I spy….

These are just random pictures of sightings that caught my eye in and around NOLA, some pre-COVID and some in the midst. I also took a cemetery tour (pre-COVID) and a couple of the pictures from there are of plaques describing fascinating people and an interesting looking tomb. I took very few pictures of Mardi Gras this year because I was too busy enjoying the parades to snap photos. I couldn’t pass up the Elephant because my Mother loved both elephants and Mardi Gras and for a brief moment, I felt her presence standing next to me as the float passed me by. I would have loved to have experienced Mardi Gras through her eyes. And anyone who knows me or follows this blog knows I love giraffes so the lone pic of the viewing stand should be no surprise. It took every ounce of strength and sheer will power to not sneak the abandoned stand in my car as a memento of the beautiful day but alas, (notwithstanding the fact that it would be stealing) someone went to great pains to paint it and surely it has special meaning to them. Out of respect for my fellow kindred spirit, I walked away with empty hands but happiness in my heart and a photo in my possession. If I am ever blessed to win the lottery, suddenly come into money from some long lost, unknown wealthy relative, or perhaps write a best seller, I would turn an abandoned building or two into my personal living quarters, with enough space for friends and relatives to come visit while at the same time maintaining some sense of privacy for us all. This way they could explore and develop their own love for the city.

During COVID, the French Quarter is shut down and some of the buildings have placed plywood to protect the interior against weather and homeless intrusions. In my mind, seeing the plywood decorated simply enforces the spirit of the city. Turning misfortune into an opportunity to express hope, love, joy and laughter. And special shout-out from this RN to KT Graphix Branding and Print Specialist for acknowledging Healthcare professionals. (Yes, I recognize it is not just Healthcare making sacrifices during this pandemic).

Begin Again

Life comes at you HARD sometimes. I suffered a loss. A sudden inexplicable loss.  It left me with a gut wrenching, heart aching abysmal feeling and took my breath away. It’s not the first-time life has dealt a hard blow, but for some reason, this one sucker punched me. I felt like Life performed a leg sweep, knocking me flat on my back.  Loss is hard, whether it’s a loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, or some other type of loss.  Loss usually is accompanied by lack of closure, which only serves to compound the emotional emptiness.  Lack of closure can feel like abandonment. 

Just when I was starting to recover, Covid 19 hit and I was spending my days working and sleeping, repeat. It takes its toll. Job going through changes, uncertainties plays with your mind. Not sleeping well, heath concerns, becoming a slug in the process. All a recipe for disaster. It’s easy to slip into a depressive state. Not caring about much. Doing nothing all day, then feeling guilty, when you fall asleep, for doing nothing all day. A vicious cycle. 

It’s easy to get lost in sorrow that we forget to enjoy the simple gifts life has to offer.  Simple joys we take for granted like sitting on your balcony and watching the sunrise or taking a walk and feeling the sun on your face. Food on the table and a bed to sleep in. Yes, I understand things moments cannot bring back that which is gone. And yes, we need to take time to feel sorrow and grieve. But find a way back. I’m finding my way back. I am trudging my way through this thing called Life. Trying not to be too hard on myself while fighting my way back to a vibrancy I miss.  

I heard in a movie (don’t remember which one and it’s probably a quote taken from somewhere else) “You drown not by falling in the river but by staying submerged in it.” I prefer sitting next to water, listening to the waves crashing on the surf or watching the sunlight dapple on the ripples, instead of feeling waves crashing over me. A good friend sends me daily pictures of the lake he views from his retirement porch.  He has no idea how therapeutic they are for me…. A reminder not to remain submerged. 

I heard someone say once “I try to live in the now where the ghosts of old wrongs do not reside.”  I’ll just let that reside here. Take from it what you will. 

I started this blog as a way of journaling my new chapter in life after moving here to New Orleans. I want to remember the places I have eaten, the sights I have seen and the life I am living here in the Big Easy. I have lost time by not blogging but it’s not too late to start over. It’s kind of fitting if you think about it. Driving around New Orleans (staying safe in my car) during this Covid pandemic reminded me of how New Orleans, both the city and the people, suffered great losses during Hurricane Katrina and emerged stronger. There is still evidence of a city not 100% back to its glory by way of abandoned buildings and empty lots, but there are many other signs of a city growing and blooming, despite the fury that life dealt. It is a reminder that life is a gift, and as long as you given a chance to wake up every day, there is always an opportunity to change, grow, improve and make a comeback. 

I implore you, if you are not living the life you want, then make changes. We only get one change at this. 

Kin-I can relate to this place

One of the things I appreciate about New Orleanians is their ability to recycle, repurpose, and reinvent themselves and their surroundings. During my hunts for new places to eat, I have come across many places that blend effortlessly into their surroundings. You may drive right past it and not even realize it’s a restaurant. Perhaps it’s a small building on a corner lot or the downstairs of an apartment building. One place I found looked like it was once a house. Another place was once a trolley car. There is a bar inside of what once was a warehouse, unobtrusively sitting on a side street, surrounded by old buildings. But one thing I can say for certain, I haven’t been disappointed yet! 

Kin is one of those places. It is a small, nondescript building. It reminds me of something my dad used to say. He never understood beauty pageants and the need for little girls to be dressed up in frilly, flowery dresses and make-up. He would say the dresses should be simple and tasteful, allowing the beauty of the girl to shine through. He used to joke that the uglier the girl, he would bet the more extravagant the dress and make-up would be. 

Kin is such a place that the beauty of the food inside shines so bright, no need for the dazzle of decorations. When you first walk in, you are greeted by staff. The décor is simple yet functional. I did notice that on the wall was a creation of crates instead of cabinets being used for shelving, which was hung slightly askew. Perhaps it has something to do with the existing wall layout or electrical wiring. I have learned about myself over the years that I can be particular, to the point of a wee bit OCD when it comes to woodworking, and hanging art, to name a few things. So once seen, it was difficult to “unsee”, but I didn’t let it interfere with the rest of the dining experience. Plus, I noticed a few of the pictures on the wall were also hung slightly askew so maybe there is a theme here…. And a lesson that beauty can be imperfect. 

Also, written in huge letters, above the stove area are the words “but did you die?” When I asked the waiter about it, he explained it can get ferociously hot back there cooking and makes for long shifts. That is a reminder for them…. I get it… love the phrase too! One of my favorites from the movie, the Hangover. A reminder I have said to myself on numerous occasions when life has proved difficult or frustrating. How can you not love a place with a sense of humor?!?!

The menu is simple; ramen or udon dishes as its main course with a selection of appetizers. One thing to keep in mind, the menu changes weekly. One appetizer is dumplings, whose selection changes often. Today, the menu had BBQ brisket, Naughty Burger and Chicken Poppers as their dumpling choices. Also, spicy cranberry wings were another appetizer available. We tried the BBQ and poppers. Both were large and flavorful. I also tried another appetizer on the menu, the corn and tofu. I am not a big tofu fan, but this is a dish I can eat every day! I loved it so much I ordered another one to take home. I was almost too full to eat the ramen I ordered after eating the dumplings and tofu dishes. My son ordered the fish bowl ramen which was made with salmon and I ordered the confit pork shoyu ramen. I have included a picture of the menu so you can see exactly what is in these two dishes. Suffice it to say, the flavors were impeccably paired. On a side note, I was told the noodles are hand pulled daily for freshness. Definitely not your store-bought variety served here. 

If you are looking for a simple, no frills, no extravagant dining experience with delicious food, this is a place to be added to your list of “must try”. You won’t be disappointed. 

Maypop-Hits and Misses

Since my last post about Maypop, I went twice more. Once for a quick bite and tried the Sweet Corn Tom Yum and their Bread Service. Starting this post off positively, the Tom Yum soup with egg noodles was a perfect blend of ingredients to make my mouth sing with pleasure. Not too filling, just perfect size for someone who isn’t too hungry. 

This would be my second time around trying the bread service. The first time didn’t impress me. But, perhaps it was a fluke, considering everything else was delicious. So, I tried again. Their bread was slightly different this time around because they added annatto seeds to the top. I am still not impressed. Come ‘on Maypop! Get it together! You are an award winning restaurant. I cannot believe you can’t get something as simple as bread to taste as heavenly as the rest of your food. 

I am sure many of you are wondering why I am fixated on their bread but for those of you who love this manna from the oven, it is the appetizer before the appetizer. It is the beginnings of a meal that sets the stage for what is to follow. It is the salvation for starving individuals who do not want to frighten off dinner guests with the rumblings of their empty bellies. It’s the Piece de Resistance that can make or break a sandwich. Side note *when I was deployed to Kuwait many moons ago, there was a bakery on the first floor of an office building that I had the fortune to be able to visit several times. This bakery created the most mouth-watering, decadent, handcrafted bread of many flavorful varieties. I would bring back to base several loaves for the rest of my crew. A slice of their volcano (cheese) bread with the homemade butter that was shipped to us was a Christmas morning miracle. So yes, bread, though it has developed a bad reputation on the food pyramid, is still a staple of the dinner menu for breadlovers around the world. 

The bread during this service was coated in so much oil and/or butter that it was oozing out when I pulled a piece off. This oleaginous mess coated my fingers, which then in turn collected a layer of annatto seeds that were shingled on top of the bread. Every bite resulted in the same messy fingers. I had to brush the seeds off my fingers after every bite, then wipe them on the napkin. I imagine there is a layer of annatto seeds littering the floors after nightly dinner service.

The next time I went to Maypop was for brunch with family and friends. Since there were four of us, we ordered several different menu items and ate tapas style. 

I didn’t imbibe on your typical brunch drink of choice. Instead, I tried the Café Hoodoo Sua Da which is expresso, hoodoo chickory liquor, and mole bitters. It is a frozen delicacy that is now probably my new favorite drink. Be forewarned, drinks that taste like dessert can be dangerous because the alcohol sneaks up on you!

For starters, we tried the pork and cane syrup sausage stuffed sesame balls, crispy calamari with tamarind fish sauce and Thai chili, “the Baodin” which is a pan fried, cheesy boudin bao bun with citrus mustard. These were the perfect blend of Asian meets New Orleans. We enjoyed the sesame balls so much we ordered it twice. 

Next we ordered the crispy fried oysters with bourbon barrel soy aioli, manchego cheese and spicy cucumber. I wasn’t sure what to expect from fried oysters, but the coating was delicate and it wasn’t greasy at all. The braised lamb made with harissa spice, coconut milk, fried egg, ginger marinated green tomatoes. It is presented in a serving dish with roti bread in accompaniment.  For me, lamb could go either way, super delicious or too gamey tasting. This lamb dish was superb. The roti bread, however, was not. The first time I ever came to Maypop, I had a different dish with roti bread and it was very good. This time, however, I was sorely disappointed. It had been sitting out under the heat lamp for too long and was hard. Roti is a type of bread that is meant to be used to pick up food and eat it. Can’t do that if the bread is too hard to even be folded in half. Maypop, you are not impressing me with your bread skills. 

We also ate some of the Head Cheese and Blue Crab soup dumplings. It is little dumplings with soup inside. Impressive, flavorful and honestly, I am running out of adjectives. That’s how delicious is the food. Now if they could just get on board with the bread, you’d have one happy camper here. 

Jamila’s Cafe

Two weeks ago, I went to dinner with a friend and we were deciding on where to go. We couldn’t decide on what to eat but we could agree we didn’t want Mexican, typical diner food, or Chinese.  I googled restaurants in the area where we were driving, and a place called Jamila’s Café popped up. It was listed as Tunisian cuisine. It was right around the corner, so we headed over.  

The place is a small, quaint building in the middle of a residential section. You could drive right past it if you were looking. It took us a few minutes to find the front door because it’s not too obvious. The doorway opens up into a long hallway that end up in a small back room. Well, THAT’s not the restaurant. We did pass another doorway in the hallway that had windows and curtains but we didn’t see a hostess stand and the doorway opened in front of a table so we didn’t think that was the right door. So we walked back outside and around the side, looking for another entrance. All we found was a backdoor to the kitchen so we wandered back to the hallway side door and went in. Upon entering, a man greeted us right away and seated us. Whew!

The place was wafting with aromas that set my stomach to rumbling. It is a small, intimate restaurant, with minimal decorations but had a “welcome home” appeal. There were white clouds painted on a blue ceiling and lace curtains in the windows. And if you are so inclined, they have belly dancers on Saturdays, though I am not sure where exactly they dance because the tables are so close set together. It’s worth another trip back just to see how this is accomplished. Within a few minutes of being inside, it was obvious this was a place where regulars frequented often enough that the waiter knew them by name and chatted about family and events. The waiter later turned out to be the husband of the chef, and both of them were the proud owners of this establishment. Throughout the evening I watched him personally escort every patron out the door and outside, wishing them a good night and making plans to see them again, or wishing them success on a future endeavor.

His name is Monsef and the joke in the family is he is the busboy. I will let you have the pleasure of telling you that story himself. His wife is Jamila and they have two boys. The boys were 4 and 5 when they decided to start this adventure together. He delighted us with the full story but, again, I do not want to take away from hearing it personally. I feel I wouldn’t do it justice by trying to repeat it here. I will tell you that when his wife exited the kitchen to personally visit every table, I initially thought it was his daughter.

We ordered Mechoui en Brochettes, which is grilled marinated lamb skewers, and Couscous Royal which is served with lamb, merguez (homemade seasoned lamb sausage), chicken and vegetables au jus. The flavor of the marinated lamb skewers was simply delightful. I cannot say enough good things about it. The Couscous Royal reminded me of a flavorful stew. We kept swapping out food between the two dishes because we couldn’t get enough of the meals. At one point, we ran out of the bread and Monsef apologetically asked us if we could wait just a few moments until fresh warm bread exited the oven before he brought it to us. He didn’t want to serve cold bread. When you put it so eloquently, how can I decline?

The evening was getting late and we were late for another engagement so we (reluctantly) declined dessert. But I will be back Jamilla’s, mark my words! If the dessert is anything like dinner, I know I won’t be disappointed. After dinner, and before we left, Monsef asked us if he could perform a traditional post meal hand wash with us. He poured a small amount of fragrant water/cleanser on our hands, which cleanses away the meal. It was a nice finishing touch to the meal.

Just before we left, a party of three people arrived. This was shortly before closing. Monsef was just as pleasant, warm and inviting and I could tell these patrons would receive the full royal treatment without any hint of the approaching closing hour. Monsef insisted on walking us outside as we exited. Once outside, we stood outside chatting for a moment more. As he was talking, he broke off two small twigs of fresh rosemary growing under the restaurant sign and sent us away with our parting gift. This is a man who loves his job, and it shows. The food alone will make you want to come back, but if that’s not enough, the small, friendly personal touches will have you coming back for more.

Maypop is a Maybe

My son is down visiting for the summer, waiting to go back to school. I wish I could say he took a job simply because he is a good son and knows couch potatoness in the house isn’t allowed. I’d also like to take full credit for his desire to be a productive member of society but the fact is, he has a passion for cooking. A passion that is obvious just listening to him speak about food. So while he is whittling away his time here in NOLA, he is putting his time to good use and found a job working in the kitchen of Maypop Restaurant.

Being the great and supportive foodie mother that I am, I just had to drop by unannounced one night and try the place out for myself. I brought a friend along to keep my bias in check and help sample the flavors. We didn’t go all out, ordering everything off the menu but instead sampled/shared a few different items.

First off, I want to give kudos to the wall map decoration. I truly don’t know what style you would call the design, but it is similar to 3d illusion. Imagine triangular wedges all grouped together with two of the sides representing two different maps. When you view from one side, you see one map and when you view from the other side, it is a different map. It is better viewing from a distance because you get the whole picture when your eyes blur the individual wedges together to make one picture. Am I making sense here? I hope so. Better yet, go view for yourself!

Everyone on the staff was pleasant and the atmosphere was friendly and inviting. There was a gentleman standing near the bar who could have been either a bodyguard for some important VIP or a bouncer to kick out the unruly. He was keenly aware of everything happening within the restaurant, without making you feel like you were being watched and I’ll wager nothing gets past him. I could view the kitchen from where I happened to have been seated (strictly a happy coincidence, I assure you). From my vantage point, the kitchen staff worked efficiently and cheerfully.

We ordered the bread service, which is simply four pieces of annatto sesame rolls served in a small cast iron type dish with coconut butter and shellfish pepper jam as an accoutrement. I am a huge fan of delicious bread but I have to be honest, this just didn’t do it for me. The bread was too hard. I think it was left in the oven a little too long so instead of crusty bread with a soft interior, it was closer to a rock hard crust with a dense thick interior. The coconut butter didn’t have even a hint of coconut in it and didn’t taste any different from regular butter, except maybe creamier. The shellfish pepper jam was an interesting combination of flavors though. If you have been following me, you’ll know I don’t do spicy. However, this was flavorful but I was sure happy I was eating it with bread! Whew!

The second item was a Roasted Bone Marrow and Louisiana Crawfish in smoked paprika curry. I was hesitant to try this because I have never had bone marrow and it just sounds like something Hannibal Lector would dine on BUT you only live once so why not try something new? There was a warm, roti bread served with the dish and I am a huge fan of roti. I am almost completely won over to bone marrow by this dish. The hesitancy isn’t due to taste at all but the texture for me of the marrow. It is gelatinous in nature once cooked. I tried eating it straight off bone and the jelly texture didn’t do it for me, but after I scraped it out and mixed it with all the wonderful flavors of the curry sauce, I was a fan.

Next we tried Black Cardamom Glazed Beef Belly with cheesy curried potato stuffed roti (again with the roti, I know! But I like what I like). The flavors in this dish were delicious and the stuffed roti was a knock out of the park. A real winner to me!

For dessert we tried the Mousse Rouge and Dark Chocolate Cremeux. I had to send the chocolate dessert back but the Mousse was delicious. Full of flavor without the heaviness an overpowering sugary dessert would have. The mousse is housed in a circular tower of white chocolate. The red and green strawberries are floating in a summery marinade of interesting herb-infused flavors. The greek yogurt sherbet, which sounds like an ice cream imposter, was a splendid accompaniment to the mousse. A perfect way to end a meal.

I ordered an Espresso Martini to go with the dessert but the waiter only heard the word espresso and brought a cup of that instead. It took me a few minutes to gain his attention again but once he learned his mistake, he quickly corrected the order.

Overall, there are many great qualities of Maypop and still many items on the menu left to explore. I didn’t leave the restaurant feeling “wow, I can’t wait to go there again!” Though I am not totally sold on the place, I believe it deserves a second go ’round, and not just because my son is working there!

Strolling through NOLA

When people think of New Orleans, usually, the first few things they think about is Mardi Gras, Beads, Bourbon Street and women’s bared breasts. I’ll admit, it’s what I used to think too. The few times I visited before moving down here gave me an insight to a beautiful city, whose inhabitants were fiercely proud, loyal and full of life. Since moving New Orleans, my initial reaction to this beautiful city hasn’t changed. Quite the contrary, it’s been enhanced by the sights and sounds I have experienced in my short time of being here. 

New Orleans isn’t just about delicious food, beautiful artwork, naked breasts and endless parties. There is so much history here! When you stroll down parts of the city, it feels like you time warped to a different bygone era. There are Victorian houses with porch swings and tassled lampshades in the windows. Trees so large and majestically lumbersome, overhanging the sidewalks and looming out over the streets. I have seen street lamps taken over by Honeysuckle vines, becoming fragrant giants towering over their domain. Fronts of buildings covered head to toe in Ivy. Lawns recreated to become picturesque zen gardens. As you stroll down the sidewalks, if you look carefully around you, you’ll see intermittent memorials in the form of perhaps a plaque, a statue, or a bell, seamlessly blending into the surroundings. A gentle reminder of loves and lives lost but not forgotten. There are beautiful balconies, adorning historic buildings, handcrafted to reflect the personality of the crafter. 

Have I told you I love this city? I passed by a storefront that sold crowns… CROWNS. What King or Queen of your household doesn’t need a crown! And just outside a different storefront I saw a large regal lamp. Anywhere else it would have looked out of place but here in this city, anything goes. So many different artists set up outside Jackson Square. Each week you can view it’s someone new and something different. I don’t have the space or the money to purchase everything I like but if I did, I’d be broke already. 

I am still unsure if New Orleans will be my forever home, but I’ve lived here nearly a year now and it hasn’t lost it’s appeal yet. There is still so much more that needs to be explored. You are welcome to stay with me on this journey and feel free to let me know your favorite places to visit.