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Archive for September, 2011

New Orleans African American Museum

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

The second night I was in New Orleans changed me, or rather it woke me up. Through art and music, conversation and laughter I connected with New Orleans and a passion long searched for awoke.

The night I went to the Treme Villa for a fundraiser to support the New Orleans African American Museum I was looking forward to a fun evening of great food, music, and culture. Love was not on my mind, but love is an emotional connection, unpredictable and unexpected, and it happened that night when I fell madly head over heels in love (think Space Shuttle launch) with New Orleans.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The New Orleans African American Museum (NOAAM) is located in the Treme neighborhood, said to be the oldest surviving black community in the United States. The NOAAM property encompasses seven historical structures located on the site of a former plantation. The centerpiece is the beautiful Tremé Villa, considered by some to be one of the finest examples of a Creole villa in the city. Built in 1828-29, the home retains many of its original decorative details.  Permanent and temporary exhibits spotlight contemporary artists in the main house and in the former slave cottages.

One of the exhibits up the night we were there was a collection of quilts from Cecelia Tapplette-Pedescleaux and members of the Beecher Memorial (United Church of Christ) Quilt Group she teaches.  Cely, as she prefers to be called, is born and bred New Orleans, a self-taught quilter, who grew up surrounded with women who were seamstresses and “did all sorts of handwork lace, crocheting, beading, tatting and much more.”

Quilting is one of the most popular forms of American folk art, combining artistic expression, social concerns, and practicality. Quilts have historically been made for every day utilitarian use and to celebrate special occasions(marriage, birth, graduation…). They have also played a patriotic role, honoring a heritage, being auctioned off to raise money for troops, and myth has it to pass on messages in the Underground Railroad.

Since the 1960s Cely’s quilts have become examples of  quilts combining African design and history.  Her love of New Orleans; which she considers a melting pot of nationalities, flamboyant colors, fragrances, and sounds serves as a catalyst for her creations. She uses brilliant colors, beadwork, and embroidery on her quilts.

By chance my friend Traci and I were standing at a table outside when Cely walked up.  A unique woman who embraces life, is a good storyteller, and by being inspires. Those of us at the table listened to Cely’s stories, told her how we admired the quilts, and were awed at her dedication to her community. Cely is one of the remaining members of the Beecher Memorial (Congregational) United Church of Christ.  The Church is located in one of the neighborhoods most affected by Katrina. It was destroyed (as was the quilt collection being stored there) and most of the congregation (a large percentage of whom I have been told were elderly) were displaced with some still missing. Cely was wearing a beautiful ring when I met her and when I asked her about it she said it had been made by a member of the congregation…a talented craftsman, who no one has seen or heard from since the storm. **The church is being rebuilt and Cely’s quilting group is selling quilts to help raise funds toward the $109 thousand needed for completion. (email me at kitchens.sharon at gmail.com if you would like more information/to be connected with Cely’s group).

Cely’s daughter Cheka walked up. We’d met briefly earlier in the evening when I remarked on her beautiful pink dress and shoes. She was excited about having just found out she was approved for a house by Habitat for Humanity.  After six years she could think about owning a home again!  She was not sure whether the house would be need to be built or whether she would receive one that was built and then need to put in “x” number of (several hundred) hours of service toward the building of another home.

And then everything changed for me.

Amanda, a relatively new full-time resident of New Orleans who had first traveled to the city with a church group from her university to help with the cleanup and rebuild and subsequently brought several groups down on her own, said “Let me know and I’ll help.” Then I said the same thing. And that my friends is that. I was committed and am and have been in touch with Amanda and Cheka since I’ve been back in Maine and I’m going back to New Orleans in March and I’m committing to a week on a Habitat for Humanity project for Cheka and you know what I AM SO EXCITED!!!!!!! Cheka is this amazing young woman who is part of this extraordinary family with such New Orleans history and Amanda is this sassy courageous young woman who thinks and acts. Of course we’re going to help Cheka get into her home, because that is what people do. Because when someone is down you help them up. I’ve been away from people like that too long, and in one moment I was reminded it’s that easy to step forward. Folks, can you tell I’m excited!?  I wish I would be returning to New Orleans to hang out with Cheka and Amanda in a cafe and that Cheka had never lost her home. I wish she didn’t live in a neighborhood where she hears gunfire at night. I wish I could pick up my house and acre and set it down in a quiet spot and give her a room for as long as she needed it. Well, wishing is for quarters and fountains and that’s fine, but it is not reality.

Okay, and pinch me, because I still cannot believe the next part of what happened after Amanda and I signed ourselves up to help. We invited ourselves (okay Amanda for when you read this, I think I invited us…I was starting to do my I’m so excited bunny hop – yes folks I hop when I’m super excited) to church and brunch and oh heck second lining with Cheka and Cely that Sunday. The Executive Director of the NOAAM, Jonn E. Hankins, even got in on our plans saying he would (and did!) send us the second line schedule.

By the time we left the event and Traci dropped me off at my hotel I’m pretty sure I felt like one would after they just kissed the man they knew they were going to spend the rest of their life with. I didn’t have my guy, but boy was I in for one heck of an experience and taking it from there.

Thank you New Orleans, Jonn, Cecelia, Cheka, Traci, and Amanda.  To those who are ready to stand up and help someone else up, let me know and maybe we can get a group together to help Cheka be a homeowner again.  Also, you can contact Habitat for Humanity in NOLA on your own. Sure they’d love to hear from you!


Weekend Links

Friday, September 16th, 2011

A few shareable links:

New York Fashion Week with Mr. Newton

Getting your hands into soil.

Living in Belle de Jour.

Wanderlust: Marseilles

For the ornithologist’s love of coasters.

Surprise package from Israel.

3191 miles apart two Septembers ago.

Fall 2011: It’s a layering game.

Remembering without you.

Pumpkins came early in Maine, so even though Halloween is weeks away…this “how to light a jack-o-lantern” tutorial seemed like it might be good to include now.

Cooking Up a Storm

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

If you buy one cookbook while you are in New Orleans I recommend it be Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The other, if you can find a copy is the Sesquicentennial Edition of The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (published by The New Orleans Times-Picayune). If you don’t have plans to visit the city then order the book from Chronicle Books.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, thousands of people lost their keepsakes and family treasures forever. As residents started to rebuild their lives, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans became a post-hurricane swapping place for old recipes that were washed away in the storm. The newspaper has compiled 250 of these delicious, authentic recipes along with the stories about how they came to be and who created them. Cooking Up a Storm includes the very best of classic and contemporary New Orleans cuisine, from seafood and meat to desserts and cocktails. But it also tells the story, recipe by recipe, of one of the great food cities in the world, and the determination of its citizens to preserve and safeguard their culinary legacy.

I’m sharing the recipe from the cookbook for Drago’s Famous Char-Broiled Oysters. Just one, with the hope you will buy it and giddily make your way through all the delicious options on your own as I did. Roosevelt Hotel Shrimp Remoulade, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (I’ll sub in chicken/turkey andouille sausage), Country Club Chicken Salad, Beignets (oh you know it!), and Oyster and Artichoke Casserole (come to mama) are a few of the gems I’ve got bookmarked.

For my friend Monica with whom I shared an evening of oysters and a day of inspiration in New Orleans.

Cooking Up a Storm

Drago’s Famous Char-Broiled Oysters from Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans

*Each of the recipes has a short introduction about how that recipe came to be in the book. Some more informational (such as this one) and some more emotional (first hand accounts in the days after Katrina)

Since this recipe was published in the newspaper in January 1998, readers have asked for it many times. It is a signature dish of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in Metairie. As the butter drips onto the grill, the resulting flare-ups create the characteristic smoky taste of the dish. If you wish to serve the oysters on oyster plates, simply place them on the plates when they come off the grill.

1 pound (4 sticks) butter or margarine
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped garlic
24 large raw oysters on the half shell
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Combine the butter with the pepper and garlic in a small saucepan. Heat until the butter is melted.

Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill. Put the oysters on the grill and spoon the butter mixture over the oysters. Then sprinkle a pinch of each cheese and a pinch of parsley onto each oyster. Broil until the oysters puff up, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve at once.
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 appetizer or 2 entree servings.

Sandwiches of New Orleans

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Let’s get one thing straight, when you go to New Orleans you go to eat…and drink…and a whole bunch of other stuff….but first and foremost you eat.

Po-Boys are essential, and for this I recommend Pierre Maspero’s in the French Quarter. Without question there are excellent places to get an authentic po-boy outside of the French Quarter, but if you don’t have the inclination to search then this place is convenient and I swear the Oyster Po-Boy I had was terrific. It was a gourmet po-boy (normally they just have fried seafood or meat inside a baguette)…topped with Spinach and Artichokes and a a Lemon Thai Aioli. So good! This is a picture of the plate of food I made myself when I had lunch at the International Food Bloggers Conference, which Piere Maspero’s helped cater.  Wish I’d just taken a photo of that po-boy!

Josh Ozersky has done a terrific job (spot on) covering the food institutions of New Orleans for Saveur and Time. If you go to New Orleans Google his byline and trust him. The man knows good food, well at least he seems to know what I like to eat.  He’d written about the Oyster Loaf at Casamento’s – a fried-oyster sandwich on thick toast (they make the bread there), and I had every intention of going until I found out it was far enough away from where I was the one time I was actually hungry and had time. I’ve got the clipping and it is something new to look forward to the next time I go.

New Orleans: Sancerre Rouge and Patois

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

When in New Orleans go to a wine tasting at Fair Grounds Race Course (site of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival) may not have been something I had in my mental list of things to do (okay, most stuff I did was not) , but I’m sure glad I did it was fun.

The Fair Grounds has a casino on the first floor so it was kind of a culture shock walking from the hot New Orleans air into an air-conditioned smoke-filled room (smoking indoors is allowed there) of bright lights and chaotic noises. The escalator up to the third floor where the wine tasting was took my friend and I out of all that into a more serene feeling room that could almost have been a business after hours anywhere.

We drank a few wines, settling on a Sancerre made by Château de Sancerre  in the Loire Valley, France.

From the wine tasting we made our way to Patois, a bistro in a quaint Uptown neighborhood, which I will equate with my two other favorite restaurants on this planet Fore Street (Portland, ME) and Bouchon Bistro (Yountville, CA). The owners are New Orleans born and bred, and most things on the menu come from local suppliers when possible. We started with the Potato Gnocchi (Jumbo Lump Crab, Chanterelles & Parmigiano-Reggiano), which may be one of the most incredibly delicious things I’ve ever put in my mouth. My friend and I began eating the appetizer and the world stopped. I suppose the first time I tried one of Molly Wizenberg’s homemade chocolate chip cookies with grey salt on top may be the only other time I’ve felt so protective of what I was eating. We smartly followed with the Market Lettuce Salad (Shaved Local Radishes, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Ryal’s Goat’s Milk Cheddar & a Local Wildflower Honey Vinaigrette). Delicious. After swaying back and forth between a fish dish and a pasta dish I went, with the waiter’s encouragement, to the Almond Crusted Gulf Fish (Roasted Potato Galettes, Buttered Green Beans & a Citrus Meuniere). Delicious!!

Patois I love you and I will be back.

Southern Snow

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

That’s right folks there is snow in the south and year round if you like it.  There are sno-balls, Snowballs, and Sno Balls. I grew up on Sno Balls, made by Hostess they are disgustingly sweet cream-filled chocolate cakes covered with marshmallow frosting and coconut flakes. I would doubt one could pronounce or even identify as many as five of ingredients.  By the time I left Virginia and my youthful summers in Arkansas dwindled I’d had my share of these cakes.

While in New Orleans I learned about sno-balls and folks I’m madly in love with these. Give me a true New Orleans sno-ball (the Wedding Cake/Creamsicle combination is my favorite, though I would jump for joy over Pineapple)…Let’s get something straight – a sno-ball is not an Icee or a Slushie. It is not even a snow cone (I’m honestly not sure of the difference, I think it has something to do with shaved vs. crushed ice…but I was corrected twice while in New Orleans when I inadvertently referred to aghast a sno-ball as a snow cone). A sno-ball is a cup of shaved ice with syrup (nothing real about this folks) poured over it. Oh blissful empty calories! Some people continue the process by adding ice cream or condensed milk. Not I, purist I am (okay and being lactose intolerant no one including me wants this gal on dairy).  Imagine everywhere you go the option of a sno-ball. I wish I’d had more!  This was nothing like when I was in Rome, Italy and there were maybe two places serving sorbetto (sorbet) and everywhere were places with delicious looking gelato I could not touch. Nope, in New Orleans I could go hog wild. They should be consumed when walking anywhere in the city during the month of August or dancing in the street. I’m convinced these babies saved me from heat stroke (it was a mere 105 or so on the heat index I think one day) as I was determined to do it all and walk as much as possible (come on, it is the best way to experience a place).

Now, should you wish to experience a Snowball, turn to page 274 of the Sesquicentennial Edition of The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (published by The New Orleans Times-Picayune) you will find a recipe. I made a batch last night and polished them off today. I did share, a little!

Snowballs from Sesquicentennial Edition of The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (published by The New Orleans Times-Picayune)

Cup of rice
Pint of milk (**I’m lactose intolerant, I am not allergic to dairy so I can “afford” to test how much dairy I can tolerate. I was fine with this dish…maybe because the milk was cooked and actually my body seems to be becoming more receptive to dairy on a very gradual basis.)
1/4 cup white sugar
6 egg whites
3 (heaping) Tbsp powdered white sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Boil the rice with the milk, and add the whites of three eggs, well beaten with a quarter cup of sugar. Stir well, and flavor with the juice of one lemon. The mixture should be white as snow. Take from the fire (or top of range) as it thickens well, and set in a dish to cool. Form the Rice into small Balls of about 2 1/2 inches square. Have the rest of the egg whites beaten to a stiff froth, with three heaping tablespoonfuls of powdered white sugar. Cover the tops of the Balls with the mixture, and place in the stove to heat. Bake at 400 degrees. Let the Balls remain about four minutes, without browning. Take out, and serve (with a cool, Sweet Cream Sauce the book mentions and does not provide a recipe for).

An Alice Medrich Morning

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Started the day today in an Alice Medrich way, baking cookies. I love her recent book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. Possibly the best baking book I’ve ever purchased (and that’s saying something considering my cookbook collection spans an entire kitchen closet, shelf in the dining room closet, and consumes al little over 1/2 the bookcase in my office).  Back to the cookies!  I made her Oatmeal Cookies (p.150-151 of her cookbook). You can find the recipe in the book (buy it if you like to bake cookies and brownies!!) or online here (promise me if you love this recipe you’ll buy the book and support the ever lovely and oh so talented Ms. Medrich).


Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

A lovely way to segue out of the work day, picking potatoes from my garden. Deep down into the dirt went my hands, digging for those adorable, and oh so promisingly delectable little edibles. Now how to prepare them, I think I’ll reference a cookbook purchased during my recent New Orleans trip.


Monday, September 12th, 2011

Remember Scanwiches? Meet Scandybars, more delicious fun with a high-res scanner!

Lion Bar (possibly the best candy bar ever)

Kit Kat - Caramel (UK)

Kit Kat (second best ever)

Almond Joy

New Orleans EAT, DRINK, DO, SEE

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

I’m going to let the pictures speak for this post on New Orleans and dig in deep (aka past the French Quarter) later this week on my extraordinary visit to a city I feel so kin to.

I rarely, if ever, take a photo of anyone without their permission. I did here, because I could not imagine living without am image of this incredibly keen man. Photo at CC’s Community Coffee House. I found myself visiting their friendly baristas on Decatur Street throughout my stay.

New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery is a neighborhood restaurant with delicious food made by fun/energetic people using fresh ingredients. This place rocks!!! The day I was there w/ my friend Traci a group of volunteers/probably new college arrivals were having lunch.

Cafe Du Monde, because you have to. The great bike tour (another “do it!!”) I’d been on was cut short and I found myself in the vicinity. Sweaty and in spandex (or whatever yoga/exercise pants are made of)…I know, but thankfully no one cares what you look like in NOLA. It was a hot day so I bought the local musician a bottle of water and tried to hand off my remaining beignet to him. He took the water, but no beignet. Ha, guess that says something!

The Algiers Ferry (on the Mississippi). It is free and the one place I could find a breeze. Terrific views of the French Quarter and Mississippi.

Southern Food & Beverage Museum, The Museum of American Cocktail is located inside the SFBM. If you appreciate food and drink this museum is a smart visit.

Cafe Amelie is nestled in the historic 150-year-old Princess of Monaco Courtyard and Carriage House on Royal St. in the French Quarter. When I visited the interior of the restaurant after lunch it felt like I stepped back in time with great looking characters and such ambiance. The staff was friendly, the food delicious. Go!!! The Blackened Fish Sandwich I had was out of this world.

French Quarter wedding second line.

Fine Lingerie and Vintage Couture, Inc. I was encouraged into this dress (from some socialite in Palm Springs…love it!) by Dianne Jacob (author of Will Write for Food, a book I’ve highlighted and reread more than once) and photo by Jamie Schler (such a neat lady, her son went to NOLA to rebuild).

Napoleon House Bar and Cafe, located at the corner of Rue St. Louis & Rue Chartres in the Vieux Carre (aka French Quarter) is the place to go for a Pimms Cup.

Other places I recommend checking out while in the French Quarter are the Louisiana State Museum (NOLA locations), Louisiana Music Factory (a shop specializing in NOLA music, to whose management I’ll be ever thankful for turning me on to Jon Cleary), Bevolo (beautiful selection of traditional and antique gas & electric lights) at 318 Royal St., and Roux Royale (great selection of new copies of cookbooks including River Road Recipes by the Baton Rouge Junior League and Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans).