Tag Archives: food

Bienville Parish–Bonnie & Clyde, Daffodils and Pies

In Bienville Parish,  the individual parts are greater than the sum.

It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.

Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history,  geography and character.  Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.

My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business.  Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.

Arcadia Pit Stops

Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.

On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house.  For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.

South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.

Hubby got the cherry fried pie at Country Cottage
Map at Country Cottage shows satisfied customers from all over the country

Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.

There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.

Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).

Bonnie & Clyde

Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.

That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.

The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.

(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).

Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Site

The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.

Jonquil Jubilee

Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers,  but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.

While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.

While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women.  After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby

You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.

Hubby’s double cheeseburger and fries at Mom & Pop’s. The steaks are also good. When dieting, I get the grilled shrimp.

Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east  of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.

I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.

 

My Trip to Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile

All I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile, a 107-year-old building that the Food Network star has handsomely restored into a restaurant, bakery, deli, retail shop and ranch office.

We made the six and a half hour trip from Shreveport last week. The drive’s not bad when places like Paris, Texas and Okmulgee, Oklahoma have Starbucks!

Hubby and his brother were good sports as my sister-in-law and I made our way around the store. We did come away with a few purchases, but my main goal was to look around, sample the food and hopefully run into Ree, aka Pioneer Woman, or one of the Drummond clan.

The shop was as beautiful as pictured on her the blog. There are some pricey items — a cast iron skillet in the shape of the United States for $125, metal butterflies sculpted into a horse for $250 but fun lower-end items such as $3 bacon lip balm, $6 finger puppets of historic and literary figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Sherlock Holmes. And lots of dinnerware in bright colors and florals.

Originally, I thought we’d eat a late breakfast/brunch there, shop, tour the town, drive out to the ranch and return for a late afternoon meal. But on further reflection, I felt one big PW meal was about all my diet could stand.

The menu isn’t extensive because I have a feeling Ree Drummond only wants to serve things that can scale perfectly to feed a large restaurant crowd.  I did a rough count one day and figured I have made more than 60 of her recipes so I wanted to order some things I hadn’t tried.

Hubby got the Marlboro Man sandwich, strips of tenderized ribeye sauteed with onions and served on a soft hoagie bun with homemade potato chips. He shared some with me, so I got the  salad with steak added. For an appetizer,  we had creamy olive cheese bread. They were all what you would expect from Pioneer Woman–delicious!

I wanted to get prune cake just to see if it lived up to its menu billing– “Don’t get hung up on the name. This just might be the best thing you have ever eaten.”  But I didn’t have room and will have to save it for another visit or make it myself. Did I mention we split a pecan sticky bun before lunch?

I didn’t see any calorie counts or “on the lighter side” on the menu. Only those marked “bring a hearty appetite.”

We had to wait about 40 minutes for a lunch table — it will be longer on weekends and during holidays, shorter during breakfast. Todd, the youngest Drummond child, was bussing our table. Sister Paige, 17, was on duty as barista, and Ladd, Marlboro Man himself, was working the crowd.

Ladd Drummond “Marlboro Man” graciously poses for a picture with me
Todd Drummond
Todd and Paige at the coffee bar

I guess Ree was home blogging, making lasagna or gathering cattle.

We ended our time in Pawhuska by driving eight miles out on U.S. Highway 60 to the Drummond Ranch entrance sign and continuing on County Road 4461, a gravel road, until we could see her house in the distance. We wanted to see if she really does live “on a ranch in the middle of nowhere”

She does.

And the wind was sweeping down the plain that day.

A trip to Pawhuska would be a terrific paired with a trip to Tulsa (an hour away with beautiful Art Deco architecture) or Oklahoma City (two hours away with National Memorial commemorating 1995 bombing and National Cowboy Museum). 

Pioneer Woman Mercantile

The Joy of Going to the Grocery Store

 

With rare exceptions, I love going to the grocery store. Others may think it mundane, even a chore. But it’s this weekly ritual that makes me feel alive, sustains me, feeds me.

I’ve been going through Shauna Niequist’s Savor devotional book for the past few months, and anyone familiar with her writing knows she values food and the dinner table. She writes that everyday life, is an exquisite gift, and I would include going to the grocery store as part of that.

In my Shreveport neighborhood, both a new Whole Foods and Kroger Marketplace opened during the past two months.  (Read my blog post Are You Whole Foods or Piggly Wiggly?) I only occasionally visit Whole Foods, but Kroger, in some form or another, has been a part of my life since growing up  in small town Mississippi. Although the Kroger of my childhood bears no resemblance to the expansive Marketplace, where you also buy clothes, cookware and coffee tables.

There is satisfaction into checking the pantry, planning menus, making a list, perusing the sale paper, and, now, downloading coupons on the store’s app.

One of my favorite sounds of childhood was when my mother returned from the grocery store. I’d hear the carport screen door open, the brown bag rustling and the clanking of Coke bottles in their carton as she sat them on the counter.

I even like making a grocery budget, saving the receipts and monitoring spending monthly.  There’s a lot of fat in the food budget!

Problem is at our house my husband loves to go to the grocery store too. That is a blessing (he cooks a lot and buys things like yogurt covered almonds that I love but am too cheap to buy) and a curse (he doesn’t look at prices).

We’re mainly Kroger shoppers but end up frequenting just about every grocery store–Brookshire’s for Conecuh sausage and Julio’s salsa, Target for their store brand blue corn tortilla chips with flaxseed, Wal-Mart for Caribou Obsidian coffee pods, Whole Foods because it’s the new place in town, and Albertson’s when we just don’t want to get out on Shreveport’s busy Youree Drive.

Looking at the sale papers. Making a list. Going to the grocery store. Running into a friend, someone from church, one of your children’s former teachers. And then returning for something we forgot. The joy of everyday life.

As Shauna writes in one of Savor‘s January devotionals:

“This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by … This pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of us will ever experience. ”

 

 

 

Pickles, Jams, Relishes and Stuff: Last Days at the Farmers Market

I usually pick up a jar or two of something pickled or jellied at the Shreveport Farmers Market.

The next two Saturdays are great opportunities to load up the pantry with those items as the fresh vegetables wane and the market winds down for the year  on Aug. 27. The Bossier City Farmers Market continues each Saturday through Nov. 19. The Shreveport Farmers Market will be back for a fall run beginning Oct. 22.

Last week, I spent a few minutes visiting with Ben and Dorothy Pratt of Natchitoches at their Sugarmakers booth at the Shreveport Farmers Market. The Pratts just may  have the biggest variety of canned items for sale at any farmers market any where in the country: 86 different kinds.

“Not all varieties are available all the time,”  Ben quickly points out.

Still, there is plenty to choose from each week. Most popular: things like mayhaw jelly, muscadine jelly, fig preserves. If you’ve been around North Louisiana long enough, you’re familiar with those. But I bet you’ll find some new ones at Sugarmakers.

Possum grape jelly? Possum grapes are tiny little berries that grow wild , says Dorothy, a retired licensed practical nurse, who has been  canning since she was a little girl.

Or how about cinnamon basil jelly, cantaloupe jam, onion and bacon marmalade., white Zinfandel wine jelly. The list goes on and on including jelly made from obscure berries such as loquats and pyracantha.

And, perhaps, the most interesting according to the Pratts? Monkey butter, a sweet jam made from bananas, coconut and pineapple — from a recipe their niece got in the Phillipines.

The Pratts get up each Saturday at 3 am to come to the market, and they plan to be there for the final two Saturdays. Dorothy and Ben, a retired schoolteacher, have been selling at farmers markets since 2001. They also sell at Cane River Green Market in Natchitoches and have racked up quite a few county and Louisiana State Fair blue ribbons.

I came away with jars of spicy marinated green beans, fig jam and hot jalapeno pepper jelly from Sugarmakers. Over the summer I’ve also stocked up on squash pickles from Angel Farms, spicy zucchini relish from Gethsemane Gardens (they’ve got lots of hummus too) and some lemon basil caponata (eggplant) relish from Cindy Sue’s.

So there are plenty of reasons to head to downtown Shreveport during the last two weekends in August.

Refreshing Watermelon Any Way You Slice (Or Ice) It

We have been eating a lot of watermelon this summer. David and I have already gone through about a dozen. At 92 percent water, watermelon is helping us stay hydrated.

Truth be told, I have just as much luck with seedless watermelons I get at the supermarket as the ones I pick up at farmstands. Luckily, most of the stores in Shreveport get their melons from Texas, so that’s local, depending on what part of Texas they come from.

Still,  it is hard for me to pass by a farmer sitting on the tailgate of a 40-year-old truck  in the 97-degree heat with a load of them.  Sometimes I get a real winner, sweeter than the supermarket ones–like the giant one I got from Ryan Farms in Dixie, Louisiana, earlier this summer and another one we purchased along a  south Arkansas back road.

Earlier this week my refrigerator was full, and I had another watermelon on deck (the floorboard of my car). So, I thought it would be fun to experiment with some refreshing watermelon frozen novelties. Surprisingly, there aren’t many watermelon-flavored treats in the supermarket freezer section other than a few made by the Popsicle brand. So I consulted Pinterest and found a few healthy ones to try .

My husband is a watermelon purist and believes eating it any other way but straight is gilding the lily.  I sort of agree, but I love ice cream novelties and frozen treats. I’m glad to have some new ones to add to my stash of Push Ups, Nutty Buddies and multiple flavors of Outshine bars.

Refreshing Watermelon Treats
Refreshing Watermelon Treats

In the photo above, the treats are as follows going clockwise from the the Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream cone with links to the recipes.

Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream-eating Greek yogurt is perhaps the most significant diet change I have made during the past three years. Multiple blending repeats made this recipe a bit cumbersome for me, but I liked the taste. I used banana to make it creamier as suggested.

Watermelon Ice Pops-these were my favorite. I substituted Splenda for the sugar. Adding lime sherbet for the rind and chocolate chips for the seeds was so much fun! (Why can’t you find lime sherbet in pint containers?  Does anybody know?) This recipe says 12 servings, but I only got 6 using the five-ounce cups.

Watermelon ice pops
Chocolate chips are the seeds in this watermelon ice pop

Watermelon Lemon-Limeade Pops With a Jalapeno Kick. I did as one of the commenters suggested and added some jalapeno to give it a little kick.

Creamy Coconut Watermelon Pop. This was supposed to be a milkshake but didn’t turn out thick enough for me. I poured it in a mold, and, voila, another frozen treat variation.

 

 

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.

 

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.  

 

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