Saturday, October 3, 2015

On the road again: CONtraflow, New Orleans, day 2

The con kept me quite busy today.  I slept as late as I could but still had to get up early (for me) on this CONtraflow Saturday.  After showering and checking on the e-world, I grabbed a bottle of water and scooted to a panel room for my first job:  moderating a discussion on reconciling science and religion.  Neither my four fellow panelists nor I realized until the fifty-minute mark that the con had allocated a double slot for this event, so our discussion ended up running for nearly two hours.  Though opinions were strong and deeply felt, the entire group--three writers, an Episcopalian priest, and me as moderator--stayed civil and respectful of each other's thoughts.  I quite enjoyed the far-ranging conversation, and so, as best I could tell, did the audience.

I had to proceed immediately to a discussion of what the con called the ABC's of SF:  Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke.  (During the panel, we basically added Heinlein to the list of highly influential early authors.)  We talked about books that we felt held up--and some we thought did not, the challenges one faces when reading works from fifty or so years ago, and how much the age at which you read a work can affect how you feel about it later.

As soon as that panel ended, I zipped across the way to run the charity auction.  I auctioned off 67 different items/groups of items, each of which had a minimum bid of a buck but all of which went for more, most for quite a bit more.

After a break, a group of us headed out to St. Roch Market, a sort of upscale local food court.  We shared a bunch of dishes, including dirty mac and cheese, crab cakes, Korean fried chicken wings, and red beans and rice.  Every single one was delicious.  I would definitely go back.

Tomorrow, more panels, and the con draws to a close.

Friday, October 2, 2015

On the road again: CONtraflow, New Orleans, day 1

I took advantage of the afternoon start of the con to sleep quite late, which was a wonderful treat.  After some email and a little bit of work, I registered for the con, saw some friends, and chatted a little.

I then headed out for a quick and late-afternoon lunch at a nearby joint where I've eaten before, Dot's Diner.  The food there is nothing special, just classic diner fare, but it's always quick and tasty.  Today, I enjoyed a side salad and a grilled cheese with bacon sandwich.

My first event of the day was the Opening Ceremonies, which as Toastmaster I hosted.  I introduced guests, told a few stories, and generally had a fun time.

After a short break I went to my first panel, a discussion of works the panelists recommend.  The audience and panel were both small, so we all sat together in a sort of reading semi-circle as we three panelists took turns talking about works we particularly enjoyed and thought others would also like.

Another hour-long break, and then I had my last panel of the day, a discussion of future war.  This time, we had only two panelists, so we started with future war but ranged into all sorts of related or semi-related topics, including our own works, wealth disparity, and the creation of the other as a way to dehumanize other people.

I headed straight from there to a late dinner at Johnny Sanchez, a Mexican place that John Besh and Aaron Sanchez created.  The food was delicious.  We shared three pairs of soft tacos--shrimp, carne asada, and pork carnitas--and all were excellent.

Click an image to see a larger version.

The shrimp tacos particularly surprised me, because they included lightly pickled vegetables, which I did not expect to like.  Instead, I loved the tastes.

For dessert I had a masa cake, which was also extremely good and a combination of unusual flavors.

I definitely recommend Johnny Sanchez if you live here or are visiting the area.

Tomorrow morning, more panels and an auction!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On the road again: CONtraflow, New Orleans, day 0

As unhappy circumstance would have it, the exit row seats on USAirways flights offer no extra leg room, so my two flights today left me feeling more than a bit cramped.  Still, I reached New Orleans without incident, so I really can't complain much.

My rental car is a Chevy Sonic with nearly 42,000 miles on it.  It's not the worst vehicle I've ever rented--that honor goes to the horrible Fiat I had once in Austin--but it's in the top five.  With no power, weird instrumentation, poor seat adjustment options, a glove compartment so small it can barely hold a rental agreement, and one of the world's loudest turn signals, this car is some kind of special.  When you put on the directional and start to turn, the car sounds like a little child screaming, "Look at me!  Look at me!  I'm turning!"

I had some work to do and thus missed the con's staff meal, for which I am sorry.

I compensated, however, by eating a late dinner at a place I've long wanted to try, Chef John Besh's August.  The dining room was lovely.

Click an image to see a larger version.  

The food was consistently tasty, good but not great, and so I left a bit disappointed, given the restaurant's reputation.

One dish, however, showed the greatness I've heard August was capable of delivering:  the shrimp "Etouffee."  (I put the word in quotes because the menu did.)

With soft dumplings full of perfect bites of shrimp, a delicate squid ink crackling (think one of the best shrimp crackers you've ever tasted, only better), and a sauce that used lemongrass and other ingredients that perfectly evoked Vietnamese food, this bowl was simply amazing.  A blend of traditional New Orleans food and the Vietnamese cuisine that is available everywhere here, this small bowl was so good I will remember it for a very long time.

Tomorrow, the con cranks up in earnest.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I leave for the airport in the morning

and it's late, so enjoy "Homecoming," the third song from Josh Ritter's upcoming Sermon on the Rocks album.

I can't wait for this album.  I love all three songs I've heard from it.

I also have to find some way to see him live on the upcoming tour, though so far I have no good plan for doing so.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A great meal for a worthy cause

A group of us tonight joined other happy diners at Panciuto, one of my favorite restaurants, for a delicious meal to benefit the Eno River Farmers Market.  Chef Aaron Vandemark created a menu around the theme of food from our founding fathers, and it was outstanding.  The great team at Panciuto served us all with care and grace, and everyone I spoke with had a wonderful time.

Aaron presented the meal as four "acts," the first three of which each contained multiple dishes.  (The fourth was dessert.)  We all ate family style, from large plates of food.  From what I could see, no table came even close to finishing all of the food on offer.  The large printed menu told the stories behind each of the dishes.  It was big fun--big, tasty fun.

I normally take a lot of photos at these meals, but tonight I just relaxed, chatted, and ate.

I feel genuinely lucky to have the chance to enjoy such treats--and in this case to do so while benefiting a worthy organization.

If you ever have the opportunity to eat a community dinner at Panciuto, take it.  You will be very happy you did.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Come on down to New Orleans this weekend

and join the fun at CONtraflow V/DeepSouthCon 53, where I have the privilege of being Toastmaster.  I've missed only one year of this con, and I hope not to miss more.  It's always fun, with a great crew of people who run it and, face it, one of the great con cities, New Orleans.  It's also two conventions in one:  CONtraflow and the new-city-each-year con, DeepSouthCon.

You want more reasons to come?  How about author guest of honor Robert Sawyer, author and science guest of honor Les Johnson, author and musical special guest Seanan McGuire, artist guest of honor Julie Dillon, and so many more great guests it's hard to make time at opening ceremonies to introduce them all?

Not enough?  Do you like to eat?  Then enjoy the con between meals, and head into the city for an amazing variety of wonderful restaurants.  New Orleans' food is deservedly legendary.

Music your thing?  The con has multiple special musical guests, and the city itself is dancing with wonderful live music.

Seriously, if you have the time and the bucks, head to New Orleans for this con.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

This year's pig

looked good and tasted better.

Click an image to see a larger version.

I'm talking here about the pig a large group of us enjoyed today at Dave Drake's annual birthday pig-picking.  The cut bit in the shot above is where Dave

and several others, including me, enjoyed early tastes of the slow-cooked meat.  Wow, was it good--possibly the best one I've ever had at Dave's.

Many people brought dishes to share, we all talked, Dave opened presents, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  Among the dishes were many delicious desserts, including the main birthday cake, which Jo baked.

I hope to be lucky enough to share many, many more birthday celebrations with Dave.


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