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COME TO THE TABLE -- Experiences as a Travel Writer . . . and a recipe

These past seven years of being a travel and food writer/blogger have led to some amazing meals, opportunities to meet great chefs and restaurant owners, and stimulating times around the table with fellow travel writers and bloggers. I confess to being very spoiled now when it comes to dishes in restaurants. It's harder to eat just ordinary or average food than it used to be. People who have great skills in the kitchen make such a difference in terms of taste and presentation. No wonder culinary schools are growing in popularity and demand. An exceptional, creative meal is such a pleasure to experience.

Several encounters stand out in my mind. In November of 2019, I met Chef Lyle Broussard in Lake Charles, Louisiana. What a great guy! He learned to cook by watching the women in his family create sumptuous food then went to culinary school to learn more. Louisiana is already well-known for its awesome food, and in my opinion, Chef Lyle is one of the best in the state. He's a whiz with cast iron pots and is a true pleasure to talk to.

In 2016, Steve and I went to St. Simons Island on a writing assignment. There we were served a 5-course meal prepared by Chef James Flack who was at the ECHO Restaurant inside King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. It was my first time to eat fois gras and Wagyu beef. Oh my goodness, it was good. While on the same trip, Steve and I were asked to participate in a photo shoot for the restaurant and were paired with another chef and his wife -- Chef Dennis Littley and his wife Lisa. I have followed both of them ever since and recommend that you do the same. His Chicken Marsala is terrific and has become a favorite "special" recipe in my repertoire.

For my birthday in 2017, Steve and I were the guests of VisitBirmingham for dinner at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham. The next year it was named Best Restaurant in the U.S. by the James Beard Foundation, and we could certainly understand the reasons. Service was over the top, and the food was outstanding. At the same time that the restaurant won its award, Dolester Miles won best Pastry Chef in the country! It was a stellar year for Highlands. During Covid the restaurant closed and has yet to reopen, but plans are in the works to finally bring it back to life. I, for one, can't wait for that to happen!

From a more down-home perspective, I was allowed to go behind the scenes to watch the hushpuppies being prepared at Greenbriar in Madison and the English toffee at Morgan Price Candy Company in Decatur. Both are, of course, secret recipes, and both found their way into my new book. :)

And just last week, I met the perky, personable Chef Katie Dixon who has been a winner on several Food Channel shows. You can tell by looking at her that she's all about natural, healthy eating. She owns The Birdhouse Cafe in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

In both 2016 and 2017, I was invited to be a judge at the World Food Championships being held in Orange Beach. The first year I judged desserts, and the second year I judged the bacon category. Let's just say there are some extremely creative people preparing food in the world! Here's a story I did about those desserts.

Spending time around the table with people of all ages, from all over the U.S., most with markedly different political and spiritual views has been a terrific bonus and byproduct of travel writing. I have had many opportunities to share my faith in everyday conversation. There are a few things that invariably bring questions and opportunities for faith-based answers -- not drinking alcohol, being married to the same man for 51 years, having 15 grandchildren. Any of these topics and more are great conversation starters. There's no arguing or debating. Just sharing -- the food we are served AND our ideas. I'm really happy about these opportunities and hope to have many more.

In Natchitoches, Louisiana right before Christmas, I had the chance to meet Angela Lasyone, current owner of Lasyone's Meat Pie Kitchen & Restaurant. She talked a lot about her parents who owned the restaurant previously. About the ways they ran the business and developed their recipes, etc. She allowed my fellow writers and me to sample her crawfish pies, and I was hooked immediately. So much so, that I came home and ordered some through I actually have some in the freezer as we speak.

I found her parents' recipe for Lasyone's Red Beans and Sausage in Cane River's Louisiana Living: A Culinary Tour cookbook, so that's the one I want to share with you today. If at all possible, use Camellia brand dry red beans in this dish. Folks in Louisiana say those beans are the secret to success.


1 (16-ounce) package dry red kidney beans 1/2 c. vegetable oil/bacon drippings

1/2 t. parsley flakes 10 c. water

2 t. sugar 2 t. salt

2 t. seasoned salt 1/4 t. red pepper

1 t. granulated garlic 1 med. green bell pepper, chopped

1 med. onion, chopped 2 stalks celery, chopped

1 c. chopped smoked sausage

Combine beans, oil or bacon drippings, parsley, water, sugar, salt, seasoned salt, red pepper, garlic, bell pepper, onion, and celery in 4-qt. stock pot. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 1 1/2 hours. Add sausage and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until beans are tender, adding more water if needed. Serve with white rice. For additional sausage, cut smoked sausage into links, pan fry, and place on red beans and rice to serve. Serves 10-12.

This, by the way, is a great dish for family or friends. I'd probably add some cornbread. :)

Luke 24:13-35 is the passage often called "The Road to Emmaus." On the same day as the resurrection, about 7 miles away from where the crucifixion had taken place, Jesus appeared to two of his followers, but they didn't recognize him. It wasn't until they sat down to a meal together that they knew they were with the risen Christ. Wouldn't it be a wonderful goal of ours for the people who "come to the table" in our homes to see Jesus -- not the food on their plates, the tableware, or the centerpiece, but Jesus -- as a result?

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Let me point you to one more verse that Steve showed me recently as I close this series. It's found in Matthew 8:11 -- "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

What a beautiful picture!

Have a wonderful weekend.

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