Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas in the Big Easy

 After a lovely week down in the Crescent City, we are back! Don't believe what people tell you, with  anything you should experience it for yourself.'s are two cents about New Orleans. 
  Judging New Orleans based on a stay during Mardi Gras is like judging New York based on standing outside for New Years Eve; for the best the city has to offer you really should go in the off season. The service is much better and you won't be treated like cattle with a wallet. 
  Upon landing in the city and checking into the gorgeous Royal Senesta hotel (which is located in the heart of the French Quarter) lunch was in order. The amazing thing about New Orleans is you can stuff your face with the most incredible food and think that there is no way you could ever eat again.....and a few hours pass as you walk around and you're starving! 
   Acme Oyster House opens up at 11 and the line starts forming even before that. Started in 1910, the original Acme is still in the heart of the Quarter. 
We ordered up two dozen oysters and made short work of them. They were delicious and the sauce had just the right amount of slow burning heat to compliment the salty coolness of the oysters. Their Peacemaker po' boy (with both shrimp and oyster) is served with a Tabasco mayonnaise and was voted number 4 in the top ten sandwiches. Here's a tip- no one is going to advertise that they have the worst po' boy in the city, everyone says they have the best. Pick a place and have a po' boy, test our a few places and judge for your self. 
Oysters at Bourbon House
   If the line at Acme is too long for your stomach to handle, you can go across the way to the Bourbon House, one of Dickie Brennan's restaurant's. Their slogan is, "If it isn't in season, you won't find it on the menu". While Acme's is a haven from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street, the Bourbon House is all about good food and people watching. If you are lucky enough, like we were, you can nab a window seat and take in the view (good or bad as it might be). We had the pleasure of dining on the day the Saints played those not quite angry birds, the Falcons. Watching everyone in full Saint regalia (especially the little kids) was a nice way to close a vacation. Again, oysters are a must here, and the Crystal Alligator had a nice flavor to it (proving that sometimes blue cheese does make something taster better).  
   We recommend skipping the overly haughty Arnaud's. So, we minks weren't wearing our finest diamonds and pearls that night, we had yet to unpack our bags and just wanted good food close to our hotel. Our waiter brought us bread (we minks love bread!) but alas, no bread plates and no knife to cut the bread with. Was this bread for show? Was it to be eaten with our meal? When we asked for bread plates, we received strange looks from our servers (we had three of them and they hovered the entire time, unless we wanted something and then they weren't there). Country mink decided to hell with it and broke hunks off the bread. The food was good, but the waiter chastised us for leaving crumbs on the table. 
   City mink highly recommends Muriel's. The bar is nestled in the back and their take on a sidecar (here they call it a street car) was down right tasty. The servers were attentive and made some lovely recommendations on wine. We chose the Table D' Hote menu and sampled turtle soup, pecan crusted puppy drum (the signature dish) and for dessert the best bread pudding you could ever dream of; rich and custardy with a rum carmel sauce...mmmm! 
Hillbilly Heroine at Cafe Adelaide's 
   On a less crowded evening Cafe Adelaide might have been on our list of greats. We repeatedly got passed over by the bartender who instead chose to serve a pack of perky gazelles. When we finally did get our drink it was tasty-moonshine always is- but it wasn't worth the wait and the sage garnish was confusing. Being Christmas Day, most of the staff wanted to leave and the restaurant kept letting people in, you could tell they were getting antsy. The gnocchi and escargot was nice, though it could have used a pinch more garlic to round out the earthiness of the snail.
   Country mink was happy with an accidental find on Christmas Eve Day. Gott Gourmet on Magazine St. was open when most places were closed up until the evening for their dinner service. The owner explained to us that his family always had a big breakfast on Christmas Eve and he was keeping that tradition. After agonizing over Chicken and waffles, the Crab and Brie omelet, she decided on the Jumbo Shrimp and Smoked Gouda with Yellow Grits; a dish that will be thought about fondly for many months. The grits were creamy (unlike the stiff dry grits we had the next day for dinner) and the shrimp portions were large. Roman Bread toast points were served along with the meal, and manners be damned, we scooped some creamy grit, shrimp and sausage goodness on the toast and enjoyed!

Beignet covered in powdered sugar
 One thing you must do in New Orleans- eat beignets! Two of the more famous locations in the Quarter are Cafe du Monde and Cafe Beignet. For the uninitiated, a beignet is a fried fritter that was originally brought the Louisiana by the Acadians. The square piece of fried dough is covered in powdered sugar (or drowned in it) and served in orders of threes. When you munch on your beignets sip a cup of Cafe Au Lait (half coffee, half milk). Now, you could go to your local coffee shop and have a cup, but it won't be anywhere near the same. Louisiana coffee is made with chicory, giving it a distinctive chocolate flavor and cutting the bitterness of the coffee. The tourists go to Cafe du Monde, there's always a line and that's just for the pick-up window. We recommend Cafe Beignet, the smaller, multiple locations lead to the beignets being made to order (you can watch the mass production of fried dough at Cafe Du Monde) and the small seating area means you can enjoy your drink and snack (anytime is beignet time!) without feeling like you have to hurry up and move for the next customer. 
   New Orleans isn't all about food, the shopping scene is just as vibrant. Here's just a couple of our favorites.....
Macaroons from Sucre
    For memorable souvenirs buy local. Skip all the tacky drinking shirts and get something a little more personal. A recently passed law declares that if you buy an original work of art, you don't have to pay state or local tax. This is a great way to support a local artist and to nab a one-of-a-kind piece to show off to your friends back home. We nabbed a "water meter" and "Honey Badger" t-shirt at Storyville Screen Printing, earrings made from recycled records by artist James Jensen at Dutch Alley, vintage inspired holiday stickers at Agora Galleries, the most comfortable pair of vintage inspired shoes from Trashy Diva, pralines (delicious though not the prettiest) from Aunt Sally's and the most gorgeous macaroons from Sucre
   New Orleans is slowly coming back from "the storm" as the locals call it, but there is still a long way to go. Many shops seemed abandoned and you could still see the water line from the surge in some areas. We are confidant that the Big Easy will come back, as long as the people go back to it too. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Twas the night of the night of the night of the night before Christmas....

   I don't know about your inboxes.....but we've been inundated with "50% OFF!!!", "OPEN ROUND THE CLOCK!!!!", "ONLY ____ DAYS LEFT FOR SHOPPING!!!", "ORDER BY _____FOR CHRISTMAS DELIVERY!!!!!"......*ugh*....thank goodness for the delete key. We would much rather have our mailbox (that thing outside, in the ground, with the little red flag) filled with Christmas greetings that anything that the Internet could send our way.....
   The holidays are a funny time, we seem to get farther and farther away from what the end of the year is about. Having a birthday of a significant mile marker coming up, adds to everything as well. Most people hate birthdays, we've always looked at them and this time of the year as a, "Well, we made it through another year, for better or worse. So we had the stay in the hospital, the insurance paid for it and it was only for a day, a lot worse could have happened. We had food on the table every night, a roof over our heads and a bed to lay our heads on. We have a job to go to every day, which helps pay for all the previous. It may not be glamourous, but it pays the bills and most people can't say that. We have a loving family and friends. So, we don't see them as often as we like, they'll always be there when we call. The year may not have been exactly what we wanted or thought it would be, but here's to hoping that the next year will be somewhat smoother."
 So, wherever you happen to be; Happy Holidays, Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards all.....

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mink revolution!

   Here at The Country Mink and The City Mink we've been reading a lot about our fellow "minks" in Russia. It seems that demon called voter fraud has reared its ugly head once again. And we know all about the political machine, after all, a famous newsman here once said our state motto should be changed from "Urbs es Horto" to "Ubi Est Mea?". When it looked like the Olympics might grace our fair city people thought our mascots should include Chalky (a chalk outline of a dead guy) and Grafty (an open hand grabbing for a sack of money). So we get it.....
   In the Financial Times this weekend, Charles Clover interviewed chess genius Garry Kasparov. Among topics they discussed were Kasparov's 2005 opposition to Russia's president; Vladimir Putin. Kasparov described the difference between chess and politics quite simply; chess is, "where the rules are fixed and the outcome is unpredictable", whole politics in Russia is, "where the rules are unpredictable and the outcome is fixed".
  If you feel inclined to read the full article, which is highly recommended, you can go here: King of the Castle.
The term "mink revolution" was coined by Russian reality-TV star, Kseniya Sobchak after the parliamentary elections of Dec 10th. Most youth of today (inside and outside of Russia) have no memory of past uprisings, hell...human beings don't have a firm grasp of last week's riots let alone riots from centuries ago. Some are dubbing the protester's the "new Decembrists".  The "old Decembrist's" marched in 1825 when 3,00 soldiers refused to swear allegiance to their new Tsar, Nicholas I.  Instead proclaiming their loyalty to his brother, Constantine.  
  Why the sudden history lesson? Today at lunch I couldn't help but overhear a man and his son discussing college. I assume the son was home for the holidays and was talking about going into accounting instead of his friends who were leaning towards art history and general history. They both discussed that there was no point to learning about history, because there was no future in it! No future and no job. The nerve! I wanted to march on over to them and pose the question, "So, history has no bearing on the world? Then explain what is happening in Russia to me in context of its past revolutions!" 
   "Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results"
     -Niccolo Machiavelli-

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cupcakes are sooo last year.....

   With the Christmas baking season in full gear ( 2 bake sales, a work party and counting) we thought a change of pace would be nice. We've stuffed ourselves on rugelach, noshed on gingerbread, tasted meringue kisses, sampled krumkake, and inhaled way to much powdered sugar (icing) while making sugar cookies. I just made chocolate eggnog cupcakes spiked with brandy and lovingly iced with an eggnog buttercream, so I wasn't feeling the cupcake vibe. What to bake, what to bake????
   Since we minks are going down south for the holidays....a luscious red velvet cake was sounding right up our alley...but, we like to keep ahead of the trends here so we made a batch of red velvet whoopie pies with Marshmallow Fluff cream in the center!

Besides, cupcakes are way overdone, even Bon Appetit had a recent poll to find a new confection champion...whoopie pie vs macarons. A tasty battle if ever there was one! Now, since it's Christmas time, let's not bicker over who invented the humble whoopie pie first, or over what is the right or wrong flavor.  How about we just agree on how delicious they are.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Pleasure to......

   With book big box stores closing left and right, E-books trying to mindlessly take over the world and e-commerce on the up and up, it is about time for the local book store to reign supreme.
   If you happen to be in Bucktown, stop on by Myopic Books. It looks like a small, used book store...but we all know never to judge a book by its' cover, don't we???
   Downstairs, upstairs, down the upstairs, shelves and stacks and stacks of shelves! Where to begin, what to buy? I had to limit a purchase to one item, otherwise I would end up needing to put in another bookcase at home. And I just re-organized my books by height ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and my Taschen "Tattoo" book ended up together and Burroughs can hand out with Hunter S. Thompson)
   But, on to my lone purchase!
"Water water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink."

  With e-books climbing in price, why not visit your local store and grab a *real* book? Nothing beats paper, a glossy cover (or....mmmmm...leather) and our personal great book find...notes in the margins!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

17-1463...or Tangerine by any other name.....

   News broke earlier this week that the Pantone color of the year is.....*drumroll please*......Orange...well...tangerine to be exact. I suppose this is a step up from the springy, girly pink tones that were Honeysuckle (this years' color). Pink is wishing for a sunny day in the middle of February, Orange is getting on a plane and jet setting to any place that requires a pedicure.
   Orange is bold, dynamic and stands out in the crowd.  City Mink saw this coming in the spring when she spotted oranges (lips and cheeks) and greens (eyes) coming back into fashion.  Givenchy had this absolutely gorgeous lipstick called Candide Tangerine (how's that for nailing a trend?!). So, finally a lipstick that can last through the new year! Candide Tangerine is a bright creamy tangerine orange that certainly pops, without bringing out those orange splotches in your facial undertones.
  Orange was popular back in the 1920s, just google Hilda Steward to see a simple but elegant orange dress. Does this signify a comeback in the financial market? After all, the 1920's boom was great, while it lasted. Should we break out the champagne and caviar and toast to a resurgence? Will the power of orange help Tim Tebow rally his team to the Superbowl? Will Country Mink find some blood oranges and make that scrumptious olive oil cake again this year?
    We may not be able to answer those questions just yet, but maybe we'll check out some Rothko, sip some Campari and hope for the best.......

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Two weeks 'til Christmas and all through the house.....

  With two weeks to go, it's last minute crunch time on gifts. Luckily, all that meant today was to head on over to the studio and pick up my glass ornaments that I shaped last weekend. City mink may say that city life is the only way to live, but being out in the "styx" has is benefits open studio!
  This year the studio gave the option of making twisted ornaments and now I'm wishing that I picked up an ornament spinner! They'll look better on a sunny day, which we should have again sometime in April or May, but until then, they still make pretty eye candy.  Here are some of the pieces I made....

Well, good thing these handmade gifts are going to the Sunshine State, the City in the Garden is slightly gray this time of year....