My Favorite Eats At New Orleans’ French Quarter Fest

Shrimp and White Beans (Café Reconcile)

In New Orleans, red beans typically hog all the legume-related attention, as they star in the creole classic, red beans and rice. Here, starchy white beans melt with shrimp in a lightly creamy sauce, all served over rice. And it’s a revelation.

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Crawfish Boil (Rouse’s)

I cannot think of a more inconvenient festival food than a big Styrofoam plate of crawfish boil, which includes a sizeable hunk of Andouille, two boiled potatoes, half a cob of corn, and an overwhelming red mound of sea crustaceans, ready for the cracking. But the struggle is worth it; it’s a labor of love. The seasoning is perfect, and besides, I needed a break from fried food.

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Fried Alligator Corn Dog (Café Reconcile)

The humble corn dog, a staple at any self-respecting festival, gets an upgrade with succulent alligator meat, which is deep fried in a sweet corn batter. Served with a spicy mayo sauce, of course. This alligator corn dog is about as dumb good as it gets.

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Crawfish Sausage Po Boy (Vaucresson Sausage Co.)

For those of you who crave crawfish but don’t want antennae in your fingernails, this is the dish for you. The crisp pork sausage, filled with succulent crawfish meat, is served on fluffy French bread, with just a flurry of shredded lettuce (yay vegetablessss.)

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BBQ Bourbon Shrimp Stuffed Po Boy (Dickie Brennan’s)

Here’s another noteworthy po boy. This one was so scrumptious I didn’t have the time or will to take a picture because I was so devoted to stuffing it in my face. BBQ in New Orleans is not the sweet and tangy reddish brown sauce you might imagine, but rather a zesty sauté with garlic, white wine, and lots of butter. These shrimp get a hit of bourbon and are crammed into hallowed-out French bread, then my mouth.

Rice Pudding (Rib House)

While the white chocolate banana bed pudding by House of Blues had me convulsing with pleasure, the Rib House’s understated bowl of ride pudding is everything it should be: creamy, dense, gently sweet, and topped with a dollop of strawberry jam.

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Naples’ Garbage Problem Problem

(Here’s another old journal entry, from when I was living in Naples last August.)

Naples has a garbage problem problem.

That is, Neopolitans are not addressing their garbage problem, and that is a problem.

Any tourist guide, travel magazine, or native Neapolitan will tell you that Naples is filled with trash. Indeed, there is garbage everywhere: overflowing from rusty dumpsters in plastic bags, spread on the narrow cobblestone streets, floating in the Mediterranean, and piling up on the side of the highway. Yet Neapolitans always make a point of telling me that the trash situation was worse ten years ago, and that it’s not so bad now.

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“Here’s the thing about Naples and garbage,” my friend and Naples-native Biagio told me. “It’s not that we’re inherently dirty. It’s just that if you lived in a city where people put their trash out and no one picked it up, your city would be filled with trash, too! No one’s just throwing trash around.”

But people are just throwing trash around. While the Neapolitan garbage system is clearly flawed, individuals are responsible, too. Perhaps because they’ve lost faith in the mafia-run trash system, or perhaps because everywhere they look there’s garbage and what’s one more pizza box? I, for one, know that I’m complicit.

Every other morning, I leave my Naples apartment with a plastic bag filled with old soda cans, parts of sandwiches I didn’t finish, receipts, empty bottles, and more plastic bags. I walk to the main road, Via Toledo, where there are public trashcans, and I, as discretely as possible, stuff my bag inside the can and speed walk away.

If the public cans are full, I find an overflowing dumpster. I hold my breath, lift the top, drop my bag, and briskly walk away. An old woman follows suit behind me.

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5 am

Here’s a journal entry from last summer, when I was living in the small town of Guardia Sanframondi.

This morning I woke up at 5:00am. My schedule is disrupted because of the week-long wine festival, Vinalia — I sleep on-and-off during the day and re-emerge at night, to dance and drink wine in the piazza mercato.

There is a certain peace about 5:00 am. I am not suggesting it’s worth waking up for (unless breakfast meats are involved), but it’s nice. Cool. Quiet. Still. I read my New Yorkers in bed for an hour and, after an unsuccessful attempt at falling back asleep, I put on my sneakers and stepped outside, prepared to go for a short passagiata and profit from the fleeting coolness.

I was not the only one awake. Stray dogs, old women in shift dresses sweeping their front steps, and men delivering pastries to bars. The embraced the new day with varying degrees of vigor.

I stopped by a fountain on the side of the road to fill up my water bottle. I heard someone scream my name.

“Maria!”

I resented this disturbance from my solitude. But  if you walk anywhere in Guardia, you must first accept the impossibility of remaining alone.

I made eye contact with Michele, a white haired man in his mid sixties, who is across the street, dressed in a tight pink T-shirt with a blue kerchief tied around his neck. Some evenings Michele can be found singing and playing guitar at Pizzaland, the fun-themed pizzeria where he performs alongside his smoke machine, that he owns, because he owns a smoke machine. More often than not he’s strolling around Corso Umberto, Guardia’s main road, popping in and out of bars and waving to acquaintances across the street. He seems to be perpetually making the rounds, overseeing the general order of Guardia, not unlike the town’s stray dogs.

“What are you doing up this early?” he asked me.

“Una passagiata.”

“Alone? Why are you alone?”

“I like being alone.”

“Listen,” he said, “The water fountain down the hill is much better. This one is no good. The water is hot.”

I put my hand under the running water. It was cool.

“This is fine.”

Michele spent the next five minutes trying to explain to me that the fountain a half a mile down the hill, in the opposite direction, is much, much better.

I asked him if this water, from this fountain here, where we were already standing, was drinkable, and he said yes, and I said it was good enough for me, as my only demand of water is that it doesn’t give me diarrhea.

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5 Things A Pug Named Frank Taught Me About Life

me and frank, dressed in our finest

When my friend went on vacation for a week, I was beyond blessed to have the opportunity to take care of her pug, Frank. Over those precious seven days, Frank taught me so, so much about myself, life, believing, dreams, and yearning. I want to share five of the most important lessons he taught me.

1. No matter how terrible your day was, there is not one single problem that a pug dressed in a bow tie cannot solve.

2. Don’t do anything halfheartedly. Whether you’re playing with your stuffed toy or licking your feet or smelling your friend, really commit to it. Only you can make your life purposeful.

3. Cuddling is the reason we were all, pugs and humans, put on this earth.

4. Sometimes, generations and generations of inbreeding turns out pretty okay.

5. If you stick your tongue out for a long time, it’ll get really dry, like sand paper.

Honorable mention lesson: Neck fat is the most precious thing.

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Classy Gin Dranks

Did you know that the 18th century English term for gin was “Madam Geneva?” I didn’t either, until I swung by Madam Geneva the other night, a cute, eclectic bar at 4 Bleecker Street. As a mostly impoverished writer, I’ve tried my hardest to lose my taste for cocktails…which isn’t so easy in New York. I feel like every day three new dimly-lit cocktail bars — with waiters dressed in 1920 ice cream parlor outfits — pop up around the city. And it ain’t cheap. In New York, if you want a high-quality, well-balanced cocktail, you have to pay upwards of $10. Upwards of $10 can buy me a couple of meals / dollar-store-impulse-buys, so I generally try my best to avoid trendy cocktail spots.

But gin is wonderful. And so is Madam Geneva. As a cucumber fiend, I’m tragically obsessed with their classic gin and tonic – made with a delightfully understated house-made cucumber tonic! And they mix in some celery bitters, which I didn’t totally pick up on, but was delighted to drink, having once heard something about how consuming celery burns calories.

The Far Eastern Gimlet is another must-drink. Spring 44 gin, yuzu, lime cordial, and Vietnamese mint. Utterly refreshing. The bar snacks look great, too – salt and pepper squid, shrimp toast, and duck steam buns – but I decided to save myself for later, as I had Velveeta Mac and Cheese waiting for me at home. It’s hard maintaining the classy act.

photo courtesy of saxon + parole

photo courtesy of saxon + parole

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Blue Olive Market: Tasty Greek in Midtown

a trio of delish mezze (8.95) comes with lots of greek olives and a big basket of warm pita

a trio of delish mezze (8.95) comes with lots of greek olives and a big basket of warm pita

Check out my write-up of the new Blue Olive Market! It’s like a Greek Eataly. My rec: sit at the wine bar, buy a $22 bottle of delicious Greek red, and order a trio of mezze. Enjoy with a friend, or alone–no shame here.

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Important Lessons: Italian Man Edition

(NOTE: The following is a tale of a certain man-sperience I had while living in a small town in southern Italy. Names have been changed, facts have not.)

“Watching Armageddon… and crying :( :( :( !!”

Tommaso sent me this text the morning after I met him. Having moved from New York—the world’s capital of textual duplicity—to a town in southern Italy, I was initially refreshed by his total lack of game. But instincts are hard to shake. I got out of bed and paced around my room. I made pasta. I nibbled on a wedge of Parmesan cheese. What’s his angle? I thought. Three frowny faces…ironic or sincere? Before I could commit to more nervous speculation, my phone lit up.

“What are you doing now???”

The night before, my friend Andrea introduced me to Tommaso, who wanted to practice his English. Andrea lurked slyly away, and Tommaso and I discussed Berlusconi, Italy’s educational system, the mafia, and white wine. An hour later, Andrea popped back in between us.

“Would you like to get cigarettes with my friend?” He gestured to Tommaso, with whom I was mid-conversation.

Amused by this clunky and transparent wing-manning, I finished my beer and turned to Tommaso. “Si, andiamo.”

Exiting any public establishment in Italy can take several minutes, usually hours. As Tommaso and I were leaving the bar, my friend leaned towards me and winked. “Brava, Maria.”

“Brava, Maria,” another echoed, and clapped. “He’s a nice guy. Good work.”

Tommaso and Andrea exchanged parting whispers, and I followed Tommaso to his (father’s) car. We drove a few blocks down the road to the vending machine that sold cigarettes. I waited in the car as Tommaso bought his cigarettes, and he offered to drive me back to the old, crumbling part of town where I lived. He walked me down the narrow, cobble-stoned streets to my door. We sat on the stoop, my knee touching his.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked.

“No.”

“Do you like Italian boys?”

“The ones who don’t wax their eyebrows.”

“Do you like me?”

“You’re not so bad.”

Encouraged, he leaned in for a kiss. We made out against my door, then against the other side of my door, then on my bed.

I asked him if he had condoms.

“This is a small village,” he said. “If I went to the pharmacy to buy condoms, everyone would know. I’m very timid.”

“This is a small village,” I said. “If I went to the pharmacy to buy condoms—as a foreign woman—everyone would not only know, but shun me forever as a whore or a witch. This is a rural town. People legitimately own pitchforks and torches.”

I sent Tommaso home, where his mother was surely waiting for him, wondering where he was.

***

There is no healthy Italian hook-up culture.

Here’s another bold statement I’m only able to support by anecdotal experience: Italian men lack game, causing them to overcompensate with cartoonish forwardness or, typically, to shy away from contact entirely, staring at women but never striking up conversation. The very courageous, moderately respectful ones might approach you and ask questions to your boobs, like, “Where are you from?” or “Do you know Obama?” But that’s pretty much the extent of it.

A healthy Italian hook-up culture is further impeded by the reality that men aged twenty to thirty five typically live at home. Yet for men in their late thirties who have yet to start lives independent of their mothers’, the level of confidence can be striking.

One afternoon, I was relaxing at a bar with my friend Mario, a 70-year-old retired sports coach. A man in his late 40’s, also named Mario, entered the bar, wearing a purple polo with the collar pulled up and his thinning hair pulled up, too, with cheap hair gel. The older Mario introduced me, and the younger, but by no means young, Mario began asking me questions, before pleasantries or even names were exchanged. “Are you alone?” “Where do you live?” “What are you doing tonight?” Are you single?”

These men always ask if I’m single, as if that’s the only barrier between us being together.

One waiter at a Naples pizzeria asked me if I had a boyfriend even before I ordered my pizza, which I found completely unfair.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Uhhh…I’m really independent?”

“Same! I’m really independent, too!”

Sometimes, this lack of smoothness is charming. In New York, where I lived for a year prior to moving to Italy, men pride themselves on concealing all interest, or doling out just enough to coax you into sleeping with them. Texts are cryptic. Even when they’re not, you must read them as cryptic. I’ll never be able to return to the era of not analyzing each word and punctuation mark in texts—because, tragically, once one person plays the game, everyone must play the game. A good analogy here might be steroids and baseball. Something about a level playing field.

And as I’ve always struggled to be coy or elusive or dismissive, the game never got easier for me. I failed the New York dating scene, hard, because I couldn’t stop caring, even about men I didn’t care about. Yeah, I’ve sent more than one Facebook message after 3 am.

***

That afternoon, my phone lit up again. It was Tommaso. “Are you going out tonight?” I realized I hadn’t responded to his initial Armageddon text. Look at me, I thought. Accidentally playing it cool.

“Yeah, I think so,” I texted back.

Five seconds later, he responded with “:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :).”

I have the power. I thought, gleefully. As a rule, whoever texts a series of repeating emoticons relinquishes all power.

That night we met up at the bar. He was wearing sweats and drinking an iced tea. Clearly, he knew he’d be getting some—he hadn’t even bothered to not wear pajamas. I downed a few glasses of white wine, and we eventually walked back to my place. No one pretended to need cigarettes.

After we had sex, he immediately began dressing himself. “I’m so tired,” he said, and scurried on home. I lay on my bed, naked, flipping through an old New Yorker. I made myself some frozen French fries on the stove.

The following day was text-free. That night at the bar, I saw Tommaso out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look at him—to say hi—but he turned away immediately. An hour later, I approached the group he was huddled in, and said, “Hey, how’s it going?”

“Good, good,” he said, to the ground. He took a nervous sip of his drink. Bored by the unoriginality of sleeping with someone who can’t look at you the next day, I rejoined my girlfriends, who decided to teach me some of the town’s dialect.

Qualquequerà,” Chiara said, “Can either mean an orange slice or a good-for-nothing man, depending on the context.” I tried to imagine a situation in which the context left the word’s meaning ambiguous. I came up with, “A qualquequerà isn’t enough for me, which could be followed by, depending on the intended meaning of qualquequerà, “I want the whole orange, not just a slice” or, “I want a whole man, God damnit.”

It occurred to me that my problem with men wasn’t a New York problem or an Italy problem. It wasn’t an issue of game, or lack of game, an issue of ironic texts or sincere texts. It was an asshole issue. I needed to change my narrative, the narrative I’d constructed to make sense of my frustrating dealings with men. What I really needed was to eliminate narratives all together.

I looked at Tommaso, who was recreationally throwing rocks at a bush. “Qualquaquerà,” I said. And then I laughed.

kickin it southern italian style

kickin it southern italian style

happy valentine’s day, bitches

my v-day card to you all

my v-day card to you all

Happy Valentine’s Day, Snax & Sexers. Hope you’ve made some sultry plans to treat yourself right tomorrow night with vino, Netflix, something sweet that’s not chocolate because we try to avoid clichés here, pizza, music, popcorn, and, if you’re DTF, a vibrator.

I want to refer all y’all to a blog post I wrote last year, a few days after Valentine’s Day:

Despite being someone who’s acutely aware of her single status on a daily basis (and who’s moved to vomit when couples smile/hold hands/exist in public spaces), I don’t find Valentine’s Day particularly depressing. This past February 14th, in fact, I don’t recall binge eating any chocolate. I don’t recall crying into my camo Snuggie. I don’t even recall pleasuring myself to Hugh Grant in any Hugh Grant movie that’s not Robbie the Reindeer in Legend of the Lost Tribe.

(Wait, I realize you could interpret that as me saying I’ve pleasured myself to Robbie the Reindeer in Legend of the Lost Tribe. I haven’t; I just want to draw attention to the fact that that’s something Hugh Grant was in.)

Because strangely, each and every year, I manage to avoid the typical single-lady-on-Valentine’s-Day exercises.

I actually had a truly blessed February 14th. I began reading George Saunders’ Tenth of December, a collection of excruciatingly funny and moving short stories, and I only ate half of my Extended Family Size bag of Lays potato chips.

The other night I was out on the town, and a guy approached me with a classic, if not tired move—“So me and my buddy are having this argument and maybe you can resolve it…”

“Perhaps. Perhaps I can,” I said. I’ll allow it, I thought.

He relaxed his shoulders. Yes! I’m in, I imagined him thinking, and fortunately I was still sober enough to refrain from narrating out loud what I imagine people are thinking. (Yes, this has happened, and yes, it’s embarrassing).

He asked me, “What do girls want on Valentine’s Day? I’d want to do something weird and quirky and fun for a girl—something that reflects her personality—but my buddy over there would go with flowers and chocolates, you know, the standard stuff. What do girls really want on Valentine’s Day?”

I reminded him that Valentine’s Day was a few days ago, and then I took a few seconds to think.

What had I wanted on Valentine’s Day? I had wanted potato chips, some good short stories, a mini Parks and Rec marathon, and a sloppy manicure. I was able to give myself all of those things.

I couldn’t tell him that girls wanted nothing, because I knew for a fact that wasn’t true. I have many girl friends who are routinely crushed by receiving nothing on Valentine’s Day, or who at least have unfulfilled expectations.

And while I wasn’t drunk enough to narrate what I imagined him to be thinking then—Dang, why is this girl taking so long to answer my superficial question that was clearly just a means of laying the foundation of possibly sleeping with her – I was drunk enough to feel qualified to speak on behalf of all girls everywhere.

“I would say that there are three types of girls in the world, maybe four—those who want the chocolate and the flowers, those who want the mixtapes and quirky, personalized shit, those who insist they want the quirky personalized shit but really want the chocolate and the flowers, and then there’s the lesser known fourth category of girl who wants to lie in her bed, using her stomach as a plate for potato chips, laptop on her face, watching the kooky yet heartfelt antics of Leslie Knope. This last category of girl forgets that February 14th is different from February 13th or July 7th.”

And with that, I excused myself, purchased a corndog, and went home.

Art of Alabama Food photo exhibit in Chelsea Market

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I woke up this morning at 7:30 am craving bouillabaisse with Gulf shrimp and oysters, hickory-smoked pork ribs with fluffy white bread, and baked grits covered in strips of country ham and wild mushrooms. Indeed, these cravings were inconveniently timed, as well as impossible to satiate. These dishes, among thirty-four others, are all featured in The Art of Alabama Food, a photo exhibition in Chelsea Market featuring dishes from Alabama’s most celebrated restaurants. The installation is, at times, cruel, showcasing photos of inaccessible, mouthwatering Southern cooking as we fight through yet another dreary New York winter; it’s food porn at its most tantalizing. Yet it’s about time that gorgeous plates of food, from a simple bowl of red pepper soup to deconstructed s’mores, are elevated to the level of art.

Under each canvas-sized photo, you’ll find a caption with the name of the dish, the restaurant, and a description. The most cruelly tantalizing image was the banana pudding from Sisters, a restaurant in Troy, Alabama: a mound of silky vanilla custard embedded with thick sliced bananas, blond vanilla wafers, and banana pudding.

The pop-up-style exhibit, sponsored by the Alabama Tourism Department, will be open to the public in Chelsea Market until February 2nd. After that, you’ll have to buy a plane ticket down South and visit the dishes in person—at least then you’ll be able to eat them.

“Art of Alabama Food,” Until February 2. Chelsea Market, 75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

 

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some exciting mariupdates

Hey comrades! I’ve been posting less and less frequently as I’ve become more and more inundated with New York / freelancing / working a real human job. And it’s hard. Hustling in this city is really, really hard. Fortunately, I have a few fun life updates that I’d like to share with you all.

  1. I recently had my first article published on Jezebel!!! I am extremely excited about this. The topic? Women and ADHD and did you know that one time I lost a ham sandwich in my room for weeks?
  2. I’ve begun writing sex/lifestyle-related articles for the (relatively) new site Bustle! For example, here’s what I have to say about hermaphroditic African land snails.
  3. I’m trying to figure out the maximum number of children’s chewable vitamins you can have in a day without dying. I ate 11 today (a new PR) with no ill effects. I’ll keep you updated on this ongoing investigation.
  4. I’ve begun working for Gael Greene, the legendary writer and food critic of New York Magazine for 40 years. Check out her website for fun updates on the city’s latest food happenings–I’ll be on there soon!
  5. Just finished watching the Drake SNL for the 5th time. That means we’re dating now, right?
love and other pugs

love and other pugs

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