We're home, we're unpacked, we've recovered from the turkey fest and life is nearly back to normal. Nearly.
My desk, however, still hasn't entirely recovered. I have a stack of business cards and wrappers and fliers I collected throughout the trip to help me remember some of the most outstanding surprise stops along the way because I wanted to share them here. With you. Sure, this would be best divided between various articles specific to location or attraction type, but for the sake of getting my desk back to work (and because the Internet is now infinitely searchable regardless of the logic of a given blog) here we go:
Maple, Cinnamon and Raisin Bread from Ellmore Mountain Bread - We picked up a loaf of this crusty bread while visiting another great stop, Butternut Mountain Farm's Country Store, in Johnson, VT. The store carries all things maple - candy, various syrups, cookies, jams. If it's made with maple, it's probably in this store. The bread was an impulse buy. It was in a basket by the cash register. We were there shortly before lunchtime. Once we returned to the car, we ripped off little tastes. No need for butter or jam or, well, ANYTHING else. While crusty on the outside like a good homemade loaf should be, the inside was soft, moist, not overly sweet, certainly scrumptious. We ended up tearing the whole thing apart with our bare hands. It was that good! My understanding is that both businesses may ship, and their selections are ideal gifts, if you're willing to spread the love.
Major kudos goes to The Floridian in St. Augustine, FL. Had they such a restaurant here, I'd likely break the family budget. The food here is not only fantastically delicious, but the menu is loaded with healthy options. I was nearly taken by the Zucchini Casserole (featuring, among other things, pepperjack and chevre cheese sauce, heirloom tomatoes and salsa), but settled with great satisfaction on the Southern Belle Salad (peaches, Sweetgrass Dairy bleu cheese, roasted sweet potatoes, toasted pecans over a bed of local lettuce all topped with their own lemon-basil vinaigrette and drizzled with Florida honey). Not only was the main menu wonderful, but there was a long list of daily specials, many of which were quite compelling, and the children's menu involved - GASP! - real food! There was not a single offering of the common staples among children's menus. I applaud The Floridian for finally feeding kids what they WILL eat, and enjoy, if only given the opportunity.
Lei's Linens in St. Augustine, FL featured beautiful cut embroidery table linens, doilies, place mats, table runners and table cloths. If I had a nice table on which to display this during special functions I would have purchased one. Hmmm...wait...these COVER the table. Good thing they have a site! I confess I also balked at the purchase because, particularly when I travel, I like to buy gifts by locals. I'm not really sure where these are made, and we were in a tourist area rife with mass-produced, foreign doodads that would remind me no more of Florida than of California, or China for that matter. Still, these are beautiful works and maybe I should've just gone for it.
Koffee Kup, 1407 13th St., St. Cloud, FL, was a special treat the morning we dropped Mr. B off at the airport. From Orlando, the girls and I were headed south via the back roads. We stopped for groceries in St. Cloud and were directed by the cashier to a local breakfast place. I'd failed to listen well enough to his driving directions, so in the parking lot I asked another local for details. He provided them, but as we turned to go our opposite directions he said, "You could do better, though." Well, THAT's what I wanted to know. He directed us to "Cup O' Joe." We drove up and down the one-mile drag, but only spotted Koffee Kup. MUST've been what he meant. It was still early Sunday morning, but the place was packed. For good reason! I'm not usually big on traditional breakfast food, but they served it up hot and fresh with some specials that even had me grinning.
How we happened upon Carolina Cider Co. near Yemassee, SC I can't really figure. It was just one of those roadside stops you make on a long trip. The stand offered pies, first of all, and free tastes, and cider. I think it was the pear cider that got my attention, and the pies that got the girls'. We swung in and were rewarded not only with our free tastes, but with a complete restocking of our trailer pantry with tasty local goodness. Sure, they have all your basic fruit jams and preserves, and some fruit butters, too. But there were other flavorful surprises, among them: Black Bean and Corn Salsa; Sweet Fire Bread & Butter Pickles with Peppers; Dilled Green Beans; Picked Watermelon Rind; and various temperatures of Chow Chow Relish. Definitely worth a stop if you're in the area, or a cruise through their online catalog.
We enjoyed our afternoon of making VERY unique "snowflakes" with Marion Nichols, a paper-cutting artist at City Museum in St. Louis, MO. I made a snowflake of adjoined octopi. E made one featuring mermaids. V's featured dragons. Mrs. Nichols has penned a few books on the subject, including patterns. We picked up a pair of the books and the girls have had fun with them here at home. Our snowflakes will never be the same! Thanks, Mrs. Nichols! Her books can be ordered via firstname.lastname@example.org or call City Museum at 314-231-2489 ext 127.
We were all but adopted by KT and Rusty of Windham Upholstery
Texas is, I'm told, FULL of fantastic barbecue spots. We found a few, and saw a few more along the way. The best we've ever had were those we found alongside the road in random spots, not widely advertised. It was the smell that drew us to both. I'm sorry to say I don't know where that first notable portable BBQ was back in 2008. My aunt and uncle and I found it on our way through the Texas panhandle. THIS year, however, I took notes! By far the best BBQ find on this trip was Joel's BBQ in Flatonia, TX. Now, I would LOVE to have stopped at more BBQ places along our route, but even with an unlimited budget, hitting them all would have been impossible. Joel's drew us in with its fabulous barbecue scent, and sent me away smiling with incredibly fast customer service and a perfect chopped beef sandwich. If you're headed across I-10, be sure to take exit 661, then turn north. You can't miss it.
And just about everything Oldtown Bay St. Louis, MO. This spot, just around the corner from Waveland, MO, is pure Americana at its best. Old-town feel, good eats, GREAT company! Sure, they get hurricanes and floods and the occasional Gulf oil spill. Yes, they get temps in the 90s with high humidity in summer, lows in the 40s with high humidity in the winter, and the bugs can be a nuisance. But the people. The PEOPLE here are so fantastic! Friendly, cordial to strangers, community oriented. I asked a couple of locals inside Sloppy Dogs Cafe why they've stayed even through all the bad news. Without a skipping a beat, one said, "Because we get to meet friendly people like you." Indeed, pick a spot to sit in any local establishment, sit back and watch. You'll see locals, long lost friends, and strangers greet each other cordially, even enthusiastically. Need coffee, hot breakfast, Internet connection or just a place to sit and watch? Try Mockingbird Cafe.
And, finally, a blog which we found useful after our FABULOUS shelling days on Sanibel Island, FL. Did you ever find seashells you just couldn't identify? Try iLoveShelling.com for a photographic encyclopedia of the shells that roll onto Florida's western shore (and other parts of the world).
If you have some off-the-beaten-path, locally owned favorites, please share them with us! We LOVE 'em!