Eating our way through the South.

The happy epicure, here in Savannah awaiting biscuits at Back in the Day Bakery.

One of the delights of our travels is we occasionally treat ourselves to eating out and sampling the local cuisine.  We are pretty picky in our choices and since Peter is such a wonderful cook, our standards are high.  Last fall, we sampled perhaps the best of Southern fried chicken in a funky place called the Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi where the proprietor, Mr. D, comes by occasionally to serenade his stuffed and very happy customers.   What made it special?  The sheer lightness and crispiness of the batter, which served to lock in the tender and flavorful chicken which was fried hot in a cast iron skillet. This place does chicken right.  Our time in Abbeville, Louisiana included some étouffée that was ethereal, so rather than try to compare those highlights, we opened the horizons to new experiences of some traditional dishes with new flair. Here is an eclectic mix of some of the highlights from Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina.

At Belfords, Peter prepares to indulge in one crab cake Benedict, and. half a fried oyster po’boy. We shared!

First in Savannah, the crab cakes Benedict were amazing at a place called Belfords on Franklin Square.  The crab cakes were moist, perfectly flavored and rich with tender crab meat (very little breading).  They were topped with a perfectly poached egg and Cajun remoulade sauce with just a touch of heat.  Peter ordered a fried oyster po’ boy, just because, and loved every decadent bite.

I’ve been researching the best buttermilk biscuits, one of the traditional of Southern foods that are hard to get right and easy to mess up.  In Savannah, we headed to a beautiful little bakery called Back in the Day.  It came highly recommended and so we wandered over one Sunday morning.  One of their specialities is buttermilk biscuit breakfast sandwiches and they did not disappoint. The biscuits are perfectly made and light and flavorful.  The compact egg frittata, with cheddar cheese, was flavored with a touch of thyme.

Lemon scone, glaze, and pistachios from Back in the Day Bakery.

Later, I found out that the owner-baker was nominated for the James Beard Outstanding Baker award.  In addition to the buttermilk biscuit, the lemon scone topped with pistachios is beyond belief.  This place is worth the stop.

As New Englanders, we know a lot about ice cream and Peter will happily remind folks that we native Yankees are known to consume more of the delectable dessert than those in any other part of the country.  So when my well-traveled sister (a resident of Connecticut, one of the original thirteen colonies) recommended the ice cream at Leopold’s in Savannah, we paid attention.  The ice cream parlor is great fun with movie posters and kitschy decor, including a telephone booth, and the first time we went by on a Sunday, the line was a half a block long and we decided this is why we were staying for four days.  We returned on Monday and with no wait.

Enjoying the Lemon custard ice cream at Leopold’s.

One of their hallmark flavors is called Lemon Custard, which is rich lemon ice cream with fresh lemon zest and subtle lemon flavor.   The winning recipe is unchanged since 1919 and I can see why.

So while we are on ice cream, let me share the experience of the amazing Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Charleston, South Carolina.  Located in the hip neighborhood of King Street the store is filled with display cases of the fabulous and very unusual flavors of Jeni Britton Bauer who started making ice cream in Columbus, Ohio in 2002.  What distinguishes her ice cream is the unusual combination of flavors, the delectable nature of the ingredients, high in butterfat and low in air, which are creamy and rich and not filled with sugar or thickeners.  The flavors change with the seasons as fresh fruits change.

Half-scoop samples of coffee chocolate chip, lavender berry, and Savannah buttercream mint at Jeni’s.

On our first trip (yes, we made two distinct visits!), it was brambleberry crisp which is made with brambleberry jam laced with tasted oat streusel in rich vanilla ice cream.  Then it was a smooth lemony, rich cream laced with what I remember as after dinner mints. Oh my.  Jeni’s has begun packaging these dreams from heaven in pints which are now available through the country, but I’m not sure if that is good news, or not!

Peter’s quest around the South was for fried oysters and after the po’ boy, it was lunch at Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar in downtown Charleston.  These fried oysters were light and tender and there was nothing left over. On a gorgeous, spring day, we walked from the restaurant to the lovely Waterfront Park and its iconic Pineapple Fountain which apparently doubles as a wading pool for residents during the heat of summer.

Grilled shrimp in butter and garlic on fried grouper at Seewee’s Restaurant.

The fried oyster sampling culminated (at least to date!) at a funky roadhouse called SeeWee Restaurant north the city in Awendaw.  The decor alone in this restaurant that’s been serving southern home cooking for decades is worth the trip.  The food was up to the locals’ recommendation.  The fried oysters were great and my grilled local shrimp on top of fried local grouper was equally tops.  So much food was served that we took it home and re-heated for lunch the next day and it was just as tasty.

We headed up next to Wilmington, North Carolina and decided to tour the riverfront downtown along the Peace River.  In the process we tripped upon a place called The Peppered Cupcake, which apparently is known for its remarkable tiny cakes.  We have a world class pastry chef in the family (one of my sisters) so we are accustomed to some of the best in buttercreams, ganache, and light cakes.

Rose water buttercream raspberry cupcake from The Peppered Cupcake.

Let me say that this place is amazing.  First of all, the little restaurant is comfortably air-conditioned and that is a first clue as to the attention of the owner-baker.  Climate control makes for superb buttercream chemistry and texture. Second, the little cakes are gorgeous to look at, each one a tiny masterpiece that one hesitates (but only briefly) to destroy.  And third, the taste which is often an unusual combination of ingredients. It’s called The Peppered Cupcake because of the addition of peppers and chilis that are used in some of the recipes.  In addition to that, the offerings include coconut buttercreams, and brownie chocolate ganache and the devine rose water raspberry.  We fully intended to eat one in the sweet little Victorian shop and take the other two home but the poor dears never had a chance to make the trip after we tasted the first morsels.  Besides, it was too warm a day and the buttercream would have been stressed out.  Really.

Ending this Mother’s Day post with a variety of chocolate offerings including mocha, peppered mango, and coffee buttercream from The Peppered Cupcake.

 

Peter and Liz continue their gastronomic sampling through North Carolina and Virginia as they work their way around the South in their Airstream.

 

 

 

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(Savannah) Georgia on my mind.

Our home in Savannah was the spectacular Skidaway Island State Park with long leaf pine and towering oaks.

We both needed the four days of delectable sleep and complete rest that we experienced outside of Gainesville, Florida at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. As when waking from a long night’s deep sleep we moved slowly and intentionally, first sitting symbolically upright and then consciously putting our feet firmly on the ground, exhilarated to find all our parts still in working order. Continue reading

Spring cleaning before heading north.

The tools from the spring cleaning tool belt. All that is missing is the baking soda, already in the frig.

Each year, in springtime, I commit to a comprehensive T2 cleaning.  It’s usually spread over a few days with Day 1 always starting with the triannual refrigerator defrosting.  Perhaps it’s because it is my least favorite cleaning task and I know that once starting it, I have committed to  the no-turning-back process.  The best part is the ritual that ends with putting the fresh new box of  baking soda in place and writing the date on the duct tape patch on the inside the refrigerator door.

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Collecting pottery shards of our pilgrim life.

Pottery shards in situ. Photo credits: oldpueblo.org.

A fellow Airstreamer recently posted a blog (Life on the Blue Highways) with a picture of some pottery shards that he discovered in New Mexico.  These shards struck me as a metaphor for the past few days at Koreshan State Park.  Like the shards, each day offered some unique new element in the whole field of our lives here.

 

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Celebrating my birthday with the women of Koreshan in Florida.

In-costume at Koreshan State Park during Women’s History Month with my favorite baker.

I’m writing this blog on my birthday and I have been given the most exquisite of gifts: a morning of solitude in T2, our sanctuary.  I’ve been reading poetry and found two snippets from poems that fit my reflection today.  Stanley Kunitz, at the age of 79 mused, “Maybe it’s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I’m passing through a phase…” while Billy Collins, at the age of 70, whimsically observed, “One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago as I waited for my eggs and toast, I opened the Tribune only to discover that I was the same age as Cheerios”. Continue reading

The Steinway piano of Estero, Florida.

The 1885 Steinway concert piano, with 85 keys, on the stage of the Art Hall.  Thank you Ann Mangan for the photograph.

On Friday, February 23, something grace-filled occurred at the Art Hall at the Koreshan Unity Settlement. A little after 2:00 pm, concert pianist Bella Gutshtein, sat down to play the 1885 Steinway piano. Before she put her hands on the keys of this concert piano, she urged her small audience to remember that in the face of whatever darkness we may have in our lives, music and beauty can offer light. Then, she breathed life into a few movements of a Brahm’s piano concerto, and I was aware of the extraordinary gift of grace that I had received. Continue reading

Heading toward the sunrise from Utah to Florida.

Our campsite in Estero, FL with new Christmas plantings and flamingos in festive attire.

Our eastbound drive from Utah to Florida covered a couple of thousand miles across eight states. We arrived on November 20 and are now comfortably settled into the Volunteer Village at Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida in the warm company of friends we met here last year and of the new volunteers who have come for part of the season. Continue reading

Across Nevada to Escalante and Boulder, Utah and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Rabbit bush in full fall colors in Nevada.

In spite of two unplanned technical events late in October, we still managed to get to southern Utah and fulfill a couple of long-time dreams for ourselves. Let me first start with the unplanned events which occur in life whether you are living on the road or not. First, we ended up with another quirky electrical problem in the truck. The short version is that our stay just over the California/Nevada border in a town called Fernley was extended for one extra day while Peter spent a day with the local Ford dealer (patiently waiting half a day since they were all booked) and determining that we needed a new battery. Continue reading

All along the Oregon coast.

Bully Creek Reservoir County Park was a respite and our first stop in Oregon.

On September 28, we crossed into Oregon from  Idaho, about half way up the state at Vale where the wide open land looks more like high plains of Kansas with grasses and open spaces. The first night in Oregon, we camped in a quiet county park, Bully Creek, along a reservoir.  The day we left, we watched campers arriving and getting set up for the opening weekend of deer hunting season.

 

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Our Airstream remodeling is completed.

We rarely catch those TV reality shows about home makeovers, but Monday, we were actually living one.  Exactly one week before, we left our Airstream with the mighty team of Ultimate Airstream in Williamsville, Oregon.  This was Phase Two of the renovations we committed to after two years of living on the road.  When Ian Harnish, the incredible team leader at Ultimate Airstream, showed us the inside, I just started crying with joy.  It was beyond what I could have imagined.

The beautiful windows in T2 bring the outside in so when I am writing, views like this (from Minnesota’s north woods in 2016) fill my heart. But we needed to improve the functionality of the living area for our needs.

As you loyal readers know, we love our Airstream (named T2).  Our experience with Airstream as the manufacturers has been nothing but enthusiastic.  But, after twenty-seven months, our love of travel, adventure, and life taught us that there were renovations we needed in order to maximize our tiny and very efficient space.  Specifically, we decided that we had no need for extra sleeping space so the long couch and the large dining table, both integral components to more sleeping space, were not priorities for us.

We are both avid readers and a comfortable chair became an essential element to peace and wellbeing and the original Airstream curb side bench was not making the grade.  We aren’t the kind of people who entertain a lot indoors so the long couch was not functional.  What we did need was more organized storage space inside, much more comfortable seating, and easier access to the under-bed storage that Airstream so brilliantly includes in the front bed, twin models.

View out the new window in the bathroom, June 2017. We did include a shade for night privacy. Also added a second towel rack in the bathroom.

Phase One of the renovations was completed at Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio in June.  They removed the curbside bench and installed our new Lambright wall-hugging recliner pictured below in a couple of  images.  We also had them cut down the size of the dining table to better fit the recliner and open up the space more.  JC also installed a porthole window in the bathroom. We had seen this modification when we were in Death Valley in March and it just blew us away.  The picture here tells all you need to know about this improvement to the quality of our life.  The bath was functional without the window but with it, the natural light and the illusion of spaciousness of bringing the outside in, is wonderful and the last four months have just re-enforced our decision.

Here’s a close-up of the new cabinet which is tucked under the window and up against the wall with the refrigerator. The counterspace on top is amazing and because it is set back it just opens up the entire interior and feels so much more spacious.

In October, Ultimate Airstream took over from there for Phase Two.  They re-built the seating area completely, removing the original 93″ couch and replaced it with a custom 72″ couch and removing the gaucho slide that offered the option of another bed. (I have inserted before and after pictures at the end of this blog so you can experience the complete make-over). These guys use professional grade upholstery cushions and great vinyl covering that are essential for the intensity of our full timing. These cushions are firm and very comfortable for long periods of sitting (like writing and reading) and that will most likely last a decade.

They also designed and built a custom cabinet for us, adding precious storage space and creating an efficient set of storage spaces.  The middle cabinet drawers are heavy-duty, 11″ deep (they need to hold a portable filing system) and extend fully for access to the content. The cabinet materials, including drawer pulls and countertop, are all with the original Airstream materials that are specific to our 2015 and so the finished result is completely seamless.

Here’s a picture from the hall looking into the bedroom showing the two new under-bed drawers, fully extended. And yes, they did accommodate the floor rug when building!

The other modification we made was to install custom drawers underneath the deeper of the two twin beds in the bedroom.  Again, these are super deep and pull out all the way for incredibly easy access from the top to the storage bags of (in this case) sweaters and bulikier clothing items. This is already a life-changing modification as we have re-organized all the harder to get to spaces where seasonal items like hats and scarves got buried in smaller storage areas inside T2 and were hard to access.  We opted not to build drawers under the other twin because the space is not as deep (there are outside storage areas located in this general area) so it is far easier to access the contents since the space is so shallow.

On chilly evenings, we throw our Pendleton blanket over the recliner and all is well!

We also made another change this time around.  Ultimate Airstream replaced the radio/stereo that came with T2.  It never really worked for me and was too hard to use.  The new one, a Kenwood car stereo is great and since our Clarion speakers are so good, we can listen to our music and easily watch movies through the system.  No picture here of the stereo but know that it’s great.

So here are two remarkable pictures of T2.  The first, the “before” picture, shows the original set-up with the curbside bench, most of the long couch, and the fabric upholstery that we chose when we ordered the Airstream new in 2015.  The original table is oversized and while it did provide a great work space, the trade-off in comfort was not worth the price.

And below that is the “after” picture of the new living area showing the gorgeous couch covering, Chimayo wool throw pillows, comfy alpaca throw over the back cushions, and a view of the recliner.

The original interior living/dining area.

Our newly remodeled living/dining area is fabulous.

Liz and Peter are continuing their pilgrimage to here in their newly renovated Airstream, heading slowly south and east and aiming for arriving in Florida by mid-November.