After a very sad five minutes, I decided to take the opposite route and head Southwest. Before my grandmother passed, she spoke of her wish to visit the Great Smoky Mountains. She never got there but I could go for her so, to the Smokies I drove.
My ultimate destination was Austin, to see my family. But along the way, both on the way down, and on the way back, I drove until I felt at peace with this thing called life. The things that stood out to me the most were really simple: natural beauty I found around me. It's something that I notice in my day-to-day life but when you're somewhere that's unfamiliar, somehow the observations and details aggrandize.
Below are some photos from my journey. And no food blog would be complete without photos of food I encountered along the way...
My second and third nights were spent in the Smokies and there, I safely encountered a black bear (Ursus americanus), one of my favorite insects-the North American Giant Millipede (Narceus americanus) and numerous female Black Swallow Tail butterfilies (Papilio polyxenes). In the park, specifically on the Mt. LeConte trail, I was not surprised to see how the foot traffic had eroded the soil above so many tree roots to expose them to the elements. Just think about our blood vessels being exposed. Trees are absolutely incredible structures. If you've ever been to the bottom of Evergreen Cemetery, on the forest path to the right of the ponds, you will see this human side-effect to nature as well.
My fourth day was spent driving. And driving some more for a total of 15 hours in order to get to Austin without sacrificing any lost time. I arrived around midnight, instructed my mother not to hug me yet and promptly took a shower, as my air conditioner hadn't been used/or in working condition for the past four years. God I love Maine!
The food I encounter when I'm home with family is unlike any I can find up here so I relish it with every bite. Fajitas with homemade tortillas, thanks to my brother-in-law, were had the first night. I sauteed bell peppers and onions while my sister tore up a chicken she had roasted all day in a Crockpot. Salsa, guacamole and sour cream were all in attendance as well.
Other outings included a local brewery with my father. At Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company, I had a pretty decent American Sour beer called YSB #8 Violet Beauegarde, made with Texas blueberries. Go figure...
A favorite sandwich shop is called Thundercloud Subs so I'm almost positive I've written of this place before. Where else in this age can you get an incredible filling but healthy and absolutely satisfying lunch for less than $5? Hummus, guacamole, sprouts, tomatoes, red onion sliced super thin, lettuce, salt and pepper plus their "Thunder Sauce" on wheat bread is something I've tried to create time and again without reaching perfection. I guess I'll just have to visit Austin again someday!
Lastly, as I had to traverse the country to arrive in Maine by September 13th, I had to miss my nephew's birthday on September 12th. This seemed to have happened last year too so, not wanting to miss out on the celebration (read: sugar intake), I instigated a cupcake party. Last year, we got them from Polka Dot Cupcakes on Rio Grand Street. They were fantastic, especially because I had them cut out fondant letters that spelled out "Happy Bday Gabriel" and placed atop the cupcakes. This year, ever exploratory, I wanted to try something new. And ding ding ding, we have a winner.
Sugar Mama's Bakeshop in South First Street wins with both the best names for their creations (try the "Marilyn Monroe:" buttery vanilla cake with Bourbon Madagascar vanilla buttercream icing or "Back to School Special:" a way better quality/tasting Hostess cupcake with swirly frosting) and the actual taste of them altogether. We ate dinner first and were quite full from our beef and rice stir fry with rice but I just couldn't help tasting multiple pieces of multiple types of cupcakes. If you visit or live anywhere near Austin, go there and eat a perfected sugar bomb for me!!