Tag Archives: road trips

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.

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Rerun–43. Cracker Barrel: Putting the Kitsch in Kitchen

10 May

2658965445_b485f917caSo, the evening after I revisited Stuckey’s, Cracker Barrel lured me in with their ever-present billboards. I think it was the one about “homemade dumplings” that won me over. Wish I’d reread this post before eating there:

You’d think the novelty of nostalgia would have worn off by now, but judging from the ever-crowded parking lot, I reckon not. But then Cracker Barrel combines two of Southern women’s greatest loves: eating and shopping. Also, you can get in quite a bit of gossiping, too, depending on who you run into and how long you have to wait for a table.

I’m not going to extol the virtues of Cracker Barrel’s food, because I fail to see any. Ok, I’ll admit, they do have some good pecan pancakes that come with wee bottles of maple syrup. I know this because whenever I’d come home to visit, Mom would wake me up WAAAAY early the next day (like around 9:00) to go get some pancakes.

What Cracker Barrel lacks in culinary skills, they make up for in kitsch. Where else are you going to find cornbread pans, patriotic clocks, wooden toys, and old-timey candy all in one place? Ok, maybe your grandmother’s house. But the candy will likely be not so much old-timey as just plain old.IMG_0241

There’s plenty to look at while you wait, and the fun doesn’t stop after you’re seated. Who’s up for a challenging round of the peg game? You know the one with a triangle-shaped piece of wood featuring pegs filled with golf tees? The object is to “jump” and remove the other tees, leaving only one tee standing. It sounds more exciting than it is. But then, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve yet to win.

I’ve only ever been to Cracker Barrel for breakfast because from what I hear, that’s the only meal worth eating. However, I can’t imagine the food would be any worse than the short-lived “Po Folks” that we used to patronize frequently in college. Because, hey, we WERE po folks, and most anything beats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Though I do enjoy poking around in the general store, I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in the last three years. My mom loved those pancakes enough to endure breakfast with a grumpy, jetlagged daughter, and it wouldn’t feel right eating them without her.

What’s your favorite part of the Cracker Barrel experience?

pancakesUpdate: Last year, I went with my sister and dad to have the pecan pancakes again and they did not disappoint. Wish I could say the same about my meal last week. I had the frequently touted chicken and dumplings and they were just sad, y’all. Not as sad as the straight-from-the-can, lukewarm niblets, but almost. Of the fried okra, I will not even speak. In their defense, the biscuit was edible.

What puzzles me is that in my infinite quest to find a go-to chicken and dumplings recipe, I keep running across ones that claim to taste “Just Like Cracker Barrel,” as if it were a good thing. Huh?

So after a spectacularly underwhelming supper, I decided to go back for breakfast. Thought maybe I could drown the bad memories with a little bottle of maple-esque syrup. Low and behold, it worked. Note: Notions like this hardly ever work, but never underestimate the power of pecan pancakes.

Photo credits: Cracker Barrel exterior by Keith Lam, Flickr Creative Commons; pics with bad lighting by yours truly.

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.

42. Moon Pies, Perhaps the Finest Food Ever Wrapped in Cellophane

20 Jun

How they got to be called “moon pies,” I really don’t know. They’re round, so I get the “moon” part. But they do not resemble a pie AT ALL. At least no pie I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure y’all know I’ve seen a fair share of pies.

Moon Pies are more like a cross between a cookie and a cake: a layer of marshmallow creme sandwiched by two cakey-ish layers all dipped in a flavored coating. My favorite is banana. But they also come in vanilla and chocolate.

I had not seen a Moon Pie in decades, so when my sister and I made a road trip from Seattle to Portland a few years back, imagine my surprise when I spotted a box of banana Moon Pies in a tote-sum store along the way. I came out of the store beaming, carrying a sack full. My sister didn’t see what the big deal was. I guess Moon Pies are pretty prevalent in Memphis. But Moon Pies within driving distance of Seattle? Hallelujah!

Forward thinker that I am, I did not make note of the name/location of the store, so I can’t find them again. Probably a good thing. Because I’ve been known to eat them for breakfast. Which reminds me of my favorite “white trash” breakfast that I haven’t had in at least 10 years: those little powdered-sugar covered donuts and a can of orange soda. Please don’t ask. I cannot begin to explain or justify.

I’m going down to Memphis sometime in the next month to meet my soon-to-be-arriving nephew Eli, and I intend to smuggle home at least a few Moon Pies. I’m still on the lookout for the boiled peanuts, but in the mean time, if y’all want Moon Pies, let me know.

P.S. This just in: would you believe they sell Moon Pie lip balm? Two great tastes that taste great together. Alas, no banana flavor. Vanilla will have to do.

What’s your favorite variety of Moon Pie? Have you ever had one of the “single-deckers”? Do they really exist?

41. Stuckey’s: Home of Pee Breaks and Pecan Log Rolls

19 Jun

Stuckey's, Coffee County, Tennessee by naslrogues

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?

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