Week of road trips

Took a couple of road trips this week. Since it is the week before Christmas, weather can be a bit dicey to try it on Scooter. Besides, MaryJo’s aunt was with us on one of the trips. Had a chance to open up the car a bit on some of those nice, long, straight stretches of road. Thankfully, we didn’t meet up with any Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, or Tennessee law enforcement.

Our first trip this week was to Memphis. A two-hour trip from hour house to Memphis, visit with family, lunch, visit a little more, then head back. We had left the pup alone with the run of the house and were afraid of what he would do while we were gone.

Traveling on smaller roads gives you a chance to see more of America than staying on interstate. Thought the trip to Memphis didn’t have any interstates, the main highway is almost the same. I will have to plan a route that will keep us off Hwy72 and let us see some of the twisty roads around here, as well as more small towns.

But, there still are a few small towns along the road to Memphis. Though we don’t go through the center of town, we still get to see some of the characteristics of the town and their people. You get to see what they value in life, and sometimes how they view life. Let’s take the local mom and pop hotel with the sign out front saying: “Thursday – Ladies Night.” Let that sink in for a minute.

Anyway, spent some time with dad. I am starting to research where I came from. I want to learn a bit more about my history, not just names, places, and dates, but the stories that influenced how our values were shaped.

I knew that dad was born in Northwest Tennessee, spent much of his youth in Michigan, and part of high school in Mississippi before meeting mom. He gave me some more information. He lived in Indiana for a few years between Tennessee and Michigan. I never realized that. He also mentioned that they lived in Union City, Tennessee for a few years before moving to Indiana. He didn’t remember the address, but remembered that there was a vacant lot next door to them with a railroad track next to that lot. They would walk to church which was a block away on the same street, but the front faced the other street. And he knew the street name. With that information and Google Earth, I sent him a picture of a house the next day. He said that was the house! Guess he and I will be taking a road trip there in the spring.

Friday, MaryJo and I took off to meet up with my brother in Columbus, Ga. He and his wife live closer to Savannah, so Columbus was mutually inconvenient for us. If I planned the route via interstate, it would take 4 hours. Back roads would be 5 1/2 or so. Not hard to know which one we took.

Small towns, the little shops, the farms along the way, and twisty roads through National Parks. Hard to beat that.

We had a great visit with my brother and his wife. Had lunch at this little place called Country’s Barbeque on Broadway in Columbus. We live in Alabama, he lives in Georgia, the plan was to meet at noon. Since there is a time zone change for us, I had to plan to be there at 11:00 MY time.

The food was great and the service even better! MaryJo hadn’t eaten chicken livers in a long time, so when she saw them on the menu, her mind was made up. The Sweet Potato Souffle reminded me of a Sweet Potato Casserole that I grew up eating, but this was a lot creamier. I had the Texas Brisket Platter. Nice ring around the edge, a bit of crunch on the outer edge, and just a touch lighter in the middle, just past pink. Melt in your mouth good. Sauce was mild (I never have been one that can take BBQ sauce too hot), a touch of smoke in it, with just a hint of vinegar. Pickled onions came on the side.

Let’s not forget the dessert! We had the Coconut Cream Pie and Chocolate Chess pie. From a previous post, you may know my feeling about chess pie, whether chocolate or regular. I’ll start with my Chocolate Chess pie. The crust was light and flaky, cook just right along the edges. The top was the perfect layer of crunch, just enough to sense the crunch when you bite it, but not hard enough to smash the filling. And the filling… Thicker than a chocolate pudding pie, the balance of the eggs and sugar didn’t give either the chance to take away from the chocolate. The Coconut Cream pie had a meringue topping that was a easily two inches tall. Peaks lightly toaster, some with just a drop of moisture. The filling was more than just coconut flavoring added to a cream pie, this had coconut milk in the filling with shreds of coconut all in it. MaryJo’s eyes rolled back in her head a minute ago when I reminded her of it.

She brought back some of her chicken livers and a part of the pie. I doubt I will get to taste the pie, I expect her to guard that as she finishes it off later this morning.

My brother and I took a walk along the river and just talked. There was a couple of geocaches that looked interesting so we wanted to scope them out. One required wading, swimming, or taking a canoe to a small island in the river. We could almost see the cache. So close, but so far away. The other was a multi-part cache. We found the first stage, but the next was about a half mile farther down. Not knowing where the subsequent stages might be, we decided to walk back to our brides who were enjoying a bench on the river walkway.

My deal with MaryJo is that if there is a bookstore or a yarn shop, we will visit. There was one in a little town on our way back. She popped up the address and guided me to the parking lot. Nicest lady owned the shop. She was so helpful to MaryJo, giving her tips on some projects MaryJo is working on and discussing the characteristics of various types of yarn. The lady told me there was a micro-brewery and a micro-distillery around the corner. I remembered a story in either Gun&Garden or Southern Living about a place that had it’s own vodka. With it being the Friday before Christmas, I wasn’t sure they would be open. A quick check on the web-site, and found they also had tours that day. Off I went.

I got there and the only distillery employee was bottling a batch of rum. He stopped his bottling and gave me a personal tour. They make whiskey, rum, brandy, and vodka. They do all of it except the vodka on-site. The whiskey is a hybrid. He explained that they use an Irish barley, but with a bourbon distilling process (including fresh oak barrels for each run). They have a technique that allows them to age the bourbon quicker, without losing any of the flavors that you get from the aging process. We went back to the tasting room. A little taste of the whiskey had me sold. They have several variants of rum (different spiced and an aged rum). I tried one of the spice rums, a touch of cinnamon and vanilla, I thought I tasted a bit of nutmeg too. It tasted like Christmas! Maybe being two days before Christmas influenced me, but I could see sipping that in front of the fire on Christmas eve (which is tonight). I also tasted their Muscadine Brandy. Growing up with a muscadine bush in the yard, I have a soft spot for them. This tasted like a sweet wine, just stronger! A real warmth as it went down, with the sweetness lingering in your mouth.  MaryJo came over to sample this. It was a bit strong for her, so the guy added some lemonade. She fell in love with it and got a bottle of the brandy.

While we were doing our sampling, one of the owners came in. This is a small place, both owners (who are brothers) and the other guy do all the work in the distillery. From mixing mash, running through pots, cleaning between batches, working through the aging process, turn barrels, even down to labeling the bottles after filling them, all three of the guys work. Not like some places where the owner(s) do office work and let the workers do the dirty work. When the guy giving our tour and tasting asked if we wanted to have the owner sign our bottles, he didn’t have to ask twice. I had already put my bottle in the car, so I ran to get it! As I sit here, I have two bottles, one whiskey, the other brandy, signed by be the owner of John Emerald Distillery. (A side note: Alabama only allows a distillery to sell one bottle, to each person per day.) I guess a road trip is in order to go get another bottle so I can keep the signed ones unopened. Seems the brandy is only available in the distillery, but the whiskey may be available at the state ABC store in Alabama. A few places in Georgia and Florida may also have the whiskey.

We made the trip back, getting home about 8:30. Only issue about small towns is afternoons and evening, they don’t always drive the same speed I prefer to travel. And two lane roads at night are not the best to try to pass someone. So, we enjoyed seeing the Christmas lights on houses and the towns all decorated for Christmas. This is Americana.

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