I was surprised by my lack of culture shock, more closely resembling my slight discomfort in New York City than the more isolating awareness I usually feel in a foreign land. People of all races, heights and body types weave their way through busy crowds and frantic shoppers. English is written on signs and spoken by a number of business owners.The buildings here in Milan, however, have more character and less height than the Manhattan skyline. Piazzas with fruit trees or bike rentals are sprinkled throughout the city. Pedestrians, mostly women, enjoy their multi-colored gelato with long extravagant licks.

P1020446And the shopping! Go down Venezia Buenos Aires (located along the red line) to get an idea. I walked for 25 minutes past store after store selling shoes, sunglasses, perfume, clothing and more. Prices ranged from incredibly cheap to high-end luxury goods. It took all the willpower I hate to only purchase a pair of sunglasses. P1020452

For food, I suggest checking out Milan’s Happy Hours. These deals usually run from 6pm-10pm. For the price of one drink (cocktail, beer, wine), you have access to an all-you-can-eat buffet bar. Tonight I sampled a variety of dishes include seafood paella, pizza, pasta, salmon, roasted potatoes, olives, cheese, fruit and chocolate cake for dessert. The bill? Only €9.

For culture and art, Milan is probably most famous for Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the Duomo di Milano, both located at or near the center of downtown. The Last Supper will require advanced reservations so book ahead.

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Food Before a Storm

The month of November has arrived, quietly, like a cat on silent paws. We have survived one storm and are preparing for the next. One stole power from millions of homes, caused great destruction and left New York City under water. The other storm will make landfall on November 6th, causing just as much preparation, fierce winds and long-lasting consequences.

On Monday, all the schools closed early as western Massachusetts waited in anxious anticipation of Sandy’s fury. Those that remembered the Halloween snow storm a year ago, who had gone 10 days without power, stocked up on bottled water and spare generators. Would this storm be worse than before? 

My house had prepared too. Pots were filled with water when I arrived home and a fire was crackling in our wood stove. I started the dinner preparations and soon all of us were cutting, washing or stirring. Roasted parsnips, carrots and eggplant. Quinoa. Red wine and walnut cream roll for dessert. As the wind picked up and the rain began to beat against the house, we feasted in the warmth of our kitchen. But how were my friends closer to the storm? 

Me: Ah! I just saw that 2.2 million people lost power. Be safe!

Jen: I’m baking homemade oatmeal peanut butter cookies for the storm.

Two college friends, miles apart, were preparing for Frankenstorm in the same way–by eating. I watched recipes for soups, baked goods and cookies fly down my Twitter feed set to #sandy. Online news articles discussed the need for comfort foods before a storm. Apparently my little house wasn’t the only one stocking up by stuffing our faces.

How old is this tradition? The question brings us back to the second storm but not to foreign policy, woman’s rights or gun control. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook educates best, “Loaf cakes made with yeast were popular in New England…as far back as the early 1800’s. Election cake (also know as March Meeting Cake) was often baked on election days and allegedly sold and served only to those who voted a straight ticket. The loaf is deliciously moist and spicy.”

The Election Cake has cloves, mace, nutmeg, and hidden tastes of dried figs. On Tuesday, I plan to sink my teeth into a slice regardless of the political outcome, consequences of climate change or increased hour of daylight savings time. With such uncertainty, what else can we do but surround ourselves with friends and good food?

 

The Quiche

[This is a story about a novice cook learning to feed herself in the world outside of a college cafeteria or the warmth of her mother’s kitchen. Her baking and culinary skills are average at best, never warranting bragging rights or 4-H ribbons. She spends hours pouring over recipes online, vegetarian cookbooks, and pictures of delicious-looking authentic cuisine before putting some olive oil in a pan and cooking the oldest vegetable in the fridge. This story is about that girl and a delicious dinner experiment.]

I found an extremely thick paperback lying near the KitchenAid near the stairs. The spine was broken down the middle from handling and culinary love. (Beware the unbroken cookbook). Tonight, I would make a quiche. More realistically, tonight I would make the crust of the quiche because I had plans and not enough time. I followed the instructions for a Basic Tart Crust, watched the food processor whir into action and rolled out my buttery masterpiece before sliding it into the refrigerator to cool.

 

When I retrieved the pie dish the following evening, my heart sank. My crust, the first I’d ever made, was covered in white spots. Flecks of butter like pimples on picture day had appeared over night. It looked diseased. “Eh, I’m sure it’s fine. Cook it anyway and see what happens.” That was my mother.

Half the recipes I found told me to pre-cook my crust and layer the cheese on the bottom. The other half didn’t pre-cook their crust at all and added their cheesy goodness right in with the rest. I followed the first advice because seeing my infected crust another minute would have forced me to abandon the project and order pizza. After 10 minutes in the oven, the crust had begun to look better and I felt a renewed sense of hope. So I flew into a frenzy, sautéing some onion and green pepper, shredding cheddar and Parmesan, and whipping together as many eggs as I could find. A juicy red tomato on the counter looked lonely so I cut him up too.

My knife’s eye turned out to be bigger than my crust’s stomach. My tomato, sautéed ingredients, egg-and-milk liquid, and cheese overwhelmed the small dish.  I slid the overflowing mixture into the oven, closed the door and checked my watch.

Over the next 30-40 minutes, the quiche bubbled, changed color, and breathed a sigh when I poked at it with my various kitchen utensils. Eventually, it resembled something edible so I pulled it out of the oven and called Jules. As a last-ditch effort, I made a salad with some fresh corn-off-the-cob and made a silent prayer that I wasn’t poisoning my only close friend in Northampton. When Jules arrived, we sat at the kitchen table and she watched as I took my first bite… 

IT WAS DELICIOUS! I beamed at the beautiful egg-based pastry sitting before me and wondered why it had seemed so daunting just an hour before. My pie in the sky became a quiche at the table and I couldn’t have been more proud or relieved. There was no telling what culinary feats I had yet to accomplish. 

So why write about a simple cooking experience? Why tell you about a seemingly insignificant event in my life? Because that quiche represented something more. I could have baked anything, followed any number of recipes to create a meal. Even the greatest chef can’t promise with 100% certainty that she will open the oven door to find something worth eating. But we go on cooking just the same. I followed pieces of countless recipes, each with a different spice and specific procedure. In the end, you cannot follow anyone’s recipe but your own and that has made all the difference. 

And by difference I mean quiche. Bon appetite!