We decided to hang in the Quarter this morning/early afternoon,
keep an eye on the weather. It was hazy, warm, humid; black clouds
loomed in the distance. We discovered a bookshop --Kitchen Witch --
that specializes in new and vintage cookbooks: heaven, for me,
at least. Many of the older books had recipes cut from newspapers
slipped in between pages. Many of the books I have at home were here,
some in better shape than mine, others worn and food-splattered
from years in some cook's kitchen. The owner stood behind the counter
and explained how to make a good roux to some young Asian women.
There was a shrine for his recently departed cat, "Bob," on a kitchen chair
with candles, photos. His black lab, "Sophia," slept curled on an
upholstered dining-table chair, hanging off the edges, oblivious.
Here's an excerpt from The Virginia Housewife or Methodical Cook,
To roast a fore-quarter of shote: joint it for the convenience
of carving, roast it before a brisk fire; when done, take the
skin off, dredge and froth it, put a little melted butter with
some caper vinegar over it, or serve it with a mint sauce.
Our next stop was Faulkner House Books, a lovely alley-of-a-store
with shelves all the way to the very high ceiling. Mostly new books,
save for a glass case of Faulkner early editions. I was delighted to find
a copy of my Seattle friend Peter Pereira's book Saying the World.
So nice to run into old friends when far from home!
We stopped for pralines: I say praw-leans, Paul says pray-leans.
I say that I'm right and he says that he's right. Don't ask why
we didn't ask the sales clerk how she says it...and we stopped
for PRAWlines twice. So.
The French Market was overflowing stall after stall with ticky-tacky
imported tourist crap: polka-dotted luggage sets (come with a guarantee
that the zippers will break first time you use them), faux African masks,
piles of voodoo dolls for $1 each, feathered masks, plastic mardi-gras beads
by the thousand. Peppered about were a few actual artists with
their own work, but few is the key word here.
We stood on the sidewalk for about 15 minutes and listened
to a teenage brass band -- two trombones, trumpet, tuba,
two drums -- as the clouds pushed in darker and darker
above us, finally to let out tremendous booms of thunder
and a few scattered raindrops which quickly increased
to a massive downpour. We ducked into Fiorella's
for some lunch. As two cockroaches flicked in and out
of the newspapers beside us on the counter, the storm outside
continued to grow until there appeared to be a waterfall
just outside the door, descending over the awning.
We moved to a table slightly away from the roaches,
and when our food finally came, after a very long wait
(and the cook neglected to make my deep-fried dill pickles)
it was worth it -- fried chicken, red beans-n-rice, stewed cabbage
with a vinegar tang. Iced tea. Paul had an oyster po'boy.
I took a long time to eat, tucked-in there from the storm.
Fiorella's (which has been open since 1936)
was a bit of a dive the last time I was there, in 2003,
and seems to have suffered post-Katrina. There were huge
water stains along one wall extending from the ceiling
to about halfway down, peeling plaster, chunks missing
in the plaster. Very run down, dingy. But after a few bites
of that chicken, and those beans, and that cabbage, I noticed
nothing but what was in front of me. It was one of those
food moments where you exist in only food-time, shut off
from the rest of experience. I made Paul wait as I savored
and chewed, the perfect blend of flavors and -- dare I say it -- grease!