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September 2016

PUMPKIN SPICE: Kiss Its Autumn-Flavored Ass, Haters

Haters, you need to cut it out with the pumpkin spice trend bashing. Especially if you’re a woman. Yeah, sure, you’re welcome to express your opinion if you don’t personally care for the flavor. We can all agree that it’s a little crazy that there is pumpkin spice EVERTHING out there. Turns out, though, if you examine the love of the flavor and the rabid hatred for the trend that’s popping up in everything from pet food to hair styles, you’re not doing the feminist cause any favors.

Falling for Fall

I adore autumn. I know summer is great, but I’ve come to the conclusion that, no matter how many times my logical brain reminds me, “Autumn means winter is coming. Snow and driving sucks! Whey are you excited about fall?” I just can’t help myself. I love seasonal shifts, and the shift from summer to fall is my favorite.

A love of all things autumn necessitates a love for pumpkin spice scent and flavor. Full disclosure: I’ve never had a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks, but that’s probably because I don’t go to Starbucks (I’m a Java House girl). However, I have been known to load up on the pumpkin spice scented wax and candles and bathroom air fresheners, as well as baking huge batches of pumpkin spice cakes shaped like little pumpkins, drizzled in cream cheese frosting.

In recent years, there’s been an anti-pumpkin-spice storm brewing online, and the enmity is largely aimed at “basic white girls who love pumpkin spice lattes.” I will admit, in an attempt to not seem “basic” that I have minimized my love of pumpkin spice things. After all, I’m a recovering high-school goth — nothing is worse than conformity!

Actually, there is something worse. Suppressing your genuine love of something because you are so fixated on not being “like everyone else.” The most metal thing to do is to just (gasp) BE YOURSELF.

Pumpkin Spice Hating is Aimed at Women

I decided to “come out” as a pumpkin spice fanatic after seeing this post on Facebook. I love this assertion. Obsession with bacon is “bro-acceptable” but reveling in pumpkin spice is lame and basic.

Bacon is everywhere, and is just as much an “epidemic” as pumpkin spice. I’ve seen bacon shaped band-aids, bacon breath mints, and bacon beer, just to name a few. So, what’s the difference, exactly?

Well, bacon is masculine. It’s quirky and cool to love bacon everything, like a dude growing a carnival-barker mustache and waxing it. See, guys are allowed to have a flavor obsession, but apparently women are not. Female preference is stupid and basic.

Well, I cry bullshit. This needs to stop. If you like something, like it! Be loud and proud. If you genuinely don’t like pumpkin spice flavor, courteously refuse it and deal with the fact that it’s ridiculously all over the place. If I have to deal with Donald Trump being everywhere all the time, I think the pumpkin spice haters can probably survive until Christmas when pumpkin spice nestles back into its cave for the winter, spring, and summer. A well-deserved hibernation!

If He Loves Pumpkin Spice, or Supports Your Obsession, He’s a Keeper!

A few days ago, my husband Lee came home with a load of groceries, ecstatic as usual to show me all the goodies he’d found at economical prices.

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Check out this pumpkin spice lovin’ hunk. Back off, he’s mine!

My husband, the father of my child, love of my life, had purchased the following items:

-three different pumpkin spice beers (including a beer that describes itself as “pumpkin spice latte flavor”).

-pumpkin spice popcorn

-literally a giant pumpkin pie

-and I think like three more things that I can’t remember right now that had to do with pumpkin spice

I think he may love pumpkin spice even more than I do! He would never pick on me or anyone else for our preferences, or participate in this ridiculous “bacon obsession is okay, but pumpkin spice is basic” narrative.

He loves bacon, too, by the way. And so do I. I want to make pumpkin spice bacon for breakfast tomorrow! Take that, haters!

 

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I Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans: My Solo NOLA Trip Part 3

Cocktail Hour

As I leave the Royal House, it starts to pour, rain lashing the streets and gurgling through the gutters. I’ve packed an umbrella because I know the Big Easy. It’s like Costa Rica. Rain is inevitable, and you can’t let it spoil your good time. Just duck into the nearest bar!

Well, I can’t exactly do that on Bourbon Street. Walking down it turns out to be a tad… claustrophobic. I’m too old for this scene, man. I really don’t remember there being so many strip clubs. Tourists scare me more now that I’ve been woke by David Foster Wallace. Tempting fate, I hurry scurry along the sopping streets, nearly biffing it several times on the slick wet bricks until I find my destination: Fritzle’s.

I duck in and collapse my umbrella with a smile. The same bartender lurks behind the bar as he has for all of my other visits, a short black-haired man with a slick bun. When he isn’t slinging drinks, he’s watching the Discovery Channel on the grainy TV above the bar. Always a nature show, or a computerized showdown between two ancient warriors. I allow myself another Abita Purple Haze and settle in at the end of the bench-like table near the door where I can watch the rain and the people.

An old-timey white dude who looks like he might be named Gary (it’s actually Richard Scott, which is pretty much the same thing) is playing 1900s-1930s piano ditties and doing a Louis Armstrong impression with his voice. It is at first novel, then annoying.

This booze hall is small, symmetrical, cozy, and dilapidated in the best way. I’m trying to think of a country or a style his bar is “going for” or mimicking, but I think the title says it all: Fritzle’s European Jazz Club. It’s just… vaguely European looking. One wall is shingled like an English cottage. The three arches of the partition separating the front from the back are rimed with heavy, Germanic wood molding and the bricks and fireplace seem Bulgarian, or Eastern European in some way. The walls are plastered with beer signs and Christmas lights, but they have this ancient, crumbling feel – Old World crumbly.

I’m at table by myself. I should be at the bar on a stool if I’m by myself. I’m anxious because I don’t want people to be salty because I took a whole table and they have nowhere to sit unless they join me.

Well, hear this. I’m a woman and I’m taking up space. A big dude would sit down and do this and nobody would think twice. He certainly wouldn’t. I’m taking up space and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m alone. I’m existing. I’m taking up space.

Dinner

I choose Muriel’s because it’s on Jackson Square, and I’d planned to eat there last time but never got around to it. The restaurant is absolutely beautiful, restored to its state as a residence in the mid-1800s. The walls are warm brick, plastered with old-timey portraits of glowering Victorians. You can read here about the history and here about the alleged haunting. Doesn’t seem too haunted to me. In fact, at 5:30 there’s nobody but me and another lady having dinner by herself, though she appears to be listening to a baseball game on her headphones.

The service wows me immediately. Each table has a bar server for beverages and a food server. Both of mine were are attentive and great with their suggestions. In typical Francophile fashion, I cannot resist the rather affordable prix fixe menu.

For the appetizer, I try the house special: goat cheese crepes with shrimp. Two small crepes came crisscrossed on my plate, surrounded by a few shrimps, with everything covered in a tomato crème sauce that contained members of the Creole Holy Trinity: bell peppers, celery, and onion. The goat cheese is flavorful yet mellow, and the sauce divine. I scarf this also with the complimentary herb bread and butter. The bread contains traces of what I think are sage, perhaps rosemary. Fantastic and fluffy!

To drink, I choose a white from the Alsace region – a Trimbach Gewurtzraimer 2013. Light and playful, it actually pairs perfectly with my whole meal somehow, even though I picked it out myself.

For the main course, I select the “Bayou-baise” (obviously a play on boubillaise) containing mussels, shrimps, and whitefish, orzo, and seafood meatballs. Alas, it does not taste of saffron, which I was looking forward to. As I eat, though, more subtle spiciness comes forward from the red sauce. The seafood meatballs are very unique, but after 3 or 4 were too fishy for me.

Last, I devour the most scrumptious bread pudding drizzled in caramel sauce. It smacks of a “bread pudding meets praline” feeling.

Homecoming

I won’t bore you talking about the lackluster ghostly pub crawl I attended that night. The Raiders were in town for a Sunday showdown with the Saints, and some extremely tacky Raiders fans really put a damper on the experience. Plus it was hot, and I could tell the guide wasn’t having much fun.

Regardless, I got a boring but nourishing shrimp po-boy for some late night eats and drank almost the rest of the wine in my room while watching old episodes of Batman and The Golden Girls.

I arrive at the airport way too early, in NOLA solo trip tradition, but this time of day “Ye Olde College Inn” is open for business, and I’m having yet another crawfish omelet and grits. This time the crawfish isn’t as fresh, because I can taste the gamey-ness of it. The Gouda grits, however, with world-famous Crystal hot sauce, are heaven. My waitress says, “Enjoy, my love!”

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I’m super happy. Okay, let’s try some amped up words (that’s what we’re learning in English Comp right now). I’m elated. Content, Blissed out. It feels like Christmas Day Eve as a kid after you’ve spent all morning opening presents. As a kid, mind you. Christmas Day Eve as an adult is the big letdown – when you realize that no Christmas will ever be like what it was when you were little, and that you blew your diet eating and drinking too much.

Here, I’m recapturing that feeling. Because New Orleans is a gift. Sure, it’s got its problems, and as a tourist I’ll never see the authentic nature of its soul, but it serves an essential function in my life. It’s full of culture, diversity, memories, and it helps me remember who I am.

I feel enlivened and rejuvenated form this trip. I’m choosing to focus on that, my joy and my gratitude, instead of the fact that fifteen years ago I was in chemistry class sitting by a German exchange student when the towers fell. The day everything changed.

Everything about going home is sweet. Alyssa, here I come, baby girl! Can’t wait to kiss Lee!

I Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans: My Solo Trip to NOLA Part 2

It’s a fitful night. It’s hard to relax after the go-go of air travel, and my mounting excitement to see what the Big Easy has in store for me on Saturday. Also, I have a weird dream where, somehow, my baby girl is threatened by a puma covered with rabbits (or maybe tribbles?).

Breakfast

I pop up a few blocks to a café called Mother’s. On the way, I unwittingly walk the route of a Saints themed 5k. People walk past, decked out in their Saints fan gear, some halfheartedly running while most walk and jabber on. Later, I’ll see them, their numbers still pinned to their clothing, wobbling around the Quarter with hurricanes in hand.

As I approach the small brick building of the café, the kitchen staff and some of the waitresses are lined up on the ramp leading up to the door. They’re shouting support to the runners. “Keep goin’, baby! Keep goin’ a’ight, you got this!” In another place, with other voices, this enthusiasm might seem sarcastic. But here, it just isn’t.

Inside are a few tables. The walls are faux wood and hung everywhere with pictures of former patrons and proprietors. The grill is against the wall, separated from the rest of the diner by a waist-high partition and an L-shaped bar. You can hear the sizzling and frying, punctuated by the boisterous voices of the cooks, a line of black folks who fluctuate between socializing and business with practiced fluidity.

I order at the counter, and I’m handed my “coffee with milk” and an ice water. I choose my table and sit down. A golden-age waitress version of Uhura from Star Trek brings me my food after a short time and refills my coffee as well. She calls me “dawlin’” and, though I hear her repeat her terms of endearment with all of the customers like a recording, I still feel special. “I’ll be right back with ya, my babies. How we doin’, my babies?”

My “coffee with milk” tastes much creamier than milk, rich and nutty. I order a crawfish etoufee omelet. It comes with a biscuit and grits. The biscuit I eat with butter and grape jelly. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had, crisp on the outside and perfect, cotton-candy fluffy on the inside.  Perfect grits. Great etoufee, though the eggs were a bit dense, presumably to hold the etoufee inside. The crawfish is fresh, I can tell. It lacks the gamey taste it gets when it sits.

After breakfast, I wander around looking for a Starbucks, but eventually I land back at the hotel. The desk in my room is too small and faces the wall, so I sneak into the bar area. On a raised platform away from the bar but towards the front of the building is a lounge area with cushioned red bench seats, small marble tables, and seahorses everywhere. I settle down in total solitude in one corner, giving myself a spectacular view of the street through the large windows, and try not to think about the 9/11 memorials in the lobby. This building, once a financial institution, touts itself as the “first world trade center.” Wilted white roses lay on the front desk over an American flag.

I write in my little nook, and it’s perfect. There’s free coffee down here and I’m alone. I write and watch people walk by. I watch a little violent rain storm, a toddler-tantrum of a weather event. When I get hungry, I pack it up and start walking towards the quarter.

Lunch

At the Royal House (which is just called the Royal House, I’ve discovered, though I’d gone about for years calling it the Royal Oyster House), I recognize the tall chucker with the sprinkle of gray in his beard, so stark against the deep brown of his complexion. I come here every time I’m in New Orleans, and he’s only become more skilled. Oyster after oyster falls open before him, like so many lovers before Don Juan. His Cajun-looking partner glances at him every few moments for assurance, or inspiration. Yes, he’s very French-looking: pale skin, black stubble, dark eyes, curly oaken hair, slight frame.

The model ships are still docked in the corner over the front door. We nestle in its ancient bones, so many lively, unrepentant Jonahs, noting the places where old brisk join newer molding. The presence and absence tattooed on the walls, the scrimshaw of history evident.

This overlaid with bros and football flags and a TV over the bar, but these things can’t soften the marble and the beams, wooden, trusty, and nautical.

This is a city of excess, of course. Climate change may have dealt them a deadly blow with Katrina, but they run the air conditioning with all the doors and windows open in every bar and restaurant you see. Excess. Bukowski said, “Find what you love and let it kill you.”

royal2

My raw oysters are cold, liquid velvet, the tenderness flesh. I can chew them delicately, waves against the coastline of my teeth. They, too, lose their sweetness when they aren’t fresh, and chewing them invites gagging. But these, oh, these are virgin and perfect. I drizzle them with regular and chipotle Tabasco sauce, and dip them in the lightest touch of cocktail sauce. Best to stay away from the horseradish.

A tall Louisiana original with a thinning, salt-and-pepper ponytail jokes, boisterous and echoing, with a table, his customers, the dude bros. Fat white Midwesterners roll by in open-sided carriages. They are everything David Foster Wallace feared in “Consider the Lobster.” Tourists are economically important but existentially meaningless.

A waiter in waist-length dreadlocks charms or scares some old ladies in tee-shirts and K-Mart pants. I’m glad he did it, no matter what the result.

When I hear other tourists talking, I hear myself. “Get me a Bloody Mary! I need my vegetables! We’re in for the duration. We love your city! Except for the humidity, of course.”

I order the Oyster Duo, which is half Rockefeller and half… something else, I can’t remember. The oysters are cooked in the shell with cheese and other ingredients broiled on top. I’ve never seen it come in a basket on paper like an order of fries. This dismays me. As well it should. A couple of them were gritty, and the whole thing was dry. The best part about this course was my decision to order an Abita Purple Haze.

I am purposely alone on this trip, but in the city that care forgot, people are friendly. This is not a bad thing, not at all. But I do have to spend energy on this trip deflecting people trying to talk to me because they think I’m lonely. I meet a couple in their 50s at the oyster bar. They see me writing and ask. I tell them I’m a food blogger. It’s not a lie. I’m here right now blogging about food, aren’t I?

Stay tuned for part 3!

I Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans: My Solo Trip to NOLA

My life since late August has been jammed with parenting, cleaning, canning, and grading papers. Lee, my husband, seemed to sense my weariness and, with the discovery of cheap post-Labor Day airfare, bought me a flight down to New Orleans. I’ve been to the Crescent City several times before, and once before alone – but that trip was one I’d rather not remember (double-fisting Hurricanes is a bad idea). This time, I vowed to make the weekend count – to use the time away to refresh and renew myself, as well as research for my books and grow as a writer. Come with me on my journey, and see if I can convince you to take one of your own – a solo trip to New Orleans, a city that thrives on fellowship and togetherness.

The Flight Down

I take my seat and whip out Poets and Writers. I hold the magazine up so that people can see the cover. I’m a writer, fools! I’m a teacher and a mom, but on this plane my armor is plus-one plate, maybe even plus-two. Because all you see here, lounging across (count it) TWO seats, is a woman taking up space. A writer. A solitary traveler. A classy broad, educated as hell.

I believe in auspice, in harbingers. I think an empty seat next to you on an airplane is about as far from the Ides of March as you can get.

I pour through Poets and Writers like it’s my real job, and instead of being juiced like a lemon against other people’s success, it all seems achievable.

I think wistfully of my husband and daughter in a way that echoes the nostalgia of a Civil War letter, Ken Burns style. “My dearest Rosalyn, all the men in the platoon have dysentery. I long for the day when I will feel your sweet kisses again.” The best part about coming home will be coming home to them, but that’s for Sunday.

I’m a very high-functioning introvert who can pass as an extrovert. I hover in a world between being paralyzed to do things alone and needing solitude, a vampire, greedy. It quickens me.

In Atlanta, I’m pleased with how at home I am in airports, how I find my concourse and gate and typical brew-pub dinner. A nine dollar glass of wine, but damn! They are generous! If you keep people liquored up, lubed, really, it makes everyone’s lives in the airport easier.

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Really, this is much too full to be considered classy.

People in the restaurant make this kind of swollen, distended small talk with strangers or stare at their phones. I wrote. I’m a writer. I don’t want small talk. I wouldn’t mind someone asking me, “What are you writing? Are you a writer?” This guy next to me ordered wine, too, and then promptly face planted into his iPad. If you love your tablet so much, why don’t you marry it?

I hop my plane to New Orleans, and this time the flight is full, but I don’t mind. The guy next to me has huge muscled arms that pop over onto my side of the seat, but I don’t care, and I don’t shrink away from the touch. We’re just sardines in a can, buddy. I look over at him sleeping and I wonder how a man’s eyelashes could be that long, Kardashian long, fake-looking even.

Instead of sleeping, I get on my phone and scare the crap out of myself reading some ghost stories from Jim Harold’s Campfire. This means that when I arrive at the elegant International House, a gorgeous Beaux-Arts masterpiece with a tiny, posh lobby and European-efficient rooms, I’m ripe to be creeped out. My room is tucked in a Winchester-mansion weird corner by the elevator, and I get an eerie feeling walking in that shivers up and down my skin. My major misgiving is that there is a closet in the room with a door on it. I can’t remember the last time I was in hotel room with a closet door for a spooky ghost to hide behind!

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My quarters
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The International House

I go down to the bar. I need to calm down. The ghost in my room needs to calm down. We need a break already. The bar is called Loa, and it’s a weird mash up of a lounge area on the Titanic and a Voodoo altar. The bar is stuffed with baubles – they overflow in such a way that there’s little room to rest your drink or your elbows. Glass grapes, ebony statues, colored glass bottles, fake moss. Yet the seating area away from the bar has red upholstery and marble sea horses everywhere.

I love things that match yet don’t. Poseidon meets Voodoo? Fine with me. If you saw my house, you’d understand.

Hmm. I could order one glass of wine for 10 dollars, or I could get a bottle of wine with four or more glasses for 28 dollars. The math makes sense. But when I order it, ask for it corked, and only one glass, yeah, I can sense the bartender’s judgement. Or at least, I think I do. But I also thought I sensed a ghost in my hotel room closet, so who knows.

But then I square my shoulders. Yeah, I’m traveling alone, and I’m gonna drink wine in my room, and I’m not ashamed. Half the bottle for tonight, and half for tomorrow night. I march back up to the elevator.

The creepy feeling in my room evaporates when I find a hilarious show on MTV about a struggling actress who doubles as a nanny. She’s making her little charge drive around with her practicing lines for an audition where she’ll be playing a hooker. “What’s a pimp?” the little boy asks. “A real mean boss,” she replies. I laugh so much at the show I forget to be freaked out, or the ghost has decided I’m okay.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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