Charleston Fried Chicken for Sunday Supper

A good deal on a whole chicken at my local Food Lion + reading famed Charleston, SC gardener Emily Whaley’s “Mrs. Whaley Entertains” = delicious fried chicken for Sunday supper.

Seriously, the hardest part about making fresh fried chicken from scratch was figuring out how to cut up the fryer (and I found a YouTube video to help).

Once the chicken is cut up, you rub it with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder, then mix up two eggs and a cup of milk.  Dredge the chicken in the milk/egg mixture, then add to a paper bag containing one cup of flour and whatever spices you want (I used my homemade Cajun spice blend).  Shake up the chicken and you’re ready to fry!

The most important part of frying chicken is to make sure your oil is at the right temperature.  If your oil is at the point where it’s snapping and popping, you’re good to go.  Drop the chicken pieces into a cast-iron skillet or deep pot filled with a quart of cooking oil.  Cook about 8 minutes per side, turning once halfway through.  Remove with tongs and let the cooked pieces drain on paper towels while you cook the other chicken pieces.

There’s nothing like a juicy piece of fresh fried chicken on a hot Southern summer day!

ETA:  Totally didn’t even realize it was officially “Fried Chicken Day!”

 

Kinda Legit Lowcountry Shrimp Boil

My favorite farmer’s market, Lakeside Farmer’s Market, had baby red potatoes and fresh corn this weekend, and I knew I had a bag of shrimp in the freezer, so why not make a shrimp boil?  

Seafood boils, otherwise known as Frogmore Stew, have a long and storied history in the lowcountry of South Carolina.  Some stories claim that a local fisherman originated the recipe as a way to use the bounty of the sea and the vegetables he’d just harvested.  Another story places the development of the seafood boil with Richard Gay, the owner of a seafood restaurant on St. Helena Island, SC, who was tasked with feeding over 100 National Guardsmen.  Frogmore Stew was just the ticket to feed lots of men with minimal effort, and serving it on tables covered with newspaper eliminated the need for a massive cleanup.

To make my shrimp boil, which is only kinda legit since I omitted the kielbasa sausage, I started with a big pot of water.  I washed and dumped in the baby red potatoes.

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I set the heat to high and let the potatoes come to a boil.  Once they were boiling, I added all the seasonings – the Chesapeake Bay style seasoning (I used Sauer’s, but Old Bay is fine too), and the shrimp boil seasoning mixture.  For the shrimp boil seasoning, I found a good copycat recipe of a famous Southern brand, which I halved since I was just cooking for the four of us and not a ton of people:

Copycat Seafood Boil Seasoning Mix

2 tbsp. mustard or ground mustard seeds

1 1/2 tbsp. coriander seeds or ground coriander

1 tbsp. allspice, whole or ground

1 tbsp. dill seeds

1/2 tsp. cloves

1/2 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes

4 bay leaves

While the potatoes were boiling in the seasoning mixture, I shucked my corn, removed the silks and cut each ear in half.

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I dumped the corn into the pot and let that boil for about 10 minutes with the potatoes.  If you’re using sausage, you’d add it with the corn.  After letting that boil a while, I added the shrimp.  They only need to boil in the pot for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until they turn pink.  Then you’re ready to plate your shrimp boil, or to dump it out onto a newspaper-covered table!

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Lowcountry Shrimp Boil

2 lbs. small red potatoes

Crab or seafood boil seasoning (I used the mixture above)

4 tbsp. Old Bay or other Chesapeake-style seafood seasoning (I used Sauer’s)

1 lb. kielbasa or other smoked sausage, sliced into 1 1/2 inch pieces

3 ears of corn, shucked, silks removed and cut in half

2 lbs. medium or large shrimp, in shell preferred

 

 

 

Virginia Summer Food History Events

School’s out, and in our household that means it’s high time for some historical adventures.  See my parents weren’t the type to just be content with going to the beach every year.  Oh no – from the time I was born until I graduated high school, our family vacations typically involved visiting historical sites up and down the East Coast.  In fact, my mother still has photo albums stuffed with pictures of me, my brother and sister standing in front of various obscure historical markers throughout Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Of course I plan to keep that tradition alive, especially considering that we live in Virginia, first British colony in the New World and home to a seemingly unending list of historical homes and estates.  Besides that, the foodways of Virginia are known throughout the country and around the world.  Here are a few of the food and food history events that will be taking place in Virginia this summer:

Jul. 19 & 20, 2014 – Surry, Virginia Pork, Peanut & Pine Festival – This down-home celebration of the three P’s of coastal Virginia has a parade, plenty of delicious food, a kids’ corner, arts and crafts vendors and plenty of fun.  $5 per person, 10 and under free.  Chippokes Plantation State Park, 695 Chippokes Park Rd., Surry, VA  23883.  Saturday, July 19 & Sunday, July 20, 10 AM- 5 PM.

Jul. 19 & 20, 2014 – 1771 Market Fair at Claude Moore Colonial Farm – Sit in the shade and savor roast chicken and spicy sausages, enjoy dancing and singing with the fiddler, test your watercolor and writing skills with Mr. Andrews at the Stationer.  Muster with the militia and re-outfit your home in furniture from the Cabinet Maker.  Only at Market Fair can you catch up on the latest news from the frontier and trade stories while enjoying local ale and porter at the Tavern.  Try hands-on crafts such as spinning and dyeing, and shop for goods from the finest merchants in the colonies.  $7/adult, $3/child aged 3-12, $3/senior, under 3 free.  Claude Moore Colonial Farm, 6310 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA  22101.  Saturday, July 19 & Sunday, July 20, 11 AM-4:30 PM.

Jul. 25 & 26, 2014 – Summertime Barrels, Bottles & Casks at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest – Cool off on a hot summer evening and sample various beverages, brews and spirits served at Poplar Forest during Jefferson’s time.  Special guided tours will highlight the meals and drinks that Jefferson and the plantation’s enslaved community consumed at Poplar Forest, followed by a cellar-side beverage tasting and light, seasonal snacks, including homemade ice cream.  $25/person, must be 21 or older.  Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, 1542 Bateman Bridge Rd., Forest, VA  24551.  Friday, July 25 & Saturday, July 26, tours departing at 6 PM and 7 PM both days.

Aug. 8 & 9, 2014 – 9th Annual Filipino Festival – Enjoy authentic cuisine such as lumpia, pancit, adobo, lechon, halo-halo and more with San Miguel beer or your favorite wine.  Some vegetarian dishes will be available and entertainment will be provided by several local bands.  The cultural program includes a fusion of dance, music, song, artwork and exhibits by local and regional Filipino talent.  $2 suggested donation.  Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 8200 Woodman Rd., Richmond, VA  23228.  Friday, August 8, 5-10 PM; Saturday, August 9, 10 AM-10 PM.

Aug. 9, 2014 – Edible Food Fest in Orange – A delicious celebration of the Earth-to-table movement and its unique roots in Central Virginia.  Demos by some of the restaurant-rich region’s leading chefs and expert talks on a variety of topics.  Vendors include Blue Ridge Pizza, Plantation Peanuts of Wakefield, Hudson Henry Baking Co., Croftburn Market, Rebecca’s Natural Food, Virginia Vinegar Works and more.  $7/person, 12 and under free.  Downtown Orange, VA  22960.  Saturday, August 9, 10 AM-6 PM.

Aug. 20, 2014 – Family Day at Wilton House Museum – Bring the family by for a tour of the historic house, geared for elementary and middle school aged children, followed by a lesson in colonial cooking.  $10/person.  Wilton House Museum, 215 S. Wilton Rd., Richmond, VA  23226.  Wednesday, August 20, 1-2:30 PM.

Historical Foodways Classes at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., Charlottesville, VA  22902):

July 12, 2014 – Canning With a Jefferson Spin – Culinary historian Leni Sorensen will tantalize with stories of the cooks in Jefferson’s kitchen, who canned and preserved food for the Monticello household.  Using a historical recipe from Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife (1824) and green tomatoes from the Monticello garden, Leni will guide the class in creating a thick and spicy tomato marmalade of their own.  $28/person.  Saturday, July 12, 9:30 AM-12:00 PM.

July 26, 2014 – Mary Randolph Culinary Workshop – Curry chicken and rice was an international dish popular at elite 19th-century dining tables.  Culinary historian Leni Sorensen will demonstrate how to make Mary Randolph’s curry powder just as her cooks did in her 1824 Richmond kitchen.  The class will then prepare and enjoy the curry dish and fresh Monticello vegetables.  $28/person.  Saturday, July 26, 9:30 AM-12:00 PM.

August 7, 2014 – Let’s Go Cook – Join Monticello’s Eleanor Gould for a fun, hands-on, family-friendly cooking class.  Young cooks and their favorite grownups will begin by harvesting fruits and vegetables from the Monticello gardens.  The class will then help prepare both sweet and savory recipes that were favorites of the Jefferson family.  The reward will be to eat what’s been made and take home the recipes.  $18/adult, $8/child, under 5 free.  Thursday, August 7, 9:30-11:30 AM.

 

Irish Food History and St. Patrick’s Day

Happy March!  In our half-Irish household, St. Patrick’s Day is kind of a big deal, so I was interested to read Tom McLaughlin’s article “A Taste of Irish History.”  We all know about the Irish food staples of potatoes, cabbage, corned beef and soda bread, but there are historical, political and economic forces at work behind these historic food choices.  In the case of traditional Irish cuisine, the staple food items have one thing in common:  they are cheap, and have historically been known as the food of the poor.  This extends to preparation methods, which tend to be primitive (i.e. boiling meat and potatoes).

As the Irish migrated to America, traditional Irish peasant foods became Americanized in the larger East Coast cities, mainly New York.  Most Irish ate pork and lamb in their homeland, but beef would have been beyond their means.  When they arrived in mid-19th century America, beef would have been more plentiful.  Picking up the practice of salt-curing, or “corning,” their beef from neighbors such as Jews, the Irish could then substitute the corned beef in place of pork in dishes with cabbage or potatoes.

Here in Richmond, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with traditional Irish food and, hopefully, a pint or two of Guinness:

*  Church Hill Irish Festival – The city’s oldest and most traditional Irish festival, celebrated in Church Hill, where Richmond’s Irish have lived and worshipped for over a century.  March 22 and 23.

*  Shamrock the Block – Long-running festival with food, music and beer.  This year’s festival will feature expanded entertainment options for families and children.  Sat., March 15.

*  Shockoe Fest – The new kid on the block, Shockoe Fest was formed to offer a St. Patrick’s celebration in the traditional Shockoe Bottom neighborhood.  Bands, beer, food and a Kid Zone promise a fun-filled day.  Sat., March 15.

Also, if you’ve never checked out the city’s plethora of Irish restaurants, be sure to stop by one of these:

*  Sine Irish Pub & Restaurant – Located in historic Shockoe Slip, Sine is a mainstay for quick business lunches, casual dinners out and a traditional pub atmosphere after dark.  On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, guests enjoy complimentary entertainment.  The interior is reminiscent of a Dublin pub, and the food is delicious, especially the Fish n’ Chips, Shepherd’s Pie and Bangers & Mash.

*  McCormack’s Irish Pub – This Shockoe Bottom pub has live music many nights of the week, pub food and brews on tap.  Stop in on a Sunday evening for HorrorSundays and watch vintage horror movies on the pub’s tv’s.

*  Rare Olde Times Public House – A West End pub started by a chef and Dublin native who relocated to Virginia, Rare Olde Times opened in 1994.  Traditional Irish musical entertainment, great food and a wide variety of beers make for a fun and friendly pub experience.

*  Keagan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant – Upscale Irish food and brews in Short Pump.  Keagan’s has creative menu options, like their award-winning Wicklow Wings with your choice of sauce, Donegal Bay Mussels and Irish Chicken Boxty.  Both local and imported beers are available at Keagan’s.

*  O’Toole’s Restaurant & Pub – Richmond’s oldest Irish restaurant and pub, O’Toole’s has been in operation for over 47 years.  From traditional pub fare to pasta and American bar standby’s, as well as brunch, O’Toole’s has repeatedly been voted Richmond’s best Irish restaurant.

Wherever and however you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, don’t forget to say “Slainte!”

Day 4 in Memphis

Note – OK, so I’ve been super busy and haven’t gotten a chance to finish blogging my Memphis trip – sorry!  I promise to post days 4 and 5 quickly, because I have a cool blog project on the horizon for the holidays.  So read on for the rest of my Memphis blogs.

“I went to the crossroad.  Fell down on my knees.  Asked the Lord above, have mercy now, save poor Bob if you please.  He’s standing’ at the crossroad, tried to flag a ride, I tried to flag a ride.  Ain’t nobody seem to know me, babe.  Everybody passion’ me by.  Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, risin’ son, goin’ down.” – Robert Johnson, “Cross Road Blues”

While I had planned out our first three days in Memphis, days 4 and 5 were pretty open.  I knew I wanted to try to hit up the Memphis Food Truck Court on Sunday, but other than that, we didn’t have any definite plans for Sunday and Monday.  On Saturday night, while watching the UFC fights in the hotel room, I got on the computer and started researching Memphis blues history.  I discovered that one of my favorite blues musicians, Robert Johnson, was born in the neighboring state of Mississippi.  His parents did not stay together long, and during his young life he moved around often, as his parents sought work on the various farms of Mississippi, such as the Abbay & Leatherman plantation in Commerce.  I figured we could drive down the “Blues Highway” into Mississippi and have a look at some of the historical sites associated with Robert Johnson, then I found out that the infamous crossroads where he is alleged to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for an otherworldly ability to play guitar was apparently only a few more miles down Route 61.  That sealed it – the next day’s agenda was set!

We got up bright and early, ate breakfast and headed down Route 61.  One of the most well-known female blues singers, Memphis Minnie, grew up in a town just across the state line called Walls, Mississippi.  She died in 1973, and is buried in the churchyard of the New Hope M.B. Church.

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From there, we continued on down the “Blues Highway” through miles and miles of flat fields.  A ways down the road, we came across a visitor’s center, which was, of course, closed since it was Sunday morning.  The visitor’s center was in an old-looking building, and there was a historical marker explaining the significance of the “Blues Highway.”

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We started to see huge billboards for the casinos of Tunica, and after a few more miles, we came to the turnoff that leads to the casino area, which also happened to be the turnoff towards the Abbay & Leatherman plantation.  We were tempted to hit up the slot machines, but ended up deciding that we’d probably just lose money and waste time, so we pulled over at the historical marker for Abbay & Leatherman.

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Many of the most well-known blues musicians lived on or near Abbay & Leatherman and other farms and plantations throughout the fertile delta region, leading to the term “delta blues.”  During the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, many blues musicians traveled throughout Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, playing clubs in larger cities, such as Memphis and New Orleans, and in smaller towns that had only one juke joint.  Some of the delta blues musicians that got their start in the region ended up migrating to Chicago or New York, taking the blues with them.  Musicians like Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Ma Rainey and Muddy Waters all came from the Mississippi delta.

The “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith, met her end in a tragic car crash on Route 61 in 1937.  On her way from Memphis to Clarksdale, Mississippi, with her lover, Richard Morgan driving her Packard, the pair came upon a slow-moving truck in front of them.  Richard misjudged the speed of the truck and ended up swerving to attempt to avoid hitting it, but instead ended up sideswiping it.  Bessie had her arm hanging out of the window on the side of impact, and she died early the next morning at the hospital, her arm having been nearly severed at the elbow and later amputated by doctors.

About an hour and a half South of Memphis, the tiny town of Clarksdale lies just off Route 61.  I had expected a moderately-sized town, but it was really just the crossroads and a few small surrounding roads – a few restaurants, shops and a gas station and that’s about it.  But the highlight of the town is the signpost in the middle of the infamous crossroads998445_10201156161882030_299405864_n

It’s nothing more than a large sign in the middle of the intersection of Route 61 and Route 49 – another Mississippi highway immortalized in songs by Big Joe Williams and Howlin’ Wolf.  I’m sure the people in town thought I was crazy pulling over in the parking lot of the fried chicken joint, hopping out and running into the street to snap a picture, but maybe I could tell them I had a hellhound on my trail!

After we checked out the crossroads, we made our way back up the “Blues Highway” to Memphis, passing many a dead armadillo on the side of the road (according to a friend who’s lived in the deep South, they are apparently the squirrels of the region).  We ended up at Shelby Farms Park, a gorgeous municipal park on the edge of the city where the weekly Food Truck Court takes place.  The park had a lake, with kayaks and paddle boats for rent, bike and running trails and a really nice lobby and welcome center.  The only downside – it was HOT!  Like, so hot I would have rather gone and sat in the air-conditioned car to eat, except for the fact that I’m stubborn and somewhat of a masochist.  Regardless, the food was delicious!

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I had a yummy beef brisket sandwich, with parmesan rosemary fries and glazed donut bread pudding (which should not even be legal it was so sweet).

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My hubby had crab salad.  Everything was delicious, especially the glazed donut bread pudding!  In a food coma, we headed back to the hotel and rested for a few hours, then drove back to our spot at the park by the Mississippi River to jog off some of the calories from lunch.

That evening, inspired by our historical marker scavenger hunt, I wanted to hear some real blues.  There are a bunch of really touristy bars on Beale Street, but the only place I wanted to be was Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall.  I realize the decor may be more kitsch than authentic, but the place was awesome – laid back vibe, live blues and cheap (tall!) beers.  There was a band playing when we arrived, and when they took a break between songs, a gentleman came in via the alley door and struck up a chat with the band, who knew him as one of the regulars at various blues clubs.  A few words were exchanged, and he joined them on the stage with his harmonica and a song.  It was pure Memphis magic.  Later that night, as we headed back to our hotel, that man’s raspy voice and jangly harmonica filled my head.

Day 3 in Memphis

“Now the world’s in a revolt because Dr. King is gone.”

Otis Spann – “Blues for Martin Luther King”

Saturday morning dawned gray and drizzly – the perfect opportunity to visit some of the sights of Memphis that are indoors.  First on the list: the legendary Sun Studios.  We headed a few blocks down Union Avenue, where the studio and attached museum sit diagonally, facing Marshall Avenue.  With as much music history as this building has seen, I was a little surprised by how small the building was.  The original studio where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Rufus Thomas and so many more famous musicians recorded consisted of only one small building with an office in the front and the studio in the rear.  Years later, when the world came to see the importance of the building to the history of music, the space next door (which used to be a soda shoppe) was also purchased.  That two-story building now houses the gift shop (in the space formerly occupied by the soda shoppe – and with real fountain sodas!) on the ground floor and the museum on the second floor.

Before we went inside, we snapped some pics of the exterior of the building:

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As we learned during our tour of the museum, the picture on the left was referred to as the “million dollar quartet.”  As the story goes, Carl Perkins was in town holding a recording session, and Sam Phillips, Sun Studios’ founder and owner, called up a new acquisition of his record label to come sit in on the session.  That new acquisition just happened to be Jerry Lee Lewis.  As the session stretched on, Elvis Presley, who was in town for the holidays, popped in.  Johnny Cash had also wandered into the studio, wanting to hear Carl Perkins’ work.  The famous photograph above was snapped, and the sound engineer started rolling tape, capturing forever the legendary jam session of these four amazing musicians.

In the museum, we got to see the priceless memorabilia collected by Mr. Phillips over the years, including a guitar used by Elvis in the studio, vintage ads and recording equipment.

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We also got to hear the true story of the rise of Elvis Presley, which was mostly thanks to the persistence of Sam’s business partner, Marion, who was also his receptionist.  Apparently, when Elvis first came into Sun Studios to record, Marion made a copy of his recording and left it on Sam’s desk.  Sam, unfortunately, was not impressed, but Marion was persistent in her support of Elvis, and eventually Sam asked him back to record with some local musicians.  During that session, Elvis and the musicians began to jam on Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right,” an old blues song.  When Elvis and the other musicians started to jump and dance around the room, Sam knew he’d hit on something special.  He recorded an acetate, dropped it off to his DJ friend Dewey Phillips, who played it the next night on his radio show, and the rest was history.

Once our tour of the museum was complete, we headed back downstairs and next door to the studio itself, where our tour guide showed us exactly where, according to tape marks still on the floor tiles, each of the musicians in that famous recording session had stood, including the gouge in the tile where the upright bass player had propped his bass.  She also pointed out the “x” on the floor where Elvis’ microphone stand had been, then she pulled the stand itself out for everyone to gawk over.  I was amazed that everything in the room is still original to that day back in 1954 – even down to the acoustic tiles on the walls and ceilings that Sam Phillips himself installed.

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After Sun Studios, we headed across town to the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum.  In April of 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis to support striking black sanitation workers.  As he stepped out onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel the evening of April 4, a shot rang out.  Dr. King was struck by the bullet and later died at a local hospital.  The museum takes visitors through the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, from the earliest days of indentured servitude and the slave trade, to the present day.  The timeline of historical events combined with more in-depth information on major accomplishments of the Movement was moving and profound, and really opened my eyes even more to the ways things once were for black Americans in this country.  When I try to explain to my son, for example, that hundreds of years ago people were enslaved only because of the color of their skin, or that black Americans could not use the same restrooms or water fountains as whites, I am at a loss for words.  My son’s school is very diverse, and he has friends from every ethnic and religious group you could imagine, so I think it is hard for him to understand how different American society used to be.  I, too, have trouble wrapping my head around the treatment black Americans received at the hands of racist whites.  To see how hard-fought a struggle the Civil Rights Movement has been – how difficult it must have been to remain peaceful and focused when so much hatred and bigotry was against you – gives me so much appreciation for the work of Dr. King and so many others.

The capstone to our visit was the “balcony experience” – the ability to mount the steps of the Lorraine Motel and see the room Dr. King stayed in and the balcony where he was killed.  There is nothing that can prepare you for such an experience.  It was very emotional, and I could feel the weight of the importance of the site as I climbed the steps.  The gray skies made the few moments I spent on the balcony even more somber.  The balcony is a place for reflection on Dr. King’s life, and on how far we have come as a nation towards his vision of equality, and yet how far we still have to go.

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After our visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, my husband and I were starving, so it was quite convenient that Central BBQ was located directly behind the Lorraine Motel.  We headed inside and made our way to the order window, where we picked the full slab of ribs for two – wet – which came with two sides apiece, as well as two rolls each.  We both picked macaroni and cheese and barbecue baked beans for our sides.  The ribs were delicious – rich, smoky flavor and just the right amount of sweet, spicy sauce.  And the sides were hot, fresh and had that home-cooked flavor.  We also tried a local beer that was on special.

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After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to chill out in the pool for a bit, then drove over to the Beale Street Landing to board a Memphis Riverboat cruise down the Mississippi River.  The cruise was about two hours long, and had commentary on the history of Memphis and a few funny stories from the city’s past, such as the story of Hopefield, Arkansas.  According to our guide, in the early 1900’s, Hopefield had become a den of vice.  Gambling and prostitution were common there, and since it was right across the river from Memphis, many men from the city would cross the river on boats to take part in these illicit activities.  Some of the women of Memphis, tired of their husbands staying across the river at all hours of the day and night, contacted the Memphis police department, who organized a “rescue” party to cross the river and encourage these men to return home to their wives.  When they arrived on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi, they found the men waiting for them, guns drawn.  The men ordered the Memphis police to strip naked, then put them back into their boats and sent them back across the way they’d come.  When the boats returned to the Memphis side of the river, the staid ladies on the shore were in for a surprise, as the naked police officers stepped out of their boats, embarrassed, and explained that there wasn’t anything more to be done.  At that point, the women of Memphis turned to prayer, which apparently worked out better for them in the end, as the town of Hopefield was swallowed up by the Mississippi River in 1912 after massive flooding.  We also learned about the time in 1812 when the river flowed backwards following a massive earthquake that made a crevice in the riverbed so large that the water had to flow backwards up the river to fill it in.

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That evening, my husband and I were kind of “barbecued out” (I know that sounds impossible), so we decided to have dinner at a sushi and Thai restaurant near our hotel, Bangkok Alley.  Our dinner was light and delicious, and we walked back to our hotel, where I spent the rest of the evening reading about the history of Memphis, especially relating to music.  That information would come in handy for Sunday’s activities!

Day 2 in Memphis

“I saw the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue.

Followed him up to the gates of Graceland, and I watched him walk right through.”

Walking in Memphis – Marc Cohn

 

As the National Pork Board‘s “Pork Passion Pursuits” sweepstakes winner, my mission in Memphis was to soak up the local culture and to learn about the prevalence of pork barbecue in this city by the Mississippi River.  Friday morning, my husband and I had a quick breakfast at our hotel, then set out to explore the city.  We drove to the South side of town to check out an old, abandoned brewery from the late 1800’s that sits on the bluff high atop the river, then we walked down to the riverside to check out the view of the city.

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After our quick trip down to the river, we headed for Graceland.  In the classic movie “Pulp Fiction,” Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace tells John Travolta’s Vincent Vega “For instance, there are only two kinds of people in the world, Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis and Elvis people can like the Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice tells you who you are.”  My husband and I are polar opposites in many ways, so it should come as no surprise that, while I’m a die-hard Beatles person, he, on the other hand, is a self-professed Elvis person.  Our trip to Graceland was one of the things he was most looking forward to on our trip.

The first thing I noticed about Elvis’ home was that it is definitely big business.  There’s a fee to park in the huge lot adjacent to the ticketing/exhibit complex, and each of the exhibits exited, predictably, through a gift shop.  The home itself is across Elvis Presley Boulevard from the ticketing/exhibit complex, and a shuttle bus ferries visitors back and forth.  I was surprised at how small the house was – I guess I’d always assumed that Elvis – you know, the King – would have a massive home, but it’s really more of a large home than a mansion.  Of course, coming from poverty like he did, I’m sure the house was enormous to Elvis and his family.  I also had not been aware that Graceland was an historic home built in the 1930’s, and that Elvis bought it rather than having a house built.

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The home is in remarkable shape, and has been preserved just as it was when Elvis passed away in 1977.  In fact, the house is so well-preserved that you can almost imagine the man himself rounding the top of the steps and coming down to greet you.  The decor is decidedly seventies and just a bit tacky, especially in the areas of the house where Elvis spent most of his time, such as his basement tv and pool rooms and the infamous Jungle Room.  Despite the initial gaudiness, however, you soon realize that everything at Graceland was completely state-of-the-art when Elvis was alive, down to the triple tv’s in his tv room.

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After our tour of the house itself, we were led through the outbuildings, including several that have been converted to house Elvis memorabilia, such as his gold records, awards and various costumes he wore throughout the years.  The path through the outbuildings describes the history of his career, from the 1950’s through the 60’s and 70’s – his first hits to his comeback special to his residency in Las Vegas.  By the end of the tour, you arrive at the gravesite of Elvis, his parents and other family members.  The Meditation Garden was built by Elvis when he was alive, and it is his final resting place.  I was surprised by how moving the whole experience was.  Elvis was truly a great musician, and his legacy of bringing blues and country music to the mainstream music industry has profoundly influenced so many other artists.  Even my beloved John Lennon once said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

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After we crossed back over Elvis Presley Boulevard in the shuttle bus, we were free to visit the other exhibits included in our Premium ticket:  Elvis’ Automobile Museum, his private planes and a small exhibit chronicling his run in Las Vegas.  My husband is a gearhead, so he loved the chance to see some cars and motorcycles from Elvis’ collection.  The pink Cadillac he bought for his mother was the star attraction.  The planes were cool too, especially Elvis’ custom jet plane with his very own bed, outfitted in blue suede sheets – of course!

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After we finished visiting all the different exhibits and gift shops, my husband and I were starving.  What better place to stop for lunch than the barbecue restaurant down the street that The King himself used to frequent?  We made our way to Marlowe’s Ribs & Restaurant and settled into a weathered booth.  Like Graceland itself, Marlowe’s appears to be stuck in the 70’s.  The decor is vintage, and the walls are covered in Elvis memorabilia, articles and photos.  As with every barbecue joint in Memphis, Marlowe’s has a gift shop where it sells its own dry rub and bottled barbecue sauce.  We both got the pulled pork sandwich, which came with cole slaw and fries.  One bite and I could tell why Marlowe’s pulled pork has won award after award – the meat was perfectly smoked and sauced, and it was thick and juicy.  I was in pork heaven!

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After such a huge meal, we headed back to the hotel for a rest, and to check out our plans for the next few days.  Our hotel, the Hampton Inn Beale Street, had an indoor pool and hot tub, so we hung out there for awhile before deciding to head to Mud Island Park for a run.  The park runs alongside the Mississippi River, and the views of the river are gorgeous, not to mention the views of the massive and stylish homes that line the bluff atop the river.  We jogged along, watching the sun set over the Mississippi, then headed to grab a quick dinner of salads from Arby’s.  All the traveling, walking and jogging must have done us in, because we ended up tucking in early on Friday, ready for a busy Saturday in Memphis!

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