Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hunting Homes: NOLA Exteriors

I love this blue and raspberry exterior combo!
 I think it is appropriate to write about looking at houses today, as this is the first anniversary of the first time I saw our new home. Last year on this day I took the train to Charlotte and we commenced our whirlwind two day house hunting weekend; all the time allotted to find a new home!
 
The famous Viuex Carre upper balcony.
 
We found out on September 27th or so that Jerry was being transferred and we would have to walk away from the dream house we were building in Raleigh. We had to be here by December 8th, so we didn't have much time. Luckily for us, the company paid our relocation expenses. They would have paid for 60 days of apartment rent, but we didn't want to unsettle the kids any more than we had to. We also had been living upstairs in my parents' house all summer while we built our house and were more than ready to have a home of our own.
 
I just love this whole house! These are the exterior colors we used
 in the house we were building in Raleigh.
 
Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of house hunting here. The house we were building had everything we'd ever hoped for and more, but what could we do? It's taken a long time, but I am finally ready to concede this area is a better fit for our family. Our teenager is much happier in school. The younger kids still miss their cousins and grandparents, but we manage to see some or all of them every month or so.
 
Intricate tile work
I still miss the house we were building, but we are working hard to bring this one up to snuff. I miss my friends from home more than I even imagined. The people here are nice, but so far I haven't managed to find a new group that meshes as well as my old friends. I save time running errands since I never run into friends and stand around talking for hours as I used to. I do like living near the lake, though.
 
Lovely salmon and teal
This is my final New Orleans post. Sorry to inundate you with NOLA. As you might be able to tell, I really enjoyed it. It surprised me. I thought New Orleans would be another Key West, a place that disappointed me when I visited. Key West was filthy, had drunken bums lying all over the beach and beggars everywhere. In its defense, this was 20 years ago during Spring Break, so it was full of inebriated college students. From things I'd heard I expected New Orleans to be much the same, but since I could tag along on a business trip for the cost of a plane ticket, food, and one hotel night, I thought I might as well.
 
A neat old door
 
If you stay on the touristy end of Bourbon Street New Orleans is much as I expected. Further down Bourbon toward the river the homes get very elite, and the rest of the city is really wonderful. It is dirty and smelly. There are some beggars and crime, but all this is eclipsed by the amazing sense of history and the incredible beauty of the place. I also must say, I think New Orleans is the friendliest city I've ever visited in the world. I had more long conversations with strangers there, in elevators, on park benches, than I've ever had in my life.
 
 
Me in my hat, in front of St. Louis Cathedral.
 
I wore an oversized picture hat most days, as the weather was very sunny and the heat torpid, and all over the city I received compliments on my hat, my shirts, and other clothes from people just walking down the street. NOLA celebrates and appreciates fashion. Even in the oppressive heat and humidity, most women residing there dress in elaborate fashions, particularly retro-style dresses, and most wear hats. Their hair and make-up are inspiring as well: fully done up even in the most brutal heat! NOLA houses are much like the women; fully done up with gorgeous architectural details, beautiful gardens, and brilliant colors. This post is all about the details. I hope you are as inspired as I was!
 
Mint green and butter yellow
 
Coming home from a trip to a hotel with maid service and room service is always a letdown. Now I'm the one who has to keep everything running; I can't go for a walk and come home to a clean house! It certainly is nice to get to experience hotel living once in a while, though! I have lots of ideas for our house now. The whole house needs power washing and the trim all needs painting. The front door needs painting as well, and I'm trying to decide if I should just do basic black to match the shutters or if I should take a hint from NOLA and try a color. The siding is a pale creamy yellow, so I was thinking light blue might look nice and would have the Scandinavian hint I love. But then, a dark Charleston green on the door and shutters would be very classic and old Southern. I am going to have to take some time to decide.
 
Gorgeous Steamboat Gothic corbels
 
Another fun thing to do in New Orleans is visit all the places that are supposed to be haunted. As I mentioned in my Haunted Beauty post, I wasn't aware the city had such a history of hauntings. I don't know what rock I've been under, but I just never heard anything about it! I already told you all about our haunted hotel, but I have one more mysterious little story for you. We ate brunch at the Court of the Two Sisters restaurant. I had heard the food in this 4-star establishment was good, and it certainly was! It is worth every penny to eat there. You can sample all different famous NOLA dishes, as well as regional fare and typical breakfast and brunch stuff, like omelets made to order. Every single thing I tried was fabulous. Usually brunch buffets are hit or miss, but this place is exceptional! Besides the great food, the building and its courtyard is very famous for its beauty and history. The gates to the house were actually a gift from Queen Isabella of Spain, and touching them while you a make a wish is said to make your dream come true in as few as 10 days. I touched both gates and wished, as did Jerry, but I just couldn't get a good picture of the gates to save my life. Every shot had a kind of mist obscuring it, like lens flare from bright sunlight, except we were in the dark hallway into the restaurant. Later I found out mists and orbs are evidently common in photos taken here, as the place is supposed to be haunted! When I read about that I looked back at the one photo I still had of the gate (I deleted most of them since they weren't good) and I can see two ladies' faces! Could these be the Two Sisters themselves? I will let you decide. One face is next to the upper right corner of the gate and one is in the lower left corner of the center panel, about a foot and a half below the graffiti reading "HE".
 
Just for fun, can you find the two sisters' faces in my misty photo of Isabella's gate?
 Yesterday evening I saw the eggplant and some peppers were ready, as well as a ton of basil, so I made my Caponata Pasta Bake. My kids devour this, and that makes me happy. Not only does it have six different vegetables plus the herb, basil, but in the summer I can usually take most of the ingredients right from my garden when I'm ready to cook. The ultimate in healthy and cheap!
 
Fresh produce from the garden
 
Caponata is an Italian relish with a tangy and delicious flavor. I love it raw, but the recipes I see always call for it to be cooked down. You can use it as a spread for bread or crackers, a topping for Crostini or Bruschetta, or a pasta sauce. It freezes well, so if you have an abundance of vegetables you can divide it into tubs and freeze it for quick weeknight suppers later in the year. I adapted my recipe from a Southern Living crostini recipe.
 
Caponata, after being cooked down.
I always chop everything in the food processor, so it's really easy. You just throw everything in the machine and chop it up and then cook it down! Since this is such a family favorite, I will share it with you. I always serve this with Italian bread or yeast rolls to sop up every bit of the delicious caponata sauce!
 
Caponata Pasta Bake
 
Caponata Pasta Bake
serves 8-10
 
3 small tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small to medium eggplant
1 small onion
1 or 2 small sweet bell peppers ( I use purple, but green or any other color will work)
1/4 cup pimento stuffed green olives
2 1/2 TBSP red wine vinegar
2 1/2 TBSP olive oil
1 1/2 TBSP sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, approximately 4 ounce ball, sliced into thin slices and quartered
16 oz pasta, such as shells or elbows, cooked
 
While you are cleaning and preparing the other ingredients, slice the eggplant into rounds, place on wire rack, and sprinkle with salt. Let this stand for 15-20 minutes until liquid beads up on the eggplant. Dab the moisture off with a clean paper towel. This will remove bitterness from the eggplant.
 
Once the moisture has been drawn from the eggplant, place all ingredients but cheese and pasta in a food processor and process until the mixture is finely chopped. Place the eggplant mixture in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or simmer on the stove 30 minutes until the mixture has tightened and cooked down. While the eggplant mixture cooks, boil water and cook the pasta.
 
When the pasta and eggplant mixture are cooked, toss them together in a large, oven-safe pot or casserole. Top with the mozzarella, laying each quarter-circle of cheese on top of the pasta in an attractive pattern. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 more minutes until the cheese has melted. Serve hot.
 
I hope your family enjoys this meal as much as mine does! It's so comforting to serve a healthy meal and watch your children eat it all up! I always have my kids helping in the garden from a very young age. They help plant, weed, water, and harvest the food, as well as help me cook it, so they are very invested in the food and are happy to eat it. If you have someone rejecting vegetables, I highly recommend this approach. All three of my children will eat pretty much any vegetable I put in front of them. Since we have an organic garden they are allowed to eat straight from the plants, and I often find one in the garden filching tomatoes, grapes, berries, or some other favorite treat!

Another great NOLA house
 
 I did notice recently a lot of my alternative wellness articles have begun listing olive oil in the same category of vegetable oils, as an oil not to be heated. Some of you may have heard, though it isn't the established nutritional wisdom in the media, vegetable oils are mostly not good for you. Canola, soybean, grapeseed, and other oils advertised as being heart-healthy are not. Our system of storing them on shelves in light bottles at room temperature for months or years destroys the oil. Although you can't smell or taste it, the oil in the store is probably rancid. If you want to access the healthy oil inside flax seeds, grape seeds, or other seeds, then you should keep the seeds in the fridge and grind them in a grain mill or extractor blender (like a NutriBullet) just before you eat them. Cooking vegetable oils damages them even more. These oils mutate when heat is applied and can actually damage your heart! It turns out beef tallow and non-hydrogenated lard are much healthier fats for cooking. A vegetable option that can withstand heat and storage is coconut oil, non-hydrogenated.
 
Until recently, olive oil and peanut oil were considered stable enough to cook with. Recently, however, I've been reading cautions against heating these oils as well. I have some trouble with the olive oil recommendation. For one thing, olive oil is the prime cooking oil in Italy, where people have much less heart disease than here in America. Now, Italians have far greater access to freshly-pressed oil than we do here. Many press their own oil from their own trees. I think for this recipe you should find California-grown olive oil, which is more likely to be fresh here in the US. Get the smallest, darkest bottles you can. If possible, order your oil straight from a farm so you can make sure you get the most recent pressing. If you are using fresh oil I think cooking the caponata at 350 or simmering it for 30 minutes is moderate and won't damage the oil. If it worries you, though, use coconut oil. All this nutritional research is very recent, so I am more likely to trust foods and cooking methods people have been using for centuries!

This gate offers a glimpse of a hidden courtyard.
 
 Recently my mom sent me an article on how to make big bucks selling on eBay. I was already using most of the practices in my store, but there was one I hadn't tried. One woman said she always lists 100-200 items at any given time, even out of season things. I always had about 50 items listed at a time and I never listed stuff out of season. I thought I might as well go ahead and try it out, though, and I did see my sales go way up. I would say I probably doubled my number of items and gross profit in the past two months. In fact, my sales went up so much I am now under 100 items again because I am running out of stuff! Later today I absolutely must get into my office to finish some things and list them. Paypal also notified me I finally met the requirement to submit my sales to the IRS. Poor Jerry! I will probably have to file taxes for this year. He's been worrying about me no longer qualifying as a hobbyist and bumping him into another tax bracket! You can visit my store and help bump us up here: http://stores.ebay.com/atelier-mandaline.
 

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