Tag Archives: life

135. Café Du Monde: Fried Dough at its Finest

6 Dec

cafe du mondeOh, Top Chef New Orleans, you’re killing me. When you edit in a shot of a certain green and white striped awning, Café Du Monde calls to me. And I think, “Yes, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, indeed I DO know what it means to miss New Orleans.”

What do I miss most about Café Du Monde? Two words: fried dough. Also, powdered sugar. Heaps of powdered sugar. Most of which will land on your blouse, pants, skirt, dress, suit jacket, tie, whatever. Maybe even your socks. It’s impossible to eat at Café Du Monde without making a mess of yourself. But that’s part of its charm.

Heaven on a plate...

Heaven on a plate…

You may be thinking “Perhaps I would order something other than beignets, then I wouldn’t get messy.” You also wouldn’t get fed, seeing as there is exactly one food item on the menu.

You might recall this excerpt from The Pelican Brief:

She bought a Post and a Times-Picayune from a sidewalk vendor and found a table in a deserted corner of Café Du Monde…A waiter finally made it by, and she ordered coffee and a plain bagel.

John Grisham might ought to have added that she (Darby) waited there till three days after the world ended and never did get served. There are no bagels, plain or otherwise, at Café Du Monde. And if “deserted corners” exist there, I’ve never seen them. But perhaps the crowds thin out at some point in the 24 hours they’re open each day.

I remember the first time I visited the Original French Market Coffee Stand. This was during the World’s Fair in 1984, when I sported one of my worst self-inflicted hairstyles. (I’d cropped my hair closely on both sides, leaving the bangs and back long–sort of a cross between a mullet and a mohawk. A mulhawk.)

Anyhoo, I sat at a hard-to-come-by table with various members of my family and was amazed that our waitress felt no need to write down the order. Later I realized this wasn’t such a miraculous feat given the limited menu options.

After a few minutes wait, we were presented with a pile of deep-fried dough covered under a mountain of powdered sugar. “This,” I thought, “is where I want to go when I die.” Which if I had the chance to eat there every day would happen sooner rather than later.

On the way out, one of us spotted a yellow box of beignet mix. Hallelujah! No longer would I be satisfied with makeshift donuts made from canned biscuit dough. Not when I could recreate the Café Du Monde experience at home.

Sadly, eating “homemade” beignets isn’t nearly as much fun because A. No cooks or waitresses and B. People-watching opportunities are limited. Besides which, deep frying dough requires a certain patience and skill that I lack. I probably still have a long-since expired box of beignet mix hiding in one of my kitchen cabinets.

Yes, y'all, they also sell coffee.

Yes, y’all, they also sell coffee.

Folks who’ve frequented Café Du Monde might be thinking, “What about the COFFEE? Get to the chicory coffee already!!”

Ok, so. I’ve heard tell that they make a mighty fine cup of Joe. I will take y’all’s word for it. Even after a decade in Seattle, I’m still not a coffee drinker.

But maybe that’s because I haven’t tried Café Du Monde’s legendary café au lait, half coffee and half hot milk. According to their website, the chicory softens the bitter edge of the dark roasted coffee, adding an almost chocolate flavor.

Sounds sort of like hot chocolate with extra caffeine. I will order a cup next time I’m there and report back.

beignet mixCDM coffeeIn the meantime, if you can’t get to the New Orleans area in the foreseeable future, don’t despair. On second thought, go ahead and despair. But know that you can order cans of chicory coffee and boxes of beignet mix direct from Café Du Monde here. The prices are quite reasonable, until you get to the shipping charges. Consider yourself warned.

What’s your fondest Café Du Monde memory? How many beignets can you eat in one sitting? And is chicory coffee really tastier than the regular stuff?

Photo Credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Cafe Du Monde exterior by praline3001; Plate ‘o Beignets by Tammy Camp and Café au Lait by Gwen Harlow.

132. Sweet Potato Casserole: Dessert in Disguise

21 Nov

sweet potato casseroleSome Southerners are partial to the pie, but I prefer my sweet potatoes in a casserole. Mainly because it allows me to fool myself into thinking that what I’m eating is a vegetable, not dessert.

I’m not sure how I got elected for the job, but I’m the official Holloway sweet potato casserole queen. (Not to be confused with an actual Sweet Potato Queen.) Every Christmas, I whip up a big dish of the delectable stuff, but not before arguing with my sister about how much to make. She pushes me to triple the recipe, but I stand firm at double, seeing as we always end up with way too many leftovers. Even a die-hard sweet potato fan gets a little queasy at the thought of eating reheated casserole more than three days in a row.

Back in the days before we switched from canned to fresh sweet potatoes, I had a whole other argument with my Mom each year. She tried to convince me that I should include the liquid from the can, when clearly draining is the only way to go. Unless you want sweet potato soup. Which I don’t.

For Southerners, sweet potato casseroles fall into two distinct camps: marshmallow topping or pecan/brown sugar crumble. The Holloways are nut people. That’s not to say I’d abstain from eating the marshmallow variety. Quite the contrary. I run across sweet potato casserole about as frequently as Baptists enter dance halls by the front door so I take what I can get. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for pecans.

BC sweet potato casseroleA while back I was browsing Grocery Outlet, where one can find an array of interesting products not seen in major chains. I’m talking Kellogg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops, Lil’ Joey Pancake Pockets, and Spam Singles. Imagine my shock and horror when I happened upon Betty Crocker’s Sweet Potato Casserole mix. Why, Betty? Why?

Sweet potato casserole isn’t hard to make. Especially when one is left alone in the kitchen. Sure, it always takes about twice as long as I think it will. And peeling sweet potatoes is a pain in the ass. But I’d never resort to serving “casserole” made with a blend of reconstituted sweet and russet (WTF?) potatoes. Prior to the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

Some of my family’s best loved dishes are related to us by marriage. I’m sure we’d have adored my sister-in-law Karen even if she’d come with an empty recipe box. Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out.

Karen Holloway’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 t vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup milk

Boil sweet potatoes over medium high heat till tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, mix potatoes with all other ingredients and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Top with the following mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is browned

Notes: I’m not sure how many sweet potatoes equal three cups. I usually peel and cut up a few and add them to a 4-cup measuring cup. I fill the cup to the top to compensate for the gaps around the pieces. I tend to err on the side of too much potato. If anybody has a better way of guestimating three cups of potatoes, please enlighten me.

When doubling the recipe, I usually just use one and a half times the topping. When tripling the recipe…oh right, I don’t.

The size of baking dish wasn’t specified. Similar recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 qt. casserole dishes. I usually opt for a 9 X 13 dish, unless I’m doubling in which case I use the biggest dish I can find.

The recipe calls for 20 minutes bake time, but I’d allow at least 40. You want the top to be good and crunchy.

What’s your pleasure: Nuts or marshmallows? Have you ever done both?

Photo credit: Sweet potato casserole by bengarland, Flickr Creative Commons.

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

13 Nov

Dad and me after eating pecan pancakes at Cracker Barrel

Dad and me after eating pecan pancakes at Cracker Barrel

When I embarked on my tour of the South this past Spring, I was full of hopeful anticipation. I thought I’d soak up my surroundings, explore new places, and snap copious photos. I’d fall in love with the South all over again. Then I’d return to Seattle eager to tell y’all all about my adventures.

That didn’t happen. Not exactly.

I did venture to cities I’d never seen, reconnect with old friends, snap a few pictures, and eat roughly half my weight in biscuits (not in one sitting). I soaked up Southern culture in the manner of a Bounty paper towel. I did not, however, fall in love all over again. In fact, I kind of wanted to break up.

When I write about the South from my home here in Seattle, my posts are filtered through a lens of nostalgia. I write from selective memory, mainly about the aspects of Southern culture I miss the most (chicken and dumplings, this means you).

When I’m actually IN the South, it’s a whole other story. One I’ve been reluctant to tell. Still am, but here goes…

Being immersed in Southern culture makes it impossible to ignore the things I dislike about my homeland. Substandard education. Widespread poverty. Morbid obesity. And racism that cuts both ways.

I’m among the first to saddle up my high horse and ride when folks start badmouthing Southerners as a whole. As if we all don pointy white hoods, inject Wesson Oil straight into our veins, and can’t be bothered with no fancy book learnin’. Which is absolutely not true. Or at least mostly false.

I like to pretend that the South is all caramel cake, chivalry, and cute expressions. But when I spend time back home, my rose-colored glasses become clear as a jar of moonshine. I see dirty kids in tattered clothes being threatened with a “whoopin.” I hear that the once-upscale shopping area has been “taken over by the blacks.” I witness a black customer who feels slighted accuse a sales clerk of racism. I see a list of fourth grade spelling words that includes “people” and “often.”

What bothers me more than any of this is finding myself in line behind someone who’s arguing with the checker that she ought to be able to buy a jumbo jar of cheese puffs with food stamps and thinking “Get a job!” and also “Stop feeding your children garbage!” Like I am one to judge, as I charge a tub of Blue Bell Ice Cream on my Capital One card.

I cringe when I hear a Baptist preacher lump the words “Hitler,” “homosexual,” and “Osama bin Laden” in the same sentence. But I’m in line at Chick Fil A bright and early on Monday morning. (By “bright and early” I mean around 10 a.m.)

To sum up: I am conflicted.

I’ve spent more time in the South this year than I have since I moved away nearly two decades ago. I attended three conferences, visited eight cities, drove my dad’s Lincoln Town Car nearly 2000 miles, feeling like an airport limo driver the whole way.

I visited with relatives I haven’t seen in ages, saw my brother buried, and drank margaritas to ease the pain.

Celebrating the life of my brother at Hal & Mal's

Celebrating the life of my brother at Hal & Mal’s

I packed in less than an hour to catch a hastily booked flight and prayed that my father would still be alive when I landed. And I thanked God when he was. I spent hours with my dad each day, listening to his stories, walking his dog Happy, and sitting together reading silently. I extended my trip another week, and my sister mocked me when I wore my White Lily Save the Biscuit t-shirt again. And again. And again.

I made buttermilk biscuits and cheddar grits, while Jenna made sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, and sausage gravy. We sat in front of the TV with her husband and two boys enjoying breakfast for dinner, each bite better than the next.

I whipped up another batch of biscuits for my dad, stashing extras in the freezer for later. Even though I botched the amount of baking powder and failed to achieve the proper flakiness, both Jenna and my dad pronounced them the best biscuits ever. And I beamed because these are people who KNOW their biscuits.

Three of my all-time favorite people: Jenna, Jackson, and Eli

Three of my all-time favorite people: Jenna, Jackson, and Eli

I laughed approximately 18 million times. Dreamed up half a dozen new business ventures to start with my sister. And began missing my littlest nephews before even embarking on my return flight.

I hate that I can’t be there with my family. But not quite as much as I love Seattle. I just this minute admitted that to myself, even though it’s been true for a long time as evidenced by my choices.

Now that I’ve settled back into life in my adopted homeland, I’ve had time and distance enough to fill up pages with posts about everything from hats and hair bows to sweet potato casserole and Coke. I’m looking forward to telling y’all all about Stuff Southern People Like and hearing what you think.

Friends, I have missed you. And I’m glad to be back.

Rerun: 2. Deep Freezers–Like Closets, But Colder

7 Jun

freezer ad

While I’m on the subject of appliances Southerners can’t live without…

Everybody I know in the South has a deep freeze. Everybody. Care to guess how many deep freezers I’ve seen between here and L.A.? Yep, that would be none.

So why do Southern folks love deep freezers? Frankly, I don’t really know. I could speculate that they need the extra room to store a hunting season’s worth of venison, but more often, they’re packed with Kid’s Cuisines and Costco bags of chicken breasts. Oh, and ice. You can always use an extra bag or two of ice. Never know when the gas station up the road will run out. And then how will you make margaritas?

My sister asked me a few years back why I didn’t have a deep freezer. I believe I was living in a basement apartment at the time, so I figured the answer was obvious. Anyhow, like the Albert Brooks character in “Mother,” I am of the belief that not everything belongs in the freezer, which is why they make it smaller.

Fast forward a few years to the day I noticed our freezer was on the blink. First hint? Soft-serve ice cream. Geoff and I took a field trip to Lowes and Home Depot in search of a replacement. After great debate (well, not exactly Lincoln and Douglas, but still) we settled on a top-freezer Frigidaire with an Energy Star rating. Imagine my surprise when we got it home and I noticed that the freezer compartment was considerably smaller than our previous model. I must admit, I have begun to reconsider my position on deep freezers.

The other day, as I was attempting to wedge a Costco bag of pecans into the freezer door shelf, I made the executive decision to banish Geoff’s square egg maker (don’t ask) and stainless steel pitcher to the countertop. Upon noticing his exiled stuff, Geoff picked up the pitcher and said, “This is the foamer for my espresso machine.”

WHAT?

“You mean,” I say, “The espresso machine that’s been in the basement since we moved in? I’ve been working around this thing for FIVE YEARS?”

Indeed. And he’d been working around it in his old freezer for countless years before that.

So then I proceed to look for more dead weight in the freezer. I hold up one of those cold pack thingies and say, “What about this? Do you use this?”

“That came with the refrigerator,” he says.

I reckon once I finish tossing the useless crap, I won’t need a deep freeze after all.

What all do you keep in your deep freeze? Could you live without it or even want to?

Update: For the better part of the last year, I’ve been lobbying for a deep freeze. I really need more real estate for storing cookie dough, French macarons, and buttercream frosting. Not to mention the ginormous freezer bowl for the KitchenAid ice cream maker. Oh and all the ice cream and sorbet made in it. Besides which, I’ve been meaning to get around to trying my hand at freezer jam with the overabundance of plums from our backyard tree…Geoff is of the opinion that I need not stockpile frozen treats. I agree; I don’t need to. But I WANT to! Show of hands, who thinks I should get one?

Photo credits: GE Freezer by Deluxx, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rerun: 17. Air Conditioning–Don’t Stay Home in June Without It!

5 Jun

"Air conditioned" -- a key selling point in Texas! Dixie Motel's vintage neon sign. In Brenham, Texas.Well, folks, I’m back in Seattle, but thought I’d share a few more old posts regarding some of my favorite Southern things. Depending on the time of year, air conditioning ranks in the top 10.

Friends and family back home are shocked to hear that I (along with most folks and businesses in Seattle) do not have air conditioning. The horror! The horror!

The thing is, Seattle gets unbearably hot for about two or three days a year, but in many parts of the South, the heat starts up in April and sticks around till October. (One of the reasons I love the state fair so much is that it almost always marks the transition into cooler temperatures. Hence the term “fair weather.”)

I am truly a child of the late 20th century and cannot even fathom how folks in the South could tolerate summers without air conditioning. Wearing hoop skirts and petticoats! Heck, I can’t even fathom how folks today go outside in business suits and/or pantyhose anytime after May. (A good argument for self-employment if I’ve ever heard one.)

Southern folks are not known for moving at a particularly rapid pace, but perhaps you’ve never seen them in the summer. It’s always a mad dash from the comfort of an air-conditioned car to the safety of an air-conditioned house. And by “safety” I mean safety. People die out there in the heat. Or wish they would.

One summer I was at my parents’ house when the air conditioner went on the blink. Within minutes, my mom and I were packed and headed to the family’s cabin on the Pearl River. Normally, I wouldn’t be all that enthused about spending time in the cabin, but that day we couldn’t get there quickly enough.

For the first few hours there, my mom and I lay on the bed underneath the air conditioner reveling in the glory of an icy cool breeze. I only wish I’d known at the time how precious that moment was. I’d be willing to endure any number of summers in the South if my mom were there with me. I’d love to hear her just one more time say, “It’s hotter than HELL!” (pronounced “Hey-You’ll.”)

Update: During my tour of the South, some places had beautiful weather (Savannah, Knoxville), some were cool and drizzly (Oxford, MS; Charleston, SC), and one featured what could only have been a tropical storm (Jekyll Island). During the last week of my visit, MS was exactly the way I remembered: HOT! Also, HUMID. While I was complaining about temperatures reaching upwards of 90 degrees, folks back home reminded me “It’s not even HOT yet!” Oh. My. I truly have acclimated to the milder climate here in the Pacific Northwest. For me, visiting MS in August would be like strolling across the surface of the sun, while wearing a parka. I’m a wimp, y’all.

How do you cope with the heat? I, myself, will admit to eating far too many shaved ice treats (complete with sweetened condensed milk) from the Snow Biz stand in Brandon. We don’t have anything like that here in Seattle (that I know of) which is probably a good thing…

Rerun: 41. Stuckey’s–Home of Pee Breaks and Pecan Logs

1 May

Stuckey's, Coffee County, Tennessee by naslrogues

Hey y’all! I’m at the beginning of Dixie Expedition 2013, wherein I’ll be visiting seven states in 30 days. Whee! After a visit with family over the weekend, I took to the road yesterday landing in Tallahassee, FL, on my way to Jeckyll Island, GA for The Southern C Summit.

During my travels, I’ll be visiting some places I’ve never seen (Savannah, Charleston) and reconnecting with some old haunts along the way. I thought it might be fun to share some of my previous posts with updated commentary. Here goes:

Every road trip I ever suffered through as a child included at least one stop at Stuckey’s. Which was often the highlight of the whole ordeal. How to describe Stuckey’s to the uninitiated? Hmm…a gas station, restaurant, souvenir shop, ice cream parlor, and candy store all in one. Kind of a low-rent version of Disneyland, sans rides, dorky hats, and teenagers sweltering in Disney character costumes.

Anybody who’s ever been to Stuckey’s knows I’m building it up way too much, but y’all have to admit that to a road-weary kid, Stuckey’s is pretty awesome. Except for the bathrooms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clean bathroom in a Stuckey’s. But, hey, look! There’s a figurine made out of a clam shell! A rubber alligator! Peanut brittle!

What I remember most about Stuckey’s is that they used to sell their own brand of melt-in-your-mouth peppermint balls. I remember this because I’ve spent the rest of my life (so far) trying to find a decent substitute. If y’all know of any, please let me know.

My sister and I never left Stuckey’s without new “Yes and Know” books in hand. These were filled with trivia questions or word games, and you revealed the “invisibly printed” answers with a “magic pen.” As I got older (or perhaps my eyesight improved), I realized you could read the “invisibly printed” answers without the use of the “magic pen” AKA yellow highlighter. However, until I Googled them just now, some thirty-odd years later, I didn’t catch anything odd about the tagline “Hours and hours of by-yourself enjoyment.” Hmm.

My mom always had to have a box of sesame sticks (which were WAY exotic back in the day) and the ever-popular Pecan Log. This is not as gross as it sounds, but almost. I don’t remember anything my dad enjoyed about Stuckey’s other than getting the hell out of there and back on the road. Of course, we didn’t often get to-go drinks because a pit stop was to “empty” not “fill up.”

Anytime I happen to be on a road trip in the South, I can never pass up a Stuckey’s. They’re harder to find these days, but if you’re on the road from Jackson, MS to Memphis, there’s one in Vaiden. Last time I checked.

Alas, while they do still sell a bunch of Stuckey’s brand food-like substances, the peppermint balls are long gone. However, I’m happy to report that the bathrooms are just as nasty as ever.

What do y’all remember about Stuckey’s?

Update: I’ve been informed that the Stuckey’s in Vaiden has long since closed, but I stopped at the one in Hattiesburg, MS, yesterday and it hasn’t changed a bit (nasty bathrooms and all). Snapped a couple of pics for y’all. Also, I bought a package of pecan divinity, but haven’t worked up the nerve to eat it yet. Something tells me it will not live up to its name…

Classic Stuckey's literature.

Classic Stuckey’s literature.

All manner of pecan candy.

All manner of pecan candy.

128. Krystal–It’s Hip to be Square.

10 Apr

2926707617_c888f07a59_mWhen White Castle burgers made their debut on grocery store shelves a couple of decades back, this Mississippi girl was perplexed. The label said “White Castle” but I’d always known the wee burgers by another name, Krystal. These so-called White Castles featured the same sliver of meat sandwiched between a spongy square bun, complete with the diced onions and dill pickle slices.

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Krystal–a Southern staple since 1932–was a late-blooming imitator of America’s first fast-food burger chain. Apparently, everybody in the Northeast grew up eating White Castles, while those in the South ate Krystals. (I believe folks on the West coast learned about square hamburgers toward the end of the 20th century when they started appearing on appetizer menus as “sliders.” I should mention that this unfortunate name also originated at White Castle.)

My apologies to White Castle fans (who go by the name “cravers”), but my first-hand knowledge about The Original Slider® is limited to the frozen variety I last tasted back in the 90s. Krystals, however, hold a special place in my heart, much like an old friend with whom I cross paths a couple of times a decade.

My first memory of Krystal comes from the 70s when an elderly family friend (whose name I have forgotten) would occasionally pile a bunch of kids in the car and take us for burgers after church. On those days, I felt like I’d won the lottery (although I should substitute the word “bingo” seeing as Baptists consider gambling a sin). Not only did I get to skip out on eating yet another detestable Sunday pot roast, I got stickers! Note to kids today: Back then stickers were as rare as cassettes are today. (Let’s have a moment of silence to mourn the passing of mix tapes.)

70's Krystal stickers=swoon!!

70’s Krystal stickers=swoon!!

Sometime during the 70’s Krystal decided to branch out into fried chicken, but it never really caught on, seeing as the logistics were far too complicated. If you wanted bird, you had to go to an annex around back for it. Not really worth the bother. Before I graduated high school, they’d abandoned this practice and now you can get fried chicken as part of the regular menu. Sort of. They’ve taken away the bone and added a bun. Plus, it’s called “chik’n,” which seems a bit dubious to me, but I’m nothing if not skeptical.

The late 80’s/early 90’s were my peak Krystal-loving years, seeing as I was a college student and Krystal was A. cheap and B. open after the bars close. I must confess, I still believe those to be Krystal’s key selling points.

College kids' dining budget...

College kids’ dining budget…

So how does Krystal’s food taste? I hoped you’d never ask.

For tastebuds influenced by nostalgia and/or alcohol, Krystal burgers can be quite satisfying. The steamed buns offer the ideal pairing of spongy white bread and beef fat. The sliver of meat provides a canvas for Pollack-style spattering of diced onions and mustard embellished with a pickle chip. A slice of American cheese served slightly askew can be had for just a few nickels and dimes more.

Hot-off-the-grill Krystal burgers are best when eaten immediately. Like before your car pulls away from the drive thru. Seriously. If you must wait till you get home, I beseech you to treat the burgers to a quick trip in the microwave. To quote an old friend and Krystal-eating companion, “A cold Krystal is DEATH.”

The only way to eat a Krystal...

The only way to eat a Krystal…

I have fond memories of Krystal’s lemon pie, but they can’t be trusted, seeing as they were formed before I properly developed my dessert palate. It’s not that I’ve become a dessert snob so much as…Ok, yes it is.

Had I not been indoctrinated into Krystal eating as a child, I’m not sure what my opinion of the burgers would be. Certainly, I’ve had better tasting sliders, but they’re just not Krystal’s. The restaurant’s latest slogan sums it up: “Krystal®–Nothin’ Like It.” Unless you count White Castle.

Have you eaten at Krystal? White Castle? Both? How do they compare?

Photo Credits: Krystal Restaurant by Scott Beale, Flickr Creative Commons; Loose Change by Rich Renomeron, Flickr Creative Commons; Hot sign by Jonathon Coleman, Flickr Creative Commons.

127. Pilgrimage–Not Just for Pilgrims Anymore

28 Mar

Shadowlawn, Columbus, MS (c. 1848)

Shadowlawn, Columbus, MS (c. 1848)

Yes, folks, Tara may be gone with the wind (or more accurately, fire), but throughout the South you’ll find many a pre-war home still standing. Judging by the variety of coffee-table books and Pinterest boards on the subject, folks really enjoy looking at these not-so-humble abodes. But what’s better than ogling photos or casting admiring glances from across the street? Why, being invited inside, of course! For a fee, but still.

During a spring pilgrimage, Southerners travel from far and wide for the opportunity to stroll the gardens and peek under the dust ruffles of these stately mansions. In all my years living in Mississippi, I can only recall taking a tour once, during which I was shown a “secret” dresser drawer wherein treasures could be stashed. I recall thinking, “Hey, my mom’s dresser has one of those!” Of course, one would be disappointed to discover that the “treasure” in Mom’s secret drawer consisted of birthday cards, old letters, and memorabilia. Her actual treasures? Well, she stored her jewelry in Band-Aid boxes tucked away deep in the cabinets. Sometimes hidden so well, she couldn’t find it herself.

For my mom’s side of the family, the pilgrimage was a time to bust out the hoop skirts and tricorn hats and put on a show. I inherited my fondness for all things fancy from the Lucas’. Two of my mom’s siblings were antique dealers and almost all the rest were regular customers. Every family reunion had a touch of the estate sale feel. But with more casseroles and cake.

Mom and Jenna (post nap)

Mom and Jenna (post nap)

For many years, my aunt Clara’s home Shadowlawn was part of the Columbus, Mississippi, pilgrimage tour, so naturally we were, too. My sister and I stood on the front lawn greeting visitors with a smile, wave, and perhaps an occasional “Welcome, y’all!” Each of my mom’s siblings would be assigned a room and provided with talking points along the lines of “the antique Victorian half tester bed” or “this vahse…” (never “vase,” always “vahse”).

I’m not ashamed to tell y’all that one of the highlights of my pilgrimage career was being promoted from lawn duty to room guide, and not just because the indoors had air conditioning. I can’t recall many of the room’s furnishing, but I’m certain there was an antique washstand (like the one we had at home) and at least one “vahse.”

During one particularly taxing day when my sister was around four or five, she climbed up on one of the beds and proceeded to nap. As the story goes, more than one tour taker was startled when Jenna moved saying, “I thought she was a DOLL!” Clearly, they do not know my sister like I do.

Me, dreaming of glass doorknobs...

Me, dreaming of glass doorknobs…

Between pilgrimages and July 4th family reunions, I spent a lot of time exploring Shadowlawn, from the room ‘o dolls from around the world to the exotic taxidermy collection. Once, I even spent three days locked inside a downstairs bathroom. (Ok, it might’ve been half an hour, but I’ve adjusted for kid time.) While I was in there, I admired the doll whose crocheted skirt doubled as a toilet paper cover. We never had one of those. On account of “they’re tacky.” Beside our toilet? A replica of Rodin’s statue “The Thinker.”

One of my favorite things about Shadowlawn was the glass doorknobs. As a kid, I told myself that one day I would live in a house with glass doorknobs. And now I do. My walnut vanity has not one but two hidden drawers. But I’ll most likely never own a vessel worthy of being called a “vahse.” Keeping it real, y’all.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

As I write this, more than two decades since my last visit to Columbus, I wish I had paid more attention as a kid. I wish I’d appreciated the opportunity for such a pilgrimage. These days, Shadowlawn is a bed and breakfast, so I could go back if I wanted to. But now that Mom and most of her brothers and sisters are gone, it just wouldn’t be a pilgrimage.

In case you’re curious, it’s Spring Pilgrimage time in Mississippi. The Natchez Pilgrimage continues through April 9th and the Columbus Pilgrimage runs March 31 through April 13.

Have you toured an antebellum home? What did you think? Please do tell.

124. Fried Crab Claws, Mighty Fine Finger Food

5 Mar

352913848_a52a025c75_mOf all the Southern delicacies I miss here in the Pacific Northwest, top honors may just go to fried crab claws. I occasionally encounter pretty good hushpuppies, fried chicken, and pulled pork. I’ve tasted some delicious grits and biscuits. I’ve even located a reliable source for beignets. But I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve run across a fried crab claw of any kind here–oh, and have one finger left over.

Yes, one of Seattle’s most celebrated chefs serves up some dee-li-cious crab cakes, but what on earth is he doing with all the claws? I beg of you, Tom Douglas, fry those suckers up!

Yes, but are they fried?

Yes, but are they fried?

Whenever I’m back in Mississippi, I make it a point to try and get myself some fried crab claws. In September, my sister and I drove nearly an hour to this joint in Vicksburg that has the best ones around. Unfortunately, nobody told us that half the town–including Rusty’s–shuts down on Monday. Still, after much searching, we managed to locate a tasty plate of them at a place called Monsour’s at the Biscuit Company. However, we were disappointed to learn that the “biscuit company” in the name had long since vacated the space. Apparently, the building once housed the National Biscuit Company or as they’re now called, Nabisco. Sure, I get the historic significance, but I think they ought to at least have a biscuit on the menu. Don’t get a girl’s hopes up like that!

As an appetizer that goes for around $14.95 a plate, fried crab claws are a little spendy. You might be tempted to split one order for the whole table. Don’t. Each claw offers up only one delectable morsel of meat, so you’ll want to share with one person max. Unless that person is greedy, in which case order your own.

If eating meat that still resembles the animal it came from creeps you out, then fried crab claws aren’t for you. They are what they are: claws, dipped in batter and fried. There’s only one way to eat them: position your teeth with the cartilage between them, bite down and scrape the meat off. No utensils will do. You’ve got to go caveman on them. Provided your cave is near the ocean, I mean.

Hmm...y'all might want to reword that.

Hmm…y’all might want to reword that.

Even in the South, menus featuring fried crab claws can be few and far between, so I suggest ordering them whenever you can. My sister just told me that we have to go to Walker’s Drive-In next time I’m in MS, seeing as they serve up a Super Size portion of them. She guesstimated 60 claws in one order, then backpeddled to “at least 50.” I am dubious. But also, hungry.

Know of any good places to get good fried crab claws? Any of them within driving distance of Seattle?

Photo credits: Plate ‘o claws by chez pim, Flickr Creative Commons; neon crab sign by Naser Risk, Flickr Creative Commons; we have crabs sign by tsmyther, Flickr Creative Commons.

Friday Favorites: Stuff I, Myself, Like

1 Mar

3744467338_cfe206a34b_mWeek 2: so far, so good!

Here’s my roundup:

Hope over at the Fairhope Supply Co. shares 23 Southern sayings she overheard during the course of one week, including “Does this camo come in pink?” and “She didn’t even bother to put the KFC on her own plate.” Enjoy!

I used a couple of Nick Russell’s amazing photos to illustrate my post on Faulkner a way long time ago. If you’ve never had the opportunity to explore Rowan Oak for yourself, these pics will take you there. Almost as good as sneaking past the barriers to get a closer look for yourself. Almost…

The writing's on the wall at Faulkner's house.

The writing’s on the wall at Faulkner’s house.

Click for recipe. Note: Site takes a moment to load, so be patient.

Click for recipe. Note: Site takes a moment to load, so be patient.

Planning a culinary excursion around the South anytime soon? Don’t leave home without Garden & Gun’s handy guide to the best eats. Sure, it’s incomplete at only 50, but even a list of 500 would be, so…

If you’re in more of a DIY Southern food mood, check out Something Swanky’s recipe for Pecan Pie Bread Pudding. It’ll definitely be the next version I try. Also, this is my new favorite spot for ogling food. Added bonus for putting “swanky” in the blog name!

And finally, for anyone who’s ever had a cat that loves boxes:

Hope you have a splendid (and swanky) weekend!

Photo credits: Howdy sign by KeddyO, Flickr Creative Commons; Faulkner’s writing on the wall by Nick Russell; Pecan Pie Bread Pudding (drool…) by Something Swanky.

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