If you don’t already hate me, I’m about to give you a reason … We evacuated.
That’s right. We didn’t ride it out. We weren’t here to help our fellow Mobilians the day after. We tucked tail and got out of here at the first sign of trouble. Chicken? No. We just didn’t think it right to put a toddler in a situation free of power for days on end. Besides, it was the little fella’s birthday this week, so we were going to Laurel, Miss., regardless. You may know the place from the hit TV series “Hometown” on HGTV.
It was an easy decision. Lucas and his fellow newcomers were excused from the dormitories of ASMS; Graham was released from his online obligations to Council Traditional School; and Henry’s “Mother’s Day Out” at St. Mary’s was shuttered for the rest of the week. A few days visiting a pair of grandmothers was looking attractive, and it would not be without culinary highlights.
We woke each morning to breakfast, coffee and tea on the breezy back porch belonging to my in-laws, Henry and Carol Davis. Not a speck of rain tainted my daily dose of sausage and accompanying biscuits or French toast. Their country home in nearby Sandersville afforded fresh tomatoes, a garden plagued with butterflies and the peaceful hum of a babbling goldfish pond. The dinners of homemade soup and pot roast didn’t hurt, either.
In Laurel, Khaki’s house was a little more active. Full of cousins, the kids spent days riding bikes and scooters while we took the occasional walk around the downtown area. Looking for a lighter lunch, we found Café La Fleur next door to my sister’s store, Southern Antiques. I had an amazing gumbo while Katie enjoyed a crab bisque, but it was the blackened salmon salad that warrants such a strong recommendation. I’ve never blackened salmon before, but I now plan to. The bed of spinach with quartered tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and boiled eggs were enhanced by the feta vinaigrette, a sprinkle of parmesan and a dusting of paprika. This is currently my favorite salad.
I took a whole muffuletta home to Khaki and the boys. It was huge, oily as it should be, and they used the right bread. I despise a muffuletta po’boy. Café La Fleur is making the real thing, and it’s a strong stand-in when Central Grocery is just too far away.
Another lazy afternoon walk found us thirsty. We ducked into the Italian spot Mimmo’s, only feet away from where we’d been the day before. We usually don’t have a glass of wine until 5 p.m., but Prosecco an hour early should be OK. When I say these were large pours, I mean the bubbles were popping over the glass. I chased it with a Cabernet that had a meniscus. I’m not a small man nor do I have a small tolerance, but I was only two drinks in and I was feeling a heady buzz that tickled my nose.
We were going to need some grease, it seemed. In this town, one place stands out. A healthy dinner of PDI (Phillips Drive-In) kept the 10 of us elbow-deep in hamburgers, fries and onion rings, but despite being the most coveted burger in the Free State of Jones, it was the vanilla malt that stole the show. I always get the small and I save an onion ring to “get the sweet out of my mouth.”
The next day was Henry’s day one as a terrible two. For our Laurel folks, I made my first (not last) visit to Sweet Magnolia’s Bakery Café. Away from the downtown scene, these gals have the bragging rights to recipes passed down from Teresa’s Cake Shop. That’s a strong pedigree, for those in the know. Graham was with me and with a bit of sampling, we decided on petit fours. Two dozen of them. We’d have to wait for the party to have our share, so my absolute favorite thumbprint cookies were for the ride home. I’ve loved these my entire life, and I’ve never had one anywhere else that compares.
Back in Sandersville, Henry blew out a couple more candles on a chocolate ganache cake, Carol’s doing, and our week was drawing to a close. The spell was breaking. The guilt of enjoying some time off came from knowing our friends were doing without. We left the kids and came home to a devastated Bienville Square, even in comparison to our smashed up street.
Friends and neighbors had already removed the big stuff from our yard. The worst we had to do was empty the refrigerator and take cold showers. After dinner tacos with besties (who offered us refuge in their powered home), we got word our lights were on. Sleeping in our own beds with no cable or internet and sporting a slight wine buzz was as close to as perfect an evening as I could imagine. Breakfast at Bob’s Downtown the next morning helped everything feel closer to routine.
I headed across the bay to find Picker’s Paradise in mint condition. The same could not be said for neighbors a stone’s throw away. Many in Baldwin County were still waiting for power as Prodisee Pantry, an amazing organization, handed out food to lines of cars. Others peppered social media with pics and stories as they fed linemen, local and from across the country. Signs of life began to overtake the signs of destruction.
We were fortunate. We’ve always been — we just don’t always realize it.
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