New Orleans

I recently went back to New Orleans for the first time in 7 years. I was going for the ALA Annual Conference, which was there this year. The last time I went was in 2011 the last time this conference was there. The Ritz Carlton was one of the conference hotels this year so I decided I would take advantage of the conference rate to stay at a fancier hotel than I normally would. Apparently that also tipped it so that my husband decided he wanted to join me on the trip. I can’t say that staying at this particular Ritz Carlton felt as fancy as other Ritz Carltons I’ve been in, but I’m really happy my husband decided to come with me.

The opening keynote on Friday was Michelle Obama being interviewed by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. She talked about Becoming, the memoir she is writing due out in November. It was a great conversation and it made me miss the Obamas in the White House even more than I already do.

After the opening keynote I met up with my husband for dinner. He’s a vegetarian so it was quite the challenge to find places where there was something on the menu that he could eat while also letting me enjoy New Orleans style cooking. Friday night we wound up at a place called G.W. Fins, where I had one of the best meals I can remember having any time in the recent past. Everything started off great with little biscuits they serve. The person who sat us warned that they were addictive and we should pace ourselves. I’m glad the guy serving them only came by our table twice because I definitely didn’t need to eat a third one, but I would have had a hard time turning it down. For my entree I had parmesan crusted sheepshead. It’s a fish I had never heard of before, but it’s basically some type of mild white fish. It was amazing and it was heartbreaking to not be able to take my leftovers with me. If you’re ever in New Orleans I highly recommend this restaurant.

We of course started off Saturday with beignets at Cafe du Monde for breakfast. Saturday was my major conference day. I hit up the exhibit hall in the morning with my husband who I got a free exhibit pass for. I went to a couple of programs that unfortunately were not that good. One was too basic for me and one provided some very terrible copyright information. I spent a couple hours staffing our copyright booth and answering people’s copyright questions in between people asking if they could take my picture at the booth. I finished the day off with a committee meeting.

Saturday night was the one night I didn’t make reservations for ahead of time. That wound up maybe not being the best idea as it took us awhile to find somewhere to eat that had availability and could feed my husband.I originally thought we might walk over to Frenchman Street and find somewhere to eat over there or on the way and then listen to some jazz in some of the bars over there. My feet were too destroyed by the end of the day to make that a viable plan, so I wanted to stick around somewhere closer to our hotel. We wound up at someplace called Mr. B’s Bistro because their website assured us they took walk-ins. The food there was okay, but not nearly as good as G.W. Fins. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there, but it will do in a pinch.

Since my original music plan didn’t work out we wound up at Preservation Hall instead. I can’t complain about that. We got out of dinner just in time to get in line for the 9 pm show. We even managed to get in early enough that we got to snag a seat on a bench right in front of the fan, which made it only slightly less oppressively hot. I have no idea how those guys play 5 shows a night in that non-air conditioned space during the summer.

Sunday we decided to try Cafe Beignet for breakfast instead because there was one much closer to our hotel than Cafe du Monde. While I appreciated being able to get a banana and some iced chai along with my beignet, the beignets were not nearly as good. They were much more dense. I guess there’s a reason Cafe du Monde is the gold standard of beignets.

I had one committee meeting I had to be at on Sunday morning, so I went to that and then I called it a conference. I was paying out of my own pocket to go to this conference, so I didn’t feel bad in treating it somewhat like a vacation as well. We met up with one my friends for lunch at a place called Magazine Pizza, which met the criteria of being veggie friendly for my husband and having gluten free options for my friend. It was great to catch up with her. Since she is the only other person I know at least personally who goes to at least as many concerts as I do, I was happy to introduce her to my husband so he’s knows I’m not the only crazy music fan out there.

Speaking of being a crazy music fan I found out there was a Cajun Zydeco music festival going on in Louis Armstrong Park. We walked over there and found some shade to sit in and listened to some music for awhile. It was nice to get out and do something that actual people who live in New Orleans were doing rather than just hitting the more touristy places. Also sitting outside and listening to live music is one of my favorite things, so this was a perfect way to spend the afternoon in my opinion.

Sunday night we had reservations at a place called Brennan’s. I didn’t love my blackened red fish. Somehow the seasoning felt sooty even though everything was covered in tons of butter. I was much happier with the rock shrimp that came on the side as well as the zucchini and summer squash mix. I was very pleased with the squash, which is usually mushy and not my favorite. This still had a nice crunch to it.

Monday we basically had time to hit up Cafe du Monde one last time before heading back to the hotel to get showered and ready to head to the airport. It turned out to be a really nice trip. I’ve lost a lot of my normal conference pals in recent years as people have rotated off committees and stopped paying to come to the big conferences. With my husband there I ate at much nicer places than I would have on my own, and it was nice to spend the time with him.

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.

A Good Sheet Cake

Sometimes there’s nothing like a good sheet cake. You know the ones that come covered in the sickeningly sweet buttercream icing. The key is to have a really good sheet cake though. There are plenty of garbage sheet cakes out in the world getting your hopes up and then dashing them when you take a bite and realize they’re covered in that oil slick of whipped icing instead of buttercream (that stuff should be outlawed) or the cake is super dry.

There’s a local grocery store in Baltimore called Eddie’s and they make a fantastic sheet cake. We always get one at work for our student worker appreciation lunch. This year’s lunch was this afternoon and I enjoyed the heck out of my piece of cake. I even managed to snag a corner piece, which means more icing for me. I know some people hate it, but I love it.

I know theoretically there are better desserts out there made from less industrial ingredients, but sometimes all I want is a piece of good old buttercream sheet cake. My wedding cake came from a Publix grocery store and was essentially a glorified sheet cake, and I loved it. I’ve been to plenty of weddings with fancy cakes from bakeries that I have found to be far less tasty than my grocery store cake.

I don’t have cause to have good sheet cakes in my life very often, but I always look forward to this at least one day per year when I get to indulge in this horribly delicious treat.

DC Day

Awhile back my husband, knowing that I like the band The Head and the Heart, pointed out to me that they were going to be playing at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in DC. I had already seen, but decided not to go because I didn’t feel like going all the way to DC and was hoping they would swing back through Baltimore later in their tour as they had in their previous tours. He pointed out to me that he was going to be in DC for a conference that day, so if I decided to get tickets I could come down and meet him and we could go. So I went ahead and bought tickets. Of course two weeks after I bought tickets, they announced a show in Baltimore in December. Looks like I’ll just have to see them twice. Poor me.

Anyway, shortly after buying tickets to the concert my former boss passed away and I saw that the memorial service was going to be in Olney, Maryland the same day as the concert. After looking up where the heck Olney was and realizing it was in DC suburbs, I decided it didn’t make sense to go back home in between. Instead it made more sense for me to drive into DC and spend the afternoon there. So I made plans to do just that.

The memorial service was lovely. They had ten people speak and share stories and remembrances. It was a very fitting tribute to man who was loved by many, and tried to live life to the fullest despite his long battle with MS. He will be missed.

After the memorial service I headed to my friends Alison and Dave’s house. They just bought a house in DC and happily they were free so we could hang out yesterday afternoon. I got to check out their new digs, and spend some time with them. Now that Alison sadly no longer lives in Baltimore I obviously don’t get to see her as often. They still come up this way a lot, but I know once they settle into their DC life more and more I know that drive will seem even less appealing. Alison and I thought about going to a museum briefly, but I had no slept well and was really tired so we decided just to hang out their house until dinner.

One of the problems with D.A.R. is that there is nothing else immediately around it in terms of commercial things like stores and restaurants. Within a mile or so there’s a handful of places, but you still don’t have a very big selection if you want to grab drinks or dinner before a show. I made us reservations at Founding Farmers, which I had heard good things about and is insanely popular based on the number of people waiting to get in there. Perhaps at one point it was amazing and is now just resting on it’s popularity, or maybe it’s just one of those places that has a reputation for whatever reason that it doesn’t really live up to. After waiting almost an hour after our reservation time for our table (normally that would have made me leave a place, but in this case there wasn’t really anywhere else to go), the food was just middling. I’m not sure why everyone was fighting to get in there. At least everything came out fast since we were pressed for time by the time we got to sit. The carrot cake was tasty too.

Because dinner took so long we did miss the first bit of the opening band, Declan McKenna. I didn’t know them going in, and after seeing what I saw of their set I wasn’t really sad that I missed part of it. They weren’t completely terrible like whoever the opening act was the first time I saw The Head and the Heart in concert, but their music didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Last night was the fourth time I’ve seen The Head and the Heart in concert. Once at the Newport Folk Festival and then once on each of the tours they’ve done for their three albums. They always put on an excellent show. Last night was no exception. They obviously played a good chunk of music from their new album, which I really like. They still tend to play a lot from their first album as well, which the crowd eats up. At this point especially for those songs but for some of their more recent material as well, it was really just one big sing-a-long with the crowd. That doesn’t work with every band, but it totally does with them and I was happy to be able to sit there and sing with everyone. I’m already looking forward to seeing them again in December.

Apple Cider Donuts

There are many things I love about fall, but one of them is apple cider donuts. I don’t know if they’re a new phenomenon (probably not), if they just weren’t a thing in the places I previously lived, or if I just somehow was unaware of them, but I don’t ever recall hearing about apple cider donuts until I started my current job 12+ years ago and one of my co-workers brought them in. Now I very much love them and look forward to their appearance in the fall.

At least near me they’re not that easy to get though. There is one farm I know of that sells them, but it’s a 30 minute drive for me to get there so it’s not like I’m driving up there frequently to buy donuts. It kind of surprises me that none of the orchards that go to the farmers’ market we go to every weekend sell them, but it’s probably for the best. I really shouldn’t have easy access to them for my own good.

I met some friends at the Perry Hall Apple Festival at Chapel Hill Farm yesterday. They too sell apple cider donuts in their little store, so after enjoying our time at the festival I stopped in on the way out and bought a couple of containers. There’s a chance someone will bring some into work once, but it’s also quite possible these will be the only apple cider donuts I get this season, so I’m going to savor them.

Enjoying the Good Times

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia and stresses of life and not really take time to stop and smell the roses as it were, but this weekend offered some great times for me to think about the blessings in my life and be thankful for them.

As anyone around these parts knows we have been stuck in some awful weather pattern where it has been cold and rainy for weeks on end. Friday we finally had a nice sunny, spring day and it just made everything so much better. I got to get outside for a walk in the park. We got to dine outside at a restaurant in our neighborhood, and then I got to come home and bake a cake while listening to some James Taylor which really fit my weather mood. It was a simple, lovely evening and I very much savored it as it was happening.

Saturday we held our annual Preakness party. Despite the return of the gross rain it was a fun day with friends. We got to enjoy tiny babies, and bigger babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers running around our house. I am still endlessly amused by the fact that even more exciting than the fun animal cups and toys we had for them was the bowl of potatoes they found and played with. Next year we’ll just give them a bunch of produce to play with. I also finally managed to draw the winning horse in our pool, so I had a little extra money in my pocket at the end of the night too.

Sunday I got to head out to horse country for a baby shower for a friend (still in the rain, it never ends I tell you). I could never live out there myself, but it’s nice to escape the city every once in awhile and get out into the wilds of Maryland. That’s one nice thing about Baltimore is it doesn’t take very long to get out into some still very rural seeming places. We had a wonderful afternoon celebrating the impending arrival of what will be a very loved baby boy.

The weekend was a good reminder that my life is pretty good sometimes and filled with lots of wonderful friends and beautiful moments that I should pay more attention to and cherish.

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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.

Dr. Gourmet

Last year I started having issues with high blood pressure. I’m guessing it’s mostly related to work stress, but since I’m not quitting my job I had to look into other ways to try and bring it down. I’m already a healthy weight, I don’t smoke, I already can’t drink for other medical reasons, and I exercise everyday. That pretty much leaves reducing my sodium intake as the only thing to try.

If you would have asked me before I started paying attention I would have assumed my sodium intake wasn’t all that bad. I eat fairly healthy meals most of the time and we do cook at home a decent amount. Turns out that there is a lot of hidden sodium in things I never would have thought about. Cereal, bread, even milk (this was the most surprising to me) all have more sodium than you might think. Plus the things we add to our from scratch meals (essentially sauces and marinades) are all full of sodium if you don’t pay very careful attention to buying the few low sodium products on the market.

In order to adjust what we were eating to fit within my new sodium intake plan I needed to find new recipes. My husband is a vegetarian, which added an additional wrinkle. We had to find low-sodium, vegetarian recipes to cook. In trying to Google recipes I stumbled across the Dr. Gourmet website. There’s a whole section of recipes for low-sodium, vegetarian diets. There’s a lot of other recipes there too, but I can only speak to the ones from this section of the site.

We’ve cooked a lot of the recipes from the site over the past few months, and they’ve been great. There’s only been one that I haven’t liked and that I suspect is moreso because I thought it was a good idea to make spinach alfredo even though I don’t generally like alfredo sauce. The recipes are generally easy. They don’t require any ridiculous ingredients, and many of them take about 30 minutes which is about how much time I want to spend cooking dinner after I get home from work. I’ve tried a couple that take longer than that on weekends when I have more time. This website has been a real lifesaver. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for some tasty, healthy recipes.