By Annabelle Robertson
I spotted the first sign just a few miles over the Texas state line.
"There!" I said to my kindergartner, trying to contain my excitement. "See it?"
"Oh.....yes!" she said, her voice filled with awe.
"Oh.....yes!" she said, her voice filled with awe.
Then she said, with far more wisdom than a five-year-old should ever have, "Now why do they call it Cracker Barrel?"
Fortunately, a few minutes of reseach at an actual Cracker Barrel Restaurant solved that little riddle (the name comes from old country stores, where people used to gather around an barrels of Saltine crackers) - as well as our hunger pains. While we enjoyed our first authentic Southern meal in 18 months.
Pass the collards, y'all!
We ate biscuits. We ate chicken-and-dumplin's. We ate Coca-Cola cake (not to be missed - it's warmed up with vanilla ice cream and is the best dessert I've eaten since I can positively remember). And of course, we sloshed it all down with WAY too much sweet tea.
Yes, I gave sweet tea to my two-year-old. Before getting back into the car and continuing our cross country-journey.
I know. I'm certifiably insane.
See what three years in California will do to you?
We were in the process of moving -- lock, stock and barrel (pun not intended) -- from California to South Carolina, which happened just a few weeks ago. And, arriving in Texas -- not to mention eating at a Cracker Barrel -- made it all too real.
Going back home is something I'd been thinking about for awhile, and when my oldest daughter (the only one who could understand what was going on) found out, after she began dancing around the room, singing, "We're going to the South! We're going to the South! Uh, huh! Uh, huh!"
Yep, I raise 'em right.
And now, as my girlfriend said, when I told her I was going back to the newsroom (a daily paper in Sumter, SC), "Ohhhh! Your girls are going to have Southern accents, after all!"
Amen and amen.
Still, three years on the West Coast has a way of growing on a body -- even a dedicated Southern one.
Don't get me wrong. I love the South. And I am thrilled to be back. I've always been a Palmetto State wannabe, and here I am, hallelujah. Not only that, but California is STILL the land of fruits and nuts. But sometimes, however, ou can get used to the flavor of those nuts.
Take, for instance, the no-smoking culture.
Now I'm sorry if I'm offending some of you out there, but for us non-addicts (at least when it comes to nicotine), cigarettes are just plain old nasty -- and they're even nastier when they're polluting an expensive dinner. Even from across the room, they make everything smell and taste like ashes. And they just plain ruin food. We're just starting to see the devastating effects of secondhand smoke, too. So as far as I'm concerned, Californians have got this one down pat. Away with the cigarettes, please.
It also goes without saying that Californians do "authentic Mexican" better than the Mexicans. Actually, come to think of it, these are pretty much the same thing.
Also at the top of the state food chain are their strawberries - especially where I was living (Lomoc/Santa Maria, in Santa Barbara County). Honey, you've never SEEN strawberries like these. Humongous. Deep red, all the way through. Available 10 months out of the year from local vendors, for cheap. And you've never tasted anything so sweet in all your life.
The great thing is that you didn't need to worry too much about gaining weight from all this great food, either, because California a very health-conscious culture. You gain a few pounds, you start to notice people staring at you. So you hit the gym. Regularly.
Back South, I'm the exception -- and I'm barely working out at all these days. Too much to do, getting moved in and all. While eating biscuits. And waffles, from Waffle House (another Southern institution). Dang, those waffles are good. But they sure can make you think twice about working out, especially when they're weighing down your stomach and forcing you down from that sugar high.
Then there's the wine. At the risk of sounding like an alcoholic, I will tell you right now that leaving an area with more than 270 of the country's best wineries within an hour's drive is a little like leaving the beach after a two-week vacation. You get used to it, and it's impossible to go back.
We lived in the second-largest wine producing region in the country, after Napa/Somona, near the town of Los Olivos (the setting for the movie "Sideways"). On Sunday afternoons, we often went wine tasting, driving up to Paso Robles, in and around the Santa Maria Valley, or across the way to Santa Ynez. For my husband's birthday, we once rented a limo with friends and drove to all of our favorite the wineries, picnicing in between (don't kid yourself - no one ever spits that stuff out).
We joined wine clubs, which allowed us to pick up wine at hugely discounted prices. And it was not uncommon to enjoy a $60 bottle of wine at a friend's house.
I thought of those wine bottles last night when I was drinking three buck chuck at a local fundraiser. Your palette really does adjust.
Then again, they didn't have chicken and dumplins out there. Or biscuits. Or decent waffles.
They do have plenty of Starbucks, however -- a sight that is nonexistant in Sumter at the present time. And, lemme tell 'ya:
I am jonesing for my non-fat latte.
I guess it's all a trade-off. Everything in life always is.
Fortunately, at the end of the day, however, having my girls saying "y'all" and "yes m'am" is, as Mastercard would say, priceless.
With Southern love,
Annabelle Robertson is the author of The Southern Girl's Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You've Caught Your Man. A former longtime Georgia resident, she has just moved to South Carolina, and she would be very grateful if Starbucks corporate would wake up and smell the coffee.