Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Texas Hill Country and Our Ranchette Revelation


   

      Fresh off our week sabbatical moochdocking with friends in Salado we spent a week at the Joint Base San Antonio Canyon Lake Recreation Area ($20 @ night).  This is one of the 'perks' afforded to active duty, guard, and retirees when traveling near US Armed Forces Installations.  The area consists of two campgrounds on the shores of Canyon Lake as well as full facilities including store, laundry, showers, and a very nice day park area.  This is a secure gated area with regular patrols by USAF Security Police.  We decided to 'throw caution to the wind' traveling down I-35 right through the heart of Austin rather than take the 130 Toll Road for $26.  Some traffic slowdowns, but no real delays.  Salado to Canyon Lake, 144 miles 3 hours towing at 12.9 mpg. 

NOTE:  I HAD SEVERAL ISSUES WITH THE FORT SAM HOUSTON SIDE OF THE RECREATION AREA.  FIRST I TOOK A PROPANE BOTTLE TO THE STORE TO BE FILLED.  YOU HAVE TO DROP IT OFF AND PICK IT UP WHEN THEY CALL.  WHEN I RETURNED TO PICK UP MY BOTTLE THE CHARGE WAS ONLY FOR 3 GALLONS WHICH THEY SAID WAS ALL IT WOULD TAKE.  WHEN I PICKED UP THE BOTTLE I COULD IMMEDIATELY TELL THE BOTTLE WAS ONLY ABOUT HALF FULL.  I WENT BACK IN TO TALK TO THE LAD WHO FILLED IT AND HE SAID IT WOULDN'T TAKE ANY MORE GAS.  I ASKED IF HE USED THE PRESSURE RELIEF VALVE SCREW TO ALLOW THE OXYGEN AND EMPTY SPACE TO BLEED OFF......HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT.  ADDITIONALLY, WE DID HAVE TO FILTER THE CANYON LAKE RECREATION AREA WATER SUPPLY DUE TO A SILTY APPEARANCE NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU RAN IT.  WHEN WE REPORTED THIS TO THE OFFICE THEY KNEW ABOUT IT, STATING THAT IT HAPPENS SOMETIMES.......HMMM.
Joint Base San Antonio Canyon Lake Recreation Area @ Canyon Lake
      Texas Hill Country is prime real estate, but can be equally pricey as well.  This was our next area of interest.  Rolling hills, canyons, lakes, rivers, and recreation.  This area is located in the South Central part of the state just west and southwest of Austin, including such towns as New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Boerne to name a few.  Also located only about 10-30 miles north of San Antonio you are always within easy range of whatever services, VA hospitals, and culture you desire.  There is also a VA Hospital in Kerrville, no more than 100 miles from Austin.  Our search included 12 communities.
      Our first couple of days we explored the New Braunfels, Gruene, Boerne, Canyon City areas.  It was quite the culture/economic shock as the average building lot was $50K and the average price per acre in the county was $36K when you bought at least 70 acres!  In fact the closer you got to Canyon Lake 5 acres was priced at around $255K.  We moved on, QUICKLY.  On a side note, the villages of Gruene and Wimberley are beautiful little picturesque German style settings with a myriad of shops, stores, and restaurants.
       For our next stop we set up camp at Blanco State Park for 2 weeks as our base of operations. This is another of  Texas' great system of state parks with reasonable prices with a TX State Parks Pass.  There aren't many opportunities for 'boondocking' in Texas other than Wal Mart or truck stop overnights so these parks are our next best opportunity.  $275 for 14 days.......full hookups w/WiFi......fair price.  Nice large sites with live oaks and close bathroom/showers on a beautiful trout filled river......all within walking distance of town.  YES, WALKING DISTANCE.  They also sell firewood that the camp host will deliver for $5/bundle.  It is also the ONLY state park in Texas that allows you to book a year in advance to reserve spots for a 4 month continuous stay.  Cost:  $437/month.....very reasonable.
      Unfortunately, most of our investigations into the Hill Country yielded the same results.  So, after considerable discussion, both among ourselves and several realtors we have decided to continue our search, but changed our goal.  Depending on where you look in the 'Hill Country' land prices can vary quite a bit.  We changed our plan to look for a minimum of 5 acres that we will develop by putting in water, electric, and septic.  We did learn that if property is restricted you can not place a mobile home or RV pad on the property unless a house already exists so we will ensure anything we are interested is far enough out to be unrestricted.  Also, in this area of Texas you have to have at least 5 acres to put in a septic system at all.  We will build a pad for complete RV accommodations where we can still travel to and enjoy during the winters.  This will allow us the freedom to travel during the winters yet having a fairly central base of operations.  When we decide to sell the house and property in NW Michigan we will then have a place to live while we have our 'Final Retirement Ranchette' built.  In addition we have ruled out the Big Piney Woods area of East Texas at this time.  The feasibility of the 'Hill Country' is yet to be decided. 
      Perhaps part of this blog chapter should have been titled "BBQ Along the Way".  There is no such thing as too much BBQ in Texas especially when you are on the road doing research.  One of the days exploring the area near Johnson City, Marble Falls, and Llano we stopped in for BBQ at one of the finest places I have ever dined, Coopers Old Time Pit BBQ in Llano, TX.  They are a 4 star (out of 5) rated eatery. 
      They offer all the usual fare including a 2" thick smoked pork chop, but the brisket was the best I have ever eaten, BAR NONE!  Moist, tender, tasty, and a beautiful black bark with a pepper finish.  They claim the difference is that they smoke with a mix of mesquite wood and charcoal rather than the traditional oak or hickory.  Fine by me.  I was one happy puppy that even enjoyed a nice little nap upon return to camp as well.  You can order online also at:  https://www.coopersbbq.com/  The staff is prompt and friendly ensuring you know all the sides and desserts that come with the meal. 
This is the 'serving pit'.  There are 6 other cooking pits located just to the side of this one. 

        One day we stopped for lunch in Driftwood at the famous Salt Lick BBQ.  They are rated 3 out of 5 stars, rightly so.  We waited in the pager line for only about 15 minutes before we were seated in one of the many dining areas.  This is a BYOB area so a stop in the bar area for a Shiner Bock is a must.  That's the good news.  Barb and both found the food to be 'just OK'.......brisket, ribs, and sausage were on our plates with sides of coleslaw, beans, and terrible potato salad.  This was also accompanied by a mini loaf of bread and a plate of pickles and onions.  When we got the bill our one and only visit was complete.  We were charged $5 for two ice teas and the bread, pickles, and onions were not free!  The menu did say on request.  Total for lunch.......$37.61   One day we also ate at Bill Miller's BBQ in Bulverde, TX.  Another pass.  One day we ate at Buzzee's in Kerrville.  This place is rated 4 out of 5 stars, but I'm not on that train.  Good brisket, but that's all.  Texas is world renown for outstanding BBQ and has some of the very best.  We discovered hidden gems at Coopers in Llano and San Marcos BBQ in San Marcos this trip.  They had the best brisket I have ever eaten.  WARNING......Lockhart, TX looms in the not too distant future.   Been there, done that.......but I'm gonna DO IT AGAIN!

      On the days we explored the Fredericksburg area we also stopped in to see the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park and also Luckenbach, TX.  Centerpiece of several country songs this SMALL town has a population of 3.  But, the entire town is one big party area, several stages, restrooms, parking and dry camping areas, several large fire pits and 'pickers circles', and of course many food and beverage vendors.  When I asked about coming festivals I was simply informed that there is music every night of the week and a show each and every weekend.  Many of these are big recording artists.  It has to be seen to be believed.  http://www.luckenbachtexas.com/
Luckenbach, TX store
Luckenbach, TX Main Stage Area

LBJ's Ranch:  The Texas White House

Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch Nat'l Park Drive
     
      One day we took a trip up to Canyon Ranches NW of Austin to check out some 9 acre parcels that include power and a 'Barndominium' installed at your choice of locations.  Price:  $124K  http://ranchesatcanyoncreek.com/sale/index.html  Restrictions here are minimal, and even so the building solves that problem.  Wells would be 400-700 feet deep, costing an average of $12,000 to install.  Septic runs around $9,000.  We're probably not buying this trip, but just testing the market. 

Our findings for 5 acres of land (without utilities) average:
(Taxes are per $100K)

Blanco Area:  $78.9K   Taxes:  $1170
Johnson City/Llano Area:  $75.1K   Taxes:  $990
Fredericksburg, Luckenbach Area:  $143.5K   Taxes:  $1160
Marble Falls/Dripping Springs:  $132.9K   Taxes:  $1400
Kerrville:  $191K  Taxes:  $1330
Bandera: $109.9K    Taxes:  $1170
Leakey:   $109K  Taxes:  $1390
Bertram:  $124K  Taxes:  $1390
      Meals prepared in camp included Gator Cakes, Shrimp w/Tasso Gravy over Cornbread, German Crockpot Rabbit, Hawkeye Stuffed Quail, and Chorizo Quesadillas to name just a few.
Hawkeye Stuffed Quail w/Sweet Taters
Shrimp & Tasso w/Roux Gravy Over Cornbread

Smoked Brisket Stuffed Baked Tater with Sour Cream and Chives
      I also wanted to include a picture and recipe for a casserole I had experimented with last year while in Salado with our friends, yet they wanted again.  There are several recipes online for Reuben Casserole, but I highly recommend this one.  It is quite simple to prepare.  I used deli sliced Pastrami rather than lunchmeat.  If you like a good Reuben Sandwich, this casserole is it;  quite tasty.                                    http://12tomatoes.com/reuben-casserole/

Reuben Casserole

      Our trip wound up with another 10 day stop at the Fam Camp at Canyon Lake prior to our departure from the Hill Country.  The Air Force side was much nicer with campsites tucked away in cedars, clean water, and quiet.  Can't beat those reasonable prices, in fact this side was cheaper, only $180 for 10 days.   In all we spent 4 weeks in the Hill Country researching real estate values and property tax issues.  Restriction covenants really cramp our style, but it was an educational experience to say the least.  We do have one more area to look at, but.....the Hill Country has our hearts.  Whether our wallet can support it remains to be seen.  Average diesel prices for this month ranged $2.35-$2.43.


"Twenty years from now you'll be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do"
                                                                       Mark Twain


WiFi courtesy of Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Chess Club Cafe, Blanco, TX

      While staying in Blanco during our real estate escapade one cannot help but notice (and count) there are 21 eateries in a town of about 1800.  That seems to me to be a pretty steep ratio to plan on staying in business for long.  From Old 300 BBQ to Redbud Café to Blanco River Pizza to Bean n Biscuit to Blanco Bowling Club to Josie's Kitchen to Oak Creek Café just to name a few they've pretty much got it all covered.  Of course there is always Sonic, Dairy Queen, Subway, and Chicken Express.  I have to attribute this to being a high tourist area along the scenic Blanco River for the folks in Austin, New Braunfels, Waco, and San Antonio.  Summers here are a hive of activity. 
      When asking the locals the best place to eat lunch the response is nearly unanimous, The Chess Club Café.  Barely noticeable on the south side of town, it resembles a small house between Dollar General and Sonic.  The café is only open 8 a.m. till 2 p.m. Tuesday thru Sunday.  I was forewarned to arrive early enough for lunch or I would be parking along the US 281 highway.  Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars I would soon find out why. 
      Head Chef Steve Becker offers a very wide repertoire with his menu.  The lunch salad menu alone offers 12 choices.  There are Quesadillas, 2 types of Quiche, 11 types of hot and cold sandwiches, and 6 types of wraps.  There is also the Soup du jour (Creole Gumbo) w/half a sandwich for just $5.95.  There were 3 Daily Specials the day we dined there.  The breakfast menu is just too darned big to list.  http://www.menupix.com/menudirectory/menu.php?id=380143608  I hear the Meat Lovers Quiche is delicious for any meal. 
      Barb and I put our daily real estate sojourn on hold this day so that we could arrive early enough to enjoy our lunch.  Parking concerns are legitimate as the entire gravel lot may accommodate 15 vehicles tops, maybe less if some of the those vehicles are the local ranchers big Ford farm trucks. 
It doesn't take long to discover the source of this cafe's anonymity.  It is a converted house, each room one of the originals complete with orginal wood floors and it's own charms while representing the new motif.  The main room also has French Doors so that you may dine outside on the patio if you choose when the weather permits. 
 
      We were seated immediately, in fact there were only about 8 other people when we arrived.  The main room has a 'homey' feel and we chose seats near the far large window.  After perusing the menu we both chose what we had originally come for, The Dagwood Sandwich.  When prepared right, it is one our favorites.   
     This sandwich certainly qualifies.  It comes on homemade, thick cut, still warm Texas Toast with layers of roast beef, ham, turkey, grilled peppers and onions, melted Swiss, Cheddar, and Provolone cheese.  It comes on a plate served with a side of warm tortilla chips and homemade Pico de Gallo, which is a local preference and a nice change of pace.  You may substitute fruit for the side.  This monster stands 3-4" thick still fitting even in my large mouth when attacked. 
      We both thoroughly enjoyed our lunch although Barb still needed a 'to go' box to save for later tonight after I am sacked out I'm sure.   Our total tab was $18.  The Chess Club Café serves a very good menu and I'm told that the Checkmate Sandwich is the best item on it.  The Soup du jour with Chicken or Tuna Salad Sandwiches are popular as well.  Service is very good as we were visited several times by two different servers and the chef to refill ice tea and answer any more questions that I inevitably had.  Chef Steve Becker said he is enjoying the cooler February weather as he has lived in nearly every state in the south and never gets used to the warm winters.  By the time we left the café was full.
      The café does not have a web presence, but they are a part of the Facebook Family and Yelp has an impressive array of other photos and numerous reviews to help prolong the drooling in your taste buds.  https://www.yelp.com/biz/chess-club-cafe-blanco  The Chess Club Café, definitely worth the visit. 

                                     "You don't have to be rich to travel well"
                                                                                Eugene Fodor

WiFi courtesy of Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife

Thursday, February 2, 2017

On The Road: German Style Crockpot Rabbit


      Barb and I picked up a couple pounds of rabbit this trip to Louisiana.  Rabbit is still considered a specialty item in much of America, but is a common staple in several places, especially Europe.  It had been 40 years ago stationed in Germany since we'd enjoyed this delicious meal.  It's no secret I love to cook and am always looking to broaden our horizons; Joie de Vivre.  I found a couple of intriguing recipes online and this one came the closest to how I remembered it prepared in 'Der Bundesrepublik'. 
      German recipes for meat are often pretty easy......braise it, add seasonings (in this case caraway, brown sugar, and bread crumbs) and any vegetables you want and slow cook it into submission for hours, then served with crusty bread and gravy.  I modified mine by finishing the cooking process in a crockpot, the Holy Grail of RV Haute Cuisine.  Although ours is a modest 2 quart model, recipes are easily modified to suit our needs. 
      We purchased our rabbit from a Cajun Butchers Market so we move to the braising process.   First I put one pound sliced pork sausage (flavor of your choice) in a cast iron skillet with a tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and heated it to medium.  I always use, and prefer, cast iron.  Once stirred and browned I covered it with 1/2 cup beer and reducing the heat to med-low simmered for 30 minutes. Braising involves partially submersing  the meat in a flavorful liquid. You can braise rabbit in chicken stock, hard or soft cider, beer and either white or red wine. For this recipe it was beer.  It does not have to be dark beer, any pilsner of your liking will do.  I used Shiner Bock, a local Texas Bock-Style beer. 

  

      Then remove the sausage from skillet and drain.  Place rabbit pieces into skillet, adding more beer as needed.  Add 4 Tblsp cider vinegar, 1 cup browned bread crumbs, 1 tsp caraway seeds, 1/2 grated lemon peel, and 1 tsp brown sugar.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Turn once halfway through.
      Transfer rabbit and all the pan ingredients to the crockpot as well as the sausages.    You can add chicken stock to this as needed to your preference.  6 pieces of rabbit, sausage, and broth FILLED the crockpot to the top.  Cover and cook over low heat for 4 hours.
     After about 3 hours occasionally test your rabbit 'doneness' with a fork.  When done transfer rabbit to serving plate, adding your choice of vegetable and crusty bread as it works well here to sop up the inevitably created savory gravy.  I resisted the urge to add German Dumplings or Taters.  Delicious nonetheless. 

From the RV kitchen of Rich & Barb Hilts....Bon Appetit 


                            "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone"
                                                          Neale Donald Walsch 

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi
     
                                        

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Big Piney Woods


      One of our goals this winter was to save money for next summer's trip to Alaska, but we also planned to look at regions of Texas for a possible winter get away (or retirement) home.  The trip from Louisiana across into Texas follows the old Camino Real Trail.  During the Spanish Colonial Period this historic trail provided the only primary overland route from what is now Mexico and across the Río Grande to the Red River Valley in what is now Louisiana.  Along this route you cross Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Sabine River.  This marks the border between Louisiana and Texas.  You cross the Pendleton Bridge which spans over 2.5 miles, but looks much longer.  We only averaged about 11.1 mpg towing on our trip here, probably due to the freezing rain, sleet, snow, and constant driving adjustments therein. 
Photo courtesy of TDOT
      This was our first area of interest.  We camped at Ratcliff Lake in the Davey Crockett National Forest.   LOVE that our Senior Access Passes our fees were half price.  (Insert smiley face here). 
      This is a National Forest Campground with electric hookups and water which for 2 weeks totaled $184 (Senior Access Pass discounted)....not bad.  As you notice the firewood stacks in the above pictures of our campground and one other, this wood is provided FREE.  The USFS cuts down timber it needs to and the camp hosts buck it up and are happy to provide campers with all the firewood they need, spit or not!  Obviously in the winter this goes much farther as there are not nearly as many campers.  It will easily serve as our 'base of operations' for this stop.  We arrived in the midst of another cold front; some more of this winter's crazy weather.  It was 38 balmy degrees daytime highs with nighttime lows forecast in the mid 20s for our first weekend after arrival.  Our first two mornings, however, we awoke to lows around 16!  Thank God for sufficient propane, an extra space heater, and Polar Package Tank heaters. 
      The biggest lure for our possible relocation to Texas are the taxes, or lack of them.  There are no income taxes in this state and sales taxes are on service only, NOT FOOD....property taxes exist and they can be a boom or bust depending on where you look.  The Texas state sales and use tax rate is 6.25%, but local taxing jurisdictions (cities, counties, special purpose districts, and transit authorities) may also impose sales and use tax up to 2% for a total maximum combined rate of 8.25%.  That may seem a bit steep, but after spending time in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Louisiana I assure you it is not.  Texas is very retiree friendly especially so for us military retirees, and depending on any disabilities one can gain a property tax benefit as well.  As such we have narrowed our search to a couple of areas that may meet our expectations for a decent quality of living in our sunset years. 
      We begin in the area known as "The Big Piney Woods".  This is an area in the NE part of the state bordering Louisiana and including such towns as Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Conroe, Crocket, San Augustine, and Huntsville to name a few.  This country is heavily treed which accounts for it's name.  Lufkin is the center of some major forestry products industry. 
  www.tourtexas.com/regions/piney-woods

      We have always loved the forest and this area appealed to us.  We concentrated primarily on the counties of Nacogdoches, Houston, Trinity, Polk, San Augustine, Jasper, Sabine, and Angelina.  We spent each day trip traveling looking into the real estate, taxes, values, and possible other 'plusses' for the area.  There is a VA Primary/Specialty Care Clinic located in Tyler (80 miles) and a VA Outpatient Clinic in Lufkin (23 miles).  The nearest VA hospital is in Waco (163 miles). 
      We spent many of our days here just driving and looking at areas, picking up real estate brochures along the way, taking pictures, having lunch, and then researching corresponding real estate broker sites online when we got home to collate our data.  We're not buying this year, but comparing the data from each area.  Next year we'll hunker down and look seriously within our final area of choice. 
      Within days we realized that any and all real estate information would only be available online or at one of the bigger cities (i.e.) Nacogdoches, Lufkin, San Augustine.  We tuned our search to 'about 5 acres' with a small cabin or home on it.  Waterfront is not a necessity, but being in the country is.  The rural areas of 'The Big Piney Woods' can be quite poor at times.  Our final numbers (within our specs) for the Big Piney Woods: 

Lufkin (Angelina County) area, Average value:  $122K  Taxes: $1445
Ratcliff (Houston County) area, Average value:  $115K  Taxes:  $1200
Groveton/Trinity/Apple Springs (Trinity County) area, Average value:  $99K  Taxes $950 
Huntington (Angelina County) area, Average value:  $122K  Taxes $1450
Broadus (San Augustine County) area, Average value:  $96K  Taxes $910
Brookeland (Sabine/Jasper Counties) area, Average value:  $118K  Taxes $640-$860
San Augustine (San Augustine County) area, Average value: $96K  Taxes $910
Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches Country) area, Average value:  $92K   Taxes  $1030

      All of these areas are easily within an hour drive (or less) from Lake Sam Rayburn or Toledo Bend Reservoir.  Lufkin, Huntington, and Nacogdoches are the main population areas offering shopping and amenities, but with higher prices as well.  There aren't than many homes that were built as weekend getaways, log homes, etc. unless you get close to the two lakes.  We have also considered buying land and then building our own.  We were a bit surprised at the lack of BBQ eateries throughout the area.  The one we did eat at (Bodacious BBQ, Lufkin) was decent, but not on the level to which we have become accustomed in Texas.  We were VERY SURPRISED with one of the finest burgers we have ever eaten at TX Burger.  Delicious beef (provided by Nolan Ryan Beef) and what a selection!  We did not look as far north as Palestine or Tyler or as far south as Conroe, preferring to keep our searches within the main areas of rural forests and lakes.  This is one of the three main areas we will look at during the next 3 months in the Lone Star State. 
      We did have several campfires while here in this beautiful forest and even managed to get a couple of steaks over it during our stay.  Other meals that I prepared here included Queso Fundido, Cholula Green Pepper Wings, Boudin Stuffed Cabbage w/Parmesano Reggiano, Crispy Fried Quail, Chef Salads, Lasyones Crawfish Pies, and Boudin with Rice, Peas, and Gravy. 
Queso Fundido

Crockpot Boudin Stuffed Cabbage w/Ricotta, Corn, and Garlic Bread
Georgia Crispy Fried Quail w/Garlic Sour Cream Smashed Taters & Asparagus

Boudin, Peas, Taters, Brown Cajun Gravy

      After our initial weekend the weather and temps increased significantly.  Daytime highs easily in the mid to high 70s with lows at night in the low 60s.  Roux and Bones LOVED the area and we gave them both several hours outside time daily to enjoy themselves (Squirrels/Racoons/Possums 39, Roux and Bones 0).  It did, however, rain some each of the last 5 days we were there.  Diesel in the area ranged from $2.29 to $2.69 so we were careful to top off our tanks when available.  From here we take a short break and travel to Salado, TX to visit our good friends, Jody and Juanita Arnold for about a week.  I'm sure Barb and Juanita will reinforce the barricades within the sewing room leaving Jody and I to our own mischief.  Might be a fair trade, especially if chicken gizzards are involved. 


“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.”
                                                    Anna Quindlen
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Back to da' Bayou....Happy New Years Chere!

     
     The one thing you can always count on with Cajuns, they NEVER need a reason to throw a party.  "Buy a new pair shoes, Chere?   PARTY!  The typical Cajun party includes something for every member of the family, regardless of age.....just fun.  A very family setting.  Now, let's blend New Years Eve into the mix.....

      Once again this winter we visit Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.  This is the Heart of Acadiana.  This IS NOT New Orleans with it's renowned Creole Cuisine and Culture.  This is South Central and Southwestern Louisiana, the Belly of the Cajun Beast.  We fell in love with this suburb of Lafayette during our last trip.   Breaux Bridge and the surrounding area has everything you want to experience Cajun.   http://breauxbridgela.net/  We stayed at Poches RV Park just NE of town.  This is a very nice RV park with full hookups, pool, laundry, showers, several free fully stocked fishing lakes, a club house, and small store for a 'set' price of $40 per day.  Good Sam Club members are discounted 10%.  A bit pricey, but centrally located and WE LOVE THE AREA.  The people here are some of the friendliest you'll find anywhere. 
      We were a bit surprised to find the RV park not even half full upon arrival.  They said the economy has really hit rock bottom in the area and they haven't been full since last winter.  Even the famous Café des Amis closed it's doors recently.  This small building has been in existence since 1890 undergoing several remodelings with the current café open since 1992.  Even though we had reservations we pretty much had our choice of spots along the lake so we chose one on the far corner fairly isolated from others yet still on the water.  I had a hook and line in the water catfishing within an hour of our arrival, but with temps at 50 with a stiff North wind it was not to be.  Still I enjoyed my Barley Pop with Roux and I enjoying a nice sunset; not a bad beginning.
Photo courtesy of Poches
       Our first day we headed into Lafayette Camping World to pick up a short hose and a battery cover lid.  (Don't ask)  First, I stopped at Poche's Market and picked up a bag of my favorite snack, cracklins.  Of course these aren't the healthiest food around as they are made from the fried skin and outer meat layer of pigs as they are butchered.  But, boy ARE THEY TASTY!  Their cousin, the Pork Rind, is nowhere near as good as these are fresh.  They cost about $4.90 for a 1/2 pound bag.   If you get them in the morning right after they're put out, you can enjoy a crunchy exterior followed by a soft, warm meaty interior with the flavor of the best bacon you've ever eaten!  The Bomb!!! Yeah, I know.....insert the sound of hardening arteries here. 
Food of the Gods
Then we toured about looking at other RV parks in the area and their monthly rates.  In the end we pretty much like the place we're at.  The monthly rate here is $600.  We stopped at Crawfish Town U.S.A for some Crawfish Etouffe and Catfish lunch before stopping at the market to order some fresh turtle to pick up in a few days.   I have to admit that as much as I love Poche's Market, Crawfish Town has some delicious food as well. 
    We dined about every other day at Poche's Market and Lunchroom.  The daily lunches at their in-town market are to die for!  www.poches.com/  Crawfish Etouffee, Red Beans & Rice, Gumbo, BBQ Chicken, Pork Steak, Pork Backbone Stew, Smothered Rabbit, Stuffed Pork Chops, Beef Roast, Fried Fish or Shrimp.....it's all here, Chere!  The best Cajun food in Acadia!  In another life, I think I was actually born Cajun.  This is the heart of Cajun Country complete with thousands of acres of Crawfish Farm Ponds.  This was a comfort zone stop for us.
      As such our stay included stocking up on several specialty meats we love or wanted to try in the future RICH KITCHEN adventures:  gator, andouille, tasso, crawfish, boudin, and this time rabbit and turtle.  This took a bit of coordination as we shopped in Breaux Bridge, Henderson, and Carenco to fill our freezer.  We both love Cajun cooking and this will really diversify our larder for the trip to Alaska this coming summer.  New Years weekend was very, very wet as it rained nearly all the time.  In fact we got nearly 5" of rain.  It didn't really dampen the spirits of the locals who came out with their families for a good time.  Roux and Bones.....not so much. 

Don't ask me why, but they decorated this tree...yes, those are Mardi Gras beads.

There were several large bonfires during the day/evening which made a great backdrop for the NYE fireworks. 

Everybody gathers around one of the many viewing areas for the fireworks.  This one is the clubhouse/fishing pier on the far pond.  Amazingly it did not rain for about 90 minutes around midnight.

      In the end New Years Eve turned out pretty good.  I had gone to bed earlier, but with these festivities who could sleep?  I discovered that an area around the antenna coax junction on the roof had developed a small leak (much like last winter) that always drips through an electric outlet in the kitchen roof.  Not exactly where you want it, but I dried it up again and sprayed some more Rescue 911 Spray Rubberized Leak Sealer.  I figure that with all the work a couple weeks ago installing the new TV antenna a moving coax developed another crack in the junction seal.  I am going to build up this seal a couple of times during the next couple of days before our departure.

      In addition to the local fare, I prepared Stir Fry, Alaskan Whitefish Corn Tortilla Soup,  Pork Stew, and Crockpot King Ranch Chicken.  
Whitefish Corn Tortilla Soup
Crockpot King Ranch Chicken
      We did a bit of research on taxes here and were a quite surprised.  Property taxes for $155.000 home run only about $500 per year, CHEAP.  But, Louisiana more than makes it up in other areas.  The state sales tax is 5%, but each Parish and local municipalities add their own tax as well.  St. Martin Parish and Breaux Bridge's sales tax is 15%!  The state income tax for Barb's and my income runs 6% which equates to about $5233 per year!  Then, of course.......there's Federal Tax.  Texas is looking so good these days. 
      Unfortunately it rained about half of our week here with some severe storms and tornado watches, but we had a relaxing time nonetheless.  I did manage to find the same seasoning that a couple of the local places cook with for my spice closet.   Our last day we just walked around old town Breaux Bridge taking in all the antique shops and coffee shop/bakeries.  I got a few more decent BW shots too. Diesel was a low of $2.38/gal and we averaged 13.5 mpg during the trip down here.  Great food, great times, and great people.  We'll be back. 


"Once in a while it really hits people that they don't have to experience the world in the way they have been told to" 
                                                                         Alex Keightley

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Monday, December 26, 2016

A Cajun Christmas.......Natchitoches, Louisiana


      Barb and I established our own Christmas traditions after retirement to visit somewhere new each holiday season.  Two years ago it was on the banks of the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park and last year we spent it with good friends in San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico.  This year we return to the warmth and traditions of Cajun Country.   www.natchitocheschristmas.com/information
      This was a fairly easy two day drive (but we took 4) from our grandson in Marlow, Oklahoma doing the WalMart boondocking thing along the way in Idabel, Oklahoma.  This totals 9 days of boondocking so far on this trip equating to a cost adjusted savings of $270 since October 1st.  Diesel was $2.28/gal and we averaged about 13.6 per gallon from start to finish on this leg.  We also treated ourselves to a complete truck/RV wash at Blue Beacon Truck Wash in West Shreveport, LA.  They do such a nice job in about 15 minutes; getting ALL the road grime and dirt off, and for me the $36 is worth it.  I had extra time built into our schedule so we stayed 2 overnights (mommy break) at the Diamond Jack Casino in Shreveport;  full hookups, laundry, showers, cable for only $25/night. www.diamondjacks.com/index.php/hotel-menu-bossier/rv-park  Good Sam discount takes another 10% off.  Barb won $90 her first night, but gave it all back plus a bit more on night #2. 
      Let me take you back for a moment in cinema history.....this movie "Steel Magnolias" was filmed here....the Christmas scene where Julia Roberts comes home to visit the family during the holidays.  The banks of Cane River Lake in this small, quaint Louisiana town of Natchitoches embody all that is the best of the South......landscapes, horticulture, architecture, culture, fellowship, festivities, and of course food.  We visited here last winter prior to Mardi Gras, but once discovering the nationally famous festivities that occur each holiday season we made our reservations early.  We stayed at the Nakatosh Campgrounds, just 4 miles outside the town and right off Interstate 49.  A decent park with all the amenities for the fairly reasonable price of $165/week.  The CG has full hookups, ample parking, showers, laundry, and is close to the festivities.  It is located very close to BK, McDonalds, a Mexican Restaurant, several hotels and gas stations, including a truck stop right next to the campground so you have to be ready for the noise of parked semi trucks all night.   http://nakatoshcampgrounds.com/  I WOULD NOT recommend eating at the French Market Truck Stop Buffet just west of here; the food isn't worth the price. In addition to the National Historic District downtown the normal shopping and business district exists....it stayed PACKED for most of our visit. 
     On our arrival in the campground we were, of course, met with a new challenge.  Our electric front hitch jack was intermittently operating and smelled of overheating.  There is no RV sales or service within 75 miles in any direction so we decided to wait for now.  I can always raise/lower it manually so once we got camp set up.........so be it for now.  Since it was our arrival night we decided to treat ourselves to dinner in the village eating at Mama's Oyster House.  Barb loved her gator while I ate my fill of fried oysters!  Afterwards we walked the streets for a bit taking in the lights.  This is the 90th year of the City of Lights Christmas Celebration. 

      The entire Cane River Lake waterfront is ablaze with lights for 6 weeks prior to Christmas.  Weekends provide Kids Festivals down on the waterfront with Friday providing fireworks and Fri/Sat live Cajun and Zydeco Bands.  Food from Boudin to Catfish to Gator on a Stick to PoBoys, and of course funnel cakes abound.    
      FYI, the entire downtown historical district is very 'parking restricted' during these festivities so unless you want to park at the outlying hotels and 'shuttle in' ($20 round trip per person) or park in the designated downtown lots for up to $65 OR MORE per day you learn to leave early, find the few areas that are open to free parking and be willing to walk several blocks.  What the hell.......it's exercise, right?  It's not like I'm NOT going to eat!
     Spent my WARM Christmas Eve Day (80 degrees) making the Praline Pecan Pound Cake for the big dinner and then Christmas Eve we just relaxed.   In the days after Christmas we did a bit more shopping, stocking up on Tasso, Chorizo, and a few of Lasyone's Famous Meat Pies.   Filled with your choice of pork, beef, or crawfish.....think of them as fried pastys and just as tasty. 
Pictures courtesy of Layone's
      In addition to the delicious local cuisine I prepared Tillamook BABBS Sandwiches n Soup, Chicken Cordon Bleu, SW Grilled Tilapia, Taco Boat Chorizo Salads, Leftover Quail Salad Night, and of course Fettucine Cudighi w/Cabbage whose leftovers would satisfy us on arrival at our next stop. 
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Taco Boat Chorizo Salads
      Our Christmas dinner was pretty sweet.  I found a very good slow cooker recipe for quail (which we have plenty).  I also made baked sweet taters with marshmallows and syrup, steamed broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce, deviled eggs, and of course Hawaiian Dinner Rolls. 
      We were blessed with a gift of pecans from our inlaws in Oklahoma so instead of the normal Pecan Pie I tried a new dessert recipe for Pecan Pound Cake with glaze.  Much like any other pound cake it was dense, but delicious......just like Pecan Pie.  
Praline Pecan Pound Cake
Christmas Dinner 2016
      Diesel was much more expensive in Natchitoches averaging from $2.44-$2.61 per gallon, but we were able to find $2.25 per gallon in some smaller outlying towns.   This has been another wonderful holiday experience on the road, experiencing cultures blended with our own to just get the very best out of life.......Joie de Vivre!  From here in a few days we travel further south to Breaux Bridge, LA for some relaxation, catfishing, even more stocking up of our mobile larder, and of course a Cajun New Years celebration!  Christmas 2017?   Who knows.......laissez les bon temps rouler! 

"Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all of one's lifetime"
                                                                             Mark Twain

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