Louvre-Ready Neon Tetra Snapshot

So yesterday, while we were out running errands and eating decent Baton Rouge Lebanese I couldn’t help but stop to take a look at fish. The danger is impulse and control. Thank god for my wife. Alone I would have worked myself into deciding it would have been a good idea to buy the whole school of 50+ for a $1 each and worked out the logistics of another tank later.

In the past I haven’t had good luck with neon tetras but I think I might could manage now, but cooler and more pragmatic heads prevailed. Enjoy the pic.

Finest BR Greek and Lebanese

So the best way to find a good restaurant is to overhear others raving about another place while at a restaurant you love. I first suspected this three years ago and confirmed it to be tried and true, last night. In hind sight it stands to reason that if people are eating good food and can’t help themselves but to talk about other food, those places should be more than worth checking out.

Three years ago I was eating at my little PoBoys Plus on Plank just inside Baton Rouge right before Baker. I overheard two older men talking about the amazing fresh pita bread at Roman’s. I almost couldn’t image these blue-collar men describing their appreciation and longing for an eatery like they were. I caught they were disappointed their gem was  off down Old Hammond Hwy. As we’d just moved here, the road didn’t mean much to me, but I knew it must be a ways away and made a note not to forget it.

My wife and I seemed to stop a number of times last year, but always on Sundays, always when they were closed. Yesterday, however, we found ourselves in the area and grabbed the chance.

Walking in, the air was warm. Warm like family. Like herbs. Like coming home after too long gone. Like being with friends around a stone pizza oven. Romantic. Like a night in the Greek Isles. The ambiance was tantalizing. The chicken and lamb gyro spits roasting in sight and my love excited for what awaited.

The tables were nice, with clean white butcher paper laid out in a thin stack on each table. A glass jar of herbs and an simple olive oil cruet finished the table off, slightly elegant and warm. Personally, I much prefer white butcher paper to cover a fancy table to cloth or glass any day. I feel bad dirtying the cloth and the glass leaves my forearms cold and my dining experience unpleasant.

The food was good. I found the hummus distinct. A little earthy which I took to mean simple and healthily prepared. We went through three servings of pitas. At first I was surprised we had a small wait for them each time but realized to my delightful surprise they were cooking for us fresh each time. Such a dining experience again helped me slow down and  appreciate my relationship to my food. Food is an amazing blessing and takes time. I was able to appreciate the process and enjoy the anticipation of the coming bread.

Our waitress was attentive and her personality, attractive. She recommended a few dishes at my request and reassured me of my selection. For many of the dishes, an array of fresh vegetables are free to substitute instead of rice or fries. The grilled tomatoes and sautéed vegetables proved a wonderful side, a side beaconing us to get back to growing our own garden this summer. My wife got the combo chicken and gyro and shawarma plate also delicious.

Definitely find yourselves out to Old Hammond Highway. A romantic jewel far above and beyond any such others in the greater BR area.

Roman's Cafe on Urbanspoon

A Wicked Mardi Gras Break in Birmingham

So my wife and I hightailed it to Birmingham to see Wicked over our Mardi Gras holiday.  Sorry, New Orleans, Lafayette, Mamou. A proper Mardi Gras will have to wait. Our date was long overdue.

A few years ago we excitedly spoiled the surprise by telling each other early what we got each other for Christmas. I proudly shared I got us Chicago Wicked tickets and she shared she got me a coffee table photo-journal of the documenting the deep sea.

We were so tickled with each other and satisfied with our handiwork, neither of us actually ended up purchasing what we said we were getting each other. We were young and in love so it didn’t really matter but now we have a little more money and I made good on the previous promise. Just four years late, Birmingham in lieu of Chicago, and Mardi Gras not Christmas.

We got in the night of the play and had a good time. My wife’s been singing the songs for years. I don’t really get music but I like it, and because of the last four years hearing the songs woven into our love, the musical meant so much more.

Wednesday we bummed around Homewood and Birmingham and headed back to Baton Rouge in the evening. We walked along the small downtown stretch in Homewood we saw some fun little nicknacky things. I kindof wated to get this Tiffanyesque statue that reminded me of her. But thought the pic would do given the statue’s bulk and our certain transient future.

There was a bowl of quotes where the quote “These are the days that must happen to you” oddly haunted me. I’m not yet sure why, but noted it.

On our way over to the Jazz Hall of Fame and Civil Rights Museum we stumbled upon The Purple Onion where we had a unbelievably gigantic stuffed potato and nice crispy pita sandwich.

Enjoyed a beautiful little sunset to close our time and settle us into the long night’s drive home. And a beautiful close to a Wicked tuesday-wednesday.

An Unparalleled Tamale Stand

So the best part about leaving town going anywhere north or east of the Felicianas is the chance to drive up through Woodville and pay an overdue visit to the M and M Hot Tamales. It’s  incredible. Phenomenal, even. They come tied in bundles of three for $2. Chicken or beef are on hand. You can pre-order shrimp or crawfish. Pick up a half dozen bundles. If you eat ’em there you may have to go up for another before you hit the road just to saver it.

The meat is carefully tucked inside a soft white corn masa. Each bundle neatly wrapped and hand-tied with cotton string. Eating these tamales, I might as well be eating tamales 3,000 years ago in the Petén in Guatemala. Same corn husk, same masa, same care. It’s a step back in time to see such attention and time go into your food. I can’t imagine finding an experience in the all of New Orleans where I’d feel closer to the hands that prepared my food. The tamales feel like an offering. 

The part most zen is the little plastic fork. I enjoy how the tamale flakes apart like the meat of a steamed fish to the little plastic fork. Though the tamales look greasy, they aren’t. They’re steamed. You see the shine of water and you feel the cleanliness of the corn. In the end you don’t feel gross and you don’t feel sick. You feel a little blessed.

I have a sense, judging from the appearance of a place if it will be good, and looking and M and M Hot Tamales, I had a feeling it would. And it was and is. It met a certain aesthetic. It gives a certain aura. Not glitzy. Not haughty but authentic. I must also note that everyone working the stand, my wife and I have had the pleasure of meeting, has been more than incredibly respectful. Again, a little step back in time. This is definitely one food experience that is so much more. I hope you get the chance to check it out.

M & M Hot Tamales on Urbanspoon

When the Perfect Pizza Implodes

So, since we picked up some fresh mozzarella balls on our trip back to Louisiana, I planned on making a homemade veggie pizza with whole wheat dough. Saturday, I gave it the old college try.

I roasted the peppers in the oven before cooking the pizza so they would be well roasted. The pizza won’t finish before the peppers, leaving the pizza wanting. I was paying attention to the little details that make a homemade pizza a work of art. Added the peppers to the pizza with sliced mushrooms and baked.

I tried to cook it on the metal tray so that it wouldn’t be right on our roommate’s pizza stone since she’s allergic to wheat.

Well, the fresh mozzarella and spaghetti sauce I used, because it was all I had, made it too runny. I tried to slide it onto the pizza stone to cook the crust and evaporate the water in a last minute attempt to salvage it.

It stuck to the pan, however, wouldn’t slide and I ended up folding and cajoling it into a swashy, approximation of a pizza. Still edible, a little doughy, but edible. We went back for seconds, appreciating it for what it was and maybe a little for what it almost was.

Reflecting on the pizza, I can now identify a number of lessons to implement for next time. I’ll brush the crust with olive oil and bake it a little before adding the sauce and topping. I’ll use pizza sauce. Finally, I’ll spread some corn meal or olive oil on the pan so it wouldn’t stick. Sometimes landing so far from perfection is fun and exciting in its own right. Looking back it would be a shame for it to have turned out as I’d envisioned. Enjoy the mishaps, or shall we say, enjoy the haps.

A Cajoled Preliminary Trek ta Tunica Falls

So, today I needed to get out of the house. Lamentably my wife couldn’t join me. She is terribly allergic to live oak and pecan pollen. Certain misery in Louisiana. Had we known the trees would start pollenating in February, we would have hiked the Tunica Hills earlier in the winter.

But today I was desperate to go. I needed to find someone to go with me. Unfortunately, I don’t have much anyone else to go with except our roommate. Fortunately, she came home at two, and I had just enough time to cajole her into going with me.

We made it the twenty five minute drive up Angola Road to Hwy 969 just in time to make it to a couple of the falls before the sun set.

It was neat to see where the water has gently carved into the sandstone and hear it run over the edge. I’m anxious to learn more about the area’s formation, fossils, and the Tunica Tribe who inhabited the area.

The forest was peaceful, looking out from one of the falls. The shades of burnt amber and brown reminded me of a late Illinois fall.

We came across several shell fossils in the creek bed. Unfortunately, I happened to pick this one up and carry it some twenty odd feet before I thought to photograph it.

Aside: The area’s unique topography is supposed to make it home to rare and unique flora and fauna. I’m looking forward investigating this area further but am more than a little concerned for the unfolding effects fo the current unbridled hydraulic fracturing being more than facilitated in the area and less than safely regulated, if safe regulation is possible. As for now, I will chronicle and enjoy.

We saw what we could see before dark and hiked uphill back out. Drove back through old plantation and pasture land, stopping the local gas station/seafood market for our first few pounds of crawfish of the season. Warm, enjoyable memories even in the present.

My Wife, My Little Yard Bird

So I love to cook. I love to grocery shop to get good ingredients to cook. When we first met, grocery shopping was not on my wife’s radar. I imagined us spending a fun bonding hour each week in the grocery store seeing the foods and imagining what we’d cook that week. It didn’t happen for the first three years.

In Baton Rouge it’s hard to get affordable food. Most produce isn’t too appealing but it’s expensive relative to the rest of the country. Tragic for a locale whose climate would easily enable it to grow just about any produce its population would desire consume.

But then again there is a lot of pollution here and last year my wife decided it was worth the added cost to buy mostly organic food. A little switch flipped. Over night she loved grocery shopping. She could put into action all the health articles she’d read. We’d help her asthma and our overall health.

Now we enjoy the ritual. And so does she on her own. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a libra, always trying to maintain balance without even realizing it. I found myself hurrying her through the grocery store. Let’s go. Let’s go.

Upon realizing my dream of us enjoying grocery shopping together, I started to pull her without cause. I immediately recognized this and made myself step back and enjoy her enjoying herself. I’m lucky and I appreciate it. I have my dream of our food-buying couple ritual.

I love her. She’s so cute. At the store, she developed her routines. She starts off meandering through the produce and picks out her apples. She walks over to the soups. Stirs and smells each one. Sometimes we  indulge in the cost-prohibitive tortilla soup. She heads to pick out her free range high omega-3 eggs. She loves eggs.

Then peruses the salad bar. Slowly imagining each offering. She lets herself be tempted by  the bakery goods and deserts and but doesn’t really consider such untouchables. Only for looking. All along the way her journey is punctuated by samples.

She is the cutest. I hate to say anything. Even describing to her what she does that makes her so cute, makes her feel self-conscious and like I’m making fun of her, which will make her stop enjoying whatever I described making her cute. It’s a little tragic I have no one to share how cute she is and she can’t quite appreciate it with me.

Friday a new comparison hit me. She was recounting her day’s adventure in Baton Rouge and her lunch stop at Whole Foods and I couldn’t help but seeing her as a yard bird. She’s like a free range chicken at the store. Meandering, pecking. Taking in the sights and sounds. Happy and content as any yard bird ever was. She said she especially liked the warm Indian offerings at the lunch salad bar they had that day. I love my yard bird. I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

Friday night we had cause to return to BR and found ourselves having a date at the grocery store. We enjoyed a couple playing live blue-grass over dinner and sampled the gelato. The Aztec chocolate was hot and rich. My wife settled on the kingcake and cheeseckae and I coffee and basil-pineapple. It was fresh and surprising: my tongue throughly satisfied. Spring has arrived. Life as a yardbird, I’m beginning to see, is pretty sweet. 

An Unexpected Trek North

So my wife’s mother was unexpectedly in the ER for two blood transfusions for reasons she hasn’t quite made clear to us. We thought it was a diabetes medicine side effect but now she says no. Anyway we decided to make an unexpected trip north to Illinois to check in and make everyone’s day. We told my wife’s 92 year old grandmother who immediately made a date for us to have a roast. To avoid the hassle, I convinced my wife to tell her mother only when we were halfway through the 2 day drive.

We got to spend some time at my wife’s grandmother’s farmhouse. It was built at the turn of the century as one of the first homes in the area with electricity and updated with new carpet in the 70’s. Her grandmother is a riot. She is a tough old bird who is damed and determined to keep the whole place running if it kills her.  We enjoyed the couple days together had the obligatory midwestern meat and potatoes dinner and pancake, bacon, and eggs breakfast. It amazes me how a meal is meat and refined grains. All else is peripheral .

My wife’s father and I have a slightly awkward relationship. After meeting my wife and I lived with her parents for a few months two separate times during the first two years before we got married. He’s not particularly religious but he is a little traditional. He didn’t want us sharing her room, so we played the charade awhile until her mother, in a proactive move to try to ensure we’d never move away, cornered her husband and let him know we could sleep together.

I never asked him if I could marry his daughter and we asked him to “bless this woman to be married” rather than give. Subtle change of semantics and values. I don’t know if he notices or thinks about it, we don’t talk about it, but my being uncomfortable make me analyze it and wonder.

All this to say he offered to make breakfast before we left. I was inclined to politely refuse but knew he was being nice and we’d eat it so I said that sounded good. Well he pulled some pancakes right out of a magazine like I’ve never seen before. Perfect shape color texture. I was impressed.

On the way back south we pleasantly and accidently found ourselves around some surprisingly harrowing bends in some quite thick forest. Life-long Illinoisans we were surprised to find ourselves in Illinois in such a foreign un-flat land. I quickly surmised we might be in the fabled Shawnee National Forest I’d heard existed north of Cairo. Only now, googling, I learn that I was correct, we were specifically in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge skirting Devil’s Kitchen Lake. We stopped at the lake for a quick moment to catch the peace of the shying sun. The only thing the picture doesn’t quite capture was the cold. It was cold.

Just south of Memphis we stopped for a burrito. If you’ve never been to the south. You have to go to a chain here. It’d funny how chains have their standards that are tightly followed nationwide ensuring a universally uniform product. Well it doesn’t work in the south. In the south people have values.

Take Subway. Southern value: Sandwiches have meat. Result: You will get a Subway sandwich that has more lunch meat than four Subway sandwiches ordered anywhere else in the country.

Our northern Mississippi Qdoba experience was true to form. Meat like you’ve never seen packed into a burrito with so much cheese and sour cream, it reached the point I couldn’t quite enjoy it. Anyway I think the pictures and the phenomena are worth appreciating, if only to chuckle the subtle undermining of corporate efforts at homogenizing America.

We stopped again outside of Jackson, Mississippi with my baby just about pooped. We managed to rally for Barnes and Noble, got a fresh salad, and finished the drive back home that night through Port Gibson and Natchez, Mississippi.

Seem to be places we definitely will have to take a weekend to explore. Port Gibson was sketchy at night but going through it during the day, on the way up, was beautiful. During the Civil War, Grant said it was too beautiful to burn. Another day, another adventure, another beautiful, interesting place. The hard part is waiting.

From Zero to Near-Hero

So a few days before Valentine’s Day I had nothing. I knew I’d disappointed in the past. In the very beginning I thought we both didn’t believe in it. I tried a little anyway with a homemade card but didn’t quite pull it off. It ended in tears.

A few days ago I saw her on the Parish Ink website, I like a few t-shirts from but never spent the money to buy, so I knew it was on. We had to makeup for lost Valentines days.

I had nothing and no ideas. Thanks to a little hint from our roommate the night before Vday, I bought her a book she had fallen in love with the other day and had mentioned a number of times she wanted to buy. That was a big thing for her to say because she is a ravenous reader, only buying 1 out of 200 plus books she reads.

I got the book and I got a sexy little Italian leather bound journal for us to write love notes to each other in. I have a feeling the log of sweet love letters will come back to saving our relationship one day:) Being proactive and thinking ahead is what is going to get this thing to forever.

Valentine’s afternoon she couldn’t wait. Right when I got home from work she told me to go upstairs where a sweet homemade card, the beautifully wrapped shirts, a clean room, and long-looming, totally-completed chores were waiting as her present to me. She hit the nail on the head. I am the luckest guy on earth! She is the cutest, most beautiful girl. ¡Qué suerte que tengo!

I, however, couldn’t pull it off perfectly. I asked if she thought it would be okay for me to move the cardinal tetras over to the discus tank and start our Valentine’s Day celebration that evening after our roommate left for her date, implicitly asking to pause the intimate evening for a couple hours.

My wife, to my pleasant surprise, smiled a convincingly authentic smile, and said no problem, to count it as part of her gift to me. Turns out she was terribly frustrated and only feigning acquiescence. Hence, my near-hero status.

After I finished with the fish, I fixed the best orange bell pepper fajita quesadillas with havarti cheese, cayenne, and cilantro possibly ever made. They were amazing. So delicious. We devoured them with avocado, sour cream, and salsa. I was on the mend.

I then surprised her with my gifts. She had no idea I’d gotten her anything. I almost wanted to tell her earlier but chose to let the evenings romance build up over dinner, to the gifts, and beyond.

The book and journal won me quick entry to her heart and arms. I am a sensitive mate after all.  Her face lit up with delight. I was a superstar! We then bonded over a chickflick, time in the tub, and a glass of sweet white wine. Success.

Cardinal Tetras in Hiding

So yesterday afternoon while I couldn’t help myself but not be the perfect husband, I was acclimating my 30 cardinal tetras I got in from Houston a couple of weeks ago. The cardinals scattered to the four corners of the earth and the discus frighteningly pursued them like angels of death. As it was near dark, I quickly wrapped a blanked around the tank to make the fish go to sleep and hoped for the best.

This morning I added a plastic egg crate divider to give the cardinals a place of reprieve. They’ve ventured out as a school once but are for now quite content to anxiously school in their corner of the tank. Occasionally, a discus will venture over to lick their chops and menacingly peck at the grate.

Hopefully in a few days the disus won’t pay the cardinals any mind and I will have an awesome kick-ass minimalist tank.