Thursday, May 30, 2013

farewell to nola

It has been a joy writing these posts. And also apparently folks are appreciating them, since I got a text from my vegetarian best friend begging me to road trip again to New Orleans, with her, and that she would definitely eat seafood (!).

But lest we forget, I wasn’t in New Orleans solely to binge eat on seafood. I mean, I did a lot of that. But the main reason for my presence (and that of my mom and boyfriend) was to celebrate my sister Malindi’s graduation. She worked hard for four years, getting straight A’s her last semester (!!! It’s hard enough to get straight A’s in college- I never did- and particularly your LAST SEMESTER OF SENIOR YEAR) and we were excited to honor her accomplishments.

Reason #982375982379835 that going to my own college was a stupid decision: we never got free anything. By “free”, of course, I don’t mean “free”, I mean “recouping even a tiny percentage of the extraordinary amounts of money the school received from our family”.

Anyway, Tulane excelled at this, particularly at the form of their epic Wave Goodbye party. (Tulane is the Green Wave. Get it?! Get it?!)

All around the beautiful, oak-tree-lined quad, there were little stands that looked like this:


Doesn’t it look like we were at some epic food and wine festival?! They had a DAZZLING, all-you-can eat selection of virtually every New Orleans favorite that could possibly occur to you. Best of all, in miniature portions, so you can eat more. Because obviously one regular meal is equivalent to like… sixteen miniature meals. Right? Right? Hello?

Having tasted a lot of New Orleans specialties already (see above, re: seafood binge eating), I sought out the things I hadn’t tried yet.

Top on my list was the muffaletta. That is because a few months prior, I had tasted one for the first time at my pal Grace's Mardi Gras dinner. And it had kind of made my eyes roll back in my head.

So this happened:


It wasn’t as good as Grace’s (I mean, cmon, she made her own rolls; this one was mass produced and a little sloppy) but I think many many things in this world would be enhanced with a slather of zesty-olive chunkiness.

Next on the agenda was crawfish, in the form of crawfish pies (foreground) and crawfish balls (back right). The pies were not dissimilar to empanadas, with a pretty zesty filling. The balls were a feat of nature, managing to be crispy on the outside and utterly soft and dense on the inside, not dissimilar to Spanish croquetas, if you’ve ever had those. My one complaint is that I wish there were LESS on the plate! Steve  and I split the two crawfish plates and there were still leftovers. (Any of you who know Steve in real life or even read this blog regularly will understand that is shocking. In his defense, New Orleans in general was kind of a food O.D., and we were all at this point just trying to keep our bellies from exploding. While still tasting everything, obviously).


There was corn soup and everyone was all “Whoop de doo, corn soup”. Until Malindi actually got it. She took a bite, and her eyes got all wide, and she gave us a taste. And then we all booked it to get creamy creamy buttery buttery ever so slightly spicy corn soup. Plus, in a weak nod to health, a cucumber-watermelon-heirloom tomato-mint salad. Nice, although unevenly distributed between cups. I didn’t get any cute little heirloom tomatoes :(


We were in an epic line for the next item (oh, just wait) so we got some spiced nuts to keep up our strength. You know the sweet, spiced, crunchy, addictive nuts at baseball games? Yeah. Those. Dangerous. Crack-like.


The epic line was for… barbecued oysters! Mega mega amazing amazing enormous barbecued oysters. Drenched in cheese and an herby vinaigrette sort of thing. Who knew, right?! Grilled oysters and parmesan are a very very good thing.


Then we had to make a visit to the dessert department. Another epic line for ice cream.


I opted for the strawberry sorbet and the creme brulee (I didn’t finish these. I feel pathetic having to defend myself about this extraordinary quantity of food. But for the record, I didn’t finish these. But I did have to try my sister’s chocolate, and that one was the best of all and I should’ve just gone for it and gotten three).


Oh and then a slight ADHD moment, where I noticed that the red beans and rice line was really short and I hadn’t had those yet in New Orleans and well…


WORTH IT. So rich and smoky. This is (spoiler alert) the first item I have recreated since coming home from Nola. And, yknow, a complete protein. So there you go.

Shockingly out of character for me, the other desserts struck me as uninteresting. Steve like them okay, but I only had a bite of each (strawberry shortcake and lemon cheesecake. Eh.)


But the night was young. In a hilarious turn of events, Erin, our buddy from Americorps, was also in town! What are the odds that two people currently living in Virginia and another person currently living in Texas will randomly be in New Orleans on the exact same night?! So cool. While Steve and I waited for Erin and her buddies to arrive, we sipped sangria.


(love this pic with the moon in the background, Steve!)

And then we were off to Frenchman Street! Also in the French quarter, hopefully slightly less touristy than Bourbon Street. We dipped into a nifty jazz club and got drinks, and then went outside and wandered (getting drinks to go, yet again. Ridiculous).

We stepped into this cool little alleyway, ablaze with Christmas lights, and browsed the wares of local artists. I bought myself a fleur de lis headband for the simple reason that it was $5 and I wanted to remember this lovely night in New Orleans. Then Erin saw it and loved it and wanted one too. Then we were twinsies! Posing with my apparently inebriated boyfriend.

frenchman st.

Good times. Thanks for the picture, Erin!

Another crappy night’s sleep ensued. Got home late, were woken up at six am by Malindi’s roommates shouting about curling irons (…)

We went to pick up Malindi and Mom, and motored off to the Superdome. On the way this wretched, wretched cop wrote me a ticket for running a red light because there are BS intersections in New Orleans where you are supposed to somehow know that when turning left, you can’t just turn left because that would be too easy. No, you have to turn left and stop immediately and wait on the median until the cross street has a green light. There is no sign warning you of this. The officer did not care that I had an out of state license plate and my sister was sitting in the backseat in her cap and gown. Ugh. So Steve drove the rest of the way to the Superdome and I sobbed in the backseat.

Graduation was amazing. In lieu of Pomp and Circumstance, a jazz band played wonderfully exuberant New Orleans jazz. The speaker was the Dalai Lama!!!! One point that really struck me from his conversation was that education was a wonderful opportunity but it was important not to isolate yourself as a result of it, and to reach out to the people in the world with less. And to always attempt to form friendships, both as individuals and groups, because with the trust that comes from that, solving all of the world’s problems will be done more collaboratively and more easily too.

A photoshoot with my glamazon sister ensued.

malinkle graduation

She is second from the left. Fun fact: her pal, furthest left, had been drinking since 6 am!

Then we were off to a VERY exciting lunch. We were pretty certain in advance that it would be amazing, since my mother had been at the dentist and read about them in Food and Wine (!). The name? Cochon. The word for “pig” in French, FYI.

Inside was lovely (sorry, backlight…)


Like seemingly everywhere in New Orleans, they had a great, intriguing cocktail menu.


What would you get?!

Being a celebratory occasion, we were cool with day drinking. Being day, we opted to share. My mom and Malindi split the Honeysuckle Rose, which was great. And Steve and I split The Swinekiller. I mean, rhubarb bitters?!


It was tangy and refreshing. Have no idea what that thing floating in it was, but I dug it.

Mostly small plates happened at lunch (have I adequately given you the impression that we had already eaten A LOT?!)

Steve got two soups. His first gumbo (which he loved, and we all got to taste and admire for its intense smokiness). And another corn soup, since he’d loved the one the previous night so much. This one was chilled, and different, but just as good.


My mom, demonstrating what a balanced, non-neurotic individual she is about food got a virtuous and tasty beet and arugula salad… and fried pork cheek terrine! I had a bite of the cheeks and they were good; nice and crisp on top. Not at all what you’d expect when you hear terrine (or at least we didn’t, we’d all been imagining pate) but unique and very good.


Malindi had a hard time deciding what to order but ultimately just wanted to get something Cochon was famous for. So she got the cochon! It came with little bits of pickled turnips and pork rinds atop. And wow, turns out pork rinds can be really gourmet and delicious!


I was kind of ridiculous with what I got. I knew I wanted small plates, and I knew the crawfish and green tomato gratin was calling my name (I mean come on!)

It arrived and was thoroughly delicious and satisfying. Creamy, flavorful, interesting textures.


And, not thinking all that clearly about all the creamy cheesiness a gratin would entail and still sad and wanting something comforting after getting my stupid ticket I also ordered the macaroni and cheese.

It was delicious, but I was much more interested in my gratin. Fortunately, my mom fell in love with it in a serious (SERIOUS) way. So I passed it over to her end of the table most of the time and a good time was had by all.


We saw some epic slices of pie go past us during the meal, and we knew dessert was a foregone conclusion. Like at every point in this meal, the menu was dazzling and we wanted it all.


But we ultimately opted to share two. The chocolate peanut butter pie was a foregone conclusion, and boy was it great. The crust seemed to have chunks of nuts embedded in it, and was amazing; crunchy and salty and just a little crumbly. The filling was creamy and perfect.


However, no less delicious, and simply categorically different was the pineapple upside down cake. Malindi ultimately opted to order it (we gave the graduate dessert decision making power) because she was intrigued by the presence of cornmeal. And gosh darn it, it was a great choice. The cake had the most wonderfully caramelized outside, and a wonderful, slightly toothsome texture throughout from the presence of the cornmeal. Its sweetness, and the sticky pineapple on top, was perfectly complemented by the slightly tangy ice cream. A unique and lovely spin on a traditional dessert. We all want to make this at home!


We took a bit of time to wander in the area around the restaurant, taking more pictures of Malindi. We returned to The Chimes and hung out in their lovely garden, then went inside for a quick marathon of My Cat from Hell episodes (I completely blame the graduate for this).

And then it was time to go to the ROCK AND BOWL! Malindi’s best friend Sarah had a HUGE contingent of family in town, and they planned to celebrate at this sports spot/music venue. They invited us along, their treat. So nice! So fun!

Aside from being a magnificent bowling alley, it had a bar! Open for party guests. I know beer is a traditional bowling alley beverage, but I don’t like it. So I got a white wine spritzer, which looked a lot like it, so there you go.


Rock and bowl has everything you could want from a bowling alley, but also so much more. For example, they cater. They cater AMAZING NEW ORLEANS FOOD. This was my first taste of etouffee on the trip and Lord. Have. Mercy. The big fat crawfish chunks were amazing, and the rich and butter soaked sauce was amazing. I’d never really want to see how it’s made, but it sure went down easy.


Unpictured, there was also tasty jambalaya and salad.

And then, of course, it was time to get our bowl on.

Due to a quirk in putting our information into our alley’s computer, Malindi accidentally played twice. Also Malindi was a dominant force in the game, and did a lot of trash talking about the obviously inferior Malindi.

(Things like this are my family’s lifeblood. We have such bizarre senses of humor. Oh and also we are not good at bowling. Clearly.)


Yet another display of the friendly New Orleans spirit: also having a party at the Rock and Bowl that day was a girl who’d graduated from LSU. She had the most ENORMOUS cake, and when her family barely made a dent in it, started offering it to us.

We politely accepted a slice of our cake, figuring it would be mass-produced and shortening-y. Well, not so! It had the most rich, crumbly, subtly almond-infused vanilla cake, and creamy and delicious frosting. We ate it with gusto!


And then we spent several hours cleaning my sister’s room, and an exhausting 18 hour day driving back to Virginia!

Au revoir, Nouvelle Orleans. It was a blast!

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