All the rain over the past week has caused a severe shift in our eating habits, not only for our customers at the shop but also here at the house. We’ve also gone from raw chill to the lower 70s. Add to this the normal seasonal shifts with the beginning of Carnival Season and the acceleration of Crawfish Season, and the culinary options around here have gone from wonderful to unbelievable in a very short amount of time.
As mentioned in the last column, I opted to go with smoked duck for our Christmas dinner this time around. Honestly, a month’s worth of dealing with turkey and ham every day at work made the idea of doing either of those rather unappealing. I also deal with a fair amount of things like eye of round, so I wanted to do something that would absorb a little more flavor from the outside. There are only three of us in the house, so doing something large like a goose was never really on the radar.
We’ve been cocooning in the house these last few evenings, feeling the wind buffet the siding after the midweek cold front came through. Those many of us who live in old, drafty houses here in New Orleans know the place never gets completely warm. About the best you can hope to do is dress for the cold occasions, enjoy a stiff toddy and try to not move off the couch or chair too much. Very Southern Winter and, of course, Very Holiday.
Gah! I have just gotten through wrestling with one of those rolls of plastic wrap (I won’t name names) we all have in our kitchens for wrapping food portions or bread or whatever is needed for use later. The stuff never unrolls without effort, then each brand has a different location for the cut-off strip. Is it on the box? On the boxtop flap? No matter where it is, it never does a clean job of tearing a straight edge. Then you’ve got a ragged, odd-shaped piece of wrap that either sticks to itself too much or not at all. All I wanted to do is wrap up some bread to put in the freezer. Frustrating.
I went into work one day last week and was again reminded about just how much food we produce each day and how it has to be constantly renewed over and over as sales volume increases. Usually, it seems I’ve just made a big load of something when I have to make another one. Not that this is a bad thing – at all.
This is tough to translate when I get back home and try to replicate something for just two or three. Speaking honestly, I rarely cook at home much anymore and, when I do, it’s usually pretty simply stuff like pasta with some kind of sauce from a jar. I know that will soon change, with the holidays approaching. But it’s a sure bet I’m going to be overbuying some ingredients just because I’m now so accustomed to producing in bulk.
I walked out of the house late Thursday morning and the air in our Irish Channel neighborhood was fully pregnant with various food aromas.
It’s one of the awful prices we pay for living here. And, yes, I’m being facetious.
We live less than 100 yards from Parasol’s and 150 yards from Tracey’s. There’s a Quizno’s and Coquette around the corner on Magazine. I got in the car and went to the French Quarter and parked across from the French Market before most places open at 11 a.m. All the smells from the places in the Market, from El Gato Negro, Coop’s, Margaritaville and the other spots hit me as I opened the car door.
While many of our days are still warm and we‘re certainly not done with summer-type weather yet, the cooler air of the past week has certainly improved my attitude and my culinary approach. Autumn is my favorite time of year — not only because things cool off but because it allows me to bring out a lot of things that don’t seem to fit in the more consistently hot weather we find after about, oh, JazzFest in this part of the world.
Few things make me happier as a parent and a chef than walking by a table where kids are eating a variety of foods. I have seen children eating sushi, oysters, Thai food, escargot and all sorts of things that might not be on your average list of Kid Food — and I always want to hug the parents or other appropriate adults for laying out various things to try.
Last week I had the chance to go out to Tulane to watch a showing of “Nine Lives,” the Paul Sanchez musical production of a Dan Baum book dealing with our part of the world and a particular view of how things were from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 to Katrina, 40 years later. It’s a delightful show, and here’s hoping it is successful as a would-be Broadway production in the coming year or so.
As is often the case when I go see local music (not nearly as often as I’d like), I get to thinking about how much in common our local restaurant operators have with our local musicians. We’re in a city known mainly as a food and art mecca, and we’ve produced a series of folks known worldwide for their expertise and innovation in both arenas. But while such international stars (Lagasse and Neville, Prudhomme and Armstrong, etc.) have their draws, the attraction remains the smaller venues and Who’s Next — who might be doing world-class work in some dive or tiny place.
If your house is like ours, there are still a few items in your cupboard or maybe your fridge that appeared during our recent storm and now you’re looking at them and wondering, “Why?”
At one point, our Irish Channel house hosted seven adults and two little girls. Our friends arrived with bedding and toys, along with the usual we-might-need-extra items such as flashlights, ice, toilet paper, bottled water and batteries. Of course, there being seven adults, there was an adequate supply of alcoholic beverages. Or at least you think it’s adequate until the kids are asleep and everyone else is setting around with no power and nothing to do but drink.
No, I’m not going to write about the Chick-Fil-A thing just because this is a food column.
That said, I‘ve been having a fair amount of contact over the past week or so with various high-volume food and hotel chains. This is because I’ve had to include them in the very wide net I’ve had to cast in this job hunt. Ideal? No. But a dollar is a dollar these days and one can’t be too picky.
This isn’t to say I’m looking down my nose at the big chains. Actually, some of them do a remarkable job at introducing many people to variations of cuisine they might not ordinarily try. Olive Garden continually shifts its specials and, gotta admit, their endless salad/soup/breadstick offering is nearly impossible to beat when watching the budget and/or if you’re in search of something light (or feels that way).
I went over to the grand opening of the new Fresh Market on St. Charles this week and the first thing that hit me about this very nice and very, well, fresh place is that everyone in there was seeing it differently.
Few things are more personal than makin’ groceries, particularly in a city as food-centric as New Orleans in a region as food-centric as South Louisiana. But the avid home cook sees things differently from the professional chef, who doesn’t look for the same things as the young, married-no-kids couple or the veteran parents or the retired, low-salt folks. Add to this our own experiences of going with mom when we were kids to, say, adult experiences of making $15 buy food for a week and each of us is going to have a different take on where and who does what better.
I find myself in transition again this week, after walking away from a decently paying kitchen job. It only reinforced the idea that some of us either can’t or can no longer be simply employees, at least not for very long. We’re always bumping our heads against an overly low ceiling. A weekly paycheck is nice, but it’s also something of a leash that‘s too often pulled short.
Now that JazzFest 2012 is in the books and we’re looking down the summer corridor toward next fall, most of the city’s restaurant operators are looking at their calendars and bank accounts and thinking, “Hmmm…”
The other day, I inadvertently got into a conversation with a guy I’ll call The Haughty Culinary School Graduate. I say “inadvertently” because I was prattling on about what I’ve been doing lately and suddenly I’m hit with all kinds of questions about where I studied and where I’ve worked. I’m answering and could feel the guy stifling a sniff at my lack of real “training.”
Now that I’ve re-entered the workforce, I’m having to deal with a few issues most 58-year-old guys don’t have to deal with. Given how the economy has been the past few years, there are a lot more dealing with such issues now than, say, a decade or so ago. But we’re still in the minority.
I have several foodie friends who are financially comfortable enough to go out to eat pretty much anytime and anywhere they want. Must be nice. Maybe I should spend more time with them.
At least several times a week, they arrange to meet up with friends at the newest and latest go-to spot (and there are new ones nearly each week) or spend a couple of hours at some old favorite. They fill their blogs and Facebook pages with comments about new wines, twists on classic dishes, their favorite servers/owners and plenty of banter about why one place is better than another. The arguments can get intense.
I got frustrated a few nights ago with my first Real Cooking in ten days or so, as I fired up the stove at our Irish Channel house and was quickly reminded just how flaccid and wrong the average household cooking equipment really is.