Merry Christmas!!


The DiploMan and I are spending our first Christmas together as a (small, albeit big with love awwww) family…and we’ve decided to go on a short 3-day juice cleanse. Crazy, yes. But much needed after this season of holiday dinner parties and cocktails. Plus we are absolutely OBSESSED with our new BlendTec blender we received as our early xmas present!!

BlendTec Blender

Wishing you and your family a very very Merry, Healthy, and Cleansing Christmas from DC!!


No regrets in the kitchen : A lentil soup for the sleepless soul

3 beans

At 3:30 a.m. I lie awake in bed, staring over the mound of blanket that is my husband next to me, over to the fuzzy wall behind him. Fuzzy, only because I am near blind without my glasses on or contacts in.

I am paralyzed with anxiety. Paralyzed. A million thoughts run through my head, mostly about things that I could have done but did not do over the last, oh, say, 10 years. Regret is an unfriendly beast, my friends, and it keeps you up on a weekday morning for two hours at a time.

I regret a handful of things in my near thirty years of existence. Some are small – certain hairstyles from the 3rd and 4th grades, for example. But some are way bigger than I’ll ever be able to fully tackle – the mild depression in my first year of college that led to weird social habits, the way I handled my move to New York and my first apartment, my lack of budgeting habits and conversely my keen knack for spending, and there is, lest I ever forget, my poor career choices. Oh, career, how I hate you as a concept. I ran through a lot of -what if’s?- last night, many scenarios dealing with my career, and two hours later I was still up, putting this blog post together in my head. Well, at least I can be productive while sleep-deprived.

lentil soup

I don’t believe people when they say they have no regrets. The DiploMan says he doesn’t have any. He also doesn’t “miss” things, because he says he’s always looking forward to what’s to come. Well, he’s my Superman, so he doesn’t count. For the rest of us imperfect human beings, we make mistakes – lots of them – and some of these lead to feelings of regret. 99% of the time, I’m regret free, but then there are those spaces in my life, the mere 1% of times when I sit in a quite void of darkness (like 3:45am on a Thursday morning), staring into nothing and thinking about everything.

There’s a solution though, which to me comes when I’m exhausted down to my bones at 5a.m. and there’s nothing really left to think about. When I become delirious with frustration, I’m finally able to confront regret, mourn it, leave it, and look forward. Because until they invent time travel, thinking about what I would have done serves no purpose. It’s just too bad it takes me awhile to get to this point.

lentil soup_2

Don’t get me wrong, usually I’m looking forward. Most days it feels pretty good, sometimes it’s just mediocre, and most recently, it’s been pretty great. For example, as horrid as my career trajectory has been in the past, I’ve recently been looking forward to establishing my own thing (whatever that means) and one day having the opportunity to share it with the world. I’m looking forward to exploring new parts of the United States, after much time exploring parts abroad. I’m looking forward to my time in DC, which I’ve come to love so much as my new adopted hometown. I’m looking forward to the winter, and looking forward to steaming hot bowls of soup to sustain my days out East.

My dear partner in life only likes one kind of soup, though – that of the lentil variety – so I’m forced to make the best versions of lentil soup I can possible make, in hopes to one day veer him to the path of say, chicken tortilla soup, or minestrone, or butternut squash. Wait, no, this dear husband of mine also cares not a lick about squash, nor beets, nor sweet potatoes, nor brussels sprouts. Seriously, what’s a woman to make for dinner from September-March???

spoon of lentil soup

For now, lentil soup will most definitely do. In the kitchen, I’m able to confidently say I have no regrets. I can take full control and make something out of nothing. So looking forward, I’m willing this winter to be a nice cold one, and I’m willing a ton of lentil soup to be made. My first pot of the season was upon my return from New Orleans, and was rich with a lovely oxtail soup base and sweetly flavored with a mirepoix of leeks and salt ham. It was thickened, not only with lentils, but with 3 different types of beans as well. If I’m doing a lentil soup, I’m having no regrets.

Lentil Soup for the Soul

  • 1 cup assorted beans, soaked (will come to be 2-3 cups)
  • 4 oz. salt pork
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 large leek, finely sliced
  • 1 small carrot, diced into small cubes
  • 1 rib celery, diced into small cubes
  • 1 small russet potato, diced into 1/8-inch cubes
  • 1 cup lentils (I used black and yellow lentils)
  • 6 cups oxtail stock (see recipe below)
  1. Soak beans overnight. For quick-soak method, add water over beans and boil. Once water comes to a boil, cook for two minutes, then turn off heat and cover with a lid. Set aside for one hour. Drain. (For this soup, I used pinto beans, cannelini beans, and split peas)
  2. In a large pot, heat a bit of oil over high heat and add onion and leek. Saute for 3 minutes, and add salt pork. When pork begins to turn white, add carrot and celery. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add drained beans and lentils, stir, then add stock. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and turn heat to medium-low, and simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. After 45 minutes, add the potatoes. If soup is low, add more water to your liking – the soup can be as thick or watery as you like. Cover and cook for another 30-45 minutes.
  4. Serve hot. It’s lovely with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Yield: 3 Quarts Soup, serves 8-10

Oxtail Stock 

**I was going to make a lovely pork broth out of pork neck bones as I’m apt to do, but Whole Foods had NO NECK BONES OR ANY OTHER BONES WHATSOEVER. The only thing they had were oxtails, which were fine, but c’mon! You call yourselves a butcher counter???!!?
  • 1 lb. oxtail bones
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters
  • 2 ribs celery, cut into 8 pieces
  • fennel fronds (I keep these in my freezer, cut off from when I use fennel in salads)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 8-10 cups water
  1. Wash oxtail bones under water. In a large pot of boiling water, drop oxtail bones in and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, and rinse bones again. (I do this with most bones before cooking in soup or stock; it gets rid of a lot of excess fat and gristle)
  2. In a large clean and dry pot, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil over high heat.  Add onion, carrot, celery, and fennel fronds. Brown vegetables, if possible. After 3-5 minutes, add oxtail and sear sides. Cook for a 5-7 minutes, and add water to top of the pot. Throw in the bay leaves, peppercorns, and a spoonful of salt. Cover.
  3. When water comes to a boil, turn heat to low. Simmer for about 2 hours.
  4. Drain vegetables and oxtail into a container using a sieve. Use stock immediately, or reserve for another time.
Yield: 4 quarts of stock

The Second Line

Mr Buckjumper

Anyone who knows anything can tell you, in a few short descriptive words, what Mardi Gras is all about. Party. Beads. Hurricanes. Floats. A really big frickin’ parade.

Partial nudity and madness are also words that may or may not be used, but that depends on what kind of person you are.

Mardi Gras is most certainly the biggest parade in New Orleans, but definitely not the only one – not even close. One of the things I learned on my trip was how New Orleans is so steeped in a regional cultural all unto itself – more so than any other state, region, or city in the U.S.. New Orleans residents are so unique and passionately soaked in local culture, as seen through their music, historical references, numerous landmarks, food, religious influences, and most evidently so – in parades.

Little Miss Buckjumper

Now let’s talk parade as culture. I mean, if parades are part daily life around these parts, can you blame residents for not being so completely passionate about their city??!

The Second Line is an event, a parade, that frequently take place in neighborhoods around town. Usually on Sundays, mostly during Mardi Gras season but also scheduled throughout the year in relative degrees of popularity, different groups of different demographics parade through streets celebrating life and music in various coordinated outfits and costumes. There’s a second line that celebrates Star Wars and its parade marauders are dressed up as Star Wars characters, I’m told. But that’s something of a completely different cultural history that I’m not going to delve into.

The term ‘Second Line’ comes from a tradition of funeral processions, which is rumored to have descended from West African heritage and tradition. Following the casket would be a brass band, and following the band would be those celebrating the life of the deceased. Today, there are still actual second line funeral processions that take place – particularly when notable figures in town pass away. On the flip side, second line processions have also become popular at weddings in New Orleans.

LBJ Parade

Every year in November, my friends’ favorite second line troupe holds their biggest fete.  The Lady Buckjumpers are a prominent social group in town, and we were able to catch up at the end point of the parade to witness some of the magic. Groups of young girlfriends in coordinated outfits (bright colorful spandex and faux leather vests seemed to be a popular choice among the urban youth of New Orleans) paraded in the line, after band members pumping out brass music while wearing bright orange and purple zoot suits and top hats. Younger kids danced around (the troupe has a younger division called the junior buckjumpers), and masses of friends and families walked past yelling and hollering and one another.

second line

We were, in our skinny jeans and designer t-shirts, slightly out of place. But the thing was, in the parade atmosphere, where everyone is celebrating and walking to the music, no one ever feels totally excluded.

All-star Dining in New Orleans at Maurepas Foods

Royal Street Balcony

So much of New Orleans made it a truly special place: its ornate iron-wrought balconies, its colorful additions of purples greens and golds decorating the city, its funny and virtually unintelligeable local dialect, its rich and completely self-preserved history, the Spanish moss draped over old oak trees throughout the city, the designation of “uptown” – in reference to upriver rather than any true North that I could point out on a map.

NoLA architecture

And, let’s not forget the local cuisine, so historically infiltrated with immigrant influences combined with seasonal local catch from the bayou and the nearby Gulf waters.

New Orleans is a city of leisure – much of the population is content to pass their days without a lick of work, only making efforts to eat and drink with friends and family. Minus the hurricane threat and huge percentage of welfare population, it’s much of what I imagine one version of heaven to be like.

case at Cafe D'Or

Within the immediate city borders there are numerous options to grab ‘n go, ranging from beignets to muffulattas to hurricanes and New Orleans gin fizzes (made with milk! ick!). Then there are the restaurants, sprouting up one after another following Katrina’s aftermath, with a local epicurean fervor that I could have only dreamed of. Prior to this trip, a heated exchange of emails occurred not only planning a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal, but also figuring out where our dining options on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were to be.

Cochon marquee

sausage and charcuterie platter

We settled on three of the hottest, culinariest (that’s not a word, I just made that up), and highly recommended restaurants in three corners of the city: Root, Cochon, and Maurepas Foods.

My favorite?

Maurepas Foods.

Hands down.

Dinner at Maurepas

The Bywater section of New Orleans runs up against the Ninth Ward, and along with the Ninth Ward was one of the areas hit hardest during Katrina. It’s now a growing area of teeny tiny houses surrounded by large warehouses and a swampy waterfront view. On the night that we visited Maurepas, our cab driver got lost in the narrow streets of the neighborhood and overshot the restaurant by a few blocks. This would have typically been fine, but that night the air in the bywater smelled like some sort of burning sewage and was making me nauseous. Increasingly being referred to as the Williamsburg of New Orleans (read: hipster central), Bywater still had a far way to go before a complete gentrification was to be achieved.

We eventually arrived to what seemed like the only visibly lit corner of the neighborhood, with a yoga shop facing kitty-corner to the restaurant. Ahhh, the first sign of true yuppification, a yoga studio!

As soon as we walked into the restaurant, the smell of toxic tar was replaced by a welcoming warmth of food and conversation inside. Settling into Maurepas was quick and immediate. The host, though a bit over-the-top and intrusive, was nice enough, and sat us after a short 15 minute wait. The menu was something straight out of my dreamworld: heavy on vegetables and sides, mostly straightforward though with a few unique twists from around the world, and best of all- cheap. A simple appetizer $4-6. A side of greens $3. Main dishes $7-$12. Having such a beautiful menu come so cheap was a surprise to all of us who had lived in New York and Los Angeles.

Highlights of the evening included Whistle Pig rye whiskey for only $10 a pour!!!!!!!!! Beat that anywhere, and I’ll send you a check. Food-wise, I loved the side of greens, which was so simple but not overdone as you would find in most southern food restaurants. I was also a HUGE fan of the goat tacos. I tend to find goat a little too funky in flavor, but the meat in these tacos were mild and the corn tortillas lovely and soft, and the tacos were paired with a nice zesty green salsa. Yum.

Maurepas was BY FAR my favorite meal of the trip. In terms of dishes, ambience, and cost,   and of course that order of Whistle Pig, it alone is a major reason to visit New Orleans.

Here is where I had the best meal in New Orleans:

Maurepas Foods3200 Burgundy Street, New Orleans, LA
open everyday except Wednesday, 11am-2am