Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Weekend Trip to New Orleans

If you have even lived in the Midwest during winter then you know that you will NEED to take a vacation in late February/Early March to get away from the cold, dreary, bleh days. Well, since this was our first winter in Chicago, we didn't know how bad it would be. I'm not talking about the temperatures or the snow. Honestly, the negative temperatures weren't that bad. Once it is below like 20 degrees, it is just cold (With the exception of the Polar Vortex this year... -53 definitely feels colder than the normal -20). Also, they handle snow so well here that it was never a problem. I'd rather it snow than rain during the winter so all that was fine. I'm talking about seasonal depression. It is a real thing, people! When you don't see the sun for months at a time, it does affect you. It was amazing seeing the transformation of our neighbor. He's a spirited guy that has lived here his whole life, he actually likes the winter and would usually even wear shorts! He started off chipper and bragging about how cold it gets but 3 months later, even he was cussing the clouds and his whole demeanor had changed to borderline angry.

I dealt with the seasonal depression by just taking some vitamin D and planning a trip to a warmer destination. Since we didn't know this was going to happen, we couldn't get away until mid-March and only for a long weekend but next year, we will definitely go somewhere beachy for a week at the end of February! Anyways, with the short notice and the limited getaway time, we decided to go to New Orleans for a long weekend. As a bonus, we were able to pay for the whole trip with points via our credit card!! If you like to travel, I highly recommend the Chase Reserve card. It is the first card that I've ever paid to have but the perks definitely out weight the cost. It is $450/year + $75/additional card but they give you a $300 travel credit each year, 3x points for travel and dining (my two favorite things!), FREE TSA pre-check, airport lounge access, and when it comes time to redeem your points, they are worth more for travel! Seriously, could there be a better card for people that love to travel??

Okay, sorry, back to NOLA! It is a beautiful town. Yes, it is filthy but just don't pay attention to what you are stepping in... just look at the buildings in the French Quarter. This picture is just a random one from our hotel lobby but just look at that design and character! The funny part is the massive corporate buildings in the background. The residents like to poke fun at the "boring american" side of town. "They don't know how to have fun... they are just work, work, work". Man, isn't that so true?

Random Buildings across from our hotel
Here are some random pics from just the decor around our hotel

Hotel Garden

Hotel Garden Lights

By far, the most interesting thing we learned in New Orleans was the burial methods. I wish I had gotten a picture of one of the double or triple tombs but the graveyard was super cramped, both with tombs and people on tours, so it wasn't easy to grab pics. New Orleans has been plagued with some terrible history with lots and lots of death. So much so that they had to get creative on how to bury their dead because they realized they would quickly run out of space. They decided to use family tombs that can be single (pic below) or stacked. After someone dies, they are placed in this tomb for 1 year + 1 day to let their body decompose (The + 1 day is because it is probably bad luck to dig someone up on the anniversary of their death). Then the tomb is reopened, the remaining bones are crushed into dust and the "body" is swept into a hole at the back of the space that falls below it. So, an old tomb could have lots of body ashes all combined at the bottom. I actually think that is kind of neat having everyone together. Much more.... cozy... then just being buried just next to your family but always quarantined into your own box.

Also on the cemetery tour, we learned all about how crazy Nicolas Cage is. I'm going to get the details wrong, but the gist of it is that he owned the serial killer LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans and believed himself to be cursed so the only way to remove it was to buy a tomb in the same graveyard as the original voodoo Queen, Marie Lavaeu. Weird but interesting...

Future tomb of Nic Cage
In true Hacker fashion, we must visit the local zoo wherever we travel. The New Orleans zoo did not disappoint!

Here are just a few more pics that I thought were neat. You should definitely ask James about the one of the sky with the lights... That was his view in a restaurant after he had a losing battle with a "stupid french chair". Come to think of it, all my favorite stories of Jams is of him getting defeated by furniture. Hmm, not sure if that says more about me or him. heeheehee

When we first arrived, New Orleans was a little bit overwhelming for us. We enjoying drinking but we are not traditional party people so all the drugs and excessive day drinking was too much for us. Bourbon Street was definitely a sight to see but we found more joy in all the beautiful surrounding architecture and art. Every corner had someone painting or playing music, there was even an area of street poets that were working away on old typewriters! There were a ton of art galleries, both painting and trinkets and we loved strolling through in the early evening. OH! I haven't even mentioned the food yet! Everything was amazing and I truly mean EVERYTHING. Breakfast, lunch, dinner... elaborate restaurant or hole in the wall. It didn't matter, everything was delicious! You can't go wrong just wondering into a place.

So, in hindsight, I'd go back. It is kind of like Vegas for me... In fact, i describe New Orleans as if Vegas and Portland had a baby. Like Vegas, it is a crazy, no rules type of place where you will see things unlike anywhere else but unlike Vegas, New Orleans has an artistic soul like those in Portland. It is cool in short visits but wears on me after a few days. I'd love to go back with a group of friends and just spend all day taking in the different kinds of music and food.

Have you been to New Orleans? What did you think and would you go back??

// Hack //

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Polar Vortex?!

HOLY CRAP, what a time to move to the Midwest. It gets cold here, everyone knows that. However, this year, it decided to have a Polar Vortex. Dumb name aside, what that means is, it reached records lows at below -50 and was colder than it is on Mount Everest where people have literally frozen to death!

Let me set the stage a little.... This first picture is a NORMAL Midwest winter day. The snow was about 11 inches deep and this all happened overnight. Notice the roads are clear though! It actually wasn't that bad if you really layer up.

We weren't the only ones that had to bundle up, Major got a dapper sweater and little booties! He actually didn't mind it. He's so cute! 

...and then there is Argos. He ENJOYED sitting outside when it was -3. You know, no big deal.

 It got so cold that the river iced over in downtown! I never thought it would get that cold!

However, all of this was nothing compared to the Polar Vortex. People weren't allowed to be outside for more than 30 minutes due to the risk of frost bite through clothes! Luckily, I was able to work from home the first day. On the second day, I tried to go into work but could drive my car because the ice had formed so thick inside my wheel well (below) that I couldn't turn my tires! I tried breaking it off with a hammer but it was too hard and my hand started getting frost bite through my gloves!! I do have to give props to my Subaru Outback though, during these insanely low temps, it always started. Sometimes it took a few turns and the breaks were a little stiff until the break fluid thawed but it made it. Thanks trusty steed! 

Anyways, i guess if we survived the Polar Vortex then we are ready for anything! Especially summer.... ha! 

// Hack //

I Made a Thing!

I think I accidentally, subconsciously made cooking my hobby. I have really started to enjoy it over the last few years. I've never minded it but now I'm interested in it for more than just the purpose of surviving. My biggest complaint in the past was how long it would take to build a weekly menu, especially if I was trying to watch calories. It would take me hours! Then I stumbled upon a service called PlateJoy. It is not one of those services that sends you food, it just creates menus for you and then auto creates the shopping list too! You can even send the shopping list to Instacart if you use that service. So now, something that used to take me hours, literally takes me 5 mins! The recipes look a complicated at first but once you get into them, they really aren't and I have learned so much from using them over the years!

Which leads me to the real topic of this post... From all my experience, I'm starting to be able to intuit what things go well together instead of needing a recipe. I made my first attempt at completely creating something... and it went great!! Here it is:

It is a little puff pastry appetizer. Well, it is supposed to be but I couldn't find puff pastry in the grocery store so I had to use croissant dough. It was still good but I think the dough was too rich. Apparently puff pastry is in the freezer section and I was looking in the cooler section where you find the canned biscuits, etc. Oh well, that actually sums up cooking pretty well. You have to be able to adapt at any moment!

(Unlike baking... where if you breathe wrong during the process then it ALL FALLS APART. I hate baking. It is stupid. End of story.)

Puff Pastry (subbed croissant dough)
1 raw jalapeno
Pre-cooked Bacon (real bacon would be better though!)
Brie cheese
Strawberry Jam

Preheat the oven as indicated on the dough package

Dice the jalapeno and the bacon and mix together. Roll out the croissant dough and cut into squares instead of the normal triangles. Place 1 brie triangle in the middle of the dough square and top with about a TBSP of the bacon/jalapeno mix. gather and pinch the dough around the yummy goodness.

Bake 10-12 minutes, until the dough is golden brown

in the meantime, heat the strawberry jam with a little added water to thin it out. After you pull the dough balls out of the oven, then drizzle the heated jam over it. I added a little too much water so mine was way too thin but it still got the flavor in there so look, it's fine!

The process wasn't perfect but these turned out really well so i'm pretty proud for my first attempt! Even though i called them an appetizer, we ended up eating 2 for breakfast the next day so they work well for that too. They are kind of similar to a kolaches if you have ever been to Texas.

So there, ya go! My first recipe! If i can do it, so can you so go create something and let me know how it goes!

// Hack //