Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Solar Eclipse Part I: Rabun Gap, Georgia

This summer, a rare thing happens. Parts of the United States will experience its first total solar eclipse in 26 years, and the path of totality travels right across the South. While everyone in the country should be able to see a partial eclipse, only those in the direct path will witness the total blockage of the sun. The path of totality — don’t you love that expression? — will cross parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Missouri.

This is a big deal, folks. The last solar eclipse to cross the continental United States was in 1918 and the next solar eclipse will take place on Aug. 12, 2045. And that next one won’t be as good.

Where’s a good place to watch the total eclipse? This will be the first of many blog posts showcasing totality hot spots. Today, we’re looking at Rabun Gap, Georgia.

The only spot in Georgia to spot the total eclipse of the sun is Rabun Gap, Dillard and Sky Valley in Rabun and Stephens counties and Rabun Gap will be the second longest viewing in the entire United States, clocking in at 2.38 minutes. Rabun Gap will be hosting an Eclipse Viewing Party at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21. In addition to watching the sun disappear, there will be live music, vendors, food, Jumbotrons with NASA’s live feed of the eclipse, Georgia State University professors explaining the phenomenun and much more.

"We're expecting 7,000 to 10,000 people," said Teka Earnhardt, executive director of Rabun County Tourism Development Authority. "There will be two LED jumbo screens with NASA feeds, the local marching band, cheering songs, and food trucks."

Admission is $5 and includes glasses for viewing the eclipse (you cannot look at it with the naked eye). There are plenty accommodations in Rabun County but things are filling up fast. Lodging is also available in neighboring counties, Earhhardt said.

Other events include:
Saturday, Aug. 19: Square dance and fish fry from 6-9 p.m. at Andy’s Trout Farm.
Downtown Clayton Scavenger Hunt and Block Party

Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 19-20
Dillard “Experience Extraordinary” Total Solar Eclipse festival at Dillard City Hall in Dillard

Sunday, Aug. 20
Eclipse Gold Tournament and 19th Hole Festivities, Sky Valley Country Club and the City of Sky Valley
Eclipse Lecture at the Rearden Theatre, Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School

Monday, Aug. 21
Tallulah Gorge Total Solar Eclipse Festival, Tallulah Gorge State Park

For more information to understand and prepare for the solar eclipse, visit the NASA website or

Cheré Coen is a food and travel writer who loves weird and unusual things, and simply cannot wait until the total solar eclipse.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Louisiana produces sugar cane, why not rum?

Trey Litel, cofounder and president of Bayou Rum
For a state that produces more sugar cane than any Caribbean island, you’d think producing rum would be a vital part of that equation. That was the question Trey Litel asked. The LSU graduate worked for Bacardi rum at the home office and in Florida, always loved the alcoholic drink created from sugar, and when he came home to Louisiana to hunt ducks, driving past miles of sugar cane, he began to distill an idea.

“I always wondered why does Louisiana have so much sugar cane and no rum?” he said.

Litel and partners started Louisiana Spirits Distillery in Lacassine, Louisiana, in 2011, distilling two varieties of rum, a silver and a spiced rum. Today, their inventory includes a Bayou Select Rum aged in oak barrels and a Satsuma rum liqueur made with Louisiana satsumas. Naturally, the alcohol derives from locally produced sugar cane, mostly from the M.A. Patout & Sons mill in Patoutville, Louisiana.

Bayou Rum distillery is open for tours and perusing the gift shop Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information, visit the distillery’s Facebook page at

Here are some fun Bayou Rum facts:

They use 80 proof alcohol to sanitize their bottles.

One person can fill 25 bottles of rum per minute.

Bayou Rum averages 8,000 bottles per day.

M.A. Patout & Sons is a seventh generation business.

2,000 pounds of sugar equals roughly a half acres of sugar cane.

Bayou Rum copper tanks have names — Ruby, Uma and Maryland

Leftover rum mash is fed to regional cows.

Need more encouragement to try this delicious Louisiana product? Here's a popular recipe in the Bayou State.

Gator Bite
1 ounce Bayou Silver
1 ounce Bayou Spiced
1 ounces Bayou Satsuma
1.5 ounces orange juice
1.5 ounces pineapple juice
Juice of 3 limes wedges
Splash of Grenadine

Mix together and enjoy!

Cheré Coen is a food and travel writer who loves weird and unusual things, not to mention a good-tasting rum.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Natchez Bridge of Sighs and its magnificent view

The Mississippi River as seen from the Natchez Bluffs
I was born and reared on the side of the Mississippi River so it holds a special place in my heart. Many’s the time I spotted ships moving past higher than my head when the river rose in the spring and there was only a levee between my New Orleans home and those muddy waters. Later, I would work along the river in Baton Rouge and never fail to pause and admire the third largest river in the world.

But it was those levees that kept that river from me. When you visit towns such as Natchez, Mississippi, a city built upon a bluff, the river stretches before you like a goddess. My favorite activity when visiting Natchez is to stand beside my river and absorb that magnificent view along the Natchez Bluff.

All along the riverfront in Natchez is a walking-biking trail, one high upon the bluff, and one closest to the river’s edge. In 2015, to connect the two sections of the bluff-side Spanish Esplanade or Promenade, the city of Natchez built the “Bridge of Sighs,” a footbridge allowing pedestrian traffic over Roth’s Hill Road. The recent addition is a replica of a 19th century bridge that spanned Roth Hill Road, and that bridge got its name from an ancient one in Venice, Italy.

Walking across the Natchez Bridge of Sighs, visitors will spot numerous padlocks, some sporting initials and names, a tradition that lovers use as a public token of their affection. Placing padlocks on bridges is popular in Europe, including Italy.

The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, by the way, was built to connect the city’s New Prison to the interrogation rooms within the Doge's Palace. It was the last view of Venice convicts saw before their imprisonment. There are similarly named bridges in Cambridge, England; Stockholm, Sweden; Glasgow, Scotland; at The Venetian in Las Vegas; connecting The Tombs with the Criminal Courts Building in New York City; and within the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in California. Richard Russo wrote a novel titled “Bridge of Sighs” and the bridge has been used in operas as well as the title song of Robin Trower’s album, ”Bridge of Sighs.”

And I’m not the only one who fell in love with the Natchez bluff, although I didn’t leave a padlock behind. Frederick Law Olmsted, known as founder of landscape architecture in America, said this: “But the grand feature of Natchez is the bluff, terminating in an abrupt precipice over the river, with the public garden upon it…. So, after supper, I went to the bluff again, and found it most solemnly beautiful; the young moon shining through rents in the clouds: the great gleaming crescent of water; the dim, ungapped horizon; the earth sensibly a mere swinging globe.”

Perhaps Olmsted would have left a padlock behind as well.

Cheré Coen is a food and travel writer who loves weird and unusual things, and hopes the owners of these padlocks truly find everlasting love.