I spent Labor Day weekend exploring New Orleans with my Brazilian friend, Humberto, and a handful of his friends. Humberto and I met in NYC 8-9 years ago, where we became fast friends while working together at Georgia’s Cafe (which was both the best and worst job ever). We were roommates for about a year in a gigantic apartment facing the Hudson River in Harlem. Seriously, the place was unbelievable. It was so big that it came with a piano that lived in the hallway… and it wasn’t even in the way. We used it as a bar, because we’re classy motherfuckers. The apartment also came with a floral futon mattress (naturally) and a TV with a pink and green screen, among other miscellaneous shit.
Seriously, this is how we lived for months.
Humberto called it a “Bohemian lifestyle.” We were both too poor at the time to do anything about it. The other girl we were living with (the place belonged to her parents) and I spend 4 straight weekends at Ikea getting new shit for the apartment. That’s where I finally got my bedroom stuff (I was sleeping on an air mattress like a true Bohemian princess), but I don’t remember us getting much else in the way of furniture. After a few months of this nonsense, I started scouring Craigslist for cheap furniture. I only spent about $150, but was able to turn the place into this…
It was one of my proudest accomplishments.
Humberto moved back home to Brazil in May of 2010. I cried like a baby at my sad office job, but hid it well from my demon bosses (that’s you, Mau and Peter… fuckers). As the years passed, I honestly wasn’t sure we’d see each other again. Then, about 6 weeks ago he messaged me on Facebook asking if I wanted to meet up in New Orleans.
Well, I’d never been to New Orleans before, so I checked my work schedule, found a cheap flight, and said HELL YES.
Aren’t we the cutest?
We had a great fucking time. I took a vacation from my vegetarianism and became a pescatarian (that means that I could eat fish, for those of you that aren’t too bright) for a few days. Louisiana is all about seafood, right? So I was there to eat me some fucking classic New Orleans dishes. I had crawfish étouffée, seafood gumbo, a fried oyster po boy, and some motherfuckin’ catfish. Everything I ate was fucking drool-worthy, but the food at Deanie’s was especially delectable (the seafood gumbo was fucking to-die-for).
Oh, and we also drank our faces off (or, at least I did). The novelty of drinking on the street prompted me to purchase a “fish bowl” at one point. That shit is heavy! It was literally a gallon of fucking liquid (okay, maybe it was figuratively a gallon but whatthefuckeever). I drank maybe a third of it before I was too full, and also too tired from holding it up to my mouth (there’s an inappropriate joke in there somewhere). Humberto and his friend, Carolina, ended up drinking the rest for me. He was all, “Why would you buy that?!” And I was like, “Because NEW ORLEANS.”
I mean, obviously.
They somehow also got me to dance. I don’t dance. But it was Southern Decadence (their LGBTQ+ festival) and everyone was dancing. It couldn’t be helped. So I set aside my pride and shook my booty. I highly recommend a little booty shake to everyone.
Everyone had to go back to reality on Monday afternoon… except me. I don’t work on Tuesdays, so I stayed behind for an extra day and wandered around the city on my own. It’s where I got my best eating and shopping done. I stayed in an Airbnb for the first time ever, and felt like a real fucking grown-up. Plus, after all that noise and shared space… it felt downright luxurious to lay down in a quiet room by myself.
Some of the phenomenal food I encountered.
On our last day together, walking down the street near Cafe du Monde, Humbero said to me (in his adorable Brazilian accent), “I’ll be waiting for you in Brazil, Kel-Kel. Don’t take too long.” hahaha I love the way he worded that. I literally pictured him checking the airport every day for years.
By the time I got home, I was ready to get back to my vegetarian ways, in addition to lightening up my meals a bit. What’s nice about this vegan “lasagna” is that it reads like a hearty, heavy meal… but leaves you feeling light. I originally found this recipe on Dr. Mark Hyman’s website, but I’ve tweaked it a little bit. The original recipe calls for an egg in the cashew “cheese,” but that really didn’t add anything to it. I had no idea why it was included at all, so I omitted it. I also opted to add mushrooms, onions, spinach, and some garlic powder to add more flavor. I honestly thought this was going to taste like shit (I feel like I always say that about vegan recipes… maybe I need to stop being such a judgmental bitch), but it really is delicious. Try it out for yourself. Let me know if you miss the cheese (you won’t). The first time I made this I ended up dousing it in parmesan, because I hadn’t added any garlic or onions. It was kind of bland, but this version is bursting with flavor. I promise.
Vegan Roasted Veggie “Lasagna”
For the cashew “cheese”:
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in hot water for at least 1 hour, or at room temp for 24 hours then drained
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice
For the lasagna:
1 eggplant, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red bell pepper (I used green, but red would have been prettier), sliced into large squares (as in, the entire side of the pepper)
1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, diced
1 large handful of spinach
Garlic powder (or one clove of fresh garlic, minced)
1 can (15oz) crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
For the cashew “cheese”:’
Blend everything together in a blender or food processor. It should be the consistency of ricotta cheese. If you’re making it ahead, seal it in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
For the lasagna:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet, saute mushrooms and onions in olive oil over medium-high heat until mushrooms have browned slightly and onions are translucent. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and the spinach. Continue to cook while stirring consistently. Once spinach has wilted, remove from heat.
Drizzle the eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and arrange on 2 large baking sheets. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Allow to cool.
Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
To assemble, spread about 1/4 of the “cheese” on the bottom of a greased 8 x 8 baking dish. Top with a big scoop of the crushed tomatoes, and layer the roasted eggplant, zucchini, and pepper however you’d like to just cover the bottom of the pan. Add more “cheese,” crushed tomatoes, and a scoop of the mushrooms/onions/spinach mixture. Layer more of the roasted veggies. Continue layering until you run out of ingredients, ending with the crushed tomatoes on top.
Say yes to adventures with old friends you haven’t seen in years! Say no to fish bowls.
Don’t be like me. This was a mistake.