Journey to the East (and Back)

March 22, 2016 § 6 Comments

The first thing on our itinerary for our second full day was to eat BBQ, at Kaiti’s request. (Girl is obsessed.) The best option in town seemed to be the Joint, located east of the French Quarter in a neighborhood called Bywater.

We knew nothing about Bywater before deciding in the morning to walk there. It was only two miles, we had ample time before the Joint opened and nothing else on our schedule. The weather was perfect for a nice morning stroll.

I did a cursory search of the neighborhood to get a feel for it and came across this article, which was not super helpful but at least gave me the sense that we wouldn’t get mugged on the way there. Apparently people love to describe Bywater as “gentrifying,” “great” or even “hipster” (just don’t mention Brooklyn), but that wasn’t really our impression.

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As soon as we left the French Quarter and crossed Esplanade Avenue, the vibe became much more residential. The streets were quiet, and we barely saw a soul. There wasn’t much of anything to look at except the occasional colorful house. Railroad tracks ran along the water, so any attempts to view the Mississippi River were blocked by industrial scenery.

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Our two-mile trek turned into three as we had to take a winding path due to random bits of construction. We passed maybe two or three businesses total. One of them was a combination bar, grill, game room and laundromat, which just delighted me. This is a picture of a different one I saw, but it was basically the same gist:

Everything you could ever want

Everything you could ever want

The Joint seemed like an oasis in the middle of suburbia. There was really nothing around that we could see. The nondescript restaurant already had two customers waiting outside by the time we got there 20 minutes before opening. We took the extra time to play in the park across the street (despite the sign warning not to trespass on private property).

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Swamp Tour & Alligator Wrangling

March 8, 2016 § 7 Comments

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Outside of eating and drinking, New Orleans generally has two main attractions for tourists: swamps and plantations. For our trip, we opted not to do the latter, instead planning our first day around an afternoon spent at the swamp.

We went with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, which cost $44 per person including a very comfy bus pickup from our hotel. The ride was about half an hour, and our bus driver kept us entertained with random facts about the city.

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Our bus dropped us off in a gravel parking lot at the privately owned Manchac Swamp. To get visitors in the mood for reptiles, there was some strange gator paraphernalia inside the small shop where we picked up our tickets. We were 20 minutes early for our tour, so we hung out near the dock and tried to make friends with the handful of cats roving the property. There seems to be lots of cats roaming around New Orleans in general? We couldn’t tell if they were strays or pets.

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The shop had a cafe window on its patio, but apparently the cafe is only open during the summer. In a separate building by the restrooms was a small room with a metal pool full of tiny baby alligators. They were SO CUTE!!! But I don’t know why they were indoors instead of in the swamp.

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Not a real gator obviously

Not a real gator obviously

Once we finally got on the boat, we were treated to serene waters and the gravelly voice of Captain Allen as he steered us slowly around the bayou while sharing factoids about the environment. It was a lovely ride in perfect, sunny-but-not-too-hot weather.

The scenery was idyllic but didn’t seem particularly inhabitable. Capt. Allen said he lived way out in some other swamp elsewhere and would never want to live anywhere else. We saw lots of trees with pretty Spanish moss (named after Spaniards’ beards by the hairless native Americans, according to our captain).

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New Orleans Nightlife: All That Jazz

March 4, 2016 § 7 Comments

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Our cab driver from the airport told us that New Orleans allowed one casino — Harrah’s — within city borders under some euphemistic law that refers to the establishment as a place of “gaming.” Hah! We took a short stroll through it one night on our way to the riverwalk; it was actually quite nice inside.

Harrah’s and the adjacent Canal Street were still bustling with activity around midnight, but the riverwalk was deserted. The nearby mall was closed, the fountain wasn’t running, and there were barely even any lights to reflect on the water. So we just took a picture of ourselves and left.

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Bourbon Street

Ah, yes. Bourbon Street is a requisite stop for tourists, though we were glad to leave it behind after a cursory walkthrough our first night. Fortunately, we just missed Mardi Gras the week before, plus it was a Wednesday, so it wasn’t as rowdy as it could’ve been. Seeing the mostly empty bars selling sugary slushed drinks like Hurricanes and the mostly middle-aged people stumbling around was not appealing in the least.

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We took refuge at 21st Amendment, a cute bar just off Bourbon that served tasty shandies, among other things. The band playing that evening was The Royal St Windin’ Boys with Ms. Jenavieve Cook, and we liked them so much that Kaiti and I both bought CDs. I particularly enjoyed the clarinet :)

After that, we braved Bourbon again to check out Deja Vu Showgirls, a strip club that hosts drag shows on Tuesdays through Saturdays. It was my first time seeing drag, and I loved it! Most of the queens had incredibly lithe bodies and some unreal (literally, but still very sexy) hips. Case in point, this gorgeous lady:

Most of our entertainment, however, came from watching the couple across the stage from us. They were probably in their late 50s. The husband would NOT stop hitting on and trying to grope the hostess (also a drag queen), who did her best to fend him off while still flirting with/insulting him, all while the wife took pictures and cackled at her way-too-amorous companion. It made for a hilarious show.

On Friday evening, we ended up returning to Bourbon and found it much more packed, with a lot more young people. But there were still plenty of old people as well! Guess the partying lifestyle never ends in the Big Easy?

Our destination that night was Preservation Hall, an iconic venue that welcomes all ages and is BYOB. We stood in line outside for 45 minutes for the 10 p.m. show. Even though we were the second group in line, we only managed to snag the last row of seats because of all the people who bought “Big Shot” reserved seating online for $45 -_-

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Eating in New Orleans: Pistolettes & Beignets

February 29, 2016 § 7 Comments

I think I’m addicted to bread pudding.

We ate it every night on this trip. It was so good every time! And so different from the mushy nonsense I had in San Francisco. But I’ll start at the beginning.

(I apologize that most of these photos were taking with my phone in dim restaurant lighting, so image quality isn’t great.)

Day 0

Due to major flight delays on my end, Kaiti and I got in around the same time, so we had a late dinner while waiting for Lucy. We needed somewhere close to the hotel that was open past 10 p.m., so we decided on the Original Pierre Maspero’s right around the corner.

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The seafood pistolettes (stuffed bread rolls) were the standout. Hot and creamy and delicious! The Crescent City sampler, which came with small bowls of gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish etouffée served as a proper introduction to Louisiana Creole cuisine. The latter in particular was my favorite: creamy and flavorful without being too salty.

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Holding back on the entrees meant more room saved for dessert, and this bread pudding did not disappoint! That’s a large dinner plate holding a serious hunk of bread. It was tasty and very dense, like carrot cake that had been made into French toast, though it wasn’t soaked all the way through so I wouldn’t give it a perfect 10/10. Either way, we didn’t manage to finish all of it and left stuffed.

Day 1

We started our day with arguably the most well-known of them all: Cafe du Monde.

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It was already pretty crowded by the time we arrived at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, but we found seating pretty quickly. (The line was out the door when we left later.) We were quickly introduced to the seemingly main demographic of New Orleans (or just New Orleans tourists): middle-aged white people, as far as the eye could see.

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I wasn’t expecting much from the beignets, considering I don’t like donuts and generally don’t like deep-fried foods. Still, we ordered two servings and got to eat two beignets each.

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Well, after tapping off 90 percent of the powdered sugar piled on top, I was irrevocably converted to a beignet lover at Cafe du Monde, solely because of how dense and chewy they were on the inside. Mmmmmm perfection.

We didn’t think our little breakfast would be enough to last the whole afternoon at the swamp, so we made a beeline for Central Grocery, which claims to be the originator of the muffuletta sandwich.

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New Orleans: First Impressions

February 26, 2016 § 7 Comments

jackson square

After at least a year of talking about it, Lucy and I finally made it out to New Orleans, Louisiana! Kaiti also joined us, rounding out the group and making it really fun when Uber drivers asked us where we were from — “San Francisco, Chicago and New York.” It was my first time in the South, as apparently Florida doesn’t count.

We stayed in the French Quarter, which was pretty close to most of the action any tourists would want. Some quick observations:

1. The first thing we noticed about the neighborhood was the pretty balconies on almost every building.

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All the cutesy old buildings reminded me of San Francisco in a way. We were fortunate to have nothing but blue skies during our trip, so we explored the relatively peaceful streets with gusto. Some parts of the neighborhood had quite a bit of tourist traffic, but considering the population of New Orleans is less than half a million, the whole place felt practically empty to us!

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2. There were mule carriages! And these carriages were really big!! I guess mules are really strong? And cute! I was mostly impressed by the complete lack of smell from the animals. I can’t stand walking past the pungent horse carriages by Central Park. But these mules weren’t stinky at all!

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Commence Cat Lady Conversion

February 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

Recently, my Instagram feed and search history have begun looking like this:

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Reason being: If all goes well, I should have my very own Siberian kitten by July!

Because of my allergies, I never imagined that I would actually have a cat. But the idea was planted on my last visit to the Meow Parlour cat cafe (on the day of the mega-blizzard, no less) as I flipped through their binder of adoptable cats and wished I could take all of them home.

Instead, I looked up a list of hypoallergenic cats — however, none are 100% allergen-free, and the list is pretty short, especially compared to hypoallergenic dog breeds. Of the handful of cat breeds, none stood out as much as the Siberian cat. (Most of the other ones were scary- or weird-looking…no offense!) I mean, just look at them:

So beautiful.

Most people who see a Siberian think that its long fur means extra shedding and allergens, but apparently this isn’t the case! Compared to other cats, this native Russian breed somehow produces much less of the protein (Fel d 1) that causes allergic reactions.

A brief search of shelters in NYC didn’t turn up any Siberians — figures they’d be in high demand — so my only option was to purchase a kitten from a breeder. Not ideal, but worth it for the joy of having a cat I can breathe around.

If you ever want to experience an Internet time warp, visit any cat breeder website. The majority of the ones I found were practically Geocities-era: cats framed in flowers, cheesy fonts, buttons shaped like lace doilies or just bare-bones text and randomly formatted photos. I emailed a bunch in the NYC area but had my heart set on one that came highly recommended by a friend who got her gorgeous Siberian from them.

I’ll be sure to post a full write-up and review of the breeders once I get my kitten, but first things first — I had to really make sure I could handle being around a Siberian. So we set up a date for me to visit their home/cattery, where I played with one of their male breeders (AKA a stud) for an hour.

My future kitty's daddy!

My future kitty’s daddy!

Actually being up close to a Siberian made me fall in love even more! He was so cute and fluffy and just perfect in every way! My lungs still tickled a little bit from being in the same room, but the symptoms were nowhere near what I’d normally experience. They told me that a neutered/spayed cat produces even less allergens, so a minor reaction to the stud should be fine.

So I put down a deposit, but their next litter isn’t expected until April, and they don’t send their kittens to new owners until 12 weeks of age. It’s a long time to wait! This must be what people feel like when they’re trying to conceive. I want my kitty so badly — I’ve been researching cat toys and furnishings obsessively, planning out where I want to put everything in the apartment, watching cat videos of the cute and/or educational variety — how can I wait another six months?? Ahhhhhh! Every time I see a picture of a cat, I feel a surge of yearning for my own.

There were other options for me to get a Siberian kitten much sooner (and for a cheaper price) but I trust in the quality and legitimacy of these breeders, so I’ll wait. In the meantime, I’m quickly becoming the crazy cat lady I was always destined to be.

Pants for Dad

February 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

This story comes a month late, but I think it’s still worth sharing! I like to write a blog post every year when I’m home for the holidays, so here’s mine from Christmas 2015:

On the evening of Tuesday, December 22, my parents and I spent almost an hour and a half at Macy’s…just to buy a pair of $39 pants.

We had already gone to a number of stores (Whole Foods, Ulta, Target), and Macy’s was our last stop. Mom was trying to spend $40 in Macy’s Money she had gotten for spending $200 online. Before we left the house, she tried to print the coupon from her iPad, but whenever we tried to enter the captcha to print, the popup disappeared. We figured the cashier could just look it up in her Macy’s account. Macy’s customer service is always obliging as long as you’re a cardholder!

We didn’t really have anything in mind to buy, but I brought up to mom that dad really needed some new pants. Since coming home, the only pants I had seen him wear were baggy, light-wash jeans that would fit someone 40 pounds heavier than him. His belt cinched so much extra material that at first glance I thought he was wearing jeans with an elasic waistband. They’re not just dad jeans, they’re dad jeans for the formerly fat dad.

The thing is, my dad has never been fat. And right now, he’s quite trim at 160 pounds. But he likes his pants loose and cheap — he’s proud of buying them for $7 from whatever clearance department he trolls on his business trips.

So at Macy’s, I grabbed a pair of black Levi’s (regular fit, slightly relaxed in the thigh) and made him try them on. He came out complaining that they were too tight but mom and I both agreed they fit him perfectly! Plus they were on sale.

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