Somewhere in Middle America

a secret project

It is a shame to wait till tomorrow

There’s something I’ve been wanting to do, and I recently decided to not put it off any longer. So, I’m taking a short break from Somewhere in Middle America to get it done.

What is is? Well, you’ll just have to wait til tomorrow (actually, a week or so) to find out!

(image from anton sugar via mary ruffle)

yay or nay: valentine’s day gifts?

Snowman and SnowwomanOur neighbor’s children made this adorable Valentine’s Day- themed snowcouple on Sunday. Sadly, by Monday, they had lost their carrot stick noses and most of their heft. Mr. Snowman also lost the branch arm that was connecting him to his wife. Still, we can imagine that they are very much in love, perhaps even enjoying the unseasonably warm temperature we’ve been experiencing. Sixty degrees in February? Sorry, but I’ll take that over a snowcouple any day – no matter how in love they are.

Speaking of love, how was your Valentine’s Day? This year, J and I decided to prolong the celebration by going to one of our new favorite restaurants, Bella Vita, Saturday night and by attending a couple’s yoga workshop at Lotus House of Yoga on Sunday.

Sunday evening we exchanged gifts that we hadn’t bothered to wrap (we play it low-key), and Monday night we exchanged cards with heartfelt messages written inside. The card swap took place around 10pm after J returned home from a rehearsal. Yes, I spent Valentine’s Day proper on the couch with the dog, watching Joan Rivers on “Fashion Police.”

We probably would not have bought presents for each other if I hadn’t spied the perfect gift for J – and subsequently told him I wanted to exchange gifts – back in January. He’s been on the lookout for a glass tumbler/stainless steel shaker combo like professional bartenders use since I’ve known him, so when I stumbled upon one at Williams-Sonoma, I had to buy it. (And I had to pay for it in cash since J frequently looks at the credit card statements online.)

J surprised me with some accessories for my DSLR and a jar of Clinique moisturizer that he knew I wanted. Not the most romantic gift ever (though neither was mine), but the story behind the moisturizer says a lot about my thoughtful husband. Knowing that sometimes makeup counters give away cosmetic bags with goodies inside, J asked at the Clinique counter if they were running any promotions. Although they weren’t, he bought it for me anyway. When he got back in the car, he heard on the radio that another department store was having “Clinique Bonus Days,” so he drove to a different mall and bought a second jar of moisturizer just so I could have the gifts with purchase.

Of course, when he asked me if I’d have time during my day to return the moisturizer without the bonus gifts to the first department store, I told him that part of my gift was that I didn’t have to run that errand.

Did you and your sweetheart exchange cards, flowers or gifts on Valentine’s Day? Or did you choose not to celebrate this Hallmark holiday?

http://www.bellavitane.com/ordereze/default.aspx

what’s the most romantic song?

Yesterday morning, J and I participated in a couple’s yoga workshop at Lotus House of Yoga. The instructor played a mix of romantic tracks while we pulled one another deeper into stretches, (literally) leaned on each other during balancing poses and, at the end, meditated on the melt-in-your-mouth magic of Lindor Truffles.

Her selection of Valentine’s Day-appropriate music got me thinking: What do you think is the most romantic song ever?

Off the top of my head, I’d say it’s pretty hard to top Sade’s “By Your Side.” Whenever I hear it, I melt a little bit on the inside (kind of like a Lindor Truffle). According to my husband, “If you play Sade, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get some.” Do you agree?

PS: The ladies at Lotus House of Yoga are some of the sweetest I’ve met in Omaha. If you’re looking for a yoga studio in middle America, I highly recommend checking it out.

don’t lie to seth meyers

The other night I had a dream about Seth Meyers. I’m guessing he was on my mind after I saw the above SNL clip on Maggie’s blog. (In case you were wondering, I totally agree with Maggie and Seth on this one.)

In my dream, I was shopping in a florescent-lit department store with low ceilings in Nebraska when I spotted Seth. Although I recognized him from TV right away, I didn’t want Seth to think I was a crazy celeb stalker, so when our paths crossed, I pretended to not know who he was. We started chatting, and Seth confided that he had just arrived in Nebraska because he was fired from his job that morning. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said, as if I thought he just lost his job as an accountant or corporate executive.

As we maneuvered through the circular racks, he asked me about my life in middle America. I explained that it was rather boring, using the example that even if we went out on a Saturday night, my husband and I were usually home early enough to catch Saturday Night Live, which airs at 10:30pm out here. Then I realized what I had said.

“If you watch Saturday Night Live, you must know who I am.”

I could see the disappointment and disgust in his eyes. Seth was mad at me for lying to him. And then I woke up.

The moral of my dream: Don’t lie to Seth Meyers.

what i ate in nola

Felix's oysters New Orleans

Oysters at Felix’s

Not pictured: Char-grilled oysters that were BEYOND insane.

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans

Beignets and Hot Chocolate at Café Du Mondé

My dad was the only one of the group who accidentally sniffed the powdered sugar. And suffered.

Pretzles at Butcher in New Orleans

Boudin at Butcher in New Orleans

Sliders at Butcher in New Orleans

Pretzles, Boudin and Sweet + Spicy Brisket Sliders at Butcher

We also ordered a muffaletta (never did make it to Central Grocery) and duck pastrami sliders. The guys drank LA 31 Biere Pale while my mom sipped a “Peel-n-Squeal” – vanilla vodka, satsuma juice and mint.

Pecan Waffles at Camillia Grill in New Orleans

Omelet at Camillia Grill in New Orleans

Pecan Waffles and the Chef’s Omelet (chili on the side) at The Camellia Grill

At the French Quarter location, we got a kick out of our server, who kept referring to the six of us as “New York.” Was it that obvious?

Desserts at Sucre in New Orleans

French macaroons (my first ever!), Gelato and Cappuccino at Sucré

We gave ourselves permission to enjoy dessert before lunch when we passed by this charming “sweet boutique” while browsing the shops on Magazine Street.

Po Boy at Domilese's in New Orleans

Po-Boys at Domilise’s

At the very last second we managed to score a table for six at this hole-in-the-wall shop, and we passed around shrimp and oyster po-boys to share. My dad, who doesn’t eat shellfish, had a catfish po-boy all to himself. (Note to future customers: These po-boys are expensive! Was not expecting to pay around $15 for a sandwich!)

Jazz Brunch at Commander's Palace

Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace

A trip to New Orleans would not have been complete without a visit to Commander’s Palace. We were seated for nearly two and a half hours, which should give you an indication of how much we ate! Apparently I was too busy stuffing my face to take any photographs of our food, but my sister captured this table shot while we were still deciding what to order. Thankfully my mom, who snagged a menu, was able to remind me what we all ate (some of us ordered the same thing): Turtle Soup, Smoked Chicken and Oyster Gumbo, Open-Faced Croque Madame, Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish, Scrambled Eggs and Crab, Commander’s Mixed Grill, Pecan Pie, Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake and Baily’s Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Parfait. And now I feel stuffed all over again!

No Photo Available!

Our first night in NOLA, before my parents, sister and brother-in-law arrived, J and I had dinner at Dick & Jenny’s. I wish I could’ve taken photos of the amazing food we ate, but it was too dark inside the restaurant.  We started with the Gumbo Du Jour (shrimp and blue crab) and the Filet Mignon Meat Pie (a pocket stuffed with beef tips, red potatoes and smoked mushrooms and topped with a garlicky cream sauce). After stuffing our faces with oysters at Felix’s earlier in the evening, we weren’t hungry enough to each get our own entree, so we shared the Seared Duck Breast with Louisiana alligator sausage (surprisingly tender!), dirty rice and southern greens. (The greens were not my favorite.)


a quick and easy pasta dish

Corner stove in a blue kitchen

Sometimes, I’m just not in the mood to prepare a complicated dinner.

(Let’s be honest. I’m never in the mood to prepare a complicated dinner. That’s my husband’s job.)

I’m over at Elizabeth Anne Designs Living today sharing a simple yet delicious recipe for Spaghetti with Fried Eggs. There’s no need to make an extra trip to the grocery store to pick up special ingredients for this dish. It calls for just a couple of  staples that I’ll bet you already have in your pantry and refrigerator.

If you like this recipe, let me know! Leave a comment here or over at EADL.

(image from marthastewart.com via pinterest)

capturing beauty in a cemetery

What caught my eye at Lafayette Cemetery #1 in New Orleans, more so than the historical dates on the tombstones, were the flowers honoring the deceased. The muted colors of those somber bouquets were so beautiful. Who left them? How long had they been sitting there, wilting?

Flowers at Lafayette Cemetery #1

Flowers at Lafayette Cemetery #1

Flowers at Lafayette Cemetery #1

Flowers at Lafayette Cemetery #1

Flowers at Lafayette Cemetery #1

To be honest, I couldn’t tell if the flowers were real or fake, and I didn’t want to touch them, only photograph them. Do you know?

superbowl XLV: food, football and babies

Superbowl potluck

Superbowl Chili

Superbowl brownie

One of the benefits of getting older is that when you ask your friends to contribute to a Superbowl potluck, you get dishes more sophisticated and thoughtful than a bag of Tostitos and a jar of salsa. We enjoyed quite a spread last night as we watched Christina Aguilera flub the National Anthem, the Black Eyed Peas deal with technical difficulties and the Green Bay Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers: a Thunderbird salad, homemade crab dip and onion dip with an assortment of chips and crudités, deviled eggs, potato skins with sour cream, chili with corn bread and Fritos, and brownies decorated with footballs. And let’s not forget all of the beer!

For our part, J and I made the chili and corn bread. I scoured the internet for an easy chili with meat and beans recipe that would feed a large group of people. I found one from Real Simple that serves 8, but, being a Jewish gal who is always concerned about not having enough food, I doubled the recipe because we were expecting 12 guests. Only 11 people showed, so we had about two and a half Tupperwares worth of leftovers, which was fine with me because it was so tasty! Next time you’re in the mood for a hearty, not too spicy chili, try this:

Chili for a Crowd

adapted from Real Simple, November 2008

Serves 8| Hands-On Time: 25m | Total Time: 50m

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 bell peppers, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 12-ounce bottles lager beer
  • 2 19-ounce cans kidney beans
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • corn bread
  • toppings (such as sour cream, radishes, scallions, avocados, jalapenos, cilantro, Cheddar, and toasted pumpkin seeds)

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 6 to 8 minutes.
  2. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chili powder, and cumin and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the beer, beans, the tomatoes and their juices, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with the corn bread and toppings as desired.

Unfortunately, our corn bread didn’t turn out as moist and delicious as we had hoped, which was especially disappointing because J followed a Mark Bittman recipe. This is the second or third time that we’ve failed at making homemade corn bread, so next time, it’s “Jiffy” all the way. Thankfully, nobody seemed to mind about the corn bread… perhaps because we also provided Fritos Scoops!

Briscoe certainly loved all of the attention (and crumbs), and our friends’ kiddos were just as entertaining as the game on TV. Because we used plastic plates and silverware, clean up was a breeze. All in all, a very successful gathering, if I do say so myself.

What did you do for the Superbowl?

experiencing new orleans for the first time

Bourbon Street New Orleans

French Quarter New Orleans

Bourbon Street New Orleans

Mardi Gras Beads

Musician in French Quarter

Garden District New Orleans

St. Charles Street Car

Bourbon Street New Orleans

Bourbon Street New Orleans

It was up in the air until the very last second whether my family’s planned vacation to New Orleans would actually take place this past weekend. As J and I were literally boarding our 6AM flight on Thursday, my parents called to let us know that their noon flight out of New York had been canceled. This was actually the second flight of theirs to be canceled, and as J and I were settling into seats, they were scrambling to find out if Continental could book them on their third later that evening.

J and I had to wait until we landed in Chicago to catch our connecting flight to find out whether our family getaway would become a romantic weekend for two. Thankfully, my parents, sister and brother-in-law finally made it to NOLA – but not until 1AM on Friday.

Because I spent so much time researching restaurants (more on that in another post!), I hadn’t created much of an itinerary of things to do or to see when we weren’t eating. I probably should have read up more on the history of the city and scouted out activities for us to do as a family. Besides wandering around the French Quarter and the Garden District (although after a while, you’ve seen enough antique shops and big houses), there wasn’t much else I was really excited to do. I would’ve been interested in visiting  The National World War II Museum, but the rest of my family didn’t seem too keen on going, and there weren’t any other museums that I was truly dying to explore.

Dare I admit that I found New Orleans a bit boring?

What made the trip worthwhile (besides the food) was being able to spend time with my family. We last saw them over Thanksgiving, but for a girl who is extremely close to her parents and sister, that was way too long ago. It was also a relief to be able to walk around the city wearing only a long-sleeved shirt and lightweight jacket; I’ll take 60 degree weather over the snow and ice any day. And I always enjoy the opportunity to practice my photography, and there was certainly plenty of interesting architecture and people to capture on (digital) film.

Finally, some general thoughts about NOLA:

As an almost 31-year-old, I had no interest in partying on Bourbon Street (does that make me old or just boring?), although I did get a kick out of the vendors selling frozen margaritas and beers to go out of closet-sized shops. Bourbon was interesting enough to walk up and down once, but the street reeked of cigarettes (outside!) and I feared being clonked in the head by the handfuls of beads being chucked off balconies by drunk fraternity boys. And don’t get me started on all the boobs and booty!

To the disappointment of my jazz musician brother-in-law, the only live music we heard on Bourbon Street was from cover bands playing in the bars. It’s a shame we didn’t learn until just before we left for the airport that Frenchmen Street was where we would have found authentic New Orleans jazz. A couple of local twenty-somethings told us that Bourbon Street was very different before Katrina hit and that you could pop into almost any bar on Bourbon to listen to jazz. Sadly, that’s no longer the case.

And on a positive note, nearly everybody we encountered, from cab drivers to waiters to the tipsy Southwest flight attendant enjoying oysters next to us at Felix, were extremely friendly and forthcoming with information and suggestions. New Orleans might be one of the most affable cities I’ve visited.

If you’ve had a different experience in The Big Easy, I’d love to hear about it. Leave your comments below!

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