Mardi Gras 2013

New Orleans during Mardi Gras season (which is the four weeks before Lent) is an amazing experience. The entire city turns itself out with gusto, decorating every available surface in purple, green, and gold and embracing the traditions of the season.

These people were NOT fooling around.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I had visited New Orleans on a number of occassions - but never during Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, due to my aversion to large, drunken crowds. My main interest in the city was the food, the shopping, and the spooky history.

My first couple of trips included graveyard tours, ghost tours, a drive by Anne Rice's house, eating in "famous" (read: touristy) restaurants, and wandering around the French Quarter. As I got to know the city better, I started to branch out - visiting farther-flung neighborhoods and seeking out favorite shops, bars, and restaurants. This trip, I traveled with two, dear friends who are at a similar place in their relationship with the city, so we had a great time sharing best-loved spots with each other. We, basically, ate, drank, and shopped our way around the city.

For today's post, I'd like to focus on the food and drink. We ate some EPIC meals at restaurants that were off the "tourist" path and we drank some amazing cocktails, both fancy and basic.

Our first night in the city, my friend John had made reservations at a gorgeous little bistro called Coquette, located in the center of the Garden District. We arrived for our 8p reservation and had to wait a bit for a table. It was immediately apparent why. The atmosphere, the service, and the food/drink were so wonderful that I can completely understand not wanting to leave.

I ordered a Sazarac, a rye and bitters cocktail that originated in New Orleans. I drank a few during this trip and I can honestly say that the one at Coquette was the best of the weekend. In the "craft" tradition, the bar makes its own syrups and specialty cocktails and only uses the best ingredients. Which leads me to my best find of the weekend - "shrubs".

On the cocktail menu, I noticed a number of ingredients referred to as "shrubs". Apple shrub, cucumber shrub, pear shrub, etc. The slightly-Cajun-accented (and very charming) bartender explained that shrubs are, basically, cocktail syrups that are made in-house. The difference between a shrub and a soda syrup, like the ones I made last summer, is that shrubs have the addition of vinegar. The basic recipe is this:

1. Cook down your fruit/vegetable/herb in water
2. Strain and discard the solids
3. Mix equal parts (1/3, 1/3, 1/3) of your fruit/vegetable/herb concentrate, simple syrup, and vinegar
4. Bottle in a tightly-capped glass bottle

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on shrubs - otherwise known as "drinking vinegars".

Once we were at our table, the first epic meal started. Cheese board, appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I had some of the most delicately fried sweatbreads I've ever tasted and a pork chop that was - no lie - the size of my dinner plate and an inch and a half thick. It was insane. Dessert was a butterscotch pudding with bourbon "bubbles", scotcheroo crumbles, and... wait for it... BACON ICE CREAM. Oh.My.God. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten.

The next day, we had lunch at Luke (there's supposed to be an umlaut over the "u" but I don't know how to make that happen...) which is a John Besh restaurant that focuses on updated versions of traditional Louisiana cuisine. I had a shrimp and grits that was absolutely divine. Turns out that they make their grits (slow cooked, not instant) with marscapone cheese. So, yeah. Pretty much the best grits ever. As an appetizer, we had an onion tart that I can't even begin to describe other than to say "amazing". And, I enjoyed one of their signature cocktails called Riverbend - vodka, lemon juice, basil syrup, blueberries (crushed), and ginger ale - which was very light and refreshing.

Saturday's epic meal was at Toups' Meatery in Mid-City, a neighborhood I'd never visted before. This unassuming little corner storefront has a great, informal atmosphere, fun service, and an outstanding menu of meat, meat, and more meat. We ate so much - cheese board, meat board, boudin balls, deviled eggs (with bacon, of course), cracklins, the best dirty rice I've ever tasted, and then our entrees - that I could write a post on this meal alone. My entree was a porchetta that was so large I could barely eat half. Then we topped it off by splitting a salted caramel, bacon, and peanut butter cake. The new-favorite  drink I was introduced to was a liquor called Liquer Strega.

This bold, yellow digestif is made with 70 herbs which include fennel, mint, and saffron (which gives it its color). It was a surprise after-dinner-drink gifted to us by our wonderful waiter. I can't thank him enough for introducing me to this interesting concoction and I can't wait to start experimenting with Strega cocktails.

Finally, we had to have one, semi-touristy meal so we had brunch on Monday at The Court of Two Sisters, a French Quarter institution with a lovely "80-item" buffet. While it wasn't the most amazing food of the weekend, it was a nice, solid way to finish up our stay. Of particular note was the blue cheese potato salad and the turtle soup with sherry. Oh... and the peel-and-eat boiled shrimp with the stone-ground mustard sauce. Yum.

On Sunday, we intentionally went to the Krewe of Barkus Mardi Gras parade which is the largest dog parade in the world. It was amazing fun and there are enough stories and photos for an entire separate blog post. Look for that one next week. :)
If you get a chance to go to NOLA, plan your food carefully and you too could end up with meal memories that will last a lifetime.

- Alex

Friday Finds: Bradbury & Bradbury

Want to know where to find the most exquisite wallpaper ever?
Hand-screened on unpasted paper...nothing is as luxurious as this stuff on the wall. Nothing.

They even have modern designs now.

This border will be mine, oh yes.

My powder room has Bradbury and Bradbury on the walls and ceiling. This is the grand plan for my dining room. Jumping deer, how can I resist?


Hoodoo Reblast

Advice I probably should have taken.
For the last three weeks I've been nursing the flu. And, when I say the flu, I mean the actual 2013 epidemic influenza. I won't gross you out with all the details but suffice it to say that I haven't been "making" much of anything except excessive phlegm.

I have, in fact, been watching an inordinate amount of television and sleeping and sleeping and sleeping...

So, today, for the first time in three weeks, I'm feeling pretty human - which is good because tomorrow I leave for four and a half days in New Orleans. I'm getting away from this bitter cold and my sick bed and going to drink Hurricanes and eat etouffee.

The trip to NOLA is predicated on going to the Krewe of Barkus parade on Saturday. The Krewe of Barkus' participants are dogs (escorted by their human companions) and is an officially registered krewe in its eleventh year of parading. It's a proper Mardi Gras parade with a King and Queen and an annual theme. This year it's "Tails & Tiaras: Here Comes Honey Bow Wow". All I can tell you is that I'm seriously sad that I'm not taking my dogs and participating... I will, however, be wallowing in all the wonderfully dressed-up puppies and Mardi Gras energy.

In honor of my trip to New Orleans, I thought I'd re-post a recipe that Cassandra and I developed last year for the Hoodoo Foods: Rootwork Recipe Roundup cookbook. Make this fabulous stew and let the ingredients work their magic!

See you all next week - hopefully with some great pictures and stories!

- Alex

Magical Beans

As our regular readers know, Cassandra and I rather love spooky stuff like Halloween, Ghost Hunters, Catholocism, and psychics, just to name a few.

As a kid, I was already indoctrinated into the idea of the paranormal through the teachings of the church. Virgin birth, coming back after you've died, "knowing all" from some throne in the sky.... Then, as a young, disenfranchised teen, I acquired a "next to the cash register" book called Everyday Witchcraft. It was a pocket-sized paper-back with a black cat on the cover and it contained a short history of witchcraft, definitions, and a bunch of spells. While I can't speak to the authenticity of any of it and will admit that I never actually had the guts to really try the spells, there was always something comforting about the idea that I could control my world with these simple conjures. Witchcraft also puts all the power at the hands of women know... that was pretty appealing too.

Everyday Witchcraft
Not my original book

Recently, Cassandra and I had the opportunity to speak with Miss Cat Yronwode of the Lucky Mojo Curio Company. Lucky Mojo sells all the bells and whistles you need to do magic. The site describes itself as follows:
Lucky Mojo is both an online magic shop and a real magic store that you can visit. We carry a full line of hand-made spiritual supplies, including occult oils, incense, powders, candles, herbs, mojo bags, spiritual soaps, books, and spell kits for those who cast magic spells, love spells, money spells, and protection spells in the African-American hoodoo, Pagan magick, and other Witchcraft traditions. We also import and distribute folkloric magical, occult, herbal, and spiritual supplies
from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East for those who work in Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish religious and magical traditions. We sell retail and wholesale, both on the internet and at our old-timey, small-town occult shop.

We love Lucky Mojo for many reasons, not the least of which is the gorgeous use of retro graphics on the site. We are also very enamored of Miss Cat for her generosity of spirit and her amazing business brain. To get a great sense of Miss Cat and her milieu, please listen to her podcast The Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour - I promise you'll be entertained.

In our conversation with Miss Cat the other day, she suggested that Cassandra and I participate in the Rootwork Recipe Roundup. It's best to explain this by quoting from the site:
All recipes submitted to the annual Rootwork Recipe Round-Up are collected into a small "church cook book" format publication prepared by the The Ladies' Auxiliary of Missionary Independent Spiritual Church.
The recipe must contain ingredients that, through their magical ascriptions, will address some condition. For example, basil is meant to promote a happy home and family, lemongrass is a cleansing herb, and fennel is used to "keep the law away."

I started looking at the food ascriptions and realized that I have one recipe in my regular rotation that, with a couple of minor tweaks, would basically contain all ingredients for luck and protection. So, without further ado, I'd like to present you with our entry into the Hoodoo Foods! Rootwork Recipe Roundup. Seeing as it's a church cookbook, we couldn't help but go with a one-pot dish... Enjoy!

- Alex, The Enchanter

One Pot Protection
  • 2 cans of cannellini beans (or dry beans soaked overnight*) [good luck]
  • 1 small, sweet onion diced  [protection and energy]
  • 2 (or more) cloves of garlic diced  [protection from evil]
  • ½ a bunch of collard greens, stems removed, cleaned, coarsely chopped or cut into strips [luck with money]
  • 3 (or more) tablespoons of mild yellow mustard [protection]
  • A few drops of honey or a pinch of high-quality sugar
  • Olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot
  • Horseradish to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for approximately one minute stirring constantly. Add the chopped collards and cook, stirring constantly, until greens are wilted and slightly soft. Add the mustard, sugar, and horseradish and stir to cover the collards completely. Continue cooking until the mustard has “caramelized” on the collards – approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the beans and stir well to combine.* Cook until the beans have heated through. Serve hot with a nice piece of bread.

This recipe has the added protection of being low-fat, low-sodium, and great for lowering your cholesterol!

*If you choose to use dry beans that have soaked, you may need to add some additional moisture to the pot. A little veggie stock or simply water would probably suffice.

2012 Holiday Sweaters

It was tough deciding what to knit for the boys this past holiday season. They have cabled sweaters and striped sweaters from previous holidays that still fit them so I needed to find something different but still practical. I entertained the idea of sweater-vests (but I could not endure Alex's ridicule on that one!), hoodies, and cardigans. I finally settled on a cardigan style with a collar.

My friend Troy calls them "old man sweaters", but we both agree that style is seriously cute on little boys. I'm kinda loving how they turned out.

The pattern is called Sammie and it was designed by Terri Kruse. It was great! Easy to follow, and the sizing was just right. I will admit to having to turn to YouTube for help with the wrap and turns needed for the short rows on the collar. And this buttonhole tutorial on Knitty was a little easier to follow than the one included in the pattern. But, those were non-issues for me really. Overall the pattern was well-written and clear.

The yarn I used was Swish from KnitPicks. The blue is Delft Heather and the green is Lemongrass Heather. Both colors are rich and gorgeous. I know, I know...I've been ordering from KnitPicks a lot lately. I love supporting local yarn shops, but sometimes when I need enough yarn for an entire sweater it just works out better to order online. The stripes are just from the stash...I couldn't even begin to tell you what they are.

One of the reasons I chose this pattern is because it required worsted weight yarn. I was a little behind the 8-ball during the holidays and I needed these sweaters to knit up as quickly as possible. Most of the sweaters I knit for the kids require DK weight yarn and I just didn't have "DK and size 4 needles" kind of time!

And then there's the buttons. The ones I ended up using were from Jo-Ann's. I guess they're fine. Made of wood and cute enough. But what I really wanted was something in the shape of an animal head. Like little bear faces or maybe even foxes. But, try as I might, I couldn't find the animal faces I was imagining. I wanted the style to be sort of Bavarian wood carving or possibly even something metal molded and realistic. Know what I mean? I scoured etsy and google searched until I just gave up. By the time I decided that I would settle for handmade horn was just too late. I would never get them in time for the holidays.

So a trip to the store Christmas Eve morning (ahem) and a quick sew with embroidery floss finished the sweaters in the nick of time. I take this as a victory though, seeing how last years sweaters were seamed up on the way to the family gathering! Maybe next year I will be done by December 23rd...maybe.


Friday Finds: A Hint of Spring

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The weather outside is frightful with promises of wind-chill temptures between -10 F and -20 F this weekend. There's snow on the ground and low, gray cloud cover. The trees are bare and the ground is hard.

Time to think about planting a garden!! :)

I know, I know. I sound like a crazy person. But, believe it or not, this is the time to start seeds indoors - ensuring a hearty set of plants to put in the garden when the earth finally thaws. The rule of thumb is to start your seeds ten weeks prior to when they're to go in the ground. Now, granted, it's still a tiny bit early to actually PLANT my seeds but it's not too early to order them.

Enter my favorite new site, Baker Street Heirloom Seeds (thank you SSF for the introduction!)  I started defaulting to heirloom plants a number of years ago, finding the fruit of my garden to be more delicious and more interesting. True, the heirloom varities can often be less hardy but I'll trade a little more work for a better tasting tomato (or cucumber, or pepper, or....)

Baker Street Heirloom is a family business with a great story. They produce a gorgeous, funny, and FREE catalog that you can order from the site. And, besides offering an amazing variety of heirloom seeds, they also boycott all gene-altering companies and their seeds are all non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented.  I really love these guys.

So... get your seeds started now - or, at least, start thinking about what your garden is going to look like. It'll help you get through the remaining weeks of cold, gray winter.

Doesn't this look lovely??
Think Spring!

- Alex

What's rocking my world?

Right now...

: Casting on a sweater for me. Coraline by Ysolda Teague. Yarn is KnitPicks City Tweed in "Romance". Why do I feel so guilty knitting for myself?

: Treasuring the time with my littles. I'm realizing how fast they grow up.

: Finally sewing together the blocks of my quilt. I actually had a moment of panic that it would look too crazy once it was put together because of the variety of color and blocks. But no, it's coming together beautifully. (If I don't say so myself!)

Please excuse the bad camera-phone image. It's all I had at the time :)

: Starting the hand embroidery on the quilt. I decided to sew the blocks together until the quilt top is in quarters, then tackle the hand embroidery. I tried to do it a block at a time but now I've decided that having it sewn together first is easier for me. More posts to come about the handwork in the future.

: I'm finally getting through season 2 of Downton Abby...season 3 here I come!

: My favorite thing in the world to eat is the vegetarian matzo ball soup. My husband and I collaborated on this fantastic recipe. I will share it with you all as soon as I type it up!

No, we really don't need to make this many!

So, what's up with you?


Crafty Resolutions 2013

Another new year and another opportunity to take stock, judge our past 12 months, and resolve to create a new and better life in the coming year.

2012 brought an unexpected job change for me and, along with it, a massive distraction that has kept me from any meaningful crafting for months. My life was upended and the ship hasn't righted itself yet. Things are very out of balance.

I miss being driven to "make". My brain has been so filled with all the new stuff I have to learn (a new industry, new people, new tasks), I've had trouble lighting the creative spark. I need to find a way to bring that back to the forefront - to look forward to what's on my needles or what new craft I can learn.

A very wise friend and mentor told me once that resolutions "set us up for failure and feeling sh**ty about ourselves. The resolutions people make are usually about fixing themselves and their lives, based on “there is something wrong here” or even worse, “there is something wrong with me.”

[Editorial tangent: if you're interested in doing something more productive than just making resolutions, I invite you to visit his blog post entitled "Looking Back, Looking Forward" which is a three-part exercise developed to help you create closure for this year and plan for the next.]

So, I figured it might be a good idea to apply this thinking to my crafting. There are a lot of things I'd like to to with my knitting/sewing/upholstery/etc but I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish, especially considering my current "creative block". With this in mind, here are a few crafty goals for 2013:

There's an app for that.
1. More sewing. Cassandra far surpassed me in the sewing category - from her gorgeous Bernina machines to her amazing foray into quilting. I bought the materials to make an apron and have had my eyes on cool aprons that I've seen in stores. My resolution is to make at least one apron from an original design this year. And maybe start a quilt (although that might be stretching it a bit!)

This can't be too hard, right?
2. Knitting cables. For those of you who have read our blog for a while, you may recognize this resolution from a couple of years ago. Sadly, I STILL (two years later) have not actually knitted cables yet. *facepalm* I cannot begin to express how embarrased I am by this admisssion. So... this year for sure! Maybe something easy, like a cabled hat.

Something like this...
3. Needlepoint. Years ago, a dear friend of mine's grandmother needlepointed new seats for her dining room chairs. I was enamored of the finished product. They were sturdy and beautiful and had the advantage of being exactly what she wanted in her dining room. I'm fascinated with the designs of William Morris and want to do something in that style for my chairs. It's a huge undertaking so my resolution is not to do them all but to find some designs I like and to start one. I'll be learning a new skill so I expect my first to be a bit wonky anyway. :)

The chair that started it all.

4. Finish upholstering stuff. I originally took the upholstery class because I didn't want to pay someone to recover a particular chair. I'm now working on chair number six. Sadly, I thought I was going to have all my upholstery completed by December 2011. Ha!! I took one semester off and I had one project that was a total bear and took an entire semester to finish. However, I have no space for new furniture so my goal is to finish what I've got left by the end of fall semester 2013.

I want a Kenyan Top Bar hive.

5. BEES! I've talked about getting bees for the last three years. I came close last year but waited to long and then it was too late to order the actual insects. I've decided on the type of hive I want so I just need to buy one and get the bees at the right time this spring. Fingers crossed that it actually happens in 2013.

I hope that 2013 brings all of you health, happiness, and success in whatever goal(s) you set for yourself. Just remember, don't make resolutions that make you feel sh**ty about yourself. Set goals that, when you reach them, allow you to celebrate how awesome you are.

Happy New Year, friends.

- Alex

Friday Finds: Film Petit

The supremely awesome Kristin at the Skirt as a Top blog is hosting a project called Film Petit that will blow your mind with its awesomeness. Here are the details taken directly from her blog:

  • every month or so, Jessica and i (plus a guest blogger) will sew an outfit (or outfits) for our kid (or kids) inspired by a movie we love. our next guest will be shannon from luvinthemommyhood!
  • please feel free to add any of your movie-inspired kid sewing to the film petit flickr group. if you sew along with our film petit choices, we’d love to see that too!
  • this is a pretty relaxed series, really the only rule is to make outfits for kids based on films you love. if you have any questions, please let either of us know.

Words can't do it justice....check this out:

Moonrise Kingdom

Photo courtesy of Skirt as a Top

Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Photo courtesy of Skirt as a Top


Photo courtesy of Skirt as a Top

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Photo courtesy of Skirt as a Top


Who doesn't love a gal who has her daughter act like a murderous old lady???
Photo courtesy of Skirt as a Top
Um-hm...awesome. And you can play along if you want to, that's the best part. I'm wondering if my boys need to recreate the characters from Raging Bull?


Let the Making Begin! (tm)

Pillsbury has always encouraged consumers to "play" with their food. Sure, anyone can pop a can of crescent rolls and have flaky, buttery hot rolls for dinner but, really, where's the creativity in that?

From the Pillsbury Bake-Off to their current ad campaign (Let the Making Begin), the home of the dough-boy embraces its customers' creativity and even rewards it. And, boy let me tell you, it makes me feel horribly inadequate. LOL

The truth is, I've always liked Pillsbury's products exactly the way they are. I know what I'm getting with the Grand Biscuits or the Cinnamon Rolls (ummmmm.... cinnamon rolls). But recently, I stumbled on a recipe that needed to be made and I joined the ranks of the Pillsbury "makers".

See... I had this GIANT rib roast left over from Christmas and I needed to do something with the meat. One can only eat so many Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. So, as you do, I scoured the interwebs looking for something (anything) different to do with my leftovers. Pot pie recipes abound!

My actual, first-ever, rib roast. It was HUGE.
Okay, fair enough, I like a good pot pie but I really wanted something different. Then I found it...

In some forum, a guy posted that his wife had mixed carmelized onion, mashed potatoes, cheese, and bits of diced rib roast and stuffed "puff pastry" with that mixture. BINGO! That sounded right up my alley.

Sadly, I didn't take pictures but, believe me when I tell you, these things were a hit. My son's girlfriend called them a pot-pie calzone.

So, here's what you do:

1 Can Pillsbury BIG (Flaky or Buttery) Crescent Rolls - you need the bigger size
(I used crescent rolls but, if I make this again, I'm going to try biscuit dough - just to see how it tastes.)
Leftover mashed potatoes
Leftover meat - diced and fat removed
Diced onion, cooked slowly in olive oil (or butter) until carmelized
Cheese (I used gruyere on my son's because he doesn't eat blue cheese and gorgonzola on mine)
Herbs or seasoning that appeals to you (I used a bouquet garni blend)

Except for the rolls, mix all the ingredients together and set aside.
Open the can of rolls. Peel off two triangles. Place them on the counter (you may need a bit of flour to keep them from sticking) and press the seams closed. With one of the points pointing toward you, put a generous amount of the mashed potato mixture on half of the diamond-shaped dough. Pull the top of the dough over, encasing the mashed potato mixture and creating a triangle (like a large ravioli or calzone). Press the seams together well. I sort of folded them in on themselves and pressed them firmly together. Using a spatula (your little mashed potato pocket will be heavy!), transfer it to a baking sheet. I used parchment paper to ensure that they didn't stick. You can just spray your baking sheet with Pam if you don't have non-stick or parchment.

Once all your pockets are on the baking sheet, place in a 350 degree oven until the dough is golden brown and flaky - about 15-20 minutes (maybe??)

These were a huge hit at my house and may end up in regular rotation. It's an easy thing to make and even easier to experiement with. I can't wait to try it with other leftovers!

Bon Appetite!

- Alex

Creative Legacy

I have a creative guardian angel. I'm serious. Her name is Mary (Maria on the Ellis Island records) and she was my great-grandmother.

You see, my Slovenian great-grandma Novak passed away when I was 6 months old. She was suffering with cancer and was only able to hold little baby me one time. But apparently once was enough. My mom's pretty sure when she held me, her soul jumped out of her ailing body into mine.

Relatives have told me my whole adult life that I remind them of her. Along with the obvious physical characteristics, we are almost eerily alike in our interests. We were/are both obsessive "makers". Now, I won't even claim that my skills can hold a candle to hers...but I'm working on it!

Sadly, we never got to know each other. I never got to take a piece of her wonderful bread or a bowl of her juha. She was plucked away from me too soon. Luckily, she left behind piles of beautiful lace, knitting, crocheting, sewing, and recipes. From these things I have a pretty good understanding of who she was, because I speak her language. I get it.

For Christmas this year, my mom gave me a quite a treasure. It's a lap blanket crocheted by my great-grandma that was made to grace the back of her couch. It's so warm, sturdy, and beautiful. It's the best gift my mom could have given me. Not to get too woo-woo here, but I it just vibrates with energy from the past.

I consider myself lucky because I not only have the finished object treasures like this blanket, I also have many of her tools. Her tatting pillow, knitting books (with her wonderful notations in Slovenian written in the margins), her rustic wood mortar, etc. Aside from the books, I am loathe to use her things. I sort of view them as sacred some Saint bone that's been proven to heal the blind. I have plans to make a very nice place for them in my future craft room.

This is a subject I've planned to introduce for some time, it's so personal to me so I think I put too much pressure on myself to do it right. I hope I did it justice. There's more about this lady to come.