Arkansas Razorback fans, Italian ice, Jekyll Island, and the unmistakable longing for my favorite insect

Wait, there’s a festival that highlights shrimp and grits?  And it takes place half an hour from where I live?  Seriously?  How could I not attend the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival?  It was a moral imperative.  First a little business.  Kaia couldn’t make it to the festival due to a prior engagement.  Leading up to it, she tried to make me feel guilty about going without her.  See how wives are?  And she’s the one that made me aware of it in the first place!  S.M.H.  At any rate, on to the recap.

Initially my plan was to hit up Cupcake Emporium, the bakery that made our wedding cupcakes, after leaving the festival.  During the week I got a wild hair to eat scrumptious cupcakes.  But I changed my mind after looking up a
few bakeries in Brunswick.  I settled on Achin 4 Bakin because they had some interesting “cocktail” cupcakes on their website.  But since they close at 2:00 on Saturdays, I stopped by before the festival.  Being the genius I am, I brought an insulated bag with an ice pack to store the cupcakes.  #Brilliant  I stop in and it’s a quaint small town bakery.  I ultimately decide on: Red velvet, Root beer, Chocolate Merlot, German chocolate, Peanut butter cup, and Double dark chocolate.  The best part about it?  I got a half dozen cupcakes for only $12.08…with tax!  In Connecticut, we were paying like $3.50 per.  Thank you God of Small Town Georgia Bakeries.  I threw the cupcakes in my bag and made tracks to Jekyll Island.

When  i was a kid we used to go to Jekyll Island all the time, so it was cool driving onto the island again.  Not a whole lot had change, except for the modernization of a couple of buildings.  Pretty cool to reminisce.  Anyway, I finally get to the airport where a shuttle was to take us to the festival.  As I’m driving to find a parking space, I notice that…we’re on the damn runway!  Hold up, you got us parking on the runway.  Do planes know that this runway is currently out of order?  Emergency landings be damned, you better bust a fat right and land at St. Simon’s Island Airport.  Nevertheless, I got over my initial consternation and made my way to the shuttle.  On the way I bumped into a cool couple that just moved to the area.  The wife asked me if I play football.  When I was 70 pounds lighter, people asked me if I played basketball.  The lesson here is that I’m fat and I need to lose weight….but first let’s eat a mess ‘o scrimps and grits!

So the shuttle arrives and I finally get to the festival.  It’s a pretty nice set up.  As you walk through they have all the arts and crafts vendors and what not, and most of them are in the shade.  It wasn’t oppressively hot, but any type of shade in September Georgia is much obliged.  My plan was to make a walk through and scope everything out so I can make a plan of action.  The food vendors were at the end of the festival grounds, but on my way there The Commissary caught my attention.  They promoted free samples of Vidalia onion peach salsa.  You know I had to stop in.  The peach salsa was a problem, and was only $5.  Did I buy a jar? No.  Why not?  I’m an idiot?  I actually meant to stop by on the way out, but forgot.  No matter, Kaia will be making a return trip and loading up some point in the future.

I get to the food area and it’s a wondrous melange of sights and smells.  After a quick perusal of all the vendors, I make Halyard’s my first stop.  Why?  Because shrimp and blue crab gumbo over grits is too good to pass up.

Shrimp, blue crab, and tasso ham.  Uh huh.  The flavor was very bold and rich.  A hint of spice was rather pleasing to the palate.  The shrimp, as you can see, were very plump and cooked perfectly.  My only concern was that the grits could have been a little creamier.  But they were still darn good.  For some reason, Halyard’s wasn’t as busy as some of the other vendors.  I don’t know why.  In terms of flavor, this was some of the best shrimp and grits I’d ever had.  At any rate, as I was eating I was joined by a dude from Arkansas.  We got to talking back and forth about various what not, and he mentioned he was a Razorback fan.  We both agreed that the game between Arkansas and Alabama would be ugly, but we didn’t think it would be this ugly.  Daniel, if you’re out there, I hope you’re still hungover so you don’t have to come to grips with the reality of the current state of your football team.

Trying to pace myself, I chill a little bit and listen to some live music.  I didn’t want to stuff myself before trying everything I wanted to try. #Foreshadowing  After a reasonable enough time of chilling, I made my way back to the vendors.  What to try next?  What to try?  This description from Tasteful Temptations caught my eye: “Sauteed GA shrimp with Old Bay and lemon and cream Logan grits, topped with tomato jam and corn sauce topped with crispy bacon and shredded cheddar cheese.”  Dude. Seriously.

This vendor gave you much more grits, but less shrimp that happened to be smaller.  But, the flavors were on point if not very subtle.  The corn sauce gave it an unexpected sweetness.  The bacon provided crunch and a little smokiness.  But what brought it all together was the tomato jam.  It was phenomenal.  I actually would have liked for them to make a sauce using the tomato jam, instead of adding it as a garnish. #WannabeChoppedJudge  Once again, the grits could’ve been a little creamier.  This dish was very good but not quite as good as the previous one.

At this point, the belt was tightening up a bit so I decided to take a walk.  I pass by Vincenzo’s Italian Ice stand.  I’d never had Italian ice before and it was hot. Why did no one tell me how good Italian ice was?!?  You are all to blame! I got strawberry-banana, peach, and mango.  It was soooooooo good.  It was like sherbert but better.  Much much better.  I immediately became a fiend.  I wanted to go back up there and get another one, but I calmed myself.  I mean, I didn’t come to a shrimp and grits festival to ill out on Italian ice, did I?

After a little more walking around, I decided to hit the food area again.  This time, in search of fried shrimp.  I settled on Zachary’s Seafood.

They looked stupidly, ridiculously good.  For the most part they were.  A couple of the pieces had a little too much breading, but the shrimp were fresh and the seasoning appropriately delicate.  To be honest, I was distracted while eating these bad boys.

Yes, I went back to Vincenzo’s.  Yes I got another large ice.  Yes, it was stupid good again.  This time I got mango, blue raspberry, and strawberry lemonade.  It was glorious.  Probably a little too glorious, because my stomach was starting to expand like Violet Beauregard.  There were a couple more places I wanted to try, but my stomach wasn’t having it.  So I waddled out of the festival, feeling like I weighed 500 pounds.  It was a good day, but wasn’t a great day because I was by myself.  That was a day perfectly made for Team Tyson.  Sun, music, water, great food, arts and crafts, etc.  Having my Ladybug with me would have made it a truly special day.  I didn’t feel guilty, so much as lonely cause my partner in crime wasn’t there.  Alas, next year we will do it up big.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll even enter the amateur cooking competition…



What Happened To All The Recaps?

Uhh…ummm…well.  See what had happened was, as soon as we left Portland I got sick.  Like hacking up a lung, unable to breathe, God end this kind of sick.  So my inability to get out and do stuff hampered any potential extra-curricular activities on the back half of the trip.  We would spend most morning in bed, until it was just about time to check out then hit the road.  Then after driving for 4-6 hours, we’d get to the hotel, figure out where to eat, eat, then come back and sleep.  Not really all that exciting.  Now that we’re back home, Kaia has come down with what I have.  So now, even though I’m still not quite 100%, I’m taking care of her.  So yes, the train has stopped in it’s tracks.  But fear not!  At some point this week, we will share our impressions of the honeymoon and hopefully provide some direction for where the blog is headed in the future.  So bear with us, as we collectively consume all the OJ in metro Atlanta.


Honeymoon Day 9 – Marche Jean Talon, Schwartz’s Smoked Meat, Montreal and the Art of Navigating in a Foreign Language

fries from Schwartz's Deli in Montreal

Yesterday was probably the most adventurous of the whole trip. We tackled the streets of Montreal. On our own. Without a tour guide. Just Diallo, me and a tourist’s map of the city. The map was in French.

Let us pray…

First stop – Marche Jean Talon. (There should be an accent over the “e” in Marche. But I’m too American to figure out the keystroke routine to make that happen.) It’s the largest outdoor market in the city. It is the fresh produce smorgasbord of my dreams.

This is another location where no one picture would ever do it justice. If you love food, you must come here. Think rows upon aisles of fresh fruits and vegetables lined up by type and color everywhere. (I even saw a purple bell pepper. Who knew?) Imagine every cheese imaginable that clearly looks handmade on display.  Picture handcrafted chocolate goodies, some with flecks of actual gold sprinkled on them, next to the actual hard-to-find ingredients to make them yourself. And then there’s the meats… O. M. G. All the sausages I saw had to have been hand ground, hand blended and hand stuffed. I wish we had a stove back at the hotel so we could have tried them.

What we did wind up trying were some drinks from the juice bar. I had the Mimosa – strawberries, lycee and rosewater. D had the Mango Tango – mango, peach and orange. He also snagged us some meat pies from the Moroccan vendor. We had a salmon one and a merguez one. The salmon one tasted like a salmon cake baked into a flaky crust. I had tasted merguez one time before from The Spotted Trotter in Atlanta. Surprisingly, the one made by the Moroccan guy was less spicy than the one made by the American. But don’t get it twisted, it was still very good.

We also made a stop at the ice cream spot in the market. That’s where I introduced Diallo to his new favorite flavor, mango lassi.

Second stop  – Schwartz’s Smoked Meat. Every online food “authority” we consulted advised that Schwartz’s was the place to visit in Montreal. They were soooo right. I prefer my fries just short of burned. So I was ready to roll on the floor in glee when they brought out a plate of brown fries. They were still soft so I know they didn’t double fry them like the Belgians do. I have to make a return trip to Montreal to figure out their secret.

smoked brisket sandwich from Schwartz's Deli in Montreal

The real star of the show was the smoked brisket sandwich. You have a choice of fatty, medium or lean versions. I’ve been on a cholesterol bender all week so I played it safe with the medium. As you can see here, the “medium” has a nice amount of fat. I’d hate to see what the fatty version looks like.

On a side note, we took the train to the Saint-Laurant station to get to Schwartz’s. Please keep in mind that the walk included at least two fairly steep hills to get there. Thank goodness there was a gas station halfway where we could rehydrate. Would I do it again? Yessssss.

We bought a baguette loaf and a can of Portuguese sardines on the way back to the train station. It cost us about $3.25 total. It made a nice dinner later when we returned to the hotel. They weren’t salty at all. They melt in your mouth. We discovered an extra treat when we used the leftover bread to sop up the olive oil in the can.

Notre Dame Basilica in MontrealStop three – Place d’Armes. We went here to see the Notre Dame Basilica. We arrived too late to take a tour. Instead, we sat outside and marveled at the surrounding architecture. Again, the pictures could never be an adequate substitute for the real thing. This is yet another reason that we must return to Montreal.

Honeymoon Day 7 – Kaia’s 2 cents

O. M. G. Even after 8 hours of sleep, I am still full from dinner. The idea of never eating again has crossed my mind. Twice. It has to be those damn dinner rolls. I mean, we didn’t really have lunch yesterday. Just ice cream. How is this possible? I thought we were better than this.

Ok, so King Arthur Flour Bakery store. Um, drool? I’m ready to go back already. It’s like a buffet of tools, gadgets and uncommon ingredients for die-hard bakers. I mean, they’ll even sell you a machine that lets you mill your own flour from actual wheat berries. Everybody needs that, right? It’s the food nerd fantasy I never knew I had.

Then, Diallo made me put the jar of Vietnamese cinnamon back on the shelf. Hey, I NEEDED that for, for… well, something. He is so lucky that the sales lady handed me a mail order catalog. Because I was at borderline throw-myself-on-the-floor-grown-woman-temper-tantrum-meltdown levels.

donkey tail wood artAnywhoo, the maple syrup spot. My home training kept me from sucking down the Fancy grade sample like it was a baby’s bottle. ‘Nuff said. They also had a few pieces of cool wood are on display. By the way, if you ever visit this place, please keep in mind that you are still in the city of Montpelier.

Diallo didn’t mention how quaint the capital “city” of Montpelier was. Downtown looks like a 3-block frontier town. The capital building, with it’s gold dome, was nestled between the lush green hills. I’ve never seen such a cute state capital.

Montpelier is also home of the New England Culinary Institute. If D ever wanted to attend culinary school here (not so subtle hint), I’d be more than willing to do the good wife thing and support him any way possible (another not so subtle hint) so that we can live here.

By the way, I wound up buying a tin of Vietnamese cinnamon tea at the tea place. Ha!

the "Willy Wonka" door at Ben and Jerry'sBen and Jerry’s – Sigh, coming here has been a mere bucket list item. Well, maybe a lifelong dream. Only slightly less important than the air I breathe. Hold on, gimme a second. (Inhale. Exhale. Calming down.) It was pretty cool despite the overt touristy feel of the whole operation. I’m not mad though. I mean, they’re only selling out factory tours that start every 10 minutes. It is what it is. I really liked how the door you go through to start the tour has a Willie Wonka feel to it (the original movie, not the weird Michael Jackson-like Johnny Depp one).Diallo eating ice cream

Overall, everyone there looked to be having a great time. Well, with the exception of the people who were the parents of toddlers. They all exuded the “I’m DONE” vibe. Something to think about if you’re planning a pilgrimage up this way.

A few tips if you’re going to visit Vermont:
1) You need more than 1 day to do it all. Yes, you can easily drive through the entire state with a stop or two in 1 day. I don’t recommend it.

2) Respect the 65 mph speed limit. The highways have twists, curves and downhills (and exits on steep downhills) that sneak up on you. There’s also signs everywhere warning of bear, moose and deer crossings. In many of these spots, if you had to veer out of the way of wildlife, your only options are to steer toward a rock wall or a steep ravine. Besides, the scenery you drive past is so amazing, you’d be a fool to speed past it in blur.

3) Come in the fall when the leaves are changing. Everything is green right now and it looks amazing. I kept imagining what it would look like with all the reds, oranges and browns. The sight would probably unhinge my jaw.

Honeymoon Day 6 – Kids, Rose Gelato, Dartmouth, and The Innocuous Significance Of 35

Today is what we would call a transition day.  We transitioned from Connecticut to New Hampshire.  But that isn’t to say we didn’t have fun.  After rolling out of bed and partaking in a tasty breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we headed north to meet up with one of Kaia’s oldest childhood friends.  We got together for lunch with her and her family and talked about old times, good times, and hard times.  While Kaia and her friend reminisced, I was paying close attention to her two little kids who were adorable and full of energy.  I kept picturing Kaia and myself having a similar lunch in five years with our kid(s).  I always bring up the notion of us having fraternal twins.  I just figure it’s more efficient.  Of course, Kaia gives me the side eye of all side eyes when I bring this up.  Hey, I’m about doing things as efficiently as humanly possible.  How is that a bad thing?

Sidenote: After leaving CVS to pick up some cough drops, we bumped into a woman on the phone who loudly spoke thusly: “He must not know who the f**k I am.  I’m bi-polar!” You stay classy New Britain! Continue reading

It’s About Them Pictures On The Wall

As we made our way up the coast, we made a quick detour to Piscataway which is Kaia’s home town. We saw her old house, elementary school, and high school. But the highlight was a trip to Dominick’s, a pizzeria. Kaia had been bragging about it for some time, and I was eager to try. Upon inhaling both of my slices, I must say that it does represent. Kaia toyed with the idea of never eating anyone else’s pizza.

Now we sit and contemplate what to do next. Pretty sure a nap will be on the menu.


I Ate Prag

Slowly but surely, I’m recovering from last night’s food coma stupor. However, it caused me to miss the free hotel breakfast.

This is so not an oops. The Mister and I just happen to be traveling with about 7 pounds of deli meats and cheeses. Most of them are from Patak, the sausage and meat making geniuses in Austell, GA. One thing I’ve learned on this trip so far is that I married a master sandwich maker. I woke up to a smorgasbord of bacon roll, veal roll, pastrami and garlic salami, and provolone with honey mustard and horseradish sauce. Let me just say, I love me some him.

Also, before I passed out last night, we stumbled upon Hereghty, a cute little pastry shop in the shee-shee froo-froo part of Raleigh. Thanks to them, I had a dessert to go with my breakfast. They have this little taste of sin called Prag (pronounced same as the European city). It’s brownie batter tasting chocolate mousse thingy that will be staying on my mind for a long while.

So, um, yeah, Raleigh, we’ll be back.

— Kaia