East of Paris Bookstore

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Orleans

Jackson Square a/k/a Place D'Armes with St. Louis Cathedral in the background 

Five years after Hurricane Katrina and we're in New Orleans.  Mr. Wonderful focused on dining opportunities, while I enjoyed walking in the French Quarter looking at the shops and in the Garden District looking at the houses. Everywhere we walked or drove, both here and in southern Mississippi, looked good.  We saw a great deal of progress from the devastation wrought by the storm. Admittedly we did not see everything and there are still signs of storm damage, but what we did see gives us a lot of confidence in the future here.

Classic views from in and around the Vieux Carré
The court of the Windsor Court Hotel

Books and more books

The French Market
A view from Jackson Square

Too early to open the shutters

Christmas decorations
Gas lights at a hotel
Street artist

Street art

Blue Dog Art Gallery

Grill Balconies

Gone with the Wind

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Another day in New Orleans, another caloric adventure. Today the restaurant of choice was the venerable and vibrant Galatoire's. I don't know when they started taking reservations -- diners used to send servants to wait in line for a table -- but with the packed dining rooms, I'm glad our name was on the list.

Galatoire's is a high level star on the rather tawdry Bourbon Street. There is a large rectangular open room on the ground level, a short bar and smaller dining rooms on the upper level. When we arrived, a large and lively crowd filled every table, but we were seated promptly and the service was excellent.  

Preston, our efficient table waiter, gave good advice on food and wine.  And, he was also knowledgable on the recent oil spill, so we shared heated reviews of BP and EPA.
The menu was extensive and it took a while to make our selections.  We followed a good rule: when in doubt, a good burgundy, something with bacon, and hot sauce on the side is a fine way to go.
Oysters en brochette ... wrapped in bacon :-) 
NOLA Necessities
A nice chicken dish with potatoes peas, and mushrooms [just like Grandmère used to make] does away with all the no-carb low-carb diet rules.
Chicken Clemenceau
Finally, the "fruit" course ... banana bread pudding. 
C'est si bon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


While we're in the "Crescent City," fine dining is our favorite sport. Today's lunch was at Emeril's a few blocks off Canal Street in the Warehouse District.  I was here more than twenty years ago for dinner with a group of ten. I remembered the unique flavors and twists on classic dishes; I also remembered a taste of ten different desserts!  Despite being a long-time fan of Emeril's TV shows and cuisine, modesty ruled the day ... after all, there would be dinner later.
We studied the menu
while sipping wine and munching beautiful bread

then we selected gumbo followed by mahi-mahi served over fried green tomatoes and cole slaw.
We shared a dense dark chocolate cake with double whipped cream on fresh berry coulis sprinkled with glazed toasted pine nuts.  

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

While we were in Syria, We had the distinct honor, privilege, and joy to meet His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV, the leader of the ancient Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, founded by Saints Peter and Paul.
His Beatitude is 90 years old, clear of mind, and speaks with gentle firmness and a twinkle in his eye.  Incidentally, he speaks perfect English, among many other languages. We were blessed to meet him and engage in an hour long conversation.
Since the Antiochian Orthodox Church follows the "New Calendar," they celebrate Christmas on December 25th.  So to His Beatitude, to His Grace Bishop Joseph, who organized our pilgrimage, and to all the people with whom we traveled and whom we met:  Merry Christmas!

The Patriarchate in Damascus is deep within the bustling old city.  
Plain on the outside, within the courtyards are pristine and peaceful. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Castles and Knights

Krak des Chevaliers
I am in the middle of Raymond Khoury's new novel, The Templar Salvation.  I've also read the prequel, called The Last Templar, and saw the TV version of that book.  The books and film are non-stop action and adventure with a touch of romance. Although having read the Sir. Walter Scott's oh so romantic Ivanhoe [and seen the old old movie with Elizabeth Taylor and other luminaries], I have a negative view of the Knights Templar.  It seems that King Philip IV of France had an even more negative view of Templars and executed their leader and many of his brethren.

Back to the Raymond Khoury's latest book.  In the prologue, he writes:  "And so, Everard and his brother-knights had left the Templar stronghold at Tortosa in a great rush.  They had ridden north all the way up the coast, then west ... across the arid moonscapes of Cappodocia ... [and further west and ] reached the environs of Constantinople." (p. 2)  Well, I had to stop reading when I realized:  been there, done that -- Torosa in November, Cappodocia a few years ago, and Constantinople most recently in May.  

Tortosa, now called Tartus, is just north of Lattakia on the Syrian coast.  While it's a busy port city, the remains of the Templar stronghold are barely noticeable.  The few remaining walls have been incorporated into old crumbling apartment buildings and are further hidden by flapping laundry and scraggly plants.   It did not merit a photo. Unlike the fictional Everard, rather than turning west, we turned east towards Antioch and on the way we found Krak des Chevaliers.
Krak des Chevaliers is a massive and well preserved Crusader castle on top of a 650 meter-high hill in the Homs Gap, east of Tartus and west of Homs.  It sat along the only major route from Antioch [now Antakya, Turkey] to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. We explored a bit of it and marveled how fully rigged out knights of old could manage moving about the castle.  We did not find a single passage that was flat or smooth. Mr. Wonderful had a cane but I needed a sedan chair.

The castle has the obligatory moat, 
confusing passageways,
 and mysterious doorways.
Outside it was rather windy and Mr. Wonderful and I had to hang on so as not to be blown off a cliff before our photo "op."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas.  My family converted to Christianity on this day in the 700s, give or take a few decades, and we celebrate this blessing, called a Slava in Serbian, each year.  Mr. Wonderful and I are going to church in a few minutes taking the Kolach [a bread baked in a round shape] and our žito [a mixture of ground wheat, walnuts and sugar].  

Even though the family has been doing this for 1300 years or so, I have not been baking the Kolach very long, and I never know how it will turn out.  I will report later on this year's attempt.  As for the žito, that's much easier and foolproof.

For more about this tradition, go to my earlier post Slava.  Meanwhile, outside the rain is pouring and we're off running in between the drops!

P.S.  The Kolach was a success ... baked through and easy to slice.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fast Food

Hummus with Pomegranate
In Orthodox tradition, the time before Christmas is a time of preparation.  Even the word "advent," referring to the coming of the Lord, derives from the Latin "adventus" meaning the coming.  For us, this time of preparation is a time to fast. The time starting with the Nativity is the time to feast.

There are various rules attendant to fasting and some seem rather complicated.  Generally speaking, one is to refrain from animal products.  Specifically speaking, any priest or monastic will tell you that following those rules is nice but meaningless unless you fast/refrain from evil thoughts or deeds.  Someday, I want to follow both the general and specific rules.

Almonds, Olive Tapenade, Red Pepper Puree

While we were in the Middle East, advent began [per the Gregorian calendar].  So, I was startled when our guide mentioned that we would be eating "fast food" -- a term we reserve for quick takeout food or junk food.  But, in cultures where fasting traditions are important, the cuisine of advent or lent can be exquisite. 

Whether we were in restaurants or were experiencing the delightful hospitality of monasteries, the food we ate in Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey was delicious.  The main meal was lunch, which typically lasted a few hours and consisted of 10 or 20 dishes!  The table would be covered with small plates of mezzas [think tapas] -- each interesting and tasty and worth trying and then worth repeating.

Beets with Corn, Parsley, and Lima Beans with Peppers and Tomatoes

One of my favorite dishes was a sauteed Swiss chard with caramelized onions.  Another mezza that I loved was barley with lentils.  No photos of these -- I was too busy eating!  Anyway, just when you think you cannot eat another bite, the main course arrives.

Grilled fish with Potatoes, Lemon and Toasted Pita Chips
Then, when you really think you cannot eat another bite, you change tables ... everyone goes to the fruit and dessert table signifying that the meal will end in about a half hour or so.


Fruits with a delicate Custard

Knafeh or Kadaif

More fresh Pomegranate
The truth is that we did miss wine on this trip.  There was a local wine in Lebanon that was OK, but we're finicky.  The popular beverage with a kick is Arak.  It is a clear distilled alcoholic liquid that turns milky white with the addition of water.  Neither Mr. Wonderful nor I like Arak's anise or licorice flavor, so we avoided it.  While the coffee was good, there was always hot tea or an interesting cold drink.

Lemon and Mint Tea
I know that we were often fasting, but it felt like feasting.

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