A Peek Inside New Orleans' Haunted LaLaurie Mansion

If you're an avid Hammer-and-Heels reader, you know I have a small obsession with American Horror Story: Coven.  Aside from the awesome fact that much of the show is filmed just blocks from my house and the super cool fact that my neighbor worked on the set design... the show is also based on some true New Orleans tales!  The stories are twisted for TV, but nonetheless, the plot line of Madame Delphine Macarty Lalaurie stems straight from the history books. The infamous French Quarter socialite lived at the corner of Royal and Governor Nichols streets in the early 1800's.  Legend (and historical sources) have it, the mistress of the house was one seriously sick puppy.  In 1834, a fire swept through the mansion and neighbors rushed to the scene.  Inside, they made a horrific discovery.  Seven slaves were being held captive in rooms above the kitchen.  They'd been chained, starved and tortured.  Newspaper reports describe holes in one slave's head, maggots in wounds, along with bloody welts from whips and other atrocities.

In recent years, the Lalaurie house has served many roles and had numerous owners.  Most notably, actor and former owner Nicholas Cage.  Sure makes you think twice about ol' Nick, doesn't it!?  According to a recent article on NOLA.com, Michael Whalen purchased the multi-million dollar haunt in 2010 and has gone through great lengths to renovate the mansion, while paying tribute to its gory past.  Some of the details are subtle, from the skull linens to the spooky purple drapes, but the mix of dark and light, with a spattering of religious elements, work together to bring a little taste of that haunted history back to life!

That's Just Pindiculous

Pinterest Fail Pizza Cones

Don't serve these "Pizza Cones" to anyone with a sense of humor If you're half as interested in interior design as I am, inevitably you've stumbled upon Pinterest at this point.  The concept is brilliantly simple: create a virtual pinboard where you can gather all your ideas and inspiration.  From high fashion to gourmet cooking, there are limitless images and countless categories:  A kitchen iPad holder for recipes!  Glass floor over a creek!  Build an exploding chain reaction from craft sticks!

Inventive?  Yes.  Creative?  Yes.  Ridiculous?  YES.

There's some absolutely insane stuff on that website and thanks to the ever-wonderful-internet, there's now another website that celebrates all the ridiculousness Pinterest offers.  It's called Pinterest Fail and if your "exploding chain reaction from craft sticks" left you feeling a bit inferior, it'll make you realize you're probably not the only one.  Need a little pick me up?  Check it out.  (On a side note, check me out!  You can follow my not-so-ridiculous Pinterest boards here.)

Stealing from the Neighbors

Neighbor's Flowers 02 Just around the corner from my house is an incredible postbellum Victorian mansion.  It was built by famed New Orleans architect James Freret circa 1869.  Sadly, due to a drawn out divorce proceeding and crappy owner, the architectural masterpiece has fallen into disrepair.  It's been dubbed the "leaning tower of Josephine" and may soon lean right into my back yard!  You can read the painfully sad story about it here.

It's hard to believe that in just over a year since that article was written, it's become even more blighted and dilapidated.  The roof is covered in weathered tarps, the windows are boarded up and an intricately woven web of 2x4's supports the front porch.  The only sign of life on the property is a massive rose bush overtaking the front yard.  Every time I walk by it, I'm struck by the lively pink blooms, in contrast with the dying mansion they once adorned.

So today, I said SCREW MY NEIGHBORS and decided to steal some of those beautiful blooms.  They look better in my house anyway...

Confessions of a Failed Baker

Ottolenghi's Spice Cookies

Ottolenghi's Spice Cookies To say baking is not my specialty would be an understatement.  Maybe the understatement of the year.  While I adore most everything domestic, I've never quite succeeded in the world of cookies and cakes.  My mother can whip up a pie blind-folded (which my husband has no shame reminding me), while I can't even make chocolate chip cookies.  Thank God for my friend's almost-2-year-old daughter who dutifully chows down on all of my creations while the rest of our friends quietly avoid them.  Emmy has a way of always making me feel better.  Such was the case at the McDonnell's annual Christmas party this past weekend, where I brought yet another batch of burnt goodness.

I found the recipe on a blog called The Wednesday Chef.  Ottolenghi's Spice Cookies from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's new cookbook, Jerusalem.  "So very glorious" and "nearly obsessed," readers raved.  Surely I can't mess these up.  I macerated my currants, mixed my spices and even measured my half-egg.  All was going well...that is...until all started going wrong (I'll go ahead and admit my Bailey's-spiked coffee may have been a contributor).  My first mistake was buying dark chocolate chips.  How the hell do you grate chocolate chips, you ask?  That's a damn good question.  If I had bothered to read The Wednesday Chef's blog post, however, I would have known to just put them in the food processor.  My chip fiasco was followed by a broken wine glass that had been sitting on the counter to dry.  Once the kitchen was free of glass shards, my Kitchen Aid started spewing flour.  Apparently ol' faithful just isn't cut out for a triple batch of Ottolenghi.

Miraculously, my batter came together despite the setbacks.  After an hour cooling in the fridge and a couple more swigs of Bailey's to cool my temper, my cookies were ready for the oven.  15 minutes seemed just enough time for a quick blow-out in the bathroom.  25 minutes later my hair was done.  So were the cookies.  With no time to spare I brought them, tail between my legs, to the McDonnell's annual Christmas party and alas, the aforementioned Emmy knew just how to cheer me up.  As guests shoveled them into napkins and Emmy shoveled them into her mouth, I swore to myself I'd make things right.  The flavor was fine...they were just a little...let's say...crunchy.  So Sunday morning (hangover and all), I faced my baking fears head-on and set my oven to 375.  I placed two sheets inside and set the timer for 15 minutes, swearing not to leave the kitchen.  Not even for a second.  At EXACTLY 15 minutes, I pulled out my cookies, cooled those babies down and brushed on the glaze.

Then something amazing happened.

I tried one and it was good.  No, it was great.  Actually, it was the best freaking cookie I've ever eaten.  Maybe it was the pride of overcoming my previous pitfalls or the lingering Bailey's from the day before, but it was absolutely delicious.

Yes, those are chocolate chips and no, they're not supposed to be there

Ottolenghi's Spice Cookies From Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Cookies: ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons currants 2 tablespoons brandy Scant 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons best-quality cocoa powder ½ teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon salt 5 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 2/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest 1/2 large egg 1 tablespoon diced candied citrus peel

Glaze: 3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions: 1. Soak the currants in the brandy for 10 minutes. 2. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and dark chocolate. 3. Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest to combine but don't aerate much, about 1 minute. With the mixer or beater running, slowly add the egg and mix for about 1 minute. 4. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together. 5. Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it is uniform. Roll into 1" balls and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about ¾ inch apart.  Allow to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour. 6. Preheat the oven to 375°. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes and remove from the oven.  DO NOT BLOW DRY YOUR HAIR.  Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool and transfer to a wire rack. 7. While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth icing forms.  Pour onto the cookies and repeat once or twice until glaze is gone.  Top each cookie with 3 pieces of candied peel placed at the center. Leave to set and then enjoy!

My number one cookie fan

Saving Storm Damaged Furniture

Braithwaite 01

When Hurricane Isaac made landfall over the city of New Orleans in late August, the storm took its sweet time moving on.  The hurricane sat atop the Crescent City for days flooding streets, swelling rivers and in the hardest-hit areas, forcing water over our levees and inundating entire neighborhoods.  The devastation was greater than anyone- meteorologists, residents or public officials- had expected.

As the clean-up begins for some and continues for others across Southeastern Louisiana, in some neighborhoods you'll find a lifetime of possessions thrown to the curb.  From water-logged electronics to washed-away photographs, it's heartbreaking to see entire homes turned inside-out.  Many of those possessions are treasured and irreplaceable antiques.  Some are salvageable.  Others are not.

I stopped by Driscoll Antiques, where husband and wife team Ralph and Audry Driscoll specialize in using historic tools, materials and techniques to restore antique furniture.  The duo considers themselves preservationists and you'll find their work featured in exquisite St. Charles mansions and on the silver screen in many films.  After a storm, you'd expect them to make a fortune, but Ralph says it's quite the opposite.  They're overwhelmed with work and because water damage is so difficult, their profit margin reduces dramatically.

If you're ever faced with flood waters, Ralph offers some tips.  He says dehumidifiers are furniture's worst enemy.  He recommends removing your piece from the water, wiping it down and allowing it to dry out naturally.  If it dries too quickly, the wood can crack, warp and separate.  He also says you should protect your furniture with carnauba wax.  That can be the difference between a salvageable piece of furniture and one that's completely ruined.