Saturday, July 28, 2012

Like Hubig's Pies: "Gone but Not Forgotten"

I'm writing this on my grandparent's screened-in porch in Nashville, NC, enjoying the thunderstorm while I think back on my last couple of days in New Orleans. The end was just as fantastic as the beginning, even though so much was different.

It's fun to look back and think how my first few days in New Orleans were special because of the sense of anticipation and excitement for such a new experience. In contrast, my last days in New Orleans were special because (1) the time I spent with my coworkers who, though I met them just two months ago, quickly became my favorite people in New Orleans and (2) because of what I got to do with my job, which overall was probably the best part of my summer.

 I didn't have to be at the NUL Conference until 11am on Thursday. But instead of sleeping in, I got up at 6am in order to bike a lap around Audubon Park. I had to borrow James's bike, and he needed it to get to work that morning. I was stuck on the idea, so I did what I had to do to make it happen.

At the conference, I got pens, magnets, hand sanitizer, food samples, lotion samples, reusable shopping bags, a massage, a caricature of myself and a photograph of me driving a UPS truck (in a UPS uniform)— all for free! And of course it was really cool to see and learn about all the organizations represented there.

Later that evening, I met Kelly and Tatiana for dinner at one of the last restaurants on my NOLA bucket list. It was a major highlight of my summer, and such a wonderful way to end my time in New Orleans. I was sad Elisa wasn't there (she was sick) but I did get to say goodbye to her the next morning in the office. I could not have had more fun, funny, and all-around enjoyable coworkers than these wonderful women at CCFM.

Friday started with quite an adventure as soon I got to the office.

Tatiana read online that a certain New Orleans bakery had burned down early that morning. Apparently everyone in the city loves this bakery and the little individually wrapped snack pies they distribute in the area. There was a news story on how quickly these Hubig's pies were disappearing.

Emery had gone out earlier and bought Tatiana and me each a Hubig's pie, which all the staff signed as a goodbye gift. I declared that I was saving mine forever. Tatiana, who thinks they're amazingly delicious, was appalled and insisted that I had to try one before they all (literally all of them, ever) sold out. So Tati and Kelly squeezed into my car (which was already stuffed with all my belongings, ready for the long haul home), and we drove to the closest corner store.

To our dismay, there was a sign on the door announcing that they were sold out of Hubig's pies. Dejected, Kelly and Tatiana turned to go, but I said, "Wait! I want to know when they sold out."

I went in to ask, and minutes later we walked out with two of the store's last three pies— which the store owner had saved for herself! At first she had tried to sell these $1 pies to us for an inflated price. There were already pies on Ebay for $50! She asked us how much we'd be willing to pay for hers, but we convinced her to let us buy them at the basic retail price. I was surprised that we were successful. When people realize a resource is finite, it instantly becomes precious.

It was my first (and tragically, probably my last) time tasting these pies. But such a fun last day in the office. I left around noon to start the 950-mile drive home...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why Today Was Wonderful

1. My breakfast: a tofu and black bean scramble (with fresh slices of avocado) on whole wheat toast.
2. I also drank a super juice called Popeye that was made of spinach, apple, lemon, fennel and kale.
3. After breakfast I stumbled upon a super cluttered, super cool junk store and bought a floor lamp for $10 and a one way sign (a legit road sign) for $15.
4. Going to work late (to make up for working late yesterday).
5. Being busy all day working on planning kids activities for the rest of the year.
6. Free samples from Sucre.
7. Telling my coworkers how much I appreciate them. More than anyone else I've spent time with this summer, they've made the past two months amazing.
8. Seven miles of running. Probably because of the power breakfast.
9. Getting to talk to all my best friends from home.
10. I started packing— so excited for Ecuador!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The difference between a loaf and a po'boy

I would like to announce that I successfully cooked myself dinner tonight! I sauteed onion, tomato, squash and eggplant in olive oil, then mixed in Ragu for an extremely delicious spaghetti. I also spread pesto on a tortilla and baked that, AND I made sweet potato fries! I am so proud of myself for these extensive culinary accomplishments.

Maybe I was inspired by the Museum of Southern Food and Beverages, which is where I spent the afternoon. It's fun that I am now familiar with so many foods that were foreign to me just two months ago: I now know the difference between gumbo and jambalaya, and between Cajun and Creole. I know how to spell, how to pronounce, and (theoretically) how to make roux. I know what they mean when they say "barbeque shrimp." I know the origin of the term po-boy, and I know that "loaf" means the same thing. I know the tradition of King Cake, I know what belongs in ettouffee, and I know where to go for the best muffuletta. All this was covered in the museum, but I realized that I had already learned it over the course of my summer here. Absorbing that kind of knowledge happens so gradually you don't even realize how much you're picking up, so it was really fun for me to realize how far I've come in understanding the food culture here.

I was exhausted when I got home because I had to work overtime today. The 2012 National Urban League Conference is in New Orleans this year. One of the guest speakers is none other than President Obama, so it's a pretty important event. CCFM is tabling in the expo hall, so after market we all helped load in all our stuff at the conference center. (Check out this week's market newsletter to learn more! I had a lot of fun writing this one.)

Yesterday, I spent the morning writing letters, cleaning up around the house, etc. In the afternoon I went to the sculpture garden in City Park, where I had a lot of fun taking pictures.

Monday, July 23, 2012

monkey bites, nbd

My last weekend in New Orleans! This summer has gone by so quickly. But I've seen and learned and done so much that it feels satisfyingly long too. This being the last weekend is definitely a bittersweet thing. On one hand, there are still things I didn't get around to doing, plenty of restaurants I didn't have time to visit, projects at work I don't have time for. But on the other hand, I have been here for a solid eight weeks and I feel like I've made the most of it.

Also, I'm extremely excited to join my family in Ecuador. Dad sent me an email a couple of days ago describing the surrounding "miles of enormous dark verdant mountains ruled by gigantic smoking snow-covered volcanic peaks." He also described treating several cases of monkey bites and mentioned that when I arrive, we're going to "fly out to the jungle and stay in one of the remote lodges" which will be "accessible by canoe once you land on the dirt airstrip." I'm glad he didn't tell me of that any sooner because I'm completely antsy with anticipation.

So it's a good thing that I'm keeping myself busy. Helps me stay in the moment and not get carried away by daydreaming of South American jungle adventure.

I was occupied at market yesterday with the tomato sauce canning demonstration. After work, I took the bus downtown and shopped for souvenirs for my family. I also visited the Ursuline Convent, which is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley (built 1752).

Planning to meet our NOLA friends uptown later that night, Krissi and I waited for a streetcar... that never came. One thing I've learned this summer is not to trust the New Orleans public transit system. I got tired of waiting and walked back to the house to hang out with other housemates.

This morning, a lot of us went to brunch at Arnaud's, where you get a four-course meal for about $40. By far the most expensive breakfast I've ever had, but totally worth it. I really liked the restaurant. They had a jazz trio wandering from table to table, singing and playing right in front of you. I especially appreciated this brunch because someone else organized it. Tonight at dinner with Virginia (a friend of a friend I had brunch with my first weekend here), she asked if our group had any sort of program coordinator on the ground, someone who planned events for the group. Krissi and I both laughed and gestured to each other. "That's us," we told her. "We're the event planners."

I do get tired of trying to convince people to join me in exploring the city though, so lately I've been deliberately doing things on my own. For example, today after brunch I went to the Cabildo and the Presbytere, museums which together cover Mardi Gras, Hurricane Katrina, and Louisiana state history. I really liked gaining that background knowledge of the city; it's something I wish I had done much earlier in the trip. More on what I learned, later.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I leave NOLA a week from today!

Thursday morning before work, Elisa and I ate breakfast at a really cute French bakery in the Quarter. Then we went to a Catholic Charities commodity drop where people were picking up boxes of free food. We walked from car to car, handing out flyers and explaining one of our outreach programs targeted at Louisiana Purchase cardholders. MarketMatch is a program where we match the dollar amount someone charges to their Louisiana Purchase card. So if they swipe their card for $20, we give them $40 in market tokens. It's yet another wonderful program to bring low-income people to the market.

Later in the afternoon, we visited Kingsley House (a community center) and presented to 130 first-graders in a gym. Have you ever tried to talk to 130 first-graders in a gym? Let me tell you from experience that it is impossible. So that didn't go so well, but hopefully they'll gain more from actually being at market next week.

Thursday evening we took Vicki to Superior Seafood for dinner. By the end of the meal, all twelve scholars were there! I was so happy that everyone was together, because I can't remember a single other time that has happened this summer.

This morning I made tomato sauce with Kelly and Tatiana to practice for the demo tomorrow. Then I met with Vicki, Emery and Richard. It was really encouraging to hear positive feedback from Emery and Richard, and rewarding to show Vicki how happy I am in this internship placement. Emery, Elisa, Kelly, Tatiana and I then shared a fantastic lunch at Boucherie as a special commemoration of the end of our summer here. It was the highlight of my day, but also a little bittersweet. I'm really going to miss these women.

I finished the day out at the office then took a couple of friends to Uncle Jimmy's place for dinner. He prepared a special duck and andouille ettouffee for us and we all greatly enjoyed the evening together. 

I desperately need to go to sleep now so I can be energetic for my canning demonstrations tomorrow morning!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I love hanging out with old people these days

I thought about driving to the beach for a few hours on Monday. But from what I've heard, the closest beach with nice water and sand is Orange Beach in Alabama, three hours away. When my alarm went off at 7am, the thought of driving all that way by myself wasn't enough motivation to make me get up. So I slept in and spent the day catching up on emails, writing letters, doing laundry, etc. Being about my business, as my high school history teacher would say.

Tuesday market was oppressively hot. Here's me protected from the weather: baseball hat, sunglasses, cold cloth around my neck (a farmer gave that to me). I'm also decked out for SEED, with my CCFM t-shirt, my CCFM sticker, my CCFM pen and my clipboard.
Even though I tried to stay in the shade as much as possible, my Chaco tan progressed considerably. I tried to add a new picture but it won't upload right now.

After work, Tatiana, Kelly and I went to Domenica (a John Besh restaurant) for happy hour. All pizzas are half off, so we shared a really fancy mushroom pizza for six dollars total. I was so impressed with the restaurant that I convinced my group to go there for dinner tonight— a special occasion since Vicki, one of the Robertson Program staff, is visiting.

I dropped Tatiana off after lunch on Tuesday, and on the way home I made a spontaneous decision to visit the photographer I met last week on my run. We shared another extremely interesting conversation.

We talked about things like the meaning of creativity and the purpose of art. He said, "To the creative mind, everything is input." He said an artist's job is to help others see, not to show them what you see. He said being called an artist is a compliment, but calling yourself an artist is presumptuous.

We talked the age of technology and what it means for writers and photographers. He keeps little moleskine journals, each one devoted to a different category such as "quotes" or "books to read." He writes it all down by hand because he likes his words to be tangible. He said there is power in the physical act of writing.

We talked about how he has run five miles each day for the past 6500-odd days, without missing a single day. He said he has run with cracked ribs, with a foot injury, with a fever. I asked if that can be healthy and he said, "When you have a fever, your body is raising its temperature to kill the invasive disease cells. By running, I'm helping my body raise its temperature." What an interesting perspective! What an interesting man! He gave me his card and told me to email him my opinion of the books he recommended.

Tuesday night I had dinner with family friends from Tarboro: the Urquharts! Alex is moving down here for Tulane Law, so his parents are in town for a few days to help him move in. We went to dinner at Luke (another John Besh restaurant) with a couple from New Orleans who share a very close mutual friend with Billy Urquhart. It was very fun getting to know the New Orleans couple and getting to catch up with people from Tarboro. Plus the shrimp and grits were amazing.

My day in the office today passed agreeably enough. I'm keeping myself busy by planning kids' activities the market coordinators can use in the non-summer months when there are no interns to take care of it.

Eleven of the twelve went to Domenica with Vicki tonight, and it was a wonderful time. We all are excited to have her here and show her where we work and what we've been doing all summer. She's the one who matched us with our internships, so it's fun for her to see how each of us fit in our placements. I'll be meeting with her one-on-one Friday.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Day at the Zoo

You'd think that in a group of 12 college students, at any given time I'd be able to find at least one person willing to explore this city with me. I have found that is not so. The challenge of motivating friends to leave the house has been my biggest frustration this summer. I've learned that my housemates have vastly different priorities than me, and eating out in this food capitol doesn't seem to be one of them. Or visiting major attractions, or spending a significant amount of time anywhere other than work and home. Krissi is the one person I can generally count on to be up for trying something new, so I've spent more time with her than anyone else.

Yesterday I went to the zoo by myself. I don't mind the aloneness; solitude actually rejuvenates me. But still being somewhere like the zoo is much more fun when you have someone to share it with, someone to point things out to and exclaim over what you're seeing. Despite that, I genuinely enjoyed myself.

I originally was going to go with Sarah, John and James, but all of them were tired/had work to do. So after brunch with Krissi, Michael, and Matthew (a couple of New Orleans friends), I checked to make sure no one else wanted to go and then went alone. I loved having the leisure to read every word of every sign, because people never want to wait for me to do that. My favorite animals were the peacock, the spider monkeys, the chameleon, and this really elegant-looking animal called the maned wolf, which looks like a long-legged fox. I love all the great cats, but it makes me sad to see them in cages. Life of Pi convinced me that well-cared for zoo animals are happy because they're safe from predators and never hungry. But I still believe that every bird deserves open sky, and a jaguar just doesn't belong behind glass. But people like their nature contained, and I'm just another tourist who paid to see animals in cages.

I spent a great deal of time in the reptile house, partly because they're cool to watch but partly because it started raining buckets pretty soon after I got to the zoo. When the rain lessened, I continued walking through the zoo. It soon started pouring again but I decided I didn't really care. It wasn't like I was going to melt, and for the most part the animals didn't hide from the rain either. So the only real disadvantage was that I couldn't take pictures, because my camera was very thoroughly waterproofed. If there's one thing I learned from my backpacking trip this past May, it's how to waterproof effectively. I ducked into a cafe and wrapped my camera with napkins and then convinced the girl at the register to help me saran-wrap it. Then I double-bagged it with plastic bags from the gift shop. My baby was not going to feel a single drop.

At one point, I was walking between exhibits, eyes squinted against the pouring rain, cradling my cocooned camera in my arms, and I had to laugh at the picture I made. Soaked through, completely alone, I'm sure I looked pathetic. One guy actually asked me in front of the alligators, "Where's your date?" Ummm... eaten by a crocodilian?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

life on the edge

Eating while driving should not be legal.  No text message is as distracting or dangerous as the tomato tart I ate while driving to this coffee shop. I was so focused on it that I know I was a menace on the road. It was a savory flaky pastry with a tomato slice and pesto and ricotta and Parmesan cheese. Probably one of the most delicious foods I've eaten here, and that's saying a lot considering how much and how well I've eaten. But I started the drive by almost backing over a biker, and then I had a lot of trouble keeping my eyes on the road with that pastry in my hand.

But maybe that's not as bad as when I was running on the streetcar tracks this afternoon, and almost got run down by the streetcar. I always stay on the left side so I can see them coming, but I must have been thinking hard about something because I didn't notice it until it was bearing down on me and the driver was honking or whistling or whatever noise a streetcar makes. I had my iPod in, so I don't exactly know. The driver looked annoyed but I can't imagine why...

When I think back on today, that's what stands out: the tomato tart and being almost run over by the St. Charles streetcar.

Today New Orleans celebrated Bastille Day as well as The Running of the Bulls, but I wasn't able to join in the festivities for either. Bastille Day is the anniversary of the event credited for sparking the French Revolution: the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris. Since the first European settlers in New Orleans were French, this city celebrates France's independence nearly as enthusiastically as America's. Our market had a string trio, a book signing and samples of French baguettes to mark the occasion, but since I was busy with SEED I didn't get to enjoy any of that.

And the Running of the Bulls, which parallels a festival in Spain, started at 8am, so work prevented me from participating in that as well. The Running of the Bulls consists of hordes of drunk people wearing white and red running through the city streets while being whacked with wiffle bats by girls on roller skates. The girls represent the bulls, and getting hit with a wiffle bats is equivalent to getting gored. It's pretty funny, so I was sad I wasn't even able to watch it. We got a lot of drunk runners wandering into the market, though, which was good for business at least.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Now that I'm done writing this, I can go back to Pride and Prejudice

Today has been pretty nondescript. After a day in the office writing the newsletter and typing up the minutes from the staff meeting this morning, I returned to the seventeenth-century world of Jane Austen. Maybe it's homesickness, but I've been feeling a lot less genial lately. I've had less patience for the minor trials of living with people, making me a more grumpy housemate and a more anti-social person in general. All I want to do anymore is read in bed. For example, a couple weeks ago I might have been more pliant but I've reached a point where I don't have any inclination to give people rides anymore. And I'm more likely to speak up in situations where I might otherwise have tolerated in silence. Maybe that's a good thing though; my coworkers hear my stories and tell me I should stand up for myself more. Either way, I'm definitely in a more chill phase of the summer, feeling less likely to jump up at any moment. Not that I'm done exploring (I don't think I'll ever stop exploring) — I'm excited for my plans to visit the Audubon Zoo this weekend!

Yesterday I spent a quiet morning writing letters to family and friends, who are all scattered throughout the world. The Thursday afternoon market was consumed with a project called SEED, which Tatiana and I are responsible for. It's a tool, developed by, for measuring the economic impact of a market via shopper surveys. So I spent the day alternating between counting and surveying shoppers, which were disappointingly sparse because of the unusually small number of vendors.

Wednesday was an office day, but those long eight hours were refreshingly interrupted by a visit to a local community center that serves as the hub for several social services. One of these services is a program called WIC (Women, Infants and Children) that allocates food stamps to low-income pregnant women or mothers of young children. We presented to several nutrition-education classes of these women to tell them about our matching program. If they spend their coupons at the market, we give them an equivalent amount of money in market tokens so they can spend the same amount over again. I really love outreach stuff like this, that seeks to bring fresh and nutritious food to low-income people. It's a theme I can see myself pursuing more in the future.

On a much more important subject, my Chaco tan is coming along nicely! On the computer you have to look at the picture from an angle to see it well, though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reading, Running and Rain

Yesterday was wonderful because I spent most of the day reading. I finished The Da Vinci Code mid-afternoon, feeling pretty full of myself for being able to solve some of the clues before the characters.

On my run that afternoon, I spontaneously stopped to check out a bookstore that I happened across. It was in a little plaza. Most of the other businesses were closed by the time I got there, but there was a photo gallery open nearby. I poked my head in and ended up meeting the photographer himself. We chatted about Paris, because he had several photographs from Paris and also because much of The Da Vinci Code takes place there. Also turns out he is good friends with Richard McCarthy's dad. (Richard is the founder and executive director of, the nonprofit umbrella organization that runs Crescent City Farmers Market.) And his wife used to serve on the CCFM board. New Orleans might look like a big city, but it often feels like a small town.

Last night I went out to dinner with Krissi, John, Woojin and Joyce. It made me happy that a solid third of the Robertson group was willing to go out! One girl never eats out because she's on a strict diet, and two others cook at home because they're vegan. The boys mostly sleep in the evenings, and several people often work nights. So it's often hard to find friends to go out to eat with.

But, Krissi, John, Joyce, Sarah and I all went out to eat together tonight too! Success two nights in a row! I sometimes feel like an overeager puppy who can't find anyone to play with. So it was really fun eating out with a bigger group like that.

Today it rained all morning and much of the afternoon. I literally sat in the downpour from 9am to 1pm, clutching an umbrella, a chicory coffee, a homemade muffin, and a clicker. For research purposes, I was counting shoppers as they entered the market. The storm didn't put any damper on my mood (see what I did there?) because the rain cooled things off, plus I was super prepared with my rain jacket and Chacos sandals. This scenario might sound uncomfortable to some people, but to me it was quite a pleasant morning. I left a bit bedraggled, but in a great mood.

The afternoon I spent on a care package for Janie, who is working at a Texas summer camp for five weeks. I had a lot of fun shopping for her and making a giant poster in lieu of a regular letter. She has a flair for extravagance so I know she'll love it.

Remember the poodle that only drinks bottled water? He visited the market again today. Let me put your fears to rest, he did not suffer the inclement forces of the elements. Don't worry, he had on a little yellow raincoat made specially for him. But I was appalled that his owners brought him out without his own wellies!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Go Fourth to the Market!

It has been an eventful few days! Unfortunately, when things pick up it's harder for me to find time to blog. But a disgruntled comment from a devoted reader has renewed my commitment to post more often. ;)

My Fourth of July was complete with a cookout, grilled corn, fresh watermelon, apple pie, and fireworks. The boys that live downstairs fired up the grill and made burgers and grilled the corn Dennis gave me. Scott made apple and blueberry pies, and I contributed a couple of giant watermelons I bought from Timmy at the Tuesday market. Various coworkers joined us, as well as some other Duke students here this summer through a different program. When it got dark, we walked downtown to watch the fireworks show over the Mississippi River.

I had to return to the office on Thursday. I spent the day making phone calls and surveying managers from farmers markets across the state. We're collecting information on behalf of the State of Louisiana, which received funding to help enable farmers markets to accept food stamps instead of cash alone. It's exciting to be a part of that step in bringing fresh, nutritional food to low-income people. I also love interviewing people, so I enjoyed doing that.

Friday was more of the same, plus writing this week's market newsletter and also preparing for Saturday market, of course. On Saturday I was in charge of our kids activity, which was a no-cook canning activity as part of our canning series sponsored by Ball (the jar company). You can use instant pectin to make refrigerator jam. It isn't shelf-stable because it's not sealed by heat, but it lasts in the fridge for three weeks. A steady trickle of people approached my table, so I stayed busy and time passed quickly.

I was willing the time away because I was eager to get off work because the Mississippi scholars were visiting! All six of them came down for the weekend, and we NOLA folks were all excited to have them here. I was especially happy to meet for the first time two of our new matriculated scholars, who joined the program in April. Since altogether we made a group of 17 (Krissi was home for the Fourth), our group split and reformed in different combinations throughout the weekend.

We all hung out in the house for a while on Saturday afternoon while we discussed what to do for the night. Some went to the Essence music festival later that evening, while others opted to explore downtown before eating dinner together. As someone who eats out far more than anyone else present, I felt responsible for recommending a restaurant for dinner. But various dietary limitations made that a daunting task, especially since many, if not most, of the group didn't eat seafood. In a city where nearly every menu is predominantly seafood, I wasn't sure what to recommend.

Katie suggested New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Co, saying they had a really good veggie burger. I knew they had good po'boys too (for those who were willing to try it), so about eight of us ate there for dinner. I tried the bbq shrimp po'boy for the first time and liked it even more than their famous thin-fried catfish. Everyone else enjoyed their New Orleans veggie burgers as well.

After getting ready at the house, we headed back downtown to find live jazz on Frenchmen Street. Later, some people left to meet up with some of our Essence-goers at Cafe du Monde. I chose to stay a little longer at the jazz venue, and then returned home with my group around 2am. We all sat around in the living room, talking and waiting for the others to get back. But as we had all had a long day, many of us were dozing off in our chairs. I finally went to bed, knowing I wasn't going to contribute much to the conversation in that state anyway.

Eight people in the group left early Sunday morning for a swamp tour. I would've gone with them if I hadn't done a swamp tour with my family in Florida two spring breaks ago. It was fun then but not something you're itching to do again. Instead, I slept in then went to brunch on Magazine Street with a few of the other girls. All 17 of us met up at the National World War II Museum around 1pm and spent the next few hours being impressed by the museum's extensive exhibits, which were both educational and moving. The highlights of the visit were the WWII veterans who volunteered there and the 4-D "Beyond All Boundaries" film, which gave a comprehensive narrative of the war. The 45-minute film was shown on a 120-feet wide screen, and the special effects were incredible. I hate war stuff but I really enjoyed that film.

Pictures coming soon!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Adventures in the Kitchen, Part II

Yesterday I tried cooking again. You'd think it would be an intuitive thing, but either I was born with a defective culinary intuition or it has to be learned. Because I've been struggling much more than I think I should. I tried to fry okra and it took me two hours because earlier when I tried boiling beans I learned that I can't multitask in the kitchen because I get distracted and forget that there's water boiling or cookies in the oven or whatever it may be. (The cookies did turn out okay though— gotta love slice & bake.) I also managed to set off the fire alarm twice and now the entire apartment smells like grease. I think it saturated my clothes and skin too, because I felt greasy until I showered.

So that's on my to-do list of life goals, learn to cook. But I've learned to stay away from the category of fried foods.

In spite of my cooking struggles, I had a very pleasant afternoon. On the way home from work, I found a really cute used bookstore. I spent a few minutes poking around in there and walked out with three new books. I realized the other day that I haven't read any books since I've been here, something I'm not okay with since reading is always a priority for me during the summertime. So last night after cajoling some of the Robbies into eating my fried okra, I curled up on the couch with my newly acquired copy of The Da Vinci Code, which I'll be absorbed in for the next few days.
I love used bookstores

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Today I suffered through a slow day in the office filling out an excel sheet, and then slept for four hours. Not quite as exciting/fun/spectacular as my weekend excursion to Mobile...

Saturday immediately after market I drove the 2.5 hours to Mobile, Alabama to watch the national finals of America's Distinguished Young Woman. (Previously called Junior Miss, but they changed the name about a year ago to steer away from the pageant image.) I had wanted to go last year to support the girl who won NC's title the year I competed, but I was at Governor's School and couldn't make the trip. But since I was so close this summer, it was the perfect opportunity to go. And I am so glad I did, because North Carolina won! I met her when she was Buncombe County's DYW, and then she became NC's DYW and now she is the Distinguished Young Woman of America! It's hard to convey the excitement of this to someone who is not familiar with the program. But as most of my readers are family members plus a couple Tarboro neighbors, I think you all might understand. Either way, please watch this four-minute video because it does a really good job of explaining the program:

Junior Miss was a defining aspect of my high school years, and it was immensely exciting to watch someone representing me win the national title. Congratulations to Christina Maxwell, America's Distinguished Young Woman of 2012!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sister, Sister

The past week has been crazy busy, so I took today off as a super chill, sleep-in-then-spend-a-couple-hours-on-facebook-before-going-to-a-coffeehouse day. To summarize the week I'll focus on the highlights.

The best part of Tuesday was the package I got from home. After market, I drove to the post office to buy stamps. Got there at 4:40 and found out they close at 4:30. So I drove home all bummed, but when I got back, a package greeted me at my doorstep!

Inside were letters from Mary McCall, Jack, and June, as well as homemade rice crispy treats. What a wonderful surprise to put me in a great mood! In the 24 hours after I received the package, I single-handedly ate all of the rice crispy treats.

The highlight of Wednesday was dinner with Uncle Jimmy and the Fitch family, who were driving through New Orleans on the tail end of their road trip through the South. It was really nice catching up with them. And sort of funny to me that they were with me in New Orleans, because as the Fitches left New Orleans, my sisters flew in. And then a couple days later the two of them would fly to San Antonio, where the Fitches would pick them up from the airport before taking them to camp. At dinner, John Fitch said to me, "Guess who I'm picking up from the airport on Saturday?" and Jimmy said, "Is it who I'm picking up from the airport on Thursday?" And I said, "Is it who I'll be with the entire weekend?"

Here's the answer in case you didn't follow that:

Mary McCall and Janie came to visit this weekend! Jimmy brought them to the CCFM office and they met my coworkers, then I took them to see the Thursday market. We went to dinner at Galatiore's before getting beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde (Janie's number one priority for the weekend).

 I was actually disappointed by Galatoire's. It seems it's a famous old restaurant prospering on its big name rather than actual quality. Definitely not worth the money, so I mentally kicked myself for wasting one of our few meals on a less-than-superb restaurant.

Cafe du Monde redeemed the night, though.

After picking up a Redbox DVD, we drove around looking for gelato, but everywhere was already closed. So we settled for a milkshake from Camellia Grill, but that turned out to be a "freeze" and was pretty gross. As I was paying for it, Janie and I got into an embarrassingly public argument about how much to tip. Then when we were in my car about to drive away, I realized I had lost an earring but was too sheepish to go back in and look/ask for it. We laughed about that as we drove home. 

I had asked for Friday off work, so we slept in. At breakfast on Magazine, we charmed our waiter so much he put our picture on the restaurant wall! We have been immortalized; New Orleans will forever remember the Leland girls.

We spent all day walking around downtown, "shopping around" as Janie likes to put it.
A really cool little shop in the French Quarter.

We took the Canal St/Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi River for lunch.

 Failed to find gelato in the Quarter too. (This sign is deceptive; it says "OPEN til 6pm")

We ate dinner at a really great pizza place uptown, somewhere I'd been before and knew was good. Afterwards we finally got gelato at La Divina on Magazine.

We got up at 4:30 Saturday morning because Janie was afraid of taking a cab to the airport. I drove them out to the airport and barely made it to work by 6, even though Janie insisted I was making us get up extra early to make them feel bad about refusing to take a cab.

I was really happy that they visited. A fun way to celebrate the halfway point of my summer!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm secretly a mermaid

 If you're reading my blog but you don't like reading, just look at the pictures today because they summarize very well.

Probably the highlight of Sunday was the 3D coral reef IMAX movie I saw at the aquarium with John and James (a couple of Robbies who live downstairs). It was spectacular and got me all inspired to do marine conservation work in Australia next summer. Or maybe I'll do that when I study abroad next fall. I don't know how likely it is that I actually will, but I would love that so so much. I'm picturing myself researching in a lab in the mornings and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef in the afternoons. Like so:

Another highlight of my visit to the aquarium was Parakeet Pointe, which made me want to go out and buy Paulie Jr. (especially after the depressing fail of my fish-rearing attempts here in NOLA).

And the seahorse exhibit, because seahorses are one of my favorite animals, my favorite fish by far. That's probably because male seahorses are the ones that have to get pregnant and carry and deliver the young. How cool is that? I also like that seahorses are monogamous and have a super cool courtship ritual dance where they intertwine tails and sometimes change color.

So obviously I loved the aquarium. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening at a cookout hosted by my coworker Kelly, where Tati and I spontaneously made a plan to drive to the beach the next day. Sure enough I spent the better part of my day yesterday on the shore of Bay St. Louis.

Later I made a stupendous dinner out of a whole-wheat tortilla, homemade pesto from the market, garlic chrevre from the market, and cherry tomatoes from the market. I was extremely proud of myself, so I instagrammed it:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Discover you CAN!

Wednesday was fun because I was busy in the office. I was in charge of this week's newsletter (subscribe at!) so I spent all morning working on that. We took the afternoon to practice canning blueberries for a special demonstration at the Saturday market. Kelly's parents graciously allowed us to use their kitchen and the four of us (Kelly, Elisa, Tatiana, and me) had a lot of fun making blueberry preserves on office time.

Wednesday was Joyce's birthday, so I gave her the cake (she loved it! success!) (and I know she wasn't just pretending to be nice because she ate four pieces that night). All of us Robertsons walked to a nearby Indian restaurant to celebrate.

Thursday I worked the market from 1:45 to 7:30pm. I actually used some self-discipline and got up early enough to go running before it got hot, and then headed out to find a pool. There's a public pool in Audubon Park that Krissi said was pretty nice, so I drove out there to check it out. I got there at 11:30am and was walking in when the lifeguard sitting at the front told me the pool closes from 12 to 1pm for lunch. He said they ask people to leave at 11:45 so it might not be worth my while to get in the water now.

So I drove to a different public pool a few minutes away, and they told me the same thing. Apparently every New Orleans public pool closes from 12 to 1pm for lunch. Since when must every lifeguard in one city eat lunch at the same time? I was pretty indignant about this discovery because it means if I want to go to the pool on any Thursday before work, I have to get there well before noon. First-world problems, right?

Friday was a pretty nice office day, really relaxed because my boss is out of town for the weekend. Tati and I spent a lot of time preparing for the canning demonstration that we did at the Saturday market. Which was incredibly fun! It made the market fly by, because we ran through the demo every 45 minutes with very little turnaround time in between sessions. But I love being busy, and I really enjoyed teaching the new skill I had just learned and being knowledgeable enough to answer questions for people. 

I felt like we were in a rush all day partly because we got off to a late start. When I arrived at the market parking lot at 6am, everyone was standing around watching a dramatic scene unfold. I arrived just a few minutes after a group of four people who looked about my age. They were standing outside a fancy car, looking angry. One girl was crying. I quickly found out that the car had been broken into while these people had been out partying, and a girl's purse was stolen— including her cash, credit cards, ID, and social security card. So everyone had to wait while they calmed down enough to move the car, and then I spent a good amount of time sweeping the shattered glass out of the lot. Meanwhile, the group had parked inside the garage. The girl whose purse was stolen got sick right outside the storage room door, so we had to step around a pool of vomit every time we went in and out unloading the tents and tables to set up the market.

But other than that, the morning was really fun. It was a pretty hectic market day, so Kelly, Tati and I went out to lunch afterwards to unwind. I'm immensely grateful that I enjoy my coworkers so much, because it makes work fun and I get to hang out with them outside of work too.

I took a nap when I got back to the condo. I've learned that even though I might have energy on Saturday afternoons, I crash by 10pm if I don't take a nap during the day. So basically I have to choose between sleeping in the afternoon and going out at night, or doing something fun in the afternoon and going to bed early.

I was glad I napped because I had a late night. Krissi, her friend Shannon and I went to dinner downtown. Then we went to a bar called Jax (where Krissi knows one of the bouncers) and hung out there for a bit before walking to Bourbon Street. It was pretty crazy, of course, but I enjoy watching other people be crazy because it's usually really funny. We met a couple of really nice Australian boys whom we introduced to Cafe du Monde. Later we went back to Jax, which also happens to be a club, and met up with more people from our group. A very New Orleans night!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Kids and Cake

At Tuesday's market, we had groups of kids from summer camp coming through again. There were a lot more children than last week, partly because only half of them made it to the market last week. The second group was on its way to the market when a child had a seizure on the bus. He was okay in the end but the teacher cancelled the trip in order to rush him to the hospital. So those kids are coming next week instead.

Tati and I were in charge of running the kids' program, so the day flew by with back-to-back groups of kids coming through. If anyone is interested, ask me about tomatoes next time I see you and I can give you my ten-minute spiel about why they're awesome.

I spent the afternoon baking a birthday cake for my friend Joyce, another Robertson here in New Orleans this summer. It was an unnecessarily challenging undertaking. I made the cake part from a box, which was easy enough. But I forgot I had bought chocolate chips to add to the cake mix. By the time I remembered, the cake had been in the oven for several minutes. After accidentally dumping the chocolate chips into a heap in the pan, I tried to stir them in to distribute them evenly, but they were melting and the cake was half-baked already so it was pretty much a gooey mess. But I thought whatever, it'll be a chocolate swirl yellow cake, and stuck it back in the oven.

Then I set about making icing from scratch. Originally I was going to follow a recipe I found online. But it called for 9 cups of powdered sugar, and the powdered sugar came in a 7-cup bag, and what was I going to do with so much leftover powdered sugar? So I figured I'd just reduce the ingredients to seven-ninths of everything. But I'm really bad at simple computation so I ended up just eyeballing everything. (What's 78% of a three sticks of butter? Don't ask me...)

It was going okay, but turns out the recipe I originally was using made 34 servings (who needs 34 servings of icing??) so even though I happened to reduce it some, I still found myself with a massive pot full of chocolate icing. It was really dark too (as opposed to being milk chocolate), but I didn't know how to fix that because I didn't have any extra ingredients except milk which I knew would only make it runny. I like dark chocolate, so I just hoped Joyce did too.
During this domestic adventure I also spilled the entire bottle of vanilla extract on the counter, sprayed myself with the sink, and ended up with chocolate all over my arms and t-shirt. I should definitely run my own cooking show.

While I was waiting for the cake to bake, I decided to try cooking the kale I got from the farm the day before. I sauteed it with a bunch of other vegetables and some olive oil, and it turned out okay. Kind of bland but not bad. I realized as I was dropping the last few pieces of kale in the pan that I had forgotten to wash it. (My clue- dirt clods rolling off the leaves.) I was about to be grossed out before I remembered that I have eaten much less sanitary food (backpacking with strict rations can make one somewhat desperate). If I was going to get sick it wasn't going to be from farm dirt. So I ate it anyway, with the serving spoon out of the pan. Cooking for myself is fun if only because I'm the only one who has to suffer the consequences of poor hygiene.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Day at the Farm

On Monday I earned my farmer's tan the most authentic way possible. I got up at 4:56am in order to drive the 40 minutes to the Perilloux farm by 6am, which is when they start working every morning. I spent the next six hours helping harvest their crops for the Tuesday market. We picked okra, bell peppers, snap beans, tomatoes, kale, eggplants, cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelons, and more. It was really cool learning what to look for with each crop, like size and color and firmness.

The most fun thing to harvest was the melons. Timmy (the owner of the farm) asked me, "Can you catch?" I laughed and said, "I think so!" I was stationed on the trailer behind the tractor while Timmy's 91-year-old father (who still works in the fields) very slowly drove the tractor forward. Timmy and Dennis, a neighbor who has worked at the farm since he was ten (and the one who invited me), walked through the field alongside the tractor and searched for ripe melons. Then they' d toss them up to me and Spencer, Timmy's son. We'd catch them and set them down on the floor of the trailer (or the wagon, as they called it). I thought it was really fun. But I was glad that I wasn't the one having to pick up and throw the heavy melons (did you know watermelons are 92% water? seem they are very aptly named).

I had a blast working with these men. It was so cool to see three generations of one family working together. They joked around a lot, playfully picking on each other, but always stayed focused on getting the work done. It seemed to me their primary motivation for working quickly and efficiently was the lunch they were looking forward to. Timmy excitedly told me his wife was making fried chicken and french fries— it sounded like that was his favorite meal.

Ironic that I just wrote a post about my vegetarianism, because the very next day I ate chicken. I know this frames me as hypocritical and/or weak-willed, but I believe it was the right thing to do. I say I'm vegetarian because it's a simple way of telling people I don't eat meat, but really my eating habits are more complicated than that. Technically I'm pescatarian, which means I eat seafood but not the flesh of other animals. I just say vegetarian because I think it sounds less condescending.

But, to quote Pirates, "The code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules."

My real rule is that I’m vegetarian as long as it inconveniences only me. I always prefer not to eat meat. Usually it’s not even appetizing to me; I don’t miss it because I simply prefer other foods. But in some situations, it’s rude and can even be disrespectful to refuse to eat meat. For example, in many (most?) cultures it’s insulting to refuse food prepared for you by someone else, especially if you are a guest in their home.

I see this flexibility as acceptable, even necessary, since I’m not vegetarian on moral grounds. If it was a moral decision for me, I think I would be obligated to operate under more absolute rules. But my eating habits are shaped simply by personal preference rooted in values of physical and environmental health. Respect for others trumps personal preference.

So I ate the fried chicken Timmy's wife prepared for us. I didn't eat it because I like eating chicken or because I wanted to eat chicken. I ate it because it's more important for me to honor the generosity of others than to indulge in my preferred habits. I was happy to be able to tell Timmy and his family how much I enjoyed the meal, a compliment they wouldn't have believed had I refused to eat their food.

After lunch, we finished washing and sorting the vegetables, then loaded it all onto the back of the truck, ready to be driven to the market the next morning.

Then Dennis and I went swimming in Timmy's irrigation pond. Timmy had built a giant diving platform with a slide and a zipline into the water, all of which I had a lot of fun playing on. It was a wonderfully relaxed afternoon. I had nothing I needed to do, nothing to think about or plan or work on. Such relaxed moments like that are rare for me. I spend so much time rushing around "doing" that I fail to focus on simply "being." I loved that afternoon because I was so fully immersed in the pleasant simplicity of the moment, my mind filled with little more than the feeling of the sun and the water.

That night a big group of us walked to a Chinese restaurant for dinner then got gelato afterwards. A delicious ending to a delightful day.

farmer girl