King Cake

Peel Your Own Crawfish!

March 19, 2012

One of the things I have learned about New Orleans is that there is always a festival, and if not an official one, it's always the season to celebrate something. Right about now, after Mardi Gras, and before Jazz Fest, it is crawfish season (crawfish is best between March and June).

Believe it or not, Louisiana is responsible for 90% of the U.S. crawfish production, 70% of which is consumed in the state. While Louisiana’s earliest commercial crawfish harvest on record dates from the 1880's, crawfish eating in the state goes back to early Cajun settlers. And while for a while crawfish were considered “unclean shellfish,” the lowly dirty siblings of the more precious and delicious crabs and lobsters, crawfish farming developed in the 1950's and the mudbug regained its popularity as both a delicacy and an emblem of Cajun culture.

While I have not yet had the pleasure of going to a crawfish boil in someone’s backyard, I have fallen in love with J’s Seafood Dock at the French Market. For the last few sunny Sundays I have spent in New Orleans, I have eaten oysters, crabs, and my fair share of crawfish at J’s, sitting on a stool, people watching. J’s Seafood Dock is family-owned: the mom is the boss, the son shucks oysters (a friend of theirs owns the oyster bed) and entertains the crowd, while the sister handles the register. The uncle, meanwhile, cooks the crawfish in the two massive pots which are constantly boiling. The crawfish are boiled in spicy water (I can still taste the nutmeg and clove), with a mixture of fresh vegetables including celery, garlic, lemon, and more. They are then consumed by the pound, no silverware needed. I am just learning how to peel those little guys myself … indeed, apparently there is a rule in Louisiana: “you peel your own crawfish.” Two hours and three pounds of crawfish later, I am getting pretty good at it!

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My Personal Wellness Pledge

March 5, 2012

So two weeks ago, in honor of Lent, I gave up artificial sweetener. Really, my main worry was how I was going to drink my eight daily cups of coffee (which usually contain two Splendas and lots of skim milk). The switch to black coffee actually hasn’t been that challenging. Harder than expected is my once-in-a-while craving for a Diet Coke, which has been gnawing at me for about four days now. I have found myself re-reading the recent NY Times article on the association between diet sodas and heart disease to help maintain my resolve.

Having given up artificial sweetener, I thought I might as well look at the rest of my lifestyle and make some adjustments to my health and wellness habits. I might have been inspired by SpaFinder’s Wellness Week pledge. Or by Hillary Leeb’s weekly health tips. Or by the fact that my “fat pants” are feeling a bit tight and that bathing suit season is around the corner. In any case, here are the rest of my healthy living resolutions, which I have been steadily following for about 10 days now:

1.       No artificial sweeteners; as I mentioned, this means no Splenda in my coffee, and no more Diet Cokes, at least until Easter (although I will try to kick the Splenda habit forever)

2.       Drink at least 32oz. of water per day.

3.       Take one Emergen-C every day (I love the Super Orange flavor); this is helping me with resolution #2.

4.       Eat my vegetables first, at least at lunch and dinner. That means a salad first. Before anything else.

5.       Go to the Dupont Circle market every Sunday that I am in D.C.; I love love love this market, and one trip there means that I have veggies for the entire week (see resolution #4 above). Also, benefit #2 is fresh flowers for the house.

Barre 3 (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Barre 3

6.       Go to Barre 3 twice per week; I really have no excuse to not go as this is literally around the corner from my office. LeeAnne Cress, also known as the “evil redhead” given how hard her classes are, is my current hero and girl crush. If I can get half as toned as she is, I will be really happy with myself. In the meantime, every muscle in my body hurts…

7.       Run once per week, to get in some cardio. My current favorite run is the Memorial/Key Bridge loop.

Let’s see how long I can keep this up …

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Muses and Beads

February 20, 2012

When my now husband and I started seriously dating, the topic of Mardi Gras came up very early on. I had always heard about this New Orleans celebration, and I thought I knew what it was all about (beads, right?), but over the last few years I have truly learned to appreciate the meaning of this special day, really, this special weekend.

Mardi Gras beads (Photo by: Ada Polla) Mardi Gras beads

Of course, the clichés about Bourbon Street, beads, and what ladies (and gentlemen) are ready to do to get the really good ones are only partially exaggerated. But truly, Mardi Gras is about friends, about fancy beaded dresses, about celebrating life and its many pleasures, before the arrival of Ash Wednesday.

I have learned a few new English words, such as “krewe.” pronounced as “crew.” Krewes are the organizations that put on parades and/or balls during the Carnival season. Being a member of a krewe has quite the social cachet, and is quite expensive.

Muses sign (Photo by: Ada Polla) Muses sign

While most krewes are men-only, there are three that are exclusive to women. My favorite, of course, is Muses. First off, its symbol is a shoe, and it really has the best floats. And while strange things happen on Bourbon Street to catch beads, the excitement of seeing the parades on St. Charles Avenue has nothing to do with showing skin, and everything to do with catching the best possible bead.

My Mardi Gras started on Thursday evening, when Muses rode to kick off the really fun parades. The festivities continued on Friday, the day of my friend Angie’s annual Mardi Gras Luncheon.

Ada and Angie at Arnaud's (Photo by: Ada Polla) Ada and Angie at Arnaud's

Hosted in a private room at Arnaud’s, Angie brings together 11 of her best friends for a five hour lunch filled with champagne, famous dishes such as Shrimp Arnaud and Turtle Soup, and lots of laughs. Arnaud’s (and Antoine’s and Galatoire’s, the other two classic New Orleans restaurants) is taken over by Mardi Gras luncheons, and by ladies in costume and hand-made beaded dresses.

After lunch, around 4:00 pm, we strolled through the French Quarter, with stops at two of my favorite bars, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Cosimo’s. The scene is picturesque, sometimes political, and overall the perfect ending to a Friday afternoon filled with more pleasure than work. Luckily, Cosimos’s is literally across the street from my New Orleans home, and while by then my feet hurt, I made it home thrilled to have experienced another successful start to Mardi Gras weekend.

Mardi Gras Luncheon at Arnaud's (Photo by: Ada Polla) Mardi Gras Luncheon at Arnaud's

The rest of the weekend was a bit mellower, with visits to Frenchman street for some fabulous live music, and dinners (not five hour dinners) with friends. By the time you read this, it will actually be Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the last day of Carnival.

Mardi Gras decorations (Photo by: Ada Polla) Mardi Gras decorations

At midnight precisely, the New Orleans streets will be cleaned, broken beads will be thrown away, and people will focus on Ash Wednesday – and what to give up. I have only started giving something up for Lent since I have started partaking in the Mardi Gras celebration. If I do one, I must do the other, right?

This year, I am giving up artificial sweetener in all its forms (Splenda, Equal, whatever is in Diet Coke). Wish me luck …

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