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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You CAN Go Home Again

And there is NO BETTER example than the Watermelon Carnival in Big Solid’s home town of Water Valley, Miss'ippi.  This little bitty town has exploded onto the MS (and national too I might add) scene in a big way over the past few years, transforming itself from a dying railroad and manufacturing town to an art and tourist attraction that has been cited in the New York Times, USA Today and Southern Living.

Held on the first weekend in August (usually the hottest damn weekend of the year with 95+ degree heat and humidity so high you need gills and flippers to breathe and walk), the Watermelon Carnival serves as a homecoming for all the Water Vallians who live elsewhere or who just want a chance to ‘fix a cobbler or some chicken and dumplin’s to take to a pot luck’. There are arts/crafts set up in the park, funnel cakes, chicken on a stick, cotton candy, the Biggest Watermelon contest and all of the things that go with Hometown Americana celebrating itself.

It is also the gathering for Big Solid of all his classmates from Water Valley High School…class years don’t really matter since everybody grew up together. But the class of ’61 is especially close and they travel from far and near to get there.  This weekend, there were no less than 10 of us hosted by Eddie and Pat Ray in their lovely 1908 home that has more rooms than you can count. We were everywhere…air mattresses, couches, beds…there were people draped all over. When we arrived on Thursday afternoon, folks had already arrived from Washington State and Florida ready to tell some of the same old stories that never seem to get stale. Sittin' on the screened in porch and tellin' tales...
Big Solid and John relaxin'
Our hosts gave us a rundown of the menus for supper on Thursday (steak and baked potatoes), Friday (baked ham, potato salad and baked beans)  and Saturday (ribs and who needs other stuff).  Eddie had called to ask what he needed to add so a vegan could eat in comfort and style with the rest of them; see, I TOLD you he was a spectacular host. He bought all kinds of salads, hummus and almond milk so I would not starve.  I had also prepared a lot of food to bring as well, so I KNEW we’d be fine.
Dining time has arrived!

Thursday night, along with the steaks, baked potatoes, and salad, I cooked up some of my vegan sausages for folks to taste. Some folks were adventuresome and some were not…howsomever, those who did try them, LOVED them, especially the Andouille (it’s really spicy). So a big SHOUT OUT to The Gentle Chef (yet again) for putting together a recipe that really works for a plant based ‘meat’.
Friday night steak dinner with some sausages on the side

Of course, the biggest vegan hit was the “Little Kiki’s” Oatmeal Pies…these go fast.
Little Kiki Creme Pies
Friday night, I opted for the Chicken Fried Tofu we’d gotten from Whole Foods instead of the baked ham (although that ham sure did look good). Eddie’s great vegan salad selection also came in handy instead of the potato salad with mayo…he found a great quinoa salad and a fava bean salad. I did not go hungry. In fact, I forgot to take pictures I was so busy eating. As for the Chicken Fried Tofu---no takers on sampling that. And, it’s just as well. This particular batch did not have the seasoning OR the crust that we’ve found at Whole Foods before.

The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery

This place is a miracle on Main Street…Alexe and Kagan Van Beuren made a commitment to Water Valley a few years back by buying and renovating an aging historical building on Main Street. They worked like crazy to bring an idea to town as well…Be The Change and The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery was born.
Yup and YUP!!
The idea of providing fresh, local produce and and goods (such as milk and other dairy) and freshly baked breads harkened back to the day of the ‘green grocer’ where you could walk to town and buy ‘good food’.  Well, The B.T. C. Old-Fashioned Grocery took root in the hearts and stomachs of the good people of Water Valley and the support grew. 

Dixie Grimes provided a welcomed culinary expertise to a town that was hungry (pardon the pun) for new, interesting and innovative dishes. You need only to look at the picture of the Friday special to notice that.  Someone remarked after reading it, “Who’d-a thought you’d get mussels in Water Valley?” 
Friday Special...MUSSELS!
We had decided that NO TRIP TO WATER VALLEY is complete without at least one dining experience at the Red Apron Café (located at the rear of The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery), so we opted for an early lunch there on Friday. I wandered down there from the Ray’s home (it’s like around the block) to see what options a vegan might have. I met Alexe and she showed me several items from the menu board that could be veganized quite easily, so I was set. 
Vegan Wrap at BTC
 My cohorts, including our wonderful host, drifted in about 11:15. Eddie Ray actually has a sandwich on the menu board named after him—“Handsome Eddie”. I had the “Hotel Trusty”—a whole wheat wrap with BTC made tomato jam (holy cow was that good!), chilled asparagus spears, cracked black pepper, sliced pears, leaf lettuce, and pickled onions. The ‘true’ Trusty also has chopped egg and mayo but that was eliminated to make my wrap vegan. AND IT WAS DELICIOUS!! There’s also a serve yo’self iced tea and coffee counter with sweet/unsweet tea that you drink from Mason jars.

I HAD to have a copy of their newly published cookbook, signed of course AND both Alexe and Dixie were kind enough to let me have a photo taken with them. I have perused Dixie’s recipes and the excellent narratives by Alexe which include a great deal of history of Water Valley.  It’s a lovely work and full of the heart, soul and creative thinking that has made The B.T. C. Old Fashioned Grocery such an important part of the Water Valley revival. 
A thorn between two roses....
I will slightly disagree with one statement in the book…early on, Alexe says “The B.T.C did not revive Water Valley. Instead, Water Valley revived us.” It would seem that this energy and revival is a two way street and continues to offer folks like Alexe, Dixie, the wonderful folks at the new Yalobusha Brewing company and all who have taken a chance to open small businesses a chance to live the dream. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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