Monday, November 24, 2014

11 Things To Pick Up For An Epic Arkansas Holiday.

Panicking over putting together the perfect holiday dinner here in Arkansas?  Here's some advice on the 11 things you should consider for your family dining traditions.  Click the links provided for ordering information. Be sure to order early -- and if you can't be early, call ahead and make sure what you need and want is still in stock.

1.  Ham.  Each year around the holidays, Petit Jean Meats produces, mails and provides in-store 100,000 bone-in hams and 80,000 boneless hams for the dinner table. Grocery stores throughout Arkansas carry those hams, but if you’d prefer the convenience of having
your holiday meat delivered straight to the house, place your order this morning it’ll arrive in time — as long as you live in the state of Arkansas. Additional shipping charges may apply.

2.  Turkey.  Burge's Smoked Turkeys are very popular for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it's not too late to get yours. Jeff Voyles, the owner, says they'll have plenty, but suggests coming in a few days in advance of the holiday, since there's always a day-before rush. The store on R Street in the Heights will be busy, but you'll be able to get your whole turkey, smoked turkey breast and more -- even some side dishes -- there. Burge's sells around 12,000 whole smoked turkeys a year, but the spiral sliced half-ham is the company’s biggest seller.

Hillcrest Artisan Meats carries Freckle Face Farm turkeys as well as locally raised chickens and ducks available.

If you're wanting to get your own turkey, Sim's Barbecue will smoke it for you, but you need to call first and make sure they have room. You drop off your bird in the morning and go fetch it in the afternoon.

Also, check with Cross Eyed Pig BBQ Company -- which does excellent smoked turkeys and hams.

Consider a whole turducken (a hen stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey) from Floyd's Meat And Seafood (this is also where you get oysters if you want to make oyster stuffing).

Butcher and Public offers a variety of holiday meats -- from turkeys to hams to lamb and even more.  Check with Travis for your meat needs -- and while you're at it, pick up some sorghum breakfast sausage.

3.  Dressing. You cannot beat the chicken dressing from Dan's I-30 Diner in Benton. It's absolutely marvelous and moist, and even if you're having turkey, the chicken in the dressing will be quite excellent.

4.  Eggplant Casserole. Franke's Cafeteria offers many of its popular menu items in family portions for the holidays, including its famed eggplant casserole and whole pies, such as egg custard, pumpkin and cinnamon.

5.  Potatoes au Gratin.  Diane's Gourmet in Little Rock offers a variety of amazing side dishes and desserts, including one of the best renditions of potatoes au gratin around.  You'll also find broccoli cheese casserole, mac and cheese, cheese crackers and baked pies available there.

6.  Cranberries.  Honestly, I can't stand most cranberries (too many slurping solid chunks from cans as a kid, I suppose) but I can eat the tar out of the cranberry orange relish at E's Bistro in North Little Rock.  Elizabeth's also carrying green bean bundles, dressing and pies.

7.  Green Beans.  I cannot stand green bean casserole.  Fortunately, my brother usually eats ALL of it over the course of the afternoon, so no worries there.  Plain green beans are all right, but if you're looking for something to pick up that will be light, delicious and particularly wonderful, check with the folks at Catering To You for some of their marvelous Green Bean Almondine.

8.  Sweet Potato Casserole.  Okay, most everyone should know how to make sweet potatoes by now, but if you're really in a pinch, go get a pan.  Terry's Finer Foods does an excellent rendition.

9.  Bread.  My mom makes crockpot cornbread stuffing for the holidays from her own fresh-baked cornbread, usually from War Eagle Mill Cornmeal Mix.  But butterflake rolls from Ed's Custom Bakery are also usually on the table.  Other choices that would achieve the epic rating for your dinner table:  Boulevard Bread Company's Pagnotta (GREAT for sopping up a little giblet gravy), Community Bakery's Pocketbook Rolls, Silvek's European Bakery's Hallah Bread.

10.  Pepper Jelly. Wait, what?  Okay, you can have your cranberries... I like pepper jelly as a condiment with my turkey.  I'm a big fan of Liz and Linda's Pepper Jelly, but anyone who makes a good one is AOK in my book.

11.  Pies.  This year, a lot of fantastic pies have come onto the scene.  Order yours in advance from your favorite pie shop -- or consider some of the new offerings for the crop -- such as  Bourbon Pecan Pie at Local Lime and Big Orange; French Apple Pie from Terry's Finer Foods; and all sorts of pies at Sweet Love.
There are of course many chain operations offering made-and-done turkeys and Thanksgiving dinners at places such as Cracker Barrel and Copeland's -- and of course you can still pick up a Thanksgiving dinner from Kroger or Edward's Food Giant. These will run you anywhere from fifty to eighty dollars.

Friday, November 21, 2014

29 Things People From Arkansas Would Like Movoto To Get Right.

I find it humorous when people who don't live in Arkansas try to quantify life here.  But sometimes, the line is crossed.

That's happened with the latest piece from Movoto, 29 Things People From Arkansas Have To Explain.  What makes this funny is, hey, I'm about to explain to Movoto why maybe they needed to do better research.

The original piece is here.  I know it's intended to be funny and to drive people to Movoto's site.  That's fine.  Now, here's what you really should know.

"1.  Hogs Are Treated Like Royalty In Arkansas."
I can see where that might be apparent.  But let me share with you the caption for this statement.

Mr. McKee (the author of this web content), let me put this to you in words you would expect to come from an Arkansawyer:  Them's fightin' words. Sure, many people from this state support the Arkansas Razorbacks, but you will find few that will put a good team ahead of wanting our state to excel at education.  Lumping us all together in a manner to suggest that we're all yokels who would watch the pigskin being tossed around by a winning team rather than having a well-educated and informed population is offensive.

"2.  Float Trips Are Better Than A Day At The Beach."
This may actually be correct.  At the beach, you may experience sunburn enhanced by an overabundance of solar reflections from vast expanses of white sands, overcrowding from tourists, the heavy pull of undertow, sand that will stay with you throughout your journey back to your abode, and of course jellyfish.  On a clear winding river (take your choice; Arkansas has 9700 miles of streams and rivers) under the cover of leafy trees, one's opportunity to float upon crystalline, cool currents while imbibing in one's favorite beverage and practicing the disengagement of worries from the soul is precious and savored.

"3.  The Best Tenderloins Are Twice The Size Of A Bun."

Mr. McKee, you didn't even try here.  Over the seven years I've been covering food in Arkansas, I have traveled to well over 1000 restaurants.  My ex-husband was a fan of pork tenderloin sandwiches, yet the only time we encountered them was from the Indiana-based vendor who sold them at the Arkansas State Fair.  Pork tenderloins are from Iowa.  By the way, the photo from user kc7fys? Yeah, Jonathan Charles is from Manchester, Iowa.  Nice town.  Not in Arkansas.

"4.  Arkansan or Arkansawyer? Who Knows?"
I could go into the details, but the Encyclopedia of Arkansas sums it up nicely. The TL:DR version you're searching for is either is acceptable.

Also, what the heck does a photo of Joshua Drake, a Green Party candidate for Arkansas's 4th District Congressional Seat, taken during a debate at Southern Arkansas University back on October 4, 2012 have to do with what people in Arkansas call people who live in Arkansas?

"5.  Just Don't Say Ar-KANSAS."
Well, you finally really got something right.  The quickest way to determine that someone's not from around these parts is to see how they say the name of the state, or of its southwesterly mountains, the Ouachitas (that would the the WASH-it-ah Mountains), or one of its tiny burgs such as Solgohachia (sog-uh-HAT-chee), or of one of its counties like Lafayette (lah-FAY-et), or of one of its bustling cities, maybe El Dorado (el doh-RAY-do) -- from which you captured this funny sign that appears on a popular foundling bar.

We're actually legislated to say it that way.  See, the name Arkansas comes from descriptions of the Quapaws, a native tribe to central Arkansas.  The sas sounds like saw because it's a French description.  You can thank Jean-Baptiste BĂ©nard de La Harpe and Henri de Tonti for that.  Then later, in 1881, after review by legislative committee, a resolution was passed declaring Arkansas to be pronounced Ark-an-saw.


Chocolate gravy on a biscuit at Calico County, Fort Smith.
"6.  Two Words: Chocolate Gravy."
NO ONE wants bacon bits in their chocolate gravy.  What the heck?  Yes, chocolate gravy is something that can be considered popular in Arkansas and which has a heritage that dates back to the early 20th century.  It was a cheap sweet stuff, called gravy because any flour-thickened butter roux was considered such, and it is served in Arkansas restaurants.  But bacon bits take the cake.  Dude, next time you're searching for images, make sure you get them from Arkansas instead of Oberlin, OH native Edwin Little's Flickr stream.

"7. Directions Are Given In Time, Not Distance Here."
Really?  You think that's just Arkansawyers?  Even Siri tells you how long a journey is going to take.  Google Maps, too.  MapQuest, even.

And dude, really, so far you're striking out on most Arkansas images.  A dread-locked traffic cop in NYC giving directions to a random woman while being watched by mannequins (or Autons, if you watch Doctor Who) has absolutely nothing to do with The Natural State.

"8.  Rotary Tillers Are The Next Big Thing In Racing Here."
Forget about the next big thing. Tiller racing in Emerson's been going on nearly a quarter of a century now.

And yes, it's as awesome as you might imagine.

"9. Outhouses Can Also Move Pretty Fast In The Natural State."
I would love to contradict you here, but in the case of Beanfest's annual World Championship Outhouse Races, it's true.

However, that's one of the few times we even utilize the antiquated facilities any more. With the rare off-the-grid exception,
No longer in service.
indoor toilets are the norm here. The two-decker executive model at Booger Hollow's been retired eight years now.

"10. People Tend To Stand Up And 'Call Those Hogs' A Lot."
That's an assumption right there. We're not all U of A alumni. Arkansas has many laudable colleges and universities -- and for folks in the Arkansas Delta, folks are just as likely if not moreso to whoop and holler over the Arkansas State University Red Wolves.

There's also that whole matter of "a lot." Sure, in bars or at football games or rallies, that happens. Political gatherings, okay. It's generally frowned upon at Arkansas Symphony Orchestra concerts, visits to our fine museums like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art or the Arkansas Arts Center, within libraries, at weddings or funerals (unless the betrothed or the deceased is a Razorback fan, of course, and only tastefully hollered when appropriate).

"11. There’s Nothing Wrong With Eating Crappie."
You're damn right there's not. Crappie is extraordinarily good eating, a game fish that hasn't been messed around with by man. You won't find it on the menu anywhere, but if you have
the right invite or you're willing to catch your own, you're in for a succulent fighting fish that's relatively easy to clean and delightful in flavor. Also, you might want to know it's pronounced "CROP-ee."

However, you probably want to give finchlake2000 at least a cursory message asking permission to use his photograph. For one, it appears Grant and Chad got themselves a fine mess of crappie down on Finch Lake in northern Louisiana. For two, finchlake2000 did clearly list this notice on his About page: "All my photos are for viewing on Flickr. Do NOT copy or reproduce for any reason or in any way without my permission." That's why I'm not posting it on my site.

"12. Camouflage Isn’t Just A Pattern For Hunters."
How this is different for just about any southern state, I couldn't tell you. But it's rude. I'm in a pickle right now because I'll be appearing at an event requiring camo in just over a week and I don't have a single camo object. I've lived here all my life, too.

Also, there's no evidence Amanda Benns got married in Arkansas. That's her, by the way, in your photo there. On her wedding day.

"13. A Gunshot Doesn’t Always Mean Danger Here."
We are taught from a young age the proper way to handle a weapon. That doesn't mean folks in Little Rock or Jonesboro or Fayetteville leave the office at lunch and go shoot supper.

Once again, you've missed your research here. I'll refer you to the Arkansas Code for Arkansas Concealed Handgun licensing, under §5-73-306. Prohibited places. No license to carry a concealed handgun issued pursuant to this subchapter authorizes any person to carry a concealed handgun into:  
(16) (A) Any church or other place of worship.
(B) However, this subchapter does not preclude a church or other place of
worship from determining who may carry a concealed handgun into the church or
other place of worship.

That means while a particular church can choose to allow concealed handguns on the premises, in general it's not allowed.

Also, your photo comes from John Lustig, a Minnesota native who might not be so happy you just put a photo of Nate, an underage minor with a gun, on your website.

"14. Coke Can Mean Pretty Much Anything In Arkansas."
You know, Mr. McKee, you could have searched "Arkansas Coke" or something and come up with a better photo. Mind you, Mike Mozart is a funny dude, but he's from NYC, and I suspect this photo was taken there, too.

I refer you now to the Pop Vs. Soda page, which actually graphs out what parts of the U.S. refer to soft drinks as soda, pop or Coke. As you can tell from this handy graph, yes, Arkansas does prefer the term "Coke;'" however, so does Texas and a majority of the South with the exception of Florida. In my family, if you want a brown carbonated beverage, it's a cola. I have no idea what we'd call what Mr. Mozart is holding up in that photo, since Jolly Rancher soda sounds abominable.

"15. Folks Here Are Always Prepared For A Storm Warning."
To not be prepared for whatever weather is possible would be foolhardy. Yes, Arkansas is unfortunately blessed with a rather large number of cyclic tornado outbreaks; our ability to stay prepared for such potential emergencies (as well as also looking out for flash floods, heat waves, ice storms, locusts and earthquakes) has limited the amount of casualties from such weather events.

However, the idea that we all go outside and look at impending doom with an alcoholic beverage in hand is deplorably insulting. I usually set down my iced tea before checking the weather, and if we're under a tornado warning, I am in my hidey-hole.

Also, Karl Frankowski's image was taken in Minneapolis.

"16. You Stock Up On Sunday Football Beer, On Saturday."
If you're talking about beer consumed at home, sure. You can obtain a single drink at a time at many Arkansas restaurants on Sunday. It depends on the county.

And if you're talking about that beer cart, Fred Ross Lord shot it in McLean, Virginia.

"17. People Drive the Pig Trail For Fun."
Yes, some do. I do. It's gorgeous. But "tons" of people don't use it to get around the state. It's an alternate route for people traveling from Ozark to Fayetteville -- a distance that can be traversed with greater haste on I-49 or the Boston Mountain Scenic Byway (old Highway 71).

However, the image displayed is located on US Highway 62 just to the west of Eureka Springs -- within spitting distance of Thorncrown Chapel. Try again.

"18. Yep, Tractors Are Completely Street Legal Here."
Leaving aside the fact that your photo for this entry didn't even come from the United States (photographer David Wright cites this as taken at Deepdale, England), no, you can't take tractors on just any road in Arkansas. In particular, this has become a problem for proponents of I-555, a proposed connector link to be developed along US Highway 63 between Turrell and Walnut Ridge, passing through Jonesboro. While most of I-555 has already been upgraded to interstate standards, there's a small legal issue. Several farmers in Poinsett County have land on either side of the St. Francis Floodway, which they can only access by crossing said waterway on US Highway 63. Tractors are not allowed on any officially designated interstate highways in Arkansas. This isn't just in Arkansas, by the way. Here's a handy booklet of information about tractors and other agricultural equipment allowed on American roads.

And here's a photo of an actual tractor on the road here in Arkansas, courtesy Grav Weldon.

"19. Deer Aren’t All Cute And Cuddly."
Yes, absolutely. Deer are in abundance here... except for in areas around the poor fellows out there who haven't bagged one yet this hunting season. We know to watch for deer at night. And during the day, too. However, the cuddly fawn in the photo taken by Martin Cathrae at Parc Omega in Montebello, Quebec is a danger to no one. Unless he grows up and turns into this buck.

"20. There’s A Very Good Reason It’s Known As The Natural State."
You finally got one right. The view from Whitaker Point is astounding. Most folks, though, go for the shot below.

Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
"21. Everything Can Be Deep Fried."
Dear heavens. Well, if you were talking about the Arkansas State Fair, you might have a point. But you don't. While fried foods make the news, most rural Arkansas natives are perfectly happy with side dishes of fresh, seasonal vegetables or canned garden delights in the winter. Fresh fish, steak, pork, venison, smoked meats and even spaghetti are on the menu here. Everyone reading this from Arkansas knows I can go on FOR DAYS on this subject.

Yet, if Arkansas is so enamored with the concept of battering and deep frying, then why nick one of Bob B. Brown's photos from the Miami-Dade Fair?

"22. Watch Out For The Boggy Creek Monster."
Outside of the whole Fouke Monster issue, for some reason this article shows a photo of Bigfoot burning in effigy at a California youth camp.

"23. Snipe Hunting Is A Real Thing In Arkansas."


Okay, yes, you can hunt the common snipe in Arkansas, according to Arkansas Game & Fish. But that's not what the term usually means here.

So, thanks to webcomic Jeph Jacques, a little bit of

"24. 'Knee High By The Fourth Of July' Is A Great Thing To Hear."
Mr. McKee is once again confusing Arkansas with Iowa. Yeah, corn's grown here. But so's cotton, soybeans, and one heck of a lot of rice. The photo comes from a corn maze at Cuyahoga Falls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio. You want to experience a corn maze, there are a bunch that pop up in October. But yeah, we're not Iowa. Or Ohio.

"25. Lots Of Arkansans Coincidentally 'Get Sick' The First Day Of Hunting Season."
Hunting season, whether it be duck, deer or some other sort of fauna or fowl, begins on Saturdays. That's by design.

Oh, hey, Bryan McDonald. Good morning in Morning Sun, I see.

"26. Dinner Is Lunch, Supper Is Dinner."
No, not really. I'm sure there may be someone who says that, but in general, no. Also, Heather Katsoulis of West Springfield, MA probably didn't take that photo in Arkansas.

"27. The Only Way To Drink Tea Is Ice Cold And Sweet."
Nope, nope, nope. Just like everywhere else, people like their tea sweet or plain, and hot tea is awesome when it's cold outside. Hot tea's also pretty wonderful when it's not cold outside, too. You've taken another generalization about the South and applied it to Arkansas, no matter how accurate things might be. That's how misconceptions are spread. Just stop it.

And Liz McKibben's photo appeared in the Examiner out of Tampa Bay already.

"28. Bug Spray Is A Necessity."
No, sorry, not in the city, which seems to be implied from this photo of a mosquito sculpture. Too bad this image was taken by user Wm Jas of Changhua, Taiwan... turns out this is the Suwon City Mosquito Monument in Suwon, South Korea. The fact that this article showed a South Korean depiction of a mosquito rather than the real thing kinda negates the entire validity of just about anything here.

Of course you use bug spray in the deep woods in the warm months. That's common sense in any state.

"29. Nothing Is More Beautiful Than An Ozark Sunset."
I really wanted this to be right. But no... it's not, not completely. Clinton Steed's photo from Inspiration Point is excellent, though.

It's not right... because there's also an Arkansas Delta Sunset...

which goes on...


Really, almost anywhere you go in Arkansas, the sunsets and the sunrises are phenomenal.

So, Movoto and Mr. McKee... want to have another stab at it, set the record straight?
And readers, what do you think?

Chef Bruno's Italian Joint Headed to Ed and Kay's.

It's been eight months since Kay Diemer closed Ed and Kay's on a Saturday afternoon.  Since then, the building on I-30 on the south side of Benton has sat there quietly, full of old memories.  In just a few weeks, it'll reopen as a different venture. The old Ed and Kay's has been leased.

"Bruno, he's a really nice guy," Kay Diemer told me this morning. "When I first closed down in March, he talked to me. He wanted to lease it and keep it as Ed and Kay's. I was hoping to sell the whole thing, but no one wanted to invest a lot of money."

The restaurant's location out on a service road on the edge of town was popular in its heyday, but with the way restaurants come and go, I can see why it seems a little risky as a full on investment.

Bruno is Chef Bruno Baqiri, the chef at Bruno's Italian Bistro on Bowman Road. That may be a bit confusing; the initial rumors circulating connected Vince Bruno of Bruno's Little Italy to the leasing of Ed and Kay's. While Bruno's Little Italy used to be located where Bruno's Italian Bistro is now, they are completely separate restaurants.

Many were shocked when Kay suddenly decided to close Ed and Kay's at noon on the morning of March 1st. I was among them. But she had a reason.

"My son was real bad sick, and I knew he was dying. And that day I thought, 'what in the hell was I doing here?' Something just told me to close the door at twelve o'clock. Here I was busy, cooking, having a big day. No one would close the restaurant at noon on a Saturday. But I knew he wouldn't live long..."

Her son passed away at the end of March.

"The good Lord takes care of you," she told me. For Kay, deciding to close meant she could spend that final month with her son.

She's thrilled to be able to lease the restaurant for this venture. "I'm glad Bruno's going to get it. I'm excited about him opening an Italian restaurant here -- we don't have anything quite like that here in Saline County. He's looking to start the first of the month. Everything's there, all he has to do is get everything he wants to set up. I really like Bruno and I hope it works out there."

Chef Bruno Baqiri, who I talked with this afternoon, confirms the acquisition but doesn't have a firm date on opening the new location.

Kay still has some plans. One of the questions I'm asked most about Ed and Kay's is, what's going to happen to those recipes? Well, they won't go to waste. "I'm in several books, people put our recipes, in. We gave them out. But we did a 10 inch pie, and most pies are smaller. We would have to work with them, test them to get them going. People ask 'what do you do with those recipes, Kay? They don't taste like the ones you cook!' Well, they don't use the same pot we use, or maybe it's not the same brand of things we use.

"(Bruno) didn't buy any recipes," she laughed when I asked if Chef would serve her pies.

"Thing of it is, we're doing several recipe books. I have three plastic boxes of recipe books we're in. Phyllis (Kay's former manager) worked for me for 32 years. We want to publish a cookbook. We want to do it in a humorous way, with pictures and all the crazy things we did all those 32 years."

I have a feeling that book will be a best seller.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 Unique Arkansas Foods.

What sort of food comes from Arkansas?  Our state is blessed with a rich heritage of game such as deer, boar and elk as well as a plethora of game fowl and a great measure of fish.  But what have we created as foods we can share with others, true home-grown creations?

Here are five dishes that come from Arkansas.

1.  Chocolate gravy.  This breakfast addition came to us in the early part of the 20th century, with the spread of the use of cocoa powder.  The methods to make it vary, but it includes cocoa, sugar, butter and flour, is either made from a roux or a milk base, and is always served over biscuits. Delish named it the food to represent Arkansas.  Here's a recipe. Check out how the folks at the Wagon Wheel in Greenbrier make it.

2.  Possum pie.  Variations of this dish are made elsewhere, and it has different names in different parts of the state -- Four Layer Delight, Chocolate Torte, Robert Redford -- but the idea is the same: a cooler pie with cream cheese and a flour-and-pecan crust on the bottom, whipped cream and pecans on the top and a layer of chocolate custard in-between.  Its name comes from the fact the pie is "playin' possum," which means you don't know what's in that pie until you cut into it.  Check out Debbie Arnold's recipe and video.
3.  Cheese dip.  Created by Arkansas native Blackie Donnelly, first served up at Mexico Chiquito in the 1940s and celebrated in the film In Queso Fever, this concoction of cheeses and spices has definitively been linked to The Natural State.  Restaurants all over will tell you theirs is the best.  Want to find a place to dip your chip? Here's a rundown of the most famous of Arkansas cheese dips.

4.  Fried pickles.  Created at the Duchess Drive In in Atkins by Bernell Austin, these sour wonders have seen their way around the world.  Other states may claim them, but they are an Arkansas original.  Check out the history behind the dish and a couple of recipes here, and see how Gus's Fried Chicken makes their own version.

5.  Arkansas Delta Tamales.  Arkansas Delta tamales were originally introduced by the St. Columbia family.  Grandfather Peter came to the United States in the last decade of the 1890s and ended up in Helena, where his odd jobs took him out into cotton plantations worked by Mexican immigrants.  He gave them pasta recipes, they taught him how to make tamales, and that recipe has been refined through the generations and through the soul food restaurant the St. Columbias financed.  Learn more about the Arkansas Delta Tamale here.

Want to learn more about Arkansas foods?  Check out my books Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley and Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta -- and learn more about possum pie in Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State.