Food and Travels

I would argue the recipe for a good trip is good company, good lodging, great entertainment, but most importantly, good food. Think about it, you ask someone how was their trip and they will inevitably talk about the food – be it at someone’s house or a restaurant.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of eating food made with love and recipes passed down for generations. Alcenia’s restaurant in downtown Memphis was more than I could have imagined and then some.

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It starts here. A door that looks like it leads to a boutique but the awning marks it as Alcenia’s – the place where we set out for soul food breakfast.  Upon entry, it looks like forever Mardi Gras. Vibrant green, orange, purple and yellow decorations cover the walls and tables. We’re the first to walk in and a lady who looks like she could be your aunt who woke hours before you, and has been doing some cleaning around the house, walks out to greet us with a kiss on the forehead.  She hands us the menus to peruse while she grabs our drinks. Mom and I order apple juice while my grandmother attempts the Ghetto-Aid.

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When she returns, she explains how the brunch works and we get to placing our orders. Mom and Grandma order pork chops. Grandma and I get waffles. Mom and I request hash brown. Grandma gets fried green tomatoes and I round out my meal with eggs and chicken – white meat to be exact. Alcenia offers to bring a sample of her tomato gravy to taste.

As she is setting up her place, preparing for more people to enter, she shares 90% of her visitors come from out of town. As you can see on her menu, she’s been on several tv shows, featured in many articles and magazines, including Oprah’s magazine.  Surprisingly enough, though she’s been there 20 years, she doesn’t get a lot of traction from the people of Memphis.

Strung across an archway was a birthday banner that reads, “Happy 95th Birthday!”  My grandmother asks about it and Alcenia shares the banner was for her mother’s 95th but she is now 96 and Alcenia 2, referring to herself, is 20 years old.

As we wait for our food, more people walk in and are greeted in the same familial, loving way that we were.  Alcenia jokes with my grandmother about adding the Ghetto-Aid to her water exclaiming, “That ain’t my Ghetto-Aid, that’s colored water!”  When that food came out…H O N E Y C H I L E !  The plates are full. I know I won’t be able to finish what is in front of me.  Just as Alcenia proclaimed, everything was cooked fresh upon ordering, and it all looks, smells and tastes like aunty whipped out grandma’s cast iron and slayed once she saw her nieces walk in expecting their empty bellies to be satisfied.

The meat is juicy, the potatoes clearly chopped and fried. The pancakes and waffles look like they have something special to them and the eggs are cooked to perfection.  She brings the samples of tomato gravy and I try it.  As selective (picky) of an eater as I am, I’m definitely nervous but realize it’s quite alright.  I load my grits with sugar dig in. SOOOOO GOOOOOOD!  The food is just as flavorful as the personality of Alcenia’s – the restaurant and the woman.  I know I won’t need to eat anymore until the party.

Satisfied, I sit back and think, “I need to tell people about this place.”  With that being said, should you happen to be in Memphis and looking for a good place to eat, I recommend stopping by Alcenia’s. Great food – and even greater people, you will not be disappointed.

 

 

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She Told Me I Was Going To Starve

In the last month I have met many family members from all over the country. One feisty 70 plus year-old woman asked me for a favor upon receiving my call.  She said, “Tell me a time when I can call you back. I’m canning figs…”  This hoot of a woman lives in Mississippi so you can imagine the southern twang; not strong but present nonetheless.  She continued, “do you know know what that is?!”  With a tiny bit of anxiety that comes when older people ask if I know of some survival skill, I replied, “I’ve heard of canning, yes…”  She chuckled and I braced myself for the fuss that was to come, “Boy I hope this modern thing lasts ’cause if it doesn’t, you young people are going to starve.” I exhaled.  Her response wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be.

Mattie made me think of, again, all of the things I don’t know how to do. I wanted to reply in frustration that my own grandmother doesn’t can – that she doesn’t go to fields to pick berries or anything of the sort.  Hell, I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t know if we have fields nearby to pick fresh fruits and vegetables. My grandmother, plus or minus 2 years in age to Mattie, did not pass those things along as her mother did to her.  Truth be told, I do feel a little unprepared for the zombie apocalypse.  I mean, both sides of my family come from frugal, pie crust pan saving, biscuits and water for dinner times and I can make as much as an afghan blanket.  To be fair, I was taught how to cook and can coupon with the best of them – who doesn’t love a good sale and discount?!  I buy what I want and keep up with modern technology but Mattie is right(ish).

Most recently, I have scheduled (yes, scheduled) weekly meetings with my grandmother to teach me to sew.  She was the one to teach me to make an afghan blanket. Not only do I want to learn to make my own clothes (if I wanted to to) and spend some QT with my grandmother, she is the last one who can teach me.  My mother to this day says she’ll go to the source (speaking of my grandmother in response to learning to sew) but my grandmother won’t be here forever and when she dies, I don’t want those basic skills to be gone with her.  I want to be able to buy fabric and make something I see in my head but can’t find in the stores. I want to be able to whip and fluffy blanket together in about a week. I want to be able to make a super moist pound cake and cabbage that tastes like home – though mine isn’t far behind hers.

Mattie is right.  Our modern way of living has robbed (maybe too strong of a word or not) us of our roots.  It has, in some ways, taken away our independence – crippled us a little bit. I can make a list of other examples but I’ll save that for another blog.  I just find in this moment, I want to absorb everything I can from the ones before us because they have demonstrated resiliency and strength.  I’ve personally learned that some times the lessons we learn from the generations before us come with needle and thread, milk and butter, crochet hook and yarn.

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          The skirt my grandmother taught me to sew on my first sewing lesson