Books · food · Life · travel

New Orleans: Where you Beignet All My Life? (Part 2)

My second day in New Orleans was an early one. I woke with the eager anticipation of a child on Christmas morning, only it wasn’t presents I was looking forward to. It was something better: Beignets! Cafe du Monde had been on my list of places to try for about 15 years now. Yes, it sounds touristy of me to say that one of my favorite things about NOLA was Cafe du Monde, but I don’t care. If there’s something wrong with eating hot, crispy French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar than I sure as hell don’t want to be right.

Strolling around the French Quarter in the morning is quite a different experience than it is during the afternoon/evening. There are less people about, making things a little more laid-back and quiet, which is always preferable. I loved strolling along the canal early in the morning, watching the ferries in the distance while the smell of beignets fresh out of the fryer filled the air. I could certainly use more mornings like that.

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Mid-morning I hopped on a streetcar and rode out to the Garden District. The Garden District has quite a different feel than the Quarter. It’s more of quiet, residential area, with picturesque homes, tree-lined streets, and old cemeteries. The first (and probably my favorite) cemetery I visited was Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. I’ve mentioned before how I’m a little obsessed with cemeteries, especially ones with lots of character. Lafayette was by far one of the coolest cemeteries I’ve ever visited. I took so many pictures that it’s hard to pick out just a few to share!

I even made a friend while I was there. 🙂

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After the cemetery, I paid a visit to another local bookshop, Garden District Books. It was a great shop with a nice variety of genres to choose from. Small as it was, I still probably could have spent a few hours wandering around there. I ventured a few  blocks over to Magazine St., to check out the shops, art galleries, and (of course) the food scene. On my way there I paid a visit to author Anne Rice’s house. (I now realize that I should have gone in the evening to see if I could catch glimpse of any vampires.)

That evening, I took part in a Haunted History tour that took us all around the Quarter, pointing out various locations that were rumored to be haunted by ghosts. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but it was still fun, nonetheless. I enjoyed learning more about the history of the city and hearing about some of the creepy/disturbing things that have happened along the way. (For all you American Horror Story fans: Part of the tour was the infamous Lalaurie mansion, which just so happened to be a couple of blocks from my hotel.) I definitely thought about sleeping with the lights on that night. Hehe.

My last day was filled with more wandering, both in and outside the French Quarter. I was truly amazed that even on day 3, I still came across places I’d yet to discover. There were street performers, musicians, and all manners of folks out and about, simply enjoying the weekend. After spending a few days eating and sight-seeing my way across the city, I was quite sad to leave. I realize now that my original perception about New Orleans was not entirely accurate. New Orleans isn’t just a city where people go to get drunk. It’s a place to celebrate beauty, culture, and the art of being alive.

food · Life · travel

New Orleans: Where You Beignet All My Life? (Part 1)

Greetings, friends! After three exciting, fun, and exhausting days in New Orleans, I am back home.

I’ll be honest with you, I was a tad nervous my first day there, as I always am when arriving in a new city by myself. I wasn’t about to let fear ruin my trip though! After a quick check in at my hotel, I took a stroll around the French Quarter to combat any doubts that had been lingering. Within minutes I was in awe of the beautiful sights the city had to offer and immediately felt more at ease. Everywhere you look in the French Quarter you’ll find stunning architecture and art. Every building, whether a small business or large mansion, is resplendent with balconies and galleries framed in cast iron railings, colorful facades, and arched windows. There are hidden courtyards with tables and chairs, elaborate fountains, and classical statues. Every nook and cranny has as much art and beauty as you’d find in any museum. It’s like stepping back into a piece of history every time you walk down the street.

 

I spent most of my first day just exploring and people-watching. I took a ten minute stroll down Bourbon St. (the famous street in New Orleans where everyone goes to get drunk and party) and quickly decided that it was not my scene. Even while avoiding Bourbon St., I found plenty of things to keep me busy. There’s so much to do in New Orleans, that it’s impossible to even make a dent during just one visit.

 

I paid a visit to Faulkner House Books, the former home of William Faulkner, where he wrote his first novel. It was a tiny little shop, but it was packed floor to ceiling with classics and rare editions. They didn’t have much in the way of the genres I like, but it was still cool to check out anyway. I discovered lots of other fun and quirky shops, the French Market (an airy, outdoor market that was half specialty stalls and half flea market), Jackson Square, the wharf, and, of course, restaurant after restaurant.

For me, no trip is ever complete without me sampling as much of the local cuisine as I can. One of the biggest reasons I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans is because I’ve heard how amazing the cuisine is. “Amazing” doesn’t even cover it. The food I had there was probably some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s not all about the fancy restaurants either, even a po’boy from the corner deli is carefully crafted and packed with more flavor than you can imagine. I ate SO much during my trip and it was worth every freaking calorie. 🙂

Part 2 to follow!

Books · food · Life · mental health · travel

Reasons to Stay Alive (2018)

I wasn’t going to do a reflection post on 2018 this year. With all the “Top 9s” on social media, the New Years resolutions, and the look backs, I figured that everyone would be growing kind of sick of hearing about it at this point. This morning, however, I had a change of heart. You see, today was the first day back at work after a four day weekend. (Even longer for those of my co-workers who have been off since Christmas.) Like any day back after a mini vacation, I expected work to suck today. Surprisingly, everyone was in a cheerful mood – wishing each other a happy new year, talking about how they spent their holidays, and just generally pleased to see each other. What surprised me even more was that I was one of those people.

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This time last year I was really struggling. I’d been in therapy for a few months, but hadn’t clicked well with my therapist. Rather than make any sort of progress, I felt myself slipping further and further into the abyss. While everyone else was wishing each other a happy new year, I was walking around feeling angry with everyone and hating myself. Shortly after the start of the year I started to have all sorts of health issues. I injured my shoulder and had an almost non-stop kidney pains/infections, which would last for almost six months. My eating disorder still had a strong presence in my life, despite all the weak attempts I made to kick it back. I was eating, but not always enough. I was so focused on my weight, what I was eating, and being “good enough,” that every time I ate a meal I practically burst into tears.

By Spring I was reading books and articles expounding on all the reasons that I should not kill myself.

I was certainly not the “New Year, New Me” poster child. Slowly, I kept dragging myself along anyway until one day I began pulling myself out of the hole I’d dug. One inch at a time. With the help of my therapist, medication, and a lot of hard work, I began to understand what I needed to do to really help myself. In June, I took a huge leap outside of my comfort zone and took a trip to New York all by myself. The trip itself wasn’t wholly responsible for the transformation I made, but it definitely set the wheels in motion. During that trip I rekindled my passion for life and food, and discovered my newfound love for travel. (You can read more about that trip here.)

Since then I’ve done so many things that I’m proud of. I’ve put a ton of effort into writing my first novel (Something I’ve dreamed of doing ever since I was a child). I’ve faced my fear of doing things alone and learned to enjoy my own company. I traveled to Portland, OR and began planning future solo trips. I’ve taken charge of my health, despite my eventual diagnosis of chronic bladder/kidney problems. I’ve read the books I wanted, made more time for the things I enjoy, and spent more time with friends. I jumped back into the kitchen with abandon, trying everything I can. I’ve made things (like my holiday Buche de Noel) that sent me through the roof with joy. I started living my life again.

Of course, life will never be perfect. I’ve still had my moments of frustration, doubt, fear, and anxiety. I’ve had setbacks and bad days. About one month ago, I had to say goodbye to my dog, and best friend, of fourteen years. It was hard and I still miss him every single day. But, I know that loss is a part of life and that Beaker will always be with me, even if it’s only in my heart. Despite the setbacks, the bad days, and my grief, I am still ten times better than I was this time last year (even on my best day).

I’ve come quite a long way since the start of 2018. I not only endured and pulled myself through, but I found at least a dozen reasons to stay alive. I can’t wait to find a dozen more this year. Here’s to 2019.

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Books · Life · travel

Wanderlusting: London

Have you ever wished that you were anywhere other than wherever “home” is? I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. Not that there is anything wrong with my life or where I live. More and more, I am just finding myself wishing that I were traveling and seeing new places. Call it a major case of restless wanderlust, if you will. I was hardly home from Portland a few days before I already felt that familiar itch start to creep up. “Where can I go next?” Is a question that pops into my brain on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there are some upcoming trips in the works to look forward to. (I’ll be visiting New Orleans for the first time in Janurary, and heading back to NYC for BookCon in June.) I am also currently saving for a trip to Europe next Fall-Winter. I have been dying to visit various places in Europe since I was a teenager. And you know what? It’s time to finally make it happen. I’m tired of waiting.

I’m not 100% positive where I will end up on my European excursion, but there are a few places I am really leaning towards. One of them is London. What’s so exciting about London, you ask?

Interior of Shakespeares Globe Theatre Southbank London England. Image shot 2006. Exact date unknown.

For starters, it’s home of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater! I’ve been a Shakespeare fan since high school and would absolutely love to get a taste of what it was like to actually see one the bard’s plays in an authentic setting. (This is actually a reconstruction of the original Globe. Sadly, the original theater burned down in 1613.)

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I’m told that Charing Cross Rd. is a must for any bibliophile, as it’s lined with bookstores, selling both used and new books. (In case you don’t find what you’re looking for on Charing Cross Rd., here’s an entire map of all the different bookstores in London. *swoons*)

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The Sherlock Holmes museum!

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All the Harry Potter things! For example: Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, the Warner Brother’s studio tour (you can go behind the scenes and see how the movies were made), Harry Potter and The Cursed Child…need I say more?

Of course, there are all the usual tourist attractions in London, as well. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Gardens, The British Library, etc. Not to mention, all the food I have yet to try! 🙂

Books · food · Life · travel

My Weekend in Portland, OR (Part 3)

I’m going to be honest, getting back to work this week was a struggle. I still can’t believe Portland was a whole week ago. 😦

On day 3 of my trip I slept in a little and let myself recover from all the exercise I got the day before. With the time changes and daylight savings happening all at once, my sleep schedule was pretty thrown off. After acquiring coffee and something light to nosh on, I explored the downtown a little bit. That early, before the streets get crowded with tourists, it is quite lovely to look at.

By the time lunch time rolled around I had ventured my way to the Nob Hill/Alphabet District, which was about a mile from where I was staying. The walk there alone was so peaceful with all the pretty old houses and churches, trees, street art, and laid back vibe. The main street was lined with interesting shops and fun food places (and coffee, of course) to check out. I spent some time perusing the main street, but only after I ventured over to my intended stop: Salt & Straw.

Salt & Straw is a super popular ice cream place that I’d been dreaming about for months, almost as much as I was dreaming about doughnuts. They’re known or their homemade, unique flavors. There’s usually one or two “weird” flavors on the list, as well. The menu was creative and there were lots of flavors I wish I could have tried, but sadly my stomach is only so big. The seasonal offerings were all Thanksgiving-themed flavors, including turkey salted caramel. I didn’t want to order a whole scoop of this, but I just knew I had to at least sample it while I was there. (Because where else am I ever going to find turkey ice cream?!) The flavors I actually ordered were sweet potato casserole and almond brittle. Both flavors were delicious, especially the sweet potato! The turkey spoonful that I sampled, however, was quite odd.

After stuffing myself with ice cream I made my way to The Meadow, which was also on my list. The Meadow is a super fun gourmet salt, chocolate, and bitters shop owned by Bitterman Salt Co. As a foodie and former employee of a spice/salt shop, I was super excited to finally check it out. Just look at the walls of chocolate and salt:

 

When I finally ventured back to the Pearl District/downtown area I was in need of something other than dessert, so I headed over to one of the food pod areas. There are various places throughout the city that have food cards and food pods lined up. I love the whole food truck thing, as it’s easy to get to try different types of foods for relatively cheap. I went with a pod called The Eggy Pocket, which sold Jian Bing. Jian Bing is a Chinese street food, consisting of an egg crepe and some kind of filling. Mine had vegetables and Chinese sausage in it. It doesn’t look like much, but it was really good.

I spent my last afternoon sipping on coffee from one of the dozens of local coffee shops in the city. (The counter culture coffee scene there is huge.) Of course, I paid one last visit to Powell’s, as well. I’d share a picture of my final haul, but I actually didn’t get to take one…The store is actually shipping the rest of my books to me because I was running out of room in my bag. Hehe.

I had such an amazing time exploring Portland. I’m already trying to figure out when I can go back and visit (*coughmovetherecough*) because there are still so many other things I want to see/do there. If you’re a book lover/hipster/foodie/artsy type, like myself, you should definitely check it out someday.

(Check out Part 1 and Part 2 here)

Books · food · Life · travel

My Weekend in Portland, OR (Part 2)

Before I write the second post about my Portland excursion, let me just tell you that the post-vacation blues are starting to sink in. It’s always rough returning to reality after spending a few days away, exploring and enjoying yourself. (I want to go back! *sad face*)

I got up early on Saturday and made my way over to one of the local coffee shops to wait for the rest of my tour group. I’m not normally one for group tours, but I really wanted to go see the beauty that the Oregon mountains and the Columbia Gorge had to offer. We visited Multnomah Falls (the tallest waterfall in Oregon), a few smaller waterfalls, Vista House (the fanciest rest stop I’ve ever seen, with the world’s prettiest view), a fish hatchery, and just drove through the amazing Fall scenery of the mountains. It was only a half day trip, but it was a perfect 4 hours.

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After the waterfall tour I returned downtown and fed my grumbling stomach. I’d lie and pretend that I ate something healthy for lunch, but after all that sightseeing and hiking, I needed another doughnut. For my second visit to Blue Star, I tried the pumpkin creme brulee doughnut. (The little syringe sticking out of the top had some kind of boozy cinnamon syrup in it.) Don’t worry, I did eat food other than doughnuts that day. For dinner I headed over to Lardo, a highly recommended sandwich place that I’d been hearing about for months. I ordered a pork meatball bahn mi, which may have been the best damned sandwich I’ve ever inhaled, I mean eaten, in my life.

Of course, on my way back to the Air BnB that night I took a detour to Powell’s again. This was my haul from day 2:

Part 3 coming soon! (Check out part 1 here.)

Books · Life · travel

My Weekend in Portland, OR (Part 1)

Last night I got back from an amazing long weekend in Portland, OR! To be one hundred percent honest, if I wouldn’t be abandoning Boyfriend and my fur babies, I would never have come home. (Obviously, I would have had someone send my books to me. I’m not that crazy.) I fell in love with everything about Portland – the scenery, the people, the food, and the culture. I may or may not have already put the bug in Boyfriend’s ear that we need to move there.

I have so much that I want to share about my trip that I don’t even know where to begin. This will have to be a multi-part post, so bear with me.

Day 1: After a long, early morning flight I arrived in Portland a little after 11:00 a.m. As I wasn’t able to check into my Air BnB until 3:00, I decided to head straight to the downtown/Pearl District area and get a feel for what it was like. Exploring a new city is always such an exciting experience for me; this time was no different. After months and months of planning and reading about Portland, it was interesting to compare the picture in my head to reality. Downtown and the Pearl District were exactly as I expected: like a cleaner, less chaotic, more artsy version of New York. There were so many fun shops and restaurants, and cool street art to look at that I hardly knew what to check out first. My stomach dictated that I look up one of the places on my list and find lunch, so that’s exactly what I did, only to follow up with one of the most important reasons for visiting Portland: DOUGHNUTS.

There are a lot of popular, “must try” doughnut places in Portland, but the one I had my eye on was Blue Star. Blue Star has “doughnuts for grown ups.” Common favorites get fancy, more mature spins on them like the Valrhona Chocolate Crunch, Blueberry Bourbon Basil, Hard Apple Cider, and PB&J (filled with marionberry-habanero jelly). For my first taste, I went with Raspberry-Rosemary Buttermilk…and YES, it was worth every ounce of hype.

After getting situated in my Air BnB and dropped my bags out I headed back to the streets to find my #1 destination: Powell’s City of Books.

It wasn’t hard to find, considering it’s an entire city block. That’s right, an entire block of books. I can’t even begin to describe the excitement I felt when I walked into Powell’s and saw how freaking huge it was. Never before have I seen so many books in one place in my entire life.

There are 4 floors, each consisting of different rooms, which are designated to specific genres. The first thing I saw when I walked in was the cooking section. Row after row of beautiful cookbooks. *swoons* After about 30 minutes I had to force myself away from the cookbooks just to go investigate the rest of the store.

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I’m pretty sure if I did that evening I would have been fine with it. Nothing will ever top that euphoria I experienced when I first explored Powell’s after dreaming about it for so many years.

I wandered around Powell’s for about two hours that first day. I could have stayed even longer, but I already knew I’d be back the next day. This was my first haul:

After Powell’s I ate a delicious dinner at a restaurant that specializes in handmade pastas. After that, I journeyed back to the Air BnB and slept pretty hard. It had been an exhausting, yet super awesome first day of the trip.

Part 2 coming soon! 🙂