Sunday, December 4, 2011

They grow up so fast.

Happy birthday to our sweetest little kittens!  Marley and Max were born sometime around Thanksgiving last year, or so the shelter told us when we got them.

They were the cutest kittens.

Being one year old, they are almost full grown now, but will probably continue to fill out.  They are in their late teens in human years, and they totally act like teenagers.

This fall, Max had taken to spending lots of time in the neighbor's overgrown back yard.  Isn't that so typical of a teenage boy?

Marley has a bit of a belly on her now and can't quite fit through places she used to.

We took them to Moab again recently.  It takes about 45 minutes for them to settle down and shut up, but once they do, they seem content to ride in the car.

They "help" me with everything, especially Marley. She has to be in on the action all the time.  Most of the pictures of our house projects on this blog that have a cat in them picture Marley.

But Max wants in on the action sometimes too.  Here he is helping us put Ikea furniture together.

He does spend more time resting in the top of the cat tower though.

 They strike cute cat poses all the time.

We're trying to teach them to use the cat door, but it is easier to stand at the back door and meow when they want in.

Yes, they own us

But even when they are controlling nap time, 

 we are getting the best end of the deal; warm kitty friends!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Orleans vacation day 8: Go Greenwaves!

On our last full day in New Orleans, we continued old home week by attending the Tulane Homecoming football game and tailgate party.  While the cadets and officers at the ROTC unit did most of the heavy lifting, Drew was instrumental in getting the food and beverages lined up. By "beverages" I mean kegs, plural, in garbage cans!  Even though every Homecoming game I ever attended at NSDU was accompanied by freezing temperatures and lots of layers of clothing, I felt at home here in the warm sunny temperatures and beer out of plastic cups.

 The turn out ended up being pretty good for the ROTC unit.  Here is a picture before the party was in full swing.

 After mingling with the current students (one of which was a geology major headed to Nevada for field camp who was fun to talk to), it was about time to cheer on the Greenwaves at the....

I've never been to the Superdome, and since we don't watch pro football, I had never even seen pictures of the inside except for after hurricane Katrina.  It did not look like those pictures on this day!  Nope, inside was a full blown big league football game complete with my favorite part, the marching band.
And cheerleaders

The Tulane mascot is the Greenwave.  What?  This guy is the official mascot.  Is he a green chicken? 

Roaming the stands was the old and unofficial Greenwave mascot, who was basically a big Gumby doll.  I really thought he was adorable.  He probably thought I was drunk.

After all that excitement (not really) of the football game, it was time to eat again.  We had reservations for 20 at Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter.

The food was really great, again.  I had the signature dish, red fish.  I don't know what kind of fish red fish really is, but it is tasty.

One last group shot of the whole gang before we all went our separate ways.

We had a great time in New Orleans.  I can see why Drew enjoyed going to college there. Great food, good party spots, tight fraternity of ROTC friends. 

As for me, my best memories of our week in Louisiana are from the air boat tour in the swamp with Junior telling all sorts of stories, the gorgeous evening light streaming through the 100-year old Live Oak trees at Oak Alley Plantation, the surreal drive through storm and flood damaged neighborhoods, and most of all, the food.  The food wasn't just good to taste, it was meals that encapsulated the whole smell, taste, and feel of the Cajun south.  Food that made you think about the traditions that built those recipes and the folks that shared them in small hot kitchens.  Everything tasted like there was some magic ingredient in it that magnified individual familiar flavors and combined them with unknown root vegetables and spices to make a combination that could only happen in a small local restaurant on a dark and not altogether safe street in the French Quarter. 

In comparison, Utah is a barren wasteland of food and food heritage.  In fact, after we returned to Utah, I was so lonesome for the succulent pork and the blue-cheese beef cutlet and the red beans and the cornbread and the garlic-y black beans and, most of all, the beignets, that I decided food in Utah meant nothing and quickly reverted to this a couple of days after our return.

New Orleans, I will be back, and I will be hungry.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Orleans vacation days 7: Old times

Our last two days in New Orleans were all about the Tulane University ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) 20 year class reunion.

To get to the University, we traveled by street car.  NOLA has a pretty nice street car (not "trolley" I was told) system that was cheap and easy to use.  Clang, clang, clang ...

Ding, ding, ding...

There was a short alumni association meeting and then social hour, where I got to meet all of Drew's buddies and most of their spouses.  I won't name any names here, for privacy sake, but suffice it to say each one of the classmates was a quality individual plus lot of fun to hang around.

This was Tulane Homecoming, so we went over to the Quad to hear some music and watch the pep rally.

Then, of course, we had to eat.
 I'm not sure how we picked O'Henry's, but the food wasn't spectacular and we had to sit outside, which was chilly.  Still, it was nice to get to know everybody more and Kevin treated us all, so yippee for O'Henry's and yay for Kevin!

To relive old times, the gang headed to Cooter Brown's again to close out the evening.

Cooter Brown's seemed like typical college bar except on two accounts. 1) they had a Huge selection of beer, including Drew's all time favorite Rouge Brewery Chocolate Stout, which we have never found in a pub (or very seldom a liquor store for that matter) outside of Oregon, and 2) these cool carved wooden celebrity caricatures around the room.

We had to retire relatively early, because, let's face it, we're not in college anymore. Plus we needed to save some steam for the next day's tailgate party.

New Orleans vacation day 6: Day 5 repeat

Day 6: Digger meets Doughnuts, again!

Day 6 of our New Orleans vacation started out slow because we were still toxic from the previous night's binge on high octane wine and higher octane Cajun food. 

We decided to walk to Lafayette Cemetery #1, the real cemetery #1 this time.  This one is located in a much nicer area of the Garden District, among beautiful old mansions. 

Lafayette Cemetery #1 is Much more well cared for than #2 & #3 that we visited on day 5.  This cemetery comes complete with trees and tourists roaming about. 

The graves were pretty much all intact, and we saw no headless pigeons.  The graveyard was established in 1833, but the oldest grave we saw was laid in 1849. 
 Many of the graves had interesting iron work.  I think it was wrought iron, as opposed to the later invention of cast iron.

After our relatively boring cemetery wander, we continued to stretch our legs on the way back to the hotel.  Drew was hungry, so he ate at Subway. Of all places to eat in our country's good food capital!

We had a leisurely and relaxing day until it was time to meet up with John and Marie again for dinner at the Crescent City Brew Pub. We were joined by Kevin, Drew's ROTC instructor from Tulane.  Continuing the adventures in eating, I had my first oysters on the half shell.

Because of our family tradition of oyster stew on Christmas Eve, I was expecting a smelly ordeal.  What I got instead were slimy, nearly tasteless and odorless, soft bits loaded with horseradish cocktail sauce.  Not bad at all, really, once you know what to expect.  

And since we were already in the French Quarter, what would it hurt to visit Cafe du Monde again?  An excellent idea.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Orleans vacation day 5: Digger meets Doughnuts

Day 5 of our New Orleans vacation started with a beautiful sunrise

before we headed down to the Lucky Ladle on Magazine Street for a great breakfast.  The joint also had some modern art that I really liked on display.

Lafayette Cemetery #2 & #3, or "Creepytown"

Maybe we shouldn't have had full tummies for our next stop: the graveyard!  It was creepy.  I navigated us to what I thought was Lafayette Cemetery #1, but when we got there, the sign said Lafayette Cemetery #2 & #3.  Oh well, a cemetery is a cemetery, right? Wrong.

The cemetery was in a bad part of town and it didn't look like anyone took care of the place.  Many of the monuments were broken, like this one.

One of many broken grave markers. It is fitting that in the background of this picture is an abandoned apartment building with the windows broken out. 

One of the interesting things about these cemeteries is that one grave site has multiple people, usually family members, buried in one vault.  That seems strange to me, being from the West, where each person gets his or her own plot of earth.  Is it because we have more space here?  The other thing, of course, is that the bodies are above ground.  It is just too wet to dig a 6 foot grave.  Personally, I would rather be cremated than rot above ground, but perhaps that is my ethnocentric Midwestern upbringing talking.

Some of the monuments looked to have one day belonged to a wealthy family, but no one is looking after their dead relatives now.  This pitched roof tomb was grand,
but the sandstone plaque containing all the writings of who was inside was now worn through. And a mini dune of sand and broken statuettes was all that was left of the words.

These "society tombs" were interesting.

 A society tomb.

According to, society tombs are pretty much like mausoleums but all the people buried there belong to a society or organization.  We saw society tombs for firefighters, policemen, and orphanages.  Again, each vault has multiple names on it because after a respectable time, the remains of a burial were pushed to the back where construction of the vault allowed the bones to fall to a receptacle below; the space was then ready for another recipient! Trees and vines were taking over many of the graves, and trash was littered about.
Drew was getting a little creeped out by this time.  I don't know if it was because the place was creepy, or because I was so fascinated by all the graves. He called me "Digger" for the rest of the trip.  The creepy level went way up when we saw this.

A coping grave with bonus pigeons.

Two fresh, decapitated pigeons on top of a "coping grave".  Probably voodoo.  Time to go!  BTW, a coping grave is an above ground burial. Uncovered empty chambers are framed by stone, brick and plaster. They are filled with earth and are built up to 3 feet from the ground, which allows for burial in the soil. Bodies are entombed repeatedly in one coping. 

We made our escape through the bad neighborhood again, passing this abandoned house that I couldn't drive by without taking a picture.

Check out how the vines are taking over the chimneys.

French Quarter and the best doughnut on the planet

We returned out rental car and set out on foot for the French Quarter to see the sights in daylight this time.

We listened to these street musicians for a while.  Our first and really only jazz.  (Listening to live jazz was the one thing I wanted to do but we never got to.)

Next stop, Cafe du Monde, or more correctly named Doughnut Heaven by me.  Cafe du Monde is a New Orleans icon established in 1862. The Cafe is open 24-7 so tourists and locals can get their chicory coffee (served black or au lait) and beignets. Beignets are now on my top ten food list. They are these little fantastic fry bread/doughnut type of pastries served covered with a mound of powdered sugar.  I describe them a like a rectangular doughnut but the texture is slightly denser and chewier than a doughnut, but not as tough as a fry bread.  Something about the taste is really nice - not oily and fried. 

Anyway, I was in heaven.  Three beignets are served on a plate.  We ordered two plates. Drew only got to eat two.

Got beignets?

It was a chilly, windy day, but we walked around anyway.  Here we are on the levee parallel to Decatur Street with Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral in the background. A statue of general Andrew Jackson on a horse is at the center of the square.

We strolled through the French Market and bought ourselves, what else, a pig figurine.

And then we just walked up and down a few of the streets, looking in shops and taking pictures of all the buildings.  Contrary to what one would think, most of the buildings reflect Spanish architecture, not French as the name implies. The reason is that most of the buildings were built after two big fires in the late 1700s destroyed most of the existing structures.  The area was under Spanish rule at that time, and so the ornate ironwork, bright pastel colors, and galleries (like balconies but supported from the ground) are from Spanish architects.

One of my favorite photos from the trip is this bike loaded down with beads.

It was a fun stroll.

The best food in North America

Later that night we met up with Drew's two college roommates for drinks and dinner.  Todd now lives in Salt Lake City (but we hardly ever see him) and John and his wife Marie live in New Orleans.
 At Oak Wine Bar. Very swanky. (I only had my cell phone with me for pictures and accidentally turned on some weird solarize effect.)

Drew, John and Todd got along like old times and got caught up on each others' lives.  

But time for eatin'!  On John's recommendation, we went to Jacques Imo's for Cajun food.
At Jacques Imo's Restaurant.
On our first day in NOLA, a local had also told us it was very good.  "Very good" does not even come close to the absolute food extravaganza we enjoyed.  On a normal night, I would have to say this place would be really excellent, but on the night we were there, we were treated to the best meal I've ever eaten, with the possible exception of the 7-course wedding meal we enjoyed in Italy last year after our friends' wedding.

I believe the treat we had that night was mostly because by total chance, we ran into Dave, a former classmate of Drew, John, and Todd's.  Dave was only in the ROTC program at Tulane for a year or two with them and then moved on to other things, eventually landing as a waiter at Jacques Imo's.  As we were standing at the bar waiting for our table, Dave recognized the guys, whom he had not seen for 22 years, and came over to say hi.  He then took it upon himself to bring out only the restaurant's most fabulous dishes, not letting us order anything off the menu ourselves.  He served it family style, so we all got to try each of the approximately 15 dishes he laid out in front of us.

There was not one of them that was anything less than great, but the alligator cheesecake, beet and Brussels sprouts sauce, garlic butter cornbread muffins, and beef with blue cheese were absolutely out of this world.  How do they make cornbread muffins taste like a bite of joyful love?  The only thing I didn't try was the big prawns with their heads and tails still on (never been a fan of shrimp), and the only dish that wasn't everything Drew cracked it up to be, was the crawfish etouffee (shrimpy - that explains everything).

It was such a fabulous meal, made fun by the new/old friends.  I still have longings for that food, and I expect that I will use my Southwest benefits to fly to New Orleans just to eat there sometime in the next couple of years.  It was that good!