Life of Setting Cool Tables

Creative folks amaze me. I mean, how can they come up with ideas out of nowhere that just knock you over with adorableness? My creativity is limited to “Hey, I wonder what would happen if I put tiny chocolate chips in the cookie dough instead of the regular-sized ones???” and coming up with excuses when my husband calls me and he KNOWS I’m in T.J. Maxx yet again. That’s about all the creativity I’ve got.Thank goodness I have friends and Seared tuna with saladfamily who practically are oozing with creativity, so all I have to do is relax and enjoy. Take my four-woman book club. Three of our members prepare thoughtfully themed meals with fun decorations and appropriately chosen wine for our sort-of monthly meetings, and one of our members does not. Draw your own conclusions. Needless to say, book club was NOT at my house for our recent “Life of Pi” dinner and discussion. With her usual flair, our hostess went all green and tropical with the decor (loved the leafy chargers!) and served us delicious seared tuna, veering away from the book for a Mardi-Gras dessert of king cake and bread pudding. (Full disclosure: She had a friend bring back the king cake from a New Orleans bakery but was disappointed  because, she said, it tasted like a gas-station cinnamon roll. Luckily, gas-station cinnamon rolls are pretty much tops on my food list so I was happy.) As for the book, we all agreed that the writing was graceful and lyrical made us feel as if we were there with Pi and Richard Parker. On the other hand, we were confused about parts of the plot and what it all was supposed to mean. WERE we supposed to pick which story was real? WERE we supposed to question Pi’s sanity? CAN bananas (thank you, Gwen Stefani, for guaranteeing I always can spell “bananas”) truly float? And what’s with the person-eating island, anyway? Surely that had some allegorical/mythological/philosophical threads we were not picking up. We didn’t come to any conclusion but had a fun time, anyway. As always. And now I just realized that our next book — my recommended pick of “The Dressmaker,” by Kate Alcott — is about shipwrecks and lifeboats, too. But no tigers.

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Mardi Gras

Have fun letting your good times roll today — whether you’re eating King Cake (watch out for that baby) or pancakes or paczki or your completely-bad-for-you pastry of choice. Of course, nothing goes better with eating rich fried sugary food than our other favorite activity: shopping. Younger Daughter and I spotted this could-be Mardi Gras wreath in Nellie Mae, an adorable boutique in downtown Tuscumbia, Ala., that’s owned by classmates of Older Daughter. And that sort of threw me. I mean, I’m used to my children’s friends being old enough to check my teeth and fill my prescriptions and give me speeding tickets, but buying clothes and jewelry from people I used to chaperon on field trips takes some getting used to. (Stay tuned for more Nellie Mae photos and other downtown-Tuscumbia finds — so cute!)

New Orleans and Mardi Gras

Beignets for Mardi GrasAs Fat Tuesday rolls around — it’s tomorrow — everybody has a little New Orleans in them. And if you didn’t make it to Mardi Gras this year, you can celebrate at home (and a little quieter) with your Books about New Orleansown personal tribute — and you don’t even have to wear purple beads. For instance, you can find Cafe Du Monde Beignet Mix and ground coffee in almost any grocery store. And it’s pretty good, too. Not the same of course of sitting at a Cafe Du Monde outside table and brushing powdered sugar off your clothes while you make fun of other tourists people-watch, but it’ll do until you can get there yourself. Check out http://www.cafedumonde.com/ for details. And for some delicious New Orleans Mardi Grasreading while you’re sipping your chicory cafe au lait, pick up a copy of “Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table.” Sara Roahen was a professional cook when she moved to the Crescent City while her husband attended medical school. She soon got a job as a food writer, and this book chronicles her joyous exploration of New Orleans’ food and people. She falls in love with her adopted city, and she’ll make you want to book the next flight there. Go to http://www.sararoahen.com to learn more. And for another New Orleans fix, don’t forget about “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you haven’t seen it in the theater, put it on your must-rent list when it comes out on DVD. This intelligent and cinematic film is so thoughtful and artistic — and the city of New Orleans should have gotten a supporting-actor award for its part in it. I thought that such a mystical and magical and slightly other-worldly film could have been shot only in New Orleans, despite the Baltimore locale of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original story. Visit http://www.benjaminbutton.com/ to find out more. Need more NOLA? Go to http://www.nola.com/mardigras/ for Mardi Gras parade webcams and up-to-the-minute details on what’s happening. Best viewed with a Sazerac in hand.