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This Week on the Road - March 28th-April 4th

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This Week on the Road - March 28th-April 4th

Hello everyone, and thank you for stopping by. The flowers are coming in nicely here in East Louisana, but the weather has cooled off significantly as well. I’ve been enjoying the little cold snap though, and sleeping really well cozy-ed up in the back of my van. I had an interesting stop in Alexandria this week, a town which has definitely seen better days, but which isn’t dead yet. From there I headed back into Cajun Country for the weekend, enjoying great food, drink, music and company. I stopped off in Lafayette to get some work done and have cruised across the north of the eastern panhandle to the North Shore where I am writing to you from today. It’s been a fun week as I start to make my preparations for my departure from Louisiana. It’s always sad to go, but it’s almost time I moved on. HERE is the link to this week’s map if you like to follow along as I go.

When I left you last week, I made my way south along the Mississippi River levee, and found the river is really high. It was definitely higher than the road in a lot of places, and while the levee was doing what it was built to do, it’s still a little bit nerve racking to be driving below the water line. I stopped in a few places to just look out at the river as it flowed past. I made the turn northwest when I hit Louisiana Route 1 and headed on to Mansura for a stop at Juneau’s Cajun Meat Market. This is a spot recommended by a friend as having the best boudin (Cajun pork and rice sausage) in Louisiana, so I had to stop in and give it a go. This was a real butcher shop with all kinds of beautiful fresh meat on display - if I had a proper refrigerator I would have probably spent a fortune there. Unfortunately, I don’t, so I settled for some boudin, a fried boudin ball, and a boudin and pepperjack cheese wrap. All three were amazing and while they didn’t help my cholesterol, they were well worth the stop.

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Snapshots: Eunice Crawfish Etouffee Cook-Off

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Snapshots: Eunice Crawfish Etouffee Cook-Off

Eunice, Louisiana. The day was cold and grey which wasn’t great weather for a festival, but turned out to be perfect etouffee weather. For those who have never had it (or heard of it), etouffee is a type of stew or maybe a serious gravy served over rice in Louisiana. It is one of those dishes which can vary greatly from one pot to the next, depending on the whims and style of the cook. It was great to be able to try so many different varieties of etouffee at the cook-off. Over 40 teams competed in this year’s world championship, coming from near and far to test their recipe against the very best. In addition to etouffee, there were, of course, boiled crawfish, and a variety of delicious sweets to choose from too. Live Cajun music came from the stage and people danced and drank and ate their fill. The locals from Eunice were all very welcoming to those of us from out of town which added to the community feel of the event. In my opinion, it was the local fire brigade which served up the best bowl of etouffee, but to be fair I could only eat about six different samples before throwing in the towel. Although it was a chilly, windy day in Cajun Country, I left feeling warm and satisfied - both in my belly and in my soul. I hope you enjoy these photos from the World Championship Crawfish Etouffee Cook-Off in Eunice, Louisiana.

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Snapshots: Battle of the Gumbo Gladiators

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Snapshots: Battle of the Gumbo Gladiators

This past weekend I really enjoyed attending the Battle of the Gumbo Gladiators cook-off while I was in Shreveport. The festival, which was held downtown at Festival Plaza, featured over 40 teams vying for the title of Ultimate Gumbo Gladiator. Each team had to prepare at least 8 gallons of gumbo on-site and they were required to make their roux from scratch. There were four categories to compete in: Seafood, Chicken and Sausage, Lagniappe (any gumbo not falling into the other two categories), and the People’s Choice gumbo which received the most votes from the attendees. This event was really fun and well organized and I certainly got my fill of great gumbo while I was there. I was sorry I only got to try about 20% of the different gumbos, but there is only so much you can eat. This event went to benefit the Volunteers for Youth Justice which helps young people in crisis. It’s always a real pleasure to attend these local events as I travel, and this was a particularly good one. Thank you, Shreveport, for your hospitality and for some amazing gumbo. I hope you enjoy these photos of the Gumbo Gladiators…

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This Week on the Road - March 15th-21st

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This Week on the Road - March 15th-21st

Happy Spring from Natchitoches, Louisiana. I’m writing this on the 20th, so it is officially spring, and it feels like it here in the South. Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and with the longer days, it is a great time to be outside. I’ve been trying to make some headway this week, traveling to the far southwest of Louisiana and then up the west side of the state. It’s been a great week of beaches, plantations and really cool small towns. I’ve had some great Creole food and met some wonderful people. It has been another amazing week on the road in America.

After I wrote last week’s post, I had a quiet night in New Iberia, but ventured downtown in the morning to see what I could see. I was really glad I did. The downtown area is in the midst of a comeback with many of the storefronts occupied and it had a great vibe to it. It’s a cute little area, and I hope they keep working on bringing it back. I started my day with a visit to the wonderful Bayou Teche Museum right in the heart of downtown. The museum focused on the bayou which runs through the middle of New Iberia and connects points further north to the Atchfalaya River. It was a major thoroughfare in early Louisiana and was the impetus for the settlement of the area. At this point, I’ve been in a lot of small town museums, and this one was particularly well done. There were enough artifacts to be thorough but not cluttered, and enough interactivity to keep from being boring. I really enjoyed learning more about the rural jazz of the region and the ride down the “elevator” into the salt mine made me smile. There was an excellent film on the history of the region as well. The ladies working there were wonderful and happy to talk about their town…

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This Week on the Road - February 21st-28th

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This Week on the Road - February 21st-28th

It’s been a pretty local but wonderful week here in Louisiana. My folks were here most of the week, so we’ve been out exploring together. It was wonderful to spend some time with them, but they sure did wear me out! While most of our time was spent in New Orleans, we did get out into Acadiana (Cajun Country) for two great nights as well.

It is always great to be back in New Orleans. I lived here for two full years from 2007-2009, trying to help the city recover from Hurricane Katrina. I taught 8th Grade math at Francis Gregory Elementary School in one of the most challenging but rewarding chapters of my life. I made some really good friends and forged a lifelong bond with the Crescent City. The culture, music, people and food get inside of you, and I always feel drawn back here.

While my folks were in town, I stayed at my friend Walker’s house. Walker is a New Orleans native, and started teaching when I did back in 2007. He’s changed schools a couple of times, but is still teaching here. Back when I lived in New Orleans, we both lived in the French Quarter, and got to hang out a lot together. He often invited me along to events I would have never known about on my own, so I am very grateful to him for helping me navigate the city during my time here. It’s always great to see him and catch up on all the New Orleans gossip and get a first-hand account of what he school system is up to. I was really busy with my folks, so we didn’t get to hang out a lot, but it was definitely good to see him.

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The Best of the Florida Keys

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The Best of the Florida Keys

I had an amazing week in the Florida Keys, exploring the parks, pubs and restaurants that make the Keys so great. I’ve been coming to the Keys since I was in high school and they’ve always held a special place in my heart. They’re America, but not. The Keys are like a little slice of the Caribbean, right over the bridge. While last week I wrote up my ultimate Keys Pub Crawl (which you can read HERE), some people have been asking for more ideas and suggestions on the Keys. So I thought I would jot down some of my favorites to help you navigate through the islands and find some really top spots along the way.

Beaches

Many people are surprised to find out there aren’t many great beaches in the Keys. The islands are generally surrounded by mangroves so the sand beaches are mostly man-made. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great beaches along the strand, but you do need to know where to find them…

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Robert Is Here

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Robert Is Here

Robert Moehling began his fruit empire when he was just six years old. His father had some cucumbers he wanted to sell, so he sent Robert out to sit on the corner in front of a coffee table loaded with cucumbers and sell them to passers-by. On that first day, he didn’t sell a single one. The next day his father sent him back to try again, but this time he placed a big sign on either side of the table proclaiming in big red letters that “Robert Is Here”. He sold out by noon. A neighboring farmer had seen Robert selling cucumbers and wondered if he would sell some of his tomatoes as well. The business took off and hasn’t slowed down since. Robert’s mother arranged for the school bus to pick him up and drop him off at his fruit stand, and soon he had someone else working for him while he was at school. When Robert was 14, he used his earnings to buy a ten-acre property and planted an avocado grove on it. Robert is Here Fruit Stand has continued to grow ever since and is has become an iconic road-side Florida stop.

This isn’t any old fruit stand though. Robert Is Here specializes in local and exotic fruit, so while you can buy apples and oranges, you can also buy Guanabana and Passion Fruit. Not only that, but Robert and his crew will be happy to answer any and all questions you may have about the fruit they sell, and they’ll even wash it and cut it up for you so that it’s ready to eat. The true highlight of a visit to Robert Is Here, though, is a fresh fruit milkshake prepared with your favorite exotic fruit while you shop. You can even take it out back and enjoy it while you look at the goats, chickens and tortoises wandering around back there…

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The Colonel In Kentucky

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The Colonel In Kentucky

Harland David Sanders, one of Kentucky’s most beloved and well known celebrities was actually not from Kentucky at all. He was born September 9th, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana. His father died when he was just 5 years old, and when his mother took a job at a tomato factory, Harland was left to watch his two younger siblings.

watch his two younger siblings.

He dropped out of school in the 7th Grade, and went to work as a farmhand. Leaving home at 13, Harland had many jobs over the years from a carriage painter to a streetcar conductor. He joined the army when he was just 16, and worked as a teamster in Cuba. He was honorably discharged before his 18th birthday, and went to live with his uncle in Alabama. He worked for the railroad for many years, and studied law at night through a correspondence course. He graduated and would practice law in Little Rock for several year…

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Country Stores Hanging Tough in Henderson County

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Country Stores Hanging Tough in Henderson County

While for years people have discussed how the proliferation of Walmart across the country has contributed to the downfall of many towns’ historic downtown shopping districts, most people may not know that the same thing is happening in deeply rural parts of the country as well. As the number of Family Dollars and Dollar Generals has grown, the number of small country stores has rapidly declined. While these big chain stores can carry more items at lower prices and can be incredibly important in rural “food deserts”, they don’t have the same personality as independent stores. You certainly won’t get the same level of service from an hourly employee as you will from an owner/operator. I was very happy when the Marketing Director of Henderson County’s tourism department contacted me with a list of the six independent shops which were hanging on in Henderson County. I took a day to visit these six stores and meet the people who were running them and try and get a feel for how they are making a go of it. It was a great day in the American heartland. These places were sometimes hard to find, and some didn’t even have a sign out front at all. They were definitely catering to the locals more than the casual passers by, but all welcomed me in warmly with true Kentucky country hospitality. Henderson County’s country stores may not have had a lot on their shelves, but they were wonderful places with a lot of heart. While trying to capture the soul of these places on film was somewhat of a challenge, it was one I embraced. This is what I hoped to find as I traveled the country. These places are the very definition of the word “local”…

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Mutton is What's Cooking in Owensboro

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Mutton is What's Cooking in Owensboro

Moonlite Bar-B-Cue is an institution in Owensboro, and in Kentucky for that matter. Family run from the time it opened in the 1940s, Moonlite is currently run by the third generation of the Bosley Family. Their grandfather, Hugh “Pappy” Bosley and his wife Catherine bought the small 30 seat restaurant in 1963, and there’s been a Bosley there running the place ever since. Today, the restaurant seats 350 people and they have a catering business which can serve up to 15,000. 350,000 people eat at Moonlite each year, and they have even had a few celebrities pop in over the years. William Shatner, Reba McIntyre, Kevin Costner, Bill Clinton and Al Gore have all eaten at Moonlite Bar-B-Q. Quite frankly, anywhere that has served both Shatner and Clinton must have good food.

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Second Chances and a Hot Chicken Takeover

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Second Chances and a Hot Chicken Takeover

Through years of volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, Joe DeLoss had come to understand how difficult it often was for people who had been incarcerated or experienced homelessness to get back on their feet. Often all they needed was someone to give them an opportunity. When Joe started selling chicken from a pop-up location in 2014, he decided that a part of his business model would be to give people that second chance.. DeLoss now has three brick and mortar locations for his thriving restaurant Hot Chicken Takeover, and his mission to help people in need has continued to grow. 

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The Little Hamburger Wagon That Could

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The Little Hamburger Wagon That Could

In March of 1913, massive rainstorms over Easter weekend caused the Miami River to swell and break through the levees built to contain it. Water rushed through downtown Dayton reaching depths of 20 feet. The flood would do $100 million in damage, destroy 20,000 homes and take 360 lives. Miamisburg was devastated with much of the city underwater. 

Relief efforts arrived with the Red Cross setting up tent cities to provide shelter to the displaced population. Miamisburg resident Sherman "Cocky" Porter volunteered to try and help feed the people and the relief workers. Trying to feed hundreds of people a hot meal is no easy task, so Porter decided to cook up a huge batch of hamburgers and pass them out to the crowds. They were a hit…

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