New Orleans

The day after New Year’s, we packed up our things and headed to New Orleans. I was attending a conference, and thrilled that the timing worked for Luke to come with me. After a day filled with attending panels, I’d meet up with Luke for dinner each night excited to explore the city together. Here are some highlights:

Carousel Bar

Immediately after checking into our hotel room, we ventured over to the famous Carousel Bar in the hopes of taking a spin. We were not disappointed, as two seats opened up right when we walked in. The bar does indeed spin very slowly while you imbibe delicious New Orleans cocktails – sazaracs and old fashioneds.

The Carousel Bar

The Carousel Bar
Photo credit: Luke

Spinning into view

Spinning into view
Photo credit: Luke

Coop’s Place

Stopped in here for dinner our first night, then talked about this meal for the rest of the week. Really great fried chicken served with either rabbit and sausage jambalaya (Luke) or red beans and rice (me). Their fried oysters also looked amazing.

Bennachin

This African restaurant is on the northern tip of the French Quarter, making it a perfect combination of good food and few(er) tourists. The place is BYOB, but we took advantage of the drinking-in-the-streets policy and had a beer along our walk there. And maybe one more for the walk back?

Photo credit: Travel and Leisure

Photo credit: Travel and Leisure

Central Grocery

You have to appreciate a place that just makes one sandwich REALLY well. The menu is simple – whole or half. The verdict is also simple – DELICIOUS!

Yummy Muffaletta

Yummy Muffaletta with BBQ chips

Algiers Point

Right across the Mississippi is the quaint neighborhood of Algiers Point. The free ferry makes for a pleasant ride, and we set out with the intention of following the Historical Jazz Walk along the levee. Sadly, wind and rain and cold and muck made the history lesson brief. Instead, we ducked into a local bar for po’ boys and Guinness before heading back to the warmth of our hotel room.

Luke on the levee

Luke on the levee

Fried oyster po' boy with onion rings

Fried oyster po’ boy with onion rings
Photo credit: Luke

River Pelican

River Pelican
Photo credit: Luke

Three Muses

This bar-restaurant-jazz club is every bit as good as it sounds. No cover charge, wonderful small plates for nibbling, and $3 margaritas during happy hour – we were already smiling. Then Luke Winslow King walked in with a dobro…

Luke waiting for the music to start

Luke waiting for the music to start

Cheers from the Three MusesPhoto credit: Luke

Cheers from the Three Muses
Photo credit: Luke

The dobro in action

The dobro in action
Photo credit: Luke

Also during our stay, I presented my paper and chaired a panel, we met up with friends for coffee, and we curled up with pizza in our room to watch the Packers win. Thank you, New Orleans!

NYC and NYE

The work week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a tricky one. Your brain and body know that you should still be on vacation, and yet there is work to be done. By the time the following weekend rolled around, Luke and I were both ready for another escape. Luckily, our friends Tara and Alex arrived in NY from Chicago and invited us up for a visit!

We hopped in the car Saturday morning and made the much-talked-about-but-never-attempted drive up 95 to New York. The road was calm, we suspect due to the light snow that began to fall right as we were leaving. In less than two hours, we made our way through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, across the bridge to Staten Island, and across another bridge into Brooklyn.

We had a hunch that on clear days, the views of Manhattan from either bridge were pretty great. Today, however, we had to settle for drawing an imaginary cityscape in rough proximity to where we remember the famous buildings to be. Is that the top of the Chrysler building? Or a bird?

This was our first trip to Brooklyn, and we were delighted to find it even more hilly and slope-like than we’d imagined. It’s also a lot bigger than we’d expected, encouraging us to make an on-the-fly decision about which section to explore over our lunch break. While Luke kept his eyes on the road, I tracked down the one place in Brooklyn I’d always wanted to visit – Catbird.

CatbirdPhoto credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird
Photo credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird is a small store in Williamsburg that sells the most beautiful, delicate jewelry. The online store is my go-to spot for daydream shopping, and the in-person store is equally enjoyable. Several people gathered around the few cases of goods, and while my initial reaction was to stare them down in the hopes that they would step aside and let me ogle alone, I realized two important things: 1) Most of these people were actually intending to buy something and 2) My stare-down technique is not as menacing as I’d hoped. Nevertheless, the store is lovely.

Around the corner, we ducked into Fornino to warm ourselves inside and out with wood-fired pizzas. So many amazing specialty pizzas to choose between, Luke opted for the Patate E Salsiccia (Mozzarella, Cherry Tomato, Fennel Sausage, Fontina, Fingerling Potato, Roast Peppers) while I chose the Margherita Classica (Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil, Olive Oil, Parmigiano).

After lunch, we strolled along the neighborhood streets and made our way to waterfront. Still no real views of Manhattan, and the wind, rain, and snow made it quite brisk. Soon, we were seated in a coffee shop for another round of warming.

Finally remembered to take a picture with both of us!

See Manhattan? Nope.
Photo credit: Luke

By mid-afternoon, we returned to our car and finished the drive up and over to Long Island. Greeted by Alex’s family, we quickly found ourselves surrounded by enormous plates of pasta, eggplant parmesan, and crab salad. Delicious!

That night, a group of us took a trip into the City. Our destination – the Phish show at Madison Square Garden. The 45-minute train ride was a great combination of beer, friends, and conversation. Arriving at MSG, we stopped in the basement to enjoy $1.99 beers before heading into the show, where dancing and more dancing took place. Another train ride back, this one a little quieter as we’d all exhausted ourselves.

Sunday morning, we gathered around the kitchen island to drink coffee and continue catching up with each other. Alex and his father set up a small film projector to review several reels they’d recently found at his grandmother’s house. Around lunchtime, several of Alex’s cousins and their families arrived and a feast of sausage and peppers, pasta, pizza, and more eggplant parmesan ensued. Luke and I commented that we need to make eggplant more of a feature in our cooking – so yummy, every time.

Alex and Joe working on the projectorPhoto credit: Luke

Alex and Joe working on the projector
Photo credit: Luke

As we loaded up our car and thanked our awesome hosts for a wonderful weekend, we were given bags to pack up our favorites from among a long table of sweets – cannoli, cookies, cakes, and candies. Hugging our sweet friends good-bye, we began our drive back across the bridges, finally catching a clear view of Manhattan.

As we crossed the state line from New Jersey back into Pennsylvania, I realized that I had Tara’s drivers license in my purse (from the concert). Shoot! A few phone calls later, and Tara was hot on our trail, making it to Philly not long after we did. It was great to show her our apartment and neighborhood, and grab one more hug before she headed back to NY. All in all, it was a whirlwind, wonderful visit.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair – cards and champagne, and nudging each other awake until midnight. We made jokes about becoming old, while also relishing in being far removed from the chaos taking place in the streets outside.

On New Year’s Day, we woke early, filled our travel mugs with coffee, and walked over to Broad Street for the famous Mummers Parade. This is, hands down, the strangest and funniest thing we’ve done in Philly. After reading countless articles about the history of the parade, I still can’t confidently tell you what it’s about. Our experience with it was watching many groups perform song and dance numbers, all with beers in hand and wearing make-shift costumes with themes like Elvis, High Vis, and Frogs. Elaborate (and not so elaborate) floats followed behind, along with bead throwers, ribbon-clad judges, and U-Haul trucks to transport the props. It was amazing.

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade 2013

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

An Owl and Penguin Christmas

Luke and I spent a quiet Christmas at home this year. We’d both been working long hours with little rest or relaxation, so a four-day weekend cozied up in our pajamas came at exactly the right time.

Friday afternoon, we walked to the markets to gather supplies for our holiday feast. Eggs, cinnamon, ginger and apricots would soon start turning our apartment into a bakery of delights!

Up first, gingerbread cookies in the shapes of our three favorite things – Owls, Penguins, and Wisconsin!

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Stamping out Wisconsin cookies
Photo credit: Luke

Saturday morning, we started our annual holiday puzzle. The theme for this year was Penguins in Space. Holiday music and/or romantic comedies played in the background — When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — but we did stop puzzling long enough to give our full attention to our favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Putting penguins together while watching movies

Putting penguins together while watching movies

We opened our presents under the tree with a bottle of Prosecco on Monday night, and woke up early Tuesday morning to check our stockings. Our very own version of Hoyle’s Rules of Games meant it was time to learn something new – starting with 7 Up.

Happy face! New Sauté Pan!

Over the course of the weekend, we took full advantage of our (small) kitchen. Our yummy meals included:

Mushroom Stroganoff with Salad

Roast Chicken with Sage Cornbread Stuffing

Porterhouse steak with Potato-Leek Gratin

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

and Pozole (a delicious spicy Mexican soup with a hominy base).

Luke also baked up a storm, including: Chai Cinnamon Rolls, Coconut Cupcakes (a mini version of my grandmother’s famous cake), a Roasted Butternut Squash Pie, and Julekage (which is the most delicious bread filled with apricots and cranberries soaked in brandy).

While Luke was in the kitchen, I was nearby to serve as sous chef, bartender, dj, and cleaning assistant. I tried my hand at a few new dishes and also made my go-to all-time favorite Caramelized Onion Dip to spread on everything. I do love dips!

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes
Photo credit: Luke

Another indulgence – reading for fun! After a long conversation about books we love, I decided to revisit a few of my old favorites, including A Moveable Feast (liked it even MORE this time), Murder on the Orient Express (still great), and The Housekeeper and the Professor (nice, but not as satisfying as I remember the first read being).

On Christmas afternoon, we bundled up for a walk in the fresh air. We ventured over to the Schuylkill River and walked north to the boathouses, passing the famous Waterworks along the way.

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Waterworks
Photo credit: Luke

The dam, with the boathouses in the background

The dam, with the boathouses in the background
Photo credit: Luke

The weekend was a great time to reflect on the year, and to dream about possibilities for our future. Happy holidays, everyone!