Small Town Bicycling: Jefferson, Texas

I’ve cycled on city streets,  rural roads and traffic-free paths in urban and rural settings. But the cycling I like best is riding the streets of a small town.

I like quiet streets, where your bike is transportation  — from the bed & breakfast to the library, to the bakery for lunch, to the grocery store and to church.

When I moved to Shreveport more than 30 years ago, people told me about the east Texas town of Jefferson, an hour away. It has been a favorite bicycling destination ever since. Jefferson is similar to my hometown of Aberdeen, Mississippi, as it was once was a prosperous river port that was bypassed by the early railroads.

Jefferson eventually got a railroad, but not before other Texas rail cities grew faster. Thankfully, must of homes and historic buildings from Jefferson’s heyday have been preserved. At least 70 or so are on the National and Texas historic registers.

Downtown is filled with antique shops, restaurants and an old-timey general store. The downtown district is entirely walkable too, but on a bicycle you can pedal along the side streets and see more of the historic homes. There are antebellum Greek Revivals, gingerbread Victorian mansions and cottages, Italianates and just about every architectural design.

Jefferson isn’t as affluent as Fredericksburg  or other tourist towns you might find over in the Texas Hill Country. But Jefferson has an interesting blend of historic charm, eccentric personalities and authentic everyday experiences you would expect in a southern town of about 2,000 people trying to make it in today’s world.

And as a former newspaper person, I’m amused that Jefferson’s weekly newspaper is the Jefferson Jimplecute. The name is an acronym for the paper’s motto: Joining Industry, Manufacturing, Planting, Labor, Energy, Capital (in) Unity Together Everlastingly. But I like the legend that a former publisher dropped the type tray, and the letters that spilled out spelled “Jimblecute.”

Jefferson is full of those kinds of stories that you can hear over breakfast at the B&B, on the ghost tour or over a 5-cent cup of coffee at the Jefferson General Store.

Here’s a photo gallery taken from two recent  trips. Click on the photos to learn more about the places. We recently went on a sleepy July day, but if you go to jefferson-texas.com you can learn about special events throughout the year when the town is more alive.

A few of the bed & breakfast homes may have bicycles  to use, but you need to plan on bringing your own. You also can expand your sightseeing options by taking a carriage ride, riverboat ride on the scenic Big Cypress Bayou or a steam train during special events. 

If you’re looking for another nearby town to bicycle around, I’d recommend Marshall just 17 miles away. There’s a wonderful old downtown department store that has been renovated into shops. You can read about it here.

And if you are more of a road cyclist, USA Today has some suggested routes around Jefferson and nearby Caddo Lake in its Travel section.

David and Jane after a hot July bicycle ride
David and Jane after a hot July bicycle ride

 

 

Go to Gullo’s For Produce, Lunch & To Go Meals

I’m lucky enough to live less than two miles away from Gullo’s Fresh Produce & Classic Bake Shop on Flournoy Lucas in Shreveport. Last year, I had to go the entire summer without Gullo’s as it had to rebuild from a fire.

I’m thankful a renovated Gullo’s Fresh Produce opened earlier this year. It includes an enclosed dining room so you don’t have to eat outside on the patio or under the pecan tree in the July heat.

I like to pop in from time to time when I need a few tomatoes, peppers or some other veggies. I usually leave with more than I intended — a jar of green tomato pickles or some locally made toffee.

There’s also “to go” casseroles and salads in the refrigerator and some baked goods.

But the real draw is the hot lunch menu.  They are known for their hamburgers on sourdough buns that have frequently been included in Best Hamburger in Shreveport, even Best Hamburger in Louisiana lists. We went the other day. I was good and got the salad with chicken, Thankfully, my husband shared significant bites of his Friday special–hamburger steak, squash, braised cabbage (my favorite), sweet potatoes and homemade roll.

The new Gullo’s Fresh Produce has evening hours and and is open Sundays. And according to Gullos Facebook page, they are planning a  Gullo’s #2 in downtown Shreveport.

 

Pondering While Pedaling. . .Gluttony of Delicacy

I like riding my bicycle in nature, letting my thoughts come and go freely.  The other day I was thinking about God’s bounty of tomatoes, peaches, corn, etc., and the pies and bacon and such that go with it.

We have been eating really well at our house this summer. So well that it has made staying on Weight Watchers maintenance plan difficult. So well that I have been pondering the sin of gluttony.

Self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit, although Paul wasn’t talking strictly about food when he wrote about the fruits of the spirit in Galations.

Gluttony is far more expansive than overindulging at the all-you-can-eat buffet. That’s the gluttony of “excess,” which includes far more than food. There are plenty of other examples in today’s society—cars, home décor, sports and their “must-have” equipment, entertainment, etc.

And then there is the gluttony of “delicacy.” My food has to be top of the line. This more subtle form of gluttony is addressed in C.S. Lewis’ s The Screwtape Letters. In Screwtape Letter #17, the older demon,  Uncle Screwtape writes about this as he is attempting to coach the younger demon, Wormwood, on how to take down a human being. This type of gluttony may go unrecognized because the quantities are smaller, the concentration is on “properly made” and “insatiable demand for the exact” rather than on excessive consumption.

That may be the snob who carries personal preferences way too far – refusing all but the the perfect vintage wine or only the prime Wagyu steak.

I’m guilty of both types of gluttony. I’m prone to obsess about all things food. I like to read about it, watch Food Network, talk about it and take pictures of meals. This gluttony of delicacy may include foodies who can’t get enough “food porn,” gourmets who insist on the best and healthy eating addicts who may take clean eating a bit too far.

Why do I only have Kalamata olives and albacore tuna in my pantry? Taste preference: yes. A bit of “delicacy” gluttony: yes also.

That’s all for now. I’m off to watch Ina Garten.

1 Corinthians 6:12-13

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. … I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them….”

 

No Louisiana July Is Complete Without Mitcham’s Peaches in Ruston

Since living in Louisiana, a  jaunt to Mitcham’s Peach Farm in Ruston is as sure a summer thing as white sandals, long days and 100 plus heat indexes.

I’ve been known to make three trips to Ruston in one week for peaches, and that was before the Mitchams added the ice cream and peach store several years ago.

With so many farmers markets to shop and my busy schedule, I now limit myself to one good trip to Mitcham’s a year. Since it’s only one time a year, I feel entitled to a big soft serve peach ice cream cone. When I was growing up my family had a small peach orchard, a side business to our dairy. Our dairy made ice cream when I was very little, but we never sold peach ice cream.

peach ice cream
My niece and nephew enjoying the peach ice cream

As far as peaches go. I’d recommend buying the biggest peaches they have, which are usually in those gift boxes and may cost more than $2 a peach. On the day I went earlier this month, they didn’t have those so I got a large bucket for $25 with about 25 peaches. They also sell overripes good for cooking.

You’ll also want to call to see if they have peaches available that day. I just checked their Facebook page today, and it said they won’t have any until later this week.

The Peach Store
The Peach Store

When I was at Mitcham’s earlier this month, I was more observant about other things for sale. In the peach shed, tomatoes, blueberries and shelled peas were available. There were also some lush ferns reasonably priced at $10 each.

In their farm store, which is open year round, there are many peach products — not only jams, jellies and salsas but bath products, peach cookware, gift baskets and other things. They have yummy salsa and pepper jelly from the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, peach tea and peach lemonade.

Inside Peach Store
Inside the peach store

And, then I found a really unexpected item — ammunition. I haven’t fully investigated, but I doubt that many places outside North Louisiana  sell fresh peaches and ammo.

 

Mitcham’s is about 70 miles east of Shreveport. On I-20, take the Grambling exit #81. Go north on Highway 149. Take a right on Garr Road and keep right on Highway 544. Shortly you’ll see a sign and Mitcham Orchard Road on the left. Follow that to the peach shed and store.  

 

Bossier City’s New Bicycle-Pedestrian Bridge

It’s nice to be able to bicycle along the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway path in Bossier City this summer for at least three reasons.

No. 1. Last year, the parkway was unusable in many parts for much of the summer because of Red River flooding.

No. 2: The bicycle/pedestrian bridge opened this year so you can bicycle from CenturyLink Center over the parkway to the path. I wish there was a bridge over the Red River dedicated to bicyclists and pedestrians only (there are several in downtown Little Rock spanning the Arkansas River)

No. 3: There have been some beginner bicycling classes meeting on Thursday afternoons at 5:30 at the path’s southernmost pavilion. Today we are learning how to fix flats so if you are in the Shreveport-Bossier City area come join us. It’s free.

I’m also reminded that this time four years ago, I was bicycling on the path when a model White House facade (upper left) was under construction. It was in the exact location of what is now Walker Place Park. The White House facade was for the movie Olympus Has Fallen,  starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman.  (Butler had some nice things to say about Shreveport-Bossier City on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Read more here.)

The movie, about a terrorist taking over the White House, was on TNT earlier this week. You still may be able to view it online if you are a cable subscriber. I also found it in the $5 movie bin at Wal-Mart.

Olympus has fallen
Olympus has fallen
Walker Place Park
Walker Place Park

Tomatoes Day 30: Tomato Gravy From Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

It’s the final day of 30 Days of Tomatoes, and it’s a good thing because the tomatoes are waning in my backyard garden. The heat is taking its toll, and the stinkbugs are sucking all of the juice out of my remaining crop,

I hope you have enjoyed this blog launch as much as I have. The highlight for me has been using some of thecookbooks that I had never cracked open.

One of them was Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, a Christmas gift from my husband several years ago. After receiving this cookbook, I declared no more cookbook Christmas presents, but I have had to apologize profusely. Why did I wait seven years before using it? It’s one of the best southern cookbooks out there with classic recipes, and the writing is spectacular too.

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea author is Mississippian Martha Hall Foose, the former executive chef of the Viking Cooking School. Viking makes high-end ranges in Greenwood, Mississippi, and operates a  cooking school there.

Hall lives on the family farm in Tchula, Mississippi but had pastry school trainng in France so she adds a sophisticated flair to some of her Deep South dishes. There’s actually a dessert called Sweet Tea Pie in the cookbook. Some other recipes have interesting names such as “Sold My Soul to the Devil-ed Eggs” and “Swimming Pool Orange Sherbet.”

I also made her Lady Pea Salad featured on the cookbook cover, and soon I am going to make her Baked Sweet Onions — Vidalia or sweet Texas onions baked in apple juice and topped with summer figs and black walnuts (never combined those two in a recipe).

To end our 30 Days of Tomatoes, I’m including this simple Tomato Gravy recipe.  It’s too hot to cook anything for very long, but you can probably handle seven minutes for this yummy recipe.

Recipe: Tomato Gravy From Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

Note: I’ll cut the blogging down to twice a week and return to more general farmstand, bicycling and road trip topics.

Tomatoes Day 29: Tomato Vinaigrette

A couple of years ago I took a Summer Salads cooking class through LSU Shreveport’s Continuing Education.  The instructor, Tulin Melancon, is from Turkey (“Melancon” comes from marrying a Louisiana man) and had lots of ideas on making Mediterranean-style salad vinaigrettes.

She advocated making flavor-intense vinaigrettes and using just a little instead of drenching salads with calorie-laden dressings.  She is a delightful instructor and a great cook so if you ever have a chance to take one of her classes, I highly recommend them.

This recipe is similar to one she shared. I have been using a lot of basil lately so I used mint as she used in her vinaigrette.   I also have an abundance of mint in my herb garden. I used a combination of spearmint and peppermint  and was pleased with the tomato and mint pairing. I also added shallots.

You can play around with the ingredients. Add lemon or lime juice or honey. I cut the olive oil in half and liked the intense balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard with the tomatoes and mint. You could even substitute chicken stock for some of the oil to cut calories.

So give yourself a break from the bottled salad dressings and taste the freshness of homemade salad vinaigrettes.

Recipe: Tomato Vinaigrette

Tomatoes Day 28: My Fourth Trip to Vicksburg’s The Tomato Place

You can read about a previous trip I took to The Tomato Place here.

The best way to describe the atmosphere at The Tomato Place in Vicksburg is a cross between Caribbean smoothie bar and Mississippi produce stand.

If you can’t image what that is like, I understand. You are just going to have to go experience The Tomato Place yourself. Owner Luke Hughes was interviewed by some publication, and said it takes four visits to know what this place is about. I just got back from my fourth visit so I guess I know a thing or two.

Tomatoes and potatoes
Baskets of local tomatoes and potatoes

It is a farm stand selling tomatoes and other produce. Plus, there’s lunch where BLTs are the best sellers. But there’s also such entrees as catfish platters and grilled salmon. And, then there are smoothies—that and the bright colors around the place are where the Caribbean comes in.

My first visit to The Tomato Place last October was a quick stop. I’m not a regular smoothie fan so I passed. Next time, I got a natural plum smoothie and have become hooked. I’ve also had the apple blackberry, and it was great too.

The lunches I had also were wonderful, although I’ll warn you that the service is leisurely. I had a BLT club and pound cake a week ago, and earlier I had chicken salad and the pork skins that are fried on site. They come to the table crackling hot with a cup of The Tomato Place’s signature product, Mississippi Fever, a liquidy pepper jelly.

Tomatoes and watermelons were from Smith County, Mississippi. Peaches from Chilton County, Alabama and Lake Providence, Louisiana. If you poke around the nooks and crannies, you will find an eclectic merchandise mix —  grits and popcorn, local artwork, jazz CDs and fedoras.

I went outside and got Luke to pose for a picture and was struck by this purple petunia against the faded red painting on a shed. The Tomato Place is a cluster of sheds and shacks

Luke Hughes
Owner Luke Hughes opened The Tomato Place in 2000

Petunia Against Red Shed

Uncle Si and the folks at Duck Dynasty have been by for a show, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting did an interesting segment on The Tomato Place, which you can view here.

Tomatoes and BLTs are the best sellers, but the smoothies are what I will go back for.   I don’t want to ever cross the Mississippi River into my home state without swinging down to The Tomato Place and getting one.

The Tomato Place is on U.S. Highway 61 South, about four miles south of Vicksburg. thetomatoplace.com

Tomatoes Day 27: Tomatoes and More At These Mississippi Farmers Markets

I was in the Jackson, Mississippi area over the July 4 weekend and got to visit the dueling farmers markets less than two miles apart in downtown Jackson.

It’s a long story that has something to do with one market allowing peaches from Alabama  and the other not. And then some rules changed, but vendors did not want to move. I’ll spare you more details, but I enjoyed both of them and bought tomatoes — and a few other things — from both.

Baskets of produce at the old Jackson market on Woodrow Wilson
Baskets of produce at the old Jackson market on Woodrow Wilson

They each have strengths. The old one on Woodrow Wilson has just a few big vendors and a more classic open air farmer’s market look. The newer one at the state fairgrounds is indoors with more mom and pop farmers.

Here are a few more photos from my visits.

Tomatoes Day 26: Garden Fresh Bruschetta From Spend With Pennies

When I searched for tomato recipes on Pinterest during the last month, this recipe from Spend With Pennies came up again and again.

I took the hint and tried it last night, and I am suggesting you do the same tonight. It’s super simple, and I only added one thing — grated parmesan.

I love reading frugal living blogs as well as food blogs. Blend frugality and food, and I’m even more excited. There’s moneysavingmom.com. You don’t have to be a mom to like some of her tips. My youngest daughter likes to fill her freezer with these breakfast burritos from moneysavingmom.com .

Then there is budgetbytes.com with the tagline “My Stomach is Full and My Wallet is Too.” Each recipe lists the price per ingredient and then a total per serving . But don’t expect rice, beans and Ramen noodles. Beth, the author, Iives in New Orleans so she has the city’s food reputation to uphold.

There’s so many more — thriftydecorchick.com  and livingwellspendingless.com  are two of my other favorites. But I have digressed away from Spend With Pennies.  The name comes from its origin as a shopping deals blog, but Holly, the author,  is now making it into more of a food blog catering to everyday cooks. I can’t wait to try her Dill Pickle Pasta Salad. She still tracks online shopping bargains and also has a lot of thrifty DIY projects.

Spending an hour reading through some of these reminds me of a time — long before blogs or Amazon or ebay — when I was a young stay-at-home mom trying to stretch one income. There was a writer who sent out a newsletter and wrote books under The Tightwad Gazette name.  It stirred my frugal creativity at the time, although some of her suggestions were mighty extreme. She retired the newsletter 20 years ago, but if you ever wondered what happened to her, I found an interview on another popular frugal living blog, the simple dollar.com.

Recipe: Garden Fresh Bruschetta

Weight Watchers SmartPoints. 2 for the bruschetta spread including parmesan. Bread will add 4-5 per slice.