Our travels this weekend took us to Panama City Beach, on the Florida panhandle, where we checked into a lovely condo overlooking the gorgeous white sand beach. This was to be the more relaxed portion of our road trip.
On Saturday we spent the afternoon with my brother-in-law’s cousin, who lives in the nearby town of Lynn Haven. After a career spent flying helicopters to oil rigs in the Gulf, in his retirement he has taken up pottery. And he is seriously good at it!
After lunch at the Golden Corral (a southern favorite), he took us to visit his studio. Normally filled with wheels and clay, it is now set up for his annual Backyard Pottery Festival, which will held on the first weekend in December.
While his work ranges from mugs to tea pots to cookie pots, to sculptures, my personal favorites are his creative piggy banks. Here’s just one — guaranteed to put on a smile on your face as you save those pennies!
Wes’s 96-year old mother (“Aunt Netty”) has gotten in on the act now too, and has started her own line of clay figurines!
If you going to be anywhere near the Florida panhandle the first weekend in December, be sure to stop in at their backyard festival.
If you get there early enough you might even get to eat one of “Aunt Nettie’s” baked goods!
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, during our time in New Orleans, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde for beignets and hot chocolate. Even though it was quite crowded, we managed to find a table in a corner overlooking Lafayette Square.
Our waitress was an ethnic Chinese woman with a thick New Orleans drawl who called us all “darling” and “honey-child.”
That took us by surprise!
But then I looked around an noticed that nearly all of the wait staff seemed to be Chinese, most of them speaking with thick southern accents.
Clearly, they were not recent immigrants.
Interacting with this sweet Chinese-Louisianan reminded me of a short film that I ran across a few months back about a community of Chinese who have lived in the Mississippi Delta region for over a hundred years. Produced by Al Jazeera as part of a series on Chinese food in America, the reporter introduces us to their life and their food. The title of the piece is The Untold Story of America’s Southern Chinese.
Here is the video: (email readers: go here to view it)
Think of the Mississippi Delta. Maybe you imagine cotton fields, sharecroppers and blues music.
It’s been all that. But for more than a century, the Delta has also been a magnet for immigrants. I was intrigued to learn about one immigrant group in particular: the Delta Chinese.
To find out more, I travelled to Greenville, Miss., a small city along the Mississippi River. I meet Raymond Wong in Greenville’s Chinese cemetery, right across a quiet road from an African-American cemetery. Wong’s family has long been part of a thriving — but separate — Chinese community.
“We were in-between,” Wong explains, “right in between the blacks and the whites. We’re not black, we’re not white. So that by itself gives you some isolation.”
The film tells the story of the early Chinese immigrants to the Mississippi Delta during the 19th century; then it explores how the community steadily grew in the early part of the 20th century, as Chinese families across the Delta opened grocery stores that served both the black and white populations. Subsequently, it reveals how 182 Chinese men from the Delta participated in all aspects of the US war effort in WWII, shows the transformational nature of their participation in the war for the development of the community in the decades immediately after the war, and concludes by documenting the contributions of the Chinese Delta families to the state of Mississippi and beyond as t
Their children became doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and many other types of professionals in the contemporary era.
One of the fun things about a road trip is the food. While we are not averse to grabbing a cup of coffee or a coke at MacDonald’s on driving days for the sake of convenience, we are trying to mix up our culinary experiences. This means trying to hit some of the local favorites wherever we are. Here are some of the highlights so far….
In Austin, the order of the day, of course was barbecue, at Blacks BBQ. As I mentioned in a previous post, perhaps the best brisket I’ve ever eaten.
Believe it or not, one of my brother-in-law’s favorite eateries is Waffle House. They are ubiquitous in the South, but he often laments that the closest one to The Cities is in Kansas City! On our drive from Austin to New Orleans, we stopped in for a pecan waffle! He was one happy camper!
After consulting the site for off-beat places to eat in New Orleans, last night we settled on a place called Rocky and Carlo’s a non-descript little place across the street from an oil refinery.
It’s claim to fame, as noted on a local website, is “fabulously oversized portions of Sicilian dishes and New Orleans classics including veal parmesean and the most popular item on the menu, baked macaroni & cheese, served with brown or red gravy.”
In this case “red gravy” is marinara sauce!
I have never in my life seen such a large portion of food for a single order. That’s THREE pieces of veal parmesan, which in our case fed three people!
My brother-in-law and niece, who have a more adventurous culinary spirit, opted for shrimp and oyster Po’ Boys respectively.
One of the main purposes of this year’s road trip was to give my 90-year old mom the chance to visit the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, something that she has long wanted to do. We had heard that the museum was amazing, and our 8.5 hours there today did not disappoint!
We saw every exhibit and watched almost every movie. While the rest of the family experienced it as history, for Gracie it was a chance to re-live memories:
Hearing the voice of Adolf Hitler on the radio;
Listening to Roosevelt’s speech to Congress;
The fear of a Japanese attack on Portland, OR, where she lived;
Her sister being in charge of the ration board in Bend, OR at the ripe age of 18;
A cousin piloting a landing craft on D-Day;
And of her brother, a Marine, fighting on Guadalcanal.
If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, it is a must see. Be sure to plan to spend an entire day to see everything. And if you aren’t in New Orleans, it’s worth making a special trip here to see it.
In thinking about books about WW2 to recommend, it was difficult because I have read so many. But in the end two stand out — these classic works by Herman Wouk:
Our main reason for going to Austin on this trip was to visit my niece, who has fled the Minnesota winter for warmer climes. When not working at her day job teaching ESL, she and her boyfriend spend all their time on a business they started called Lost Pines Yaupon Tea.
Made from the Yaupon tree, a member of the holly family, it is the only caffinated plant/tea native to the U.S.
Here’s how the tea is described on their site:
Yaupon (YO-pawn) is naturally caffeinated. It’s also rich in the related stimulant theobromine (from Greek “food of the gods”), the pleasure molecule familiar to lovers of dark chocolate. While yaupon contains less caffeine than coffee or tea, it contains more theobromine. This more balanced ratio gives yaupon its focused, jitter-free buzz.
Former coffee drinkers Jason Ellis, Heidi Wachter, and John Seibold launched Lost Pines Yaupon Tea earlier this year. Ellis had been experimenting with and enjoying the naturally sweet beverage for several years, but it wasn’t until the other partners tasted it for themselves that the group realized they were on to something. North America’s only caffeinated plant, yaupon (pronounced YO-pawn) is a cousin to South America’s guayusa and yerba maté. Known as “black drink” to Native Americans, yaupon tea was brewed strong and consumed on a daily basis for centuries. But with the end of the Civil War, and lifting of naval blockades, imported Chinese teas and coffee resumed their status as the beverages of choice.
Today was “Johnson Day” on our visit to Austin, Texas. As in President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ), and his wife Lady Bird Johnson. This city was their home base and launching pad for his political career so their lives and legacies loom large.
In the morning we visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a gorgeous arboretum on the edge of the city. Being that it’s November, there weren’t a lot of flowers in bloom; however we enjoyed the 80+ degree weather (it’s in the 30’s back in Minnesota!).
In the afternoon we headed over to the University of Texas campus to visit the LBJ Presidential Library. It’s an excellent museum, and was a good reminder of fading memories from my childhood.
If you find yourself in Austin someday, I’d recommend both sites.
And of course we topped it off with a wonderful Texas-style dinner at Blacks Barbecue. Best brisket I’ve ever had!