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.

The State of My Backyard

The regular Friday blog took a week off for meanderings in the Oregon outback. This week we return with Virginia based visual artist and writer Betty Plevney musing on her backyard through prose, sketching and haiku.


I moved to Richmond, Virginia, four years ago. It was an economically wise but sad decision as I uprooted my wife from the only place she had ever called home, the San Francisco Bay area, and we left our close friends behind. Slowly, over time, we made this little spot of land, just south of the James River, into a beautiful outdoor room.

Our Place

A lot of living happens in this backyard that has nothing to do with Lee and me. Squirrels race along the fence tops. Starlings root in the grass for worms. Mosquitoes search for ankles, legs and arms. The oak tree sheds its catkins, littering the lawn and deck. Grass gracefully accepts another load from the Boston Terriers and keeps growing. Each year, these scenes unfold as days lengthen, humidity rises and the sun warms the land. I just need to stop long enough to observe.

The State of My Backyard

Spring cleaning the yard,
wind laughs and spits crepe myrtle
seeds across the sand

Crepe myrtle casts shade,
terriers wait silently,
a baby bird falls

Ants hurry, laying
down a line of red footprints,
spring’s first barbecue

The State of My “Backyard”

Old rusty fish hooks,
tangled monofilament,
new barbs snag my fears

Sweat beads in my eyes,
wet hands pull spinning clay up,
dreams collapse again

Black snake winds down the
middle of my road asking
for new ideas

Betty Plevney is a writer, mixed-media artist and graphic facilitator living in Richmond, Virginia. She explores transparency, layering and the juxtaposition of words, ideas, color and texture in her work. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Masters in Writing. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BettyPlevney.

Fun With Genealogy

Guest blogger Chuck Dennis plumbs genealogy in this week’s edition of the regular Friday blog.

This piece is a real departure from the normal Ken Rodgers blog entry. No descriptions of austere American deserts or green forests and mountains, and no birds or endless skies. No cowboys or soldiers or bad but interesting old times drinking and fighting. Nothing resembling Ken Kesey and “On The Road.” But there will be a bushwhacking.

Let’s start with me. I just turned 65 (read: geezer). The leading edge of the Baby Boom. In my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, I had little interest in genealogy. However, back in my teens I met an old, Parkinson’s Disease-riddled uncle, who, probably because he had no children of his own, gave me a lifetime membership in the Mayflower Society. Since you have to prove you’re descended from someone on the Mayflower to get that membership, I was pretty sure that, in the words of the “X Files,” the truth (of that part of my genealogy) is out there. My Aunt Virginia, Ken’s wife Betty’s mother (Betty is my cousin), also gave me some of the research she had done on her line, including the name of John Billington, who was on the Mayflower. As I approached my “golden years,” I also found that I had a little more interest in my ancestry. So off I went in search of ancestors.

Now, 30 or 40 years ago, you really had to be devoted to do genealogical research. You spent years going through musty old files, wandering through old courthouses, and creeping through graveyards reading tombstones. Aunt Virginia did a lot of that in Massachusetts and Maine in the late ‘70’s (ask Betty). Today, however, you jump on the Internet. Using sites such as Ancestry.com and building on the work of others, you do in a couple of days what it took an earlier generation years to do. I even crept (online) through graveyards reading tombstones (and lists of tombstone names).

So what did I find? Turns out, the Pilgrims were a varied group, as you might expect, and John Billington was a piece of work. Seems he had an “enemy” by the name of John Newcomen. One day, he bushwhacked Newcomen along the road. So in 1630 he became the first Englishman – perhaps the first European – tried, convicted, and hanged for murder in the New World.

His family as a whole is described on the Mayflower History web site as, “Plymouth Colony’s troublemakers.” His son Francis almost blew up the Mayflower. He shot off his father’s musket in a cabin one day, starting a fire that was put out before it got to the open barrel of gunpowder in the room. Another day, Francis and a friend were wandering around near Plymouth when he climbed a tree and found what he thought was a new ocean. Turns out it was a large pond, named (perhaps facetiously) “Billington Sea”, a name it retains to this day.

Then there was the mother, Eleanor. She was sentenced to be put in stocks and whipped for slander. John Billington himself was sentenced in 1621 to have his neck and heels tied together for “contempt of the Captain’s lawful command with opprobrious speeches” (that would be Captain Myles Standish). He was forgiven for that, and later talked his way out of a charge that he was implicated in a revolt against the Plymouth Church. Finally, there was John, Jr. – not quite so accomplished, but he did wander off one day, got lost, and had to be brought back by the Nauset Indians.

Fortunately for me — and for Betty, who is one of the truly good people in this world — there’s been a lot of refinement of the genetic mix since then. Even on the Mayflower, we are related to at least 8 people in 4 families, including the colony’s doctor, its first elected Assistant Governor, and a carpenter, as well as the Billingtons.

So two “takeaways” to finish up this piece. First, genealogical research is much easier than it once was, and can even be interesting. Second, the attitude of most Americans toward “pedigree” is probably on target. We’re all related to the good, the bad, and the ugly, and even a supposedly good “pedigree” may not stand closer scrutiny. You are what you do, not who your relations are or were.

So now I go on to my father’s side of the family. It turns out that my great grandfather’s first name was Lumpkin. But I think I have a line on lineage going back to Virginia in the 1600’s. So I soldier on.

Chuck Dennis and his wife Donna are retired now and live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Both were born and raised in California. For years, Chuck headed strategic planning at the FAA, and he once served brief stints in the White House and on the United States Senate staff. These days, Chuck and Donna enjoy travel and photography. They’ve been to many interesting places, from Timbuktu to Katmandu, and from Prince Edward Island to Patagonia. Iceland is next up. Chuck, by the way, is Betty Rodgers’ cousin. Ken just puts up with him.