Slow day

Today we took things a little slow. Spent the morning lazing around not getting done things we should have. LOL I have it on my To-Do list to make a To-Do list but I haven’t quite gotten around to it. Around one we finally got moving and headed over to the Jean Lafitte National Park/Acadiana Cultural Center this is a center revolving around the history and culture of the Acadian people, most people know them as Cajun (Cadian). The people started as immigrants to the area now known as Nova Scotia but due to the greed of the English and French they were deported and spread all over the world. Many of the Acadian people bound together and made their way to Louisiana and reborn their culture here. It is a very interesting story and not one I knew much about before today. I love learning about how history changes things but it often makes me sad. The wars harmed so many peaceful people. I was glad to learn there was a happy ending. In spite of losing so many of their loved ones they persevered and never lost their culture. It shows the strength of the spirit of a people.

After we left the park we headed over for lunch at a “specialty” restaurant called the Tilted Kilt. It is an Irish-style pub with lovely ladies in… costume. LOL Bill was intrigued (of course) and so we decided to make that our lunch. The food was un-expectedly quite tasty and of course the waitresses were lovely. :-D

It was nice to have a slower day. We are headed out to New Orleans on Tuesday and I expect we will be quite busy.

A Trip to Avery Island

Today we took a trip to Avery Island, Louisiana which is located in the south central part of the state.  Avery Island sits on top of huge salt dome. In the mid 1800’s the primary industries on the island were mining salt and growing sugar cane. Prior to the start of the Civil War Edmund McIlhenny married into the Avery family. In 1868 McIlhenny founded the McIlhenny Company and began manufacturing Tabasco brand pepper sauce.  In 1870 McIlheny received a letters patent for the processing formula.

We arrived at the factory and looked at the exhibits that talked about the history of the company while we waited for the tour to begin. The first part of the tour was a video presentation about the history of the company and the process of creating Tabasco sauce.  After the video visitors can walk thru an area where they can view the bottling area of the factory.   After the factory viewing area there was another area that contained more information about Avery Island and Tabasco products. This included an interesting poster that explains the heat levels of the various Tabasco sauces.

Tabasco Heat Index

The pepper plants are started in green houses and once there is no longer any chance of frost the plants are moved out to the fields. In addition seeds are sent to Central and South America to be grown. Each year the seeds of the best plants are selected to be the crop for the next year.

Once the peppers are mature they are hand harvested. The harvested peppers are mixed with salt (that comes from the Avery Island salt mines) and ground up. The pepper mash is loaded into white oak barrels with salt. The oak barrels are actually bought from the Jack Daniels Company who can only use the barrels once. The barrels are bored out to remove the whiskey flavor and residue. The peppers are turned into mash and barreled the day they are harvested. Once the pepper mash is placed in the barrels a whole is drilled in the top and a salt cap is placed on the barrel. The barrel is stored in a warehouse on Avery Island for 3 years to ferment.

Tabasco Barrel

After three years the mash is drained to remove the skins and seeds. The liquid is mixed with vinegar. This mixture is aged for a month before being bottled. Tabasco sauce is shipped to 162 countries around the world.

Tabasco Line

After visiting the Tabasco factory we stopped at the Tabasco store that sells everything Tabasco. Yes we bought a few bottles and a few as gifts. We also tried the Jalapeno ice cream, which I l liked and Leslie did not.

We then spent a few hours touring the Jungle Gardens on Avery Island. The gardens were created by Edward Avery McIlheny. The gardens contain over 90 varieties of bamboo, lots of Azaleas, Camellias, Irises, Live Oaks, Pines and Palm Trees. Of course most of the plants were not in bloom at this time of year but the gardens were still beautiful. A major attraction in the gardens is Bird City the heron sanctuary. Each spring some 20,000 heron nests are built and thousands of herons are hatched. Here are a few pictures from the Jungle Gardens.

The Cleveland tree is the oldest tree in the gardens.

Jungle Gardens Cleveland Tree

The Buddha temple was built to house a Buddha statute that was given to the McIlheny family.

Jungle Gardens Buddha Temple

On the path to the Buddha temple there was a little stone bridge that Leslie fell in love with, she said it reminded her of the 7 dwarves and started singing and hopping along to “Heigh-Ho”.

Jugle Gardens Stone Bridge

What to better cap to a day of Tabasco than dinner at a Cajun restaurant. We had dinner at Prejean’s Restaurant (http://www.prejeans.com/) in Lafayette and have to say it was excellent.  The Seafood Gumbo was very good. However the crawfish Etouffee and Eggplant Abbeville (fried eggplant topped with sautéed jumbo lump crab and shrimp in a cane syrup Worcestershire cream) were out of this world.

Tomorrow we are off to visit the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve.

The Art of Bar-B-Que

How much BBQ is too much BBQ? For some people the answer is quite minimal. I grew up in the South. I swear they wean us on BBQ sauce. LOL Some people are real picky about what you call BBQ and what you call “Grillin” and I know the difference. I have eaten at dozens of BBQ places from sit down places with cloth napkins (which make me giggle some) to BBQ joints where the roll of paper towels sits right there on the table. I have eaten at places that serve BBQ on fancy dishes and places that plop it down on sheets of butcher paper (Famous Dave’s is my favorite though because they serve BBQ in the lid of a garbage can).

When I moved to Seattle in 2004 one of the things I actually had on my Pros/Cons list was that Seattle was a LONG way from BBQ. The fact is I have had BBQ in Seattle in a number of places and never REALLY had BBQ until Bill and I stumbled upon Famous Dave’s BBQ in Tacoma. Tacoma is about 45 minutes south (with no traffic) of where I was living in Bellevue and on occasion Bill and I would hop in the car and make the trek down. It was always a happy trip. Famous Dave’s is a chain but to be fair they are a very good chain and easily the best BBQ in Washington State to my knowledge. The last couple years we were there they opened another Famous Dave’s in Tukwila, which was much closer to home, which was nice.

When Bill and I would sit and talk about things we should do when we traveled one of the things we agreed on was we should try all the different types of BBQ across the country. Texas dry beef brisket with no sauce, Carolina vinegar sauce on pork, the smokey pork ribs in Memphis, etc. There are hundreds of different types of BBQ and I am discovering I like most of it. I do, however, have in my mind a certain way things are “supposed” to be. Many people will disagree, even Bill disagrees but I like my BBQ saucy. I like it tangy. I like it juicy. I like it cooked long and slow over mesquite wood.

Texas Pride

In the last few weeks Bill and I have traveled through Texas and into Louisiana. While in Texas we partook of some very fine beef brisket, beef sausage, and other various yummies. There are a few overwhelming themes in the Texas BBQ that I have taken away. Generally the meat is Beef. Texas is a Beef state. There are offerings of pork but they seem to be more of an afterthought or something to please those out-of-towners. Another thing seems to be the sauce. The sauce, if there is any, is smoky and tomatoey. It might be spicy but it is never sweet. The beans are generally pinto style and are more like Mexican beans than what I consider BBQ beans. Tasty but not quite right to my palate. Most Texan BBQ places are Joints. They tend to hold the silverware, one place doesn’t even have forks for their sides because they feel so strongly about no one eating their BBQ with a fork. The same place also had no BBQ sauce which I felt was respectful to the smoky flavor but seriously lacking when the meat was just a little too dry.

Kreuz Market

Texans also seem to have their sides as an afterthought. To me half of the wonder of going for BBQ are the sides. Tasty beans, creamy coleslaw, crunchy fries to dip in extra sauce these, to me, are a big part of the meal. In Texas the sides came up lacking. Little imagination was given and a serious lack of choices. The one exception was the Jalapeno-cheese bread at Goode Company in Houston.

Goode Co.

Moving into Louisiana I was curious what type of BBQ I would find. I hadn’t really put much thought into what “type” of BBQ Louisiana had until we hit the boarder. Much to our surprise when we got close to our destination in Lafayette, LA there is a new chain that we had heard of on the Travel Channel’s BBQ Paradise episode. It is called “The Shed” and is run by a family out of Mississippi. I cannot truly qualify this place as Louisiana BBQ since the owners are from Mississippi but the BBQ was as I grew up with. Sweet tangy sauce, pork and brisket slow roasted for hours. The surprise of the meal were the “Chicken Wangs” no that isn’t a typo. They take typical chicken wings and smoke them for hours then add a splash of sauce just before they hit the table. They were fall off the bone delicious. The thing that really struck me were the sides though. The meats were all good and plenty but the sides were the show stoppers. Where Texans throw a few sides together this place languishes over them. We ordered the beans, coleslaw and Mama Mia’s Mac Salad.

The Shed BBQ

The winner was the Mac Salad. Macaroni salad can be done very very wrong. You can over cook the noodles, use the wrong type of noodles (so the sauce just runs off in the bottom of the bowl), you can over sauce them so you don’t taste anything but mayo (gack). This salad was fabulous. The choice of the shell noodles was perfect and they were cooked with just a touch of a bit. The sauce was perfect as well, perfectly flavored and not overwhelming, also not runny. Little bits of celery to add a touch of flavor and that little crunch. So good.

It really made me realize how I have a set thought of how I eat BBQ. I still enjoy other types but to my brain it’s not quite “Leslie-style BBQ”. It’s funny how we get things set in our minds that they are supposed to be a certain way. I am hoping to continue my culinary exploration of BBQ and how different it is in so many areas.

I am also learning the history of BBQ from different areas. Whether it was Native Americans smoking game and fish on their “barbacoa”, to slaves smoking up the cast off ribs of a pig in Georgia or German butchers slow smoking meat in the back room of their meat markets in Texas. These people are the reason we have good BBQ. I am part Native American and proud of that legacy, my family line has both Creek and Cherokee both of which have been confirmed as some of the first people to smoke meats. I guess it runs in my blood to enjoy it. Long live those with the patience to slow smoke meat.

Space the Final Frontier

These are the voyages of the RV Serenity – to go boldly across the country taking us to new sights where man has gone before.

Yesterday we drove from San Antonio to League City, a suburb of Houston. Today we visited Space Center Houston – the official visitor’s center of the Johnson Space Center. The center has a number of exhibits and movies that immerse the visitor in the history of the space program.  At the center we had a mission briefing on the current space station mission and the upcoming shuttle launch scheduled for February 24th. We watched a number of informative movies and toured the various exhibits that included the Command Module from Apollo 17.

Apollo 17 Command Module

We also got to touch a moon rock.

Moon Rock at Space Center Houston

As far I am concerned the highlight of my time there was tram tour into the Johnson Space Center. The first stop of the tour was the historic Mission Control room. This Mission Control room monitored the Gemini 9 mission, all the Apollo missions, the Apollo-Soyuz mission, and the shuttle missions until 1996.  A few observations on the room – it was smaller than I thought it would be, the flag on the right side of the room was on the moon twice (on Apollo 11 and 17), and there are no keyboards or mice in the room the monitor are display only. Also note the rotary phone dial on the console in the second picture.

Mission Control

Mission Control Console

They really did amazing things with computers old mainframes with only one Meg of main memory and slide rules.

After our time in Mission Control we got a tour thru Mock-up building. This building has mock-ups of the various modules of the International Space station, the robotic arm, and the Space Shuttle. This room is used by the astronauts to train in before the go into space.

Johnson Space Center Mock-up Buliding

The last stop was at the Rocket Park. Here they had an Atlas (used for Mercury), Titan II(used for Gemini) and Saturn V(used for Apollo) rockets. The Saturn V was actually the launch vehicle that would have taken Apollo 18 into space had NASA not lost the funding for the mission.

Saturn V Rocket

 Tomorrow Serenity and her crew of 2 will continue their mission and head east in search of other interesting places.

LBJ Ranch

Yesterday we drove an hour north of San Antonio to Stonewall, Texas. The LBJ State Park and National Historic Site is located in Stonewall.  The state park is a large complex that includes tennis courts, an Olympic size swimming pool, many picnic areas, and the Saur-Beckmann Living History Farm in addition to the LBJ National Historic site which is located on the LBJ Ranch.

In order to enter the LBJ National Historic site you need to stop and obtain a permit. The National Park service has done a great job in creating a CD that they lend that give directions thru the site along with a lot of information about the various sights you see along the path.

The first stop was outside of the actual historic site at the Saur-Beckmann Living History Farm. The Farm recreates farm life in the Texas Hill Country in the early 20th century.  It was interesting viewing the area and hearing the people talk about their life. They do a lot of demonstrations although I am glad we did not go a day earlier when they butchered a cow.  

We then traveled into the LBJ National Historic site. The first stop was at the Junction School house which is a one-room school house where LBJ started his formal education when he was 4 (yes 4). It was in front of this one-room school where President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with his first teacher sitting at his side.

The next stop along the way was LBJ’s birthplace and the Johnson family cemetery.  President Johnson and Lady Bird are buried there along with a number of other members of the Johnson family. We stood outside of the fence of the private cemetery wondering which grave belonged to LBJ and then we saw the one with the Presidential Seal.

LBJ Grave

We then took a drive thru the ranch to get to the Ranch House. The ranch is still a working ranch that has antelope, sheep and Hereford cattle that are descendants of the President’s registered herd. The cattle appear use to the traffic.

LBJ Hereford Cattle

We then arrived at the Hanger and Ranch House which became the Texas White House during LBJ’s time as President. Outside is a Lockheed JetStar that LBJ used when he went to the Ranch. The Boeing 707 would land in Austin and then LBJ and his party would board the JetStar for the trip to the Ranch. LBJ referred the JetStar as Air Force One-half. 

Air Force One-half

We took a 20-minute tour thru the house (unfortunately they do not allow pictures inside the building). Stepping into the house was like stepping back into the 1960’s. The first stop in the house was the office area complete with LBJ’s desk and rotary dial phones.

LBJ Texas White House

Outside the Texas White House there are a number of concrete tiles that are signed by a wide variety of people. According to a plaque a traditional guest register was not the way that LBJ did things. The Johnsons used “Friendship Stones” to commemorate visits of dignitaries and friends. Visitors etched their autographs and date in 12 inch blocks of wet concrete. There were friendship blocks signed by all kinds of famous people including politicians, astronauts, actors, military leaders, etc.  Here is one that really caught my eye.  

LBJ Friendship Stone

There was an embroidered pillow in LBJ’s office that said ‘This is my ranch and I do as I damn please.’  I guess that sums up our 36th President. He did as he pleased and although there are people that do not agree with all he did – he did a lot of good for education, national parks and race relations.