Dixybell's Blog

Its been months since I’ve written an entry and much has happened since I have. A disappointing Ole Miss football season has come and gone.  My relationship with H didn’t survive the long distance separation.  We are finally at what seems to be the home stretch of  a long cold winter, at least by New Orleans standards.

Now, we’ve come to Valentine’s Day. Surprisingly enough, I’m not bitter about this day that most single people dread. Not that I don’t look back nostalgically on the night I spent last year at my favorite restaurant with H. This year, I return to my traditional celebration of the day, girls’ night out to dinner. After all, not all love is romantic love. If asked what it is that I love, good friends and good food are at the top of the list. To this day, my favorite Valentine’s memory is from my senior year at Ole Miss. Four of my best friends and I dressed up, dined at City Grocery, the best restaurant in Oxford, then drank the rest of the night away at one our favorite haunts, the Burgundy Room. It doesn’t sound special, but it was. My friends and I had such a deep and genuine love for one another and we were so happy to be together. This year, I’m sharing my tradition with new friends who share my love for food and wine. We’re going to La Petite Grocery, a small French restaurant on Magazine St.  Although we may be surrounded by couples, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not the only group of friends enjoying the special menu.

That’s what is so special about New Orleans. True, it has been called the country’s most romantic city. One might think that it would be difficult being single in such a city. Not for those of us that can find fulfillment in all she has to offer. From the live music any given night at the corner bar, to the world-class dinners at neighborhood restaurants, or walks on the river listening to the fog horns blow, a girl can be easily wooed.  This only be enhanced if she surrounds herself with others who enjoy the same things.

Of course, I have hopes of falling in love again. There’s nothing like it in the world. But this year, I’m thankful to have rekindled my longterm love affair with my hometown. Happy Valentine’s Day, New Orleans!!

There’s a passage in the Bible that says, “Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)  I’ve witnessed this personally throughout my life when each of my beloved grandparents, as well as great aunts and uncles passed away.  I remember being humbled by how many family members and family members traveled from afar, some crossing oceans, to honor the deceased loved one, but also comfort those left behind.

I think that’s why Katrina left such an emotional toll on us all.  I don’t want to minimize the loss several people have felt with the loss of a loved one or the loss of property due to floods, hurricanes, earth quakes or fires.  However, when people experience these losses, they are able to lean on neighbors, family members, and church groups for support.  Katrina caused such wide devastation to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast that none of us had a sturdy shoulder to lean on.  We were all either numb and in shock, or traumatized from what we had been through.  Even those few who didn’t suffer losses had the genuine feelings of survival guilt.  But, life moved on.  After all even if we were suffering, there was always someone else who was suffering more.  My brother-in-law lost his precious mother as a result of her evacuation, and the hospital she ended up checking into wasn’t able to treat her cancer as aggressively and her hospital at home in New Orleans.  Thousands upon thousands of my fellow New Orleanians were trapped in attics with water rising by the minute, stranded on rooftops, huddled in the leaking Super Dome, baking in the heat outside of the Convention Center, and ultimately rescued by either helicopter, boat, or bus just to be evacuated to far away places leaving all they’ve ever known as home behind.  One of my father’s closest friends was called into Memorial-Baptist Hospital, where the things he witnessed and endured are unimaginable and he may still have effects from post traumatic stress five years later.

My personal story is not as dramatic, but I was still significantly affected from the storm.  My Lakeview home endured eight feet of flood from the 17th Street Canal breach, and the water stayed for 3 weeks.  I only looked at the pictures that my mother took when she went to assess the damage once, but the air in the house was so thick that I thought the pictures themselves were dirty.  I lost everything but my dog and a suitcase full of clothes that I had already packed for beach. I’ve always been one to have my suitcase packed under my bed, and living in New Orleans, I traveled to the beach pretty much every weekend.  After all, Labor Day weekend was the next week.  I wasn’t sad for losing anything material, what I felt was more nostalgic and sentimental.  My home was built by my maternal great grandfather and grandfather.  It was where my mother and her two brothers grew up, and was the site of countless family gatherings including Christmas Eve parties, Easter Dinners, Friday Family Fish Feasts.  Most emotionally, it was my grandma and grandpa’s house.  It was where my sisters and I visited our sweet Grandma and our handsome and funny Grandpa.  We were lucky enough to live in the same city as our grandparents, so they were our most frequent and best babysitters.  Unfortunately, Grandpa passed away too young from Cancer when I was in second grade, and Grandma also succumbed to Cancer a couple of years before Katrina.  Although I missed them everyday, along with my fraternal grandparents, Memere and PaPa, I felt blessed to live in their home, where they lived and died, and have a tactile bond with them.  All of that was gone, thanks to Katrina.

For a year or two, I was pretty numb.  I ended up settling in Oxford, MS, my second home, and bartending at a friend’s sports bar.  Oxford embraced me and many other transplants.  I felt comforted by friends and warmed by many, many rounds of Jack Daniels.

Through it all, I had one constant, my best friend and eternal companion, Backer.  I had adopted the chocolate lab a year before from an old flame and friend who had enlisted into the Navy.  Backer was going to live in Dallas with his owner’s mother and another Chocolate lab, whom he didn’t get along with.  This was no good.  Backer and I had an instant bond when I met him back in 2002, when I was living in Oxford completing my fellowship year in speech therapy.  I went to a “late night” after the bars closed and Backer’s owner picked me up in the air.  Backer didn’t like this at all, and started to bark ferociously at him to let me down.  So, it was pretty much love at first sight.  Even before he was officially my dog, we both knew we would end up together.  He would often follow me home after I left his owner’s parties.  So, it wasn’t a shock to his father when I offered to take over the care of Backer.

From the time I picked him up from his temporary home in Dallas, we were inseparable.  He accompanied me on all road trips to the beach and to Oxford.  He followed me everywhere in the house including the bathroom.  He slept right next to me every night, until his hips got too bad this year to jump into bed, then he crawled under the bed and slept directly under me.  Lord knows how many nights I was vibrated to sleep by his deep snores.

On August 29, 2005, after lunch with a friend in Oxford, I got home to a quiet condo and my family staring at the TV, mouths open, but not saying a word.  My mother finally told me that the now world famous 17th Street Canal wall breached and Lakeview was under water.  Looking at the surreal footage on CNN, I dropped to the floor and Backer crawled into my lap.  He was 85 pounds, but always thought he was a lap dog.  It was exactly the comfort I needed.  Backer and I had gotten to the point that so many pets and their owners get to, where we could read each other almost intuitively.

After Katrina, Backer and I settled in Oxford (again!!) for 2 years, enjoying the carefree life in what I call Never-Never Land, where no one is alone and no one grows up.   It was Backer who led me to my beloved boyfriend, H, whom had an equally close relationship with his adorable chocolate lab, Dos.  H and I first bonded while he was drinking beer where I bar-tended and one of us mentioned that we had a chocolate lab.  Our first date was to the dog park, where we introduced our babies, whose relationship became as dynamic as our own.  (That’s another story for another time.)

Backer and I spent a summer at the beach in Gulf Shores, moved to Nashville for three years just to fall victim to yet another catastrophic flood, and moved back home to New Orleans earlier this summer.  Everyday, Backer was my shadow, best friend, and child.  On Thursday, August 12, I got home at about 4:00, was greeted, as usual, at the door by my sweet boy.  He was smiling and jumping, ready to go on our traditional afternoon walk.  Although it was raining, we went out anyway.  After all, Backer was a lab and loved the water.  So we took our usual route and he marked his usual spots.  When we got home, he got to do one of his favorite things, get dried off with a towel.   You may not believe it, but he liked to pretend that he was a bull and ran into the towel.  He also played peak-a-boo with the towel.  I kid you not!!  Later we took a rainy afternoon nap together on my futon.

About an hour later, I walked to the back of my shotgun rental house to get some food from the kitchen.  By the time I returned to the front room, Backer had thrown up and was breathing heavy.  After a few minutes, I could tell that something wasn’t right.  The first vet I brought him to couldn’t find anything on x-rays, but thought he had eaten something that didn’t agree with him.  He gave him a sedative to make him feel better and mineral oil to lubricate his stomach in case there was something still in there that needed to get out.  I brought Backer home, but he didn’t get any better.  Thank goodness, a good friend of mine came over to watch the Saints’ preseason game.  A friend of his was on call at the local emergency veterinarian.  We lifted Backer into my car and raced him over.  The veterinarian took some more x-rays of his abdomen, but again found nothing.  She thought that something was wrong, though, because his abdomen was sensitive to the touch.  She advised that I leave Backer overnight for observation and so she could do a barium swallow study.  I agreed, since the alternative of me waking up every 5 minutes to check on him would have been exhausting.  So my friend and I drove back to my house, he left, I took a Benadryl, so I could get some sleep, and I went to bed with plans to go to work then pick up my cured puppy dog.

About an hour later, I shuttered in my sleep.  Then the phone rang.  The Backer Baby Boy had had a seizure and was in cardiac arrest.  He had been given CPR for 15 minutes, but was no longer breathing on his own.  His vet asked if I wanted her to continue.  I told her that he was already gone, and she could stop.  I got out of bed and drove over to tell him goodbye and gather his things.  An autopsy revealed that he had cancer in his liver, gall bladder, and spleen.  The vet explained that although something he ate probably got him sick today, but he had been trying to be stoic and hide his terminal sickness.  Once he was given the sedative earlier in the day, he was able to let go and the cancer took over.  His body couldn’t fight anymore.  We agreed that his sudden death was a blessing in disguise.  Rather than enduring treatment that would only delay the inevitable, Backer had a great last day and passed peacefully and on “good meds”.

The days that followed, I felt what Jesus was talking about on the Mount.  When I got home about 2:30 am on Friday the 13th, I sent my parents and H text messages then cried myself to sleep.  When I finally woke up, I had about 10 missed phone calls, messages, and texts from friends and family expressing their sorrow for the passing of Backer.  What touched me most was the number of people who called me crying.  My friend Dee told me that it wasn’t just sadness of losing Backer, but it was the relationship between me and him that everyone witnessed.  They knew the pain I was in.

My oldest and dearest friend brought cupcakes, then took me to dinner and out for drinks that night.  My neighbor also brought me cupcakes and a plant.  Ironically, I don’t like sweets.  However, anyone who knew Backer knows that he had a sweet tooth.  I have many stories about him consuming whole pies and cakes from counter tops.

The next day, H drove into town from Florida, where he was visiting his grandmother.  His strong arms around me were exactly what I needed.  We sat at my house for about an hour so I could cry to him and tell him what happen, and he could listen and comfort me.  Then I was ready to get out of the house.  Being in the house still is just a constant reminder of the void that Backer left.  I wanted to go let my two other favorite men, other than H, lift my spirits.  I needed some live music.

So, H and I headed to the Marigny, ate dinner at the Praline Connection, and walked over to d.b.a. to hear John Boutte sing an amazing set.  If you’ve never heard John sing, do so as soon as possible.  His voice hits you right in your soul.  His play list included a flawless Ave Maria, which he sang in honor of his band mate whom was in Boston burying his mother.  When John Boutte completed his set, we still had enough time to drive across town to Rock & Bowl and catch Kermit Ruffins.

Apparently, there had been a 30th high school reunion before Kermit’s show, and the party didn’t stop when he started playing.  In fact, this might have been his best show I’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing like middle aged, drunk New Orleanians to cheer you up.  Kermit was laughing along with us as 3 particular women kept going up on stage, dancing and singing along with him.  Something tells me that he’s used to it.  Kermit’s daughter, Neshia who attends a local high school, also played a small set while her dad took a smoke break. 

Another highlight was someone who I thought was a guitar player in the band.  He was off to the side and had huge sunglasses on.  He was trying really hard to fit the mold of a rock guitarist.  At a closer look, I realized that he had down syndrome and was literally playing the part.  I found out, through talking to a few locals, that he is a long time employee of Rock & Bowl and gets up on stage all the time and pretends that he is in the band.  He must have watched hours of concert footage, because he had the part down perfectly, down to talking to the sound booth that his mic wasn’t working and looking back stage at I only can guess was his lady.  P.S., there was no back stage or sound booth.  His mic was unplugged.  Seeing this man on stage living his dream of being a musician was inspirational.  He definitely lifted my spirits.

I think about Backer everyday.  I’ll never forget the bond that we shared, or the support and comfort that my loved ones gave me after he passed.  But, the unique live music culture of my home of New Orleans also touched my heart.  I’m so happy to call New Orleans home.  This city has more soul than any other.

There was a time when I could be found most, if not every, Wednesday at Le Bon Temps Rouler to watch Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers.  When I was in graduate school at LSUHSC, I would leave choir practice at my church, Munholland UMC, with several other choir members in tow, to watch my favorite local jazz man.

I was first exposed to Kermit’s music when I attended a medical event with my parents held at the Parish Room of the House of Blues.  Kermit and his band, the Barbeque Swingers, were hired to play for the party.   My father, a local rheumatologist and fellow music enthusiast, was already familiar with Kermit.  While I was away at Ole Miss for undergrad, my father joined the House of Blues Foundation Room, so he was suddenly privy to the local music scene.  He told me that I was going to love the show, and he was right.  Characteristic of my father, who is not afraid to talk to anyone, he asked Kermit to play one of his signature songs, “Hide the Reefer”.   Now my father is by no means a proponent of “the herb”.  Even Kermit was apprehensive saying,”No, man.  I can’t play that song in a room of doctors!!”

But Dad insisted, bending the truth a little,”I’m the host of this party.  If anyone has a problem with it, send them to me.”

So he played the song and I was hooked.  He had me at first puff, of the trumpet that is.

Years went by and I caught less and less of his shows.  I moved back to Oxford for nine months after grad school, then moved back to New Orleans for 3 years.  During those 3 years at home, I’m sure I went to several shows.  I recently had a friend tell me that she can’t go see Kermit without thinking of me.  I took that as a complement.

Then Katrina happened.  After losing my Lakefront home to the flood, I decided to stay in Oxford where I had evacuated.  The only job I could find was bar tending at the Library Sports Bar, so trips to New Orleans were very few.  Anyone that has worked in the service industry knows what I mean.  I moved to Nashville 2 years later and stayed for 3 years.

So, the past 5 years have been virtually Kermit-less.  That is until the premier of Treme.  While watching the show with my boyfriend and his roommates, I let out a cheerful yelp during the first few scenes when the character Antoine Batiste visits Kermit to ask if he can have a spot with his band.  I had already decided to move back to New Orleans, but watching Treme before the move made my preparation that much more exciting.   Every week, I got a little dose of what I missed about New Orleans along with accurate representations of post Katrina New Orleans.  I got my weekly Kermit fix, even though it wasn’t live, but on HBO.  Now the whole nation knew Kermit’s music and personality.

I’ve lived in New Orleans for almost 2 months now and I still haven’t taken in a Kermit Ruffins’ show.  I had full intentions of going to the Jazz Camp Benefit Concert this past Wednesday, but since I’m not working this week due to low case loads on all 3 of my speech therapy summer jobs, I opted out of the $50. cover charge.  Kermit’s come a long way since his free Wednesday night shows at Le Bon Temps.

So if any one wants to see Kermit, I’m up for it!!  I miss him!

Two of the best things we do in New Orleans is mix a good cocktail and cook a good meal.  In fact, according to legend, it was local pharmacist, Antoine Amadee Peychaud, who mixed the first cocktail.  His mixture of stomach bitters and French brandy poured into soft boiled egg cups, called coquetiers, has gone though a few makeovers since the 19th century.

This past Thursday 4 of my friends and I got to experience just one of the many events celebrating the cocktail during the 8th annual Tales of the Cocktail.  We were lucky enough to go the Spirited dinner at Pelican Club.  The dinner and drinks were nothing short of amazing and conversation amongst old, dear friends flowed as freely as the booze–so freely, in fact, that I woke up the next morning with a tattoo on my right shoulder.  Thankfully, the tattoo was a washable logo of Genever, the spirit that sponsored the dinner.   The reminder of the evening stayed as long as my hangover, two days.  Below you will find our menu from the evening.  Read and salivate:

Devil’s Triangle Spirited Dinner

1st Course

Passed Appetizers

Lobster & Chive Dumplings

Scallop and Applewood Smoked Bacon Satay

Salt and Pepper Grilled Jumbo Gulf Shrimp

Alfonso Cocktail : sugar cube, bitters, Dubonnet Rouge, champagne orange peel

2nd Course

Hamachi and Poblano-Pineapple Ceviche in an orange-ginger sauce

Cocktail:  shiso leaf, Bols Genever, Rothman & Winter orchard pear, lemon, honey

3rd Course

Crawfish Udon Soup

Cocktail:   Clear Creek plum brandy, Bols Genever, crème Yvette, lemon juice, Luxardo maraschino brandied cherry

Intermezzo:   Surprise!

Cocktail:  Leblon Cachaca, Bols Genever, yellow chartreuse, lime

5th Course:

Gabi-Gui Korean Style Grilled Short ribs with lettuce for wrapping

Reflections on a glass of wine:  Bols Genever, boysenberry-balsamic gastrique, rare tea cellar forbidden forest lapsan souchong tea, rare tea cellar lemon meritage tea, cardamom simple syrup, bitters, smoked sage leaves

6th Course:

Banana & Blueberry Bread Pudding with coconut milk custard sauce

Cocktail: Bols Genever, homemade sarsaparilla, pedro Ximenex, copita smoked with dried orange peels

Here are 10 great things I’ve done so far in New Orleans:

In no particular order

1) Sunset from the Bywater:  I moved my cousin into her new digs in the Bywater, then we walked the short block to the river just in time to witness a gorgeous sunset.  This may be the prettiest view of the city.  Check out the picture on my profile.

2) Kenneth Smith Farewell dinner at Upperline: Several New Orleans members of Southern Foodways Alliance, myself and my parents included, had a wonderful meal at Upperline and honored Chef Kenneth Smith before he left his post in the Upperline kitchen to enter Notre Dame Seminary.

3)Pause for Dinner benefiting Louisiana SPCA: Several of my friends and I enjoyed pizza and pitchers of beer at Mark Twain’s Pizza.  Several restaurants, including Mark Twain’s donated 20% of their profits to LA SPCA.

4)EJGH Wellness Center: I finally joined a gym after living in New Orleans for 2 weeks.  It’s a great gym…..alittle far from my house, but close to my parents’ house and therefore free dinner and pool.  I’ve loved all the classes I’ve taken including Body Pump, Body Combat, and Pilates.  I’m going to try Piloga and Zumba this week.  I’ve really missed my Zumba class at the YMCA in Nashville.  I’ve also joined my mother once a week for a mobility class that I’ve really enjoyed, too.  Good mother daughter bonding to boot :)

5) The Porch at the Column’s Hotel: Is there a better place to drink a mint julep in the city on a beautiful evening?  I don’t think so.

6) Self Guided Bar Crawl in the French Quarter: I wanted to show my boyfriend whom was in town for the weekend as much as the real New Orleans as a could.  We headed to the Quarter after a shrimp poboy from Guy’s (more on that later).  We started at the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel.  I had the Pimm’s Cup, which was good, but honestly had a little too much sour mix.  I didn’t even know they had sour mix.  I think it should be just lemon juice, but I digress.  Next, we walked a few blocks to the Monteleone Hotel where we had another drink at the Carousel Bar.  I had another Pimm’s Cup, much better this round, and he had his second Gin & Tonic.  We, then made our way to his favorite french quarter bar, The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon St.  We both switched to beers at this point, thankfully.  After a few rounds we moved on to my favorite French Quarter bar, Pirate’s Alley Cafe and Absinthe Bar.  We both chose beer, again, instead of Absinthe.  It was a long day, after all.  Which leads us to #7.

7) John Boutte followed by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at d.b.a.: If you are in New Orleans on a Saturday night, consider going to the d.b.a. in the Marigny and catching John Boutte’s show.  He starts singing at 8pm so there’s still time to enjoy a late night in the quarter when he’s done.  However, there is usually someone good that follows him.   His voice is reminiscent of Sam Cook, but as he said on Treme, he sounds like John Boutte.   He has so much feeling in his voice that it brings tears to your eyes.  But, this is an intimate show.  If you are too loud while he’s trying to sing, you will either be hushed or Mr. Boutte may mouth the words,”Shut the F*** up!!”  We were smart and stayed for Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, who did not disappoint.

8)Crescent City Farmers’ Market: I had the day off this Tuesday, so I was finally able to make it to the Farmers’ Market at Tulane Square (formerly Uptown Square).  I found fresh, local veggies, herbs for my garden, and yummy shrimp ceviche for lunch.  for more info on the Crescent City Farmer’s market visit their website at: http://www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org/

9)My Garden/Deck/Compositing: I finally got around to planting my garden in my front and back yard.  I planted several flowers that attract bees, butterflies and humming birds, planted herbs for aroma and cooking, and put up some string lights and potted plants on my back deck.  I did all this so I can enjoy the outdoors.  If only I could do something about the Mosquitos!!  I’d love to get a bat house, but I live in a rental.  I’m not sure what my landlord would think.  I have enjoyed breakfasts on my front porch with a great view of my garden and watching my neighbors walk their dogs past my fence.  I’ve also started a composting system.  I have a kitchen compost canister, that I put vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, and used tea bags in.  Once it’s full I take it outside into my yard bin, which is a plastic garbage can that I drilled 1″ holes in the bottom and around the bottom lip.  If you have a kitchen compost canister and have trouble with fruit flies, mix equal parts kitchen soap and apple cider.  the flies are attracted to the smell of the cider and get stuck in the soap.

10) TREME: I enjoyed this series so much!!  I watched the first few episodes when I was still living in Nashville, but knew I was moving to New Orleans.  The show definitely got me excited about moving back home.  I got to watch the season finale in my new house in New Orleans.  It was a great closure to the season, but also gave good closure to things I’ve experienced since losing my home in Katrina 5 years ago.

So, I’ve officially lived in New Orleans for 1.5 months and finally following through with my plan to start a blog.  This is a way for me to keep myself accountable in enjoying local food, beverage, and music venues, yet remaining in shape and healthy……while also keeping my job ;)  In addition, I’m committing to be more environmentally conscious by frequenting more farmers’ markets, recycling, composting, etc.  I will do my best to document my progress, my success, and short falls.

I don’t claim to be a good writer, nutritionist, music expert, or exercise adviser.  I just know what I like and what works for me.  If you find my blog helpful, motivational, or entertaining, great; if not, that’s ok too.

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