Monday, May 27, 2013

How to "Celebrate" Memorial Day in a Town That Doesn't

Hello and I hope you're enjoying your day off, if you're so lucky. If you are working today, thank you and I hope you have a yummy dinner to look forward to tonight.

I put celebrate in quotation marks because we're not supposed to celebrate Memorial Day. I reject Memorial Day sales and wish I didn't love Memorial Day cook-outs so much, because I believe that Memorial Day should be the old-fashioned day of remembering and decorating the headstones of our fallen soldiers. I said prayers for the veterans buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery on Esplanade this morning and thought about my Uncle George who recently passed and who served in the Korean War, and my grandfather who served but I don't remember during what war. Thank you to all veterans! You are the only ones really deserving of the potato salad and coleslaw and burgers today. Thank you for allowing the rest of us to share in the fun.

Here in New Orleans, Memorial Day is pretty much not a holiday. The trash still gets picked up, most people still go to work (having swapped today for Mardi or Lundi Gras), most of the stores are still open, and some folks have cook-outs but not for any reason beyond it's beautiful outside and when do you ever need a reason to eat with the folks you love? I don't know anyone barbecuing and happened to buy local cabbage and red potatoes recently, so I decided to do a meatless Memorial Day by myself.

This is the amazing coleslaw I made. I like to call it "How Not to Make Local Food Healthy" coleslaw. It doesn't have a lot of mayonnaise, but it's still not really good for you. 

- Local organic cabbage from LA
- Organic carrots from CA 
- Local mayonnaise from Rouse's (LA) 
- Vegan white sugar (not local, obviously, but organic and vegan) 

I pretty much improvised the dressing before adding mayonnaise. My roommate does not cook much so her spices consist of Asian and Creole seasonings. Due to a lack of Italian seasonings, I made a delicious dressing with

- minced dried garlic
- dill weed
- olive oil (which I don't think can be sourced locally, unless you're in CA) 
- apple cider vinegar (which could be made locally, maybe in New England) 
- salt 
- pepper

This dressing is part of the potato salad I decided to make. It's almost all mayonnaise with some apple cider vinegar, almond milk, pepper, and chopped white onion. It's to die for! I'm so excited to mix it with the potatoes, which are still cooking. 

While they're cooling, I need to let the dog out... Lol... he has a habit of peeing on random stuff, and he just peed on a box of beers that my neighbor left out. I hosed them off and threw out the box. Oy vey. 

Well, the potato salad is finished and has a new name: Heart Attack in a Bowl. The mayonnaise dressing is delicious but there is a LOT of it and I think I'm going to reduce the amount from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup, or just not make this recipe again. Ugh. 

Here's hoping your Memorial Day food is healthier than mine! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Miss You! A No-Burn Meal, My First Family Recipe and Some Very Fresh Produce

First and foremost, I owe an apology to myself and to those who read this blog. I am sorry for not blogging for almost 10 days, despite cooking and eating some yummy food. I felt inspired to write posts, yes, and took photos which are included below, but I was too distracted by needing to watch yet another episode - or four - of Sex and the City. It is my guilty pleasure and I discovered that my roommate owns seasons 1, 2, and 3, after I watched season 6 and the movie (part 1 only; part 2 is SHIT) again. So I started over from the beginning. But no more procrastinating! Here goes. 

I DIDN'T BURN IT! Last weekend I successfully cooked brown rice and black beans without burning anything. I almost always burn rice and beans (and eat them anyways). Thank God for Steve Pavlina whose instructions finally worked. I also have to give some credit to my new friend Tomato who said that cooking beans is like having a child; you can't just put it on the burner and walk away. You have to watch it. And see how nice and fluffy the rice turned out? For the past few days I've been eating rice and beans with Creole tomatoes, Tony ChaChere's Creole seasoning, and cheese. Can't you just taste how yummy it is?   

At church on Sunday we had a potluck, so in a pinch for supplies and time, I looked in my pantry and found the two packages of clearance Jell-O I'd bought ages ago and brought with me from Philadelphia. I knew their time had come. I wound up skipping the strawberries I would normally buy for the dish and picked up two 8 oz. packages of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I strive to buy local but I don't believe there's a cream cheese that tastes better. Once I had my ingredients I made my grandmother's famous cheeseball Jell-O. 

Imagine these: 

floating on top of a sea of strawberry Jell-O, surrounded by chopped walnuts. That is a cheeseball Jell-O and it is delicious. Totally not vegetarian or vegan due to the gelatin but decadent and my favorite summer dish. The cheeseball is a delightful combination of cream cheese and walnuts that, when paired with the sweetness of the Jell-O, is really refreshing and tasty. I've tried the same recipe with raspberry Jell-O and fresh raspberries and black cherry Jell-O with Bing cherries, but no combination is better than the original. Thank you Magy! (My dad's mother, thanks to my mother's nickname for her when my parents were dating. They were originally spelled Ma G and Pa G for Ma and Pa Grosslein, but they eventually morphed into Magy and Pagy; often mispronounced as Magee and Pagee. The name stuck and now everyone in the family calls them Magy and Pagy to my mother's delight.) 

If only I had bought these a week ago... I signed up for the Eat Local 2013 challenge and was a little worried about where I'd get my produce. Would I have to give up dairy for a month? Could I get everything I needed? Walking through Rouse's I worried that I'd be living off of potatoes, cabbage, hydroponic lettuce,  Creole tomatoes, and hot-house thyme. Then I went to the Crescent City Farmer's Market and all my fears evaporated. 

They have beautiful lettuce, kale, cucumbers, beets, leeks, onions, potatoes, red, yellow, and green tomatoes - everything you could ever want, all at good prices! And food stamp eligible! There is also a seafood vendor; a woman who sells whole local chickens in addition to fresh vegetables (and some of the most beautiful onions I've ever seen); a group of men who sell eggs, milk, yogurt and other products out of coolers in the back of their van; a man who makes fruit Popsicles and juice; and a farmer that sells fresh produce as well as the soups made out of that fresh produce in huge Mason jars (and they deliver!) If I'd been worried, consider my fears erased. I told myself I was just going to look this week, but then I saw a flat - read: 12 pints - of Louisiana strawberries for $16 (see photo above). That's less than $1.50 a pint! I now have almost six quarts of sliced strawberries in my freezer, including strawberry ice cubes. 

We'll see how those turn out. I imagine they'd be delicious in a glass of white or rose wine!

I think this post more than makes up for the dry spell. I'm in heaven with all of this produce, literally five minutes from my house. It's almost like delivery! And the vendors/farmers are so friendly! Two of them gave me their business cards so that I could call and ask them to hold specific things for me, since I told them I don't get out of work until 5:30 and the market closes at 7:00. Heaven is a farmer's market. <3

I look forward to a summer of bounty - and to sharing it with you!

Friday, May 17, 2013

A New Orleans Baptism (and some German food)

First off, thank you to everyone who's reading this post and who's been reading my blog. It's had over 300 views! <3 

It's been almost a month now that I've been in New Orleans. (It has also been two years since I graduated college, which blows my mind.) Things are going very well at my job and I'm loving my apartment and getting to know my roommate's dog better and better each day while she's on a 3-week European tour.

I thought the music scene was okay, at first. I'm not much of a jazz fan. But I quickly became aware of, and tonight fell in love with, the brass band. 

I live in Bayou St. John near City Park and within walking distance of Bayou Boogaloo, an annual festival by the water. It's a free festival with music, food and art - pretty much everything wonderful about New Orleans. I've been biking past the set-up all week, getting really pumped. So I made sure to go tonight and even looked up the line-up, deciding I wanted to see the Rebirth Brass Band at 7:30 ish. 

My new friends at Mid-City Volleyball Group were also going to be there, so I arrived right after work. I hung out for a bit, deciding whether or not I wanted to play, before going and grabbing food. I pestered a couple of folks eating Indian food to find out where the Indian stand was but when I got there they'd just run out of the chana masala and would have more in forty minutes. I was too hungry to wait. Small digression: last week on my way to buy groceries, I encountered a fellow cyclist and wound up going to the French Quarter with him to find a book store and art supplies. We found two book stores but no art supplies, and after a little while he started showing me things in the city I hadn't seen before. We spent a couple hours together, even cuddled in City Park, which was lovely. He gave me a foot rub, which I never say no to. But when it came time to part, I asked if he wanted my number to plan all the things we'd said we'd do together like dancing. He said "No, but you can take my number and call me and cook me a fancy dinner sometime." At that point I realized he was an asshole and decided I'd be happy if I never saw him again. (In his defense, I was warned that people in New Orleans tend to let "fate" bring them together.) The funny thing is that his last name, which I had to pry out of him, is Prasad, the Hindu word for sacred food. The Indian food stand was called "Good Karma Prasad Cafe." So maybe I'm not meant to have any Prasad, the food or the boy.) 

So my second choice was Bratz, Y'All!, a German sausage catering group. I was debating between the NOLA Schnitzel and The Drunk Pig and got to the counter where I was promptly asked, "Do you want to try a Drunk Pig?" "Why yes, I do." I paid for one that was all made up and ate it. It's pulled pork marinated in beer with mustard and sauerkraut on top. I added Heinz relish and ketchup and nom'd. Very tasty; I highly recommend it. 

(A note: I promise to start cooking. Wait until June when I have to eat local!) 

After eating with my volleyball friends, I debated joining the game again. I debated just long enough for dusk to fall and the net to come down. Oh well, there will be another day. 

My new friend Melissa brought out graham crackers and Nutella and we proceeded to eat almost a full pot. Apparently Nutella down here is like, $4. Amazing. 

I started getting sleepy and decided to go home. While walking to the other end of the festival, I was drawn to the Orleans Stage where the sounds of the Rebirth Brass Band settled into my chest. I got in close and started moving. The song had a fantastic beat and the people were chanting back to the band, including repeating "Rebirth!" over and over. After shouting rebirth a few times, I released that I was being reborn. It sounds hooey, but with my hands raised to the music and my hips swaying, I was baptized in  Nawlins music.

I've known it almost since day one, but I'm going to fit in just fine here.   

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mexican Food Trucks: Friend or Foe?

I titled this post as I did because anyone living in Connecticut who drives in New Haven between I-91 and the Quinnipiac river has probably had this same thought once or twice. Along that stretch there is a swath of gravel, not quite a parking lot, where there are between four and ten food trucks, all covered with colorful flags and pendants and Spanish. Many a time I've wondered: is that food any good? I don't know because I've never tried them, but if they're anything like the food truck I ate lunch at today in the Lower Ninth Ward, I will try one next time I'm in the area near dinner. For this one at least, the answer is FRIEND. 

The food might not look like much, but the taste? Oh my God. After a group of 100 people completed a two-hour project at the Guerrilla Garden this morning, our four-person crew was HUNGRY and looking for some good, cheap grub. It just so happened that our executive director noticed this food truck while running an errand and suggested we head there for lunch. 

The name of the truck is Taqueria La Coyota (yay UrbanSpoon!) and it was parked on Tupelo and N. Claiborne near the border of the Lower Ninth Ward and Arabi. For $5, I got the beautiful beef burrito pictured above which fed me for lunch and dinner. There was some gristle but the spices in the beef were incredible. They also have a fantastic cantaloupe slushie of sorts, called jugos I think, that is very refreshing on a hot day. 

I highly recommend it if you're in the area, and I also recommend giving the next Mexican food truck you see a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised! 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Two Days of Yum

Last night I planned to go to a neighborhood association meeting in the Historic Treme of New Orleans and also hoped to go to the Marketplace at Jazz in the Park to have dinner. When I arrived at the meeting, there was a sign on the door that said, in a nutshell: 

"In memorial for Pat Evans [a famous local musician I presume] we are at Jazz in the Park. The next meeting is June 13th." 

I said, Welp, to Jazz in the Park I go! 

I deposited my bike with the free valet and started to walk around. Oh, the smells, the sounds, the people! There were at least half a dozen huge grills set up and various food vendors. I knew I'd be getting a fantastic dinner. I shopped around to see what the most I could get for my money was and decided upon the BBQ N' Some where you can get a BBQ chicken leg and thigh and two sides for $7. I asked the gentleman in front of me what he was getting and when we realized we were getting the same thing, he fist-pumped and we were the smartest eaters ever. 

How can I even describe this barbecue? Sweet, moist, tangy... heaven. Oh my God it was the best barbecue I have ever tasted. Now I'm no connossieur (I even had to look up how it's spelled!) of barbecue but this was just... amazing. Oh fuck. While I was eating it as slowly as possible, a guy walked up to me and asked, "Is that barbecue so good you'd tell ya mama?" Or he might've said "Is that barbecue so good you'd slap ya mama?" as is the vernacular. I replied, "Abso-fucking-lutely." 

The beans were your typical baked beans that I added the yummy barbecue sauce to. The coleslaw was sublime... the spices were perfect, the cabbage was crispy, and it wasn't soggy. So amazingly delicious. 

The second part of this blog is the yummy dish I made today with the palest sweet potato I've ever seen. It kind of looks like a fish in the pan! 

Extremely simple, just cubes of sweet potato in a frying pan of olive oil, paprika, dill weed and sea salt. Odd combination of spices perhaps but oh so yummy. 

And in other news I'm attempting to substitute flax seed for butter in Annie's Macaroni and Cheese... I hope it'll be yummy (as that is today's theme, which does not, in fact, rhyme with Treme). It turned out very lumpy and stringy and kind of gross. Bummer! Lesson learned - flax seed does NOT translate to butter! 

Happy cooking! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I have a 44 oz. daiquiri and all your arguments are invalid

Good evening! Today, I'd like to begin with this: 

Let's all just laugh at this for a second, and then I'll tell you what it is. Hahahahaha little tiny cup of white - you are DOMINATED by me! 

Now here in Nawlins we have something that boggles my mind and all the minds of everyone who's from elsewhere. It's called a drive-through daiquiri and is exactly what it sounds like: (A note: I will now be following that blog forever!) a Sonic, let's compare it to, that serves alcoholic frozen drink mixes, plus $1 extra shots! Daiquiris happen to be one of my favorite foods and although I've had them in New Orleans before, I had not had one since moving here three weeks ago. (Three weeks! Wee!) 

Yesterday, while shopping in Metairie, which has the only Target anywhere near me, my new roommate Tara asked if I'd been to a drive-through daiquiri before. When I said no she replied, "Well then we're going to give you the full Metairie experience" and proceeded to buy me a strawberry daiquiri (while getting a pina colada for herself) and cupcakes from Sucre, a local bakery chain down here that happens to have a beautiful website. Beware, it'll make you hungry. 

Fat Tuesday, which is apparently every week here at the drive-through, offers a 44 oz. daiquiri for $8.00. Of course I got one and proceeded to drink the whole thing over the next 3-4 hours. It was delicious! 

 For comparison, that's a 20 oz. water cup. It doesn't look all that much smaller, but that Fat Tuesday cup is FAT.

The golden cupcake below was marked as the Salted Caramel, which Tara said they're famous for. But as we ate it, we noticed that it tasted more like coffee than caramel and weren't sure what went down. Nonetheless - still delicious.

My pretty little flower of a cupcake is strawberry to match my daiquiri and tasted more like angel food cake than any cupcake batter I'd ever tasted. It was so light. Again, melt in your mouth delicious.

So for dinner last night I had a daiquiri and cupcakes and a whole lotta laughter. It turned what had been something of a stressful day into a night of revelry, just like every night in New Orleans.

Happy slurping! And remember - if they didn't put the straw in when they handed you the cup, it's not illegal!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Come to New Orleans - we have cupcakes!

Hello. This is what happens when I make cupcakes. I inevitably eat the cake mix, even though I know it has raw egg in it, and I get it all over my face. But isn't it incredible that I'm wearing a scarf in New Orleans? The wind is cold here, especially when you live near the bayou like I do. It's also very cold in my house, so even though it might be warm and sunny outside, I'm wearing long sleeves, fuzzy socks and a scarf indoors. 

So last week was my first at work, and it consisted of orientation and paperwork, on-the-job experience touring future project sites, reading through my predecessor's files, and touring my pocket neighborhood by car with my supervisor and then by foot with my predecessor. It was a little overwhelming but I hope that if I give myself the time to adjust and get to know people, I will have a very successful year. 

Yesterday was Moving Day so I packed up all my stuff on Dryades Street, packed it into my roommate's car and unpacked it at Delgado Street. Then after a little unpacking and rearranging, my supervisor picked me up in our Home Depot truck to drive out to Old Metairie and collect the bed frame and mattress I'd found on Craigslist. It turned out to be perfect, but ridiculously heavy. By the time we got it into my room, I was pretty much wiped out. I also discovered that my phone doesn't have any bars in my house, so it was something of a tough day. How was I going to make it better? Cupcakes. 

Anyone who's familiar with Kid President knows that all the world's problems can be solved by cupcakes. (I don't know how I feel about him advertising for the store, but...) I started gathering ingredients and realized that my roommate didn't have vegetable oil, because she never bakes. So I had to put my cupcake-making on hold.

But as you can see below, I made them. I made a lot of them. And now I don't know what to do with them. So - come to New Orleans! We have cupcakes! 

In case you're wondering, the cupcakes were baked in silicone cupcake liners. I bought half of them from a food co-op in Philadelphia and the other half at Wal-Mart and the ones that perform better are the ones from Wal-Mart. Sigh. I didn't have enough of them so these ones were naked; I just coated the cups with PAM. 

This was the poor tester; the cupcakes were not ready to be frosted just yet. So I gleefully ate this one first.

All y'all folks might have margaritas, but I have cupcakes. Wanna trade?

(And as I write this, I am eating the last of my delicious potato soup!)