Category Archives: chicken

Bluff City and Home of the Blues

Memphis.

What side of this city did I see? Several, actually. I had two trips there for work, one in March and one in May. I met the nicest, funniest hotel staff at the welcome and valet desks both times. I observed the pieces of the city’s history that residents refuse to let go, such as the trolley, the horse carriages, and bygone symbols of its fame and glamour, like the named music notes in the sidewalk.

I also experienced Beale Street, sort of. Not in the rip-roaring, guitar-wielding, flam-doozling way someone else might have (it was with work, after all), but bar-hopping and cooling my heels in the shade listening to the street hawkers and the wildly cacophonous competing music venues in the small space was certainly a unique experience. Plus, good company.

And oh yeah, I found plenty of good eats. I did my exploring online beforehand, as well as through friend networks. They all pointed to one place: Rendezvous.

The place was happily down-home, with random knickknacks, lots of tourists, and a we-don’t-take-no-guff attitude at the front desk. Only open for dinner (not lunch) during the week- that was odd. Their specialty was most certainly the “Dry-Rub Ribs,” but my coworker’s brisket was mighty tasty too.

The ribs were pretty addictive, and quite unique- it’s kind of like tasting a really salty food- all the crystals tingle in your mouth- but then you realize they contribute to a seasoned, earthy  flavor, not just salt. Who needs sauce, anyway?
It turns out the seasoning mix contains oregano (a main Greek spice) because the immigrant family that started the joint was from Greece! I love when food connects back to the travel theme…of course it always helps your food when it’s got history and whole-heartedness.
Another place I had to stop at was The Little Tea Shop- I mean, come on. Tea. Home cooking. This was a place I found by reputation online. Their most touted items were the vegetarian turnip/ collard greens and the corn sticks: “crispy on the outside yet flaky and buttery on the inside.”
The Little Tea Shop, in its position as a local institution/ legend, deigns to be open for lunch only. And its waitresses tend to be a little short (with their words, not their height), which I chalked up to cultural differences. Oh, and neither their cash register nor their credit card machine was working, so the woman at the front had her hands full trying to make change for people out of spare change she had in a PAPER BAG. It was wildly endearing, and made for a great story.

So, besides the barbeque (sort of) and Beale Street, what other sides are there to Memphis? Well, there are the fun new ‘cuisine-y’ type places popping up (Local Gastropub comes to mind as a place where we had great food, but slow service), and you’ve got your music history pathways to follow.
But my antennae went up as the cab driver from the airport said he knew how to direct us to “any number of diversions, from used bookstores to-“
“Hold up, did you say used bookstores?”
*Done.*

I found one or two downtown, and went on a bit of an adventure to Midtown, a short drive away from the downtown, and home to Memphis’ hipsters and dive monkeys, to find another one, pictured below. Heaven! (Loved the quirky aisle caps consisting of chairs with vintage typewriters)

And how could I forget the fried chicken! Gus’s Fried Chicken was very low-key, and although “Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Chicken” is its full title, I didn’t find it spicy. And I’m a wimp, soooo… Gus’s didn’t have the kind of sustainable sourcing policy of the places I usually find on these trips, but the chicken was so tender and juicy, I went back twice!


Ohmigod, and just like in Omaha, TRY THE FRIED PICKLES. Gus’s were entire spears, and had a spicy crunchy coating- dee-lish.

Besides these neighborhood attractions, a group of the people in town for the meeting had a fun round of friends’ poker (no betting in the state) in the hotel lobby. It was EPIC.

Thanks for the memories, Memphis!

New England and Americana, the Road Trip: Part One

Lest you think that I’ve got Scotland-colored glasses on, I will be focusing on American travels today!
Perfect croissants in their limelight at the CIA

Here’s the story of how I got to take this road trip. (You didn’t think I just decided, ex tempore, did you?)
After a failed attempt at scheduling a meeting of old friends in Edinburgh, those same friends turned out to be visiting the U.S. for a holiday of their own– in Vermont. So Sue very kindly asked if I could figure out a trip to Vermont, as it was ‘in the neighborhood’ and they’d be in the beautiful mountain country for over a week. Google Maps informed me that the drive from DC to Vermont would take about 10 hours. Knowing Europeans’ penchant for underestimating distances in the U.S., I had thought this would probably be too far– not to mention getting the time off work. However, I quickly calculated: the drive from Northampton to Edinburgh would have been over 6 hours, and that was what I had asked of them… so I daydreamed and got a little creative.

Witchy woods at Innisfree

During the dates they had booked, I had a large work meeting to help run in Philadelphia. This got me 2 hours closer to my northerly goal, and on the company dime– yes! Too, I had a family member who lived in upstate NY who I would have loved to hang out with– my halfway house! If I could engineer the schedule such that I could leave the meeting, stay with my cousin-once-removed, and take a few days off, this could work! So I sent my thoughts out to the universe and…
it worked!
So here are a few photos from the first part of the journey: staying near New Paltz with Ginny, visiting mosquito-ridden but oh-so-beautiful Innisfree Gardens, and stopping for lunch at the C.I.A.

A stone set ‘just so’ with its lake and lily pads beyond
 The always-fresh moss growth which had Ginny wanting to breathe it all in at a gulp
 Ginny capturing an intense red bud amid all the greenery

 After some serious stalking, we annoyed into flight what we think was a Great Blue Heron. He thought himself quite the Cock of the Walk, I must say- hard to perturb that one!

After getting eaten alive by the midges and mosquitos (wasn’t raining hard enough to keep them out of our hair), we gave in and drove over Poughkeepsie way to the Culinary Institute of America.

Funny note: the CIA’s grand building was originally a Jesuit novitiate seminary, which succeeded Frederick, MD for the care and feeding of Jesuits from 1903 to 1969. There is still an inlaid crest at the entry which signifies “For the glory of God” in Latin. I suppose one can cook to the glory of God as well…
The Apple Pie Bakery‘s Grilled Chicken Sandwich (verdict: mighty good)
 Ginny enjoying her Truffled Grilled Cheese (N.B. Apple Pie Bakery is the only restaurant at the CIA campus that doesn’t have a ‘dress nice’ code and require reservations, so it was perfect for us garden gnomes)

 My golden standard: the chocolate chip cookie (verdict: I’ve had better. They couldn’t decide the statement they wanted to make)

After feasting on all this (and stocking up on bakery goods as best we were able with clear consciences), we browsed the bookstore a bit and perused the gift shop items (verdict: many interesting imported gadgets and homey heartland delicacies, but the prices caused some dismay). After that, we barely had enough time to get back to town and the grocery store to pick up the lynchpin to Ginny’s Master Plan for my stay: eating lobster.
I’m not sure what made her think of lobster, but think she did, and it provided quite the adventure for my palate, having never had plain lobster before (lobster bisque or lobster ravioli being the closest I’d yet come). With non-sugarplum’d daydreams of Julie Powell’s encounter with Real Live Lobsters vaguely making me uneasy, I still wanted to see how it was done, in a real Yankee kitchen. And I’d tried some really sweet King Crab legs at a Washington waterfront eatery, so I imagined lobster meat would be sort of similar.

Awaiting judgment in the bag on the table

Ginny was the best of instructors, patiently waiting for photos, explaining necessary steps, and encouraging heartily to ‘suck the marrow out of’ the lobster’– if only they had some! We settled for trying to get at all the joints of the little legs, ‘little’ being relative. And I enjoyed the cracking and popping of those legs as much as I do that of my own joints: you kind of know you shouldn’t do it, but it relieves the tension.
Oh, and there was lemon butter sauce. Don’t forget the expert mise-en-place!

 Like a deer in headlights…
 A little culinary fun: Scary Crustacean terrifies Vinton the Cat (notice the brandishing of the lobster, and the two eyes glowing from the cat doorway… Mr. Vinton was not best pleased.