Vacation Day 4: Fun, Fears, and Food

IMG_3843This morning after everybody got up, which was a few hours after my 6:04 wake up time, we piled into my mom’s car and drove a few minutes down the road to Fort Morgan, which coincidentally is the name of the place where we are staying. Who knew there was an actual fort? It was used in the war of 1812 and that is all that I learned during our fairly short visit there, but it was fun to walk around and argue against my brothers who thought it would be a good place to hide out if a zombie apocalypse were to break out, which is completely stupid because although it used to be a fort, there are a lot of openings, windows and doors leading to the outside, and even if you did barricade yourself inside, you would have to risk leaving every time you wanted food. Basically, although I’m the only one that dropped out of college, I’m the smart brother. The person selling admission tickets at the front told us that we could come back tonight when they would be reenacting some battle complete with a gun show and cannon fire. Given that loud noises is possibly my biggest fear in the world, it wasn’t an issue that I had to think about before taking a hard pass.

This afternoon we went to play putt-putt golf, and I don’t know what it is about being at the beach and playing miniature golf, but the two seem to go hand and hand, and we apparently aren’t the only ones who think this way, because the course was crowded and we had people waiting behind us at each hole, making me nervous and throwing me off my game. I started the game with a hole in one, but my luck quickly deteriorated and by the time all was said and done I ended up in next to last place, my brother’s girlfriend the only one of the five of us that played worse than me. I guess it’s time to check miniature golf off the list of sports I’ll never become a professional in, along with every single other athletic activity I’ve ever attempted. After golf, we went to the wharf in Orange Beach, a place with restaurants, shopping, and various forms of entertainment, and it was here that my wife and I, along with my mom and grandmother, rode the ferris wheel. I don’t love heights, but lately I’ve been trying to branch out a little bit in terms of doing things that I’m not completely comfortable with. As the ferris wheel descended at what seemed like a dangerously rapid speed, I immediately regretted my decision, but once we plateaued and began our descent, it wasn’t so bad. I think it went around four or five times total, and by the end I was actually enjoying looking out at the scenery below, and was a little bit sad when it came to an end, although my hand still firmly grasped the bar in the middle of the pod, as if this would save me if it broke free of the ferris wheel and went careening to the ground.

For dinner we went to the Shrimp Basket, where upon arrival we were told our party of seven had a forty-five minute wait for a table. About an hour later we were seated at two separate tables, which wouldn’t have been too big of a deal if they’d done this initially instead of making us stand around for an hour while parties of three and four who’d arrived after us were seated, but no, they made us wait and then without asking seated us separately. Once understanding our frustration at the situation, the waiter moved some tables together and we were finally seated together. I got the shrimp and grits, which I immediately regretted after ordering, because I feel that the Shrimp Basket is known for it’s fried seafood baskets, with fries, and here I was ordering a meal that I typically get at a more up-scale place, but when the food arrived, I was pleasantly surprised, and all the regret faded away instantly. The grilled shrimp was absolutely delicious and full of flavor and the cheese grits that they rested on was also very good and the perfect creamy texture I’ve come to expect when I order grits on the gulf coast. I’ve been here four days now, and this was the best meal I’ve had so far. I can’t wait to see if anything will top it over the next three days, but it’s going to be pretty tough.

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Vacation Day 3: Sunburns and Shrimp

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Today started as any good day should, on the back porch with a cup of coffee, watching the sun come up over the ocean. I spent most of the morning down at the beach, alternating between jumping in the waves like a carefree child, and sitting up in the beach chair, reading, and silently praying with all the effort within me to let me not get sunburned. Getting sunburned is one of the most miserable experiences I’ve ever had, and while in the big scheme of things it’s a mild problem that goes away after a few days, it’s not something that I wanted either, which is why I had my wife spray me down with the strongest sunscreen we could find, caking my shoulders and back with the stuff, causing me to feel like a protective plate had been attached to my back, which didn’t bother me, as long as it got the job done. I figured the hair on my legs would prevent them from burning, but unfortunately I was wrong in my thinking, so now I sit here with both of my legs throbbing with an intense burn, all thanks to my assumption.

The water was nice and cool, a welcome contrast from the hot sun beating down on me, so from time to time I dove in and splashed around for a few minutes to cool off, but had to get out before too long because I kept stepping on fish, which disgusted me every time I’d feel one wiggling beneath my foot. I saw some dolphins and a couple of flying fish, one more athletic than the other who could only hop once out of the water before taking a breather, rather than skipping multiple times in quick succession like his friend that was in much better shape. It was a pretty cool moment, being able to relate to the first fish that tires easily. Speaking of which, since we arrived at the beach on Saturday, I’ve been so tired every single day, to the point where my body physically needs a nap, and maybe it’s because I’ve been getting up earlier, or perhaps this is all the exhaustion that has built up since my last vacation, allowing itself to be reconciled now that I have a week of doing nothing, but hopefully the rest of the week doesn’t continue in this fashion, because I’m not too keen on sleeping the vacation away.

Tonight the whole family went to dinner at Lulu’s, a popular restaurant owned by musician Jimmy Buffet’s sister. We tried to go early to beat the crowd, but at 4:45, it was completely packed and we had about a forty-five minute wait, which was fine because it gave me a chance to do some shopping. In all the years that I’ve vacationed in Orange Beach, my grandpa has always bought me a t-shirt when we go to Lulu’s and they’re actually some of my favorite shirts, at least one of which I wear every single week, so in keeping with the tradition, I looked for a shirt to get. This might sound ridiculous, but the shirt I bought tonight, is exactly the same as the one I wear all of the time, same design and everything, only it’s a different color, so I think that makes it okay. For dinner I ordered nachos with blackened shrimp, and if you haven’t had seafood nachos before, that might sound disgusting to you, but I tried it three years ago in Destin, and since then, it’s been hard to pass up if I see it on the menu.

I recognized the waitress we had from the last time I was there two years ago, and I remember her being pretty terrible, to the point that we were discussing at the table how little of a tip would be acceptable, because we literally waited over half an hour for her to come back with our check after she said she was going to get it, passing by our table several times and avoiding eye contact. I think I tipped fifteen percent, shame on me, but I’m pretty sure she remembered, because she refilled my brothers sweet tea several times, will ignoring me and my empty glass of unsweet tea, that she only filled when asked after we were done eating any way. Despite the grudge held by the waitress, it was a great meal, made even more enjoyable by sharing it with family. I look forward to what the rest of the week has in store.
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Vacation Day 2: Lunch at Lambert’s

IMG_3761Have you ever been hit in the face with a piece of bread flying through the air? I haven’t but if it was going to happen, it would have happened at lunch today. We went to church this morning, my wife and I, along with my two brothers, my mom, my grandmother, and my brother Landon’s girlfriend, and since the communion cracker turned out to be less than filling, we were eager to get something to eat afterwards. We decided to go to Lambert’s, a place famous for throwing rolls, that I hadn’t been to in more than a decade, so my wife, my brother, and I sped over to the restaurant about fifteen minutes away to get our name on the waiting list, and the rest of our family followed shortly. I was shocked to see the parking lot so full of cars, because from what I remember of Lambert’s, it wasn’t all that great, more hype surrounding the thrown rolls than the actual food it served. I dropped my brother off at the entrance and began circling the parking lot looking for a single parking space, which turned out to be much more difficult than I’d thought.

It was 11:30 on a Sunday morning, and I had to circle the parking lot twice, which took about ten minutes, before I found a single place to park. I assure you that I’m not the sort of person who spends any significant amount of time looking for a parking space near the front of any given lot, so it wasn’t like I was being picky; I literally couldn’t find an open spot. When we finally parked and found my brother in the crowd of people, who like us were waiting for a table, he told us it was going to be a thirty minute wait, so we sat down on a bench a baked on high in the hot Alabama sun for half an hour. Unfortunately the wait time had been extended, perhaps because the restaurant goers had decided they weren’t going to stand for the mayhem anymore and decided to fight back, throwing rolls back at the employees as fast as they themselves could dish them out, a full fledged roll fight ensuing, but whatever the reason, it took longer for us to get a table, so we took shelter from the sun for the remainder of our wait.

Inside we were seated and each handed plastic menus, that seemed obnoxiously big at first, before I realized that they had to be that big in order to fit all of the food onto the page, which included barbecue, burgers, fried chicken, and steak, among other things. It took me a while to decide what I wanted, because there were several things that looked pretty good, but eventually I settled on chicken fried steak, with mashed potatoes and french fries, potatoes on potatoes, carbs on carbs on carbs, most of which were topped with gravy. While we waited for our food to arrive, various side dishes were brought around, fried okra, black eye peas, macaroni and tomatoes, like hors d’oeuvres at a redneck wedding, for us to munch on. With a paper towel spread before me, I munched on the fried okra atop it each time I was lucky enough for the okra girl to pass by. The side dishes passed by multiple times over the course of about twenty minutes, and there was still no sign of the famous rolls, but eventually they arrived, hot from the oven. The roll thrower tossed the rolls in every direction at raised hands throughout the restaurant, and I’m pleased to report that I caught two, one for myself and one for my grandmother.

The rolls were big and pretty filling, but not all that special aside from the fact that they were thrown to you. By the time my food arrived I was already feeling full after eating several helpings of fried okra, eating a giant roll, and drinking like a half liter of water that sat in the huge mug before me, but being the true American that I am, I was determined to at least eat some of the food that I ordered. Like I said, I didn’t remember much about the food at Lambert’s when I visited years before, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good everything was. The chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes were both really good, and the french fries, while I figured would be an afterthought, thrown on the plate as a filler, were actually really good. Of course the portion was much too big, and I only ate about half of what was on my plate, but on the bright side, I now have another good meal waiting for me in the refrigerator. Lunch ended about four hours ago and I still feel incredibly full, but maybe later my wife can roll me down to the beach so I can enjoy a beautiful sunset.

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Pancho’s: Dinner with the Grandparents

IMG_3720It was raining tonight, which meant it was the perfect time to sit in a dimly lit restaurant and eat Mexican food, but if I’m being completely honest, any night is a good night to do that. My wife and I went out with my grandparents to Pancho’s, their favorite Mexican restaurant in Memphis, a place that is quickly growing on me. We wanted to see them before leaving town on Saturday to head to the beach for a week (this is completely unnecessary information but I thought I might as well rub it in) and they suggested dinner, and since I’ve never in my life turned down cheese dip, and wasn’t about to start today, I agreed. We arrived at the restaurant and sat in a corner booth that was in the section of a waitress my grandparents knew by name. It really is astounding to me that basically no matter where we go to eat, they always have a favorite waitress that they ask for, because when I’m out at a restaurant I rarely engage in anything more than pleasantries with the waitstaff, much less know about their personal lives or ask about their grandchildren, but my grandparents are just those sort of people who make friends wherever they go.

My wife and I both ordered nachos, which neither of us had tried here before, and when the plates arrived I was shocked at how big the portion was. It looked incredible. On a bed of chips was ground taco beef, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños, with two separate bowls made of a giant tortilla chip holding sour cream and guacamole. For good measure I dumped out the remainder of my cheese dip on top, and dove in fork first. It was really good, and really filling, and my wife and I realized pretty quickly that we could have shared the plate of nachos, and that there was no way we would come close to finishing our own, which is saying something for me, who more often than not finishes the food I order.

Over dinner we talked about the first time Leticia had ever eaten at Pancho’s. It was the first time I brought her to Memphis to meet the family in 2012 after we’d been dating for about six months. I remember that most of my dad’s family was there, my two grandparents, my uncle Brett and his family, and of course my dad. Leticia, whose parents are both Mexican, ordered a chicken sandwich that night at the Mexican restaurant, which everyone thought was pretty funny, given that they thought her of all people would get something Mexican. I occasionally joke about this with my wife and she defends her decision saying she was just in the mood for a chicken sandwich that night. It was a good dinner and it’s always good to spend time with my grandparents, so overall it was a great night. Maybe when we return from vacation we can do it again, because if I’m being completely honest, I’m already in the mood for more cheese dip.

Amerigo: An Italian Father’s Day Dinner

IMG_3703Well today is father’s day and I didn’t see my dad at all, but before you go casting stones at the ungrateful son, let me clarify that I did take him to dinner last night as our way of celebration. Why didn’t I take my dad to dinner on the actual father’s day? He had planned to take his father out to dinner that night, and there are only so many meals to go around, so I told my dad to pick wherever he wanted to go and my wife and I would meet him for dinner the night before. We settled on Amerigo, one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Memphis, and said we would meet him there at seven. I showed up right at seven o’clock, my wife left behind at home with her sore back not feeling up to dining out, and my dad was already there for standing in the dimly lit waiting area. We told the hostess I had arrived, and like a celebrity seated immediately upon arrival, we were ushered directly to our seats without a wait.

We quickly looked over the menu, deciding what we wanted before the waiter even arrived to introduce himself and take the drink orders, so by the time he showed up, we were prepared. My dad got the goat cheese and walnut salad with smoked salmon, while I got the goat cheese penne pasta with grilled shrimp. We talked for a little while, the only interruption being the loud family at the table behind us who had taken it upon themselves to do some sort of happy birthday chant, paired with rhythmic clapping that echoed against the walls throughout the restaurant, completely unprovoked by an employee, the first time I can ever remember seeing this take place. It was annoying but over soon enough, and before long the food arrived. The first thing I thought as I looked down at the plate before me was “that looks like a lot of tomatoes”, and it really was. With each bite of pasta I tried to get one or two tomato pieces on the fork with it so that I wouldn’t be left with an excess of tomato scraps at the end of the meal, but that is exactly what ended up happening, about a third of my plate completely covered once everything else was eaten.

The pasta itself was pretty bland, which would account for the excess tomatoes and goat cheese trying to hide that obvious and glaring flaw. The star of the dish were the grilled shrimp, four perfectly cooked and seasoned crustaceans at the corners of my plate. I cut each of them up into little pieces, trying to get as many bites with a piece of shrimp as possible, but I certainly would have opted for more. The service was fantastic, my water glass never less than half full before the waiter would arrive with a refill, and it was a nice dinner with my dad, despite my food being altogether disappointing. The important thing about last night was taking time to appreciate and honor my wonderful father, and everything else, including the food, didn’t really matter all that much.

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Summer Vacation 2009: The Outer Banks

IMG_3698We woke early in the morning and got on the road leaving Little Rock, my mom in the drivers seat with my grandfather beside her, atlas in his lap, ready to open it up to help navigate, despite the new GPS system that was between them, attached to the windshield. My grandmother and me sat in the second row of seats with my two younger brothers behind us, all six of us crammed into my mom’s aging white Honda Odyssey van. Our destination was North Carolina, the beaches of the Outer Banks, a long drive ahead of us, with multiple stops along the way, a true american road trip. We passed through Memphis with ease as there was little traffic on that particular Saturday morning, but as we approached Nashville, traffic came to a stop. As far as we could see ahead, the interstate was deadlocked with cars and trucks alike, all desperately trying to move forward to no avail. It was at this time that I heard on the radio that Michael Jackson had died two days earlier. This was before I had twitter, so pop culture news didn’t come to me so easily as it does now. We drove on.

When we finally got through the traffic, which had been caused by a car accident, we made pretty good time the rest of the way. We stopped in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the childhood home of Andy Griffith, and went around town, visiting various places that had been popular in the television show he starred in, which was my granddad’s favorite. We ate lunch at the town diner, and I don’t remember anything about the food or even what I had to eat, but the place was packed, a popular tourist attraction. We stopped at the town jail, and posed for pictures, then left the charming North Carolina town and continued along the way. We stopped at Duke and the University of North Carolina, walking around the beautiful campuses that I would never attend as a student, then once again got back on the road, inching closer and closer to our destination.

When we finally arrived at the Outer Banks, we parked the van in front of the realty company while my mom went in to sign the papers and get the keys to the house where we’d be staying for the week. It was a really cool looking house, three stories high, suspended from the ground on large wooden poles. There were wrap around balconies on each floor, where you could stand and look at the ocean just blocks away over the tops of the other, similar looking houses, and hot tubs where you could relax on a summer afternoon, with a cool North Carolina breeze blowing, a nice contrast to the hot day. This was my first time at the Atlantic Ocean and despite being summer, the water was much colder than I’d been expecting. The waves were much more rough, and bigger than those of the Gulf of Mexico, that I’d grown up playing in. The vacation was full of lighthouse visits, where you could walk up numerous stairs to stand at the top, a thin railing the only thing between you and a long fall to the ground, and look out at the beautiful scenery below. We also spent some time at the sand dunes, which were very cool, nothing like I’d ever seen before. All in all it was a great vacation, and maybe one day I’ll get to go back. I miss the carefree summers of my teenage years, perhaps that more than anything.

Family Trip to the Ballpark

IMG_3679My brothers came to Memphis for a quick visit today, and with them they brought three of my cousins, Andrew, Easton, and Zeke, the third of which is going off to start school at Westpoint next month and I won’t be able to see him for a while, so I was glad they came. We met for lunch at Central Barbecue, one of my favorite places in town, and me and my brother Logan got the pulled pork sandwich, the rest of the group got the barbecue nachos, something that I myself, should have done. In all the times I’ve been to Central, I’ve either gotten the nachos or ribs and it has always been spectacular, but being who I am, in my ever infinite quest to find out if there is something better, I stray from the things that made me grow to love the restaurant in the first place, and more often than not, it’s a mistake. The sandwich I had wasn’t terrible by any means, but it just didn’t live up to the nachos or the ribs, and I’m fairly convinced that nothing ever will. We left Central and headed downtown to go watch the Redbirds, who is the Triple A minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, play a game this afternoon.

We left my car at the Bass Pro Pyramid, and I rode with the rest of the family to the game, figuring taking one car would be a wise choice so we’d only have to pay for parking one car. I’m very aware that given the right effort and determination, one can generally find a free parking spot downtown, especially on a Sunday afternoon, but for all the things I do well, I’m not at all savvy when it comes to finding a parking spot, always paranoid that I’m going to return a few hours later to find that my car had been towed and I would have to pay an outrageous fee that I would struggle to afford, so I opt to pay a few dollars up front for a secured parking space, with some assurance of my car being there when I return for it. We spent a good ten minutes trying to usher my mom’s bulbous car, that my brother had borrowed for the extra seats, into the tight fitting space of the parking garage. I stood in front offering little help but to hold up my hand when he was about to hit either the concrete side of the garage or the blue sports car on the other side. When he eventually put the car in park and turned off the ignition, it was quickly apparent that he would not be able to exit the car in a normal fashion, through the drivers side door, but rather had to climb out of the trunk like a raccoon out of a dumpster, and it was pretty funny to watch.

We bought our tickets, which were really good seats, right behind home plate, my brother’s reasoning being that he wanted to be able to tell if the pitches were balls or strikes, like there weren’t professional umpires calling out that information after every pitch anyway. The seats were good, but the stadium had more empty seats than not, and we realized that we could have bought the cheapest tickets and sit anywhere that we pleased. Live and learn. The ballpark was beautiful, as was the day, albeit a little bit hot, the temperature topping off at a swelteringly ninety-one degrees, but for most of the game we were in the shade of the stadium and a gentle breeze occasionally came through the stadium, refreshing us all over again. It was a fun and action packed game with quite a few runs scored, and we even got to see one of the Cardinals players, Randal Grichuk, who had been sent down to work on his swing, play, so that was pretty cool. Overall it was a really fun day spent with family, and I’m absolutely convinced that there’s no better way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon than at the ballpark.

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