Monday, September 11, 2017

It's nuts! Squirrel Cook Off this Saturday in Bentonville

I’m a city girl, having grown up in New Orleans. When I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in the fifth grade we lived on the outskirts of the city in a quaint suburb called Middletown. My best friend, Valerie Brown, introduced me to many things — and I won’t admit most of them here — but one was her father hunting squirrel. I’ll never forget visiting her home one afternoon with a delicious aroma emanating from the kitchen and what looked like a plate piled high with fried chicken on the kitchen table. My mouth watered at the sight and smell — until I found out what it was.

Now that I’m a food and travel writer I regret never sampling her father’s fried squirrel, but I was a shy pre-teen entering the culinary world. I have since sampled some pretty unusual things traveling the world but squirrel has never been one of them.

Don’t you be shy this weekend. The World Champion Squirrel Cook Off takes place in Bentonville, Ark., and includes more than tree rodents being fried up and served (I couldn’t help myself because yes, technically, that’s what they are.) There will be all kinds of dishes prepared with squirrel, including gumbo, tamales, pizza, sushi, empanadas, tacos and burgers. Take about creativity!

The fun happens from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, at the new 8th Street Market south of the square. It’s free and, according to event organizers, offers other food items, live music and Habit Outdoors apparel selling samples starting at 8 a.m. 

Here’s the 4-1-1: Joe Wilson founded the event in 2012, a strong supporter of natural, sustainable food such as squirrel, as well as hunting traditions. According to organizers, “although it’s built for fun and squirrel humor runs rampant, the event has a few simple rules.” They require two- and three-person teams to prepare their squirrel and a side dish — everything cooked on-site— for the judges, with all entries containing 80 percent squirrel. Presentation, taste, tenderness and texture are important aspects of judging.

As organizers say, “That’s it in a nutshell.”

Chere Coen is a travel and food writer who loves unusual places to visit and all kinds of great things to eat — even squirrel.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

New Orleans art museums have cool hot deal

It's sweltering in the Deep South right now but all that heat comes with a perk – at least one in New Orleans. If temperatures hit 95 degrees or higher, the Helis Foundation and FOX8 will pay for your chance to visit three cool — literally — museums in New Orleans. Called "Art and A/C," the program does have a few requirements:

1. It must be at or above 95 degrees
2. It's open only to Louisiana residents and residents of Hancock and Pearl counties in Mississippi.
3. You must prove residence of those places with an ID.
4. It's available only at the Odgen Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

To gauge the outside temperature to see if this free tickets to cool museums apply, visit the FOX8 Live weather page or visit the New Orleans Museum of Art's Facebook page.

Chere Coen is a food and travel writer who loves weird and unusual things.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Drink a bit of Hoodoo at Jackson's Cathead

The South is often a dichotomy, or as Jimmy Buffett once said, there's "a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning."

Take Mississippi and alcohol. Mississippi has long been known as a state not quick to legalize its spirits. It was the last state to repeal prohibition — in 1966! But now, there are plenty of craft breweries popping up all over the Magnolia State, and its first distillery, Cathead, produces a chicory liqueur called Hoodoo.

"The name Hoodoo pays homage the black magic and mysticism brought to the Southern United States by immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean," the distillery claims on its website. "Elements of the Hoodoo tradition are deeply embedded in Southern culture, especially blues music."
Original Hoodoo bottle

Makes sense for a distillery named for the Mississippi compliment given by blues musicians to artists they respected. At least that's what the owners claim. (We always thought of catheads as biscuits, but what do we know?)

"Mississippi artists and musicians went on to use 'Catheads' in many forms of folk art, as a way to pay the rent and share their legacies," the website reports.

Visit Cathead Distillery in Jackson and learn more about the company's vodka, including its flavored varieties: honeysuckle and pecan. Cathead also produces a moonshine and two types of gin. Most of the ingredients used in their spirits are acquired locally, including the pecans that are left to seep into the vodka and then tossed to very lucky Mississippi pigs. 

But back to that delicious Hoodoo. The original bottle was long and sleep with original artwork as its label, including a very cool red gris gris bad above the musician's head (see photo left, above). The bottle was too cumbersome for bartenders, our tour guide informed us, so they moved the spirit to a more pourable container. 

Tours are offered at the top of the hour 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. The cost is $10 but that includes four tastings at the Cathead Bar and a take-home shot glass, not to mention the popular Cathead sticker ("Cathead Vodka, Support Live Music") that are seen on cars across the Deep South. The enormous space is also open as a bar with lots of fun games to enjoy, plus the distillery hosts private events and public ones, such as the Sept. 16, 2017, Cathead Oktoberfest.

Chere Coen is a food and travel writer who loves a good bottle of Southern spirits.