Saturday, March 27, 2010

There's Cholent on the Counter

My roommate is an observant Jew. A very observant Jew - she notices everything. It's part of her tradition to eat cholent every Shabbat. It's a mix of meat, beans, potatoes, onions, garlic and usually barley, but not for her (health related, not another obscure family tradition).

So even though we're in Chalmette, Louisiana, there must be cholent on Shabbat. I called home and said to Ronnie, "There's a cholent on the counter." He asked if that was a code for something. I told him it was a code for there being cholent on the counter.

A few hours after everything was dumped into the pot, you would never have known that our room usually smells like mold and smoke. I'm not a meat eater, and it didn't look appealing, but the smell was great. And it shut out the otherwise gross conditions. I am now a fan of cholent.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Over Packing

I seriously overpacked here. And this is after three or four years of taking less and less each year. I forget that it's easiest just to wear the same clothes every day, or at least a few days in a row.

Last night, my roommate and I were working in the "washeteria" and I was getting tired and started shutting my computer down so I could go back and go to sleep. And then she mentioned that she thought she should take a shower. I had planned to take a shower last night but by the time I was so tired, I really couldn't consider showering before I went to bed. She looked at me and asked, "have I showered since you've been here?"

To be honest, I really hadn't been paying any attention to her showering habits, but as I thought about it, I replied, "I don't think so." Keep in mind that I arrived on Saturday night and today is Thursday. And then I had to think about the last time I had showered. That had been Sunday night.

Eww. And yet, I was still too tired. Here's the thing - because the motel is so gross, the idea and process of showering are far more involved than other, more highly rated establishments.

First - there's not really a place to put your towel. And there's not really enough room to lay out a bath mat. And you don't want to put anything, even dirty clothes on the floor. And while I didn't think I would do this, it somehow makes sense to wear flip flops in the shower because even with a bathmat, you don't want to step directly on the floor with bare feet. Or even in socks (which you wouldn't be wearing in the shower, of course).

And then there's no where to put your wet towel. And there are dead bugs on almost everything so really, it's just not an environment that inspires showering....

The Greatest Place for Wireless in Chalmette

I'm sitting in McDonald's. I don't really frequent fast food places very often, so the fact that I've been sitting here for a few hours is a little strange for me. The bathrooms are clean, they have free refills on soda and it smells like french fries. That beats the hotel lobby/laundry room and their combination odor of mold and smoke. The only catch is that there is only one outlet, under a very large television whose volume seems to be set very, very high. Did I mention that it smells like french fries?

There's an older, possibly slightly disturbed couple that just sat down in the next booth. The man threw a piece of lettuce across the room and the woman gave their large fries to someone sitting at another table.

Other than that, it's the perfect place to work.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on New Orleans

Sometimes I think New Orleans is like Jerusalem. I can find my way around more or less, but I don’t really know the names of any of the streets. And they aren’t organized in any way that I can figure out, except the cross streets in the French Quarter which seem to be alphabetical. I can get from one side of town to another, but not necessarily efficiently, which I suppose doesn’t generally matter too much.

Today I was at a work site and looked at the houses across the street. One was a shot-gun house, the next was a double shot-gun, and the third was a two story house that looked like two doubles and a pitched roof. The third house looked as if it was leaning forward toward the street. The second was leaning toward the first, and it was obvious from my vantage point that the front of the first house and the back of the first house were both tilted in different directions. It’s as if Dr. Seuss did the city re-construction.

And it certainly looks like Dr. Seuss color choices. Flamingo pink houses next to a sherbet orange house with yellow and purple trip, and an all purple house with red and blue trip.

What I can’t figure out here are the streets. They are some of the worst roads I’ve ever had to drive on. Some of it is construction related, and much more just looks like the streets haven’t been fully repaved for decades. The parts that have been repaved or filled in haven’t been done evenly. I can’t imagine what’s it’s doing the shocks on my rental car. It’s a brand new car but has probably aged a lot in just the few days I’ve been driving.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Parkway Bakery & Tavern

Yesterday, rather than eating an egg salad sandwich that had been sitting in my car for the whole, very warm morning, I went out for lunch. Someone from our DC office had just arrived in town to see our program for a few days and I figured it was a good opportunity to avoid food poisoning.

Late morning, I'd been working in a coffeeshop and I'd asked the woman behind the counter for a lunch recommendation. She gave me a name of a sandwich shop and said they had a good Caprese sandwich.

So we made our way to the Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Wouldn't you know it, they were filming a special for the Travel Channel that day. The places was packed - business men, soldiers in fatigues and construction workers. None of them looked like they cared much for the cameras and lights.

We looked at the menu and there were three vegetarian options - the Caprese Po'boy, a Grilled Cheese and french fries. Honestly, it was a little embarrassing that at such a well-known place, we ordered the least authentic things on the menu. The waitress laughed when I ordered my sandwich and I laughed when she asked if I wanted chicken on it.

Embarrassing or not, my sandwich was excellent and the grilled cheese looked pretty good too.

The Lower Ninth

After all this time, there are blocks where you would think the hurricanes were last month, not more than four years ago. Houses that you can't believe are still standing, spray-painted 'x's still on the doors. And still, there are people moving back to the neighborhoods. Fresh paint, in all colors of the rainbow, say that the neighborhoods are coming back.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Difference a Year Makes

The first thing I noticed driving through Chalmette, La last night was that there were a lot of cars on the road. Last year, you were lucky to see another pair of headlights during the long trip out to camp.

We aren't staying nearly as far out as last year, but it's clear that there are more people and businesses in this area. I think there must be a law that requires at least one Dollar Store per square mile. They are everywhere! And there are a lot more bars and taverns open.

There's also a new Wal-mart that looks like it must have just opened, a dozen fast-food places, and also some new branch banks. To be sure, there are still store fronts that are shuttered and have been for more than four years already. But the street lights are working, new businesses, and people on the road.

We're staying at a motel. It might be generous to give it a 1/2 star. Really. And that 1/2 star would only be for the wireless access in the lobby.

It's easy to say that I would prefer to be back in the storage room behind the school office we stayed in last year, or the 12 to a bunk with one bathroom cabin we had the year before. There are bugs everywhere. There are flying things that are bigger than gnats but smaller than mosquitos. They don't bite, but they seem to be everywhere and particularly seem to like our bathroom sink/counter area.

Before I arrived, my roommate told me that she didn't want her feet to touch the carpet. I said, "but it's a motel!" She said, "uh-huh." She's right. The carpeting is gross. Evidently they don't really vaccuum. The walls are covered in spots where previous guests tried to kill big bugs. We know this because in less than 12 hours I have already witnessed the creation of two more spots on the wall. The bugs that left those marks were huge. Not medium-size, not big, not even large. Huge. We've decided that they are waterbugs and not roaches. It's possible that those are two names for the same kind of creature.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I am a Triathlete

Or so my new t-shirt says. I signed up for the Lazy Man Triathlon at our local YMCA. We were given six weeks to complete a full marathon (26.2 miles walking or running), a 2.5 mile swim, and 112 miles of bike-riding. Six weeks is a lot of time, right?


I learned a few things from this experience:
  • Real triathletes - those people who do this in a day - are crazy. Where do they need to go that they have to bike, swim and run that far in one day? Ridiculous. I know people who do triathlons. I really have to re-think how and why we're friends. They're crazy. The most recent DSM has a whole category just for them. Now don't get me wrong. I like watching television coverage of the Ironman competition in Hawaii (the 'real' one) as much as the next person. What these people do is unbelievable. And the ones who really struggle are the ones who are probably the first to sign up again for next year.
  • It would be faster to finish the marathon if I believed in running. I don't. If there's a fire, or someone chasing me, then maybe. Otherwise, it's against my religion.
  • Swimming takes a lot longer when you do some laps using a kickboard. To my Y's credit, they have a regular pool and a warm pool. The warm pool is really nice.
  • I found that I can't bike and read at the same time. I'm generally good at multi-tasking, but evidently not with these two activities.

The man who gave me my t-shirt looked at me as if he couldn't believe I had finished. But he kept a straight face nevertheless and said, "Congratulations. Thanks for participating."

And yes, I can't wait to sign up in 11 months for the next one. It's all about the t-shirt.

I'm getting to that age...

where I buy travel insurance.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shopping for Passover

It's that time again. It doesn't usually happen until after Purim, but once it does, it's here in full swing. That's right - Passover aisles. Rows and rows, and, just to be safe, rows of things made just for Passover.

There is a short aisle just for matza in all different sizes, types and flavors. There is another short aisle just for cleaning products. I never understood the difference between regular and Passover cleaning products and I still don't.

And then there's the actual food. It looks like you can get almost anything you want "kosher for Passover" except actual bread. And I suspect that someone is experimenting with that for the near future. There are cereals, noodles, a million sauces, jams, spices, and even small tv dinners. And in the freezer section, there's a whole huge freezer that just has gefilte fish (on sale) and on the other side, there's kosher for passover pizza.

I finished my Passover shopping a few weeks ago with one small bag of "stuff", mainly small canisters of matza meal, farfel, and some sauces I'll use on fish. There's not much else that we usually eat that we can't eat on Passover - so all those things on the shelves are nice to look at, but I would never buy them. And I bought Temptee cream cheese - three containers. I'm not sure why, but we only see it at Passover and I'm not sure why, but it's the best cream cheese year round.

I was out with a friend on Saturday and we stopped by the "kosher" grocery store. It's a regular chain grocery with a kosher deli counter, a kosher Chinese take-out place and a lot of kosher food, but all wrapped up in the rest of the store.

You might think that with all of these amenities, the primary Jewish shoppers are are the population of more observant Jews who live just South of the store. You may be right, but I found the rest of them. Yup - shopping on Shabbat. Carts full of matza, fruit rings, gefilte fish, ko-jel, and cut-up Aaron's chicken.

And, get this - the chicken was the "Kosher Saturday Special". I took a picture but I don't know how to upload it - you'll have to just trust me. I'm not sure who they expected to see the signs, but clearly all of these folks did. And yes, this is the same store that brought us the "Kosher Rosh Special" back in September.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Brussel Sprouts

I've never liked brussel sprouts. I know people who love them and honestly, I think they (the people, not the vegetable) are sort of weird. Sorry. I just do.

But a few weeks ago, they were on sale at the produce market and I had this idea that I should buy them and roast them. I'm not really sure what possessed me. They sat in the refrigerator for almost two weeks. I hate wasting food, but I figured maybe $1.50 was the cost of having an idea.

Sunday morning I was at the produce market and stocked up. I'm not really sure what I was thinking. So Sunday night, I decided to roast a lot of vegetables. Asparagus, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, red peppers, carrots, eggplant, and yes, finally, the brussel sprouts. I might even be missing a vegetable or two from this list.

Everything (separately) got tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, except the chickpeas (which I forgot to mention) which had curry powder and the sweet potatoes that had the very last of my Old Bay. And I might as well say it now - Old Bay is the greatest spice ever.

Shockingly, the brussel sprouts were excellent. They are not my new favorite food - let's be clear. But they were really good. And everything else was pretty good too. Not that there was any reason to assume they wouldn't be, but you never know. The only thing that wasn't great were the carrots. They just never got sweet. They aren't bad, but definitely not the best.

The worst part about roasting - you can't get everything in the oven at the same time. I don't have that many oven racks (or that many baking sheets, for that matter) so the oven has to stay on, and at a high temperature for a long time.

The best part about roasting - getting someone else to do the chopping. And then eating, of course.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Slowly but Surely...

For four weeks, maybe more, a big box was sitting in our hall, just inside the front door. It was about five feet long by 15 inches wide and it wasn't leaning against the wall in a way that wouldn't take up much space. No, it was lying in all of it's five foot glory along the hall.

Inside was an Ikea bookcase that we planned to turn on its side and use as a a hall table. Somehow, it seemed that making my way through Ikea, getting the package into the car and getting it upstairs should have been enough. The thing is heavy! The fact that it also had to be put together was a step that just needed to come in its own time.

That time was yesterday afternoon. Nine pieces of wood, a million little wooden dowels, and 8 or 10 big metal screws. Oh yeah, and a little wrench, or whatever they call those little tools that are required to build anything from Ikea.

It took about 45 minutes. The instructions tell you not to try to build it alone. Of course, when I started building, I ignored that completely. Until I got to step three. Because while it wasn't heavy, the process definitely required a second person. To hold things steady, to get more wooden dowels,, to catch the screw that rolls down the floor...

Ronnie served as the sous constructer, prepping dowels in the right pieces and finding a suitable substitute for a mallet, which we have, somewhere. It turns out, that a 10-pound hand weight does a very good job. And he held things steady, caught the rolling screws*, and ultimately helped me stand it up - which admittedly, would have been hard to do by myself.

*note to Uncle Jake, who otherwise will surely comment. While it's true that screws generally roll in a weird circle because the one end is wider than the other, if they are also pushed, ever so slightly, (or accidently kicked) then they go farther.

In the end, it would be better if the table was 12 inches wide rather than 15, but it will do. And it needs something, like a table runner or something, to cover it, because while I like the light wood color, it doesn't look good against the light wall. Maybe in another month....