Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ode to the Muffuletta

Despite sounding rather obscene (let’s face it, a sandwich named muffuletta has got to be in the top-ten double entrendre foods), the muffuletta is an amazing sandwich!  Somehow the Italian hero or grinder (depending on the region of the US in which you reside) was transformed by the Louisiana French influence into a new and amazing gastronomic treat. 

According to a table in the airport, painted with varied muffulettas, the true Italian pronunciation would be moo-foo-LEH-tah.  Loosz’anna pronunciation is more along the lines of muh-fuh-LET-ta.  (I’m guessing in da Bronx and Brooklyn, maybe even in Jersey, this would be pronounced moe-foe-letta, LOL.)

Anyway, the muffuletta is as varied and different as there are muffuletta makers.  Many sandwich makers swear by the pre-made recipe, where the juices of the olive salad sink into the bread.  I personally dislike wet bread, so I was happy to find that Messina’s Café makes their muffuletta fresh with each order, and heats the bread/cheese/meat part of the sandwich before adding the olive salad.
To make your muffuletta in the style of Messina’s:

Begin with a round and crusty bread, preferably with sesame seeds on top.  Bread should be about 9 to 12 inches in diameter.  (This will feed four normal people, two hungry people, or one teenage boy.)  Cut the round bread in half horizontally.  Brush both sides with a little olive oil (or skip this if you want to save a few calories or if you like dry bread).

Layer the meat and cheese – you want several slices of a variety of meats and cheeses, to build up a few layers.  The muffuletta I ate (most of) had ham and provolone, but others had salami, mortadella, bologna.  Go with your preference – but the cheese should be mild, and the meats should be cured and salty.  Also, most muffulette (Italian plural of muffuletta) seemed to begin and end with the meats, with cheese in the middle.

Now, place the filled side of the bread and the empty side of the bread in a warm oven for a few minutes to lightly toast (but not brown) the bread and make the cheese just slightly warm and gooey (but not runny).

Take the two haves out of the oven, pile on olive salad (see next paragraph) on top of the meat and cheese side, then take the plain side of the bread and really press this down on top of the sandwich – you don’t want to flatten and smoosh the bread, but you do want to press the entire sandwich together.  Cut into quarters and serve while still warm.  This sandwich is rich, earthy, spicy, salty, tangy, and just a little bit of heaven!

Olive salad:  This is a relish, really, made of mostly green olives, a few black olives (olives pitted), marinated vegetables (like carrots, cauliflower, peppers), all diced into small chunks and marinated in a vinaigrette that has been enhanced with hot peppers, maybe some oregano or rosemary, and left to meld the flavors.  If your sandwich doesn’t have the olive salad, it really is just a hero, not a muffuletta – you need this olive salad to make it authentic!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jazz Cruise on the Big Muddy

Today we took a trip on a steam-powered paddle boat, up and down a section of the river.

This isn't our boat, but it looked much like this.

Starboard side, looking toward the stern.

Starboard side, look toward the bow.

Inside the dining room, with the old stamped tin ceiling.

The jazz band performed in here, a great trio playing old Dixieland favorites.

Speakers?  Air vents?  Something, cut into the pattern of the ceiling.

Another traditional paddleboat.

Close up view of the paddle wheel - it was like a wooden ferris wheel powering the boat!

Italian in New Orleans

I know, most people come to New Orleans for the Cajun and Creole food - étouffé, gumbo, jambalaya, dirty rice, red beans and rice, crawfish and 'gator and all things pork.

So we went around the corner for Italian.

What can I say, I love Italian food.  When visiting Italy, I never get bored, I never crave other foods, I love Italian food.

This is the place - in the Warehouse District, corner of St. Joseph and Tchoupitoulas  (yeah, I don't know how to pronounce that).

I had the duck breast with apples and truffle honey glaze, which was phenomenal.  Richard had the gnudi, which seemed to be giant ricotta cheese gnocchi with shitake mushrooms (fusion!).  The focaccia bread was fresh and delicious.  For dessert, I had the panna cotta, which had a rich berry sauce that had traces of rosemary, scattered with pine nuts.  OMG, heaven in a bowl!

So when your taste buds are full of beignets and po'boys (my two new faves, and I can't stop eating beignets and popcorn shrimp long enough to find the gumbo and jambalaya and étouffé), give a Mano a try - really wonderful northern Italian food!

NOTE May 2014 - I heard that Mano has closed, so I took out the link.  SO sorry, it was a wonderful meal!!!!!

Riding the energy of New Orleans

We arrived in N'Orleans (as it sounds) on Friday, and immediately slowed down.  Not that there isn't a high energy feel of fun and excitement and a general atmosphere of party, as well as anticipation of success for Sunday's Saints game.  Not that the city isn't humming with AARP conventioners (we look young in the crowd!), and other tourists like us, and the regional martial arts championship youth division, and the occasional person lucky enough to live and work here.

No, we slowed down because New Orleans is a FUN stop for us.  Much of the business end of travel has been dealt with and finalized, or put on hold until we meet up with my brother the attorney.  We are here to play, to party, to explore, and to sample everything New Orleans has to offer.

And while there's that high energy feel of fun, excitement, party on - well, it's also 90 degrees much of the day and humid and the muddy Mississippi River looks like it's slowly rolling along - although according to what we read, that really isn't true, it's actually speeding along.  But maybe that's the true metaphor for New Orleans - slow motion and drawling speech on the surface, and below that lazing surface there's in reality a frenzy of action and activity and dancing to the beat of Dixieland jazz and south'n rock'n'roll.

A photo essay of our first day and a half in N'Orleans:

Classic fleur-de-lis refuse receptacle  (because when it has a fleur-de-lis on it, how can you call it a trash can???)

Welcome sign and map here in the Warehouse District

Bus shuttle for the AARP Convention - but it was a Classic New Orleans Coach with the fleur-de-lis

The Mississippi River

Crazy hats and beads in a store - I just liked the riot of color

Classic New Orleans breakfast or snack - beignets and coffee.  I swear, this is the crack cocaine of pastry - light and chewy and sweet and addicting!

Crescent City Bridge (because New Orleans is built on a bend in the river, so the city looks like a crescent)

Louisiana and New Orleans were originally Spanish, then French, then USA - so there are little things that symbolize the Spanish heritage.

This fountain has gorgeous tile work, made in Spain and donated to the city of New Orleans.  I loved the tiles!

Trolley - this one runs along the riverfront, running from the Convention Center to the far end of the French Quarter, all the way to the French Market.

Mask display for Mardi Gras - though I suppose it might be masque, not mask

Inside the covered French Market - crafts and T shirts and tchatchkas at one end, food and produce at the other end.

Beautiful produce!

I LOOOOOVE the architecture around here!  Amazing!  Gorgeous!  

Wedding parade - the band was playing outside the church while the wedding party marched out, and then everyone danced down the street, accompanied by two police cars.  Guests had white squares to wave in the air - the cloth also had gold writing, I'm guessing maybe the bride and groom's names?  Like wedding yarmulkes?  And the grandmothers bringing up the end of the parade in bicycle-drawn rickshaws!

Lovely little garden and the hugest magnolia tree I've ever seen!

Sweet architecture and gingerbread, highlighted by terrific paint jobs!

Loved this witty take on the essence of Bourbon Street!

Someone's wreath featuring a Mardi Gras masque and a Saints football - a different take on the essence of New Orleans!

The original Bourbon Street

Abandoned beads - sort of seemed like a symbol of the glitz and glamour that is just a thin veneer covering the sex shops and trade that also is part of Bourbon Street.  Sort of like the song "House of the Rising Sun" - the shiny surface that gets thrown aside and leads to videos like "Girls Gone Wild" and "the ruin of many a young boy" - at least, that's my take on the fallen bead necklaces.

Another wedding marching down the street with their personal band.

The bride is the one with the white parasol.

THIS is what New Orleans is known for - the music!

Loved the street signs, embedded in the sidewalk!

Friday, September 21, 2012

For Project Runway fans

Richard and I both, together as well as separately, often travel under a dark grey cloud of bad luck and disaster - where mishaps and misadventures, delays and false starts, problems, issues, what have you, follow us around.

Today wasn't one of those days.

We awoke at 4 AM in order to get to the airport by 5 AM, for a 6:15 flight.  I knew we had too much stuff, too many bags, and that our bags are on the heavy side.  (Turned out to be VERY heavy.)  Remember, they couldn't be weighed when we left St. Thomas, the scale was broken.  Today we found out how heavy they really were.

So I figured we could do the curbside check in - the guys are a bit more lax on the rules, they give customers a break, plus there is less waiting in line.  We lined up, and piled up our bags.

The nice young check in guy asked the lady in front of me her name, had her spell it, and looked up her flight.  Her voice had that lilt of West Africa that is so reminiscent of my Peace Corps years, so I listened in to the conversation.

"Mah name is Momolu.  M-o-m-o-l-u.  Momolu."

And a light bulb went off in my sleep-deprived brain.  I knew that name.  That was one of the designers a few years back on Project Runway, Korto Momolu, one of my favorite designers, a young woman originally from Liberia, who incorporated African beading and fabrics into her runway fashions, and who made it into the final three (and actually was first runner up her year!).

I politely waited until there was a pause, the check in guy was printing and tagging, and I said, "Excuse me, you said your name is Momolu.  Are you related to Korto Momolu?"  The woman turned and looked at me in surprise;  "Yes," she said, "I'm her mother."

"Ah, I loved her on Project Runway.  Please tell her you met a big big fan, and I love her work.  And I was Peace Corps Liberia, so she was very special to me on the show.  Meeting you, I feel like I'm meeting a celebrity!"

This women just beamed at me, grabbed my arm, gave me a half hug, thanked me, told me she's off to see her daughter's new show in California, that she's still designing - it was a wonderful little interlude!


And we saw new designs by many of the former top Project Runway contenders in New York for Fashion Week - including Korto's - in a window display.  (Of course, I don't remember the store, I was taken with her fabulous radial-seamed black cocktail dress.)

Anyway, Mrs. Momolu left, it was our turn, our bags were way heavy, so we shifted around some items, balanced our three checked bags, gave Mr Sweet Check In Guy a very nice tip, and headed off to our flight.  (I told him he had just checked in the mother of a celebrity!)  Our flight left on time, we made our connection in good time, and arrived in New Orleans to find the AARP National Convention!!!  So there are thousands of people in our general age group (and much older) wandering around wearing red conference tags and carrying info bags.  We look like pros, walking around NOLA without the conference tags, LOL!

Just one of those days when EVERYTHING goes even better than planned!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Day at the Barnes

You may or may not have heard of the Barnes Collection.  It isn't really a museum, but then again, it sort of is. 


Imagine over 500 works of art, mostly French Impressionists but some early European religious paintings, a few Renaissance pieces, maybe a Flemish or Dutch master of the Golden Age, some African masks and sculpture, mixed in with ornamental metal fixtures and implements, plus some furniture and ceramics and the occasional farming utensil. 

These are all the objects d'arte collected by A.C. Barnes, and originally displayed in his home in Merion, PA.  After a long drawn-out battle in court, the Barnes Foundation finally received approval (and funding) to build a new location in Philadelphia and move the collection so that it was more accessible to the public - but, under the terms of the bequest, the groupings and layout of the objects had to remain exactly the same as in the original location.

So, today I spent the afternoon in the Barnes Collection (new location) - and I had a wonderful time.  The usual museum labelling is absent, so the observer (me) can either enjoy the artwork as it is, or try to identify the artist by recognizing style and subject (which becomes a great game to play inside your - my - head).  The other game is to try to figure out why Dr. Barnes put the paintings and objects together in this particular configuration.

For example, why would he place a large dark passionate El Greco saint between two lovely and light Renoir bathers, voluptuous women in pink and gold - then maybe a Soutine impasto at each end, a few small light still life paintings above, a little Pissarro landscape balanced by a small Cezanne - and a few silver hinges, trivets, drawer pulls, and other ornamental metal works punctuating the frames, with a shiny brass bed warmer like exclamation marks at the beginning and end of this sentence of artworks.  Why????

Is there a theme, like maybe these are all paintings of people?  Well, no, there are saints alone and bathers alone and a few landscapes and maybe some apples and pears.  Are the colors related?  Well, no, not that I can figure out.  There is symmetry of shape in the placement, and often balance in terms of the artists or styles (along the line of symmetry) - but that's about all I can see.

Confusing?  Maybe.  Overwhelming?  Certainly.  Ecclectic?  Yes, and eccentric.  But decidedly fun, a feast for the eyes and the soul, and bringing in flocks of art lovers from around the world.  (Plus 181 paintings by Renoir, tons of Cezannes, masses of Matisses, and Picasso in all of his periods.)

If you haven't been, go to the Barnes.  If you've been already, go see the wonderful new space.  I loved it and had a wonderful time - this was my second visit to the Barnes, my first to the new space - and there is always something new to see even though it is the same collection and the same layout each time - because with art, you notice different pieces and focus on different themes or colors or artists, depending on your mood or emotions or current situation.  The art stays the same, but our perception of it changes.  That way, it always seems new and different and exciting.

Along with new and different and exciting - the wildlife in this neighborhood is amazing.  There was the usual rabbit sighting one day.  Yesterday I watched a large stag (with four-point antlers) in the wooded area beyond the backyard, as he ate and kept an eye on me.  Today, a brown fox ran down the road as we drove back home.  NOT what I expected in a suburb of Philadelphia.  But exciting!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Moving at the speed of Manhattan

Just a note - you can click on any photo an enlarge it if you want to see more detail.

It was a busy, full, intense, busy, crazy, speed-visiting, busy week in New York.  We met up with cousins, nephews, a niece, friends and more friends, an uncle.  We ate our way uptown, downtown, crosstown.  We walked - 8 miles for two days in a row, then an "easy" day of 7 miles.  (And yes, I track this on my pedometer, which is pretty accurate.)

We are hyped on caffeine, moving at the speed of Manhattan.

Highlights included time at Bryant Park, post-Fashion Week, where I rode a very small but very pretty carousel (and the horse didn't trip me up).  Somehow, our social action past caught up with us as we found ourselves in the midst of a demonstration - placards about the bank bailouts, lack of housing, unfair labor and housing practices, and a chant about some politician (or banker?).  The protestors included groups of students, with teachers, each group in matching T shirts for easy grouping - I suspect this was a social science lesson in political action or something.  The group was leaving the park (which is so lovely!) as we were also leaving - so we marched along chanting "Hey hey, Ho ho, Tom de Marco [???] has got to go!"  However, once we reached the street we saw a chocolate cafe and were immediately diverted.  How could we skip a cafe that advertizes "chocolates with personality?"

We also walked downtown, to lower Manhattan, through the garment district and on to Tribeca (triangle below Canal Street), to continue the noshing and nostalgic eating - on to Yonah Shimmel's knish shop, and Veniero's Italian Bakery - chocolate cannoli, cream tarts with chocolate covered strawberries, on and on, SO difficult to make a decision when there are so many gorgeous and tempting choices!  (I went with the chocolate cream tart with a strawberry, Richard had the chocolate cannolli - we sat outside on a planter and people-watched and enjoyed our treats.) 

 Of course, I always enjoy the architecture of New York, the Empire State building from below, craning our necks to look up, or the beauty of the Chrysler Building, which shines across the city and reflects in the modern glass buildings.  One can see the progression of art styles in the buildings, moving from Classical Revival columns to ornamental flourishes of Art Nouveau to the spare geometry of Art Deco to the industrial and then modernist periods - I love this collection of buildings recording human history and style.

And then the city at night - the city takes on a totally different personality at night.  The hard edges are subdued in the lights of Broadway and Times Square, making the streets brighter than the noon sun; the Chrysler shining in the distance; leaf shadows on the sidewalk; the benevolent and contemplative lions of the 42nd Street Public Library.  Even the crowds change: young men play pickup basketball games in the parks, business people in suits race home after a long late day at the office, theatre goers head to and from whatever show, dressed in their almost-best, some street people wake up and move out, others bed down for the night (and there was a small group sleeping behind the fences at the library, watched over by a security guard, which was actually rather nice to see).  The streets are still packed, the cafes and bistros and trattorias and restaurants in every language overflow onto the streets, and people still speed along, moving at the speed of Manhattan.