A Very Unparked Domain
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Category — Food

Live from Little Rock

We’re going through our morning routine right now (washing, eating, programming) in an Extended Stay America (again) in Little Rock, Arkansas, gearing up for another big driving day.

We had a good visit with our sister-in-law Paige, our nephew Tyler, and Paige’s mom Donna in Seymour, Tennessee on Thursday, but Paige and Tyler both have hacking coughs (or, in Paige’s words, “the crud”), so we got a little room in Knoxville for the night. (It was enough of a dump that we won’t be reviewing it, but we sure got a great price on the room!)

Paige has been trying to take us to take us to The Old Mill restaurant in Pigeon Forge ever since we visited last fall: we tried twice last year, and every time the wait for a table was well over an hour, sometimes as long as two. Thursday was our third try, and maybe because we had Donna along for good luck, we finally got to eat there. You order your own entree and the sides are served family-style, in big bowls for the table to share. Dinner was very reasonably priced and included a bowl of their house corn chowder, green salad, corn fritters, and a choice of three deserts. While this might not be an optimal dining location for vegetarians or people with restricted diets, we managed just fine. (My heart goes out to vegetarians in the South, it truly does.) Take a look at The Old Mill recipe page if you want to try some Tennessee country cooking at home.

(Pigeon Forge sports possibly the highest billboard density of anywhere I’ve ever traveled; after driving along tree-upholstered interstates for several days in a row, the contrast is a little over-stimulating.)

We managed to put in 8 hours of driving yesterday, traversing almost the full width of Tennessee. After a full day of map reading, the Tennessee’s trapezoidal shape really reminds of the Pink Pearl erasors we had when I was in elementary school.

We started the day with breakfast in a Knoxville Cracker Barrel. Not familiar with Cracker Barrel? Just like Piggly Wiggly, you really have to see it first hand to believe it. We’ll write more on Cracker Barrel in a future post. (More on our dietary restrictions in a future post, too.) Suffice to say that trying to eat a gluten-free, corn-free, meat-free breakfast at a restaurant that prides itself on its generous portions of biscuits, cornbread and pork products is a great way to avoid over-eating.

We stopped in Nashville for an Indian vegetarian buffet lunch at Woodlands. I realize that vegetarian Indian food is a far cry from typical local cuisine, but we are rapidly approaching our lifetime quota of Cracker Barrel meals, we were craving vegetables, and accommodating our dietary restrictions on the road can be very challenging. The food was great, and their dosas (rice crepes) were amazing, even if Neil wound up with a very limited number of dishes he could eat.

(Why are there so many Indian buffet restaurants named Woodlands? I’ve eaten at oodles but I’ve never figured out why the name is so common. Does anyone know?)

We drove straight through Memphis, over the Mississippi River, into Arkansas, and on to Little Rock. (We’ve visited Memphis before, years ago, and since we’re trying to make good driving time right now we didn’t feel compelled to stop this time around.)

We enjoyed a light, if late, Turkish dinner in Little Rock at Istanbul Mediterranean–and throughout the meal thought of our friend Sean-Paul Kelly who is in Turkey at the moment. SP, if our menu last night was in any way representative of Turkish food, I am newly and even more deeply jealous of your trip!

There was so much severe rain and thunderstorms predicted for Tenessee yesterday that we thought we might have to put pontoons on the Mini to clear the state. We were delighted to discover that, even in some fairly heavy rains, the humidity felt lower than in Charleston or Richmond. The weather also feels subjectively much cooler without the humidity: yesterday we were stretching our legs in an Arkansas rest stop and felt comfortably cool, even though it was 91 degrees.

Yesterday’s drive represents the early stages of a 5,000 mile odyssey we have planned for the next five weeks. (More on that soon, too.) We are pleased and excited to see how well we are falling back into our heavy-travel routines, and remembering and relearning “how to do travel”.
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May 16, 2009   2 Comments

Feels like travel already

After a six-month stopover in Charleston, we’ve unchocked our wheels and hit the road again.

And it feels GREAT.

We checked out of the Mt Pleasant Extended Stay America, ate a fantastic brunch at the Glass Onion in West Ashley, snuck in one more visit with Neil’s mom in Summerville, grabbed a bottle of water from the Piggly Wiggly, and headed North on I-95.

  • The Extended Stay America was a great place to stay. Until I tried to cook a duck breast for Neil–what possessed me? No one knows–and the smoke set off the hotel fire alarm. We now refer to the hotel as the House of Burning Duck. We suspect “duck flambé” may not catch on in the aromatherapy world. But we do recommend the hotel.
  • The Glass Onion is one of our favourite places to eat in the Charleston area. They serve healthy, balanced meals of Low Country and Louisiana cuisine prepared with produce from local farms, fresh caught fish, and hormone-free meats. The portions are generous without being obscene and provide great value for the price. They have wonderful, friendly staff (Brian! We’re talking about you!) and they even give you crayons so you can draw on the brown paper table cloths. The menu changes daily and somehow they find the time to update it every day on their website. Every meal we’ve ever eaten was fabulous. They have been completely accommodating in making substitutions for our bizarrely restricted diets: good place for non-dairy, gluten-free, and vegetarian; limited but possible for vegan. The Glass Onion is about everything we could hope for in a restaurant.
  • Canadians’ first and only contact with the Piggly Wiggly in most cases seems to stem from the movie Driving Miss Daisy. I had no idea the store was real, and Neil was amazed at how ecstatic I was to see one the first time I can down to visit his family. When we brought my parents to visit Charleston, we made a special trip to “the Pig” (as its known locally) so they could take pictures of it and get plastic and paper bags to take home. Doesn’t everyone make pilgrimages to grocery stores when they travel? We’ve also taken a grocery bag from a Food Lion as a gift for friends in Montreal…so maybe the grocery store obsession is a Canadian thing. The Pig also offers a range of Piggly Wiggly merchandise. I wonder if my brother registered there for his wedding?

So far today we’ve driven half way from Charleston, South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia. We’re getting reaquainted with our gear, our travel gadgets, and our driving protocols (e.g., parking a car full of heat-sensitive vitamins in the shade).

We pulled over in Lumberton, North Carolina for dinner, and put our navigation and on-the-fly restaurant research skills to the test. We discovered that…we’re a little rusty in that department. We won’t be reviewing the restaurant we ate at (because our mothers taught only to say nice things), but after a few false starts we did manage to discover one of the healthier eating options in the area and a meal that, while perhaps not Michelin-worthy, did fit our diet restrictions.

Right now we’re tucked into the independently-owned Four Oaks Lodging & RV Resort at Exit 90 of Interstate 95 near Smithfield, North Carolina: at $28/night, our super clean, no-smoking, free Wi-fi room is the best deal we’ve ever found on I-95.

We pulled in to Four Oaks just as the rain started coming down. We weren’t suprised: for the past 15 minutes I had been taking pictures of the amazing purple sunset through the Mini’s sunroof. We’ll try to post some of those next time we have a little energy–meaning not tonight!

To sum up, we’ve already hit adventures, bad food, cheap lodgings, bad weather, and at-speed sunroof photography, and we’ve only been on the road for a few hours!

It definitely feels like we’re traveling again.

May 9, 2009   10 Comments

Virginia is for Leavers

Virginia’s state slogan might be “Virginia is for lovers”—which certainly applies in our case—but our motto today is “Virginia is for leavers.”

Today we launch a whole new chapter of the trip: we exit Virginia (for the third time this trip) to head west for Tennessee.

As much as we love Virginia, it’s time to make like a tree and leave.

Maple leaves on the lawn of the Rockridge Virginia Court House, October 5, 2008

October 9, 2008   4 Comments

Indian Pudding in Sturbridge Massachusetts (with recipe!)

Indian Pudding was on the menus absolutely everywhere we went in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. We finally tried it the day we had lunch at the Old Sturbridge Village Tavern.

We were expecting a dish something like southern classics corn pone (an eggless corn bread), corn pudding (somwhere between a quiche and a souffle), or spoon bread (a pudding-like bread).

We couldn’t have been more wrong!

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September 13, 2008   17 Comments

Weird Foods

Traveling in the US we haven’t hit as many unfamiliar foods as we would traveling further from home, but we’ve still seen a few “new” things.

Savoury pork mush. Yum!

  • Bulkies: seems to be a large roll or bun in Massachusetts. Can any natives comment?
  • Scrod: a fish we’ve seen on menus around New England but Neil hasn’t tried yet; scrod seems to be either very young cod or “catch of the day,” depending on who you ask.
  • Scrapple: a savory mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, sometimes buckwheat flour. You know anytime you get “savoury” and “mush” juxtaposed you are in for a gourmet treat.

We haven’t just chickened out on new foods!

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September 12, 2008   15 Comments

Vermont Cheddar Ale Soup (with recipe!)

When Neil tried a bowl of Vermont cheddar ale soup at Brattleboro’s Riverview Café earlier this week, we were both impressed with how the bitterness of the ale anchored the sweet creaminess of the cheddar. The soup was more substantial, more complex and more interesting than we anticipated. A delicious surprise!

It has been a pleasure to see how vigorously Brattleboro businesses promote and support local Vermont products. Menus boast of dishes made with Vermont Cheddar, Vermont cream, Vermont microbrew ales, and of course, Vermont maple syrup.

Locavore / Green Traveler Alert! The Riverview Café is a member of The Vermont Fresh Network, an organization dedicated to supporting Vermont farmers by connecting them with local chefs. What a brilliant initiative on so many levels: strengthening agriculture, improving the quality of local restaurants, showcasing state produce to locals and tourists, reducing the environmental impact of food distribution, encouraging local eating, and improving public health through the consumption of quality local foods.

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August 28, 2008   34 Comments

Lost Days

Sometimes I lose days. Days slip through my fingers like quicksilver and before I know it they are gone.

Today was one of those days.

I slept well, and woke easily. Then Neil came upstairs with the mail….

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August 27, 2008   3 Comments

Gourmet Dining Chez Oleszek (with recipes!)

I was so astounded by the beautiful meals that our friend Janet concocted while we were in Fairfax, Virginia last month that some of the first pictures I took on this trip were of her dinner table, much to Janet’s amusement.

Here’s some ocular proof of our fine dining adventures, along with two of Janet’s recipe for light and simple summer dishes that should tempt even the weakest appetite on hot and muggy days: Watermelon with Orange Oil and Smoked Fish with Cucumber “Noodles.

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August 12, 2008   9 Comments