Last Monday I sat on a plane at Louis Armstrong International Airport, Brian’s hand in mine as we taxied down the runway and lifted off, on our way home to Charlottesville. Out the window I watched a city that I love dearly fall away, nostalgic and missing New Orleans already.
We’d arrived Friday morning to heat and humidity that we won’t (hopefully) see in Virginia for another two months. After checking bags at our hotel, changing into shorts and slathering on sunscreen we set out into the city with two friends who’d joined us for four days of exploring, absorbing, listening and, most importantly, eating. As the veteran visitors, Brian and I had laid out an agenda based on food – our nine meals were carefully scheduled and the rest of the trip was woven loosely around their locations.
There were muffalettas and seafood po-boys, chicken andouille gumbo and spicy jambalaya, raw oysters and bags of boiled crawfish, black ham biscuits and fluffy omelets served with fries, powdered beignets and pecan-laden pralines. We sipped Pimm’s Cups as we strolled the French Quarter, cooled off with a creamy Bourbon Milk Punch at Bourbon House, swirled ice in our vodka tonics while listening to set after set of incredible jazz. We walked and biked between those meals to help counter the indulgence of the weekend, oftentimes feeling that what we really, really needed was to find a shady spot to stretch out horizontally for a nice, long nap.
As New Orleans disappeared beneath a bank of hazy clouds last Monday I found myself thinking that we could live there, Brian and I, in a cute Creole cottage just downriver from the French Quarter. We’d paint our home in shades of blue and grey with a vibrant yellow, or maybe eggplant, accent around the windows and doors. There would be bikes leaned up against the side of the house, one with a basket, ready at a moment’s notice to be ridden into the Quarter for lunch or to the Crescent City Farmer’s Market for fresh, local seafood and produce. Our yard would be tiny, just big enough for a vegetable garden and a stone terrace with an umbrella-covered picnic table. We’d string lanterns from the trees and host crawfish boils on that terrace, invite guests who would wear jaunty hats and sip frosty cocktails as they unconsciously swayed to the sounds of Doreen’s clarinet wafting from the stereo.
It is a lovely dream, one that I could see becoming a reality one day if we could just find a way to get used to the stifling heat. And the cockroaches – complete terror only scratches the surface of the affect that those little buggers have on me. And the city’s status as the murder capital of the USA… Minor details, since I already have the biggest obstacle solved – vegetables. Did you notice that my list of traditional NOLA fare does not include even a hint of green? While we happily consumed fried / buttered / sugared food for four full days, I believe that four days must be the limit. For as I dreamt about our little blue Creole cottage and crawfish boils and lanterns strung from trees and clinking glasses of frosty beverages, I managed to squeeze a giant bowl of homegrown greens onto the linen-covered table in the middle of that backyard terrace.
A vegetable garden would be an absolute necessity to our New Orleans lifestyle.
The next day, back at work in Charlottesville and fully submerged in reality, Brian and I met a friend for lunch at Feast. I ordered a mixed salad plate, and while I couldn’t stop talking about the wonderful food in New Orleans, my mind was distracted by how amazingly satisfying the plate full of veggies in front of me was. And on Saturday, at our own City Market, we filled our basket with all the green we could get our hands on – two heads of lettuce, two bunches of both kale and collards, two pounds of asparagus.
I plan to share some of our favorite New Orleans-inspired dishes here on Bella Eats in the next month or two (along with some photographs from our trip!), but just had to give our systems a break this last 10 days. I’d originally thought that a full month of NOLA fare on this little blog could be fun, but have decided instead to spread those rich, indulgent dishes out, to balance them with recipes like this side of wilted spinach tossed with fresh peas, garlic and scallions. It’s better this way, I promise.
Tangles of earthy spinach play well with the sweet peas in this dish. The mild flavors are complimented nicely by the subdued bite of sliced garlic and a generous handful of scallions. Serve alongside a fillet of white fish dressed simply with lemon, sea salt and herbs for a healthy, feel-good-to-the-core meal.
Spinach with Peas and Scallions
adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter, divided
- 1 bunch of scallions, dark and light green parts diced (about 1/4 cup)
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 cups of fresh or frozen peas
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 large handfulls of spinach, tough stems removed
- sea salt and pepper
- Heat olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in deep skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and sliced garlic, stirring to coat with oil and butter. Let saute’ for 2-3 minutes, not letting the garlic brown.
- Add the peas, and saute’ for another 2-3 minutes, until the garlic starts to turn golden brown. Add the wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes. If using fresh peas, be sure to test one before adding the spinach to be sure that it is cooked.
- Add the spinach, stirring to coat with liquid. Allow spinach to heat through and wilt, 2-3 more minutes. Add last tbsp of butter and salt and pepper to taste.