Unravel My Life- A Travel Blog

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Southern Sweet Tea

FIND YOU SOME SWEET TEA

Our Sweet Tea is serious business around here. We take pride in the way the tea is brewed, our tea to water ratio and most importantly our sugar to tea ratio. Preparation is important too. There just isn’t any other place on planet earth that does sweet tea like the Southern United States. Want to know the secret? First, you brew the strongest black tea brew you’ve ever brewed. You can brew on the stovetop or do it like a true southener and set your water outside in the sun. It is so hot in the south we brew our tea in the sun, yes this is true. While the concentrate is still piping hot you add your granulated white sugar cane… then you add a little more… then a bit more… and when you’ve finally added more than you think any human could stand, add one more cup. Stir the sugar into the hot concentrate until it melts into a thick syrupy sugary heavenly liquid. Grab your pitcher and fill it with ice to the top. Pour the hot sugary tea concentrate over the top of the ice. stir. Add cold water until the pitcher is full. Stir one more time. Serve over ice in an extra-large cup with a lemon garnish. Enjoy!

Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

GRAB A GRANDMA AND ASK FOR SOME BEANS & CORNBREAD

Guarantee she will have some on the stovetop that has been cooking for days. “Beans and cornbread” is a staple meal for any southern home. The way we do it is plain and simple. The beans get “warshed” (washed) and thrown into a deep pot with water filled up about 3/4 full (most southeners use pinto beans.) Salt heavily, add a pound of uncooked bacon chopped into little pieces and walk away for a couple of days, stirring occasionally. When it comes to the cornbread there is an art to making it southern cornbread. You get you some “jiffy cornbread mix” in the blue and white boxes. You’ll also need some local honey and some good ol’ vegetable oil. Prepare the cornbread according to the instructions on the box. Add a 2 Tablespoons of honey and 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil. Cook according to instructions but make sure to use a cast iron pan. When you take the cornbread out immediately slice a deep slit on the top of each muffin and stick some butter inside, like a tablespoon per muffin. Serve cornbread with a bowl of beans, make sure to get some of the bean juice in the bowl, you’ll need it to dip your cornbread in!

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

MACARONI & CHEESE- GO DEEP IN THE SOUTH & STOP AT ANY FAMILY OWNED RESTAURANT

All it takes to find some southern style homemade macaroni and cheese is a road trip into the deep south. Bring some cash because most likely the kind of restaurant that serves the right kind of mac & cheese won’t take credit cards. You’ll need to jump on the closest interstate until you’re about 30 miles outside of town (doesn’t matter which town or which interstate, any of em’ will do.) right about 30 miles outside of town take the first Farm Road you see. Drive for another 20-30 minutes, feel free to veer off on any additional FM’s that appear. You’ll eventually find yourself in what seems to be barely a town -this is when you start looking for any restaurant that has a mama’s name and ends with Homestyle cookin’ ” -and if any of it is spelled correctly keep driving. When you’ve found your new southern family, walk on in and ask for mama’s famous macaroni and cheese. They’ll offer you a protein with it and some fresh rolls, say yes to whatever they offer (don’t forget the sweet tea neither!) Good luck getting back because if you did it right you’ll be lost, which is fine because mama’s homestyle macaroni and cheese is worth moving for.

GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CAJUN ROOTS & ATTEND A CRAWFISH BOIL

This is an essential piece of a true Southern experience. You can’t visit the south without dipping your toes into our cajun subculture. There is an art to being invited to one of these hoopla’s… you gotta pick the right time of year and make friends with the right kind of people. This shouldn’t be hard because I’m going to tell you exactly what to do! Southern people are a friendly folk but cajun’s take friendliness to an entirely different level. You’ll know you’ve come across the right kind of people because you’ll barely be able to understand them, you may even think they are speaking a different language. The dialect should sound heavy southern with a hint of Irish. You’ll find most real blooded cajun’s living around Louisianna, so start there. Go during peak crawfish (or crayfish as some might say) season which is early March through mid-June. Now that you know how to spot em’, find you a large group of Cajuns, buy them a round of drinks and invite yourself to their next crawfish boil (inviting yourself is not rude, in fact, if they are talking about it, which they will be, and you don’t invite yourself you’ll come across as snooty or too proper!) Enjoy them crawfish & don’t forget to suck ALL that good juice out of the crawfish head, it’s offensive not to do so!

BBQ- THAT IS ALL.

To say BBQ in the south is religious is an understatement. You absolutely cannot travel to the south without tasting BBQ. The definition is unclear as to what BBQ is because it is different for each family in the south. Every single family has a slightly different recipe. Some use a dry rub, others like all-of-the sauce slathered all over the meat. There are even different cooking methods. Basically what I’m saying is you’ll have to set aside one meal per day to try every different BBQ you possibly can try. Talk to locals, they know where the best BBQ is located. Chain BBQ should be avoided, support local family BBQ stands, food trucks, and restaurants. If you’re shy or don’t feel like talking to people just follow the person in the cowboy hat, they will take you to where you need to go. Get ready for the best damn meat you’ve ever had & don’t forget your side of tator salad & beans with a garnish of pickles & onions (oh, and a plain slice of white bread untoasted, you’ll need this to sop up the drippins’ and bean juice!) Start looking at real estate, you’ll be moving to the south soon.

MOOOO-VE OVER & ENJOY YOUR SHARE OF BLUE BELL ICE CREAM

Blue Bell is the ONLY ice cream. Yes, there are different brands in the freezer section at the local grocery store, but don’t buy those because they are certainly old and have been gathering dust. Blue Bell is Texas made true southern churned ice cream with a flavor that is unmatched. Blue Bell is to Southerners as Gelato is to Italians, it’s the only way. If you want the full experience you’ll need to mosey on out to the Blue Bell headquarters in Brenham, Texas. They have an old fashioned ice cream parlor and an observation deck located on the premises (& if you’re lucky they might just show you around a little as long as you promise not to give away any secrets!) Blue Bell is about making memories and experiencing what the south holds as a baseline for quality standards of life. Don’t miss this.

TEX-MEX, OUR TEXICAN HERITAGE.

Texas takes up a lot of space in the south and its history is diverse, to say the least. Texas hasn’t always been Texas. In fact, Texas was Mexico for longer than you might think. The Mexican influence in Texas is undeniable and dear to the hearts of true Texans. Hispanic culture plays a large role in the lives of those born & raised in Texas. Many Texans even identify as Texican still to this day, myself being one of those people. When it comes to food, the Texican way is something called Tex-Mex. This fusion of Anglo-Mexican recipes is a staple part of every Texan diet. If you’re not having enchiladas with chili gravy at least once a week are you even a Texan? The tacos, the enchiladas, the rice & beans… it’s all here and it’s better than anything you’ve ever tasted. You think you know Mexican food? You have no idea. Tex-Mex is easy to come by and honestly, as long as you avoid chain restaurants claiming Tex-Mex, you literally cannot go wrong with where you choose to eat. I prefer Fort Worth’s Tex-Mex, specifically Los Vaqueros, La Playa Maya or Esperanzas. Find one of these places, no need to look at the menu just order the “Combination Dinner.” Every single one of these places has a combination section of the menu and the “dinner” selection is the one that will have one of everything. Get this and try it all. I hope you like leftovers because you’ll need to ask for a “doggy bag.” Don’t worry, your fridge won’t smell like leftover food because as soon as you get home, you’ll break into your doggy bag and finish off the rest. Nom Nom.

Picture of my famous chicken friend chicken (I use chicken instead of steak, don’t worry that’s okay too)

WELL SLAP MY MAMA & FRY ME SOME STEAK- SOUTHERN CHICKEN FRIED STEAK

Ya’ll, chicken fried steak is THE comfort food of the South (to be paired with the macaroni & cheese and beans talked about earlier.) When great-grandma comes over for a visit start hoping you are there. Chicken fried steak is a recipe passed down from generation to generation and whomever the eldest in the home is by the time dinner rolls around, they’ll be the one cooking. You can help by setting the dinner table. Many homestyle restaurants have brought their family recipes to the table as well. It’s always better at home but if you haven’t found your “Southern second family” yet, you’ll have to settle for a family restaurant. I recommend a small place in the city of Weatherford, Texas called R&K Cafe (the original location right off Hwy 180.) They absolutely have the best chicken fried steak and I will argue with you so don’t even. The wait staff is true to the Texan way which means you’ll be treated like family, arguing and all. R&K Cafe is about the experience and the recipes. This is not fine dining, this is REAL dining. It’s a CASH ONLY place, they have an ATM inside in case you’ve lost your marbles and think your gonna pay with a credit card. You can thank me later, for now, start booking a flight to DFW and get your tail out to R&K Cafe.

My homemade green bean casserole on Thanksgiving day

THANKSGIVING & GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

For this one, you’ll need to have that Southern family established because you’ll need to be invited to Thanksgiving (or even Christmas if you’re just that good.) Green Bean Casserole is served during the holiday season and it is my personal favorite. I remember one year my mom attempted to change the recipe and I lost it, almost ruined Thanksgiving because you just DON’T mess with Green Bean Casserole. This is how it’s done- You buy the French’s Brand French Fried Onions and then you follow the recipe exactly. I use French-style green beans, but I guess any cut will do (although I’ll be passing judgment if it’s not french style.) The history of Green Bean Casserole runs deep in the blood of those that lived during the ’50s when this dish was invented by Dorcas Reilly. Dorcus was educated and knew a lot about the economy at that time. She wanted to create a dish that was filling but also used ingredients many households had lying around. This recipe was created out of love and I believe you will fall in love as well. I hope you’ve found your Southern family because you need green bean casserole in your life, I promise.

GOBBLE UP SOME PEACH COBBLER & GRAB SOME WHOLE PEACHES TOO.

This is the last thing you’ll need to try during your travels in the South because you’ll need to take some home. Peaches grow well in the hot climate of the Southern United States. Most states hold annual peach festivals during harvest season which is summertime. If you can attend one of these festivals, this is the ideal place to try peach cobbler. Every restaurant in town will be serving this dessert. If you miss harvest season, you can find peach cobbler at most family-style/homestyle restaurants outside of town. Big cities have lost their southern touch for the most part, although some areas are getting back to their southern roots. These places will always sell you the entire cobbler if you choose. Every kitchen in the south (at these family-owned restaurants) has a real grandma preparing cobblers in the back, it’s just a fact of life for southerners that you’ll be sharing your cobblers till the day you die. If you are in town during harvest season buy yourself a flat of peaches too, you can even ask most growers to cut or core them (so you can freeze them.) Shipping is also an option, whichever method you choose just make sure you get some peaches and don’t forget to gobble up that cobbler while you can!

Until next time,

Ciao!

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