Pixie pix

A few favorite snaps of my nieces from last weekend. First up is Sela, the birthday girl…tomboy, daredevil and sometimes-clown:

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Followed closely by big sister Liat…ballerina, singer and actress:

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Sittin’ here in La-La…

And we’re back, after spending almost a full week with family in Louisiana; catching up with everyone was lots of fun and the purpose of the trip, of course, but the balmy weather was what really put smiles on our faces after our 15-degree week here in the northeast. “But what about the food?” you say. Glad you asked…

Our first meal of the trip came shortly after we landed in Kenner. Gil and I had been up since 3:30am (early flights — what can you do?), so we weren’t exactly in the mood for a big production. Good thing there’s Spahr’s, just across the bayou in Lafourche Parish.


Neither Spahr’s nor the bayou, but a shack on scenic Dufrene Ponds behind the restaurant. Kind of takes what little romance there was out of it, huh?

At Spahr’s, seafood’s always on the menu and it’s usually deep-fried, though when crabs or crawfish are in season, boiled is also an option. What I’m saying is, you don’t come here for heart-healthy food. Gil and I split a seafood platter and left very happy and on the verge of passing out. No pics of the food, because a big plate of fried seafood is really only interesting if you’re sitting before it about to dig in.

When we left, my nephew Mason looked for the alligator that sometimes hangs around the restaurant.

Sadly, it was not to be found. Mason was inconsolable, and offered his head to the Catfish God.

The food we eat when we visit my family has turned into a strange mix of traditional Cajun dishes supplemented with Sandra Lee-ish recipes. Yes, friends, we had Velveeta and all manner of processed foods in abundance. But there also were platters of boudin, gallons of gumbo, and more jambalaya than our gathering of 40 or so could handle. Still, the sheer amount of sodium and fat we ate last week really took its toll and we’re on . . . well, not a diet, but a whole foods sort of eating plan again.

On our last day with the folks we went to Smitty’s, another hole-in-the-wall seafood joint that’s known for its oysters. Doused with Tabasco (or Smitty’s surprisingly delicious cocktail sauce), the plump, juicy oysters could be a meal in themselves.

We spent the last night of our trip at the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter — a necessary indulgence, because we had a late dinner reservation at Restaurant August with my cousin Wade and his wife Robin and didn’t want to drive the hour back to my parents’ house. I ate at August shortly after it opened; it had a very limited menu then, so I was curious to see how things had changed. I knew it was well-regarded, and John Besh has become a bit of an It Boy in food circles, so I expected great things. And what can I say? It was a terrific meal — no real surprises on the menu, but everything was perfectly done. I had the foie gras three-ways appetizer (I’m helpless in the face of foie), followed by a turtle soup that wasn’t swimming in an ocean of sherry (yay, for the light hand!), and grilled sablefish. The only dish of Gil’s I tried was a smoked (I think) pumpkin soup, which filled me with an insane jealousy the likes of which I only experience when he wins the ordering war in restaurants.

We rolled out of there three hours later, stuffed to the gills, ready for bed, and happy to have only a short waddle back to the hotel.

The next morning, we weren’t hungry in the least, but when you’re staying in the Quarter, you suck it up and have the world’s most perfect breakfast, anyway.

Beignet and café au lait at Café du Monde, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure.

Update

My parents are going to try to head home today! St. Charles Parish residents got very lucky this time around: The storm surge wasn’t as bad as expected, so there was no flooding. It sounds like the damage to the area was comparable to the damage done by Katrina (and exactly what you’d expect from a hurricane) — quite a few downed power lines (some live), trees, and limbs, and a roof gone missing here and there. They won’t have power for a while and no stores or gas stations will be open, but people are heading back to hook up their generators and rough it, relatively speaking.

What’s going on

It’s been an interesting 10 days or so here, a stretch of time in which I managed to do almost no cooking, if you can believe it! Oh sure, there was the Greek chicken experiment of last weekend in which I discovered a deep dislike of dried oregano, which tastes a lot like aspirin to me. But once it was scraped off, the leftover chicken was pretty good in a cobbled-together chicken and broccoli casserole in cheese sauce — nothing fancy, but it warmed me during the cold days at the beginning of the week.

Last Wednesday night was for dining out in the city. I met up with Claudia of cook eat FRET at Insieme for a getting-to-know-you dinner and had an absolute ball. The food ranged from sublime (Oh, branzino, where have you been all my life?) to Why Is This Even On the Menu? (Sweetbreads, liver, etc. appetizer — I’m looking at you), but bookending the meal with a rye-based Manhattan and pear eau de vie turned out to be a really good idea, and made the late bus ride home much more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been. And Claudia? She was every bit as warm, funny, and opinionated as you’d expect from reading her blog. I don’t even remember the last time I spoke to people sitting at a table next to me, but she just radiates such a good vibe we were all chatting away by the end of the meal. It was loads of fun and I’m already looking forward to her next visit to the city. (No picture of her or the meal because my rassafrassin’ camera died just as I was snapping the first picture.)

Of course, after this holiday weekend, travel is absolutely the last thing I’ll be doing for a while. Gil and I left home bright and early Saturday morning to enjoy Survivor: Tulsa for the evening. Five years ago last week, our friend Doug was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Thanks to the skill of Doug’s doctors, his utterly positive attitude, and the support of his family, he has thrived; he and his wife Shannon (one of my great friends and former grad school roommates) have adjusted to their new reality with tremendous grace and courage and have brought two lively, smart, and happy boys into the fold. And so Saturday night, friends and family (and lots of kids) filled their new home in Tulsa to celebrate this occasion and wish them many, many more celebrations of the kind. I, for one, am already looking forward to the 10-year party. (Click on the picture below to view the full flickr set.)
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The night ended far too soon (as it would’ve even if it had lasted till dawn), and the next morning we boarded another flight to St. Louis to surprise Gil’s brother for his 40th birthday. I was standing behind Gil and didn’t get to see Bo’s face when he walked in, but I hear he was appropriately shocked to see Gil standing there. As always, it was fun to catch up with Jane and Miriam (my sister- and mother-in-law, respectively) and Jane’s parents were as inviting and funny as ever. And my nieces. Oh, my nieces! Well, you’ll just have to view the flickr set to see their shenanigans. I don’t know how Bo and Jane keep up with them, and if I’m ever sorry we won’t have kids, it’s when I’m with the girls. To say they’re silly and funny and spirited and smart is selling them short by a mile.

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Hope you all had a great Presidents’ Day weekend. If it was filled with even a fraction of the friends, family, and fun ours was, you’re lucky people!

My week of living gluttonously

Aaaand hello again! How was your week? Mine was terrific! An extended vacation was just what I needed, but it’s good to be back in my own bed, and very good to be in control of my caloric intake again, just the same. Let’s just say that if I didn’t gain weight over the holidays, it wasn’t for lack of trying. My dad greeted us everyday with, “Good morning. Y’all want biscuits?” and it just went downhill (calorically speaking) from there.

Oh, there were pork-laden dishes and creamysugary sweets and good ol’ home cooking and then three meals in New Orleans, one of which was among the best of my dining experiences. Whew! My stomach is exhausted and my taste buds need their own vacation, but more than that, I think I’ll be adding copious amounts of vegetables to our diets; we saw very few vegetables that weren’t used as mere seasoning in other dishes.

So, what specifically did we have? Well … my dad started us out with his chicken and sausage gumbo with warm potato salad, one of my favorite meals. My sister and her family joined us for our first lunch of the week, and it was just the way to kick off the holidays.

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And then Mom and I started baking for Christmas Eve. Behold, the German Chocolate Pie (completely delicious, btw):

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I’ll get the recipe from my mom the next time we talk. You’ll thank me.

And after a hard day of baking and wrapping presents, we all relaxed with my dad’s family and chowed down on some incredible food. Uncle Hubert brought his delicious jambalaya, Aunt Chris made her crock pot meatballs and pineapple-basted smoked sausage, and Aunt Geraldine picked up my favorite Christmas Eve treat on her way to town — spicy boudin. Here you see the Official MI Husband demonstrating his still-developing boudin-eating technique (he leaves a lot in the skin, but he’s getting better):

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He just needs more practice. We caught a few episodes of the Bizarre Foods marathon during the week, one of which featured Andrew Zimmern doing a tour of a few gulf states. He started in bayou country and went to the place that made turducken famous — Hebert’s Specialty Meats. They also do a mean stuffed chicken and link their own boudin, so I think we’ll have to pay a visit when we’re back in town next June. All in the name of getting Gil up to speed, of course.

We came back home exhausted but too wound up to sleep, so we tuned in to the Christmas Story marathon on TNT (it’s a marathony time of year, I guess) and made our way to bed eventually, once we were sure Ralphie got his Red Rider BB Gun.

And then the smell of baking ham woke us Christmas morning. I’m no joy before my first cup of coffee, but I greeted that day with a smile, believe me.

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We spent the day with my mom’s family, where we dined on the above-pictured ham, Uncle Phil’s cornbread dressing, cheesy broccoli casserole, mac & cheese, and lots of desserts. And this was only Tuesday! We still had three full days to go!

Dad refused to let us slow down in any way and cooked an enormous pot of white beans with the ham bone for Wednesday’s lunch. Oh, and because we couldn’t just have white beans (what kind of host would he be?) he fried a bunch of delicious tiny catfish filets for an accompaniment. How could I refuse? I was down a few pounds at the start of the trip, anyway…

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Oh! I forgot the crab-stuffed mushrooms Mom made sometime during the week! Silly me.

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And after ALL of that, we still had a day and three meals to go in New Orleans. Stay tuned for the details…

(If you want to check out the full flickr set of the week’s food & fun, just click here. I’ll let you know when Gil’s set is posted.)

No more excuses for awful photos

I had every intention of cooking* when I got home tonight, but how could I when I walked in the door and saw this?

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Hanukkah Harry came early this year!

A little background: My father-in-law is a retired photographer who has amassed a pretty large collection of pretty impressive equipment. At the birthday party last weekend, I saw him shooting with a D70 and wanted to talk to him about it, as I’ve been thinking of getting a D80 and wanted his opinion. Well, he was otherwise occupied with the kids around, but my interest in photography planted a seed, I guess, and when Gil stopped by to help him with a project this evening, he sent home this big box of goodies for me.

Honestly, I don’t even know what a couple of these lenses are for (check out tighter photos of them here), but I am SO looking forward to learning. As I said in the title, no more excuses for bad photography here, but I really do need to learn how to get good lighting in the evening. Any tips/suggestions would be appreciated.

* Instead, we dined on smoked oysters, brie, and crackers — I could still handle a picnic, even in my overwhelmed state.

Hijinx

Gil and I spent our Saturday celebrating niece Sela’s fourth birthday with my in-laws in Franklin Lakes. My husband passed the time horsing around with his brother, swimming with the kids, and trying to avoid getting tagged with silly string — not always successfully — while I sat poolside with my sister-in-law, Jane. The water was too cold for such delicate creatures, so we relaxed in the sun and caught up. (We didn’t get to spend enough time together this year, so we’ve decided to go away for a spa weekend when they’re in town again. Maybe Gil can babysit all on his own to get a taste of what he’s missing.)

Because Gil was otherwise occupied yesterday with the aforementioned horseplay, I documented the occasion from my lounge chair, while he waited till later to get embarrassing pictures of me and gorgeous shots of his brother’s bubble-making activities. And, of course, there’s his much better write-up of the occasion, which you should check out.

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The birthday girl models her dad’s Springsteen shirt. As you can see, it was excellent for twirling.

We had a great time. I’m very lucky to have married into a family I like so much and would choose to spend time with, even if we weren’t related.