It’s funny how a place can change you. And how a place can change. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go back…see the places I left with the eyes and heart and thoughts I have now. Because I’ve left places.
I left the town, the place, the state where I grew up. I left most of the people I grew up around….people called family if family is defined by blood, by given name, by traceable cells.
Circumstance can be a trap.
Sometimes leaving is the beginning of living.
I imagine that is, in a small way, what many Cubans considered when they left these sunstruck streets in pursuit of a self-determined life.
Sometimes, after you’ve left, little slivers of songs surface from the deep waters of memory where they were simmering all along, syncopated with your heart’s beat…beat…beat.
They thump. They thunder.
The details of what you once knew appear, briefly, focused.
A place can mark you: ink its name on your skin indelibly. It pins its bloom on you.
Blooms within long after you kissed goodbye.
Decay unearths its own breed of beauty: a layered, beat-up beast made fierce by time, patience, endurance.
I’ve been wandering around Cuba thinking these thoughts, seeing stories in peeling plaster, feeling the soulfulness of this place.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to leave what you first knew.
For the next few posts I’ll be writing about Cuba.
Ready to roam through New Orleans and get your fleur de lis on? Bring your joie de vivre. First let’s get a place to sleep situated. I stayed at Loew’s New Orleans on my most recent visit. And I’d stay there again. The room was clean, well-maintained and comfortable. The hotel is located downtown and a quick half mile walk gets you to the French Quarter. That’s close to the songs, swagger and sauce yet far enough away so you’re sleeping in a quieter neighborhood.
I love the ship-shaped chandelier and the red tongs theatrically gripping an ice block in Swizzle Stick Bar, part of Café Adelaide, located just off the hotel lobby. It’s a chic little bar for swizzling some beverages.
The main reason I’d stay at Loew’s New Orleans again is this: the staff was super friendly and professional. I felt welcomed to my vacation as soon as I walked into the hotel. The concierge gave fantastic advice on local spots, neighborhoods and how to navigate NOLA.
As I said earlier, Loew’s New Orleans is close to the sauce. So close that I could see one of my favorite sauce-making places from my room. That red brick building in the shadow of a skyscraper is Mother’s Restaurant. It’s been serving supremely comforting food in that same location since 1938. People line up to get at those po’boys, fried chicken, gumbos, baked hams and biscuits. Mother’s is the first stop in New Orleans. Always. Because this is the food I’ve been longing for since I last sunk into a Ferdi Special (roast beef, ham, debris and au jus po’boy) and swam in smoky gumbo and devoured crispy, juicy fried chicken. Get in that line.
By the way…don’t be daunted by the line or navigating Mother’s. Here’s how to do it: get in that line, go where the friendly staffers tell you to go, stay out of the path of busboys and servers hustling around and know what you want to order when you get to the front. Order, pay, find a table, give your receipt to a waiter and they’ll bring your food to the table. Here’s a link to their menu so you can plan your attack.
Relax and watch a bustling, longtime local restaurant crank out southern comfort on a plate. And definitely use that pepper vinegar sauce. You can bring sauce home with you or have them ship a whole big box of it to you so you won’t run out between visits. Time to walk off that gumbo and make room for donuts. Head to Magazine Street and Jackson in the Garden District which will put you smack in front of District Donuts for perfectly pillowy donuts and strong, smooth cold brew coffee. District Donuts serves the best sliders I’ve ever had in any city. My favorite: fried chicken with sweet and spicy slaw, candied jalapenos and crispy chicken skin.
There are plenty of antique and interior design stores to prowl through along this section of Magazine Street as well as funky little shops with clothing and baubles.
I bought several excellent necklaces from Langford Market and chatted with the super nice salesgirls who happily advised me on some other local places to check out. You can see a third necklace, my favorite one, from Langford Market in my last post.And since we’re talking about favorites…it’s time for Chef Donald Link’s Cochon: my no-contest favorite celebrity-chef-run restaurant of the many I visited on this trip.Cochon serves sumptuous, traditional Southern Cajun food and kickass cocktails. My favorite cocktail: The Mogwai, a delectable little sip of Vago Elote Mezcal, cold brew coffee, grapefruit juice and sugarcane syrup.
The service at Cochon was pristinely professional while remaining true to the friendliness and ease you get used to in New Orleans. Every dish and every cocktail (all of them…tried all of them. Don’t worry…I had help.) I dove into was totally oink-worthy. I plan to check out all of Donald Link’s restaurants on my next romp through NOLA.
Oink, Donald Link…I dig what you do!Time for tequila? Go to Yo Mama’s in the French Quarter. This local, dimlit dive has a surprisingly extensive tequila selection. The burgers are supposed to be awesome and they looked like some sloppy goodness on a bun but I wasn’t ready for a burger just then. Next time I’m in NOLA I’ll try one of Yo Mama’s burgers. Bonus: you get a yo mama joke on your receipt. Put that in the arsenal for your next schoolyard throwdown. On to look at art by local New Orleans artists at Bee Galleries. I wandered into this gallery and wound up loving (and purchasing) two pieces by Mark Bercier. He created a language of images, called The Healing Symbols, that harbors raw emotions and memories. I love looking at this piece and finding a new story within it each time I wander through.
I think an art piece is completed by the viewer. In that way I see art, and the fate of any artwork, as a mutable conversation. Mark Bercier’s work inspires ongoing conversation; journeys. His symbols have meaning and personal stories, some of which are hilarious. Those same symbols wake other memories and emotions in me that might author a new story.
I like that idea: that objects have lives before and after your hands have touched them. Maybe objects whisper their own language.Time to celebrate that artsy purchase with, of course, snacks and beverages. Check out Saint Lawrence for local and regional craft beers, Pimm’s Cup Daiquiris and some solidly good bar fare. If they have the crab claws: get those crab claws, boss.
Keep the celebration going by rolling over to 21st Amendment Bar which is part of The Hotel Mazarin. This is a sweet, petite spot lit by glittering chandeliers. Black and white photos of old school gangsters decorate the red-painted walls.The 21st Amendment Bar serves beautifully balanced, handcrafted, Prohibition-era cocktails from their shimmery, copper-topped bar. My favorite classy cocktail from here: the Diablo Viejo (translates to Old Devil) a mix of Reposado Mezcal, Cabeza Tequila, habanero citrus syrup and bitters. Thank you.
Plus they have live music trumpeted out by some seriously talented players.
The space is purported to be haunted which I didn’t know when I went there. And yet this place inspired some haunted lines in my poem for New Orleans.
Look out for those gangsters’ ghosts. They’ll sway that chandelier at ya.You might wind up bewitched, as I am now, by New Orleans. This city owns swagger and ease and a quaffable voodoo that’ll sink into you and make you want more.More haunting, more songs, more shivers, more sauces and sugar piled high.
Hunt that haunting.Don’t forget to stop into Café Du Monde and get your requisite beignets.
Till next time, New Orleans…stay haunting. It’d be so cool if I could still be haunting you.
Photos in this post link to NOLA spots. And here’s a nice orderly list with links:
Recently I missed a birthday. This blog has been oinking for four years and twenty-eight days (as of the date of this post).
I didn’t forget the day. Weeks in advance I thought about what I wanted to say and realized maybe I should write more of the story. And then I needed to think about how I want to do that. Currently, it’s like we’re having a conversation and we’ve agreed to rarely veer from one topic: food.
But food veers, right?
Cuisines fuse. A wine can start out telling you one story, all bouncy and full of fruit then swerve into fields of metal, leather, ash.
Showing up here, somewhat regularly, for snacks, beverages and wanders through cities all wrapped up in words has tilted my perspective. The food I eat and offer (and how I eat and offer food and drink) reflects my attitudes, inclinations and emotions. Food is a journey and a destination sprung from memories; inspired by moments that want tasting.
I need to think more about all that so I can write more about…all that. I’ll try to be enteratining and deep when I do.
Maybe this year we should chat about other things that feed us…like books. I savor books.
This is a photo of the third box of Lesley Stowe Raincoast Crisps that have briefly visited my home. The first box, brought by a friend to a party, got demolished fast.
I swooped up the second box of these awesomely crunchy crackers from a sample table at IFBC. I considered taking two which you weren’t supposed to do.
So I didn’t but I definitely wanted to.
I purchased the third box of crisps so I could finally write about their compelling crunchiness and snap a portrait. If you look closely you’ll note that the right side of the inner plastic sleeve was breeched…pre-photo shoot.
Clearly I get into these seriously crunchy, nut-studded crackers.
Raincoast Crisps are available in five flavors. I’ve tried Original and Cranberry Hazelnut so far. There’s a gluten free version made with oat flour available in three flavors. Both versions are made in small batches from locally sourced ingredients. Plus Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast crisps are Non-GMO*.
Those Vancouverites really know how to concoct a snack cracker with earthy consciousness, eh?
I haven’t added a dip or topping to my Raincoast Crisps yet. I plan on doing so. A whipped-up dip and these crispy, toast-shaped crackers sounds like an easy, satisfying, party snack. And it is, after all, the beginning of the Snacks and Soirées season.
Heck, I like these crisps so much I’d stuff ’em in a stocking or give ’em as a hostess gift. Speaking of gifts…I’m obliged to tell you that the second box of Raincoast Crisps I quickly consumed was a free sample that I hustled into my goodie bag when I attended the International Food Blogger’s Conference in Seattle. There were plenty of cool brands and products represented at IFBC. I chose to write about Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps because I liked them so much I couldn’t keep my paws off them. Or jaws.
I received a discount on my ticket to IFBC in exchange for writing three posts about topics of my choice related to the conference or brands and products represented at the three day, food-blogger whirlwind. It was interesting and full of wine and food. Speaking of which…let’s get back to snacks.
Oink, Lesley Stowe, I like what you do!
*Non-GMO stands for non (or not) genetically modified organisms. The Non-GMO project is an organization that offers third party verification and labeling for products produced with Non-GMO ingredients. Here’s a link to the Non-GMO project website in case you’re curious.
I love stories and storytelling, words and rhythms. I get amped about a little alliteration. Lately I dig the mix of words and images. A photo or drawing can complete a sentence, layer depth into a character, set a scene.
Blogging is a form of storytelling.
And bloggers are major contributors to the giant cyber-library made possible by the internet. That’s awesome and sometimes not-so-hotso simultaneously.
Sometimes I wonder what it will be like to read antique blogs. What will all these voices sound like when their slang softens to quaint? Will the stuff in the photos look dusty?
I used to go to libraries and bookstores more often. I’d buy hardcover versions of books I wanted to own, usually by favorite authors. I’d find new-to-me writers by wandering long aisles while reading sideways from spines, waiting for words to resonate.
Nowadays sometimes there isn’t a book to buy. There’s just a story hanging out on a blog like it’s floating by on a raft, sipping cold beer from a plastic party cup.
The way I find stories and buy books has changed radically though I remain a madlover of bookstores and still meander down aisles, looking for kinship.
We have access online to a veritable smorgasbord of voices. And that has changed how we find and share books. Writers and readers aren’t limited to what traditional publishers choose to make available. At this point self-publishing has even managed to brush the lame off its shoulders and become considered legit.
So I was looking forward to the seminar on self-publishing and ebooks at this year’s International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle. The keynote speaker was Jon Fine, director of Author and Publishing relations at Amazon.com. I figured I’d get perspective straight from the source.
Attending this seminar was the most valuable hour and a half that I spent at IFBC. Jon Fine was a compelling speaker. He made some pretty witty jokes. I laughed.
Mostly he focused on useful information. And he was direct with advice which I respect. During Q&A a fellow seminar attendee said that he had two books he’d like to self-publish. One is good and the other is kinda crappy. He asked Mr. Fine which one he should publish first. Mr. Fine’s response was why put your name on something crappy.
Create good content. He was definitely passionate about that point.
So create good content and then you can digitally publish that awesomely good content if you want. There’s a world of information available online about how to self-publish and the details of the process. I’ll post some slides with resources from the seminar at the end of this post. And here’s a link to Amazon’s Author Central home page. Surf onward from there to tons of information.
Vicky McDonald, newly self-published e-book author and blogger, also shared her insight on the process of self-publishing. Her big one was proofread. When you’re a blogger you can always log in and edit. That’s not so easy with a book even when it is published digitally.
Both speakers talked about using freelance copy editors, cover artists, proofreaders and other industry professionals to create a polished product. Their advice: use them. Especially the proofreaders.
Jon Fine also spoke about metadata and how people find books online. The word lover in me is fascinated by metadata.
Think about the words someone might use when searching online for a new book. An author can find an audience by describing their book with words that will resonate with their future fans who are surfing by. I think that’s interesting.
I suppose the stories of how we used to buy books in stores will become the new version of when I was your age I walked to school in waist high snow. Get your old school story ready, son.
Oh…and here’s another aspect about this brave online world: there are all sorts of ever-changing rules about things like disclosure. So please know that my admission fee to IFBC was discounted. In exchange I agreed to write three posts on topics of my choice about the conference, sponsors, food, drink. I figured I could find three things I liked that I wanted to write about from IFBC. No problem.
This seminar was definitely a highlight of the experience for me
Here are some resources in uncropped photos so you can get that sitting-in-a-seminar feeling. Seems like you’d want to know these tips before you compiled your good content in some incompatible way:
And here’s a chunky list of resources available online. Free, surfable knowledge. Bring it.
There’d be snacks, samples, wine tastings and seminars on stuff I’m always trying to get an edge on like SEO. Knowledge: bring it.
The sponsors look cool. I know some of the brands that will be there and I’m about to meet the ones I don’t know. There are gonna be gift bags, son. I like gift bags.
And I qualified for a discounted ticket to IFBC by agreeing to write three posts on a topic of my choice related to the weekend-long foodcentric, wine-fueled frenzy. I can do that and actually I should do that as a writer. I take a long time to produce some of my posts. So I signed up and decided to use the event as a writing challenge for myself. Kinda seemed like a win win win situation with snacks and wine.
I’m in and I’m amped.
I’ll be tweeting about this year’s IFBC in Seattle, city of champions. I’ll post photos on Instagram and write about it here through the weekend because I’m modern like that. It’s going to be a fun experience. And I’ll tell you the rest of this story as it happens. It’s like we’re going handheld or something.
If you see me hanging about the IFBC conference then please oink at me. I’ll oink back or do jazzhands. Your choice.