Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama

Big Bob Gibson sign

I’m slowly making my way around the barbecue shrines of the South.

Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que  in Memphis. Check

Louie Muellers in Taylor, Texas. (and most of the other noted central Texas barbecue joints) Check.

Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Check

McClard’s in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Check

Jack Stack Barbecue in Kansas City (is that considered the South?). Check.

And I had always heard of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama but had never eaten there until we stopped on the way back from Washington, DC earlier this month.

The real reputation stems from a tangy mayonnaise-based white barbecue sauce, definitely unique in barbecue circles. I had to show proof that they also served a traditional red sauce before my husband would agree to go.

You get the feeling this is the real deal when (a) the parking lot is packed and (b) inside walls are covered with framed articles from publications as diverse as the local daily Huntsville Times, trade publication National Barbecue News for the championship teams with the big rigs, and swanky Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. There are two locations in Decatur, and I can only assume both are packed with patrons and mementos.

The pork ribs and pulled pork were indeed tasty. Sorry, there are no photos because we devoured our food quickly after a tiring ride.  The ribs were some of the best we have ever tasted.

Unlike many barbecue joints, Big Bob has an extensive menu including huge barbecue-loaded baked potatoes (described by one publication “as big as a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier”). There are also pies.

Oh, and we did try the white sauce. It wasn’t bad, but we’ll stick to the familiar.

Sauces-Big Bob Gibson

 

All the Presidents’ Homes in Virginia

A trip to Mt. Vernon and Monticello in Virginia earlier this month piqued my interest in presidential history so much that I have been consulting Wikipedia on some point or another every day since we returned.

I’m not really a history buff, but there’s something about seeing places firsthand that makes me want to return to 7th grade American History and pay more attention this time.

My presidential history button was pressed by the guide on the Monuments by Moonlight tour we took in D.C. He gave this nugget of information: John Tyler, our 10th president, has two living grandchildren.

President John Tyler
President John Tyler

How is it that today’s generation of Amazon Prime and Instagram is only two generations removed from a president born in 1790? Tyler fathered 15 children, including one at age 63. That son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler,  fathered children well into his seventies. Two of them, born in 1924 and 1928, are still living.

One of the Tyler sons still maintains the family plantation, Sherwood Forest near Williamsburg and Jamestown.

Of course, Mt. Vernon and Monticello are better known and among the Top 10 most visited homes in America. They are both incredibly well preserved and beautifully set — Mt. Vernon on the bank of the Potomac and Monticello in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Their gardens are amazingly designed and each has a sad history of slave labor. (Jefferson’s is especially intriguing now that DNA testing affirms that he is the father of slave Sally Hemings’ six children. That information is now part of the official Monticello tour).

Monticello-Virginia Tourism
Monticello: Virginia Tourism Corporation photo
Pretty Fancy for a Garden Shed (Monticello)
Garden Shed at Monticello

Detailed descriptions of the homes are available at their respective websites–monticello.org and mountvernon.org. It’s about two hours and twenty minutes between the two, but the drive is lovely along the Shenandoah Valley with its wineries and large family farms handsomely divided by white fences. I think the next time I’m in the area, I am going to make it a presidential sweep and visit these Virginia places as well:

Poplar Forest: Jefferson’s secluded retreat 90 miles away from Monticello. It features some of the same neo-classical architecture that inspired his main home.

Montpelier: Home of 4th President James Madison, a close friend of Jefferson’s. It’s 30 miles away.

Montpelier: Virginia Tourism Corporation photo

James Monroe’s Highland: Formerly known as Ash Lawn, this property is only three miles south of Monticello.

Berkeley Plantation: Birthplace of 9th President Willam Henry Harrison, whose 32 days in office make up the shortest term of any president. Berkeley is 104 miles southeast of Monticello.

Sherwood Forest Plantation: Home of John Tyler. Grounds are open daily but home tours are only arranged by calling a week in advance to make an appointment.

Woodrow Wilson’s Birthplace and Museum, Staunton, Virginia. The only 20th century president thrown into the mix. His birthplace, also known as The Manse, is 41 miles west of Monticello.

Woodrow Wilson home-Virginia Tourism
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace: Virginia Tourism Corporation photo

National Bicycle Month-Beginners Classes in Shreveport-Bossier City

I had shoulder surgery last year and didn’t get on a bicycle for several months. After my physical therapy was over, I took beginner bicycling classes before I began riding again. Although I had ridden for years, I had never been trained in proper technique, hydration, etc.

The classes were great, but the best part was connecting with other bicyclists–young and old. And, beginning today, a new round of free classes start.

They are put on by “The Other Group,” a subgroup of the Shreveport Bicycle Club. This group has some fine cyclists, but they ride at a moderate pace and sometimes sponsor some slow rides, which I go on occasionally.

Dennis Watters of The Other Group teaches most of the classes. Click here to watch Dennis being interviewed by Patrick Dennis of KTAL-TV in Shreveport about bicycling for fun and fitness.

Bike Clinic flyer

Five Food Finds in Washington, DC

With all its embassies and international influences, Washington, DC is a great place to try ethnic cuisines. Also, its location near the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay makes seafood readily available.

So on a trip to the area last week, we saved the All-American burgers and Carolina barbecue for later and enjoyed these:

Cafe Berlin, 322 Massachusetts Ave. N.E.: A short walk from the Capitol took us to this dining area on the ground floor of three joined townhouses. (Next door is the equally elegant Bistro Cacao French Cuisine). Although dieting, I had allowed myself an indulgent meal, and this was it. Others in our party ordered wursts and beer. I skipped that and chose pork tenderloin medallions (healthy)  in mushroom sauce cream sauce topped with crispy onions (not so healthy) and kasespatzle, the German version of macaroni and cheese (definitely not healthy).

Sichuan Pavilion, 1814 K St., NW: We were the only ones dining without chopsticks if that gives you any idea of how authentic this place was. One of the appetizers was jelly fish in ginger scallion sauce (we skipped). Yes, it is authentic. I liked the orange beef that I ordered.

The Wharf: 119 King St.,  Alexandria, VA, this cozy wood paneled and brick restaurant has 1790s architecture and Chesapeake  Bay seafood specialties, including the she-crab soup, rich with cream, sherry and crab.

Crab cakes at The Wharf
Crab cakes at The Wharf
DC Pollo
DC Pollo

DC Pollo Peruvian:. Last time I was in Washington the food truck craze had not arrived. I did some investigating beforehand and decided to look for this Peruvian food truck, parked this day near the Air & Space Museum. My rotisserie chicken was moist and flavorsome, and hubby aid his Truck Special (pork and sausages over egg fried rice) with a side of plantains was the best of many meals he enjoyed in DC.

Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St., NW: I’d tried Georgetown Cupcakes — brought to fame by the Food Network — and read that Baked & Wired cupcakes were even better. So, I set out for Georgetown and returned with a trio of them–carrot cake, Texas sheetcake and strawberry. Baked & Wired cupcakes are taller than most cupcakes, which makes me think they are baked in popover pans. Unequivocally, I can say they were the best I have ever had. Oh, did I mention that I allowed myself an indulgent sweet treat too?

 

3 Beautiful Places to Take a Break Along Washington’s Mall

If you are not careful you will spend all of your time zipping around Washington, DC–from the Metro to the Capitol, then to the National Archives to view the Declaration of Independence, then onto the American History Museum to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

It can be chaotic so I would recommend finding a spot to rest your feet, grab some water and recharge. On this week’s trip to D.C., I found three beautiful places along the National Mall to catch my breath before heading onto the next museum.

Orange and yellow pocket plants at the National Botanic Garden
Orange and yellow pocket plants at the National Botanic Garden

United States Botanic Garden. It’s a quick walk from the Capitol. With 65,000 plants for exhibition and study, you may want to block out more time for the conservatory (free admission because it is part of the Smithsonian). Outside, there are wonderful sitting areas in the National Garden and Bartholdi Park, some even with comfy cushions.

Parterre Garden at Smithsonian Castle
Parterre Garden design at Smithsonian Castle

Smithsonian Gardens. Not all Smithsonian exhibitions are indoors. The museum complex maintains many living history  gardens scattered throughout their 19 separate museums. They are particularly lovely at the Smithsonian Institution Castle, the flagship building that serves as an orientation center.  Two exhibition gardens, the Enid A. Haupt Garden and Folger Rose Garden, surround The Castle with container plantings, formal gardens, 19th century garden furniture and fountains.

USDA Building

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Building. This is a bit of a wildcard, and, though, not as striking as the Smithsonian Gardens, the USDA Building gardens include perennials and herbs  and other educational garden areas, part of what is called the Peoples Garden Initiative. I was also impressed with the size of this building, which was once the largest office building in the world (before the Pentagon was completed). Every Friday, there is a farmer’s market on the grounds.

I find museums overwhelming, and throngs of tourists can add to the stress of visiting Washington, DC during  busy times. But tucked away amidst the chaos are some beautiful places to recharge and make your trip more enjoyable. And Washington is a beautiful city even if you can’t visit during cherry blossom time.

Bicycling in Washington, D.C.

I have been itching to try out one of the urban bikeshare programs since I first heard of them several years ago, Today, on a family trip to Washington, DC I  checked out Capital Bikeshare.

I had a dilemma choosing where to ride among Washington’s various options. More than 30 years ago, I rented a bike and started down the Mt. Vernon trail only to face rain at Old Town Alexandria nine miles away. Finishing that trail was one option. Another was to catch the Capital Crescent Trail at Georgetown and ride out to Bethesda, Maryland or rent a bike and ride from museum to museum along the mall.

Since I would be riding alone on a day forecasting rain, the Capital Bikeshare provided a hybrid solution.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ride an hour or four hours. There are plenty of bike rentals in the area but not nearly as many as the 350 Bikeshare kiosks spread through DC and its suburbs.

For those unfamiliar with this urban slice of life, each Capital Bikeshare kiosk includes stalls of 15 bikes or so . Locals buy inexpensive annual memberships, but visitors can buy a 24-hour ($8) or a three-day ($17) pass. Upon purchase, you are given a code, which will  unlock the bike for 30-minutes of free riding. The price goes up incrementally the longer you are on the bike.

You could ride for 30 minutes, hop off the bike, return it and take another to a new destination and not incur any rider fees. It’s perfect for the government employee who wants to grab lunch from one of the food trucks that is too far to reach by foot.

At a conventional bicycle rental company, It would have cost me $16 or so to rent a bike for two hours, and some companies have a three-hour minimum. Capital Bikeshare was a slightly more affordable option as I incurred $6 in rider fees (for a total of $14) for about 90 minutes of riding. (Another good point is that the day pass is set up for 24-hours which gives me access tomorrow if I choose to ride).

It turned into a sunny afternoon so I rode from the Washington Monument, around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial and on the trails in Rock Creek Park. Bus load after bus load let middle schoolers off at the Jefferson Memorial, but the paths and sidewalks along the Tidal Basin weren’t very congested.

It was too late for the cherry blossoms but it was a spring afternoon treat to watch Canadian geese and their goslings and the flowering azalea bushes and fringe trees.

Rideshare programs aren’t designed for all-day rentals. That’s still cheaper at the rental shops. And you’ll have to bring your own helmet or go without. But for my quick ride, it was hard to beat the convenience of Capital Bikeshare.

Capital Bikeshare kiosk
Capital Bikeshare kiosk

capitalbikeshare.com