Post Mardi Gras Mention

Another Mardi Gras has gone by but not without making a post Mardi Gras mention about several events happening recently.

First, with tribute to a Southern cuisine-mix and Mardi Gras, about which I’ve just hosted 2 fun dinners for friends. The first being for my Book Group two Tuesdays ago after my birthday weekend. To “prepare” 😉 Peter and I experienced the new Honeysuckle restaurant by Chef Hamilton Johnson because he features the unusual pairing of Nordic and Southern cuisine, and does it exceptionally well.

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The restaurant is in the former location of Vidalia a long-time DC classic. It’s chef was Chef Johnson’s mentor, so stands to reason he would follow suit, but in his own way. You still have to go downstairs to get to the restaurant but from the outside, you’re not sure it’s the restaurant or so upscale with graffiti-style murals of skulls and bones by Rick Bach on a bold red backdrop. The simple Honeysuckle name is on the outside black canopy entrance. The name doesn’t seem to jive with the theme. However, if you think about it, honeysuckle is one of the sweetest-smelling and hardiest flowering-vines in the South — one of my favorites. Honeysuckle also grows in Finland and is the main ingredient of one of their famous teas. In this case, the complexity of the sweet and flowery balances the hard-edge juxtaposition with the food and décor, maybe also just like the chef with his many tattoos. Chef Johnson is a master of combining complete opposites with creative, cooking artistry.

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This photo greets you at the bottom of the stairs

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The restaurant interior is a mix of more murals on the ceiling, a vermilion colored back-lit bar with rotating images of Finland on a large TV screen. Dining areas and rooms are separated by themed rock stars with their large-scale portraits commanding a presence as some of Chef Johnson’s favorite performers. We ate in the Freddie Mercury elevated area. It was a gorgeous setting with shimmery white-capiz wallcovering that I recognized from Maya Romanoff. Mercury was wearing a bunch of bananas as a headdress, which seemed to downplay the elegance in a self-deprecating and appreciative way. Freddie Mercury Room Honeysuckle_AIE

I had mentioned to our waiter that it was my birthday and part of the reason for attending was to experience the unusual Nordic / Southern pairing. Being from New Orleans and that I’ll be going on a Scandinavian cruise to visit my Danish heritage, experiencing the combination was something I could appreciate. I’m not sure if this is how we received a complementary order of sweet breads from the chef. It’s not something I would have ordered but was the most delicious thing!

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The winter vegetable salad of pistachio, prune, meyer lemon, buttermilk, tarragon, buckwheat on butter lettuce served on top of the Icelandic dressing was something I semi-replicated for my book group dinner, with the addition of Southern grapefruit, mandarin orange segments, walnuts and cranberried goat cheese crumbles. It was delicious and I’ll do it again and again. (Good tip: put the dressing on the bottom to prepare in advance without wilting the lettuce)

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My Book Group Dinner version of Scandinavian + Southern style – Mardi Gras colored flowers with Fleur-de-lis Iris & dragonflies connected to Norse goddes Freya

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Winter Beet Salad version

Peter had the fois gras to start and the slow roasted Icelandic cod, rutabaga, chicken crackling, smoked roe, malted veloute. The seared sea scallops, pig tail tortellini, squash fondue, coffee-bacon jam, parmesan was initially calling my name but the waiter talked me into their pork special, which I am not sure is currently the same on their menu as the dulse rubbed pork tenderloin, cipollini, melted parsnip, roasted apple, kale, as mine had Icelandic dried seaweed. I won out with mine, which was rich and abundant. We finished by sharing the butterscotch panna cotta, oats, skyr creme fraiche, rum raisin, toffee meringue dessert, which was soft, light and divine! This is one restaurant where we will be returning, especially as the menu changes and our waiter informed us intends on being even more daring with the Nordic-Southern pairings.

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Icelandic Cod

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Luscious panna cotta for dessert

Then second Mardi Gras mention was a combination of this Southern theme with Nordic style to pay tribute to the book we read, God’s Daughter, Vikings of the New World Saga Book 1 by Heather Day Gilbert. Since I didn’t take pictures during my book group dinner, I replicated afterwards (see some above as well as below). I will be making some of the same dishes on Mardi Gras evening to celebrate our good friend, Steve’s birthday. Most years his birthday falls on Ash Wednesday or during Lent and he can never fully celebrate while giving up all drinking and sweets during this time. We thought the timing worth acknowledging with a dinner for the many times we’ve been treated.

Scandinavian Style_Creole Seafood Gumbo_AIE

Scandinavian Style + Creole Seafood Gumbo

2 Types of King Cake - traditional & Danish_AIE

2 Types of King Cake – traditional & Danish

Instead of the Nordic theme, this second dinner was full on New Orleans. However, unlike the typical seafood gumbo, like I did for the ladies, or with chicken and andouille sausage, this gumbo was made with scallops (Steve’s favorite and happens to be mine as well) from Peter’s New York Times recipes. Scallops are more New England than they are southern but this was a nice twist on a classic New Orleans recipe. Mark Bittman does a great job of simply making this recipe work. I also replicated the Southern beet salad.

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Scallop Gumbo. This was delicious and maybe even better than the previous.

We had our 4th King Cake of the season from Best Buns. It is scrumptious with an almond base, traditional frosting and colored sprinkles and unlike others, not dry at all. Getting one from Calludah’s, which is where I would have ordered would have cost over 4 times as much, so not worth it when this is local and extremely good.

I was going to make a six layer doberge cake but realizing the work, we had scouted a local one at Del Frisco’s for my birthday and it was well worth the venture. However, we found a small chocolate one for Steve instead. Although 3 layers, it is just the right size from Wegman’s, which is where we’ve started doing most of our shopping with savings.

Del Friscos Lemon Doberge_AIE

Del Friscos Lemon Doberge Cake

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Personal Chocolate Cake

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Making Birthday Wishes

Now that we’re starting the Lenten season, it’s nice to reflect back on the Mardi Gras abundance this year with many reasons to celebrate — with our own creative takes on ways to enjoy.

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Picture perfect birthday day

I’ll end with a pretty perfect pairing of Mardi Gras transitioning to the reflective time of Lent, sacrifice and service for others. Cleland Powell III, who is the vice president of Iberia Bank in New Orleans, was chosen as the artist for the annual 2017 Rex Proclamation (King of Carnival poster, which calls for all to participate in Mardi Gras). He is a self-taught painter and was selected for his talent. Normally, the artist would be paid 10 percent of poster sales for such an honor. According to The New Orleans Advocate, Powell is donating his profits to the Pro Bono Publico Foundation, the Rex foundation that benefits the city, especially its public schools. The article also mentions, his work is in good company. Previous proclamation artists include Dawn DeDeaux, Mignon Faget, Randolph Tucker Fitz-Hugh, Tony Green, George Schmidt, Jean Seidenberg and Tim Trapolin.

Rex Proclamation via The New Orleans Advocate_AIE

Rex Proclamation via The New Orleans Advocate

I still wear my Mignon Faget giraffe necklace from when I was in high school and Tony Green happened to have his studio across from my parents’ condo before they sold it to new owners who then sold it to “Brangelina.”

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Changing Murals

This is a quick post announcement from several alerts I just received indicating that at least two well known murals are changing. As one will be vanishing soon, so see it while you can, another gets a fresh redesign and new placement.

The beloved Luzianne mural by Robert Dafford in downtown New Orleans will be partially covered when a new residential unit gets built. So sad, this is a lovely mural that I enjoy seeing each time I go back home. However, the Reily family, the owners of the mural and property, plan on making part of the mural visible to the interior of the building. They also will digitally scan the Luzianne-cart section in hopes to reproduce and place on another wall.

Robert Dafford is the same artist who painted the wonderful Clarinet Mural. The Reily family not only started Luzianne tea but also Blue Plate Mayonnaise — two iconic Nola brand-name products. The highly accomplished Rozas Ward Architecture firm with Myles Martin as the lead architect are chosen to manage the project.

The Brennan family and Reily family share a common wall / section of the mural and there is a written agreement not to change or destroy the mural for 50 years from 1991. This could be problematic if agreeable measures to preserve the mural are not found.

One thought comes to mind, Casart coverings can digitally print the mural onto wallcoverings that can be removed without damage when and if needed.

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Luzianne Mural by Robert Dafford. Photos via Times Picayune

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Yes, that’s a “real” tree but certainly hard to tell with Dafford’s painterly skill.

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Existing Reily Builidng by Rozas Ward Architecture

Proposed Reily Residential1 Rozas Architecture_AIE

Proposed Reily Residential via Rozas Ward Architecture

Proposed Reily Residential1 Rozas Architecture_AIE

Proposed Reily Residential via Rozas Ward Architecture

Jumping to the West, the locally known LA Lady Freeway mural by Kent Twitchell, which had retired due to being tagged and covered from view, is now being resurrected with an updated look and new Afghan Shawl. It will be rehung at the LA Valley College. Hopefully this will be a better placement for this lively lady mural to stay and for all to enjoy.

Old Lady of Freeway Mural 2_Art Is EverywherePersonally, I think the added shawl extending onto the adjacent wall works wonders with the new location. Sometimes changing murals are a positive improvement.Old Lady of Freeway Mural 1_Art Is EverywhereOne interesting side note, I’ve recently discovered Great Big Story, “a video network dedicated to the untold, the overlooked and the flat-out amazing.”

They’ve featured a lot of art oriented stories like the Mumbai Taxicab fabric and others that I’ve also posted. I’ve added them to my Blogroll.

Take for instance this post about Harvard cataloging and saving the world’s most precious pigments that captured my attention. This is an art lover’s cabinet of curiosities!

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A Toussaint Tribute

How upsetting to learn that one of the musical greats, Allen Toussaint passed away suddenly on November 10th. He was stricken with a heart attack just hours after performing in Madrid with his son. He was 77 years young.

I’ve been wanting to see him live in concert for years. I love his music, especially the song, Yes We Can from the album Our New Orleans recorded with other iconic New Orleans musicians such as Irma Thomas, as a benefit album for the Gulf Coast. This CD got me through some rough, surreal days after Katrina.

Here’s Allen Toussaint performing Yes We Can with Dr. John at Tulane’s Commencement.

Deacon John Moore and Irma Thomas reflects on their memories of Toussaint.

There are so many songs you may know that you never knew were written by Allen Toussaint like: Southern Nights made famous by Glen Campbell , Working on a Coal Mine (even Devo did a cover of this), Sneaking Sally through the Alley and Lady Marmalade made famous by Patty LaBelle as her signature song. He played piano on Mother-in-Law earlier in his career with Ernie K-Doe. His song Whipped Cream was made famous by Al Hirt and Herb Albert and their trumpets (and later became known more wildly as the song for the popular Dating Game). He produced Dr. John’s breakout album Right Place, Wrong Time (1973). Many of his other songs were recorded by the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Warren Zevon among others.

Allen Toussaint on Art is EverywhereAccording to his obit in the Washington Post, he began playing the piano at age 6 and played everyday in the style of Professor Longhair, who was a major influence.

After being born and living all his life in New Orleans, he was forced from his home for the first time during Katrina in 2005. He didn’t make it back until 2013.

Enjoy the official Toussaint website for some Toussaint Tribute and wonderful jazz music to just play in the background. The site hasn’t posted any updated news yet, probably because his death was so unexpected.

Allen Toussaint on Art is EverywhereEnjoy a little more…from this great musician who will be sadly missed. Fortunately, he’s left us so many songs to happily play.

10 Year Reflection on New Orleans

I’ve been so busy and just coming back from vacation to have much reflection on New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. Sometimes painful memories are too difficult to relive but still deserve recollection and at the very least acknowledgement, which is what I’m doing (as I write this on 9-11) and at the first opportunity I’ve had since the August 29th anniversary, when my world and beloved city broke and it took a while to put back together.

On this note, rather than recount my own experience, I’ll note a really wonderful essay I read by Adam B. Kushner, who happens to be from New Orleans and the editor of PostEverything and the Outlook section of the Washington Post.

His refection in his article, “I didn’t know what it means to miss New Orleans” (the same title of one of songs that always tugs at my heartstrings), read as if he was writing my own (except maybe without having elderly parents and a dying father who at first did not want to leave and friends who were stranded). The difference is that I didn’t think that we shouldn’t rebuild.

He has since changed his mind, with reasonable thought and reflection on New Orleans, its heritage and it’s significance to all of the country.

This exuberant image of a Mardi Gras Indian embodies the New Orleans Spirit.

Mardi GMardi Gras Indian via Getty Images__on Art Is EverywhereNew Orleans is still struggling but we’re survivors and after 10 years we’re stronger and striving.

A Warehouse Celebration

When my ELDC (Elite Drinking Club) lady friends have a birthday, we celebrate.

The latest celebration was for my perpetually-young friend, Patsie’s birthday.

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Vicky, Patsie & Wendy — a few of the great ELDC ladies

She usually organizes these fun get togethers. Her choice meeting spot was the Warehouse Restaurant in Old Town. I speed-walked to meet them about a mile down the street. The restaurant is a long-time staple in Old Town and has a very New Orleans vibe. The food is great too, which is precisely why Patsie chose it. She’s my New Orleans artist friend and we are often looking for exceptional food places. Being from NOLA, we are hard food critics when it comes to restaurants, especially those that claim to have a New Orleans repertoire.

Warehouse restaurant caricatures 1 on Art is EverywhereI hadn’t been to the Warehouse in over 10 years. I had forgotten how much it reminds me of New Orleans but even more interestingly, the walls are lines with caricatures of notable patrons. Patsie’s portrait is one of them.

Patsie Uchello caricatureWarehouse restaurant caricatures 2 on Art is Everywhere

Miss Patsie’s caricature. (No that’s not Michelle O to the right)

Warehouse restaurant caricatures 3 on Art is Everywhere

Some of these are 3 dimensional and perhaps a little alarming if looking up quickly

Warehouse restaurant caricatures 4 on Art is EverywhereThe food was wonderful, but unfortunately, the mint juleps needed help. Next time, I bet they’ll simply have simple syrup. This New Orleans-adopted,  Kentucky-classic drink can’t be made without it. Afterall, why would we all be sippin’ it on our verandas in the South, otherwise… 😉

Warehouse restaurant caricatures 5 on Art is Everywhere

The main caricature wall going up to the second floor

Looking forward to out next ELDC outing, as always.

2 Week Celebration

Although 10 years ago, I had anticipated that I’d be sipping pina coladas somewhere in the Caribbean, life does have a tendency to change things and as you get older, you just take it in stride.

Carribean vacationInstead, I had what turned out to be a two-week celebration.

It started with my ELDC (or drinking lady friends) toasting with beers and pizza at one of my favorite Red Rocks restaurants on a Friday.

Red Rocks alexandria_AIEThat Saturday, Valentine’s Day, we went to visit our son for the first time since dropping him off at UVA. We discovered that the Business School has accommodations at the Inn at Darden. Who knew! We’ve already got the tip as to when to book this year for next year’s graduation. It’s not a bad place but certainly convenient and beats student housing.

Inn at Darden_2330_AIE  Maybe it was just that it was Valentine’s Day but I was impressed with the lovely tissue rose waiting for us in the bathroom. That took a lot of time to do.

Tissue Rose_2329_AIEWith everything in town being booked, we got reservations at the Milan Indian Cuisine restaurant. I have to admit, with a name like that I didn’t really know what to expect. I couldn’t really envision an Italian/ Indian dish medley. It was one of the first extreme cold snap of the year for Virginia. I was surprised so many people wanted to get out but the proprietors were turning people away. We felt lucky and even more so when we discovered it was delicious food. I have never had Gobi Aloo. At least I think that is what it was. Spicy appetizer of potatoes and cauliflower, which I think will be the next “it” vegetable. I’m going to try to make it at home; it was so good.

The next day we visited with Jackson and had a relaxing brunch at the Fox & Hound. They had pennies glued under their bar and bathroom counters that reminded me of the Lincoln. Jackson gave us a tour of all his study spots and a secret classroom in the Alderman (Environmental Science ) Library, which has remarkable murals. They are all done on canvas, however, except the eye-popping trompe l’oeil framework over the doorway. We saw the most students studying here, probably because it has the best natural light with cavernous ceiling and skylights. Gorgeous plus a welcomed respite from the cold. They even have a campus coffee stop that had great hot chocolate just inside the entry.

UVA-Library Murals_2332_AIEIt’s always a bit of a drive there and back but a good visit on a holiday, Presidents’ Day weekend. With Peter having off on Monday, we bundled up and walked to La Madeline, the closest place I could think of in Old Town that might have King Cakes. Glad we called; they were all out but they made one fresh for us. It wasn’t the typical style I’m accustomed to from New Orleans but is probably more authentically French. It was a rather flat almond flavored cake over a marzipan layer with a flaky pastry. We couldn’t resist having a piece fresh out of the over. It was so good warm. Notice how they don’t put the baby inside the cake. I bet for liability reasons they leave that to the purchaser. In New Orleans, we just stick it in there! I had to get a Linzer Tart to share too.

King Cake La Madeline Style_2333_AIEWe walked back in the snow and warmed our feet by the fire, first one of the season. Since DC cannot handle a small accumulation of snow, the entire city shut down when we got four inches. Yahoo, another holiday; even though I was working — a little. It was Fat Tuesday, after all, we were due to celebrate. I had mentioned we had better get groceries before the rush but Peter informed me that he was going to surprise me but instead, thought I better know he had made plans for dinner at Vermillion, one of my favorite restaurants in Alexandria. I was prepared for this and it was a perfect foil.

Winter fire_2334_AIEThinking surely others would be there with their Mardi Gras beads on, I wore mine; even though, this is actually a more touristy than native thing to do in New Orleans — except for Mardi Gras Day of course. Well that little booger completely fooled me! Hardly anyone was there due to the snow but upon walking upstairs, all our good friends were waiting! At first, I felt like saying a line from the Californians, “What are yoooooou doing here?” but then I realized Peter had arranged it all and they were all in on the surprise. The fact that one friend was there who is notoriously late, was even more of a shocker. It was a fantastic dinner! So much great food, spirits and fun spirit with dear friends.

There were a couple of snags that I learned later, like the birthday cake I mentioned in my previous post. It got stuck in a Dulles warehouse due to the weather. I never knew because my good friend purchased another doberge cake to take its place. She brought the “real” cake by when it arrived on my real birthday. I had 3 cakes by this point. Ilyda, who helps me clean our house, was happy to take the half-remaining King Cake off my hands and my hips.

Although I don’t have a picture of everything, I love all my cards and a birthday check to treat myself. I look forward to trying a tempting bottle of rosé, a six-pack of hand-selected wines with one beer that you can only get from Norcia, as well as wearing a beautiful Nola Jazz Hermés scarf and bee necklace and trying to decipher which of my friends and family submitted the 50 quotes that were put into a book to record the event, with pictures to come. Wow such heaped upon attention. Why did I want to go to the Caribbean, anyway?

Hermes_AIEhttp://www.ashley-spencer.com/ArtIsEverywhere/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Hermes-Scarf_2345_AIE.jpgWell, I intend on getting there one day — maybe on a cruise with a slower method of travel that takes time and takes it all in stride — must be my new-age attitude. ‘Til then, I’ll take a 2 week celebration any day. I can still go 80’s dancing (our night was rescheduled due to ice and below zero, double digits cold)  — until my knees give out — and also read up on my older son’s book, 50 things to do when your fifty! 😉

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Where is the Best Arts District?

There are 20 city entries in the running to find the best arts district. One could be your favorite. You have until March 1st if you’d like to vote via USA Today’s website.

Arts District via USAToday on Art Is EverywhereOf course I’m voting for New Orleans’ Warehouse District and the Contemporary Arts Center. It’s where we were recently, along the strip with the Ogden and WWII Museums, while visiting family for Thanksgiving.

Arts District via USAToday2 on Art Is EverywhereThere are many arts worth exploring in New Orleans, which is rich with music and culinary arts as well. This link takes you to previous posts about New Orleans’ murals.

Click on the side link or here for previous posts with a New Orleans theme.

Coincidentally, at one point, Alexandria, VA was on as similar list for one of the most art friendly cities. I’m lucky to have lived in both.

 

Gala at Gallier

We had a great time in New Orleans for Thanksgiving but we’re sorry we missed this spectacular gala-festival at Gallier Hall.

Gallier Hall Lights on AIEHere’s a more complete story leading up to the event and be sure to watch the video below with La Maison’s production this past September in Bucharest.

Read here all about La Maison Production.

Hope this helps to light up your holiday spirit.

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