My South (And What You Might Not See)

Food, Health, Story, Vacation

Mississippi washes over you like a wave.

The smell of the grass and tall weeds hit by the hot sun. Crickets.

Moss hanging from them trees that we were told as kids had lice in em’. Well, Me-Maw wasn’t wrong, we found out.

It sounds different than the Pacific Northwest. The way the trees rustle and lose their leaves. Discovering the Battle of Raymond — now just a hay field off the Natchez Trace. A good place to pick up acorns and the occasional mushroom.

It is my home when I’m not in Oregon.

I think y’all know this by now.

But what you don’t know is how that place makes me soft. The mix of family and smells and deep fried carbohydrates puts me into that place that I’m so familiar with. Odd, how a place does that.

I visited home last week and had such a great time. We went to Mississippi State Fair and ate fried alligator and smoked turkey legs. I almost threw up on at least two rides, mostly due to the block of fair cart food sloshing around in my (usually) well balanced belly. I didn’t much mind.

I watched my mom in the kitchen, orchestrating dinner and snacks and realized where I got it from — why it feels so natural — and why we both get it. Someone has to be in charge of that stuff or people get grumpy and hungry. We know, we know.

I got to each lunch with my niece at her school where my sister teaches 1st grade. She’s such a good teacher. I love looking at her classroom and realizing how bad I am at math. God, I miss cubby holes. And naps! And chicken tetrazzini!

It’s also been since last December that I’ve seen my home state. I was not in a great place health wise, as y’all might recall. Having heartburn and stomach pains nearly every day.

I started going to a doctor and 10 months later, have dropped nearly 45lbs. Stomach pains have stopped and I haven’t had heartburn till I made Gran’s chili, but that’s just to be expected, I think.

Southern cuisine is struggling. Fast food has destroyed what made Southern food so good. If you look hard enough, you can find mom and pop storefronts that are making the real stuff. You’ll find T-Beaux’s seafood stand that builds on to its small trailer every year. You’d be surprised to find a lot of gas stations doing their own stuff.

Mostly you’ll notice the fast food. I strolled into Wal-Mart looking for headphones when I noticed nearly everyone walking around with soda in their hand, shopping. And I don’t say this to cast a bad light on my people. Because I’ve come a long way to lose that habit and it’s changed my life.

I mean, to feel how good it is to have folks say, “Whoa, you have lost so much weight!”

Damn straight.

I worked hard for that. Fought back control of my body. Only to see the struggle of the South. To take back what made it so unique. But I will say it again, fast food is killing the South. Cheap, empty calories, sugar highs and temporarily full bellies.

Real southern food is not this. Don’t kid yourself. Vegetables are a HUGE part of Southern foodways. The “meat and three veg” joints. The huge potential of growing amazing food out of the earth. I saw the most beautiful fresh okra from the street fair. It looked like it was still alive and moving. I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy the other stuff again.

I crave this from my South. A place that most of the world is still so curious about. A place where food and hospitality reign over anything else.

You won’t really find any izakayas or Michelin rated restaurants.

You will find my family and friends who are there. Adapting and moving in the way Mississippi lets you. You’ll see that my mom uses real butter now and that my Gran hooks us up with that awesome yellow cheddar from Mississippi State. I love that.

We’re all still moving and adjusting, hardly settling. And that’s okay. We experience growing pains everywhere we plant our roots.

Thankful for the times sitting around the table and getting to spend time with my niece and nephew. Always so sad to leave, but with each trip, learning what it means to have two homes with lots of people who love us. So thankful for all of it that I just eat it up.

Mississippi, as the sign reads, is always like comin’ home.

 

San Francisco [And No, We did NOT visit the Ghiardelli Factory.]

Food, Story, Vacation

We are lucky in that we get to do these things.

Travel. Eat good food. Catch up with friends. Rest.

We spent the past week in San Francisco after a few months of debating what would be most worth our money, considering we don’t have that much. We set a time and took off from work and called it our “eat-cation” because if we were going to spend time in one place, the food best be good.

I loved San Fran. It’s a foodie city. Lots of industry folks and some really affordable food. Lots of places to get hosed or high or whatever it is you like. Lots of cool side bars offering decent exposure to one of the many different neighborhoods that make up San Francisco.

We found us a sweet little spot in SoMa (South of Market St.) on the fringe of The Mission. The first night we ate at Mission Street Chinese in the form of a pop-up as the namesake Lung Shan Restaurant closes after lunch. Had a few really amazing dishes. Salt cod fried rice. Mongolian long beans which numbed our tongue it was so spicy — in a good way, of course. Also this rib tip dish that I can’t remember the name of. Had those cartilage-y bits too that were actually really nice.

The next day we hit up Sight Glass for coffee. Amazing. Pricey, but worth it if that’s your thing. Beautiful space full of laptops and cell phones, but that’s the cafe world, right?

My friend Noodles (Andrew is his real name…but we know him as Noodles. Or Noods. We go way back. Like when I had hair and wanted to be a computer programmer.) He treated us to breakfast at this little spot not too far from our hotel. Eggs, toast and hash browns. Nothin’ better when you got the coffee jitters.

Needed some more food in our bellies so we headed down the food carts on 11th and Division/Bryant — ate some really good Korean tacos (mostly a fan of the duck, but the others I would never complain!) – split a decent empanada and a pastrami sandwich – overkill, but in a good way.

That night we met a friend of mine from college and his partner at Dolores Park for some catch up time and devoured some pretty delicious sandwiches. One of which was the antithesis of my diet for the past 8 months. Bread stuffed with roast beef, turkey, pastrami (again, I know!), onion rings, fried jalapeno poppers, fried mozzarella sticks, tomato and guacamole. It was named the “Kryptonite” – it defeated me quickly. I maybe got 7 or 8 good bites in. Respectively so.

We walked a TON. True, the best way to get around San Fran is usin’ the ole’ legs. Well, public transportation is great in SF. We took the BART most of the time. You can pretty much get off anywhere and find something good within walking distance. Of course we got lost several times, but there’s something to be said about getting lost in a city. You discover lots of little things, like how I don’t actually like getting lost all that much. 🙂

Went to this bar called the Tempest and had a few pints with my buddy Will who’s been one of my good good friends since we were kids. He works as a camera guy for Mythbusters and is just an all around bad ass. So great to catch up in funky bars. Noods came later while we all determined that September 11th would be a great day to meet up at the Tempest and reminisce.

We spent one night on Tiburon Bay. Sort of an over-the-top luxury night. Figured we might be able to afford just one of those once and a while. It was so nice. Biggest and softest bed I’d ever laid on. Sweet view of the SF skyline. Got to see little boats come in and out while always asking myself, “People really live like this??”

Yes. Yes they do.

We ate decent tourist town pizza. Watched TV and lit a fire. A nice way to say good-bye to the Bay area.

On the way out, we drove back in to SF and forgot to bring cash for the FREAKING toll. A nice $25 dollar fine will be coming in the mail shortly. Buh. But, that was made up for by the great time we had in Chinatown with our friend Jamie. Chinatown was my favorite. It sets the bar for Chinatowns everywhere, that is, except in China. We found some ladies hand-making fortune cookies. Roasted ducks hanging in windows. Bakeries with black bean curd pastries and custards. So neat. Hannah was in custard heaven. We ate lunch at a clay pot place in a tiny room above one of the markets. It was delicious. Way too much food, but so fun.

We said our goodbyes and drove home through Yountville, where we stumbled upon Thomas Keller’s tiny empire of over-the-top goods. Most of which I will write about another time, because there were some deeper things that happened with this.

But I shall digress, as this piece is already far too long. I’m sure I’ve already lost your attention span. I will leave you only temporarily to say that our little vacation was brilliant and we were treated with such hospitality — both by the city and by our dear friends.

So glad to be back in Portland.

But then again, I always am.

 

sunburnt (and the mysterious jar of mayonnaise)

Food, Story, Vacation

The overcast skies feel very welcome on my sunburnt head. Considering I’m a somewhat bald dude, I welcome the change of sickly white to somewhat tan.

This giant burst of sun came from sitting on a beach near the port of Cozumel, Mexico — a tourist island off the mainland of Mexico. A few margaritas sweet with lime and sugar and tequila streamed through my blood vessels taking the edge off a very much needed time of rest. I watched my wife swim in the warm water, bobbing up and down in the Gulf’s ebb and flow.

Funny enough, we forgot sunscreen and sunglasses. It was okay. We’ve had a major lack of Vitamin-D in Portland. I felt it a welcome presence upon my head. You feel tired and energized at the same time. That life-giving warmth from the sun for us Pacific Northwest dwellers does huge things to our hearts.

We made it in-land enough to eat a few tacos and some ceviche at a local eatery. We knew we were in the right place by the lack of people that looked like us. We were tourists. It is what it is. Being taken advantage of should be expected. We were fed and led around the island in kindness. For that, I’m thankful.

I got a little emotional walking along the streets. The deep smell of morning in a foreign city. It brings me right back to the streets of Calcutta. The hot humid air sinks willfully into my skin and I feel the sweat dripping down my tight sunburnt forehead. All too familiar. I realize instantly that I miss traveling. I miss being swept away by a culture not my own. It keeps me humble. I started thinking about the saying, ‘the more we see the less we know’ and began to understand that staying in one place teaches us a lot. We become confident in what we do only to have our feet swept away when we find ourselves piecing together words to communicate cross-culturally.

What a massive place we live in.

I watched them cook from several pots upon a giant counter. A spoon dipping in and out quickly and accurately. I watched the kids behind the bar chop onions and cilantro – being corrected by the older woman, smiling, gracefully passing on the trade.

A warm coke out of the bottle.

Mexican pop music blaring out the flat screen tv — sitting in wobbly green and red chairs and tables. A condiment tray in the center holding lime, onion and peppers. A jar of mayonnaise sat adjacent. I wondered what people used it for. Mmm. Mayonnaise.

So I sit here again. Writing with an open window allowing the cool to wrap around all of this. Itchy sunburn.

Remnants of that big sun;

spending time with family;

eating too much chocolate cake

and wondering where it will all begin again.