Sunday, 29 December 2013

Skiing with Friends

A quick ski update - my friends and I really enjoyed exploring Hidden Valley's ski slopes on Saturday!  It was sunny and 45 degrees (my ideal ski weather).  Yes, the snow was sticky, but I wasn't cold and could enjoy the beautiful day while riding up the long ski lift.  I decided to wear my brother Patrick's jacket from c. 1992.  Love the neon colors and synched waste!

When we aren't on the ski slopes we are playing board games and cooking.  One of my favorite new games is called Ticket to Ride (a game where you build train routes across the U.S. -- strategically linking cities).  I love the aesthetic of the board after the game is finished.

Last but not least, we've been eating really well all weekend.  I took a good amount of time to plan out our meals for the week and we've all been pitching in to cook for each other.  Too fun!  Today we made an asparagus tart for lunch and kielbasa and pierogies for dinner (Sunday football!).  I was able to christen my new le creuset pot with a classic Pittsburgh tailgate dish.  I feel good about that!

Decorating the Tree...Post-Christmas

My college friends are in town this weekend visiting.  My parents put up a live tree in our ski cabin, but they never had the chance to decorate it.  So, I spent an evening decorating the tree before my friends drove in from New York and Washington, D.C.  I had so much fun listening to Burl Ives on the radio while sifting through the teetering stack of Tupperware boxes filled with gaudy and sentimental Christmas ornaments from the 80s and 90s.  My favorite ones are the paper ornaments that my brothers and I made at Sunday School.  Faded wreaths made out of layered paper shaped like children's hands, card stock candles with shiny foil, and strings of packing peanuts and beads.

My family also has a tradition of putting up our old ski passes on the tree.  It is always fun to look at our ID photos from the early 90s when we were all so young and sporting neon jackets.  We put up mini framed photos on the tree as well.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas and Christmas Eve

I had a wonderful time celebrating the holidays with my family this year.  From baking homemade apple pie for my Aunt Liz's Christmas Eve dinner to opening presents with my brother Patrick and his family on Christmas day, I was certainly feeling the Christmas spirit!  I made my Grandmother Jean's apple pie from memory.  She taught me how to make it about 4 or 5 years ago, but I did not have the recipe on hand (so I had to just wing it).  I think it turned out great.  Well, this is what I assume because there was none left at the end of our Christmas Eve supper!

I was the official family photographer this year, so I ended up taking many candid shots of our family.  I was able to capture a few posed ones too!  I love the one of my brother Patrick and JJ reading the Elmo's farm animal book.

I love, love, LOVE this hilarious family photo.  JJ isn't even looking at the camera, but I think that makes it even more adorable :)

I went with a hot pink and white rapping paper scheme this year.  I thought it was quite striking!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Phipps Holiday Light Show

An impromptu trip to Phipps Conservatory - so glad I invested in that membership!

Durham and Dates

After two long days of driving, I finally made it to my friend Meggan's home in Durham, NC!  Our good friend Kshama came over that night and we all made cookies together while watching Elf.  I was excited to try out my Grandma Jean's Date and Nut Pinwheel cookies.  She only made them one time of year -- at Christmas.  Now, I can understand why.  They are such a pain to make!  Kshama was kind enough to take on the task of finely chopping all of those dates.  Meggan and I made the dough, and I also worked on the filling at the stove top.  With our fingers tired and sticky, we frantically spread the hot filling on the rolled out dough -- no easy task!  The filling was cooling and crystallizing a bit.  I think I overcooked the sugar!  But, we somehow made it work (barely).  After letting the dough chill overnight, we were able to slice and bake the cookies the next morning.  They were pretty crunchy, whereas my Grandmother's were chewy.  The taste was right on the money though.  So that was good.  I'll have to keep working on the texture.

I am happy to say that we were able to share these cookies (and the others we made too) at Meggan's Christmas party the next day.  It was great to catch up with friends from Duke!

Luna's Living Kitchen (Again!)

I stopped at Luna's Living Kitchen on my way down to New Orleans in October.  This little vegan cafe in Charlotte, NC is to die for!  I had the brimstone and fire veggie burger on my way home.  It knocked my socks off.  I could eat that flavorful, savory dish every day of my life!  Who knew a veggie burger with the kick from jalapeno and the depth of chipotle aioli could be SO GOOD?!

Real Pit Bar-B-Q

I was driving from New Orleans to Atlanta and decided to pull off the highway to fill up my tank in Greenville, Alabama.  As I made the exit, I noticed the gas station I was going to stop at had ridiculously expensive gas for that part of Alabama, so I just zipped on by and got back on the highway.  Good thing I did because I was about to make an amazing food find at the very next exit: Real Pit Bar-B-Q.  This place, which is basically a cement block hut, is tucked away behind a gas station.  I asked the lady at a neighboring gas station if there was any good BBQ around and she pointed down the road and said, "There's a really good Bar-B-Q place just down at the next gas station.  Doesn't look like much, but it's got a good reputation."  Sounds good enough to me!

So, I hopped back in my car, drove the quarter mile down the road, and pulled up next to this little BBQ shack.  There was no one in sight.  But, that did not deter me (although the band of feral cats surrounding may car was a bit strange).  I walked right up to the order window and called out, "hello?"  A portly man appeared in the tiny screen window.  "Hello, Miss," he said in a thick-as-molasses southern drawl.  "How can I can help you today?"  I gave him a big smile and said, "I'd love the chopped BBQ sandwich and one of Louise's brownies please!"  When I spoke, his head cocked a bit to the side.  I guess my accent stuck out, because he immediately followed up with a "where are you from?" question.  We talked a bit more.  I told him that I am studying Southern food culture.  His wife, Louise joined him.  She chatted with me a bit too.  All in all about 5 minutes.  As I was chatting, four more people pulled up to get some BBQ.

With my sandwich in hand, I headed back to my car to enjoy my lunch.  I had company.  The feral cats suddenly became quite active once they saw the food in my hand.  While snacking on my awesome sandwich, I noticed a smoking oil drum-shaped contraption in front of me -- that must be where this Mom and Pop stand smokes their meat!  Looked a little sketchy, but I didn't care because the meat was so succulent - oh man!

À bientôt, New Orleans!

Just over a week ago, I left New Orleans.  On my last morning, I indulged in the small pleasures of my neighborhood and the daily rituals of my life in Esplanade Ridge.  On that 65 degree, sunny morning, I set off to one of my favorite coffee shops: Fair Grinds.  Since this was my last day in the Big Easy for a while, I made sure to splurge on my favorite things...I feel like I should burst into my own version of "My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music (I'll spare you that musical interlude for the time being).  I did enjoy an excellently crafted soy latte that morning as well as a fig and rosemary scone, which was absolutely delightful!  I actually took these items to-go and headed back to my little courtyard to sit in peace for a few moments before setting off for Atlanta.  I enjoyed the silence and the wonderful scents of my little oasis.  I finally figured out what that amazing smell was that greeted me every morning when I stepped outside my door -- a tree with infinitesimal white blossoms that smell similar to blooming jasmine.  How divine!  I put the pieces together when I was on Frenchmen Street enjoying jazz music and New Orleans' Christmas decor.  I was meandering and passed by a low hanging branch from the same type of tree that is in my yard -- that enticing scent was the same! Then, I had my "AHA!" moment.  It was actually quite satisfying to solve that mystery!

Monday, 16 December 2013

District Doughnuts

This morning, Jessica and I headed to a local doughnut place, District Doughnuts, to start off our day.  I honestly don't know how I managed to eat such a decadent breakfast after eating so well and so much last night.  But, I pulled it together in the name of food tourism!  I keep telling myself that I'll eat roasted veggies for a few days to balance everything out.  We'll see...

District is located on a bustling part of Magazine Street -- it is surrounded by trendy consignment clothing shops, local coffee roasters, and edgy salons.  Today, the doughnut shop/espresso bar was bathed in morning light and smelled of sugar, fried dough, and coffee (someone please tell Yankee Candle to make a Doughnut Shop scented candle).  When you walk up to the counter, they have all of that day's doughnuts lined up.  The signs read, "Hello My Name Is S'MORES" or "Hello My Name Is CINNAMON SUGAR."  I love it!

The brown butter pistachio doughnut caught my eye, but then I noticed the Vietnamese iced coffee doughnut sign (it appeared to be sold out).  I asked the woman at the front counter if they had any more and she said, "You're just in time!  We have a new batch ready."  Excitement rippled through me.  Yum!  I thought to myself, "What could possibly be in this kind of doughnut?"  I honestly was not prepared for it.  It was so rich, so decadent, so je ne sais quoi.  Just too much goodness in too small a package.  The cream filling was spilling out the side.  The doughnut itself was glazed with a coffee icing; bits of espresso grinds were visible in it.  I picked up the doughnut in my hands -- it was heavy.  "Oh man.  I need to mentally prepare myself for this," I thought.  I took the first bite.  The luxurious taste of sweet cream hit my taste buds first, followed by the bite of acidic coffee and the subtlest hint of fried dough. Oooooooo!  I think I had died and gone to heaven.  Oh wait, I think those were just the side effects of the massive food coma I was slipping into (and have not yet recovered from).

Celebration in the Oaks

Last night, the temperature in New Orleans plunged into 30s.  Brrrrrr!  This was perfect timing for my adventure in City Park to enjoy the Christmas light show, Celebration in the Oaks.  The chilly weather made the holidays seem more "authentic" as we were walking down palm lined drives that spoke more toward a tropical- than northeastern-style Christmas.

Before heading to the park, Jessica and I went out for Ethiopian food at a place called Cafe Absynnia on Magazine street.  The place was fairly crowded for a back street restaurant.  All of the normal tables were full, so we sat on little stools around a woven table with something that looked like a sombrero on top.  We both enjoyed the vegetarian sampler, which was just the right amount of something flavorful and spicy for my tastes.  This was the second time I've eaten Ethiopian food, and the cuisine is growing on me!

After dinner, we raced off to Angelo Brocato's to grab some gelato and cannolis before it closed at 9:00.  We arrived at nine on the dot, and the nice security guard let us sneak in just as they were preparing to close.  I opted for the Boci gelato -- chocolate hazelnut.  Yum.  I think my northeastern roots were shining through yesterday -- who else would eat an icy dessert on such a cold night?

With our bellies full, we headed off to City Park to frolic around with scores of other New Orleanians.  We made our way along the meandering paths that wove through the botanical gardens, the children's amusement park, and along the oak lined streets.  Jessica and I enjoyed listening to a light show based on a Cajun reading of The Night Before Christmas.  Santa's sleigh was pulled by alligators instead of reindeer.  Ha!

When we were walking through the theme park, we definitely got in line with a bunch of kids to go down a dragon-shaped slide.  I have no shame when it comes to experiencing these kinds of small thrills.  Right by the slide, there was an entire street lined with Christmas trees decorated by local schools.  We enjoyed perusing the various themes: Who D'at?, Snowflakes, Snowmen, Angels etc.  My favorite tree was the "Making Groceries" tree.  The school children had taken food labels and turned them into ornaments (classic local companies like Zatarain's, Luzianne, etc.)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Off to Mobile to see Kevin!

So, a few months ago, I saw that Pentatonix was going to be performing in Mobile, AL in December.  Never heard of Pentatonix?  Well, check out this YouTube video and prepare for extreme music euphoria (it's got a bit of music for everyone in it):

My friend Kevin Olusola is the percussionist/beat boxer in the group (he is also an internationally celebrated concert cellist!)  He's such a great guy - very humble even in the midst of the rapid fame he's experienced in the past 3 years.  I'm so happy to see my fellow Morsel/Yalie following his dreams and succeeding!

Well, way back in September, I convinced my other Yale friend, Caroline, to plan to take the 2.5 hour drive with me out to Mobile to see Pentatonix perform a holiday concert with the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.  At that time (when Medical School wasn't weighing down on Caroline) this seemed like a really good idea.  But as the final crunch of the semester and research rained down on us this week, we were getting a bit anxious about balancing our work load with our road trip.  But, we were committed.  We were so committed that I drove for 3 hours in the pouring rain, at night, to get us there.

After such a long drive, it was so great to see the effervescent theater lights welcoming us to Mobile. (Did I just hear angels sing from up on high?)

Caroline and I got settled into our seats.  We were both brimming with excitement.  I had seen Kevin perform in North Carolina and I already knew how energetic, captivating, and mind-blowing their liver performances were...I couldn't wait to watch Caroline's reaction!

The concert opened up with the Mobile Sympohny Orchestra playing some lovely holiday classics -- bright, happy numbers that got everyone in the Christmas spirit.  The crowd was loving it!  Then, Pentatonix came out and performed their version of "Little Drummer Boy" and proceeded to win over the hearts of every single person in that audience in under five minutes.

The energy was electrifying and the crowd was going crazy with excitement.  Honestly, by the end of that concert I felt like everyone in the theater would have willing taken a bullet for Pentatonix (Even the 80 year old lady sitting next to me in her bedazzled Frosty The Snowman sweater).

For the next two hours, Pentatonix performed alongside of the orchestra and sometimes they sang a cappella.  One of my favorite pieces was their version of "Aha," which paired so well with an orchestral background.  Everyone was rocking out to this song: the theater nerds in front of me were throwing out jazz hands like they were Mardi Gras beads on Fat Tuesday; the adorable old ladies next to me were swaying along to the wicked base line; and the over-enthused teenage girls to my left were shouting, "WE LOVE YOUUUUUUU!" Yup.  That about sums it up...

....that is, until Kevin came out and performed a cello/beat boxing mash up that totally blew every other song out of the water!  The crowd fell 100% completely in love with him.  That old lady I mentioned, was the first one to rocket upwards for the standing ovation.  Who knew she could move that fast -- a blur of red cloth, puffy snowman parts, and glinting jewels.

The concert ended with Pentatonix and the orchestra leading the entire audience in a Christmas Carol sing-along.  It was awesome!  Everyone was up on their feet singing at the top of their lungs.  Such a sense of community and togetherness among people who were completely unassociated prior to the concert.  Music is so magical in that it can create those bonds so quickly among strangers.  Wow.  Love it!

After the concert, Caroline and I enjoyed walking around Mobile and people watching.  We were laughing because the autograph line was out the door and around the corner.  We sent Kevin a warning message that he had to make a lot of people's dreams come true before we would have the chance to catch up. 

Around 11:30 we were finally able to chill out in the hotel and just reminisce about college with Kevin -- share our dreams for the future, exchange news on our fellow college friends, and talk about topics ranging from that evocative "Invisible Child" article in the New York Times to Zach Efron & puppies.  Before we knew it, it was 2:30am in the morning and Caroline and I had to drive back to New Orleans (you know, to get back to studying and research!)

Something to put you back in the Christmas spirit:

The Roosevelt and the 1840 Sazerac

The Roosevelt is one of the most stunning hotels in New Orleans.  During the holidays, the Art Deco designs in the main lobby are hung with sparkling tinsel and garnished with snowy evergreen fronds.  My friend Jessica and I met our new friend Yeesheen there for cocktails on Friday night.  We really wanted to take advantage of the "glitzy" side of New Orleans (and the Roosevelt is certainly a place where you can fulfill that need.  I mean, honestly, I felt like I was walking onto the movie set of the Great Gatsby!) There may have been fireworks, or maybe that was just my Miniver Cheevy-esq imagination running wild...

The hotel is perhaps most famous for the Sazerac Bar, which is named after that wonderfully satisfying New Orleans cocktail. The hotel describes the typical Sazerac bar experiences as follows: "Just gazing at the famous Paul Ninas murals that flank the long African walnut bar takes you back to the grandeur of old New Orleans—a time when Huey P. Long would stroll in, order a Ramos Gin Fizz and spend the next couple hours talking to his constituents."  When we arrived at the bar, it was packed with men and women dressed in business attire (enjoying a much deserved after-work drink, perhaps?) and, surprisingly, a lot of twenty-somethings (how do they afford those $18 cocktails?)  In my imagination, I always pictured old men in silk neckties frequenting this bar with a smoking pipe in hand...

I decided to splurge on the 1840 Sazerac, which is made with cognac instead of rye whiskey.  The original recipe for the Sazerac calls for cognac, but that was replaced by rye whiskey (a more readily available liquor in the 19th century).  Yeesheen ordered the "standard" Sazerac, so we were able to compare the tastes.  The 1840 Sazerac was as smooth a silk.  The flavors were subtle and elegant and the cocktail was almost viscous as it slid along my tongue.  The standard Sazerac was a bit zippier, a little more unbridled and spirited.  I like that.  It reminds me of New Orleans.  Both were delicious (although, I was a bit disappointed that the bar tender did not lace the glass with herbsaint by spinning it up in the air.  Instead they used a modern spritz bottle to give you the subtlest kiss of liquorice).  I did enjoyed watching the 4 bartenders work their magic - they functioned like machines...hands moving so fast to grab bottle of bitters, or lemon peels, or sugar cubes that they blurred in my camera lens.

After enjoying the bar for a while, we meandered off into the hotel to find a quiet place to chat.  We picked the ice cream parlor (I think you can guess why!) Overall, a wonderful evening in NOLA!