Monday, December 31, 2012

Cemeteries and Swamp Tours in New Orleans

Believe it or not, we did more than eat and drink while we were in New Orleans. We spent a lot of time walking around the French Quarter (and enjoying the Mississippi River view), and even did several historical sightseeing tours.

One of my favorite tours of our trip was of one of the graveyards located in the French Quarter, St. Louis Cemetery #1. (I don't have the name of the tour company, since Z's parents were generous enough to book it - but after a quick Google search, it looks like most of the tour companies in that area get good reviews).

The tour started at Cafe Beignet, and as we walked toward the cemetery, our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide told us some history about New Orleans and the French Quarter.

Eventually, we made it to the gravesite, which was unlike any cemetery I had ever seen. 

This particular cemetery is only the size of about one square block, but it is the resting place for thousands of people - dating back to the 1700's. In New Orleans, the water table is very high, so burying bodies in the ground like we do here in New England could - and has - caused coffins to float above ground. To prevent this from happening as much as possible, early settlers implemented the above ground tombs that fill NOLA's cemeteries today. Families can purchase a tomb and have all of their family members buried in that same "grave."

You might be thinking: How do they fit generations of coffins in one tomb? The rule of thumb in New Orleans is, as long as a body has been in the tomb for a year and a day, cemetery workers can remove the remains from the coffin and place them in the back or the side of the tomb, making way for a new coffin. The summers are so hot in New Orleans that most corpses are basically incinerated after one summer. Crazy, right? And a bit morbid...but I found this all very interesting!

I sadly have no photos of the other tours we took, but we did go on a fun and informative bike ride with  Confederacy of Cruisers, as well as a canoe trip down the bayou/swamp. (I, again, don't have the name of the company we rented canoes from, but there are a ton of places that offer them around NOLA). 

One last thing I saw and loved in New Orleans: chandeliers.

Almost everywhere we went, ceilings were adorned with the most unique, beautiful, and sometimes elaborate chandeliers. The photo above is from the room Z's parents and brother stayed in at a B&B in the Garden District. 

We had such a fantastic time in New Orleans. I'm already eager to go back - there is so much more to see and do!

Happy New Year, everyone!! What are you looking forward to in 2013? I'm excited to get married, and to dive into my new career. :)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Eating Vegetarian in New Orleans

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday! We had a fantastic time in New Orleans. We saw a lot, we ate a lot, and we drank a lot. I have quite a bit to share with you, but I am going to try to recap the trip in two posts. I am ambitious.

To start, I'd like to share what it's like being a vegetarian in New Orleans. In a nutshell: It's not hard to find something to eat, but the locals will laugh at you once you tell them you don't eat meat. We're foreigners to them, and rightfully so - almost every menu we glanced at included mufalettas, bacon, and/or alligator. However, almost every menu we perused also included at least one or two vegetarian options, if not more - you just need to go to the right places.

We stayed in the French Quarter, and Z's family stayed in the Garden District, so most of the restaurants we tried were in those two areas. Here are some of the best spots we tried on our trip:

Turtle Bay New Orleans

Let's be honest: Turtle Bay had few vegetarian food options, but they did have good beer on tap (such as NOLA Hurricane Saison). We did try their French fries, which were wonderfully crispy and salty, although obviously pre-frozen. The main reason - besides the beer - we returned to Turtle Bay on several evenings was because of the Photo Hunt at the bar. That game is addicting, and nearby patrons joined in the fun on more than one occasion. 

This place was recommended to Z for their impressive beer list, but their food was also decent. Their vegetarian entrees were basically non-existent, but we did share an order of their Homemade Hummus ($6) and their St. James Cheese Plate ($11.50). The hummus was perfectly smooth, and I loved the crumbled feta and fresh tomato on top. The cheese plate was also impressive, consisting of more than enough cheese to share among two people. 

This spot was again recommended to Z for their beer list, but we stopped in for lunch one day and had a great salad. I believe it was the Beer Garden Salad, but regardless, it was fresh, tasty and not overly dressed (like many salads we had in New Orleans were).

If you're looking for a slice in the French Quarter, this is probably the only place to get one (their is allegedly one other place, but we never found it). Boston pizza definitely has them beat, but after a few daiquiris on Bourbon Street, a slice of cheese definitely hit the spot. (They also offer a vegetarian pizza, but were out of slices the night we visited).

Hands down, the best breakfast/brunch we had in New Orleans was at Stanley. Our neighbor for the week recommended this place, and we were so glad we went. Their peppery Bloody Marys ($8) are garnished with pickled green beans and olives, and we paired our Bloodys with the egg sandwich (it's not listed on their online menu, so I don't have the price). We ordered our egg sandwiches without the bacon, but they were still piled high with fresh eggs, spicy mayonnaise, sauteed onions and cheese. This was the ultimate Hurricane hangover cure.

Other notable places we dined at include Domenica (best meal of the trip, by far - I highly recommend ordering their Wild Mushroom Pizza ($13), without the bacon), and Verti Marte Deli, for their breakfast sandwiches. Upon walking into Verti Marte Deli, you might be hesitant to order there - but I swear, their egg sandwiches were incredible, and only $3 a pop.

One final note: Every place we went to was willing to tweak a menu item to make it vegetarian (one place, in the NOLA airport, even made us a vegetarian sandwich on the spot, because they were out of veggie burgers). So, don't be afraid to ask!

Early next week, I'll share with you some of the other places we saw and tours we took while in New Orleans. Until then, have a great weekend!

Turtle Bay on Urbanspoon Avenue Pub on Urbanspoon Crescent City Brewhouse on Urbanspoon Vieux Carre Pizza on Urbanspoon Stanley Restaurant on Urbanspoon Domenica (Roosevelt Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 21, 2012

Off to New Orleans

Z and I are off to New Orleans with his family for Christmas! We leave in a few hours, and I could not be more excited. None of us have ever been there before, so it shall be quite the fun adventure. I'll be sure to recap our trip upon my return late next week!

In the meantime, I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Any places, restaurants, etc. you recommend we check out?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites

On Sunday, Shannon hosted a blogger holiday cookie swap. While I unfortunately couldn't be in attendance, I was still eager to participate. I mean, what's better than baking and tasting homemade cookies this time of year? Or, any time of year for that matter?

For me, holiday baking starts with the red and green M&Ms (if you recall, these cookies defined my childhood Christmases). With a bag of those as my inspiration, I researched recipe ideas online and came across this one for Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites. I followed the recipe exactly, but swapped out the chocolate chips with holiday M&Ms. If you'd like to do the same, just to be sure to only use about 1/2 cup of M&Ms (because M&Ms are larger than chocolate chips, fewer work best).

If you like peanut butter and chocolate together, then you will love these. They were super easy to make, too, and they kind of reminded me of Munchkins - meaning, you can have four or five without feeling guilty (because five Munchkins = a whole doughnut, basically). I've never been great at math, but that logic makes sense to me!

I'm off to spend my morning with this little cutie. Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Panera Bread Soup

Whenever I am sick, I crave Panera Bread. Perhaps this occurs because their hot, comforting soups - with a crusty baguette to dip in them - have gotten me through various colds in the past. It also helps that the only work required is going there, waiting for your order, and bringing the soup home. No cooking necessary.

It just so happened that this past weekend, I came down with a lovely cold/flu. On Sunday, I was basically a couch potato, although I did stand up long enough to help decorate our Christmas tree.

I woke up Sunday morning craving Panera Bread soup yet again, so my lovely fiance and our good friend offered to go out and get some for me. It just so happened I had a $10 gift card for Panera Bread, too, since I am participating in the DailyBuzz Food Taste Maker Outreach Program. As part of this program, I was asked to sample several of Panera's soups, and share my experience with you guys.

On the day I was sick, I asked Z to pick up my usual Panera favorite: Broccoli Cheddar soup. Although we've been told by Panera employees before that this soup is vegetarian, the menu - which usually marks vegetarian-friendly items with a "v" - does not indicate this. My guess is it's made with chicken broth, but it didn't upset my stomach. The thick, cheesy broth and the large chunks of broccoli make this soup so comforting, creamy and satisfying. Panera's crusty, sometimes warm baguettes are also the perfect complement to this soup. As a warning, this soup is a tad on the salty side, so I added some freshly cracked black pepper to my bowl to help balance out the saltiness.

A few days later, I picked up two more soups for Z and I to sample: Vegetarian Creamy Tomato and Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean

The Creamy Tomato soup was my favorite of the two. Vine-ripened pear tomatoes are pureed with cream, and hints of red pepper and oregano are apparent in each spoonful. The soup is silky smooth, and immediately brought back memories of being a kid, dunking my grilled cheese sandwich into a piping hot bowl of tomato soup. The soup is served with Asiago croutons, which were well-seasoned, but unfortunately chewy in texture.

The Black Bean soup consists of black beans simmered in a vegetarian broth with onion, red bell pepper, garlic and cumin. Tiny bits of red pepper were visible, but this soup was unfortunately like eating a bowl of canned black beans. I wish the cumin, onion and garlic flavors were more obvious, and although Panera's menu says the black beans were cooked in a spicy broth, there was no spice to be found. I ended up adding some cayenne to mine, which helped round out the flavors.

In the end, I will still turn to Panera to get my soup fix, especially when I am under the weather. Even right now, as I sit here typing - and coughing - I am longing for a bowl of that Creamy Tomato soup. 

Are you a fan of Panera Bread's soups? Which one is your favorite?

*In addition to the $10 gift card provided by DailyBuzz, I am being compensated for this review. As always, the opinions expressed in this post are honest and 100 percent my own. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

[Holiday] Treats on Washington

A few weeks ago, chefs/owners of Treats on Washington, Dana Briley and Jessica Brown, invited an intimate group of bloggers to their Brighton location. The small event was geared toward tasting some of their treats while getting into the holiday spirit. Briley and Brown had their tiny bakery decorated beautifully for this event, with samples of some of their favorite sweets on display for us bloggers to try. They even had some festive libations for us to wash our treats down with, including homemade egg nog and champagne. 

Chocolate Peppermint Macarons.

Since this event was right after work, Briley and Brown also had some savory dishes for us to sample, including their Curried Lentil soup and their Garden Vegetable Sandwich, pictured below (the Garden Vegetable Sandwich is made with roasted red peppers, roasted yellow squash and zucchini, marinated green beans, shaved fennel, and hummus on a focaccia roll).

Some of my favorite samples from the evening were the Chocolate Peppermint Macarons, the Panettone (Italian holiday bread), and the homemade marshmallows, complete with a crushed peppermint rim. Briley and Brown clearly put a lot of time and effort into making this event festive, which really helped kickstart the holiday season for me. I'm also a big fan of smaller, more intimate blogger events like this one because it allows you to actually meet the folks behind the food (in addition to other bloggers). 

Other items on the Treats on Washington menu that caught my eye were the Roasted Vegetable Braided Bread, the Egg Nog Latte (seasonal), and the Cranberry Gingerbread Muffin (also seasonal). I definitely plan to go back soon to try some of their other creations!

Have you ever been to Treats on Washington? What's your review?

Treats on Washington on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 14, 2012

Crock-Pot Vegetarian Sausage Orzo Soup

Someone recently asked me for vegetarian dinner ideas that would leave their omnivore fiance full and happy. Instead of giving her actual recipes, I advised her to include a protein, grain, hearty vegetables and lots of flavor (from seasonings and/or herbs) in every dish. All of those elements are essential in making a vegetarian meal filling and delicious.

However, if I had made this soup before she asked me that question, I would have just given her this recipe. This soup is chocked full of comforting flavor and textures - and it's also thick and hearty. I promise you, your omnivore lovers will not miss the meat with this soup!

Crock-Pot Vegetarian Sausage Orzo Soup
Yields: 4-5 servings
Adapted from Taste of Home
-2 vegetarian sausage links, chopped (I used Tofurky Italian Sausages)
-1 cup sliced white button mushrooms
-1 cup frozen chopped spinach
-1/2 cup chopped onion
-2 cups canned diced tomatoes, undrained
-2 tablespoons minced garlic
-2 1/2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
-1 teaspoon dried basil
-2 tablespoons dried parsley
-Pinch of cayenne pepper
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1/2 cup uncooked orzo 

1.) Place all ingredients, except for orzo, in a crock-pot. Cook on low for 5-6 hours.
2.) Five minutes before serving, cook orzo in boiling salted water according to directions on the package. Add orzo to soup, stir, and taste for seasoning (adjust as necessary). Ladle soup into bowls and serve with slices of bread (we had leftover slices of challah, which paired beautifully with the soup).

The best part about this soup? It thickens up even more in the refrigerator overnight, so your leftovers at lunch the next day are even better. I love meals like that.

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Lion and the Rose Bed & Breakfast

As I mentioned yesterday, Z and I spent the weekend in Whitefield, N.H., and we stayed at The Lion and the Rose Bed & Breakfast. The Lion and the Rose is a Victorian-style inn owned and operated by husband-and-wife duo, Roger and Chris Croteau (who just celebrated 10 years of owning this B&B, after moving up here from Key West, Florida).


The Lion and the Rose is a newly restored 1895 Queen Anne Victorian Painted Lady. The interior is adorned with bold, busy wallpaper, photos of the innkeepers and their families, and furniture, chandeliers and overall decor straight from the Victorian era. This time of year, Roger and Chris also have their B&B decked out for the holidays.

All seven of the inn's rooms are named to match that room's decor. We stayed in The White Lilac room, which was complete with matching wallpaper (don't mind our mess in these photos).

Chris was kind enough to take us on a tour of the rest of the rooms before we left on Sunday. Other notable rooms include The Far East, The Lion's Den, and The Egyptian Room (you can view all of them here). 

In addition to the inn's detailed decor, Chris makes breakfast for all of their guests every morning. Breakfast is at 8 or 9 a.m., and you dine with a few of the other guests who are also staying at the inn. On Saturday morning, we enjoyed eggs with dill, home fries, and English muffins. On Sunday, we had French toast stuffed with strawberries and cream cheese, smothered with a fresh raspberry syrup. Both meals were excellent, and it was really nice to chat with the innkeepers and the other B&B guests.

Overall, our stay at The Lion and the Rose was fantastic. The price was reasonable (room rates range from $89 to $185 per night), the innkeepers were welcoming, the food was delicious, and the decor forced us to take a step back in time. A nice, relaxing step back. 

Which do you prefer: Hotel or bed & breakfast?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Weekend in the Mountains

First things first: Thank you all so, so much for your kind words on my post yesterday. I am overwhelmed with the support and encouragement I received from all of you. I truly am one lucky lady! Thank you.

After my last day of work on Friday, Z and I headed up to Whitefield, N.H. We were showing our parents Mountain View Grand Resort (where we're getting married), but we stayed at The Lion and the Rose Bed & Breakfast. It's a little more affordable, and we've also already stayed at Mountain View before. (A full review of this B&B is coming soon!).

Our weekend was filled with beautiful views, delicious food, and some quality bonding between both families.

Life-size gingerbread house (completely edible) at Mountain View.

Inside The Lion and the Rose B&B.

View from the top of Mount Martha.

Where is your favorite place to travel to for a weekend away? Mine would definitely be anywhere in the White Mountains, or Portland, Maine.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Working From Home (Permanently)

Here is where I work now:

After 7 years of freelance writing and blogging "on the side," today marks my first day as a full-time freelance food writer and blogger. At the beginning of November, I told my boss at Eversave that, at the beginning of December, I was leaving the corporate world to finally pursue my matter how terrifying.

Being a planner - and an anxiety-ridden human - this decision was definitely not made overnight. Despite the inconvenience of conducting phone interviews for stories in my car on my lunch break, or having to sit down at the computer to write after a long day of work, the real reason I am pursuing a career devoted to food and writing is because that is what I want to do. Like most people, though, I don't have the luxury of just up and leaving a job without having to make some calculated decisions first. Here, in a nutshell, is how I planned for this giant career move:

1.) I started saving. About 6-8 months before I quit my full-time job, I started saving. For me, that meant transferring $200 into my savings account every two weeks, as soon as my paycheck was directly deposited. You can probably set this type of transfer up automatically, but I just did it manually right after my check went into my account - that way, I didn't even miss that $200.

2.) I confided in others. I talked to everyone I knew in the food and/or writing industry to pick their brains about anything and everything. Whether they were freelance writers/bloggers, personal chefs, or all of the above, I wanted to get their professional advice on...well, everything. I wanted to see what type of work was out there, how they got to where they are now, and what the ups and downs of a freelance lifestyle are. Let's just say, every piece of advice I received was invaluable, and ultimately gave me the final push of motivation I needed to make a move.

3.) I weighed the pros and cons. Would I end up being home all day, secluded from society? Would I make enough money to survive? Is this smart to do months before our wedding? I thought long and hard about this decision - and bugged Z about a zillion times with my worries - but in the end, I knew this is what I wanted to do, and when you want something bad enough, you make it work. It also helps that I am very self-disciplined (case in point: I woke up at 8:30 this morning to get workin'. I probably should have taken one day off, at least). Either way, the pros eventually outweighed the cons. 

4.) I planned ahead, work-wise. I knew once I was a full-time freelancer, I'd need some consistent work  - right in the beginning - to help pay the bills. Even though I was saving so much money ahead of time, Sallie Mae and our mortgage don't care. I knew I'd need consistent money coming in right away if I didn't want to wipe my savings clean within the first two months. Thankfully, this was kind of easy for me - I already had regular writing gigs with Local in Season and Foodies of New England Magazine, and I also did some occasional recruiting for my alma mater (which pays handsomely). To ensure I'd be OK financially regardless of how many writing jobs I picked up, I let my college know that I could work a lot more career fairs in the winter, spring and summer. They were happy to take the extra help, and now I already have a few of those gigs lined up over the next few months. 

5.) I got the right (for me) technology. I've been working on a PC for my entire writing career thus far, but I've used Macs before - and I knew that's what I wanted if I was going to be a full-time blogger and writer. Despite how much money I was saving, I didn't want to splurge on a brand new Mac. After doing some digging - and schmoozing - Z discovered that his younger brother had an older, but perfectly functional, MacBook Pro...that he would gladly give to me. For just starting out in this career, Z's brother's generosity made it so I didn't have to invest in such an expensive item right away. Thanks, Max!

As you can see, making this decision took months of planning - and worrying - but I know it will all be worth it in the end. Life is too short to not pursue your dreams. And if this doesn't work out, it doesn't work out - at least I can never say that I didn't try.