Monday, May 5, 2014

Auburn, AL 2014

For our annual holiday this year, having no cash from coming off the worst winter in memory, we had to keep our vacation on the cheap but we didn't want to do another staycation, so we decided to pack up the Jeep and head for Auburn, AL where I went to high school, where my parents, and my brother and sister and their respective families still live.

There are not many photos here. Unbeknownst to me, the whole week I was coming down with a pretty good cold which I am still feeling two weeks later and that sapped my motivation to do anything. I barely remember the first three days down there. Here are the best 20 of the mere 99 frames I shot during the week: most of what I shot on the iPhone didn't turn out: there must have been grease on the lens. :(

Sandwiches for the Road
Trying to keep the budget to a minimum, the drive time as short as possible, and ensure that we had something decent to eat on the drive, I spent a few minutes on Saturday afternoon between lunch and dinner services putting together these Italian cold cut and pesto sandwiches with baby lettuces from the farmers market.

5:10 AM The Brown Dog is not to be Left Behind
After a busy, busy Saturday night dinner service, we finally got the restaurant closed and I was able to leave about 11pm, to come home and load the car, finish packing, and get showered. All hyped up like that, I was lucky to be able to get to sleep by 1am. Both our alarms went screaming off at 5am, way, way too early for words. But better to get on I-81 early and avoid the truck traffic.

While we were stowing the final things in the car in preparation for leaving, Grace decided that she was going to go with us and hopped right in the car. She wasn't at all happy that I pulled her out.

The temperatures were in the low 40's as we left and when we arrived in Alabama, in the 80's. At home, we had no leaves on the trees, but the trees were leafed out by the time we hit the North Carolina border. And towards Charlotte, it looked like mid-summer. South of Atlanta into Alabama, thunderstorms were starting to build in the afternoon sky. We had a bit of a blow during the night, but nothing compared to what was coming the next night.

After a Day of Travel: Gumbo
After a long, long 11-hour drive that was fortunately uneventful, we arrived in Auburn where we drove on streets to my parents' house that did not even exist last time I was there. It is a very surreal experience knowing exactly where you are but not recognizing anything at all. The first order of business after all that driving was to make cocktails and head out onto the deck and enjoy the wonderful warm temperatures (something that we had yet to experience in Virginia this year).

And what does mom feed her chef son for dinner? Something delicious and comforting: a big bowl of gumbo.


This Clematis Blossom is as Big as a Dinner Plate

Stunning Bearded Iris
My parents are quite the gardeners and I spent the following morning wandering around the yard that I worked so hard to keep mowed and organized when I was a teenager. It looks very different now: for one, the trees and a lot of the shrubs have 30+ years more growth on them. Coming from Virginia where the spring flowers weren't even open, it was quite striking to see gardens full of flowers in bloom.

She Didn't Share with Anyone!
We established our morning ritual quite soon: plant our asses in chairs out on the deck and don't move. I can't think of anything more appealing on my one week off a year than just sitting and doing nothing. Although we spent the majority of mornings out on the deck, our second morning we did not. After the tornado sirens went off at 3:30 that morning and scared the hell out of us, the cool and rainy conditions kept us inside. Two nights of terrible storms and buckets of rain lashed away at us and the entire East Coast.

Carolina Wren, So-Called Loud Mouthed Yankee, Building Nest

Phoebes are Nesting under the Deck
The deck on the back of my parents' house is new since I was living there. The old deck is now a huge sunroom and the new deck extends out over what used to be back yard. The new deck is situated right up in the trees and with bird feeders all over, the avian traffic is astounding. To have a Brown Thrasher land on a suet feeder not three feet away from me is unprecedented in my life. Two of the more amusing birds were the Carolina Wrens, a pair of which insisted on building a vast nest inside a lantern on the deck right by us, lugging mouthful after mouthful of building supplies all day long, and the Eastern Phoebes which showed off their aerial maneuvers chasing bugs on the wing.

How Can You Tell We're in the South?

Pimento Cheese and Ham with Lime Pickles: It's What's for Lunch
I haven't had pimento cheese in years: it just isn't in my culinary vocabulary, not that I don't love it. I had forgotten how ubiquitous it is in the South: I saw it everywhere. And my mother had made a big batch which we used for lunch sandwiches all week. Here you see it with lime pickles, which in the South means cucumbers pickled using pickling lime, not the spicy citrus lime pickles from India.

A Taste of Home: Shad Roe with Surry Sausage, Capers, and Lemon
My mom let me know some weeks before our visit that my dad would very much appreciate some shad roe, a delicacy in Virginia that is just not available in Alabama. Both my parents are native Virginians as am I and for us, the appearance of shad roe at the market each spring is something that we look forward to with great anticipation. I roasted it on a sheet tray in the oven (the best way of handling the delicate roe so that it does not explode) and served it with a sauce of local Virginia Surry Sausage from S. Wallace Edwards, capers, green onions, lemon, and butter. I really enjoyed it: although we serve a lot of roe at the restaurant, I never get to eat it and this was the first I have had in a couple of years. Delicious!

Ann Cajoled Mom into Making Biscuits
About mid-week, Ann conned mom into making biscuits, not that my mother is ever shy about showing off her biscuit skills. You might note that the flour on Ann's chest is from her not listening to my mom to get her hands out of the dough! The two of them had a good time mock scrapping with each other.

Mr. P., Hardly Working as Usual

Acre Restaurant: Roscoe and His Doughnut Holes
Wednesday, we went out to eat at Acre Restaurant in downtown Auburn after watching my niece Rachel's high school team play and win a playoff soccer game. Knowing that it was graduation week in Auburn, we wanted to go out mid-week before all the families started coming to town for the weekend's celebrations. We almost goofed. My sister insisted that we were going to need a reservation so I called from the soccer stadium and although there were no seats available in the dining room, we managed to secure two seats at the Chef's Bar a few minutes after the soccer game was scheduled to end.

When we arrived at Acre, it was like a circus. Three or four valets were scrambling to park the cars and the one that came up to our car asked if we had a reservation (because we weren't getting in otherwise). Apparently the weekend was getting started early.

We ate nearly the entire appetizer menu in our best restaurant meal so far of 2014. Unfortunately, the light was too dim and none of the food pictures were decent enough to use. We ate a terrific shrimp and grits with a deep-fried grits cake, bresaola, lamb chorizo, cotechino meatballs, spicy mussels, and lamb fries. At one point, Chef David Bancroft mentioned to me that they had Rocky Mountain oysters as a special and I heard Ann pipe up behind me, "Oysters! I love oysters! We've got to have some!" And so I let him put the order in for us. Only after the order was back in the kitchen did I tell her what she really ordered!

In total, we spent about a half an hour chatting with David Bancroft. He tries to source his ingredients locally just as I do and we really enjoyed his food. Sitting at the Chef's Bar facing the garde manger station, we also got to chat with the two garde manger cooks all night. It's a great restaurant with a crew that really appreciates where they work and the products that they serve.

Dad's Smorgasbord
A couple of times during the week, my dad put himself in charge of lunch and apparently he has quite the fondness for canned goods. You see here a smorgasbord of canned pickled green beans, marinated artichoke hearts and six different kinds of canned fish including smoked oysters, sprats, kippers in tomato sauce, sardines, and tuna.

Niece Rachel and Sister-in-Law Laura

Hors d'Oeuvres at John and Kathy's
Late in the week, we went to my sister's house for a small bash for her husband John who just graduated with his MPA from Auburn after retiring from the Navy. They live in the middle of town and have chickens running around the back yard!

Steak and Grits
I ended up bringing a flatiron steak from the restaurant and we grilled and ate that with grits one night for dinner, along with a salad made from lettuces from dad's garden. It is amazing that we just set out our lettuces at home and their lettuces in Alabama are about to bolt now.

Play Ball! Auburn vs. Mississippi State
Our final stop before hitting the road back to Virginia was to take in the Saturday Auburn and Mississippi State baseball game, which the visiting team won handily, much to my parents' chagrin.

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