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After returning to the hotel after our day of exploring the region, we agreed on a restaurant for dinner, based on recommendations from our tour guide and from the hotel staff. We had a little time before the restaurant opened, so we went up to our room to relax for a bit, and met everyone in the lobby when it was time to walk to dinner.

The restaurant we had chosen had both a prix fixe menu and a la carte pricing. I opted for an a la carte pasta dish that was absolutely delicious. The restaurant was mostly empty when we arrived, since we were there almost as soon as they opened, but by the time we finished our meal, it was crowded, and the bar area had gotten quite noisy. After a leisurely dinner, accompanied by a couple of bottles of wine, we headed back out into the streets.

One of the sights I wanted to see in Avignon was the famous Pont d'Avignon, the remains of a medieval bridge that once spanned the Rhone. I had seen photos of it at night and knew that it was spectacularly lit, so my wife and I set out around the city wall and along the river to the bridge. And we weren't disappointed. Not only was the bridge absolutely stunning in the lights, but the river was mirror smooth and we were, quite literally, the only people out there. I spent twenty minutes or so taking photos of the bridge from various angles, trying to get a perfect photo. But the best of the bunch turned out to be the last one, taken almost as an afterthought as we were about to walk away. I simply turned back to the bridge, framed the view, and snapped the shot.

We then strolled back along the river and around the city wall, back to our hotel for the night.
Any time we drive through North Carolina on I-95, it seems we are compelled to pull off the highway in Wilson.  My late mother-in-law is to blame for this mandatory detour.  When she was a teenager, she used to visit an aunt and uncle who lived in Wilson, and they would treat her to dinner out at a local barbecue restaurant.  She liked Parker's so much that for the rest of her life, she made a point of stopping there anytime she came down this way.  So naturally, my wife also developed a taste for the place, and I'll admit to also being hooked.

Parker's was founded in 1946, and it doesn't appear that the interior design hasn't changed in the intervening 70 years.  The waiters (and they are all men) wear khaki pants, white shirts, white aprons, and paper hats.  Walking in the door feels a bit like a trip back in time.  But what the establishment lacks in ambiance, it *more* than makes up for in the quality of the food.  Know for their minced pork barbecue and their fried chicken, I usually order their barbecue dinner, which includes a generous helping of their barbecue, their unique coleslaw (with its unique yellow dressing), cornbread sticks and hush puppies, along with your choice of Brunswick stew or green beans, and boiled potato or french fries.  All that for less than seven dollars.  I can't think of anywhere else that I've ever been that provided such a complete meal at such a bargain price.

Before we left, we ordered a pound of barbecue pork to go, to give to a friend of my wife's that we are visiting.  We'll have to stop again on the way home, to pick up some barbecue for our daughter (she specifically requested some).  I'm thinking I should try the fried chicken on the way home, just to see if it is as good as it is reported to be.

For anyone traveling through North Carolina on I-95, I highly recommend making a stop in Wilson.  While Parker's is a bit off the highway (about 6 miles), it is well worth the effort.  Just be sure to bring cash...they don't accept credit or debit cards, and only accept local checks.

I recently finished reading “Strangers Have the Best Candy”, written by a friend I’ve known for more than twenty years.  The book is a fun and thoughtful memoir of her encounters with strangers during her semi-nomadic life traveling the length and breadth of the US and Canada.  She make a powerful case for the value we can derive from such interactions, the unexpected worldviews we can discover, as well as the sheer fun that can arise from such random meetings.  At the end of the book, she invites the readers to share the stories of their encounters with strangers.

*Lots* more behind the cut! )

This post started out as a reply to a post by [ profile] martisman with a link to recipes from the 1950's, but got so long, I thought it would be better as a post in its own right.

It is interesting to explore how the tastes of a culture can change over time. I think the Americans have (as a whole) become much more adventurous and sophisticated in their food preferences in the last several decades. The number of different types of ethnic foods that are readily available both in restaurants and in the grocery stores is mind boggling, and these choices aren't limited to ethnic population centers. You can find a surprising diversity of food choices available in almost any community anywhere (though the quality can vary rather dramatically in some out-of-the-way places).

I got a reminder of just how simple and bland American tastes used to be a couple of years ago, when my wife bought a set of old Southern Living cookbooks at a yard sale. These books were from the late 60's or early 70's, and most of the recipes were very simple and didn't include a great number of "exotic" ingredients (or even much in the way of strong seasonings, either). There are some recipes for classic dishes, but by and large, I find myself drawn to more recent cookbooks with recipes built around stronger flavors.

However, when I do use recipes from these older cookbooks, I've learned to make some modifications. Americans apparently used to eat a LOT of salt. I automatically reduce the salt in any recipe I use from these books by at least half, often by much more. Otherwise, the food is far to salty. I would much rather flavor my food with pepper, garlic, or herbs...I rarely add much salt when I'm cooking.

Not everyone has developed more diversified tastes. I have some cousins who won't go near Chinese (or probably any other Asian) food, and consider Italian cooking to be exotic. One of my co-workers has similar attitudes about his food. However, the majority of the people I know routinely include Chinese, Thai, Indian and Hispanic foods in their diets, and wouldn't consider any of them particularly exotic.

Of course, now that I've been sitting here thinking and writing about food, I find myself hungry, so I think I'll have to go find a snack. Anybody got any Wasabi peas?
Not only is Charleston very easy on the eyes, it is a town with great tastes. I've eaten a lot of good food in many place, but I honestly can't remember any place that served such consistently wonderful food. I didn't eat a bad meal all weekend. While the company at my meals was delightful, I would be remiss if I ignored the food.

Friday might be my favorite day, food-wise. My lunch included a bowl of she-crab soup. This rich cream based soup was full of lump crab meat and had just a hint of sherry. Absolutely divine. Then for dinner, I joined a group at the Fleet Landing restaurant, where we decided to create our own buffet from a selection of appetizers. The star of the evening was the stuffed hush puppies. Imagine hush puppies the size of your fist, hollowed out and filled with a wonderful stew of shrimp and lobster! Mmmmmm.... We also had some of the best calamari I've ever eaten, a crab dip that was just spicy enough to make it interesting and a sinful spinach and artichoke dip.

Other meals were equally wonderful. I had the shrimp and crab cakes at the hotel restaurant for dinner Saturday night, and Sunday evening's dinner was a delicious Pad Thai (which shows that Charleston can do more than just low country cooking!). Perhaps the only bad dining choice of the weekend was my dessert choice Saturday evening. I believe that the monster piece of chocolate cake I bought during the Trivia Night festivities at the Rising High Bakery Cafe has already become legend among those who were there. I was delicious, but it was simply too much. On the other hand, the sugar from that cake probably sustained me through the rest of the weekend.

So, for anyone thinking about visiting Charleston, not only is it a truly beautiful city, but it is also full of great places to eat. And as many people were saying last weekend, "This is Charleston...the money isn't real and the calories don't count!"


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