Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tales of the Cracker Barrel, and why you should never – or always – stop there

It started with this recent spate of commercials; steaming bowls of chicken and dumplings, long filets of locally caught fish lightly breaded in corn meal, fat sizzling links of sausage framing two sunny side ups like eyebrows, freshly baked biscuits, rolls, and muffins nesting in cloth-lined baskets, a huge, homey slab of chicken fried steak artistically slathered with peppery country cream gravy…all passing across the screen so seductively you can smell it.

After a few days of this, Husband spoke up from the depths of his lounger: “Tomorrow. 11:30. We’re going.”
Now, we’re no strangers to the Cracker Barrel. We generally pit there at least once on any given road trip. But it’s been awhile since we’ve headed anywhere. And let’s face it – with the kids gone and me spending insane amounts of time with books and blogs, the smell of home cookin’ in our kitchen is mighty rare these days.

So we went. Past the rows of rockers, the heavy double doors swung open to emit streams of tempting aromas. I sipped coffee while my wide, incredulous eyes took in the trays of fantastic meals being delivered to tables around us. With a prompt from Husband I turned back to my menus. Yes, menus – in the plural. The hostess handed us two each as we were seated at the heavy, rustic-looking log table with an oil lamp on it. And still more offerings on little stand-up cards. How could I possibly navigate my way to a decision?

Eventually, of course, I did. The side of fried apples was just like my grandma’s – drenched in cinnamon syrup. The biscuits were as light as Aunt Lillian’s. The meatloaf just like Mom’s. Aside from the sawmill gravy, which was better than anybody’s, it was pure Home.

Now I’m inspired. I want to cook again. In a fever of domesticity I combed through the grocery aisles for the forgotten items of my past: coarse ground black pepper, corn starch, baking powder…what? No leaf lard? How can I make biscuits from this imitation margarine?

You know, this might just be what Husband had in mind…

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