NoLa, cont.

My dad drove me out to New Orleans East one day, over a big ol’ bridge. We ordered bahn mi from a Vietnamese bakery and took a (signature) infuriatingly roundabout, aimless drive in search of areas of historical significance; once we found the field where they fought the Battle of New Orleans, all was settled. The two of us sat at a bench under a regal old oak to eat: spicy-sweet plum sauce melded with thick mayonnaise, bright pickled vegetables —snappy carrots and jalapenos, sprigs of cilantro— contrasted with rich slices of roasted pork, all on a soft hoagie. Wonderful.

When my mom and Aimee came into town one following evening, all the ladies went to a wine bar to eat Italian-leaning fair: mushrooms and taleggio on grilled ciabatta, ceci soup with rosemary in an earthy broth, fried polenta with tomato sauce, to name a few dishes on the table. We picked up local ice cream from the neighborhood market and had some for dessert. It was happy.

Now, the next day —the last day— was epic: our local hippie/hipster coffeeshop provided apple, orange, and carrot juice and the morning paper; then, it was on to Metarie, to tour my mother’s old suburban stomping grounds and to visit a classic Italian-American po-boy shop that provided a fried shrimp sandwich that was perfection. Later still was a visit to Marigny to chat with my uncle and listen to some band practice, to stroll the French Quarter, and to eat one of the best meals I’ve yet had: picture it— a Japanese place just around the corner. Hip but unassuming. Classic cult movie posters; a dark, wooden interior. Barbecued eel on sticky rice with a sweet, dark sauce and scallions; french fries with wasabi mayonnaise, bright cucumber salad, Japanese beer, sisterly love. We met our dad for midnight beignets at Cafe du Monde, and walked sleepily along the river, and digested with surprising contentedness.

The next day, we hit the road.

NoLa

Alright. So, it has been:

Brightly colored houses and warm sun, flowers and flowers, bushes of flowers and flower boxes all cluttered in lovely jumbles in front of houses— sometimes matching the bright purple paint, or stark in gentle & wild contrast. And Bike rides! Brief and surprising torrential rain! Iced tea! ‘Hellos’ to neighbors passing by!

Cream of tomato soup with spicy, smoky tasso ham; restorative plates of red beans & rice with sausage, humble and simple; shrimp and grits with tomato and fried eggs and a superb biscuit; dark and rich chicken and sausage gumbo, with crusty chunks of French bread bought at the corner store from Southern ladies who told their stories to one another with emphasis and lilting accents, filling coffee cups from a pot on the burner right behind the counter (every corner store doubles as a sandwich shop, here); Sarah’s signature salsa, clean and just-spicy-enough; sweet boiled shrimp with bright, melting fried green tomatoes and remoulade.

Bright pink record shops with a family dog who had plaintive eyes, daydreams about having a garden, with lemon trees; wine bars with big back patios all strung up with lights, horns playing music into the evening.

Muffaletta sandwiches at Central Grocery layered with deli meats and sharp provolone, giardinera, olive salad— the rich oils from the latter soaking into that formidable round hunk of sesame-studded, soft Italian bread. Salt and vinegar chips, a white counter, grocery items on all sides: pasta and antipasti, jams and dried fruits, hot sauces and oils; the old walls peeling, the people brusque, the air damp with briny vinegar smells and warm bread smells and love. Later that same night was Mona’s: hummus, still-warm dolmas, herbaceous tabbouleh and spiced fried meatballs studded with pine nuts that smelt like Christmas, minty labneh drizzled with oil and smoky baba ganoush, pickles and olives, crusty-edged falafel, pita. We hung out in my uncle’s lovely French Quarter apartment, watched him play his guitar at the corner bar, and parted into a cool night, slipping quietly down dark streets all slicked with a sudden downpour.

fall.

one of my last days in New York was an epic fall day, brunch at the Breslin with Rachel, grapefruit with ginger sugar and tiny slivers of mint, poached eggs on a bed of spicy lentils and a hunk of grilled ciabatta. walked it off for 40 blocks on the gorgeous stretch of Riverside Park in Woody Allen’s New York, the Upper West Side.

trotted home to rest my weary legs, my weary everything; such sun and wind and long walks and late mornings can only call for a nap. or, as I was want to do, a cup of tea.

then it was all the way down to the East Village for samosas from a Pakistani deli, where my friend Devika ordered for me in fluid Hindi, and we went to a bench and ate out of plastic containers; melting fried dough with tamarind and mint chutney, a lovely spicy-sweet mash up nestled happily within a generous, restorative dollop of smashed black lentils and chickpeas. we drank sweet chai, and talked like we had known each other for a long, long while, when we really only just met. one of those instant-connection-they-just-get-it friendships, so easy and comfy. and it was the last and first time we will hang out in New York, and we were eating wonderful deli food in the crisp air, in the East Village, and it was utterly New York, and how sad and how wonderful, that such friends can be made so quickly and in such a transitory manner.

some other fall suppers, by my lonesome:

a plump roasted chicken breast with sweet, stewey tomatoes that were roasted alongside in the pan; the heat and the fat and the juice collapsed them, rendering the rough chop a wonderfully haphazard tomato sauce to bathe the chicken in.

an omelet that tasted rustic and humble, and made me think of damp ground and warm tea: three eggs filled just so with sauteed mushrooms, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes, and arugula, some grated parmesan.

tonight: a simple and deeply satisfying stew of corn, tomato, and rice with subtle heat and that magical base of bell peppers, onion, celery; a crisp green salad; pieces of crusty bread torn off a loaf of French bread almost as big as me (literally!) spread with cold butter. friends, I am in New Orleans, and it is beautiful. I will keep you posted.