2014 Jazz Fest poster by Terrance Osborne

It might not seem like it, but I’m a serious art fan. Aside from the books on my shelves, the only inanimate objects I care about are my collection. Though I love my family and friends oh-so-very-much, I would be hard-pressed if in an emergency, I had to choose between my photo albums and my art…because I am pretty sure my art would win.

Does that come off as heartless?

Every single piece captures periods (and people) in my life that I never want to forget. For example, I have a giant map of Middle Earth that my first love created for me, an intricate and absolutely amazing amalgam of maps researched from different editions of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Not only does the map embody my favorite literary adventure, it also brings back detailed memories of a most loving, painful, illuminating and exploratory 5-year stretch of my life.

A three-piece collection of bright, Murano glass straight from Italy were gifts from one of my dearest friends back in the Bay Area, and though we aren’t close anymore, whenever I look at the shimmering golden fish or orange dolphin, the years I spent with him come flooding back. A thrift-store find of a knight poised before a castle in the mists done in watercolor symbolizes my freedom and sense of adventure, as it hung in my first (worthwhile) apartment after college and a small print of Van Gogh’s “L’├ęglise d’Auvers-sur-Oise” is a constant reminder of a truly unforgettable 7-day vacation in Paris.  

What this all boils down to is a rational, fully verifiable excuse (to myself), so that I might purchase this year’s Jazz Fest poster. In all likelihood, I will not be attending the massive festival because a) I am too poor to afford the tickets and b) I just can’t party like I used to. BUT! That does not change the fact that I would LOVE to own Aural History: Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band by one of my favorite New Orleans artists, Terrance Osborne. I mean, don’t you want it? Osborne is so incredibly awesome to me because he sees New Orleans awfully close to the way I see it in my mind’s eye…colorful, alive, vibrant, joyous, soulful. His paintings automatically paste a huge stupid grin across my face, regardless of my mindset at the moment of viewing. Ultimately, I aspire to own an original painting by Mr. Osborne, but until then a print will definitely do.

It’s time to meet Margaret

Over a year ago, I posted about a statue we found between Camp & Prytania when John and I made an unsuccessful attempt to buy a used car. The statue depicts Margaret Haughery, a great New Orleans philanthropist who dedicated her life to helping the poor, especially the lives of orphans. This sculpture, created by artist Alexander Doyle in 1884, was the first dedicated to a woman in the U.S.

Well, it seems that a local organization called The Monumental Task Committee is hosting a Margaret Haughery Meet & Greet fundraiser at the Margaret Gardens Inn on Sunday, August 19th where all proceeds go directly into the cleaning and restoration of the “Margaret” monument. The Irish House, Vega Tapas Cafe, and Rouses are among the many supporters who will be offering delicious food and drink for the event. Most importantly, attendees will get the opportunity to learn more about amazing Miss Margaret, “The Bread Woman of New Orleans,” and how an Irish immigrant whose own familial loss inspired her to adopt a city.

Sense of place: Upperline Restaurant

There are many places around town that evoke a sense of art, comfort, beauty and local character — a sense that this particular location could be found no where else on earth but New Orleans. Some are rather obvious like the historic French Quarter, Commander’s Palace or Jax Brewery, while others are far more subtle, yet no less resonant. One such establishment that retains this strong sense of place is Upperline Restaurant.

Last week, our friend Lorin invited John and I to dinner at Upperline and we were both very excited, not only to taste the classic local cuisine crafted by Chef Anthony Spizale (who recently took over the helm), but to experience that wonderful meal in the gorgeous “shotgun-turned-restaurant” decorated by owner JoAnn Clevenger. This was my 84th cheat and I am now down 80 pounds.

Not only does she own Upperline, but Mrs. Clevenger also works as the restaurant’s gracious hostess who seated us last week at one of the best tables in the house. At once, we were in awe of the ceiling-to-floor art displayed on every wall, most of which was created by Louisiana artists. When we could tear our eyes from the riot of color and creativity around us, we finally managed to select from a three course prix fixe menu.

Soon after adorning our table with a large loaf of warm French bread and a thick slab of butter, our appetizers arrived. I went with an Upperline original, Fried Green Tomatoes smothered in a shrimp remoulade sauce. Crispy, tart and absolutely delicious, I was reluctant to share my tomatoes, but knew it would be the only way I’d get a taste of John’s dish, Oysters St. Claude. Beautifully plump fried oysters were balanced atop dollops of rich, garlicky sauce that neither of us could resist swabbing up with hunks of the soft, French bread.

As the empty plates were whisked away, our entrees were paraded out of the kitchen, several different servers bringing our dishes all at the same time. Although John would definitely argue with me, I thought my dish was the best, two large drumsticks of slow-cooked Roast Duck with Garlic Port sauce and candied sweet potatoes. The juicy duck was so flavorful it really didn’t need the sumptuous sauce served on the side, but I used it to lovingly dip several hunks regardless. John inhaled his Cane River Country Shrimp with mushrooms and bacon over a crispy fried grit cake rather quickly, but not before I managed a few bites.

At last, there was dessert and I couldn’t resist ordering the ubiquitous Bread Pudding, Upperline’s version featuring honey and pecans in a thick toffee sauce. John, on the other hand, didn’t blink an eye when he chose the Pecan Pie that arrived with a large dollop of freshly whipped cream. Both desserts were fabulous and while we ate, we were fortunate to be regaled with stories about the restaurant and its art from Mrs. Clevenger herself. One tale that stood out was how a devoted diner was dithering over what to name his racehorse and when JoAnn suggested he name it “Upperline,” he did! Plus, after the horse was dubbed, it went on to win two successive races!

I was feeling so comfortable and welcome that even though we’d already been there for several hours, I felt like I could have easily hung out for several more. We reluctantly followed a couple of faithful diners out of the door and heard their promises to JoAnn that they’d return next week at the same time and I longed to repeat it. Upperline and Mrs. Clevenger distinctly possess the genuine “feeling” that is New Orleans and if you love this city like I do, you’ll have a hard time ending your visit.