Archive for June, 2010

Scoop on the Big Easy…..
June 29, 2010

Welcome to New Orleans...hot sauce anyone?

The last time I visited New Orleans was three long years ago….just a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina had wreaked such havoc on the place. And there were large swaths of the city, outside the French Quarter and downtown, the parts you see driving in on I-10, that looked like the disaster had happened a few weeks ago, not (then)two years ago. This visit things were much better…still some boarded up houses(but hey, we see that  here in Baltimore)….but on the whole, the city seemed much more restored. 

Now of course, they’re dealing with a slow motion disaster…one that is no evident on the surface…no roaring winds, no flooded streets, no washed away houses, no people standing on their roofs begging for help. A silent, deadly, oily assassin, gushing out in millions of gallons a day, and it doesn’t make a sound. Yet it will damage the economy as much or some say more, in the long run, than Hurricane Katrina. 

 

Get 'em while you can.....

Still nothing keeps the Big Easy down…the party goes on, no matter what. If you’ve been watching HBO’s Treme, you know that the people who live in NOLA, are devoted to living there, and no where else. It’s a quirky city, no doubt about it. And I love it. We actually considered going to Venice…the fishing town that has become a ground zero of sorts for the oil leak….but the concierge at our hotel said, “Honey, it’s two hours down and two hours back, and all your gonna see is military people and fishermen looking for work.” And as all I had was one full day in town, we ditched the idea, fast. Better to spend it pumping money into the economy, oui? And that’s what we did.

Here are some of the more interesting signs I saw around town….. 

Blackboard art at a Scriptura paper boutique on Magazine Street...

sounds pretty good, yes?

Laissez les bons temps rouler ...where else but NOLA

Our hotel garage sign...so quaint, so old-school, like the place..

We didn’t spend as much time eating in the Quarter…a friend had recommended Martinique Restaurant on Magazine(here’s a link), way out Magazine really….quite close to Tulane University and the beautiful Audubon Park. 

Sea scallops Nicoise....who knew scallops and black olives are so good?

There I had the most amazing Creole and yellow tomato  Panzanella (here’s a recipe) with wild arugula…and seared sea scallops Nicoise…they were cooked with tomatoes, shallots, garlic and capers and topped with little dabs of black olive tapenade. Yummy. Cute little place that reminded me of the small restaurant in Treme that the female chef finally closes…she just can’t make it. Martinique is one of those small, excellent restaurants not on the beaten path, but so well worth a visit.  

I saw it across the street and just had to try it....

And just catty-cornered across the street,is another super-charming place(seriously, NOLA has a ridiculous amount of great eateries) that we just had to try the next night….Bistro Daisy….opened by a husband and wife chef team who named it after their daughter. The night we went(without reservations, it should be said)…the place  was packed, so we ate at the bar, and happily so….heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil….so fresh, so nice. And gulf shrimp saute(again, get ’em while you can)…in an Herbsaint(NOLA liqueur), tomato buerre blanc with toasted fennel, red onion and yellow grits. Yeah, I know….totally sick, right? Just a fabulous dinner. 

The Columns Hotel...classic New Orleans

Went to a couple of interesting bars.  The Columns Hotel…in the Garden District, is a famous place to linger over a cocktail, preferably on the lovely veranda, languidly watching the St. Charles Street streetcars go by, but when it’s hot as blue blazeswhich it was…the inside is dark and cool. Gothic really…Pretty Baby with Brooke Shields(remember the uproar over that film!) was filmed there. I ordered a Sazarac…which is, well, interesting anyway. 

The Bar Uncommon...and it is...

Another bar I highly recommend is at the Pere Marquette Hotel on Common Street…the Bar Uncommon is skippered by mixology master Chris McMillian, who makes quite simply, the best drinks(s) I’ve ever had. Best ever, and I’m not a mixed drink girl. And he’s a fascinating guy, (who looks a little like Garrison Keillor from Prairie Home Companion), who helped found The Cocktail Museum in NOLA(great in its own right)….if you’d like to read about him, here’s an interesting article in Imbibe Magazine(hiccup). Order the Drowning in New Orleans….it’s a drink he invented….but imbibe only one, or you could drown too.

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Back from vacation!!
June 28, 2010

Strange bar we went to in NOLA.....

I have a lot to share with you…which I will dutifully do this week…but today is a busy day..hundreds of emails to sort through and eventually trash. And all the stuff that had been under my desk I came to find piled on TOP of my desk….I am surmising a thorough vaccuming was going on, or it’s a not so subtle sign to get rid of this stuff, which I did. I must admit, it does look better.

Let’s see, I hopped around a  bit on this holiday…two days in New Orleans, two days in Biloxi(for a wedding) and a week at my family’s place on  Smith Lake north of Birmingham, with my sisters and their husbands, though my baby sister left a couple of days in for a trip to Africa to see her son who’s on a mission trip there. And it was very interesting seeing a little of what’s going on at the Gulf Coast. I read just this morning, oil has washed up at in Mississippi in Ocean Springs, a darling little town right next door to Biloxi. Not happy news.

Fresh shucked oysters....a NOLA tradition....

But in New Orleans, I didn’t find people obsessed with the situation…sure they talk about it and worry about what it will mean, but life rolls on in the Big Easy…they’ve already seen a lot of suffering after Katrina, and while there were signs in a few restaurants that they weren’t serving Gulf seafood(makes some people nervous I guess)…..we went to an oyster bar in the quarter for some fabulous oysters on the half shell. I asked the bartender where they were getting their oysters these days. He said, “Oh, they’re still from Louisiana, so far…some of the beds are closed, but some are still open. We have to go a little farther sometimes, to Mississippi or Texas, but we can still get  ’em.” I don’t know how long that will last, but I enjoyed them while I could…Gulf oysters are  fabulously salty bivalves.

And the food there….if you’ve been to New Orleans you know of what I speak…it’s just amazing , though I didn’t have dinner in the Quarter, believe it or not. Tomorrow we’ll take a little food trip to NOLA….Ok?  It’s good to be home.

Open Letter To President Obama
June 15, 2010

Spencer waits enthralled for what he will say....

Dear Mr. President,

I watched you this morning on tv strolling the beaches of the Gulf, wiping away a trickle of sweat…hot down there isn’t it? I mean, seriously…it gets really blazing hot down there. The Gulf  also has the world’s most beautiful beaches, in my humble opinion, though I admit to being a bit biased in this area.

Here’s what I want to say to you Mr. President. None of us can undo what’s happened down south….oh, if we could only open the delicate glass door to time and turn back the clock a couple of months, but alas, technology hasn’t gotten that far.  But what we can do…what YOU can do, is first of all, make sure that big oily mess is made right down there. I have family who live in Gulf Shores, and word on the street is that the cleanup effort is kind of what you might expect when a whole bunch of beaurecratic agencies get together and jostle for who’s boss….the impolite term is a cluster  %*#. But since you and I are both civilized and well brought up, let’s just call it a boondoggle. Bottom line, get more resources down there and tell your chiefs to forget their turf wars and just get it done.

 

Isn't cleaning fun??

But the bigger thing I want to ask of you is to use this BP bad for global good. I need to hear from you in  your national address that things are going to change in this country, whether we’re ready or not. That it’s time..no past time…for a real ,toothy howling energy policy in this country. No more…ok, you knuckleheads, you got another 20 years to change your ways. The profligate way we all use energy in this country has got to stop. Our wasteful, who-gives-a crap-there’s more where-that-comes from….has to end. Now, Mr. President…I should tell you there will be lots of us who don’t want to do that. (Don’t tell anyone but I walk around in the building where I work and while we have recycling bins for paper around the newsroom, lots of paper still hits the trashcan.) It’s easier you know, than just making a recycling stack and taking it over at the end of the day. Soooooo much easier. That’s just a tiny example of the attitude I’m talking about.  And it isn’t always that we don’t care….old habits die hard. And we need to have it hurt to continue our ways. If you make us pay, so that  it hurts to live this way, oh, Mr. President, we’ll change in a hurry. And for many people, sadly, it will be the ONLY thing that changes them.

It’s bully pulpit time, Mr. President. This is your chance for a game changer, time to craft your legacy. Oh I know, I know…President Jimmy Carter tried it back in the 70s and look where it got him.  Here’s what he said on national tv on April 18th, 1977.  “Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.” (If you’d like to read the entire text, here’s a link.)

Wow, you could just recycle that opening paragraph! I know some  will cry plagiarism, but I think President Carter would be honored if you opened your talk just that way….and then give the good man credit, naturally. But it is time for  an unpleasant talk Mr. Obama….that our way of life, as much as I hate to say it, has to change, should have changed 40 years ago. No one loves cranking the ac more than me…hey, I’m a southern girl and I remember when we first got AC at my house in ‘bama. It was like a icy gift from the gods, but we probably stopped playing outside as much…the yin and yang of cool air. But if we don’t change, like yesterday, our children and grandchildren will hit a wall like a subcompact hitting a concrete barrier at 90 miles an hour when the oil runs out. Bad, bad things could happen as the world fights over what’s left. Time for alternative energy Mr. President. Past time. It’s your job to step up to the plate, and many people from both sides of the aisle will stand behind you. You don’t have the votes? Get them. OH yeah, I don’t care that it’s too close to an election. It’s go time, Mr. President.

It’s the Weekend, People!!
June 11, 2010

Muffy "rubbing out" my new cat mint!

OK, this has to be a quickie folks…it’s been a busy busy day but I feel bad if I don’t say a little sumthin-sumthin on Friday, as it’s my fave day. This will make you laugh….a very nice neighbor of mine had brought over two plants from his garden that I had admired, and one of them was cat mint.

So this morning I dutifully put it in the ground, and watered it well. I walked by about 30 minutes later and Muffy had discovered it. And not just discovered…..while she often likes to roll in the dusty(thanks Muffy), she was simply delirious with pleasure over this addition to the garden. Now I know why it’s called cat mint…but I need a new plant.

This weekend I’m giving a little dinner in the garden in honor of this year being  the 50th anniversary of  To Kill a Mockingbird ….with pimento cheese, friend chicken, collard greens, grits and sweet tea, of course. One must have sweet tea in the south. We’ve had an assortment of animals named after characters in the book over the years…a dog named Scout, cats named Calpurnia, Atticus, and Jean Louise….oh, and a bird named Boo. I’ll take pictures and share next week…and it looks like it will be southern-hot this weekend.

say it with me now....oooohhmmmmmmmmmmm....

Thanks for all the birthday wishes…I do appreciate each one:)…..and now, this picture is your moment of zen…a little water feature I made out of a copper fire pit on a stand…just add rocks, a pump from the Depot, and water of course, and listen to the burbling water…..ahhhh, so nice, oui? Don’t throw rocks, play nice and come safe this weekend….’cause we miss you.

Happy Birthday to Me…..
June 10, 2010

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me....

Yes, it’s true…I’m a whole year older now. Darn it. No matter what I do, they just keep rolling on. What you may ask,  did I do for my birthday? Started the day off with doctor’s appointments…I’ve found that if I think ahead and get the appointments all clumped together, you can get a lot accomplished in a relatively short period of time, maybe half a day. And your birthday is a reminder to do those checkups and stuff that otherwise might slip right by you(as I have also done). So in a way….kind of…a gift  to yourself and your family.

My other gift to me was a couple of hours at the spa. I had a lovely gift certificate somone had given me for About Faces….my sweet daughter and I met up and did the mani-pedi thing….a little bit of bliss right there, and my nails look great, though I somehow smudged one of my toes…that needs to be fixed.

Salt's pretty bar.....love the lights...

We met up for dinner at Salt Tavern on Pratt Street in East Baltimore….wow, the food there is great. Duck Fat French Fries? Crazy good…served in a cute little paper cone with a trio of various flavors of aioli(garlic mayo). Three of us shared an order….though I was kinda sorry I didn’t get my own, just a little.

Braised pork shank....ridiculously delicious...

Cuban braised pork shank with  sweet plantains, andouille sausage, roasted poblano peppers, soffrito sauce…and it was as good as it sounds. And it was good to see that even on a Wednesday night, the place was pretty full….lots of people enjoying some delicious grub and a drink at the bar. The Baltimore restaurant scene looks alive and well…

Gin Blossom by Love and Toast...love the name

And I received some new cologne that I had asked for…called Gin Blossom by a company called Love and Toast, so now I smell kind of like a gin and tonic. Not really….but it does have  a limey fresh smell…I really like it.  You can get it online but South Moon Under also carries the brand. 

It was a lovely day really….birthdays don’t always turn out that way, as you know. Sometimes they can be a bit depressing, if you think about life going by so quickly, and all the things you haven’t accomplished this last year that you meant to or if someone you love forgot your birthday. Hey it happens. But it’s also a chance to start fresh, take a do-better pill as my Mother was fond of saying.  I miss her calling me on my birthday as she always did early in the morning, and she would always tell me the story of  our first meeting. That was back in the days of women being put to sleep for the birth of a baby….so after Mom was awake, she heard the nurse coming down the hall with a baby that was really letting off steam…yelling their lungs out. She smiled to herself thinking, that little fellow is really unhappy….I wonder who gets him? And the nurse turned into her room….with her daughter, still raising a ruckus.  She laughed, “The joke was on me…but you were the sweetest baby…just a mad one“.

Bison Burgers, coming up….
June 7, 2010

All grass fed...all natural...and all delicious.

I was at the increasingly well attended(some would say crowded) Sunday morning Baltimore City  farmer’s market under the JFX this weekend, and this time(unlike last week)I arrived early enough to get some ground bison….buffalo meat, ok?…. at Gunpowder Bison and Trading Company…here’s a link. Why, you may ask, would one eat bison? Oh dear reader…the benefits are many. Less fat than beef, grass fed, and raised without antibiotics, growth additives and hormones, and the flavor is just amazing.

Gonna be some bison burgers tonight.....get the grill ready

Really, I have grown excessively fond of bison burgers. And while you can  just slap patties on the grill, but I like to add some sautéed onion, a little Worcestershire sauce, and even some cooked quinoa(ok another new food for some of you…pronounced “keen-wa”…a wonderful grain very high in amino acids and other good stuff, gluten free)…cause when you add the grain, the bison meat goes much further, and it makes the burger even more moist and healthy….added benefit, quinoa cooks in about 12-15 minutes.  Gunpowder Bison is right up I-83 on Monkton Road, and they welcome visitors….I’ve never been, but they tell me you can see the bison grazing right outside the store where they sell all their products.

Two of the main ingredients: good quality vinegar and ice cream

I also made some gourmet strawberry/basamic vinegar  ice cream, the easy way, natch….in an effort to use up some local strawberries that were…umm… racing decay. And I think you’ll love it. I read this recipe a couple of years ago and adapted it. You may understandably wonder…balsamic vinegar in ice cream???…. but like salt and chocolate, it’s an unexpected but  magical combination. You should use a premium vanilla  ice cream, and the best balsamic vinegar you can reasonably afford. You don’t need much and I can assure you a good quality bottle of vinegar(mine is aged 25 years and cost around $30, though you can spend much, much more…painfully more), lasts a long time, and is just fabulous on many things, including salads. The better the vinegar, the sweeter and less sharp it is…no comparison.

Chop the fresh strawberries....

In hindsight I wish I had chopped the strawberries finer or perhaps pureed them, as they do end up frozen and they made it a little hard to dip the ice cream, but ….whatever.

just mix it all up...the vinegar adds a great contrast to the sweet..

Put the berries and 4 or 5 tablespoons of the vinegar into the softened

Low Country Sweets Time!
June 4, 2010

You know what this means....weekend dirt digging...

Photographer Chuck Cochran and I were shooting a story at the new Giant in Timonium, across the street from the Maryland State Fairgrounds….let me say I am obsessed with that store. It is new and gorgeous, with the most amazing array of foods and produce. But as we were leaving the parking lot…across the street in at the fairgrounds was a plant stand with a flower sale….hello, lover. I persuaded Chuck to do what is called in our biz a “swing-by”. Reporters and photogs are often called out in the field by the assignment desk(their thankless job is to get everything for everybody with a finite supply of people to get it with), and told, “Hey, swing by Dundalk and get some pictures of the corner of blabity blah“, or “Hey, can you swing by city hall and get some sound from Councilman Marmaduke?”  No matter that you are no where near where that is….that’s a swing-by.  So Chuck and I did an actually convenient swingby at the plant stand where I nabbed a flat of one the happiest flowers on earth….pink zinnias. And yes, that means planting this weekend, in a bed that’s been staring at me forlornly for a few weeks….”When do we get our flowers?” Soon come, man… soon come.

Best onions ever....

Oh, I got an email today from Richard Kline in South Carolina, saying “Yep….the colossal sweet onions have been harvested and they are ready to ship….do you want any?” Please… of course I want some.  These were truly the biggest, sweetest onions I’d ever had, and that 20 pound box lasted me for a couple of months in the frig. Grill them, cook with them, put them in salads, or make huge fried onion rings….yummy.

That's a whole lot of onions behind him....

Low Country Sweet Onion Company says don’t be fooled by other places that claim to be selling them…that the only way you can buy them is at their website(here’s a link). Here’s what they say about their onions…”Our Yellow Sweet onion is a privately owned brand that is grown in specific soil by one farmer on a very small plot and in a particular weather region an hour out of Charleston.”  So there you have it.  What’s a typical time shipment frame?  Picking Wednesday am, cleaned and boxed, UPS arrives at 3 PM..the onions arrive at their destination Friday by 2 PM. So I’ve placed my order and can’t wait to try some great new onion recipes…like an onion tart. I’ll blog the results, ok? In the meantime, it’s Friday people….so don’t throw rocks, do something unexpectedly nice for someone, and take some time to relax…I am…right after I plant those smiling zinnias.

Flowers, Cake and Oil…..
June 1, 2010

Buttercream fabulosity......

It was a lovely weekend, with a most important occasion being celebrated…my sweet daughter’s birthday. She now moans about “getting older”(puh-leeze) and wishes to be 17 again..though I don’t think she means it. Seventeen? No thanks. But my son and the lovely Jennifer came in Friday night, and while we had intended to celebrate at the Dogwood Restaurant  in Hampden, they were stuck in traffic coming down from NYC, so at the last minute we rushed together a birthday dinner at home….barbecued ribs, lobster tails, and thank goodness I had snapped up a couple of family size salads at Whole Foods that day..potato salad  and tomato/corn…both accidentally perfect with the meat and seafood. And Jennifer had bought the birthday cake(Schnooks is her pet name for Cada) from One Girl Cookies Bakery in Brooklyn, that she claims has the best cake she’s ever had….that from an admitted cake snob. Yummy buttercream, with a raspberry middle layer….fabulous. Just amazing…and they even make Whoopie Pies!

It's hydrangea time!!

Let’s see….the hydrangeas I painstakingly lugged back from a farm in Rhode Island two years ago in the back seat of my car are in bloom…and while I still suffer from a lesser degree of Hydrangea envy…(you know those yards with humongous bushes covered with endless blooms, that must be decades old)….mine look really lovely, and I adore them.

Cherries and brownies...you can see how many pits I left...

We sat around eating homemade brownies and fresh cherries at a neighbor’s house one night…enjoying the loveliness of the evening, and the deliciousness of the brownies, while mourning what’s going on(and what’s not going on) along the Gulf Coast. I haven’t written about it, because I can hardly stand to contemplate it. I spent all my girlhood summer vacations on those Gulf beaches with their blindingly white sugar sand, beaches so wide they were really never very crowded, even at peak holiday time. The thought of those white sands and the clear blue-green waters being fouled,  home to so many sea and air creatures, perhaps for years and years, with smelly oil from giant rigs that plunder what’s underneath the seabed, I can’t stand it. And what I must also admit , is that we all share in the blame…all of us…because we demand the oil , oh, and we want it cheap too. Let’s take a collective look in the mirror.

Parting is such sweet sorrow....in this case, just sweet.

On a happier note, one thing that didn’t end up in a landfill was my sofa….if you remember on Friday, I was desolate because no one would take it. I called the nice man(Daryl) who did my mulching this year to see if I could pay him to haul it to a rescue mission downtown who said they were interested. But when Darryl got there, he announced that he would keep it himself! Love it…and all’s well that ends well. I wish we could hope for that down South. As a trip to Biloxi looms this month for the wedding of my nephew, I will be anxious to see what’s going on in the area. I’m hoping for the best….but fearing the worst.