Haibun: Travel Food

For my prompt at Real Toads – Picnic.


Travel Food
“The journey is part of the experience — an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca.” Anthony Bourdain

When I was a kid, I remember our trips up north to see our cousins in Montclair New Jersey. We always started out before the sun rose, in the cool dark of a summer’s day. My grandmother would have packed for us ham and sausage biscuits, fried chicken, and cole slaw. After a couple of hours of driving, we’d be ready to pull into a rest stop. The biscuits would be unpacked along with a thermos of coffee and several pint jars of iced water. Later in the day, we would stop at another rest stop and eat lunch. I remember those days of sitting around a cement table and benches, the family digging into cold fried chicken. There would always be a treat of a coke. I can still taste that friend chicken. Under the trees with people walking past, walking their dogs, other kids playing around. It would always consist of my mother and father, grandmother, and my mother’s two younger sisters – my aunts. It was always more casual and lighter than eating formally at the table in the dining room. Sliced tomatoes from the garden would be in their own container, exuding juice. I liked to dip the piece of chicken into the juice. I still do. At last we would arrive in Montclair, journey’s end.
riding up the highway
stopping along the way for lunch –
cold fried chicken is nectar

Mother’s Day, IPAC, and Fried Chicken

copyright kanzensakura

copyright kanzensakura

The picture is of my mother when she was 16. A summer Sunday afternoon, teaching the neighborhood kids how to catch and pitch a baseball. Aside from being a gorgeous teen, she was also a member of the city’s Women Baseball League. They travelled about the state and had four winning seasons in a row. She also recognized her daughter was not the usual kid and accepted it. Loved me, respected me, gave me a good whomp when I needed it, and never ever let me down. She taught me to be independent, reliable, with a good work ethic, to always be honest, to stand up for myself. Because I was all of 4’10”, I was frequently picked on by older bigger kids. My father and grandfather taught me to box. My mother taught me to fight dirty when it was necessary – and only when it was necessary.

One day, when I was 20, I was invited to read my poetry at a tri-city poetry event (not the tri-wizard tournament but a big deal never the less). I was in my room scribbling, scratching out, full of anxiety. My mama walked in ans asked what was the big deal. I told her I wanted to be good enough, to sound smart enough, to write rambling rants ad sound deep, for everybody to like what I had written. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “first of all, you were invited. You are not a party crasher. And secondly, ‘everybody’ doesn’t matter. What matters is how you feel about the poem, that you feel that what you wrote can touch someone else, that you know in your heart that you like what you wrote and did your best.” That’s my mama. “To thine own self, be true.”

Now, time machine forward, last week, the International Particle Accelerator Conference (IPAC) met here in town. A HUGE deal. I wanted to go, at least, just go there and see if I could see a few of the 1,200 attendees, some of the smartest people on this earth. Because of how my mother had taught me about working hard and being respectful to everyone, I knew there were a couple of people I could contact and get in for an hour or two as a guest. Considering past IPACs have been held in places like Kyoto, Paris, London, NYC, truly, it was a coup. Our General Assembly voted to give money to it, the Associate Director of the Jefferson National Accelerator Facility at the Jefferson Lab in Newport News worked hard for it.

Before I retired, was responsible for licensing the Professional Engineers in my state. Before it went to the Board for final approval, the application for licensure had to go through me – plain and simple. I received many applications from all over the world, the US, the state. Not only engineers applied, a good number of physicists applied. I can say with pride, the persons who needed more work and information, I helped them the best I could within regulatory requirements. One day, I received two applications where the residence address was in Switzerland. My brain perked up and my senses tingled.

I thumbed through the two applications and discovered – they worked/designed parts of/anything you can think of on the Large Hadron Collider. Because of the nature of education and experience and because their work was groundbreaking, there was no benchmark in place for them. This could be a “problem” application. I talked to a board member about the applicants and explained. He was stunned into silence when I finished. This was beyond big – it was….Big Bang Big. Long story short, the two men received their licenses. I had spoken with them about their applications several times before and developed a friendly cameraderie with them. A few weeks after they received their license, these men sent me a letter – thanking me for my hardwork, etc. etc. and if I ever needed anything, to contact them. I still get Christmas cards from them and their families.

When I heard this event was happening here, I did the emails. Yes, yes, and yes! Here are phone numbers. Call us and we’ll be at the Welcome Desk to get you in. I called and they were true to their words. I met these two “friends” face to face and discovered true gentlemen. As we walked around, we talked. I gave them advice about where to eat, where to find the best deal on Levis (much cheaper here than over in Europe). I also took with me a large container of my homefried chicken and homemade biscuits – my ticket of admission (it was scarfed up in a matter of minutes by several folk who insisted I give the recipe and method and took notes as if the fate of the world depended on it). We had discussed food and home cooking, and recipes passed down through the years in some of the converse we had previously had. In return, I was able to sit in on a presentation: “Interplay of Beam-Beam, Lattice Nonlinearity, and Space Charge Effects in the SuperKEKB Collider.”  Cool.

And Mama was right – everybody doesn’t matter. I felt comfortable, happy, secure. Being insatiably curious, I fit right in. The take-away-from this? Mama’s lessons: Beieve in yourself, Be true to yourself, respect others, be kind, work hard.

All you mothers out there and for those fathers who have had to be mothers, to all the aunts and uncles who loved the children in your family and guided them, to all you single folk who loved and nurtured a child not of your own Happy Mother’s Day. God bless you all. Without your care and guidance, we might not have grown to be the persons we are today.

Mama, I love you.



Simple Sunday Dinner – Carnal Pudding and Fried Chicken

I’ve been feeling poorly the past few weeks (whine).  What was terrible to me was having no sense of smell or taste.  The few times I was able to cook, I felt like I was having “safe cooking”, if you know what I mean.  FINALLY yesterday, I realized I could smell and taste again. 

When my father-in-law offered to bring over some freshly pulled corn and tomatoes and cucumbers from his garden, I gave him an enthusiastic yes!  Within a few minutes, I was the lucky possessor of said items.  Now, some folks say only white corn is sweet and others go for bi-color.  He raises a yellow variety called Super Fantastic and it is an understatement.  Whether the kernels are small and like tiny pearls or larger, they are always tender, full of milk and oftentimes so sweet, when I make my Carnal Pudd’n, I only need to add a minimal amount of sugar.  

Sunday dinners (lunch for folks who aren’t Southern) were always special at our house, but especially in summer.  We’d go out the back door to pull corn, green beans, squash, tomatoes, okra….whatever, from our garden.  It was truly garden to table – the best way to enjoy summer produce.  Our soil was acidic so I grew up eating tomatoes with so much zing to them, they’d jump up from the serving dish and slap you before you had a chance to spear a thick slice and put in the middle of the puddle of creamed corn on your plate. 

I celebrated feeling better by fixing fried chicken (in this case, the little drumettes from the chicken wing) and creamed corn with slices of homegrown tomato.  I did, for a change, take a picture of the double cut corn, the hot and buttery creamed corn, and the chicken frying (middle and end stages).  I will make my Carnal Pudding next week when more corn is available and I can make a triple batch.  

Ya’ll enjoy and just eat (as my great-grandaddy Luther used to say) ’til your little bellies become big bellies!

Creamed corn, simple recipe:4 servings

2 cups fresh double cut corn kernels

3 TBS unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Some milk or water 

Melt butter in skillet.  Add corn and lightly toss on medium heat for about three minutes.  Add salt and pepper.  Add milk or water and bring to boiling.  Cut off heat and let stand about five minutes.  Dependent upon how “soupy” you want this will determine how much liquid you add.   The picture shows where I made a little pond of butter in the corn just before a final stir and serving.

  double cut corn     creamed corn

Carnal (Corn) Pudding  4 servings

2 cups fresh corn kernels, coarsely chopped (4 to 5 ears)

6 TBS. unsalted butter

½ c. granulated sugar

½ c. heavy cream, half and half, or milk

1 tsp. good vanilla extract

¼ c. flour

1 tsp salt

5 large eggs 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the butter in a baking dish (an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish or iron skillet works well) and slide into the oven so the butter melts while the oven is preheating.   Combine the corn kernels, sugar, cream or milk, flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Lightly beat the five eggs and add to the mixture.  When the oven has preheated and the butter in the baking dish has melted, carefully tilt the melted butter from the baking dish into the corn mixture and combine with a few swift strokes. Then tilt the buttered corn mixture back into the baking dish.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until a golden crust has formed and the interior has set.  For a savory version, omit the sugar, add a nice grind or two of pepper, and a dash or Tabasco. 

NOTE:  I use my Wusthof filet knife rather than the smaller paring knife or chef’s knife.  I find the filet knife works perfectly.  It is flexible and does not bruise the kernels as does the chef’s knife nor tear the kernels as does the paring knife.  Double cut the kernels and then use the back of the blade to scrape down the cob releasing the remaining milk in the kernels.) 

fried chicken      fried chicken 2

Fried Chicken Some people marinate their chicken in buttermilk.  Others make a liquid batter and dip the chicken into.  My Papa and my Grandma Ninny always held that simplest was the best.  I agree.  I like a nice coating on my chicken but not so much batter or breading that it soaks up a lot of grease and all you taste is coating.  I make my own dredging mix from flour, a bit of double sifted white corn meal, salt, pepper and secret stuff.  Since I am not telling you the secret stuff, you can purchase two products that come close:  House-Autry Chicken Breader or Moss’ Chicken Breader.  I use my breader to dredge my chicken, okra, squash, eggplant in to fry. 

Rinse off your chicken and leave damp. Dredge your chicken to coat well.  Into a deep skillet with enough oil to reach halfway up a piece of chicken, carefully lay your pieces of chicken.  Make sure the oil is hot enough.  If not, your food will soak up too much oil.  You want the breader to quickly crisp and seal out the oil and seal in the moisture. When the oil looks like it is “crawling” on the bottom of the pan or, the handle of dry wooden spoon stuck in the oil sizzles, the oil is hot enough. I do not cover my chicken while it is cooking.  After it goes into the pan, I keep on medium high to keep the heat up and seal the breading.  Then I reduce the heat.  I’ve been doing this long enough I can tell by the smell when to turn the chicken.  I only turn it once.  Papa and Ninny said too much turning didn’t make for good chicken,  I agree with that too.  Use tongs to turn so you don’t pierce the meat and cause spatters than can burn you.  Good common sense is the key to cooking anything.. 

Remove chicken from pan and drain on absorbent paper bag or paper towel. 

PS Note to Gamers:  cold or room temp chicken is most excellent to eat while gaming!

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