Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Oyster Barn in Pensacola

When I said I wasn’t that hungry, just wanted a bowl of soup, something like clam chowder or gumbo, my son’s eyes just lit up.

“We could even walk!” he said. “It’s close!”

We didn’t – not that night, because I was really tired, and jet lagging, but I walked back another day to get an outdoor photo for you.

You’d have to know about the Oyster Barn to eat there – it is a tiny marina on a bayou, and out on the main street, there is no indication that this little gem is hidden back along the shore. You just have to know.

And a lot of people DO know. When we got there, the parking lot was packed. We almost went somewhere else, but we decided to give it a try. And there was one booth just emptied, just right for us. It’s the kind of place when you walk in everyone is trying to figure out who you are, because mostly it is packed with locals. You won’t find this place if you are a tourist.

This isn’t a fancy place, but it has great local seafood. The waitress appeared promptly to take our orders, which here, always start with iced tea (“Sweet or UnSweet?”)

My son and his wife had the Jumbo shrimp, which comes with “two sides” – my son had hush puppies and cheese grits, and his wife had salad and hush puppies. The servings are generous, and oh! those shrimp are SO good. They have a peppery-cajun coating that is both spicy and delicious. We finished with a very tart, very authentic piece of Key Lime Pie, all of us so full we all shared one piece with three forks. Life is sweet.

I had the oyster stew – and it was full of plump, juicy oysters. I took a photo of the stew, but it didn’t do it justice – all you could see was a milky looking base with lumps.

My Mom is coming with me next time I visit Pensacola, and this is one of the first places I will take her. I know she will love it. Although it is in Florida, it is very much like the places we used to eat when we lived in Alaska.

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July 14, 2007 Posted by | Cooking, Customer Service, Eating Out, Family Issues, Florida, Lumix, Photos | 10 Comments

Here, There and Out of My Mind

I’ll start with the ending, it’s all come to a crashing halt. I feel like a child who has been taken to a day in the park, all the rides, all the sugary foods and now they say I have to come home?

Yes. I will tell you about the trip, with lots of photos, so you won’t think I am just being a bore, you can look at the photos and imagine yourself there with us. At the end of the trip, it all goes downhill, the lovely African adventure has ended.

Leaving our last camp, we fly in a very small airplane back from the lower Zambezi to Lusaka. We drive to the airstrip, the pilot checks our names against his list, we climb aboard and take off. That’s the airstrip. The last time we were there, we don’t think it was paved.

It is the best flight we have all day – two charming pilots, five passengers, it is a great flight. Lusaka isn’t so bad; we have a competent ticket agent who manages to book our bags all the way to Pensacola, so we don’t have to scurry around picking up bags, then coming back in to check them in, because we booked our travel to Johannesburg separately from out travel from JoBurg to Lusaka, it’s complicated but it all has to do with alliances. Not my alliances, airline alliances.

BTW, Lusaka International airport is sweet. Quiet. One tiny little restaurant in the departure area where we found good grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Some shops, not greatly stocked.

Lusaka airport – you walk to the plane, walk up the stairs, the old fashioned way:

Johannesburg transit is horrible. It always is. We have flown in from Frankfurt several times, from Dubai several times, and from Windhoek and Gaborone and Lusaka – transiting Johannesburg is, for some reason, irrationally annoying. No matter how crowded the transit area is, or how isolated, the computers are always slow, or . . . the operators. No matter what airline we deal with, that transit area, the one downstairs where you have to check in for your next flight, it is horrible. It takes so much longer than it needs to.

Upstairs, we hit the shops, junky Out of Africa with it’s schlock, some of the others. I made a big mistake; I was buying little fun things for our son and his wife, little coffee things and such at Taste of Africa, and I bought them some biltong; what we call jerky. They had ostrich and eland and several exotic kinds, so I bought several.

Loading up for the 17 hour (yes, you read that right, it is Delta’s longest non-stop flight) flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta was an unusual experience. Think Amsterdam on steroids. We are all sitting, and are rousted out of the waiting room and told to line up in two lines, with men in one line and women in the other. They look at our bags and ask us questions. This is the third time today my bags have been checked; I don’t mind, but it is a little unusual. Then we line up again once we are back in the waiting room; it is nearly time to board.

There is one of those wild-eyed women going down the line asking loudly “Is this the line for PRIORITY boarding? Are you all PRIORITY passengers?” and clearly she thinks she has a pretty high priority. But when the airline boards the Diamonds and the Platinums, she is still waiting back with the golds and silvers, so I guess she didn’t have as much priority as she thought she had.

It’s one of those big, huge flights with every seat taken. It’s sort of like being in a high school cafeteria, tempers flare as overhead baggage bins fill up, parents with children beg people to change places so they can fly together, while the privileged politely decline; they paid extra for those aisle seats. It’s all pretty horrible, but we have books and somehow we even catch a couple hours sleep. The flight attendants are like harried waitresses, hauling those drink carts and meal carts up and down the aisles, trying to get people to stay in their seats (who can stay in their seat for SEVENTEEN hours??) I discovered that if you are reading books, iPad batteries keep their charge longer than if you are playing Sudoku. I’m reading a great book, Wolf Hall, and it holds my interest.

Arriving in Atlanta, it’s all my fault, AdventureMan and I are shuttled into the agricultural inspection area, where it is pretty much us and all the Africans bringing back turnips and sugar cane and rice and meats and special foods. I didn’t know that the dried meat was a problem, but evidently ostrich meat is some of the very most threatening, and other countries have serious diseases that we have so far managed to escape. They are actually very kind to me, although they do confiscate all my jerkies. The inspector tells us they get all kinds of stuff (there was a huge barrel of confiscated agricultural products) including rats, and monkey brains.

Sadly, many of the people in there with us don’t really understand, and I know many of them went to a lot of trouble to bring a home specialty for some family member, only to have it confiscated. Many didn’t understand enough English and the inspectors didn’t know their languages.

We got off easy enough; all they cared about was confiscating the illegal meat.

Found a place with decent coffee and croissants, found a place to wash our faces and brush our teeth, so we boarded the Pensacola flight fresher than we got off the flight from JoBurg.

Our son met us at the airport and got us all home; we grabbed a quick lunch at the nearby Marina Oyster Barn (our comfort-food restaurant of choice) and then showered and tumbled into bed. We woke up again as our son and his wife and the darling little happy toddler came by for dinner. After dinner, we said good night and good bye to our guests, knowing we were all going to bed but that we would be awake in the middle of the night and they would probably leave to go to their home. As it turned out, we were all awake around 3:30 in the oh-dark-hundred, so we were able to hear them off.

We’ve been up since, trying to take care of business and to stay awake. I started with trying to get through (get rid of) over a thousand e-mail – two weeks is a LONG time. AdventureMan fell asleep in my office around 7:30 so I woke him up and made him go to aqua-aerobics with me, we hit the grocery store, and poor AdventureMan, his computer has bit the dust so he had to buy a new computer today. He picked up the mail in the afternoon, I paid the outstanding bills. Anything, anything to stay awake, to try to get us back on schedule, Pensacola time.

We caught the last episode of Game of Thrones, Season two, which helped us make it an extra hour last night, and AdventureMan has some things we missed lined up for tonight – HBO’s Girls, VEEP, and the first episode from the new season of True Blood, also he thinks Southland is starting up again, and we really like that.

I think I’m going out of my mind. Jet lag makes me a little crazy. Normally, I am all unpacked by now, but I couldn’t even stand to look at my suitcase today. I bought salmon for tonight’s dinner, but I don’t think I can cook it. I haven’t felt energetic since . . . 3:30 this morning, LOL. When I get tired, I can get weepy, or irrational, or a little unbalanced. What I yearn for is to take a nap, a nice, long, snoozy nap . . .

Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . ………..

June 15, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Bureaucracy, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Pensacola, Random Musings, Shopping, Travel, Zambia | , | 5 Comments

Signs of Spring in Pensacola

Coming home from a meeting last night, I head into Joe Patti’s to pick up some crab for dinner, and holy smokes! The parking lot is full! There is no line coming out the door, and a car pulls out so I get a space, but what is going on?

Once I get in, I know. The place is PACKED, and most of these folk are wearing beach clothes or short sleeves, a couple young women in strapless sun dresses . . . I get it. It’s Spring Break time in Pensacola, and Joe Patti’s is as packed as it was on Christmas Eve Day. Lines to pay are snaking around everywhere, and I get the last loaf of multigrain French bread.

At least the lines are civil. The locals smile at one another – we’re all wearing long sleeves, it’s cloudy and a little on the cool side. Part of me smiles to think of myself as ‘local.’ Guess I’m getting there.

When I get home, AdventureMan is all smiles, and not just because I’m going to make Open Faced Crab Sandwiches for dinner. No! One of his Monarch butterflies has hatched! We’ve had such a mild winter that we’ve had a few hatching here and there all winter, but this is the first butterfly of spring, and he is fresh out of the cocoon. After losing two cocoons to hungry birds, he devised a protective shoe box. AdventureMan is fast becoming a local expert on creating a safe environments for butterflies to feed, lay eggs, cocoon and hatch. He’s also having a lot of fun with it.

On our back fence, a vine we planted last October is taking root and taking off. I think it is a coral honeysuckle, also called a coral trumpet honeysuckle, or coral trumpet vine. It attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds. 🙂

This is not particularly a Spring photo, but it is a seasonal photo. The oysters right now at the Marina Oyster Barn are HUGE! I had a bowl of oyster stew, AdventureMan had six raw oysters and the little lady sitting behind us had a full dozen. “I can’t get these in Illinois!” she exclaimed; AdventureMan could barely eat all six, they were so huge, so we had a hard time believing she could eat 12, but she did!

Just as the weather is perfect for getting outdoors and cleaning out the weeds, the pollen also starts flying. I get out while it is cool, weed a selected area and come back in and shower all the pollen off. It doesn’t do that much good; my eyes are still watering and I am sneezing, but who knows how bad it would be if I didn’t wash the pollen off?

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Gardens, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Weather | 2 Comments

Michelin Red “R”s in Pensacola

There is an entire category of restaurants we call Michelin Red R’s, which is for good local food at reasonable prices. I don’t even know if the category still exists, but these are the restaurants where the locals eat.

We’ve eaten high and we’ve eaten low. What we found was that while we have loved many excellent French restaurants, often in the most expensive restaurants, the food is too rich for us. We spent a wedding anniversary at a two star French restaurant, one year when we lived in Germany, and had the tasting menu, which was delicious. At least the first three courses or so were delicious; it’s about all we can remember. Even though portions were tiny, they were rich, and fatty, and we were up all night digesting the rich food. It’s hard to go into these restaurants and only order a soup and salad, or anything simple, so now, when in France, we only go rarely, with friends, and select carefully.

Our all time favorite dining has been in the Red R’s. Once, in Concarneau, we were directed to a local Red R where we were the only non-French people in the restaurant. There may have been other items on the menu (I am sure there were because we had our son with us and he would not have eaten mussels) but we had the Moules – we didn’t see anyone eating anything else. They were so simply prepared – steamed in white wine with garlic and parsley, maybe just a little butter. And they were divine. A little bread, salad, moules, and something truly ordinary, like chocolate mousse or dessert – it was heaven. We sat at long tables, full of French families, the windows dripping from the steam of all the mussels – not elegant dining, but fully memorable, simple and delicious.

We have found some Red R’s in Pensacola, and we give them a try, but in Pensacola, much of the traditional local food is deep fried, so we have to eat with caution. Our favorite Pensacola Red R restaurant is nearby, the Marina Oyster Barn, where we can get our seafood grilled. It is always full of local people, not tourists, and I love their oyster stew. We also love their grilled tuna, their crab cakes, and their grouper sandwiches. Actually, there is little we do not love there. 🙂

The grilled tuna:

We stopped at CJ’s a week or so ago (on Garden, near Pace), and the place was packed; we had to wait for a table.

CJ’s club sandwich with onion rings:

CJ’s Reuben sandwich with onion rings:

We can understand why the place is packed; they have fabulous local food. My Reuben was really good. We probably won’t go back; everything is accompanied by french fries and we couldn’t resist trying the onion rings, which you will notice are fried, and there are a lot of them. We can’t afford to eat like that. Our wallets can handle it; our hearts cannot, LOL.

Part of what we want to do it to make ourselves try new places. We find a few we like and we get into a rut, going back to them. AdventureMan had always wanted to try this place, Porcetta’s, also on Garden:

I had thought it was a take-out place, but I was wrong, there was seating inside for maybe forty people. You order at the counter; here is the menu:

AdventureMan had soup and a ham and cheese grilled sandwich – delicious! There was so much food that after eating the soup, he could only eat half a sandwich, and took the additional half home for dinner.

I wanted to get the Porcetta, not knowing what it was, and the smallest I could get was the Big Mama. It was good:

We often go to Sonny’s BBQ, a Florida chain, where the real Sonny actually visits all the restaurants himself, to make sure they follow his standards. We really like Sonny’s smoked turkey, and tell ourselves that it makes barbecue healthy. If you know differently, please, please – don’t tell us.

I mention Sonny’s because it is a Red R – always packed. Sonny’s is a very large restaurant, so when we arrived a week or so ago and it was packed and about 50 people were waiting to get in (there was a bus with maybe some sport team and maybe a band from Louisiana) we decided to head across the street to the new Chow Tyme. Normally we avoid Chinese buffets, but this place is new and we wanted to see what it was like.

Chow Tyme, off 9th near Creighton, is not what you would usually think of as ‘local’ cuisine, but these days local can be more diverse, and Chow Time is . . . . diverse. Just open, they did a really smart thing, they bought billboards all over town to advertise their opening. It paid off.

It’s hard for me to imagine how they can make money, even with all the customers. They offer so much food. Everyone was chowing down on the steamed crab, which was coming out hot and served with melted butter. There must be room for 300 – 400 patrons in the restaurant; it is huge. At the same time, there is fresh grilled food coming off the open grills, and it isn’t bad. There is also fresh sushi. There is also pizza. Macaroni and cheese. Ice Creams and puddings for dessert. It is a bad mix, but the customers are happy, so who am I to criticize? Chow Tyme is packing in the locals, and the price is reasonable.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | Cultural, Eating Out, Florida, Food, Living Conditions, Pensacola | 1 Comment

A Change in the Weather

Today my Mom and I went shopping, tough work in a soggy, sultry heat. She was game, though, and shopped ’till she dropped, or at least until time to pick up AdventureMan to head for lunch at the Marina Oyster Barn. We’ve taken Mom there before, and today, that was just where she wanted to eat. Oyster stew. Hush puppies. Grilled tuna sandwiches. A slice of key lime pie to go – oh yummm.

As we entered the Marina Oyster Barn it was 77 degrees F. An hour later, as we left, it was 55 degrees F and it was starting to rain. This was not unexpected, but the sheer drama of the one hour, 22 degree drop made our jaws drop.

We dropped Mom off at home and hurried off to finish some errands before the big storm hit, but we were too late – just as we left the store with the 2 pounds of Jordanian dates for Mom, the squall hit full force, and we were soaked in the ten feet it took us to get to the car.

I’m happy though. I love the cooler temperatures, I love a chance to wear some of my more wintery clothing, and I love love love not having to use the air conditioning. 🙂

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Food, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Shopping, Weather | Leave a comment

Noon 28 August 2012, and Isaac Becomes a Hurricane

We’ve had some squalls, wind and rain, but at noon the skies are blue with some clouds, the wind has dropped, and we decide to see how things look. Many are closed and boarded up, few are open. Our favorite lunch spot is open:

The sun is shining, but it is weird:

As we are eating, we learn that Isaac has now been declared a hurricane. We decide not to drive over the two bridges to the beach, but we take a look downtown and take the Bayshore Route home. The downtown marina is almost entirely empty:

The pelicans are enjoying a little surf:

Over on Bayou Texar, you can see that the water level is very high. The piers in the park have totally disappeared, and our favorite restaurant, the Oyster Barn, is underwater – oh NO!

This heron is happy to have the pier all to himself, until a local fisherman comes along and scares him away:

These people have temporarily lost their dock on the Bayou:

Now back home, the sun is hidden by the thickening clouds, rain falls in flurries and we can hear the wind whistling down our chimney. We are glued to our TV’s, keeping up with what is going on in New Orleans and Louisiana. It looks like the eye may be heading west of New Orleans, more toward New Iberia.

August 28, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Weather | Leave a comment

Final Week of Mardi Gras in Pensacola

Tonight is the Grand Mardi Gras parade in Pensacola, and I thought I would go. I was even betting I could talk my daughter-in-law into going with me, but the day has dawned windy and rainy, and the forecast is 100% for thunderstorms tonight.

Of course, 100% predictions just make me laugh. It could be that there will be no storms tonight, and no rain and no wind. But I’m putting any plans on hold.

Meanwhile, everywhere you go, you see the green, purple and gold of Mardi Gras in Pensacola. Houses have Mardi Gras wreaths on their doors, and masks decorate tables and walls.

Wreaths for sale at Sam’s Club:

Wreath at the Marina Oyster Bar:

March 5, 2011 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Events, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Weather | 3 Comments