I Did NOT Eat Lobster But I Did Eat Grits

But then I did eat lobster. Not one of those big sea-bottom bugs that cleans all the trash off the floor of the ocean. The bug-eyed wavy-feelered gout-creating sea-bottom bug. My lobster came disguised as chowder and seafood filling for a wrap. I finally gave in to the push push push to eat lobster bugs while we traveled in Nova Scotia. I mean, if you are there, you should give it a go, eh?

One of the many aims of our trip was to, while traveling, sample the local fare, especially grits. But as we motored east, the multiple southern US menus I perused and their descriptions of gree-its (as Betty says, in the South, grits is a two-syllable word) didn’t jangle my taste buds. But I ate a lot of other regional stuff.

In Brownwood, Texas, I had a lot of BBQ, Texas style, but the real Texas dining delight was a big platter of Sunday morning chili that lit my nostrils up and made my head sweat. Hot tortillas too, and hot coffee. Outside, it was bumping over one-hundred degrees. Hot.

In Mt. Pleasant, Texas, I ate the worst etouffe I’ve ever had. It wasn’t inedible, just the worst I’ve ever eaten. Etouffe is a crawfish and rice stew, so to speak, and usually is tongue-tingling spicy and delicately nuanced in its seafood and rice paddy flavors. But this etouffe was mindful of mud. Not for nothing do they call crawfish mudbugs.

I ate BBQ from Texas all the way east into Virginia, but the best was at the Blues City Cafe in Memphis, Tennessee. Right across the street sat BB King’s blues club and the sound of delta blues rattled off the old brick facades of the clubs and restaurants that line Beale Street. My BBQ was boisterous and sharp-flavored, redolent of hot things and the sweet melt of brown sugar.

In Bentonville, Arkansas, I took on southern fried chicken in a wanna-be swanky joint, but the spice on the chicken kept revisiting my palate all night long. In gustatory conflict I reckon, with the sweet waffles served as a side to that fried bird.

At Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, just north of Shiloh’s Civil War battlefield and the legacy of that vicious and horrible fray, I dined on fried catfish so light I thought it was some exotic denizen from foreign seas instead of American freshwater bottom feeder.

In Virginia it was finally grits. In an Arlington diner I took on the grits and wasn’t moved either direction, for or against. In Williamsburg, I tried them again and this time they lived up to my expectations. Like fine polenta, (and why not, they are both a form of corn meal mush) the grits were golden and full of cheese and butter and lots of shrimp and red and green peppers. Very delicate and fine. Now I know why southern folk brag about their grits.

Also, while in Williamsburg, I sampled some colonial fare…bangers and mash. In my ken, this English dish has a sorry reputation and when I have eaten it in the past (bangers and mash are mashed potatoes and sausage), they’ve left me swearing I would never do that again. But at the old Williamsburg colonial tavern where the staff dressed in 18th Century garb, the meal was tasty and passed the real test…my bangers and mash didn’t revisit my gullet two or three hours later.

In Boston I ate something that I haven’t really had since we moved to Idaho, unless of course we are traveling. In between film screenings, tours of Boston’s red-bricked and cobblestone-streeted North End, not once, but twice, on successive nights, I dug into a monumental plate of manicotti…cheese and red meat sauce and delicate pasta. Ahh!

And then further north, to Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and seafood. Seafood pasta, chowder, haddock fish and chips, haddock fishcakes and chow chow, fish, fish, fish. I probably eat seafood four or five times a year, but I’ve been eating it every day, sometimes twice a day. Even lobster.

On the Road–Capitol Reef to Bentonville

Complaints about my shortcomings make me cringe. As a blogger I live in fear of having my readers complain about my writing, the subject matter, the style, the focus I bring to the piece. I live in fear of hearing complaints that I write too many blog entries. But today’s flattering complaint arose because I haven’t written enough.

When we struck out for points east, I intended to write a blog every day or so. I held on to that promise for one entry and then found that each evening I was tired, hot, hungry, too overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape, the profundity of the moment, the miles, miles, miles we logged in our journey from Capitol Reef through Cortez, Amarillo, and on to Dallas and a screening of our documentary film, BRAVO! to the Vietnam Veterans of America. From Dallas down to Brownwood, Texas, and another screening of our film, then to Mt. Pleasant, Texas, and now to Bentonville, Arkansas, for an afternoon tour of Pea Ridge, as well as a morning viewing of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

So I have been truant, I suppose, and owe my regular readers an apology and a blog. So…here goes a whirlwind:

Colorado River Country

We left the Capitol Reef country of south central Utah and motored east through ragged red canyons that zigged and zagged through juniper and pi├▒on barrancas that drained down into the deep meanderings of the Colorado River. We went on to Ute country and Four Corners where I did pushups with one limb in each state. Then into Cortez, Colorado, where we managed a half day inspecting the Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde

We were joined by Germans and Italians and Australian bikers as we walked among the ruined walls tucked in beneath the russet overhangs of the mesa tops. Betty and I discussed the doorways, how the thresholds were so high off the floors and the lintels made so that passers-through would need to crouch to avoid banging their heads and we philosophized on that: small inhabitants, a way to keep the weather out. I thought maybe it had to do with war…I have a tendency to do that…and forcing one to ball up, knees to chest, might make it easier to conk an intruder on the head, or hack at his neck, or stab his gut with a spear.

Dallas, TX

From Cortez over to Amarillo and breakfast with fellow Khe Sanh veteran Mac McNeely and his wife Charlotte before heading for Dallas. Showing the film to the VVA’s leadership conference in Dallas, meeting some wonderful people, having dinner with Gregg and Ali Jones. Gregg is the author of Honor in the Dust, a riveting narrative of America’s involvement in the Philippines at the beginning of the last century. Dallas was hot and muggy and snarled with traffic.

Brownwood, Texas

From Dallas we went southwest to Brownwood, almost dead in the middle of Texas. Hilly and snagged with old mesquite, live oak and cottonwoods, the terrain looked thirsty, the bugs all whining in high-pitched voices, singing the song of drought. We screened the film again to an enthusiastic group of fifty at Howard Payne University, hosted by our friends Mary and Roger Engle. You can read more about our Texas screenings here. We met some interesting veterans in Brownwood, including a correspondent who shot photos and film footage during the siege.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

From Brownwood we headed northeast, cut across the southeast corner of Oklahoma looking for my paternal roots. The country was wild with trees and creeks and winding highways. Clouds sulled on the horizon, begging for the chance to show us fiery skirts of lightning. And they did, sending blinding slashes and boisterous thunder that rattled the glass in the buildings.

Pea Ridge, Civil War Battlefield

Today at Bentonville, we visited Walmart’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and looked at Hopper and O’Keefe and Pollack and Homer, to name a few. We toured Pea Ridge, a battlefield from 1862 in the Civil War. Twenty-seven-thousand men fought in that battle, in wooded thickets, on craggy ridges, on broad fields, the largest battle west of the Mississippi River and one that crystallized the strategic and political positions for the balance of the war years.

Tomorrow we head to Memphis and Shiloh and another screening of BRAVO! before we journey on to Washington, DC.

I promise that Betty or I will blog on a more frequent basis as we motor into our futures. Well…maybe.

News on Travel and Travel Blogs from Ken and Betty

Two and one-half weeks ago, Betty and I traveled to Seattle to be present for the birth of granddaughter number three, Isadora Plumb Ellsworth, on July 7, 2012. The new babe and parents Sarah and Baruch are all doing well. We are thrilled to have a new addition to the family.

Next on the agenda is a trip to Dallas early in August to show our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR at the Vietnam Veterans of America leadership conference. From there we will travel to Brownwood, Texas, to also screen the film. From Brownwood we will head east through Memphis, Tennessee, and on to Washington, DC, for the annual Khe Sanh Veterans reunion and from there on to points further north, screening the film at various locations as we go.

While we are on the road, Betty and I will blog about what we see, what we hear, the food we eat, the people we meet, the heat, the storms, the bayous and lakes, the birds we have never seen before.

On a different subject, Ken plans to publish an e-book of short stories at Amazon.com. The book will be titled The Gods of Angkor Wat. Look for more details soon about the release date.